Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Guys. Christmas is in 18 days. I can’t even believe that it’s so close. I haven’t blogged much lately, but I’m really, really excited for Christmas since Graham is coming home for it! Seven years together, five years married, and we’ve never missed a Christmas or a New Years together, so I’m really excited that that this year in Honduras isn’t keeping us apart for this one.

So, While I count down the days to seeing Graham, and Christmas with our families, I thought I’d share with you guys some of my favorite gift items this year. I’m going to start simple, and share some of my favorite stocking stuffers first.

40877565_095_bWhen I was growing up, the stuff in our stockings was nothing special. Usually it was full with apples & oranges from a bag of assorted fruit, and a few small items. As we grew up, the items got a little more expensive, but when I was younger, it was small toys and games. I remember packs of ‘Go Fish’ cards and Uno. When I saw  these pretty playing cards from Anthropologie, I thought they’d be perfect in a more grown up stocking.

40027989_055_b10If your family is driving you crazy on Christmas, one of these gorgeous bottle openers (also from Anthropologie) will help get the booze in your system, and get you back into the Christmas spirit. I can already picture one of these on my bar cart, right next to the agate coasters from West Elm that I hope Santa is bringing me. 51h3iisvgl-_sl1237_Keeping with a boozy theme for a minute, these wine stoppers are one of my absolute favorite things. They are tiny, and when the top piece is lowered, they have a very low profile, which makes the bottle fit easily into the fridge. I’ve bought all of mine individually at over priced gift shops, so this is a great price for three.

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If Santa leaves any of the Dizzy Pig rubs in my stocking (that sentence just sounds dirty…), I would be a very happy camper. If you only buy one jar, Tsunami Spin & Shakin’ the Tree are my absolute favorites. OR you can introduce someone to sample bags of all 13 rubs for $20. These are made in Virginia, all natural, handmade, gluten free, soy free, and SO good. Graham & I use these on EVERYTHING. They’re obviously great on meat, but they’re also really good on roasted veggies.

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I’ve been using this makeup setting spray from Urban Decay for over a year, and it now has a permanent place in my makeup bag and the 1 oz. size is a perfect stocking stuffer. The days I don’t use it, my makeup is gone before I leave work at 4:00. The days I use it: my makeup still looks great right up until I wash it off for bed. Side note: small sizes of any beauty product that you LOVE makes a great stocking stuffer or small gift. This is a fun way for friends and family to try out products that you love, that they may not buy for themselves.

bold_overlap-personalized_notepads-hello_little_one-fuchsia-pinkI LOVE personalized stationary so much. And I would LOVE to find personalized note pads in my stocking. Especially if they’re bold and colorful like this one. These aren’t cheap ($14.99 for a 48 sheet pad), but right now tinyprints is offering 40% off + free shipping. So definitely stock up on a few of these pretties.

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Don’t laugh, but I totally want a Beauty Light for my phone. It’s only $10, and not only makes taking selfies in dark areas easier, but it also helps to take better photos in dark restaurants (and it has a dimmer, so you’re not too obnoxious to other restaurant goers.

Our Virginia House: One Year Later

I can not believe it’s been a year. Well, it’s kind of been a year. Today marks one year since we first walked into this house with our realtor, Gwen. This was the first house we looked at that day, and we were both ready to write an offer before we even got back to the car. We had about 6 more that she had made appointments for, so we dutifully checked those out, but none even came close to this one. So, the next day we went to her office to make our offer, and the next day she called me to let us know that it was accepted. Yay!

We closed on the house in early December, and literally started tearing down the things we didn’t like on day two. I remember standing in the living room, talking about what we wanted to do with the space. Graham started taking down the chair railing, I started pulling off wallpaper, and before we knew it, the room looked like this:2015-12-20-11-24-39-1

We’ve done SO much over the past year. Everything from small projects (like painting the bedrooms), to HUGE projects (like brand new siding), and I honestly think we both love this house more and more every day.

So, let’s me bombard you with a ton of before and after photos.

The House: 2016-06-05 11.42.312016-06-16 20.49.412016-06-16-20-50-412016-06-16-20-52-24You can read more about our siding & the pink front door here. The only thing left on our exterior to do list is to update the landscaping. A very hot, dry summer killed nearly all the plants out front. Luckily most of them were planted in galvanized buckets, so they’ll be easy to get rid of. We’re going to keep it simple (and low maintenance): boxwoods & hostas in the front beds, aerate and plant more grass, and in the bed on the side, I think I’m going to plant something bee friendly.

