Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Bounty

I hope everyone had as wonderful a Christmas as I did. After we woke up (around 11) we opened our gifts leisurely. It took over 2 hours, but I love just being together as a family and rejoicing in all the wonderful presents my loved ones received. I thought I'd gotten all my big presents before we went on  vacation, but my husband surprised me with one more gorgeous one - these earrings:

I had hinted broadly that I wanted them, but I never thought he would remember them, track them down, purchase them, and bring them to Hawaii. They are by far my favorite gift this year, although I received a bunch of other wonderful presents. After we ate our traditional Christmas breakfast (eggs in a nest, aka fried eggs in a "nest" of toast) we headed down to the beach to soak up the warmth.

We spent the afternoon lounging around and playing with our presents. Dinner was at a nearby hotel, since I couldn't exactly make a traditional Christmas dinner in our condo. One of the best Christmases ever!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Treasured Family Traditions

I love that Christmas still makes me feel (and sometimes act) like a kid. Tonight, my family and I indulged in all our old traditions....the ones that make me feel loved and safe and happy, no matter what our actual situation is.

So I made some favorite Christmas cookies with my mom, listened to some Christmas carols, had some 7-layer Jello (we've done this since 1987!) and watched Love Actually. And since we're on vacation and not at home, we decorated a teeny tiny Christmas tree.

Before I sign off for the weekend, I wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. Even though I love the secular trappings of Christmas as much as the next person, I also try to remember that at its heart, Christmas is about God's love for us. Have a wonderful weekend and see you next week!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What I Read Last Week...{12.22}

This post might more aptly be called "What I Read Yesterday On the Plane"  My flight wasn't too long, but long enough to read almost an entire book. And what a great book it was! Like an early Christmas present.

The Winter Sea by Susana Kearsley

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.
Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.
But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...

 My Take: This book was fantastic in every way. The writing was excellent, the characters were multi-dimensional, and the subject matter was fascinating. The story deals with the idea that memories can be inherited, just as other physical traits can. This was a beautiful, haunting, memorable book.

My Recommendation: Read it! I'm very confident that you won't be sorry! A friend suggested that I read this book, and I in turn have already suggested it to several other people. So pass it on!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Packing It Up

I've been super busy the past couple of days with packing for my trip, wrapping presents, and dealing with a couple of work emergencies. Thanks to my mild OCD, packing is something that I love to do, and do pretty well. I've mentioned before that I am a very organized person, and that definitely helps when it comes to packing.

You know what else helps? Pretty much everything at Flight 001. My brother used to live down the street from this awesome store in San Francisco. It's a store basically dedicated to products for the traveler. They have luggage, bottles, pouches, passport covers, universal adapters, and all sorts of fun travel accessories.

Slim Sonic Toothbrush

Universal Adapter Pink

Baggu Zip Set Med Stripes

Mani-Pedimergency Kit

Crumpled City Map Barcelona

Head to Toe Kit

Great stuff, right?

My flight leaves on Wednesday at 6:15 AM. Ugh, which means the shuttle is arriving at my house at
4:00 AM. Sometimes I go to bed later than that. Anyways, I won't be around on Wednesday, but I'll be back on Thursday!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas, Mixed Family Style

This weekend was "Christmas Day" for my family because my stepson left to spend Christmas with his "real" mom on Saturday. Since he wouldn't be coming back until after the New Year, we allowed him to open his presents on Friday. I have to say, it's felt strange to open Christmas gifts on December 16th, but what could I do? I couldn't make him wait until after Christmas...that would have been torturous for him. After reading the Christmas story out of the Bible, we opened our gifts, with Christmas music playing in the background and a fire blazing in the fireplace.

My husband and I opened our gifts from J. This was the first year he spent his own money to buy gifts. It was so cute to see him making lists of who to buy for, and what to buy for them. Even the dog received something.

And I insisted that we start a new tradition of taking a family portrait in front of the fire.

