Tea Time with Jen: Fall 2014

Tea time is one of my favorite times of day.  I love opening my tea drawer, picking out a blend, and brewing it to enjoy.  There’s something so soothing to me about holding a warm cuppa in my hands, inhaling the warm steam and savoring the aroma, and of course, the delicious taste.  I thought it would be fun to share my current tea favorites, including any recent empties, what I’m drinking now, any tea hauls, and my favorite tea accessories with you.

Tea Empties

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✻ Rishi Teahouse Matcha Green Tea Powder – I was on quite the green tea latte kick over the summer.  To make it, I heat up a cup of almond milk and then whisk in a teaspoon or so of this delightfully refreshing green tea powder until combined.  Usually I sweeten with a bit of honey before enjoying this frothy green goodness.  *Repurchased

✻ Numi Moroccan Mint – I raved about this delicious mint blend in my last Tea Time post and it is still one of my all-time favorites.  The mint flavor is sweet and mild and oh-so soothing after a long day.  *Will Repurchase

✻ Mighty Leaf Ginger Twist – I love ginger tea any old time, but especially when I’m not feeling particularly well.  I’ve tried many brands and blends and this one my Mighty Leaf is definitely my favorite.  The ginger flavor is the star of the blend but it does not overwhelm.  *Repurchased

✻ The Republic of Tea Caramel Apple – I became quite enamored with this festive red tea blend over the past couple of months.  It has such a nice, bright fall apple flavor.  Add a bit of honey and it really tastes like a caramel apple.  Yum!  *Repurchased

✻ Paromi Cinnamon Chai – This delightful rooibos is the answer to my search for a caffeine-free chai.  It has a rich, spiced flavor with a natural sweetness that holds its own.  *Repurchased

What I’m Drinking Now

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✻ Harney & Sons Pumpkin Spice – I picked this up on a whim earlier this fall at Barnes & Noble and immediately became smitten with the earthy fall flavor of this rooibos blend.  It doesn’t carry the same sweetness as the Paromi chai, but has a nice, rich flavor that is packed with spice.

✻ Mighty Leaf Organic African Nectar – If you couldn’t already tell, I’ve been really into rooibos blends lately.  This one by Mighty Leaf isn’t fall specific like some of the others in my tea drawer, but has more of a subtle, warm background that emphasize the earthiness of the rooibos.  It’s my go-to morning cup during any season.

✻ Tazo Organic Baked Apple Cinnamon – I picked this up at Whole Foods after I had run out of the Caramel Apple tea and was missing that apple flavor.  I must admit, this rooibos blend by Tazo falls a bit short flavor-wise, but it’s still quite nice as a more mild cup.

✻ Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea – I was on the lookout for a fall herbal blend that wasn’t rooibos-based when I discovered this cute fox on the box at Trader Joe’s.  It’s a lovely evening herbal with a hint of fall spice.

✻ Mighty Leaf Organic Mint Melange – Mighty Leaf reached out to me several weeks ago after noticing my deep fondness for their teas and asked if they could send me a gift as a thank you for my support.  Who am I to say no to the gift of tea?  They sent one of their samplers, including this wonderful mint blend, which I have enjoyed in years past.  It’s been nice to enjoy it again especially after I was only buying the Numi mint for awhile.  The Mighty Leaf blend has a great minty flavor without overwhelming the palette.  The aroma is heaven especially when dealing with stress or nerves!

Tea Accessories

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✻ Mighty Leaf TeaTop Brew Travel Mug – Mighty Leaf was also kind enough to send me this mug and I am honestly very impressed with the design!  Had I known about its existence prior to their gift, I would definitely have bought it to try out on my own, because I’ve been on the hunt for a solution to that pesky “where do I put my tea bag” problem when I’m on the road.  I often want to bring tea with me in the car, but I usually forget to allocate enough time for steeping before I go.  This ingenious design allows for the tea bag to be pulled up into a carved out portion of the lid to ensure that you never need to over-steep your tea.  I love it!

✻ Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated 12 oz – I’ve owned this travel canteen for many years and love how it keeps beverages hot for hours.  It’s my go-to pick when I’ve already managed to brew and steep my tea completely before heading out the door.  *Note – you have to buy the sip-on-the-go Cafe Cap lid separately

✻ Tag Autumn Owl Mug Set of 2 and Scheme and Sugar Mug – I’ve somehow turned into a bit of a mug collector over the years and I tend to use some more seasonally than others.  I’ve loved sipping out of my little woodland friends mugs this fall.  How cute are they?  It might sound silly, but a nice mug actually enhances the tea drinking experience for me.  I guess that’s how you know when you’re full out obsessed with tea!

Check out my coordinating video to hear more of my thoughts on these teas:

Mighty Leaf is very kindly providing a Garden of Herbals Gift Sampler as well as a TeaTop Brew Travel Mug like they gifted to me for one of you! The Mighty Leaf Tea Giveaway will run until Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).  I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog post and Mighty Leaf will contact them directly through email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties. If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I’d love to hear about your favorite teas and what you’re drinking now if you care to share.  Wishing you all a warm and cozy holiday season!  May your tea warm your days and nights :)

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*Post contains referral & affiliate links.  Mighty Leaf very kindly provided me with the Garden of Herbals Gift Sampler and the TeaTop Brew Mug as well as the giveaway prizes.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are genuinely my own.*

Little Luxuries: Holiday Gift Guide 2014

With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us are thinking about gifts for our loved ones.  I have decided to share my 3-part holiday gift guide again this year with posts broken down by price range.  These gift guides include some of my top picks for both guys and ladies as well as gender neutral gifts.  This week I am sharing gifts that fall under the $20-$50 range, which I’ve dubbed Little Luxuries.  These are items that I think many people would not necessarily splurge on for themselves but might enjoy being gifted.  I am also including some of my personal favorite host/hostess gifts in this price range.

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For Her:

1. Origins Mini Mask Marvels – I have used and loved Origins skincare products for years.  This gift set is a great way to try out three very different kinds of masks, including the Clear Improvement Active charcoal mask “to clear pores,” Drink Up Intensive overnight mask “to quench skin’s thirst,” and Out of Trouble 10 minute mask “to rescue problem skin.”  Suggested Retail: $22.50

2. Formula X The X Look – I like to include a nail polish set every year, because it’s a nice gift for the beauty gal in your life and something people don’t always splurge on for themselves.  I’ve been very impressed with the Formula X polishes lately and love this gorgeous holiday set.  It includes four mini nail lacquers in Obsessed (opaque classic merlot), Impassioned (purple pearl), Thrilling (opaque heather grey), and Temptation (iridescent gold pearl).  These are colors that are both festive and everyday wearable.  Suggested Retail: $25

3. Initial Disc Necklace with Birthstone – I discovered BijouxByMeg on Etsy early last year when I was searching for a personalized bee charm necklace.  I found the perfect piece I was searching for and fell in love with her shop of dainty, handcrafted jewelry.  You can’t beat the price for the quality of Megan’s beautiful handiwork.  I gave the initial disc necklace to my sister-in-law for Christmas last year with a “g” on it for her daughter, Grace, as well as Grace’s birthstone.  She loves it and wears it often.  It’s a beautiful gift for the moms, daughters, sisters, and girlfriends in your life.  Suggested Retail: $30

* Please be advised that Megan closes up shop usually by the second week of December until the end of the year so she can complete all holiday orders, so if you’d like something for the holidays, it’s best to shop in the next couple of weeks from her Etsy shop.*