The living room:living room 2016-06-17 00.11.292016-06-17 00.12.002016-06-17 00.09.46This space is so close to finished. All we have left to do in here is to hang pictures over the couch, and for Graham to build doors for the two bottom shelves of the built-ins. We’ve also updated the ottoman from the disgusting grey and white one pictured to a solid grey one. Considering it’s sitting on a grey rug, the room needs a pop of color. So, I’m on the hunt for a bright rug, but I’m not in any hurry. If you want to see more before and after pictures, you can read more here.

The Dining Room:Dining room2016-06-17-01-18-492016-06-17-01-20-322016-06-17-00-45-46The dining room used to be a second living area, which we don’t need. It would literally have ended up as another storage space. What we DID need though was a bigger kitchen. So, we decided to turn the second living area into a dining room, and expand the kitchen into the old dining room (we now refer to that space as the kitchen annex). This room was the easiest room of the house to update. There was no wallpaper, no paneling, no chair railing (the only room on the first floor with none of those things). All it needed was fresh paint (Benjamin Moore’s Black Pepper). It does still need a light fixture, but that’ll come next year when G gets home.

Half Bathroom:half-bath2016-09-02-03-52-022016-09-02-17-33-48This room is 100% finished, and I love it more than it’s probably normal to love a bathroom. You can read more about the remodel here. I’m so glad that I let Graham do the wainscoting, I’m so glad we splurged on the tile and the sink. I just love this space so much.

Master Bedroom:master bedroom 2 Master bedroom 2016-03-11 04.42.57 2016-03-11 04.45.052016-03-11 04.40.45Excluding the hallway, which has wallpaper, the rooms upstairs are only in need of new paint. However, our bedroom is the only room that has actually been painted. It’s not the largest room in the world, but it’s a good size. I can’t get over how tiny it looks in the before photos.

Kitchen Nook:12226966_10102221202589367_3226349745380194267_n2016-06-23-16-48-392016-07-05-23-34-172016-07-05-23-35-02
Taking down wallpaper only to put wallpaper back up felt pretty ridiculous, but it was necessary. It was after we started ripping down wallpaper that Graham mentioned how lucky we were that the wallpaper wasn’t covering really bad walls. That thought never occurred to me. Then I get to the nook, and the walls were REALLY, really bad. The walls were so bad, it made me wonder if the nook was an addition. They just looked and felt different. So, we decided to put up wallpaper, to save ourselves about 4 years of spackling and sanding. We also decided to put trim up on the opening. Corners are the worst part, and they’re so delicate. So, this substantial trim not only makes the opening look more finished, but it also will help protect the walls over the years when people inevitably bump into the corners with pieces of furniture.

And for the rooms that still have a looooooong way to go (and for the most part look SO MUCH WORSE than they did on that first day)… no pictures of those since they’re depressing to look at. Maybe next time I do an update the after pictures will be blog worthy🙂

 

Life Lately

If I’m being honest, lately my life has been uneventful. It’s been a little over a month since Graham left, and while I had big plans to stay busy and positive, it’s been really, really hard. I usually give myself a good sized “wallow in self pity” period, but I feel like this time I tried to jump back into life too quickly, and it made everything so much harder.

The day before he left, we were walking Hermione, and he suggested I go get a massage to help myself relax. That was the greatest idea ever, so I immediately call the Spa at Colonial Williamsburg and make an appointment for the next day. I had a lavender and lemongrass body scrub, and then a 60 minute classic massage. It was amazing, and just what I needed.2016-09-07-10-55-08 2016-09-07-10-55-24

The next day I went back to work, and then that weekend my friend Sarah and I took the dogs on a walk. And I felt okay.2016-09-11-11-31-01-2

Then over the next few days, the depression seeped in. And it was bad. I just wanted to cry. All I wanted to lay on the couch and cry. I was better when I was busy, but then when I stopped moving, I wanted to cry. During the weekend, I drove to Virginia beach and went shopping, and I started crying while sitting in traffic, and just cried on and off all day. That day I did go home, and lay on the couch and do nothing for the rest of the day. I needed my time to wallow, and be sad. I needed to actually let myself feel the way that I was feeling. The next weekend was hard, but not as bad. The weekend after that, I finally started feeling like myself again.

I know why it’s so much harder this time then it ever has been. He’s gone for a year. A whole year. We don’t have an exact homecoming date yet, but my guess is he’ll be gone for one year + a week or two. And it’s hard to wrap my head around that. We’re going to see each other for Christmas, and in April (hopefully), but I still miss him so much it hurts.

