Recipe: The Perfect Carrot Cake

Well, another week has begun – I hope you guys had a great Easter! It was so nice to have Friday off, it was a much-needed long weekend and I spent the day tying up loose ends with wedding stuff and working on the new website, which is coming soon! On Easter Sunday we had a little brunch at our house, just the two of us, then visited family for dinner. One of my favorite cakes EVER is carrot cake, so it felt appropriate to bring along for the Easter Bunny feast.

I prefer nuts and raisins in my carrot cake, but I left them out in case those weren't crowd pleasers. The cake was still awesome and didn't feel lacking, so it's just personal preference! I've adapted this from various recipes, and this is what works for me. I hope you try it and enjoy...it's delicious!

THE CAKE:

1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

6 eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (you can use all-purpose instead, this is just my variation)

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1 lb. finely-grated fresh carrots

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional but YES)

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but also YES)

THE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:

3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 Tbsp. clear vanilla extract (regular will yield more ivory frosting)

6 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a large bowl, combine flour and dry ingredients (spices, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and set aside. 

Mix oil, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla slowly and continue mixing. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until combined. 

Fold carrots into batter with a spatula just until combined, then add in nuts and raisins. Be careful not to over work the batter, just fold until combined.

Grease and flour two 9" cake pans, and pour batter evenly between the two. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Place pans on a wire rack and cool completely – this usually takes a couple hours, so now's the time to make your frosting. Before I frost the cake, though, I like to pop it in the fridge to chill down – a cold cake will be much easier to frost.

TO MAKE THE FROSTING:

In your stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract. Slowly add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, adding or subtracting based on desired thickness. You can add milk to thin the frosting, or add more powdered sugar to thicken it up.

TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE:

Carefully run a table knife between the cake and the pan to loosen the cake, then flip the pans upside down to release the cake. Using a sharp serrated bread knife, level off the rounded tops of the cake layers. Place your first layer on the plate or cake stand, followed with a big dollop of frosting in the center. Spread the frosting thickly and evenly across the layer – don't worry about it being perfectly smooth, just try to get it even. Spread from the middle of the layer out to the edges and slightly down the side. 

Add your second layer, centered on top of the first. Repeat the frosting process by starting with a large dollop on the top and work your way down the sides, filling and smoothing with an offset spatula. 

Check out this helpful video with instructions on how to achieve a smooth finish with your frosting. Carrot cake doesn't demand a lot of embellishment with the icing, so I made a few calligraphy flags to jazz up the cake for the holiday.

You can serve the cake right away or pop it in the fridge to cool down and set, which I like to do with cream cheese frosting. You'll want to store your cake in the fridge when you're not devouring it. And that's it! Pure carrot bliss.

Friday Links + Sephora Giveaway Winner

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you're all staying warm in these arctic temperatures. It's bitter cold outside so we definitely don't have any major plans this weekend (although Cleveland Restaurant Week starts today, so I might be tempted into attending)!

Most importantly, I'd like to announce the results from the Sephora gift card giveaway—the winner is Kayla Kelsey (@kaylaincle)! You'll be receiving an email from me shortly with the details of your prize. And it appears she's also a bride-to-be, so double congrats to you, Kayla!

Thank you all for entering and commenting about your skincare routines—I am such a product junkie and loved all of your recommendations. I've had a few questions about daily-use products, so I plan to do a follow-up post on that as well. In the meantime, I rounded up some tasty detox water recipes for anyone who's looking to spice up their water game. Enjoy!

1 | Raspberry Lemon water (Eat Drink Love)

2 | Lime Raspberry Mint water (Sammy and Bella) - I'd love to try this with basil!

3 | Cucumber Lemon Mint water (Sweet and Savory)

4 | Pineapple Sugarcane Spa water (A Spicy Perspective

5 | Cranberry Juice Detox drinks (Bembu)

Wedding Prep Skincare + Sephora Giveaway

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With our wedding slowly creeping up on us, I've been paying extra attention to keeping my skin healthy and happy. Besides my usual everyday products, I've been adding in some spa-worthy home treatments to up my game (and save me money on facials)! I definitely want to put my best face forward on our wedding day, so having a long-term, consistent routine will help me keep things balanced. I also try to get off on the right foot by drinking plenty of water—but hey, if all else fails, that's what makeup artists are for!

