Crafts & How-Tos

We don’t have a lot of friends with babies who live near us, but we DO have a lot of friends with babies in Long Island. One thing I’ve always liked about that whole crew is how they put a lot of work into putting together fun parties for the kids, giving them a chance to play and make new friends even at a very young age. Now that Vivi is getting older (and actually appreciating other kids), I was excited to finally take our turn in planning a fun get-together for a few little ones.

Plus, not going to lie, I really wanted an excuse to dress Vivi like a penguin.

And thus, my plans to throw Vivi a zoo-themed party were born.

Now, Vivi is only about a year old, so I wasn’t going to go too crazy. I wanted to keep the guest list as close to ten kids as I could, and I was less concerned with planning organized activities than I was for creating a fun theme and having good snacks. (And, you know, the aforementioned penguin costume.)

Here’s a run-down of what we did, ate, and wore for all you other party animals out there.

The Location

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^^The closest to “safari chic” I will probably ever get.

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I did actually consider having the party at a real zoo, but given the young age of our guest list, I ultimately decided it would be better to just create our own version in Joey’s parents’ backyard. They graciously offered up the space, and I set to work creating activity stations for the little guests (as well as just making sure there were a lot of toys around to keep short attention spans occupied, from bubbles to play tables and beyond).

I painted a few signs to hang around the yard to differentiate the areas, and my sister drew some animal prints leading up the sidewalk with chalk to guide our guests to the yard.

The yard also gave us room to have a few different areas for adults to sit, including tables, benches, and swings. (Because moms and dads gotta relax too, ya know?)

The Stations

What were these stations, you ask? First, I present The Monkey House.

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Okay, okay, so basically all I did was cover the swing set in fake vines (I got mine on eBay) and add a few stuffed monkeys (thank you, Mom, for finding all my old Beanie Babies!) for effect. But, come on. That’s a pretty cute monkey house, right?

Next up, we have The Aquarium.

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A water table, a kiddie pool full of plastic fish, and a handful of bubbles (plus some cute sea life stick-ons from the party store), and we were under the sea.

Finally, there was The Petting Zoo:

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I originally intended this to be the area that even the youngest tots could play in, but those horsies turned out to be a big hit with the older kids as well. (Plus, clearly the Boges was into it.)

What we ate

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Of course, everyone knows that decor is nice but a party is only as good as it’s food. The menu included PB&J sandwiches cut into animal shapes, Annie’s Mac & Cheese in Silly Sea Life shapes, a cucumber snake with homemade tsaziki, a hummus lion with bell pepper slices, a watermelon hedgehog, and fruit kabobs. I also put together an animal-themed trail mix for some of the tables.

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For dessert, I created Jell-O “aquariums” topped with Swedish Fish and funfetti cupcakes with animal toppers. Viv especially enjoyed her first cupcake (clearly).

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To make sure grown-up bellies were full as well, I asked each guest to bring an app and served a “jungle juice.” Because, let’s be real, we had all probably earned it.

The photo booth

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To be totally honest, the kids probably kept their costumes on for approximately half an hour. (But GOSH were they cute!) Predicting this, I welcomed each guest and then promptly directed them to the photo booth to make sure they got a pic of their little cutie dressed as their favorite animal.

To create the booth backdrop, I created a jungle of tissue paper poms (tutorial I used here) and cut-out paper leaves. To create the cage, I purchased an oversized picture frame from Michael’s, removed the glass and back piece, and strung rope-like yarn to create the bars.

Pro tip: I highly recommend a group photo at the beginning of the party if possible. By the end of the day, everyone is tired and dirty, and getting the kids to cooperate will be harder than ever. Look how cute they were when they first arrived!
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Once the pictures were taken, costumes could be ripped off, water could be splashed, cupcakes could be smushed in faces, etc. Save yourself the trouble and get the pictures done early.

What we wore

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As I said, my main priority here was getting Viv dressed as a penguin. #MomGoals

The create her costume, my mom actually took a larger penguin costume, cut off the belly and wings, and sewed them onto a black onesie. She turned the head into a little cap Vivi could wear, but it really only lasted for the pictures. (To make up for it, I drew a little yellow beak on her nose using costume makeup.) I also added a pair of yellow tights from Lunaby Baby to complete the look. She killed it, I must say.