I rather miss celebrating Christmas on a single day, December 25th. Christmas somehow doesn't seem as special when you celebrate it on 3 or 4 separate occasions. My husband and I are opening a couple of gifts from each other right before we leave for our vacation, and then we'll be opening a couple on Christmas Day with the rest of my family. I guess that's life in a mixed family, though.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Short Reprieve From Winter

In a few days, I'll be off to Hawaii to spend Christmas with my family. Most of my family, anyway. While I love cozy sweaters, scarves, and boots, I'm definitely a sunny-weather girl. I'm way happier when it's warm and humid than when it's cold and windy. Since I spent way too much on Christmas presents, I can't justify buying a whole new outfit to wear on the beach, but here's what I wish I was wearing =)

1 | Vix Swimwear | Solid Vintage Lace Cover Up
2 | American Apparel | Barcelona Sun Hat
3 | Etsy | Feather Earrings
4 | Mara Hoffman | Tiki Print Wire Bikini
5 | Target | Mandala Peacock Beach Towel
6 | Mar Y Sol | Wellfleet Bag
7 | Tory Burch | Tumbled Leather Thora Sandal
8 | Calypso St. Barth | Rhinestone Bracelet
9 | Penguin Classics | Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What I Read Last Week...{12.15}

I've had a little Christmas tradition for the last decade or so. I read Christmas themed books the entire month of December. I always read at least one story out of my beautifully hardbound copy of Charles Dickens' Christmas books. I got it as a Christmas present back in high school, and I've read it every year since. It's been quite a while, so that particular version is out of print now, but it's similar to this one. I read A Christmas Carol every year, and at least one more story. Last week, I read A Christmas Carol as well as The Cricket on the Hearth.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Cruel miser Ebeneezer Scrooge has never met a shilling he doesn't like. . .and hardly a man he does. And he hates Christmas most of all. When Scrooge is visited by his old partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns eternal lessons of charity, kindness, and goodwill.

My Take: I just love, love, love this story. It never fails to put in the Christmas mood. And it never fails to make me reconsider the whole consumerist attitude toward Christmas. At least for a day or so, I refocus on the true meaning of Christmas.

My Recommendation: If you've never actually read this story, I highly encourage you to do so. I know some people shy away from Dickens, having been forced to read A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations in high school. This is different! Trust me.

 The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens The story of John Peerybingle and his family who are visited by a guardian angel in the form of a cricket who is constantly chirping on their hearth.

My Take: This is a wonderful little novel very much in the same vein as A Christmas Carol. It's rather idealistic and highly moral, but I love it because of that. Some people would probably dislike the very Victorian concept of home and family, but that's what I like about it.

My Recommendation: If you've read A Christmas Carol and liked it, then I highly recommend The Cricket on the Hearth. It actually received better reviews than A Christmas Carol when it first came out in 1845.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Moving Forward

via Pinterest

 I didn't post yesterday because I was in a huge funk due to some really disheartening news that my husband and I received on Monday.  I've been crying and feeling sorry for myself all day, and I've had enough of it. I have a ton of blessings in my life, and I need to remember how fortunate I am, even if I have had a setback.

It's so easy to only cling to God when things are difficult. I'm guilty of that, but I'm determined to stop doing it. I read this in the Bible last night:

"Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God...
By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life. " (Psalm 42:5,8) 

Tomorrow, hopefully I'll be back to my normal self!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A New Car, and Worms

Yesterday, I went to a car dealership with my husband and my dad. My car has not been doing very well, and I was considering buying a new car instead of pouring a lot of money into repairing my old one. I did not think for a minute that I would walk out with a new car, but that's exactly what happened! My husband and my dad took care of the negotiations, and I got an amazing deal. Yippee!

Late last night, I decided to move one of my plants to another pot. My dad had given me a lucky bamboo years ago, and it was outgrowing its pot. It should have been pretty simple to move the plant, but it did not turn out that way. As soon as I had taken the plant out of the pot, I was assaulted by a stench that smelled like sulfur. I guess I had let the plant stay in the small pot too long, and some of the roots had started to decay. And smell. Really badly.

I managed to get the plant out, but I wanted to wash the pebbles because they were all slimy and nasty. As I was washing them, my hand touched something wriggly and slimy and moving. It turned out to be a worm...a big black disgusting worm. Which is particularly disturbing because the plant has always been indoors. But when I felt this slimy moving thing, I panicked, and kinda threw the worm and the pebbles I was holding into the sink.

After that, my husband took over the washing of the pebbles. He was smart and used a gas mask to protect his nose from the stink.

Unfortunately, some of pebbles actually went down the drain and the sink needs to be taken apart to retrieve all the pebbles so they don't damage the garbage disposal. Oops. Lucky for me, my husband knows a lot of construction and home repair, and can fix it himself. Yeah, I think I learned my lesson. Don't move a lucky bamboo to a different pot. Just buy a new bamboo.

