Red, White and Covert: American Spy

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Red, White and Covert

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Happy July!  I kicked off my Summer book list with none other than American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.  The main character, Marie, starts off with killing an intruder in her home and immediately fleeing with her two twin boys.  After they flee, Marie feels as though she has no choice but finally tell the truth to her children about where they come from, why they are on the run, and that their American lives isn’t everything it seems.

 

What I liked…

 

I loved how the author decided to have the protagonist write in a journal, telling her story from the first person. The book is written to the twin boys as if she is writing every single detail from memory.  I enjoyed how the author connects the disappearance of Marie’s sister, to Marie’s future clandestine assignment and the unraveling of what Marie thought actually happened to her best friend.

 

In terms of character development, Marie was a real life woman of color going through real life trials and tribulations in her federal job. Working at government agencies can still feel like “the good ‘ol boys club,” despite it being 2019 and women breaking all kinds of glass ceilings.  Despite being the top in her class at Quantico, Marie struggles to rise in the ranks within her local FBI field office.  She was always told she had to work twice as hard to receive the same recognition as her White counterparts; and was beginning to feel that in spite of carrying over this effort into her career, she still saw no recognition from her superior officer.  She noticed that she’s constantly given assignments that do not assist her professional growth; when she complains to her mentor, she’s reminded to “stay in line” and “don’t rock the boat;” and, the feeling that she must repeatedly prove her loyalty and dedication to her job due to fear emanated by male supervisors who fail to promote women  because they assume the woman will leave their career for their domestic responsibilities.  Nonetheless, not only does she feel her own internalized pressures of success within the FBI as an appreciative compliment to her deceased sister, but she even acknowledges societal pressures within the Black community and the need to succeed so that her achievements are utilized as a promotional opportunity to encourage other Black women trailing behind her.  I suppose such pressures are real in any career, for working women of color; not just government agencies.  The author did an excellent job demonstrating an educated and talented woman can still be hurdled by misogynistic views; and, how the advice of “playing the game,” should be perceived as a threat to a woman’s success in the workplace, rather than collegial persuasion. 

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What I didn’t like…

 

Marie has an affair with a married man, who just so happens to be a high profile political figure, Thomas.  She talks about how quickly she fell in love with him and their short-lived world wind romance.  But to me, it wasn’t all that romantic at all.  I thought that this mini-plot could’ve been developed more, along with the actual development of her love interest’s character.  It just seemed like it was lacking or wasn’t all that believable to me.  Not to say that people don’t have short-lived world wind romances!  I just thought that this mini plot needed more build up.  For example, there’s some flirtation, batting eyes and all of a sudden, she’s in love.  She finally gets him alone.  She finally sleeps with him. But that’s it.  Maybe the author thought that because of their short time together, that’s all Marie really needed with Thomas.  But, it just didn’t seem real to me.

 

I also wanted more development of Slater, her sister’s former boyfriend turned government military contractor.  The author alluded to his craziness and the glimpses were small.  Finally, the book ends with Marie wanting to go after Ross, Slater’s former partner.  Since the book ended with Marie’s fate unresolved, I can’t help but wonder if there will be a second installment. Without a sequel, Marie’s story feels unfinished and you’re left hoping that whatever revenge she decides to take, she is successful and returns to her boys.

 

All in all, I’m glad I finally picked up a copy and read it. I finished this novel rather quickly since the book is seemingly fast paced.  If you’ve already read Wilkinson’s first novel, leave a comment below and let me know you’re thoughts!

 

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Buttered New England Lobster on Cheddar Bay Biscuits Sliders

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Cheddar Bay Biscuit Lobster Sliders

Your Easy Seafood Option for this Fourth of July

Prep Time: 20 Minutes | Cook Time: 25 Minutes

What You’ll Need:

Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits Mix

North Atlantic Lobster Tail

1 / 2 Cup of Ghee Butter

1 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

1 Teaspoon of Pepper

Splash of Lemon

1/4 Cup of Fresh Parsley

 

First, follow the recommended instructions for the Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit mix.

 

Next, place lobster tails in oven and allow to bake in oven at same time as Cheddar Bay biscuits (approximately 15-20 minutes).

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When lobster tails are cooked, remove meat and place in bowl. Mix melted ghee butter, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well.

 

Place lobster mix in between biscuit halves, making sliders. Reheat in oven on 250 degrees for five minutes. Serve warm.