4. LUSH Festive Friends – What says “pampering gift” more than some LUSH bath goodies?  This set includes two bubble bars (The Christmas Hedgehog and The Christmas Penguin) and two bath bombs (Dashing Santa and Butterbear) all wrapped up and ready to gift in festive paper and ribbon.  A LUSH bath is perfect treat to help unwind after a long day and makes for a thoughtful gift.  I know how much I love finding LUSH products under the tree or in my stocking on Christmas morning.  Suggested Retail: $29.95

5. Too Faced La Belle Carousel – I love perusing all of the fun and festive holiday sets that makeup brands release every year.  My top pick this year is from Too Faced.  I have so enjoyed both the Chocolate Bar palette and the Natural Eyes palette this year and was drawn to this gorgeous set all wrapped up in carousel-themed packaging.  It includes three mini eyeshadow palettes with four shades in each as well as two blush and bronzer palettes and a mini Better Than Sex Mascara.  You can split up this gift for smaller tokens to the beauty gals in your life or give the whole thing to one person for an all encompassing beauty set.  Suggested Retail: $49

For Him:

6. Bang – I think a fun and inclusive game is a great gift for a friend or family member who likes to interact in a little friendly competition.  Bang is a Wild West Card game designed to be played by 4-7 players in under an hour.  It will have your loved ones laughing together in no time!  Suggested Retail: $19.99

7. Skiva PowerVault Lightning External Battery – An external battery like this for your phone and/or tablet is more of a practical luxury item, but makes a great gift in my opinion for the tech-dependent fellows in your life who always seem to drain their batteries at the most inconvenient times.  Don and I both love our Skiva PowerVaults, which are Apple MFI certified and include both lightening and micro-USB cables for recharging a number of devices.  It charges through USB, has an on/off switch with lighted indications of how much charge is left, and is small and sleek for ease of travel.  Suggested Retail $49.99 $29.95 (on sale!)

8. ToddyGear Tech Pack -ToddyGear products are super useful luxury items for any guy (or gal) who loves a clean screen and/or glass lenses.  I have raved about their Smart Cloths for years as one of my all-time favorite stocking stuffers.  Now you can get all of ToddyGear’s best selling products in this great gift set, which includes both a 5”x7” and a 9”x9” Smart Cloth, a Pocket Toddy, and The Wedge Mobile Device Stand.  This is another great gift set that you could also break up and give as smaller gifts to a number of people.  Suggested Retail: $44.99

Use code Jen20 to receive 20% off your order at ToddyGear.com now through December 31, 2014.

9. Happy Socks 4 Pairs Pack – I have a couple of guy friends in my life who love to wear fun socks, even to their serious professional jobs (one is a lawyer and another a doctor).  This gift pack from Happy Socks includes four high quality pairs of socks in a nice range of colors and patterns already packaged up in a festive box.  Suggested Retail: $45

10. Beer Mug Set of 4 – We have two sets of these high quality glass beer mugs from Williams-Sonoma, which we’ve owned for over nine years now and look as good as new.  We keep ours in the freezer for the perfect frosty mug of chilled beer or soda to enjoy or offer to our guests.  The option to personalize with a monogram is an extra special touch that makes an awesome gift for the brew lover in your family or circle of friends.  Plus, they’re dishwasher safe!  Suggested Retail: $41.56 (plain) or $47.96 (with monogram)

Gender Neutral or Host/Hostess:

11. Olivewood Cheese Serving Board – This gorgeous cheese board is a lovely host/hostess.  I think it’s a great price for a beautiful piece that is made in Italy and perfect for the party-thrower in your circle or family.  Suggested Retail: $34.95 $27.96 (on sale!)

12. Winter Bird Mug Gift Set – I think the gift of a pretty mug set like this is especially appropriate during the holiday season when the cold weather really sets in.  I love the festive gift box that this set comes in, with no need for wrapping.  Or, you can pop this set in a gift bag with your favorite tea/coffee/hot cocoa mix for an extra indulgent present.  Suggested Retail: $19.95

13. Godiva Hot Cocoa Gift Set – Speaking of hot cocoa, I love this gift set from Godiva with four packets each of three delicious hot cocoa flavors, including milk, dark, and caramel cocoas.  It’s fun and festive with beautiful packaging.  Suggested Retail: $20

14. Wine & Wine Glass Writers – It’s hard to go wrong with a nice bottle of wine as a host/hostess gift.  Our favorite reds to give as gifts are the Ruffino Chianti (tan label) and Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon.  For whites, we love to give or serve the La Crema Chardonnay or Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse.  You can always pair a nice bottle with a fun and useful wine accessory for that extra special touch.  The Wine Glass Writers are a great way for guests to keep track of their glasses.  Just be sure to advise people to wait to pour cold beverages until after the ink has dried (it only takes about 15 seconds in my experience) to avoid smudging.  Once its dry, the ink will not smudge or budge until washing with soap.  Suggested Retail (wine glass writers): $9.95

15. Godiva 19 pc. Chocolate Box – Sometimes wine isn’t always appropriate to bring to a dinner or party.  In those cases I know I can always pick up a box of Godiva chocolates as a nice gift.  The 19 piece box offers a well-rounded variety of chocolate at a great mid-range price.  Suggested Retail: $30

Check out the video below if you’re interested in a closer look at these products as well as my thoughts on each one:

ToddyGear very kindly provided three Tech Packs as prizes for a coordinating giveaway.  The ToddyGear Tech Pack Giveaway will run until Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 6 PM CT. The giveaway is open internationally. All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  THREE people will win a ToddyGear Tech Pack similar to the one I shared in this post.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).  I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties.  If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of my 2014 Holiday Gift Guide and that it gave you some ideas or inspiration for gifts for your loved ones this holiday season.  I will be back sharing my Extravagant Splurges top picks (gifts that are $50 or more) next followed by my Stocking Stuffer guide ($20 or less).  Happy Holidays!

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* Description contains affiliate & referral links.  ToddyGear very kindly provided the Tech Pack gift set I showed as well as the giveaway prizes.  All other items were purchased by me.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *

November 2014 PopSugar Must Have Box & Special Edition Neiman Marcus Box

I have two PopSugar boxes to share a look at with you this month, including my regular subscription box as well as a special Neiman Marcus edition.  If you’re unfamiliar, PopSugar Must Have is a monthly subscription service where you receive a selection of full size and premium beauty, fashion, home, and fitness items for $39.95 per month (this includes shipping and is available in the US only).  They also release special edition boxes from time to time, which usually cost $100 a pop.  The Neiman Marcus edition is their most luxurious offering at $250.

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The November box theme is inspired by “gratitude, gourmet treats, indulging, hosting, giving, and gathering.”  Yep, that pretty much sums it up!  Once again, the theme this month is particularly well suited to the season.  As usual, there is a nice variety of items in this box ranging from beauty to leisure.

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What’s in the November box?