Friday, December 9, 2011

That's a Wrap

There are so many things I love about Christmas...the smell of Christmas trees, singing Christmas carols, baking all sorts of sweet treats. But one of my very favorite things about the holidays is wrapping presents. To me, the wrapping is just as important as the present itself, so I'm always looking for inspiration. This year, thanks to Pinterest, I've found a slew of ideas to incorporate into my wrapping.

All images via Pinterest

I can't wait to start wrapping this weekend!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What I Read Last Week... {12.08} and Old Books

I just love old books. I love the weight of them, the feel of the paper, that slightly musty smell. One of my favorite bookstores in San Diego is D.G. Willis in La Jolla. Every time I come here, I find an out-of-print title I've been looking for, or a new author to love, or a first-edition in great condition. A couple of years ago, I found a first edition of a book by Harriet Beecher Stowe, complete with inscription and date. So that's how I came to read this book in the first place.

Poganuc People by Harriet Beecher Stowe

In her loosely based autobiographical work, Harriet Beecher Stowe depicts the life and times of a small Puritan town Poganuc, based on her childhood in Litchfield, Connecticut. It features colorful characters like Miss Dolly and Colonel Davenport, local politics, small town religiosity, and anecdotal recipes for life. 

My take: I should preface this by saying that I don't have the most conventional taste in books. In grad school, I did my thesis on New England regionalist literature of the 19th century. I've been told that "normal" people find this very boring, but I love it. Poganuc People is one example of this type of literature, so it's right up my alley. Literary value aside, it's a really sweet book. The characters are so loveable, and although it was written 100+ years ago, I think a lot of people would enjoy it today. 

My recommendation: If you have any inclination toward historical fiction, it is a must-read. If you only like to read contemporary literature, you probably wouldn't like this book very much. This book is out of print now, but I know you can read it online or download it for your Nook/Kindle/iPad/other device.

And as a side note, if you haven't read Uncle Tom's Cabin, (Harriet Beecher Stowe's most famous work) it is a really really really good book too. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yay! C. Wonder is online!

I've been waiting for C.Wonder's online shop to open, and it finally has! I am not disappointed. Here's a sample of the goodies I found there:

Bamboo Bangle
Wave Lacquer Tray
Stripey Crewneck Sweater
Heart Birds Mug
Ikat Pattern Notebook
Glitter Belt
Stripe Dog Leash
Dot Glass Votive

Every single thing there is adorable, and for the most part, very well-priced. I'm sure the online shop only represents a fraction of what is available in the real stores, but for those of us who live far away, it's the next best thing! I think my week is looking up!

Is It Seriously Only Wednesday??

I try not to complain very often because it doesn't usually help things. On occasion, however, there are times when a little ranting is justified.

I can say with utter confidence that these are two of the most stressful days ever.  It started on Monday with me running late and having to stand in a freaking long line at the lab to get some bloodwork done. {I had to wait 30 minutes for the honor of getting my blood drawn.} Because of that, I was late to work. I had a really nasty customer yell obscenities at me. {It took a lot of restraint not to yell them back.} Then I went to the doctor and got some bad news {It's complicated, but I'm not sick or anything.}

On Tuesday, my car wouldn't start. I had it towed and found out it would cost an arm and a leg to fix. {Christmas really isn't the best time for expensive repair work.} I went to work and had an employee flake out on her shift. {It was an emergency, but still.}  I got some more disappointing news. {Family stuff.} Then I picked up my car and found that on top of everything, I also need new tires. I was going to get a new car soon anyways. So instead of doing all these repairs, I might as well just get one sooner.  {Only since I don't know anything about cars or buying them, I have to rely on my dad and my husband to help me, and I hate relying on other people.} But I still need to drive for the next few days, so I had to pay some of the aforementioned arm and leg.

Plus there is the constant worry about my business, which relies on funding from the state of California. {Yeah, the really really really bankrupt one.} And of course Christmas and Christmas presents and Christmas present wrapping and packing for Christmas vacation. {And I'm a perfectionist, so it all has to be just right.} On top of it all, there's my son and his ability to drive me nuts even on a good day {let alone a bad one.}

And now....I'm going to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and do as the picture says. We'll see how long it lasts.

