The Perfect Christmas Tree

I am a Christmas tree snob. I grew up in a household that took Christmas tree shopping very seriously. The date was picked weeks in advance, snacks were packed, and the four of us headed out for what we assumed would be an all day adventure to procure the perfect Christmas tree. We would travel to multiple nurseries, tree farms, and garden centers before my mom would give the final and much anticipated, “Yes, that’s it, that’s our tree.” This was after hours of, “How about this one? No, that one’s too <insert negative adjective here> stumpy/skimpy/flat/short.” As we all neared starvation and my kid sister got minute by minute closer to a full on meltdown the clouds would part and a ray of sunshine would illuminate the tree that was meant to be ours. At least that’s how I remember it…

Fast forward 20 years and my husband and I are now purchasing our own Christmas tree. I spent years harping on my mother about her ridiculously high Christmas tree standards and spewing such nonsense as “some day when I get my own tree I’m just going to buy the first tree I see.” Now, of course, I find myself saying to my very patient husband year after year, “No, that one is too stumpy/skimpy/flat/short…” while we’re at our third tree farm of the day, until the ray of sunshine finds our tree. When we first moved in together my husband advocated for a fake tree with colored lights, which I adamantly opposed stating that obviously we would be getting a real tree and adding white lights. We compromised and now always put up a real tree with colored lights which is perfect for us.

The perfect christmas tree

I understand that each individual’s idea of the “perfect Christmas tree” varies, but I’m here to tell you that everyone else is wrong and this is what every house needs:

  1. Buy a fraser fir. They have stronger branches and don’t drop their needles as quickly or as readily. Balsam’s are very pretty, but you will spend every day until Christmas vacuuming around your tree and nobody has time for that.
  2. It should be a struggle to get it home. I’m talking hand out the window holding it on to the roof of your car in case the ropes don’t hold kind of difficult that only takes place around the holidays.
  3. It should be ever so slightly uneven on the bottom so that you can stand there for an hour with your arms crossed saying, “Now I feel like it’s leaning back towards the wall. No, now it’s too far forward and slanted to the left”, as your spouse or child lays under the tree adjusting and re-adjusting the trunk in the stand.
  4. It must be slightly to very (depending on your comfort level) too large for the space it’s required to fit in. If you’re not arguing with your spouse on what should and should not be chopped of the top, bottom, sides to make it fit you are not doing it right.
  5. It should be tall enough that the tree topper of your choosing touches your ceiling. If not, you are missing out on valuable space that could be occupied by more tree.
  6. Most importantly it should make the room that it’s in feel like Christmas heaven and bring a sense of calm to the space and everyone it…at least until your cat climbs up the trunk, your dog eats the ornament you bought for your first married Christmas, and your kid kicks a ball into the center of the tree scattering all pets and ornaments within a five foot radius. Merry Christmas.

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A Harry Potter Nerd’s Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I have wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter since they opened their doors in 2010. We try and travel to a new place at least once a year and this year we finally chose Universal Studios Orlando. Technically, my husband had been there as a child, but the park has gone through so many changes since then that it was pretty much new to both of us. Saying that I am a huge Harry Potter fan would be a ridiculous understatement. I typically read the entire series every other year and have seen the movies countless times…thank you Freeform!

I’m going to do a couple of posts on how we structured each of the two days we spent at Universal, but first I’m going to do a recap of the Wizarding World because oh. my. God. it was heaven on earth.

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What’s Where?

Diagon Alley is in the Universal Studios Park and Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are in the Island of Adventures Park. You can get between the parks by riding the Hogwarts Express or by walking out of one park through City Walk and into the entrance of the other park. You must have a park to park ticket in order to go to both parks on the same day and to ride the Hogwarts Express. The park to park ticket is a little more expensive, but it was totally worth it.

Diagon Alley

I wanted my introduction to the Wizarding World to be in Diagon Alley and I’m going to nerd out here for a minute so bear with me. Diagon Alley is Harry’s first real immersion into the wizarding world and I wanted that same experience. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that when we walked into Diagon Alley tears came to my eyes. When you step in you feel like you are in a completely different world. You can’t hear or see anything that’s going on in other areas of the park and everything from the buildings to the walkways to the employees dressed in character was just as I always imagined it would be in real life. As many people have said, it’s a completely immersive experience.

