the sparkly life

Friday, July 26, 2019

14 Cool Things You Need to Click On Today

hanging out in the hamptons

I can't believe it's almost August. I mean, how?? The summer is over half over! It's going by way too fast. My kids are finishing their fifth week of camp today, which is just bizarre. (And it's hitting me how I had hoped to accomplish way more during those camp hours that I actually have. Eek!)

And, now, we're finally doing a little bit of (local-ish) traveling. We visited friends in the Hamptons last weekend, which was great, and are heading to Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore next week. (Believe it or not, I haven't been to the Jersey Shore since I was a kid!). This weekend, we'll be laying low at the lake, which I am definitely excited for. A lazy weekend of reading sounds good to me. 

Whatever you're up to this weekend, I hope you make it a great one. Here's a few fun links to check out in the meantime.

• If you've seen me in person in the past two weeks, there's a decent chance I was wearing this Vici dress, because I have been living in it. It's kind of the perfect dress: It's basically a big, soft t-shirt, so it's super comfy, but the cut is just right, so it's not shapeless or overly baggy. And I love the dusty black color; it looks vintage-y and just a little worn in. I've dressed it up with gold sandals and a long necklace, and worn it running around town with flip flops and a hat. And it's under $50! I'm obsessed.

• I've always been an Anthropologie fan (fun fact: I worked there years ago!), but lately I've been rediscovering it in a big way. They have so much great stuff right now! I recently bought this hat, which I love, and two of these $18 knotted headbands, which are perfect (and much less expensive) dupes of those Lele Sadoughi headbands everyone is wearing. And this lacy top is next on my list. How pretty is it?!?

• Got these blush-pink sandals from Target (!) the other day, and they are even cuter in person.

• As I mentioned a few weeks back in this post about how to increase your reading, I've been reading a ton this year. I'm now up to 64 books in 2019! And in case you're looking for a beach read, here are a few of the very best ones I've read since that post: Recursion (this one actually ranks as an all-time fave. SO GOOD), A Nearly Normal Family, Lock Every Door, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Beekeeper of Aleppo (out in late August, but you can pre-order), and You Were There Too (this doesn't launch until January, but it's worth preordering. I loved it!).

• Speaking of books, I'm super excited about a new podcast coming soon from one of my Instagram buddies, @bookishkatenyc. It's called The Shelf-Care Podcast, and it combines two of my favorite things: books and beauty. (Uh, why didn't I think of that!??!) Kate already told me who the first guest is, too, and it's a good one!

• I went to an Amazon holiday preview earlier this week, and there was so much good stuff. A lot of it is already available, so here's a peek at my three very favorite things I saw there: this amazing gold flatware set (four five-piece place settings for under $95), this stunning serving piece (so good for entertaining!), and this jewelry storage cabinet hidden inside a mirror (I need this).

• I never knew I wanted a "snuggle nook" until I saw this one. Now, I need a snuggle nook. (I mean, how cozy and gorgeous and snuggle-worthy does it seem?!?)

• I hadn't even heard of Electric sunglasses a year ago--and suddenly they are by far my favorite brand. I own three pairs now! My latest is this Honey Bee style in Nude Crystal, which is a big departure for me (I almost always wear black sunnies), but it's so fun. And my absolute favorite pair is the Crasher in Matte Black. So cool! They're definitely not cheap, but they are extremely durable, and just so damn good-looking.

• Besides being a blogger and a beauty-PR wizard, my friend Meghan is a true Paris expert (she has so many dreamy posts of her many trips there on her blog!). She recently launched a new service where she'll help you plan your trip there by creating a personalized, curated list of cool things to do and see including lots of hidden gems you won't find in the guidebooks. If you're heading to Paris soon, 1) I'm jealous, and 2) check out her service, Paris, Perfected. It's only $25!

• Watermelon Mint Frose?! Uh, yes, please!

• After hearing rave after rave from people I admire, I had to check out this much talked about essay. You should, too. It's worth it.

• A photographer asked elderly couples to pose for engagement-style photos--and the results are adorable.

And in case you missed it, I...

• Told you why you must visit Nosara, Costa Rica immediately.

• Shared exactly what I bought at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 22, 2019

How I Fell In Love With Nosara, Costa Rica

nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
al chile nosara costa rica
So this trip happened in the tail end of March, and I'm just writing about it now, but let's ignore that procrastination. I'm obsessed with Nosara, Costa Rica, you guys, and I really want to tell you about it.

Now, truth be told, awful and privileged as this sounds, I didn't want to go to Costa Rica. We always do our "big" vacation over spring break, and I was looking forward to a pool and a beach chair and not much more than that. I had never been anywhere in Costa Rica before, so I mistakenly imagined that it was just for people who were after an active, rugged vacation of zip lining, surfing, and rainforests, and that's just not my vibe. 

