Chic Winter Baby Boy Clothes

We’ve slowly started putting together a drawer of clothes for our little boy on the way. This has been one of the most fun aspects of baby prepping for me and I have loved every minute of it. Since we’re having a boy, I know I only have about three years of dressing him everyday before he starts having opinions and will want to pick out his own clothes. Then I’ll have to say goodbye to chic outfits in neutral colors and hello to superhero tee shirts. I’ve got a very small window of time to adore everything I put on him and I fully intend to embrace every minute of it.

Zara is one of my favorite clothing stores and they have an amazing selection of children’s clothes that look really luxe at an attainable price point. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites here for our winter baby with links below!

Boys Clothes Round Up PNG

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How to Have a Happier Second Trimester

Hello! One of the topics I wanted to address in my blog was how to make pregnancy a happier time. This is the second post in this series. You can read my prior post on a happier first trimester by clicking here.

Share Your Excitement

For most women, the second trimester is a great “honeymoon” period in the pregnancy, as more uncomfortable side effects of the first trimester subside and their energy comes back. What I think adds to that feeling too, though, is that you finally feel free to start telling people that you’re expecting! While we of course told our families and close friends early on, we did wait until the second trimester to tell our larger group of friends, our coworkers, and to announce on social media that we were expecting. It made for a pretty wonderful month to continuously tell more people and feel them share our excitement.

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I adored the process of creating our social media announcement. I hand lettered the calligraphy on some kraft paper, surrounded it with loose flowers I bought at our local farmers’ market, and added a pair of socks and a Polaroid style copy of our first ulstrasound photograph made by Social Print Studio. If you are interested in creating something similar, I would recommend getting a matte print of the ultrasound photo made like I did. The film they print the strip of ultrasound photos out on is very high gloss and it’s difficult to make that work for a flat lay arrangement like this.

Exercise However You Can

There were, unfortunately, some complications that arose during my second trimester that made my pregnancy more challenging. I’ll be going into this in much more detail on a later post, but for now, what I can say is that I was told to take it very easy and to back off the running schedule I had been sticking to during the first trimester. However, I was still able to walk and do light prenatal yoga. I did start walking our dogs separately rather than together just to get a bit more movement in my day. I’ll be writing a separate post later with some of my favorite prenatal yoga videos available for free on YouTube. It’s pretty amazing to live in an age where you can simply follow along with those specialized workouts at no cost other than watching a brief ad.

Plan Ahead

While telling people about our pregnancy was a joy, it also made the pregnancy feel much more REAL! Real in the sense of hospital bills, maternity leave, paperwork, and a scary amount of products to buy for a teeny tiny person. It was overwhelming at first, but making a plan to address those things made the whole process easier and happier. Thankfully, I was able to take advantage of that extra boost of energy during the second trimester to plan ahead and tackle these looming issues, and would definitely recommend that you do the same if you can. Some topics we tackled during this time that made a huge difference in how we planned included:

  • Calling our insurance and human resources departments to ask questions about maternity and paternity leave.
  • Asking our insurance a LOT of other questions. We asked about billing for traditional VBAC, C sections, NICU costs, genetic testing, breast pump coverage, and so on.
  • Researching childcare options.
  • Changing our insurance deductible (This is not always possible, but as our annual renewal fell during the middle of my pregnancy, we were able to change our deductible prior to the birth of our child to the lowest option, which drastically will reduce the cost of the birth).
  • Putting together a baby registry.
  • Talking to our doctor about payment options for the birth. We are very lucky that our hospital allows us to prepay a certain amount for the birth in anticipation of average expected costs. At this point, we have essentially paid for what it will cost to have a traditional VBAC with no complications. I hope that this is exactly what happens, but, having seen many friends and family members have children recently and go through some scary experiences, I know that complications can arise at any moment. Should that happen, knowing that we have already paid a majority of what we would owe a hospital, regardless of how the birth progresses, will make it much easier to face those challenging circumstances should they arise.
  • Put together a reading list. I’ll be covering this more in a later post, but during this time I took book and podcast titles from anyone I knew who had had a child and made a list of literature to absorb. While I simplify a lot of things in my life as much as I can, I’m a “more is more” person when it comes to information.

