Six Skills I Want To Learn

It's generally a good idea to keep improving oneself always. I tend to be the kind of person who is always inspired to get wonderful at some sort of skill or another and there isn't a great shortage of ideas. Nevertheless, there are practical skills to learn and skills that would require one to apprentice under artisans in obscure places. Here, then, are six skills I could (conceivably) learn/teach myself:


Tile/Pottery Painting - I am endlessly inspired by mosaics, tiles, and things that are generally way too expensive to put in your house. My thinking is that if I got good at painting and glazing tiles the way I liked, I could afford to make an amazing floor in my future home. I could also customize some pretty great dishes. I wouldn't mind actually learning pottery and ceramics but for now I'm good with the painting end of things.

Perfecting Soft Pretzels - A soft pretzel has to have a crust, you know? You absolutely have to rip it open with your teeth. It isn't all that soft. It needs the almost bagel-like outside. Mine always turn out like glorified yeast rolls and that isn't okay with me. I need to learn this art because several weeks ago I had the epitome of a perfect pretzel, and it was made by home cooks at a farmer's market. It is an attainable skill.

Fashion Illustration - I will, by tooth or claw, manage to get the proportions correct. I find it so difficult to decide what to omit or what to exaggerate or how on earth you draw a leg that long without second-guessing your sanity. Also on the art-list is learning portraiture...otherwise dubbed, "How to draw your friends without alienating their affections."

Low-Light photography - I am endlessly inspired by the photos of food bloggers/stylists such as Eva Kosmas Flores, Beth of Local Milk, and Rebecca Gallop. I'm not sure how their photos get that pewter, earthy flavor, but I adore it. Maybe the light comes differently into their homes/studios? All I know is that my house faces due West and there is ever a honey-like light pouring through.

Contouring - I feel good to go with my lipstick and eye-shadow know-how. What I don't understand worth a lima bean is how to contour and "do the face." Though I don't like using much makeup on my skin (because I feel that it would just clog things up more than naturally happens) I want to know how. So one day when I have a red-carpet occasion, I'll know what the heck I'm doing.

Glass-blowing - I know the art museum in a town not so far away does glass-blowing demonstrations. I actually know a girl who conducts the demonstrations. I'm not sure what I would hope to make by learning how to blow glass, but I think it would be worth it simply to hold that glowing, orange, molten glass on the end of a stick and help something form.

What are some skills you'd like to try?

Italian Hazelnut Cake With Balsamic Cranberries

The world is in need of some comfort. Oh, how much in need. The past weeks have been pretty rotten, world-wise. Paris, Japan, Beirut, Mali. My heart is full of compassion and yearning to help in some tangible way while I lift up our aching world in prayer. I suppose I subconsciously sought to create comfort when I went into the kitchen on my day off, because that is what this hazelnut cake ended up as: consolation, comfort, warmth, kindness. And really, what is cooking really but a desire to create consolation, comfort, warmth, nourishment? I can't tangibly comfort any of the victims or their families and friends and loved ones. But I can, by comforting and nourishing my own family at the very least do it with them in mind. There is something in the ritual of preparing food and watching it while it cooks and taking care with its presentation that I find essentially therapeutic. I realize food isn't therapy. But the preparation of it, the moments built around it, that definitely counts as therapy. And it comes lovingly full circle when you get to share it with people you love. And what better time do this than at Thanksgiving, when we get to thank God for all the gifts he has given us? I know the world-events over the past weeks have given me a far broader perspective of my blessings than ever before.

I'm making this cake again for Thanksgiving dinner, it was that well-beloved....the oven-roasted balsamic cranberries were a last-minute addition after Whole Foods was closed due to a power outage and I was unable to get figs and Trader Joe's didn't have cherries. I'm including the recipe for the balsamic cranberries, but any sort of warm fruit compote would do well here as well as an espresso glaze, or chocolate ganache. Essentially, have at it. I based my recipe for the cake off the one found on The Answer Is Cake, making a couple slight alterations. This cake is not only a fun idea for a departure from classic holiday desserts (Thanksgiving! Christmas! New Years!) but also an embrace for our hurting world. Make it for someone you love and enjoy having them close. Also, eating it warm is like receiving a hug from someone who hugs amazingly well so I recommend doing that with a big scoop of vanilla ice-cream.  Who doesn't need more hugs in their life?

Italian Hazelnut Cake

3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 pinches salt
1/4 teaspoon mace
3/4 cups plus 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, divided
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of one small orange
1/4 cup milk at room temperature

  1. To toast hazelnuts, spread out in single layer on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for ten minutes or until golden. Be sure not to burn them! Remove from oven and wrap in clean dishtowel to steam. Roll inside towel to knock off the majority of the hazelnut skins.
  2. Grind hazelnuts with flour, salt, and mace in a food processor until the nuts have become powdery. Pour into bowl and set aside.
  3. Chop remaining hazelnuts and set aside.
  4. Cream butter and sugar together by hand until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and orange zest.
  5. Alternate adding hazelnut mixture to the egg mixture with milk until just incorporated. Fold in chopped hazelnuts.
  6. Butter and flour 8" round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Pour cake batter into pan.
  7. Bake cake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 28-30 minutes until golden on top. Cool slightly, then flip onto plate and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with balsamic cranberries and small scoops of vanilla ice cream. 
Balsamic Oven-Roasted Cranberries

1 pound of fresh cranberries
1/3 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 cup high-quality olive oil

  1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry cranberries and spread on tray. Drizzle with olive oil.
  2. In a small saucepan on the stove, heat balsamic vinegar, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle over cranberries and toss to make sure they are completely covered.
  3. Bake in 375 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until cranberries have begun to burst their jackets. Remove from oven and allow the juice to caramelize around the cranberries before scooping gently into a bowl.

