How to Get the Perfect Manicure at Home

How does the saying go? "New Year, New Me".  A very popular motto for this time of year and I'll admit, I too am a sucker for it.  This year, however, I'm going more with "New Year, New Nails".  In undergrad I began my love affair with gel manicures and growing my nails out.  I thought this was the best option out there because they didn't chip that quickly, but even with strong nails and gel on them I still struggled with breaking one or two a month.  It was such a bummer to have these beautiful nails and then one stubby, chipped one that broke.  Or even worse, for the gel to peel up.   

Flash forward to December and I finally gave in and tried out dip manicures.  I was shocked by the whole process; there's no drying time, they literally roughly buff the top of your nails after all the work of perfecting them, and my nails felt SO strong at the end.  The manicure lasted about two weeks and I took it off to change the color, not because it was flawed.  I was obsessed immediately because I didn't have to worry about breaking my nails for the first time ever.  At this point you may be asking yourself why I'm sharing a good mani with you, well it's not just about that.  There was one huge downside to my new obsession: the cost.  I'm on a student's budget at ~$45 every 2-3 weeks to have my nails done was just not feasible.  

Luckily, this story has a happy ending!  My mom fell in love with dip manicures at the same time as me so she did some research and found Revel Nail Dip Powders allowing people to do their own dip manicures at home.  I know what you're thinking, "there's no way I can do that as good as a nail salon".  We thought the same thing, but figured it was worth a shot.

With some inspiration from a Revel Nail Facebook group, we ordered starter kits.  There were two options; one with 4 small color jars ($33) and one with a single large color jar ($69.99).  Both of them came with all the liquid polishes needed (probase, activator & finish gel).  I ordered the second kit and my mom ordered the first.  They came relatively quickly and we went ahead and started our first attempt.

Attempt 1: Color is Revel Nail Hush 

The first step was to remove our current dip manicures.  I'll be honest, this is the worst step by far.  We've tried two different methods now and one seems to work fairly well.  Before both of them it's necessary to use a nail drill or rough file to break through the top layer of each nail.  The first, which did not work great, was just putting acetone soaked cotton pads into nail clips and leaving them on for 10-20 minutes.  The second method was to put acetone soaked cotton pads on the nails, then rubber tips over the pads on each finger, then putting your hands into a ziploc bag and putting the bag into a container with hot water for 10-20 minutes.  I did this for 18 minutes then just pushed off the residue with a wooden cuticle stick.  

If you can endure the removal and figure out a method that works for you, the rest is really easy!  We watched a demo video Revel posted and took notes of the steps they followed, but the kits do come with instructions.  I'll share what we've been doing, but everyone's nails are different so definitely read the instructions before starting!  

We keep the jars in cupcake liners so when we take our fingers out of the dip and tap off the extra we can save any that misses the jar

1. Shake the powder jars & wipes nails with alcohol pads
2. Do a thin/light layer of probase not all the way to cuticle then dip your nail into the clear dip if you purchased it or just the color dip, tap excess off nail over jar, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before putting back in bottle, gently brush off excess powder
3. Do a thin probase layer almost to cuticle, dip nail into color dip, tap excess off nail over jar, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before putting back in bottle, gently brush off excess powder
4. Do a thin probase layer all the way to cuticle, cap edges, dip nail in color dip, tap excess off nail over jar, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before putting back in bottle, gently brush off excess powder
5. If doing glitter: Do a thin probase layer then dip nail in glitter dip, tap excess off nail over jar, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before returning to bottle, gently brush off excess powder
6. If doing glitter: Add a thin probase layer then dip nail in clear dip, tap excess off nail over jar, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before returning to bottle, gently brush off excess powder 
7. Do a layer of activator all over, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before returning to bottle 
8. File edges and tops, buff, clean cuticle area, gently brush off dust
8. Do a layer of activator all over, cap tips, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before returning to bottle, let dry 10-15 seconds
9. Wipe each nail with a lint-free paper towel or wipe alcohol pads over all nails 
10. Do a thin layer of finish gel (1-2 strokes), WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before returning to bottle
11. Do a final, detailed layer of finish gel, cap tips, WIPE LIQUID BRUSH before returning to bottle
12. Apply cuticle oil & lotion after finishing both hands   
***It is super important to wipe the liquid brushes before putting it back into the bottle every time because if the chemicals mix the brushes can harden. 