Hogsmeade/Hogwarts

The design and set-up of Hogsmeade is not quite as immersive to the same extent, but still wonderful. To walk through Hogsmeade and come upon Hogwarts was breathtaking. You truly felt that you were in a little wizarding village and again the shops, displays, and set-up were spot on as described in the books and shown in the movies.

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Rides

Escape from Gringotts – Located in Diagon Alley. You walk through the entrance to Gringotts to get to the ride and pass the goblins hard at work, goblin offices, and eventually you feel like you are down in the vaults. The ride is simulated so you feel that you are diving around here and there, but without having to experience the actual plummet where your stomach jumps into your throat.

The Forbidden Journey – Located in Hogwarts Castle. The lead up to this ride was by far the best. While in line you are walking through various notable Hogwarts areas to include Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, and you run into the sorting hat. The ride itself I struggled with due to motion sickness. I get motion sickness very easily, so I had loaded up on non-drowsy dramamine and still when I got off the ride I was worried I might be sick. This ride is also motion simulated, but you get whipped around a little more aggressively then with Escape from Gringotts, and has been critiqued as causing motion sickness by many others. When we go back to the park in a few years I don’t know that I would be able to ride it again, but will definitely get in the line to walk through the castle.

Flight of the Hippogriff – Outside Hogwarts. This is a 30 second super fun, family friendly roller coaster. We were in the front row which was great and loved it. There weren’t any big drops, so I was happy. Hagrid’s hut sits in the center which was a nice touch.

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Butterbeer

Frozen Butterbeer – This was my absolute favorite! It’s butterscotch flavored with butterscotch foam on top and I would seriously risk diabetes to drink it every day. I was even asked by someone who was in the butterbeer line which one I would recommend, because obviously even strangers can tell that I’m a true member of the wizarding community, and hands down advised that she get the frozen.

Hot Butterbeer – Also, so delicious! It tasted exactly as I always imagined it would based on the description in the book. It tastes warm and buttery and sweet and all the good things. In fact, the hot butterbeer was my husband’s favorite and we had a rather spirited debate about which one was truly better in the middle of Diagon Alley making all of my wizarding dreams comes true.

Cold Butterbeer – The cold butterbeer is nothing to turn your nose up up at, but the other two were superior in my book. The cold butterbeer tasted like cream soda with butterscotch foam on top. It was yummy, but I went back for frozen time after time.

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Restaurants/Stores

I’m going to recap just the restaurants and stores that were most memorable for me. I obviously went to all of them, but some are definitely must sees.

Hog’s Head – Located in Hogsmeade. It’s attached to the Three Broomsticks and serves drinks only. You can get food at the Three Broomsticks, but we elected to grab a couple of pints (HP beer recap below) and hang out in the pub like we would any other Saturday night. The line was super long for the bar, extending out the side door when we arrived, but it moved quickly and the bartender was in character as the owner the entire time, which added a certain amount of charm. It was dark and kind of dank, just as described in the books.

Leaky Cauldron – Located in Diagon Alley. We ate lunch here on the second day and I had a great meal. My husband was less satisfied with his, but overall it was a fun experience. They keep the long line moving as quickly as possible and have someone that helps you find a seat which was nice. I highly recommend the Fischerman’s Pie if you like seafood. Also, quick tip! You can buy a bottle of Gilly Water for $4.50….which is outrageous. Instead just ask for a cup of water and it is free of charge.

Ollivanders Wand Shop – Located in Diagon Alley. They have one in Hogsmeade too, but we went to the one in Diagon Alley, saw the show, and walked through the wand shop. We got in to see the show, where Ollivander picks someone from the crowd to interact with a wand that chooses them, early in the day within an hour of the park opening and got right in. By the afternoon there was a line of 50-100 people waiting. The show and shop are a must sees.

Weazley’s Wizard Wheezes – Located in Diagon Alley. Very elaborate and on point interpretation of the Fred and George’s joke shop. It’s also attached to a clothing shop and a candy shop so you can work your way through.

