Personal beauty consult with LULA Hair + Makeup

24 April 2017

Most of my hair and makeup knowledge is circa 2002, the year of my most devoted readership to Seventeen and Glamour. I kept big binders of product recommendations and blow drying tutorials I’d torn out and saved, but I never seemed to do much with them — my friends and I didn’t really swap tips or play with each other’s hair, and most of the makeup I owned was the stuff I was required to buy for my ballet school’s performances.

Up until last year I was still mostly operating off of that banked knowledge from high school, as well as trial and error over the years and a few tips picked up here and there. It was nothing fancy, but it got the job done! My job requires me to be photographed fairly often, however, and I’ve wished for a long time that I had a better base of knowledge to rely on when left to my own devices for these occasions.

In a stroke of inspiration, I reached out to my sweet friend Sam of LULA Hair + Makeup to see if she might be willing to let me hire her for an hour or two to teach me some of her makeup wisdom. I kind of felt like it was a long shot, as she’s a busy lady and I wasn’t really sure if she did that sort of thing, but she replied right away. Apparently personal consults are one of her favorite things to do!

Photo of Sam by A.J. Dunlap

Sam charges $200 for a two-hour consult. With so much free information on the internet, I can understand why some gals might not be into paying for knowledge they can get elsewhere for free. But that’s just it – there is SO information out there, and the way I want to spend my limited free time is not wading through it to sort out the good from the bad, and the good for me from the good for someone else. After all, time is money!

I also know many makeup counters offer consults, and they are probably great, too! But I have worked with Sam many times over the years, and every time she has done my makeup, I have been thrilled. She knows my style, she knows my lifestyle; I knew we wouldn’t have to waste time getting up to speed. Plus, she’s one of the kindest, most encouraging and peaceful people to be around!

So, what did we do? Sam asked me to bring all of my makeup and skin care items with me to her home studio. We started by walking through my skin care routine, and she asked questions and recommended a few product swaps or additions along the way. For instance, she suggested that for my skin, I should use my Clarisonic just once a week instead of every other day like I’d been doing, and add a weekly moisturizing mask (she suggested two in different price points!). She also said I had beautiful skin, which was practically worth the price of the session in itself, haha!

Then we moved on to makeup, and I again walked her through each step of my routine. For any of my current products I wasn’t happy with, we tried out a few alternatives from her kit, and she offered application tips. I’ve since bought a few of her recommendations; one of my favorites is the Stila Convertible Color Lip and Cheek Cream in Gerbera – so pretty!!

I had specifically requested that she teach me how to do a fancier eye look (a la my 60 Before 30 list!), so we spent a good chunk of time on that. She narrated as she made up one eye, and then I mimicked her on the other.

A few days after my consult, Sam emailed me an extensive sheet of instructions for everything she taught me, complete with dozens of product recommendations that she specifically chose for my skin and lifestyle. I’ve bought one or two every month since and have slowly been incorporating them into my routine!

I adore Sam and can’t recommend her enough, so if you, too, are looking for some grown-up makeup help, shoot her an email! What do y’all think – does this sound like something that would be helpful for you? I’m considering hiring her for another session focused on hair! :)

Marvelous City Guide: Durham, North Carolina

18 April 2017

Today I am very excited to present my Durham, North Carolina city guide! Durham has skyrocketed to culinary fame over the last few years (Southern Living named it the South’s tastiest town in 2014!), but there is so much more to love about this post-industrial town than amazing restaurants. Let me take you on a tour of a few of my favorite places!

Pizzeria Toro


Matt Kelly, the chef and owner behind several of our downtown favorites, pretty much runs this town. Mothers and Sons Trattoria offers inventive and delicious pasta, and is perfect for a date night – the plates are small, so you can split several. We love to bring visiting family or meet up with larger groups at Mateo so we can try as many tapas as possible (my favorite is the chicken croquettes, a “special” that’s been on the board every time I’ve dined). If you’re looking for a quick lunch, you can round out your MK experience with a meatball sub or the sweet potato and leek soup at Lucky’s Delicatessen. Pro tip: these three are right in a row on W. Chapel Hill Street!

The wait at Pizzeria Toro can be long, but is always worth it. It has a fun, buzzy atmosphere, and is perfect in the winter when the huge wood-burning pizza oven makes for a cozy atmosphere in the open space. Try the kale salad, and leave room for zeppole for dessert. Or, walk down the street to Parlour for your sweet fix instead – their frozen sandwiches, like blackberry ice cream squeezed between two chocolate chip cookies, are my favorite!


If you find yourself out by Duke’s campus (and you should – see below!), there are several excellent options for dining. Foster’s Market will always take the blue ribbon in my book. Sara Foster is an acclaimed Southern chef who makes delicious, feel-good food. My go-to is a solid helping of the day’s casserole special (weighed by the pound) followed by a towering slice of coconut cake or chess pie if I’m feeling indulgent. For brunch, we move next door to Guglhupf, a German bakery and cafe with a pretty outdoor patio. The desserts are not to be missed here, either (can you sense a pattern?).

