Life[style]: April

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I sit here this morning with a decaf latte and wrapped in my fuzzy blanket…the perfect accoutrements for a rainy 46-degree day.  We are in full-on April Showers-mode, right?  I actually like that capricious nature of Spring, though:  it’s sunny and in the 70s/80s one day, but grey & windy with a slight chill in the air the next.  The tough transition out of winter (it’s like Old Man Winter does not want to let go!) exudes a renewed feeling, a metamorphosis…all the fresh green leaves & baby birds — this is really my favorite time of year.

1.  Nespresso:  Speaking of that latte I’m nursing, I wouldn’t have been able to make one for myself so easily without our neat little espresso machine.  For our new home, we sought out a high-end espresso maker but at the same time, were so used to the ease, convenience, & individual serving of a pod-system device.  I had ruled out the popular Keurig K-cup brewing system (as one of my designer friends perfectly describes it, “their coffee tastes like plastic”) but my husband didn’t think he’d have the patience so early in the morning to put in the steps involved with a traditional espresso maker.  So, we did our research, and landed somewhere in the middle:  the Nespresso Citiz Espresso Maker from Williams Sonoma.  It won out because according to the reviews, user comments, & blogs he read, it’s considered the best of the “pod” devices.  Nespresso somehow managed to maintain the integrity & quality of the espresso grounds within their single-use capsules.  We threw in the milk frother, too — here’s the exact model we chose.  Now, I press a single button to make lattes & espressos right at home…I adore this little touch of something ‘gourmet’ in the mornings!Nespresso espresso machine from Williams Sonoma

2.  Orphan Black:  Now that we’re past last night’s epic “Purple Wedding” on Game of Thrones, allow me to recommend a new show for you to watch this week:  Orphan Black on the BBC America network.  Seriously, now that The Walking Dead is done until next year, this is the second best show (behind GOT) you’ll find on airing television at the current moment.  They’re marathoning all the episodes of season 1 throughout this week, so set your DVR’s to binge-watch them all before the season 2 premiere this weekend!  Orphan Black returns April 19th at 9/8c.  It’s a little bit sci-fi/detective-thriller with a touch of romance & comedy.  Plus, it’s refreshing as a female-led show and the lead actress –Tatiana Maslany– is so talented it’ll blow your mind.  The writing is exceptional (you NEVER know who to trust!) and the series moves fast throughout the plot with lots of twists & turns.  Trust me, you’ll be hooked just three minutes into the pilot episode!

New show to watch:  Orphan Black on BBC America

Photo courtesy of BBC America

3.  The best concealer money can buy:  As a daily user of concealer, I use it in several ways:  to brighten under-eyes, to conceal redness from a breakout, and to camouflage dark purple spots/scars from previous breakouts.  I get frustrated many MANY times with various concealers on the market that I’ve tried…the liquid ones are easily spreadable for under-eyes, but they aren’t concentrated enough to cover a singular spot.  The solids, however, tend to look caked-on when covering spots and also leave creases in my under-eyes…bah! –I just can’t win!  I finally read enough positive reviews on the Cle’ de Peau Beaute’ Concealer that I caved in and purchased a tube from my favorite sales guy at Nordstrom.  First off, I can’t believe I spent this much money ($70) on basically a lipstick-sized tube of concealer BUT this one by Cle’ de Peau is what make-up artists refer to as a “holy grail” product.  It truly is the best concealer I’ve ever used…it works great for every need, is a solid but never cakes, and covers like magic.  I wouldn’t recommend springing for it if other well-reviewed concealers, such as those from MAC & Laura Mercier, are working for you.  However, it’s nice to know the solution’s out there because although expensive, it is the most effective & long-lasting concealer on the market.Cle de Peau Beaute Concealer the best concealer money can buy

 4.  New fave side dish:  Although I’m currently transitioning into eating meat again, my last six years as a pescetarian still dominate my dinner choices.  I’m pretty great at preparing fish (or so my husband says), a choice most people find fickle & too delicate for regular rotation.  I had to learn to cook it out of necessity according to my dietary preferences, so now I’m proud to count seafood as something I’m good at, in addition to egg dishes & pastas.  We’re having fresh Gulf shrimp from Central Market for dinner tonight, in fact.  I’ll be pan sauteing them with an organic coconut spread I’ve found that’s a great butter substitute…the faint coconut essence tastes great on toast & other breakfast pastries and works well with tropical warm-water seafood, especially shrimp.  Anyway, one of my favorite side dishes to serve with seafood is this couscous from Whole Foods.  The Garlic & Olive Oil kind is easier to find, but the best-tasting variety is their Lemon & Herb.  The lemon flavor is an obvious go-to choice for rounding out all my seafood entrees, ya know?  This organic easy-prep couscous paired with fish & a veggie side makes a great meal that my husband loves, too.  Lemon herb couscous from Whole Foods5.  May Flowers! (in April):  Fresh-cut from the florist or growing wild on the side of the highway, I love all the floral bounty of Springtime.  Here’s a couple recent snapshots I’ve captured of flowers that just…make me happy.  Love those Texas bluebonnets!  I try to take a pic in them every year…  :)pic in the Texas bluebonnets

fresh cut flowers

Day at the Arboretum, Night at the Museum

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Every once in awhile, Austin –which is overall a great place to be all the time– will give you one of those days that is just exceptional.  You can’t plan or predict them, they just unfold on their very own.  Fueled by perfect weather, these days all have one thing in common: time spent in the great outdoors.  The memory of my first day like this is quite vivid:  the husband & I rode our bikes to lunch, took ‘em off-road to explore the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail, followed by a quick stop to wade in Barton Springs, then dinner at henri’s, and ice cream at lick.  I remember arriving back at home that night, reflecting on the day, and concluding that it was my best, most favorite day in Austin thus far.

