My Favorite Seasonal Coffee Drinks

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Happy Monday! This weekend was more productive than festive but it’s always nice to knock out some must-dos before going into a busy week.  Thursday night (which kind of felt like the start of the weekend) was my college’s alumni holiday party, and on Friday, I staffed a work event (a cute holiday party for some of our visiting students) and then immediately came home and finished a book that had been impossible to put down all week (more on that to come in this month’s reads roundup!). On Saturday, I woke up early to pick up a Craigslist item (typical…), took a spin class at my favorite studio in Arlington (and if you know me, you know I love a good themed class, so I had to sign up for this one because it was NSYNC, BSB, Spice Girls, and Destiny’s Child!), and met my mom for lunch and to run some errands near my apartment. I then quickly came home and relaxed for a bit before going into Bethesda and meeting a friend at True Food for dinner–such a fun spot! I ordered the same thing that I got last time, and we each tried one of their delicious iced teas, which I since recreated at home and will be sharing on the blog soon! Sunday was full of freelance work, blog prep, and a few fun phone/coffee chats with other creatives in the DC area–I love being able to connect with people on Instagram and discuss writing and design offline!

As for today’s post, I wanted to share some of my favorite seasonal (non-alcoholic!) drinks in case you’re looking for a new go-to coffee flavor or hot chocolate recipe. This week will be a busy one in terms of holiday parties (yay!) so I’m trying to save my wine/cocktail drinking for special events like those.  Below are four faves that I’ve been enjoying over the past few weeks!

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La Colombe Flavored Iced Coffees: 

I love starting my mornings with a cup of hot coffee no matter the season, but by the afternoon, I’ll usually find myself craving a cooler drink like an iced coffee or tea–something about no-frills hot coffee later in the day just isn’t that appealing! A few weeks ago, La Colombe kindly sent me several of their regular and seasonal flavored (including pumpkin spice and peppermint mocha) draft lattes to try. The cans, which you can find at places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, are easy to toss into your purse each morning and stash in the work fridge (not having to duck out later to buy a drink is such a time saver on busy days), and I love the variety of flavors. I will warn you that if you don’t do well with a ton of caffeine, it may be best to portion the can out throughout the day (each can is the equivalent of  2+ cups of coffee!). But if you need a quick energy boost, this is definitely a convenient, tasty solution!  Note that while La Colombe kindly sent over these samples, I was not required to post about them, I just genuinely liked the offerings and wanted to share my thoughts!
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Nespresso Coffee with Sugar Cookie Milk: 
I love my Nespresso machine but sometimes can’t deal with the harsh flavor of espresso on its own (I like sweet, flavored coffee, #noshame). When I was at Target a few weeks ago, I spotted this seasonal Sugar Cookie milk on the shelf (it’s just the store brand) and was immediately intrigued. It’s not the healthiest option, but if you use it in small doses (as creamer rather than drinking an entire glass!), I don’t think it’s so much worse for you than any other variants on half and half. I’ve been making my “sugar cookie espressos” on weekends this month and love the subtle taste that the flavor adds.
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Decked out Hot Chocolate: 
Save this “recipe” for when you’re feeling a little more decadent or are having people over and want to set up a hot chocolate bar, because it’s definitely over the top. Top off your usual hot chocolate with a bit of peppermint whipped cream (I got mine at Target but can’t find the exact product online), candy cane bits (I found some pre-chopped at Marshall’s), and of course, some marshmallows and/or chocolate chips. Then add some chocolate sticks or candy canes as a garnish. I made this for myself for breakfast one Sunday morning and felt like I was living in Elf but also loved every second of it. (The end result is super Instagrammable, too, just sayin’!). Oh, and speaking of peppermint things, I also grabbed these Yasso ice cream bars at Target and they’re amazing and are a perfect low calorie treat that’s also festive!
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Flavored K-Cups: 
I’ll let you in on what may be a little-known secret…oftentimes, the best place to buy k-cups is at HomeGoods (or TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and the like). Just check the expiration date on the box first, but generally you’ll have a long window. These stores always seem to have so many unique flavors that I never find at the grocery store, and the prices are super reasonable most of the time (think $5.99 for an 18-pack). On recent shopping trips, I’ve picked up a Starbucks toasted graham flavor (so good), chocolate peanut butter, salted caramel, and variations of my favorite classics like vanilla and hazelnut. I like alternating which ones I drink each morning and don’t know how I never knew about the graham cracker until I randomly spotted it last month, it’s so good!
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Your Holiday Travel Guide

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Thank you to my coworker, Melissa, for suggesting this blog post idea! I stayed put for Thanksgiving but will be traveling to Florida for Christmas and can’t wait to get out of the cold and spend some time with my family and grandmother. We’ve been celebrating Christmas in Florida for the past several years, and it always feels kind of funny putting up at tree in a warm climate, but I’m definitely not complaining!

