Friday, January 30, 2015

Purposeful Days : Progress Not Perfection

We're near the end of January and that fact has inevitably lead me to reflect on those goals I made at the beginning of the new year, just a few short weeks ago. While I have made some progress—I launched a 365 project in the hopes of upping my calligraphy gameI feel like I've hit a bit of a slump in other areas (and my MOH duties have, at times, distracted me from my personal pursuits). But I need to continue to push myself forward, be bold and make things happen. Things that will better myself as a person but also, perhaps more importantly, make me feel better about myself. (Eating better, exercising. Feeling like I have purpose.) I was hoping I could dedicate this last weekend of January to making strides forward, but my schedule is already busy. Full of fun things (a girls dinner tonight, Gasparilla tomorrow, Super Bowl Sunday!) but full nonetheless. I guess I need to cut myself some slack. Just not too much slack. 
"Ask yourself if what you're doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow."
It's all about progress, not perfection. I have to afford myself a measure of grace. But I also need to make the most of each beautiful day. I tuned into a webinar with Lara Casey on Wednesday afternoon and my major takeaway was that while you need to be patient with yourself and your goals— especially when making big changes, because results often don't come right away—patience does not mean procrastination. You still need to take action. I need to take action. And be purposeful. Stop the analysis paralysis that I am often guilty of. This is the formula to follow: Action + Patience + Grace = Making It Happen.

Have you made progress on your goals for 2015? Any tips and tricks you've found for pushing yourself forward through a slump?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sniff, Swirl, Sip : Try Wine St. Pete

One of G and I's favorite pastimes in wine tasting. And while most wouldn't consider drinking a hobby, or at least not one to boast about, we do take our wine pretty seriously. That's not to mean we drink expensive bottles exclusively, we more often enjoy supermarket finds for 10 bucks or less. But no matter what we are sipping, we like to contemplate our wine. We don't merely drink it; we think about it. We sniff, we swirl, we sip, and then we share what we taste. If in the presence of company, this routine is usually laughed at, especially when I start saying something is "agricultural" or "has a hint of bell pepper." The hubs and I are not experts by any means, but we are winos through and through. We drink what we like, and I pick bottles based on their labels occasionally, but we are also open to trying new, unique and bold flavors.

When we lived in San Diego, we had the luxury of being just 45 minutes away from Temecula wine country, where we'd often visit on weekends and where we were members of two wineries. (Wiens Family Cellars and Danza del Sol, we miss you!) The state of California as a whole is full of wonderful, highly-rated wineries and while Temecula was in our proverbial backyard, we also made trips to wineries in Santa Barbara County and Napa Valley. (We even went wine tasting on our Canadian honeymoon!) But now that we are in Florida, the land of tropical fruit wine, we sometimes find ourselves longing to make an excursion to a California vineyard.

The next best thing? Try Wine Retail Tasting Lab, which has nearly 100 wines on tap for your sniffing, swirling and sipping pleasure. I had heard of this downtown St. Pete wine tasting lounge a few months ago, and we finally (finally!) made our way there this past Saturday evening (after exploring and tasting some of the wine and wine cocktails at new foodie haven, Locale Market). Since it was chilly outside, G and I stuck to reds, but we tried reds of all kindsred blends, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Merlot, Grenache, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and even a few unfamiliar varietals. We walked around the entire lounge trying a little of this and that. Using a preloaded card, you can try by the taste or by the glass; you pick your pour. 

While I wasn't a fan of everything I tasted—my husband had a bit more success with his picks—it was a blast trying so many new wines together for a relatively low investment. (A screen displays exactly how much each taste costs.) At the end of our tasting, we went back to our favorite wine for a full glass. My favorite, by far, was Inkblot, a 2012 Cab Franc from Michael David Winery in Lodi, California. Admittedly, I was first attracted by the name and the label, and was pleasantly surprised that my good first impression held up in the taste test. Inkblot is bold in flavor but still smooth and fruity, which I prefer. While I was previously unfamiliar with Michael David Winery, I realized that I am familiar with one of its wines that I'm sure you have seen on store shelves, too: 7 Deadly Zins. Now I'll be on the look out for Inkblot, though finding a straight-up bottle of Cab Franc at the grocery store is near impossible. That's why we bought a bottle at Try Wine. The winos in us just couldn't resist.

Do you enjoy wine tasting? What's your favorite type of wine? I'd love to hear. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wedding Wednesdays : Confetti & Gold Shower Invites

Now that these pretties have made their way into the hands of all invited guests, I can safely share my bestie's bridal shower invitations. As my best friend's maid of honor, I'm spearheading the bridal shower and bachelorette festivities. And, as I've mentioned before, the theme for the shower is top secret so I still don't want to say exactly what I have planned but these invitations give a pretty big hint and offer a peek into the look and feel I'm envisioning (and, hopefully, executing!) for the party.