Today was simply splendid, too.  We had a quiet morning but left for a quick lunchtime workout at our gym.  I got in 30 minutes on the treadmill, a set of tricep presses and a set of calf raises.  Any day that I make it to the gym is a win, in my book!  It’s like, I almost NEVER want to get off my butt and go, but I always feel so energized & accomplished afterward.

We took the top down for the drive home — love me some convertible weather!  After a quick shower, I was off to the Arboretum area for a haircut at AZIZ Salon.  There was a $20 gift card in my goodie bag from the last Austin Beauty Guide event I attended, so I took it as a sign to go ahead and book a fresh cut for Spring.  Their downtown location is so much closer to where I live, but the Arboretum salon looked so pretty & tranquil online.  Plus, I don’t mind driving a few extra miles in the aforementioned convertible weather!  I like to explore new areas of Austin and I’m not super familiar with all that’s in & around the Arboretum, so I though this was a good excuse to get out there.

Split-end free, I left my visit to AZIZ happy with my bouncy new blown-out hair.  Do you like???New spring haircut from AZIZ Salon at the Arboretum

This #selfie was snapped at a little park I stumbled upon right outside the salon.  The weather was ab-fab and I couldn’t help but take a few minutes for some time under the trees.  The bench I’m sitting on is at the end of the park (also utilized as The Arboretum’s ‘food court”?) and has a panoramic hill country view.  There’s also these life-size marble sculpture cows in various natural colors, aptly called “Arboretum Cows” by Harold Clayton. "Arboretum Cows" by Harold Clayton

There’s also a magical gazebo there that looks straight out of a fairy tale.  Gazebo at The ArboretumGazebo at The Arboretum

Once back home in South Austin, I quickly freshened up to meet up with a friend for a rooftop film at The Contemporary Austin, our modern art museum.  They screened a documentary on “architectural futurist” Paolo Soleri, entitled The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert.  “The story of an unprecedented artistic quest, exploring Paolo Soleri’s legacy as an architect, environmentalist, and philosopher.”  The piece was informative, but was a little long (for a documentary) & indulgent to me.  However, it’s good to attend cultural events such as this and support museum exhibitions, even if they don’t turn out to be exactly your taste.  The setting, though, was gorgeous…couldn’t have asked for a better night for an outdoor movie!Rooftop film series at The Contemporary AustinRooftop film series at The Contemporary Austin

 

Life[style]: March

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1.  New coffee table reading:  I just received a copy of the most gorgeous hardcover book, entitled DISTANT SHORES: Surfing The Ends of the Earth.  Renowned surf photographer, Chris Burkhard, created a book of breathtaking surf photography from the most remote surf locales around the globe.  Aside from containing stellar surf photography (which is captivating enough), the oversized pages also have a way of portraying human emotion in gorgeous landscapes all across the world.  The images are enthralling in an almost 3-D way…the color, angle, quality, etc. make you feel like you’re actually right there in the water.  Sometimes the photos are serene & tropical, other times they’re extremist & almost unbelievable:  “oh you know, here’s me…just surfing next to an ICEBERG!”  Distant Shores surfing photography coffee table book

It’s such a beautiful home decor accessory, too.  –Everyone needs quality table reading, y’all!  Don’t you think the reading material you’ve got setting around your house says so much about who you are, especially to your guests?  Personally, this book reminds me of my Dad, a former avid surfer who taught me how to ride and instilled in me a love for the beach.  Unfortunately, his recent liver transplant surgery has left him out of the water indefinitely.  I’m sure it’s excruciating for someone who’s got a new lease on life to hear he may never be able to step foot in the place he loves the most.  Actually, although it’s sittin’ pretty on my coffee table, this book really needs to be with him.  (Hello, perfect Father’s Day gift!)

2.  LaV:  Of all the amazing chef-driven restaurants thriving on Austin’s East side, LaV is the newest and thus, most in-demand dining hot spot.  Last weekend, we had guests in town from Dallas & Chicago and I wanted to take them to brunch before they headed back home.  They let me pick the place…I wanted a restaurant that wasn’t a chain, accepted reservations, and showed them a flavor unique to Austin.  Selfishly, I usually try to take out-of-towners to a local spot that I know is well-reviewed but, one that I haven’t yet been able to check out myself.  This might be risky, but Austin’s foodie culture has produced a slew of amazing dining options and if they’re highly rated here –in this competitive environment– I can confidently count on an impressive eating experience.  As I’ve said, I just can’t get to all the fabulous local restaurants in which I read positive critiques, so this little tactic of mine is a way to kill two birds with one stone.  Btw, I’m SO thankful to the hostess for working in our reservation…she almost wasn’t able to accommodate us but I charmed her over, I suppose. ;)  Sunday brunch at French-inspired LaV on Austin's Eastside

3.  LaV (the food & decor):  The menu offerings were quite inventive and it was delightfully difficult to choose just one dish!  We halfway-joked about ordering one of everything on the menu to share, actually.  Our party of four began with some pistachio buttercream shortbread cookies, a bluebonnet leaf salad, and wait for it:  …ruby red grapefruit brulee (half of a ruby red grapefruit with a thin layer of caramelization on top — amazing!)  My husband and I shared a main course of scrambled eggs with smoked trout caviar & toasted brioche with a side of house-made lamb sausage patties.  I ordered a decaf Americano espresso and I don’t know what kind of coffee beans they use, but the flavor was superb.  Not only is the Provence-inspired cuisine delightful, but the decor is drop-dead gorgeous…like a chic, modern-yet rustic French château.  It was Restoration Hardware heaven in there, dotted with bottles of choice wine, bunches of lavender, and decadent shades of grey.  I would love it if I could mimic the look of this restaurant in my own home…that’s how much I loved the atmosphere.  I’ll need to go back for dinner, but this fab French restaurant just might be my new favorite dining house in all of Austin! Scrambled eggs, smoked trout caviar, toasted brioche at LaV restaurant in Austin

