10.17.2016

Fall Wardrobe Necessities

I love fall! The changing of leaves, the smells and the colors are all my favorite things, as well as a distant memory. I've lived in Southwest Florida for nearly 12 years and I still miss fall. Although we're still having weather in the high 80's everyday that doesn't mean I can't pretend like it's fall! How I trick myself into thinking it's fall? Cranking down the air conditioning, making some pumpkin muffins and lighting a fall candle and then it's "fall"!

Although I won't have a true "fall" for nearly two months, I have started to slowly reintroduce some of my favorite light sweaters, booties and leggings. I've put together 7 of my favorite fall fashion picks.

  1. H&M Sleeveless Tank Top - $29.99 // I love this tank top. You can dress it up or dress it down and the bow is the cutest touch! 
  2. Charlotte Russe Booties - $27.29 (on sale!) //  I might be the only one that is in love with the "clog style" but I love these booties. 
  3. Forever 21 Tartan Plaid Scarf - $9.90 // This scarf is large enough that you can do a variety of different styles and the colors are neutral enough that you can wear it with many different outfits. 
  4. H&M+ Lyocell Coat - $59.99 // This is one of the most expensive things on my list but I love, love, love it. It's hard to find a true green coat. This isn't too heavy of a fabric, perfect for Florida!  
  5. Old Navy Wide Brim Panama Hat - $18.00 (on sale!) // This is my favorite accessory for fall. It comes in a gorgeous maroon color too! 
  6. St. John's Bay Leggings - $19.99 (on sale) // These are the best leggings but they're actually pants!   
  7. Marley Lilly Stripped Weekender Bag - $99.99 // I love this bag. It is on my wish list. I love all things monogrammed and this is no different! 
What do you have on your fall wardrobe list?

10.03.2016

Pumpkin Spice Dairy Free Coffee Creamer


Going dairy free has been a bit harder than I had originally anticipated. I love coffee and I struggled with finding a dairy free alternative for my coffee. I love half and half and unfortunately for me, all the pre-made, pre-packaged dairy free coffee creamers out there weren’t cutting it.

I came across a recipe for homemade coconut coffee creamer – I admit I was skeptical but after I made it and used it for the past couple of weeks I ended up loving it. So I decided to start experimenting with different flavors. In honor of my favorite season, fall, I decided to try a pumpkin spice flavored coffee creamer!

Call me basic but I love everything pumpkin spice; candles, air fresheners, candy, coffee, the list goes on and on.  Since I love pumpkin flavored things, I was really nervous to try this homemade creamer. Was it going to be fake tasting? Not the right amount of spice? Not enough pumpkin flavoring? Was I going to waste my time? Well, there was no need to worry because it is so good. Rich, decadent, flavorful and best of all—dairy and vegan free!

I whipped this up on Sunday night and it took me about 15 minutes to prepare. In the past the coconut creamer has lasted about 5 days in the refrigerator (although mine never makes it that long!) It is so delicious and you don’t have to feel guilty about using it in the morning!

Without delay, the recipe is below! 

As a disclaimer, it is not half and half but it is a great alternative! I love to add some cinnamon to the top for a little something extra. Feel free to tweak the recipe to your liking. Add cinnamon, nutmeg or all spice if you would prefer! Any recipes for this newly dairy-free gal? 

9.06.2016

Top 4 Places to Find Used Books

Happy National Read A Book Day!

If you’re like me, you love nothing more than curling up with a good book, a cozy blanket and a hot cup of coffee. I feel like every other day is a National Holiday but this is one holiday I would be more than happy to celebrate.

There are so many new books that I want to read my list keeps getting long and longer and longer but I don’t want to spend a ton of money (ballin’ on a budget, anyone?) I love nothing more than reading a hard copy of a book (although eBooks and Audiobooks are a great second choice).

Here are the top places I find some good deals on my books.

