Sunday, September 18, 2016

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Dove Variety Minis

I discovered a new kind of chocolate that I love. Allow me to introduce to you... Dove Variety Minis, which are individually wrapped dark chocolate covered vanilla or chocolate ice cream bars.


My boss regularly buys the apartment community maintenance staff ice cream and stocks it in the freezer in the leasing office throughout the summer. It was very hot and humid this past season and I know this treat was appreciated. One day, I tried one of the miniature ice creams she bought and loved it so much that I have been buying it regularly ever since. I especially love ice cream and of course gelato in the summertime.


These bars are delicious! The dark chocolate shell is so good. When you bite into one, it's a surprise which kind of ice cream is inside. My preference is the chocolate ice cream, which is rich. I would say that the vanilla is fluffy rather than decadent. I appreciate the small size as I am forever trying to exercise portion control. These satisfying and individually wrapped treats are gone in three bites, perfect for just a little dessert after lunch or dinner. 

Each wrapper features different text promoting chocolate.



Have you tried them yet?



Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Review: The Light of Paris

The first book I read from my fall reading list was The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown. I devoured this novel in three days. I recommend it.

I borrowed the eBook through my local library.

It's about a modern-day woman who is unhappy with her current life stemming from the choices she has made that benefit others instead of herself. During some time away at her mother's, she finds her grandmother's journals and is enraptured with the tale of how she visited Paris in the 20s. Her grandmother wasn't always the formal woman her granddaughter thought of her as, but a creative soul, a kindred spirit, a woman that wanted to break out of the mold of the time. Reflection upon all this slowly helps her begin a transformation.

The first half of the book was character development. It was good, but as soon as the two main characters started to make their own decisions halfway through, it became a truly fantastic book. I mean, how could it not? One of the main characters had the time of her life in 1920s Paris! The woman hung out with Surrealists in sidewalk cafes! Both characters come alive. I could see not every reader loving the book since you want to grab the modern day female protagonist by the shoulders and shake some sense into her! She didn't seem to think that her own happiness mattered whatsoever. As a lifestyle blogger, it was frustrating to read. I could certainly see that it happens in real life and since the story was well written, I rooted for her to actually make major changes. The lessons of the book: be authentically you and have the courage to pursue your dreams, however nonconformist they may be, are important ones. It's a good book and I think you should grab a copy for yourself.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Signature Sunday: Banfi Chianti Classico

In this recent post, I mentioned that I picked up several bottles of wine. One of them was a Banfi Chianti Classico from 2014 that I wanted to try. What initially caught my eye at the warehouse was its price. At $14.49, it was about $10 cheaper than I have ever seen a bottle of Chianti Classico in the country. I also liked the image on the front of the bottle. The Renaissance painting was a bit of a romantic one depicting a man and woman meeting in front of a pope. (Although online, I later learn that this marriage is an unhappy one.)


The notes on the back of the bottle held my interest. It reads, "A pleasingly smooth and satisfying red wine, made from the grapes of the acclaimed Chianti Classico region, well-balanced and structured with pleasing aromas of cherry and plum. It is a perfect match to hearty stews and grilled meats." For those three reasons, I added it to my cart that evening.

On Monday night, I made my pasta specialty of penne pasta with sauteed red pepper, zucchini, spinach and grape tomatoes in a light tomato sauce, topped with a bit of Perdue Short Cuts Original Roasted Chicken this time, and decided to open this bottle.


I liked that it was a beautiful deep red color in the glass.