4.  “Winning!”:  Recently, I had the surprise & delight to actually win a contest and even better:  the prize was SO CUTE!  Through Twitter, I found & followed a darling Miami-based travel accessories store called Arrive Chic.  Besides posting a stream of enviable beach pics, they hold monthly give-aways for their followers to enter.  I was absolutely tickled pink (pun intended!) to win their drawing for a Heys USA 20″ XCase Carry-On in Pink.  It’s a functional yet fabulous hard shell suitcase that is light as a feather.  When boarding the plane, I would struggle with heaving my old carry-on up into the overhead compartment, but NO MORE!  Although lighter, it’s a bit smaller than my old one & it wouldn’t get me through say, two weeks in Europe with just one carry-on as I’ve managed perviously.  This little number is ideal for long weekends and easy-breezy to roll through the terminal.  I broke it in during our Valentine’s trip to California and here’s me loading it into the trunk as we were leaving Carmel-by-the-Sea:Heys Xcase carry-on in Pink from Arrive Chic

5.  Craft Cocktail:  As y’all know from my previous raves about La Croix & Stevia Root Beer, I’m always looking to test out new drinks that come out on the market.  For some reason, beverages really interest me — people don’t realize how much of their daily caloric intake actually comes from what they drink.  I prefer to EAT most of my calories, thank you, so I’m keen to find lo-cal, yet natural, beverage alternatives.  In my past life as a full-time PR & advertising professional, most of my clients were actually beverage-centric:  PR for the “got milk?” campaign, advertising for the Route 44 big drink at Sonic Drive-In, and marketing for the entire Coca-Cola North America beverage portfolio.  So, I have to share one of my latest finds:  LO!  LO is a low sugar, low carb, and low calorie fruit beverage that tastes great when mixed in a cocktail, added to seltzer, combined with smoothies, or sipped alone.  I’m currently cutting down on (& eventually near-eliminating altogether) my caffeine, sugar, & alcohol intake, so I recently crafted a champagne spritzer utilizing LO’s Mango Mojito flavor.  I simply poured together 1/2 glass champs (or would be great w/ white rum, too), 1/2 glass Topo Chico, a squeeze of lime & splash of LO over ice…the result was a fresh, light, not-too-sweet concoction that my husband actually enjoyed, as well.  We were grilling out, so something cool & refreshing was nice in the weekend sunshine, and the lime & mango flavors paired perfectly with our Chipotle-style grilled chicken fajita bowls.  Bottom line:  LO Fruit Beverage is a healthy swap for sugary beverages & diet drinks and for my Texas readers: it’s now available at your neighborhood H-E-B.

.LO low glycemic organic fruit beverage

 

SXSW Wrap-Up

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Well, our fair city can breathe a collective sigh of relief…SXSW ’14 is officially behind us.  This past Saturday marked the final official day of the festival, and practically everyone I knew was at home in bed watching movies all day on Sunday.  It takes most revelers several days to recuperate, actually…one day vegging out over reality TV is not enough.  The hubs & I skipped church (despite my best intentions) in lieu of Joel Osteen’s televised service, and spent the rest of the day catching up on the DVR.  {{Btw, this last episode of The Walking Dead?!? –OMG!!!}}

One of the coolest things I saw during the whole festival was Game of Thrones: The Exhibition at Austin Music Hall.  As I mentioned during my previous SXSW post regarding running into Simon Helberg of The Big Bang Theory, I majorly geeked out during this experience as a Game of Thrones fan, too.  First off:  they let you sit on THE IRON THRONE — I mean, I die.  I was channeling my favorite female character, Khalessi, up there but my college roommate saw this Instagram where I proclaimed I would “take what is mine, with fire and blood!” & proceed to comment that I would make a perfect Cersei.  …um, please no.  lol

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The virtual reality experience blew my mind…they call it a thrill ride and it really did feel like it!  It was as if I was on a ride at an amusement park, but instead of risking your life on a gravity-defying roller coaster, you are just standing in a cage seeing everything through this VR ski mask thingie.  They call it 4-D and I guess that’s because the images before your eyes are obviously 3-D but then they add in another layer of “reality.”  For example, as you scale ‘the wall,’ you feel your primitive elevator shaft shaking and the cold wind blowing on your skin.  If you’re fortunate enough to catch the tour in Rio De JaneiroOsloTorontoBelfast, or Vancouver in the coming months you definitely need to wait in line for this part of the exhibit.

Our biggest event of SXSW week 2 was attending the Jimmy Kimmel Live show at the Long Center for Performing Arts.  It was both of our first time to attend a TV show taping and it was such a cool & different experience.  I felt fortunate to get to do such a thing not in L.A. or NYC, but right in our very own hometown.  Plus, at the last minute, our tickets got upgraded to Priority seating and although that meant we had to arrive an hour earlier, I was eager to take advantage of that priority status!  We had GREAT seats:  about ten rows from the stage, lower level, right in the center; such an excellent vantage point to take it all in.Image

Guests of the night were legendary guitarist Johnny Winter, an Aussie band called The Preatures, some chick from Scandal, and LADY GAGA.  Of course, aside from Kimmel’s hilarious opening monologue, Gagaloo’s visit was the highlight of the evening.  Yes, this was the same day as her infamous SX performance at Stubb’s where she let some performance artist VOMIT on her onstage.  But for our experience, she showed off a less-weird side of her personality and we were intrigued & delighted the whole interview.  C’mon, how could you not be entertained by Lady Gaga? –She came out via pedicab in this elaborate white dress & big hat made entirely out of coffee filters!  She called it “upcycling.”

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By the way, I have to applaud the splendor of his Austin-themed set!  Talk about seeing (our city’s) name up in lights — it was a neon-fueled feast for the eyes.  Thank you ABC for sending Kimmel to Austin in such an elaborate fashion…and for donating all the stage signs to local charity!  It was an afternoon/evening about 5 hours in the making, but sitting in that audience was a unique entertainment experience that encapsulated everything from stand-up comedy to live music performances.  Good times.