I hope you're having a better week than I am!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An Experiment In Cake

1 | 2 | 3

This past weekend, I conducted a cake experiment. See, I'm trying to figure out how to make this cake that is legendary in my family. It's a cake that my grandfather (who died before I was born) used to make. My dad and all his brothers and sisters have been trying to replicate this cake for 30 years now, to no avail. I have made it my mission to figure out this cake and make it for my dad as a Christmas present. This is not as easy as it might sound, for I have a number of challenges to overcome.

Challenge #1: Texture
My family has described this cake to me dozens of times, and I'm still not sure what it should be like. Part of the problem is almost all the descriptions have been in Chinese, and there are not always English equivalents. As best as I can figure, the cake part resembles a chiffon cake...super light and fluffy. The pudding part is tender...not liquidy, like most pudding cakes. I'm guessing the pudding is actually more of a custard, like picture 3 above, instead of 1 and 2.

Challenge #2: Flavor
I'm not sure how the original cake was flavored. My dad says it was like a yellow cake, and his sister says it was chocolate. But since I'm making this for my dad, I suppose I have to flavor it with vanilla. Problem is, most pudding cake recipes I've found are for lemon or chocolate flavors.

Challenge #3: Try and try again
My first attempt this weekend was a chocolate flavor, because I thought that would be harder to screw up. It was a mediocre success. But the flavor was off, the pudding was too runny, and the cake wasn't fluffy enough. I'll be trying again soon, though.

If anyone has any tips or ideas, please let me know!! I'm totally open to suggestions!

Monday, December 5, 2011

O Christmas Tree

This weekend was all about preparing for Christmas. Here's a quick rundown:

Friday: Lugged out all my Christmas decorations. Debated if I should go out to get more. Decided I had plenty and didn't need more. 10 minutes later, went out to buy more decorations. Put up my newly purchased decorations, plus all the old ones, while drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas music.

Saturday: Made my first batch of Christmas cookies of the year. Went out with the husband and the son to pick out a Christmas tree. Didn't really like the selection at the first place we went, so we went to another tree lot a few miles away. Liked the selection even less, so we went back to the first place. Paid way too much for a Christmas tree. Strung the tree with lights. Undid the lights and restrung them. And again. And again.

Sunday: Baked a pudding cake. (More on that tomorrow.) Worked on a scarf I'm knitting my grandma for Christmas. Spent way too much money shopping for gifts (thank goodness for online shopping!) Decided I needed new Christmas ornaments and bought some more. Put decorations on the tree while watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, Love Actually.

So all in all, it was a pretty great weekend. Things  are starting to get pretty crazy around here, and I'm guessing it's not stopping until after the New Year. I guess I need to take a deep breath and just dive in.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is This Really Strange? Just Checking.

When I was young, I always wanted to be tall. In middle school, I had a super-tall friend who literally rested her elbows on my head. At just a hair under 5'2", I'm definitely on the short side. It's not that short, but enough so that I can rarely reach the top shelf of anything, my 11-year-old son is almost as tall as me, and people's dogs weigh more than me. People also tend to think that I'm at least 5 years younger than I am, based on my height alone. Not that I'm complaining about that.

However, on the plus side, I can sometimes buy the children's version of clothing for cheaper than the adult version. On a recent shopping trip, I bought this in the children's department at Zara for $45:

 There isn't an exact match in the women's department but this coat is $90:

Not bad, right? Does anyone else do this? Would you if you could? Or am I just really strange? It's okay if I am.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I Read Last Week...{12.01}

I didn't do a What I Read Last Week post last week because a) it was Thanksgiving and b) because it was Thanksgiving, I didn't do much reading. However, in the past two weeks, I managed to finish two books, both of which were really good. That was a relief, because I'd run into a series of mediocre and underwhelming books lately.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew, an approaching-middle-age governess, was accustomed to a household of unruly English children. When her employment agency sends her to the wrong address, her life takes an unexpected turn. The alluring nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, becomes her new employer, and Miss Pettigrew encounters a kind of glamour that she had only met before at the movies. Over the course of a single day, both women are changed forever.

My Take: This description doesn't do the book justice. The plot itself is a lot more interesting than that, although it did take me a couple of chapters to get into the story. It is hilarious, sweet, touching, and even a little inspiring. This book is published by Persephone Books, which specializes in "forgotten" literature of the twentieth century.  So basically all the books they publish are on my "To Read" list.