These invites were a definite labor of love. I searched and searched for the perfect invitation style (browsing collections on Minted, Wedding Paper Divas, Paperless Post and more) that would convey the shower theme and be a beautiful reflection of the bride. My bestie and I couldn't be more differentI'm very much a pastel and florals, boho kind of gal (as seen in my wedding decor) and Marielle is more into bright, bold colors, graphic prints and sparkle. The Shining Shower invitations I ultimately chose, from Wedding Paper Divas, were my favorite early on and nothing else I found or even mocked up could sway me from the fun and modern confetti design. I did, however, have to make a few customizations to get the invites just how I wanted them. At first I requested a turquoise blue background but black ended up being the best choice for clarity; fortunately, it looks chic and really makes the pink and gold accents pop. And since I just can't help myself (and had a sweet discount code), I sprang for the pearlized paper and scalloped edges.

Ordering the invitations was just half the battle. The easiest part, actually! Originally I planned to only calligraph the guests' names on the outside of the envelope and write the rest of the address in my normal hand. But, alas, my Sharpies weren't looking great on my tester envelope and the Lettermate I ordered to help me write straight was lost in the mail, so I decided to calligraph the entire address. As a calligraphy newbie, it was quite the stressful two days! Mixing up the white ink to the proper consistency so it would flow out of my nib, and then writing as carefully as possible. Luckily there were only 22 invitations to address and I only seriously messed up a handful of times and had plenty of extra envelopes. While the perfectionist in me sees my flaws and areas to improve, I am happy with how they turned out overall.

For an extra special touch (and to save me some time), I ordered a set of return address labels that had a complimentary black-and-gold confetti motif. And because no envelope is complete without a little washi tape, I picked up a black-and-white stripe tape and a turquoise-and-gold polka dot tape from Target to seal them up in style.

I hope my friend, the bride, loves them! Just three weeks until I leave for California for all the wedding festivities, and 24 days until the shower!

P.S. The recipe cards I tucked inside for guests to fill out are from Rifle Paper Co.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fashion for Grammar Nerds

I'm not usually one to gravitate toward graphic, statement tees but this is the perfect shirt for grammar nerds like myself. (I especially love the slouchy raglan pullover style.) Talk about wearing your brain on your sleeve. Ba-dum-tsh. I'm so funny.

Love it, want it? Get it at Alphonnsine. There are a bunch of other cheeky shirts in the Etsy shop, too. 

P.S. While I am certainly a grammar nerd, I am not the grammar police (unless asked!). Case in point: I love my husband in spite of his terrible spelling and grammar skills, and never correct his misspelled texts. But, if Alphonnsine was to make a "ur, your, you're" shirt, I would be tempted to buy it for him. You're welcome!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Learning Calligraphy & My 365 Project

I've always loved making pretty letters. As a kid I would frequently change the way I wrote my name and, in particular, the way I wrote my lowercase "As" (with a "hat" or without, with a straight "tail" or a curvy one). I also always bemoaned the fact that my name wasn't very fun to write. No loops. No "Ls" or "Ys" to swing and curl around. Nope, my maiden name did not grant my hand a lot of ascenders or descenders to play with (though, of course, I didn't know the proper terminology at the time). Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing other people's names, and as I got older I became known for the embellished cards and envelopes that were attached whenever I presented someone with a gift. (I even served as the sunshine chair for my sorority in college, because the entire job description was to brighten my sisters' days with notes, cards, and gifts.) But these were simple, untrained doodles. It was all very unserious, just for fun, and honestly, part of me didn't think I was capable of doing much more.

But that changed last fall. In September, I decided to get a little more serious. I decided to learn calligraphy.

I'm not exactly sure how I came upon this decision. I think it was just the inundation of pretty lettering I saw on Instagram, Pinterest, and even Facebook. I saw so many people writing beautiful scripts, lettering inspiring quotes, creating pretty personalized details for wedding and events, and I thought that maybe I could learn the skill, too, after all, if I put my mind to it.

With the help of Google, I researched all I could about learning calligraphy, the tools I would need and what online resources were available to me. And I happily discovered that learning calligraphy doesn't require a huge investment up front. Sure, you can spend a pretty penny buying beautiful pen holders and inks and fancy papers but you definitely don't need that to start. A pen holder, a nib, a pad of practice paper and a pot of black ink will set you back 20 bucks, tops, and you're on your way.

My extensive research also led me to two highly-rated online calligraphy classes: Molly Jacques' Skillshare class, Introduction to the Art of Modern Calligraphy, and Melissa Esplin's I Still Love Calligraphy workshop. While I wanted to join Melissa's course due to the personal coaching and feedback element, at $95 (or $130 with the supplies) the cost was a bit too much for my unemployed self to justify, especially if I didn't stick with it. Instead, I opted for Molly's Skillshare class since it was just $20 (if I remember correctly) or free if I signed up for a Skillshare membership ($10/month, but I got the first month free as a trial run and I've recently upgraded to a premium membership).

[ Snapshots from my early days. Watching videos, taking notes, and practicing letterforms over and over.]

