My Top 10 Book Recommendations for the New Year

From a young age, I loved to read. It was a type of escape, something that both inspired and excited me. For a short time, I even thought I wanted to be an author – although eventually I realized that anything I wrote was mostly for fun and not something I would want to pursue professionally.

At some point between high school and college, however, I lost my love of reading. Maybe it was because I was being “forced” to read in school, or because I was discovering another great passage-of-time, Netflix – but in any case, I stopped reading for fun.

Since graduation, I have rekindled (no pun intended) my love of reading. In all honesty, it is largely due to my 30-40 minute commute to and from work. Reading is, again, my escape; my escape from the crowded, humid, (often) smelly subway car that I willingly pack myself onto every morning and every evening.

Across the past year, I had the pleasure of reading some really incredible novels on my commute that I wanted to share with you. I generally go for a specific type of book; fiction, with a female protagonist who gets involved in some incredibly dramatic, unrealistic, and often mysterious conflict. So, if you enjoy a similar genre, these books are absolutely for you!

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn, 2014

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins, 2015

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty, 2015

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal… A murder…a tragic accident…or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads… Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

The Vanishing Year

Kate Moretti, 2016

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

Pretty Girls

Karin Slaughter, 2016

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed. Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago… and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

My Husband’s Wife

Jane Corry, 2017

When young lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start and leave the secrets of the past behind. But then she takes on her first murder case and meets Joe, a convicted murderer to whom Lily is strangely drawn—and for whom she will soon be willing to risk almost anything. But Lily is not the only one with secrets. Her next-door neighbor Carla may be only nine, but she has already learned that secrets are powerful things. That they can get her whatever she wants. When Lily finds Carla on her doorstep twelve years later, a chain of events is set in motion that can end only one way.

Behind Closed Doors

B.A. Paris, 2017

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable. Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows. Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.

The Couple Next Door

Shari Lapena, 2017

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night, when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years. What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Thought I Knew You

Kate Moretti, 2014

Claire Barnes is shattered when her husband, Greg, goes on a business trip and never returns. Unwilling to just wait for the police to find him, Claire conducts her own investigation. Her best friend Drew helps her look for answers, but all she finds are troubling questions. With every clue, she discovers that Greg may not be the man she thought she married. While battling her growing feelings for Drew and raising her two young children, Claire must learn to live with the knowledge that the truth behind Greg’s disappearance may never be revealed.

What Alice Forgot

Liane Moriarty, 2012

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over—she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over…

I am always open to suggestions, too! I would love to know if there are any books you’ve read recently that you just couldn’t put down – share your favorite reads with me!

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5 Things I Learned from My Design Date with Drew & Jonathan Scott (aka The Property Brothers)

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet Drew and Jonathan Scott in person as they promoted their new home furnishings site, Casaza. And I was even LUCKIER because I ended up winning the giveaway for a 30 minute design consultation with the brothers as well as a $1,000 credit to the Casaza site!

Because Drew and Jonathan are busy traveling and filming on location in Calgary, the consultation was online via Skype. I was SUPER nervous – seriously, these guys are world-renowned real estate/renovation/design GODS. Why wouldn’t I be nervous?! Despite the number of times Matt reminded me, they’re just people… but they can literally do everything and have made a hugely successful empire because of it. But, Matt was totally right – I had nothing to be nervous about. Drew and Jonathan were both so incredibly nice and made the whole experience really comfortable and engaging. And yes, Matt got to be a part of the consultation too!

Right off the bat, Jonathan asked me if I was a designer. I had sent over a floor plan and photos of my apartment ahead of time so that they could be better prepared for the conversation and make the best use of our time without them physically being there to see what I had done so far. I was SO flattered that he had assumed I was professionally in the field, but I explained to him that while I do love interior design, it really is more of a hobby and my career is based around graphic and web design.

Jonathan explained that he felt I had a really good eye and that they didn’t need to “retrain” me on the stuff I was already doing. He also shared with us that he started out his career as a graphic designer, too (which I may have already known from my research…).

Drew echoed Jonathan’s sentiment that they didn’t have a ton to critique design-wise about our apartment, and encouraged us to ask them whatever questions we had since we had the full half hour to chat. Of course it was an amazing thing to hear coming from such highly-esteemed designers. Personally I would have had plenty of things to critique about our apartment, but that’s just because I’m super nit-picky (and probably a little crazy).

