Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - According to My Blog

Well friends, 2014 is coming to a close.  Tonight we will be celebrating all of the good things that happened this year, reflecting on the not-so-good, and making plans for 2015.

2014 was a big year for All the Joys.  I started it, for one.  But beyond that, it grew.  Not only in numbers, but I feel like writing this blog made me grow, which in turn I think is shown through my posts.  We've made blogging friends, we've joined link ups, we've accepted sponsorships.  I can't wait to see what 2015 brings.

But first, I wanted to take a moment and look back at my top ten posts of the past year, based on number of views.  I love how these posts reflect on who I am, and it was great fun going back and reading them.  Let's start with #10, making our way down to #1:

#10: Cash In Your Pockets (or PayPal account!).  I still think blogging can be expensive, but I still use these resources for making some extra cash to pay for things.  If you haven't read this one, you should.  And sign up for the money makers!

#9: BFFs.  Ahh, my besties.  Love these girls with my everything.  We are more like sisters than anything else.

#8: He Blogs!.  Tim's blogging debut.  He still asks me if this was my most popular post.  Sorry honey, #8.

#7: 12 Gender Neutral Grab Bag Ideas.  It looks like most of the views on this one were from Google.  Makes sense, everyone (including myself) was googling this in December.  For the record, I'd like to add what I received from grab bags this year: a brie baker, a glass popcorn maker, and Dunkin giftcards.  #winning

#6: Passionfruit: I Quit.  Nothing new here.  I still despise Passionfruit.  I am still owed money, but have come to terms that I will never get it.  I repeat: Adproval for the win!

#5: The Rollercoaster of a New Blogger.  I'm still considering myself "new", and all of these points still ring true for me.  Anyone else?

#4: Friday Favorites: A New Linkup!.  I love that this post made my top five.  The Blogger Love link up is something that I consider one of my biggest accomplishments of this blog for 2014.  It's something that I look forward to every Friday! 

#3: I'm Not a Stay at Home Mom.  Still not.  Read about why I can't be.

#2: Joey, Andrew. Ethan, Paul, Zach, Taylor and Ian.  My crushes growing up.  Still love every one of them, although Tim (as in Riggins) tops my list.  #texasforever

#1: All of the Stitch Fix Posts.  Honestly, this one sort of surprised me.  But I guess my readers and people googling Stitch Fix really want to see what I get each month.  And that makes me happy, because I like sharing it!

(Truth - I intentionally did not include any post that included a giveaway, because those always get more views!)

Were any of these some of your favorites by me this year?  Any you wish were on here?  Later this week I will be sharing some goals for 2015 - for me, for the blog, etc.  I can't wait to see what 2015 brings for All the Joys! 

Happy New Year - enjoy tonight but please be responsible!  (And send me pics of you in glitter, I love glitter.)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ramble On

And now I will write a blog post that has no real direction.  I apologize in advance, because this is going to be a jumble of thoughts all put together.  I guess that's what happens when you don't blog for six days and have random thoughts to share with the world!

|| I had a wonderful time in Iowa for Christmas.  Four days at home with family.  My girls got a big fix of their grandparents, we had a lot of great food, played really fun games, and I even snuck a nap or two!

|| One of my good friends moved to Texas on Christmas Day.  I will miss her, but am so excited for their new adventures - she deserves it more than anyone else I know.  Plus, Tim and I are going in January, so I'll see her soon.

|| I got some great gifts.  Money for a furniture in a new house (hopefully this Spring), clothes, makeup, and then there was this combo that my sister got me.  Perfection!  BUT, the best part for me was watching my loved ones open their gifts.  Giving trumps getting, hands down.

|| I found a new favorite drink - vodka and Lime LaCroix water.  Like a vodka and soda with lime, but you don't need to cut up the lime.  AKA easier to make at home!

|| I am incredibly thankful that Cedar Rapids has a 24 hour emergency vet.  Poor Charlie had to go yesterday.  We think he got in to something in my Dad's backyard (he lives in the country so who knows what!).  My baby was sick for 24 hrs, not even keeping water down.  A shot, some pills, and fluids made him bounce right back.

|| I absolutely loved seeing all of the Christmas cards that my bloggy friends sent.  I never expected to make "real" friends doing this, but I have and couldn't imagine not having them in my life.

|| Last but certainly not least, I am grateful for a new year to begin.  I will write more about this later this week, but a new year for me means new beginnings, changes, and reflection.

