Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Holiday Season 2015

Do you remember when you were a kid, or even in college, and Christmas just felt like a blanket you could curl up under? Seemingly endless days spent watching movies, baking cookies, snacking on popcorn tins, shaking my presents under the tree. And then you grow up, and it's basically a monthlong blur of scrambling to put up decorations, shop, wrap, and go to parties. Nary a holiday film has been watched!

Nonetheless, we have had some good holiday fun and a little bit of trauma. For the first time in my life, I have a house to decorate and it was almost too much pressure to decide what our holiday style would be! I knew Sean would not be super keen to be spending hours on a ladder, hooking icicle lights along the gutters. I wanted classy, but unique. 

After peeking around at what's available, we decided to get garlands for the columns on our porch, two little lit-up trees in my porch planters and -- the piece de resistance -- a Moravian star. Apparently, easier said than done.

One of the tricky hiccups making our dreams hard to realize is that there is no outdoor electric plug on the front of the house, so we could run approximately one extension cord from the garage for the Moravian Star.

That meant it would be really helpful if I could find battery-powered garlands. I found some on Target's website during the big Black Friday shopping weekend and was delighted to save something like 44% on three garlands. AND to make everything better and easier, I could select the "pick up in store" option and avoid waiting for them to ship. Much easier said than done. I ended up selecting the wrong Target location, had to drive 30 minutes out of the way, wait about 40 minutes in the pick-up line and then was informed they didn't have the garlands. Come again?! So, be forewarned that the "pick up in store" option doesn't actually guarantee the items will be in the store when you get there. Womp womp.

I finally was able to find battery-powered 9-foot garlands with a timer setting from Sears online, but by that point, I was fed up with life. I bought little mini 3-foot fake trees that I literally just stuck in the potting soil in my planters and decorated with bows and ornaments from the Dollar Tree. They have battery-operated lights, too.

I bought a classy boxwood wreath at Home Depot and added a plaid bow from Michael's and a glittery "love" ornament from A. Dodson's. Fun story: I thought this was a faux wreath until it started to get weirdly stinky and I realized it might be real. Or it's a really stinky plastic wreath. One or the other.

One of the joys of having a house this year is that, for the first time in about six years, we were able to get a full-size real tree! It smells amazing and looks so pretty.

On our mantle, I put up a glittery white garland I bought years ago when I lived alone, and was excited to put out bottle brush trees I bought on clearance after the holidays last year.

It makes me sad the holiday season is almost over and I'll have to take all of this down!

Otherwise life has been busy! We went to three parties last week, including my 80s-themed work party (shown above), and Ashleigh and I had a wonderful Friday date night at Christmas Town.

The beautiful "12 Days of Christmas" tree in France.

We had so much fun, and even sprang a very worthy $20 to pose for photos with Santa.

This week will be exhausting, but I'm excited to see every one and enjoy some time with family. Happy holidays to you and yours!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Best v.262

More adorable behind-the-scenes pics here.

Have you seen the new Star Wars yet? I LOVED IT. We've been so busy this holiday season...busier than I can ever remember with parties and get-togethers and concerts and beyond. I definitely need to do a big post about our holiday decor, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here's some good links to check out from the past week or so:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Wrapping 2015

 It's become a grand tradition around these parts to unveil my annual wrapping color scheme. It all began in 2006, when I decided I hate most holiday wrapping paper and wanted to just choose a few coordinating rolls I could technically use all year and be done with it. But over time, it's proven to be both a surprisingly relaxing (seriously) and creatively challenging endeavor. So, without further ado: Christmas Wrapping 2015.

Two big changes for this year: first of all, this is about as traditionally Christmas I've ever done and second, every single roll came from Target. Once I found the first one that inspired me, I couldn't find any other good plaids or patterns anywhere else! I decided to do a loose theme of plaids, checks and houndstooth prints with solid copper paper as an accent.

 I bought ribbons at Michael's and Target. I'm obsessed with the striped grosgrain, but the gingham is also giving me life.