The products I use vary with the seasons (my winter skin and summer skin are nothing alike) but these are some of my consistent favorites for both face and body. Check 'em out below and be sure to enter my giveaway at the end of the post for a chance to win a $25 Sephora gift card!

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Left to right:

Philosophy The Microdelivery Peel

This is a quick, two-step treatment that exfoliates and resurfaces, but isn't too harsh. My face feels baby soft when I'm done using it. I especially love it in the winter when my skin is dry, flaky, and dull. Plus, the Vitamin C in it smells deliciously orangey and fresh! It's a bit pricey but a little goes a long way – when used twice a month, one set lasts me almost a year.

Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub

Exfoliating your body is just as important as treating your face—this is especially true if you use self-tanner or plan on getting a spray tan for your wedding. This scrub makes my skin silky smooth and gets bonus points for smelling like a beach vacation (although it comes in many other scents if that's not your thing). Another winter staple, but also perfect for the spring and summer when you actually start showing some skin. I reach for this at least once a week and follow with...

Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil Body Butter

I bought this for the first time when I was drunk and watching QVC (don't ask...I blame Shark Tank) and I am so, so in love with it. I use Argan Oil on my hair so I was curious to try this body butter version, and it's wonderful. It's super creamy, yet light and fluffy, and moisturizes for hours without being gross or heavy. It's a luxurious upgrade to your daily body lotion.

Kiehl's Creamy Avocado Eye Treatment

Finding the right eye cream can be difficult, especially when the anti-aging results aren't instantly visible. I've cycled through a few and my favorite by far has been this one. It absorbs well and fight dryness. I've also found my eyes are less puffy when I wake up, which is sort of a miracle considering all of the bizarre wedding nightmares that interrupt my sleep.

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask

Last but not least, my personal favorite—this is the mother of all facials. This stuff will purge your pores and smooth fine lines, all while making your face pulse (for real). It comes as a dry clay, which you can either mix with water or organic Apple Cider Vinegar, which is my preferred method. When mixed with the vinegar, the clay fizzes and bubbles and makes the mask easier to apply, when I've found water doesn't quite mix up as smoothly. Plus, you get the added cleansing benefits of the Apple Cider Vinegar to really make this a powerhouse treatment. I spread it on and let it sit until it's dry (about 15-20 minutes, or until you literally can't move your face). I love that it's cheap ($9!), lasts forever (I've had the same tub for over a year) and makes your pores disappear. My skin looks fresh and awake and it's super addicting—it's definitely a little intense so I try not to overdo it, once every other week seems to work for me.

To spread the love to all you brides and lovely ladies out there, I'm hosting a giveaway for a $25 Sephora gift card—the contest begins today and ends at midnight on Thursday 2/19. One winner will be announced here and notified by email on Friday, 2/20. You can enter through the widget below by completing any/all of the three options.

Good luck in the giveaway, drink your water, and don't forget to treat yo selfa Rafflecopter giveaway

*Zero disclosure here, this contest is not sponsored, all opinions are my own.

Home Series: Before & After | Attic Home Office

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Our third floor space was always on our to-do list, and when Jim's new job required a home office, we knew the attic was the place to set it up. The problem was, it looked like THIS:

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This is a really bad quality photo but we hd no reason to take pictures of this lovely mess. When we moved in, we used the attic as overflow storage and needed to go through and organize it all.  Not to mention the green carpet and unpainted wood trim – not exactly the type of space you'd want to spend 8 hours a day in.

We also knew our junk wasn't going anywhere, and that we'd still need long-term storage for things like Christmas decorations and childhood items. Jim and his dad drew up a plan to include a closet, built-in cabinets, and shelving that would store our things out of sight and keep the space tidy. Painting the ceiling, walls, and raw wood trim would transform the space, and the green carpet had to GO. The floors underneath were nothing special so re-carpeting was the best option, and also would make for a cozier room. We opted for hardwood floors throughout our entire house, so we liked the idea of having something different upstairs.

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The guys started by ripping the existing closet out – then they built a new structure, which would feature four doors instead of the tiny single door we had before.

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After the closet framing was built, we ripped up the carpet and installed the cabinets. The walls on the left and right of the photo were cut away, so the cabinet units could be built in – which helped us maximize the room's square footage.

Once the structures were in, we spent WEEKS painting. Seriously. Weeks. Every cabinet door had to primed, painted, flipped...repeat. The trim had to be primed and painted (all the way down the stairs, all around the windows, all of the shelves) as well as the walls and ceiling. There was so much surface area to cover...we were having flashbacks to our first few weeks in the house!