I thoroughly enjoyed Molly's videos and found them extremely helpful. But once you learn the basicshow to hold and use the pen and nib, creating downstrokes and upstrokes—the most important step is practicing. That is the only way you will get better. And in our instant gratification society that step is tough, because we want to be as good as all those images that inspired us to start learning calligraphy in the first place. I know I did and still do. But it just takes time. It takes time and mistakes, splatters and spills and inky fingers, and some frustrating practice sessions where it feels like you can't make anything look good. Been there, done that. But there are days when you love and are proud of what you create, and that makes the not-so-good days worth it.

[ Mini calligraphy signs I made over the holidays to brighten up our apartment. ]

While I was practicing fairly regularly last fall, there were weeks when I didn't pick up my calligraphy pen. Partly because of the busyness of the holidays, but mostly because we had no dedicated space for me to lay out all my supplies, and keep them laid out, for practice. (My wonderful husband subsequently let me take over the dining room table as my creative space, so that problem has been solved!)

To encourage daily practicing, and to keep myself accountable, I made it a goal for 2015 to launch and complete a 365 project—a year of calligraphy. There are not many things I do every single day. I don't even blog every day. But this project requires me to put nib to paper daily. I began my project January 12 and sometimes I think, "What did I get myself into?" But in just 14 days I've already seen some improvement. And I'm having fun trying new nibs and inks and papers. I'm relishing the process of creating.

[ Some of my 365 project work thus far. ]

To document my project, I started another Instagram account, separate from my personal profile. If you'd like to follow me on my calligraphy journey, my year of lettering, you can find me posting my daily practices and creations at @wispandwhim. My plan is to have a new theme each month to inspire my work. January is all about fresh starts and bold steps, in honor of my New Years resolutions and word for 2015. February, which is fast approaching, will appropriately be all about love.

[ A quote that is true of life and true of learning calligraphy. ]

If you've been thinking about learning calligraphy as well, I would encourage you to check out Skillshare (which has tons of other classes in design, photography, DIY and more). Use my referral link to get a free month of Skillshare membership with unlimited access to hundreds of classes. (When you use my link, I get a free month too! Win win.)

With that, I propose a toast (grab your cup of coffee or tea!): Here's to pursuing new, exciting and challenging creative endeavors, and following wherever they may lead.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blurred Horizons

Sometimes I pretend the future doesn't exist. Even though I know what is coming up down the road, I like to push that knowledge into the recesses of my mind, ignore the mile markers as they pass, and give myself a temporary blind spot. Sometimes I don't want to think about the changes that may lie ahead, the potential problems, until they are no longer on the horizon but right in front of me, staring me squarely in the face, and won't let me pass.

Of course, I know this is juvenile and not beneficial in the slightest. Pretending things, challenges, don't exist doesn't usually work, not for long anyway. So I have to think about it. I have to remove the blind spot.

When I posted in October about the hubs and I making another big move in May/June 2015, I was excited about all the possibilities on the horizon. But that thrilling anticipation of what may be next slowly shriveled up and left a more familiar emotion: uncertainty, which I vaguely revealed here and here, with a bit of hopeful optimism.

Now, when people ask me about New Jersey and New Yorklike, where are we going to live, have I looked into the job market, what fun things to do plan to do—I answer with a tinge of sadness because I don't have all the answers, and I don't even believe the things I hope for will actually come to fruition.

We picked Bayonne, New Jersey as our next port-of-call for me. Because of it's proximity to New York, the place I've always dreamed of living and working. Of making it big (or, perhaps more realistically, just making it as a teeny-tiny fish) in the magazine world. We had come to St. Pete because that is what G wanted, for his Coast Guard career, and he got his first pick but it didn't turn out as planned. So when it came to deciding where to go next, and after a lot of talking and debating the pros and cons, we ultimately chose a location that would put my dreams within reach while also allowing G to get off land and back on a boat.

But as I've learned, nothing with the military is as it seems. Things don't always go as planned or promised, as those plans and promises can change in the blink of an eye.

We are still moving to Bayonne in May or June. But we have no idea where we are going to live. Thanks to a new USCG rule, we will have to live on base if housing is available. G applied, as required, only to find out that we won't find out until April if we will be forced to live in military housing. We chose Bayonne as the place for G to work, but never intended on living there. But we may have to. And while the hubs loves researching the real estate market and I always tell him it's too soon, now it really does seem like a pointless endeavor.

But there's an even bigger issue at play. Not long after making our moving announcement, the hubs learned that the boat he is slated for, the Sitkinak, is actually home-ported in Sandy Hook, almost an hour-and-a-half drive south from Bayonne, and even farther from Manhattan. After Hurricane Sandy severely damaged the Coast Guard base at Sandy Hook, the Sitkinak was relocated to Bayonne, a fact we were unaware of. Now, the USCG has plans in the works to rebuild at Sandy Hook and we learned that G's boat could be moved back as early as 2016.

