Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Winesgiving 2015

One of my favorite newer Wine Club traditions is Winesgiving, which is basically my ideal Thanksgiving with my favorite people. We all bring delicious sandwiches and snacks to a winery, split bottles of wine and catch up for several hours, laughing all the way. It's super fun. 

This year, we trekked out to Saude Creek Vineyards in Lanexa. We were sorry to miss Erica, who had to go out of town, but we did have lots of fun and good food.

Winesgiving would not be complete without a stop at The Cheese Shop for their delicious sandwiches (topped with their famous house dressing), expensive cheeses, kettle chips and fancy chocolates. We split bottles of Saude's Tavern Red (a delicious Christmas-y wine with hints of cinnamon) and their other red blend, Saude Creek Red. Both were great!

This is my ideal Thanksgiving spread: Cheese and chocolate.

They had a singer and although we at first were annoyed about having to shout over him, we decided to get the party started by requesting two crowd-pleasers: "Piano Man" and "Friends in Low Places."

We finished the day with a hilarious photo shoot. The wind was not our friend — or was it? Because this picture is an instant classic.

I'm so thankful to have a group of girlfriends in my life who are committed to each other the way we are. It's a rarity and a blessing. Happy Winesgiving to you and yours!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Birthday Trip to Philly

Up until this past weekend, Sean and I hadn't been on a trip together — just us — in more than a year! So for my birthday, I declared all I wanted to do was go out of town, and I'd had it in my mind for a while that I wanted to go to Philadelphia and explore. I hadn't been since high school, and only to see the touristy stuff like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. As a grown-up, I wanted to go eat good food, explore and see world-class art.

We drove up on Friday night, listening to the Hamilton soundtrack all the way. 

On Saturday morning, we started the day off right with breakfast at Sabrina's Cafe and Spencer's Too on Callowhill Street, about two blocks from the Barnes Foundation Museum. I had the special from the day's horror-themed menu: Rosemary's Babycakes, featuring pumpkin pancakes filled with jalapeno-pepper jack cornbread crumbles and diced papaya, topped with smoky blueberry syrup and lime basil butter. It was as good and weird as that sounds. I ate until I was stuffed, but these were big enough to feed two people!

From there, we ventured to The Barnes Foundation, now in its new downtown home. The museum houses the unmatched collection of Albert Barnes, an early patron and champion of artists like Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso and Modigliani. He liked to arrange his works in "ensembles," symmetrical hangings designed to create conversations between the art pieces, whether they share shapes, colors, references or nothing at all. 

It's like no other museum I've ever visited, but I will note: buy the guided tour tickets (we didn't feel like waiting and certainly paid a premium for the privilege of not having a tour). Because the museum is meant to mimic Barnes' house museum (formerly located in Merion, Pa.), none of the artworks are identified by wall copy, so a tour might be helpful for anyone unfamiliar with the Barnes collection.

We exhausted ourselves at the Barnes, but I was determined to see more art on my special birthday weekend, so we carried on. We didn't make a stop at the Rodin Museum, except to take the required "Thinker" picture.

For lunch, we wandered into Philly's Fairmount neighborhood, which reminded me a bit of Georgetown with its lovely rowhouses. We stopped at rybread, a highly recommended and adorable sandwich shop.

I had the Tucson panini — roasted turkey breast, swiss, sliced red onion and chipotle mayo on the most delicious ciabatta bread ever.

After lunch, we bounded up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art like Rocky and, alongside our closest 50 friends, all posed for Rocky-themed pictures.

In honor of the Pope's recent visit, the museum has a special adaptation of Robert Indiana's famous "Love" sculpture.

We didn't have much time, but we breezed through the European and contemporary art sections, seeing great friends like Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," collages by Kurt Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg, and my new favorite irreverent and wild piece by Marcel DuChamp (here's a great article about it).

For dinner, we uber'd up to the Fishtown neighborhood (hipster-y and artsy) to Pizza Brain, one of the most ironically funny 90s-kid places I've ever been. Billing itself as a "pizza museum," the pizzeria is stuffed with pizza memorabilia, much of it from my childhood. I was dying over the tributes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Home Alone and Domino's former mascot, The Noid.