After giving it a swirl, I thought it smelled strongly of fruit, possibly cherry, and predicted it would taste like the fruity Chianti Da Vinci or like many Merlots out there. I was surprised that I didn't find it fruity, but smooth instead. This is the smoothest Chianti that I have ever had! It almost goes down too well... It tasted like the dry still medium-bodied wine I love and have become accustomed to. My online research informed me that the notes were of "cherry and leather." I am not a wine snob (yet!) or simply do not have a sensitive palate, but I do not get these flavors. It might taste like cherry first, sure, and then it evolves just a bit. The wine is not overly complex with strong notes. It also has a bit of a finish as well. Even though there are no outstanding flavors to me, nothing about it is light or weak. I have to agree with the adjectives on the back label, especially "smooth" and "well-balanced." It reminds me of Bolla Chianti which had always been my go-to before and I can easily purchase from my local liquor store. I consider my new wine to be more smooth than that one. Even though I have been drinking wine for a dozen years now, starting at age 20 (turning 21) while studying abroad in Italy, I seriously think it's the first wine that I tasted and thought, "That's my favorite." Plus, everything I read on any website recommends pairing it with "red-sauced pasta, grilled meats and roasts." Honestly, I tend to eat those first two options most often. Since I'm such a lightweight and do not enjoy feeling tipsy or out-of-control, I prefer to eat while I am drinking. In addition, I approve of the price point of $15, which for wine, is considered cheap in general. I look forward to buying more bottles of this one! I anticipate sharing it as it may be a crowd-pleaser...


Banfi Chianti Classico is definitely my new signature red wine.

Have you tried it before?



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Fall 2016 Reading List

Like the Italians, the French traditionally tend to vacation for much of August. So many businesses and other entities are shut down for about a month. They have a term for their return in September, la rentrée. A 're-entry' to work, school and a normal schedule after a late summer break. It's kind of like 'Back To School' time in the US. The French version is for more than just students though, everyone embraces a new beginning. This cultural occasion has inspired me to stick to a French theme for my fall reading list.

Michelle Fall 2016 Reading List:


1
I downloaded the eBook to my Kindle's 3M Cloud Library app through my local library.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is a novel about a modern day woman who is unhappy with her current life. She finds her grandmother's diary and is enraptured with the tale of how her relative visited Paris during the Jazz Age and had the time of her life. The story is told from these two points of view. I love books like this. The similar A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable comes to mind.


2

Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell will be released the day this blog post publishes. Again, this is the story of an unhappy modern day woman who has a link to Paris. She finds a work of art at her grandmother's and then travels to Paris to learn more about it. There, she discovers letters detailing the life of the subject that date from the Belle Epoque. All that reveals secrets from her own life. 


3

From a Paris Balcony by Ella Carey is to be released on October 11, 2016. Yes, this is yet another tale of a troubled young woman who finds a letter about her relative's death from the Belle Epoque at her father's place. She journeys to Paris to get to the bottom of the mystery. Her discoveries inspire her own life to start moving forward again. The Kindle version is affordable, $3.99 at the time of writing.


4

I discovered French Lessons: The Art of Living and Loving Well by E.J. Gore from a This & That blog post on The Simply Luxurious Life. A woman takes a long-term trip to Paris and meets a French woman who teaches her a lot about living well. She goes through quite the transformation. 



I already have four books in mind for my winter reading list. Two of which are Italian-themed.

Find my Summer 2016 Reading List here. From this list, I have published two book reviews and have two more to go. Stay tuned!



Monday, September 5, 2016

Book Review: Invincible Summer

I discovered the book entitled Invincible Summer by Alice Adams from this post on the blog The Simply Luxurious Life and added it to my summer reading list. I enjoyed it.

or at the library.

I love a novel on friendship. The story follows four friends over about 20 years, starting with finishing up college in England. It is a coming-of-age story of adults in the real world. Each chapter seems to be a year or two apart, highlighting the interactions of these four scattered across Europe. I thought the characters were well-developed, but the author didn't exactly hold your hand. Rather in-depth, the reader witnessed snapshots of their real lives. I wish I knew more about particle physics or finance to really understand what was going on! Or even a better understanding of England would have been helpful... I wouldn't say that I loved one of the four main characters. I adore being in my 30s, so the fact that the protagonists were around this age kept my interest. The themes of friendship, love, loyalty, and life appealed to me. Starting in the mid-1990s, I think the writing captured the time and atmosphere fairly well. Overall, I thought the story truly depicted real life. You don't always get what you want. ...or it can be majorly delayed. You can certainly make bad decisions and suffer the consequences. Friends can help you through tough times. With hard work, love and friendship can prevail. I liked this book, just didn't love it. I think if this kind of thing piques your interest at all, then it is worth borrowing from the library and reading once.