After the show, of course my husband was starving so we bolted for dinner at Arro, a French restaurant on West 6th.  During the short walk from the Long Center to the restaurant, everyone was curious about these mysterious numbers appearing in the sky.  Sound strange? –It was.  This series of numbers was broadcast across the horizon, skywriting style. I had all kinds of crazy theories as to what the numbers meant:  –is this some self-destruct code for a CIA mission? –are we in the TV show LOST? ImageImage

The digital-font numbers were written in circles and faded away pretty quick…I’ll admit, until we had it figured out, I was a little freaked!  But this was just another “Pi in the Sky” idea, so very typical of SXSW!  It was a representation of Pi (well some of it, at least) to commemorate national Pi day which was the next day, falling on none other than March 14th or aptly, 3.14.

There were a few other events sprinkled in:  a morning sitting in on a live broadcast at the W hotel for the annual KSGR at the W showcase.  We saw Phantogram –a band I had particularly wanted to see live at SX this year– as well as The Hold Steady in an intimate acoustic setting.  Also, I went on an impromptu afternoon to a venue on S. Congress to see live radio interviews w/ Foster the People & Ludacris.  Oh, and to Luda’s manager:  sorry I never showed up backstage…apparently I cannot input cellular telephone digits while I’m driving & you’re shouting them to me from the passenger side of your murdered out SUV.  Thank you for the offer to attend Luda’s Dorito’s Bold Stage show as your guest…maybe next year?  haha!  (and yes, that happened.)

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Overall, my SXSW experience this year was more curated & thus, tamer as I originally had intended.  I’ve learned it’s not about how many events & people & places you can squeeze in and consequently, burn yourself out on.  Forget about all that crappy swag, overly ambitious crowd, and free warm beer, people.  To me, the spirit of the festival is more about experiencing cutting-edge technology & undiscovered art & cool people, which organically prompts authentic engagement.  –THAT’S what makes SXSW something special.

Well hello there, SXSW

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I’m tickled, almost giddy, that March is finally here, aren’t you?  With the first day of spring and St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, there’s no shortage of fun things going on this month.  However, the biggest event of them all, –the one that (if you’re in Austin) simply cannot be ignored– is of course, South By Southwest.

As of a couple days ago, the annual interactive/film/music festival has commenced, beginning two weeks of parties, concerts, networking, and fun.  Last year, I was like a kid in a candy store, RSVPing for (almost) any & all events I could get into sans-badge…that approach yielded entry into many o’ interactive event with open bar & free food, but left me burned out on the whole thing by the time the music week rolled around.  This year, I’ve decided to be more selective about my RSVP list and purposely not keeping a packed schedule of events for each day.  See, we Austinites have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the festival:  we get irked by our sudden trouble finding parking, the long lines to get into our regular spots, the crowds of ‘definitely-not-from-these-parts’ people who descend upon our stomping grounds, but we very much look forward to such an imaginative event that comes right into our backyard, bringing celebs, bands, and free drinks in tow.  Here’s a hilarious satire expressing why some residents “hate” SX but really, we locals –well, at least half of us– are very VERY excited for the festivities.

I had invites dating back to Wednesday of last week, but last night was my first opportunity to get in a good, solid night out on the town.  First stop was TRIO at the Four Seasons hotel.  I had friends visiting from Houston and thought this would be the perfect place to take them to get a little slice of the SX buzz.  For dinner, we started with tuna tartare, my guests had prime rib & filet respectively, and I went for Gulf-sourced snapper.  And let’s not forget about our shared side of mac & cheese…c’mon!  I’m of the age & discipline to have phased out the Kraft boxed variety from my diet but when you see mac & cheese on the menu at a fancy restaurant doesn’t it practically command you to order it?  I feel like I need to compare it to every other mac & cheese I’ve had in life.  We paired the meal with a bottle of Banshee pinot noir and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  TRIO is not your typical hotel restaurant, it’s actually a reputable establishment in the competitive Austin-dining climate, but it’s also a hotbed of celebrities who are staying in town for the conference.  Which brings me to my first celeb spotting of the festival…

When I walked through the hotel entry doors, I immediately saw Seth Meyers of SNL fame and most recently, Late Night With Seth Meyers.  –Isn’t his new show so great, by the way?  I usually have no patience for the shenanigans of late night talk shows, but he as a host keeps me hooked.  Kanye West’s recent performance of career-spanning hits was EPIC and it was only the second show of what I hope is a long running late night program.  Anyway, once I saw him it took my brain a hot second to realize that it was actually him and then (of course) I couldn’t look away as I passed him in the doorway.  And girls, guess what happened next:  he paused his conversation, looked up, & smiled at me –Swoon!  I thought it was so sweet of him to acknowledge a fan and take a moment to make eye contact & smile back.  It’s like you could tell he’s a nice person in just that two-second moment.

After dinner –and accidentally walking right into the path of Danny Trejo (MACHETE!!!)– we headed off to the evening’s main programming:  the Madi Diaz concert at Anthropologie downtown Austin.  As most of y’all know I work there part-time (it’ll be TWO YEARS next month!) but I missed the event a couple years ago when Anthro’s Push Play Project hosted Ingrid Michaelson.  Even though I’m an employee, I still had to secure a spot on the list like everybody else & luckily I snagged a spot for myself & a plus one.  I was happy make it out this time around because it really is quite the exclusive, intimate musical experience.  Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with Madi Diaz prior to this show, but her rounded-out set and stellar performance left everyone awed.  I was kinda astonished she sounded so flawless in a retail store not designed for acoustics, without a backing track or any of the modern auto-tune crap we’re used to hearing from pop stars these days.  And, I love that she’s an artist that has mastered two moods in her music:  one is more emo, with sad ballads you want to listen to on a rainy Sunday morning; but then there’s the flip side of her sound, prompting dancing & delight with the added vibe of accompanying artists on keyboard & drums.  Cracking jokes in between songs, it doesn’t hurt that she’s got a great rapport with her audience as well.  My girlfriends and I all left the show as her newest fans.  Thank you to Anthropologie for helping us discover new music by bringing the Push Play Project back to Austin!