Attempt 2: Color is Anne with Phoebe accents

That's it and I swear it's so easy to get the hang of.  In total it took about 2 hours, including removing my old dip color.  I was very satisfied with my first attempt and with each attempt you get better and better!  Investing in a kit may seem daunting but it is totally worth it.  I now can do my nails whenever I want and with the huge availability of over 280 colors and samples I can get any color I want without breaking the bank.  If you're interested in giving it a try, check out Revel's website to order your kit!

XOXO, Cierra

Holiday Gift Guide: Student Edition

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With the holidays right around the corner I'm sure you all are working on your shopping lists and I know that can be such a challenge sometimes!  If you have a student in your life you're shopping for I hope this guide will help alleviate some of the work for you.  I've taken my top picks and what I see my classmates use day-to-day, so I promise these are a good go-to items!  

1. The PackIt lunch box is the absolute best lunch box I have found.  It is roomy enough for lunch and snacks, plus the entire bag can go in the freezer and acts as an ice pack!  I use mine everyday; it doesn't get messy once the ice starts melting and it keeps things super cold for the whole day.  They come in basic colors and fun patterns ( I have the tie-dye), which makes them perfect for any situation.  I also love that I can fold it up once I'm finished eating.

Freezable Lunch Bag  

2. Water bottles are essential in class.  Most schools have refill stations so bringing your own saves money and is good for the environment.  My personal favorite are the S'well bottles, but Hydro Flasks are another great option.  Both are good for hot or cold beverages and keep them at their starting temperature for 6+ hours.  Also, I've never had an issue with leaking in mine, unlike a lot of other bottles I've had.  

Hydro Flask 21 oz Standard Mouth w/ Sport Cap - BlackHydro Flask 16 oz Wide Mouth - Lava

3. Apple AirPods wireless headphones are a great option for walking to classes, working out, or while studying.  They're super convenient since there's no wires so you can easily charge your device while still listening to lectures or listen to music with your phone in your pocket while you workout.  

4. A portable power bank is always handy in case you end up sitting far away from outlets (or in my case the lecture room has no outlets in the seats :( ).  They can charge any hand held devices and easily fit into backpacks or totes.

5. Pocket notebooks are literally always a good idea.  I have so many little ones that I keep in my purses, backpack, and white coat to jot notes down on.  Even though a lot of students take notes on their computers or tablets now, sometimes paper is just easier.

6. The Amazon Echo Dot is a good home item for any young professional whether they're in school or out working.  It can set alarms, reminders, play music, tell you the weather, and control other smart home devices!  I plan on using mine to turn on my lamps and set back up alarms for important days in case my phone acts up.  

7. The Amazon FireStick is another great home option, if they don't already have one.  I love mine because I replaced cable TV with it to save money!  It keeps all the different viewing programs (Netlfix, Hulu, Showtime, etc.) in one place and has a ton of apps available to watch specific channels.  It also has all the shows, movies, and documentaries available on Amazon available to stream to the TV.   

8. A meal subscription plan would be a really fun gift to send students!  It's well known that we don't always have time or money to eat as healthy as we should and this makes it so simple.  I tried HelloFresh and liked every meal I received, plus they were very simple to make even though I never would have made them on my own.  

9. Umbrellas are a necessity that often gets forgotten until you need it.  There's nothing worse than trying to get to class for an important presentation only to be soaked my the rain.

Slimline Travel Umbrella

10. If all else fails gift cards are still a good option.  Some of the places I shop from the most are Target and Amazon, but gas cards and restaurant cards work great too.  