But, the past few weeks, things have gotten better. Mom was supposed to come for a visit last weekend, but since the weather was terrible, we rescheduled. I’m so glad we rescheduled, because I work up Friday morning and felt like death. I literally spent the whole weekend on the couch watching movies.2016-10-08-03-31-36 My adorable companions kept me company🙂2016-10-08-03-36-17-2

But, I’m feeling better not (both physically and emotionally) and I’m ready for the next eleven months to go by in a blur. I even bought a piece of furniture to refinish, so I’d have a project to do. 2016-09-30-12-23-16

I’ve wanted a card catalog for AGES, and when I saw this beauty at the ReStore, I knew I would absolutely hate myself if I left it behind. So, I bought it, went home for Graham’s car since it wouldn’t fit in mine, went back to get it, and then managed to get it in the garage by myself (after taking out all 60 drawers). I stared at it for about two days, before deciding I just couldn’t live with the color. So, I read up on stripping stain out of furniture, and got to work. It’s a process, so I’m doing one side at a time… Right now I have 2 sides pretty much done. One side needs more sanding (it’s a little splotchy), but I love how it’s turning out. It may very well take me the whole year Graham is gone (stripping those 60 drawers, and then cleaning 60 pieces of hardware may take forever…) but it’s going to be so beautiful when it’s finished.

The previous owner used this piece to hold small tools and accessories in his garage. I kept finding these slips of paper when I was taking the drawers out. 2016-09-30-03-22-34I’m glad the bottom detached. Otherwise it would have never fit in the car. I’m also glad that removing the drawers made it light enough that I (with the use of a hand truck) managed to get it in the garage. It took 3 guys at the ReStore to get it in my car. 2016-09-30-03-21-59It’s amazing how some Brasso and an old toothbrush can take away 50ish years of grossness and make the hardware shine like new. I don’t mind cleaning all of these though. The thought of buying new hardware sends me into a panic. Not only the cost of it, but finding something that matches up with the existing holes? Ugh. No thank you. 2016-10-03-16-22-09So splotchy…2016-10-10-16-44-13After a little googling, I found out I needed to use a grittier sandpaper for this portion of the project (I had been using 220, which is for the finishing step). So, after checking out a few forums, and Young House Love, I settled on 80 grit. This looks better, but it still looks splotchy. 2016-10-12-16-29-09I still don’t really have a home for it yet. The place I want to put it won’t be available till we start on our kitchen renovation when Graham gets home, so I’m seriously in no hurry to get it done. I’m so obsessed with it though.

So, that’s been life since Graham has been gone. I hope it continues to get better. I hope seeing him at Christmas doesn’t put me back into a deep depression once he leaves. I hope Hermione stops eating bags of baby carrots. I hope I can be productive. And most of all, I hope he continues to stay safe and I hope he’s home soon.

Hiking with Hermione – Snakes, and bears, and bees, oh my!

When Graham deployed last year, he left with 36 hours notice (due to a clerical error) and we were robbed of 10 precious days. We didn’t have a vacation planned, but we had lots of day trips planned. And the thing he most wanted to do was take Hermione hiking.

Graham returned from that deployment, but between buying a house, and fixing up said house, we never got around to going hiking. So, we decided to rectify that before he left for Honduras. We headed up to Shenandoah National Park, and hiked the White Canyon Trail. All three of us were out of shape, so we didn’t want anything too strenuous, and we wanted a trail with lots of places for Hermione to swim.

So, we made the drive, welcomed the cooler temperatures (60 degrees in late August? I’ll take it!) and started our hike. But when we ran into this guy not even 5 minutes into the walk, I wanted to turn around and go back.

2016-08-22-12-54-53The hike was pretty, but nothing spectacular. I’m still trying to play with my camera as much as I can, so I took a ton of random photos of things no one will ever find interesting except for me… 2016-08-22-00-24-112016-08-22-00-38-17Our adorable companion🙂 Hiking + swimming + being with Graham and I really is her idea of the perfect day. I was never really a dog person until we adopted her, but now I can’t imagine my life without one. She’s so entertaining, she’s such a comfort to me when Graham is gone, and she keeps us (semi) active. 2016-08-22-00-41-482016-08-22-00-42-172016-08-22-00-42-482016-08-22-00-43-03-12016-08-22-01-04-242016-08-22-01-31-192016-08-22-01-35-452016-08-22-01-37-102016-08-22-14-34-47The hike was more or less uneventful, until we turned around and headed back to the car. Then we saw bear #1. We were going to stop and let Hermione swim some more, but luckily Graham saw this bear right as he had let her off the leash. We kept walking…2016-08-22-15-00-09On the way back to the car, we passed two more bears (no photos) and Graham got stung by a bee. I have never been so ready to get the hell out of the woods and back to the car in my life. We get back to the car, and see this guy at the wooded area across the street. 
2016-08-22-03-16-322016-08-22-03-16-34So, not the peaceful hike we had in mind, but if was definitely interesting. And we left the woods incredibly thankful that a bee sting was the only injury of the day.