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Maintain What You Can

With so many changes going on with my body, it was very reassuring to be able to keep some things the same. My doctor advised me that after the first trimester it was safe to go back to coloring my hair and I was very eager to make that appointment to refresh my highlights and lowlights. Since then, I’ve gone in regularly every eight weeks to refresh my hair color and trim the ends. I also kept up pedicures and manicures and still put in the same amount of effort into my daily hair and makeup. Finally, I found a few pieces of clothing that worked well during this transitional time, when you’re too big for regular clothes and too small for maternity clothes. I had a lot of luck finding cute tunic style tops at Forever 21 and Target for pretty affordable prices. This self care and investment in my appearance did wonders for my self esteem and made me feel more like an individual and less like a baby incubator.

I’d love to hear from other moms as well! Did you get your energy back in the second trimester? What did you do to make life a little better during this time?

 

Easy Bacon, Egg, and Gouda Breakfast Pastries

Hello! I hope you have had a great week. Every Saturday, my favorite thing to do is curl up with a homemade latte, a special breakfast, and some leisurely reading. While I do sometimes love spending all morning in the kitchen making that special breakfast, more often than not, I want that preparation to be as easy as possible so that I can spend more time savoring that special food and less time creating it. This recipe, for an easy bacon, egg, and gouda breakfast pastry, is perfect for those times. The steps listed below are lengthy, but I promise that they are very quick and easy. No fancy techniques are required. While the recipe does just make four servings, if you have additional pie or cake plates to help with keeping the form intact in the oven, you could easily make multiple batches for an easy brunch dish for a crowd.

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The assemblage to this is very similar to quiche, but as you’re not using milk or cream to create a more substantial, fluffy filling, the final product is more like a savory danish. Because of that, it’s also a great handheld breakfast option that we often turn to during the work week as well. It heats up easily in the microwave and can be grabbed on our way out the door to work to be eaten during our commutes.

Bacon, Egg, and Gouda Breakfast Pastry

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Store bought pie crust
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup of freshly grated gouda (I’m partial to double cream gouda, but I’m sure this would be delicious with smoked gouda as well!)
  • 3 pieces of thick cut bacon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Coat the interior of one oven safe pie plate or cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Unroll your pie crust and lay it in the center of the pie plate or cake pan. Press it evenly into the base and pierce the base several times with a fork tine. Press the extra pie crust up along the sides of the pie plate or cake pan, but do not fold them over the edges.
  4. Whisk together 1 egg and several drops of water to create an egg wash. Brush the crust evenly with the egg wash.Screenshot_20180101-133139
  5. Bake the crust for 5-6 minutes at 400 degrees, just enough to allow it to fluff up a bit. While it is baking, you can prepare your other ingredients.
  6. Grate 3/4 cup of gouda and separate into two groups, one that is 1/2 cup and one that is 1/4 cup. The 1/2 cup will be used for the filling and the 1/4 cup will be used for the topping.
  7. Whisk together the remaining 4 eggs with the 1/2 cup of grated gouda.
  8. Slice the bacon strips into thirds and set aside. This makes in  bit easier to layer them.
  9. After the crust has baked for 5-6 minutes, take it out of the oven and pour the egg and cheese filling into it.
  10. Layer the bacon pieces over the filling evenly.
  11. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of grated gouda and salt and pepper to taste (I use fresh ground for both and think that makes a huge difference with the flavor.)Screenshot_20180101-133145
  12. Using a butter knife or fork, fold the pie crust edges over the filling. These do not need to be exact or identical, but I generally have about 1/4 inch of crust to work with around the edge. This helps hold the filling in place and, when baked, is what makes it a nice handheld breakfast. Some egg filling may leak out a little bit as you are doing this, which is okay. It will bake up well and become solid.
  13. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes at 400 degrees, or until the grated cheese on top starts to become a bubbly golden brown.
  14. Remove from the oven and slice into quarters.

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You can serve it immediately or refrigerate and reheat it. This could keep in a fridge for about a week or so, though it never lasts that long at our home! I hope this becomes a beloved quick and easy option for you too. If you try it, please let me know how it turned out!

 

Winter Skin Essentials

The ultimate clickbait for me involves two words: winter skin.