This was upsetting news for many reasons. First, it was just weeks after getting married that we moved all the way across the country, from California to Florida. The plan was that we would be in St. Pete for three years, but that is no longer happening. So the idea of moving somewhere else, only to have to move again a year later, is frustrating to say the least.

Second, Sandy Hook isn't exactly close to Manhattan. We never would have picked Sandy Hook if we had seen it listed on the early sea solicitation list. And we only picked Bayonne because it was a hop, skip and a jump away from NYC. So the idea of being shifted to Sandy Hook feels like my Big Apple dreams, our dreams, are being crushed.

I'm holding onto a shred of hope that rebuilding Sandy Hook, like with anything the government plans to do, will take exceedingly longer to accomplish than they say it will. If the rehab does go according to schedule, there's always the option of G commuting to Sandy Hook from, well, wherever it is we are living.

See, these are the kinds of things I don't like to think about. The stuff I don't want to exist. It's so much easier to focus on making the most of our time left in St. Pete than to draw up plans (A, B and C) for how we will handle what's coming down the road. But the future always becomes the present faster than we would like, so I know I can't ignore it forever.

I don't have all, or any of, the answers, nor do I have a sweet ending that can tie up this post with an optimistic and hopeful bow. Sometimes you just have to feel the reality of your situation and accept that you have no control. That last part has been a hard lesson for this still-new military wife to learn, and no matter how many times I've been faced with that clear and simple fact, I'm still learning it. When it comes to this military life, there are no guarantees.

(Central Park and 
by Joseph O. Holmes via 20x200)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Weekend Eats : Tapas, Sushi & Brunch

[ Snapped from a parking structure: A view of the waterfront and pier in downtown St. Pete. ]

This is almost embarrassing to reflect on, but this past weekend was most certainly a weekend of eating. We sort of back-slid on our resolution to cut back on eating out. But sometimes, life comes in and changes your plans. When friends invite you to gather over a meal, who are we to say no?

On Saturday, G and I made our way downtown to the Saturday Morning Market to pick up some fresh veggies for the week. But let it be known: Don't go to the market hungry! Because if you do, you will want to eat and/or buy every delicious-looking thing in sight. Like a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie as big as your head. A homemade chicken pot pie for later. Garlicky jarred spreads. And then, finally, the veggies we came for. At least we can feel good about supporting local small businesses, yes? For the record, we did admire (and buy) non-edible things, too, such as handmade jewelry, wine glass charms, hand-thrown pottery and more. (I desperately wanted that gorgeous pink and green platter! But the hubby said we didn't really need it. Sad face.)

After our trip to the market, where we tasted a few things and ate half of the above-mentioned cookie, we decided to get ourselves a proper lunch. The hubs and I decided to give Ceviche another try, since the last time we were there we were fairly tipsy and somehow managed to order all the wrong things. But we had heard good reviews about the tapas restaurant and the outside patios are usually packed with people, so we thought it deserved another shot. We ordered up several small plates, and while we weren't a fan of Ceviche's shrimp ceviche, ceviche de gambas, the other dishes were goodjust not great, and ultimately, we thought, not worthy of the price. The huevos rellenos, or homemade deviled eggs, were tasty, but nothing special. The patatas bravas, fried potatoes in a spicy aioli, were also winners but it is hard to mess up fried spuds. We were most disappointed with the chorizo y pimientos, five types of chorizo sausage in a tomato sauce with roasted peppers and onions. The description should have said five slices of chorizo sausage, because that's all we got. The gambas al ajillo, however, a plate of gulf shrimp tossed in a light but creamy garlic chili sauce that was delivered to us accidentally, was a pleasant surprise. If we were to return to Ceviche, I think we would just sit on the patio, sip sangria and nibble on the complimentary bread served with a yummy pesto dipping sauce, and take in the view and the people passing by. That's the best part.

While at lunch, we got an invitation to join our friends for sushi that night. We met up at Hook's, which is obviously a local favorite judging by the line out the door. I am not big on raw fish, so I ordered the Mexican roll (hold the smelt roe), which is filled with tempura shrimp, asparagus spears and avocado, and served with a streak of Sriracha. My dinner companions ordered much more elaborate and colorful rolls; they really looked beautiful! And everyone cleared their plates so I guess they were a hit.

On Sunday, the hubs dropped me off in downtown St. Pete for a girls' brunch at Lucky Dill. It was a lovely, cool day so we sat outside, sipped our free mimosas and noshed on the New York-style cafe's hearty breakfasts (fried green tomato bennys with avocado and bacon for Laura and I, and the day's special, an apple cinnamon french toast, for Blair).

So while I consumed far too many calories this weekend, I'm going to give myself a pass since it was all in the name of friendship and fun.