No Place Like Home

And we’ve come to the last segment of my vacation recap. The trip to New England was mostly for me. The trip to Charlotte was for Graham, since obviously he wanted to spend time with family & friends before heading to Honduras. 2016-08-09-19-38-57Our first night home, we headed to Pinky’s Westside Grill for a casual dinner. This banana pudding was ridiculous. So good, but that portion size… seriously? My brother-in-law had one bite, Graham and I ate a ton, and then took the rest of it home.
2016-08-09-20-34-44-2The day before we headed to Charlotte, we spent the day at Six Flags New England, which was a let down. So, we decided to make up for it by spending a day at Carowinds. We had SUCH a good time. It was an overcast day, and they were calling for rain, so the place was dead. We didn’t wait in any lines for longer than 5 minutes. We even rode the Fury twice, back to back (with zero waiting).

Unfortunately, on one of the oldest, jerkiest roller coasters, my phone broke. It was in Graham’s pocket, and when he handed it to me after the ride, it looked like that. I was SO upset. WTF is the point of a $70 phone case if it doesn’t actually protect the phone?2016-08-10-11-26-54After Carowinds, we went to Ikea for a bit, and then had dinner with Heather and Stephen at Miguel’s (one of my Charlotte favorites). 2016-08-10-18-14-23We kept dinners pretty simple while we were home. We tried a few places that have been on my list for a while, including Futo Buta. We started with the smoked pork belly buns… 
2016-08-11-18-22-28-2 and then we ate ramen. I felt a little insane eating a hot bowl of soup on an insanely hot summer day, but whatever. It was delicious. 2016-08-11-18-29-22 After dinner we went to Elizabeth Creamery for ice cream before going home to watch the Panthers game & the Olympics. I had ginger ice cream, and it was epic. And the waffle cone was perfection. 2016-08-11-19-08-52-2 One day we headed to South Park for breakfast. I finally realized I could get a half order of pancakes, which made me happy. Their pancakes are so freaking good. 2016-08-12-10-04-37-1 After breakfast, we packed a lunch, packed some supplies, and took Graham’s parent’s boat out for the day. It was such a perfect day! We went out to Mountain Island Lake, and spent the day swimming, bobbing around in the water, and just enjoying our time together. This trip to Charlotte was different from all of our others. Our time wasn’t crammed with social obligations, we had a ton of time together, just doing nothing. And it was really, really nice. 2016-08-12-12-48-13-2We had a date night at Customshop. Customshop had been on my list for a while, and it did not disappoint. We started with the BBQ octopus. I had the tuna. And while their desserts at the table next to us looked appealing, we skipped dessert there and headed to Amelie’s instead.
2016-08-12-21-32-30 Tarts, turnovers, and macarons… We may have gone a little overboard, but it was all worth it!2016-08-12-23-19-15-1We ended our time home with a dinner out with my mom and Graham’s parents (no photos from that dinner for some reason), and donuts and coffee the last morning there with Brittany. It was a perfect trip home, and the end to a really amazing two weeks.

Eating Our Way Through Portland

I know this is surprising, considering how much we love food, and the quality of  the restaurants in Boston, but we didn’t really eat that well while we were there. After days of sightseeing, we usually grabbed something that was convenient, instead of researching and reserving tables at the best restaurants. So, the best food of the trip was, hands down, from our time in Maine with Sav & Elise. Our first night in Maine was dinner at the brewery Sav works at, but our next day we ate and drank our way through Portland. And it was a pretty amazing day.