When we finally finished, we organized all of our storage items and purchased the furnishings for Jim's office setup. It was important for the room to continue our house's modern cottage style, but to also feel a little masculine.

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To achieve that look, we chose Serious Gray by Sherwin Williams for the walls, and accented everything in Pure White semi-gloss. The custom shelving around the windows gives added storage to a previously useless wall – we went with contrasting metal brackets to enhance the cottage feel.

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The shelves are a perfect place for storing books and nicknacks...and a mini bar (because it's a long walk down to the kitchen, duh). We bought a few air plants to add life – they're low maintenance and enjoy all of the natural light this room gets. The plants and cute containers are from Bird and Feather Co. on Etsy.

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I LOVE that the cabinet layout allowed for a window seat, they're so charming and we knew Cooper would enjoy sitting here and looking outside. We ordered it custom through Cushion Source—it fits perfectly and came in about four weeks.

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The new closet features double doors for easy access, and there's a clothing bar and shelves for off-season clothes and shoes. The Eames lounger was a Craigslist score – Jim gets all the credit for tracking it down!

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We only had one TV in our living room, so adding another one up here keeps us from fighting over the remote. We chose an internet TV with apps to avoid the messy cables, and truthfully we watch most of our shows on Netflix and Hulu anyway. Jim custom built this TV cabinet with a perfectly measured shelf for a sound bar (because why not). We picked up the floor cushion at World Market to cozy up the floor space (and for Cooper to lay on, let's be serious). 

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A nook for reading or watching TV.

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We added a console table in the corner to hold a lamp for more light, and it doubles as storage for my record collection. The table and lamp are both from Target.

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Overall we're SO thrilled with this complete makeover – it turned out to be more work than we anticipated, but it was worth the long process. It's done and we love it. It adds a fully-functional room to our house, where an empty, useless room existed before. All of junk is still there, you just can't see it! We've already enjoyed spending time up here, and know we'll get a lot of use out of the room. Additionally, it will add great resale value to our home. It feels great to be done! I hope you guys enjoyed our little attic tour, and please feel free to message me or comment with any questions about our process!

DIY Kate Spade Inspired Glitter Studs

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There are few things that feel worse than shopping regret – running out of beer is a close second – but I experienced this on a facepalm-worthy level last week. I'd had my eye on these cute little Kate Spade glitter earrings but was resisting the urge to buy, since it's Christmastime and I guess I should shop for other people? Is that how it works?

Until one day when I was shopping for other people, and saw them again, during a 20% off sale. I added them to my cart, deciding they would stalk me forever if I didn't. I stepped away for a few minutes, came back to click "submit" and I get the dreaded error message: "THIS ITEM IS UNAVAILABLE." I'm sorry...WHAT.

I refreshed, I tried re-adding, searching every other site that carried them...Sold. Out. Everywhere. If I had any idea that these were possibly the LAST ONES OUT THERE I wouldn't have thought twice. Ugh. So mad.

But why get mad, when you can get even...I set out to try to replicate them myself. The results were great and the best part is, you can really make them look however you want them to. Although if you're feeling lazy, you can find the original earrings on ebay, selling for upwards of $114 (no joke).

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WHAT YOU'LL NEED:

Gemstone stud earrings

Glitter nail polish – any color or a combination of a few

(the colors I used are pictured above: OPI for Sephora "Only Gold for Me," Deborah Lippmann "99 Luftballoons" and Wet 'n' Wild "Party of Five Glitters")

Needlenose pliers

A hairdryer

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DIRECTIONS:

1) Start by removing the stones from the earring setting – use the needlenose pliers to gently bend the prongs back to loosen the stone. I only bent two prongs instead of all four, and it was enough to get the stone out. I had these earrings already, but you can find similar ones at Target, or even use a pair of Kate Spade ones to get the most accurate look.

2) Holding one stone with your pliers, apply a thin layer of glitter topcoat to the earrings. Try to cover the edges as well – that's one advantage of removing the stone from the setting. Let each layer dry before adding another one (this is where the hairdryer comes in handy). Layer the polish on however you like – I used three types of glitter to get the multi-colored look I wanted. The original earrings had a lot of gold, pink, blue, and red-orange.