✻  The Secret Recipes by Dominique Ansel – This is the fanciest baking cookbook I’ve ever seen!  Apparently Dominique Ansel is the creator of the Cronut, which is a cross between a croissant and a donut.  I’m excited to peruse the beautiful photographs and fancy recipes! Suggested Retail: $35

Tiny Prints Thoughtful Heart Stationery – PopSugar founder Lisa Sugar teamed up with Tiny Prints, a custom stationery company, to create this pretty print.  I love using cards like these for thank you’s or to pop in the box with prizes I send off to my giveaway winners. Suggested Retail: $15

K. Hall Simpatico Ambergis Shea Butter Cream – My husband really loves the K. Hall soap that was in last month’s box so I was excited to see another product from their line this month.  This lotion is rich and moisturizing thanks to the shea butter formula.  It has a fresh slightly musky scent that is perfect year round. Suggested $22

Wine Glass Writers – This is such a cool concept and a perfect little hostess gift to throw in with some wine!  Guests can write their names on their glasses and then the ink comes off with soap and water. I’m going to try these at our Thanksgiving gathering this year.  Suggested Retail: $9.95

G.H. Cretors Chicago Mix Popped Corn – I have had this popcorn before and have to show such restraint not to keep buying it, because it is so good.  It’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet with a nice fresh crunch.  Double yum! Suggested Retail: $3.69

Sorial Saffiano Wallet on a Chain – I love this pretty little bag!  It’s the perfect size to just pop in a few cards, some cash, your phone, and a lipgloss.  The royal blue color is gorgeous and the saffiano leather gives it durability and a polish look.  Love it! Suggested Retail: $49

Check out my coordinating video to hear about my favorites from last month’s selections and see my reactions as I open this month’s box:

As I mention in the video, PopSugar actually sent me a box for consideration this month.  Since I am already a paying subscriber I have an extra box to give away.  Yay!  The November PopSugar Must Have Box Giveaway will run until Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open internationally.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  One person will win the November PopSugar Must Have Box just like the one I shared in this post.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).   I’ll announce the winner on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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I decided to splurge and ordered the special edition Neiman Marcus box that was offered this month.  I have so enjoyed all of the special edition boxes I’ve ordered in the past and couldn’t resist the chance to see what would be included in this extra fancy edition.  It certainly did not disappoint!  The selection of items ranges from beauty and leisure to food and home, just like in the regular subscription box, but there is definitely a luxurious element to all of these items.  They are things I normally wouldn’t pay full price for so it’s fun to give them a try!

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What’s in the Neiman Marcus box?

Missoni Home by Apothia Candle – I had no idea Missoni made candles!  They partnered with Apothia to create a beautiful scent reminiscent of “Italian breezes and night-blooming jasmine.” Suggested Retail: $88

Mariebelle Aztec Hot Chocolate Tin – I was so excited to see this deluxe mix in the box as major hot chocolate enthusiast (read: fiend).  The chocolate shavings make for such a rich and indulgent cup!  Don and I tested this out last night heated up with some almond milk and it was so good.  Yum! Suggested Retail: $26

Swing Design Mia Glass Storage Box – This simple yet stunning box is the perfect place to stow away valuables on your nightstand or dresser.  I think it would make a lovely gift, as well! Suggested Retail: $40

Monica Rich Kosann Cream Enamel Frame – Another simple yet stunning home accent, this silver plated frame with an enamel border would make a beautiful statement in any home. Suggested Retail: $100

Clare V. Foldover Clutch – A lovely clutch with a bold statement with the royal blue color like this is a great way to add instant glamour to any outfit.  This colorblock clutch is made from abeautiful soft leather with golden hardware and is quite roomy. Suggested Retail: $220

✻ Chantecaille Brilliant Gloss & Supreme Cils Mascara – I’ve wanted to try Chantecaille beauty products for years but never even allowed myself near a counter because of the steep prices.  I am super excited to finally be able to try out some of their products!  The lip gloss in Love is my favorite pale pink shade with a hint of shimmer.  I’m also very happy they sent a water-resistant mascara since it my formula of choice. Suggested Retail: $33 + $52

OJ|TBBB_11-19-2014_05Lancer, The Method: Nourish – One item was unfortunately missing from my box.  This moisturizer claims to deliver the “Fountain of Youth” to your skin.  I contacted customer service through their online form and they told me they will send a replacement.  I am looking forward to trying this out!  Suggested Retail: $125

Check out my coordinating video for a closer look at each product and to see my reactions as I open this special edition box:

I picked up an additional Neiman Marcus box as a special gift for one of you!  The PopSugar Neiman Marcus Box Giveaway will run until Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open internationally.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  One person will win the the PopSugar Must Have Special Edition Neiman Marcus Box which includes all of the items I shared in this post (the moisturizer is in the giveaway box, I made sure of it).  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).   I’ll announce the  winner on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties.  If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I hope you enjoyed this look at my November and special edition Neiman Marcus box!  Click here to learn more about the PopSugar Must Have Box.  Use code REFER5 to save $5 off your first box!

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* PopSugar kindly sent me the November Must Have box I shared in this post and video for consideration.  I am giving away the box I received as part of my paid subscription.  I purchased the Neiman Marcus boxes myself.  Post contains affiliate and referral links.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *

Week In Review (November 10 – November 16, 2014)

My Week In Review (otherwise known as WIR) posts are just that: a review of my past week.  I post an update here every Tuesday sharing some tidbits of my previous week as well as an accompanying photo recap with selections from my Instagram.  Here’s the buzz from my week:

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Brr!  Remember last week when I waxed on about the shifting of the seasons and how fall was fading slowly into winter?  Well, that ship has sailed and the winter weather has come full on with sub-freezing temperatures, icy winds, and even a little snow.  We had a beautiful autumn while it lasted and now we’re busy getting ready for winter by turning on the furnaces, putting out the winter quilt, stocking the freezer with homemade soups, and getting our warm coats out of the back of the closet.  As much as I don’t like being cold, I do enjoy the cooler weather (so long as I’m bundled up, of course).  Chilly evenings are a perfect excuse to cozy up under a cuddly blanket with Don and share some hot chocolate.  I love hot chocolate this time of year!  And you know what comes after chilly evenings…nippy mornings!  I’ve never been much of a bed dweller after I wake up in the morning, preferring to jump up and get the day started.  My dog Winnie, however, has different plans and wants me to stay in bed and cuddle her, especially on cold mornings.  How could anyone resist that sweetheart?  An extra five minute of belly rubs for my girl is the best way to start the day in my opinion.

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I know I must not be the only one who looks forward to certain cold weather comfort foods when the temperature drops.  My top picks right now include soups and teas.  The occasional grilled cheese sandwich is such a nice treat, as well.  I know that once the holiday season officially hits there will be lots of goodies around, and I do my best to enjoy them without overindulging.  Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Every year I grow more aware of the affect too much sugar and fat has on both my physical and psychological well being.  I strive to keep moderation in mind for the most part, but I catch myself slipping into old habits every now and then.  Watching EssieButton‘s latest video on YouTube about her health and fitness journey reminded me of my own journey and how far I’ve come from a less healthy point in my life when my self esteem really suffered to where I am now with considerably more confidence.  I am continually learning and growing in this, and I know this journey is a lifelong one.

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Speaking of journeys, I ventured out to The Container Store‘s newest location late last week at Roosevelt Collection in Chicago’s South Loop for their blogger preview.  What an amazing space!  I love that The Container Store has expanded its presence in Chicago with two new locations this year.  So many of you mention to me how much you wish a Container Store would come to your area.  They just might someday!  Their business is growing by leaps and bounds and it’s exciting to see organizational products in such high demand.

The rest of our weekend was pretty low-key.  We drove up to Milwaukee on Saturday night to go to a housewarming party for our dear friends from high school.  Even though it’s a little sad they no longer live in Chicago, Milwaukee is not so far away.  They threw a really nice party with a sea of snacks that were so tasty.  You know how much we like snacks in our circle!  I spent the bulk of yesterday catching up on comments and correspondence and putting the final touches on my holiday gift guide (which will be up soon!).  It’s hard to believe how soon it is until the holidays will be upon us.  I’m excited not only for this season, but also what comes after it.  I will be attending my first ever blogger conference, AltSummit, in late January.  It’s a big step for me out of my comfort zone but I am truly looking forward to it and can’t wait to share my experience with you.

If you’d like to see more from my weekend, check out my vlog:

As I mentioned in this video, I hope to film a check-in style video later this week to catch up with you guys and keep you in the loop.  There are some changes afoot, but all good things.  This online journey of mine keeps evolving and I with it.  I’m excited to be sharing more with you as we embark on the holiday season and new year.  Take care and keep warm!