As the conversation progressed, both Jonathan and Drew did have a bit more feedback to share about certain areas of the apartment. We all agreed that the bedroom needs a lot of work – it’s an area I have yet to focus on, hence why I don’t usually post photos of that space. Luckily, my plan is to use the $1,000 Casaza credit to transform the bedroom from a blank canvas into a tranquil retreat with a photo-worthy design.

The consultation was an awesome learning experience and I did take away a few key insights that I think will really affect how I approach design going forward:

1. Create a gender-neutral space by finding common ground.

One of the first questions I raised to Drew and Jonathan was about creating a space that both Matt and I can enjoy. This is the first time I’ve ever lived with someone of the opposite sex, and I don’t want the apartment to feel blatantly feminine. Not to say my taste is super “girly,” but I want Matt to feel like this is his space too, not just my space that he is living in.

Drew and Jonathan explained that there is a lot about their process that you don’t see in the Property Brothers show. They create inspiration boards for each homeowner, and there is a lot of back and forth that doesn’t make the final cut of the episode. Jonathan shared that he usually encourages his clients to go online (Google, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) and collect visuals of what they like, from fabrics to colors to textures to pieces of furniture. Then they come back together, whether it be with the roommate, spouse, or designer, to collaborate once they have a better sense of their style. His way to describe it: “Tinder for furniture.”

They did share that they thought I was already doing a good job bringing some masculinity into the space, using earth tones and grays in our decor pieces. A suggestion they gave was to avoid “glam” pieces, like rhinestones and crystals, which they joked that Matt would love. Matt did not agree.

2. It’s fun to continually improve your space, but it can get expensive.

The first step is admitting you have a problem – and I definitely have this problem. I LOVE finding new items to add to the space and swapping out pieces I feel need a refresh. After reading Joanna Gaines’s new book, Homebody, I was pleasantly surprised to learn she feels the same way (I finished the whole thing in one night, no biggie). But, I figured it couldn’t hurt to raise this question to Jonathan and Drew as well to get another perspective.

First, they asked me if it’s “the itch” that has me constantly wanting to change things up, or if it’s for a specific purpose. For me, it’s definitely the itch.

I think (and I wish I had thought to explain this in the moment… stage fright, I guess) it’s a way for me to channel not only my creativity, but also my desire to be designing homes. I have such a passion for creating beautiful, livable spaces, and the only time I get to feed that passion is when I’m working on my own apartment. It’s honestly a drive I can’t control, and I think it makes me borderline obsessive about our space. And the feeling I get when I walk into Target and see all the new home decor items available is one of my favorite feelings – it’s comparable to a high.

In any case, Jonathan and Drew did warn me that while it can be a lot of fun, there are potentially dangerous aspects of this type of behavior. Jonathan, who was also a financial advisor in a past life (what hasn’t this guy done?!), explained that a lot of smaller items will eventually add up, and that money spent on the little things like pillows, vases, etc. could have been used for a bigger ticket item.

Drew did mention, however, that once you have your own house it feels more like… well, like it’s your own, whereas when you are renting you feel like you are constantly trying to tweak someone else’s place. But he did also warn that constant tweaking and nit-picking can often get very annoying for the other person living with you (oops… sorry, Matt!).

3. Try and solve your “lifestyle problems” first when designing a space.

This one sort of goes hand-in-hand with the previous question. Although I do love to be constantly changing and updating our space, Jonathan and Drew shared that, first and foremost, your home should make your life easier.

Before you go out and start buying all of these little decor pieces that you think look really nice, understand what your frustrations are. Do you have a lack of storage in your home? If so, look for pieces that solve this problem. Look for chaise lounges with room for storage, or nesting tables that can be stacked one above the other when not in use. If you take this approach, make a list of the things you can and can’t live without, and try to solve your lifestyle problems first.

4. Random is okay.

This is definitely something I’ve struggled with – I naturally gravitate towards uniformity and organization. For me, “random” is a challenge. And by random, I mean a few different things. In the scope of my conversation with Drew and Jonathan, we touched upon “random” in terms of the nightstands in our bedroom and the gallery wall above our couch.