How was your weekend?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sparkle & Pop : Look-at-Me Party Pieces

One of the perks of being a maid of honor and planning fabulous parties for your best friend/bride-to-be is the excuse to go shopping. Because clearly I need a new outfit for the bridal shower, the bachelorette, the rehearsal dinner... (I already know what I'm wearing to the wedding!) Of course my husband would take one look at my closet and completely disagree with that theory and he might have a point but this dress-aholic (yes, it is a mostly dress-specific problem I have) finds a way to ignore him.

So the other day, I took a break from my MOH planning duties to do a little online window shopping. At first I was on the hunt for a new black dress for the bachelorette, since the "theme" for our big night out on the towndrinks, dinner, dancing—is "bling it on." The bride's ladies will be wearing black dresses with sparkling accessories. But finding a LBD that excites me enough to open my wallet—me, the one who is drawn to COLOR! PRINTS! FLORALS! as well as boho styles that don't quite fit the gone-clubbing aesthetic—proved difficult.

But when I saw the chic, black-and-white striped number at Francesca's I knew it would be perfect for the bridal shower. Now, I'm still keeping the theme for the shower a secret (just in case the bride spies this post) but I'm sure many of you can put these party pieces together and figure it out. In addition to the glitzy, golden peep toe pumps and the bright blue, almost confetti-like statement necklace, I'm planning on adding a hot pink belt to the ensemble. Or, perhaps I'll just tie a raspberry-hued grosgrain ribbon around my waist. Effective and affordable. (My hubby would approve.)

Since I'm a coupon googling master, I was able to find a 20% off code and score the above outfit for less than $100. Nevertheless, I know I can't drop a C-note on a new outfit for every party, so (hubs, are you listening?) I've resigned myself to making a black dress I already have hanging in my closet work for the bachelorette. The frock has tiny gold stitching throughout so it would fit the bling theme perfectly. Plus, now I have a pair of gold heels for the occasion.

But, of course, I am feeling like I need a little more glitz and glamour. (My jewelry box is more about color than sparkle.) These beauties from Anthropologie would definitely fit the bill. A girl can dream, right?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Girls' Night Out : Anise Global Gastrobar

Last night, Jen (of Letters & Pearls) and I left our handsome hubbies at home and met up in Tampa for a girls' dinner. A much-needed one, at that! It had been so long since I had some quality girl time... In fact, the only real one-on-one I've had with a friend here in St. Pete was when Jen and I first met, face-to-face, for a quick coffee date at the Oxford Exchange. So it was lovely to get together once again and have real talk. You know the kind: When you have a friend that you are so comfortable with that you just talk about anything and everything and the evening goes on for hours.. and before you know it, you've been at a restaurant for almost four hours! That was us last night. Even though we've only known each other a couple months, Jen and I just seemed to click instantly, and I'm so grateful that we were able to find each other through this crazy blogging world. Sometimes it's nice to get out of the house, leave your man and dogs behind, and enjoy the uplifting energy of a girl who just gets it.

Since she lives in Tampa and I'm in St. Pete, we had the task of figuring out on which side of the bridge to go to dinner. A bartender at one of G and I's fave St. Petersburg restaurants, BellaBrava, had previously recommended to us her other workplace, Anise Global Gastrobar. The hubs and I had actually walked by it when we were at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for Oktoberfest, so I remembered peering in and thinking it looked like a cute place, and the perfect spot for a friend date. Unfortunately, I'm not terribly knowledgable about the Tampa food scene, so it was my one and only recommendation. But it worked out! Jen is currently on a vegan challenge, and Anise's tapas-style menu offers several vegan-friendly options.

We both started with a glass of Sangre The Blackbird, a refreshing, not-too-sweet white sangria made with blackberry, peach and elderflower. The cocktail's pretty hue perfectly matched the pink flowers on the table. As they say, on Wednesdays we wear drink pink! (OK, so maybe that's not a thing but it should be.) Jen and I then shared a basked of truffled tater tots with lemon parsley crème fraiche and an order of fried zucchini with crispy garlic "stinky bunz" (a kind-of Asian-style slider, for which Anise is known, from the restaurant's food truck days). 

The tots were delicious, of course, because, well, they are little golden nuggets of crispy fried potato, so how could they not be? And the buns lived up to their hype. We've already decided we need to return to try all the flavors (pork belly included). I'm pretty sure anything stuffed into those airy, pillowy bread buns would be good. I would have never thought to put a slab of fried zucchini in a sandwich but that's just was Anise did and I loved it.

Finally, for our entrées, Jen chose the Jap Chae noodle bowl, filled with gluten free noodles, sautéed veggies, tofu and sesame seeds while I decided to go light and fresh with the roasted beet and arugula salad with toasted pine nuts and a grapefruit vinaigrette (I held the goat cheese). All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I just wish I had saved room for dessert! The deep fried sweet bunz, one with strawberries and nutella and another with bananas and a crispy cookie spread, sound out of this world amazing.

Good thing there's always a next time. And I know I'll have good company.