Goodwill Bookstore: If you’re lucky enough to have a Goodwill Bookstore near you be sure to check it out! Typically, all Goodwill’s have a book section but these stores are JUST books! Talk about a deal! I never find the newest titles but I can always pick up a classic or a good romance novel for about $2!

Thriftbooks.com: This is one of my newest websites I check to find good deals on books. They have a wide variety of books and they have free shipping on orders over $10. With an average book price of $3 a book, you can get tons of books without breaking the bank! I just ordered The Goldfinch, What She Knew, Into the Wild and The Husband’s Secret for under $15 part of my 40 in 366 challenge! (P.S. Use this link for 15% off your first order!)

Your Local Library – If you’re lucky like me your local library has a section of used books for sale. I love popping into my library and browsing the little bookstore. They are gently used library books and always in great condition!

Half.com – I found Half.com to be best for buying text books but I have found some DEALS on hardback and paperback books. They are related to ebay.com but there’s no haggling and no bidding, it’s more of a “Buy It Now” service and they include the shipping prices. I’ve gotten some books for $1 with $3.99 shipping…you still can’t beat finding a book for less than $5.


Any suggestions on where to get a good deal on books? 

8.24.2016

Summer Reading [Audiobook Edition]


I promised myself this year I would get back and really dig into my reading. (Did you see my 40 
books in 366 days pledge?) I have not been doing as well as I thought I would be. Life has been getting in the way! BUT, I’ve recently found some books that I couldn’t put down and I wanted to share! I listened to these books on audiobook since I have such a long commute, it makes my drive go so much quicker (or it at least feels that way).

#6 Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
This has been on my “to-read” shelf on Goodreads for years but I wasn’t sure if I could commit to an 8 book megathon series. So, I pulled up my big girl panties and dived in. Oh boy, I can’t believe what I was missing. This book has everything you want in a series. Romance, drama, scandal, heartbreak, passion, twist and turns and more. I’m just mad it took me so long to read (listen) to it. They have recently made it into a show on Starz and I’m excited to watch it and see Claire and Jamie’s story come to life. I finished book one and I’m already onto the next!

#7 Eight Hundred Grapes - Laura Dave
This was a good book. It was a relatively easy (and short!) audiobook listen and the narrator was good. This book was somewhat predictable. I really enjoyed the characters though and it was just the right amount of drama. I wish the characters had a little more depth to them. Some complaints I’ve read about the book was with the writing style, however, since I listened to it there was no issues for me! I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a light airy listen.

#8 Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
Let me start off with I was NOT excited to read this book. I’m a fan of reading the book before the movie and I just didn’t have time to sit down and enjoy this book. I recently joined a book club and this was the first pick. Well, now I was going to have to find the time. I had a road trip scheduled to Jacksonville (about 5 hours) and I figured it was the best time to sit down and listen to it. Let me tell you… it was SO good. The book wasn’t as predictable as I thought it would be (which I very much enjoyed). It was a good book club choice and I’m glad the girls made me read it.

Any audio book recommendations?

P.S. Follow me on Goodreads!

8.18.2016

Summertime Adventures


This summer I have traveled more than I have EVER before. I never quite thought I would be one to want to live out of a suitcase and travel the world but I’m seriously considering ways I can live a nomadic life. What a grand way to spend several months or even a year! Although, that is more of a fantasy than reality, when I’m feeling trapped or stuck, I’ll glance back through the pictures I took of my travels this summer.

VIRGINIA:
My first summer trip was to Virginia for one of my college friend’s wedding in June. Boy, Virginia really is for lovers – and I am now one of them! The wedding was gorgeous.

JAMAICA:
Several months ago, my best friend and I decided to be spontaneous and plan a birthday/summer celebration trip. We were racking our brains on where we could possibly go. Key West, Portland, Seattle, Charleston? We had a terrible time deciding (especially since we’re both indecisive). I decided I wanted to go out of the country and then, things just fell into place and the countdown was on!