Well, my husband talked me into it by showing me that our hotel did in fact have a pool. Fine. I'd go. But turns out, I was so wrong. So wrong. I absolutely fell in love with Nosara. We all did. (So much so that, before we even left, we booked a hotel stay for a return trip next year!) 

Nosara is amazing. It's a tiny surf town tucked on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It's relatively remote: a good two-plus hour drive (half of which is on bumpy dirt roads!) from the small-ish Liberia airport. But as far away as it may be, it's surprisingly hip! They have the coolest little restaurants that serve amazing food including countless vegan and gluten-free options. It's also super eco and nearly impossible to find a plastic water bottle or straw around. (Bamboo straws abound!) And there's yoga and a general spirit of wellness everywhere. In many ways, it felt very much like a piece of Venice, CA, or Brooklyn had been plopped down in this Costa Rican village.

Yet, Nosara is really the best of both worlds. Despite the chia bowls and cool taco spots, it also still manages to feel very undiscovered in many ways. For example, you won't find a single cabana, chaise, or bar on the beach. By law, it's completely undisturbed by development. (You'll just find surfers--tons of them!) 

And there's monkeys! This area of Costa Rica is famous for their howler monkeys and you'll learn why they're called that pretty quickly. (Throughout the day you'll hear their call--which sounds like a cross between a lion roaring and a scary ghost howling--as a soundtrack in the nearby jungle). There are also dirt roads and no street signs or addresses anywhere in Nosara! To get around, rent a golf cart (if I give you one tip about traveling to Nosara, it would be that), and then just ask the locals how to get where you need to go!

Everyone speaks English there; we didn't have any trouble communicating. That said, while there, I found myself jealous of the fellow Americans who could speak Spanish to get around. So, a few weeks after I got back, I signed up for a local Intro to Spanish class, and downloaded the DuoLingo app. My goal is to be able to speak at least some broken Spanish when we go back next year. :)

And yes, we are going back next year! Staying in a different hotel and renting that golf cart the second we get there. Here's a little bit of what made our trip so special--and what I'd recommend--if you're considering checking out Nosara for yourself...

nosara costa rica hotels

nosara costa rica hotels

nosara costa rica with kids

howler monkeys

Where to Stay

A great thing about Nosara is that it's not overdeveloped (yet!). There are no giant hotels or tall buildings of any kind. Just tons of little boutique hotel options as well as Air BnBs.

(*Admittedly this is very limited list--there are tons of other places--but I'm only including hotels that we have personal experience with...)

Olas Verdes: This was where we stayed! It's a LEED platinum eco hotel that's very cool because it's located literally in the jungle, so it feels very Costa Rica. And we would see monkeys in the trees above us when we were lying by the pool or walking to breakfast! It's also very close to the beach (not always the case in Nosara)--about a five minute walk through the jungle from the hotel to the shore. The rooms are all suites, but keep in mind that only the bedrooms have air conditioning. (The living rooms/kitchenettes do not, which is not a big deal during the day, but you would not want to sleep in them at night, and some have pull-out couches that are meant for sleeping if you have a larger group, so keep that in mind.) We had a mini fridge and a toaster oven in our group--both came in super handy. The staff was very nice and helpful in setting up outside excursions for us, and every guest gets a cute metal water bottle when you arrive! Note: The trade-off for the cool jungle location is that you are kind of far from a lot of stuff. (It was a good 15-minute walk to get to Beach Dog Cafe; 20-plus minutes to "town." And a taxi is really required to explore further than that.) Translation: You will definitely want a golf cart if you are staying here. 

The Gilded Iguana: Truth be told, this is the hotel I really wanted to stay in, but we booked too late and they were all full. But...we actually booked it for next year while we were there! Can't wait to stay there in 2020. Located in North Playa Guinones, it's a super chic boutique surfer hotel (very reminiscent of something like the Surf Lodge in Montauk) with a gorgeous pool, a fabulous restaurant (see review below), a great little gift shop (worth visiting even if you don't stay here), and a separate surf club down by the beach. 

nosara costa rica restaurants

nosara costa rica restaurants
where to eat in nosara

where to eat in nosara costa rica
where to eat nosara costa rica

nosara restaurants
where to get coffee in nosara costa rica

Where To Eat

Beach Dog Cafe: This place is a Nosara institution and a must-visit! We ate there several times. They have an extensive menu with tons of vegan options, and a very cool beach-bar vibe. Despite the big menu, I got the fried avocado tacos every time I went though. They were incredible! Located in Playa Guiones. 