“Winter Skin Essentials”, “Combating Winter Skin”, “Moisturizers for Winter Skin”, “Quench Your Winter Skin”…. I could go on. If someone has written an article or blog post about the fight so many of us have against dull, flaky skin this time of year, chances are I have read it, hoping to find a new holy grail product that I can rush out to buy. While I battle eczema year round, like most people living in the Midwest, I find that winter is especially challenging. After years of testing new products and revisiting old favorites, I wanted to share some of the products that have been indispensable in my efforts to banish a dull complexion December through February.

Winter Skin Essentials Round Up

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Daily Facial Care:

1. Clinique Pep-Start 2-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser- $19.50/4.2 oz

Before putting anything on my face to lock in hydration, exfoliating it is key. I’ve tried several different scrubs, like Goldilocks, hoping to find the best fit. I’ve tried drugstore brand scrubs with scrubbing beads; those still left behind rough patches and flakes, failing to eliminate the problem. I’ve tried raw sugar mixed with honey, which left me with giant red patches from over exfoliation. This cleanser is just right. It’s gentle enough to use twice a day and has more of a fine sugar texture to it, allowing it to lightly resurface my skin without stripping it raw.

2. Mario Badescu Facial Spray- $7/4 oz.

For my face, layering products is key. I start with this facial mist and use it both at morning and night. I spritz it pretty liberally, as it’s a lot more economical than most of the other products I use. The rosewater used in the spray also smells absolutely heavenly, which always puts me in a relaxed mood. In part, the smell is why I picked it up on a whim while shopping at Anthropologie, but I quickly found that adding this extra layer of moisture to my routine makes a big difference in how supple my face will feel later on in the day.

3. Clinique Moisture Surge Intense Skin Fortifying Hydrator- $39/1.7 oz

When I was in high school, my mother encouraged me to start a Clinique regimen at the recommendation of our dermatologist, who was familiar with my dry, sensitive, redness prone face. For years, as a part of that regimen, I used the classic Clinique Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief with a fair amount of success. Then, as I started reading more on skin care products, I abandoned Clinique to try out other regimens looking for something a bit heavier, never really settling on anything for too long. About a year ago, I picked up a jar of the Intense Skin Fortifying Hydrator and have never looked back. It’s magic for dry skin and is definitely a step up from the Extended Thirst Relief. It’s definitely a cream rather than a gel moisturizer, but not an overly thick one that you have to warm in your hand prior to putting it on. If you are prone to flakes showing up midday, this really helps to keep them at bay. I also have been happy that, like I’ve experienced with many Clinique products, it doesn’t prompt any sudden redness to appear around my cheeks or nose

4. Becca Priming Filter Face Primer- $38/1 oz

For me, a primer is less about helping my makeup stick, although this product does have that benefit, and more about adding a final defense to my skin to lock in moisture before putting makeup on. Keep in mind, I’m also looking for a product to make me look dewier and more moisturized. Any kind of mattifying primer just strips my skin completely. This primer glides on as a light, luminescent cream and gives your skin a tacky feeling after it has set, which I assume helps it to hold makeup better. I also have not experienced any clogged pores from this primer, which I have struggled with in the past with certain other primers.

Extra Boosts for My Face:

GLAMGLOW kills it with masks as far as I’m concerned. While I like a lot of different face masks and am always trying new ones, these are the two that I turn when I need a guarantee that a problem will be fixed quickly.

5. GLAMGLOW FLASHMUD Brightening Treatment- $69/1.7 oz

If my face is looking especially dull or has a rougher texture, I’ll double down on the exfoliation and use this mask as a boost for what my scrub is able to do. I usually wash my face before hopping in a bath each night, and if I’m using this, I’ll apply it before getting in and will leave it on while I’m soaking and reading for 10-15 minutes. I do only apply it at night, as when I remove it, it does leave my skin pretty red from the intense exfoliation. However, that effect is temporary, and by morning, I’m left with a brighter, smoother, more even complexion.