I originally thought I'd try to REALLY challenge myself and do a nontraditional red and green. That's kind of my white whale of holiday wrapping because it's very hard to find any rolls that fit the bill. But someday I'll do it. Someday.

For a refresher, take a whirl through the wayback machine to look at past wrapping schemes: 2006-20092010201120122013 and 2014.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Scenes From Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving itself was a whirlwind; Sean had to work the day before and the day after, so we did a quick round trip to his parents' house. I'm guessing we had fun, because I mostly forgot to take any pictures of anything! My mother-in-law made a turkey of only legs (this is a thing you can buy, apparently!), delicious ham and with my sister-in-law, a great side dish of sweet potatoes and apples.

I made roasted brussels sprouts and we enjoyed pecan pie and apple pie topped with cousin Emily's hand-whipped cream. So good!

The Kennedys have a very dinner party-style Thanksgiving that starts with cheese and champagne, for which I am grateful.

And we always start with a salad. Not very traditional, but I love it. Elizabeth made this salad with sliced pears, walnuts and blue cheese.

We had fun leading up to the main event watching Friends' Thanksgiving episodes on Netflix and now I'm totally down the Friends rabbit hole. I can recite most episodes, but I didn't remember the last two seasons very well, so now I'm working on that.

Although I definitely did indulge in a little Black Friday shopping, I saved most of my energy for Small Business Saturday. I don't have to tell you that Small Business Saturday feeds a boost into your local economy; the community members who own and work at these stores also spend their money around the area, pay taxes, send their kids to local schools and patronize local restaurants. If they have more money, we all benefit. /rant.

If you're in the Hampton Roads area and would like to support some local small shops, here were my stops in Norfolk on Saturday: 
  • Samla: Fresh florals, home goods, beauty items, jewelry and accessories, and stationary.
  • Table Seven: An entire store devoted to tabletop antiques and hostess gear. My dream store!
  • Bridget's: I've never walked out of Bridget's empty-handed. It's an amazing gift shop with art items, stationary, accessories, baby gifts, an AWESOME jewelry selection and all the most adorable knicknacks you never knew you needed.
  • A. Dodson's: A local institution among gift shops, A. Dodson's has three locations. I especially love to pop in at the holidays when their selection of decor and ornaments is full of German glass glitter-covered I-have-to-have-its.
  • Le Marche: These importers of fine French gifts and furniture also have the best ornament game in town. I can never resist picking up some super unique ornament when I'm there; they even had ornaments of blue crabs in cages!
  • Kitsch: Kitsch is a local art and craft consignment store that showcases the very best Virginia has to offer. I especially love the felt flowers, stuffed Day of the Dead mobiles and great prints from artists across the state.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Best v. 261

David Bowie's getting ready routine, from this new book.

I don't know about you, but I am LOVING having a long weekend. I was very spoiled to have all Mondays off at my old job and I've been feeling so productive this weekend. I tackled most of my holiday shopping, figured out what we're going to do to decorate this year (the actual decorating yet to come) and used my brand new leafblower to blow and vacuum the front yard. Oh, and of course we had Thanksgiving in there somewhere, too. 

If you have some lounging time left in your weekend, here are some of my favorite links from the past couple weeks:
  • ICYMI: Alanis Morissette's 21st-century version of Ironic.
  • Preach, Elizabeth Gilbert! Why not everybody should chase one passion.
  • An incredible collection of unopened 17th-century letters, now being read for the first time!
  • If you've ever had an Uber nightmare, this sketch is for you. This aired while we were in Philly, watching our Uber pass us three times.
  • How to be a better friend over 30.
  • So inspiring! Toronto's unfolding story pod.
  • For one year, a couple lived in Air B&B rentals to try out different neighborhoods. Brilliant or crazy?
  • For one month, a husband wrote down everything that made his wife cry.
  • Notable fiction of 2015. Time to update my Goodreads list!

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!