Madi Diaz concert at Anthropologie Austin

Madi Diaz performs an intimate set at Anthropologie downtown Austin #AnthroEvents

After such a great show, I was thoroughly fulfilled with the result of the evening’s activities and was ready to call it a night…but of course my gal pals would hear of no such thing!  Here’s why I’m glad I didn’t bail early:

We then decided to head further downtown into the epicenter of the SX mayhem…a couple of people in our group had RSVPs into parties at Hangar Lounge & another venue.  As we were waiting in line for one of them in the misty chill, I spotted  Astronaut Howard Wolowitz (well, Simon Helberg, actually) waiting in line behind us.  As a HUGE The Big Bang Theory fan, I geeked out like one of their characters would do if they found an early, limited edition issue in the clearance bin at the comic book store.  Seriously, I’ve seen every single episode in the show’s seven seasons and can go word-for-word with the theme song.  –It’s funny:  if I skip out on the theme song for any given episode, my husband actually stops, rewinds the DVR and won’t press play until I agree to sing along!  Anyway, Howie (as Bernadette calls him) or HOWAAAARD! (as his Mother would shout) is my second favorite character on the series, behind University of Houston’s own Jim Parsons/Dr. Sheldon Cooper, of course.  It was pretty cool… we were standing out in the street in. the. rain. and he stopped to chat & snap a quick pic.  Thank you Howard Wolo– I mean, SIMON HELBERG for this awesome selfie!  Oh, the magic of SXSW!!!

My selfie with Simon Helberg a.k.a. Howard Wolowitz of The Big Bang Theory

Life[style]: February

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We’re all settled back home after six days vacationing up in NorCal and gotta say:  I’m happy to be back in Texas!  Looks like that Polar Vortex finally loosened its grip –it’s back to normal for these parts…perfectly sunny & in the 70s.  It’s been a crazy, unseasonably cold late Jan./early Feb. for Austin:  a couple snow days, icy roads, school closings, and all kinds of car wrecks.  This below-freezing/frozen sleet stuff just doesn’t really happen down here!  Anyway, we’re all happy to be back in our flip-flops and collective focus has shifted to S-P-R-I-N-G!

1.  Spring Fashion:  Who else is positively itching for the arrival of full-blown springtime?  I’ve kept warm inside during these past few late-winter weeks by daydreaming of spring…especially spring fashion!  I’ve recently partnered with my friend Meredith of Austin Beauty Guide, your guide to the best beauty in Austin for fashion-related contributions to her site.  First assignment: a sunny & sweet ‘spring trends’ post…specifically, my top 5 fashion picks for Spring ’14!   Check out my guest blog post here and catch some of my contagious excitement for donning all-things white, big sun hats, and polka dot prints!

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2. Spring Flowers:  I love how flowers bring so much energy into a room –their scent, their color, their shape– the emotional & aesthetic impact is truly something special.  Early into our marriage I actually asked my husband to allocate room in our monthly household budget for regular floral delivery…lol  –Yeah, I can get carried away at times.  Until something like that is a reality, I’ve relied on sniffing out good grocery store finds.  Well, I recently discovered the floral department at H.E.B. Central Market and am excited to have such an exceptional resource so easily accessible.  I breezed through the Westgate store earlier this month and was quite impressed by their selection and service.  I was literally asked if I needed help by three different florists.  –Maybe they could sense I was hardcore debating what to choose as part of their 3 for $10 deal?  Taking advantage of their ‘pick 3 clusters of any variety for just ten bucks’ is such a stellar value!  I guess the deal bundle is supposed to be a personalized way to design your own master bouquet but I kept ‘em separate in order to spread the love throughout the house.  I ended up with 4-stem bundles of sunflower, white gerbera daisy, and magenta stock…enough to accent the dining room, master bedroom, & living room with brightly hued, fresh-cut flowers!  They were great quality as well, each cluster stayed bright & perky for about two weeks.

3.  Chocolate Fest:  My REAL motivation for stopping by Central Market earlier this month was to check out Chocolate Fest: The Great Indulgence.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the event boasted chocolates from around the world, samplings, chocolate cooking classes, etc.  Here’s my haul:Chocolates from Chocolate Fest at Central Market–Glorious, isn’t it?  Btw, who knew they made chocolate with freakin’ QUINOA in it?  Kinda funny, but it’s an interesting combo and it’s always fun to try new things…especially new chocolate concoctions!  I mean, you pretty much can’t mess up dark chocolate!  I’m going to open up the bar from Vosges tonight…intrigued about the pairing of super dark chocolate with coconut ash & banana.

