Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorites of 2011

("Tinsel" Happy New Year made using Pugly Pixel's Photoshop tinsel brush)
Greetings from Sedona Arizona friends!  We're currently on a road trip visiting the Grand Canyon, Sedona and finishing off in Scottsdale.  As a parent you sometimes think these trips you take are for the kids; to give them new experiences, open up their eyes to sights they've never seen.  But after visiting the Grand Canyon I can tell you with 100% certainty that trips like these are for us adults.  As I viewed the Grand Canyon at sunset for the first time in 17 years, tears filled my eyes and I knew that I never ever appreciated the beauty of it when I was a teenager like I did that night.  We've taken over 500 pictures in just 2 days but I don't think any of them will give me that same feeling I had seeing it again in person the other night. 

So while we're road tripping I thought I'd take a look back on the last year of the blog and share some of my favorite posts of 2011.  I feel like I came a long way this year in my blog; starting a whole DIY and Recipes section, opening up a lot more about myself, improving my photography skills, and overall just having more fun.  There were times when I was definitely discouraged about the growth of the blog, but even when I was discouraged I continued to write and post, which tells me that I'm blogging for the right reasons, because I love it.  So here we go...

Favorite Recipe Post: Grandma Tita's Spanish Rice.  While this wasn't the most popular recipe post or the best photographed (my GAWD look at how orange the rice came out!), it was my favorite because of the story I wrote with it.  This post in a way embodies some of my most fond and most awkward memories of childhood; love of family and childhood insecurity.  We ate Mexican food last night here in Sedona and Art said to me "they've got nothing on your Spanish rice."  While this rice may not look 100% appetizing, trust me it is soo good.  Try it in 2012!

Post I'm Most Proud of Writing: Letting Go of Looking Good.  In 2010 I had briefly mentioned the death of my eldest brother in a post, but it was so brief you could have missed it.  In this post I finally opened up a bit about losing my brother, and walked that fine line a lot of bloggers struggle with; over-sharing.  Later as I was writing my life list I also touched on the subject in this post.  

Favorite Style Post: Dressing For You.  I love this post not so much because of the outfit but because it had a purpose other than just to show off a cute look.  In 2011 I'd like to try and do most of my outfit posts in this way; describe why I put the look together, the thought process and even tell a story.

Favorite DIY Post: Seed Bead Necklace.  My favorite and according to Pinterest, yours too!

Favorite Family Post: Kids In the City, recapping our very first NYC trip with the kids. 

Favorite Kid's Craft: Growing Your Own Grass Eggs which were later turned into grass egg centerpieces for Easter dinner.

Thanks so much guys for a great year and for all the support, encouragement and inspiration via emails, comments, Pins and your own personal blogs.  I love the community of blogging, and look forward to a wonderful 2012 with you all!

Lots and lots of love,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Seasonal Cocktail - Clementine Margaritas

This time of year it seems I've always got clementines coming out the wazoo.  Between neighbors, CSA boxes and usual trips to the grocery store where the kids always beg for the 5 lb bag I have enough clementines to stave off scurvy for a ship full of sailors for a year.  We hosted a pre-Christmas bash last week and I put those cuties to good use, making these simple clementine margaritas for the adults. 

Apologies for the hastiness of the shots; it was 2 pm and my parents were about to come over.  I didn't want to have to explain why I was making margaritas in the middle of the afternoon.  "Why are you drinking margaritas at 2 o'clock in the afternoon Andrea?  That's not a good example for the kids.  Wait, you aren't going to drink that?  Give me that then, you can't waste good tequila!"  So here goes, all you'll need are 4 ingredients:
Start by salting your rim if you are so inclined and pour in some ice, then add in a nice shot of tequila.
Now start juicing your clementines.  For one beverage you'll need about 3, so if you're making them for a large group, I suggest getting at least a 5 lb bag and using a juicer to help the process along.
 Once you're satisfied with your juice level, add in a splash of agave and a splash of tonic water
 Give it a good stir and taste!
Garnish with a clementine twist and/or a wedge and enjoy!  This would make a great cocktail for a small New Year's Eve celebration at home with a few friends.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sequins - 1 Style 9 Ways