Today is Grateful Heart (Tuesday) Monday, so I am linking up with Emily.  This one is probably a given, but I am grateful for time with my family.  Grateful for friends, and for all of you.

Ember Grey's Grateful Heart Linkup

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stitch Fix - December

Well friends, I am still waiting on my "Omg I need to keep ALL of these items!!" fix.  But until then, I am still keeping one to two items per box.  Let's get right to it!

 Brixon Ivy Roselin Lace Overlay Blouse - $68.  I really liked this.  The color was vibrant and bright and it fit well.  But, all I could picture were my two littles tugging at the lace overlay and ripping it.  And for $68 I wasn't willing to risk that.  Returned.

 Market and Spruce Brentwood Jersey Stripe Tiered Top - $68.  (Sorry for the blurry pic!) Stripes and I get along, as long as they aren't horizontal.  The tiers on this shirt made me look like I had good curves, and the fabric is really soft.  Kept.
 Pixley Zailey Sleeveless Sequin Shoulder Dress - $88.  This dress had so much potential.  The color was a great orange and the sequin shoulders made it perfect for a wedding or New Year's Eve.  However, once I tried it on, it hung rather loose and was unflattering.  Returned.
Pixley Isadora Crystal Gem Layered Necklace - $48.  Well, this was missing a stone so I obviously didn't keep it.  But it was the perfect length and after trying on the sparkly dress, I was all about this.  Returned.

Moon Collection Otto Fringe Trim Sleeveless Cardigan - $58.  I actually really liked the quirkiness of this cardigan.  I was digging the fringe, and it looked really cute with skinnies and ankle boots.  However, it was a bit too long (hitting my knees in some areas) so it was Returned.

Do you get Stitch Fix?  Love or hate your items?  Share your faves with me!

I hope you all have a very wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas!  This marks the end of blogging for the week for me.  I'll be back next week with new posts - and I'm really looking forward to catching up with you then!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Life as a Llama

Have you met Melissa from The Rambling Llama?  If not, I suggest you hurry over and meet her.  Melissa and I first "met" a few months ago and I was instantly calling her one of my friends.  She's easy to relate to, has funny stories about her two littles, and you can just tell that she is a genuine, sincere person.

I asked her to answer some questions so you could get to know her too!

What's the best, and hardest parts of being a parent to toddlers?
HAHA, Well, I'm sure you can relate that it's a firm combination of best and hard! HA! Well, the best would definitely be the imagination and willingness to learn. Both kids are constantly asking "why" or "what's that". Their sense of wonder is refreshing. I love seeing things through their eyes in that everything is new and fascinating. The hardest part is their desire to be bigger versions of their tiny selves. If my answer to the "why" doesn't satisfy them and they can't find the words to express their frustration, a temper ensues. Patience is a difficult thing to keep as a parent of toddlers, but being their mom is the best thing I could ask for. 
Ready this sweetness about her daughter!

Where can we find you on a Saturday morning?
Usually up and out of bed by 7 AM (thanks, kids). That's about the latest they ever let me "sleep in". When the kids drag me out of bed, I make us all a big batch of scrambled eggs and Chocolate milk. Well, the kids get chocolate milk... I get coffee! Daddy doesn't usually get up until 9:00... sometimes 10:00 so while he's sleeping we (the kids and I) either do a quiet activity or watch Saturday Morning cartoons. Some of our favorites include Sophia The First and Jake & the Neverland Pirates. Our quiet activities are either puzzles or sand art. The kids seem to be more creative than I am!

Quick question - how does he manage to sleep that late, and how can I do the same??

How long have you been blogging?  What's the biggest thing you've learned through blogging?
I technically started blogging in March of this year. I had a different blog called "Crazy Camp Camacho". Google decided to go hay-wire and the blog got deleted around May. I didn't start back up blogging until June of this year with The Rambling Llama. (Thanks to Amanda's help @ Knock on Wood!).
The biggest thing I've learned through blogging is not everyone on the internet is a scary creep. SURE There are the scary creeps out there and we should be wary of people like them, but I've "met" some of what I consider to be my closest friends through blogging. I've learned the blogging community is a tight knit one, and there are so many wonder people out there who are constantly supporting one other, uplifting each other, and praying for anything and everything. It's beautiful really. I've also learned I really enjoy writing.

