Pie for Breakfast: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Pie for Breakfast: A Thanksgiving Tradition

For centuries, pie has been the encore performance of the Thanksgiving meal. Right around the time you're starting to deeply regret your decision not to wear pants with an elastic waistband, enter the delicious triangles, whipped and ripe for the forking.

There's just one problem. You're so full. You're. So. Full. Like any true American, you dig deep, grab a fork and find a way to shovel it in. (Because everyone knows if you don't pie, the terrorists win.)

A couple years ago, my extended family decided to rock the gravy boat. As a pie-loving people, it came to their attention that we were not honoring pies by making them the afterthought of the meal. Pies are good. Pies are great. Pies deserved to be the star of their own show. And just like that: the PIE FOR BREAKFAST tradition was born.

Here is how PFB works: Wake up -- > gather with family in pajama pants to partake in pie eating and drinking of champagne --> go home to put on real clothes/finish cooking your assigned dishes/pie-induced nap --> reconvene for Thanksgiving meal later in afternoon.

Pie now has a rightful place of honor as the starter to a full day of celebrating. Even the dogs get to partake.

pie for dogs
pie for dogs

This year, I invite you to join us in this unusual, if not a little irreverent, Thanksgiving tradition. If I'm being honest (and a little sentimental), it really is  a perfect way to kick off a day whose hours tend to get whisked away in a flurry of dinging timers, centerpieces and place settings. Plus, I'm pretty sure it's a scientifically-proven fact that it's impossible to not feel great about the world when you're eating pie and sipping champagne surrounded by your loved ones.

Ernestine Ulmer once said, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." From my spirited clan to yours, Thanksgiving is crazy. Eat pie for breakfast. 

In honor of Pie for Breakfast, I shall now pass on my personal pie recipe, Good Girl/Bad Girl Pie. One part sweet, one part tart, this is the perfect recipe for anyone who simply can't choose between apple and cherry. Prepare for all your piecurious fantasies to come true.

GGBG Pie 

INGREDIENTS

CRUST One frozen crust. (If you are into crusting from scratch, a quick google should provide plenty of recipes. Good luck with that, you crusty masochist.)

FILLING 1-2 cans tart cherries, drained (not cherry pie filling) 3 tart apples, peeled and sliced (I use granny smiths, but feel free to go wild) 1/2 cup sugar 2 T. flour 2 t. cinnamon 1 t. nutmeg pinch of ground cloves

TOPPING 3/4 cup oatmeal 3/4 cup brown sugar 3/4 cup flour 6 T. butter, chilled and cubed 3 t. cinnamon

DIRECTIONS Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine cherries, apples and dry filling ingredients in a bowl. Stir and spoon into crust.

In another bowl, mix together topping flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter cubes using your hands to blend the butter into the dry mixture. If the mixture is excessively greasy, add more flour. If mixture is too dry, cut in more butter. Lightly pack topping over the filling and place pie on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. Bake pie until topping is golden (approximately 35 minutes. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Reduce oven temperature to 350F. Continue baking until apples in center of pie are tender when pierced with a fork and filling is bubbly and thick at pie edges (approximately 25-35 minutes). Cool and serve.

If you want to get extra crazy, drizzle with some salted caramel bourbon sauce.

Craving something more? Enjoy one of my favorite holiday articles ever, 20 Guests, 19 Pies. 

Citizen Cray

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I scored my first post-collegiate job working in government communications for an affluent suburb of Columbus. It was a great job. While most of my friends were busy fetching coffee and frantically filing for eight hours a day, I was photographing parades, pinch hitting city council meetings and occasionally riding along with police officers. (Hel-lo uniforms!) Not a bad gig for a twenty-something.

Our department consisted of a small (but mighty) team of two. My boss and I were a dynamic duo. We managed everything from press releases to employee appreciation gigs, media requests to website management to citywide special events. We also took all the weird calls.

Let me explain what I mean by that. In a city of 30,000+ residents, we were the two people responsible for handling all the calls, issues and problems other departments couldn't -- or wouldn't. And no matter how bewildering, asinine or just-plain-insane, we had to do it with a smile.

If you've never worked in government, it's easy to dismiss this as no big deal. Like you, I assumed the worst thing I would face might be complaints about potholes or the timeliness of snow removal. Wrong. So wrong.