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* Post contains affiliate links. This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are genuinely my own. *

The Container Store’s Gift Wrap Wonderland

I get super excited when late October rolls around every year because it means that Gift Wrap Wonderland (GWW) is coming to The Container Store (TCS).  I’ve spoken lovingly about GWW for years.  It’s one of my favorite holiday kick off traditions.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when the lovely people at my local TCS (Northbrook, Illinois) invited me for a private tour of this year’s collection.  I am happy to be able to share the wonder that is GWW in photos and video footage with you.

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Every year The Container Store transforms the center of their store into the most expansive collection of holiday wrap and accessories I have ever seen in one place.  Not only does it include an incredibly large variety of festive wrap, but also every kind of gift packaging accessory you can think of from coordinating gift bags and tissue to ribbons, cards, and package embellishments.  The hardworking elves at TCS work on the collection all year round, pulling together past favorites and fresh new picks into gorgeous collections that cover a wide range of styles.  There’s truly something for everyone!  Quality is certainly not sacrificed for quantity at GWW, where I’ve personally purchased some of the most beautiful paper I’ve ever seen.  Each collection is carefully thought out and provides customers with everything they need to create the most simple package to the most elaborate.  Half the fun of getting a gift is anticipating what’s in the package.  The Container Store makes is super easy to find everything you need for your holiday packaging needs.

I took a lot of pictures (can you tell I was excited?), which I did my best to condense into collages to give you a sense of the space.

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There are six long walls of wrap in GWW, which are grouped by collection.  This makes it easy to find paper that coordinates well together according to your personal style.  The paper rolls are organized vertically in bins below a wall of coordinating gift wrap accessories such as gift bags, tissue paper, labels, cards, and embellishments.  Above these is a line of sample packages so you can see what each paper looks like on a box.

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In addition to the long walls of wrap, there are ten or so (I didn’t photograph them all) smaller collection displays set up on the ends of the GWW aisles.  TCS makes use of every available space in their setup for a total immersion experience.  These collections include some of the funkier prints, many of which are not necessarily holiday specific and can be used year round.  I especially love the silver and gold options as well as the new Handsome Holidays collection geared towards men.  I bought a couple of rolls to have on hand for birthdays and father’s days for the special guys in my life.

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One of the first things you see as you enter GWW is a large tree shaped shelving unit with gorgeous and festive presents wrapped to give inspiration on how to use the beautiful collections.  One of these flanks the front and the back end of GWW.  There are mesh bins with the coordinating wrap below so you can easily find what you get inspired by on the shelves.

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It must be so fun to help create these sample packages.  They really are gorgeously wrapped and give you great ideas for what you can create with all that GWW offers.

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If looking at all of those professional quality samples makes you feel a bit self conscious about your own wrapping skills, fear not, because TCS has that covered!  Every Saturday and Sunday between now and the end of December, TCS holds three Gift Wrap and Bow Demonstrations in store.  These are free and a great way to pick up some basic tips to get you well on your way to creating gorgeously wrapped gifts.  If you don’t live near a store, you can find help online with tips on wrapping and making your gifts really shine.

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If all this talk about gift wrapping and bows seems like a lot of fuss to you, there is a great selection of gift bags and pouches for quick and easy gift packaging that’s still fun and festive.  I especially love the drawstring pouches that come in a variety of shapes and sizes for wrapping awkwardly sized presents.

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I also love shopping GWW because they offer the best selection of gift boxes.  They have all of your gift box needs covered with an unparalleled selection of shapes and sizes.  They have both white and printed collapsible boxes in all different sizes as well as a nice collection of white, gold, and silver jewelry boxes.  Their premium boxes are nice enough to use year round as beautiful storage bins and the Gilded Gems print is so pretty all you need is a festive bow or ribbon and voila, beautiful gift, easily wrapped.

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There are a few smaller stands in the center of GWW with even more boxes and items to customize your packages such as stickers.  One stand includes useful gift wrapping tools, including all kinds of tape and dispensers, a paper cutter/folder, and even Neat Roll Fasteners to keep your wrapping paper securely on the roll.

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One of my personal favorite sections is dedicated to food storage.  As an avid holiday baker, I always pop over to GWW to pick up festive tins and waxed tissue paper  to package up holiday treats for my loved ones.  They also have a great selection of jars, baskets, treat bags, and more.  TCS has been expanding their entertaining line in recent years to include paper napkins and trays for holiday parties.  I am particularly intrigued by the Cotton Cocktail Napkin Rolls, which just tear off and can be washed and reused up to six times.

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While the bulk of GWW is located in the heart of the store, you can find holiday items sprinkled throughout the store with more food storage and gift wrap accessories.  There’s also a nice selection of gift card holders.  They even have both festive and functional shipping accessories to help you package up gifts for loved ones who live far away.

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TCS has also been expanding their holiday decor offerings in recent years.  This includes functional items such as surge protectors, garland ties, hooks, clips, and dinnerware storage cases.  They also carry festive holders to display holiday cards and wreaths as well as gorgeous stockings.  I was told that the decorative wood cutout trees and coordinating accessories were so popular last year that they expanded that line this year.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be The Container Store without containers for storing and organizing all of your holiday wrap and decor.  The entire back end of GWW is dedicated to storage bins, boxes, and bags to keep everything neat and tidy year after year.

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The center of GWW is Stocking Stuffers land.  I can’t tell you how many awesome stocking stuffers I have found at GWW over the years.  The elves at TCS are great about finding new and unique offerings every year while still carrying some of the tried and true customer favorites.

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You can find a nice variety of items here ranging from fun and silly to seriously useful.  Some of my favorites at first glance this year include the Citrus Zinger water bottle, The Laundress Clothing Care Travel Set, the Crumb Catcher Vacuum, and the Inflatable Crown.

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I thought I would share some of my top GWW picks with you while we’re on the subject:

1. Kraft Gift Card Holder Totes | 2. Small Winter Forest Cotton Sacks | 3. Signature Snowflake Tiles 2-Piece Gift Boxes | 4. Holiday Sparkle Tissue | 5. Scotch Pop=up Tape Deskgrip Dispenser | 6. Handsome Santa Gift Labels | 7. Snowman Money Holders | 8. Chevron Holiday Wrap & Tote Organizer | 9. Red Polka Dot Waxed Tissue | 10. Red Door Window Tin | 11. 1/2 lb. Plaid Coffee Bag | 12. Tree Storage Box with Wheels

I love that TCS carries gorgeous new wrap each year in addition to bringing back some customer favorites.  I usually do a big wrap stock-up run every other year.  Over the years I keep repurchasing prints I like so much that they have become signature wrap for me in my family.  A few of my favorites include Working Santa, Peppermint Stripe, Tartan Plaid, and Christmas Berries.  You can definitely get a sense of my holiday wrap style from these selections.  The great thing about GWW is that there really is something to suit everyone’s personal tastes.

I share a closer look at the GWW as well as my haul from this year in this video:

I thought it would be fun to run a giveaway so some of you could pick up some holiday wrap goodies.  The Container Store GWW Giveaway will run until Friday, November 21, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open to US entrants only.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  Four People will win a $100 gift card to The Container Store.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).  I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties.  If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I hope you enjoyed seeing what I’ve been raving about all these years!  I have wanted to share the joy that is GWW with you for a long time.  Many thanks to The Container Store for helping make this dream of mine a reality.  I’d also like to thank the lovely folks at the Northbrook store who opened their doors to me early with a warm welcome and a lovely tour.  I highly recommend checking out GWW in person if you have the chance or perusing the website for great packaging ideas.  Happy Holiday Prep!