Happy Thanksgiving, Darlings!

Join The Brekky Club!

Misery loves company. So does breakfast. Over the last year and a half, CarmelJenny Freitag, a couple other friends and I have kept up an unofficial breakfast club. If we come up with a particularly good and healthy breakfast, we will snap a picture and post it on Instagram under "#brekkyclub." Not only has this been an easy and organized way to brag about having good groceries in the house, but it also has helped to inspire one another.

I'm not easily inspired by breakfast, as I've expressed before. But I'm too clever a person to skip breakfast, knowing that skipping such an important meal makes me ravenously hungry the rest of the day and prone to making worse choices. So #brekkyclub is pretty much a life-saver for me. Really, the only requirements for being part of the #brekkyclub is that your meal is at least mostly healthy, nicely arranged and, of course, hashtagged. I find it amusing, all the ways we've found to use social media. Who thought we'd ever be logging onto an app to see what our friends are eating for breakfast? Still, if it solves the conundrum of what the heck I should eat for breakfast, I'm more than willing to give it a go. Following are some of the best of the breakfasts shared the past year. Regrettably, Carmel's would show no embed code, so you might click on the hashtag here to view the #brekkyclub feed on Instagram! Here's to another year of even better morning food choices.

A photo posted by Anna Heffington (@annah_official) on

Pomegranate Sorbet

If you hadn't figured this out already, I am currently obsessed with pomegranates. I mean, really now.

Actually, when am I never not obsessed with pomegranates? Once upon a time, they were a delicacy only to be enjoyed in the autumn when we were able to snitch a couple from Mama's annual pomegranate. I recall having to change into clothes that were okay to accidentally stain. I must have been a messy child because I don't do that anymore....I’m also currently obsessed with jewels due to the increase in engagement rings among my friends and relations, and since pomegranate arils are essentially Lewis’ “Jewels of Bism” and the closest you’ll ever get to eating rubies, I’m just wildly on board.

My food magazines tell me there is something called pomegranate sorbet. My heart tells me that ice-cream season never ever ever ends. My Google research tells me sorbet can be made without an ice-cream churn, which is excellent news for me. It seems no one I know owns an ice-cream churn. All these things combined made it advisable and even necessary to try making pomegranate sorbet to eat with my sister-in-law after doing her nails and shaping her brows and generally putting her through the chore of beauty-maintenance.  We never got around to the nails and ended up giving the nieceling a bath and eating Cheez-its and talking about the hard and pleasant things in life, and watching the Really Bad Lip-Syncing versions of both the Republican and Democrat presidential debates and anyway, the picture-taking had to be moved to the following morning. Which, actually, gave me the opportunity to eat this sorbet for breakfast, which counts as nutrition because there's absolutely nothing bad about eating this for breakfast. In fact, it contains only three ingredients: pomegranate juice, lime juice, and maple syrup. There ya go.

You don't need any special equipment for this - just a little bit of freezer time, and a blender to whizz it around at the end. But I'm going to leave you for now with the recipe and stop talking because I've got to dash out to pick my sister up from her job. Yay for carpooling! 

Pomegranate Sorbet
3 cups pomegranate juice
2 limes, squeezed
1/2 cup maple syrup

  1. Combine all ingredients and stir until well-combined. Pour into low, a freezer-safe dish and put sorbet into the freezer.
  2. Freeze for 2-3 hours, until firm, stirring every half an hour with a fork to ensure the sorbet doesn't freeze into a solid cube of ice
  3. When firm, transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth and "creamy." Transfer into an airtight container until firm again, then serve! If kept in airtight container, it will last a couple weeks!
Serves 6-8 people

Healthy Farmgirl: Beauty Product Review

Moisturizing is one of things I used to ignore. My skin had enough oil of its own - why on earth would I want to add more to compound the problem? But gradually the way the human body works began to make sense: when our skin feels stripped of moisture, it begins to manufacture more oil to compensate. By nourishing my face with natural, healthy oils or a natural, healthy cream, I am soothing my skin and telling it, "It's okay. You can rest." As a result, my skin will be healthier, more supple, and less prone to breakouts. Sadly, I ran out of the sample moisturizer I had been using as well as the coconut oil which I like to put on my face before bed. Right about this time, Melinda Pound - the creative mind and power behind Healthy Farmgirl - contacted me about reviewing one of her products. Healthy Farmgirl Beauty Co. was created as the result of Melinda's search for all natural, organic products she wanted use on her own body, face, and hair. She sent me a jar of L'Essence de Fleur face and body cream to test and asked I share my true and honest opinions on my blog afterward. I used the product for a week and noticed a marked improvement in the makeup of my skin. Places that had been irritated or dry before had evened out and my face felt much happier over all. I have continued to use the cream and will be sad when it runs out - I might have to order a full jar to continue! 