Hi everyone and welcome back to semi-reality.  How were your holidays?  I hope they were wonderful.  We had a great Christmas, but I am admittedly still recovering from 4 days in a row of celebrations.  By 8pm on Christmas Day I was getting into pajamas while we still had a house full of guests.  Some days I have no shame.  I don't really have any Christmas pictures to share, as we got caught up with taking lots of video footage and forgot to also take the usual 500 pictures, but either way we have some great memories captured on camera.  So instead of the obligatory Christmas post, I thought I'd fast forward and move onto a style post giving you some ideas on how you can get extended wear out of sequins throughout the year.     
There's a pretty good chance that many of you picked up something with sparkle over the holidays, either a skirt or a top, but some of you may be wondering just what to do with it after the Christmas and New Years Eve are over.  I decided to flex my styling muscles a bit and see just how far I could take my own sequins top from The Loft, and I was able to rework it 9 different ways, all with items I already had in my closet.  So if you're looking for some inspiration to get some longevity out of your sparkly something, here are a few ideas. 
{look 1: Cafe capri - J. Crew; flats - Prada; pearls - estate sale find}
This first look is probably my favorite.  Simple, yet still sophisticated, I could see myself wearing this out to lunch with a friend, something I've been trying to make more of an effort to do. 
 {look 2: skirt - Gap; flats - Gap with added studs by me; belt - St. John; necklace - Carole Lee}
I wore this exact same outfit to Christmas Eve service at church, and then to our family celebration.  I felt pulled together and festive without feeling too glitzy. 
{look 3: jeans - Gap; blouse - James Perse; Hunter Wellies - estate sale find; necklace - H&M}
To be honest I don't know how often I'd see myself wearing this outfit, but I love it just for fun.  Just where could I wear this to?  Any ideas?  
{look 4: pants - Forever 21; smoking flats - Ralph Lauren estate sale find}
This is my second favorite look and would be perfect for just having friends over at home.  The navy pants and smoking flats make it a little less formal and heavy looking and would work great going into spring.
{look 5: jeans - Gap; heels - Chloe}
This is my husband's favorite look.  It's fun and flirty and would be perfect if I were a bit younger and going to a bar perhaps?  But since I don't often frequent bars, I'll leave this look for you younger gals ;)

{look 6: blazer - Nordstrom; jeans - Ann Taylor Loft; booties - Target}
You might recognize this look from the Camp Mighty team dinner.  I still love the simple all-black look and the casual spin I put on it. 

And since Christmas and New Year's Eve aren't the only holidays to celebrate all year long, here are a couple of more ideas for an evening party. 
{look 7: silk blouse - J.Crew; pencil skirt - St. John; suede pumps - Banana Republic}
This is the perfect throw together outfit for all you ladies working in an office.  Simple pencil skirt and blouse by day, and for an after-work cocktail event, just layer on some sparkle.
{look 8: skirt - Ann Taylor Loft; booties - Stuart Weitzman}
For those of you that have been reading for the last year, you might remember this outfit from our 2011 New Year's Eve celebration.  Still a classic a year later.  Can't go wrong with gold and sparkle.
{look 9: skirt - Zara; booties - Stuart Weitzman}
This final look was the castaway outfit from the Camp Mighty party, but I still love it.  For the right occasion such as a cocktail party with close friends I would still wear it. 

I hope you enjoyed this little styling session and please let me know if you have any other ideas, or better yet, links to your holiday outfits. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Hi everyone.  Just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  As we recover from a late night and an early morning of fun, I was thinking a bit about my childhood Christmases.  I have to say that my mom did a dang good job of always making Christmas as magical as possible for us, amidst everything that was going on.  My happiest memories of childhood always center around Christmas time.  Maybe it was because it was the time of year when everything did seem to be perfect.  Extended family got together, Grandma made biscochitos and through lots of lay away and penny pinching, Santa was always able to somehow get us what was on our list.  Christmas time was so happy in fact, that I would feel a deep sense of longing for weeks, usually until Valentine's Day.  I distinctly recall as a kid coming across an old Christmas issue of Woman's Day in a doctor's office in January.  I saw the cover, filled with Christmas cheer and was so sad it brought me to tears knowing that I'd have to wait another 11 months to see twinkly lights and big red bows. 

Now as I look at my kids, with their childhood so different than my own, I wonder if their memories of Christmas time will be as sweet.  Year round their little lives are filled with so much fun and activity, will Christmas memories be so sharp in comparison to their everyday?  I hope so, I really, really do.  Either way, I'm so thankful and happy to have my little family, with these 2 special kids to dote on and spoil just a bit.

Merry Christmas friends.  I am so thankful for you all that do read and have become a special part of my life this year.  It's been quite fun and I can't wait to share every more in 2012.  I wish you all a warm and magical rest of the day. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Playgrounds & Lollipops - In the Pink

 {blouse - james perse; blazer - nordstrom; skirt - gap; belt - st. john; shoes - diy by me}
I absolutely fell in love with this skirt at the gap the other day (scored it for $23), but I think it needs some tweaking.  I plan to let out the hem a bit so it's longer, and I think I'll try it with a more form fitting top next time.  I got dressed in a rush this morning and now that I look at the pictures, it's all a bit too loose for me.  I'm imagining a tight black turtleneck for the rest of winter, and in summer, a tight white tank with black sandals would be a fantastic look.