When it comes to the bedroom, I shared with Drew and Jonathan that the dimensions of the room (11’6″ x 11’6″) make it hard to do much with the space beyond simply having a bed, two side tables, and a dresser. They agreed that yes, it’s a very small space and there isn’t a lot that can be done. Jonathan explained, however, that he thinks we could do something more exciting with the nightstands. He doesn’t believe both nightstands have to be the same, and that we could potentially go for a more eclectic feel.

Personally, I am a big fan of symmetry; there’s just something so visually pleasing to me about having the same nightstand and same lamp on each side of the bed. It’s expected, it’s routine. But even saying that out loud (or, in writing rather) sounds super boring. So, thinking outside the box here and going out of my comfort zone to challenge myself to find two different nightstands that complement each other (while creating a more eclectic feel) is something that I never would have thought to do otherwise.

As we were discussing the gallery wall above the couch, I explained to Drew and Jonathan that I felt it was a bit undersized (and had been under the impression when I ordered the frame that the whole gallery would be a bit bigger).

They agreed that yes, it was probably too small for the area. But, beyond that, Jonathan explained that it was all a bit too uniform to him. He didn’t like the symmetry of it, and felt like a more random arrangement would look better in the space. He suggested that since I already had a bunch of smaller black frames from this gallery, to go out and buy some larger black frames and then place them all randomly on the wall to make a more visually exciting arrangement. They also suggested using construction paper and tape to plan out the gallery wall before mounting to avoid any additional accidental wall holes.

5. Start saving now for your future home.

This one seems so obvious, but hearing it from seasoned pros like these guys truly struck home. We explained to Drew and Jonathan that we are currently renting this apartment and have another year and a half on the lease. They asked when we were planning to buy a house – a question which had both of us a bit tongue tied.

They explained that the sooner you can get into home ownership the better because you can grow with the market, and that there are a lot of things you can do that not only add equity to the home but also function with your life better. We agreed that while this was likely true, it’s a difficult thing to think about when living so close to the city.

Jonathan shared that in terms of saving for a home, it can actually be easy and even fun. He explained that if you were making $60,000 a year, at the end of the year you’ve spent everything you have. Then, say you get a raise and make $65,000 a year. At the end of the year, do you have an extra $5,000 lying around? No, because we have the natural tendency to spend all of the money we have. So, he recommended you be diligent and start small, by putting away even $50 per month and then increasing it from there. He’s seen clients who put several hundred away per month and suddenly have this wealth of cash that they can then use towards a down payment on a house or a full renovation of their existing property.

Of course, after all this talk of buying our own house, I asked Drew and Jonathan if they would film Property Brothers in New Jersey in a year and a half to help us buy our first home – to which Drew answered, “Perfect, and we’ll have you join our design team.”

And then I think I died.

(He was clearly kidding, but a girl can dream!)

Thank you so much to Drew and Jonathan Scott for taking the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to speak with us, and to Casaza for making the whole experience possible. I’m so excited to transform our bedroom space with the $1,000 Casaza credit and can’t wait to share the finished product with you!

Make sure to check out Casaza.com and follow @Casaza on Instagram.

Get the Look: My Shelves

I don’t know about you, but styling shelves doesn’t always come easy for me. I often struggle to determine the right amount of items to use – the more items you have on a shelf the less of an impact each one will have, but with too few items it will look really sparse. Playing with balance and symmetry can be tricky as well.

I’ve been trying to perfect my shelving unit for the past few months since we moved into our apartment and, although I’m not 100% happy with it, I do think it’s come a long way. Since the basics of a good shelf often include trays, books, etc. I likely still have some tweaking to do, but I wanted to share what I have so far and see what you think.

(By the way, you can get all of the items I’ve listed for about $150 total!)

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The Top Shelf

The top shelf of the unit is all Hearth and Hand items from Target! (Thanks to Chip and Jo for creating a beautiful AND affordable line of decor.) I opted to keep the two vases on the left free of greenery and instead play up the color in the middle with the mini cedar trees.

Although I don’t usually switch up my decor based on the season (my apartment doesn’t have the space to store a bunch of seasonal items), I did opt for pieces that are more of a fall and winter vibe, so they should work well until spring.

