November 2017 - The Life You Love

Your Holiday Survival Kit

My Christmas tree has been up since before Thanksgiving.  I love the holiday season because I think it can bring out the best in people and in the self.  I also think it can bring up some shitty feelings, like stress and loneliness.  Before I keep going with my holiday survival tips, I want to be super clear about how blessed I am.  Thankfully, I'm a pretty fortunate person with little to worry about in comparison to others.  Of course, there are many many many people who are less fortunate than I am and have much bigger problems to worry about.  If you're interested in giving to others this season, here are a couple ways to give:

  • Donate to the Salvation Army.  Growing up, my mom always made sure we had a couple dollars that we could slip into the red kettle on our way out of the store.  It doesn't seem like much, but every little bit adds up.  If you never have cash on you, don't worry!  They accept online donations.
  • I can't write much about this one because it hits too close too home and I'll cry.  Donate to a soldier or military family in need through Operation Christmas Spirit.  My dad was in the Army for 20 years.
  • Okay, apparently all of these are just going to make me cry.  With One Simple Wish, you can help grant a child's wish.  A child who is currently in foster care.  They range from gifts like Lego sets to laptops to help study in high school to plane tickets to be able to see their parents and siblings.
  • Another classic way to give!  Drop off toys at a local Toys for Tots dropoff location.  With all of the sales that happen around this time of the year and gift guides on every corner, you'll certainly be able to find a great toy for a child.
  • If you'd prefer to give locally, I encourage you to find local organizations that are accepting donations for food, money, clothes, toys, etc.  You can even find a local animal shelter and see what they need.

And now that I'm experiencing all the feels, let's talk about how to survive the holidays.  If you're asking, "But Samantha, the holidays are glorious!  Why would I need to survive them if they're fucking amazing?!"  So glad that you asked so I didn't have to force some unsolicited advice onto ya. Don't worry, everything in my survival kit can fit into your favorite bag.

The holidays are expensive.  Follow a budget and use cashback apps.

Personally, I use ebates for almost every purchase.  Even if it's just 1% back.  Money is money is money and it sure as hell adds up.  If you don't believe me, think about all of those "just a quick coffee" stops that you made and ask your wallet how it feels.  Shit adds up.  And guess what.  You probably need a budget.  For life in general, but especially for the holidays because again SHIT ADDS UP.

People ask a lot of questions.  Prepare yourself to answer.

That whole joke about your aunt always asking if you're in a relationship yet is not a joke.  Aunt Carol is going to ask the same goddamn questions every year.  Even after you're married.  Then they just change into awkward questions about when you're going to get knocked up.  Y'all, just prepare yourself to answer.  I'm not saying you need to have a script, but you have to have at least a general idea of what you'll say so you don't scream at Aunt goddamn Carol.

People also say dumb shit.  Get yourself a coping method.

I highly recommend using an app like What's Up to deal with your emotions and get out of the situation for a moment.  They have different techniques like paced breathing, getting grounded through the senses, affirmations, and more.  If you're interested in seeing more about mental health apps, be sure to keep checking my blog because I will eventually post something about them.

Carry around a notebook.  Or you'll forget everything.

Between gift ideas, holidays parties, and thank yous, you need to keep track of a lot of shit.  And really, we all know that you aren't going to remember it without writing it down somewhere.  Keep your notebook with you at all times.  If you can't be trusted with a paper notebook, just use an app.  I prefer to use OneNote for everything because it syncs between my iPhone app and my computer app.

And keep an actual kit in your purse. 

Either buy one or use one of your 1358 ipsy bags that you have lying around the house.  Just me?  Throw in some basics like gum, a mini hair brush, some hair ties, an extra set of stud earrings, cleansing wipes, dry shampoo... basically anything that you may need while you're out.  Pinch Provisions has some cute kits and if you want to make your own, you can also order refills of things like deodorant wipes and stain removing towelettes from their website.