As for Joey and me, we decided the most appropriate attire would be that of zoo keepers. Basically, we wore a lot of khaki and sun hats I found at Costco. It was surprisingly effective.

The favors

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What’s a party without a little something to take home? The best part about having a small guest list is that you can go a little more creative with the favors. Each kid took home an “adopted” animal and a box of animal crackers to keep the party going.

One other fun extra? I also created a Snapchat geo filter for the party. Totally gratuitous, but it was $5 and pretty cute! (Learn how to make your own here.) Here’s what it looked like:

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Cute, right?

All in all, we had such a blast at Vivi’s first party. Thanks again to all her friends (and their cool folks) for coming out to join!

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And a special thank-you to Aunt Yoyo (AKA, my sister Joelle of Figment Art Photo) for photographing the whole event!

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I don’t know what it is, but I have been on some kind of sugar kick over the last week. I’m going to blame it on the fact that my period finally came back after a year-and-a-half of pregnancy/breastfeeding hiatus. (Too much info? Then you’re reading the wrong blog.)

The point is, for the last five days, I’ve been craving a Double Stuf Oreo (yes, that’s really how it’s spelled) something fierce. So last Thursday, I finally bought a pack.

Which was a mistake. They should sell the Double Stuf in smaller portions. Because now I come home to a FULL PACK of Double Stuf Oreos every day. Send help.

But while the cookies were good for sating that particular craving, they also sparked a new issue: Now I wanted something else sweet. I wanted a dessert martini.

You guys? This is SO out of character for me. I do not like sweet drinks. The only sweet things I like are desserts, and even then, I prefer when there’s something salty or slightly bitter mixed in.

But here I was, craving the saccharine syrupy-ness of a dessert martini.

I didn’t even know where to begin, but I figured the least I could do was whip something up at home.

And thus, the Mounds Bar Martini was born.
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Here’s what you do:

Mounds Bar Martini Recipe

Ingredients:
1 oz whipped cream flavored rum
1 oz coconut vodka
1 oz half and half
drizzle of chocolate syrup
Oreo cookie dust for garnish (optional)

Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes and shake vigorously until frothy. Draw a line of chocolate syrup around the inside of a martini glass, then pour in the cocktail mixture. Top with a pinch or two of Oreo cookie dust. (BECAUSE YOU HAVE A WHOLE PACK, AFTER ALL.)

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The result is decadent, rich, and exactly what I was craving. I think I’ll probably be good on dessert martinis for another five years, so it was definitely worth going all out on this one. Because sometimes you feel like a nut…and sometimes you just want to drink your dessert.

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I’ve never been a big fan of breakfast pastries. Or, really, pastry in general. It’s the way it basically melts away in your mouth. Did you even eat anything at all?

If I’m going to consume the calories, I better at least be sure I had a snack.

The only breakfast baked goods I tend to enjoy are scones. A scone is basically a cookie (which I love), and it’s got enough heft to it to leave me feeling full.

When I make them at home, I try to incorporate a few more nutritious ingredients as well. My homemade scones are usually made with almond flour (more protein and gluten-free for my pals that go that route), coconut oil (instead of butter, in case you’re watching your dairy intake), and agave nectar (instead of sugar). I like that they’re not super sweet. I’m not even sure you can technically still call it a scone, but, heck, I’m eating it for breakfast, so I will what I want.

This is the recipe I make most often, but when I found myself without any dark chocolate this past weekend (quelle horreur), I decided to get a little creative.

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I had a giant box of organic strawberries that I had picked up at Trader Joe’s (after promising myself that I would finish them before they went bad and I had to throw all that money in the trash), so my immediate thought was to make strawberry scones.

Then I had a flash of inspiration: peanut butter and jelly scones.

I used my chocolate chip scone recipe as a sort of outline for this recipe and then subbed in the new ingredients, and the results…well, put it this way: Joey’s response to eating one was, “This is the best thing you’ve ever baked.”

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He’s a bit of a peanut butter addict, but I’m still taking those kudos to heart.