NBC's Parks & Rec came along at the tail end of my municipal government career, but I've been a loyal viewer since episode one. Their writers have captured the true depths of muni government insanity with such accuracy it regular blows my mind. My favorite scenes -- by far -- are the "citizen comments" moments in any given meeting episode.

I recently stumbled across a compilation of said comments, and pretty much want to fist bump whoever came up with these.

Everyone laughs, tickled by the craziness of the hyperbole. Those of us who have been through the muni government experience  laugh for a different reason: it's funny 'cause it's true. It's funny because it's not really exaggerated at all. It's funny because it's our daily reality.

My single regret of the time I spent government is that I didn't write down every "WTF" call and conversation I had over the years. Rarely did a day go by that someone didn't give me a reason to wonder is this real life? But a few of the classic hits have stuck with me.

Today I share them with you: 

Caller: Yes. I'd like to make a complaint. I was just driving down X Street and noticed that [new BBQ restaurant] smells too much like BBQ. What are you going to do about it?

Caller: I was just running through [park with pond] and there are geese everywhere. There's goose poop all over. It's getting stuck in the tread of my shoes. I noticed the fire station is next door. I thought you might have them spray the geese with the fire hose. Not enough to harm them, mind you. Just enough to warn them it's time to move on. 

(Note: According to the internet, water exits a firehose at roughly 30 to 80 mph. I'm not mathematician, but accordingly to my calculations if a train leaves Boston at 3:45 p.m. traveling at speeds of 30-80 mph, those geese are so dead.)

Caller: I'm appalled that the city is letting [upscale boutique] promote promiscuity by selling panties. There are mannequins in their front window wearing lacy undergarments. That's just indecent! 

(Note: To this day I still wonder about her logic. If people are buying underwear doesn't that mean they are wearing underwear? And really, isn't wearing underwear the exact opposite of indecent?)

Caller: What's the number to a paint store?

Caller: I'm finding feces on my lawn!! Someone is letting their dog defecate on my lawn!! I only have a small dog and this is large feces, so I know it's not my dog. I'd like the health department to DNA test the feces and tell me what breed of dog is defecating on my lawn. 

Caller: Where is the ice cream man!?!??
Me: Pardon?
Caller: I can hear him, but I can't see him. WHERE IS HE?
Me: Um, unfortunately we wouldn't have that information.
Caller: I know you know his route now tell me where he is!! He's not coming down our street and that's discrimination.
Me: Ma'am, I'm sorry, we only issue vendor licenses. We wouldn't have his route.
Caller: I'm calling [local news program] to report you for withholding public information.

Various callers: I need an officer sent to my house because:

  • There's a bat in my house.
  • There's a dragonfly in my house.
  • My toddler won't listen to me.

20 (More) Columbus Instagrammers You Should Be Following

20 (More) Columbus Instagrammers You Should Be Following

20 best columbus instagram instagrammers

20 best columbus instagram instagrammers

A few months ago, I shared a post featuring the 20 Columbus Instagrammers You Should Be Following. If you know anything about Columbus, it should come as no surprise that what followed was a stream of suggestions about who should have been included on the list. (We've got no shortage of creative talent + local love.) In other words, there's too much goodness for just one list. So this is list #2.

Anyone can take a photo, but not everyone is a visual storyteller. Much like the first group of instagrammers, the 20 people you'll meet below have a passion and a gift for consistently telling the story of Columbus (and Ohio) through the beautiful, thoughtful images they snap and share.

WLL

WLL

Lauren Blake // @wholelivinglauren There was  time I regarded "whole living" as nibbling on nuts and leafy greens like some sort of giant rabbit. Lauren's endless feed of "whole livinspiration" has proven me wrong. Very, very wrong. 

cbuscoffee

cbuscoffee

Columbus Coffee Experience // @cbuscoffeeWho needs to wake up and smell the coffee when you can wake up, tap into Instagram and scroll the coffee?

cheer up press

cheer up press

Cheer Up Letterpress & Design // @cheeruppressFACT: Real mail makes people happy. This feed is a constant street of paper porn (of the SFW variety) that lives up to the promise of its cheer-inducing name.

mission coffee

mission coffee

Mission Coffee Co. // @missioncoffeeco I have an inexplicable aversion to hot liquids, which prevents me from being a coffee drinker. But if I were, this is where I'd be sipping my days away, one beautiful, perfectly-lit, topped-with-a-foamy-work-of-art cup at a time.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.32.38 PM

