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HOW TO: STAY ORGANIZED

Five days into January and I am dominating (some of) my resolutions! I’m currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which I got for Christmas, and I just booked a trip to Austin with my sister. Life is good! And since I am working so hard to make 2016 the best year yet, I have to work just as hard to keep myself organized.

I am one of those people that has to write things down several times so that I don’t forget them. I have found a few different ways to keep track of things so that I can stay on target and show up to places when I am supposed to.

  1. Weekly calendar: I found this at Target at the end of last year and I LOVE this thing. It is great for big picture items, like meetings and things that I know that I have to do throughout the week. I love the sidebar where I can put a to-do list and a quote to keep me motivated during the week.
  2. Planner: I use this Kate Spade planner for more personal, more detailed reminders. Things like birthdays and anniversaries as well as travel plans and social events. More than anything, I just love the way this planner looks, and sometimes you need things like that. Whatever it takes to get you to actually use something!
  3. Post-Its: I love post-its. I am working so hard to get through this stack because the middle post-its are grey, which is one of my favorite colors. I use these to stick on my computer monitor or my desk, somewhere where I am not going to miss it, for things that have to get done that day. There is something so satisfying about being able to cross things off your to-do list. It really makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
  4. Smart Phone: If it’s not in my phone calendar, it doesn’t exist. As soon as I make plans with someone, it has to go in my phone, otherwise I will most likely forget that I made plans and double book myself. I know, I’m the worst. It’s the one thing that is almost always on me, and I tend to make plans when I’m already out, so it’s a great way for me to be able to make definite plans with friends and work.

Those are the tools that I am using to keep myself organized! Is there a specific method that you use? Let me know in the comments below!

HOW TO: MAKE 2016 THE BEST YEAR YET

New year, new me. I mean, the amount of times that that has been said in the history of the human race has to be ridiculous. The amount of times that I have said that is definitely ridiculous. How many times can you say it before it loses all meaning? Like the boy who cried wolf, I am the Isabeau that cried “This is the year that I’m going to change!”

2015 was not a great year for me. This year held up a mirror in front of me and I didn’t like what I saw. I was someone that I had never been before. Someone that was unhappy, that took out their unhappiness on others because it was easier than dealing with whatever was causing them to be unhappy. I thought that I knew who I was and how I communicated, but I knew neither of those things. I am not a perfect person, I am a human being and in the grand tradition of human beings, I messed up. I punished myself and forced myself to live in that dark place, because it’s what I thought that I deserved. Enough is enough, though. You, me, your next door neighbor–we all deserve better. We deserve second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances because to err is human, and we’re all err-ing all over the place.

In the spirit of second, third, and fourth chances, I thought that I would share my new years resolutions with all of you. Last year I didn’t make any resolutions, and as a result, got nothing accomplished. There is something about making resolutions, writing them down, and making sure that other people hold you accountable that really makes shit happen. So I wrote a list of 10 resolutions/goals for this year, and I’m not going to tell you all of them, because, personal stuff, but I thought that I would share some of my favorites.

  1. Make my health a priority. I am not the healthiest person. I never go to the doctor, I can’t remember the last time that I went to the dentist, and my exercise is neither regular nor intensive. Taking care of myself, making sure that all my parts, including my brain, are healthy is number one for me this year.
  2. Read one book per month. This is a repeater for me–I did this in 2014 and it was amazing. I read so many books that year, and after the lack of reading in my life this year, this is a much needed resolution for me.
  3. Take more road trips. There is nothing better than a road trip. Some good music, some audiobooks, and the road… I love road trips, and I would love to explore more of the place where I live. Another resolution that I have for this year is to be more open to new experiences and I think that this is a wonderful way to get some more adventure in to my life.
  4. Give myself the room to make mistakes, do things incorrectly, mess up, and realize that I’m only human and it’s okay to not do the right thing all the time. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect, to always do the right thing on the first try. The pressure that I put on myself causes so much stress that it makes it difficult to enjoy life. I am only a bunch of squishy organs inside a skeleton, wrapped in skin trying to make my way through the world and if I don’t give myself a break, I am going to make myself so anxious that I lose my mind.