(melinda's photo)

Pros: Ultra-moisturizing concoction of almond oil, olive oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, calendula, ylang-ylang, and more are a veritable green-smoothie for the skin. I love how healthy my skin feels when I apply this cream.
Cons: I'm not wild about the scent, though it isn't unpleasant. Also, being that this cream is so moisturizing, it is also a little oily for daytime wear. I prefer to save it for overnight hydration. Both cons, however, are solved by applying before bed, since it isn't as if I'm going to walk around smelling like something I'm not in love with.
Final Consensus: I would highly recommend Melinda's products to anyone looking for a freshly-made, carefully-concocted skin product. She is personable, knowledgeable, and passionate about providing high-quality cosmetic assistants to both men and women.

Thank you, Melinda, for the sample! I am happy to send all of you her direction if you're in search of lotion, lip-balm, natural deodorant or anything else along those lines! 

Your Style Budget: Reasons to Set One


"You mean I should set a budget for style-spending?"
If your income fluctuates or is otherwise unpredictable, having a weekly budget for style is important.  I understand fluctuating income. Until I was 21, I paid for my occasional Starbucks coffee with quarters gleaned from under car-seats. Even now that I have a job and have a pretty stead base-line, I still fluctuate between working three, four, and even the occasional five-day week. Having a weekly budget for my expenses (including style) has been an eye-opener.
“But why a weekly budget? Are you planning to go shopping every single week?”
No, not necessarily. But if you’re saving money every week – even $5 at a time – for your style budget, it won’t overturn your financial boat when you decided to go in for a larger purchase, like a new wool coat or a nicer pair of shoes or a new dress for a friend’s wedding. To explain what I mean, I’ve listed some of my favorite reasons to set a style budget. Having a style budget is:

A Guilt-Lifter:  I used to hate those moments when I would find myself in need of purchasing something and feel like I was a shopaholic for buying it. Hadn’t I just bought something a few weeks ago? However, after setting a loose weekly budget for all my finances and reserving money especially for beauty or clothing purchases, the guilt is no longer there. I know where my money is going and how much of it I can spare for this particular section. I have tapped off money strictly for personal/beauty/style, so using it for that purpose is no longer a negative! It is such a relief/excitement to have a style budget!

A Bargain-Enabler: When you have money saved back or set aside for clothing purchases, you are able to take advantage of the best bargains. Why? Think this way: a name-brand blouse might be on sale at the mall for 80% off the original price. It’s a summer blouse, though, and you really ought to be spending your money on clothes for the current season….or ought you? If you have money set aside, you can feel good about thinking ahead for the coming season. Spend a portion of your dedicated money on shopping sales for next year. Most of us are not going to be growing massively in any direction, so purchasing clothing for the future is reasonable. Shopping off-season allows you the get the hugest discounts. I recently found a skirt on clearance at Anthropologie. I had been keeping an eye on this skirt since it debuted back in the spring. It was $178.99 then. You know how much I paid for it now, in November? $19.95. Sure, it’s a white skirt and I can’t wear it till next spring. Does that bother me? No.

A caveat: if the item is strictly summer(or strictly winter)-appropriate, invest in classic  styles, not the high-trends of the moment. For instance: neon & neutrals was a thing in 2014. You barely even see it this year. Having bought an electric yellow & camel sweater from the 2014 Winter-trends in, say, April 2015 to wear this winter would have been a slight mistake. But if I’d purchased a plum cashmere turtleneck sweater (ha. ha. who can afford cashmere?), I could feasibly wear it for the next twenty years.

A Happy Place: I say this half-jokingly, but also quite seriously. It’s fun to have a little bit of mad-money and to know you aren’t leaving anything un-funded by purchasing whatever it is you’ve decided to purchase. A style-budget means the purchase is now under your jurisdiction. You’ve allocated the funds for spending in this particular way. So the only choices you now have to make are which fun things you get to spend it on, and that’s a blast! You’ve moved on from “should I spend this money on shoes” to “which pair of shoes do I get to spend this money on?” It’s such fun.

A Class-Elevator: When I shop sales off-season, when I’ve given myself that margin to think and plan ahead, I can afford much nicer clothes than I otherwise could, as in the case of the Anthropologie skirt, or my Anthropologie blazer, or my Kate Spade wallet. Yes, you can find items by big-brands on sites like Thred-Up or Zulilly (all good things), but there’s nothing like walking into a department store and choosing something off the rack and paying a fraction of the price. Though emails from designer brands/stores can become annoying, they are a terribly good way to keep advised of the current sales. Pay attention to ads as well. My Kate Spade wallet was a 75%-off purchase because I happened to see an ad for their “surprise sale” while listening to Spotify. You can shop TJ Maxx and Ross year-round for excellent deals on good brands as well. Thrift-stores, thought they take time to work-over, are also a good place. There’s someone exactly one size too small for me who donates Isaac Mizrahi to the local Goodwill. Shrinkage plan, activate.
 I love paying bargain prices for high-quality items. Sure, some of these items (nearly $200 for a skirt?) were outrageously-priced to begin with, but there is really nothing to compare with paying a price your conscience can live with for a brand your (expensive) taste delights in. High-quality items last longer. Spending a little extra (maybe) for an on-sale pair of ballet flats that will last, versus purchasing three $25 pairs over the next three years, is a good deal. This was the case with the leopard-print flats I finally found: they were originally $55 dollars from JC Penny’s, on sale for $40. By the time I got to the checkout, they ran up for $30. And they’re a sturdy pair of flats.