Here’s how to whip up your own gluten- and dairy-free scones for a little weekend treat:

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Almond Flour Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

Scone Ingredients:
2 1/2 c almond meal or flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 c agave nectar
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 c chopped fresh strawberries

Icing Ingredients:
1/4 c creamy peanut butter
1/4 c almond milk
1 T powdered sugar

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare your baking pan by lining it with parchment paper.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine your scone dry ingredients.
3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk your scone wet ingredients, then pour into the medium bowl with the dry ingredients.
4. Fold in the strawberries.
5. Using an ice cream scoop (or a large spoon), scoop the batter into round lumps, about 3-4 T each, about 1 inch apart on the prepared pan. (They don’t spread, so don’t worry about fitting them all.)
6. Bake for 17-20 minutes, then set aside to cool.
7. While the scones are baking, whisk your icing ingredients in a small bowl. Add more milk if necessary to create a light, creamy consistency (sort of like toothpaste).
8. Spoon the icing into a piping bag (or a sandwich baggie with a corner cut out if you’re fancy like me). Once scones are cool, drizzle with the icing as desired.

One thing to note: The fresh berries carry a lot of water, so you may need to bake your scones a few minutes longer if you want the insides to be firmer. Mine were soft on the inside, which my family prefers. Alternately, you could dehydrate the strawberries in your oven prior to adding them to the batter to avoid excess moisture.

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For most of my life, I’ll admit I wasn’t that concerned about the ingredients of my skincare products or makeup. In general, I would swing through Walgreens and grab my bottle of Neutrogena face wash and a CoverGirl powder compact without thinking twice. As I got older, I started investing more in my makeup, but I was motivated more by a search for quality than a concern for safety.

As an adult, I starting being more aware of the ingredients in my food or how the animals I was eating had been treated and making better choices in that respect. But while I was paying a lot of attention to what was going in my body, I still hadn’t caught on that what went on it could be just as damaging.

Then I got pregnant.

Suddenly, my body wasn’t simply my own and what I exposed myself to I was also exposing my baby to. That’s a lot of pressure. It didn’t help that I was reading scores of disagreeing articles about the potential dangers of some of the most common beauty treatments. With the idea of “better safe than sorry,” I started looking for simple swaps I could make to safer products, for my baby as well as my own health.

I wasn’t alone in that goal. My friend Madison was experiencing a similar drive to make better choices about what she put on her skin, especially after experiencing two miscarriages before getting pregnant with her daughter, Ainsley. I remember reading Madison’s blog during her pregnancy (especially after I knew I was also pregnant but hadn’t announced it yet) and soaking up her advice and recommendations for safer or less chemical-laden products. Then, after her daughter was born, Madison was looking for more flexible work options and became a consultant for a brand called Beautycounter.

Beautycounter is a skincare and beauty company founded by a woman named Gregg Renfrew. She started the brand after realizing that so many personal care products are not as regulated as many people think — in fact, many use products linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and hormone disruption, all without ever informing consumers. Unlike the FDA, Beautycounter has banned more than 1,500 unsafe ingredients (many of which are banned by the European Union), creating one of the highest standards in the beauty industry.

They also rigorously screen all of their ingredients, working with scientists and industry leaders to reduce the exposure to toxic chemicals and develop safer alternatives. They also choose ingredients that are over 80 percent organic, natural, or plant-derived, and that are sourced responsibly. Oh, and they also don’t test on animals. And just in case you needed one more reason to trust the products, they don’t hide anything nasty under the guise of “fragrance,” “flavors,” or “preservatives” either.

Like I said, they really take this whole “safe skincare thing” seriously.

As I’ve watched Madison climb the ranks from a consultant to a director within the company, I was always curious to know more about the products. Madison obviously couldn’t say enough good things about them, so when she put out a post on Facebook asking if any of her friends would be interested in hosting a Beautycounter social, I reached out and told her I was interested.

So, what is a Beautycounter social? It’s a little bit of education, a little bit of shopping, and a little bit of having snacks and drinks with your girlfriends. Basically, a trifecta of my favorite things. I told Madison I wanted to host a physical social, but also that I wanted to have a blog component to share with anyone who couldn’t attend. After getting to try out more of the products, I’m really pleased with not only the way the products are made but also how they perform.