Happy shopping!!!
XOXO, Cierra

Introducing the Vet School Series

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I've decided to add something a little different to XOXO, Cierra starting now.  I've had the "school" tab for awhile and it only has a couple posts, but considering school is, and has always been, such a big part of my life I want to share more of that.  In case you didn't know, I'm currently pursuing my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine.  This is basically my biggest life goal and it took literal blood, sweat & tears to make it to this point (okay maybe not blood, but definitely sweat and tears).

Since it's such a tough road to get to and through professional graduate school, I want to start sharing the experiences I've had, what's working for me, what it's really like, and everything else no one tells you about.  I totally understand if this isn't your thing, but if you want an inside look keep reading and watch for future posts under the "school" tab.  

It only makes sense to start back in the beginning when I was still in undergrad and planning my VMCAS (aka Veterinary Medical College Application Service).  This is the main application you have to submit in order to "apply to vet school", it's pretty common for all professional graduate programs to require their own version of the VMCAS.  

When I was finally getting serious about applying I didn't have any doubts that everything would go well and I'd get in somewhere and continue on.  Sure getting in would be tough, but I had already gotten through organic chemistry, how hard could this be?  Yet, I started hearing and reading the same similar things over and over; "you need at least a 3.5 to get in anywhere", "no one gets in on their first try", "you can't have any C's on your transcript or you won't get in".  I'm sure I wasn't the only one who had these phrases thrown at them time and time again, but honestly it got really disheartening.

I'm here to tell you that I should have never let a single one of those phrases take any amount of my focus.  I took them to heart and just knew I would get rejected; I didn't have a 3.5, I got C's in some of my classes, and worst of all it was my first application cycle.  I thought for sure I didn't stand a chance, but I was so completely wrong!  Sure, there were some schools I didn't have a chance of getting into, but there were still plenty of other options.  And spoiler alert: I got in, actually to more than one school.  

I know every person that applies is different so I'm not going to cover my application and share every detail of my experience, but I am going to share what I think made me stand out as an applicant.  To start, I worked on getting as much animal and veterinary experience as I could.  From doing 4-H in my childhood, to volunteering with a museum stingray exhibit, I tried to keep the experiences varied so I could say I had experience in a good amount of aspects of the field.  When I applied I had small animal, food animal, and aquatic experience with private practice clinics, a museum, 4-H, non-profit organizations, livestock shows, and volunteer trips.  I think that having so many different experiences over so much time (all of undergrad and my childhood) really strengthened my application.  It showed I had dedicated myself to learning about the field I wanted to pursue and that I sort of knew what I was getting into.  So the take home message is even if you struggle in some classes, keep going, your grades don't define you and they won't define your application.   

XOXO, Cierra

Holiday Cards with Basic Invite

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Today marks the start of my Thanksgiving Break from school, with this comes some much needed time to relax and finally get into the holiday spirit!  This time of year it always seems like the holidays sneak up on you before you know it.  Most of the time that's okay, but some things you have to do ahead of time; in this case I'm talking about holiday cards!  Sending out Christmas cards has always been a tradition in my family and even when I was little I loved to open up the cards we received.  This year I'm finally sending out my own cards for the first time!  

I think sending out holiday cards is a fantastic way to stay connected with family and friends, because sure they see your Facebook posts but how often do you actually print a photo or write a letter anymore?  Probably not often, and holiday cards capture both of those aspects.  Not to mention they are so easy to create and customize!!

Basic Invite offers more than 500 creative holiday cards to choose from (including holiday party invitations!), along with over 180 different color options and over 40 envelope colors to completely personalize your design.  I love all of this because even though you can customize basically everything, it's still so simple to make your Christmas cards online!!  They even can send you a custom sample of your design so you can make sure everything is perfect, which is incredible.  If you think it isn't already easy enough, they also have an Address Capturing Service so you don't have to ask everyone, because let's be honest who keeps track of everyone's addresses?  