A Time-Buyer: When you set a budget for style, you take the pressure off of purchasing something now. If you don’t have a budget, you’re thinking, “Okay, I have thirty spare dollars right now and even though these skinny jeans don’t fit exactly right, I’d better buy them because I’m not sure if the money will be there next time I’m able to go shopping.”
When that same thirty dollars is siphoned off specifically for your style-budget, you have all the time in the world. You can wait for the purchases you truly love and cut down on wasteful spending on items you just sort of love. I passed up so many pairs of leopard-print flats (even reasonably-priced options) because they weren’t quite what I had in mind. I wanted to make sure I was spending my money on what I really wanted and not what would suit me fine for now. No one was breathing down my neck. That money was reserved for the purchase of clothing items and would not be touched for lunch, gas, my phone-bill, or car insurance. I waited and waited and searched diligently for the perfect and pair. When I found them, the money was ready.

A Double-Check: On the practical side of all this budgeting is the fact that, if adhered to strictly as I try to do (“try” being the operative word here), you don’t have the “I don’t care how much it costs, I’m buying it” factor. You’ve reserved a particular amount of money and your purchases must fit within that amount of money. You know you have forty dollars set aside. Do you want to spend forty dollars on a plaid flannel shirt (brand new) from American Eagle or are you going to shop around a little and get a new pair of skinny jeans and a sweater or two from the clearance rack at Kohl’s? It’s completely your choice and you don’t need to feel guilty for deciding to buy the flannel after all. But you know that when the forty dollars is gone, it’s gone. And it might be a few more weeks before you have the same budget again. In this sense, budgeting is a wonderful series of checks and balances and your purchases become more thoughtful and intentional. My best friend has a principle that if it is a purchase of over $100, she doesn’t commit until she’s thought about it for twenty-four hours. If, at the end of the thinking period she still wants to move ahead, she does so in complete confidence. She owns several things from Diane Von Furstenburg via TJ Maxx (Atlanta gets designer labels. Boo.). I like the decisions her analytical mind comes to. The “price per wear” theory is helpful in such expensive cases. Google it. It’s a fantastic scheme.

Though I heartily recommend it, a style-budget will not fit everyone’s personality. Though clothing purchases will have to be made eventually and I would still recommend budgeting for it (you’re going to have to replace your jeans and winter coat and tennis shoes and tank tops at some point), I understand funds needing to be used elsewhere. Or you have the case of the Minimalistic Closet: one of my sisters so rarely purchases new clothing, she doesn’t see the sense in setting a style budget, and for her, I agree. Her money would probably be best shuttled off someplace else…we joke that she will be the one who dies, leaving a million dollars taped to the underside of her mattress. That girl can save. So tell me: do you have a style budget? If not, do you see the value of setting one or do you still prefer not setting a budget? Let’s chat about it below!


P.S. I want to meet the man who walks into Brooks Brothers, looks at the "SALE" sign and thinks, “Man. Two cashmere sweaters for $598. What a steal!” 

Date Night: Cashmere + Snakeskin

Though I'm quite single, I love to put together date-night outfits. It might seem a little ridiculous, except that I'm not going to be dependent on a man to give me an excuse to dress up. Anyway, there are plenty of friend-dates to go on and this outfit was created especially with a night at a play, symphony concert, or Broadway show in mind. This snakeskin-print shawl-collar knit dress is a recent thrift-store purchase. Perhaps my favorite thing about thrifting is that you can feel free to splurge on non-essentials or non-neutrals when it only costs $6.99. The faux-cashmere cranberry-colored shawl was given to me in a bag of clothes several years ago, and the choice to pair it with this dress came randomly after watching an episode of The West Wing in which the White House press secretary wears a strapless Armani + shawl. I love the glamor of a shawl or wrap. It is kitten-soft, drapes elegantly, and transforms the look from average-office to night-out without much effort. I threw on my favorite "fancy" earrings, some peep-toe heels, and burgundy lip-stain to round out the theme. Right. Now when's the next Broadway show coming to town?

The silver-screen glamour of feeling the wrap slip over my arms is addictive. My word. Everyone should wear cashmere (even acrylic cashmere) all the time.

"It says right here: I'm '...a shining, glimmering star in the cinema firmament.'"
Makeup-wise, I kept it simple with a shade of eyeshadow called "biscotti" over the entire lid, a taupe color in the crease, the water-line of my upper lid lined in black, eyebrows filled in, eyelashes curled, and plenty of mascara. I used my new go-to autumn/winter blush technique of applying a pomegranate-toned blush swept high and light on the cheekbones toward the temples and into the hairline to give my face a rushing-through-the-crisp-air look. A little highlighter, a little powder, and I'm all set.