6. GLAMGLOW THIRSTYMUD Hydrating Treatment- $69/1.7 oz

This mask is a bit more versatile in its use. Obviously, it’s something that I turn to when I see a need for more hydration that my moisturizer is providing. However, it’s also something I use more proactively as well, to try to prevent dryness before the symptoms show up. If I have spent a lot of time outside in extreme heat or cold, or if I’m traveling by plane or car, I’ll turn to this product to give my skin some extra care. While the mask is a tan color in the jar, it does appear clear once it’s on your skin. I’ve actually taken the mini size of this on a plane with me and applied it before take off to lock in moisture that my skin will lose after air travel. Maybe I look a little crazy to the person sitting next to me, but I’m also someone who travels by plane in her running clothes and immediately puts over the ear headphones on, so I’m not too hung up on looking glamorous or making single serving friends during the trip anyway. You can of course use the mask normally and rinse it off after 10-15 minutes, but typically I leave it on and allow it to sink into my skin fully as an especially heavy cream rather than rinse it away. It also works well as a sleeping mask to be applied and left on overnight.

Daily Body Care:

7. Bliss Vanilla + Bergamot Body Buff with Shea Butter + Sweet Almond Oil- $38/12 oz

Just like my face, I find that my body usually can’t handle intense scrubs. Salt scrubs in particular don’t work for me because, when applied, they sting and irritate any patches I may have from an eczema flare up. This scrub doesn’t use salt for exfoliation and has a thick lotion texture to it, so while it helps buff away dead skin, it also replenishes moisture. I’ll typically use it in the bath or shower after shaving to help soothe and smooth my skin. It also smells wonderful thanks to the extracts and oils that are in it, but doesn’t have any fragrance listed, so I think that may be why I don’t experience any irritation from it. When you’re so limited with needing to use fragrance free products, it’s a pleasant surprise when you find one that smells great.

8. Bliss Naked Body Butter Maximum Moisture Cream- $12/6.7 oz

Like scrubs, I’ve tried a lot of different body lotions and body butters trying to find the best fit for me. Most that I tried weren’t moisturizing enough, but some had the opposite effect, going on thick and staying tacky for what seemed like forever. This one, while delivering the high intensity hydration that my skin, especially my legs, need, also dries very quickly, without leaving a greasy residue. Because it absorbs right away, it’s something that I can use in the morning and night. As a minimalist who likes as few steps as possible in the morning, I love that. While I use the Naked version of this, as that’s fragrance free, they do have some really amazing scented versions as well that may work for you if you don’t have that sensitivity.

Extra Boosts for My Body:

Body Shop Cactus Long Handle Body Brush- $15

If I notice a lot of dry patches or just all over rough skin at the end of the day, I turn to this brush for some extra exfoliation. Dry brushing works really well for me. There are a lot of great suggestions out there for techniques to use with dry brushing to help with circulation, but I just brush all over with no particular direction to help lift off dead skin before getting in the shower or bath. If I’m planning to wear and skirt or dress and have exposed legs the next day, I’ll usually go ahead and dry brush my legs so that they’re as bright as possible too. The Body Shop makes this version of the brush as well as a smaller hand held version, but I find the long handle version is easier to work with if you want to ensure you’re thoroughly brushing your whole body.

There you have it! While there are a lot of other products I like and use from time to time, these are the ones that get the best real estate on our bathroom counter during the winter months. They’re my tried and true, multiple empty bottles, holy grail products. I hope that this post helps if you find yourself struggling with dry winter skin. If there’s anything you have used that you LOVE, let me know in the comments below. I love experimenting with new products!

 

 

New Year’s Resolution: I’m a Wife, I’m a Mom, But I’m a Woman First

I hope everyone had a great time ringing in the new year! I was toasting with Martinelli’s this year, but had a great time with our friends nonetheless.

I am a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. Really, it’s just that I love the concept of continuous self improvement and love that there’s a time of year when, even if it’s only briefly, people make a stab at carving out a better life for themselves. Over the years, my resolutions have been focused on lots of different things, ranging from health to knowledge building to quality time. They’ve also varied in scale. Last year my resolution was simply to spend more time talking to my brothers (a constant group chat makes that pretty easy to do!). Often, though, they have come from looking back at how I have lived during the past year and focusing on something that I want to change.

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This year, however, is slightly different.

We’re anticipating a major life change in February, when our first child is due. As that due date has crept closer and closer, I’ve found myself facing some anxiety about the idea that life will change… forever. It feels childish to write that, but the enormity of the lifestyle change that we are taking on has felt a bit overwhelming in the last few weeks. The word “forever” is what I keep pausing at.