I keep backups of basic makeup and hair products in Florida so that I don’t have to pack too much when I travel, but there are always little things that would have been handy to bring that I always seem to forget…my mom is convinced that I do this on purpose so that I have an excuse to go shopping, which I promise isn’t true! It just goes to show that no matter how many times you travel to a given place, it isn’t guaranteed that you’re a packing master (also, side note–does anyone else begin packing for a trip days–or even a week–in advance? I’ve always done this because I enjoy packing and hate putting things off until the last minute, but I’ve recently come to realize that I’m definitely not in the norm!).

Whether you’re packing a week before or the night before, have traveled somewhere 20 times or just once, I’ve put together a guide of a few must have products to take with you when you hit the road.

This faux-leather bag by Sole Society is my latest travel obsession. I was lucky enough to snag it a few weeks back when it was on sale for just $50, but even at its current price, it’s still an amazing deal. I used it when I went home for Thanksgiving and it held a ton and is said to be pretty mark-resistant (which is must if you’re traveling on trains or airplanes and will be setting your bag who knows where!).

It’s vacation, so hopefully you can take a break from your daily makeup routine! Believe me when I say that Glossier’s boy brow is a total game changer. I started buying the brown shade back in April or so and am on my fourth or fifth bottle by now…oops! I love that it darkens my brows just enough without making them look unnatural, and it does a good job of shaping them, too. My face truly looks more “awake” when I’m wearing the product, if that makes sense. Order it, you’ll thank me later!

Speaking of makeup, maybe you’re taking a day trip and don’t want to bring your entire bag of products along in your tote. Pocket Palette, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, is an amazing solution. Each Palette comes with single-use portions of mascara, lip/cheek stain, and BB cream so that you can easily apply touchups and then toss the empty packaging once you’re done! Read more about the product in this post–it’s available on Amazon Prime and makes a great stocking stuffer.

As I mentioned last week, I recently saw Michelle Obama speak in DC and loved every second, so now I need to scoop up her book (it’s on my Christmas list!) to complete my Michelle experience. Regardless of your preferred genre, bringing a book (or several) on vacation is a must! Even if you don’t end up reading more than a few chapters, it’s way cheaper to find something ahead of time than pay $20 for an airport hardback that you’ll never look at again. I always do a ton of reading when I’m down in Florida and assume this time will be no different!

I’m weird and basically live in sunglasses but find that many of my friends forget to pack them when we travel! This tortoiseshell pair is super cheap on Amazon and may be calling my name…I’ve ordered other pairs of sunnies on Amazon and have been suprisingly happy with the quality.

Ok, moccasins aren’t an essential, but they’re such a fun luxury to have on hand when traveling. Wear them on the plane to keep your feet cozy or bring them to walk around the Airbnb.

I always travel with some kind of bar just because you never know where you’ll be when hunger strikes! I often eat Rx bars for breakfast or as an afternoon snack when I want something that’s filling enough without being overpowering. The mint chocolate chip flavor is my personal favorite!

Lastly, I always like packing a reusable bag with me when I travel in case I accumulate extra items on the trip (which is even more likely during the holiday season!). Stash one in your purse or suitcase without sacrificing valuable space.

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Staying on Top of Workouts During the Holidays

Regardless of whether you’re a dedicated gym goer or more of a once a week workout kind of person, it can be extra difficult to keep up with your routine around the holidays. I was always really good at logging gym time this time of year in college because working out was a great study break as I prepped for final exams! But with work, a commute, and social/freelance obligations after hours, I’ve been struggling more sticking to a real gym schedule as an adult. With holiday parties starting to pop up on my calendar, I want to make sure I can squeeze in workouts without missing out on the fun stuff–and fun food! I’m a firm believer in everything in moderation, so I’d rather go to a party and eat (essentially) whatever I want and have a blast than deprive myself and complain about doing so all night (it’s always such a downer when people do this anyway…). Knowing I’ll get a workout in the next day makes me feel better about diving head first into the cheese plate!

So, how can you stay on track during the most wonderful time of the year?