P.S. Many thanks to Jen for taking far better photos of our meal than I did! Stole a few for the above collage :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wedding Wednesdays : Confessions of a Maid of Honor

Lately, I have weddings on the brain. Not my own; my bestie's. I'm the maid of honor. (Technically, matron of honor, but no one better dare call me that!) The last six months or so, despite being 3,000 miles apart, I have been working hard to be the BEST best-friend-of-the-bride I can be. Which means I am part cheerleader, part counselor, part confidant. I listen, I advise, I encourage. As anyone who has planned a wedding knows, it is an incredibly stressful time, draining physically, mentally and emotionally. Weddings bring up all the feelings, good and bad. So I've been trying to help her navigate those sometimes rocky waters while also always being at least emotionally available (a phone call, text or email away) as her life boat, her life preserver, when the waves of planning, researching, budgeting, and overall decision-making get too much to withstand. While planning my wedding last year, I too, for different but likewise difficult reasons and circumstances, was often overcome by stress and sadness that seemed to push me to the brink. Marielle was there for me. It's my turn to be there for her.

At the same time, I've been trying to uphold my end of the party planning. I am throwing her bridal shower and organizing the bachelorette. Rough plans, ideas, themes have been in the works for months but the actual planning has intensified these last eight weeks as I try to coordinate with the bride, the bridesmaids and other party guests. The bachelorette—a long weekend in San Diego, kicked off with a day of wine tasting in Temecula—is finally booked as of Monday. Other than ordering some fun bachelorette shirts and making restaurant reservations, that party is done, planned. Now I can turn my attention back to the bridal shower, for which I have a venue, a (secret!) theme, some supplies and decor purchased, a general idea of the day's menu, and assignments out to the bridesmaids who are itching to contribute. My primary to-do at this point is to assemble, address and send out the beautiful invitations I ordered. (I promise I'll share all about the shower at some point, I just don't want to spoil the surprise!)

So just like when I was a bride planning my own wedding, being a maid of honor is both fun and hard. I'm excited and exhausted. But also like with my wedding, the thing that makes all the to-do lists and late nights worth it is LOVE. I love my best friend (of 22 years!) and even though she has learned and felt the truth that I discovered a year agothat planning a wedding can, more often than not, suck the joy out of what society insists should be the happiest time in a young woman's life—I want to give her at least a few truly joyful days where she doesn't think about the stresses of planning, the decisions left to make, how she and her fiancé are going to pay for everything. My dear friend, the bride, deserves days where she just feels filled with happiness, celebrated by the people who love and support her.

Even though it's not always the case, that's what a wedding should be about.

(Photos by heidi-o-photo, bottom image of 
my bestie/MOH toasting G and I at our wedding)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Winter/Spring Bucket List

Happy Monday, world! After being mostly MIA last week (due to too many open tabs) I'm back and mostly ready for action. This weekend was more low-key than others we've had, but it was nice to just chill at home. Saturday was spent cleaning and organizing, but we did venture out of the house when we got a last-minute invite to hang with friends, make s'mores and drink spiked hot chocolate. Sunday started with an amazing homemade brunch (complete with Bloody Marys!) cooked up by the hubs, and the rest of the day was spent watching football, researching places to eat during my bestie's upcoming bachelorette party, and live tweeting the Golden Globes red carpet fashion (my fave part of awards show season!), for which the hubs again exercised his drink-making prowess by whipping up a martini for me and a margarita for him.

Now that we're almost two weeks into the new year, it got me thinking about how we don't have all that much time left here in St. Pete. I'll be flying back to California (yay!) in mid-February to fulfill my maid of honor duties, G will join me a few weeks later for my bestie's wedding plus another, and we'll be staying a few days after the wedding festivities are over, through my 30th birthday at the end of March. So once we get back to Florida we will just have April and May before it's time to pack up and move north, to Jersey.

With all that in mind, I thought I should compose another bucket list of fun to-dos I hope to accomplish before leaving this (other, east coast) land of perpetual sunshine, where people vacation but we (currently) are lucky to live.

1. Browse the vintage and vintage-inspired treasures at St. Pete's monthly Brocante Market (which my friend Jen of Letters & Pearls just visited) and Rare Hues in Tampa (I learned of the latter this weekend after spying a friend's gorgeous and functional bar cart). We definitely don't have room in our apartment for me to go on a shopping spree, but it is almost just as fun to check out all the pretty, unique goods we are bound to find.

2. Soak up more of Tampa Bay's art and culture scene. Get lost in the surrealist works at The Dali, wander through "Monet to Matisse" and the photographic exhibition "Life's A Beach" at the Museum of Fine Arts and relish more of my favorite medium at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts. This was on my fall bucket list, too, but we've only managed to visit the Chihuly Collection.

3. Admire the architecture and the American craft artwork housed inside the Craftsman House. We've strolled by this bungalow several times but I never realized it was public gallery, pottery studio and cafe. As someone who adores the details and character in craftsman style homes, I just thought it was the epitome of my dream house.

4. Shop and dine at St. Pete's new foodie haven, Locale Market, a gourmet, farm-to-table restaurant and curated marketplace brought to the Sundial shopping center by celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona.

