Holiday Gift Guide

December 12, 2017

We're just two weeks away from Christmas, and the panic is starting to set in: I'm behind on my shopping. Being that I've been a procrastinator nearly my entire life, this doesn't come as a complete surprise. After years of waiting until the last two weeks to get all of my holiday shopping done, I've become a bit of an expert when it comes to last-minute research, creativity, and pulling random memories when someone unknowingly dropped a clue as to what they might want for Christmas. And since I know these skills will come in handy, I'm worrying less about myself and more about all of you. Okay, yes ... and I'm procrastinating even further. But what better way to delay my shopping than taking the time to create a gift guide for all of the people in your lives? 

And on that note, here are some gift ideas for the: 

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$: Cookbook or Bon Appetit Subscription, prices vary
$: Cookie Mix Jar, $10.99  
$$: Macaron Pan & Kit, $29.99
$$: Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt Maker, $59.99
$$$: Italian Pantry Gift Crate, $79.96  
$$$: Kitchen Aid, $199
DIY: Cookie Mix Jar - Buy a handful of mason jars and the ingredients included in the cookie mix jar gift mentioned above. Divide the ingredients among all of the jars. Tie a ribbon and note around the lid and there you have it - a cookie kit for all of your siblings/cousins/friends/. 
DIY: Homemade Pickled Vegetables - These look delicious and cute      

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$: Velvet Hair Bow, $8.40 (who would've thought these would be back in style?!)
$: Red Ribbed Sweater (because red is the "it" color right now & this one has great reviews), $24.95 
$$: Bucket Bag with Hoop, $29.90
$$: Neutral Peacoat, $37.90 (I bought this for myself - it's a steal)
$$$: Copper Clothing Rack, $96.48
$$$: Booties (in brown and red, please), $124.95
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Beauty Queen
$: Lip Stain Trio, $12
$: Nail Polish Set, $12.99
$: Emergency Beauty Kit, $18.20 
$$: Travel-Friendly LED Vanity Mirror (I asked for this one myself), $31.99
$$: Vanity Planet Ultimate Skin Spa System, $39.38
$$$: Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb perfume (I always get compliments), $85 for 1 oz 
$$$: Jaclyn Hill's Favorite Morphe Brush Collection, $155
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$: Bon Voyage Travel Journal, $15
$: Marble Passport Tag, $18
$ - $$: Travel Coffee Table Book, prices vary
$ - $$: Poncho (perfect for all those long flights), $20 here and $51 here
$$$: Spinner Carry-On (that isn't an eyesore), $135
DIY: Travel Kit - Throw together a Bloody Mary cocktail mix, shea socks, eye mask and hydrating facial spray in a cute pouch for a personalized travel gift

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Health & Fitness Nut
$: Deliciously Ella Cookbook, $18.14 
$: Weighted Training Rope, $24.99
$: Compression Leggings (with a pocket!), $29
$$: Veggie Spiralizer, $39.95  
$$$: FitBit Alta, $129.95
$$$: Standing Desk, $199.99 
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Outdoor Addict
$: Beanie, $15.50
$: Hot/Cold Stainless Mug, $22.25
$$: Insulated Picnic Basket and Set, $39.99
$$: Hammock, $59.94
$$: National Parks Pass, prices vary
$$$: Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses, $168  
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$: Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser, $29.99
$$: Bath Caddy, $39.99
$$: Velvet Menswear Pajama Shirt, $58 
$$ - $$$: TV Series, prices vary
$$$: Massage Cushion, $99.99
DIY: Body Scrub 

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$: Metallic Lace Cake Stand, $22.40
$: What Do You Meme?, $29.99, 
$ - $$: Marble and Acacia Wood Cheese Paddle, starting at $29.99
$$: Cocktail Shaker Set, $39.99 
$$$: Bar Cart, $119.99

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Art & Design Enthusiast 
$: Agate Bottle Opener, $21.34
$: Symmetry "Objects" that can double as book ends, $14.99 - $27
$$: Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home, $35 for hardcover 
$$: Geometric Vase Set, $47.60
$$$: Fine Art Prints (perfect for a gallery wall), prices vary 

Some more ideas ...