KEY WEST:
Key West has to be one of my FAVORITE places in the United States. The Florida Keys catchphrase is “Come As You Are” and that couldn’t be closer to the truth than possible. I love everything about Key West. The food, the bars, the friendly people, the roosters, the beach, the mopeds, the night life, the incredible sunsets (and sunrises), Mallory Square…the list goes on and on. Every time I leave I beginning planning my return trip.

I can’t wait for my next vacation. I’m thinking Ireland, although that will take much more planning than any of my summertime travels.  Now, in the famous words of Lana Del Ray, “I got that summertime, summertime sadness”.

P.S. How perfect are these monogrammed passport covers? Sally from So Sally Embroidery, made them for me! I LOVE them! Check out her online store and her Etsy shop for the perfect gift for a friend or yourself! 

5.18.2016

6 Things I've Learned Since Starting Working Out


It’s been just about two months into my fitness journey. It's always been a struggle to keep up with any workout regimen but this is the longest I've been sticking with it and let me tell you-- I've started to look forward to my workouts. Weird. I used to joke the only time you would ever catch me running was if I was being chased...well lookout world, I've been hitting the streets and running for fun!

Nonetheless, here’s some things I’ve learned along the way...both the hard way and the easy way. 

Each day does get better:  When I started running just about two months ago, man, I don’t think I even made it a mile! While I’m not ready for a 10K just yet, every day I can run farther and farther with less problems.

It’s not about a number on the scale: While seeing the needle (or number) on the scale go down does help, it’s really about getting healthy and that starts on the inside. Also it’s important to remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so although the number might not be moving – you can be losing inches while staying the same number on the scale.

You’re your own greatest enemy: This one took the longest for me to really grasp. I have a tendency to compare myself to others. Why can’t I run that fast, far, etc. It’s not about being the best but it’s about being better than you were yesterday. Did I get my work out in today? Did I hit 10,000 steps today? Did I hold my plank for 70 seconds vs. 60? That’s what it’s all about.

DON’T deprive yourself: In the past I’ve done diets where you eat zero carbs, only liquid diets, and only PB&J’s. It’s detrimental to your health, happiness and fitness. Don’t deprive yourself of the things that make you happy. For me, I love coffee, ice cream and cupcakes. Now I don’t eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s a night (my favorite is the one with the caramel core), but I’ll have a scoop or two of frozen yogurt as a treat and a cupcake on special occasions.

You don’t need fancy clothes or equipment: You don’t need a whole new wardrobe to start working out. Grab an old t-shirt, a pair of yoga pants, a good sports bra and your sneaks and hit the streets (or indoor gym if that’s what you prefer). I would recommend getting a fabulous pair of running shoes…that’s next on my list. While I love all things Lulu lemon, my wallet does not and it’s not a necessity to start working out.

Just do it: While I know that’s the famous saying from Nike, I’m being 100% serious. Get out there and do it. Get off the couch and go for a run, go hit the weights, do something. You’ll not only feel better about yourself but you’ll catch yourself looking in the mirror and realize you look better, your clothes fit better and you’ll feel better…and that my friends is the best feeling of all.

3.30.2016

#5 of 40: Eleanor and Park

As part of my 40 in 366-day challenge, I set out to read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Based on the recommendations from friends, co-workers and family, I got it from the library and added to my reading list.

*Photo Credit

The synopsis via the publisher:
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

My thoughts:
From the synopsis is sounds like such a great book and I am so disappointed I didn’t like it more. Without giving too much away, it was a good, easy read and overall okay. Now that I’m a little bit older, sometimes it’s hard to relate to such a young main character (sometimes, not always). I really did enjoy the overall theme and I could relate to the main character (mainly because we’re red hair twins!).

My rating:

On a scale of 1 to 5 (one being the worst and 5 being the best), I would rate it a 2...don’t hate me! I know that everyone ranted and raved about this book but I just don’t get it. I think the character development was a little off, their relationship a little too rushed and the ending frustrated me. However, if you’re looking for an easy read, you’ve found your perfect book. 