So! What do you need to know if you want to host your own social? Here’s a peek at what I did:

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What We Ate
Is it just me, or is a party really only as good as the snacks? (I’m kidding.)(Kind of.) Because Beautycounter is all about making healthier choices for your body, I decided to put together a menu that featured a lot of fresh, healthy ingredients…along with a few more decadent treats.

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Rather than an official main course, I opted to create a few heavier appetizers. I put together cucumber bites with a cream cheese-dill sauce (recipe here) and crisps with goat cheese, blackberries, and honey (recipe here).

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I also made a bruschetta and turkey meatballs.

SIMPLE HOMEMADE BRUSCHETTA
Ingredients:
1 container grape tomatoes, quartered
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3-4 T fresh basil, chopped
3 T olive oil or avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Combine all ingredients and let sit for 1 hour to overnight to let flavors mingle. Serve with crusty or toasted slices of French bread.

CROCKPOT TURKEY MEATBALLS
Ingredients:
1 jar marinara sauce (I used the bottled kind, but feel free to get fancy with something homemade. You’ll need about 4-6 cups.)
2 lbs 98% lean ground turkey meat
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1 egg
4 T fresh basil, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 T oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Pour the sauce into the crock pot.
2. Combine all of the meatball ingredients with a big spoon or your fingers.
3. Using your hands, roll the meatballs using about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture. Don’t pack too tightly.
4. Place the rolled meatballs into the sauce in the crockpot in a single layer.
5. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours. Serve with bread for dipping in the sauce.

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I also made mini fruit pizzas for dessert, but like a dummy completely forgot to take photos. Or, rather, like an animal who couldn’t wait to wolf down her mini fruit pizza. Whoops. I used this recipe to make them and topped each pizza with strawberries, raspberries, and a few pomegranate seeds.

For drinks, we had my summer drink of choices, rosé.

What We Did
The social started out with everyone having something to eat and drink and generally getting comfortable. My friends were good sports about letting me take pictures of them. (Thank you again, lovely ladies!)

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Once everyone was settled, I played a video message from Madison explaining how we knew each other, how she got involved with the brand, and just what she loved about many of Beautycounter’s most popular items. It was so helpful hearing from someone who actually uses so many of them on a regular basis, and we pretty much spent the whole video saying, “Ooh, I want that!” and “Man, Madison is seriously adorable.” (We also agreed you have the best hair and skin, M! But I digress…)

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Then, it was time for the fun part: playing with the products! Madison had sent me several sample packs and full-sized products for my guests to test, and it was so helpful to be able to actually feel, smell, and see what we were looking at.

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I also loved being able to send each guest home with a little something from the line. Each person got one of the sampler packs I mentioned, and I also divided up a Charcoal Cleansing Bar so everyone could take a piece home to try out. (I’ve been using mine once a day since the social!)

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All in all, it was a super simple event to plan. Madison was extremely helpful in answering any questions I had and even offered to answer any questions online in real time if necessary.

Now for the fun part! You don’t have to have been at the physical party to shop the brand. Click my social host link here to see everything that Beautycounter has to offer, from naturally beautiful cosmetics to super safe skin care. I’ve been really loving the Protect All Over Sunscreen (it’s safe to use on Vivi and blends in way better than the other baby sunscreens I’ve tried without any chalky residue), the Rejuvenating Eye Cream (because thirty is right on the horizon, yo), the Charcoal Cleansing Bar (it sells out quickly whenever it’s in stock, so jump on that!) and the Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer (the perfect lightweight coverage). I’m planning to get one of the Lip Sheers and the new Purifying Charcoal Mask as well, and I can’t wait to try them out. Just be sure to use my link so Madison gets credit for the sales :)

Have any other questions about the brand or want to host your own social? Let me know or reach out to Madison directly — she’s seriously the best to work with.

Happy shopping!

A funny thing happened when I decided to planning my blog posts: I started seeing potential projects everywhere.

A bunch of leftover bottles? That could be some kind of cool vase, right? A messy closet? A total how-to waiting to happen. By choosing to try to be more creative, it seems I switched my brain into constant maker/doer/creator mode.

