A long weekend in New Orleans: Trip tips & advice

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My love languages (Spoliers: It’s coffee + books!)

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With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about love languages.  Now, love languages are a communication and relationship theory created by Gary Chapman in his 1995 book, “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.” You can read more about this here.

But basically, he breaks down the way your S.O. can show love to you (and the way you most appreciate/recognize acts of love) into 5 categories:

  • Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

Everyone has a category they feel most strongly that says “I love you!”, according to Chapman’s theory. There are quiz’s in his book to help you identify which one suits you best, and doing so can help improve your relationships. That’s the gist of it anyway.

BUT—I kind of think that most people probably fall into several categories, like so many things in life, right? We want love shown to us in more than one way, and sometimes, very specific ways. I think it’s important to know what those things are about yourself, so you can share them with your S.O’s (or even your friends, or any relationship in your life, really. Let’s not discount showing love to your besties, or your mom!)

So, with that being said, I’ve puzzled over this a bit, and here are the oddly specific things that are MY love languages! I think they fall into  a little bit of all of the categories above, and if you do any of these things for me, I’m sure to send plenty of heart eye emojis at you!

Continue reading “My love languages (Spoliers: It’s coffee + books!)”

My travel bucketlist

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This is me planning out my upcoming vacations, in my Instagrammable dream. (JK, guys, this is a stock photo.)

I think most people have a mental list of the places they would like to visit in their life. In fact, it tends to be a popular question to ask when you’re getting to know someone new—“Where do you want to travel most in the world?”  I have a hard time picking ONE place I want to travel most in the world, because there’s so many places I still want to check off of my list!

I’ve been very lucky to have traveled to many wonderful places already in my life, but I think that only opens your eyes wider to all the possibilities that are waiting for you beyond your daily life. I know there’s so many coffee shops to explore, mountains to see, historical houses to tour, breweries to visit, fields to tromp through, and amazing photos to take all over the world, I can hardly stand it to stay in one place!

Maybe you feel the same way sometimes, especially in the winter when we’re all stuck inside a lot binge-watching Netflix shows and dreaming about warmer weather and landscapes in shades other than brown and dirty-snow grey.

You too? Great! Let’s take a mental vacation together as we look at the places on my travel bucket list. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to create a list of your own!

What’s on my travel bucket list (in no particular order):

 

  1. Tour of the Pacific Northwest: pexels-photo-419235.jpegNow, I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest before, thanks to my time living in Seattle and exploring the city, as well as a visit to Portland. However, I was somewhat limited in where I traveled due to my lack of a vehicle, and for whatever reason, my total lack of interest in beer at the time. I would love to go back and do a proper tour of the Pacific Northwest that includes more nature attractions that I didn’t get a chance to get out to, as well as visit some of the amazing breweries that call that region their home. It would also be so fun to re-visit some of my favorite haunts from my time living in Seattle.

2. Wine country and Northern California:

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Wouldn’t it be amazing to walk along this Napa Valley vineyard and pluck a grape right from the vine?

I spent a brief long weekend visiting a friend in San Francisco five or so years ago, and it was one of my favorite vacations! We took a single day trip on an organized tour into wine country, and it was the literal highlight of the trip for me. I would love to go back and do a proper wine country trip, either on one of those fun wine trains that takes you to multiple wineries, or on another organized bus tour where you get to visit multiple wineries, vineyards over a day or two, and perhaps stay a night in the region. Also, I know that Jeff will never do this with me , but god help me I want to go on a hot air balloon ride here! I’ll just have to go with the toothless hot air balloon operator while he waves from down below, I suppose. *sigh* Life is hard.

3. Boston:

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Boston has that mix of old world + new world charm that is so fun to explore, I feel!

Now here is a city that is NOT THAT FAR AWAY but I have never been to! Boston appeals to me because there is so much history there, and I think I would love tromping about the city, coffee in hand, exploring the cultural and historical sites while surrounded by urban splendor. It just sounds lovely. Maybe we need to make this our next vacation, eh Jeff?

4. A national parks tour out west:

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Look at this vista! I need to be in this vista. 

There are so many amazing and breathtaking national parks in the Western part of the U.S. that I want to see! Zion national park! Arches National Park! Glacier National Park! Yellowstone! I could name more! I’d love to plan a trip that loops through the biggest and best and gives you the highlights.