What did you think of Eleanor and Park? Am I alone in my rating?

P.S. Follow along with me on Goodreads, I would love to see what you are reading.

3.15.2016

#4 of 40: The First Affair

I am guilty of reading those cheesy, sometimes borderline, trashy romance novels and this one honestly, is no different.

I had no intention of ever reading or buying this book.  However, on a recent hunt for the popular games Exploding Kittens and Cards Against Humanity, I found myself at Barnes and Noble. I was feeling defeated after not being able to find the games but stumbled upon The First Affair of a bargain price of $4.98. I couldn’t say no, especially with the cover art of a girl with red hair (new BFF’s).

I got home that night and started reading and couldn’t stop...a sure sign that this book wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be. Read on for my review.

The synopsis via the publisher (abridged version):
Jamie McAlister has resigned herself to the fact that in this job market, her painfully expensive degree might only get her a position at Starbucks, when she suddenly lands a prestigious internship at the White House. Although she doesn’t hit it off with the other interns, she is eager to work hard and make the best of the opportunity while it lasts.
An unexpected encounter late one evening with the charismatic President Gregory Rutland seems like just a fleeting flirtation, but when he orchestrates clandestine meetings and late-night phone calls, their relationship quickly escalates. Jamie knows what she is doing is wrong: he’s married, he has kids, he’s the President. 
With the conflicted desires of the most powerful man in the world driving her to her breaking point, Jamie can’t help but divulge intimate details to those closest to her. But she must have confided in the wrong person, because she soon finds herself, and everyone she cares about, facing calculated public destruction at the hands of Greg’s political enemies, and—perhaps no matter how much he cares about her—at the hands of Greg himself.

My thoughts:
This book held my attention the entire time and I honestly liked the plot line. If you like watching the hit TV show Scandal (which I love), I really believe you will like this book. I thought that the book was a pretty realistic view and thoughts of a young, impressionable 20-something. Not being too removed from college, I feel Jamie’s pain with finding a job post-grad and I can completely sympathize with her on the job front (not with the affair).

There’s just a couple of things that really bother me about this book. If you’re in fact having an affair with the leader of the free world, why on earth would you tell anyone? Jamie ends up telling a handful of people. While granted, she’s lonely all by herself in DC, I still don’t think you would/should tell anyone – keep that ish to yourself, Jamie! The other thing that bothered me is just the development of Jamie – she never really seems to stand up for herself throughout the book, which annoys me. If you have the balls to have an affair with the President, at least have a spine and stand up for yourself but that’s just my opinion.

My rating:
On a scale of 1 to 5 (one being the worst and 5 being the best), I would rate it a 3. I really enjoyed this book and it was a fairly entertaining and enjoyable book. You couldn’t completely guess the plot line and there was some unexpected surprises and twist and turns. It was an easy read, perfect for spring break and summer.


Have you read The First Affair? 

3.08.2016

40 books in 366 days












That’s my goal for 2016. Have I reached that goal? Not anywhere close…yet. Over the past year I was so disappointed the lack of books I’ve read. I decided that I need to make reading a priority again. Reading makes me feel whole, happy and well-rounded.  

I tend to gravitate towards the cheesy romance novels or dystopian young adult books but I’ve also decided I am going to try different genres and see what I like. You never know until you try it right?

I posted a list of 40 books I wanted to read back in March of 2015 (a whole year ago?!) and I’ve updated it with the latest and greatest books I’ll read this year.

By putting this out on the interwebs, I feel like this will be the accountability I didn’t have last year.

Be on the lookout for more book reviews!

Any book suggestions I should add to the list or your favorites?  I keep a running list on my Goodreads account. If you use Goodreads, I would love to see what you are reading.

3.07.2016

It’s STRAWBERRY SEASON!