Cats or dogs?
We have one of each now. Rambo (our cat) we've had for 7 years. I've never been able to pick one or the other and I've always had both in the house ever since I was a kid. Both have really great traits about them, so I guess that's why I like having both around. Need a cuddle and a friendly face? There's the dog to cheer you up! Need a reminder that your lap needed to be warmed by something other than the laptop? There's the cat! 
I think it's safe to say Melissa is now purely a dog person.

What's your best piece of marriage advice?
Communicate with each other. Don't stop talking about the little things that happen during your day. Sure, they may seem tiny and insignificant to you, but to your spouse it may be the most interesting story in the world. (Ok, that might be an exaggeration...) But still... Talking to your spouse about the little things reminds them that you still care to share everything with them. You may even learn something new about them with talks like this. Also, when you go to bed, ALWAYS give each other a hug and a kiss and say "I Love You"... no matter what kind of mood you go to bed in. You may fall asleep angry, but you also fall asleep loved. 

Go say "hello"!

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Blogger Love v.21

Last week, I guessed and said that was Volume 22.  Turns out I wasn't too far off - after looking, this post is number 21.  So, from now on I'll be numbering them!

This weekend we'll be having my work Christmas party and celebrating some great friends engagement.  Busy, busy!  I also need to find time to finish up my Christmas list and get ready for celebrations.  I love this time of year, but I really feel like it flew by.  Anyone else?  Tell me I'm not alone!

On to this week's faves...

"Between the Lines" by Love the Here and Now.  I recently rediscovered my love for reading, and have been trying to get through books as part of my 101 in 1001 list.  Anne and Kristyn are hosting an online book club and the first book is one I've been wanting to read for awhile now.  I am going to try my hardest to get through this in one month!  And if not, I won't be reading the reviews!

"When Christmas is Hard" by Flowers in My Hair.  Nina wrote what I have felt many times during the holidays - coming from a divorced family.  The excitement, guilt, hurt feelings, etc.  All SO true.

"An Exciting Announcement!" by It's All in the Details.  Samantha took a leap of faith and followed her dreams, something I wish I had the courage to do!  Maybe, just maybe, 2015 will be my year...

What were your favorite posts by bloggers other than yourself this week?  Link up below and tell me!  Make sure to visit others in the link up, and find some new blogs to love. 

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

This Guy...

As I sit hear listening to Pitch Perfect, I am reminded of just how lucky I am.  You see, it's Tim's birthday - and birthdays around here get a lot of attention.  I like to celebrate for an entire week, so tonight when he said he wanted to watch a movie I was all about it.  Then the magic happened - he picked Pitch Perfect, simply because he knows how it makes me laugh.

So, to you on your birthday, I have to tell you a few things...

-You are an amazing father.  Our girls are incredibly lucky to have you as their Daddy.  The attention you give them, playing, singing, playing Taylor Swift for dance parties, is inspirational.

-I love how you make me laugh.  You say silly things at the most inappropriate times that get me every time.

-You are my biggest cheerleader, even if sometimes I have to remind you what I need cheerleading for.

-We have our moments.  The not so lovey-dovey ones.  Everyone does, and we are no exception, but you always try to see my point of view and are the first to let things go.  Thank you for that.

-Even in my lowest moments you lift me up.  I'm not always the best listener, I don't always try to see where you are coming from, but you don't hold that against me.  It means more to me than you'll ever know.

Happy Birthday to the greatest husband, daddy and friend I ever could have imagined.  Thank you for putting us first and making me happy, day after day.

Today I am co-hosting Wednesday Wishes with Anne.  Today I'm wishing for Tim to know just how special he is to us.  I wish that he feels so incredibly special on his birthday, and every day.

Link up with Anne and tell us what you are wishing for!

PS - December 16 is actually his birthday, but we are still celebrating :)
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chicago: Where to Shop

I had so much fun writing about my hometown last month for Amanda's "Tell Me About Your Town" link-up, I couldn't wait to join again this month.  Not only am I joining, but I am co-hosting!  See below to share all things shopping in your town.