4.  Stevia Soda:  Moving on from dark chocolate to other indulgences…we’re gaga over root beer in my house right now.  Not just any root beer, mind you:  root beer sweetened with stevia.  I’m always on the lookout for zero-calorie, natural drinks with some carbonation & flavor as a substitute for traditional soda pop.  I’ve written before about my love & loyalty to La Croix, for example.  Sometimes the hubs gets a mean craving for frothy root beer in a chilled mug, so I’ve been hunting for the best ‘healthy’ root beer of the bunch.  We’ve tried several brands, from Virgil’s Zero Root Beer to Zevia Zero Calorie Soda Ginger Root Beer, but our favorite is the Blue Sky Zero Creamy Root Beer.  It’s zero calorie while still tasting like the original — this one wins in our book.Blue Sky zero calorie creamy root beer sweetened with stevia

5.  Mettle:  We finally made it over to the East Side to try out local restaurant Mettle and well, it was amazing.  I was nervous because we actually took a risk by taking my well-traveled in-laws there before trying it out ourselves.  But, no need to worry because Ryan loved every bite of his beef tongue tacos & short rib stroganoff, I savored my fried cotija cheese & seared red fish…everyone enjoyed everything, basically.  From starter to main dish, I surprised myself by cleaning my plate at each course.  We were so full, but still sprung for desserts just to keep tasting what delights would continue to come out of the kitchen.  Great warm atmosphere, too, with original works by local artisan blacksmiths & lighting designers.  There are so many quality establishments on the Austin dining scene, but if you haven’t experienced Mettle it is definitely a must-do.Mettle restaurant on Austin's East Side

Happy Valentine’s Day!

gondola ride in the grand canal in Venice, Italy

Me & the husband feelin’ all romantic on a gondola ride in Venice, Italy…

What do you & your sweetheart have planned to celebrate the day of love?  This year, we’ll be relaxing in California.  We’re headed non-stop to San Jose for a night, followed by a stay at CordeValle golf resort, then ending up at the Hyatt Highlands Inn in Carmel along the Big Sur coast.  As you can imagine, we’re both looking forward to the trip…he’s excited to be golfing the courses at CordeValle and Pasatiempo and I’m eager to hike along those oceanfront vistas, get in some spa time & tour Clos LaChance winery.

Additionally, a couple fun Valentine’s-themed guest blog posts went live this week and I wanted to share them with you here on my blog.  First, Austin locals might enjoy my top picks for dining out on Valentine’s Day.  There are so many great restaurants in town and the array of choices can get overwhelming…with our locavore, foodie culture & new restaurant openings happening all the time, it’s like you can’t get to all the hot spots you keep hearing about.  Check out my romantic restaurant rundown here on the InFluential Magazine Blog:  http://influential-magazine.com/top-5-restaurants-in-austin-to-celebrate-with-your-sweetheart-on-valentines-day/ 

Still deciding what to wear on your hot date?  I invite you to find some Valentine’s Day style inspiration with my latest fashion contribution on Austin Beauty Guide.  Austin Beauty Guide recently hosted the annual Beauty Goes Red event and with everyone dressed to the nines & wearing red in honor of the Go Red for Women campaign, it was the perfect field in which to survey sample Valentine’s looks.  From leather to lip color to statement accessories, check out my Valentine’s outfit inspiration post here:  http://austinbeautyguide.com/blog/valentines-day-fashion-inspiration.html

–XOXO!

Life[style]: January

Happy New Year!  2014 is going to be a good one, I just know it!  In the spirit of renewal, I’ve felt the need for a little style sprucing on the homefront.  That itch for Spring Cleaning has started early for me, I guess.  This month, my focus has been on decor & design and I have lots of little projects going on around the house.  We’ve been in the new space since June, so we’ve had about 7 months now to let furniture settle into the floorplan.  The time since move-in has also allowed the home decor budget to build back up after down payment, closing costs, etc.  Going from a 1 bedroom apartment to a 2 bed/3.5 bath townhouse obviously involves some significant purchasing of furnishings, too.  We’ve got the major wall art, area rugs, & accent chairs all set, but now has proved the perfect time for a little design & refinement…

1. Ecru Moderne:  So, Ryan and I attended a charity event in the fall –the LEAP LifeWorks annual CASINO event– and besides having a great time gambling for a good cause at the W hotel, we had the surprise & delight to hear we’d actually won one of the event’s auction items:  3 hours of in-home design consultation with Clarissa of local interior design company Ecru Moderne.  So far, Clarissa & I have had about and hour & a half together at my home and she is full of ideas & inspiration!  I’d never worked with an interior designer in any of our previous dwellings, so I really didn’t know what to expect.  She brought so much to the table and it really showed me that utilizing an interior designer is SO worth it when it comes to dividing up a home furnishings budget.  I was awed by her innate sense of color compatibility, knowledge of what-to-buy-where, and spot-on picks for changes that would enhance our home’s features.  If you need an interior designer in Austin, I highly recommend her!  She’s great, and I’m planning to continue to utilize her keen eye for design as we evolve in this space & in future residences over the years.  Follow Clarissa of Ecru Moderne on Pinterest here.

2. Coat of Arms:  The main area I asked for her help with was our master bedroom.  The place in which we actually spend the most time was kind-of frustrating me…  I initially went for an almost art deco theme with a few mirror-finished pieces (vanity, tray, etc.) on an all white & silver backdrop.  What I had envisioned being a clean, snow-white, sort-of pure atmosphere quickly began to instead feel cold and uninviting.  After reevaluation, I had the thought of going for a more beachy storyline…not nautical, but something that captured the serenity & calm I feel at the sound of surf.  I suppose I’m drawn to the idea of a sea-inspired scene for a few reasons:

a.) I grew up on the Gulf coast and being by the water has always been an influential setting in my life.

b.) When I saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time, I was instantly enamored with its special shade of blue…so divine.

c.) Our honeymoon in the Caribbean was one of the most relaxing escapes in my life (I’m not really someone who knows how to relax, so anything I can do to recreate that vibe is crucial!)