3) Let the polish dry thoroughly before replacing them into the setting – I let mine dry overnight just to be safe. Snap the stones into place and bend the prongs back over them. Using nail polish instead of loose glitter keeps the glitter from flaking and shedding all over the place, but that's another option to try if you want a different look.

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Now I don't feel so bummed, and have some fun studs to wear for the holiday season. Crisis averted!

Our Wedding: Bridesmaids Boxes

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I'd be lying if I said the early stages of our wedding planning weren't stressful, but we've been in a phase of smooth sailing for the last few months. Beyond choosing a venue, everything else has been pretty easy. A few of our vendors have been booked, a bought a dress in one day (I might be crazy...or smart? Still TBD) so we've been able to move forward into the details of the day.

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Next on the to-do list was to gather my crew of bridesmaids and ask them to be with me through the next year, and stand with me on our big day. A mix of family and best friends, I wanted to ask them in a special way that set the tone for the rest of our celebration. Desserts and sweets are a serious obsession of mine (and will play a starring role in our wedding) so I enlisted local favorite Coquette Patisserie to create a few dozen French macarons in our wedding palette. The flavors that matched the colors were salted caramel and rose raspberry—it was a miracle that I didn't eat them myself.

Each bridesmaid received a box containing the macarons and a card popping the question, all wrapped up and personalized. I was a little nervous shipping such fragile cookies across the country (word to the wise ladies...think your shit through) but they made it safe and sound.

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They all said YES (hopefully not because I manipulated them with delicious cookies) and I'm happy to have them all on board! Dress decisions are next..!

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Big thanks to Coquette for creating the perfect macarons on time, and for their awesome packaging!

Fall Polish Roundup

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I've been trying to resist the fact that it's fall, but now that it's really here, I can look on the bright side – dark manicures are in full force. My go-to shades for fall are nudes, grays, and burgundy, which are classically seasonal and go with everything from day to night.

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I'm currently wearing OPI Scores a Goal, which is a nice dark raisin color, and for a more dramatic twist I switch to Essie's Wicked — an almost-black burgundy hue. OPI's Taupe-less Beach is the perfect gray-nude, and on the flip side, NARS Storm Bird is a cool, cloudy gray with a beautifully creamy finish. I usually reach for opaque polish, but I do have a few favorite shimmery shades for fall: Essie's Penny Talk and Butter's Chimney Sweep. I'm a big fan of Butter's formula, and have noticed it tends to chip less than other polishes. Sometimes the pricier options are worth it.

So are you embracing fall yet? And pumpkin everything?

Illustrated Wedding Invitation for Meghan + Nate

One of my favorite couples ever – Meghan and Nate – are getting married (so soon!) and I was thrilled to complete their stationery suite with these custom invitations, which complemented the Save the Dates I designed a few months ago.

They are getting married in a tree-filled NYC park, and wanted their invitation to combine the elements of a cityscape with the nature of the park. We decided on a palette that reflects the early fall feeling of September – neutral beige, mustard, and berry tones pair perfectly with the kraft RSVP envelope and info tag.

The star of the show is the invite, so we kept the rest of the pieces simple and sophisticated, with just the right dose of lightheartedness (a Mad Libs RSVP card is very fitting for these two)! The bride, being ever-so-crafty herself, chose the cutest combinations of stamps for each envelope. After months of hard work and collaboration with them, I was super excited to get my invite in the mail.

Counting down the days till this awesome NYC wedding!


Ship's Wheel Mirror Makeover

When it comes to antiques, I'm usually cautious about altering their appearance in fear of destroying their value (file this under: everything I know I learned from Pawn Stars). We were faced with a lot of these decisions when we moved into our house – we had to decide what needed to be kept and what was okay to touch. For example, our living room is full of original cherry wood trim...and even though it wasn't my thing at first, it's an element that adds real value to our home, and we'd be crazy to paint it. Now I'm happy it's there – the wood is beautiful, and makes our living room feel like a modern cabin.

On the flip side, just because something is an antique doesn't make it valuable (though it could be emotionally valuable) and a little coat of paint isn't going to hurt anyone, if it makes you happy. 

Jim and I decided to check out the Lakewood city-wide garage sale a few weekends ago and after heading down a ton of driveways, we found this antique mirror with a $5 sticker on it. I'm sorry – what? $5. This is why I love garage sales.

The bones of it were there, but we knew the paint job and the metal stars wouldn't really fit our decor. Thankfully the mirror was made of wood and not metal, so we knew we could give it a quick makeover and find a great home for it on our walls.