My identity and ego are strongly tied to my independence. For some reason, this didn’t change too much when Jon and I first got married. Both of us have strong personalities, separate identities, and individual goals; we have always respected that about each other. Now, however, as I’ve been absorbing more information from mom blogs, parenting books, and podcasts, I’ve started to really consider how my identity could change when I become a mother and more importantly, specifically how I want it to change.

This brings me to my resolution for this new year:

Wife Mom Woman First Graphic

Of course, I know that motherhood looks different for everyone. I don’t pass judgment on anyone who approaches this change in a different way. Having witnessed many of my friends and family members bring children into the world over the past few years, I know this transition can be handled in a variety of ways to create a beautiful life and a happy family. Some women want to be a mother, first and foremost.

I do not.

I long for motherhood to be a part of who I am, and a very, very important part of who I am, but I do not believe that that role must define me singularly. I believe that I can be more complicated than that and no less a parent; in fact, I believe I will be a better parent by caring for myself first. I need to put on my own oxygen mask, per se, before helping others.

Of course, it is lofty to say these things now. It’s entirely different to put them into practice. I’ve spent some time considering what it actually means to be a woman first, what those small steps are that take you to that larger lifestyle concept. For me, this will mean that I tend to my health (mental, physical, and emotional), relationships (including my marriage, family, and friendships), appearance, and career. I’m planning to revisit this idea as a monthly series to share how specifically that month I have cared for myself as an individual. I’m excited to share this journey with you, and would love to hear your input as well. What are things that you do to put yourself first?

Peppermint Cookies and Our Last Christmas as a Twosome

Hello! I hope you all had a beautiful holiday season, filled with lots of time with friends and family. We spent the past few days relishing all of the traditions as the last time we would enjoy them as a family of two before our little one arrives in February. Most importantly, we spent Christmas morning sleeping in!

While it’s always hard for me to live eight hours away from my family in Chicago, the benefit to splitting up our holidays (usually doing Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my husband’s family) means that we are never rushing between multiple places. We have unlimited time on those special days to focus on the people who we are with, and every year I’m grateful that we get to savor that slower pace.

We spent most of the day with my husband’s extended family on Christmas Eve. Most of them live in Kansas City, which makes that very easy. We started in the afternoon by going to the children’s mass at our parish downtown, which featured Christmas carols from the youngest children’s choir to start the service. The children were between the ages of five and ten, and as we are expecting, it was really heartwarming to see and to think about our child participating in that in a few years.

After mass, we went to my husband’s parents’ home for a big Christmas Eve celebration. My mother in law loves Christmas and hosting Christmas dinner more than anyone I know. Each year she throws a big party for her side of the family. While we see those relatives often living so close by, it’s rare that everyone is in one room at once together, and it’s an event that my husband looks forward to all year. My mother in law and each of her siblings only had two children each, so my husband really relied on his cousins as much as he would have relied on extra siblings growing up. I love seeing him so happy to be surrounded by them on that night. We ate delicious comfort food and had a gift exchange that went late into the night. I don’t think we left until after midnight. We were so busy enjoying time with family that I didn’t even take this picture until the end of the night before we left!

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I absolutely loved the dress I wore for Christmas. Now that I’m in the third trimester, it’s getting more and more challenging to find things that work for my bump, but just sizing up in this non-maternity option worked great.

For the past two years, I have brought these peppermint sugar cookies to the party. They are so, so easy to make, but the icing technique I use makes them look incredibly fancy. I know how much thought and time my mother in law puts into hosting and I always want to show up with something impressive to contribute to what she has put together. I’m all about things that give you some serious visual impact for a small amount of labor and these definitely achieve that. I use two different size piping tips of the same shape and simply layer dots of frosting in different sizes. This variety makes the icing job look labor intensive, but it’s really just making dots over and over, so it’s a great technique if, like me, you struggle with perfectly piping frosting. This is the frosting kit I use and I absolutely love it.

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In terms of the flavor, the cookies have a very subtle flavor of peppermint from the crushed candy canes. While you could use any type of icing on these, I find that the peppermint buttercream gives a stronger impact to that flavor. If you love mint flavors as much as I do, you are sure to love the buttercream. I could eat it by the spoonful, it’s that delicious.