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Vase (Large) – $16.99 (link)
Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Vase (Small) – $12.99 (link)

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Mini Cedar Tree (Small & Large) – $2.99 & $4.99 (link)

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Decorative House Box (Small) – $6.99 (link)
Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Decorative House Box (Large) – $9.99 (link)

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The Middle Shelf

I was definitely struggling with the middle and bottom shelves. I do think the frame may be a bit undersized, and the faux cedar stem ended up being bigger than I expected so it reaches a bit closer to the top shelf than I would have liked.

I LOVE these brown wooden vases from Hearth and Hand, though, and think they look a lot more high-end than their price lets on. The cedar stem looks fine from afar, but close up it is very clear that it’s plastic, so know that before purchasing.

As a note, I didn’t include the frame as it’s just a cheap item I picked up from HomeGoods a few months ago and is pretty interchangeable with any other similar frame.

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Vase (Medium) – $27.99 (link)
Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Faux Cedar Stem – $4.99 (link)

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Container Candle 7oz (Orange Amber) – $12.99 (link)

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The Bottom Shelf

As I mentioned before, I had a hard time with the middle and bottom shelves in terms of which items to put where. I settled on pairing the lantern with the pinecone basket, although I go back and forth between swapping the pinecones with the medium wooden vase. The fun thing about decor is that I have the freedom to switch it up if I ever decide to go that route instead!

One thing I do have to think about is what I will put in the basket come spring (pinecones have a pretty cold-weather feel) but I definitely have enough time to figure that out.

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Wire Bin (Small) – $8.99 (link)
Michaels Decorative Mini Pinecones – $5.99 (link)

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Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia House Lantern (Small) – $19.98 (link)
Chesapeake Bay Candle (Jasmine, 7″ x 4″) – $14.49 (link)

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I Won the Property Brothers Giveaway!

So… remember how I met the Property Brothers the other day in Union Square as part of the promotion for their awesome new company, Casaza? Well, as part of that event I also submitted my name as part of a giveaway and… SOMEHOW… I won!

Let me preface this by saying I never win anything. And as I stood in line, I even said out loud, “I shouldn’t even enter this, I never win.” Well, somehow, the HGTV gods were on my side because yesterday I received a direct message on Instagram from the Casaza account informing me I was the lucky winner!

So what do I win? Well, the details aren’t fully ironed out yet but basically I will be getting a 30 minute design consultation with the brothers as well as a $1,000 credit to the Casaza site! I literally can’t even believe it. And, I had been holding off on decorating our bedroom, so this is the perfect opportunity to design it to the nines!

Anyway, I’m still in total disbelief. Check out the brothers’ announcement (ignore their incorrect pronunciation of my last name!) below – more details soon to follow!

 

Thank you so much to Drew Scott, Jonathan Scott, and Casaza for making my design dreams come true! What an HGTV week it has been!

Are Y’all Ready to See Your Fixer Upper?

Happy Halloween!

This year I decided to dress up as my idol and inspiration – Joanna Gaines. If you somehow don’t know about her, she is a designer, entrepreneur, author, and the brains behind the popular HGTV show, Fixer Upper (RIP).

And, like I said, she’s my idol. I absolutely love her style and eye for design. So, despite not actually looking anything like her, decided this year was the year I would dress up as her for Halloween. I think it turned out pretty well, but you be the judge!

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And yes, the plan had been for Matt to be Chip, but we didn’t end up going out – plus we couldn’t find a wig that worked for him. For the record, the Magnolia Instagram account liked my post! My hopes and dreams were slightly crushed when I didn’t receive a like from Joanna herself, but she’s a busy gal (especially with her new book coming out!!!!) so I forgive her.

My costume was super simple and pretty inexpensive to put together. I’ve included links to the pieces below – enjoy!

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1. Universal Thread™ Women’s Western Denim Long Sleeve Shirt – Size XS – $19.99 (link)

2. Madewell Roadtripper Jeans in Jansen – Size Regular 25 – $75.00 (link)

3. Universal Thread™ Women’s Jean Belt in Brown – Size S – $9.99 – (link)

4. Magnolia Farms Hat in Distressed Saddle – $26.00 – (link)

5. Universal Thread™ Nora V-Cut Ankle Booties in Cognac – Size 7 – $24.99 – (link)

I Met the Property Brothers!

It was just a regular Monday at work – I was tired, a little grumpy, and feeling unmotivated. Alex and I had just gotten back from Chopt and I was picking at my salad when I looked out the office window. Bocce, a fairly new pizza restaurant in Union Square, had a huge line wrapping around it.