5. Disney world: pexels-photo-771502.jpegI’ve been to Disney world as a child and to Animal King more recently a few years ago as an adult, but I’m talking a proper long-haul trip where you hit up all the parks and do it right. Maybe in a year or two this will happen .

6. A Disney cruise:

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How adorable are sailor Minnie and Mickey?!

Disney owns its own private island in the Bahamas and I think it sounds pretty fantastic to spend a few days cruising around with the best customer service and the happiest place on the seas.

7. Greece:santorini-travel-holidays-vacation-161275.jpeg Now we’re getting into the heavy hitters and travelling overseas. Here we go. I feel this intense longing to go to Greece ever since we were supposed to go on a family trip there in 2001 and canceled it due to the political climate and travelling concerns after 9/11. All things considered, I’m sure I would not have fully appreciated a trip to Greece as a 13 year old as I would now as an adult. Greece is another one of those places that seems to have that perfect combination of natural beauty, endless pictorial vistas, delicious food (feta for daysss), and enough historical sites and culture to fill up your tourist quotas while you’re there. I think it would be lovely and so unique!

8. Germany:

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Look, you can see mountains AND a castle in one view! Amazing!

I think of Germany and I think of mountains, and castles, and bratwurst,and beer! I want to all of these things!  I think there are a lot of great urban and small town cities to visit in Germany with well-known and off the beaten path attractions to keep you occupied. Prost!

9. Italy and Paris: pexels-photo-208729.jpegI’m lumping these two together because I know they are a cliché, and also because I have been to both countries before, so I feel like they should get less of a priority somehow? But at the same time, whatever, no. I was 16 when I was in Paris, and I want to go back and do it properly! There is so much more to the city of love and lights and I’d love to go back and see it all through my more seasoned and appreciative eyes. In Italy, I have been to a few port towns but not the big-hitters of Rome or Venice or Pisa, so you know those are on my list. It is even conceivable you could do these two countries in one trip if you had like two weeks of vacation time to really do it right.

 

So there you have it my travel-bug friends–my top 9 must-do travel destinations! I’m sure this list will grow and evolve and hopefully change as I cross items off, or find new places to add!

What’s on your travel bucket list? Share it with me in the comments!

A (healthy-ish) recipe round up for the new year!

It’s that time of year where it seems like most people are trying to stick to healthier habits of some kind.

Whether you feel inspired to get a healthy-eating or fitness kick at the start of the new year or just want some new dinner ideas to try out, I have some “healthy-ish” recipes to share with you that will keep you on track and taste delicious!

Happy New Year from these two goofs!

Continue reading “A (healthy-ish) recipe round up for the new year!”

Starbucks tips and tricks

This is how bundled up I was on my NYE walk!

It’s the dead of winter; that bone-chilling time of year where temperatures hover below zero and it’s a struggle to leave the warmth of your bed each morning.

I know one thing that motivates me to get up and moving this day is my morning trip to Starbucks. Am I cliche? Absolutely. But does a warm cup of coffee help cut through the cold, gloom, and bitterness of January? Also true!

If you’re in the same boat as me, I want to help you make some smart choices at good ol’ S-Bux. My knowledge and wisdom comes from nearly 15 years of being a Starbucks customer (hey, thanks 16-year old Mary for getting hooked so young!), as well as my brief flirtation as a barista during my time in Seattle.

Note: Not me as an actual barista, but from Halloween this past year. But, this is my actual apron from Starbucks!

Do you know some better tips or tricks to navigating your favorite coffee chain? Let me know, please! I actually do like trying other coffee joints, so I’d love to hear your tips! I also fully admit, I don’t know everything about what I’m talking about–only, maybe, like, 2% of the topic. So, take this all with a grain of salt, and enjoy your morning hot beverage like a (not at all) pro!

Tips and tricks for becoming a Starbucks pro

  • Get a Starbucks card. If you go to Starbucks more than once a month, then you really should consider this. It’s free. It gets you free stuff. Why would you not want to? You can connect it to the Starbucks app and you don’t even have to carry around the card. You can literally walk into Starbucks with your phone and pay for things. It’s magic. Roughly every 10 drinks or so ( I know they changed the star system, but I feel like it still works out to be about the same), you get a free drink or food item. So yeah, it’s worth it! Just do it.