Anyway, to get me started down this oceanic road I was feeling, Clarissa instantly picked out the most delicious shade of blue from her swatches:  Coat of Arms by Benjamin Moore.  We are no strangers to a bold accent wall but I know we would’ve never picked out this color on our own.  I was a bit nervous about the drastic move of taking our pale beige wall to such a rich, deep shade of blue, but we both couldn’t be happier with the way it’s turned out.Image

3. Rust-Oleum Furniture Transformations:  Another problem we had was blending our dark espresso wood bedroom set with our dark espresso wood floors….it was just too dark-on-dark when all of it came together.  Trying to avoid buying new furniture, Clarissa suggested simply refinishing a few of our pieces.  So, I went to Home Depot and stumbled upon Rust-Oleum’s Furniture Transformations kit.  At $34.97, it’s definitely worth a try & beats buying new furniture altogether.  It includes everything you need for such a project:  deglosser, bond coat, decorative glaze and a protective top coat.  You just supply the paint brush & elbow grease.  Having never refinished furniture in my life, I was weary of the end result so I tested it out on our side tables first.  I chose the “Winter Fog” finish which is much MUCH lighter than the original dark espresso brown.  The color –a light grey w/ brown glaze– turned out great so I tackled our large 6-drawer dresser as well.  I was going for the appearance of driftwood…not sure if the end result stretches that far, but I’m proud of my handiwork nonetheless.  For reference, the dark border of the mirror is the original finish of the dresser…dresser refinished with Rust-Oleum Furniture Transformations kit

4. Finishing touches:  Confession:  I’m quite color averse…especially when it comes to major purchases.  I mean, I do love color in my personal wardrobe and always interested in following color trends, such as Pantone’s color of the year.  But, trends move faster than ever these days and the Tangerine Tango I couldn’t get enough of two years ago, is so. over. to me now, ya know?  I just like the safe space of neutrals…in fact, one of my favorite colors is taupe. –Is that weird?  Following suit, most of our decor is neutral:  lots of woodtones, natural fabrics, and shades of grey.  Of course, as I’m sure any designer would be so inclined, Clarissa suggested popping a bright color against that aforementioned Mediterranean blue accent wall.  Her picks? –Mustard yellow & magenta.  Again, never would’ve gravitated to these on my own but either one would compliment the rest of the room wonderfully.  Our master bedroom is quite large, calling for a rug at least 8 x 10 in size.  It wasn’t hard to land on one from West Elm, a favorite furniture store of mine.  Mustard yellow & made of jute, it’ll be handcrafted just for us so it won’t ship until May 25th (which actually happens to be the date of our 6th anniversary!)  It had to be special-ordered –a.k.a. non-refundable!– so I am keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll work.  Oh, and I’m looking to pair it with a velvet mustard yellow throw pillow such as this one from Anthropologie or this one from Urban OutfittersMustard yellow jute rug from West Elm

5. The Great Outdoors:  Another thing I have to thank Clarissa for is recommending this gem of nursery to me when I asked about where to buy good houseplants.  I’m currently obsessed with picking the right flora for our home…I even caught myself Googling “trendy houseplants” the other day.  I’m usually lazy about it and just swing through the outdoor section of Home Depot to see what’s on sale.  Never again.  The Great Outdoors is now my go-to nursery for life.  It’s right in the neighborhood on South Congress, spans a whole 2 acres, and had the friendliest, knowledgeable, most helpful staff around.  They have so many plants, flowers, pots & planters to choose from…I could’ve been there all afternoon!  It’s quite the zen-like setting, too…they play soft spa-like music and there’s little pathways & vignettes to wind through as you peruse plants.  I had such a pleasant shopping experience and brought home a unique varietal of lavender and this cool cascading “Curly Lipstick” plant for the living room bookshelf: curly lipstick houseplant from The Great Outdoors

Life[style]: December

Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas from my family to yours.  For some reason, I’ve felt extra festive this holiday season…maybe it’s because we’ve hit a stride in our marriage, maybe it’s because we’re so happy in Austin…I don’t know, but this month, our home has been filled with holiday cheer.

Here are a few things that have helped make this season special:

1.  1st Christmas in our new house!  All month, I’ve been constantly playing Christmas music, watching classic Christmas movies, decorating, baking, shopping, hosting, etc.  One of the best kickstarts to all of these seasonal delights was decorating our inaugural Christmas tree.  I buckled to the husband’s wishes and just got a faux tree for the new house.  Went with unlit this time because the strings of lights that come on the prelit variety always seem to go out prematurely.  As for ornaments, this year I decided on metallics — specifically, a mix of shiny & matte silver I found at Hobby Lobby.  They have some of the best prices I’ve seen on things like ornaments, tree toppers, weighted stocking holders, tree skirts, etc.  p.s. Why are tree skirts so freakin’ expensive?!  I don’t get it.  Anyway, I spent one cold rainy afternoon in early December buying the adornments and placing them just so.  Matte & shiny silver Christmas tree

2. odd duck.  We finally made it to the hot new restaurant on our street!  It’s a sister restaurant to the well-reviewed Barley Swine, which always seems to evade us with hour & a half wait times or being booked up for the evening.  When our friends from D.C. were in town over Christmas, we suggested Odd Duck and knew we had to get there as soon as they opened for dinner the second Friday evening their doors were open.  Luckily we got a table right at 5 p.m. and were delighted to order one of our new favorite red varietals, Cab Franc, by the glass off their drink menu.  Best part of the dinner was the pretzel bread served w/ some kind of mustard mousse dipping sauce.  I’ve heard good things about their desserts, too, and could totally see myself blowing my  New Year’s Resolution on a repeat visit to dine on nothing but their bread, desserts & wine.

3.  “Russian Red” by MAC.  So I’ve been searching for the perfect shade of red lipstick for like years.  Sometimes, I’d find the right hue but not the right texture.  Or, maybe the quality wasn’t great and the color feathered & bled.  Well, the search is over because I’ve found my new staple in MAC’s Russian Red — it’s perfect for the holidays and beyond.  It’s also been named one of the most timeless shades of red and I totally agree.  Not that of-the-moment shade of tomato orangey-red, not a red-with-too-much-blue that doesn’t flatter my skintone; just a perfect & true matte red.The best shade of red lipstick

4.  The Osaki Zero Gravity Massage Chair  I booked myself a post-holiday-travel massage  at Zero Gravity Institute today and while the human masseuse did a great job, the massage chair I sat in just before the appointment blew. my. mind.  If you ever have a chance to experience one of these, it’s the best massage chair on the planet.  Beats the one they let you test out at Brookstone in the mall, by far.  The Zero Gravity feature lifts & reclines back almost parallel to the floor so you really get this unfamiliar weightless feeling.  There is also a feature that scans your body and tailors the pressure points fitting your height…how it can get to certain spots in my neck and the bottom of my feet is pretty neat, for a machine.  If you’re someone who has the disposable income to dabble in the massage chair market, this is the coolest one I’ve ever sat in.  Though nothing can compare to an actual massage performed by a real live person.  I really can’t think of a better time to treat yourself to a relaxing massage than just after the craziness of the holidays, right?  I was searching for a way to destress after a dramatically eventful few days over Christmas and …this was perfection.