“What’s going on today?” I asked Alex.

There always seems to be something going on in the square, and folks at my office (myself included) have unofficially deemed it the weirdest place in New York City. And that’s saying something.

Alex, chewing her salad, said with a shrug, “Oh yeah, the Property Brothers are here today. I forgot to tell you.”

I’m sorry… WHAT?!

If you don’t know them, the Property Brothers are comprised of Drew and Jonathan Scott. They are the starts of the popular HGTV reality show with the same name, as well as multiple spin-off shows all revolving around their knack for transforming fixer uppers into dream homes. The brothers were in town promoting their new home furnishings site, Casaza.

Clearly, I am an HGTV enthusiast. While Joanna Gaines is absolutely my idol and inspiration and spirit animal (and everything else I could possibly describe that entails my unhealthy obsession with her), the Property Brothers are definitely a close second. And the fact that they were consequently right outside my office?! Unbelievable.

I was frantic. It was 1:20pm. Alex informed me the meet and greet event ended at 2:00pm. I had a call at that time, too. My window of opportunity was closing! Fortunately, my company’s Chief Technology Officer is also a huge Property Brothers fan and gave into my pleading for him to go with me (even though he kept saying there was no way he was waiting in the line… but he sure did!).

Now let me explain that I am not very good at meeting famous people. I am a naturally nervous human. Being put in social situations where it is crucial I appear cool and/or normal is a seriously difficult task for me. As we neared closer to the front of the line, my heart started pounding and I became increasingly more awkward and jittery.

By the time we were next in line (AND ONLY FEET AWAY FROM DREW AND JONATHAN) I was starting to scare the people working the event. Someone jokingly asked if anyone knew CPR. I am totally aware my reaction to the entire experience was way over the top but it was the PROPERTY BROTHERS! (I later joked that if it had been Joanna Gaines, I would have needed actual medical attention.)

Anyway, when it was finally my turn I’m pretty sure I blacked out and only think I remember meeting them because Barry caught the whole thing on video.

“Hey, how are you? Nice to see you,” Drew said to me.

I responded with, “Oh, so great to see you!” in a weird high pitched voice that I do not recognize as my own.

He then proceeded to tell me, “Deep breaths!”

Jonathan then asked me, “Hi, how are you?”

I say, “Oh, I’m so good!” Have I ever interacted with humans before? Unsure, apparently.

We get in position to take our photo (YES I TOUCHED THEM) and a man standing nearby was slightly in the shot. Jonathan nicely asked the man to move a bit and then I say, “Yes, please, excuse me sir.”

AND THEY LAUGHED!

Or they were like, “This girl is insane. Just fake smile until she’s gone.”

In any case, that was about it. Barry got his picture next and other people working the event gave us our gifts and sent us on our way. The whole interaction was maybe 15 seconds long, but I’m so glad Barry got it on video so I could relive it over and over again.

Now, please enjoy some stills from the video of me interacting with my favorite famous Canadians.

Needless to say the rest of the day was pretty much shot work-wise. I got some things done, but my brain was in Property-Brother-Land (if only there was such a place!).

But the day wasn’t over yet!

Later that night, I was scrolling through Instagram checking out how well my picture with Drew and Jonathan was pulling likes-wise. I suddenly saw a notification pop up and truly thought my eyes were deceiving me.

DREW HAD COMMENTED AND LIKED IT!

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Now, I am very well aware that he likely has someone else doing his social, but I DON’T EVEN CARE. Don’t ruin this for me!!!!!!!!! In my mind, he had been so compelled by my visceral reaction to meeting him that he felt obligated to comment and commend my loyalty. Or, it was totally random. (BUT I did check others photos he was tagged in and he had not commented on them all!)

In any case, it was the best Monday ever. The least “Monday” of all Mondays. And perhaps the first time I was grateful to work near Union Square.

(The official Casaza account also commented too, for the record!)

Brentwood Hotel, Saratoga Springs, NY

And so continues our Saratoga Springs saga! Well, I guess it doesn’t exactly qualify as a saga, but everyone loves a good alliteration.

Anyway, one of our favorite parts of the trip was finding the cutest little hotel to stay at. When we first started thinking about planning a trip upstate, our initial thought was to stay at an Airbnb. When we were in Lake Placid last fall for my friend’s wedding, we had a really great experience at an Airbnb and loved how cozy and quaint it was.