DeliciOhio // @deliciohio You know that unspoken Thanksgiving rule in which an entire nation agrees to embrace the imminent binge and gorge...because FOOD? DelicOhio puts the "feed" in "instagram feed."  Enjoy a Columbus-inspired visual gorge...with none of the calories and zero need to don your favorite fat pants.

farm fresh therapy

farm fresh therapy

Chelsea Mohrman // @farmfreshtherapyIf I were inviting one Instagrammer to come decorate my home for me, it would be Chelsea of @farmfreshtherapy. One part simple beauty, one part unexpected delight, all parts crazy beautiful. Chelsea creates a world filled with marvels (both manmade and natural) that make you feel like you've just stepped into a magical storybook ...or the coolest store ever. 

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Taylor Riggs // @simplytaylorblogWhen the former @cravebytaylor fell off my Instagram feed, I was sad. When she reappeared as @simplytaylorblog, I was delighted. Taylor's photos will leave you with a serious case of breakfast envy...and a major side of puppy snuggles. I can't imagine a better combination than that. 

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Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.41.14 PM

Live Columbus // @livecolumbus Think of @LiveColumbus as a community within the community. Someone new has been taking over this account daily since October 31, 2014, which makes each new day kind of like turning the page in the story of Columbus and what life here means to the people who call this region home. 

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Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 11.47.50 PM

Amy Taylor // @ohiogood OhioGood is a celebration of all things Ohio -- with an emphasis on life in and around Columbus. From farmers markets to rural farms, the Short North to shortcake, if it's good and hails from Ohio...you'll find it here. 

rockswithsass

rockswithsass

Amanda Heslinga // @rockswithsass I have come to think of Amanda as Columbus' true "rock star." With beautiful work like this, it's not hard to see why. 

ohioexplored

ohioexplored

Ohio Explored // @ohioexplored Fly over state, eh? Your argument is invalid. And this is the Instagram account that's gonna prove you wrong.

columbus nutrition co

columbus nutrition co

Sarah Crock // @columbusnutritionco Forget what you think you know about boring ol' health food. Sarah's feed is photo proof that healthy eating can be wonderful tasty...and profoundly beautiful. 

1820 house

1820 house

1820 House Candle Co. // @1820house With a scent offering that includes tomato vine, roasted coffee bean and French baguette, these candles should be at the top of every localvores Columbus holiday giving list.  

porketta

porketta

Por'ketta // @porkettacbus Sorry vegetarians, you're missing out. Not only does this local food truck produce some drool-worthy culinary creations, they're hugely active on Instagram and big supporters of other Columbus instagrammers.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 11.05.25 PM

Derrick Linn // @marsder Meet Columbus' tiniest residents. They're always up to something (and half teh time, it's a fairly sassy something...) 

tizara

tizara

Tina // @tizara Tina's photos stop time for a single, precious, awe-inspiring frame, creating a feed that proves there's a world of difference between seeing and savoring our moments.  

400 west rich market

400 west rich market

400 Market // @400market Arguably the hippest farmer's market in the most up-and-coming hood in Columbus, 400 Market has shared a season of sneak peeks behinds the scenes at Franklinton's local gem.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 11.42.34 PM

Megan Hogan // @_mgnhgn There are creative people...and then there are creative people. You know, the kind of people who seem to leave a trail of color and wonder and glitter and inspiration in their wake wherever they go. Megan is the latter. Bonus? Her spirit and endlessly positive message are just as beautiful as her art. 

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Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 11.57.02 PM

Best of the Menu // @bestofthemenu Not sure what you're in the mood for? Tired of the same old places? Feeling a rising swell of hanger? Never fear. Your taste buds have just met their match. 

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Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 12.20.52 AM

Amy Taylor, @amyabtaylor Shameless self promotion! Hi. I'm Amy, the human behind WriteHuman.com. (I'm also the human behind @OhioGood.) You can follow me on Instagram @ohiogood + @amyabtaylor. Have someone you'd like to nominate as a Columbus Instagrammer to follow? Leave their IG handle in a comment below or email me

>>> CLICK HERE TO TWEET THIS POST <<<

Who would you add to the list?