By now, it's no secret that I love shopping.  It also isn't a secret that I am from Iowa, and proud of it.  Unfortunately, after living in Chicago for almost seven years, and Minneapolis before that, I have become a bit spoiled with the shopping we have available.  So, for this month's prompt, "Favorite Local Shops or Boutiques" I have to choose to share areas around Chicago.  (Sorry Iowa!)

If you have ever visited Chicago, you have probably been to Michigan Avenue.  Shopping, restaurants, Water Tower, Hancock Tower, are all places that you can see with a walk down one street.  However, I'm going to let you in on a little secret - most people that live in Chicago (and suburbs) don't go shopping downtown.  The taxes are out of control, there are a million tourists, and stores hardly ever have sales.  We can find the same items, in the same stores, elsewhere.  Another reason?  The shopping is mostly big-name stores, and I love local boutiques.

My first stop for shopping in the suburbs is downtown Naperville - about 25 miles west of Chicago, and about ten minutes from where I live.  Here you can find a great mix of chain stores and local boutiques, all within walking distance from each other.

Some of my favorites:

Anderson's Book Shop:  There is also a Barnes and Noble close by, but I like going here because the staff always have recommendations based on other books you've liked.  Plus, local.

Campbill Hill Upscale Resale:  Want Loubs but don't want to spend a fortune?  What about a gently used Michael Kors?  Go here.  They only take gently used, upscale items and resale them for a fraction of the price.  You can consign here too.

It's A Bling Thing:  The name pretty much sums this up - but I love finding unique pieces here.

Marbles: The Brain Store: This place has fun games that are incredibly educational.  Bonus - you can shop online too!

Naperville General Store:  Think of an old, traditional general store.  There is fun candies, gifts, local treasures, basically anything you are looking for in one stop.

Penzey's Spices:  So I know that this is a chain, but there aren't many actual stores.  My Dad is obsessed with Penzey's and we always have to go here.  It smells divine and they have so many fun blends!

Twisted Olive:  Olive Oil stores are so fun, aren't they?  Who knew that there were hundreds of different kinds of olive oils.  Well, Twisted Olive knew - and let's you sample any flavor you want!

Two Bostons:  I love this gourmet pet store.  They carry the food my pup eats, make amazingly delicious gourmet pet treats (so I've heard!) and have great gifts.  Plus, my pup is a Boston Terrier and they always have a million things with Bostons on them.  #obsessedmuch ?

Among other local shops, there are plenty of chain stores too: lululemon, Gap, Loft, Pottery Barn, Paper Source, J. Crew, Anthropologie (and many others!).  Downtown Naperville really has it all! 

Join Amanda and I and link up! 

Tell Me About Your Town Linkup

This monthly linkup is to celebrate all the amazing places we all are from, to shine some light on the spots all over the country (or world!) us bloggers live. Our locations may not define us, but they certainly shed insight into who we are and how we live. Join me and my co-host on the third Tuesday of each month when we will have one specific topic related to your towns to guide you in writing about your city. So…tell me about your town!

The Rules

To participate in this linkup, simply write your own post following our topic/prompt for the month and add your link (your actual post, not your homepage) to the linkup below. Include the linkup button (also below) or a link back in your post. Please follow me and my co-host and visit at least one other post from the linkup. You may write about the town you currently live in, the place you were born and raised, or any other place that feels like home to you. Share as many photos as you wish! Make me want to visit your town! Each linkup will go live at 12:05 a.m. Central time on the third Tuesday of that month will be open for one week.

Next Month:  January 20th - "Date Night Spots". With co-host Cassie.

The Rambling Llama
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Monday, December 15, 2014

I've Chosen Oils

I first started reading about essential oils months ago.  I was intrigued by the fact that people were using all natural ways to combat sickness and improve general health.  Whenever I saw an article, I would read it, and tuck the information back in my mind to "explore later".

When Amanda and Kate began their "Go Natural" Series - I dived a little deeper.  Each one of their topics - beauty, household products, pets, clean eating - all started getting me to really think about what I was putting on and in my body, and in the bodies of my children and husband.  I started to go back through all of the information out there about essential oils.  I reached out to Amy, as I knew she was using and loving oils.  After some discussion, I decided to purchase the Premium Starter Kit.