Sunday, September 4, 2016

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Wine Shopping

A friend and I went wine shopping yesterday evening. Long in the works, she wanted to introduce me to a wine, beer, and spirits warehouse that she loves and is conveniently located for her. Plus, we both wanted to visit an old favorite wine shop a bit further in Annapolis. Planning this excursion, I decided that I wanted a rosé and (the liqueur) limoncello to celebrate summer, the only white wine I love, and maybe a bottle of red or two. I like a particular earthy red wine for the upcoming fall. Since my trip to Paris, I've been into drinking a bottle of rosé in the summertime. I set a budget of $75 and predicted that it would be difficult to purchase those five bottles totaling that. I became more my optimistic self after I received an email from the wine shop announcing a major holiday sale, selling many bottles at $1 over cost!



First, we shopped the warehouse called Total Wine & More. This is a chain with stores throughout the country and a headquarters here in Maryland. It was fun discovering something new. They had an amazingly large selection, all at truly fantastic prices. They even had a tasting going on. Heaven!

Perusing many of the aisles, I picked up a Chianti Classico for $14.49, which I consider to be $10 cheaper than what I have ever found elsewhere in the US. I pay that price for regular Chianti. Bolla Chianti is my signature wine, so I consider Chianti Classico an upgrade. I like the romantic picture on the label of this Banfi wine. The text underneath reads, "Incontro tra Federico III ed Eleonora d'Aragona alla presenza di Papa Pio II" which translates to "Meeting between Frederick III and Eleanor of Aragon in the presence of Pope Pius II." They became Holy Roman Emperor and Empress in 1452.


The back label says it is smooth with notes of cherry and plum. I will probably start to drink this first. I plan to pair it with my pasta specialty (pasta in a light tomato sauce with sauteed red pepper, zucchini, spinach and grape tomatoes, likely topped with chicken strips) this week, possibly as early as tomorrow evening. 

Next, I spotted the earthy red wine that I mentioned I like for fall, Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Sometimes they carry this at the wine shop (where I discovered it), but at $11.29, 70 cents cheaper than what I have paid at the other place, I promptly added it to my cart. I thought it was an excellent value before. I normally drank this type of wine when I studied abroad as it was the wine my region produced.

Knowing the wine shop only sold a single bottle of limoncello, I wanted to check out the warehouse's selection. It was large and I picked the smallest bottle, one imported from Italy at that! Probably the lowest price on the shelves, it was $11.79. The label features a romantic description which ends with, "...Caravella is enjoyed served straight from the freezer after a satisfying meal with family and friends..." I will have to store it in my freezer tonight, so I can try a taste after a pasta dinner this week. "To close the stomach" as Italians would say! My mom (an antique dealer) gave me a couple of stemmed cordial glasses that I plan to serve it in. 

I spent $40.95 there. Knowing the rosé was probably going to be around $10 and the white around $30 at the wine shop, I thought I was doing fairly well, but was still thinking I would go over my $75 budget a bit.

My purchases from Total Wine & More.

Next, she drove us to my favorite wine shop, Bin 201, in Annapolis, a city I adore. I wanted a particular rosé that I saw described in one of their emails back in July. It's called Zaza Garnacha Rosé. It described this dry pink wine from Spain as "flavorful" and "cheerful." I also approved of the strawberry notes as well as the price point of $9.99. I paid that price as it wasn't one of the bottles on sale. We should still have hot summer days to enjoy this chilled as intended!

They had two Sancerres, which is the white wine I discovered at O Chateau in Paris. I didn't like one of the descriptions at all, but thought the other sounded delicious. Plus, this second option was the Sancerre on sale for $19 from the original $29.99. Made from Sauvignon Blanc, I like that this French wine is dry and crisp with hints of citrus. I'm not sure if I've had this one from Cédrick Bardin before... I look forward to trying it with my sun-dried tomato cream pasta dish, maybe later on in the week.

As a red wine drinker, it was kind of odd to be buying a rosé and a white, but I still had that budget in mind. My total at Bin 201 was $31.60. My total for all five bottles was $72.55. I was amazed to be just under budget!

My bottles from Bin 201.