A Farewell to Friend

A Farewell to Friend

2014 was the first time in my life that a friend silently slipped off the radar and into friendship oblivion. I guess I can't really complain. At 33, I was probably due for a big friend fallout. But this wasn't just a friend; this was a really good friend. This was the kind of friend I spent holidays with when I couldn't get home to my family. The kind of friend I lovingly referred to as a "sister from another mister." The kind of friend who was  one of the funnest -- and funniest -- people I've ever known. The kind of friend whose absence hasn't gone unnoticed. And I'm not gonna lie: it has been both hard and horrible.

In my mind's version of the story there wasn't a specific moment where things went wrong. It was more of a slow fizzle. I moved back to Ohio after an extended period of time working out-of-state and we seemed to pick back up where we had left off. A few months later, once eagerly-embraced lunch invites were getting pushed off never to be rescheduled.

At first, I tried to blame it on the age old struggle between Camp Parent and Camp Freebird. I didn't have any skin in the game when it came to Brownie gossip or ballet recitals. She had obligations and a spouse who presumably frowned on standing Wine Wednesdays. But the reality is that I have many busy parent friends. Despite the seeming differences in lifestyles, when a relationship is important to the people on both sides...you find a middle ground. Each side bends a little. You adapt and find a way.

There have been times over the past few months when I've wanted to send my friend a letter. Sometimes I'm curious to know what happened. Sometimes I'm tempted to rant for pages about how disappointed I am. Whenever I start to type, I stop myself. I stop myself because I realize whatever the case or response or reason, I'm writing to a stranger and chasing the ghost of a friendship that has already slipped away.

I recently read a post on this topic, and the author's words really hit home:

Losing a friend is very much like a break-up, in the sense that any form of interaction that you have with that person in the future will never be the same again. No matter how much either of you try, once you have crossed that line of inescapable complications and incompatibility, everything that you shared with each other will slowly deteriorate, until ultimately letting go is the only option left.

The thing about us is that we are fixers. We are the ‘Bob the Builders’ of our own lives, and it gets pretty devastating once we find ourselves in a position where the answer to "Can we fix it?" is “No, we can’t.”

Perhaps there is a point in certain friendships -- a point at which we stop seeing things -- and each other -- clearly. A point at which we believe ourselves to be patching everything together, but in reality we're just making a mess of things. As children, it's easy to know when to call it quits. The summer sun threatens to set, your mother's voice finds you beckoning to pack it in. Things get slightly more difficult in adulthood. We can eat when we want and the sun no longer tells us what to do and when. There are no rule books or guide maps for this. As grownups, we're the captains of our own sailing and sinking ships. Sometimes we surface to find ourselves the lone survivor of something we once believed invincible. Sometimes we're left standing on a shore of silent wreckage, clutching memories as the sole surviving souvenirs of a one-time forever friend.

I miss you friend. I hope your heart is happy. 

Build a Workforce, Not a Workplace

Build a Workforce, Not a Workplace

Remote employee. Telecommuter. Satellite human. Whatever you call it, there seems to be a lot of conversation going on about the evolution of the workplace – and the workforce – of the future. So much so, in fact, that what began as an idea for a single blog post has evolved into a blog mini-series. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be sharing insights, thoughts and data on remote employment in four parts:

  1. The Flexible Future: Why You Should Focus on Building a Workforce Not a Workplace
  2. I Swear I’m Wearing Pants: Misconceptions About Remote Employment and Employees
  3. From the Mouths of Managers: Advice and Insights on Making Remote Work for Your Company
  4. Welcome to Home Office Depot: Tools, Tricks and Tips of the Trade

So let’s begin.

In the two years since I started working remotely for my agency, a lot has changed in the business world. I’ve gone from being an anomaly to one of the millions of Americans making it happen from wherever we happen to be. And while I recognize that certain industries tend to be a little more embracing of this new trend, I find it refreshing that the general conversation has evolved from, “WHAT. YOU WORK FROM HOME? HOW DOES THAT WORK?” to “I’m remote, too. Don’t you love it?” The “worker bees in fake pants” have become our own tribe of new normal. And it’s catching on fast.

A Look at the Data

34 million Americans worked from home in 2013. That number is predicted to reach a staggering 63 million – 43 percent of the total U.S. workforce – by 2016.