With the kit, I received a diffuser, samples, Stress-Away oil roll on and ten oils: Peace & Calming, Frankincense, Lavender, Lemon, Valor, Purification, Thieves, Joy, PanAway and Peppermint.

Of those, there are six that I use on pretty much a daily basis.  And the others I use as needed.

Thieves: Thieves is known for it's germ-busting qualities.  I put it on our feet each morning to boost our immunity and prevent sickies from getting the best of us.  I also diffuse this - it smells really yummy, cinnimon-y.  (that's a new term, by the way.)

Purification: I diffuse this to fight germs and purify the air.  It's also very handy if you'd made a bunch of bacon and want the smell gone - clears it right up!

Peppermint:  I used to be the Queen of Tums - popping them almost daily for heartburn and general upset tummy.  Once I started rubbing peppermint with a carrier oil over my chest or tummy when needed, I haven't had any Tums.  In months.

Lavender: My girls have sensitive, dry skin.  Lavender has cleared up rough patches on their backs, arms and torso.  Plus they smell yummy after I've put it on.  Lavender is a calming oil, so I always put it on them right before bed.

Lemon: Lemon is tied as my favorite oil.  I put 2-3 drops in my water every morning and don't need any caffeine the rest of the day.  This is huge for a recovering Diet Coke addict as myself.  It also gives me all of the benefits of citrus.

Stress Away:  This is also tied for favorite.  I love the way it smells.  If I'm feeling overwhelmed I'll rub this on my wrists and almost instantly feel calmer.  It goes in my purse so I always have access to it!

In addition to those - someone very close to me has been able to use Cedarwood and Peace & Calming with a quarter Ambien instead of a whole pill every day for sleep.  The goal is to just use oils, but we are going slow and steady.

There are SO many other ways to use oils and I am sincerely loving learning about all of them.  I love that I can share my new passion with friends and family.  I'm a believer!  I also must say that I do not use oils to take the place of modern medicine.  Of course, if myself or loved ones are sick, the doctor is our first course of action.  If antibiotics are needed, I am not against using them.  We also will always get a flu shot, each year.  This isn't meant to start a debate - to each his own - but I am only using oils for general discomforts, aches and pains.  I am grateful that I have found a natural way to protect and help my family, but I will still turn to the professionals when needed!

Do you use essential oils?  What are your favorite uses?  What oils are your must haves?  Please share!

Disclaimer:All of this information is based on my own opinion and experience. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.  Please use common sense and the advice of your health care professional when making your health care decisions. 

Linking up with Amanda and Kate for their Go Natural Series.

Also linking up with Emily for Grateful Heart Monday.
Ember Grey: Grateful Heart
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Blogger Love Volume 22

FYI - I totally made that number up.  I'm estimating here - mainly because I don't want to go back and count how many Blogger Love posts I've done.  Maybe I'll do that for next week!

Until then... check out my favorites from this past week.  I love how this link up has grown and how many of you come back week after week to share your favorites.

"No Excuses Thursday - My Coke Addiction"  by Heart of Life.  I could have written this.  I have a love/hate relationship with Diet Coke, and it really is an addiction.  One that I struggle with multiple times a day.

"When You Really Love a Post: A Challenge" by Seriously Sarah?.  We've all written a post that we expected to be great, in terms of reader engagement.  Then, we've written a post that fun, light hearted and easy to write.  Guess which one always gets more love?  Sarah eloquently challenges us to think about it and actively make a change.

"Silent Night" by Southern Hope.  If you have children, read this.  It's a perspective that doesn't often get shared, but Whitney says everything that I have thought before.

Everyone that did Faith's Golden Vlog series.  I seriously love hearing voices for my favorite people and look forward to this every month.  I'll be catching up next week as well!

If you'd like to link up, please do so below.  If you are new to the link up, Welcome!  Please share at least one post by a blogger other than yourself in the post you are linking.  Visit some of the others linked up and find new blogs!

All The Joys Friday Favorites
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Passionfruit: I Quit.