How and Why You Should Express Gratitude Daily

Thanksgiving has come and gone and although I don't necessarily love the holiday, I'm all for gratitude.  Being grateful for your life and the people and things in it is a great daily practice that can improve your relationships, sleep, physical health, mental health self-esteem, resilience, and more.  Plus, it just feels great to recognize all of the good in your life and truly appreciate it.  Read more about the benefits of gratitude here.
Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

I choose to think that people are naturally grateful and just don't always outwardly or explicitly express their gratitude.  For example, I am incredibly thankful that my boyfriend pays for most of our bills because it means I have to take out fewer student loans.  I don't always express that, though.  And sometimes, the thought doesn't even enter my mind even when he tells me that he just paid a bill.  It's not that I'm not grateful or that I don't want to give him thanks, it's just that I don't always think to do so.  And if I'm "forgetting" about a pretty big and obvious reason to express gratitude, imagine what else I'm forgetting about.

Gratitude isn't always about the obvious or the positive, though.  Using my above example, I can choose to show appreciation and thanks towards my bills because they represent something more than just money being spent.  Bills show that we are able to afford what we want and need.  It shows that we are capable of paying for the clean water, electricity, shelter, and even waste collection that we have access to.  You can go even further and recognize how blessed you are to even have access to these resources and services.

Of course, gratitude doesn't have to go so deep, either.  You can be thankful because someone paid-it-forward while you were getting coffee.  You can express gratitude when you find a nickel on the ground.  You can emphatically tell someone thank you for holding the door open for you.  There is gratitude in every day.  Some days, you may feel as if there is more to be thankful for.  And other days, you may feel as if you're just writing down the same things over and over.  That's okay.  You can write that you're thankful that you're alive every. damn. day.  It doesn't make it any less true and it doesn't mean you don't have anything else to be thankful for.  After days of this, you may all of a sudden remember 30 other things that deserve your gratitude.

There are so many ways to express gratitude.  One way to not only express gratitude but to also hold yourself accountable and be able to revisit your thankfulness is to keep a daily gratitude journal.  You can do this with a pen and paper or with your phone.  There are tons of gratitude apps and journal apps.  I'm still trying to find a favorite, so let me know if you have one that you love!  Of course, you can always just go over your daily thankfulness in your mind, through meditation, through prayer, etc.  You can do this at any time of the day or when you first wake up or you're about to go to sleep.

No matter what you're thankful for or how you decide to express your gratitude, make an effort to recognize all of the abudance in your life.  If this is something that you want to start doing more frequently or routinely, make it a New Year's goal.  Hell, get started on it right now.

How Do I Host Thanksgiving?

Instead of coming up with a creative title, I figured I could just use my frantic Google searches.  This year, Paul and I are hosting Thanksgiving.  This is our first time hosting a holiday EVER.  I've always pictured myself as the kind of person who would have an impeccably decorated house and gatherings for every holiday on the calendar.  Then I remembered that I'm lazy and introverted AF.

Yet I still volunteered to host Thanksgiving and I'm actually freaking stoked (and terrified)!  I thought I would give you some of the best (and worst) advice that I could.

Don't wait until the last minute.  Or do.
That's what I did.  I wandered through TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods for hours to try to find just a few basic Thanksgiving items.  Decorations, serving trays, disposable dinnerware, that sort of stuff.  Of course, there was only a few Thanksgiving and fall items available because I went shopping two weeks before Thanksgiving.  The good news is that the very few items that were available were on clearance.  The bad news is that I gave up and decided to just decorate for Christmas.

Make a menu. And a cooking timeline.
If you think that you just have to throw a turkey in the oven and open up a can of green beans, you're wrong.  I was wrong.  I didn't realize that every recipe had so many ingredients, especially the ones that were completely homemade.  Nor did I realize that not every recipe goes in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  That's the importance of that cooking timeline.  You need to know when you need to put each dish in and how long it will take to cook.  And if you want to look like you have your shit together, make a printed menu for each place at the table.