Tomorrow is our annual baking extravaganza day, and then Thursday we're hosting 7 families for a new tradition we started last year; Christmas sing along night.  Art will play Christmas carols on the sax and/or piano and we all sing along.  Our version of small town caroling I guess.  Looking forward to a great rest of the week.  What all do you guys have planned for the next few days leading up to Christmas?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Daily Buzz Style 9x9 Challenge - DIY Studded Ballet Flats

Studded ballet flats are all over the place and I absolutely love the look of the the edgy studs mixed with the sweetness of the ballet flat.  I found these pyramid studs a while back at Michael Levine for the very affordable price of about $2.50 a package.  I picked up a few different finishes and sizes and took them home with me, knowing I'd soon find a use for them.  Inspiration came when the weather turned and I transitioned from flip flops to my super comfy and super soft Gap City Flats.  I had a feeling the pyramid studs would look great on a pair. So if you'd like to make a pair for yourself, here's what you'll need:
If you'll notice, the pyramid studs have sharp prongs on the back - these are perfect for poking through the leather.  If you can't find them locally, I did a google search and found hundreds of suppliers of all shapes and sizes of studs.  This site, albeit kinda scary goth looking, seems to have a wide selection at great prices.  The sizes of my studs btw were about 5/8" and 3/8".
I experimented on an old pair of Gap City Flats first just to make sure the studs would poke through and would not also poke me.  Simply poke the stud through the leather.
 You'll see the prongs come through the back side.
Now use your pliers to firmly push them all the way down - you don't want anything poking you.  Repeat in whatever pattern you wish, adding as many or as little as you'd like.  Keep in mind that with the city flats they are all squished up and so you're going to want to stretch the shoe out as you go so you make sure you get your spacing right.
Try them on for size and to make sure they feel good.  Yup, they feel nice - SUCCESS!
So now I'm going to try attaching the studs to this black suede pair of flats, also from the Gap.  I got these for less than $24 the other day.  What is it with the Gap lately anyhow?  Every time I go in there they're doing some super duper promotion where the entire store's like 99% off.  If you ask me they're conditioning us to never pay full price again.  We'll walk in tomorrow expecting to get a $69 pair of jeans for $5 and when they say no, sorry, we won't even know what to do.  Anyhow....back to the shoes.  Sorry.
So the thicker suede proved to be a little tougher to poke through, especially for the smaller gold studs I used in this pattern, so I enlisted the help of a leather needle I had on hand from this project.  I created a tiny hole for the prong to poke through first.  Now I'm all about using what you've got when it comes to DIY'ing, which is why I used the leather needle.  I'm sure a leather punch would have been much better suited to the job, but I have no use for a leather punch in the foreseeable future, so leather needle it is.
Now often times the studs didn't poke all the way through this thicker suede, which ended up being fine.  At first I was stressing about trying to get them to poke through and my fingers really started to hurt.  Then I realized by chance that if I just got through the first layer of the suede, then crimp them down, they secured themselves just fine.  
I created a simple pattern of varying sizes and a matte and shiny gold finish.  And I absolutely love how they came out!  The gold against the black suede is fantastic and really stands out without looking gaudy or flashy.  
I swear they look even better on.  It got too late and too dark for me to get a picture wearing them today, but first thing tomorrow I'm taking a picture and I'll post it here.

I was very excited to be chosen to participate in the Daily Buzz's 9x9 Style Challenge for December.  My challenge was to create a DIY gift and while I can think of many ladies in my life that would enjoy these, I kinda think I'm going to keep these for myself ;)
also linking up with Today's Creative Blog

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lost and Found - Songs of the Season

{what a magical scene - source}
Yesterday I lost my wallet somewhere between Hot Dog On a Stick and Aaron Brothers.  My husband bought it for me 5 years ago this Christmas and I discovered it was gone when I went to buy tickets for us to see A Christmas Story at our old local theater.  While Art and the kids went inside to watch the movie, I was stuck in the bathroom calling each place I had visited, to no avail.  No one had found the wallet.  I then started the tedious task of cancelling all our credit cards. 

Three hours later I retraced my steps and went to Aaron Bros, even though they had already told me they didn't have it. I walked in and the manager saw me and said "Hey you left your wallet!" I screamed,cried, and ran around the counter and hugged her I was so happy at the very unexpected news (I probably have problems respecting people's boundaries but she didn't seem to mind). So thankful for small miracles, we went out and celebrated.

