How to Design Your First Real World Home on a Budget

Budgeting, Other Thoughts, Real World
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Making your first “real world” apartment your own can be a seriously daunting task. For starters, you have no clue how long you’ll actually live there, you’re on a pretty tight budget, and most likely, you’re pressed for space. Yet you still want you’re first home to really feel like a home. Don’t worry! These tips will help you turn your new space into a place you love calling your own, without breaking the bank.

1. Don’t over commit.

It’s not smart to make big-ticket purchases just yet. You’re in the transient phase—spending too much money on large-budget items could potentially backfire down the road…  especially if you’ll be moving in the near future. Make inexpensive purchases that can easily relocate with you on your next move—and if they can’t, reselling them is no big deal. In addition to flea markets and thrift stores, sites like Craigslist, Overstock, Ebay and Etsy are amazing resources for bargain finds. For our NYC friends, check out for Craigslist’s best home items in your ‘hood.

2. Dual-purposed items are your friend.

Desks and tables are not always the least expensive items on the market… but both are pretty similar. If you’re truly pressed for spaced, purchase a dual-purpose surface—something that’s great for both working and eating. A slicker surface, like this simple Ikea piece, is easy to wipe down with a damp cloth (post-meal), while also serving as a great (and unobtrusive) workspace. And it hardly weighs a thing, so it’s so easy to move around!

This Ikea table works great as both a workspace and a spot to sit and eat a meal. Plus, it's only $40!

Photo courtesy of Homepolish.


3. Think UP.

Never underestimate the potential your walls hold. For example, if you’ve got no room (or extra cash) for a nightstand, install a simple wall shelf above your bed. This maximizes space in a decorative fashion. Inserting a dowel rod or stringing a rope between the shelf’s brackets also makes a fantastic magazine rack + bookmark. Throw in a nice book-end and/or a droopy plant (I’d recommend string of pearls or burro’s tail), and you’re lookin’ good.













You can also use wall shelves as storage space. Choosing baskets like this or this make for a good-looking option, while keeping your things nice and organized.

4. Gallery walls are basically the grown-up version of collages.

Framing large pieces of art is expensive. Creating a gallery wall is way less expensive, and way more fun. They’re a great way to mix and match artwork, photographs, wallpaper or fabric samples, and your favorite greeting cards. Ikea sells really cheap frames in an assortment of colors, which you shouldn’t be afraid to mix! Metallic + wood? Black + white? Anything goes. Throw a fun little mirror into the mix if you can—reflective surfaces make your teeny space feel more spacious.

Photo by Claire Esparros.

Photo by Claire Esparros.

To save even more money, pick up colorful washi or artist’s tape from your local craft supply store (apx. $5.99 per roll), and create your own DIY frames. Simple frames (or washi tape frames) arranged in an asymmetrical manner allow you the freedom to add more pieces (and rearrange) down the road.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

5. Stick with succulents.

There are few things better than bringing home fresh flowers. They liven and brighten up a space without taking up hardly any room. Sadly, flowers are not forever. Invest the few extra bucks in a succulent or two. These adorable plants require very little maintenance* and really make a huge difference in your space—they even clear the air of unwanted toxins! They come in varying sizes, and can be found at your local Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, or grocery market. A dash of green really goes a long way—you’ll be surprised at the happiness a little plant can bring!

*Succulents should be watered once a week, and can survive in high or low light conditions. Photo by Claire Esparros.

*Succulents should be watered once a week, and can survive in high or low light conditions. Photo by Claire Esparros.


5 Ways to Survive Easter with your Extended Family

Family, Other Thoughts, Real World

Survival Kit

You woke up to beautiful sunshine gleaming through your window, birds chirping, and the idea of eating gargantuan loads of chocolate is on the horizon and then it dawns on you: you have to spend an entire day with your obnoxious, idiotic extended family. Already started prematurely stuffing chocolate in your face to cope? It’s alright. I have five recommendations nurtured over years of practice to help you get through this day. Deep breath, let’s begin.