I love all of my purchases. I ended up with exactly what I wanted. Inspired, I set a goal to fill up my wine cabinet and its wine rack (once) by the end of fall. I only have five empty spots to fill at the moment, but of course plan to transfer one to my kitchen counter soon! My friend kept reminding me that she could take me back to the warehouse. Plus, like I said, the location is so convenient for her, that I could give her some cash and make a request. I think I'm going to enjoy my fall already! Cheers! Cin cin!


The two of us ended our evening with dinner at Mission BBQ back in our hometown. I love their pulled pork sandwich! The establishment offers six sauces on each table and my favorite is Memphis Belle. I even treated myself to a rare side of french fries. My meal was delicious! The service at this chain is always outstanding as well. This company always seems to be expanding with new locations.


It was such a pleasure to go wine shopping and be out and about with a friend on a Saturday night.

After grocery shopping this morning, I patronized my local liquor store and bought a six pack of beer, Harp, to go with the burgers I was planning. The guy ringing me up asked, "No wine today?!" I just mumbled "No wine today" in reply and didn't mention my cheating on him! ...with no plans on ending the love affair too.



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

600th Post: Q & A and 6th Blog Anniversary

Thank you so much for returning to reading this blog. I greatly appreciate your sweet comments of support during my absence. I missed you too. Your sincere words meant a lot to me. Grazie. I did not intend to take a break, but life certainly threw me for a loop and I was trying to hold on the best I could. That story simply does not have a place on this blog. I identify as a lifestyle blogger, so without engaging in my beloved hobby lately, I felt like a piece of myself was missing. It feels so good to be back. Inspiring others to live well by indulging in simple pleasures, cultivating signature items, and elevating the everyday is important to me and I plan to continue as long as possible. Short-term, I hope to use August to slowly get back into the habit of blogging. Starting in September, I plan to return with my regular schedule of posting every Sunday and publishing nine times a month for 31-day months and eight times for months with fewer days for the remainder of the calendar year. I wanted to make a point to publish today because August 16, 2016 is this blog's 6th anniversary! Check out my first post here.



Finally! My special 600th post, my first Q & A!



First of all, thank you for your fantastic questions! I hope you enjoy my answers!

Questions for the italiagal:

Andrea asked, 
I'd love to know your thoughts on self discipline and routine/ritual, vs. going with the flow and enjoying the moment. Which works better when, and how much?

In recent years, I find that I thrive on routine. My life runs smoothly based upon routine. I work to develop good habits which makes accomplishing tasks natural, eliminating making decisions. Deciding on something or creating a plan takes energy and actually saps self discipline. As a result, I get more done. Plus, when you keep up with something regularly, it doesn't pile up, thus take longer to tackle. This allows more time for play.

As an INFJ, I think about how I can improve pretty much constantly, so it's ideal to do my chores and then relax. This doesn't always happen, making my down time not so relaxing. Like after a shift, for example, I may need a immediate break to sip wine, eat cheese and crackers, prepare and eat dinner, and/or relax before jumping into that weeknight's designated chore. Regarding my routine, the following is what I usually do each day of the week. I accomplish more on Sunday and Monday, the days I am off from work.

Michelle's Cleaning and Chore Schedule:
Sunday: grocery shopping; make tea for week; laundry
Monday: cook and bake for week; clean kitchen; wash windows and sliding glass door; dust
Tuesday: vacuum
Wednesday: clean bathroom and mop kitchen floor
Thursday: vacuum
Friday: schedule payments/pay bills
Saturday: take out trash and recycling

Instead of designating a particular day, I also stay on top of weekly and monthly beauty-related routines by checking the same items off a couple of master lists. Although, I usually focus on accomplishing them on and soon after the first day of the week or month to get them out of the way.

I know myself. I am also well aware that my energy level is at its lowest around 7:30 PM each day, so at that time, I usually rest. At least, I know to not try to blog and try my best to clean up after dinner by then until I regain some of my energy and creativity to resume my evening activities. In addition, I have been slowly rising earlier and earlier. I am consistent about it too, even rising at the same time on weekends. I feel most energetic and creative during the morning and early afternoon. I strive to accomplish as much as I can when I have the most energy and give myself a break when I don't.