So those are just a few of the things that I am going to work on this year. What are your goals for 2016? Anything new that you want to learn or try? Let me know in the comments below! I have a feeling that this is going to be the best year ever, you guys. Let’s support each other so that we can all make shit happen!

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HOW TO: STRAWBERRY-LIME SODA MOCKTAIL

Wooooooo! Getting back to it—pretty exciting, right? So I know that I was like, hey guys, look who is back to posting regularly! *Points at self with both thumbs* This guy! LIES. ALL LIES. Honesty time! Some things happened that sort of messed with content calendars that really left me discouraged. These things happen! Even the best laid plans sometimes don’t work out, and that’s okay. It was something that could have been avoided if I had some back up posts waiting in the wings, but you try thinking of 30 blog posts a month! It’s hard, you guys! At least it is happening now when I’m still learning how to be a “professional blogger.” If you have stuck around, thank you. I sincerely, and seriously, appreciate it.

Probably the most exciting development that has happened since my last post is that I have a new job! This is totally not one of the reasons that I haven’t posted, but it has been something that has been consuming most of my brain power. I started two weeks ago, and the best thing about this, as far as you guys are concerned, is that I’ll be working from home now. I’ll be working hard all day, but the hours are more flexible, so hopefully I’ll be able to work on the blog more (taking photos when the lighting is actually good, for example). Again with the whole “best laid plans” thing, but I am really hopeful that this is going to work out well for us.

All this being said, I’ve been planning this comeback since the beginning of the month. I never really took the steps to make it happen, but I’m ready now! So bear that in mind when you read this post. Here we goooooo!

After I turned 21, drinking became an infrequent, but regular way to socialize. Why would you have a game night when you could have a wine and game night? Why get together to watch a movie when you could play a drinking game while watching a movie? I didn’t drink before I turned 21 because I am a law-abiding citizen who is afraid of breaking rules, so drinking had never been a built in part of my socializing process. In an effort to be healthier, and to try to look good at my friends’ wedding next month (yes, this is technically tomorrow, but the wedding is Labor Day weekend and I wrote this at the end of July!), I decided to go dry until the wedding. It’s funny how much you only start to really want something when you know that you can’t have it. Feeling like you’re being left out is never fun, but it can be difficult to hang out with your friends/family when they are drinking and you are not. So, I came up with something super yummy that you can sip on. It’ll probably even make your friends jealous!

For the base of this drink, you’re going to make the strawberry syrup first. That only requires two ingredients:

  • Take equal parts strawberries and sugar (in this case, I did one cup of each) and place them in a ziplock bag. Try to suck out as much air as possible, place it in the fridge, and let it sit for a couple of days.
  • Place a strainer over a measuring cup with a pouring spout and line the strainer with a cheesecloth. Drain all the juice out of the strawberries, then pour the juice into a container that you can seal (if you’re going to have leftovers!)
  • Add the strawberry-sugar juice to a glass of club soda until you get the desired flavor. This will probably end up being a shots worth, so think of this as doing shots instead of doing actual shots. So much more delicious, though not much more nutritious. Remember how much sugar you put in there?!
  • Add a lime wedge or anything else you might like. Personally, I added the juice of half of a lime, and the juice of half of a lemon. It’s like strawberry-lemon-limeade soda! Then observe all of the embarrassing drunken antics currently on display and revel in how much above all of this you are. This must be how English lords felt observing the peasants back in the day.

Simple, sweet, and frickin’ delicious. Did I also mention how much cheaper it is to NOT drink alcohol?? That part of this whole situation is something that I am seriously obsessed with. What have been your go-to summer drinks? Let me know in the comments below!