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* Post contains referral and affiliate links.  Giveaway prizes are provided by me.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *

Winter 2014 FCS Soap Box

I absolutely love opening my quarterly FCS Soap Box!  If you’re not familiar, FCS stands for Fortune Cookie Soap, which is a husband and wife run handmade soap and body products company.  The FCS Soap Box is a quarterly subscription service that includes sample sizes of upcoming seasonal releases and it is Fun, Fun, Fun!  If you love trying new and unique bath and body products then this box is for you!

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The Winter 2014 FCS Soap Box is a play on the holiday classic movie, Christmas Vacation.  This hilarious movie always has me in fits even though I’ve now watched it dozens of times.  I love how FCS took some of the jokes to make creative names for their upcoming holiday product line.  Please be advised that if you’re not familiar with the movie, the product names won’t make much sense to you, but that doesn’t make the products themselves any less festive.

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What’s in the Winter 2014 Soap Box?

✻ “Moose Mug” Cuticle Butter – I am so excited to see favorite cuticle butter formula in this delectable holiday eggnog scent.  Good enough to eat (don’t worry, I won’t)! ;)

✻ “Mele Kelekimaka” OCD Hand Sanitizer – I love the tropical vibe for this awesome hand sanitizer to help me dream of warm sunny beaches during chilly winter days.  The FCS formula happens to be my personal preference across all of the brands I’ve tried.

✻ “‘Tis the Season to be Mary” Fortune Cookie Soap – This interesting combination of sweet almond and tobacco makes for a warm and cozy scent.  I love keeping fortune cookie soaps next to my sink for washing my hands but they’re also great to use in the shower.

✻ “Sparky” Hydrate Me – I haven’t had much luck with the hydrate me products in the past and I finally figured out it’s because I was using them wrong.  They’re meant to be used at the end of a shower or bath and rubbed directly onto the skin under running water for moisturization.  This one smells like a holiday themed brunch of pumpkin waffles with brown sugar, pecans, and whipped cream.  Another good enough to eat scent!

✻ “SQUIRREL!” Whipped Cream – There was a possibility of four different whipped creams for this box.  I got “Squirrel!”  I always think of the movie Up when I hear “squirrel!” but then again, Mr. Squirrel does play a big part in Christmas Vacation as well.  This lotion has a bright fruity smell of apples, strawberries, and plums, combined with citrus notes of orange and lime for extra zest.  The whipped cream formula is another one of the FCS standouts in my opinion.

✻ “I Pledge Allegiance, Amen!” Shower Steamer – This is the one FCS products I consistently don’t have luck with, but maybe I’m just using it wrong.  I believe you’re meant to drop it on your shower floor for an aromatherapy effect while showering.  This one smells delightfully like a winter forest with fresh notes of spruce, mint, and herbs.

✻ “Fried Pussycat” Whipped Soap – I’ve never heard of whipped soap before, so I’m wondering if this is a new product for FCS.  Whatever it is, it smells lovely!  The scent is subtle with notes of plum, caramel, bourbon vanilla, and jasmine.  I’m thinking of giving it a whirl in my shower in place of shower gel.

✻ “Christmas Bonus” Deep Conditioner – Is this another new product for FCS?  Maybe!  This deep conditioner is made with their third annual mystery fragrance.  If you guess right you have a chance to win a $50 FCS gift certificate!

Check out my coordinating video for closeups of each product and to see my reactions as I open the winter box:

It gets better….I have TWO giveaways to share!

The first giveaway is generously run and hosted by FCS themselves.  The giveaway is open internationally.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  One person will win a new Winter 2014 FCS Soap Box like the one I shared in this post.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below.  FCS will contact the winner directly through email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Since FCS so kindly sent me this PR box, I have decided to give away the one I receive in my paid subscription to one of you.  The Winter 2014 FCS Soap Box Giveaway will run until Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 6 PM CT. The giveaway is open internationally.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  One person will win a new Winter 2014 FCS Soap Box like the one I shared in this post.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).  I’ll announce the winner on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties.  If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I can’t wait to try out all of these goodies and am planning on bringing most of them on my next trip (yay, Disney World!).  I’ll be back with a look at my next FCS Soap Box in three months.  In the meantime, I recommend checking out the Fortune Cookie Soap website to peruse all of their fun products.  The winter line launches on November 21, 2014.  Receive $5 off your first $30+ FCS purchase by clicking here!

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* The products mentioned are part of the FCS Soap Box quarterly subscription program, for which I pay for my own membership.  The box I am sharing in this post and video is a PR box, which FCS sent to me for consideration.  FCS is giving away one box.  The box I am giving away is the one from my paid subscription.  Post contains referral and affiliate links.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *

The Beauty Buzz: October 2014

Hi Beauties!  While I realize that it’s practically mid-November now and these October beauty favorites of mine are kind of late, I’m thinking it’s never too late to share the beauty products love!  Here are my top picks from October:

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Makeup

Supergoop Daily Correct CC Cream in Light/Medium – My skin has a new best friend and it’s name is Supergoop!  I’ve been a big fan of using BB and CC creams on a daily basis for awhile now.  As much as I love my tried and true It Cosmetics version, Supergoop has taken over the number one spot in my books.  Between hormonal acne breakouts and scarring I have some things on my face I like to cover.  This CC Cream works like a charm to do all that with the most natural finish out of all the brands I’ve tried so far.  I find it really is self-adjusting to my skin tone after application, just like it claims.

✻ Make Up For Ever Mat Velvet + in #40 – As much as I love my CC cream, somedays I really want the coverage of a foundation.  I don’t keep a lot of foundations on hand since I don’t wear them that often, but I always have my trusty Mat Velvet + to rely on.  To me, it gives the best coverage while maintaining a natural finish.

✻ Sigma 3DHD Kabuki Brush – I have to be honest here, I was a little skeptical about this foundation brush when Sigma launched it a couple of months ago, thinking it seemed kind of gimmicky.  Let me tell you, that all changed the instant I used it for the first time.  It is an amazingly ingenious design that combines the awesomeness that is the Sigma synthetic kabuki brush with the convenience of a makeup sponge shape.  The angled design allows me to apply my foundation evenly all over my face, including those tough to get spots between my eyebrows and around my nose and mouth.  While I feel it does suck up a bit more product that a sponge might, the easy to achieve finish I get using this brush is worth it in my books.

✻ Sigma 3DHD Precision Brush – I was just as skeptical about the smaller version of the new 3DHD brush and once again, pleasantly surprised by the results once I started using it.  It’s designed the same way as the kabuki with the angled sides, just made smaller for great concealer application.  I was using a much smaller concealer brush previously and thought this was too big to be effective, but it’s actually the perfect size for precise application and great buffing for a natural blended finish.

✻ Lorac Pro PaletteLorac Pro 2 Palette – I held off on jumping on the Lorac Pro Palette bandwagon for a long time, but I am so happy I finally did because wow…these are excellent eyeshadow palettes!  The smooth buttery finish and deep pigmentation make them super easy to apply and the selection of colors in each palette allows for a variety of looks.  I’ve been enjoying using both palettes together, but either one is wonderful on its own and would make a super gift for the beauty lover in your life this holiday season.

✻ Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush in Mood Exposure – I am obsessed with this blush this fall and always seem to reach for it.  Not only is it one of my all time favorite blush formulas, it’s the perfect fall/winter plumy shade.  I love the slight glow it gives, as well.  It’s pure love in a blush!

✻ Anastasia Brow Wiz in Medium Brown – I returned to this old friend after my It Cosmetics Brow Power pencil mysteriously dried up recently.  They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and it’s certainly true for my feelings about this brow pencil.  Not only is it the perfect shade for me, but the almost pinpoint size makes it easy to be very precise about applying without trying too hard.