 

  • Use the mobile ordering app. No for real, I was resistant for awhile too. It seemed like one of those things that they were just pushing down your throat, and I didn’t really understand the value, but here’s how it goes. Order your drink, breakfast sandwich, banana, whatever, from your Starbucks mobile app, and it’s ready when you walk in the door. No waiting in line. No awkward morning conversations with the barista. No fumbling for change. It’s just there, ready and waiting. This does require you to have a smart phone, have the Starbucks app, and have a connected Starbucks card. But friend, it is all so, worth it. Especially if you are like me and pick up your coffee en route to the office every morning–a long line can seriously through off your schedule! I recommend ordering via the mobile app at least 5 minutes before you plan to arrive. Bonus: the mobile app also lists nutritional information for all of the menu items, if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

  • Ask for less pumps of flavor/sweetener to cut back on sugar. There’s “classic” sweetener in a LOT of Starbucks drinks. That “black” iced coffee has it, and so does your iced tea, and so do the tea lattes. Be informed! Know what’s in your drink. It’s totally cool, normal, and even expected to ask for these things “Without classic”, “without sweetener” or even “with just one pump”, to lower the sweetness.

 

  • Just to play devil’s advocate here, you can also rock your flavor world by ADDING a pump of flavor to plain coffee for a fun new drink at a lower cost then a latte. One of my favorite coffee combos is a dark roast coffee with one pump hazelnut. It’s delicious!

 

  • If you don’t want to get a latte version of a drink, you can also just add steamed milk to coffees and teas. This tends to be more affordable then the menu version of the drink and often doesn’t include the extra pumps of sweetener/flavors. I really enjoy half coffee, half non-fat steamed milk. Steamed milk actually has a lot of natural sweetness to it, so you don’t even need too add extra sugar to it! Note: I haven’t been able to figure out how to order a drink with steamed milk via the Mobile App, but it’s definitely possible in real life, and not a weird request, I promise. I think this is just a glitch with the app that Starbucks needs to add in. Let’s all tweet them about it!

 

  • You can order their breakfast sandwiches all day long. The reduced-fat turkey bacon breakfast sandwich is one of the lowest-calorie items on the menu for a complete meal (I believe it’s 230 calories), and I have definitely eaten it as a breakfast and a lunch on different occasions. I highly recommend the sous vi egg bites too! Delicious!

 

  •  If you LOVE putting extra cream or milk into your coffee, order a tall coffee in a grande cup so you have more room. I’ve personally never done this, but when I worked at Starbucks people did this all the time, so I know it’s a thing. On the bonus side, you’ll likely end up with some extra coffee, too, because it’s kind of hard to tell where the “tall” size ends when you’re using a grande cup.

 

  • If you really like plain coffee or tea, I super recommend getting the January refill mug that Starbucks offers.
    This is the 2018 January refill mug! It’s glorious.

    You can buy it December each year for $40, and then all through the month of January you get free coffee or tea. It’s a great deal if you go to Starbucks A LOT (hello, commuters, 9-5’ers and caffeine-addicts!). I got it last year and it was well worth its value after 20 days, so I got it again this year! The mugs are also super high quality, for what it’s worth. My coffee stays hot inside the mug for 6 hours!

 

  • There’s no such thing as a “Secret menu”. There’s just items on the menu, and items not on the menu. These secret menu drinks that circle the internet are just drink combos that people come up with, that yes,you can order. But here’s the real secret: you can order anything! Get a mocha with three pumps of caramel and call it the squishy teddy bear latte. Did you just invent a secret drink? No. There are some select drinks that used to be on the menu and aren’t anymore that barista’s “in the know” (AKA: they’ve been there awhile) will still happily make for you, but again, these aren’t secret. So yeah. Order whatever you want, but you’re better off just asking for the ingredients (base drink + # of pumps of whatever) rather than the weird name it has on the internet.

There you have it, fellow coffee lovers. Now let’s all take a break and go grab a hot cup of joe, shall we?

Let me know your favorite tips and tricks for ordering at Starbucks in the comments below!