My Recommendation: Definitely, definitely read this! Unless you don't like interesting and funny books.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

Set in the Midwest in the early twentieth century—the dawn of the automobile age—the novel begins by introducing the richest family in town, the Ambersons. Exemplifying aristocratic excess, the Ambersons have everything money can buy—and more. But George Amberson Minafer—the spoiled grandson of the family patriarch—is unable to see that great societal changes are taking place, and that business tycoons, industrialists, and real estate developers will soon surpass him in wealth and prestige. Rather than join the new mechanical age, George prefers to remain a gentleman, believing that "being things” is superior to "doing things.” But as his town becomes a city, and the family palace is enveloped in a cloud of soot, George’s protectors disappear one by one, and the elegant, cloistered lifestyle of the Ambersons fades from view, and finally vanishes altogether.

My Take: I didn't like this quite as much as Miss Pettigrew, but it was great nevertheless. It's not a book with a lot of action, but focuses more on the development of the characters, who are extremely likeable in spite of their shortcomings.  Tarkington won the Pullitzer Prize for this book, but was overtaken in popularity by Orson Welles' movie version in the 1940s. I haven't seen the movie, but it's a shame that the book isn't more popular.

My Recommendation: It's not a book to read just for pure fun. But it is a classic and a wonderful, underappreciated novel. Definitely worth reading when you're in the mood for a classic.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Things I Love: Knock Knock Notepads

Knock Knock's motto is "we put the fun in functional" and it is SO true! They make a notepad for pretty much every occasion. Seriously.

Need to say you're sorry?

Have a crush on someone?

Never remember what to get at the store?

Can't decide what to wear tomorrow?

Can't stand confrontation?

They even make some pads use.

Case in point

Cute, right? Which one do you like?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Carry-On Bags

I travel quite a bit, so I've gotten packing my carry-on bag down to a science. I'm not one of those amazing girls who can fit everything they need for 3 days into a carry-on suitcase. No, I'm one of those girls who has to pack a full-on suitcase for a long weekend, including outfits for every conceivable event and multiple shoe possibilities for all weather conditions. Therefore, my carry-on bag usually just contains my "essentials" for the flight, and something to wear in case my luggage gets lost (quelle horreur!)

I'm not actually in the market for a new carry-on bag, but if I was, I'd probably choose one of these. All of these bags have top-zip closures, which if you ask me, is essential for plane travel. Plus, you can sling all of these over your shoulder, or you can carry on your arm. The best thing? These bags aren't TOO big, so they can double as a regular purse. You see? You're actually saving room. Good for you.

1. DVF Vintage Print Nylon Tote
2. MEND Where the Wind Blows Bag
3. Oryany Sydney Bag (called Mutable Silhouettes Bag on Anthropologie)
4. Kipling Kyoko Sequin Large Tote
5. MICHAEL Michael Kors Jet Set Python Tote
6. Kate Spade Cape Mountain Harmony Baby Bag
7. Louis Vuitton Totally MM Bag
8. Kate Spade Gold Coast Sierra Tote
9. MARC by Marc Jacobs Take Me Tote

Monday, November 28, 2011

What a great weekend!

I had an absolutely wonderful weekend...I hope everyone else did as well.

First of all, I didn't have to go to work on Wednesday, so it was nice to spend an extra day preparing for Thanksgiving. I managed to figure out my tablescape, which is usually done at the last minute.

I made these napkin rings out of twine and feathers

and I created this centerpiece out of gourds spray painted white and some heirloom silver pieces.

I added a bunch of candles in various heights and shapes,

and it was a very pretty setting. I was satisfied, anyways.

Thanksgiving Day was great. We always have family over. This year, we invited my uncle and 3 cousins because my aunt is still in the hospital after having two strokes earlier this fall. We also had my best friend/cousin and her dad over.

I have to say, it's very satisfying to have boys at Thanksgiving dinner because they are so appreciative of food. They raved about my pies, which are good, but not THAT good. If you need a confidence boost, I suggest making dinner for 3 men who have no idea how to cook.

The rest of my weekend flew by. I'm kind of sad to have to be back at work today, but there are only about 3 weeks until the beginning of my Christmas vacation. Yay!