Crafts & How-Tos

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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:

RIP

RIP

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!

I feel obligated to say that I feel a little silly calling our bedroom the “master bedroom.” In total honesty, there is really very little masterful about it. Unless, I guess, you get all hot and bothered by a 10-by-12-foot shoe box with closet better suited for dolls.

But you’re not here for the “omigawd New York City apartments are small” conversation. You’re here to creep on my bedroom.

I’ve said before that I have always had a hard time decorating our bedroom. (This was the closest I had gotten in the past.) I don’t really know why. I think it’s because, for most of our marriage, we’ve lived in fairly small places where our bedroom also had to serve as storage. Plus, we just don’t spend a lot of time in there outside of bedtime, so it has always been a mental struggle for me to prioritize spending any amount of money on dressing it up.

Up until recently, this is what our bedroom looked like:

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So, you know, not terrible. Just a little…undone. I had added the more colorful bedspread shortly before Vivi was born (thank you, West Elm clearance sale), and the more I looked at it with the blue wall and patterned throw pillows and patterned curtains we had, the more I felt like the room felt too busy to ever be a relaxing, dream-inducing space. I purchased new pillows, shams, and curtains from IKEA, but the blue wall was still tripping me up.

Clearly, the first thing I needed to do was update the room’s color. I did research, stalked my stylish friends’ Instagram photos, and scoured Pinterest for the perfect warm, oatmeal-y shade of beige or taupe. The winner? Benjamin Moore’s Shaker Beige. It is this magical hue that looks a little different depending on the light, alternating between a rich taupe and a cozy tan depending on the time of day. Next, all I had to do was wait for my mom to visit (so someone could hold the Viv while I painted).

A gallon of paint and about 12 hours later, this is what I was left with:

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Much better, right? But something still wasn’t right.

Or rather, two somethings. I’m looking at you, yellow-y night tables.

I had purchased our night stands on Craigslist almost a year ago. Let me tell you, they were a challenge. Given the minuscule size of our bedroom, I needed two tables that were less than 14 inches wide. I wanted them to have a drawer, and they either needed to be white or paintable. Oh, and I’m super cheap, so I wanted them both for under $50.

Like I said, a challenge.

Fortunately, I like a challenge, and after a couple of months of searching, I found these beauties on my favorite home decor outlet, Craigslist, for $40 for the pair. SOLD.

The only trouble was that they were not white. They were, however, paintable. So I put them in the room, fully intending to paint them as soon as we had a nice clear day.

Then I had a baby. And, you know what? Babies keep you super busy. So light yellow the night stands stayed.

Until NOW.

I started by removing the hardware and sanding down each piece lightly with a fine grit sandpaper. Then I wiped them both down to remove the sanded dust.

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Next, it was time to paint. I used the same paint I had used to paint our old kitchen table (SAVINGS!) and a small brush. I wasn’t terribly concerned about creating a super smooth surface, plus the table legs had a lot of detailing, otherwise I would have used a roller.

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Two thin coats later, the tables were white. Yay! But I wanted to jazz them up a bit more. I realized I could unscrew the bottom part of the legs, so I decided to create a dipped effect by spray painting them (and the knobs) gold.

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The nice part about the spray paint was that it dried very quickly and gave the legs and knobs a more metallic finish. Ready for the result?

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Not bad, eh? Certainly worth an 8-month wait. (Cough.) Here’s what the room looks like now:

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(Sorry the lighting is always kind of terrible. Our bedroom is basically a cave, so there is very little natural light to be found.)

But, you guys? In person, this place is so cozy and serene. The wall color made such a huge impact, and all of the details really fell into place.

Speaking of details, you may have noticed there were quite a few little accessories on the night tables that I didn’t mention. Never fear, there will be more on that later. (OMG PROJECTS!)

It’s amazing how much joy having a decorated bedroom brings me. I literally take a second after I make the bed every morning just to take it in. (But just a second…then Vivi demands something of me.)

Can you believe it only took me five years of marriage to decorate our bedroom? I’m not sure if I should feel accomplished or embarrassed. Either way, I’m ready for a nap on that pretty bed.

My mom has been in town for the last few days (and my dad over the weekend), so I’ve been able to accomplish a lot around the apartment that I’ve had on my to-do list for a while. One of those big tasks was redecorating our bedroom. I’m going to do a full reveal, but I also want to share a few of the smaller projects that make up the whole room. Today, we’re talking floral arrangements.

One of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had was when I was the Flowers Editor for a wedding magazine. I know a fair amount about flowers already from my mom, but my job was basically to look at beautiful bouquets all day, forecast the trends, schmooze with the top florists from around the city, and receive bouquets occasionally from vendors who wanted to impress us. I’ve never had so many fresh flowers around in my life.

And while I love the idea of surrounding our home with fresh flowers on the daily, it’s simply not practical. But I do love the look, which is why I’ve embraced silk or artificial blooms.

The trouble with artificial flowers is that, often times, they look…well, fake. And that utterly defeats the purpose. So I’ve come up with a few rules to selecting the best-looking faux flowers for your home.

Don’t forget to pay careful attention to your color choices.

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In general, I have a really hard time finding flowers in primary shades that look realistic. It’s just a tough job to create a dye the same color as what you find in nature, and the primary hues lack the depth you see in the real thing. It works for wreaths or displays that need to be seen from a distance, but otherwise, I say skip reds, blues, yellows (except in the case of sunflowers), and even most oranges.

Do embrace pastels and jewel tones.

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Pastels are almost always a safe bet when it comes to faux flowers because — surprise! — they closely resemble a lot of real flowers. But if you’re looking to make a statement, go for something in the jewel tone family. At least it’s another natural color.

Do opt for texture.

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Big fluffy flowers are easier to fake than anything more architecturally shaped. The softer petals will all blend together in a big puff of flowers, give the appearance of softness and texture without triggering anyone’s attention that they’re not real.

Don’t be afraid to think beyond flowers.

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Cherry blossoms, pussy willows, and other stick-like options are great for adding height or finishing off more modern decor. Plus, they just tend to look more authentic. This is a great option for first-time faux flower buyers because it’s really hard to mess up.

Don’t forget your greens.

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Real life flowers always have greenery, so your faux displays should too. Greenery is also another option if you’re not ready to jump on the flower bandwagon just yet. Plus, they tend to look more real as well.

Don’t do this…ever:

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Natural colors, remember? Just trust me on that one.

Now…for the arranging!

Do select a variety of flowers in the same color family.

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Don’t worry about matching your flowers exactly — that’s not how it happens in nature! A variety of blush shades creates a romantic blend that looks more realistic as well.

Do trim your stems to fit your container.

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Just like you would a real bunch of flowers, use wire cutters to trim the stems to fit your container for easier arranging.

Do pick a focal point.

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Create cohesive bouquets by picking a showstopper centerpiece (in my case, a large peony) and arranging your supporting flowers around it. Then tuck in a bit of greenery to finish off the look.

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Ta da! I’m pretty pleased with how the whole thing turned out.

Do you decorate with faux flowers? What are your best tips for making them look more realistic?