We started with breakfast in a local spot, The Hub, where I had an excellent order of French toast.2016-08-06-10-48-09 After breakfast, they drove us around their new home before we headed to Portland. The lake they took us to was especially beautiful. The water was crystal clear, and it was absolutely gorgeous. 2016-08-06-11-18-02-2Our plan for the day was to eat and drink our way through Portland. And we started almost immediately. Our first stop of the day was Mash Tun, a fun, “beer centric” hang out. We ordered beer, cocktails, Brussels sprouts, and cheese fries and since we had seats at the bar, we grilled the bartender for info about the secret bar we were on the hunt for.
2016-08-06-14-09-59Our second stop was donuts at the holy donut, which was disappointing. They were out of everything except for chocolate sea salt. The four of us shared one, and it was just okay. While the flavor was good, the donuts are made from potatoes, which gives them a different texture than what I’m used to. Give me a strawberry glazed doughnut from Duck Donuts, or an Apple Fritter from Glazed any day! 2016-08-06-14-53-42-1Stop #3 was by far the best stop: The Honey Paw. We ordered 5- 6 dishes to share, and everything was amazing. We started with the fry bread and uni butter…
2016-08-06-15-44-15Somen noodles, ginger, pork… this was fantastic! 2016-08-06-15-50-02-1And my favorite dish of the day: fried shisito peppers with ponzu aioli. These were absolutely phenomenal.
2016-08-06-15-48-49-1Both couples ended the meal with a serving of caramelized honey soft serve with honeycomb and magic shell. This was good, but not mind blowing.
2016-08-06-16-17-57-2Our 4th stop was Lincolns, which was the coolest stop of the day. A speakeasy with a menu where everything was $5. The search for this place was so much fun! It’s cash only, so come prepared (although there is an ATM right outside…). Inside, it’s dark and cozy, with Lincoln posters all over the walls. But the best part: everything is $5 They don’t have exciting cocktails or anything, but  the have a good variety of liquor + mixers, beer, and wine – all for $5. Definitely worth searching for if you’re in Portland. Ask around – people will give you clues, but no one will actually tell you where it is. All four of us even bought $5 Lincolns t-shirts. 2016-08-06-17-36-402016-08-06-17-41-20Our final stop of the day was for poutine at Duckfat. (There was a spot in between Lincolns and Duckfat, but we’re not going to talk about that one…) This was so delicious and it makes me so angry that poutine (or just regular gravy fries) aren’t a thing in the south! These were fairly simple, with just gravy, cheese curds and chives, 2016-08-06-07-35-37It was such a delicious day, and a great way to spend a day with friends. I’m sure I gained at least 5 pounds, but it was well worth it. This was such a fun way to explore a new city. Or even a city we know well – like Charlotte. I definitely want to plan a day like this with friends on one of our next visits home.

Moving on to Maine

In April, two of our favorite Virginians packed up their lives and moved to Maine. Their part of Maine is only a few hours from Boston, so on that Friday, we checked out of our hotel and headed up to Maine.

We did make a few stops before we left Massachusetts. Our first stop was at the Rebecca Nurse homestead, but it was cash only to take the tour, so we passed on that (note to self: start carrying SOME cash on vacation).  But, we did stop by the Witch Trials memorial in Danvers. 2016-08-04-22-46-08 2016-08-04-22-45-55After that, we headed to the Crane Estate on Castle Hill. Y’all. This place was AMAZING. We stumbled upon it earlier in our trip, but it was closed, so we made a note to come back.

This was the photo from their website: estate-bSeriously. This place was AMAZING. The mansion was built in 1928, and is absolutely breathtaking. Seriously, give me this over the Biltmore Estate ANY day.
2016-08-05-12-24-01One of the things that was the most interesting about the house was the detailed woodwork. Apparently the house was built when the aristocracy in England were losing money and selling their estates. So, the Crane Family purchased a lot of the ornate carvings from England. 2016-08-05-12-20-592016-08-05-12-17-522016-08-04-23-32-14The house is gorgeous, but the real stay of the show is the “backyard”. Lots of rolling hills that eventually lead to this view. 2016-08-05-12-42-402016-08-05-12-47-25After making our way back up to the house, we stopped at the gardens before heading to the car. The gardens were really pretty. Graham was getting attacked by bugs, so he went on to get the car, while I hung out and played with my camera. 2016-08-05-12-59-592016-08-05-13-00-512016-08-05-00-22-292016-08-05-00-23-162016-08-05-00-21-48After leaving the estate, we headed to Maine. It took us FOREVER to get there, but we had enough time to stop in Kennebunkport for ice cream before heading to see Sav & Elise. We had stopped for ice cream here on our last trip to Maine, and had been looking forward to this for the whole trip. 2016-08-05-16-36-05-1On to middle of nowhere Maine! Our plan was to meet for dinner at the brewery that Sav works at, and then all four of us would head back to their place. The brewery (Norway Brewing Company) is fairly new and super cute. The design of the place was so perfect and well thought out. The dining area was bright and cheerful, the garden on the patio was a nice touch, and (most importantly), they had REAL hand soap in the bathroom, not the foam crap that most places have. I don’t drink beer, so I’m useless when it comes to telling you if the beer was good or bad. Graham ordered a flight and then another regular sized beer. The food however… the food was amazing!
2016-08-05-19-52-18-12016-08-05-19-05-41-1After an amazing dinner, we went back to their place and planned our day trip to Portland. SO much good food, SO much alcohol. Stay tuned =)