A Christmas Gift Guide (For Everyone!)

So you should know I kind of obsess about finding the perfect Christmas gift every year... I like to give gifts that are unique and come from someplace awesome, ie. not just a department store. So I thought I would put together a little gift guide, some of these things I actually bought this Christmas as gifts, some are things I have and just think would make good gifts, but all our lovely. Oh and this guide is in no particular order meaning each gift could be for anyone! 

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Happy Birthday (A Gift Guide For Men)

So every year on my husbands birthday I try to out do myself. Ben and I have been together for four birthdays now and honestly as stressful as it can be trying to come up with a new gift every year it is also super fun and I love finding beautiful little shops and just personal ways to let him know I am grateful he is alive. 

SO this year I thought I would put my finds together for you to see as well! I feel like I am always searching gift guides for inspiration and hope this will bring you some too! 

Huckleberry Roasters Instagram

First (and maybe most importantly or at least for my sanity) A good bag of coffee! My husband loves coffee and so naturally this ends up in my gift... pretty often. This time around it was Huckleberry Roasters a local Denver coffee roaster that we love! Not only do they have great coffee but they offer a coffee subscription service... so basically you don't have to run out unless you want to! Their roasting style is really lovely and I always appreciate the unique flavors and offering they bring with each roast. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of good coffee! 

Oh and if your man is not a coffee lover whiskey is a great alternative! 

Ps. If you need coffee brewing equipment here is a great place to start.... 

Red Leaf Leather Instagram

Secondly on my list I always try to get Ben something personalized. One year it was a keychain with the GPS coordinates for the spot where he proposed, another year it was personalized spoons with a funny spoon related quote on them... basically always something kind of sweet and just a reminder that I love him. This year it was a wallet from Red Leaf Leather with a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit which the pastor read at our wedding. Red Leaf Leather makes the lovelies wallets and other leather goods and they can be personalized (and come in so many colors) which is basically the best. I love this wallet not only because it is good quality and Ben can hopefully use it forever but because I was able to make it unique and personal to him which really is the essence of a good gift. 

Ps. If you already have the gift but need a cute card here are a few shops I have found some amazing cards at....

BlackBirdTees Instagram

Lastly one of the things I often do is search Etsy for unique shirts and this year found BlackBirdTees. Basically one of the loveliest shops I have every stumbled upon. BlackBirdTees has a wide variety of products and all of them so earthy and good! This is one of the softest shirts I have ever felt and the design is just awesome, Ben loved it! There is something fun about having a shirt that is unique and a style all your own and I love the variety and beautiful choices BlackBirdTees has. 

So thats basically it,  a good gift is simple, and genuine. Sometimes we worry so much about giving the biggest or greatest gift but at the end of the day showing someone you love them and thought of them is enough. I hope that you found a little inspiration in this guide... there will probably be more as the holidays are coming! 

Ps. If you are waiting on a bus update check back next week and A LOT in October as that is when we are hoping to get this all finished! 

On Tea and Mornings (Or Tips for Better Tea)

There is something powerful about ritual and mornings. For me that ritual looks like a cup of tea... Every morning without fail, one cup of loose leaf tea and a little bit of honey. I've come to realize that people tend to have a lot of opinions about tea and coffee... which is better, how to brew, etc. I am not here to answer that question but I would like to share with you a bit more about my tea ritual and how to brew a great cup of tea. 

Two of my favorite morning teas of choice are Earl Grey Lavender and Lemon Ginger Black. Both are black teas which means the tea leaves are rolled which creates bruising and allows for oxidation to occur this process is what gives black tea its reddish color allows for the flavor of the tea to really develop. 

Altitude plays a huge roll in how black teas develop and depending on where the teas was grown you will have a different tasting experience. For example teas grown at a higher altitude tend to be more fruity and floral where as teas grown at a lower altitude will be more full bodied and malty. 

