One Week in Belize: An Island and Jungle Adventure

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My dad approached me last year with the idea of a 2018 family vacation.  I was all about it, but finding a place that would suit all five of our travel desires proved not easy.  My dad, brother, and boyfriend prefer to relax on a beach for a week (plus the first two really want to scuba dive), while my mom and I enjoy going out and doing things.  For my dad and brother living on the east coast, that usually means traveling to the Caribbean. Unfortunately the Caribbean is typically not very easy to get to (and expensive) from the west coast. I immediately thought of Belize, since it’s a little cheaper for us west coasters to get to, and about the same price for the east coasters.  In Belize I found that there is a nice combination of both beaches and mainland things to do.

We stayed for a week, with most of our time on Ambergris Caye.  My mom and I went inland to San Ignacio for two days and one night.  Here’s my Belize rundown of what we did and some helpful hints.  I will talk about money later on, but all $ is USD.   We had a great time and I loved Belize.  The people were friendly, I felt very safe, and it was a beautiful country with a wide variety of things to do.

Getting places

Ambergris Caye

To get to the Caye from the airport, you can grab a taxi to the water ferry terminal.  The taxi price for two people was $25 and I believe $5 for every subsequent person. Ferry prices are on the website.

Once at Ambergris Caye, you can take a taxi to your accommodations if you are not staying in town.  Our condo owner organized one for us and it was $30 for two people, $40 for all five of us. Once you’re at your hotel/condo/house, you can rent a golf cart.  We found that Avis was the least expensive at $190 for 6 days (not including taxes). They will even deliver/pick it up for you!  If you plan to cross the bridge on Ambergris Caye, it is $2.50 each way.  Sometimes they’re there to collect the toll, sometimes they’re not.

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Trying to figure out how to use the golf cart.

San Ignacio

We used Ron’s Belize Shuttle to get to San Ignacio.  They can pick you up from a variety of locations, and we were picked up from the water taxi terminal in Belize City.  Our drivers were very nice and it was really easy to coordinate. One driver even helped us organize a taxi to get to Xuantunich.  Price varies by how many people they have and I booked through the Belizing website (which, to be honest, was not the easiest platform to use).

Accommodations

Ambergris Caye 

We stayed at an Airbnb, about 2 miles across the bridge.

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San Ignacio 

We stayed at Martha’s Guesthouse.  It was right in the center of town, which was great for our short trip. It was very clean and the room was really cute!

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Things To Do

Ambergris Caye

Diving – The diving at Ambergris Caye is unbelievable.  The Belize barrier reef is the second largest reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier in Australia!).  We dived on this for one day and went to the Hol Chan Marine reserve for our second day. I was super impressed with the reef and I have never seen so many fish (of all different varieties) in my life at Hol Chan.  For Hol Chan, you typically do a shallow (30-40 ft) dive at the reserve and then they take you to Shark Ray Alley to snorkel. If you don’t scuba, you can also snorkel the first part, so it is great for mixed groups.  We all went on the same boat. At Shark Ray Alley, you can see some fish, but mostly very large nurse sharks, where you can get up close and personal with them. We used Sea Star Belize, and I would recommend.  The crew and divemaster were friendly and very knowledgeable.

You can also dive the Big Blue Hole, but it is a very long trip to get there (3-4 hours) and a very short dive (8-10 minutes).  We did not do this because it’s a very long trip for a short dive, and also very expensive. My dad had heard mixed reviews from other divers about it as well, so we skipped.

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Secret Beach – Secret Beach is not really a secret anymore, and it’s becoming a popular spot.  There are beach bars and it was pretty crowded (for the off-season).  It is a bit of a trek to get to though. You basically take the main road all the way until you can make a left.  Then you keep going on that road and finally you’ll hit the beach. From our condo location (which was 2 miles after the bridge), it took about 30 minutes via golf cart.  Although a lengthy and bumpy trip, it was really cool because you can wade out into the warm water for at least 100 yards. You can take your drink in the water and they have some games there as well.  

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Go into town/Belizean Arts – Town was nothing special to be honest.  We ate a few times in town and walked around a bit for souvenirs, but at night it gets a little crowded with people and golf carts.  Belizian Arts was a really nice art shop that I would highly recommend making this your first stop for significant souvenirs (aka things that are not shot glasses, magnets, etc).  I got a beautiful handmade pot.

San Ignacio

Xuantunich – My mom and I went here by ourselves (although you can take a tour).  As I said, our shuttle driver arranged a taxi for us, but you can also find taxis in the city center.  The taxi driver will drive you from San Ignacio straight to the Xuantunich parking lot (which involves crossing a really cool hand cranked bridge!).  Ours waited for us while we walked around the ruins (about an hour and a half) and then drove us back to San Ignacio for $35 total. The whole thing took about 2.5 hours.  Very cool experience and you can climb the ruins!