This time around, however, finding an Airbnb that we liked (that was also within our budget) was a bit more challenging. When I was close to giving up hope, Matt pushed us to keep looking and eventually we found the Brentwood Hotel, a self-proclaimed “equestrian escape in Saratoga Springs.”

Now, if you know anything about me, you know about my love of horses – I grew up with them and rode them for more than half of my life. So, I am all about anything and everything equestrian. The reason the Brentwood can boast such a statement is because it is quite literally across the street from the Saratoga racetrack.

We were sold. We quickly booked our stay and counted down the days until we would embark upon our cozy fall getaway.

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Oh, is that a model in the parking lot?

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With only 12 rooms, the hotel is super cozy and is reminiscent of a barn itself.

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The super cute outdoor area has a fire pit and seating.

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…and bikes for rent! If only I wasn’t so clumsy.

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The inside bar and seating area is smaller than we expected, but also really cozy and quaint.

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Now, unfortunately for me, I am not some high profile blogger who gets free trips in exchange for a glowing online review… well, not yet. But fortunately for you, that means my review of the Brentwood is completely bias-free because hey – we paid to stay! And we are not getting compensated!

Let me preface this by saying we really did enjoy our experience there. The hotel is SUPER unique and absolutely unlike anywhere else I’ve ever stayed. Very cozy, very aesthetically pleasing, and totally makes for a solid Instagram.

That being said, this is not a five-star hotel. I believe it was built from the bones of a motel, which explains its structure and setup. We had the room with one king bed and that’s about all there was room for – the bed and some space to move around it. There were some hooks to hang clothes up, and one chair, but no closet. While the bathroom was small too, it was definitely spacious enough. The size of the room was not a problem for us since we planned to be out and about anyway, but I think we had expected just a bit more space for our things.

Everything was very clean and well kept. Unfortunately there is no control of the temperature of your room (it’s centrally controlled by management) so there were times when the room was pretty cold and air was coming in through a gap between the AC unit and the wall. It was the first chilly weekend, though, so not really surprised that the heat wasn’t on yet. There was a space heater that filled up the room with heat pretty quickly, too. One night, however, we both woke up sweating as the heat was on for the first time, and was coming out full blast. Since we didn’t have control of it, we had to open the window, which worked out fine.

Although this was not the hotel’s fault, at 4am Sunday morning we were woken up by the sound of someone trying to get into our room. It was pretty scary since we were clearly on the ground level in a town we were unfamiliar with, but it turns out it was just some drunk people trying to find their own room. Not the best way to be woken up on vacation, but what are you gonna do!

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The king bed was AMAZING and so comfy.

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Never did I think a black bathroom would be my style but… between the high pressure shower and brass fixtures, I actually loved it.

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Although there were a few quirks with the hotel and maybe it wasn’t the absolute perfect stay, I’d say overall we had a really good experience and would recommend it to someone looking for a room in the area. In fairness, we probably should have packed some heavier jackets and pajamas (it had been 80 degrees at home earlier that week, so it felt a little aggressive to bring our winter coats… definitely would have been beneficial so far north, though).

At the end of the day, even though it is really important to enjoy where you’re staying, the most important part of a good hotel room is a really comfy bed because that’s where you’ll be spending most of your time when you’re there! And yes – the bed was super comfy. The rest of our trip was spent exploring all the exciting places that Saratoga Springs had to offer, and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

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Of course the weather finally cleared up on Sunday, just in time for us to leave.

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Hopefully we’ll be back again someday, Brentwood!

Oh, I almost forgot the best part – every morning I woke up to the sound of HOOFBEATS! The horses would cross the street to go to and from the track for what I assumed was their morning workout. I had been afraid that most of the thoroughbreds would have moved south for the colder months, but lucky for me a decent amount seemed to still be at the track even though it was closed for construction. Couldn’t go to Saratoga without seeing some ponies!

Angry Orchard, Walden, NY

Matt and I had been wanting to take a trip this fall, but we were having trouble figuring out where to go. Initially, we were thinking of heading up to Hudson, NY but we weren’t finding Airbnbs that were both affordable and (I say this knowing how basic I sound) asthetically pleasing. We were about to give up when Matt suddenly mentioned we check out Saratoga Springs. I – having been a huge horse-freak for most of my life – was totally down. We booked a really cute little hotel right across from the racetrack (more on that later) and counted down the days until our fall adventure.