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Shop This Post:

Sweater: J. Crew Factory | Shorts: old, similar here | Lips: MAC Cosmetics Ruby Woo | Lipliner: MAC Cosmetics Kiss Me Quick | French Bistro Chairs: Frontgate Paris Bistro Collection in Capri Blue | Bistro Table: Wayfair Vivian Metal Bistro Table | Flag Toothpicks: Amazon | Maryland Crab Napkins: Caspari

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My Favorite Target Finds for Fourth of July!

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My Favorite Finds for 4th of July

All Your Red, White and Blue Options at Target

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I recently did a Target run and there were still a bunch of Vineyard Vines for Target finds. I noticed that some of my favorite Target brands also had some really gorgeous Summer pieces, including Magnolia’s Hearth & Hand, Threshold and Opalhouse. Lots of rattan, rope materials, and blues giving me all the nautical vibes and wishing I had a little beach cottage. I listed all of my faves for your convenience. AND….a lot of the Vineyard Vines pieces are 30% off and some of the other brands are 5-15% off! You still have time to pick up some amazing stuff before the dinner parties and BBQs next weekend! Happy Shopping!

Dining

 

Living

 

Decor

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DIY on a Dime: Summer Floral Arrangement

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Summer Floral Arrangement

Easy Steps Using Grocery Store Flowers

It is officially summer!! I am really starting to enjoy summer in my home, thanks to my growing garden, full of Knock Out Roses, a butterfly bush, pink peonies and hydrangeas.

This past Spring, I really enjoyed creating my Spring floral bouquet. So, I wanted to create another one with even more vibrant colors. BUT!! This time, instead of heading to the Potomac Wholesale Floral, I opted to pick up a few stems at my local grocery. I was able to get all of the flowers — with the exception of the hydrangeas, which came from my garden, for a total of $22!

 
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What You’ll Need:

 

First, cut your stems to the desired length. Remove leaves to allow more room in the vase for more flowers.

 

Once the stems are cut at their desired length, group them together, placing the peonies at the center, cupped by the lilies, then the hydrangeas, and finally the veronicas and craspedias on the outer most layer.

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Finally, instead of using a flower frog, I simply tied a rubber band around the flower stems (at the base of the flowers). I decided to do this instead of using a flower frog, like I did for my Spring bouquet simply becuase the vase I am using is smaller than the one I used last season.

Place bouquet in vase and enjoy. I placed new water in the vase every 2 - 3 days. These grocery store flowers lasted two weeks! I love how they came out.

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Pet owners, please remember that lilies are poisonous to dogs and cats. So, if you have a cat that is permitted to climb atop tables and / or counters, I would opt for another flower.

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Refugees Welcome: Exit West

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Refugees Welcome

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Can you believe we are SIX MONTHS into 2019?  June is one of my favorite times of the year, not solely because it’s Spring and the start to Summer weather, but also because I get to talk about a topic that I love very much.  For those who don’t know, I work in the immigration field where my subject matter expertise is asylum and refugee law.   June is World Refugee Month, so I wanted to present some of my favorite books documenting the world’s most vulnerable humanitarian migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.  Every year on June 20th, the United Nations commemorates “the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.”  The United Nations chose June 20th as the national day of recognition because every 20 minutes, people leave everything they have – their home, jobs, even family and friends – to escape war, persecution or terror.  For more information on humanitarian migrants and World Refugee Day, visit here

For June’s book of the month, I chose author Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.  Hamid tells the fictional refugee story of Saeed and Nadia.  After meeting in a class at their University, Saeed and Nadia begin their attempt at dating, just as any young college lovebirds would do. However, their curiosity and desire for one another comes at the most inconvenient time, at the beginning of a civil war in their home country.  At first, it’s simple checkpoints by the government’s army and countering militias.  Then, it’s mandatory curfews. Next, there’s no internet, cell phone or television service.  Finally, there’s no city power, clean drinking water or food.  Both Nadia and Saeed hear gunfire in the distance of their respective homes, but it’s not until Saeed’s mother is killed by a stray bullet that Nadia finally takes Saeed up on his offer and moves in with him and his father.  When Saeed makes contact with a human smuggler to help him and Nadia escape their now war torn country, Saeed’s father refuses and the two young college students – who have never left the boundaries of their country – must put their lives into the hands of strangers to help them escape to safe territory.  Exit West tells their year-long story of escaping to safety and the troubles they face along the way.