✻ Sigma Lip Base in Indulgent – Sigma’s newest collection, Fall Softly, includes three large lip pencils that can be worn as “matte, long-wearing lip product[s] or under another product as a base to amplify the overall lip look.”  I’ve never been a big fan of lip liner and so was a bit skeptical if I would like this kind of product or not.  The fact that it’s larger makes me really like it, as it turns out, because it feels signifigantly less finicky to apply.  I like layering this under a tinted lip balm or gloss for extra staying power.  It’s not drying to the lips either, which is important to me.

✻ Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Hibiscus – I have definitely been on a Burt’s Bees kick these past few months, especially with their new(ish?) pigmented lip product lineup.  This lip balm has been my go-to easy breezy lippy of choice this fall.  The slightly brown pink color adds a nice depth without being too dark.  Plus, it’s moisturizing and easy to apply on the go.  Win, win!

Nails & Skincare

✻ Authority Polish in Emerald Skies – I received this stunner in my first Eco Emi Beauty Box last month and knew from first glance that I would fall in love with this polish thanks to the color alone.  The deep emerald green is gorgeous on the nail and screams holiday to me.  I enjoyed the formula of this polish as well, which I found easy to apply without any streakiness and with nice lasting power.  The brand makes 5-free, vegan, and cruelty-free polishes so you can paint away without concern.

✻ MAC Cleanse Off Oil – I’ve started down the oil skincare product path and there’s no turning back!  I’ve heard my favorite beauty gurus on YouTube rave about cleansing oils to remove makeup for years, but was always too scared of putting oil on my oily-prone skin to try them out.  I am now a 100% oil skincare product convert, so making the jump from makeup wipes to oil cleansers came much easier to me.  I decided to try out the MAC version first since I could buy it in a small travel size instead of full size.  I use this product when I have a full face on and it melts off the makeup like magic without the need to scrub or tug at my skin.  I’m excited to start trying out other brands to find my favorite once I finish this one.

✻ Tarte Maracuja Oil – As I mentioned before, I am an oil skincare product lover now and have been ever since I finally got over my fear of putting oil on my oily skin to try out a sample of this product I had on hand.  I replaced my night time moisturizer with this oil over the summer and fell head over heels in love with it.  It leaves my skin feeling soft and supple and surprisingly not greasy.  Plus, I have found that my T-zone produces less oil since I started using this product since it is so nourishing for my skin.

✻ Caudalie Divine Oil – The last component of my oil trifecta is this face and body oil.  Once again, I was lured into the awesomeness that is this product thanks to a sample size which I decided to try out over the summer to see if it would help with a random bumpy non-itchy rash that had popped up on my shins and backs of my thighs.  This oil took care of that almost instantly!  I found myself continuing to incorporate it into my bedtime ritual well after the rash was gone because I loved the softening effects it had on my skin without feeling greasy or heavy like some body butters.  The fact that it smells divine makes me love it even more!

I share more about my October beauty favorites in my coordinating video:

It’s giveaway time! I wanted to share the awesomeness that is Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush with two of you.  The October Beauty Buzz Giveaway will run until Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open internationally. All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter. There will be TWO winners!  Each winner will receive one of the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush Palette pictured below:

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 You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways). I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties. If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I would love to know what beauty products you’ve been loving recently if you care to share!

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* Post contains affiliate links.  The Sigma products shown were sent to me for consideration.  This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are genuinely my own. *

Week In Review (November 3 – November 9, 2014)

My Week In Review (otherwise known as WIR) posts are just that: a review of my past week.  I post an update here every Tuesday sharing some tidbits of my previous week as well as an accompanying photo recap with selections from my Instagram.  Here’s the buzz from my week:

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Fall is waning here in the midwest.  The leaves have almost all fallen from the trees, the pretty mums are browning thanks to overnight frosts, and the temperature drops a little every day.  It feels like the winter winds have picked up and are bringing along the new season quickly.  Plus, with the days growing shorter and it getting darker earlier every day, it’s truly starting to feel like winter is swiftly on its way.  I don’t mind so much, as winter is one of my favorite seasons once the snow comes.  I’ve also been enjoying fully embracing boot and sweater weather as well as enjoying hot steamy cups of spiced tea.  This transitionary time between crisp and bright fall days and winter snow reminds me that change is inevitable.  Accepting what I cannot control allows me to embrace what life brings me, both good and bad, and illuminates the importance of the cycle of things and the journey within.  That might all sound a bit overdramatic to some, I supposed, but seasonal transitions like we are experiencing now really do act as gentle reminders of these things for me.  There is so much to learn from observing nature without judgements or agendas.

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Speaking of winter’s coming, the holiday season is approaching with the speed of a three year old zooming to the tree on Christmas morning.  In other words, it’s practically upon us!  I kicked off my annual Holiday Prep series with a look at how we do our holiday cards.  Every year I get better about ordering them ahead of time so I’m not stuck frantically trying to stuff, seal, and label them at the last minute.  Another  one of my pre-holiday traditions is to check out The Container Store’s Gift Wrap Wonderland soon after it launches, typically in late October.  I was super lucky this year to be invited by my local TCS for a private tour of this gorgeous space.  No one does holiday gift packaging like The Container Store!  I will have photos and more information I learned during my visit up soon.

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With the holidays comes longer to-do lists and busier schedules with both the increase in content I produce in my work life as well as more social gatherings with my loved ones.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year, yes, but also all of that extra busyness can leave me feeling overwhelmed and drained.  My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I decided it would be fun to kick off the holiday season with a morning spent together relaxing.  We headed downtown to the Trump Hotel on Saturday to enjoy their beautiful spa.  I opted for a pedicure and brought along my knitting.  Talk about double pampering!  Later that day, we had our friends over for a fun and causal evening at our home together.  On Sunday, Don and I went to see the Chicago Shakespeare Theater‘s production of King Lear with Don’s parents.  What an incredibly intense and powerful performance!  We’re very much looking forward to seeing one of our favorite Chicago actors, Larry Yando who was Lear, play Scrooge at the Goodman Theater’s A Christmas Carol next month.  We shared a wonderful meal afterwards at one of our favorite Chicago steakhouses, The Capital Grille.  Our weekend was filled with time spent with our loved ones and we’re looking forward to more like it in the remaining weeks of the year.

If you’d like to see more from my weekend, check out my vlog:

I’m so excited to be gearing up for the most wonderful and also my personal busiest time of year.  I find planning in advance even more important than usual during this time of year.  I’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks for staying on top of things during the holiday season if you care to share.  Let the holidays begin!

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* Post contains affiliate links. This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are genuinely my own. *

Custom Holiday Cards: Holiday Prep 2014

It’s that time of year again…holiday prep time!  I wanted to kick off my Holiday Prep series this year with a look at custom holiday cards.  I’ve sent out a photo card every year since Don and I got married.  This is our tenth holiday season as a married couple and over the years I have tried several different photo card providers, including everything from high end custom stationary companies that you order from within a shop to Martha Stewart for Kodak Gallery (now Shutterfly), Paper Source, cards I’ve edited and ordered through iPhoto on my Apple computer, and most recently, Tiny Prints.  All of these have been wonderful cards that I’ve loved.