My 2018 new things list (and 2017 list recap!)

My list of new things in 2017:

  1. Take a class at the arboretum.Success! I took a beginning nature drawing class in March and drew this lovely piece of ginger root.
  2. Figure out how to monetize my blog.Didn’t even attempt this one.
  3. Get a newspaper subscription and read the news. Yes! I’ve been getting the paper since February or so of 2017 and it’s been great!
  4. Plant a garden. Readers of this blog know I accomplished this with surprising success! I’m pretty dang proud of my first ever garden.
  5. Plant a tree.  Okay, I’m counting this as a win because a tree was planted in our yard, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with the physical planting of it. But, regardless, we now have a red bud of our very own!
  6. Walk, bike, or elliptical the distance between my house and Florida.Man, I started this one and kept up with it for a good 4 months or so, and then failed utterly at keeping track of my miles. So no luck here.
  7. Use NANOWRIMO to start writing a book.  YES! WOOHOO! I did this! I’m so happy! I wrote a series of short stories rather than a full novel, but, still counts.
  8. A.  gosh-darn. Two-layer. Cake. Praise the lord I can finally cross this one off the list.

Wow, 6/8, not bad, guys! I’m fairly impressed with my productivity on in 2017.

My 2018 new things list!

  1. Try to live more in the here and now. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s next and what’s coming down the road, but it’s healthy and beneficial to our day-to-day happiness to appreciate what’s going on the present. I think this is definitely something I can work on more. My daily gratitude journal helps with this, for sure, but I want to work more on this in 2018.
  2. To cook more with ingredients I don’t use that often. I rarely cook fish—it scares me! It’s so temperamental! And I’ve NEVER cooked with tofu. I want to try fun, tasty recipes with both of these in the new year.
  3. To look into self-publishing. What would it take to publish my own book. Is it possible? Is it even something I want to do? I completed NANOWRIMO in 2017 (yay!), but now I need to contemplate whether any of what I wrote is worth sharing/revising/or publishing.
  4. Buy a pair of ice skates (moderately priced, nothing crazy), and go ice skating!
  5. Explore more of Winfield of the Winfield parks. There are several we’ve never been too and I definitely want to check them out in 2018!
  6. Take a class at the Winfield park district, fitness or otherwise.
  7. Travel somewhere new (near or far, just needs to be somewhere I have never been before)
  8. Drink more water! I’m really bad at drinking water unless I consciously think about it. I know it’s important, so I think this is a good goal.
  9. Go to these restaurants that I’ve been wanting to try: Flight 112 in Elmhurst, the rooftop bar at Craftsman in Naperville, Maciano’s for a sit down dinner, Mason Sebika
  10. Write a poem a day in April for national poetry month. 

I feel like that’s a solid list of new things to kick off the new year, friends!  Even if I don’t finish every item on the list, I know that by giving it a go I’ll have a great year full of adventures.

What’s on your list of New Year’s Resolutions or new things to try in 2018?

Happy new year to all and I wish you all the best in the year ahead!

My favorite holiday decorations

‘Tis the season to be festive, fa la la la la la!

Everyone celebrates the holidays in their own way, but if there is one sure fire way to help me kick off the season right, it’s definitely decorating the house with my favorite holiday decorations. I thought it would be fun to take you on a little tour of my favorite decorations, both old and new, that have special meaning for me and help me feel extra festive this year.

Without further ado, here are my favorite holiday decorations!

Continue reading “My favorite holiday decorations”

Meet Sherlock and Watson

What could be better then a photo introduction to the two best cats in the world? Last March, my boyfriend and I adopted these two tabby cats from the DuPage County Animal Shelter after more than a year of discussing how we wanted a cat. Now that we have two, we don’t know how we ever lived without them! What did we talk about? What did we do all day? Our cats truly make our lives better every day.

In honor of Sherlock and Watson, and because everyone loves a good cat picture, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite pictures of these two goof balls, along with a few fun facts about them, too!

  • We adopted these cuties in March 2017!
  • They are four years old and are brothers.
  • They are very shy around new people but warm up after awhile, especially if you give them their treats!
  • This is our first ever photo with them on day two, and they still weren’t super comfortable with us yet so they are squirming to get away.
  • Watson loves being held now, by Sherlock still isn’t a fan.