What I liked…

I thought Hamid did an excellent job portraying the difficulties refugees face during their journey to a safe haven.  Nadia and Saeed made it to several countries, including Britain and Greece, before finally making it to America.  Hamid not only illustrated the strain that escaping war can have on a family, or two people who believe they’re in love, but also the additional challenges that refugees face along their escape route.  Nadia and Saeed had their money taken by a stranger who promised to smuggle them into another country, only to not disappear; they had to live in overcrowded refugee camps and work for little to nothing; and, were even faced with threats by xenophobic protestors. 

I also really enjoyed Hamid’s writing style.  For example, there were instances in almost each chapter where Hamid would throw in a quick paragraph about another character – almost seemingly in a parallel universe – where the author attempts to illustrate how the refugee crisis affects this person.  Hamid attempts to demonstrate to the reader that the current humanitarian crisis affects all of us, in diverse ways.  I thought that these short paragraphs were equally compelling as the main story.

I also greatly enjoyed the character development of both Nadia and Saeed.  Nadia is independent, strong willed, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.  Nadia wears an all-black veil and gown, similar to a Muslim Abaya, but doesn’t consider herself religious and she doesn’t practice strict prayer like Saeed.  She notes to Saeed that she wears the gown not for religious reasons but almost as protection against unwelcome harassment by men in the streets; that anything contemporary (e.g., jeans and a shirt) would be inviting to some in a misogynistic society.  And even as she travels over the next year, long escaping her home and war, she continues to wear her gown in public.  The gown has religious and cultural symbolism but Nadia’s refusal to pray, or even continue to speak her country’s language, begins to annoy Saeed, as he sees this as a contradiction.  Saeed is much more traditional and doesn’t want to forget where he came from, seeking out other refugees who both look like him and speak his language.  While Nadia understands that they may never see their country again, Saeed doesn’t want to lose hope that one day they will return, searching for ways to hold on to his roots in a new world.

What I didn’t like…

I couldn’t think of one thing that I disliked about this book.  It was a fast read, finishing in one day; and, I’ll likely read it again in the future.  Mohsin Hamid has other publications, including Moth Smoke, that I will likely pick up this Summer. 

I hope you enjoy Exit West if you haven’t read it yet.  If you have, feel free to share your thoughts on this novel.  As always, here are additional recommendations on some other refugee stories.

You may also like…

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Pajama Set: Sant and Abel x Donald Robertson Team Immigrant Pajamas available here and here.

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Deep Fried Strawberry Glazed Biscuits

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Prep Time: 15 minutes minutes | Cook Time: 15 minutes

What You’ll Need:

1 can of Pillsbury Buttermilk Grands Southern Homestyle Biscuits

2 cups of liquid Coconut Oil

1/2 cup of fresh Fresh Strawberries

1 tablespoon of Refined Sugar

1/2 cup of Dried Strawberries

1 bar of white chocolate

 
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First, heat coconut oil in deep fryer or frying pan. Pull apart biscuit dough and place in heated oil. Cook until golden brown on each side (approximately 3-5 minutes).

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Next, place cooked biscuits on napkin covered plate and allow oil to drain.

For the strawberry glaze, boil water in saucepan or pot. Bring water to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer. Place white chocolate in heatsafe bowl, at center of boiling water. Stir frequently until melted. Do NOT attempt to melt chocolate in microwave as it will burn!

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Then, purée fresh strawberries in blender. Mix puréed strawberries with melted white chili ale. Drizzle over biscuits.

 

Lastly, grind dried strawberries into powdery substance. Add refined sugar or sweetener. Sprinkle over biscuits and enjoy.

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Serve with a glass of Veuve Cliquot Brut Rosé, chilled, with a fresh lemon and / or strawberries. It’s the perfect new brunch item for rosé season. I loved this recipe so much (and the easiness of it) that I think I may make it again but with peaches. I hope you babes enjoy!

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My First Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic

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It’s Clicquot season!

I finally attended my first ever Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Liberty State Park in New Jersey this past weekend! I have seen this event posted all over social media for a few years now, so, I appropriately placed it on my bucket list of things to do in NYC. The champagne dynasty did NOT disappoint! Each year, Veuve Clicquot hosts a polo match for the kick off of summer on the East Coast. Since this was my first appearance — and decidedly will not be my last — I wanted to provide you all with a quick guide and answer all of your questions in the event that some of you’d would want to attend next year’s event, or maybe even check out the West Coast end-of-summer Polo Classic in Los Angeles.

 
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Don’t get left behind!