Earl Grey Lavender is one of my very favorite tea choices. There is a very gentle floral taste to it from the lavender but combined with the strong citrus and bergamot flavor of the Earl Grey it creates a wonderful morning wake up. Best brewed at boiling point (212 degrees fahrenheit) I generally mix one table spoon to every eight ounces of water. The beautiful thing about good quality tea is that often you can steep it several times and still get a wonderful cup of tea, I generally steep four minutes for the first cup and five minutes (or sometimes longer) for the second. One thing I have personally noted is that you can over steep and end up with a very strong and almost bitter flavor so definitely keep an eye on your cup! 

Lemon Ginger Black tea is actually a new tea I only recently started to incorporate into my morning and absolutely love! There is such a bold ginger flavor that mixes really well with lemon, turmeric and mango flavors of the black tea blend. Not to sound dorky but I savor every sip and love including this blend in my morning routine. Similar to the Lavender Earl Grey Lemon Ginger Black tea is best brewed at boiling point (212 degrees fahrenheit) with a one table spoon to eight ounces of water ratio. Steep time is generally 3-4 minutes but honestly that completely depends on the flavors you like in your tea and if it is your first or second cup. 

One awesome note about Lemon Ginger Black is that because it is a tea from Nepal Rishi Tea has a project going on actually called "Project Nepal FWEAN" that creates micro loans for women entrepreneurs and actually for every kilogram that Rishi purchases 2 dollars is contributed to this micro finance fund. 

In a lot of ways loose leaf tea is such a wonderful experience but also understandably daunting if you are new to the tea world. A couple things to remember about loose leaf tea are.... 

  • Loose leaf teas don't necessarily go bad but can loose their freshness or absorb flavors of things around them so storing your tea in a dark, cool space and in an airtight container will help prolong the life of your tea. 
  • The length of time you brew the tea matters! Brewing for longer lengths of time will not give you more health benefits but will actually just make the flavors themselves stronger and potentially overly bitter.
  • Similarly the temperature of the water matter as well! Having water that is too hot can negatively affect the steeping of the tea and bring out a bitter flavor where as water that is too cold can under steep the tea and you will miss out on some of the lovely flavors and tasting notes. 
  • Feel free to experiment! I generally add a little bit of honey and lemon essential oil to my tea but there are so many things you could do, honey sugar, milk, lemon, etc. The list goes on and on. 

If you have any questions about tea don't hesitate to ask! Similar to coffee there are a lot of ways to drink tea, a lot of good and bad options and the more you know the better your experience will be! I personally might be a bit tea obsessed and couldn't imagine my morning without it! Also if your looking for some inspiration, education, or just different tea options feel free to browse Rishi Tea's website... I think they even have a recipe for Vegan Lavender Earl Grey cupcakes up there somewhere! 

Ps. I am always looking for tea related ideas, brands, suggestions. Please feel free to comment below OR if you have any questions ask those too and I will try to answer them for you! 

10 Tips for Better Instagram Engagement

If I had a dollar for every single time I have been asked by someone how to grow their Instagram or how to have a "successful" account I would be well probably not a millionaire but definitely a lot better off than I am now! I get asked AT LEAST once per day through email or Direct Message what the secrets are to Instagram and so thought I would share a few with you today.... but ps. these really aren't secrets more just guidelines for effectively joining in the community that is Instagram. Oh! And these same tips have worked for me in both the new and old algorithm! 