La Luna: Another must-visit! I actually heard about this from an expat, and I'm so glad she told me about it as it's one of my favorite places we visited in Nosara. It's located in Playa Pelada (take a taxi there), right on the beach, so your kids can play in the sand while you're waiting for your food. Reservations are a must, especially if you want a table outside (and you do want a table outside, so you can watch the sunset!). This was also by far the "fanciest" restaurant we went to in Nosara. Most Nosara restaurants are super casual (think flip flops and shorts), but this is a step above. It's definitely the place to pull out a nice sundress or khaki pants for the guys, but it's still casual--just fancy for Nosara. And while the location is gorgeous, the food is incredible, too. It's Mediterranean with fish, steak, salads, and brick-fired pizzas. We way overordered, because we thought the pizzas were personal pizzas judging by the reasonable-by-NYC-standards prices, but nope! They were large pizzas. So for two adults and two kids, we had three giant pizzas (goat cheese, salami, and pepperoni), a steak, and a huge antipasto platter. It was all amazing, but a lot. (I also had a watermelon margarita, which was out of this world.) And the best part: Since we had a mini fridge in our hotel room, we ended up getting all of the excess pizza to go, and we ate leftover slices for lunch and snacks over the next few days.

Al Chile: This was one of our favorite spots! It's a delicious open-air bar/restaurant in downtown Guiones with super yummy drinks and tacos. This also happens to be the pick-up/drop-off spot for Nosara Day Camp (see below), so my husband and I would often grab lunch or a margarita here and then wait for our kids to come back from camp. I loved the guac and chips, tacos, yuca fries, and pineapple salad. 

The Gilded Iguana Restaurant & Bar: Loved this place. It's a good stop when you're craving food that feels a bit more familiar, and the large, open-air restaurant has a cool, upscale-beachy vibe. I got the gnocchi pomodoro for dinner (yum), a panini for lunch (also yum), and frozen rose to drink both times (double yum). They also had a good kids menu. My kids tried the buttered noodles and waffles, and they approved.

Harmony Hotel Juice Bar: The same expat who had suggested La Luna recommended this to me, and I made the mistake of waiting until the end of our trip to visit it. It's awesome! It's a crunchy-chic little juice bar hidden in the jungle behind the Harmony Hotel. (Ask the guard how to get there. You take a little meandering path through the trees.) They have coffee, smoothies, baked goods, and other light bites like sandwiches. Lots of vegan and gluten-free options. Very cool! (There is also a healthy and yummy-sounding restaurant located in the hotel, but we never had a chance to eat there.)

Robin's Cafe & Ice Cream: This little spot in Playa Guiones serves breakfast, lunch, and ice cream. We only went here for ice cream, so haven't tried the sandwiches, salads, etc, but the ice cream was super yummy!

La Brasa: This tiny Argentinian food truck is located just outside of Gabi's Place (see below). The steaks were delicious and our kids hung out on the adjacent play equipment while we waited for the food, which was nice.

El Manglar: This was the restaurant in our hotel, so we ate there a lot. And if I'm being totally honest, it did get old. (But what hotel restaurant wouldn't?) But I would definitely recommend checking it out. The ambiance itself is great: It's an outdoor restaurant located under a canopy of jungle trees, and they have some great authentic dishes. My favorites for lunch/dinner: cold cucumber soup, fettucine a la granja, Surfer Chicken, and their dip trio which included fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and black bean spread. And for breakfast: The Surfer Sandwich (fresh bread, scrambled eggs, and avocado) and huevos rancheros (topped with fresh avocado!) were really good.

nosara costa rica with kids

nosara costa rica with kids

nosara costa rica with kids

Kids' Camps

Having a good kids' club option pretty much made the trip for us--and for our kids! Since Nosara's hotels are tiny, they don't offer kid's clubs, which is a luxury we've really gotten used to. Instead, they have two local day camps that take kids from any hotel and provide awesome activities for them. Our kids did Nosara Day Camp for the full week and loved it. It was perfect because we'd eat breakfast together as a family, drop them off at camp, and then while they did their thing, my husband and I would basically have our vacation time! (This usually meant he would surf and I would sit by the pool and read.) Then, he and I would grab lunch and pick up the kids right after that. Then, we'd spend the afternoon as a family. It was perfect.

Nosara Day Camp: The activities change every day, but some things that my kids did during their week: mango farm tour, kayaking, a cove at the beach, fishing on a farm (and then the farmer's wife cooked that fish--and made fresh tortillas!--for their lunch! They still talk about it.), waterfall visit, and more. Lunch was provided every day. Drop-off was around 8:30am and then pick-up was between 1 and 2:30pm (depending on the activities they were doing that day).

Nosara Kids Camp: We didn't do this one because the drop-off wasn't as convenient to our hotel, but it's the other big option in the area. And it looks great! It has more of a surfing focus, but the kids also do activities like art, cooking, and Spanish.

safari surf nosara

love nosara

massage in nosara costa rica

Things to do

Tica Massage: I had heard this was a must-do, and I'm so glad I did it. It's a collection of beautiful huts with skilled masseuses. You can make a reservation, or just walk in. A one-hour full-body massage runs $75, cash only. Mine was amazing.