This year, the polo match took place on Saturday, June 1st from 11:00 a.m. (EST) to 6:00 p.m. (EST). It appears from their website that the event usually takes place on the first Saturday of June. Veuve Clicquot releases tickets every April. If you are an American Express cardmember, you could purchase early bird tickets before general release to the public, for $150 (NYC departure only). For General Admission tickets, there were three price points with the first release at $90; the second release at $110; and, the third release at $130.

For general admission, ticket holders receive:

  • Transportation to and from either Manhattan or Jersey City to the Liberty State Park.

  • Access to champagne bars, merchandise tents, lawn games and food trucks.

  • First come, first serve open lawn seating.

Veuve Clicquot also offers VIP access known as the Rosé Garden for $475. Rosé Garden ticket holders receive:

  • Transportation to and from either Manhattan or Jersey City to the Liberty State Park.

  • Priority boarding lane for transportation shuttle (Jersey City) or ferry (Manhattan).

  • One bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé.

  • Individual gourmet lunch.

  • Dedicated entry and photo moments.

  • Access to champagne bars, merchandise tents, lawn games and food trucks.

I bought a general admission ticket.

Granted, I greatly enjoyed my day at the polo match, in the future, I will be purchasing a Rosé Garden ticket. Why? Because although the general admission ticket was much cheaper, the lines to take photos at large photo props were an hour or more long, with little help from the staff in monitoring photo shoot times (and also people cutting the lines). In the Rosé Garden, it was less crowded (with much more gorgeous props) and you essentially avoid photography lines.

 
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Be Picnic Ready

Another reason why I’ll be purchasing Rosé Garden tickets next year? So I can travel light! Don’t get me wrong, my little picnic basket from Amazon is absolutely adorable. And, there are available food trucks on site, in case you don’t feel like packing snacks. Since it was my first attendance, I didn’t want to chance it and depend on the food trucks, so I packed a bunch of fruits, cheeses, salami and a small veggie platter. We also made sure that we had a heavy breakfast in the morning, since we knew we would only be snacking during the polo match and likely be there until dinner.

If you purchase the Rosé Garden, this is something you need not to worry about as you would receive an individual catered lunch. Almost no one ever posts pics of the catering in the Rosé Garden, but Gayle King came through on her Instagram and the food looks amazing!

 
 
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Game Time!

The polo match starts at 2:00 p.m. (EST) and the awards ceremony starts at approximately 3:30 p.m. (EST). If you paid for general admission, then it is open seating on the lawn (first come, first serve). It is possible to get to the event early enough to set up your picnic blanket as close to the polo match as possible. However, there is a fence that encloses the match to prevent attendees from walking onto the field. During the match, many people gathered around the fence, so if you were seated on the lawn, your view was likely obstructed.

Rosé Garden ticket holders had a view of the field that was not fenced off and allowed ticket holders to be close enough to even greet the players and horses.

Even though my brother and I were on the lawn, we still were able to get these awesome shots!

 
 

The Most Important Part — Pop Champagne!

When you purchase a General Admission ticket, you are provided a wristband with two (2) glass ticket stubs and one (1) bottle ticket stub. This year, Veuve Clicquot offered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne Yellow Label for $105; the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé for $125; and, the Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame for $275. If you purchase the VIP Rosé Garden ticket, a bottle of Brut Rosé is included. I really wanted a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Rich Rosé, however, it was only available by the glass ($28). One bottle of the yellow label was definitely sufficient for two people.

Each bottle purchase includes a Veuve Clicquot Ice Jacket ($127 value).

 
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The Fashion

Think southern flair, Kentucky Derby. Everyone looked absolutely gorgeous. Men looked dapper in bright colored suits and button down shirts. The women put on the ultimate summer fashion show with bright dresses, what you would assuredly find at the Kentucky Derby or Preakness here in Baltimore.

We got lucky this past weekend, and there was a thick haze that created an overcast over the NYC skyline. So, the heat was not excruciating and i barely worked a sweat. My maxi skirt from ASOS is very long and the field was muddy from a downpour two days prior. So, most of the time I was lifting my skirt as I walked to avoid the dirt and mud. Now, shoes…I only saw a very small handful of women who wore stiletto heels and instantly regretted it before they even checked into the park. DO NOT WEAR STILETTO HEELS. If you must wear heels, where a block heel or wedge shoes. There is no sidewalk to walk on around the park, since the entire event is gated off from the rest of Liberty State park. I didn’t want to take a chance with any kind of heel so I wore Zara flats and it was absolutely fine.