  1. The first tip is maybe the most important and true but what you put out is what you get from Instagram... having good pictures alone will not create community, it is going out and actively liking other peoples posts and commenting when appropriate that will benefit you the most. Also responding to comments on your own photos and engaging with individuals you follow really helps too! 
  2. On that same note thought having quality content is important. I will probably do another post about just photo editing some time but for now please be consistent with the photos you take.... by that I mean edit your photos the same way, and post your best photos. You don't have to share every moment... imagine each individual story as your chance to share something beautiful so even if a moment is good if the photos didn't come out for whatever reason maybe save those for yourself and find another way to share the moment on Instagram 
  3. Your greater feed matters just as much as each individual photo. Think of it like a tapestry, each individual photo you put out there is a strand creating a larger more beautiful story. So back to editing make sure that your photos flow and are consistent. I almost always take pictures with my DSLR so that the quality is consistent. If I do post a phone photo I make sure it is edited well and fits into the flow of my previous photos. There is no strict rule with this but find your style and stick with it... don't jump around it will make that bigger picture that is your entire feed look crazy and not something people will want to follow. 
  4. Post constantly. I almost hesitate to say this because there is such thing as "over posting" so what I don't mean is for you to spam all your followers with 5 pictures at a time but.... post regularly, I read once that each Instagram photo has about a four hour window of maximum viewing so try to wait 4 hours between each post... your followers will thank you and your engagement will be higher! On that same note try to post at least once every day, this creates familiarity and participation within the community. Think of it like a coffee date... if you don't show up you won't make friends so posting once per day will allow you to become a regular face and familiar voice. 
  5. Post during peak viewing times. The rule that I follow for this is only between 8am and 8pm. A good picture you feel like posting at 4 in the morning will still be a good picture at 8am and your engagement will be higher. Your photos especially in the new algorithm are only as good as the views they receive so posting during peak times is really a huge benefit to you and any brands you might be working with in a post. 
  6. Hashtag, Hashtag, Hastag!! I cannot stress this enough... hashtags link your photos to other photos in the community and are how people with find your account. If you don't hashtag you will not be seen by anyone except those already following you... its basically like setting your account to private. You can use up to 30 hashtags per photo and honestly it looks way better if you just attach them in that first comment rather than cluttering up the caption of your post. 
  7. Use relevant hashtags. If you hashtag every picture #girl or #happy those are really general and will not do much for your following or engagement. Take a look around you and use hashtags relevant to your picture.... please also don't spam a hashtag that isn't relevant nobody likes that...  and it does nothing for your engagement. One way I find good hashtags is to look in the top 9 of a hashtag I am already using... seeing what others are doing can help you engage and really connect to the Instagram community. Using hashtags can also get your photos featured on other community pages which is a great way to interact and connect with new people! 
  8. Don't buy followers. You might think this is a good idea, it might make you feel more popular in the moment but the reality is you are lying to everyone. I get super frustrated with this because when you purchase followers you cheat the system. Brands work with you thinking your following is large but the reality is you are lying. Also your engagement will suffer and people will notice if you have 10K followers because you purchased a large portion of them but you are averaging 300 likes per photo at best and few comments... people will start to notice and in the long run it will do nothing for your greater engagement in the community. Its just a bad idea don't do it! I would like to add that participating in loop giveaways though not the same as buying followers is essentially very similar and from what I have seen won't help your overall engagement in the long run and will just annoy all your loyal followers who aren't interested in a 500 dollar gift card or new lap top in exchange for following 50 accounts... 
  9. Don't follow to unfollow. I literally have people who follow and unfollow me everyday... like I don't know if it is a bot doing it or what but everyday they come and go and have been doing so for month.... this is a bad method to grow your following and also is just rude... so don't do it. Follow who you want to follow and don't worry about the rest. 
  10. ENGAGE!!!! I can't say that any louder... what you put out is what you get back. Go like every photo for everyone you follow, comment on as many pictures as you can, and maybe even try looking through hashtags you find inspiring and comment/like there. Instagram is about telling stories and creating community so put yourself out there and I promise people will respond and your following and engagement will grow. 

Okay so I feel like that is a lot and there is still so much more I could say... but seriously if you want to be a part of the community put yourself out there in a loving way and you will meet so many wonderful people. You might meet a few creepers too so please use common sense but that is really the secret to Instagram new or old algorithm. If you have any of your own suggestions, tips, questions, thoughts... please leave them in the comments below!