That’s right. Almost half of the workforce is expected to work from home by the end of next year. While that figure may be a wee bit optimistic, there’s no denying that we are seeing a swift evolution in focus from workplace to workforce. Companies are eagerly embracing the understanding that in order to compete and thrive, they need to build a team of top talent – not just a team that shares an office space. From the employee side, work-life integration is taking precedence, turning flexibility into the ultimate employment perk.

An annual survey conducted last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found a greater increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting in 2014 than those offering just about any other new benefit. While there are surely a multitude of factors prompting companies to embrace remote options, a few of the biggest motivating factors are:

Remote options retain current talent. When it comes to top talent, poaching is the name of the game. There is always someone dangling a carrot offering more money, more plentiful perks or a better deal. In 2014, employees received an average raise of only three percent from their employers. Given the cost of inflation, that pans out to approximately one percent in additional spending power. However, if an employee opts to leave their current employer and accept a position with a new company, they can expect an average 20 percent increase in salary. That’s a pretty enticing difference.

The numbers vary slightly, but the average cost to replace an employee who quits ranges anywhere from 50-150% of their salary. And that figure doesn’t take into account the hit to established client relationships, workflow and the brand reputation. (Think people don’t notice when your agency/company is a revolving door? They do. They really do.) ZenWorkplace.com says it well: “If your company has thousands of dollars that it can just light on fire at the next office BBQ, then maybe you don’t really need to invest in employee retention. But my guess is that the vast majority of companies are simply not in that position. It costs less to retain than it does to replace.”

Moves happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes even the happiest employee has got to go (spouse relocation, caring for aging parents, etc.). But relocating doesn’t have to be synonymous with leaving a company and job you love. (That’s bad for the company and bad for the person.) Remote employment options open door to alternate arrangements that are good for employees and good for business. Employment becomes less about where you are – and more about that special something you bring to the business. (Fun Fact: Remote employees reported higher levels of happiness and were found to be 50 percent less likely to quit than their peers.)

Remote options attract prospective talent. Similarly, remote employment options allow companies to tap into and attract a much wider pool of prospective talent. Chances are, the best applicants for a given position don’t live in your backyard – or even in your zip code. For companies that physically exist in smaller, rural areas, this challenge is even greater. The smaller the city, the smaller the talent pool, which can prove to be especially challenging when it comes to recruiting, attracting and hiring applicants with highly-specialized skill sets.

When your company considers only local talent, you’re hiring for geography, not skill set. I challenge you to find a single case study where being in the same location proved a greater contributor to a company’s success than the passion and talent the team brought to the table.

Remote lowers overhead costs. As part of its BlueWork program, American Express conducts an employee survey, which helps assign employees to one of four categories: Hub, Club, Roam and Home. “Hub” employees’ work requires a fixed desk, and their presence in the office every day.  “Club” employees have flexible roles that involve in-person and virtual meetings; they have the opportunity to share time between the office and other locations. Those in the “Home” category are based from home offices – set up with assistance from the company – on three or more days per week. “Roam” employees are almost always on the road or at customer sites, and seldom work from an American Express office. The BlueWork program has delivered not only improved worker productivity but also saved between $10- $15 million annually in real estate costs, the company says. [source]

So now that we’ve covered a few of the benefits of remote workplace options, let’s talk about some of the struggles. On Thursday I will be sharing a post about misconceptions and misperceptions about remote employment and being a remote employee. In order to prep for the post, I threw the question out to remote employees in my social network. Here were a few of the responses I received regarding the things people have said to them:

“That when you are not in the office you are taking the day off.”

“That it means you either have to work from home or coffee shop.”

“That it’s difficult to keep in touch with co-workers, access files, etc.”

“That you never see your coworkers or talk to them.”

“That you can’t possibly be putting in 8 hours a day at home.”

“That you work in a bubble of isolation.”

“That you must get nothing done.”

“That you are lazy, haven’t showered in two weeks and only wear pajamas. Pajamas? No, sir. Yoga pants? Well, yes.”

Curious. What comes to mind when YOU think about remote employment and employees? 

The Quintessential Cancun Packing List

The Quintessential Cancun Packing List

Historically, I was never a good luggage packer. Case and point: I went to Italy for 10 days in the mid-2000s and took two full suitcases weighing in at just under 80 pounds. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to do lots more traveling. Whether by necessity (or sheer laziness), I have managed to tighten up my packing routine upon accepting that there is never a reason to take nine pairs of shoes on any vacation.