Candy Cane Sugar Cookies with Peppermint Buttercream

Yields about 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients for the Cookies:

  • 1 cup finely ground candy canes (I grind mine using a blender)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

Ingredients for the Buttercream:

  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of peppermint extract
  • Red food coloring

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Instructions for the cookies:

  1. Grind your candy canes in a blender or food processor until they are a fine sugar. The blender will smell amazing when you first open it!
  2. Cream the butter, candy canes, and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Mix in the salt and the flour, adding the flour slowly while mixing.
  5. Chill the dough before cutting everything out, for at least one hour, but longer is fine too.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Roll the dough evenly on a floured surface and use cookie cutters to cut out the dough. For these, I used a seasonal pine tree shaped cookie cutter. Transfer the dough to parchment lined baking sheets. I find that a chopstick can be helpful for tracing around edges if the dough starts to soften while you are working and that a thin metal spatula can be most helpful for transferring the cut out dough to a cookie sheet while keeping especially delicate shapes, like the scalloped tree branches on these cookies, intact.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes.
  9. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before decorating with icing.

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Instructions for the frosting:

  1. Cream the butter and powdered sugar. The mix will be a bit thick to start with. Keep in mind that you will be adding more liquid and mix thoroughly until it has a doughy texture.
  2. Add the milk and mix well.
  3. Add the peppermint extract bit by bit. Mix well and taste test the frosting during the process. I’ve found that for me, 1 1/2 teaspoons is perfect, but you do want to check the flavor as you’re adding it to determine if you need more or less for your tastes.
  4. Add a few drops of red food coloring to give the frosting a light pink color.
  5. While you can frost these however you like, what I have used here are two different sizes of starburst frosting tips. Put the frosting into your frosting gun or piping bag and use the larger of the two tips first. Pipe the frosting in dots evenly spaced dots, pulling up as you release to give each dot a small peak.
  6. Once you have evenly covered all of the cookies with the large dots, switch to the smaller to the two tips and fill in any spaces with smaller dots. Again, pull up as you release pressure from the frosting gun or piping bag to give each dot a peak.
  7. Just as a little extra, I also like sprinkling these with some white pearl sprinkles. I used these.
  8. If you are taking these to an event and will be stacking them on a platter, it can be helpful to let the frosted cookies chill in the fridge for at least an hour for the frosting to harden. This prevents the cookies from sticking together on your platter.

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The end result of the frosting technique is that the cookies are covered with frosting in shapes resembling snowflakes or frost on window during winter. Very seasonal and a really easy technique that creates a beautiful result!

If you try this recipe or technique out, be sure to let me know how they turned out for you!

A Sweet Apartment Christmas

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Christmas is almost here! I’m so relieved that our shopping and decorating are all done and we have moved on to enjoying holiday traditions with our family and friends in Kansas City. My mother in law hosts a massive family gathering each Christmas Eve, and I’m looking forward to that tomorrow! I’ll be posting about that next week, along with a recipe for my favorite cookies that I bring each year, and of course some photos.

First, though, I wanted to give you a brief glimpse into our home at Christmas. I get so inspired by grand Christmas trees on Pinterest and other blogs, but many of these are put up in large houses with high ceilings and grand rooms. While those trees inspire me, they aren’t very realistic for my one bedroom apartment. Over the years of apartment living and trial and error, though, I’ve learned that you absolutely can have a beautiful, elegant tree on a smaller scale. You just have to be discerning with your choices and keep things simple.

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Our tree is a pretty standard faux tree from Target that we purchased years ago. I love real trees, but we have two dogs who get into everything, and I’ve heard that the needles from pine trees can be poisonous to dogs. Once we got our first dog, Wick, five years ago, we parted ways with real trees for good and opted instead for this six foot option. It does assemble pretty easily, in three parts, and lights up once it is plugged in.

While I love cute holiday ornaments and often gift ones from Anthropologie or Target along with a larger present, for my own tree, I really prefer to keep things simple. Each year, I have bought a bit more of these mercury glass ball ornaments, sticking in the theme of metallics and warm colors. They are so inexpensive, even if you are buying them at full price in December, but once you start to layer them, I think they really make the tree look timeless and sophisticated.