I actually can't take any credit for this makeover, because Jim did it all himself, but hey...I art directed?

He removed the metal stars, which were just pinned into the frame with small nails, and then stripped off the paint with Strypeeze. This causes the paint to bubble and peel like tar, so be sure to wear gloves when trying this at home. He used a shim to scrape the paint off once it became loose. Once the paint was removed, he used wood filler to fill the cracks where some of the pieces were separating, and gave the piece a final sanding.

We actually liked the distressed look that the stripping/sanding process gave, so we left the mirror as is. I debated about white-washing it, or putting the stars back on, but decided against it. You can always add, but you can't always take away.

It turned out to be the perfect piece we were missing in our second floor stairway. I love it more than I expected – for $5 I figured it was a risk-free project, so it was great that it came out so nicely. I can't really say no to something nautical for a few bucks, anyway. 

Do you shop garage sales? Are they worth it for you, or too hit-or-miss?

Our Engagement Session with Kayla Coleman Photography

There are times in life where the stars just seem to align, and our engagement shoot with Kayla Coleman was certainly one of those. Within days of our engagement, Kayla happened to be in town from Durham, North Carolina and we jumped at the chance to work with her. Her talent has long been a favorite of mine, and I knew she would be able to capture the magic we were still feeling from our whirlwind vacation. 

We scrambled to get some ideas (and outfits) together, and decided to shoot our photos in our most natural settings – around the house, on our bikes, and at the beach. We were drinking beers on the beach when Jim proposed, so we wanted to include a nod to that moment by mimicking the scene (minus the Key West backdrop...and the tears). We are thrilled to have these photos to remember this time in our lives, and can't thank Kayla enough for her hard work and keen eye. She is truly amazing! You can check out her work here and visit her on Facebook for more.

Another special thank you to Tracy, the fabulous stylist from Anthropologie / Crocker Park, for making my last-minute shopping a breeze!

Friday Links: Sangria Recipe Roundup


When it comes to summer, there are few drinks I like better than sangria. It's the perfect refresher that packs a mean alcoholic punch (well, at least when I make it).

I am a repeat offender when it comes to making peach sangria, so wanted to dig up some other recipes to inspire some interesting combinations. We have a bunch of mint growing in our garden, so I'm anxious to use some up with the apple mint white sangria pictured at #4. I love the idea of mixing in some herbs or veggies, like cucumbers or even sweet peppers, for a twist on this classic. Now that the nights are long and warm, sangria makes for an ideal patio companion. Time to get that pitcher out!

1 | Light and tropical pineapple sangria (Erin's Food Files)
2 | A beautifully styled watermelon sangria bar (A Fabulous Fete)
3 | White peach sangria – love the addition of the grapes (Cooking ala Mel)
4 | Apple mint white sangria (The Clever Carrot)
5 | Another great use of herbs – strawberry rosemary sangria (A Cozy Kitchen)

Our Key West Trip + Engagement Story

Hi everyone! I'm back from a bit of radio silence...we just got back from Key West a week ago and I'm finally getting back to reality – although our reality is a little different now that we are ENGAGED (yay!!) and have been fully thrown into the excitement that it brings. 

I posted some photos on Instagram during our trip but there are plenty more to share. Key West exceeded our expectations and I wanted to share our experience and favorite spots in case you ever find yourself down at the very end of the U.S.!

Our beach for the week, at the Pier House Resort. We loved our stay here and couldn't beat the service, amenities, and the private beach. Key West is small and there are only a handful of public beaches on the island, so having a private place to enjoy the sun (and have cocktail service) was a must. And seriously...look at that ocean. We were actually right in this spot later in the trip when Jim proposed.

We had our first drink here after we landed – I forget the name of this bar but it was right next to our hotel. How fun is the bright painted furniture?!

The food in Key West was incredible – so much fresh seafood and tons of places to eat. Our first night there, we walked Duval Street from end to end (think Bourbon Street – lots of bars, live music, and no open container policy) and stopped for some street food from D.J.'s Clam Shack. The lobster roll was so good, and I know it wasn't just my beverage doing the talking ;)

We couldn't leave without visiting the Hemingway House. I am kind of obsessed with his style and did a little portrait of him, so it was really amazing to get to walk through his home and see his collectibles from years of traveling and living abroad. Above is the front entrance.