1) Do a workout that doesn’t feel like a chore. ‘Tis the season for all things fun, after all, so don’t burden yourself with a less than desirable workout. For me, music is everything, and I’ll pick a spin class based on the playlist. A lot of studios do classes centered around certain artists or genres, which is always extra energizing–bad music can really ruin what would otherwise be a good workout class experience! Stay on top of the schedules at your favorite studios to make sure you don’t miss these kinds of classes.

2) Make it social. Find a friend or coworker and go to the gym together and then make it fun by treating yourself to salads or smoothie bowls after (or be extra festive and swing by a holiday market or put on a Hallmark movie to watch together). You can still be social after work while crossing a workout off of your to-do list!

3) Do a free trial class while on vacation. No need to pay for an overpriced class when you can use a local studio for free or at a discount, wherever you may be traveling. I’ve found some fun spin places in Florida that are much more affordable than the ones in DC, even after the free trial class is over, but be sure to take advantage of newcomer deals if you’re traveling somewhere for the holidays!

4) Walk around town. You need to do your holiday shopping and errands anyway, so if the weather isn’t too miserable, make a point to go on foot (until you’re carrying too many bags to walk comfortably!). Alternatively, take a 30-45 minute walk around your neighborhood while photographing all of the adorable Christmas decorations!

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5) Try a new location. Even if you’re staying in town for the holiday season, you can still try a new studio to give yourself an extra dose of motivation. I used a friend’s gym in her apartment building the other week (where she snapped the super blurry photo of me above, haha…excuse how silly it looks but I don’t have a roll of pics of me working out and didn’t want to go photo-less!) and went on machines I hadn’t used in months. It was nice to switch things up and felt rejuvinating to be working out in a new environment (with new people watching, too!).

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Gift Guide: Travel-Friendly Items

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No weird shapes or consistencies, or bulky sizes here…these gifts are perfect to pack in a suitcase if you’re heading out of town for the holidays. I’m actually done with my holiday shopping for my family and have had all of their presents packed up in a suitcase for a few weeks (#typeA) so that it will be easy to grab and go when I travel down to Florida (thank goodness that Southwest lets travelers check a bag for free!). I tried to be strategic when picking items for this list since sure, it’s technically possible to travel with a candle, but the last few times I’ve done this (yes, I buy candles as souvenirs a lot!), I’ve gotten stopped by security because they were baffled by the container during the x-ray! It’s important to think about both how you will transport your gifts but also how the recipient will bring them back home if they’re also traveling–don’t burden someone with an item that will force them to buy an extra suitcase, for example! Below are some things I love that are travel-friendly.

State coasters: I love these because they’re thoughtful and practical but also super portable and will take up next to no room in a suitcase.

Coffee table book: This is a bit bigger but not impossible to transport back and forth if you place it at the bottom of a suitcase.

Makeup: While it would be difficult to travel with certain beauty products without checking a bag, eye shadow is easy to travel with and is generally a crowd-pleaser.

Sweater: A cozy sweater is perfect for them to lounge in on Christmas morning–this one has gotten great reviews!

Hair ties: I swear by this type of hair tie because they’re heavy-duty and last forever.

Wine bottle stopper: Pick up a bottle of their favorite red when you land and wrap it with the stopper for a festive gift they can use right away. (If you’re checking a bag and can pop in a bottle of wine, I like the Mullan Road Cellars Red Blend (the company kindly sent me a bottle last week but opinions are purely my own!). It’s on the pricier side but would make a thoughtful gift for a wine lover who will appreciate it’s rich taste (this isn’t your average two buck chuck, trust me!). I’m not generally picky about wine but know a good blend when I taste one and this was a crowd-pleaser among my friends, too!

Ring dish: This blue and white dish is cute and useful with an inspiring message.

Pom pom beanie: Lightweight to carry but stylish to receive = a great gift in my book!

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Gift Guide: Experiences

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While it may require more advance planning, gifting an experience rather than a traditional wrapped gift can be a great way to change things up and help the recipient make memories even after the holiday season has passed. An experience gift doesn’t need to be anything super fancy, either–I would consider subscription boxes to fall into this category, for example, because they’re a gift that keeps giving into the new year. A friend once gave me a three-month Birchbox subscription and it was the sweetest thing because it’s something that I wouldn’t have necessarily bought for myself and it made me think of her every time a new box arrived (which was extra special because she had moved overseas by then and we couldn’t communicate as frequently as we did before).

I’ve done some brainstorming and compiled a list of experience gifts that have caught my eye lately!