  • They are actually quite hard to tell apart at times. When we first got them, we gave them blue(Sherlock) and red(Watson) collars to distinguish them, but the collars irritated them, so we gave those up pretty quickly. Sherlock is slightly bigger and I think Watson has a narrower face, but there are still times where we say “Which cat are you?” when one of them walks into a room.

  • Neither cat is that into straight up catnip, but boy do they both love this catnip snake we bought for them. It’s like Game of Thrones around here when they battle over who gets to guard it, sit with it, or roll around with it. This is Sherlock here, being silly.

  • They definitely do act like brothers–they are always following each other around, sniffing one another, grooming each other, laying near one another, and occasionally fighting, too.

  • Our bed quickly became a favorite nap zone.

  • As did the back of the couch. Our dreams came true when the cats started hanging around us while we watched TV. They are truly couch potatoes–especially Sherlock, who never misses a chance to curl up with us when we’re on the couch.

  • If our cats had a list of favorite things, “warm sun” would be on the top, for sure. They’re never too far away from a patch of sunshine on a bright day.

  • These dining room windows are the best for the kitties because it’s low enough for them to sit and stare right out of it to watch the bunnies, squirrels and birds.

 

  • We learned after awhile that our cats really liked these cardboard scratching pads and quickly bought one for nearly every room in the house. They use them all the time and (rarely) scratch the furniture now.  Watson especially likes this scratcher/lounger.
  • A nice lady at the animal shelter made this bed for the cats when we adopted them. For weeks (months?!) the cats paid them no mind. Then, all of a sudden, Watson started using them and looking frankly adorable. Look how cute and cozy he is!
  • Watson is the climber of the two and will occasionally meow at us to come look at where he has ended up this time–usually on the shelf. Good job, Watson!

 

  • A fine example of a cat loaf (Sherlock) and a more casual, half crescent cat (Watson).

  • Christmas with the cats this year is the happiest time of all. Is there anything better than a cat under a Christmas tree? No! Our cats have (so far) had no interest in climbing the tree or batting at ornaments. They just want to nap on the velvety soft tree skirt, which is fine with me as long as I can continue to take photos of them doing so!

That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed seeing some photos of our little family. I’m sure I’ll find an excuse to post more photos of them in the future!

 

Things I’m grateful for 

It’s Thanksgiving time! Let’s reflect on what we’re grateful for. 

‘Tis the season for sharing what you’re grateful for, and what better place then here on my blog with all of you!

As some of you might remember, I try and practice a habit of writing down three things I’m grateful for every day in my planner. Some days I get busy and forget, but by and large it’s easy to flip back through the past year and see what I’ve been grateful for the most!

I’m grateful for beautiful fall moments like this.


Here’s a roundup of things I’ve been most grateful for in 2017( so far, and not in any particular order of importance!):

Obviously I’m grateful for coffee, especially artful lattes. This is a real photo I took last week, not a stock photo. Can you even believe it?
  • Working from home( amen!!)
  • Dark hair/ getting my hair done
  • Good tv shows
  • Studio movie grill ( I’m grateful for this an awkward number of times throughout the year )
  • Blogging
  • Fall weather
  • New clothes
  • Good weekends
  • Long chats
  • Finding new recipes and home cooked meals
  • Coffee
  • Seeing family and friends
  • Date nights with Jeff, and Jeff in general
  • Reading on the train
  • My book club!
  • Cross stitch evenings
  • Leggings
  • Disney trips
  • Being at home on rainy/snowy days
  • Arboretum visits
  • Fridays!
  • Pay days!
  • Warm weather
  • Fireflies
  • Evening walks
  • Good books
  • Getting mail
  • Getting my nails done
  • Sherlock and Watson, our cozy cats
  • Our house
Portrait mode: making my boyfriend look artsy while playing Pokemon Go. It’s a magical thing. Grateful for you, Jeff!

Those are just a small selection of some of the things I’ve written down throughout the past year that I’ve been grateful for. There’s still a month left in the year and I’m looking forward to spending time with friends and family this holiday season–something I am grateful for and definitely will not take for granted.

I’m grateful for our cats who always want to be cozy and watch TV with us!