I was originally going to join Faith for her Golden Vlog series today (because let's be honest, I know how much you loved my first one).  But, this has been weighing on my mind so I had to share.  Hopefully I will link up with a vlog later next week :)

When I first started thinking about offering sponsorships for All the Joys, I asked some of my bloggy friends about their experiences with Passionfruit vs. Adproval.  Emily quickly began raving about Adproval, and how she was in regular contact with Matthew, the Founder and CEO.  I was intrigued.  The one on one attention really caught my eye, and having a first hand witness tell me how happy she was was nothing to ignore.  She quickly set me up by email with Matthew, and I was pleasantly surprised.

However, before fully committing to Adproval, I wanted to test Passionfruit first so that I could make a decision based on experience.  While sponsoring other blogs, I noticed that most of them were using Passionfruit, so setting it up seemed pretty easy.  I signed up for the free month to test it out.  At first I was happy.  Installation was a breeze, ads were easy to manage, I loved the promo code feature.  Then something happened.  I won't go in to details, but I was owed money.  Several emails and Twitter tags got me zero response.  I had some awesome bloggers already pay for their spots on my sidebar through Passionfruit, so I turned to Adproval for help.  How could I make the change and not lose those ads?  How could I do this quickly as to not disrupt current ads?  And most importantly, could I count on Adproval to respond and make my concerns a priority?

Needless to say, Adproval for the win.

I got everything set up, moved my ads over and only had two days where they weren't live.  (Quick shout out to Melissa for being so patient!)  Matthew was quick with his responses and I felt like he truly cared about my issues - which were all coding, and definitely user errors.  #notatechie

There have been many conversations around blogland about Adproval vs. Passionfruit.  I have even seen some bloggers publicly say they will not sponsor a blog that uses one or the other.  There is no "good" answer - plenty of people are completely happy with Passionfruit, plenty are not.  When it comes down to it, customer service and doing what is right is what influenced my decision.

Many of the features that I originally missed on Adproval are being added - promo codes, showing when the next availability is, etc.  I love that they are open to feedback and are actively making it what we, as bloggers, want and need.

If you offer ads, which platform do you use?  Why, or why not the other?  Share below, and also share if you have any sponsor deals going on!  I'll start - 25% off the Full of Joy spot with code NEW25.  (Openings in March!)

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Love Purple - Color Swap Reveal

When I saw Melissa post her idea about a Color Swap Box, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.  How fun would it be to not only put together a box full of the same colored items, but to receive one as well?  Well, I'm here to tell you that it's loads of fun!

I was paired with Lauren, whose favorite color is yellow.  After checking out her blog, I learned that she loves to cook and bake.  (Check out her blog - these recipes look amazing, I've already pinned a few for later!)  The box that she sent me was over the top perfect.  I feel like she went back and read all of my posts to really get to know me - and my items were spot on:

First, let's talk about the Godiva.  We need to talk about it because the bag is empty in this picture.  I opened it right away, and didn't stop until it was all gone.  Chocoholic = check.

The nail polish is perfect for winter and will be the next shade I use!

The earmuffs/warmer.  SO cute.  The picture isn't doing it justice, but it has sort of an ombre thing going on that I love.

The bracelet is adorable too - I've already worn it!

Purrell.  I always have Purrell on me, and it being purple just makes it even better!

This pen is blinged out and it's perfect.  It lives in my purse and I love using it!

Then, this adorable bowl.  It's the perfect size to leave on my bedside table to throw in jewelry at the end of the day.  Here is a closeup:


I had so much fun with this swap!  I definitely recommend joining one next time it comes around (which I hope there is a next time!).  And seriously, check out Lauren's recipes - she makes me hungry even after a huge meal!

What's the best swap you have participated in?

Today is also Wednesday Wishes with Anne, so today I am wishing that each one of you (bloggers) have found another blogger to connect with.  I cannot imagine doing all of this without the support of the amazing women I've met.  Once you find "your people", it's a great feeling. :)
Love the Here and Now

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Great (Household) Debate

Tim and I are were both born and raised in the Midwest.  We've lived in Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois only.  The other night, I was telling him how much I have grown to love country music (yes, you read that correctly), and how I have always felt like I should have lived in the South.  He looked at me, sort of dumbfounded and asked, "Then why aren't we moving to Austin??"  (Quick backstory - his company is moving to Austin - we can move if we'd like, but it's not necessary and he can keep his job in Chicago).

At that point, I returned the dumbfounded look to him.  I have always believed that Texas is not in "the south", but rather, that it was all on it's own - with it's own culture and norms, but very different from the traditional south.  We debated for awhile, and then I turned to social media.