Cheers, darlings! If you've got a boyfriend, fiance, or husband, what's your favorite look for a date night? And if you're like me, what is your favorite look for a girls' night out? It's so much fun to dress up just for the heck of it. I dearly love an excuse.

My Travel Bucket-List: 7 Places to See in my Lifetime

photo creds: my sister

Do you have a bucket list? I have a one-hundred-and-one-item bucket list on which is an item saying, “Make a one-hundred-and-one-item bucket list.” What can I say? It felt good to scratch something off right away. So when Carmel created a travel bucket-list following in the steps of other bloggers, I decided to join the group. Who gets tired of traveling? Perhaps some of you are homebodies and prefer the comfort of familiar surroundings to those of a new place. I respect and somewhat understand that. I’m a happy balance of contented-at-home and always-wanting-to-move-about. Hence, my spastic, urgent cravings to be someplace new that hit at random. Wanderlust can be a beast. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Romania three times, traveling thence by a different route each trip, which means I have set foot in (the airports of) Istanbul, Paris, and Moscow.  I actually count myself as having “been to Moscow” because we spent the night huddled under the airport benches and then had to walk across the tarmac to get to our plane. I really have “set foot” on Russian soil…er…asphalt. Budapest, likewise. We end every trip in the Budapest airport and then are driven to Arad, where we stay with pastor friends of ours. A group is returning for a fourth trip to Romania this year and as much as I want to go, I’m having a slight hesitation which has never before been the case. The idea of not going (we plan to tour the beautiful monasteries all over the country and the Romanian people are dear, dear friends) sounds unbearable. The idea of going leaves me unsettled. We will see. But for now, I’m looking forward to the many, many more places there are to see in the world. Here are seven places I will, God willing, experience in my lifetime. Of course they aren’t the only places I want to see, but they are the ones that, if I could only choose seven, would find me within their bounds.

obligatory airplane selfie with the sisters

London, England. I want to tour the whole country, including and especially the Lakes District (and Ireland. And Scotland), but London is a feasible dream. London seems like the logical starting point if you love England as I love England. As the nation’s capital, it’s like a foreigner visiting DC. Sure, there are many other better places in the country, but you’ve got to do it. I have friends elsewhere in England. Courtney Adamo (see me dropping names? She doesn’t know I exist, it was just a nice segue) is a London-based mommy-blogger I have followed for over a year now on Instagram. Her little family actually just launched on a gap-year of traveling the world and are now bopping around someplace in South America. But anyway, London. I’ve been saving out of every paycheck in a glass pickle jar in my walk-in closet (I should open a savings account) and plan to travel to London in 2017 with the dearest girl in the whole world: my best friend, Katie. London is our friendship’s version of “Paradise Falls.” To experience it with Katie will be the fulfillment of so many girlish prophecies. Here’s to wandering through Notting Hill (my architectural equivalent), having tea at Harrods, strolling through Hyde Park, and riding as many elevators as possible in hopes of meeting Tom Hiddleston. Don’t ask.

Austria. I want to see Vienna. I want to see Salzburg. Obviously for reasons relating to The Sound of Music, but also because my uncle and grandmother have been and the scenery is breathtaking. We flew over the Alps once and I was smitten, if so light a word can be used for the stabs of joy that ran through me, as I watched the peaks pierce the clouds and show themselves to the nobodies traveling via airplane above their crowns.

Italy. I badly want to see Venice. I want to see beautiful, flighty Florence, and Naples, and Rome. I want to see Tuscany. I want to stop in an obscure town which probably doesn’t have a Google Maps location and try to speak with the villagers. One of my favorite Instagrammers, History in High Heels, has only fed this urge like weeds on a brush-fire. One good friend’s fiancé insisted he take her to Italy on their honeymoon. She said it’s just as wonderful as they make it out to be. Manalive. I can’t watch Letters to Juliet or The Tourist or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or The Italian Job or really anything set in Italy without wanting to flee responsibility and go NOW. What a beautiful country. Also, I want to try really good, authentic paella.

Northland, New Zealand. My dear friend-through-correspondence, artist Felicity Deverell, is a native of this breathtaking country and is getting married January 9th in a place named (no lie) Sherwood Forest. Guests will hike in to the wedding and reception. Hike in.  I received a wedding invitation complete with hand-drawn map of the surrounding land and I assure you, the only thing that kept me from purchasing a ticket that night was the fact that it would strip me of my life savings (our winter is their peak season) and I probably wouldn’t get much of a chance to visit with Lissy, it being her own wedding and all.  But I will make it to all the wild places she has told me so much about, and I will meet her and experience the delight of a country mostly unmarred by Man’s hand, probably via sailing with her seafaring family.

Prince Edward Island, Canada. I’ve always thought this would be the ideal place to honeymoon. Far enough away from home to count as exotic, far enough north to not be exotic at all. I’m sure I would adore an exotic place once I ended up there, but I’ve never felt drawn to them. I would so much rather go to, say, Sweden than the Bahamas. Continuing in “Reasons A  P.E.I. Honeymoon Would be Idea,” I point to the fact that there is plenty to see if you want to see anything but each other and the beautiful countryside , but there is also not so much to see (think Venice) that you feel as if you’d wasted a spectacular trip caring about nothing but your new husband. Anne of Green Gables is one of my heart-stories and for as long as I’ve known about Prince Edward Island, I have wanted to visit. I think going to P.E. I. would be a bit like coming home. The red roads. The orchards. The blue, blue sea. The green, green fields and darker green forests. The farm-houses. The sea-grass. Mmmmm….