Thankfully, the pizza is just as legit as the decor. We each ordered slices, which were gigantic. I had a slice of Wendy Wedgeworth, topped with sun-dried tomatoes, arugula and delicious honey goat cheese. It seems like a great place to hang out. Funny thing we learned about Philly: a LOT of the restaurants are BYOB for alcoholic drinks, so if you want to drank, bring your own beer, wine, etc. 

We uber'd again to a great arthouse movie theater called Ritz East that reminded me of all the times you see someone go to the movies on "Seinfeld" or in Woody Allen movies. It was us and a sea of senior citizens and I didn't even care. We saw "Spotlight," which was a superb movie about real reporting work for the greater good. 

After the movie, we walked up Market Street to Revolution House, a super chic restaurant/bar packed with yuppies. No cocktail menu at the bar here, but if you invite the bartender to get creative, you might be rewarded! I was curious to see how they'd use the hometown favorite Art of the Age Sage spirit, so I asked the bartender to use it and she whipped up a delicious cocktail of Vodka, Sage, St. Germain and a splash of soda.

I was digging on the mix of old and new in the decor, especially this little spot.

On Sunday morning, we walked down to the lovely Rittenhouse Square area, which is surrounded with posh boutiques, upscale and creative eateries and pretty Victorian buildings.

I'm a sucker for shoestring fries and Belgian beer, so I decided to have my birthday meal at a Belgian bar called Monk's Cafe. I had a burger topped with boursin cheese and sprouts, but the real showstopper here are the fries. I think I ate every last one, dipped in the incredible bourbon mayonnaise. Happy Birthday to me!

Last but not least, we popped into Omoi Zakka, a beautifully curated shop chock full of adorable Japanese office supplies, small batch beauty goods, stationary and art pieces. I picked up a Brainstorm Prints garden poster and awesome First Lady wrapping paper that is now hanging in my office. 

It was a great trip and I have enough food recommendations from friends to merit a series of return visits! 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Year One of Homeownership

Tuesday marked one year since we closed on our house! It's crazy to think that a year ago, we were still living in our little 2-bedroom apartment in Newport News, daydreaming about all the things we'd do when we had a house. It feels like eons ago. In our first year we've done quite a bit, but believe me, the to-do list is longer than the "completed tasks" list. Let's go down memory lane, shall we?

THEN: Curb Appeal
In a lot of ways, our cute house was actually in better shape this time last year! Houses fall apart for a living, so of course paint is now chipping on some of the shutters and the gutters could definitely use a good cleaning. But, as of two weeks ago, we have officially re-landscaped the front to boost our curb appeal from a collection of seasonal hostas to a range of year-round beauties.

NOW: Curb Appeal
Give our new shrubs and plants a year and we'll have a whole new view, hopefully! These look great already, but I can't wait until they're a smidge taller.

 THEN: Living Room

It was hard to see past the crowded living room — fully carpeted, oddly divided by a random bannister, wallpapered in two different patterns — and imagine the modern and classic space we wanted. 

NOW: Living Room

Holy different space! Our biggest investment in the house was pulling up the carpet in three rooms and paying to have hardwood put down. In this room, we also added the look of built-in bookcases using IKEA's Billy line, and painted the room a soft greige. Cost of the yellow chairs and vintage blue velvet couch? $140 combined. I love a good deal.

 THEN: Dining Area

The dining area is on the other side of the same long room. The spaces used to be very defined, with a railing down the middle and wallpaper on only one half of the room. It made the room feel much smaller than it is, and we've put about half the amount of furniture in the same space.

NOW: Dining Area

Sean's sweet parents gave us the vintage leather Siesta chair. The room definitely still needs rugs and a new light fixture like whoa, but I do really love it. I walk by sometimes and go, "Ooooh pretty" just to myself.

 THEN: Den

The first time I walked into the den, I had to squint to see because it was so dark. Between the wood paneling and the dark brown curtains, it was feeling like a cave. I'm a big believer in a coat of white paint, and that's the first project we tackled a year ago.

NOW: Den

This shot is from only about a month after we painted the walls. We also bought a beautiful couch from West Elm.

And only last month, we finally hung our art gallery wall! Geez, that took us forever.

 THEN: Guest Room

The guest room had a cheery...lighthouse theme. It still has most of the theme, including the wallpaper, which I have earmarked as a winter project. 

NOW: Guest Room

I actually don't mind the wall color, but I don't see this particular paint job surviving the strenuous task of wallpaper removal. Also, I can't stand the fact half the paint in the house was glossy on textured walls. Torture!