1) don’t talk

I’m serious. Don’t do it. Just smile and nod. Say yes when appropriate, and if you must ask a question, say “Oh really?”. The less you engage others, the better. Trust me.

2) don’t fight, take the apathetic road

You’re cornered by those relatives who watch Fox news and collect their Welfare checks and use them to buy canned ham and gun amo. You’ve spotted them when you walked in, cringed, and have been avoiding making eye contact ever since, but now they got you. Crap is flying from their mouth faster than the one batch of buttered rolls were devoured. Hold it together, don’t take his bullshit bait. Try and find a pause, say “fascinating” and just walk away. Don’t start fighting facts with someone who bases their life in myths.

3) you’re stuck with your intensely talkative aunt, and you feel too bad to leave

Just focus on the food. I recommend a dip. Try and stand next to food during this convo. I prefer a dip because you can always blame its quick disappearance on the little cousins, or at least that’s what I’ve always done. Just focus on the colors of the food and how it tastes as your aunt slowly and circuitously tells you about her nine cats and diabetes.

4) buddy system

Find your favorite sibling and latch on. Then throw her at your talkative aunt when she comes your way. Girls gotta survive somehow.

5) find dat booze

When all else fails, snatch a few beers, put those in a hiding spot, snatch a few more and get to it. Peace be with you.

Sausage, Spinach, Wild Mushroom & Cheese Frittata

Family, Friends, Healthy Living, Recipes


In honor of Easter Weekend I want to share the perfect frittata. So gather your friends and family around you and whip us this tasty treat.

Sausage, Spinach, Wild Mushroom & Cheese Frittata


8 eggs

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

6 oz. white cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage, casings removed

3/4 lb. assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

1 bunch Swiss chard, about 3/4 lb., stems removed and leaves cut into 1-inch strips



In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper. Fold in the cheese. Set aside.

In the deep half of a frittata pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tsp. of the olive oil. Add the sausage and cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the sausage on paper towels, then transfer to another bowl.

In the same pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage.

In the same pan over medium heat, warm 1 tsp. of the olive oil. Add half of the Spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with 1 tsp. of the olive oil and the remaining Spinach.

Return the rest of Spinach, the sausage and the mushrooms to the pan and heat over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the egg mixture and cook, using a rubber spatula to lift the cooked edges and allow the uncooked eggs to flow underneath, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking until the eggs begin to set, 4 to 6 minutes more.

Lightly brush the shallow pan with the remaining 1 tsp. olive oil and heat over medium heat. Place the shallow pan upside down on top of the deep pan and flip the frittata into the shallow pan. Cook, covered, until the eggs are set, about 6 minutes. (Note: If you do not have a frittata pan heat your oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit after the the eggs have set place the pan in the oven for 7-14 minutes until a nice brown crust over top the frittata.)

Gently shake the pan to loosen the frittata and slide it onto a serving plate. Serves 8.

Puppy Basics

Family, Friends, Other Thoughts, Real World


When we bring a new puppy into our lives there are many things to be aware of. In my earlier article I addressed the vet, and all of the things you need to do to ensure the good health of your puppy. In this article I am going to go over the basics, the things that you should always provide your new addition with, and the keys to success. These things are vital to not only the safety of your puppy, but will ensure that you are putting your best puppy parenthood foot forward.


Identification Tag

As soon as your pick your puppy up you will wants to have an ID tag made for your puppy in case he wanders from home. Include his name, your name, address and phone number. Veterinarians and pet stores usually have resource for obtaining ID tags. When your puppy is spayed or neutered, consider a microchip identification.



Now that you have your tag, attach it to the collar. You should be able to fit two fingers under the collar when on your pet. Check the fit often as your pet grows!