I asked, "Name one state that you consider to be in the south" on both Facebook and Twitter.  Out of 100 responses, the results were:

42% Georgia
28% North Carolina
12% Alabama
11% Texas
7% combo of Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Florida

For the record, I told him that I thought the number one response would be Georgia.  At least I definitely won that debate.

Because neither of us have ever lived in any of the above places, it's hard for us to really debate this issue.  His territory for work is Dallas and every inch of Texas north of that, but besides that, neither of us have spent more than a vacation in any of the above places.

So help us out, do you consider Texas to be part of "the south"?  And not just by location, but by culture and way of life?  Bonus points if you are Texan - tell me your true feelings!  Is this accurate?

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Blogger and Sponsor Love

Can I just say that I am loving all of the Christmas themed posts out there this week?  Christmas is by far my favorite holiday and I have really enjoyed seeing how you all celebrate it.

Before we get to my favorites of the week, I want to introduce you to Brianna from Sincerely, Brianna Leigh.  Have you met her yet?  She is open, honest, and is a fun gal I would love to hang out with.  She's very sweet too.  I had to postpone her intro post due to some family things, and instead of being angry with me, she prayed that everything was ok.  It doesn't get much better than that!  Don't just take my word for it, see for yourself:

What is your favorite book?
I love the Harry Potter series. And proud of it!

If you could max out your credit card at one store, which would it be?
Maurice's! Love, love, love that store. Give me all the clothes.

Where can we find you on a Saturday morning?
Sleeping in! I've been working so much overtime on Saturday mornings lately, and now that it is no longer, I'll be basking in my alarm-free Saturdays.

What's the best piece of blogging advice you've ever received?
Be yourself. It's so, so true! If you try to be someone else, it'll show and no one will want to follow that. What good does that do? Nothing.

What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
I'm most looking forward to a fresh start. 2014 has been HARD for so many reasons, but being divorced is the biggest. Having my entire life shaken to the core has put so much into perspective for me, and I'm ready for a season of new and for 2015 to be MY year.

Use three words to describe yourself.
Loyal, loving, and dedicated.

You don't want to miss out on her updates!  Do so here:

 What would a Friday be without Blogger Love?  We are back and in action this week.  Let's get right to it.

"Who Should You Sponsor?" by Helene in Between.  I love seeing who other bloggers sponsor.  Helene breaks it down for us - and shares her favorite blogs that she sponsors time and time again.  Do you agree?

"So You Want to Start Sponsoring Blogs?" by Hey Kerri.  Another post about sponsoring blogs, from a different angle.  Kerri breaks it down to us about what to take in to consideration when wanting to sponsor a blog.  Great advice!

"Two for Tuesdays" by the Nashvillian.  This is a really fun new link up where you can share your last two posts.  Ashley will then reshare the top posts from the link up.  Nothing to lose here, and another great way to find new bloggers!

"Countdown to Christmas: Movie Style" by the Nashvillian.  Ashley makes my list twice this week because I LOVE Christmas movies!  Check out some of her faves.  What's yours?

Want to share your favorite posts by other bloggers this week?  Link up below!  Please share at least one post by a blogger other than yourself, then hop around a bit to check out the rest.  Happy Friday friends!!

An InLinkz Link-up

Also, in case you missed it, there's still time to enter this giveaway.  Good Luck!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

12 Gender Neutral Grab Bag Ideas

Every year, we have four different get togethers with friends and family that includes the fun party element of a grab bag.  We go in turns, opening a random gift, and "stealing" from each other.  That's eight different, gender neutral gifts around $25 each that need to purchased each year!  The goal is always to come up with something different from previous years and have a gift that everyone will want.

This year I thought I'd share some of my favorite grab bag ideas, in case you found yourself in a similar situation.  There are different groups of people, of course, so feel free to adapt any of these to your next group get together!  (Friends that are coming over Saturday - I may be using one of these for my bag, so be surprised!)

Wine Bag
Of course, a nice bottle of wine would make almost anyone happy.  But don't stop there - pair it with some fun wine charms or a pretty bottle stopper.  I am loving this set from Pier 1:

Gourmet Chocolate
A bag full of chocolate?  Yes please.  Fill it up with truffles from a local sweets shop, a bag of Ghiradelli, or Franco mints from Macy's.  And if a guy picks your bag that doesn't like chocolate (and it doesn't get stolen), I guarantee he has a lady or mother in his life that would love it!