The same is true of when I go shopping for my home. Typically, I’ll have an idea in mind based on something I’ve seen in a magazine, on HGTV, on Pinterest, or in a friend’s home, and I do what I can to bring that idea to life. In the past, I might just buy what I wanted, but now I actually look for ideas that I can create.

Then again, sometimes I’m also just struck with inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I was strolling through Target for items I needed for our master bedroom redo (as one does) when I decided to take a spin down their crafting and DIY aisles. One of their sub-brands, Hand Made Modern, was having a 20% off sale, so I decided to peruse in case there was anything I could use. In the ceramics section, I spotted an unfinished vase/container and a small octagon-shaped tray. Immediately, I knew they would be perfect details for our new nightstands.

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The paint was on sale, and I was excited to find a gold paint and a rose gold paint. If you know me, you know I love gold. And if you REALLY know me, you know I love rose gold.

I knew I wanted to turn the container into a pot for succulents and the tray into a jewelry tray. I started by taping off an asymmetrical line on the container to give it a dip-dyed effect. For the tray, I created a heart stencil out of a piece of tape.

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It took about three thin coats of Hand Made Modern’s metallic acrylic paint to achieve the opaque finish I wanted. Be sure to peel away the tape before the paint dries to avoid pulling off any paint later on.

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I gave each piece 48 hours to dry before handling. The paint says it takes about a month to fully cure, but I knew, even in use, the painted parts of my ceramics wouldn’t get a lot of handling.

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I also used a Sharpie to add a little message on the jewelry tray. Because who doesn’t need a daily compliment from their decor accessories?

The final results were exactly how I hoped they would be:

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And they look even better in their new homes on our newly painted nightstands.

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Not bad for an impromptu DIY, right? So what have you been making lately?

I’m going to be honest: I do not have the best track record with household plants.

Pets? I can house train a dog within a week and my family once had a carnival goldfish for two years. Babies? I mean, I don’t exactly have years of experience, but Viv is by all accounts thriving.

But a houseplant? This is the last houseplant I had:

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Not a good look. But when I decided to redecorate our bedroom, I knew I wanted to layer in some texture in the way of greenery.

And that’s how I found my way to succulents.

Like the rest of the millenial western hemisphere, I’ve found myself charmed by this chubby little flora in the last couple of years. But I was wary against bringing them into my home because, to be honest, they look complicated. Fortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Succulents are oft lauded as nearly impossible to kill and for being able to survive in almost desert-like conditions.

Sounds like my kind of plant.

As hardy as succulents are, though, there are still a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when growing your own. Here is what I learned:

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1. Choose the right soil.

Most guides agree that you can either opt for a cactus potting mix or make your own by blending equal parts gravel and traditional potting soil. Even though these little plants don’t need a lot of moisture, they do need a good drainage system. A grainier soil will provide that.

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2. Keep the succulents high in their container.

Unlike other plants where you want a bit of space between the dirt line and the top of the pot, succulents do best when they grow right along the edge of their container. In fact, most of the pros recommend placing the plants so that the succulent hangs over the edge a bit (also called a “spiller”). This prevents the leaves from getting trapped under any water and rotting or discoloring.

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I also planted an aloe vera plant in another container. These don’t need to be planted quite so high up in the pot, but they do need the same cactus/gravel-and-soil mixture for proper drainage — they can’t take standing water of any kind. Be really cautious against over-watering both plants. To be safe, only water once a week or so when the soil feels dry.

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3. Get the right light.

Succulents don’t need constant bright light, but it is good to give them an hour or so of sunshine a few times a week. Ours will live on Joey’s nightstand most of the time, but I’ll make sure they spend some time near the window. Aloe vera, on the other hand, need plenty of light. Since our bedroom tends to be a little darker, I’m planning to keep this guy on the window sill full time.

And really, that’s pretty much it! I’ve had the plants for a little over a week, and they both look just as healthy as they did when I planted them. Giving myself a big green thumbs-up over here.

Also, did you notice that cute gold-dipped succulent planner? Wouldn’t ya know it, that’s a DIY post for another day. (AKA, next week.) Stay tuned!