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Ignaua Hatchery – At the San Ignacio Resort Hotel (which was a short 10 minute walk from Martha’s Guesthouse), there is an iguana hatchery/sanctury.  They run tours on the hour and plan to spend about 45 minutes with the iguanas.  You learn a lot about them and can even pick them up and feed them!

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Barton Creek Cave tour – My mom and I took this tour and it was fantastic. We went through Kawaii Tours, and it was $85 each.  Our tour guide was Pedro and he was great! It involves a very cool drive on a very bumpy dirt road to get to the cave.  He picked us up around 8am and we were back in San Ignacio by 12:30pm. You go completely into the cave via canoe.  Might not be good for those who are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.

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Butterfly sanctuaries – We did not have time to see these unfortunately, but there are two outside of the city that I read were very cool – Green Hills Butterfly Ranch & Chaa Creek Natural History Museum.  (Note: Google maps says Chaa Creek is a 15 min drive, but our taxi driver said it is more like 45 mins because of the roads.)

Tours, tours, tours!  – There are a whole bunch of tours you can take in San Ignacio.  The most famous being the ATM tour, which is a day long trek into a famous cave.  Possibly one of the most famous things to do in Belize. While my mom and I only did the Barton Creek Cave tour, the tour company we went with, Kawaii Tours hosts a whole variety of tours out of San Ignacio.  

AJAW Chocolate and Crafts – In town.  We did not take a tour, but stopped in for some chocolate.  SO GOOD.

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PS it was so hot/humid that this chocolate melted before we could even finish eating it.

Walk around San Ignacio – San Ignacio is pretty small, but the town is beautiful and very colorful. There is also a market that has fresh produce and other handicrafts.

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Places to eat

I found there were a lot of Mexican influences in a lot of Belizan food, and there was also a lot of seafood on Ambergris Caye.  Stewed chicken, Belizian fried chicken, and Belizian rice and beans are must-try dishes as well.  Try it all with some Marie Sharp’s hot sauce and be sure to wash it down with a Belikin, Belize’s famous beer!  Apparently another “must have” drink is the Panty Rippah, but I only saw it on the menu at Palapa’s.  It’s a simple, but delicious drink – pineapple juice and coconut rum.  Yum! I won’t review all the places we ate at unless there is something to note.  They were all delicious!

Ambergris Caye (over the bridge unless noted otherwise)

Paco’s – great quesadillas! 

The Dive Bar

Croc’s

Aji

PUR Tacos

The Truck Stop – we only had ice cream, but they also do fun things like have live music and trivia nights

Wild Mango’s (in town)

Palapa Bar and Grill (in town) – probably my least favorite food-wise, but they have a really cool bar and area where you can float on the water in tubes and drink!

(from top left: Dinner at Wild Mango’s, drinks at Aji – no shortage of tropical drinks on the Caye!, Belizian rice and beans at The Dive Bar, The Truck Stop, Palapa’s from a distance)

San Ignacio

Pop’s – great for breakfast

Ko-Ox Ha Na (Let’s Go Eat)

Erva’s

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Stewed chicken with rice and beans at Ko-Ox Ha Na

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Belizian fried chicken + a coke at Erva’s

A Few Things to Note:

The Belizian dollar is tied directly to the US dollar and has been for many years.  The cash conversion rate is two Belizian dollars to one USD in cash. Pretty easy.  When it shows up on your credit card the conversion is a little more precise.   I found that food and drinks were more or less the same prices as they are in major cities of the US on Ambergris Caye. San Ignacio was significantly cheaper. All places in Belize take USD or BZD in cash and most places take Visa credit cards. If you pay in USD, you will probably get BZD back.

We went the last week of July/first week of August.  It was definitely the low season and not crowded at all, which was great.  There was also a nice breeze (although two days were windy enough to cancel diving), and almost no bugs.  With the exception of my boyfriend claiming a few potential bites, no one got bit.

Ambergris Caye has this stuff called sea grass that washes up on shore.  From what people told us, there’s really no rhyme or reason to it; it just kind of happens year round, randomly.  It can be stinky and may put a damper on your beach or swimming time.

If you read forums as recently as a few years ago, you’ll notice it seems that Belize has had some of the world’s worst WiFi.  However when we were there I found that almost all places had WiFi, and solid WiFi at that. They have made great strides to increase their internet reach.  Our condo particularly had great WiFi that my boyfriend was able to use to do work while we were there. San Ignacio also had surprisingly good WiFi as well at our hotel.