Leash & Harness

For potty walks or for spending time in an unfenced location, outfit puppy in an appropriate leash and harness. Retractable leashes allow you to control how far puppy wanders from you without him tugging or pulling. By hooking the leash to a harness, your puppy won’t be choked if he tries to outreach the leash lead.


Food & Water Bowls

Stainless steel is easiest to keep clean and doesn’t break, which makes upkeep a breeze. Something to be aware of is that some puppies can have allergic reactions to plastic bowls.


Grooming Brush or Mitt

Brushing your puppy regularly keeps his coat looking nice and feels good to your pet. And just as important, this is time for you and your puppy to bond.



Playing with toys helps puppy’s balance and motor skills. Chew toys can help him shed his baby teeth. Choose indestructible toys and stay away from toys and toy parts that can be swallowed.



You’ll soon see that a curious puppy will explore anything and everything he can reach. And he doesn’t know which things are puppy-safe. “Puppy-proof” your house by doing these important things:

  • Keep electrical cords our of chewing reach
  • Keep household and garden chemicals locked away
  • Keep cans/bags secure from puppy
  • Check around vehicles before moving them
  • Keep chocolate away from puppy because it is highly toxic and can kill


Traveling with Puppy in a Car:

  • Put puppy in a special doggy seat belt or crate (seat belts are best)
  • Put puppy in the back so the driver is not distracted
  • Never secure puppy to something in the car with his leash to prevent choking should the car stop suddenly
  • Never leave your pet alone in the car for more than a few minutes
  • Never leave your pet alone in a closed-up car on a hot day for any amount of time. Car heat can kill puppies even at lower temperatures.


Feeding Your Puppy

At first, it’s important to feed your puppy the same thing he was eating before you brought him home. As he gets used to his new environment you can gradually introduce the food you chose. Many commercial foods are acceptable but be sure to choose a well-balanced one. Consult your veterinarian for how much and how often to feed your puppy. It will depend on his energy level. Choose a convenient place to feed your puppy and use this spot consistently. Be sure to clean your puppy’s dishes before every use and always give him fresh water at each feeding.

Store-bought puppy treats are fine to give him, but they are actually full of fat. Be aware of how many treats your puppy eats and try to adjust the amount of food in his regular meals accordingly. Giving table scraps is never a good idea. They throw off the balance in nutrition in your puppy’s diet and can upset his stomach. And if you don’t feed your puppy from the table or your plate, he won’t learn to beg for food.



You’ll only need to bathe puppy if he’s dirty or smelly; bathing too often can cause dry skin. It helps to brush puppy’s coat before the bath. Use the proper dog shampoo, lukewarm water, and gently scrub from head to tail, taking care not to get soap or water in eyes or ears. Rinse thoroughly and stand back. Puppy will shake, shake, shake! Dry with a towel or hairdryer (not to hot!) as quickly as possible so puppy doesn’t get cold. Bathing is an opportunity to check for fleas, ticks and skin problems.


Caring for Teeth

A healthy diet keeps teeth clean and gums healthy. However, tartar will inevitably build up so have puppy’s teeth checked regularly by a veterinarian. Between visits you can brush puppy’s teeth yourself with special pet toothpaste and a soft brush.

Like children, puppies will lose their baby teeth. Between three and six months old baby teeth will gradually fall out and are replaced with permanent teeth. A mixture of soft and hard food, puppy biscuits, or hard rubber chew toys will help loosen baby teeth naturally.


Clipping Nails

Clip puppy’s nails about every six weeks using special dog clippers. Some owners prefer to have a veterinarian do the clipping because it’s a delicate task to keep from clipping into the quick. However, just using a nail file will often help keep nails in check without the danger of cutting into the “quick” of the nail.


Loving Puppy

One of the healthiest things you can do for your puppy is give him lots of love and attention. Dogs are extremely loyal by nature and are happy when they please you. Their ancestors, wolves, ran in packs, so you can understand that puppy can get lonely if you don’t spend enough time with him. Studies show that emotionally, dogs benefit from being petted by humans as much as humans do from petting dogs. So, play, talk, pet, and love. You’ll both be happier and healthier.