Because we couldn’t check into the hotel until 4PM but were both taking off work for the day, Matt and I wanted to find somewhere fun to stop on the drive up. One of Matt’s coworkers mentioned to him that an Angry Orchard orchard was located in Walden, NY and could be a cool place to go. We did some research and, after seeing some super fall-festive Instagram posts of hard cider + apple cider doughnuts, we were sold.

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Embarking upon our journey!

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The Angry Orchard “Innovation House.”

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They don’t look so angry to me?

In truth, I had been under the impression that this location was THE Angry Orchard – aka, where all of the hard cider is produced, bottled, shipped, etc. However, upon arrival we learned that this was actually the Innovation Cider House, which is basically a research and development location to experiment with new flavors. None of the cider made at this location is bottled to sell in mass to the public, as their orchards do not have the capacity for that kind of production.

The Innovation Cider House, instead, offers a self-guided tour that highlights the roots of cider in America and explores different types of apple varieties. Visitors can also get a sneak peek of the apple processing room and stainless steel fermenters.

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Brewin’ up something nice.

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Heading downstairs past the fermentors takes you to the tasting room (complete with floor to ceiling windows and rustic long, wooden tables) and gift shop. The flights of cider are complementary for each visitor, and you are given the option of sweet or dry.

Naturally, Matt and I wanted to try both flights, so he got a dry and I got a sweet. Unfortunately, the dries were not our favorite, but two of the sweets we really liked – Crisp Apple (aka the regular Angry Orchard flavor) and Knotty Pear (which is apparently pretty well known as well but we had never tried it before). The third sweet, the rosé, wasn’t great in our opinion either – but then again, cider rosé? A little weird anyway.

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The tasting room, with a view.

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Cutie with our flights!

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The dries – Wooden Sheer, Ginger, and Farm Cider.

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The sweets – Rosé, Knotty Pear, and Crisp Apple.

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Excuse me, can we get some more Knotty Pear over here?

After completing our tasting, we headed to the outdoor area behind the tasting room. Like me preface this by saying it was INCREDIBLY WINDY so our time out there was pretty short-lived. (When we left Jersey it was sweater/light jacket weather, but upon arriving in Walden realized we probably could have benefitted from a few extra layers – and the wind didn’t help. Even though you can’t really tell from the photos, my hat flew off my head a few times and tried to escape… shout out to Matt for chasing after it on several occasions.)

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Would be pretty cool if not for my friend in the bottom left corner…

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Outside area behind the tasting room.

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Acting natural! So candid!

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Someone is much more photogenic than me.

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A cutie!

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Trying so hard for a successful selfie…

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…aaand then the wind happened.

One of the main attractions at the Walden location is the treehouse tasting room. They hold tours at 12PM, 4PM, and 6PM on weekdays so we made sure to get there in time for the first one at noon.

The treehouse was built by Pete Nelson from Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters and is supported by one white pine tree (who they repeatedly informed us was named “Wendy”). For $10 each, you are taken on a brief tour of the grounds on the way to the treehouse, then allowed up into the tasting room and given a few additional ciders to try.

Now remember how earlier I said it was super windy? Well, wind only gets worse the higher up you go, so you can only imagine how FREAKING COLD AND WINDY IT WAS up in that treehouse. My hat and sweater poncho were flying off and my hair was all over my face. For some reason, no one else seemed to be struggling as hard as Matt and I were, but it still made for some cool photos and a really unique tasting experience (disclaimer: I was actually too cold to really taste whatever cider we were given to try – it could have been water, I am unsure).

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Up to the treehouse!

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Great views. But very, very cold.

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Not pictured; how hard my hand was shaking from my shivering.

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Swingin’ into the weekend liiiike…

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Couldn’t leave without a growler of Knotty Pear!

Overall, the experience at Angry Orchard was really cool (despite the wind). After our treehouse tour, we headed back to the tasting room and gift shop and purchased a growler (which for some reason I keep thinking is called a guzzler) of Knotty Pear to keep at home to enjoy all fall long.

From there, it was off to Saratoga Springs!