5.  And last but certainly not least, the best Christmas present of all:  the Gift of Life.  My father has been dealing with liver cancer for about a year & a half and his only life saving cure is a full-fledged liver transplant.  In his case, they couldn’t cut it out –there are two lesions in two separate quadrants of the liver and doctors said the organ wouldn’t survive the trauma surgically removing them would entail– and his chemo sessions have only shown to contain the cancer from spreading.  After a year on the transplant list, they got the call on Christmas Day:  rush to the hospital because a liver donation was being flown in from Dallas.  It’s been a crazy last few days, but the surgery went great and my dad is now awake, talking, even sitting up.  The next three months of recovery will be tough on him & my mother, but I’m so thankful that he’s now cancer-free and progressing just fine.  Thank you Jesus!  And please consider becoming an organ donor…someone’s compassionate choice saved my dad’s life.

Weekend in the Wine Country

Early last month, we had the honor of attending the wine country wedding of our NYC friends, Tricia & Steven.  Their Napa nuptials were very much looked forward to by yours truly…I mean, if your guests are going to be getting on a plane to fly to your big event, why not have them jet-set to Napa Valley during harvest season?!?  –Perfection!

As I recently shared, we were in San Fran for a few days before our weekend in the wine country.  I had done it before, but the drive from the city into the wine region was just as beautiful as the first time:  you get to see the landscape change, the ocean mist settle way into the valley, and begin to notice row after row of vineyards.

Our first stop was the home of my favorite cabernet:  Trefethen Family Vineyards.  Trefethen Vineyards

We were so happy to arrive that we immediately signed up for their wine club as soon as we walked through the door.  If you are planning a trip to Napa and want to hit up a lot of vineyards like you’re bar-hopping, I would not advise doing the same.  It is, relatively, a big financial commitment and you usually want to at least TRY THEIR WINES before signing-up for home delivery service.  –We were sooooo eager!  :)  But, as I said, I haven’t ever had a cab I’ve liked better in my life, so we just dove right in.  They totally took care of us while we were there, though:  giving us a taste of everything on the menu, great service, and tons of advice/info on things from wine tasting in general to a history of the vineyard itself.  And, of course the wine was exceptional, like really REALLY good.  Actually, it was one of the best afternoons I’ve ever shared with my husband.At Trefethen Family Vineyards

We spent waaaaay more time at Trefethen than we thought we would –a testament to how well they’ll take care of wine club members– so we decided to just head downtown to check in our hotel.  Just a note on hotels in Napa:  they are crazy expensive and not very nice (like, you’re not going to get even 3-star accommodations at ~$200/night).  Me personally, I felt like we were in a Motel 6 or Best Western that was charging us $225 a night.  But, no worries, you’re not really spending much time luxuriating in your lodging during a visit to the wine country, now are ya?  That, or you’ll be too wine-drunk to notice the crusty cheap duvet or the old school wall-mounted blowdryer.  Rather, I hear booking accommodations at a bed & breakfast is the way to go.

Our first night ended after a unique, refreshingly different “rehearsal dinner” held in the backyard of a local bed & breakfast.  It was a relaxed yet upscale event and all guests mixed & mingled in the garden at their leisure over wine & passed hors d’oeuvres.

Our agenda for the next morning was all about visiting as many vineyards as we could fit in before the wedding.  We were joined by my husband’s great friend/fraternity brother and he was an excellent addition to the party.  At the recommendation of a family friend, we went straight to Provenance Vineyards.  OMG — what a great start to the day!  The tasting room manager graciously allowed us to sample EVERY varietal they produce (even the crazy expensive ones!) and then we got our very own background tour.  On your next trip to Napa/Sonoma, if you can arrange a private tour for your group at a vineyard, lemme tell ya:  it’ll be the best part of your trip!  Provenance Vineyards

During our private tour, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes insight into wine harvesting & storage.  For example, we got to taste their Merlot grapes harvested that very morning, as well as sample young wine straight from the barrel.

Merlot Grapes harvested at Provenance Winerytasting wine from the barell

After a stop at Plumpjack, we ended our wine tasting tour at Redd for lunch.  –What amazing food!  I’m still daydreaming about it.  We sat at the bar and the bartenders hooked us up with a generous taste of a local white to “wet our whistle” followed by chef’s tasting appetizers.  Such a wonderful lunch stop — I’m still daydreaming about it.  Next time I’m in Napa, I’m going to put just as much effort into securing reservations at restaurants as I would put into planning our winery visits.  I guess all the highly ranked wine being produced in the region has subsequently drawn world-class chefs?  Gotta have food worthy of pairing with all that fine wine, I suppose.  Seriously, wine takes center stage in Napa, but it is definitely a top-notch foodie destination as well.  Standout entrees from our lunch order were the steamed pork buns and caramelized diver scallops.Pork Buns at ReddDiver Scallops at Redd

Next up, our main event:  the wedding!  Our friends held their outdoor ceremony and reception under the stars on the grounds of Landmark Vineyards in Sonoma.  What a beautiful venue for a wedding!  So very picturesque…  at Landmark Vineyards in Sonoma

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