Here's the main parlor room and the master bedroom. 

The size of the property and the lush, beautiful grounds were just as impressive as his stately home. We walked through gardens of palms, sugar cane, banana trees, ferns...which offer shade to all of the six-toed cats that live on the property. 

And then there was THIS POOL. It's bliss. I wanted to jump in so bad.

We filled out the week with a snorkeling trip, plenty of bike riding, and tons of food. Key Lime pie basically has its own spot on the food pyramid down here (not complaining), so we had a very delicious week. We headed to Latitudes for dinner on our last night and we both agreed it was the best meal we've ever had. Not only was the food amazing, the atmosphere was so elegant and romantic...the tables are set up in the sand, right along the ocean, with candles flickering everywhere...we enjoyed every minute of that dinner and were really sad to be winding down the trip.

We hopped on the 11:00 ferry back to Key West and decided to hang out at the beach and drink some late-night beers. We did this every night in Maine last summer (there wasn't much nightlife!) so it's become a bit of a tradition to sit and talk on the beach late into the night. Jim filled up his backpack with some cans of Miller Lite (hey, we keep it classy guys) and unbeknownst to me, my ring. 

I set up a towel on the beach, and as we're getting settled, it slowly starts to drizzle. A little drip here, a little drop there...I'm thinking, shit, it's our last day here, I'm totally not ready to call it a night. Then it rains a little harder, my hair's really starting to get wet (of course I'm worried about this) but Jim insists we just wait it out, as this does happen a lot in Key West. A little rain cloud passes quickly here and there all the time. So we just kind of sit there, waiting for it to stop, which it soon does. It's dark out, sailboats are cruising by on the ocean, no one around, it's almost 2am already. Our conversation turns to our relationship, I'm not thinking much of it, and smooth as butter, this guy is casually popping the question right before my eyes. Immediately following were lots of tears, lots of excitement and freaking out, another round of beers, and the nice realization that no one at home was awake, and that we could enjoy this amongst ourselves until the next day.

Our flight home didn't leave Key West until 2:30, so we luckily had plenty of time to call our friends and family in the morning, while packing and getting ready to leave. We had time to hit up La Creperie for brunch and Bellinis, and took one last bike ride around the island to say goodbye.

We had a truly amazing trip, even aside from the proposal. It was just icing on a very delicious, very awesome cake, and I will never forget the many little moments we had together. I knew when I met Jim five years ago that he was the real deal, and we've been committed as partners ever since. We chose each other whole-heartedly. OKAY, not going to cry...there's no crying in blogging!

I'm thankful to be home and to still have a bit of a vacation high (and a tan). I'll be back to regular posting this week. Thanks for bearing with me, and please, do not ask me when the wedding is! ;)

Illustrated Save the Dates for Meghan + Nate

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Creating memorable, custom work for friends, family, and clients is my favorite part of being a designer. Even if I am super busy, I tend to take them on anyway because they're so rewarding and fun for me to do.

One of my favorite couples ever is getting married this fall and I was thrilled to illustrate them for their Save the Dates. I'll be doing their invitations as well, so this was a great warm-up for the fun that lies ahead!

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We did a simple postcard layout and incorporated casual hand lettering to play off the whimsy of the illustration. We upped the elegance by typesetting Mrs. Eaves in small caps (my favorite). Kudos to Meghan and Nate for having exquisite taste, and for being awesome to draw!

If you have a project to discuss, shoot me an email at novak.rachael@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Recipe: Homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies


Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies appeared many times at the apex of my childhood. Before moms cared about nutrition (or, before MY mom cared about nutrition) I used to get one of these bad boys in my lunch for "dessert" almost every day. And I wonder where my sweet tooth came from...

It's been years since I had one and the craving hit me while grocery shopping this week. I resisted buying a box and instead found this recipe to make my own. These were actually very easy to make and have all of the soft, chewy goodness of the original. I followed the recipe exactly and was sure to slightly underbake the cookies to keep them really soft. Head over to Cooking Classy to find out how to make them yourself!

Do you have a childhood snack you just can't resist?

Still Life Lately


Happy April, everyone! I seriously can't believe how fast this year is going.

Lately I've been busy working on new projects and getting new products ready for springtime, but I've tried to make time to stop and smell the roses (or, in this case, tulips). Some snaps from life lately...

The J.Crew spring style guide is killing it – I wasn't crazy about their clothes the last few seasons but I'm really loving what's out now.