Prompted by a recent trip to Mexico, I felt compelled to put together this Quintessential Cancun Packing List. Be advised: this isn't an exhaustive list, it's a list of items I found most useful, helpful and handy during our week abroad. (You're on your own when it comes to determining how many pairs of underwear to pack.) I hope you find it helpful! Feel free to leave a comment with any additional suggestions or questions. (And if you're looking for an amazing place to stay in Playa del Carmen, I can't say enough nice things about The Royal Hideaway Playacar. Pure perfection.)

TO THE LIST! 

CATEGORY I: CLOTHES

Swimsuits Assuming you vacation like most of the coastal Mexico-going population, you're going to end up spending the majority of your days in a swimsuit, basking in the sun. Take more swimsuits than you think you'll need. I would a recommend a minimum of three swimsuits for a week-long vacation so you can hand wash, line dry and rotate as needed.

Swimsuit cover up A pretty swimsuit cover up comes in handy when your skin needs a break from the rays, you want to do a casual lunch or cringe at the thought of parading from the pool to your room baring all for the world to see. One of my best pre-trip purchases turned out to be a pair of black, stretch, wide-leg palazzo pants I scored a few days before our trip.

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Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.13.43 AM

$50 from AE

Tank tops I would be nothing without my Old Navy Perfect Fit Ribbed Tanks. Well, I would be something...and that something is naked. These are a go-to staple of my daily wardrobe at home and transitioned nicely into vacation. They roll, pack and travel well, and can serve as staple daytime pieces or nighttime pajama tops. Bonus: Their tanks comes in TALL...and are actually long enough for tall-girl torsos!

Maxi Dresses Maxi dresses are a beach-going girl's best friend. I packed a variety ranging from classic black to bright, bold patterns and they served me well throughout the trip, both day and night. Many resort restaurants have dress codes, so be sure to check with yours and pack appropriately. We found that maxis offered the perfect combo of comfort and class for our nights out.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 12.03.24 PM
pashminashawl_turquoise
pashminashawl_turquoise

Scarf/Shawl Depending on the time of year you visit Mexico, you may be surprised to find that temps dip when the sun goes down. (Restaurants also keep the air cranked low for the comfort diners.) I got a lot of use out of a light scarf/shawl/wrap I brought along. You can pick up similar versions in a variety of colors on ebay, typically for well under $10.

$_35
$_35

Large Sun Hat "I'm not a hat person," you say. Well, neither am I. And you're going to have to get over it. As much as I love those unfiltered, equatorial rays, a large sun hat is an essential to surviving the Mexican sun. You'll be able to easily spot those who ignored and resisted this advice by the pain, suffering and scarlet red they're sporting across their face/neck for the duration of their trip. We typically freely soaked up sun (slathered in sunscreen, of course) between sunrise and 1 p.m., donning hats after lunch when the rays got super intense.  Realizing I will only wear a floppy hat on the beach (and never again in my "normal" life), I was pleased to discover you can score some super deals (under $10) on ebay. Just be sure to allow at least a month for shipping, as many of these lovelies are coming on a slow boat from China (literally). $4.66 on ebay

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$_35-1
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$_35-2
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il_570xN.427539560_iwos

Jewelry Leave your good stuff at home. In all likelihood, you'll be spending a great deal of your time outdoors, in the pool, on the beach or in the ocean. Keep the accessories and accoutrements simple and pretty. $22 on etsy 

CATEGORY II: BEAUTY 

Sunscreen Pack sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. Pack way more than you think you'll need ... in a higher SPF than you think you'll want. (Seriously. Even then it may still not prove to be enough.) While most resorts do sell sunscreen, most travelers aren't keen on paying $15+ a bottle. We went through several bottles of SPF 50 during our time in Mexico -- and still came home so tan we looked orange. Be sure to take lotion sunscreen and leave the spray sunscreen at home. We found that the spray stuff was no match for "gentle" ocean breezes. Whatever you do, don't forget to also pick up a lip SPF! Lip burns suck. 

Be forewarned: if you plan on doing any ecotourism (cenotes diving or snorkeling) while you're in Mexico, you'll want to look into rules and regulations before you go. Many protected zones forbid the use of non-biodegradable sunscreen. Similarly, we had heard rumors about April through August being prime "sea lice" (jellyfish larvae) season. Though we had no problems resulting from our snorkel, the ocean was too rough for us to do much ocean swimming throughout the rest of our trip. Several people recommended picking up a bottle of Safe Sea to avoid stings/bites, so if you're planning to bank a lot of ocean time, it may be worth looking into.