5 Things You Learn When You Move In Together

Real World, Relationships & Sex

No matter how well you know someone, you really don’t know them completely until you live together. The same concept applies to friends – sometimes living together is great, sometimes not so much. Personalities either fit comfortably, or they don’t – you have to find the right balance.

In the interest of transparency – my boyfriend, Will, and I have been dating for three years now. We started as a summer fling, graduated to a college couple, completed meeting the extended family, and headed off into the real world with one dog (now two) and a house awaiting us in Portland. Don’t get me wrong – we semi lived together in college, switching between his apartment and mine – sometimes overstaying our welcomes. But this – in this post grad world, the “real world” if you will- this is real living together. Him, Me, Snugs & Ruby the terror hounds, and what I like to call a “baby house.”

There are more than five things I have learned… but here are 5:

1. The Battle Of Laundry – Compromising

Now this may not happen with laundry – but there is a battle in all the households I know of – and ours is a laundry battle. We have to haul the basket through the house, out the back, down the steps and into what I can only describe as a horror movie basement – and this is Portland, so 90% of the time its raining. It’s dank, dark, creepy and honestly gives me the heebie jeebies. This has lead to what I call (as you can see) the Battle Of Laundry – no one wants to do it, but it has to be done. The players in the game? Guilt Trips, Begging, Chore Assigning, Whining (mostly from me), and finally resolute splitting of laundry habits. Moral of the story – you learn how to compromise.

2. Turning A Bad Day Into A Good One – It’s The Little Things

One of the things that I love about living with Will is that he knows when I have had a bad day – and he tries to make it better. Whether its bringing me a flower, or offering to make and clean up from dinner, or just knowing when it’s time to run a hot bubble bath- there is nothing like having someone who knows just what you need, and how to make it happen.

3. House Cleaning – Team Work

I think as a child I thought that magical elves came into the house and magically made it clean – it was either that or the cleaning service, one of the two. I was also completely oblivious to how must dust, dirt, and dog hair accumulates during the week. Our house is teeny – smaller than my college apartment – and it gets filthy. When it’s time to clean you get a system down that works for you – split the vacuuming, dusting, occasionally mopping and general clean up. Finding your team dynamic is powerful.

4. The  Things That Annoy You – They Matter

Pet peeves are a real thing people. My number one is a backwards toilet paper roll. For me – there is nothing worse – except for possibly when there are dirty utensils in the sink. Can’t. Handle. It. For Will it is when I yell “WHAT?” when I can’t hear. It matters – so you try to change it, at least a little bit.

5. It’s Not All Rainbows and Sunshine – Reality

The reality is you can’t be happy with someone 100% of the time, within four walls. Sometimes you argue, sometimes the toilet paper roll gets put in backwards, sometimes you just want the house to yourself. You have to learn how to function as a family, and sometimes that means you need to take that glass of wine to the porch and have a silent few minutes, sometimes you need to talk it out and sometimes everything is wonderful.

Living together is quite the adventure – lots of learning for everyone – enjoy it!

Tips To Make A Small Room Feel Bigger

College, Other Thoughts, Real World

The reality is that in your early twenties you probably are not going to have an amazing, modern, open concept, large, spacious living space filled with natural light. You may have a place that checks off a few of those boxes, or even more than a few, but you most likely will not have all of them – and if you do please call me and let me know where you live.

I personally spend a scary amount of time watching HGTV and lusting after each edition of the “Dream Home.” In real life I do not have a dream home, but I do have a home that I can decorate how I choose. Sometimes our greatest weapon against small spaces is to trick them into looking bigger than they actually are. This way we feel happier about the space, it is decorated effectively, and we can enjoy our homes.