Be realistic and true to yourself.
If you don't make pies, don't volunteer to make a fucking pie.  And if you do, but you hate cooking from scratch, just do what you can.  For some reason, we always feel like we need to put on a certain air when we host people.  As if they don't know that we survive solely off of pizza delivery and frozen Trader Joe's entrees.

Figure out who is coming and what they're bringing.
This seems obvious, but I totally forgot to ask if people were bringing anything.  Mostly because I just got wrapped up in my own panic.  But knowing who is coming can be pretty important in planning your menu.  You'll know if you need to cook more or less food and if you need to be aware of any dietary restrictions.  Plus, then you know how much wine you need to buy. 🍷

Plan your outfit.
I know it sounds pretty unimportant in comparison to everything else, but you don't need to worry about anything else.  Just get this shit out of the way so you have it all under control.  I don't care if you decide that you just want to wear leggings and a t-shirt.  At least you know and you don't have to keep thinking about it.

Don't worry about the small, extra details.
I know I just said that you can print menus for each place at the table, but that's not something you HAVE to do or something you even need to worry about.  As long as you have the food and your house is clean, no one is going to care if all of your silverware matches or if you remembered to put out the holiday salt and pepper shakers.  I promise.

There ya have it.  Some of my best advice for hosting Thanksgiving.  Clearly, it's just the beginning.  I'll be sure to add to it as I get some experience under my belt.  Oh, and in case you're curious, here's what's on the menu for my first ever Thanksgiving: turkey breast, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and mini pecan pies.  Paul's parents will be bringing lamb and lasagna and his brother and sister-in-law are bringing stuffing and desserts!  In case you were wondering, I'm most excited about the macaroni and cheese.


My Latest Obsessions: Everyday Magic and Bakara Wintner

This weekend, I finally made it to Everyday Magic in Durham, NC.  I actually used to live in Durham, but it was pre-woo.  Everyday Magic is an absolutely stunning, badass, creative, inviting metaphysical store that has everything a modern day witch or a part-time spiritualist could possibly need.  Healing crystals, yoni eggs, home decor, beauty care, books, tarot and oracle decks, candles, are spread across the perfectly curated open floor plan.

Y'all, I literally squealed when I walked into the store and I couldn't stop the word vomit.  I kept telling my friend, Rochelle (one of the badass witches of Everyday Magic), and Philip Young, PhD, how happy I was to be there and how in-my-element I truly felt.  I immediately strolled over to the tarot and oracle decks to grab The Lumina Tarot Deck and the Connected and Free Oracle Deck, both by Inner Hue.  I carried them around for about 10 minutes before I reluctantly put them on the counter to start a pile.  I got distracted by all of the shiny crystals and connected to a stunning labradorite palm stone before wandering around to look at the rest of the merchandise.  Of course, I also bought Bakara Wintner's book.

It took everything in me to not open up a new credit card and just buy one of everything.

Between touching every stone and falling in love with quartz singing bowls, I also had my cards read (for the first time!) by Philip Young, PhD, owner of Black Unykorn.  This reading was SO beyond spot-on and actually pretty emotional for me.  I was excited, scared, confused, and thankful.  Philip went above and beyond in my reading.  He even offered some helpful tips for my tarot journey and clarified some confusion I'd had with stalker cards!  I can't wait to share my reading with you.  I also can't thank him enough for such a fantastic reading.

I also wanted to give a huge huge huge shout-out to Rochelle for being so amazing!  Rochelle was at the front desk of the store and helped me locate some of the items I was looking for, like Bakara's book.  She laughed, talked, and shared stories with me while I wandered around the store.  She made me feel so welcomed and comfortable, even though I could not stop talking about how excited I was to be there. I was being such a fangirl and she could have easily ignored me or rolled her eyes.  Instead, she welcomed me into the store with such kindness and understanding.