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HOW TO: FLORAL WALL LETTERS

Maybe I have been spending too much time on Pinterest, but I have become obsessed with decorating these days. It’s either that, or I’m just getting old and things like interior design are the things that I care about now. I have become particularly obsessed with wall letters, like these:

I really wanted to put something like this up, but I was having a hard time thinking of what word I would choose. I didn’t want something that reminded me of a knick-knack that I would have had up when I was 11, but I didn’t want a word that was long since it would require a lot of effort to design. I am sort of crafty, but I’m also very lazy. The word I came up with was “Hiya.” Now, I don’t mean “hiya,” as in “HIYA!” like a typical line from a martial arts movie; I mean, “hiya,” as in the greeting, like “hello.” It was something that I heard a lot when I was in England, and I wanted a word that would remind me of my trip.

I picked up the wooden letters from Michael’s, and I painted them white with some acrylic paint that I bought on the cheap from Target. I bought a butt-load of silk flowers from Michael’s as well, and after I painted the letters (so that they wouldn’t have that unfinished wood look), I just hot glued those puppies right on. Here’s a clip of that happening, and yes, this is in real time. Call me Barry Allen, baby, because I am The Flash.

In actuality, this took me about 30 minutes and it was ridiculously easy. If you do something similar to these wall letters (which are really more like bookcase letters, since they are currently sitting on top of my bookshelf), I want to see!! Why did you choose the word that you did? Let me know in the comments below!

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HOW TO: D.I.Y. NATURAL LIP BALM

Every once in a while, I go through a period of freaking out about the chemicals that I am putting in my body. One day, I’ll look at my Maybelline lipstick, and be like, “I couldn’t be any more in love with you,” and then the next day I’ll look at it and say, “WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME WITH YOUR CHEMCIALS, MAYBELLINE, WHY DO YOU WANT TO POISON ME?!?” It’s a love/hate relationship, so during those times when I do actually care about what I’m doing to my body, it’s nice to have natural alternatives.

Now, I am the biggest Burt’s Bees fan in the world, but their products don’t always work when you’re on a budget, and this is a DIY post, so what is the point in me telling you which products you should buy when I’m writing to tell you about something that you can make at home?

You may remember a few months ago when my sister-in-law, Lena, and I made our own Coconut Lime Body Scrub—this stuff is amazing and so easy to make. The best thing about that body scrub is that it is non-toxic, so you can use it as a lip scrub as well. After you exfoliate those lips, you should moisturize as well, and lucky for you, Lena and I made a lip balm as well.

For this lip balm, all you’re going to need is:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons beeswax
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons sweet almond oil
  • Lime Essence (optional)
  • Powdered make up (optional)
  • Plastic make up pots
  • Glass measuring cup with pouring spout

The first thing I would recommend doing is grating the beeswax. Lena ordered it off of Amazon, and it came in one-ounce bars, sort of like a stick of butter. Grating it will help it melt much faster, and speed up this whole process tremendously.

Next, bring a pot of water to a simmer. You don’t want the water to boil, but you want it to be hot. You’re going to do sort of a bain marie thing, similar to the way that you temper chocolate. Once the water is simmering, put something that will be easy to pour out of into the water (we used a glass measuring cup). Add the grated beeswax and coconut oil to the measuring cup and stir until melted. Once it is completely melted, take the cup out of the water and whisk in the olive oil, sweet almond oil, lime essence, and powdered make up. These last two ingredients are completely optional. The lime essence adds a nice fresh smell, and the powdered make up (we used colors out of a Physician’s Formula eye shadow palette) add color. The beeswax has a nice golden color on it’s own, so if you’re happy with that, and the way it smells, go ahead and leave those last two out. Once you’ve completely whisked the mixture, quickly pour it into the vessels of your choice (we used mini plastic pots). The wax will set very quickly, so you have to do this fast. And that’s it—that’s literally all it takes. The longest part of this process was grating the beeswax, but the whole process took probably about 10 minutes. And in those ten minutes, we made 8 pots of lip balm. The best part about making so many pots of lip balm is that you can hand them out to your friends and impress them with your incredible D.I.Y. skills—they don’t have to know that a child could have done this on their own! I won’t tell them if you won’t—but you should probably share this post with them, you know, since I’m making you look like a D.I.Y. master…

HOW TO: SPICY SWEET POTATO RECIPE

I feel like if you ask someone about their favorite meals/foods/etc, 98% of the time, those answers usually go, “Oh my god, my mom makes the best (insert food here).” I am no different, and I will maintain that my mom is the best cook in the whole world. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my mom usually doesn’t follow recipes—she sort of makes things up as she goes along, combining flavors that she thinks will work. The amazing thing about this is that sometimes she comes up with the best tasting foods I’ve ever put in my mouth; the frustrating thing about this is that those recipes are hard to recreate.