Please note: These are based off my own experiences and are not to be taken as absolute facts.  As with anything in the world, things are subject to change at any time and your experience might not be the same as mine.  Also, all of these pictures are my own and owned by me.  Please contact me if you would like to use them.

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Cucumber Quinoa Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette

I’m not quite sure how I came across this recipe.  I want to say it’s because we had a cucumber in our produce box, but with the service we use (Imperfect Produce – link to site and also I have written about them in the past) we get to pick what’s in there.  I don’t really make a lot of stuff with cucumber, so I’m hesitant to think I’d pick a cucumber.  I think it could have also been that we had some old quinoa lying around and I don’t cook very often with quinoa so I needed some recipe inspiration.  That’s where this Cucumber Quinoa Salad from Gimme Some Oven comes in!

This salad is super easy to make and also very filling and tasty.  It makes a great lunch, side dish, or even dinner on a hot summer day.  I follow the instructions very closely to the original, but I have noticed that it can take about 50% more quinoa and still be tasty.  So if you want to spread out the salad a bit with more quinoa, that works great.  I sometimes use 3 cups cooked quinoa instead of the recommended 2 cups.

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ps qunioa salad1

Salad Ingredients:
1 cucumber, diced
2 cups cooked and chilled quinoa
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 roughly chopped basil leaves
1 batch lemony vinaigrette (see below)

Lemony Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1/4 cup extra virgin oil
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend
Pinch of salt and pepper

Instructions:
Combine all salad ingredients into a large bowl and mix.  Combine all Lemony Vinaigrette ingredients into a smaller bowl and whisk together.  Pour Lemony Vinaigrette mixture onto salad and mix one last time.

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Holiday Card Holder

My boyfriend and I live in a small-ish apartment here in San Francisco. I say small-ish because it’s not actually that small by city standards. It’s a really decent sized one bedroom, but with two people, a dog with a crate, two sets of golf clubs (you get where I’m going), that can sometimes feel a little crowded. Since moving here we’ve acquired a lot of stuff, which has made it feel a little smaller. Anyway, finding space for our belongings and hobbies can sometimes be like trying to fit pieces of a puzzle together. And, that only gets harder around the holidays because of decorations!

I always try to send holiday cards and I love it when people send them to us! Over the years I’ve been having a hard time finding a place to display the cards we receive. The real estate for cards becomes even thinner because my boyfriend’s birthday is also in December. I’ve been meaning to invest in a card holder for the door or wall, but instead of buying one, I decided to make one. It was pretty simple and here’s how you can make one too!

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What you’ll need:

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Cardboard
Paint (I used white, blue, and red)
Scissors
Paint brushes
Gold paint pen
Mini clothespins
Hot Glue Gun
Ribbon – I used a lighter ribbon for two hanging strips, but if you are not going to put cardboard behind the hanging strips, I’d recommend using ribbon with wire in it. My middle strip uses wire ribbon.

Instructions:

1. Cut your cardboard. I cut a rectangle for the “Merry Christmas” part of the sign that was 16″ x 10″. If you’d like a more heavy duty sign, I’d also recommend cutting cardboard for the hanging strips. In my example I cut only ribbon and sometimes it is hard to hold heavier cards.

2. Cut your ribbon to line the “Merry Christmas” part of the sign. Also, cut three pieces of ribbon for the hanging strips. These should all be the same length and can be however long you’d like. Mine are 16″.

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3. Paint your sign. I used red paint to go with my color scheme and contrast the green ribbon.

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4. Using the hot glue gun, glue down the ribbon on the sign. I took the ribbon and folded it in half on the top of the sign so it went on both sides. Put a line of glue on both sides of the sign so the ribbon stays down. I folded the sides in on the back and glued those down. Do this for all four sides and pieces of ribbon.

5. Glue on your hanging strips to the back of the sign. Again, if you’d like a more sturdy sign, I’d recommend lining the back of the ribbon with some cardboard.

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6. Paint the mini clothespins.

7. Once the mini clothespins are done drying, glue them on the ribbon using the hot glue gun. I would recommend staggering them and gluing them facing both sides.

8. Assuming your painted sign is totally dry, use the gold paint pen to write “Merry Christmas” (or the holiday greeting of your choice) on the face of the sign.

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9. Lastly, glue on a piece of ribbon to use as a hanger and hang it up! Add your cards as they come!