Around the corner are a matched pair of Scott Howell restaurants that couldn’t be more different: Nana’s is upscale and old school, the perfect place for a celebratory night out (we made reservations there the night we thought we were going to find out whether June was a boy or girl!). NanaTaco is a garage-turned-taco spot, except that it features fillings like braised local hog jowls and house smoked duck. (See also: NanaSteak, his fancy steakhouse near the American Tobacco Campus!)

It wouldn’t be an Em for Marvelous city guide without a few recommendations for my personal weakness. The original Rise location is in Durham, and while the Southpoint location is not the most scenic, the biscuits and donuts make up for it. My friend Sam practically lived on them during her first pregnancy. The line at Monuts is always long, and with good reason: their donuts are probably my favorite of all time. Try something fun – they feature creative flavors like Irish coffee, horchata, and brown butter hazelnut, and I’ve never been disappointed.

You might be surprised to see a seafood pick on my list, but Saltbox is that good – even I admit their beautifully seasoned shrimp roll, topped with tangy slaw, is delicious! Right now they’re in the cutest shack there ever was, but they’re opening a second, larger location in Rockwood (near Foster’s) this summer.


I pretty much only go to Vin Rouge (another Matt Kelly gem!) in the summer, because sitting on their garden patio under twinkle lights is the absolute best way to eat gratin de macaroni, tartiflette, and pommes frites. Actually, wait, I don’t think there’s a bad way to eat any of those things :) Fun for a date night!

For your winter list: Dashi, a downtown ramen spot with offerings as warm and comforting as a hug. They also offer exquisite small plates on their second level!


Work off all of your delicious meals with a hike at Eno River State Park. It’s an extensive and beautiful property, lovely in any season – our favorite trails are Bobbit Hole, Buckquarter Creek, Cox Mountain, Dunnagan, and Pea Creek. If it’s hot, take a dip near the waterfalls at the Fews Ford access, and don’t miss a trip across the suspension bridge! The best way to end an Eno hike is with a Locopop, just down the road from the park entrance.

Eno River

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens is one of the loveliest spots in the Triangle, hands-down. Bring a book and a blanket and stretch out on the South Lawn for a few hours, but not before roaming the pathways (my favorite sections are the camellias and the terrace garden!). We love to pick up Foster’s for a picnic on our way in.

The American Tobacco Campus, arguably the heart of Durham and one of the coolest examples of industrial repurposing anywhere, hosts several of our favorite summer events. The Durham Bulls, a AAA baseball team with absurdedly good concessions, play nearby, and our public radio station hosts an outdoor (free!) bluegrass concert series every summer that is wall-to-wall popular. Every ATC event allows you to appreciate the campus itself, which transformed from a decrepit factory with trees growing out of the roof and used for SWAT team drills to a pristine, ingenious community space complete with a meandering stream running down the center – right under the original Lucky Strike tower. Its reimagination is truly inspiring!

american tobacco campus

When faced with a hard-to-shop-for friend, my first stop is Parker & Otis, a modern general store with the coolest brands. (Tagline: “a lot of things you want.” Yes.) I’ve never spotted a dud on their shelves, but their baby section is particularly refined.

Hideaway Woods

Finally, find yourself a kid if you don’t already have one just so you can take a trip to the Museum of Life & Science. Every section is spectacular, but Hideaway Woods is literal kid perfection. It features eight treehouses (some up to 20 feet high!) connected by rope bridges and cargo nets, a free-flowing stream, giant logs, life-size twig sculptures, and so much more. All of my kid + nature cravings find their zenith here.


You’re in luck! After decades with nothing but a lone Marriott on the scene, Durham now has not one but two fabulous boutique hotels: The Durham and 21c Museum Hotel. We recently stayed overnight at The Durham for a mini belated birthday getaway, and their dedication to sourcing locally (everything from Big Spoon Roasters in the amenities tray to Raleigh Denim blankets on the bed) was impressive. Locals, don’t miss the Saturday morning yoga class on the rooftop – complimentary for guests and $15 to drop-in. One of the best classes I’ve ever taken! Of course, drinks on the roof by night is also fun!

The Durham

I know this guide only scratches the surface of all that this vibrant, ever-changing city has to offer, so please, if you’re a Durham fan, leave your favorites in the comments! I’m going to add a few honorable mentions to kick us off. I’d love for the comment section to be a resource for readers just as much as my post! xo!

Pizzeria Toro photo by In Honor of Design, Nanataco photo by Map & Menu, Saltbox and Duke Gardens photos by Bit & Grain, Hideaway Woods photo from The Triangle Review. Remaining photos either personal or from their respective sources.

Fifteen month baby favorites

10 April 2017

June is a girl on the move these days, practically running everywhere she goes. This is such a fun age, and we have been delighting in our sweet, funny girl! These are a few of the items helping us keep up with her at fifteen months!

fifteen month baby favorites

— June is actually very good at eating off a plate, so we don’t use these too often, but for places that don’t have plates (like Chick-fil-a!), these stick-on table toppers are helpful.

— June outgrew her sunhat from last year, so we replaced it with this one. The chambray goes with almost everything!