Knockturn Alley – Located in Diagon Alley. This was one of the most well done areas of Diagon Alley because you truly felt like you were walking down a dark and scary path. Also, the shop in Knockturn Alley sold merchandise you couldn’t find anywhere else in the park which was on point with the books.

Honeydukes – Located in Hogsmeade. Obviously a must see because Harry, Hermione, and Ron love it so much. They have all of the themed candy you could want…chocolate froges, fizzing whizbees, etc.

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Wizarding World Beer

The Wizarding World has several beers that are brewed just for the parks.

Dragon Scale – Sold in both parks. This was my husband’s favorite. It’s an Octoberfest-style lager.

Hog’s Head Brew – Sold exclusively in Hogsmeade. It was an Irish Red.

Wizard’s Brew – Sold exclusively in Diagon Alley. This was my favorite. It’s a heavy, coffee stout. Rich and filling.

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In short, it was truly the trip of my dreams. We planned ahead to spend two full days at Universal so we never felt rushed and were able to enjoy other areas of the park too. We took our time seeing everything in the Wizarding World and on the second day even spent an hour in each Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade just sitting on a bench people watching, drinking butterbeer, and enjoying the hustle and bustle.

Questions about the Wizarding World or our experience? Comment below!

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Bathroom Face Lift – Round 1

Before we moved into our house in April I had made a massive and comprehensive list of all the changes we were going to make. Painting walls, ripping up carpet, digging out flower beds, replacing counter tops, tearing down the old basement kitchen…and then we moved in and everything went out the window. We got almost everything unpacked within the first week and then our motivation to make changes dwindled and we just wanted to enjoy the new house, sit around on the porch, and deal with any necessary improvements as they came up.

In the Fall I decided to take a small step to personalize the house a bit more and gave our bathroom a little face lift. I had big plans to attempt to paint the tile because as you’ll see in the pictures below it covers the bottom half of the walls and is kind of a difficult color to pair things with. However, after watching several YouTube videos and scouring Pinterest for advice I decided to just work with what we have. I prefer more color than neutrals typically, but decided to bring in more neutrals than I normally would and add pops of color so it didn’t look funky with the powder blue tile.

I knew I wanted to stay within a pretty low budget because there are a lot of other improvements we do want to make down the line and the bathroom was not the first priority. It was however the smallest space in the house so I felt pretty comfortable that I’d be able to tackle the project and finish it within the week.

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Local Makers Gift Guide

Today is Shop Small Saturday and the biggest day of the year to shop local and support small business. I love Target as much as the next person, but I make an extra effort every year to buy some unique products from local makers. Connecticut is a small state, but we have a ton of small shops and local business owners who pull out all the stops to make their products top of the line. Many of them make their items by hand to add that extra special touch. I am highlighting eight of the best local CT makers today in this one of a kind gift guide!

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Payne and Comfort Socket Sack, Artsmith Shop Family Recipe Plate, North Detail Home Towel, Burly Stone The Dude Soap, Emma Lyn Designs Custom Clutch, TheTwoOhThree Embroidered Cap, Emmy Starr Designs Bracelet, Say It Is So Sign

Meet the Makers

Payne and Comfort – This company creates various products geared toward total comfort. Hand warmers and socket sacks in fun patterns, cozy scarves, and essential home decor pieces help to make up this diverse makers product line.

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Artsmith Shop – This local artist creates custom-designed platters, ring dishes, utensil holders and more to combine art and practicality for the perfect piece for your home. She draws or paints custom designs or portraits and can transfer beloved family recipes or handwritten notes onto pottery making them meaningful keepsakes.

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North Detail – This company  features curated tabletop and home decor to help you make your space feel warm and happy. Beautifully scripted dish towels and drinkware, printed napkins and office supplies, and more provide the perfect backdrop for everything from dinner parties to date night.

Home Towel Couples Mug Set  Bon Appetite Napkin Set    Farm Salt and Pepper Shaker

Burly Stone – This company creates handmade toiletry products to include soaps, hand balms, beard elixirs, and solid cologne. This is no average toiletry company. They offer BIG bars of soap with a variety of unique scents that include cedar, campfire, beer, leather, and so many more.