On the way home we drove through the neighborhood listening to Christmas songs on Kost 103.5 and looked at Christmas lights.  Harry Connicks' version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came on and we loudly sang in the car.  The lost wallet incident reminded me to celebrate the little things, be thankful for everything, and appreciate all this season has to offer, especially 30 days of Christmas songs on the Kost.

I know some grow tired of Christmas songs by December 1st but I am a complete sucker for Christmas songs, and I keep a stack of our favorite CD's readily available to play in the house and the radio doesn't leave Kost from December 1st till January 1st.  I thought I'd share my top 10 (okay maybe top 15 because 10 is really hard to choose) Christmas songs of all time, and would love to hear some of your favorites.  With thousands of songs out there, and hundreds of different versions of some favorites, it's always fun to discover a new gem.  So please share in the comments!  So here goes...

15. Winter Wonderland - Lena Horne's version 
14. Little Drummer Boy - Bob Seger's version
13. This Christmas - Donny Hathaway
12. Jingle Bells - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' version
11. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee's version
10. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - Harry Connick Jr's version
9. Winter Wonderland - Eurythmics
8. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
7. Last Christmas - Wham, but Taylor Swift's version is a good rival to the original
6. O' Holy Night - Bing Crosby
5. Silent Night - Frank Sinatra
4. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole's version
3. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
2. Baby It's Cold Outside - Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone
1. Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid

I know this song may be a bit of an unconventional choice, especially for #1, but this song above all others still gives me chills every single time I listen to it. I think it has a lot to do with strong, vivid memories of hearing this song over and over again while growing up, and the fact that it had almost all of the top British icons singing in it at the time.  George Michael, Sting, Boy George, Phil Collins on the drums.  The only thing that could make this song better is if it had Morrissey in it.  One other note, four of my favorite songs all came from this Old Navy CD I bought in store years ago.  A completely random purchase but a good one and we've listened to this CD at least a hundred times over the years.  It's still available, so maybe give it a try!

Well it's the week of Christmas and I hope you are all not stressing too much and are enjoying this very special season.  My shopping is done so it's time to really sit back and relax a bit this week.  I'm looking forward to it!  Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gifts and Beeswax

As of today Syd is officially on vacation, whereas Taylor's been off for two whole weeks already.  To be honest I'm a little scared of what the next two weeks will hold for us.  They say (who is the ever elusive "they" by the way?) that girls are easier than boys when they are younger, and boys are easier than girls when they are older and at this point I'm just praying that "they" are right.  Syd is a bundle of emotions and always has been since the day he was born.  Moody, dramatic, intense and full of passion, no one has ever been able to push my buttons like he does.
 The last few weeks he's really been skating on thin ice and our relationship has been up and down.  Taylor and I spent a lovely morning alone today and within 2 minutes of picking up Syd from his last day of school, drama ensued.  Something about a punching balloon and a Frisbee he brought home for dad, I'm still not really sure.  Ten minutes later he was flailing himself on the ground in the middle of BofA because he wanted the lollipop his sister got.  Bad parenting?  Almost 7 years into this parenting gig I'm wise enough now to know that it's not the case.  Each kid is different, they all have their strengths and different personality traits and I'm just trying my best to figure out how to ride this wild wave with Syd.
Some days I do a really good job at staying calm and keeping him busy and thus, our family stress free.  Other days not so much, and I admittedly do a real shitty job.  Some days are a combination of both, like Wednesday where we spent the afternoon making the rest of our teacher gifts for his preschool teachers and speech therapist.  Overall a very nice day, although a little chaotic when 7 kids and burning candle wax are involved.  He shyly gave each teacher their homemade present today, along with a little glittered poinsettia plant from Trader Joe's, which are quite cute by the way.  He begrudgingly accepted hugs from each of his teachers and then ran to circle time to play with the Lego's in order to escape all the mushy gushy lovey dovey stuff.  I shook my head at him, but of course knew I couldn't expect anything less of him.  After all he doesn't even really let me hug him.
Yup, it's been a rough few weeks, and even though I really don't 100% feel this way right now, still a little miffed from the BofA incident, I know that someday soon all this will pass and he'll be the one sweetly coming home from school to greet me and give me a peck on the cheek while his sister breezes in and barely acknowledges me with an eye roll before slamming her bedroom door.
And I know it's Christmas time and everything is supposed to be perfect and all, but just trying to keep it real ;)
By the way, if you're interested in making your own sweet beeswax candles for some gifts next week, they are really easy to make.  My friend Laura has been making them and selling them at local craft fairs for the last couple of months.  I purchased a few from her to begin with but we loved them so much we asked her to come over and teach us how to make them.  All you really need is some beeswax (we used all natural local beeswax from a supplier in Long Beach), a couple of silicone molds and wicking string.  The tree and pinecone is a mold that you just simply pour the wax into and let dry.  The sweet dinner candles are made by dipping the wicking string in wax over and over until nice and thick and the shape of a taper candle.  You can add decorative waxed punches in fun shapes and colors (this was the kids favorite part).  Laura is the absolute expert though and we loved spending the afternoon with her and her sweet girls.  She's the ultimate earth mama and is always a joy to be around.  Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions; I'll do my best to answer them :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


They say you're never supposed to start a blog post with an apology, but I feel I must apologize in advance for the photo heavy post.  Over 20 must be a record for me.  We had a truly amazing time in Napa, especially visiting it for the first time.  We were able to see the beauty of the region from a truly fresh set of eyes.  It's been almost three years since we took a vacation; one of the inconveniences of being your own boss, never being able to truly get away, but we settle for little trips here and there two to three times a year.  This trip to Napa was our 2nd mini trip of the year, and the first time just the two of us.  We were on a high of sorts and so took enough pictures to fill up a CF card.  We especially took a lot of pictures of just the two of us, something you seem to rarely do once you have children.  We must look like a couple of lovesick newlyweds.

Of course I'm no expert of the region, but we traveled with our good friends the Irelands, and it just so happens Sarah's sister lives in Napa and works for one of the wineries there.  Because of this we had a bit of an inside scoop on the restaurants to visit.  In addition, the whole purpose of the trip was to take the private wine tour of Matthiasson Vineyards that we won at Taylor's school auction earlier in the year.  The winemaker Steve has lived in the region for years and has consulted for some great wineries in Napa.  He was kind enough to call ahead and set up some pretty incredible tastings for us with some of his clients.  I'll list the wineries and restaurants we visited at the very end in case you're interested.  For first time visitors the places we went were a good mix of off the beaten path wineries as well as must-see tourist spots.  So now for some photos...  

Rombauer - ask for Patrick   
The Cakebread grounds were impressive and beautiful
 Steve from Matthiason using the wine thief - a great guy and even better wine 
(the only wine club we joined while there)
Steve set us up with a great tasting at Paraduxx; their grounds were perfect.  
Hidden away off the major road, we couldn't have asked for prettier scenery
 Jessup Cellars was the only tasting room we actually visited and had a great experience.  
One of the only tasting rooms I've ever been to where they actually serve crackers and cheese.
Wineries we visited:
Stag's Leap - a sad start to our trip, the men in the tasting room were not friendly at all and poured all our tastings at once and then walked away.  I would not recommend stopping here, even though their wine is a favorite of mine.

Rombauer - great atmosphere and vibe in their tasting room and our pourer Patrick was the epitome of what you'd expect; funny, helpful, talkative and engaging.  Of course their wine ain't half bad either, we've long been a fan of their Zinfandel and was excited to try their infamous Chardonnay, otherwise known as Danville crack or Cougar Juice.

Cakebread - a very impressive, extensive tour accompanies your tasting and we had a few wine snobs in our group but we had fun anyhow.  By appointment only. 

Matthiasson - a small boutique type winery but family owned and operated and I can vouch for the owner and winemaker Steve as a stand up guy.  Their White Wine was recently voted in the Top 100 wines of 2011.  We joined their wine club and I can't wait to get our first shipment.

Paraduxx - beautiful scenery and great wine.  Go there!

Jessup Cellars - fun setting in an art gallery, the gals that work there are fun and knowledgeable.

Where We Ate (coincidentally 3/4 places we ate were in Yountville):
Bottega - Michael Chiarello's restaurant, the decor, vibe and food was outstanding.  We all had a great meal

Ad HocFor those that know anything about this place, we happened to be visiting on Fried Chicken night.  Oh YES!  It was incredible, everything ever one we talked to raved about and more.  If you're not familiar with this place, they serve a single family style dish each night, so if you don't like friend chicken on Monday nights, you ain't getting anything else! 

Market -  A wonderful stop in the really quaint town of St. Helena, the best dish of the day were the huevos rancheros Aaron ordered.

Bouchon - Steve brought us in sandwiches and salads from Bouchon, as well as killer brownie bites.  A perfect lunch.

*we all agreed that we didn't make a single bad choice for our meals.  We were so glad to have planned these all in advance so we weren't scrambling both nights at 7pm for a place to eat.  It definitely pays to plan ahead, a first for me.


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