The phrase that I kept using while walking around the store with my huge smile and glowing warmth was "in my element."  When you walk into Everyday Magic, you can absolutely feel the magic that Bakara Wintner put into this magical retail space.  The excitement that I felt at Everyday Magic was more than just geeking out: it was the feeling that you get when you come home after a long time.  It was an excitement and longing for something that I never knew I was missing.  I haven't read Bakara's book yet, but I have a feeling that WTF is Tarot is going to be just as brilliant.  While I was there, I heard that there may also be a deck in the works.  I just about died.

Basically, I had an absolutely wonderful time at Everyday Magic and I felt so welcomed by the wonderful people who were there.  I was absolutely in my element and I had one of those "I know what I want to be when I grow up" moments.  It was the kind of store that I could spend every afternoon in and never get tired of being there.  If you ever get the chance to visit Durham, go to Everyday Magic.  And then move there so you can go there all of the time.  That's what I plan to do (mostly jk).

The Best iPhone Apps for Spirituality

spiritual apps for iphone

insight timer

thousands of meditations and mindfulness practices

I think this app will always be my go-to for guided meditation practices.  It's hard to come by a free meditation app, let alone a GOOD free meditation app.  You can choose a guided practice from dozens of topics and interests such as anxiety, sleep, mindful eating, forgiveness, and so much more.  You can also save, rate, and journal about your meditations all in the same app.  If you prefer to practice meditation without guidance, there is also a timer that you can use as a gentle alarm to bring you back to awareness when you're finished.  Download here.

mystic mondays tarot

a virtual, portable tarot deck

Not everyone can carry around their tarot deck.  My bag is so heavy and full that I don't know if I could even fit one in there!  Having a virtual tarot deck with beautiful designs and thorough explanations in the palm of your hand is an easy way to get guidance at any time, regardless of whether or not you even know how to read tarot!  Download here.

moon phase

a simple moon cycle calendar

Moon phases are important to people for a variety of reasons.  Some people track the moon phases in relation to energy levels, gardening, emotions, their menstrual cycle, and so much more.  Some people just think the moon is pretty damn cool.  Regardless, this app is super simple and sleek.  Download here.

spiritual apps for iphone


a modern guide to healing crystals and their properties

Healing crystals were my introduction to the world of woo.  I've always loved gems and stones and I've always been blown away by the fact that the earth can make such beautiful specimens.  This healing crystal app is really simple and beautiful.  You can read about each crystal individually, search for a crystal by name, or sort them by their property.  Download here.


a law of attraction app for attracting wishes

To use this app, just set up a few groups of affirmations that match what your intentions are.  When you log onto your app, you have the option to swipe over to focus on your affirmations for 20 seconds at a time.  Do this as often as you'd like to keep yourself reminded of what your affirmations and intentions are.  Download here.

spiritual apps for iphone

vision board

a subconscious vision board for self-programming

I'm not entirely sure how subconscious self-programming works, but I'm into it.  Write up an awesome affirmation and add pictures of what you want to manifest.  Then you simply hit the play button whenever you want to view your subconscious vision board.  Download here.

i am

positive affirmation reminders throughout the day

This is one of the simplest, most uplifting affirmation apps.  Simply check which affirmations you want to see during the day, set up how often you want to see affirmations, and set the start time and end time of when you'll see your affirmations throughout the day.  Random affirmations will show up as a notification throughout the day.  Download here.

How Smiling Affects Your Mind, Body, and Spirit + A SmileBrilliant Review

Smile Brilliant Teeth Whitening At Home Review

I've partnered with SmileBrilliant to talk about my teeth whitening experience and to share a GIVEAWAY with you!  They sent me a free whitening kit in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions are my own.  Enter this GIVEAWAY for the chance to win a $139 Smile Brilliant credit.  Just enter your first name and email address to enter the giveaway.  And you can follow them on Instagram and enter your Instagram account name to receive one additional entry!  Good luck!  Before I reviewed my experience with Smile Brilliant, I wanted to talk about the benefits that teeth whitening has on your mind, body, and spirit.  And remember, this is just the surface of all of the amazing benefits!