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This year I was surprised and delighted when the lovely folks at ErinCondren.com reached out and offered to provide me and Don with our holiday cards this year.  As a HUGE fan of the brand, I was more than a little excited about this generous offer.  They sent me a nice variety of sample cards from this year’s collection for me to look at in person before choosing to order.  I was blown away by the quality of not only the gorgeous designs, but also the crisp printing and thick cardstock used for in their lineup.  ErinCondren.com has four overall holiday card categories to choose from.  Their Premium Cardstock Classic Collection includes 39 different designs to choose from with different color schemes for many of the options.  There are also several layouts of each design available, with possibilities ranging from the 10H or 10V (3.875″ x 9.5″ with horizontal or vertical orientations), a square design (5.5″ x 5.5″), the Z Fold (4.25″ x 5.5″ folded that opens up to 16″), and the classic A7 (5″ x 7″).  The Premium Cardstock Postcard Collection includes 15 designs with some different color palette options that measure 4.25″ x 6.”  These are great if you want to keep things simple without the need for envelopes and return address labels.  They also offer Premium Cardstock Non-Photo Cards if you’d like to take advantage of one of their beautiful designs without the need for a photo.  There are 8 designs to choose from in the A7 size with several designs offering different color palettes.  All cards come with one free design proof and are available in either their premium 130 lb cardstock or a double-thick 260 lb card stock.  You can also opt for rounded off corners or stick with the standard squared ones.

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I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous Double-Thick Foil Collection.  Talk about a deluxe photo card!  There are two designs offered in this collection, including the Fleur Feliz and Paisley options.  Each design is offered in several color palettes, including green, blue, and red (as well as brown in the Fleur Feliz) and three orientations, including vertical, horizontal. and a collage style.  The Fleur Feliz has a gold foil stamped backing and the Paisley has silver.  Each is constructed with double thick cardstock and comes in the A7 size.  I chose the red vertical Paisley design, because I really like the bright and playful color palette on the front and the orientation fits our holiday photo nicely.  I found it very easy to upload and format our photo on the website using their included software.  I love how our cards came out!  I left a specific note for the desginer addressing my concerns about the paisley design cutting into Don’s head and they did a wonderful job formatting it so it’s just right.  One of my favorite details of the card is the little pawprint they added nexct to Winnie’s name, which was a surprise bonus I didn’t know about until the design proof came through.  All in all, I am very pleased with the final result and can’t wait to send these to our frtiends and family.

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Once you’re done formatting your custom cards, you are given the option to pick out what color envelope you’d like.  Out of the thirteen options provided, I decided on red to match the overall tone of our card and give a nice holiday feel.  I also appreciate that I was able to order some extra envelopes, which come in handy in case of a labeling error in our holiday card assembly line, which is known to happen from time to time at our house.  I also jumped on the chance to order custom return address labels to match.  I’ve always liked to include a sticker seal on our envelopes for that extra special touch and usually buy inexpensive ones at an office supply store.  By using the gorgeous ErinCondren.com custom ones this year I not only save myself having to print out return address labels, but they really tie the whole presentation together with the matching design.

In addition to our photo cards I like to include a holiday letter every year as a way to keep our loved ones both near and far in the loop with our lives.  Lately I’ve taken to formatting and printing these out on nice heavyweight paper half sheets, which we then fold in half before placing in the envelopes with the cards.  That way I can include as much information as I want without worrying about formatting to fit inside a card’s design or a fancy printed paper.  While I’ve done both in the past to great effect, I’ve decided with such beautiful card designs in recent years that including a simply formatted holiday letter seems fitting.

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One last special touch I like to add for that extra pizzazz are custom photo stamps.  I’ve created and ordered mine through Zazzle for years now.  It’s just a little thing, but every year I get a lot of positive feedback about how people enjoy seeing our little Winnie right on the envelope!  The editing widget included on the Zazzle website is easy to use and true to the final product you receive in the mail.  Zazzle is also a great resource for many different customized items, which make for great holiday gifts.

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There are some awesome promotions happening for a limited time only right now.  Save 30% off your holiday card order at ErinCondren.com with code BEJOLLY30 at checkout, good through November 13, 2014.  You can save 15% on your custom photo stamps at Zazzle.com with code VETERANDAY14 at checkout through November 11, 2014.  These are great savings to take advantage of this week and get your holiday card and stamp order in early!

Check out my coordinating video if you’d like a closer look:

I am so excited to be hosting two giveaways to kick off the holiday season!

Giveaway #1 is an Erin Condren Gift Card giveaway.  There will be FIVE winners!  The Erin Condren Holiday Card Gift Card Giveaway will run until Monday, November 17, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open internationally (you can find information about Erin Condren international shipping costs here).  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  Five winners will receive a $200 electronic gift card for use at ErinCondren.com.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).   I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog and post contact the winners directly through email.  Good luck!

*** GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED ***

Congrats to the winners of the Erin Condren Holiday Card Gift Card Giveaway!

The Poll Results for *What kind of holiday cards do you like to send?* out of 1917 entries:

Custom photo cards (970) 51%
Store bought cards (376) 20%
Handmade cards (333) 17%
Custom non-photo cards (131) 7%
I don’t send holiday cards (107) 6%

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway #2 is a generously provided by the lovely folks at Zazzle.  Three of you will win a $25 electronic gift certificate.  The Zazzle Custom Stamps Giveaway will run until Monday, November 17, 2014 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open to US participants only.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  Three winners will receive a $25 electronic gift card to use at Zazzle.com.  You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).   I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog post and Zazzle will contact the winners directly through email.  Good luck!

*** GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED ***

Congrats to the winners of the Zazzle Custom Stamps Giveaway!

The Poll Results for *What are the products that come to mind when you think of Zazzle?* out of 1172 entries:

Custom Stamps (352) 30%
I’ve never heard of Zazzle before (337) 29%
Phone Cases (232) 20%
T-shirts (156) 13%
Invitations (95) 8%

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties. If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

Big thanks to Erin Condren and Zazzle for their generosity!  Even if you decide to go with other providers, I hope this post gave you some ideas and perhaps a little gentle nudging to get your cards purchased or made and ready to go in advance to save yourself a little last minute stress this holiday season.  I’ll be back soon to share even more holiday goodness with you!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

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* Post contains referral and affiliate links.  The Erin Condren holiday cards and address labels were sent to me for consideration.  I purchased the Zazzle custom stamps with my own money.  I am using my Erin Condren referral credits to provide the Erin Condren giveaway prizes.  Zazzle is generously providing the $25 Zazzle.com gift certificates as prizes.  This is not a sponsored post or video.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *

Uncalendar vs Planner Pad: Planner Comparison & Review

For my last Planner Comparison post (for now, at least), I wanted to share a look at something a bit different than anything I’ve personally used or previously reviewed.  I received some requests to check out the Uncalendar and Planner Pad and was very intrigued by the structured and methodical design of these two agendas.  They seemed like a perfect match to compare thanks to their similar physical style, size, and appearance.

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The Uncalendar and Planner Pad share a lot of physical similarities in terms of design.  Both are 8.5″ x 11″ planners featuring a plastic vinyl cover and coil binding.  Each agenda is available in an undated version with week-on-two-pages calendar spreads.  Both feature organizational systems designed to help people focus in on the truly important tasks and manage their time more efficiently.  How each planner goes about doing this, however, is very different.  Once you open up these planners you see that their similarities end with their physical attributes.

Uncalendar

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The Uncalendar was designed by People Systems, Inc. in the mid 1970’s as “a training tool for executives, managers and supervisors.”  Trainees started requesting the agenda for their families and friends, which is how the business evolved into a general planner available for anyone.  It is a small, family-owned business whose motto is to provide “a very useful tool in a technologically-encumbered society.”  The Uncalendar Lifestyle Full Size is sold through the Uncalendar website for $20.95 plus shipping.  It is available for international customers as well.