Refuge For Wildlife: I took my kids here one afternoon, and they really enjoyed it. This is a privately-run place run by an animal-loving expat American. She and her team care for any injured or sick animals brought to them, but they specialize in howler monkeys. We learned that there is a big problem in Costa Rica with howler monkeys being electrocuted by power lines, and it becomes an even bigger issue when the moms are killed and the baby monkeys cannot survive alone. There are grown animals living in Refuge, and also a ton of (adorable!) babies. You get to see the animals, feed howler monkeys, and learn all about the work that they do. Note: They have an age limit, which my son did not reach, but I called and they said it was okay. The concern is that it can be upsetting for some younger kids because it's not just checking out cute animals. You will hear upsetting stories and possibly view some injured animals. My son was okay with it and did fine. (He was hot and complaining by the end though!) Things to know: There is a cost of a $50 donation per person. Also, they only do tours on select days and you must book before you go, so if you're interested in going, check out their schedule when you first get to town. Also, they are changing locations soon, but there current one is very remote. It's not super far, but it's way up in the mountains. You'll definitely need to take a taxi or a tuk tuk (very inexpensive) to get there. FYI, SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary is another wildlife refuge in the area that also does tours, so they are another option!

Canopy Tour: I'm way too much of a wimp to do ziplining of any kind and this is VERY high ziplinging, but my husband took my daughter one afternoon. They loved it. 

Surf lessons: My husband and daughter took lessons through Safari Surf (they happened to be located in our hotel), and were very happy. The instructors were amazing with kids, and in three, one-hour lessons, my daughter went from sitting on a board while the instructor manned it to standing up and actually surfing!

Yoga: This is a huge thing in Nosara, and I didn't take advantage of it nearly enough. My hotel held one to two daily yoga classes at an outdoor pavilion in the jungle, but next time I go, I'm hoping to branch out. I've heard great things about Bodhi Tree Resort, which is a luxe yoga retreat but offers a full roster of classes open to non-hotel guests.

Gabi's Place: This is great little commercial area of small, varied kiosks under a big, covered pavilion. They have ice cream (Jefe's Helados--it's bare bones but delicious), a laundromat, sushi, a taco/cocktail bar, a grass-fed butcher (!), and more. But the best part is that there is an enclosed playground right next door, so mom and dad can have a drink--or wait for their food--while the kids run around and play. (They also have a big satellite TV where they show sports games if that's your thing.)

Love Nosara: Nosara is not a huge shopping town, FYI, but this store is a fun little spot to visit. It's completely open to the elements (they remove the merchandise overnight), and they sell their own line of bodycon wrap dresses, and then t-shirts and baseball caps for men, women, and children. Quality is great and it's not super expensive. My husband and kids all got tees. I'm still regretting that I didn't! Also fun: There are swings and a hammock in the store, so kids can hang out there while you browse. Located in Playa Guiones.

Golf-cart rental: Nosara is small, but spread out and the roads are bumpy and hilly. It's also hot. Walking everywhere gets real old, real fast. Renting a golf cart was a total game changer. There are a couple of different spots to rent one (and your hotel can help), but this is where we got ours.


Nosara offers so much more, but these were a few of our favorites. If you've been to Nosara and have a favorite restaurant, shop, etc, let me know and I'll put it on my list for next year! :)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Here's Exactly What I Bought at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

nordstrom anniversary sale

I know you are probably sick of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale posts. I'm sick of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale posts. (That's why I didn't do any sort of preview beforehand!) That said, I did just shop it (logged on right at 12:30--LOL!), and I wanted to show you exactly what I bought in case you're looking for anything similar or need some ideas.

Note: This was actually the first year that I was able to shop the pre-sale! I've never been a cardholder, so I usually have to wait until the regular sale starts, and then it's always super annoying because all the best stuff that all the bloggers have been posting about is already sold out.

I haven't had a Nordstrom card in the past, because I have a thing against store credit cards--I typically don't believe in them. BUT I realized that the early access makes such a huge difference, so I decided to get one just this once. I don't expect to use my Nordstrom card for anything besides early access to the sale, and I'll pay it off immediately. If you want to shop the good stuff in the sale and are considering getting one, too, I do think it's totally worth it. And you get approved right away--and can shop right away!

Anyway, here's what I bought! (You can click directly on the photos, or scroll down for prices and info about each one...) :) 

Happy shopping!

{from top, left to right}

BP Jogger Sweatpants: ($31.90, regular price: $49) These slim, leopard print pants are really fun and such an amazing deal.

Treasure & Bond Pleated Top: ($45.90, regular price: $69) Love the versatility of this one; it would be super cute for day or night. And the sunny yellow color is so pretty!

Halogen Crewneck Sweater: ($45.90, regular price: $69) A great everyday sweater in a range of colors. I got one of the striped ones, but they have nice solids, too.

Something Navy Flecked Crewneck Sweater($49, regular price: $79) I love that this chunky sweater is like a great basic but with a twist: There are cool little flecks woven in the fabric that almost look like sprinkles!