My Favorite Cinnamon Muffins

For as long as I can remember, I have never been particularly gifted in the kitchen. I hated learning to cook in middle school and high school, and relied on the dining hall all through college. Somehow, I have made it almost three years post-grad without fully learning how to cook anything much more complicated than a box of pasta or a vegetable stir fry.

Since moving to our new apartment, though, Matt and I have been trying to become a bit more domesticated. We finally have enough counter space in our kitchen to make cooking enjoyable, and we’ve been loving our weekly HelloFresh deliveries. Even though it’s more time consuming than throwing a frozen pizza into the oven after a long day at work, it’s much more rewarding to create a healthy (well, healthier) meal from scratch, and also gives us more quality time working together to decipher each step of the recipe.

With the arrival of fall (even though it’s been in the upper 70s for some reason this past week… damn you global warming), I decided to give baking a try. I have never really done much baking beyond the box recipe for a golden sheet cake, but I felt inspired to try something new. Last weekend I Googled “cinnamon muffins” and chose the first recipe I found – because who doesn’t love cinnamon and who doesn’t love muffins?

For my first real attempt at baking from scratch, they came out pretty damn good – very fluffy, appropriately cinnamon-y. They’re great for breakfast, and even better for dessert in my opinion. The best part is, the recipe is super simple and pretty much foolproof as long as you use the right amounts of each ingredient.

So, without further adieu, I present to you my favorite cinnamon muffin recipe:

Prep Time: 10 mins
Bake Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 25 mins

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions:
Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Grease a muffin tray (my tray holds 12 muffins, but can do 16 with this recipe too).
In a bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
In another bowl, beat together 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, and 2 eggs.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Stir just until combined – don’t overmix.
Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared muffin tray.
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the tops of the batter filled cups.
Bake the muffins until a toothpick instead in the center comes out clean. Check muffins after 15 minutes, and add another 5 minutes if not yet done.
Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then enjoy! (Hint: they’re REALLY good with a little vanilla ice cream on top.)

Thanks to Deborah at Taste and Tell for the original recipe – check out her post for more information, including a step-by-step instructional video!

Nutritional Facts:
Serving Size: 1 muffin
Calories: 188
Sugar: 14 g
Sodium: 212 mg
Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Unsaturated Fat: 7 g
Trans Fat: 0 g
Carbohydrates: 27 g
Fiber: 2 g
Protein: 3 g
Cholesterol: 25 mg

Get the Look: Our Living Room

As promised, here is the first installment of the Get the Look series for our new apartment! In these posts, I will link directly to the furniture and decor we have purchased for our apartment (or if I can’t find the exact product, one that is similar in size/appearance). I am not being compensated or endorsed for sharing any of these products, I just truly want to share these great finds with you guys.

Enjoy, and happy shopping!

living-room

1. Threshold™ Wood Decorative Panels – $44.99 (link)

2. Gallery Solutions 7 Piece Wall Frame Set – $44.99 (link)

3. Trayce Chenille Queen Sleeper Sofa – $919.00 (link)

4. Threshold™ Cantilever Drop Pendant Floor Lamp Antique Brown –  $79.99 (link)

5. Project 62™ Peoria Wood Arm Chair – $169.99 (link)

6. Project 62™ Loring Coffee Table – $129.99 (link)

7. The Magnolia Journal, Fall 2018 – $7.99 (link)

8. Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Round Mirrored Brass Tray (14″) – $24.99 (link)

9. (similar style) White Barn No. One 3-Wick Candle – $24.50 (link)

10. (similar style) Thirstystone® Urban Farm Set of 4 White Marble Coasters – $35.00 (link)

11. (similar style) Marrakesh Shag 5′ x 8′ – $319.00 (link)

12. Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia Black and Brass Handle Floor Lamp – $89.99 (link)

13. (similar style) Hosley Elegant Expressions Tabletop Globe – $9.88 (link)

14. (similar style) White Marble Candle Jar – $27.78 (link)

15. (similar style) Linear Rustic Wood Picture Frame 4×6 – $17.47 (link)

16. Sharp 43″ Smart HDTV Roku TV – $299.99 (link)

17. (similar style) Nearly Natural 36″ Green Artificial Silk Plant – $51.07 (link)

18. Project 62™ Loring 4 Drawer Dresser – $449.99 (link)