I am value-driven and truly believe that balance is key in life. If I work hard, I could play hard, but really I need a bit of time alone not doing much of anything. The Italians have a saying, dolce far niente, or the "sweetness of doing nothing." That definitely restores my energy. I need my energy back in order to be my best. I suppose I schedule time to be unscheduled! I do love to be spontaneous every once in awhile. So concerned with happiness, I make a point to savor simple pleasures daily. Any preparation, purchasing ingredients or making a plan for the outing or activity, tends to be done on a weekly basis.

Again, I always want to improve as an INFJ. Once I have a handle on new habits, I don't spend a lot of time acknowledging my progress, but quickly add on more instead. I know the way I want to improve my productivity next. I want to write longer to do lists under each day in my planner, more than those chores listed above. I could make this a habit either every night or morning. This would be effective for those as needed chores like carpet stain removal. When I am efficient with tasks, then I have more spare time to do whatever I want ...or like I said, not do anything for a bit. I could also schedule leisure activities as well, that way I may actually do them. After that, I must come up with a blogging schedule or plan.


Stephanie asked:
1. How do you keep your apartment clutter free?

This is about motivation and values. A place for everything and everything in its place. I firmly believe that every single thing needs a home. I like a straightened home, with everything put away. This is not really a specific chore to check off a to do list for me, just something I do after finished doing something. For example, if my laptop battery dies while lounging on the sofa, then I plug it in at my desk to sit there, arranging and fluffing the throw pillows before I leave. I prefer things finished.

I grew up in a messy household, complete with an antique dealer mom, and I no longer care for that. I truly live who I am as an adult (and I've always wanted to be grown up). It is important to surround myself with beauty. I need a beautiful home. My ideal is a decluttered home. I promote only possessing, finding a home for, and taking care of what you love, use, and find beautiful. Less is more. I don't keep stuff I don't like. Having regularly decluttered for years, I no longer accumulate bags of trash and donations, but focus on mail/catalogues, coupons, freebies, the little things. I also enjoy entertaining and hope my home is ready for company at any moment. Sometimes, when life is hard for close friends, it's nice that time spent in my apartment without too much visual noise along with me actively listening acts an oasis. Also, I love Instagram now and don't wish to capture a messy background! Plus, if I am truly trying to live the chic life of a domestic goddess, then it is fitting that my home should be straightened and definitely clutter free.

2. What was your favorite thing you did on your trips to Italy and Paris?

In both places, what comes to mind first is having breakfast. In Italy, standing at a bar shooting back an espresso and eating a cornetto or seated at a table sipping a cappuccino in a mug accompanied by that cornetto. In Paris, savoring a pain au chocolat with a cappuccino on a bench in the courtyard of the Louvre with Elizabeth. I had to acquire a taste for coffee and it makes me think of Italy. Plus, I really love carbs. This meal is also at the beginning of the day of travel, exploring a new place. Few things in life are better than that. I am filled with anticipation for what I will discover.

3. It seems like you take your time deciding to make purchases. What is your process for deciding what items you will bring into your life? Do you plan ahead and budget for them and if so, how far in advance do you plan?

I'm actually quite decisive, especially when the item is perfect. If it does not match my vision, then I must decide if I am going to settle at that moment. Purchases are actually delayed because I simply do not make much more money than it takes to cover my bills. That is a choice; it is a dream to live in my apartment with a balcony on my own, plus I like having a job that I enjoy and that is important work. I am an INFJ, so I either obsess over something or do not like it much at all.


Once I see something I like, which is usually online since I do not like to drive and thus I am not often in stores anymore, I would like to have it right then and there. I like things finished. This doesn't happen a lot though. So picky, I can scroll through whole websites and go through entire malls and not like anything. I don't think that so many things are "cute" like other women seem to. It would be easier if my standards weren't so high.

But often I do not have the money or the money I do have is already designated for groceries, wine, beauty and cleaning products, and gifts until my next paycheck. In that case, I pin the item, add it to my Amazon.com Wish List and/or Shopping List on my phone. I try to spend less in one area to devote money for the item or use part of a larger paycheck with some commission money. The second I can afford it, I buy it. Early on a payday Friday, possibly before espresso if you can believe it, I tend to order something off my Amazon.com Wish List. Of course, all my bill payments are already scheduled to be taken out that day.