Halogen Lace Detail Blouse: ($49.90, regular price: $79) I'm always looking for great tops to wear with jeans for a night out. This one is so pretty and will be perfect for date nights this fall.

Vince Camuto Stud Trim Hammered Satin Blouse: ($65.90, regular price: $99) Such a good going-out top, and such an insanely good price! I love the stud details. I got the pale pink, but it comes in a bunch of other great colors, too.

Barefoot Dreams CozyChic Lite Island Cardigan: ($72.90, regular price: $110) I've written before about my intense love for the Barefoot Dreams Circle Cardigan (SO. FREAKING. SOFT AND COZY.). Well. This was such a good deal that I decided to try this style, too. 

Barefoot Dreams CozyChic Circle Cardigan: ($76.90, regular price: $116) Ok, confession: I got two Barefoot Dreams cardigans...! I already own this one in silvery gray and black, but since it's one of my all-time favorite things, I couldn't resist snatching up another one in the light grayish-blue shade.

Nike Air Zoom Fearless Flyknit 2 Training Sneaker: ($96.90, regular price: $130) My black and white Flyknits are my absolute favorite pair of sneakers (so comfortable and really, really good-looking), so it was a must to snatch up this bronze-y color at this (incredible) price.

Free People Softly Structured Knit Tunic: ($99, regular price: $148) Love me a big cozy sweater for fall. This one is so good with leggings or skinny jeans.

That's it! Hope you guys scoop up some great stuff. (And if you get any of these things, too, let me know!)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

16 Cool Things You Need to Click On Today

alyssa hertzig cool things to click

What a week! My kids were home all day long for the first three days, which was...a lot. We did a few excursions (such as seeing Secret Life of Pets 2 where we were the only ones in the theater!), but it was mostly "I'm bored" on repeat. I bought them a lot of new books, made them spend some time on their summer workbooks (I'd heard great things about the Summer Brain Quest books to prevent summer slide, so I got this one and this one, and they actually really enjoyed them!). But I'd be lying if I said they didn't spend a lot of quality time on their iPads during those days, too. 

And then, they were off to camp on Thursday and Friday, and--oh em gee--it was like my entire world opened up! I was free from 8am until 5pm straight and it was glorious! I did miss them like crazy and was so excited to see them at the end of the day when they got home though. (Wish I could say the feeling was mutual though; when they got home, they were mostly excited to see their iPad!) But the day-long break is nice, not going to lie. Now, we're all taking it easy this weekend (it's way too hot to do much of anything), and looking forward to the week ahead. Camp, I love you.

Whatever you're up to this weekend, I hope you make it a great one. Here's a few fun links to check out in the meantime!

• Since we've been talking a lot about books lately, I wanted to share the latest one that I finished. It was Recursion, which is one of the hottest books of the summer (it was a June Book of the Month pick!), and it was AMAZING. Definitely one of the very best books I've read this year, and possibly one of the best I've ever read! It was a total mind-bend and an unputdownable thriller and I loved every second of it. Highly recommend! 

• Also, the July Book of the Month picks just came out! If you're a BOTM member, what did you pick? I chose Lock Every Door (I've heard it's a really good thriller!), and then added on The Gifted School, because it's supposed to be fabulous. It would have been a lot harder for me to choose, but I actually had already read advance copies of two of the picks: Things You Save In A Fire (a smart romance that's so good and likely to be made into a movie soon!) and Three Women (really good, different than anything you've ever read, and sure to be one of the most talked about books of the year). If you haven't joined Book of the Month yet, do it! (I'm obsessed!!) Here's your incentive: Join using this link and you and I will each get a free book. Yay!

• And one more cool thing about books: I recently shared on my Instagram that I discovered this amazing site called Book Outlet, where they sell overstocks of books for insane prices (we're talking $1.99 to like $6 for most things!). And while they don't carry brand new releases, they do have an incredible selection of both new-ish and classic kids books and adult books, so it's absolutely perfect for getting books that have been hanging around on your Amazon wishlist forever. I just bought a huge box of books (about 75 percent for my kids and 25 percent for me!) for about $130--but the books were worth around $400! Anyway, if you want to try it, I just discovered a discount code! If you use this link, you can get $10 off your order (woo hoo!). Enjoy!

• This is my favorite cardigan (I own it in black, charcoal gray, maroon, and army green, and love the little brass buttons!), and it's a steal: $24.99 on Amazon!

• This jumpsuit is so pretty.

• And this maxi dress! Love the gold foil details and the price. (It's on sale for under $100!)

• Okay, and this Rebecca Taylor dress is gorgeous, too! Would be so pretty for a summer wedding or a rehearsal dinner. (I think I'm going to wait for it to--hopefully--go on sale though...)