Paris, France. There is much to see in France beyond Paris, and I would entirely not mind exploring the length and breadth of the whole country. But Paris is one of those places of which I feel immediately possessive. Someone has been to my Paris?  I want to eat at an over-priced Michelin Star restaurant. I want to drink coffee outside a pretty café. I want to go bread-shopping and cheese-shopping and clothes-shopping and sketch while people-watching  and go to all the best museums and walk on the Champ de Elysees and stay in an apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower and walk through the Palace of Versailles. I want to stand on the top of the Eiffel Tower at eleven o’clock at night and experience the pulsating magic in the air that is Paris…and, if possible, kiss someone really special…

Iceland. Now, this place is absolutely gorgeous, but I’m not yet certain of what there is to do there besides take hipster pictures in the stunning landscape and be the envy of your Instagram friends forever and ever amen. I’ve seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Iceland beckons for no reason beyond its beauty. I think a trip there would be a majestic, worshipful waste of a plane ticket. If, by wasting, you mean filling your soul with beauty and purity and leaving with little cultural experience.  Which I don’t consider a waste at all.

Ohhhhh, it pains me to cite only seven places. I could add Alaska to this. Someone’s private island (okay, who am I kidding? Neal Caffrey’s private island. Complete with Neal Caffrey. Don’t judge.). The Pacific Northwest. New York City. Boston, Charleston, New Orleans (which is happening for me next month. Eep!). I could add Amsterdam and all of Greece, Capadocia (have you seen the Seussical landscapes?) and Norway, Germany and Rio and Israel. And maybe, if you begged and pleaded, some part of Africa that isn’t too hot or mosquito-ridden or filled with Ebola. I’m even certain I would like China or Japan pretty well, once you got me there. Maybe even India, but I’m a little terrified of India. Everyone I know who has been there has gotten quite ill or comes home with terrible stories of the heat. That Taj Mahal, tho. Suffice it to say, “the world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” We will never run out of places to go or wonders to see and each time I go someplace new, I am overwhelmed by the careful artistry and creativity of the great God I serve. His skill and imagination are beyond measure. I am grateful and blessed to go wherever I am able and cannot wait to see whatever part of the world He sees fit to send me. Even if I do end up in India instead of Iceland. “Sorry, darling, slight mix-up in the alphabetization of the plane tickets.”

May we all have the chance to travel to the places our hearts long for! For instant wander-lust activation, I recommend reading Kate Spade New York: Places To Go, People ToSee. I sent a copy to Katie for her birthday, but not before reading it through myself. I still haven’t got over it.  Every time wanderlust hits, I want to bury my face in that beautiful book.

Five Reasons to Over-Dress For Your Day

We've all done it. We've all stood in front of the mirror when we dragged out of bed, looked at our yoga pants, looked at the day's schedule and thought, "Oh, what the heck." I routinely do it on Fridays because Thursdays are always an exceptionally long day for me. I leave the house at 8:30 AM and don't return till 11:30 PM. Friday is the one day a week I willingly wear athletic pants and a t-shirt to work. I'm a nanny and many people find it a little ridiculous, what sort of clothes I wear for a job that could easily warrant nothing nicer than yoga pants and a tank top. I'm climbed on by small children all day e'erday. I'm teaching school and wiping small booties and cooking the evening's dinner and playing soccer barefoot in the back yard because I don't want to wear my new leopard-print flats in the yard. So why, people ask, do I routinely wear outfits above my pay-grade? Same reason I take care with my outfits when I'm only going to Walmart, or to the coffee shop to use wifi, or to the Post Office and feed store. My reasons are, in fact, the same reasons that cause me to dress accordingly when I do have a more formal engagement. The reasons are as follows:

1.) "She quietly expected great things to happen to her, and no doubt that's one of the reasons why they did." -Zelda Fitzgerald
"I'd hate to look shabby for destiny." I say this halfway with my tongue in my cheek, but the heart of the sentiment bears scrutiny. I never know when something intriguing will happen to me and I want to look good when it happens. People laugh at me over this one, because it is a little silly. But truly, would you want to stumble into meeting one of your favorite actors or musicians while wearing sweats and a hoodie? Or maybe a friend you haven't seen in ages, or an interesting stranger, or a a policeman ticketing you for running a red light. You never can tell with bees.
2.) "Being well-dressed is a beautiful form of politeness." -Anonymous 
I like to dress nicely because it is a beautiful form of politeness. I'm telling the people with whom I interact, without words, that I value them. I might only be going to Walmart, but I'm willing to put the same effort into my appearance when seeing them that I would when seeing someone I actually...well...I actually want to see. When someone dresses nicely to meet me for coffee - just me, not a boardroom full of bosses - I feel incredible special. It's the wordless things.
3.) "Personal style comes from within. It's when the woman, her individuality and spirit, comes through. She uses clothing to express who she is and how she feels." Donna Karan
 Hearkening back to what was going on last point, style is a way to tell the world who you are, what you value, how you feel. Having personal style, developing it, and wearing it into the world is a thing that only the mature woman can do...because having personal style is to know yourself inside and out and to be able to translate that into clothing.
4.) "Sometimes you just have to put on lipgloss and pretend to be psyched." -Mindy Kaling
You don't always feel like dressing up. That's kind of the point of doing it, though. A good outfit, good makeup, or a favorite pair of shoes give you some swagger. My best friend calls a good outfit a "power move" and we both know the value of wearing your best when having a tough conversation, working with difficult people, or simply grinding out another day of the same old retail job. When you're at least looking like you're ready for life, life will often become ready for you.
5.) "Refuse to be average. Let your heart soar as it will." A.W. Tozer
You don't have to have other people's view on the world. You don't have to look at your life and think, "There's absolutely no reason to paint my nails today." You don't have to wear ripped jeans and an old concert tee unless you want to wear ripped jeans and an old concert tee. You don't have to wait for a special occasion to curl your hair, or wear bright lipstick, or high heels. You don't have to dress as simply as everyone else if you're feeling fancy. Just be yourself. Follow your own path and if someone sneers because you're wearing sequins before dark, take comfort in the fact that they aren't their own personal disco ball.

I hope I've helped to explain why I consider it worthwhile to wear a dress to work and high-heels to the book store and earrings to the pharmacy and lipstick...well...lipstick always. Not because I am being irrational about what my job entails, not because I think I'm better than everyone else, not because I want to be noticed, but because of these five things: hope, consideration, expression, determination, and originality. I'm happy to wake up half an hour earlier, to carry lipstick in my purse, and to fuss a little more with my cardigan. All of these things are but a small price to pay for feeling prepared, confident, polite, cheerful, and beautiful. As always, may your lipstick be red and your heels high.


Ratty & Mole Gift Exchange!

Hullo, all of you darlings! Want to be part of something quintessentially vintage, Christmas, creative, and lovely? Let me introduce you to my pet project, in conjuction my friend, Ratty (or as you might know her, Charity Klicka).

Friends made in the "blogosphere" are friends indeed. I firmly believe that and, having an excellent track record of actually meeting quite a few of my "virtual friends," I feel that I can speak in authority. I wanted to let you all know that one such real-life friend and I are arranging a holiday gift exchange for all of us who would love to spread the holly-jolly, bless someone from afar, and make new friends or deepen relationships with old ones. As there is already an excellent post explaining everything, I'm going to now send you across the web to the official site for 2015's Ratty & Mole Gift Swap and let you check it out. Please sign up! We would love to have each and every one of you! You don't have to know any of these people previously. All you have to do is love Christmas, commit to sending a gift, and let the magic have its way. You have till November 15th to decide and sign up. 

Cheers To You All! 

Steal Her Style: Mindy Kaling Edition

(You guys remember Queen's Pantry, the tea store I reviewed? Well, I got to develop a couple recipes for their official blog and today you can head over there and check out my Pistachio-Chevre Tea Tartlets. Go drool over them, then come back here and read about how I dressed up like a human pinata.)

this is a tea tartlet. not mindy kaling. mindy would probably, however, eat these.

Mindy Kaling is one of those people toward whom I feel a natural infinity. I cannot wait for another quote from The Mindy Project to come through my Pinterest feed, though I've never even watched the show. I watch interviews with her whenever I can, and I'm a huge fan of the idea of she and B.J. Novak getting back together someday. She's hilarious, brilliant, confident, and honest. I want to read her books. I want to be her friend. She wants a good sister-friend. I would be that good sister-friend. But I digress. Another reason I love her so much is that Mindy Kaling is a fellow girl with curves. She is by no means plus-size, but she and I have the exact same shape, only she's more petite. Shapewise, we're both just shy of being an hourglass and just too curvy to be considered a pear. We're both attracted to cute dresses and high heels, bright lipstick and lots of sparkle. Neither she nor I care overly much what people think about our choice to look like an eager pinata half the time. When I started researching "Mindy Style" for today's post, I basically came away with a style theory that says wear what you want - however many patterns and colors and pieces that is - and wear it knowing you rock it.

Mindy Kaling is fearless and bold and makes my outfit choices look drab and uncreative, and I just love her a little bit. I had to dig deep for things wild enough to go to the level of The Mindy Project. A little neon, a lotta print, plenty of smouldery eyeliner and highlighter to get a warm glow, some dark red lipstick, some extra fabulous. So here's my Mindy-inspired outfit. Thanks, girl, for showing us that being 100% ourselves is the best way to be. 

You know what I think my favorite part of this entire outfit is? I was totally wearing the blouse backwards. Which is also 100% Mindy-esque. Talk about coordination.

Also, I think that's BB cream on my skirt. I leaned up against my dresser while putting on makeup. More coordination. I'm telling you, I got Mindy's graceful genes via osmosis.

In my personal style I flip from looking basically Parisian to looking like Elizabeth Burke to doing The Mindy Project thing, depending on my mood. I love putting together this Steal Her Style series because it gives me chances to try new looks. Do you have any more suggestions? Leave a comment below with someone else's style you'd like to see imitated and I'll do my best. 