Moisturizer Bring along a good moisturizer to replenish your skin after a day spent in the sun. Not only will it make parched skin happy, it will help lock in and preserve your tan.

Cleansing Wipes I never leave home without a pack of cucumber cleansing wipes in my bag. From hand washing to face cleansing to snorkel sterilizing (see below section on snorkels), these little guys came in super handy throughout our trip. The cucumber also offered a welcome, cooling refresher in the midst of the midday heat.

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12196303

Dry Shampoo Ladies: leave the curling rod and straightener at home. Take the dry shampoo. My hair loved the wind, salt and humidity in Mexico. It has never looked better (with virtually zero effort). My advice is don't bother fighting the elements, and instead embrace the beachy-ness. But keep a bottle of this spray magic on hand for those moments when you need a quick cleanup and boost.  (A note of caution: This bottle is just-barely too big to be stashed in a carry-on bag. I lost an entire can coming back through security in Cancun and it made me very sad. Be sure to pack it in a suitcase so your dry shampoo doesn't suffer an equally dismal fate.)

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Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 12.49.56 PM

Cosmetics I'm a firm believer that there is no makeup more beautiful than the natural glow that follows a day spent basking in the sun. A couple coats of mascara and a lip gloss were all I need to transition from day to eve.

Anti-Diarrheal Medicine  It seems like everyone has a story about a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who was stricken by intestinal disaster while traveling in Mexico. Perhaps we just got really lucky (more likely: our resort was just that good), but no one in our group had any kind of GI issues on our trip. (And we even ate off-resort the afternoon of our snorkel excursion.) Having said that, it can't hurt to pack a little Imodium, if only for peace of mind. The only thing worse than vacation diarrhea is being stuck indoors with vacation diarrhea.

CATEGORY III: MISCELLANEOUS

Cash (in one-dollar US bills) Bring a couple hundred dollars in US one-dollar bills for tipping. (I blew through mine in five days, so scale accordingly.) Assuming you're parking it at an all-inclusive, you should still be tipping and tipping generously at every opportunity. (You're never going to meet people who work harder or are more deserving.) Our concierge informed us that staff prefers tips in US dollars, so there is really no need to convert to pesos unless you have some burning desire to carry around a wad of foreign money.

There are a million websites that will advise on proper tipping amounts. My only insights on this matters are as follows:

  • Tipping at meals: Even at an all-inclusive, when eating a five-course meal it feels insulting to leave a tip of a few dollars (I saw people do it. Ugh!) -- especially when the level of service and attention you're receiving is exceptional. For dinners and fancier meals, we felt it was more appropriate to tip what we would have expected to tip had we paid for the meal in the United States.
  • Tipping for drinks: Around the pool, we tipped a couple bucks per drink. Our poolside waiter was amazing throughout our trip, so we decided to also leave him a big tip on our final day. Some people suggest handing out a big tip upon arrival in order to "get better service," but we wanted our tip to be a token of gratitude for exceptional service and attention -- not an incentive. On a similar note, don't forget to occasionally walk up to the bar to tip the bartenders, as well. They're working hard back there!
  • Tipping for housekeeping: I left a few bucks for housekeeping twice a day (daytime cleaning and turndown service.) Be sure to tip daily (rather than one big chunk at the end of your trip) as maids rotate, and you'll likely receive service from different people throughout your stay.
  • Tipping for transport (airport to Playa del Carmen): Our concierge suggested $20 is an appropriate tip amount for the driver for the Cancun to Playa trip. (45 min in a private van with six people.)
  • Tipping for activities: Don't forget to tip your hosts and driver if you head out on a snorkel/dive/adventure excursion.

Copies of your documents Be sure to pack copies of your documents (passport, driver's license, credit cards, health insurance card, etc.) should you lose something along the way. You'll also want copies of the customer service/help numbers for your credit cards. I took paper copies and left digital copies with a family member back home. In the event of an emergency, having copies of your documents can expedite the pain and suffering of trying to get your proverbial document ducks back in a row. You may also want to pack the location and phone number of the nearest U.S. Consulate, should you need to get in touch. (Or consider registering your trip through the Smart Traveler Program.)