• Speaking of weddings, my brother's wedding was three weeks ago, and I was a bridesmaid in it. My sister-in-law had basically no requests as to what we wore (beyond that she wanted us in long black dresses), but she did say she'd prefer pale pink nails. She hadn't specified what to do with toes though, and I worried that the dark colors I usually gravitate to (navy, back, deep red), would look out of place. So I split the difference and chose a medium mauve shade. Well. I got so many compliments on it (I think because it's very pretty and wearable, but still a little different?), and it has totally become my new favorite, go-to pedi color. It's Zoya nail polish in Madeline, if you're looking for a new shade.

• I had/have a ridiculous amount of basil in my garden this week, so I made pesto. I used this recipe, and it was delicious and SO easy. (If anyone has any great basil recipes/ideas, let me know. I still have so much!)

• It's been a weirdly domestic week for me: I also made blueberry muffins! I used a mix, but I also tried Rach Parcell's trick for jazzing up box muffins with homemade crumble topping. It made all the difference, and was so good.

• How summery and refreshing and delicious does this chicken paillard with watermelon and arugula salad sound?

• Meghan's post about her trip Provence really, really makes me want to go to Provence.

I can't stop thinking about this dreamy kitchen.

• How to cook Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocchi in an air fryer! #genius

And in case you missed it, I...

• Revealed my tips for reading more books in less time!

• Shared my summer bucket list.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, June 24, 2019

How I've Read 50 Books In Six Months (And How You Can, Too!)

how to read faster

A few weeks back, in early June, I shared on my Instagram Stories that I had just finished my 40th book of the year. I got a ton of DMs asking me how I managed to do that, and the truth is, it hasn't been an accident. I've made a major, concerted effort to read more this year, and it has definitely paid off. I'm now already at 48 books read so far this year (and almost done with two more!), which is a huge uptick for me, considering I read 22 books total last year. (And I was pretty proud of that at the time as 22 was already more than I'd read the previous year.)

I'll also add that I'm not a particularly fast reader. In fact, I'm probably an average-to-slow reader! I'm also just like you: I work, I'm a mom, I hang out with friends, I watch my favorite shows on TV, and for years, I considered myself "too busy" to read. Turns out, that wasn't true. I still do all of the things I did before (still have those kids--lol!), but I've just come up with some very specific--and, I realize now, very effective--strategies that have allowed me to supercharge the amount of books I read in the limited time that I have. 

None of it is rocket science, but it works. And I promise you can do everything on this list, too. If you want to know how to read more books, how to read faster, and how to find more time in your day to read, scroll down. Here's exactly how I taught myself to read more books--and how you can do it, too.

best books 2019

Read 20 minutes every day. Most of the tips on this list are stuff I figured out on my own, but not this one. I got this tip from Laura Tremaine, and it is a good one. Sounds simple, but it makes a big difference, and it's what really jumpstarted me to become a such an avid reader this year. Here it is: Pick up a book, set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes, and read straight for that whole time. (No stopping to check email or social--just focus for 20 freaking minutes and read.) Do this every single day (schedule it in your calendar if that helps), and even if you do nothing else on this list, you'll already be increasing your reading, big time. Everyone is busy, but no one is too busy to do something for 20 minutes. If you want to read for more than that, great! If you don't, that's fine, too. But do the 20 minutes every day without fail, and I promise, it will be a gamechanger in the number of books you read.

ABR. (Always Be Reading.) This has basically become my motto. (Consider it my GTL--Gym, Tan, Laundry--if you will.) The idea is that I want to always have a book with me, so that I can easily carve out pockets of time (even a few minutes here and there) to read. Now, ABR is a lot easier if you read electronically. I do most of my reading on my Kindle app on my phone, and since my iPhone is essentially one of my limbs at this point, it's always with me. But if you're super anti-e-reader, make sure you always have a physical book close at hand, in your purse or a tote bag, etc. Always having a book at the ready means I can easily read for a few minutes if I'm standing in line, waiting for a train, etc, instead of scrolling through social media. You'll be surprised how quickly a few spare minutes here or there adds up. But ABR goes even further. If you are walking down the street or driving in your car listening to Taylor Swift or a podcast, cool. But could be reading! Because I strive to ABR, the minute I step outside to walk to the train or to an appointment, I put in my earbuds and switch on an audiobook (more on those below). I also listen to audiobooks when I'm putting on my makeup in the morning, making dinner, putting away laundry, etc. I mean it: Always. Be. Reading.