I know I cannot wait to find my perfect card for this year, I'm thinking something red with silver foil and a photo from my white coat ceremony!  Go find your dream card and right now you can use the code "holi30" to get 30% off!  Seems like a good sign to get a head start on the holiday to-do list.  

Let me know what designs you go with!!
XOXO, Cierra

Brought to you by Basic Invite

Pumpkin Muffins

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In the spirit of not just fall, but also the most pumpkin-filled time of the year, I made these super yummy and simple muffins!  They are so delicious and literally take two ingredients, I'm not kidding, only two.  Oh, there is one other thing I should add...they're also only 2 Weight Watchers points (aka they're not bad for you!!!), in case you thought just having two ingredients wasn't tempting enough!  

Bowl (okay yes I'm using a salad bowl, it's just too dang cute not to always use, I love the Mud Pie sets and am working on my collection :) )

So, let's get started.  I feel like you're still doubting the whole two ingredients thing, so here's your proof.  One can of pumpkin and one box of yellow cake mix is all it takes.  If you want to sweeten it up you can add chocolate chips, but otherwise that's all!  Of course you do still need a good sized bowl to mix it in, a spoon, a cupcake pan, and some cupcake liners (the foil ones work best).  

You just dump the pumpkin and cake mix together into the bowl and mix until it's relatively smooth.  It takes about 2-3 minutes.  

Then evenly distribute the batter into the liners in the pan and bake at 325 degrees for 18-20 minutes (or until they're golden brown on top & a toothpick comes out clean).  

Voila, that's it!  They are super moist so be careful sealing them up into bags, they can mold quickly.  Otherwise, if they're able to breath they'll last about a week!  Enjoy :)

XOXO, Cierra  

We're Getting Spooky this Month!

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     This month I could barely wait to decorate for Halloween!  I've picked up so many fun things over the past few years so I really love putting it all together.  While I do love decorating for Halloween, I don't like things to get too scary because I am a huge bit of a wimp haha, so most of my decorations are cute or funny, rather than scary or gory.  Including my themed t-shirts, like this witchy wine one!  

The only exception to this non-scary rule is my newest addition, a giant spider my mom found for me.  Fortunately, the little guy just fit in so well I couldn't say no.

I mean just look at the furry thing!  I was looking for something to fill that space anyway, maybe he'll stay up year round.  

As for the rest of my apartment, I just added some things here and there where I had space.  The tassel garland and mini pumpkins (black & white ones, pastel ones) spruced up the TV area, along with my awesome letter board featuring a ghost design I found on Pinterest.  I also love to add real pumpkins because who can resist buying them when you see them set out around grocery stores and shops!  I added them this year to the coffee table bowl.  

The bar cart has candy, of course!  Along with my favorite sassy napkins from the Target dollar section and an assortment of skulls.  This eat, drink & be scary sign (similar) was originally supposed to go on my front door, but since I was gifted a beautiful fall wreath this year it made it's way here!  

Speaking of the wreath, here it is!  I haven't ever had a wreath before, now I think I'll need one for every holiday.  I also scored this doormat for under $10!!  Definitely stocked up on ones for Thanksgiving & Christmas too because you literally cannot beat that price for how cute they are.  

Naturally, to match my sassy napkins I had to have sassy dish towels.  Target never disappoints when I need to find some.

I also became a person I never thought I would when I was decorating, someone who changes out their pillows.  I've always been so confused by people who do this; where do their other pillows go?  How do they afford so many pillows?  Why even bother??  Well, to start I found these burnt orange velvet beauties for $24 total at HomeGoods!  For the part about where the old ones go, I have a bin of extra bedding for guests that I added them to, nothing too complicated there.  And lastly, why bother??  Because it's so fun and makes you feel so mature when you can switch from your summer pillows to fall pillows, I swear try it.  