Another must — wear a hat and bring an umbrella. While the Rosé Garden is adequately tented for shade, the main lawn is not! Even with my sun hat, I needed my umbrella. Again, it wasn’t too hot but the umbrella still helped with keeping us cool as we picnicked on the lawn.

 
 

I can’t wait to go again next year! It was the just the jumpstart I needed to start my summer!

 

Shop My Outfit:

Bodysuit: AFRM Nora Bodysuit | Tiered Pleated Maxi Skirt: ASOS, similar here | Tassel Earrings: BaubleBar (sold out), similar here | Shoes: ZARA (old) | Boater Hat: Evrfelans | Handbag: Rue La La Fallon & Royce Pom Pom Straw Tote.

 

Shop This Post:

Picnic Basket: Amazon SatisInside 4 Person Insulated Basket | Picnic Blanket: Amazon California Picnic Waterproof Picnic Blanket | Umbrella: Veuve Clicquot, also available here.

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DIY on a Dime: Colorful Spring Porch Refresh

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Colorful Spring Porch Refresh

My Bright and Budget Friendly Porch Makeover

My front porch has been such a drab these last two years. Although I have had my bench and coffee table for awhile, I’ve been completely laxed on decorating the space and making it an extension of my home.

 
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First, I painted my burgundy chipped door “Dutch Tulip” red by Benjamin Moore. I used the Aura Grand Entrance line in high gloss finish. I’ve seen this front entrance in Dutch Tulip circulate all over Pinterest for years, and i finally bit the bullet and decided to go for it. I knew the color would look great on my little row house.

According to the paint expert at my local Benjamin Moore location, I did not need a primer because my door was already painted a red base with the burgundy. However, if you need a primer, I really like using Zinnser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer.

Source:  Benjamin Moore
 

First, I poured liquid TSP cleaner into a bucket of warm water and used a textured cloth to remove dirt and pollen from the door. Once the door was dry, I sanded down any nicks and imperfections.

If you’re using primer, you will want to prime the entire door next (and allow to dry 24-48 hours before painting).

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Next, paint the panels of the door first.

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Then, focus on the remaining trim of the door. I decided to paint three coats, using a single stoke with the paintbrush to reduce the appearance of brush strokes up close.

Please allow at least 24 hours between each coat, so that it may dry properly.

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Next, I worked on my concrete floor. Per the instructions for the Behr Granite Grip and Behr Concrete and Masonry Bonding Primer, I needed to strip the porch paint previously applied. Honestly, there was no way that I was going to get all of this porch paint off of the concrete floor. So, instead, I focused on stripping just the areas that were already peeling badly. Then, I sanded down the areas that were peeling to smooth it out before applying the concrete bond primer.

 

The concrete bonding primer needs a minimum of 2 hours to dry. I allowed mine to dry for approximately 3-4 hours. Then, I applied the first coat of the Granite Grip. Behr recommends at least two coats of Granite Grip for complete coverage. I applied three coats, allowing a minimum of 24 hours to dry in between each coat.

 

I’m really glad that I covered this porch with the Granite Grip. it’s hiding all of the imperfections. And, thanks to the primer, it should last for a few years.

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Shop My Outfit

Midi Dress: ASOS | Headband: Nordstrom | Earrings: Baublebar | Fallon & Royce Straw Tote: Rue La La.

 

Shop My Front Porch

Outdoor Bench Cushion: Hayneedle | Outdoor Floral Pillow: Grandin Road | Outdoor Pink Pillows: Michaels (old), similar here | Door Mat: Kirkland’s | Outdoor Area Rug: Grandin Road (old), similar here | Outdoor Bench: Target | Paris Bistro Side Chairs: Frontgate | Chinoiserie Garden Stool: Home Goods (old), similar here and here | Pink Candle Lantern: Pier 1 Imports (old), similar here and here | Outdoor Coffee Table: Amazon | Wreath: Target (sold out), similar here.

 

Shop my Planters

Tub Planter: Amazon | Chinoiserie Planters: Homesense, also available here and similar here.

 

Shop my Paints

Porch Floor: Behr Granite Grip in Tan Granite | Front Door: Benjamin Moore Aura Grand Entrance in Dutch Tulip (high gloss finish).

 

Shop Miss Peppermint

Dress (old), similar here | Woof Cliquot Plush Bottle: Haute Diggity Dog.

 
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