best audiobooks

Learn to love audiobooks. Wait! I know what you're thinking right now; I was you just a few months ago. But go with me here: Audiobooks can seem intimidating or weird--I know--but they are actually awesome (often better than the regular book version--seriously), and can massively up the amount of books you are able to read. Now, I'll be honest: I don't love to listen to fiction. Some people don't have a problem with it, but I still find it challenging to follow a complicated narrative. But I love--love!--listening to non-fiction books and memoirs (especially celeb memoirs!). Non-fiction books (think self-help, parenting, history, etc) literally just feel like listening to a podcast. Memoirs--and particularly, celeb memoirs--are my favorite though. I honestly don't think I'll ever read a celeb memoir again, because it infinitely changes the experience to hear it read in the author's voice. You hear the author laugh, use funny voices, even cry--it totally alters the experience for the better. Two other tips: 1) Always increase the speed of your audiobook. Authors talk verrrrrry slooowwww when recording audiobooks, and I promise, you can listen faster. I listen to everything sped up to 1.25 to 1.5 times. It sounds superfast for about five seconds when you first increase it, but then you get used to it. 2) If you want to try out audiobooks, I highly recommend joining Audible. They have every possible audiobook that's available (you just order them through Amazon), and their app is great for listening. (If you use this affiliate link and do a 30-day trial, you can get two free audiobooks!) And to get you started, a few of my very favorite audiobooks are: This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps, Troublemaker by Leah Remini, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home.

Read multiple books at a time. I was always someone who reads only one book at a time, but that's the old 20-Books-In-a-Year me. I am now always reading two books, and often reading three. I always have a book that I'm reading on my Kindle app, and then I also always have an audiobook going. If I do a third book, it will be a physical book. Audiobooks are always non-fiction for me, and then I try to make the Kindle and physical books very different, which means that one is fiction and the other is usually a memoir or some other type of non-fiction book. Reading two to three books at once in this way keeps you from getting bored, and also gives you a psychological boost because you end up finishing multiple books one after another--boom, boom, boom! And of course, it helps ensure that you ABR.
how to read faster

Don't be afraid to dump a bad book. I can't tell you how many boring books I used to suffer through because I had that mentality that you had to finish a book. Like it was a law. Well, I'm here to tell you: It's not illegal or rude or wrong to stop reading a book you're just not feeling. You can take a permanent or temporary break from it and the world is not going to end. If you're not enjoying it, you're going to read it slowly, and just think about all of the reading time you're wasting by doing that! Let it go, and pick up something else. And that dud will always be there waiting for you, if you decide to give it another go down the line. (I've done that before, by the way, and often find it way more enjoyable the second time around!)

Follow fellow readers. I probably get 99 percent of my book recommendations from people I follow on social media. And when someone you trust and admire is raving about a book, you'll find that you won't be able to wait to dive into it, too. Some of the accounts I follow are just "regular" people who love to read, and some are dedicated #bookstagrams. A few of my favorite accounts to follow for book recs: @ashleyspivey, @laura.tremaine, @graceatwood, @hithapalepu, @carlysbookclub, @reesesbookclubxhellosunshine, @nycbookgirl, @sarahsbookshelves@shelfbyshelf, and @purewowbookclub. (Shameless plug: I give lots of book recs on my Insta Stories at @alyssahertzig, and I *just* started my own Bookstagram! It's @alyssaisbooked and I would be forever grateful for a follow!) I also get a ton of recs from #Spiveys Club on Facebook (search for it! It's the one with the book stack emoji), and the Bad on Paper podcast.

Join Book of the Month. After debating for a long time, I joined Book of the Month Club a few months back, and I'm so happy I did. If you're not familiar with it: Each month they pick five books that are basically guaranteed to be awesome and guaranteed to be some of the biggest, most popular releases. (I also love that they often get books early, so BOTM members are often able to get their hands on books a month or so before they are officially released.) I've found it's a great way to a) learn about "guaranteed" page-turners, b) build excitement (it feels like Christmas morning when your blue box of books arrives, and even that pales in comparison to the excitement of finding out which books are going to be offered each month, and c) it's a great deal. You get one hardcover new release each month at $14.99, and you can also add on any others for just $9.99. (You also get a free add-on book during your birthday month!) Now is a great time to join because they're running a promo where you get your first book for $9.99 instead of $14.99, so if you've been mulling it over, don't wait! (And if you do join, use my link here, because then we'll both get a free book! Yay!)

book of the month deals

Alternate heavy and light books. I like reading sweeping historical fiction, but I also like a fun beach read. When possible, I try to alternate heavier, denser books with shorter or lighter reads. This helps keep my momentum up, and will help you feel like you're reading more books. (Because you will be reading more books this way!)

Watch less TV. Okay, this is the one you didn't want to hear, I know. Sorry, but it's true. I'm no math genius, but it turns out less watching-TV time equals more reading time. I used to watch a lot of TV because it was how I would wind down at night or on a lazy weekend afternoon. Now, I wind down with a book. I still watch my very favorite shows, but really, only those favorites. If I get the urge to switch on the TV just "because," I read instead. 