So there we were one night, just getting ready for dinner and my mom surprises us with the most insanely delicious sweet potatoes. They were naturally sweet, but then had a kick from the spices that she used to season them. I was like, “Mom, can you make these all the time??” And I have to tell you guys, she used the most random spice I have ever seen. It is so random in fact, that I can’t find it anywhere. She used Tyler Florence’s Sun Dried Chile Rub—I found a link to it on Amazon, but it’s unavailable, so I figured that I could tell you the ingredients IN the rub so that you could make your own variation because you need these sweet potatoes in your life.

So she used the following ingredients:

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For the Sun Dried Chile Rub, combine chili powder, brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, tomato powder, dried garlic (probably garlic powder), and dried onion (again, probably onion powder) until it tastes good to you. If you don’t have all of these spices, (I’m looking at you, tomato powder), I wouldn’t worry too much about it, it will probably still taste delicious. And to be honest with you, since I didn’t have to make this from scratch, I have no idea how much of each of these to add—maybe equal parts of each? Based on flavors that I enjoy using, I would recommend that you focus on the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. I don’t know, I’m just going to trust your judgment and assume that it’s close enough to the actual product. That is what this blog is all about anyway!

So just skin and chop up your sweet potato(es) (the white kind, not yams) into bite size cubes, about an inch to an inch and a half wide. Then toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, and the Sun Dried Chile Rub. My mom just sprinkled all of these directly on to the potatoes, so I don’t know how much this “recipe” calls for. Just make sure that your potatoes are evenly coated with the spices. Spread out your potatoes on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven that you should have preheated to 400 degrees (which I should have told you sooner). Let them cook for about 30 minutes, “giving them a little shake and turn over 2 or three times” throughout cooking (my mom’s directions are so cute). You want them to be crisp on the outside, and soft and delicious on the inside. And that’s it! Pretty simple, and you probably have most of these ingredients in your pantry at home.

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I asked my mom to help me make these for breakfast the other day, and then I just ended up sitting on the couch playing The Sims while she made the potatoes. My mom is the best.

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HOW TO: TRAVEL MUST HAVES

You may not know this about me, but I am quite the experienced world traveler. Okay, that’s kind of an exaggeration, but I learned a few things on my solo trip to England, Scotland, and Ireland that I think any future travelers will find quite helpful. Some of these may seem obvious, but I cannot stress how valuable the simplest things are when you are abroad.