Growing up in New Jersey for the bulk of my childhood (I moved to Florida when I was about to be a sophomore in high school or about the ripe young age of 15), I never understood the strawberry obsession.

Let me tell you how wrong I was.



Right now, it’s peak strawberry season in Florida and I can’t get enough of fresh, delicious strawberries. Luckily I live in an area that we have a lot of local farmers with fresh crops of strawberries. I've been going every week for some fresh berries. I only live about two hours south of the Strawberry Festival. If you’re ever in the Plant City/surrounding area during the height of Strawberry season, you must go! It's a huge festival all about, you guessed it, strawberries! 

There’s nothing better than freshly picked strawberries. Actually, the majority of the strawberries that are picked right now, go to supermarkets across the country. Look for the stamp “picked in Plant City” and you know you have the best dang strawberries around.

Since I was not able to harvest my own strawberries (are they easy to maintain?) I am sharing some of my favorite ways to use these delicious berries!

Strawberry shortcake // I’m not a fan of the sickeningly sweet cake you purchase from the store. If you want a strawberry shortcake without making the biscuits yourself, head to your refrigerated section and grab a container of Pillsbury biscuits – you won’t regret it.

Strawberry Preserves // I haven’t quite mastered canning yet but making preserves is easy! Who doesn't love using their mason jars? Tip: Make sure you use canning jars vs. regular jars, they are different!

Strawberry Trifle // I’ve made this time and time again for parties, showers, BBQ’s, Easter – you name it, I bring it. It’s such an easy recipe, tastes heavenly and looks like it took hours to prep.  

Doesn't this make your mouth water?
Strawberry Parfait // I love bringing parfaits to work, it’s such an easy and delicious snack (or meal) to keep me on track for the day. I add some fresh cut strawberries and the granola of the week and wahlah!, a perfect snack.


Do you have a favorite way to eat strawberries? 

2.19.2016

My Daily Mantra


I was in a sorority when I was in undergrad. I never thought I would be one of those girls. You know the kind. The ones that were perfectly polished, perfectly dressed, perfectly applied, a stereotypical sorority girl. Well, I ended up rushing, getting in and it might possibly have been one of the best ideas I’ve ever had.
Our chartering and initiation, circa 2010


Honorable.
You know when you read something and it hits you in the feels? Well that’s what I felt like when I first read my sorority’s open motto. That’s when I knew, I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself, be a part of something that genuinely cares about the community and honestly wants to make a difference in the lives of others. Giving back to others and making a positive difference in your surrounding community is honorable. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with like-minded honorable people?

Beautiful.
When I was in high school I read a book called, Pledged. What I read in this book was what I thought was the truth. While I know the book can depict what it might be at other schools, it was most definitely a misrepresentation of my chapter. I thought all sorority girls were these fake girls that all had a perfect life and a perfect wardrobe.

Senior girls, circa 2013
Until I was a part of them, I had no idea that it was actually like. These girls were just like you and me, with their acne, frizzy hair and borrowed clothes, just trying to make it through the next exam. It goes to show you that preconceived notions are just that, preconceived. Throughout my tenure in my sorority I was shown time and time again that everyone is truly beautiful in their own unique way.

Highest.
Fast forward to three years in my sorority and going on three years post-grad (boy, time sure does fly). I really believe my sorority has shaped who I am today. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes, but I’m telling you the truth. Every single day I am reminded of my sorority in one way or another. From what clothes I decide to wear for work (is this considered Pin Attire?), to putting my best face forward and dressing to impress, I am humbled, thankful and honored that my letters are still a part of me. Not just on a t-shirt but ingrained into my values, my character, my morals and well…me.

When my elder sisters told me “it’s not four years but for life”, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes but it is the honest to goodness truth. Every day when I start getting ready in the morning, I remember back to my sorority’s open motto. It makes me ask myself, am I being the best version of myself possible? Am I being a contributing member of society? Most importantly, am I proud of myself and my actions?