Dog Lover 
Pair some yummy, healthy treats with a cute "dog lover" picture frame or ornament.  This is a hot bag at my Mom's house, as we all have furry pets!

Lotto Tickets
Ok, this is probably my favorite bag to pick.  I love the thrill of scratch off tickets, but never buy them for myself.  Even if the person doesn't win anything, it's fun to play!

Water Bottle
Get a great reusable bottle, like a Tervis or a Lifeworks (below).  Fill it up with tea bags, or Crystal Light packets!

On Amazon

Most everyone has a phone that plays music.  How about a portable, wireless speaker?  Or one that plugs in to an iPhone?  We had this for a grab bag item last year it was stolen three times!

 Recipe Bag
Pair your favorite recipe with all of the dry ingredients.  Throw in some fun measuring cups or spoons!  I am loving these from World Market:

 Mini Liquor Bag
Grab a bunch of those little airplane sized liquor bottles and pair them with some fun whiskey, martini or plain drinking glasses.  Bonus points if you add a few mixers as well.

Sports Themed
If you are all (or most of you) fans of one sports team, buy anything related.  A winter cap, flag, car decal, socks, etc.  At my Mom's and my Dad's house, there is always at least one Iowa Hawkeyes item.

This is fun to receive and can be used the same night.  Pick your favorite group game - Cards Against Humanity (depending on your group!), Scattergories, Phase 10, etc.  Add some candy or popcorn to make a night out of it.

Coffee Lovers
How about a Keurig cup holder organizer?  It's definitely something I would love to have, but would never buy for myself.  (Fun fact - my Mom did this one year and it stolen the max number of times!)  Add some k-cups and you are good to go!


For the Kitchen
How about some fun spices/rubs and grilling tools?  I don't cook very well (especially grilling!), but would happily put these in my cabinet for my husband to use.  Penzey's has a lot of great blends!
So there you have it - twelve gender neutral grab bag ideas.  What grab bags have you put together?  Today I'm also wishing you a lot of time with friends and family this holiday season.  Above the gifts, grab bags, yummy holiday drinks, time is really the most precious gift.  And don't forget the real reason for the season!

Linking up with The Grits Blog and Tay Meets World for #Blogmas2014, and Anne for Wednesday Wishes.

#Blogmas14Love the Here and Now

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's Pretty Awesome + Giveaway

I'm late to the party today, but I'm here!  I had some family things going on last night that prevented me from blogging (the shame!).  Even though I'm a little late, I couldn't pass up the chance to link up with Anne for my list of Awesome!  After last night's events, this could not have came at a better time.  Let's refocus and share some awesome, shall we?

// Jersey Mike's.  It's my lunch choice today, and I forgot how fresh and delicious it is!

// Christmas traditions.  I love having new traditions with my immediate family, on top of older family traditions.  Our newest one is coming to the blog next week!

// Bonding with my sister over family drama.

// Getting a project I've been working on at work done (and funded!)

// Reeses Trees.  Is there anything better?  Maybe Reeses Pumpkins.  Or Hearts.  Or Eggs.

// At-home Date Nights.  We watched more of Homeland - Season 3.  It's becoming a little ridiculous - but I'm hooked.  I need to find out what happens - don't tell me!  I hope I don't lose interest like I did with these shows.

// Christmas Shopping.  I absolutely love this.  Picking things out for loved ones, watching their excitement as they open the gift.  Gift giving is my fave!

// Packages from bloggy friends.  I got an amazing box from Lauren - more on that next week!

// Getting an awesome parking spot at work.  This is rare, so when it happens it can really make my whole day.

// E getting her first invite to a birthday party... for someone other than my friends' kids.  This is huge, as she is a shy kid... so making new friends on her own is a really big deal!  (Even if she doesn't want to go to the party...)

So, what is awesome in your life?  Please share the awesomeness!

One more piece of awesome for you.... check out this amazing giveaway, and enter for your chance to win.  Good Luck, wouldn't be awesome if you were the winner?!

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Love the Here and Now
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