How To Disguise Dark Under-Eye Circles

Each one of us has had that morning where we woke up, looked in the mirror, and instantly regretted it. Sometimes we don't even have the comfort of a late night to console us over the raccoon-masks under our eyes. We went to bed at a reasonable hour and while we slept (apparently) a thug came in and punched us roundly in the face. Ideally, with proper sleep and hydration and nutritions, under-eye circles wouldn't be a huge deal. Still, you can't account for sinus pressure, a poor night's sleep, or stress. Things will give you elephant-tracks under your eyes and, though they be Prada, who really wants to carry bags like that? After an unusually bad morning this way, I googled some tips on disguising the carnage and, after employing several techniques, came up with a pretty great regime for those days when everyone is asking if you're okay.

To make this as legitimate and sleepy-eyed as possible, I rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera, and proceeded to shoot this post. I know the bags under my eyes weren't terrible this morning, but they're still there (my bathroom happened to be extremely sunny) .I'm wearing no makeup and have had no caffeine, so what you're getting are my real under-eyes, unadulterated by anything like several hours of being awake. All right. To begin with, here are the products I use to disguise those bad boys:

Eye cream? you're thinking. Yeah. Concealer, yeah, BB cream, okay. But what the heck am I doing with the lipstick/primer? Okay, let me get into a little color theory with you. Your under-eye circles tend to be blue or purple-ish. The opposite color on the color wheel (which you want to apply to cancel out the blue) is orange. Therefore, applying something orange is perfectly logical. You can use any sort of orangey lipstick (not gloss) for this. Apply a thin layer after the eye cream. The eye cream is preferential. I got some for free in my Birchbox (its caffeinated) and I love it, but it is not strictly necessary for this tutorial.

Spread the lipstick/primer thin with your fingertips. Next up we have concealer! I use E.L.F. concealer one shade lighter than my skintone. When choosing an under-eye concealer, always go one shade lighter than your skin to brighten the area. I like to stipple mine and spread it gently around my eye, not forgetting to cover the inner corners of my eye and the sides of the bridge of my nose.

 Last step is BB cream or foundation. I don't use a lot of products on my face so I use BB cream as my only concealer/foundation. One good way to avoid the heaviness of under-eye foundation is to lightly apply the foundation in a wedge shape, with the widest part of the wedge stretching under your eye and narrowing toward your cheeks. Then blend it very well downward, into your cheeks, instead of side to side. Apply a light power to set it off and you're good to go! Prada bags put back in the closet till tomorrow morning.

(Go ahead and finish the look by continuing your makeup per usual, or just fill in your brows, add a little punch of blush, and head out the door with that freshly-awakened glow.)

Hope this was helpful to some of you! I know I was amazed at the idea of applying lipstick under my eyes, but I have to say that it has done the most thorough job of concealing the blue-ish bags than anything I've ever tried. Give it a go and let me know how it works for you!

Bacon-Cheddar Quiche

Hurricane Joaquin passed us by with barely a brush, but for two weeks preceding we had nothing . but. rain. My boss's husband counted eighteen days of drear. General bad weather chased in circles by a nor’easter will do that for you. And after a fortnight of this weather, there’s no wanting energetic food. I want comfort food. Food necessary and amiable to cuddling up with, accompanied by tea or coffee or the occasional cup of cider. We all know that food tastes better when shared with a friend, so on my day off I rallied to the grocery store, got a few things, drove to my friend’s house, and set to work on a Quiche Lorraine. Joanna is eight months pregnant, so all this cream and bacon and Old Croc cheddar cheese and flaky, buttery pastry was for her sake. Yep. Let’s go with that explanation. Alllllll that yummy, fatty goodness just for the sake of baby JoJo.

Prior to reading Mastering The Art of French Cooking, my ratio of eggs-to-cream in a quiche was majorly off. When I make quiche for my family, I leave off the crust (who has time for pastry crust in the morning when ten people are waiting for breakfast?) and I usually crack nearly a dozen eggs, add a splash of cream or milk, and whatever “good stuff” we have on hand. So my concept of quiche was basically a glorified omelet. “Omelet Pie,” let’s call it. Good, quivery, creamy slices of quiche at several restaurants over the summer and early autumn succeeded in changing my ideal of what a quiche ought to be. I am pleased to announce that this quiche, based off Julia Child's vision for Quiche Lorraine is the perfect composition. And the beauty of quiche is that it seems to grow better with time and is the perfect thing to eat for tomorrow's breakfast or lunch! I love things that do double-duty and leave me more time in my mornings! 

Bacon-Cheddar Quiche:
6-8 slices of bacon, cooked to a crisp
An 8-inch, partially-cooked pastry shell placed on a baking sheet
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup very sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tablespoons butter cut into pea-sized dots

1.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop crispy bacon into crumbles. Beat eggs, cream, milk, and seasonings in a mixing bowl till blended. Check seasonings. Mix in bacon crumbles and shredded cheese.
2.) Pour filling into pastry shell and distribute pats of butter across top. Bake for 25-30 minutes in upper third of oven, or until quiche has puffed and browned. Be certain filling is set before removing from oven. The quiche will be slightly jiggly but not sloshy. Allow to cool.