— I don’t frequent Kohl’s too often, but when I ran in recently to make a return I was wowed by the Carters spring girl collection! SO much cuteness, including the above leggings (which June has), this sweatshirt set, this buffalo check romper, this outfit (reminds me of John Robshaw or Roberta Roller Rabbit!), this anorak (we might buy this for the fall – so cute!), and this swimsuit.

— I might be the only blogger alive who doesn’t love Honest products, but aside from their diapers, I just haven’t found them that effective for our family. We started using the Burt’s Bees original lotion a few weeks ago, and love it so much more!

— Target’s Cat & Jack hair bows are our favorite right now. They’re adorable, and also only $2 each, which is great because despite my best efforts we lose them left and right.

— June still prefers to explore outside over playing with almost any toy, but she does love her band in a box (maracas!).

— I am a little unsure as to whether I want to list June’s convertible car seat as a favorite, because I have some mixed feelings about it. I didn’t do a ton of research before we bought it, because we got a large gift card to Nordstrom at the same time we were shopping for a new seat, and I liked the look of this one and it had great safety ratings. We do like it, and June does seem to think it’s maxi cozy, but the straps are hard to tighten (which may, I freely admit, be user error).

— We use the Cloud Baby Monitor app on our phones and laptops as our monitor when we’re traveling. It has unlimited range and works great!

— I’m using this slide as a stand-in for playgrounds in general, which June loves in all shapes and sizes – especially slides, stairs, and swings!

Past family favorites:
The first six weeks
Five months
Eight months
One year

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Our backyard project: the plan and inspiration

7 April 2017

John and I could not be more excited about our backyard project being underway! It’s still sometimes hard to believe it’s actually happening, because we’ve been talking about it for so long with no action!! But it’s real, it’s happening, and sooner than not the landscape folks will have packed up and we’ll be enjoying an entirely new backyard. I thought I’d share a little about our plans and inspiration, if you’re curious!

We had many months to plan and dream about what we’d like to include in our backyard, and here’s the wish list we came up with:

— more privacy
— more usable, flat lawn space
— L-shaped stairs leading down from the house, good for perching
— a pergola
— a flagstone patio with space for a dining table and fire pit
— string lights!

We are happily getting all of this, and we are so grateful! Here’s a little more detail about the major components of our plan:

— Remove the deck. In addition to liking the look of a patio more than a deck, we felt that dropping our seating area down three feet, to ground level, would help with privacy – because instead of having our heads above fence-level when seated, they would be below, so we wouldn’t constantly be looking into our neighbors’ yards.
— Remove two trees and level/grade the lawn. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE trees. Probably more than most people. Just ask John – I’m always grumbling about how the builders around here clear cut for new neighborhoods. But, in order to grade our lawn and maximize the small amount of space we have to work with, the trees had to go. Grading will also really help with privacy.
— Build a retaining wall. To deal with the differential created by grading our lawn, we’ll build a curving retaining wall along our back fence. Eventually it will be planted with lovely flowers and shrubs, but those will probably be added in over time as the budget allows.
— Add a patio. The deck will be replaced with a natural flagstone patio with space for dining, our grill, and a small fire pit. We were told flagstone was out of our budget by many landscaping companies, and I’m so grateful that we finally found the company we eventually hired!
— Add stairs and a walkway. Though we could have gone with simple wooden stairs down from the two doors leading to our backyard, I really wanted to make the stairs a focal point. They’ll also be made from flagstone, and should be an inviting place for people to perch. I can imagine friends lounging on them while hot dogs are grilling nearby and kids are playing on the lawn, which makes me so happy! A walkway will lead from the patio to our gate.
— Build a pergola. As a final privacy measure, we’ll be adding an airy, wooden screen on one side of the patio on which we can grow jasmine or climbing roses. It will also give us something to string lights to and from, a major priority! :)

And now, for a few inspiration pictures…

These images all helped inspire my vision for our stairs. I love how wide and welcoming they each are! And that Lucy Cuneo porch photo, top right… that’s the dream right there. Hoping to add lots of potted plants to our steps, too!

I had to include the backyard of our friends Meredith and Michael (middle right) – it’s always been one of my favorites!

I’m sure our backyard will not look nearly as good as any of these lovely spots, especially before our plants grow in, but these images all inspired me in some way – either the size of the lawn, or the materials used, or the shape of the space. Many of these have much larger pergolas than we’ll have, but I do love that look!

Over time, we hope to add lots of plantings for a lush, green look. I would love to include hostas, Confederate jasmine, climbing roses (maybe “Super Fairy”), David Austen roses, mock orange, and hydrangea! We’re also keeping our vegetable garden, and I’d love to find a spot to add more blueberry bushes.

So that’s our plan! So far, the deck and trees have been removed, the yard is partially graded, and the steps are partially constructed. We have our fingers crossed everything will be finished by the end of April, which would give us a few weeks to enjoy before it gets super hot out, haha!

Would y’all be interested in seeing in-progress shots, or should the next post be the reveal? Let me know what you think! :)