Small Laundry Soap Next time we head down, I plan to take a small laundry soap so I can give my swimsuits a quick hand wash to get rid of the ocean and pool gunk and grime. (This trip I ended up washing them with shower gel...)

Plastic bags I packed a whole box of gallon-size plastic bags I picked up at the Dollar Tree before vacation. We ended up going through almost the entire box, using them for everything from stashing damp swimsuits on our last day to protecting cameras/iphones from sand and water in our beach bags. Also be sure to toss in a few larger bags (grocery or garbage) for dirty laundry and layering in suitcases.

Pen (blue or black) Pack a pen somewhere easily accessible for filling out customs forms on the plane before you arrive in Mexico and when you return to the United States.  (Also you might want to sneak a peak at a customs form before you have to fill it out.) Note to those traveling OUTSIDE of the US: pretty much everywhere else on the planet birthdate is entered as DD-MM-YY (rather than the American format: MM-DD-YY.) Be sure not to mess that up on your form! You'll also need to provide the address of your hotel/resort/accommodations on the form, so be sure to pack that in your carryon.

Luggage belt The arrivals/baggage claim area of the Cancun Airport was mayhem the morning we arrived. Anything you can do to differentiate your black suitcase from the hundreds of other black suitcases will expedite your wait at the carousel and get you on your way to enjoying vacation. (I'm a fan of these neon luggage belts!)

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51Y94hqdqYL._UX385_

$7 on Amazon

Snorkel If you plan on going on a snorkel excursion during your stay, it may be worth packing your own snorkel set (or at least the snorkel portion). We definitely had doubts about the sterilization of the "rented" snorkels -- and ended up using the aforementioned cucumber wipes to do our best impromptu cleaning. If you're weird about germs (or the thought of shoving a mouthpiece a stranger has been sucking on in your own mouth) -- maybe invest in a snorkel of your own and bypass the vacation heebeejeebies. There are tons for sale on Amazon available at varying price points.

ONE LAST TIP... If you're planning  to use a credit card or debit card while you're abroad, be sure to give your bank/credit card company a heads up before you depart. Without advance notice, many financial institutions will cut off access when you try to make a purchase abroad, assuming the card has been stolen. And that's no fun. (Some credit card companies have a place on their online portal where you can submit trip details and bypass having to make a call.)

{DIY} Vinegar + Steel Wool Stained Crate

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset I have always had an affinity for old things. I'm terribly at yoga-style meditation, but find a sort of silence, calm and peace from perusing the aisles of antique and thrift stores in search of secondhand stories. Several years ago, I bought an antique crate from the 1800s. My Dad helped me frame it up and turn it into the most amazing piece of furniture I own.

Alas, with the rise of Pinterest, vintage crates are in high demand these days. (And I can't quite bring myself to budget hundreds of dollars for wooden boxes.) Thankfully, I recently discovered a solution. (Quite literally -- a solution.)

The recipe is simple and uses two items you probably have in your home right now: white vinegar and steel wool. (You can also go further down the exploratory rabbit hole by adding tea bags to the mix.) There are hundreds of posts that share the how/what in great detail (here's a great one), so I'm going to provide the readers digest version.

1. Get something made of wood. In my case, a $10 pine crate from Michael's. You may want to lightly sand to get rid of any sticker goo or waxy coating. 2. Add white vinegar to a sealable jar. 3. Add a puff of steel wool to the vinegar in the jar. 4. Wait 48+ hours. (Longer seems to be better. I forgot about mine, went on vacation and came back two weeks later. Results will vary based on time of "soaking" and type of wood. The photos you're seeing in this post are the product of NO tea and two-week-old stain.) 5. (Optional) Steep some black tea and apply to wood item. The tannins the tea adds to the wood will supposedly alter the color, resulting in a "blacker" look. 6. Tarp off your area. (This stain will stain anything it touches, including concrete!) Apply your stain using a sponge brush.* 7. Marvel at how virgin wood is instantly transformed and takes on the appearance of some marvelous relic that has been hanging out in a barn for the last 80 years.

*I found I achieved the best results when swabbing on semi-haphazardly. You don't want this to look like a perfect paint job. You want it to take on the look of some history. I did a rough swab job, allowed drips to remain, applied additional layers, etc. This is one of those projects that seems to suggest the less strategy, the better the outcome.

Here's where I started... Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.19.36 PM

Here's where I ended up... Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset