Archive | December, 2010

Il Dolce Far Niente

30 Dec

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t take a look around once and awhile, you could miss it. – Ferris Bueller

I’m a big believer in the power of positive thinking. And it is for this reason alone that I always make New Year’s resolutions. If I set a goal for myself, I’m determined enough (or, if you ask Ross, stubborn enough) to see it through until completion. Below are a few of my resolutions for this year. Fingers crossed that I can check these items off of my list!

1. Take more pictures. I’ve always loved making photo albums. I have books filled with pictures from high school, my trip to Europe and my semester abroad in Australia as well as the rest of college and my post-graduation life. I love pictures of my brother and I as little kids and of my parents from way back when (as evident by many blog posts).

say cheese! the very first picture that i took

Lately, though, I’ve fallen off the bandwagon and been terrible about taking pictures; I want to make sure that I capture the memories of 2011. I recently discovered the fun of iMovie (which I highly recommend to anyone with an Apple computer), making me more determined than ever to take more pictures.

2. Take the time to cook more meals at home. I rarely eat out during the week, but that’s not to say that I enjoy home-cooked meals. Usually, it’s a bowl of oatmeal for lunch and a bowl of (canned) soup for dinner. Cooking for one isn’t always easy, but clearly, I have no problem eating the same thing for a few days (or a few weeks). Thanks to Peanut Butter Fingers (one of my favorite blogs – highly addictive), I’ve started to cook simple meals for myself based on things that I usually have in my kitchen. As a further motivator, I asked for a new cookbook for my birthday. Time to kick it up a notch in the new year!

hint, hint mama!

3. Enjoy every moment. I know it sounds cheesy, but I sometimes get so wrapped up in the craziness of every day that I forget to enjoy myself. I’m so thankful for every part of my life, and I want to take the time to soak it all up over the next 12 months.  In order to do that, I need to slow down a bit and embrace the sweetness of doing nothing (il dolce far niente, hence the blog title).

To get the year started off right, I’m spending the first two weeks of January with the sweetest boy I know. Yes, we’ll be doing lots of somethings (traveling, skiing, cheering for the Sooners – just to name a few), but I also hope that we take plenty of time to be together and do nothing.

spending new year's eve in our spot: telluride

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

26 Dec

The first fall of snow is not only an event; it is a magical event.  You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found? – J.B. Priestley

Growing up in Georgia, I never experienced a real winter until I attended college in Nashville. Even then, I had no idea that I would someday endure months of cold and snow in Chicago and New York City, making Nashville’s winter seem mild. For me, winter was spending a few days in Ohio each Christmas. We also vacationed in Utah for a week or so each January. In both instances, we would bundle up, brave the chilliness and then return to home to our winter of weather in the 40s and 50s.

all bundled up with snowballs to throw!

That’s not to say that I haven’t always loved buying winter clothes – and I certainly stocked up during my time spent in the endless snow globe that is the Windy City. There’s nothing like wrapping a chunky knit sweater around you (like this See by Chloe V Back Striped Sweater) and cozying up by the fire, good book  and glass of wine in hand.  This season, my favorite options for keeping warm are Fair Isle sweaters, which Kate Hudson models below (source). I already have one picked out to keep me warm during our New Year’s weekend in Telluride.

Of course, as a southern girl who is not necessarily accustomed to chilly days, my go-to solution for dressing in the wintertime is layering.  Yesterday, for instance, I wore a sweater dress and leggings with an open cardigan from J. Crew and Ugg boots.  Before I ventured outside, I threw on my new favorite coat and a scarf. My layering proved well worth it: Santa delivered a white Christmas in Georgia!

love this watermelon and camel sweater, courtesy of shopbop.com

layers, layers, layers!

you can't help but stay warm in a fair isle sweater

My ability to dress cold temperatures will surely be put to the test when I spend the next two weeks in Colorado. As if packing for the week of Christmas (including our annual trip to Ohio) wasn’t enough, I also had to throw in enough clothes to keep me warm until mid-January. Here’s to chunky knits, Fair Isle sweaters and lots of layers!

What Christmas Means to Me

25 Dec

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. – Charles Dickens

For me, Christmas is always a time spent with family. Because most of my relatives live in Ohio, I often wake to a winter wonderland on Christmas day (lucky girl, huh?). If there is enough snow, we bundle up to go sledding (dogs included) and then head back to enjoy my aunt’s wonderful cooking, open gifts and watch Christmas movies. Our holiday staples are Babes in Toyland, Miracle on 34th Street (both versions), It’s a Wonderful Life (Mom’s favorite) and Four Christmases (my favorite part of watching this movie is hearing how loudly Dad laughs). Throughout the day, we inevitably munch on too many Christmas cookies. As nighttime rolls around, the cocktails start flowing – I can never get enough egg nog and consider this holiday as my only excuse to overindulge.

“If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt.” – Miracle on 34th Street

Colin's little smile just makes me melt!

Because of our travel schedule, Santa Claus rarely delivered our presents on Christmas morning. Not surprisingly, he always knew when we’d get home and never failed to have our gifts waiting. On the night that Santa stopped at the Baker household (whatever night that it may be), my brother and I would head to bed early. Daddy would stay up until 3 a.m., playing elf for Santa, and then Colin and I would be ready to celebrate just a few hours later. We’d wait patiently at the top of our stairs until Dad was ready with the video camera, and then we’d hurriedly race down to see what goodies waited for us beneath our tree.

Every so often (like this year), we spend the holidays at home and make the trek to Ohio a bit belatedly.  We listen to Christmas music for days on end, attend holiday parties with friends and finish up any last-minute gift-wrapping. And every once in a while, we’re blessed with a snowy Christmas in Georgia. Fingers crossed that the weatherman’s predictions are correct today!

our very own winter wonderland

So yes, this holiday is about family and friends, movies and music, parties and presents.  Mostly, though, Christmas is about faith. Wherever we are during the holidays, we always attend the Christmas Eve church service. Singing “Silent Night” with only votive candles lighting the sanctuary never fails to remind me of the reason for the season.  So many years ago, Mary and Joseph spent that first Christmas day with a baby who was sent to save the world. I’m thankful that we’ve gotten to spend Christmas with Him every year since.

Merry Christmas to all!

‘Tis the Season…to Bake

21 Dec

C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me. – Cookie Monster, Sesame Street

Always a curious child, I would often pull my stool into the kitchen to see what my mama was doing. After years of watching her cook a healthy dinner (one that inevitably included chicken – my brother and I didn’t know that meals without chicken even existed until we were much older) or bake a delicious dessert, I developed an affinity for the kitchen. That’s not to say that I’m necessarily good at cooking or baking, but I certainly enjoy it.

always wanted to be just like my mama

Of the two activities, baking is unequivocally my favorite. I blame my insatiable sweet teeth for this strong liking. Around the holidays, it seems to be particularly unquenchable, and I often end up consuming sweets as one of my meals (for instance, peanut butter fudge was my lunch on Sunday).

Thus, my contribution to our Christmas meal is usually the dessert. This year, I found a scrumptious-looking recipe for Brownie Cheesecake Peppermint Bars. Rather than struggle with the choice of cookies or brownies, cheesecake or peppermint, this sweet treat covers it all. I altered the recipe a bit and tried to lighten up the damage done to one’s diet (I am my mother’s daughter, after all). All the details are below – the original recipe (also found here) as well as my substitutions. Here’s to hoping my family enjoys this gooey goodness!

Ingredients

1 tube of refrigerated cookie dough

1 box of brownie mix

2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese (substitute: fat free cream cheese)

2.5 cups of white chocolate chips (note that this amount requires two bags of chips)

2 teaspoons of pure peppermint extract, divided

4 candy canes, crushed

Directions

  1. Make the brownie batter according to package directions (substitute: original apple sauce for the vegetable oil, egg whites for the eggs). Add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Bake accordingly, and set aside to cool.
  2. Spray a 9” by 13” rectangular pan with non-stick cooking spray, and spread cookie dough along the bottom in an even layer (I found it easiest to use my fingers rather than a knife or rolling pin). Bake accordingly (until edges are golden brown), and set aside to cool.
  3. Once the brownies have cooled, remove and discard any hard edges. Scrape the rest of the brownies into a large bowl, and combine with the cream cheese to create a thick mixture. Stir together until it is generally uniform in color. Scoop this mixture onto the baked cookie dough, and smooth into an even layer.
  4. Melt the white chocolate chips on the stove. Add in 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Spread the melted chocolate over the cookie-brownie mixture.
  5. While the chocolate is still hot, crush up your candy canes, and sprinkle over your dessert. Once the chocolate has hardened, cut into the bars, and ENJOY!

all the yummy parts

voila! the finished product

Happy holidays!

Ahoy Mate!

18 Dec

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. – Jacques Yves Cousteau

The wet weather from earlier this week is long gone, but I’m still dressing like I belong on a boat. Not that I need a few rainy days as an excuse; being a long time beach-worshipper, I love the nautical trend more than your average girl. I often have to stop myself from buying another striped top, and navy blue is by far my favorite neutral. I also love bows, which bring to mind a prettified and less functioning sailor’s knot. My recently-purchased Sydney Striped Dress from French Connection covers all three of these requirements, and I cannot wait for my first opportunity to wear it.

Veering away from the traditional navy blue and striped look, sometimes a bright pattern is enough to evoke that beachy feeling. I even named my dog Milly after designer Michelle Smith’s line of feminine prints and popping colors, perfect for a day spent relaxing by the water. Her dresses instantly transport me to some beach, somewhere.

Milly (the dog) loves my stripes.

Milly (the designer) offers the perfect print for a spring day.

As always, accessories play a big role in nautical-themed ensembles. First, there are shoes. If you’re going for a comfortable and casual look, your best bet is a pair of Sperry Top-Sider Boat Shoes. I own four pairs (with the most recent pair being bought at a bait shop – thanks, Dad), and I’m already eyeing a new pair for next spring.  However, if you want to sass it up a bit, red shoes are the perfect accent for an outfit otherwise anchored in navy blue. While I’m still in the market for the perfect pair of red pumps (suggestions welcome!), I practically live in my Tory Burch red quilted flats.

Handbags have also jumped on board with the out-to-sea trend.  This Diane von Furstenberg Striped Sara Tote is begging me to fill her up with a beach towel and some fashion magazines. For something a bit subtler and more appropriate for everyday, I like Rebecca Minkoff’s Teal Alligator Morning After Bag. The sea foam green pairs nicely with navy blue and adds a bit of spunk to your outfit.

couldn't have said it better myself

Even during the months of sweater weather and dreary days, my closet offers me the perfect escape, with my nautical pieces reminding me of sunny skies, the smell of sunscreen and sand between my toes.

Dancing in the Rain

17 Dec

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. – Langston Hughes

When I moved to Tennessee this past summer, little did I know that it is the sixth rainiest state in the country, receiving an average annual rainfall of 54 inches (source). The city of Nashville is close behind this number, receiving an average of 48 inches per year. There’s something especially gloomy about a Nashville rain: contrary to the popular saying, when it rains here, it doesn’t pour – it just constantly drizzles for days and days. Take the past two days, for instance; I don’t think there was one bit of sunshine to be seen.

Surprising to no one I’m sure, my favorite part of a rainy day is the fashion that makes for a weather-resistant ensemble. An umbrella is one of the few accessories that doesn’t have to match to enhance your overall look; I tend to go for the wildest and craziest print that I can find. (I also tend to break umbrellas quite easily, so I may not be the best person to offer purchasing advice.)  Along with an umbrella, you’ll need a rain jacket or trench coat. I have a North Face rain jacket for when I’m feeling sporty, a khaki Banana Republic trench coat for when I need to look like a grown-up (similar to this one) and a navy blue Juicy Couture trench coat (complete with ruffles and yellow polka dot lining) for when I’m feeling girly.

Of course, we cannot forget the proper footwear. To ensure that I have rain boots to match any and every outfit in my closet, I own three pairs (I told you that I loved shoes). I received my first pair as a Christmas gift quite a few years ago.  They are brown Sperry Pelican Wedge Sadie Tall Rubber Boots, complete with a lovely bow in front and a two-inch wedge heel, perfect for a day when I need a little lift.

My second pair of rain boots was my first big purchase after securing a job in the real world. To help me survive the rainy spring days and snowy winter nights of Chicago, I ventured downtown and bought a pair of Burberry Check Rainboots (and so began my love affair with Michigan Avenue). I more than got my money’s worth during the year that I lived in the Windy City – and they have since kept my feet dry in New York City and Nashville as well.

Undoubtedly, my favorite wellies are bright turquoise Original Hunter Boots that I purchased in the spring (mine are from Bloomingdale’s). This pair is the perfect accessory for a rainy day, instantly brightening any dreary outfit or stormy mood. They never fail to add an extra skip to my step and serve as excellent puddle-jumping boots.

We all have rainy days – and sometimes, the weather outside fails to reflect our turmoil inside. Still, with every rainy day (both literally and metaphorically) comes an opportunity for a lesson learned, one that is best summed up in a quote by Vivian Greene: “Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  So next time it starts pouring down, put on those wellies and go splash around until that bad mood washes away!

my favorite wellies

happy girls, dancing in the rain at a lady antebellum concert

For Love of the Mall

16 Dec

I don’t shop because I need something; I just shop for shopping’s sake. – Cat Deeley

I have three vices: coffee in the morning, wine at night…and shopping anytime. Online shopping comes with nearly instant gratification (give or take the three to five shipping days), and all it takes is a simple click of the mouse. The incessant e-mails from Gilt Groupe, J. Crew and my personal favorite, Shopbop (all of which I enthusiastically requested when signing up for their alerts) serve as reminders that consumers like me are meant to take advantage of such fantastic sales. And with free shipping, generous coupon codes, and no tax, who can resist? But even the thrills of these Internet stores cannot fulfill a girl’s need to hear the rustling of price tags, to feel the luxurious cashmere of that perfect cardigan, to smell the freshly-unpacked box of a designer’s spring line.

Living a mere two miles away from a mall in Nashville, I can get my mall fix as often as I’d like. Perpetual traffic means that this short trip usually takes at least 15 minutes, but it’s always well worth the wait. Being in the midst of the Christmas season, I find myself making the drive more and more often (today, in fact). This proximity is something that I appreciate more so after living in the mall-less cities of Chicago and New York City. Don’t get me wrong, both of these cities offer excellent shopping options (Michigan Avenue and Madison Avenue, respectively), but neither one included the loveliness of a mall. All that goodness enclosed under one roof? It’s truly my heaven on Earth.

For me, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza will forever be the Mecca of all malls.  I still venture there whenever I can, usually when I’m home for the holidays (next week!). Mom and I always get an early start, doing our best to beat the Atlanta traffic. After a few hours of window browsing at Lenox (which inevitably leads to bags and bags of purchases), we usually stop for a quick bite to eat before venturing over to Phipps. With stores like Tory Burch (always my first stop), Saks Fifth Avenue and Theory, it’d be quite easy to spend an entire day in this building alone, but we do our best to head back before sunset.

I usually shy away from crowds, but there’s something comforting about the hustle and bustle of a mall. Ignoring the few rushed shoppers or angry customers, it’s a place generally filled with happy people. These happy people would most likely agree that shopping is a wonderful way to reward yourself after a rough day, buy a surprise for a loved one or simply pass the time.

what a lovely view!

Tiffany & Co.'s shopping bag is so iconic that this color has been dubbed "Tiffany blue."