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Our tree skirt is simple as well, it’s just a piece of faux fur fabric I found on sale as a remnant at Jo Ann fabrics a few years ago. I don’t think I paid more than $20 for it; it was a lucky find! I use it year round as a throw to add some texture to our couch, but at Christmas, I simply wrap it loosely around the base of our tree to add a luxurious touch that’s harmonious with the warm-toned ornaments.

Similarly, I often like to incorporate those warm neutrals in my wrapping as well. I keep several rolls of kraft paper on hand throughout the year, since it works for any occasion and that simplifies my life. For Christmas in particular, I love to pair its utilitarian look with more luxurious touches, like a wide satin ribbon or this red and white grosgrain ribbon I picked up from Sugar Paper’s collection at Target.

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I feel like those small touches- a faux fur wrap for the base of our tree, metallic gold dotting the branches, and a higher end ribbon tying up a simple brown paper package- really go a long way to providing a sense of elegant luxury, without being over the top. They’re all very attainable as well. Almost everything I’ve used can be gathered from Target, Michael’s, or Jo-Ann Fabrics. What’s more important to me, though, is that when I keep things simple, it gives me more time to enjoy holiday traditions with my friends and family.

I’d love to hear from you as well! How are you getting into the holiday spirit?

How to Have a Happier First Trimester

I feel like I need to first post a disclaimer here:

My first trimester wasn’t that bad.

At age 29, I am not the first of my friends to get pregnant and because of that, I’ve seen some truly nightmarish first trimesters and also some totally normal ones. I wouldn’t even say that mine was normal. I got very lucky. I didn’t experience any nausea or morning sickness, for which I am eternally grateful.

What I did experience amounted to food aversions, low energy, and dealing with a changing body that, while it didn’t look pregnant yet, also no longer felt like my own.

Those experiences can still be rough, but I did find a few ways to make life a little better and happier during what’s supposed to be the worst part of your pregnancy.

Food Aversions

This one was pretty simple. I stayed far, far away from anything I didn’t want to eat and ate copious amounts of what I was craving. My doctor, bless her, gave me the go ahead to eat plenty of what I craved during the first trimester, as so many things just sounded disgusting, as long as I was taking my prenatal vitamins to supplement any potential nutritional shortcomings. For me, this meant I ate a ton of plain toast with butter, Caesar salad, and pineapple (never at the same time, I didn’t get that weird, thankfully). This also meant saying yes to takeout for my husband, because I’m not a monster and didn’t expect him to stay on a weird diet of toast and pineapple with me. It was a slightly expensive, and obviously not super healthy, habit for him to constantly order Chinese food (his favorite, which I could not bear the thought of eating during the first few weeks), but it did get make our lives a lot easier and happier to both get the things we wanted.

Pineapple

Low Energy

About a week after taking my positive pregnancy test, I felt like I got hit by a truck at the end of every workday. I would arrive home between 6:30 and 7 at night, put together my simple dinner, as nothing I craved was very complicated, eat, work out or spend time with my husband, and then would promptly fall into a deep sleep at 8:30 PM until 7 AM the next day.  Again, this symptom was pretty simple to work around. I just let it happen and let a lot of other things go, like dishes and laundry. I can reassure you that your energy definitely does come back in the second trimester, so it’s not very long that you’ll be putting things off. Truly, there’s no point in fighting the exhaustion. I’d much rather give my body what it needs than struggle through a full work day operating with half of my normal amount of energy (I’m told you have to do this later anyway with the baby, so why not give yourself a break for three months, right?). It’s ok to ask your partner to take on more too during this time. There were plenty of days when my husband had some toast ready to go for me as soon as I got home so that I could immediately change into sweats and start reclining in bed.

Changing Body

This first trimester side effect is the hardest one in my opinion, because it means accepting yourself as you are, and a lot of us need self help books, therapy, and years of self reflection to do that effectively. I’ll try to help out here, though!