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Sentimental Gifts

Framed Photo or Poem - If you're in Orlando, check out Paul's Poems
Personalized Calendar - My dad cried when I gave him one (I made mine via Walgreens's Photo Center)
Matching Jewelry Set

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Gifts for Him 
Personalized Tools - Another one of my dad's favorite gifts? His axe and personalized sheath combo, made by my friend
Watch Box 
Personalized Travel Game Set 
Travel Kit

10 Holiday Traditions to Get You in the Spirit

December 5, 2017

December 1st just happened to fall on a Friday this year, and if that isn't a sign that this holiday season is going to be a great one, I don't know what is.

For those of you who have read my previous holiday posts (childhood memories and favorite films), you know just how much this time of year means to me. As a little girl, Christmastime was pure magic ... and now, as an adult, I still love everything about it: the smell of the fraser fir trees, the music and movies, decorating, shopping, baking, parties, and best of all, the way everyone comes together and opens their hearts to others.  

Like me, most of my family members and friends are Christmas enthusiasts; but every year, I run into a few people who "don't understand the excitement." I get that the holidays can be stressful, lonely and difficult, especially for people who have experienced loss or hardship. Everyone is in a different situation, but at the end of the day, I'm a firm believer that everyone deserves to feel some sort of joy during the holidays. For that reason, I'm sharing some of the traditions I enjoy every year (with a few new ones I plan to add this year) in the hope that they inspire you to go out and enjoy this time of year for yourself. Here are 10 things you can do - alone, with family, with a S.O. or with friends - to get into the spirit of the season. 

P.S. Being that this is my favorite time of year, I have a couple posts planned over the next few weeks, including a gift guide and my favorite memories of 2017.

*See the girl on the far right in my photo? That's my best friend, and this past Sunday, she got engaged! Told you this holiday season was gonna be a good one. Congrats, Jess!

Tradition #1: Pick out - and decorate - a real tree

Every year, we pick out a real Christmas tree from a vendor who brings the trees in from out of state (typically North Carolina) or, in this year's case, from out of the country (our tree hails all the way from Canada!) A fake tree is obviously easier and more cost-effective, but trust me, there's nothing like a real Christmas tree. The smell is heavenly, and you know how they say having flowers and plants in the house can help boost your energy and endorphins? Imagine what a tree can do. 

Tradition #2: Spend an entire morning or night watching holiday films - in holiday pajamas

I can't think of anything more cozy than curling up on the couch with coffee, hot chocolate or wine and watching back-to-back holiday films. At least twice every December, my friends, family and I will get into our Christmas PJ's and glue ourselves to the couch for a few hours while we watch Elf, The Holiday, Love Actually, A Christmas Story ... you know, the essentials. To make the movie-watching experience event better, one night every December, we set up a projector and screen out in our back patio so we can watch a film outside next to our fire pit. The trick here, of course, is finding a night that's cool enough to do it ... 

Tradition #3: Walk around the most decorated homes in town while drinking (spiked) hot cocoa

My mom started this tradition years back when I was in elementary school. We'd grab a few friends, pour some hot cocoa into travel mugs, and drive over to one of the nearby neighborhoods that was known for having the best lights and decorations. It's something we still do every year (only now, we spike our hot cocoa with Rumchata. Trust me on this. It's a game changer). 

Tradition #4: Host (or attend) a tacky sweater/tacky pajama party, complete with cookie decorating 

Every year, I host a tacky sweater or tacky pajama Christmas party complete with cookie decorating. It's nostalgic watching everyone try to neatly decorate their cookies like kids (heads up: it isn't as easy as you'd think). We listen to holiday music while we decorate, eat and drink like there's no tomorrow, and end the night with a movie. Something I plan to add this year is a gift wrapping station, so my friends and I can get our wrapping done as a team. Extra points if you guys decorate a ginger bread house! 