I scored these Sam Edelman boots at Nordstrom Rack on crazy sale, after lusting after them for years. Sometimes things are just meant to be! I'm also really pumped about adding these crazy cool mirrored Ray Bans into my rotation.

I had a few days home alone this week, and took the opportunity to finally page through this book and eat cookies for dinner. Ooooooooops. It's pure eye candy. Kate Spade is such a young, but iconic brand and it was fascinating to see how their aesthetic has evolved over the last twenty years. The book is also a graphic designer's dream – lots of great photography and bold color.

 Doing some brush lettering for a project...I love painting letters because things are so accidental. It can be frustrating at first, but once you learn to give up control, you get those "happy accidents" that all designers seek to have. But you can't seek too hard, or they won't happen! That's the conundrum.

What have you guys been loving lately? 

Spring Decor: Planters + Vases

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As stated in my last post, one of my favorite ways to refresh my space for spring is with flowers and plants. I also have a very bad, bad addiction to shopping for vases. I impulse buy vases like it's my job. So, at least I can make myself feel better about my purchases by sticking some beautiful flowers inside them!

I didn't shop for planters much until we moved into our house, and realized we needed more plants around our outdoor hangout spaces. Having potted plants on your patio, steps, or porch add depth to your landscape and make the space more welcoming. Plus, it's a great excuse to get a cute watering can (holla)! Right now I'm really digging these utilitarian concrete slanted planters from CB2.

A wide, glass vase is my go-to favorite for spring flowers, especially tulips. They spread out so perfectly and droop over the edges...it's a great look. Crate and Barrel has THE BEST basic vases. You can't go wrong, and they're so affordable.

Are you a vase addict like me? What decor just gets you every time?

Spring Beauty Picks

1) Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer, 2) OPI Nail Lacquer in My Vampire in Buff, 3) Chanel Chance Eau Tendre, 4) NARS Blush in Sex Appeal, 5) Library of Flowers Hand Creme in Linden, 6) St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse, 7) Tarte Matte Lip Stain in Lucky, 8) Stila Eye Shadow in Cloud

When it comes to spring beauty, I like to keep things fresh and light. Although I hate letting go of fall and winter colors (I'll miss you, burgundy lipstick!) I think we're all ready for everything to be all flowers and bunnies and sunshine. I know I am.

I always switch out my usual foundation for a tinted moisturizer (this stuff is the best) and add a weekly faux-glow with this St. Tropez bronzer. It lasts for days and has no sketchy orange undertones. As Midwesterners we're all coming out of winter looking like ghosts, so bronzer is the only way I allow myself to start wearing t-shirts! Nude nails look especially great with a little color on your skin.

I save shimmer for summer and opt for a matte blush instead, and pretty peaches are my current favorite for cheeks. I also love the look of a soft neutral or gray eye shadow, paired with a pretty pink lip. This lip stain is like a crayon, and goes on just as easily. I have it in a hot pink color and love how simple it is to use. My hands are always still dry from winter, so I keep a hand creme on hand (hah) at all times. This one from Library of Flowers is divine– it smells like a garden (in a good way). Not to mention the packaging makes it such a visual treat.

What do you change about your routine in the spring? And are you as pale as I am right now?

Friday Links


1 | These bins need to make their way into my office immediately. 
2 | A decorating tip I support fully. This and many more great home tips here on House Beautiful.
3 | Brownie cookie sandwiches filled with caramel creme – enough to break my willpower. 
4 | Cooper is in desperate need for a new leash. I love this marbled rope one from Grey Paw Design.
5 | J.Crew's March style guide is killing it. These sandals are on the top of my wish list!

Happy last day of February! Good riddance. It's 10 below with the wind chill right now. GET OUT OF HERE, COLD.

Stay warm, friends, and have a great weekend!


Home Series: Before & After | Master Bedroom

When it comes to naming which room in our house got the biggest overhaul, our master bedroom takes the cake—although just our hallway is a close second. You'd never think a hallway could be so much work, but that's a post for another day. It's amazing how after seeing dozens of houses, you develop this ability to not take anything at face value—and I don't mean just looking beyond paint colors. You can look at a lackluster room and feel like the space is right, or you notice how cool a corner is, or you feel how firm and right the floors are beneath your feet. 