My sorority’s open motto is not just something I memorized because I was told I had to but rather it was something I memorized by repeating it to myself every morning. I believe in every single word, every single meaning, and every single sister that is living our open motto, Every. Single. Day.  

What is this motto you ask? "Ta Kala Diokomen" in Latin, which translates to “Let us strive for that which is honorable, beautiful and highest.” And that ladies and gentlemen, still hits me in the feels, every damn day.

My sorority has made me a better friend, sister, employee and overall human being. My daily mantra hasn’t changed for the last 6 years and I don’t see it changing for the next 60 years either. Let us strive for that which is honorable, beautiful and highest – not only today but every day.

Not four years but for life, circa 2015
With love & AOT,
Stephanie


2.17.2016

Nashville, Oh how I love you so

Last weekend I had the ability to go to Nashville for Valentine’s weekend to visit one of my closest friends Katrina.

Can I just say, oh how I love Nashville?

I think it might be, hands down one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Nashville, from the people to the food to the craft beer and I can’t forget about the architecture and the history.

I can’t wait to go back and visit…and never leave.


Take a peek at some of my photos from this weekend’s adventures!

1.25.2016

My New Year's Resolution



New Year’s Resolutions, we all love to hate them but honestly, I really wanted to make a New Year’s resolution I would actually stick with. You know what I thought I would be able to stick with? Waking up earlier.

A little background on me: I work a typical 8-5 job and I have my morning routine down to the minute. When I say minute, I mean, I know the window of time I must be out of my apartment and in my car to make it to work on time. You know what time I have to be out of my apartment and on the road? 7:31, if I’m on the road at 7:34 – I’ll be 5 minutes late. On the road at 7:31 – 5 minutes early.

I’m tired of constantly worrying about making sure I’m on time. I always wished I was one of those punctual Polly’s. You know the type. The person that is always on time, 7 minutes early, always making you feel late, even if you arrive right on time. Those people.

If my alarm (heaven forbid) doesn’t go off and I’m late, well, I’m late. I don’t have that cushion of time in the morning to make sure I’m on time. So, to fix the problem I’ve decided to make a New Year’s resolution. This pertains to all facets of life, not just work. I want to make sure I’m 5 minutes early—everywhere I go.

So three weeks into the New Year, how’s it going? I’ll be completely honest, terrible. It’s such a struggle. I know in the back of my mind if I wake up at 6:55, I can be up, dressed, make-up and hair done, dog walked and coffee and protein shake in my hand and out the door at 7:31.

So what have I done to start waking up earlier? Here’s the 3 tips I’ve started doing. I’ve actually started waking up earlier! Is it a dramatic difference? No. But two minutes have turned into 5 and 5 into 7—and I’ll take that as an accomplishment any day.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to gradually wake up earlier:

Set my alarm: Okay, you’re thinking, “Duh, Stephanie, set you set your alarm…good for you.” But I was always one of those people that would set an alarm for say, 5:45 AM and really wake up at 6:55….that is not the right way to do it. So, I’ve started setting my alarm for what time I need to be up vs. when I want to be up. My alarm is now set every day (that’s right, every day—more on that in the next tip) at 6:40 AM.

Wake up at a consistent time, every day: This one has been the hardest to break. I’ve started getting up at the same time, every day, regardless of the weekend or not. There’s nothing I want more than to just sleep in, but it actually throws off your internal clock. So, I am the one person in my house up at 6:40 on Saturday morning. (I’ve grown to actually love it…who am I?)

Lastly, go to bed earlier: Well this one seems like a no-brainer but honestly, I’ve started getting done as much as possible when I first get home from work – not wait until right before I go to bed. It’s seemed to help me get to bed on time, every night so far. I’ve been aiming for about 10:45 be in bed and 11:00 – lights out!

Have you been successful in your New Year’s resolutions?