How are you celebrating for the upcoming holiday in your home??  
  XOXO, Cierra

New Apartment Reveal

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     Two weeks ago I made my big move for school and was so excited to start putting together my new apartment!  Unfortunately, August in Arizona is really not the time you want to be moving furniture up a set of outdoor stairs.  None the less with the help of my parents and some friends we got everything into my apartment within a few hours.  Then came the fun part of unpacking and organizing.  This actually seemed like more work than actually moving the stuff!  

     Now that I've finally settled in, I decided it's time to show off the final product!!  I still have some frames to hang, but I haven't decided where yet so the walls are a little bare.  Other than that, everything is complete!  

 Lamp | Side Table (similar) | Milk Can (similar) | Coffee Table | Art (similar) | Gray Pillow (similar)
Blue Pillow (similar) | Fur Throw | Knit Throw | Pink Throw | Couch  
  Bar Stools | Coasters | Llama Print from Peru (similar)

     This is my living room, and definitely my favorite area!  I love how much light sliding glass door to the patio lets in.   I lounge on the couch a ton while I'm studying because there's so much room to put my laptop, iPad, and snacks around me!  I went with a big piece of art over the couch rather than a gallery wall to give the area a more mature look.  The coffee table and TV stand are both from IKEA, and thankfully my mom put it together so I wouldn't have to, but they weren't terribly difficult once you understand how to start.  I love the box cubbies under the TV because they hide my wifi box and wires, while still displaying my personal items since I don't really have any shelves.  I haven't got around to fully decorating the bar cart yet, but soon it'll be fall themed 

 Chair Set | Rug | Poof | Floral Pillow (similar) | Navy Pillows (similar) | Plate (similar)

     Next is my patio!  This was a deal-breaker when I was looking for apartments, I knew I wanted some sort of outdoor area of my own and I got super lucky because this patio is huge!!  I've spent some time reading out here and it is so relaxing.  We shopped for the furniture during the Memorial Day sales and I highly recommend waiting to purchase outdoor furniture until it's on sale because otherwise it's so expensive.  Definitely look this weekend if you're in the market because the Labor Day sales seem to be equivalent to the Memorial Day sales.  Plus, lots of things are on sale for the end of summer.  I bought the chair set and pillows first, then based my colors off those browns and blues, which ended up being perfect because I absolutely loved the rug when I first saw it.
  Trash Can | Wine Rack (similar) | Hand Towels | Cow Print 
Rooster (similar)

     Right next to my living room, is the kitchen.  I'm trying to make myself cook more now that I'm on a really strict budget, so far I usually just go with Costco raviolli, salads, or frozen meats my mom makes for me haha.  Luckily, even though I haven't made anything extravagant yet, my kitchen is fully stocked and has plenty of space for when I do.  My favorite parts are the rooster (necessary in every kitchen to bring good luck) and the cupcake baking books I picked up in Spain that are next to the canisters.  Since I am still in school, I replaced my dining room with an office area to study and added bar stools to create a little breakfast bar.  

Desk (similar) | Desk Chair | Gray Basket | Folder Organizer (similar) | Backpack | Lamp 
Bulletin Board (similar) | Digital Frame  

     My desk area is basically the same as it was last year, except now I don't have to keep my makeup on it since I have my own bathroom!  That made is so I could put the printer on one side and still have my computer on the other side.  I condensed all my supplies into the gray crate and keep any files I need in the folders next to it.  I think having a desk area is really important, especially while I"m still in school, to help get work done and minimize distractions.  I decorate my bulletin board with lots of pictures of my friends and family and souvenirs from places I've been to help keep me motivated while I'm working on things.    

  Cupcake Towel | Apron | Hamper | Sock Sign (similar)
     My apartment came with a washer and dryer in the unit, thankfully! It's right off my kitchen in a little room.  I wanted to make the most of this space so I keep my hamper in here and decided to hang my hats on the wall to keep them in pristine condition.  I just used a Command Hook for each one.  I also did a DIY for the sock sign since the one I bought didn't have anywhere to put the missing socks, though they do sell ones with strings already.  I hung some twine from two nails and put five clothing pins on it for any solo socks that come along.   