If you are looking for a way to improve your day-to-day quality of life, I highly recommend adopting your own version of a daily gratitude journal, or list! Check out my blog post from last year about this practice and how easy it is to get started.

I hope you all have a Happy thanksgiving–I’ll be taking next week off from writing a new blog post to enjoy the holiday, so I’ll see you all in two weeks!

I’m grateful to have views like this outside my front window.

Year one of homeownership adventures!

It’s official–we’ve owned our home for a whole year! In some ways its hard to believe it has already been a full year–weren’t we just touring houses and meeting with our realtor, like, yesterday? But on the other hand, this house already feels so much like our “home”, it’s easy to feel like we’ve never lived anywhere else, too.

So, what have we learned after a year of home ownership? Well, besides the fact that we still don’t know what we’re doing most of the time, we have picked up a few lessons along the way.

Here are a few of the adventures and experiences we’ve had after 1 year of owning a home:

  • Houses make all kinds of weird noises! Our first few weeks in the house we spent a lot of time wandering around the house investigating every weird noise we heard. The sump pump made such a weird, loud clunk! Every time the heat or fan came on, it startled me, at first. The ice maker in the freezer STILL scares me, and you can hear it through the whole house.
  • Old windows are hard to open. And creak and groan, and even sometimes don’t stay open very well.
  • You don’t get very much fresh air if you forget to open all of the storm windows. Which we definitely did until halfway into Spring.
  • If you hear a strange beeping coming from your basement right before you’re going on a long trip, it’s a really good idea to assume its the worst (your sump pump warning alarm) and call a plumber to come out the same day. So, so happy we didn’t ignore this, since our entire sump pump had to be replaced, and we probably saved our self a flooded basement!
  • hanging out in the basement during the two weeks our AC was down!

    If your 30 year old air conditioner breaks in May, take a deep breath, close your eyes when you sign the very expensive bill, and get a new one, because it will inevitable become 90 degrees that same week. When that happens, hide in the basement with beer.

  • I was stunned to learn I have a peonies in my yard! It only bloomed for a few days this year.

    One of the coolest things I experienced in our first year in this house was witnessing all of the plants and flowers that came up in every season in our yard. It was such a delight to go outside every day and see something new and beautiful waiting for me! It’s been fun learning what all of the plants are, and thinking about what new plants and flowers to add in the future.

  • Our family room was empty for awhile while we shopped for furniture.

    It takes awhile to fill a house with furniture. There’s a big difference between an apartment full of furniture and a house full of furniture! We definitely had a few empty rooms for several months before we started slowly adding pieces to them. Our basement is still empty for the foreseeable future, and I have a long list of things to upgrade as life goes on!

  • Our shiny new replacement patio table top after last year’s shattered in the wind. 

    It’s not a good idea to leave a patio umbrella open on window days. We learned this lesson the hard way within the first week of moving in when the wind tipped over our patio table and umbrella and shattered the glass table top. Oops! We are much more careful now.

  • Backyard BBQ’s are always a good time!

    Having a backyard for grilling and a front porch for hanging out and relaxing on is the best thing in maybe the world!

  • Storage space is maybe the #1 perk in owning a home. Need to store that random box? Done! Need a whole shelf for Christmas decorations? Got it! Need an extra closet for computer parts? Sure thing! It’s glorious not to have to stress about space issues anymore.
  • Sherlock and Watson, AKA the best part of every day!

    We didn’t realize how much our home needed cats until after we adopted them. What did we do with our lives until we had cats? What did we even talk about, or do, and how did our lives even have meaning!? Minor exaggeration, but for real, adopting cats has truly made our house into a home. They are the best!

  • Brilliant Maple trees line the path along the park across the street from our house. 

    Taking walks in and around the three parks in our neighborhood is a daily routine for us and we love it! I feel so grateful to have so many wonderful parks and natural spaces in our neighborhood.

  • Our Halloween party this year!

    Hosting parties, having guests, and experiencing the holidays in our home have been some of my fondest memories over the past year. It makes me so proud of our home and to share it with others.

I can’t believe we’ve already been in our house a whole year, and it makes me excited and hopeful for the many more years ahead we have here. I’m looking forward to more parties, family gatherings, and improving little things as we go!