5. Explore St. Petersburg's EDGE District. (The next "Third Thursdays in the EDGE" market is happening Jan. 15.) We've been to the main downtown corridor plenty, but we haven't spent much time in the fringe district along Central Avenue, which is filled with unique boutiques, galleries, eateries and bars. I especially want to try Bodega, a highly-rated spot for Cuban food. The Lechon sandwich sounds delish.

6. Attend and support another market celebrating local businesses and handmade goods: Localtopia 2015! The free event happening Feb. 7 will feature tons of indie artists and makers, a craft beer garden and food court, live music and more. The event is hosted by Keep St. Petersburg Local, the same live-local advocacy group that put on the Localicious beer-focused farmer's market we attended in October.

7. Book a staycation at St. Pete's luxury waterfront hotel, the Vinoy Renaissance Resort (to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary, maybe?). At the very least, G and I should grab a tropical drink on the pink hotel's front porch since I've heard it is the best place for people-watching, with the added perk of having a stellar view of the bay.

Now, if the hubby was contributing to this list, he'd add the following: take in a sporting eventhockey preferably, but baseball would work, too. (We did catch a Buccaneers football game already.)

That's it! What's on your bucket list, currently? 

(Top image of a recent sunset over Tampa Bay seen from the Gandy Bridge, 
bottom image taken while strolling the waterfront in downtown St. Pete)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Too Many Tabs Open

This print totally sums up both my brain and my computer this week. 

My laptop, literally, has had an unmanageable, headache-inducing amount of tabs open the past few days as I try to finalize the plans (and all the little details) concerning my best friend's bridal shower and bachelorette party, happening next month in Southern California. I can't wait to share all about these parties but for now some of it is top secret! I can tell you we'll be having her final fling before the ring in sunny San Diego, with a day of wine tasting in Temecula. And! I just got the shower invitations delivered to my doorstep minutes ago and they look amazing. So, all in all, exciting stuff, but there's still lots to do and plan and book. I was up on the phone with the bride-to-be until the wee hours of the morning last night and my cup of hazelnut coffee just isn't enough to remedy having only five hours of sleep.

Second, my brain has been swirling with my own personal to-dos, from the mundane (do the laundry, clean the dishes, schedule doctor appointments and vet visits) to the meaningful (planning for 2015, setting goals, being bold and taking action).

Yes, too many tabs open indeed. So off I go to start closing some... Just gotta breathe, exhale, focus. And get 'er done.

Do you feel like your to-do lists are miles long, too? What tabs are lingering open in your brain?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Meatless Mondays : Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

All the sweets, carbs and booze of the holiday season have left me feeling weighed down, in more ways than one. Yes, my jeans are fitting a bit tighter than I'd like (eek!) but I just feel sluggish overall, like I need to hit the reset button on my body—and my habits. But it's near impossible to resist the urge to pour another glass of wine, or reach for cookies, candy, chocolate, all of the above, when you've been giving into that urge for weeks now, all in the name of celebration.

That's why the hubs and I have decided to focus, once again, on eating more healthfully, like we were before our wedding last May. Post-wedding, circumstances practically pushed us into poor eating habits: We honeymooned (lots of dining out). We made a big move, and had to drive across the country to get there (hello, fast food). We wanted to explore our new city (and one of our favorite pastimes is visiting new restaurants). And then we were a little lonely (cue emotional eating). Yep, we gave ourselves plenty of reasons to eat, drink and be merry. The holidays were literal icing on the cake—not to mention a more socially acceptable excuse to indulge.

Starting a new diet or exercise plan and losing weight is a top New Year's resolution for many, so G and I are in good company. But, to be successful, you have to be reasonable with yourself. Going to extremes might get fast results but it is not sustainable long term. Healthy living is a lifestyle so, as with anything, you've gotta cut yourself a little slack to keep from going insane. To that end, we're planning to cut back on eating out, to enjoy wine and cocktails in moderation just three days a week, to get our butts into the gym and ... to eat more vegetables. Which leads me to today's post.

I'm sure you've heard of "Meatless Mondays"—there's a whole website dedicated to it!—but when I proposed the idea to my hubby, he gave me a look and a smirk. "I'm not making it up," I exclaimed with a laugh. "It's a thing." I told him it would be good for us to commit one day a week to eating just fruits, veggies and whole grains. We're not big meat eaters, it's mostly fish and chicken in our house, but nevertheless. More veggies is always a good thing. To inspire our cooking, I picked up what is veritably one of the best all-veg cookbooks on the market: "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi."

Tonight, our first Meatless Monday, we will be making the dish that so beautifully graces the cover of Yotam Ottolenghi's critically-acclaimed vegetarian-friendly tome: Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce. We stopped by St. Pete's Saturday Morning Market this weekend and picked up two gorgeous eggplants for the occasion. While I have no idea how it will all turn out, the recipe looks and sounds mighty delicious, so I'd love to invite you to cook along with us! I'll post our results on Instagram.