Build a kick-ass TBR (to be read) pile. Ultimately, it all boils down to this simple truth: If you have great books to read, you'll read more. Here's a few of my all-time favorites and some of the very best books I've read this year. Grab a few of these amazing page-turners, and you're on your way to an awesome book year. Try 11/22/63, Lilac Girls, The Nightingale, Magic Hour, Tender At The Bone, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Mrs. Everything, City of Girls, The Great Alone (yes, I'm clearly obsessed with Kristin Hannah!), Station Eleven, Kitchens of The Great Midwest, When Breath Becomes Air, The Age of Miracles, The Heart's Invisible Furies, and EducatedHappy reading! 

Do you have any tips to add? If so, please let me know! And if you try any of these and see a difference, please let me know either here or on Instagram. Can't wait to hear how many books you guys read this year now!

Monday, June 3, 2019

My Summer Bucket List

ice cream and kids in the summertime

After what seemed like forever, summer is finally here! I did a summer bucket list last year, and it turned out to be a nice way to remind myself of a few of the little things I wanted to make sure to carve out time for in a season that's always so much busier than we expect it to be. So, this year I'm doing it again! Here's a few little--and not so little--things I want to be sure to cram in before Labor Day this year...

Get some fancy ice cream. I've been wanting to visit Dominique Ansel Kitchen for their famous summer-only soft serve forever, and I just...haven't yet. This year I'm doing it, dammit! Right now they don't have the one I've really been wanting to try (burrata!), but they do have their watermelon soft serve, which sounds amazing, and looks even better. I want to try it...and 'gram it (of course).

Do a ton of reading. I'm on a roll this year with reading (as of this writing, I've read 38 books so far in 2019!). I want to keep up that pace--or even amp it up!--this summer. I'm going to give myself the goal of reading 12 books between now and the end of August, which should be doable if I keep up the pace I've been going at. To help me out, I recently joined Book of the Month and am excited to get my first book any day now. (If you've been thinking of joining BOTM, too, use this link and get your first book for just $9.99!) And the virtual To Be Read pile on my Kindle app is stacked high right now. A few books I've already bought and plan to dig into soon: Ask Again Yes, A Nearly Normal Family (my first Book of the Month pick!), and Lost Roses. (And a few more that I got early sneak peeks at and recently finished that I highly recommend you grab/preorder for summer beach reads: Mrs. Everything, Fleishman Is In Trouble, Things You Save in a Fire, and City of Girls. All were amazing!)

Enjoy our (new-ish) backyard. As you may remember, we did a major backyard renovation last year complete with treehouse, fire pit, outdoor kitchen, and more. The only problem was that it wasn't completed until the end of the summer, so we didn't have a ton of time to enjoy it. This year I want to do many more meals outside and just hang out there more. And speaking of that...

Cook our own pizza. We love making pizzas from scratch in our Big Green Egg, but it takes awhile to cook them, so it's a little frustrating. (But they taste amazing!) To remedy that, I've had my eye on the Ooni pizza oven ever since Helena from Brooklyn Blonde mentioned hers. I'm planning to get this one (the Ooni Koda) which is super small, gas-operated, and cranks out amazing-looking pizzas in just 60 seconds! 

See a movie during the day. This has been on my all-seasons to-do list for that past three years. When I went freelance, I actually said to myself: "Working from home will be so great! Every once in awhile, I can catch a movie during the day!" And I've done that exactly zero times. So this summer, at least once, I'm going to take advantage of my flexible day, and steal away to our local theater for a two-hour escape.

Garden like crazy. If you follow me on Instagram Stories, you may know that I started a vegetable garden for the first time earlier this spring. I don't even own any houseplants, so this was a big step for me. But, much to my surprise, I'm loving it! What I originally planned to be merely a small, raised container bed, has turned into two raised beds and tons of individual containers. I'm growing zucchini, eggplant, cucumber, beets, tons of herbs, kale, romaine, butter lettuce, spinach, mesclun, and three types of tomatoes. Whew! This summer, I want to work hard to maintain it and produce/eat loads of veggies! (And then make alllll the salads! I have a Salads Pinterest board, if you want to follow along. I'll be relying on it heavily!)

Make a cobbler. This was on my list last year. I didn't do it. I have no idea why. This year, THE. COBBLER. IS. HAPPENING.

Eat lunch outside. By myself. With a book. I'm in awe of people who eat alone in restaurants. I never do it! It's not so much that I'm nervous about it; it just never occurs to me! But I love the idea of taking the time to eat lunch by yourself with nothing but a great book to keep you company. And the thought of doing it at an outdoor table on a beautiful day sounds even better! Think I'm going to do it at Elysian Cafe here in Hoboken. It's a delicious restaurant with an incredible outdoor patio, and oh yeah, my husband and I happen to be part owners! ;)

Visit Philadelphia. It's super close to NYC, but I haven't been since my husband and I went as one of our first trips together probably 13 years ago! Both of my kids learned a lot about Ben Franklin this year and they're really interested in him. So what better place to go? If you have any Philly suggestions (particularly kid-friendly ones!), please let me know!


What's on your summer bucket list?