If you’re in the DC area…

Jen Sincero talk: I love going to events at Sixth and I, a synagogue in downtown DC. I was fortunate enough to see Mari Andrew speak there last spring and it was a full house! In November, I purchased a ticket to see Liane Moriarty talk about her latest book but then had a work trip pop up, so my mom went in my place and absolutely loved the talk and the atmosphere–honestly, getting out of the house and going to an event downtown is so energizing, even if you think you’ll be too tired to make the trek after a long day. And in January, Katie, Laura, and I are going to see the U Up podcast hosts IRL and we cannot wait! Seeing Jen Sincero speak is also on my list, and tickets are under $20 (I just don’t want to book too far in advance until I have a better sense of my January schedule!). A ticket to this talk would make a great gift for the badass woman in your life. Pair it with a copy of You are a Badass or You are a Badass at Making Money, and you’re all set!

Winery day: I have been itching to do a winery day with friends in Northern Virginia forever and this would be an adorable gift idea for a mom, sister, or close friend. Pick up a bottle of her favorite wine (whether it’s local or not) and explain that you’d love to treat her to a day of tastings once the weather warms up. I don’t know much about the VA wineries (I’ve only been to Barrel Oak), but Katie has some great roundups on her blog that will help steer you in the right direction!

Carole King Musical: Carole King’s Beautiful is in DC! This is one you’ll have to jump on in advance since most of the showings are before Christmas, but it would make a great early holiday gift nonetheless! I have heard amazing things about Beautiful and love all of Carole King’s music (as does my mom!), so this would be a fun experience gift to enjoy together. My parents got me tickets to Legally Blonde the Musical for my 16th birthday and it’s a memory that I cherish to this day!

Regardless of where you live…

Workout classes: Yes, I consider Soul Cycle to be an experience, haha. My friends and I love asking for class packs for the holidays because they’re a practical but much appreciated gift–spin classes are expensive! It also feels great to jump back on the workout wagon after a food and drink-filled holiday season, and prepaid classes make the experience that much better. Any exercise fanatic in your life will be super grateful for something like this, whether they love spin, barre, yoga, etc!

Airbnb reservation: This is a more luxurious gift that requires a little bit more planning, but if you can swing it (maybe for a sibling or significant other), it would be so thoughtful! Book an Airbnb in a town the two of you have been hoping to visit and then enjoy planning a weekend getaway together in the new year. I’ve been wanting to stay at this Airbnb for AGES and am determined to make it happen! 😉

Cooking class: One of my friends bought tickets to take a cooking class with her mom a few years ago, and I know people who have done similar things for their spouses to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, etc. It’s always fun to do an interactive activity with someone and cooking is extra enjoyable because you and sit down and enjoy a meal together after the instructional portion of the class is over. Bon Appetit!

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Gift Guide: For the Gift Exchange

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I have a few gift exchanges coming up this year–one for my office, and one for my new book club. The office one is a white elephant and is going to be super laid back and simple–there’s a $10 max spend, and it will be a fun way to celebrate the holidays as a team before we leave for break (yes, we have a designated break this year and get the week between Christmas and New Years off, which is super nice!). The book club one will involve a larger group of all women, and again, rather than being assigned to a specific person, we each will be bringing a wrapped gift that (hopefully!) anyone in the room will love.

If you’re shopping for a similar occasion and don’t know what to bring, this guide of great gifts under $15 should help with your brainstorming! It can be tempting to resort to gift cards or chocolate, but going the extra mile to find a more meaningful item never goes unnoticed!

What to pick up…

Fun office supplies is generally a safe bet since it will likely get used (and not end up in a junk drawer somewhere) and add a little brightness to the recipient’s work day. I’ve always loved these Kate Spade paper clips! A desk-sized fold out calendar is also a cute yet practical choice.

At under $10, this Lilly Pulitzer journal is affordable and adorable–it seems like everyone always goes through notebooks in an instant!

An ornament-sized set of facial spray and lip balm is perfect for dry winter months.

This pair of lipsticks is only $10 and will get tons of use during holiday party season.

Grab a set of these wine gummies and bring one box to your gift exchange and use the others as stocking stuffers!

This pineapple keychain is cheap, trendy, and useful.

If you’re going for funny, this dinosaur chip and dip set is the gag gift that they’ll actually want.

This card case is under $10 and worth every penny.

A beer and food pairing towel is handy and decorative.

You can never go wrong with an infinity scarf.

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