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xmas card holder

Turkey Pilgrim Pumpkin

My favorite time of year is finally here!  I feel like this year has flown by and I can’t believe it’s basically already Thanksgiving, which might just be my favorite holiday.  It’s super low key, meaning you don’t have to get gifts for anyone and its main focus is eating.  What more do you want in a holiday?  Also, while I do love decorating, there’s just less pressure to decorate for Thanksgiving and I enjoy the subtly of decorations for Thanksgiving.  Although, I have seen some light decorations for Thanksgiving on peoples’ houses here in San Francisco.

Today I’m featuring a super easy craft – a turkey pilgrim pumpkin.  I found something similar on Etsy and thought “I could make that!”  However, if you don’t want to make it, you should buy one from WoodNDoodads.  Also, my version is definitely the “cheap way” because it’s made with cardboard instead of wood.

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Here’s what you’ll need:
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A few cardboard boxes
Acrylic paint of various colors – brown, red, green, yellow/gold, black, white
Sharpie
Scissors
Duct Tape
Round wooden sticks
A more heavy duty scissor/cutter
Pencil

Here’s how to make it:

1. Using a pencil , trace feathers, beak, and head with hat.  You’ll want three large feathers and two smaller ones.  I did this freehand, so it might take a few tries.  The head with the hat is definitely the oddest part since it’s hard to envision those as one.  Cut them out.
2. Paint all of the parts. You can use whatever color scheme you like!  I used brown for the feathers with green, red, and yellow for the feather accents.

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3. Add sharpie tracking along the feathers, bib, and hat.
4. Glue the nose on your turkey’s face!
5. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, you will want to adjust the length of the skinny wood sticks.  Cut them using the more heavy duty scissors (I actually used garden shears).  Tape them to the back of your feathers and turkey head.
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6. Take the skinny wood sticks (now attached to the turkey pieces) and stick them into pumpkin in a way that they all fit.  This shouldn’t be too difficult, but if there’s a pointy end of the wooden sticks, you might want to use those to make the hole first and then put the rest of the sticks in.
7. Enjoy and have a great Thanksgiving!
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My Skincare Routine and Cocokind Review!

For the record, this post is my own view and I did not receive any compensation for this post.  Other than my two online orders and my Instagram likes of their posts, Cocokind doesn’t know I exist :).

For a few years now I have been making a conscious effort to be more aware of the beauty products I am purchasing.  I am strongly against animal testing in the beauty industry and overall have been making an effort to reduce the amount of chemicals I bring into my home.  I’ve been working hard to find beauty products that are not only completely natural, but also animal testing free and vegan.

For a while I was using Origins products, but then I was disappointed to learn that while they don’t do animal testing in general, they sell in China, which still requires animal testing.  Also, their products are not as natural as I’d like.

While I was finishing up my Origins stock, I decided to search for some new beauty products to try.  I settled on two that I liked: Cocokind and 100% Pure.  100% Pure has a entire line of beauty products ranging from makeup to face washes to body wash, while Cocokind mostly has face care products.  I decided to go with Cocokind for skincare because they are a bit more affordable, and I appreciate their commitment to maintaining affordable prices.  I was attracted to their organic, simple ingredients, and I admire the fact that that their founder is focused on empowering women.  The brand is also local to me here in San Francisco!  (For the record – although it’s more expensive than Cocokind, 100% Pure is great and also empowers women.  I actually get my makeup products there, so more on them in another post!)

Cocokind products are oil based, which believe it or not, is not as bad for your skin as you were lead to believe as a teen.  You can buy their products online or in certain retail stores, like Whole Foods (although it depends on your area, so check Cocokind’s website before you go).  Most of their products are also vegan!

I was really excited to try out Cocokind, so I headed to my local Whole Foods and picked up close to the full line of products (some I ordered online).  Here’s what I bought and how I used them:

Organic Facial Cleansing Oil – was using to cleanse in the morning and at night
Organic Sea Moss Exfoliator – every other morning as an exfoliator
Organic Rosewater Facial Toner – after cleansing, morning and night
Organic Facial Repair Serum – after cleansing and toning, morning
Organic Matcha Face Moisturizer – after cleansing and toning, night
Organic Chlorophyll Mask – when needed
Cocokind Collective – MyMatcha moisture stick, Macabeet tinted moisture stick, Turmeric spot treatment – when needed

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My Cocokind haul!

OK, now onto what you really what to know – how did it go?