Right away, I had a lot of bloating and immediately noticed that it looked like I was gaining weight. This didn’t surprise me terribly, because I’m someone whose weight fluctuates pretty easily, but it was scary to think that there would be no “down” fluctuation. As I vented to my mom, “Everyday for the next nine months, I’m going to wake up fatter than the day before. Never thinner, never the same, always fatter.” After about two weeks of feeling sorry for myself, however, I moved on. I got sick of going through three potential outfits every morning to finally pick one that I didn’t hate. To do something productive about that feeling, I spent a Saturday going through each piece of clothing that I owned. Anything that wasn’t flattering, that didn’t make me look awesome, went into an underbed storage tub. A lot went into the tubs. I didn’t realize it before that time, but I owned a lot of body-conscious fitting clothing, which is definitely not first trimester friendly. Let’s be honest, none of that stuff will probably be friendly to my body until a year after the baby is born. I also picked up a few loose fitting, larger sized dresses and tops for relatively cheap prices so that I had some more flattering options, like this tee shirt dress I wore throughout my vacation with my husband during the first trimester.

Colorado Dress

I really can’t recommend this highly enough, especially if you are experiencing some of the worst symptoms of the first trimester. It’s incredibly liberating to have a closet full of nothing but clothes that make you feel great about yourself, even if you wake up that day feeling downright rotten. Just put everything away that doesn’t work and remember that there’s nothing wrong. It’s the clothes’ fault, not your fault, that something doesn’t fit, feels weird, or just no longer looks great.

While, admittedly, I did spend about two weeks feeling unhot, unsexy, and very sorry for myself, what turned it around was considering that, for all I know, this may be the only pregnancy I ever have. There is no guarantee that I’ll ever be able to conceive and carry a child again. This may be my only chance to experience the really remarkable changes that my body can go through while creating a life. This may be only chance I ever have a baby bump to dress around. If that turns out to the be the case, what a waste of nine months I could have savored and spent indulging myself, rather than hating myself.

This perspective, I think, is really what carried me through the first trimester- the idea that this may be it for all I know. If that’s the case, I want to lean into the good moments of pregnancy as much as possible and, at least, try to shift my thinking about the bad moments. Bad moments are inevitable, as I’m sure I’ll go into in some later posts, but we do have full control over how much those moments cloud our thinking.

I’d love to hear from other moms and moms to be as well! What are some things you did to make the first trimester more bearable?

Christmas Spice White Chocolate Toffee Cookies

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The holiday season is finally here! I know there are some who start celebrating the very minute Thanksgiving wraps up, and more power to them, but I find I really need a little breathing room between each holiday. We’re well into December now, though, so I am ready to embrace the tree, the lights, the music, and of course, all the baking.

Each year I try to test out a new cookie recipe. I know over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to get plenty of the old favorites at office parties, friends’ gatherings, and family time, so I don’t want to get burnt out on Christmas tree sugar cookies coated with sprinkles, Hershey’s kiss topped peanut butter cookies, or peppermint bark.

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This year, I tried a variation on my personal chocolate chip cookie recipe to make it a little more seasonal. There’s a heavy hand of cinnamon and nutmeg in this one that reminds me of eggnog, but I could also see this making a delicious autumnal cookie as well. The white chocolate and crushed toffee bits work perfectly with those spices, and the cookies are equally delicious hot from the oven while the toffee is still a sticky, liquid caramel and the next day, once the toffee has hardened to add a crispy crunch (I may have had three this morning as breakfast with my espresso. Great prenatal nutrition. Mother of the year.). As a heads up, the cookies may be a little soft when you take them out of the oven. That’s okay! They will firm up as they cool. You want the bottoms to be a nice, even golden brown, but because of the flour in this recipe, if the tops brown up as well, it will yield a cookie with a hard, biscotti-like texture. The soft tops from the oven ensure that the centers of your cookie will stay soft and chewy even after everything has cooled. I hope that you love this recipe as much as I did! Comment and let me know how your batch turned out!

Christmas Spice White Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Yields about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (I prefer using Kerrygold)
  • 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons of Madagascar vanilla extract (this is my favorite)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of white chocolate chips (I prefer using Ghirardelli or Guittard)
  • 1 cup crushed toffee (I used Heath Bits of Brickle, bear in mind that has nuts in it)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars until thoroughly mixed. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Again, mix thoroughly to evenly disperse the spices, as they can clump up, and there’s nothing worse than a mouthful of ground cinnamon! Mix in flour one cup at a time. Add the toffee and white chocolate and stir. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Due to the softness of the cookies when they first come out, a metal spatula may be most helpful to transfer them to a cooling rack. Allow to cool and enjoy!

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