If the item is over $100, then I may not be able to afford it ...or it would take me a long time to do so. In fact, it could languish on a list for years. Over the years, my parents have generously given me the desired yet costly item or given me money towards it on a special occasion. With many of my possessions, I can look at something and think Christmas or birthday [gift] ...or perhaps something I needed for a new home. I look at my white comforter, for example, and think Christmas 2015. My mom likes getting each of her children a big gift he or she wants at Christmas and then to shop for a few little things that she thinks we would like. I say that we've been spoiled for our entire lives and it can stop. I am incredibly grateful for their help in making my apartment a home though.

I enjoy shopping for home items much more than clothing and anything else. As a lifestyle blogger, I deeply care about how I live and what I surround myself with. As a traveler, I will save for over two years for an international trip. I always prioritize spending and saving.

There are times of the year when I working a purchase into my budget isn't as difficult. Typically, I can afford more and acquire wishlist items and everyday things more quickly during the summer when I collect more commission in my paycheck. I usually decide which paycheck I am going to use instead of which date I am going to buy it. I also believe in the capsule wardrobe. Usually you shop just before the season is to begin and then once set, you stop shopping. I usually spoil myself around my birthday. When you are paid every two weeks, I think there are a couple of months a year that you have a third paycheck and one of those would be dedicated to enjoying my birthday in the spring. I like to splurge on a day trip, longer travels, or a shopping spree in the fall, but I suppose that I save a lot of the other one to help get me through Christmastime and the winter, a time without much commission. People just don't tend to move in through 29 inches of snow...

4. What is your most favorite blog post that you have written?

This is a difficult question. I truly love places, so writing all about what I did on a recent trip would be among my favorites. Check out this one from my first days discovering and delighting in the beauty that is Paris. Furthermore, whenever I move to someplace I love, I would like to do another weekly series highlighting the discovery of a new place within that city or town.

5. How did you unplug from cable tv? I guess I'm curious how that is going and if you have an alternative form of entertainment with subscriptions like netflix or other things. Thanks!

One September years ago now, I donated my outdated TV. Before then, I only had a few channels. My favorite was TLC. I watched the same episodes of Say Yes to the Dress, Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta, Long Island Medium, Breaking Amish, and Sister Wives over and over again. I wanted to stop wasting my time and go out, especially after I move to a new place. I decided to eliminate the distraction. I thoroughly enjoy life without cable.

It wasn't only shows I kind of liked, I also felt obligated to watch the evening news, a bit of the Today show in the morning, State of the Unions, Olympics, award shows, etc. because "I should" and to use what I viewed in conversation in coming days. Instead of watching the news on TV, I now learn about what's going on from theSkimm weekday newsletters. I love them. They are actually geared toward those real life conversations. If it's the weekend, I may log onto Facebook to browse and come across an outraged post about some sort of violence from a friend, despite having very limited friends on the social media site. I may also spot an odd image on Instagram. Curious, I immediately go to google and click News to check out the top stories, and it's always a match.

Right before I got rid of the TV, I bought myself a Kindle. I truly replaced TV viewing with reading.

In addition to my Kindle, I use another device, my computer. I watch the full episodes of House Hunters International posted on their website. That's my only "current" TV show at the moment. I also watch movies every once in awhile on my laptop. I suppose I got into YouTube this calendar year. Subscribing to several channels, my favorites are The Daily Connoisseur and How Jen Does It. I truly look forward to Monday when typically there's a new video on both of these channels. I do not have and have never had netflix. I do have Amazon Prime however. I'm on my second membership, with no plans not to renew. I sometimes watch a movie for free, but not any of the TV shows (yet). I am far more interested in the free 2-day shipping perk than any other.

I actually just received the generous gift of a small used TV from a friend on Sunday afternoon, but it's not functional yet as I was not yet given the power cord. I still have no desire for a cable subscription, but my media viewing may possibly increase with a bigger screen soon. If it's hooked up to my computer or external disk drive, at least I can hostess movie nights again!

I do my laundry at my parents' place every Sunday or rarely Monday and since the TV is on nearly 24/7 there, I usually watch some TV at that time. Say Yes to the Dress is usually on during Sunday afternoons. It's not like that's all I do there, I may eat, spend time with my mom doing other things, or play with the family dog.