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce
Recipe from "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 as a starter or side, or as a light meal when accompanied by crusty white bread or pita

2 large and long eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
Maldon sea salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon za'atar (if you can't find this Middle Eastern spice blend, you can make it at home, traditionally with thyme or untraditionally with oregano; the trick then is finding sumac)

9 tablespoons buttermilk (you can also make this yourself, with milk and lemon/vinegar!)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don't eat it). Using a small sharp knife, make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped (or crosshatch) pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oilkeep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

While the eggplants are in the oven, seed the pomegranate. (You can use the cut-and-whack method, using a wooden spoon to beat the seeds out of a halved pomegranate, or you can use the cut-then-pull-apart-while-submerged method, shown in this tutorial, which promises less mess.) Once you have all the seeds removed, sift through to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

To make the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve: Spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za'atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

As always, if you give this recipe a try I'd love to hear your thoughts. Fingers crossed we can find za'atar, or at least sumac, at the store this afternoon. If you have any favorite vegetarian recipes, please share—we need all the Meatless Monday inspiration we can get!

(Top photo taken by me at the Saturday Morning Market, 
Plenty book image via Chronicle Books)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Goal Digger : Making It Happen in 2015

Happy New Year! Hello, 2015! I ended 2014 with a bang and as a result spent January 1st in recovery mode, on the couch, in PJs, eating Chinese food. Perhaps not exactly the way I wanted to start the new year but, oh well. Today is a new day. And while yesterday wasn't the most productive, I did do one productive thing related to my resolution to be bold, to live with intent, and make things happen: I started reading Lara Casey's new book, "Make it Happen: Surrender Your Fear, Take the Leap, Live on Purpose."

On New Year's Eve, I downloaded the e-book, my first purchase on the Kindle Fire my husband got me for Christmas, and last night, with my hangover finally subsided, I figuratively cracked open the pages.

I'm only on page 35 so far. I've read through chapter one (Stop Chasing Perfect) of section one (Surrender Your Fear) and yet Lara's words already have me feeling uplifted and motivated. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows. The book compels you to face what has been holding you back. In chapter one, I had to think about and write down how "chasing perfect" makes me feel and believe about myself (inadequate), what I am really striving for (happiness, success, significance), what my life would look like if I thew out the "shoulds" (freedom!) and what has stopped me from taking a leap of faith (fear of failure). I also had to answer that seemingly simple but not-always-so-easy-to-answer question, "How are you?" with uncomfortable honesty (a little lost, discontent, uninspired, unmotivated). Most of the time we put on the charade of perfection, that everything is "fine," but the only way one can truly move forward in a positive and productive way is to confront the issues that have been weighing down our body, heart and mind. And that's just what "Make It Happen" does, at least in the first 34 pages. Though I don't doubt there are more stop-and-make-me-think discussions to come.
The lies of perfection and shoulds tell us we aren't enough, but the truth paves a path for us to an abundant life of joy where we are more than enough. -Lara Casey, "Make It Happen"
At the end of chapter 1, there is a "Take Action" step to write a statement and place it somewhere you'll see every day. I'm also going to put it here:

I was created for a purpose, 
and it's time to make it happen!

In addition to reading "Make It Happen," I ordered a set of Lara's PowerSheets, a six-month supply of goal-planning and action-inspiring worksheets (105 in all!). In addition, I purchased Emily Ley's Home Base Binder Kit to keep them in and further help me get my life, and by proxy, my hubby's life, better organized. At first I thought the binder was something that would better serve a family, a couple with kids, but then I thought, what the heck. I need to be organized now with a system in place before I have kids! Which is a something G and I hope will happen in 2015.

I'm still waiting for the mailman to deliver my worksheets and binder, but I can't wait to receive them! Luckily, Lara recommends waiting to fill out the PowerSheets until you get to section four of the book, so I have some time. As Lara says, there's nothing magical about January 1. I'm not going to fail just because I didn't have all my ducks in a row yesterday. Setting and achieving goals is a journey, a process, and I am looking at the whole month of January as a season for just that.

I'm not necessarily planning on blogging about my whole "Make It Happen" journey, but I wanted to share with you today in case you are looking for some goal planning tools and resources. Even if you're not interested in the book, I'd highly suggest checking out Lara's blog, which is chock-full of inspiring, go-get-em content. (This would be a good place to start.) Not to mention beautiful downloads for your desktop to keep you motivated.

I particularly like these: Go & Do. Because Done is Better than Perfect. So true and yet so hard when you are a perfectionist like me. But I know I need to "stop chasing perfect" because, many times, it's fear of not being perfect that keeps me from getting anything done!

So here's to choosing PURPOSE over PERFECT in 2015. Cheers!

("Make It Happen" images via Lara Casey
Home Base Binder via Emily Ley
Goal Digger top image via Jenna Kutcher)
Blogging tips