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The Uncalendar Lifestyle Full Size arrived at my house within a week of ordering.  The only outer packaging is a self-advertiser which easily rips off the planner without damaging it.   The planner measure 9″ wide (including the coil) x 11″ long  with a 1/2″ coil.  The outer cover is a plastic vinyl “leatherette” with rounded covers that is available in three colors, including Big Bang Blue (shown), Cosmic Black, and Solar Red.  I believe the coil is plastic.  The interior features 8.5″ x 11″ pages with laminated divider tabs.  In addition to a full year’s supply of weekly two-page spreads, the Uncalendar also comes stocked with twelve month-on-two-pages spreads, a year at-a-glance planning area for the current and next year, and a year at-a-glance page featuring 2014, 2015, and 2016 calendars.  Other features include a notes section featuring their special NOTEsystemPAPER and a quick reference data section for important information.  The planner is printed and bound in the US.

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The bulk of the planner is dedicated to the calendar, mainly the week-on-two-pages spreads.  The weekly spread includes space for brainstorming and list making on the left side and prioritizing and scheduling on the right.  The design employs color, bold outlines, and different compartments to help users with visual organization.  The actual weekly schedule area is organized vertically Monday through Friday with two smaller horizontally oriented boxes for the weekend days.  There’s room to fill in the dates.  At first glance the Uncalendar layout felt a bit overwhelming to me, but once I took the time to read through their sample spread (included in the front) and suggestions on use, their design made more sense.  If you need further assistance, you can find help at the Uncalendar Lifestyle Skills Center, which is free to all.

The month-on-two-pages section follows the weekly one divided by a laminated tab on the righthand edge.  There are no bells and whistles here.  It’s an open calendar space with the design taking up most of the space on the paper.  If you like a lot of room to write in your monthly section, this might be the planner for you.  The Notes and Data sections follow, designated by laminated tabs.

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In addition to the Lifestyle Full Size edition I am sharing in this post, they also carry a Half Size edition and a Monthly Planner, both of which are spiral bound.  Their Lifestyle Pro edition, which is 3-hole punched in a binder also comes in full and half size versions (as seen above).   You can also buy the components separately, pre-punched or unpunched, if you wish.  All agendas are undated.  They also carry a line of notebooks in both the full and half sizes featuring their NOTEsystemPAPER.

Planner Pad

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The Planner Pad Company has also been in business for almost forty years.  Just like the Uncalendar, the Planner Pad is designed to help you navigate through the many to-do’s and prioritize them for effective time management.  The Planner Pad business model effectively sums up this organizational process:

“Our system recognizes that merely organizing your day-to-day activities is just not enough, because that means letting your activities control you.  Instead, the Planner Pad organizer uses the proven ‘funnel effect’ method to categorize, prioritize, and only then schedule what needs to be done and when.  You’ll feel better while getting more done.”

The undated executive size Planner Pad (shown) retails for $28.99 plus shipping.  It is also available for international customers.

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My executive size Planner Pad arrived about a week after ordering and came packaged in plastic wrap.  It also came with an instructional sheet and audio CD as well as a catalogue of all of the other items the Planner Pad Company sells.  The included audio CD is a nice touch and gives easy to follow tips for how to better structure your time and use the Planner Pad effectively in that aim.  The planner measures 9.25″ wide (from the coil) x 11″ long with a .75″ coil.  The double style coil is made from metal.  The outer cover of the planner is a heavy duty plastic vinyl with gold embossed details.  You can also have a name hot stamped in gold foil on the lower right of the cover for an additional fee.  The planner cover wraps all the way behind the coil from front to back adding more protection to the planner pages.  Both the cover and interior page corners are rounded off.  The Planner Pad is printed and bound in the US.

The interior pages are 8.5″ x 11.”  In addition to the weekly calendar, the Planner Pad also includes an Important Phone Numbers section, a three year at-a-glance calendar on one page (2014 – 2016), two-page spread annual calendar planning pages for 2014 – 2016, major US holidays for 2014-2016, a US time zones map, and some lined note pages.  There are no included tabs dividing these sections.

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The bulk of the Planner Pad is dedicated to the weekly calendar.  The week-on-two-pages spread features the horizontal organizational “funnel” that the design is based on.  The top section is allocated for Weekly Lists of Activities by Category.  This lined section of seven columns is meant to help you Categorize your tasks for the week, which is the top of the funnel and the first step in determining what needs your attention.  The next section down is for Daily Things To Do.  There is one column for each day of the week with equal space for the weekend days.  There is an area to check items off as well.  This represents the middle of the funnel, which is deigned to help you Prioritize your tasks.  The bottom section follows suit with seven lined columns, one for each day, for your Appointments and is timed in hourly increments from 7 AM to 9 PM.  This is the bottom of the funnel where you take all of the information you’ve sifted through from the top two sections to create a working Schedule.   The thinking behind this organization is that the horizontal spread allows for the most visually accessible way of sifting through information to pinpoint key items for each day.  There is also lined space included on the righthand margin for Notes/Calls and Expenses.  You can, of course, use these sections for whatever you would like but they are pre-labeled as such.  The Planner Pads includes 53 weekly planning spreads.  The dashed line on the top righthand corner of each spread is to help you keep track of whether or not you’ve completed all of the tasks for that week.

When I was first reviewing this calendar, I thought it did not include monthly pages.  It was only after listening to the instructional audio CD that I learned that the Goals/Projects/Calendars pages included at the back of the planner can be used as monthly planning pages.  In fact, there are twelve of them.  You could also use these pages for a number of other planning purposes.  They include seven columns, one for each day of the week, and five horizontal sections.

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The undated “start any time” Planner Pad is also available in a professional size (8.5″ x 14″) and a personal size (6.75″ x 8.5″).  The interior layout is the same in these sizes with a few more or a few less lines in each column depending on the planner size.  You can also purchase the executive (8.5″ x 11″) and personal size black Planner Pad in a twelve month dated version, which is available with four starting dates per year.  These dated versions are also available in a green Planner Pad that uses a soft green ink throughout but is set up the same way.  The dated Planner Pads include a dated month-on-one-page calendar with major US holidays designated throughout.  An unbound version of the executive and personal size Planner Pad is also available.  Please note that these are pre-punched to fit a special 7 ring binder, which they do sell on their website.  Their Seasons line includes both personal and compact (5.75″ x 8.5″) size spiral bound planners with a scenic photographic collage on the cover and printed backgrounds with vivid colors on the planning pages.  It is also available unbound but only in the personal size.  The Seasons line is only available in the dated version.  Lastly, they sell a Desk Edition which is a large blotter style pad (22″ wide x 17″ long) with 52 undated sheets styled like their weekly Planner Pad pages.

Planner Pad also sells Spiral Bound and Loose Leaf Covers, Business Bags, On The Go Bags, Leather Travel Accessories, Other Tools, and Accessories for the planners.

Side By Side

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As you can see, while the Uncalendar and the Planner Pad do share a lot of physical similarities, there are quite a few differences once you look inside each planner.  Which might work best for you is a personal choice.  I do feel as if both planners are well made and that their prices seem to match what you get with each one.  They both aim to help with time management using clearly defined visual cues for effective organization.

Check out my coordinating video if you’d like a closer look and to hear my thoughts on each planner:

Both the Uncalendar and Planner Pad are great choices if you’d like to better manage your time using a planner and don’t know where to start.  I feel like they would be particularly effective tools to help if planning does not come naturally to you and/or you end up feeling overwhelmed with too many to-dos.  These planners are designed to help you prioritize your schedule for effective time management.

I hope you enjoyed my 2014 Planner Review series.  I very much enjoyed looking at all of these wonderful planners with you as a #PlannerEnthusiast myself.  I hope to continue this series next fall and would love your suggestions on what planners, calendars, and agendas you’d like to see me review next.  Thanks for stopping by!

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* I purchased all items shown myself.  This is not a sponsored post or video.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *

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