I'm so excited to spend the next four years here and so thankful it all came together so quickly!
XOXO, Cierra  


Summer Reading List

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     Happy National Book Lover's Day!!  This is a legitimate holiday, I checked, and what better excuse is there to share what I've been reading!  This summer since I didn't have any classes to take I decided to focus on reading as many books as I could.  I never gave myself a lot of time to read during school because I always felt guilty that I should be studying or reading a book related to my classes, and honestly sometimes I just didn't feel like making time for it.  So dedicating time to read the past two months was huge for me!  I've always loved reading and this summer has brought back that love.

     I made a list and strategically chose books I wouldn't be likely to let myself read once my classes started again.  I started with Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella.  I really didn't love this one to start, it was hard to get into, but once I got to about halfway I was hooked!  It follows a young lawyer who's life is suddenly turned upside down by one little mistake.  I'll admit I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, I felt like it just dropped off and could have explained more of what the future held for the characters, but even with that I would still definitely recommend it!  

     Next I read Can You Keep a Secret? also by Sophie Kinsella.  I liked this one right out of the gate!  It's main character is a young woman navigating the business world, who happens to meet a man on a plane and divulge all her deepest secrets to him, little does she know what will follow due to this.  Kinsella has a way to tell stories that are so relatable, yet feel like a fairy tale.  This was a super quick read and perfect for a vacation!  

    I was stuck on these chick-lit books that reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada in the beginning, so naturally I went to the queen author herself; Lauren Weisberger.  She not only wrote the Devil Wears Prada, she also wrote a lesser known gem called Chasing Harry Winston.  I was slightly concerned this book might be aimed at a little older age group since I'm not in the market to be married right now, but luckily it didn't feel that way at all!  It follows three close friends and their experiences with men and each other, they take trips, get into trouble & do things basically every woman has done.  

     After this came Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.  This was another book I didn't get into immediately, but in the end I did really enjoy it.  It follows a couple through life and marriage, with all the positives and negatives that entails.  This was more mature than the books I normally read, but the story really drew me in and I found myself missing the characters when I wasn't reading it.  There are some graphic scenes so take that warning however you choose, but if you can handle those I think you'll find other great parts as well.   

    The next book I chose was slightly darker, but came with a recommendation from a friend.  Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith is a memoir of the life of a lawyer who is also secretly an alcoholic and abuses drugs.  The beginning of the book was the best part in my opinion because you hear about all the insane things she did and get to wonder how no one noticed, how she survived, and how she keeps going.  The middle and end start to lull but are necessary to tie up the story.  Even if you don't drink this book is still fine for you because most people really can't relate to the level she's on the majority of the book, whether they drink or not.   

     My final finished book thus far was The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.  I was SO excited for this one.  I wanted to read it so bad and my mom gave it to me as a gift.  It took me forever to get through and I literally had to force myself to finish it.  I thought it would be more of a travel book about the places he goes to and a general look at how to be happy, but it covered a lot more philosophical and psychological topics than I would've liked.  I did learn a few things I didn't know while following his journey and there were parts I enjoyed, but in all it was a long read and I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.   

Bag (similar) | Scarf (similar) | Sunscreen (reef safe!!) | Sunnies (similar) | Towel (similar)

Now that I've finished these I am currently halfway through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.  I was drawn to it initially since it was set just after WWII and I like reading about the time period, but once I found out it was being made into a movie I knew I had to read it.  The verdict isn't fully in yet, but so far I would say it is exceeding my expectations.  This is especially true since I didn't like the way it was written through correspondence letters between the characters to start and wanted to stop reading it.  Eventually the letters do grow on you, but check back for my next reading list post for a full review as well as some of the others I'll be crossing off my list! 

What's at the top of your reading list right now?
XOXO, Cierra        
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