Easy Holiday Decoration Tips

1. Light your tree easily. There are a few options here – I specificially use net lights, which are a large net of lights instead of strings. These are really easy to fling over the top of your tree and spread out evenly, no tangles. They are often meant for bushes or shrubs so mine are rectangular but they also come in triangles, which is better for trees. Another tip for very large trees is to string your lights vertically instead of around, as it is a bit easier to manage. And finally, you can get a pre-lit artificial tree!

2. Throw pillow covers. An easy way to change up your decor is to change the pillow covers on any throw pillows you have. The spare cases are inexpensive and easy to store the remainder of the year.

3. Use other people’s cards to decorate! My sister made me a clothespin wreath I can attach them to, but you can also string them or just hang them up for festive, easy decor.

4. Smart plug outlets. Save yourself from a lot of hassle and use these to control any lights remotely or on an automated timer. I don’t have a set schedule for mine and like to turn the lights off when I go to bed. This lets me get multiple stories of lights at the same time without going outside in the cold. I can set them to a timer, control them from my phone, or yell at Alexa to turn the lights on/off. The rest of the year I use one for my patio string lights.

Basic Things You Should Have in Your Adult Kitchen

1. A good frying pan

I would recommend a good non-stick pan or a cast iron pan. These are very versatile and can be used to get a good sear on a lot of foods. A 12″ pan will get you the most use, but a smaller one (6-8″) is great for just eggs. For non-stick, it doesn’t need to be expensive but make sure not to get a really old one to ensure it doesn’t have chemical issues.

2. A chef’s knife and knife sharpener

A standard chef’s knife is the most versatile and best value. Nowadays you can also get very affordable knife sets if you are looking for additional sizes and types! Look out for sales or check out places like TJ Maxx for big discounts on the bigger name brands. No matter how many knives you have, make sure to get a knife sharpener and try to sharpen it every time you use it. Knives work so much better and are actually safer when sharp because they slip when dull. The sharpeners that have grooves to drag the knives through are easier to use versus the traditional steels (long sticks).

3. A meat thermometer

A meat thermometer is an overlooked secret to ensuring your meat is done to your liking and/or proper safe temperature. You can check for doneness without cutting into the meat or trying to check juice colors or other more difficult factors.

4. Caffeinated beverage maker of your choice

If you are a regular coffee or tea drinker, learn to make your basics or even your fancy favorites at home! This is so much cheaper and faster than buying this everyday, and you can customize whatever you want! My favorite feature is that I can program mine to run at a certain time so I can set it up the night before and wake up to fresh coffee. This should be something you get everyday use from, whether this is a coffee maker, espresso pod machine, french press, tea kettle, tea organizer, or more.

5. Towels. Plenty of them.

I’m glad to say everyone I know now generally has a few towels in their kitchen for drying hands, dishes, etc. Additional towels are helpful for cleaning (I use a completely different microfiber style), rotating them out for laundry, or quickly wiping up spills. Don’t live like a college student with a single dish towel in your entire home.

Cooking Tips for Preparing Meat

Sharing a few tips today specifically for cooking proteins on your stovetop. Enjoy!

Sit at Room Temperature. Take your protein out of the fridge to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes as the first step of your prep while you gather any other items you need. This will help it cook more evenly.

Heat Your Pan. Turn the heat on your pan and let it come to temperature for a few minutes so it is hot (but not smoking) when you add your meat. Add the oil just before cooking and let it heat up about a minute.

Dry Your Meat. Pat dry any excess moisture from your meat. This ensures it sears and crisps properly instead of steaming in the pan from the excess moisture.

Don’t Flip Too Eagerly. Be patient when turning proteins over – this is how you get a nice crisp or sear. In addition, if you turn it over too soon (especially chicken or fish), the protein will actually stick to the pan more than if you had waited. As it cooks, the meat will usually release from the pan a bit on its own.

Use a Meat Thermometer. Stop cutting into your meat or wondering when it’s finished and get a meat thermometer! Check the thickest part of the protein for your desired doneness or to check if it is cooked through. Meat thermometers are also handy for braises, oven roasts, or grilled meat – you can get some with a very long cord to a monitor to leave the thermometer in the oven or grill the entire time.

Let it Rest. Let your meat rest after cooking (a few minutes for small pieces, 15-30 minutes for larger roasts). Your meat should not sit so long it becomes cold, but to redistribute the juices so it doesn’t all immediately leak out when sliced or cut.

Odds and Ends: My Favorite Travel Items

1. Portable Charging Bank

On every trip, I will bring a normal phone charger (extra-long USB cable and block). For longer flights, car rides, amusement parks, or any doubt of access to a power outlet, I will also bring a portable charging bank. I have a pretty large one that came with my Away suitcase, but also recommend this lighter Anker bank and an enormous one for camping that can be recharged via solar (similar one here).

2. Earplugs

I bring earplugs on every trip, and there is usually a pair in both my backpack and toiletry bag at all times. I have several family members and good friends who snore, plus you never know if there will be noise from the road, crying babies, or other people! The earplugs also come in handy on planes, trains, and other transport to block out noise at any time of day.

3. Snacks

I always travel with a heavy-duty granola bar (e.g., a full sized Clif bar) and empty water bottle to fill up at the airport. Okay, so the Clif bar is usually in my purse or backpack because I get really grumpy when hangry, but I’ll always have snacks in my bag for travel. This helps with any unexpected delays or if you don’t have time to pick up food. I like Clif bars because they are calorie dense for the size, and are pretty difficult to crush or crumble in your bag.

If my trip spans a mealtime, I’ll also bring a heftier snack like a sandwich or something easy to eat out of a plastic Ziploc bag like some pasta. I recommend something you would pack in a sack lunch that is simple and low in odor.

4. Contact Lens Cases

A great, inexpensive toiletry container is an empty contact lens case. I have several small 1-2oz plastic bottles for items like lotion or shampoo, but really struggled to find a smaller container for things like makeup (foundation) or fancier face lotions or serums. Contact lens cases are great for these smaller quantities and I have not had one leak either.

5. Waterproof Dry Bag for Phones

This one isn’t appropriate for every trip, but it’s inexpensive and has been a lifesaver on trips where your phone will get wet or dirty. I have taken this phone bag tubing or to the beach. Note that for tubing or rafting, you might want to also clip this to yourself with a small caribiner in case you flip over. I have also taken it on longer trips – in Thailand this came in handy during songkran water festival and surprisingly, an elephant preserve where we weren’t necessarily getting in water but were getting covered in mud and dirt!