But how exactly can you make a space feel bigger? Here are some decorating tips and tricks to turn your small space into an inviting living area.


1. De-Clutter: My motto is if I haven’t used it in the past three months, or if I wouldn’t buy it now, it needs to go.

2. Decide on a neutral color palate: Keeping it neutral will give the perception of an expanded space. You can always throw in pops of color like throw pillows or art pieces to bring the room to life.

3. Use furniture that does double duty: This can be tricky because sometimes it leads to problems with number one. One great example that I love is an ottoman that can also be used as a coffee table, or an ottoman with a hidden compartment for blankets.

4. Mix the sizes of your furniture: We tend to think that if a room is small only small furniture should go in it – but this isn’t true. By using a few large pieces mixed with smaller pieces you can both create sections of the room, and make it appear larger.

5. Utilize mirrors: Mirrors have the ability to open a room up with reflection, and you can use them to reflect the natural light that flows into your space.


There’s Never a Right Time to Say Goodbye

College, Real World

As a recent college graduate and a full-fledged twentysomething, I sometimes find myself drowning in nostalgia about my beloved university. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (my alma mater and the greatest university in the world…but I digress) has changed my life in more ways that I can even count. There is something equally exhilarating and terrifying about graduating from college and taking your first steps into the real world. There’s the freedom to begin living life on your own terms coupled with the responsibility of knowing that course of the rest of your life rests solely in your hands. For me, college was the perfect time to learn who I was and experience life in a whole new way.I wrote the following a couple of months ago and it still sums up perfectly how I feel about leaving the comforts of undergrad and entering this next phase of my life.


The last four years have gone by faster than I could have ever imagined. I still remember stepping onto campus for the first time, overwhelmed by the vastness of this unknown town. I was afraid: afraid that I wouldn’t survive away from home, afraid that I wouldn’t make new friends, afraid that I would fail my classes, afraid that I would NEVER learn my way around. Change scared me – it’s always scared me – and I initially shied away from the challenge of conquering this new terrain.

Now, four years later, August is right around the corner and it’s slowly sinking in that I won’t be returning to the safety and serenity of my beloved Chapel Hill. I won’t be fighting through the crowds on South Road at Fall Fest, determined to get free pizza even if it killed me. I won’t be sitting in Polk Place for sunset serenade, swaying with my fellow Tar Heels as the Clefs welcome the dawn of a new school year. I won’t be setting new records for how fast I can get from one corner of campus to another to catch the bus home. I won’t be visiting Alpine Bagel so often that they memorize my order. I won’t be screaming my head off in the stands at football games or entering basketball lotteries in the vain attempt to get tickets. I won’t be wading through the Pit on rainy days trying to get to class on time. I won’t be spending late nights in Davis Library trying to finish a paper or study for a test that I pushed off until the last minute. All of the memories are just that now. Memories. And it hurts.


It hurts because Chapel Hill has given me more than I could have ever asked for. I’ve been taught by world-class professors in a variety of subjects. I’ve experienced school spirit unparalleled by any other university in the country. I’ve met people from all walks of life and made some of the most incredible, life-changing friends. I’ve seen the sun set over Polk Place and the flowers bloom around the Old Well. I’ve learned so much about myself and I’ve learned how to be comfortable in my own skin. Somewhere between Franklin Street and Manning Drive, I found my voice.

I don’t know where the next chapter of my life is going to take me…and I’m afraid. Afraid that I won’t survive away from home. Afraid that I won’t make new friends. Afraid that I won’t learn my way around a new city. Afraid that I don’t have what it takes to be successful. But I’ve had these feelings before, and a quiet little town gave me the confidence to face the world head on. So thank you, Chapel Hill. For your safety. For your love. For your spirit. For your lessons. For the good times. For the bad times.  For the ups and downs. For the laughter. For the friendships. For the memories. You’ll always be my Southern Part of Heaven. Until we meet again, hark the sound.