This was the bedroom before — needs a little love:

As you can see in our progress post from our first week, we cut that small closet door open, installed new bars and shelves, ripped up the carpet, refinished the hardwood, and replaced that sad ceiling fan. The closet itself was quite big, but had that "cave closet" problem where the door is small and the closet is impossible to utilize fully. We expanded the entrance, replaced the doors, and actually reused the old closet door for our linen closet in the hallway. We really wanted to keep all of the original doors to the house, so I'm glad the door fit!

A nice master closet was something we hadn't seen in any of the Lakewood homes we looked at, so we knew a remodeled closet would be a great selling point someday (and a necessity for us now).

This is the closet after, with our DIY rope mirror:

Our progress at one year:

Curtains: DIY | Gold Tortoise Shell: Target/DIY | Nightstands: IKEA | Reading sconces and table lamp: IKEA | Duvet: CB2 (old) | Rug: Overstock (old)

For some reason, every single room in our house had ceiling fans, which we promptly replaced with semi-flush mounts, but we repurposed this one in our room for a little breeze in the summer. We might switch it out with something more fun (maybe a new DIY) but for now it fits the bill.

I really love the drama of dark walls and wanted to pull it off in our room with a super rich navy. We get a ton of light in our house so I knew it wouldn't be too dark, and we balanced it with lots of white and texture. The room has a tiny touch of nautical inspiration, but it's more relaxed and less literal.

There is still so much we want to add and change about the room (we're wanting a stylish new bed frame) but after a year, we're really happy with the progress. As it is with all spaces, there's always something to do! For now, it's an incredibly relaxing, rehabbed space that we're just enjoying.

Candle hurricane: DIY | Anchor dish: Furbish | Glasses: Lookmatic

Home Series: Before & After | Outdoor

Welcome to our outdoor home tour! In the spirit of thinking spring, I need some sunny memories of our green grass and garden to restore my sanity. It's hard to remember that things looked like this only a few months ago! We worked all spring and summer long to give the exterior of our home a facelift, and we're relieved the majority of the work is done. Let's get to it, shall we?

Here is our "after": with a fresh coat of paint on literally every surface, newly built columns and railing, landscaping, and new hardware (mailbox, light fixtures, etc.) The gray is Sherwin Williams Dovetail and the mint is Waterfall. The house is sided with aluminum, so we had to bring in the pros to paint it for us – we hired Neubert Painting to do it. It was incredible to see the house transform a little more each day. They painted the exterior of the house, but we painted the columns, railing, and porch floor ourselves. Pretty much every day after work, I was coming home, grabbing a beer, and painting something on that porch. It was actually kind of a nice way to spend the summer.

This was the house before. This was taken in the late fall, so the dead plants definitely make it look worse. The color scheme, symmetrical bushes, and shutters looked straight out of the '60s. The skinny spindles on the railing also gave us serious anxiety. The inside was so warm and charming, the outside did the house no justice. In fact, when we did our first drive-by, Jim pulled up in front of it and I said "oh my god NO" (this was in our "choosy" phase of house shopping, which ended quickly). It just needed some curb appeal and charm. 

We also did a number on the backyard. The garden beds were overgrown, which you can't see here since everything was dead at the time, so they needed lots of TLC. The little baby fence also had to come out, and also there was THIS:

A big, concrete slab of some sort in the back corner of the yard. We heard the concrete patio had been there for years, but we couldn't believe someone didn't just rip it out...which is what we did. 

We rented a jackhammer and towed away tons of solid concrete, while ripping out the other stones and the small tree that was in the middle of the yard. We planted grass where the patio had been and hoped for the best! It was terrifying to think the grass might not grow (first-time jitters) but obviously, it was fine. We watched it grow in and followed up by planting some new shrubs along the fence. 

Here is the "after" at the end of the summer. We still have some more shaping to do to the beds, but the work that's been done has made a huge difference. We've gained a ton of yard space by removing that slab, which Cooper loves! It looks more opened up, and I'm relieved to not have to look at that dumb fence anymore. 

Last winter, we were so anxious for spring to come so we could tackle all of these projects. We moved into the house in October of '12, facelifted the inside, and sat waiting to do the rest. We are really happy with how it all looks and can't wait to do more a bit more relaxing this summer – although there is definitely always something to do. Our next project is to furnish the front porch, and furnish our second-floor balcony that's situated off the office. You are all welcome to join me for summer drinking in any of these areas :) Are you planning any home projects for this spring?