For some reason my face had decided that it didn’t like my previous routine anymore and I was breaking out like crazy.  So, when I tried Cocokind it was in pretty bad shape.  It took about two months for my face to become accustomed to Cocokind’s products.  It didn’t get any worse, but it wasn’t getting any better.  After about a month and half, Cocokind introduced their Raspberry Vinegar Toner, which seriously helped my skin.  I saw a decline in acne after using the Raspberry toner in the morning and at night in lieu of the Rosewater Toner.  At night I also add some watered down apple cider vinegar to my cotton pad for some extra umpfh.  I use the Raspberry Vinegar Toner every day now, unless I’m going somewhere fancy and don’t want the chance of my face smelling like vinegar.  It’s definitely not a strong scent, especially when you put moisturizer and makeup on top of it, but there’s still something about knowing you might smell like vinegar that might ruin a fancy event or date.  So in those cases, I just use the Rosewater toner.

However, even after the improvements I saw with the vinegar toner, my face wasn’t really where I wanted to it be.  I was still breaking out some and noticed an increase in large-ish blackheads.  I decided my face needed a little something stronger, so I searched for a natural facewash with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.  I found Alba Botanica Natural Acnedote Deep Pore Wash and this has worked fantastic.  Alba Botanica is also fairly natural and against animal testing, so I was OK with using it.  I realized through this process that sometimes you need some reinforcements.  Instead of Cocokind’s Facial Cleansing Oil, I now use the Alba Botanica cleanser every other morning (the others I use Cocokind’s Sea Moss Exfoliator) and at night and my face has gotten significantly better.

 

Another change I made to my skincare routine was how I sleep. I realized my hair was probably a source of breakouts since it usually has some kind of product in it.  Now I wear a satin bonnet when I sleep and I’ve also noticed a significant improvement in my skin.  They are super cheap and you can get them on Amazon.  Also, change your pillowcase often!

While my face was telling me I needed a stronger cleanser, I really love what Cocokind’s other products have done for me.  My face looks brighter and I know that my skin is absorbing nutrients and not chemicals.  After using the Organic Chlorophyll Mask, my skin just glows.  The Cocokind Collective sticks are also great for skincare on the go.  I have a reminder on my phone to use the MyMatcha moisture stick under my eyes every afternoon around 2pm, and I use the Macabeet tinted moisture stick as a natural blush and lip balm.  The Turmeric spot treatment is also great for those breakouts that still sometimes emerge because, well, I’m not perfect!

Overall, I’d highly recommend Cocokind’s products.  I love how they make my skin feel and how they are good for the environment.  I also love everything the company stands for and their founder’s (Priscilla Tsai) commitment to her products and making skinCARE.

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Fall Wreath

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!  I was seriously behind on my Thanksgiving crafts this year.  I meant to make a few things in the beginning of November, but didn’t have time to head out to Michael’s or JoAnne Fabric to get supplies.  But, I was finally able to find some time last weekend to make the trip.  In addition to getting some fall craft supplies, I was also able to stock up on some holiday supplies, which is always good.  Although we are nosediving right into the holiday season,  I still wanted to post this super cute fall wreath I made yesterday on Thanksgiving.  There are still a few days left in “fall” (aka November!).

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Materials:

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Styrofoam wreath 12″ diameter
Yarn (you want the color to look like a snowy branch)
Felt squares (fall foliage colors)
Squirrel ornament
Mini pinecones and acorns
64″ Burlap ribbon
Pencil
Hot glue gun & extra glue sticks

Directions:

1. Freehand or using a printed template, trace and cut out multiple leaves out of your fall foliage color felts.  I ended up cutting out 4 of each color (20 total).

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2. Using the hot glue gun, glue the yarn onto the styrofoam wreath.  You’ll need to keep the yarn together, so I just looped the entire bundle through the wreath each time.  I would also put a small line of hot glue on the top and underside of the wreath, and wrap the yarn around the wreath, attaching with the glue.  This is a tedious process, but necessary so the yarn doesn’t slip around.  When I arrived back at the beginning, I did another quick loop with the yarn around the styrofoam to make sure I didn’t have any of the styrofoam peaking through.  The second go does not have to be as tight as the first.

3. Once your yarn is set, arrange your leaves how you’d like to them to be clustered.

4. Flip the cluster of leaves over (kind of like flipping a pancake) and glue the cluster together.  You can do this by seeing which parts of the leaf overlap another and just glue that little part.  Your cluster should basically be one entity when you pick it up.

5. Glue your cluster of leaves onto the wreath, leaving space for your squirrel ornament.

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6. Glue on your squirrel ornament, pinecones, and acorn.

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7. Take your burlap ribbon and loop it into the wreath.  Tie a bow at the top and hang!

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My Book Review Blog

For the past five years or so I’ve been keeping another WordPress blog about books that I read, called Read This!…Not That.  Because that blog is so old I don’t really want to start new on this blog, I’m keeping everything over there.  I wanted to give ya’ll a heads up if you’d like to take a look!

My most recent post is for a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

Enjoy!