Tradition #5: Throw a holiday card photo shoot

My family hasn't sent a Christmas card since I was in elementary school and my sister was in preschool, but after being inspired by a friend's hilarious, throwback-style family Christmas card (hi, Erin!) I'm asking my parents to revisit that this year. If they turn me down, I'm taking one with my cats (actually, I'll probably do that either way). I love the idea of having family or friends over for a fun weekend Christmas card photo shoot. At the very least, it'll make for some laughs and great memories.

Tradition #6: Listen to some carol singers - or throw back some wine and sing the carols yourself

When I was a Brownie Girl Scout way back in the day, I spent an evening caroling around my South Florida neighborhood (in other words, I was literally the only person singing), and it made me so jealous that I didn't live in a snow-covered town like the one in Home Alone, where carolers are probably not a rare sighting. I was fortunate enough to see carolers a couple years ago in Tennessee and they were actually amazing singers. If there's a holiday parade or festival in your area, I recommend checking it out solely for the carolers. It's an age-old tradition everyone should experience at least once. 

Tradition #7: Visit a holiday-themed park, carnival, store or bar

Aside from the theme parks here in Orlando (where the decorations are beautiful and extravagant, but you need to pay to step inside), there are three places I love going every holiday season: 1. Disney Springs (which is free to visit) is always decked out in decorations this time of year. One of their most recent additions is a Christmas tree walk where you'll find several trees that are each decorated to represent a different Disney film. They even blow fake snow overhead, which is probably sad to those of you who live in states with actual seasons ... but as a Floridian, I'll take what I can get. 2. Frosty's, a Christmas themed bar in downtown Orlando (it's open all year, but it feels extra special in December) serves holiday-themed cocktails and plays Christmas music all year round. It also fake snows every hour. #Florida. 3. The Christmas Palace, a family owned and operated store in South Florida that has been around for decades. They have an insane amount of Christmas decorations for purchase that feel straight out of the North Pole. For those of you who have kids, Disney Springs is not to be missed. I'd also add Santa's Enchanted Forest (in Miami) and Ice! at Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando. 

Tradition #8: Go ice skating

I'll never, ever skate on a frozen body of water, so I really appreciate ice skating rinks, or better yet, the pop-up outdoor rinks that always appear during the holidays. Whether you're great at it or terrible at it (is there anything better than you and your friends laughing at each other as you take turns slipping and falling?) it's a way to enjoy the holidays with some physical activity - a nice break from stuffing your face and watching movies on the couch. 

Tradition #9: Volunteer 

One of the most defining moments in my life happened during the holidays when I was about 12. My mom had me fill baskets with everyday items I found completely unexciting - a toothbrush, toothpaste, loofah, bar of soap, etc. - and went with me to a local homeless shelter to give the baskets to the people there. I remember feeling almost embarrassed, thinking the recipients of these baskets were going to be completely let down by their "gifts." I'll never forget the looks on their faces when we presented them with these baskets. The adults and the kids were so thankful, relieved and happy to receive these items I never thought twice about in my life. It's a memory that has stuck with me to this very day, and reminds me to be thankful, humble and giving. Nothing feels quite as rewarding as helping another person or simply making someone's day brighter. If one thing will bring you joy this holiday season, I promise you, it's volunteering your time or money.

Tradition #10: Watch the Christmas Day parade while unwrapping presents (in your holiday pajamas)

Is there honestly a better way to spend Christmas morning than opening gifts and watching the Macy's Christmas Day parade in the comfort of your own home? Nope. This is how we spend Christmas morning every year in my family, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We make it even more special by making a decadent breakfast together and drinking mimosas in what my mom calls her "fancy glasses." If you don't already have a Christmas morning tradition in place, then you can look forward to starting your own this year.

Share your favorite holiday traditions below!