We actually talk about smiling and how it affects your wellness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (read more about DBT).  The skill we use is called half-smile.  To practice half-smiling, relax your face from your forehead to eyebrows to mouth to jaw.  Then, turn the corners of your mouth up, just slightly and gently.  When I do this, I feel like I'm kind of smiling with my eyes and the corners of my mouth, but no one can really tell.  Why is this important?  This skill can actually help you deal with intense, negative emotions by signaling your brain to calm down.


Now, let's talk about that big beautiful smile you have and how it affects your brain!  And your appearance.  When you smile, your brain releases stress-fighting chemicals.  Not only does it make you feel better, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure!  And when you smile, you also appear more attractive, genuine, and trustworthy to other people.  Why?  Because when people see a smile, the part of their brain that lights up when they receive a reward lights up, which makes them feel great! Learn more about the psychology of smiling HERE.


When we talk about spiritual health, we aren't just talking about our personal wellness.  We're also talking about connecting with others and the world around us.  I'm sure you've heard that smiling is contagious and it totally is!  Because of an unconscious response that happens in our brains, we automatically smile when we see other people smile.  That helps us feel more connected to the people around us.  Learn more about the psychology of smiling HERE.

I'm wearing my trays in this picture. You can't even tell!


Let's just start with the basics.  Smile Brilliant is a personalized at-home teeth whitening system.  There are several simple steps in the process.  First, you receive an impression kit to make molds of your teeth for your trays.  Be really careful and follow all the directions when you create your impressions!  Do NOT wiggle your trays out of your mouth.  I did that and it messed up my trays just a little bit.  Totally my fault.  Next, ship your impressions to the Smile Brilliant laboratory and a few days later, they send back your custom-fitted trays.  Finally, you're ready to whiten your teeth!  All of the instructions are included in your teeth whitening kit.

Smile Brilliant Teeth Whitening At Home Review

At first, I was a little skeptical of whitening my teeth for 45 minutes to 3 hours at a time, but I realized that I can do pretty much anything #whileiwhiten.  Here are some of the things that I've done #whileiwhiten: yoga, chores, spa night, night time routine, preparing for the next day, homework, blogging, playing with my dog, and more.  I barely noticed my teeth trays because they fit so well.  I whitened my teeth for 45 minutes the first day, 1 hour the next day, 1 hour and 15 minutes the next day, and so on so my teeth can adjust.

I saw results after just 4 sessions!  My teeth looked brighter and my surface stains were removed.  I've really noticed a difference in the corners of my teeth and gums.  Here's my before (top) and after (bottom).  I didn't have a super dramatic transformation, but my teeth look much brighter and I plan on continuing to whiten!  If you want to see some even more amazing results, check out their INSTAGRAM!  Some of the transformations made my jaw drop.

Smile Brilliant Teeth Whitening At Home Review

Here's a quick pros and cons list to let you know more about my personal experience.

Vegan and cruelty-free!   Some gum sensitivity, but that was my fault.
I can do basically anything #whileiwhiten.   The whitening sessions take quite a bit of time.
Affordable and professional quality.
Simple, clear instructions.
Custom trays.

The price of their WHITENING KITS ranges from $139 to $179 (versus $600 to $850 at the dentist), depending on how heavy your stains are and whether or not you get sensitivity gel.  Don't forget, this product has the same quality that you would receive at your dentist.  It was even created and approved by dentists!  The WHITENING KIT includes everything you need make your teeth trays and enough gel for between 9-27 whitening sessions, depending on which option you select.

Loving my bright smile, thanks to Smile Brilliant!

Now go enter the giveaway hosted by Smile Brilliant!  Just enter your name and your email address for the chance to win a $139 Smile Brilliant credit.  Don't forget to follow Smile Brilliant on Instagram for an extra entry!  The giveaway is open until November 13, 2017 and open to residents of the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia.  Good luck!

Tooth Whitening Gel