BurlyStone_DudeSoap BurlyStone_ChefHandBalm  BurlyStone_TravelerSoap  BurlyStone_CasanovaCologne

Emma Lyn Designs – A company that offers handmade, one of a kind, custom designed accessories. They feature bold patterns and bright colors allowing you to be organized in style. Each item is available in various patterns and can be customized per the customers request and even monogrammed!

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TheTwoOhThree – A homegrown start-up company that was started by a brother-sister duo with a BIG passion for their home state. The Two Oh Three is named after CT’s first area code, but the company has fun and festive Connecticut gear that are perfect for all CT locals!

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Emmy Starr Designs – A local jewelry maker who creates beautiful one of a kind sterling, gemstone, and beaded pieces. She focuses on making jewelry that is comfortable and easy to wear, but also versatile. Her pieces make the transition from work day to night life a breeze.

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Say It Is So – A company that creates handmade and hand painted home decor inspired by natural elements. They offer everything from signs to pillow cases and beautiful seasonal pieces. Custom orders will be available again in the new year and gives you a chance to work one on one with the designer to create the perfect new piece for your home.

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What’s in My Weekend Carry On

I am beyond excited to spend the weekend at Universal Studios in Florida. We bought our 2 day park-to-park tickets weeks ago and I have been ready to go ever since. I’ve wanted to live at Hogwarts for over a decade and I can’t believe I’m finally going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am not even attempting to reign it in and have purchased a couple more Harry Potter tees/tanks to wear at the park, lest anyone confuse why I am there.

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We’re spending the weekend in Florida and then Monday morning are boarding a 4 night Disney Cruise with my extended family. I’m planning ahead and packing my carry-on for the weekend and my checked bag for the cruise that way I only have to sift through one piece of luggage at each destination. In the carry-on I’m packing 2-3 day-time outfits for the parks and 1-2 nighttime outfits that can all be mixed and matched. I’m also packing a bathing suit, cover-up, and flip flops because our hotel has a pool. I’m bringing a pair of sneakers for the parks and sandals for night. I am making a concerted effort to pack light for the weekend because I am the most diligent over packer on the planet aside from my mom.

Check out what I’m packing, which will be especially enjoyable if you’re an HP fan.

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Husband Stocking Stuffers Gift Guide

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I love putting together stockings for people. I grab a medium hot chocolate from Dunkin and wander the aisles of Target, Home Goods, and Kohls searching for little items I can cram into a giant red sock. Our stocking gifts as kids were always wrapped, so I’ve continued that tradition too. It’s fun to open a bunch of little things and prolongs the excitement of Christmas morning.

The past few years I’ve put together a stocking for my husband. I pick up little things here and there and before I know it the stocking is full! To save you some shopping time, here is the Husband Stocking Stuffers Gift Guide.

Target Harry's Grooming Gift Set Dicks Wireless SpeakerTarget Gloves White No Shadow

LL Bean Pajama Pants  Capital Gaines   Best Buy Roku Streaming Stick

Duke Cannon WhiteTarget Slippers   Dicks Swiss Army Knife

Nordstrom Scarf           Best Buy Fit Bit 2         Walmart Madden '18

Harry’s Grooming Gift Set, Audio Wireless Speaker with Earbuds, Leather Saddle Gloves, Flannel Pajama Pants, Capital Gaines Book, Roku Streaming Stick, Duke Cannon Soap, Muk Luks Moccasin Slippers, Swiss Army Knife, Striped Scarf, Fit Bit Flex 2 Activity Tracker, Madden NFL ’18 Video Game

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Surviving Holiday Stress

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…most of the time. But, there are bound to be days when the chaos gets a little too overwhelming, the pressure starts to build, and you contemplate putting Bailey’s in your morning coffee one too many days out of the week. I love everything that goes along with Christmas: the shopping, the wrapping, the baking, all of the get-together’s, and traditions, and toasts to good fortune. That doesn’t mean from time to time that I don’t get stressed by any or all of the above. I imagine the stress increases Continue reading