 THEN: Bathroom
You'll be amazed by this next transformation...

NOW: Bathroom

LOL. All I've done is hang a new curtain and put down my favorite rug. It's good enough for now.

 THEN: Terrific Lady Room

This room served as a kind of home office/Baltimore Ravens room, but I took one look at it and decided it would be my Terrific Lady Room, where I could make art or read or just relax. I do that...sometimes. I definitely need to make more art!

NOW: Terrific Lady Room

We built a daybed for the space, added art and sconces, put up shelves and added a bright and cheerful rug!

 THEN: Master Bedroom

The master was hunter green (not my fave for master bedrooms), and was stuffed with much bigger furniture. 

NOW: Master Bedroom
Only recently did we finally paint the room a different color, and we still need to put up our headboard, some art and window treatments.

 THEN: Back Deck

One of the first things we did was ask the owners to remove the hot tub from the deck. Many people thought that was crazy, but I know I would have used it about twice and then complained a ton about having to balance the chemicals. 

NOW: Back Deck
I couldn't find a good picture showing off our once-orange chairs, but it might be for the best because they sure did fade in the summer sun. A good cleaning might do the job, but I might need to spray paint them at some point, too. The deck definitely needs a good cleaning, re-staining and re-sealing. Otherwise, not much has happened back here.

  • Kitchen: Not a dang thing has happened in there, and unfortunately kitchen renos are not cheap. 
  • Master Bath: No changes in there, and not really many needed just yet.
  • Man Cave: Such a mess! It's basically a dumping ground.
  • Garage: Same thing; a messy dumping ground!
  • Laundry Room: No renovation needed!

Monday, November 16, 2015

DIY Curb Appeal in a Weekend

When we first bought our house, a row of lush, plump hostas greeted us at the front porch. They looked lovely and full, until one month later, when they looked like straggly haunted ghost plants. They aren't meant to last beyond the summer months, and suddenly, our house looked as dead as they did. It drove me CRAZY last winter.

So this year, my mother-in-law generously offered to help us choose and plant new shrubs in hopes we'll be looking snazzy year-round. We spent all of last weekend on the project and despite the exhaustion, we couldn't have been happier with the results! If you'd like to tackle something similar, here's the specs:
  • We ordered six scoops of topsoil (which proved to be too many, but is the minimum the nursery will deliver) and 8 bags of mulch from our nursery for approx $175. 
  • The plants were chosen at Anderson's Home and Garden in Newport News and ran about $508, with a big 30% off sale that day.

Here's the front shot: dying hostas, a calycanthus shrub that has lost its leaves and not much else.

I love that calycanthus, but it's just another dead thing in the winter. The front mound is phlox that was relocated in the big move.

Our side yard. We will probably end up doing more over there, but we did do a little bit, as you'll see.

Miss Margaret with our spoils!

The fully packed forest in our car...no joke. We spent the entire first day digging up layers and layers of mulch from the beds and pulling out the hostas (no easy task).

A shot from Day 2, when we planted our new plants and spread the topsoil. 

We extended our bed around the other side of the house, which had been completely bare. We added three "radiance" abelia bushes and a pink "twist" azalea. Everything is so little right now, and I can't wait to see it this time next year when it's filled in a little more.

And voila! Our new front! Miss Margaret and I selected plants at the nursery, but had also done a ton of research in advance about what might work. The goal was to find dwarf shrubs that won't grow too large and won't need a lot of pruning.

I love the variegated watercolor quality of firepower nandina shrubs, so we selected three to go in the front, accented with pansies.

We chose: dwarf "Bennett" hollies, two golden thread cypress (LOVE!), three loropetalum "purple pixie" plants, three firepower nandina shrubs and four juniper plants for ground cover. Eventually they'll all start to grow together, and Miss Margaret says that's the goal. 

I can't wait to see how it looks in the dead of winter when last year we had nothing! In the moment, it was exhausting, but it's incredible what you can accomplish in two days. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Best v.260

Ouch! My muscles are aching and as many a southern dad says, my dogs are barking. Everything is sore, but it's all for a good reason: we re-landscaped the front beds this weekend! It was a pretty huge undertaking, and we couldn't have done it without my mother-in-law's help. I'll share much more about that this week, but in the meantime, I have some seriously great procrastination links to get you through this week.