  1. In this day and age, pretty much everyone has a smart phone, but this thing could literally save your life. Not only does your phone allow you to keep in touch with your loved ones (and share some sweet Instas to make your friends back home jealous), but it will become your everything—your map, your source of entertainment on long train rides, and your camera. I don’t have an international phone plan, and I didn’t buy a local SIM card when I was on my trip, so I lived off of wifi. The fact that everyone I love has an iPhone meant that I was able to message them whenever I was at my apartment or near a Starbucks. I should also mention that if you choose to live off of wifi alone, Starbucks will also become a dear, dear friend. They are EVERYWHERE, so if you ever get lost, find the closest Starbucks, mooch off of their wifi and you’ll be good to go. I spent approximately 83% of my time in London lost and wandering around, so Starbucks and I became very intimately acquainted even though I never actually bought anything there. Thanks, Starbees! There were times where it would have been nice to have data, like when it’s late at night and Starbucks is closed and there is no free wifi to connect to and you may have a break down in the middle of London because you don’t know how to get home, but just fork over the money for a taxi. It’s worth it. That was the only time I ever questioned not having a SIM card, so I would say that it is totally doable to just live on wifi alone.
  2. Related to number one, APPS—You have got to find the right apps. If you’re going to visit London, download CityMapper. It’s free and you will fall in love with it. Just put in your starting point, enter where you want to go, and it will give you several different routes to take via public transportation. I used this every single day in London and it never steered me wrong. Unfortunately, this app is specific to London, but do some research on which apps are the best for the places that you are visiting. I had no idea that CityMapper existed until my host told me about it, so when in doubt, ask for help!
  3. Soundtrack—Music is a very wonderful, powerful thing. Everyone has at least one song that whenever they hear it, takes them back to a specific moment in time. For me, it’s “California” by Phantom Planet, which reminds me of a road trip that my best friends and I took in high school to Disneyland. I remember being in the Grape Vine, screaming it as loud and as off key as we possibly could. For this trip, I listened, almost exclusively, to George Ezra and James Bay. The only other album in rotation was The Maine’s new CD American Candy, and “Same Suit, Different Tie” will always make me think of driving to the Harry Potter Studio Tour.
  4. DRUGS—More specifically, medications. Look, public transportation is gross and full of germs, so chances are that if you are traveling long enough, you’re going to catch something. I made it three-quarters of the way through my trip before I caught the worst cold of all time, but THANK GOD I thought to bring some medicine with me because otherwise I could have missed out on some really awesome stuff in Edinburgh. I would recommend hand sanitizer (which could have saved me from a cold in the first place), some DayQuil and NyQuil, and some Sudafed. Also, you never know what is going to happen, so bring some Benedryll if you have any allergies that could cause a reaction, and Ibuprofen, because you never know when you’re going to need that.
  5. Point and Shoot Camera—I brought a point and shoot as well as a DSLR and I hated my life every day that I carried my fat DSLR with me. If you are a photographer, then obviously carrying that extra weight is probably worth it to you, but for a novice like me, I was fine with just the point and shoot. It was so much easier to carry around, and I was able to take lots of videos that would have taken up all the memory on my phone. Always good to have a back up!
  6. Netflix—Non-American shows are weird, you guys. I did enjoy a few episodes of an Irish version of House Hunter’s International, but sometimes you just need the comforts of home and your shows. Everyone either has Netflix, or mooches off of someone else’s Netflix account, but be prepared! Not all of the same shows are available in the States and abroad. For example, I spent my entire trip binging on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was glorious. When I got home, I went to continue my binge, and IT’S NOT AVAILABLE IN THE STATES. Boooooo.
  7. Spotify—I love Spotify all the time, always. It’s nice to be able to find new music (a la James Bay) and take it offline so that you can listen to it when you’re on the bus, or whatever it is that you are doing when you don’t have wifi. If you don’t want to pay the monthly subscription fee to be able to take music offline, try the 30-day free trial when you’re on your trip and cancel it when you get home!
  8. A Backpack—I didn’t want to take a backpack with me because I didn’t want to not be able to see my valuables in case a member of Dodger’s gang tried to pickpocket me on the Tube. I had a cross-body bag that was heavy and made my shoulder hurt and I never had an issue, nor was there a time where I felt unsafe. Maybe I was left alone because I had a bag that I was able to monitor at all times. I don’t know! I guess that I would have preferred to have a backpack for my carryon instead of the other cross-body bag that I had. That thing killed me.
  9. TENNIS SHOES—You’re going to be walking A LOT, that’s kind of a given. Since you are going to be spending most of the day on your feet, you should probably wear something that is functional, not some boots that you haven’t fully broken in yet. IT’S ABOUT COMFORT, NOT ABOUT LOOKIN’ CUTE.
  10. A sense of self-control—I wayyyyyy over-packed. Like, wayyyyyyyyyy over-packed. I was fortunate enough to stay in places that had washing machines, so I was able to get clean clothes half way through my trip, and when I packed, I seemingly forgot about buying souvenir shirts that I ended up wearing instead of ones that I brought from home. I brought one too many pairs of shoes, and of course that pair was a pair of boots that took up half my suitcase. Then I had to lug around this very heavy suitcase with me for my whole trip. You don’t need to bring your whole apartment with you. Although, you should bring an extra set of earbuds. Speaking from personal experience, you’ll probably need those.