Fiona asked:
1. You live a very simple and peaceful life it seems, what is your inspiration for this and how do you top up on inspiration?

I'm an INFJ, so I have a complex mind. I'm always thinking and every thought is connected to another one. I use a lot of these thoughts to daydream like you. I believe in balance, so because I am far from simple on the inside, I strive to have a simple lifestyle. Plus, I value simplicity and am very value-driven, so I do strive to lead a simple life for its own sake. Therefore, my motivation comes from within.

I love decluttering because it allows you to live with only the items you love and use. I find tidying resources online. If I truly feel I need cleaning or organizing inspiration, I may view videos from the YouTube Channel How Jen Does It. I especially liked to read decluttering articles online, mostly from Pinterest, but that has sharply declined since I discovered what works for me after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I love her decluttering criteria of asking, Does this spark joy? I believe that's the way to go. I happen to disagree with so many of her organizing principles however. Many of your blog posts actually always stick with me, Fiona. Now that my life is calming down a bit, I need to read your book [Thirty Chic Days: Practical Inspiration for a Beautiful Life] again and take notes for more inspiration.

I have an irrational fear of driving, currently do not own a vehicle, and was raised to be independent in practical matters, so I tend to walk to accomplish as many errands as possible. Like you, I enjoy walking to do errands because it resembles a European lifestyle. I stroll to the grocery store, a big box store, and a liquor store nearly every week (except when I make myself drive there for practice). It's combining exercise and errands. I go in what I'm wearing at home and for the day, so it eliminates the need for separate workout clothes, which is simple.

I also love routine. This makes life simple, since you do not have so many decisions, you do something at that time every week as a habit. I have a cleaning schedule, for example. My beauty routines are a bit more flexible, checked off a weekly or monthly master list. I don't think, oh, I haven't done a facial mask in awhile, I should do that tonight because I've already decided on the frequency. My firm belief in habits stems from Gretchen Rubin and her book Better Than Before.

2. What is a typical daily routine like for you? (I always love reading these - nosy!)

I wake up insanely early to brew a couple cups of espresso in a moka pot. I lay low, allowing the caffeine to activate me before I get ready for the day. I shower, straighten my wavy hair, apply le no makeup look, get dressed, put on earrings, spritz my signature scent, and have some time to do something like send an email before either going to work or tackling my to do list on my days off.

Tuesday through Friday, I walk down the steps to the office by 9 AM and walk back up the steps after 6 PM. On Saturday, I work by 9:30 and am off at 5. When I'm not terribly busy (like I am the last two weeks of July and the first two of August), I take a lunch hour at home. Usually I eat leftovers for lunch, possibly salad when it's fresh early in the week.

I like to wind down with a glass of red wine accompanied by cheese on crackers after work but before dinner. Or I could wind down by taking a walk immediately after work, weather permitting. (Unfortunately, it's been very hot and humid here lately.) On a budget, I eat a lot of pasta for dinner, maybe salad early in the week, but have a few different dishes I can cook. I enjoy cooking. I sneak in a chore between the things I feel like doing that evening. Sometimes, I have a friend over Thursday evening. Reading in bed is something I usually do before I go to sleep. I try to shut down screens with an alarm on my phone at 9:45 PM, so I can sleep better.

I live for my days off. Besides that maintenance schedule of cleaning and preparing for the week, I usually have a plan, a mix of both fun (either alone or social) and down time. Of course, it changes every weekend. One day of my last weekend, I was social. On the other day, I spent some time in the kitchen, preparing foods that celebrated summer, pesto and beef kebabs. I usually always walk to the store(s) after getting ready Sunday morning. I usually bake for the week (or more) every Monday morning, stocking my freezer with most of the batch. In fact, I changed it up with blueberry muffins (from the Betty Crocker box mix) yesterday.

3. If YOU wrote a book, what would it be called and what would it be about?

For years and years, since I love reading, I thought if I wrote a book, then it would be an Italy travel memoir like Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Now, I think it would be a book of life lessons learned from a specific trip to an Italian destination, something similar to Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris by Jennifer L. Scott who wrote about her study abroad experience in Paris or the lesser known Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.) by Karen A. Chase who documented but further reflected upon a long 40th birthday trip to the same city. I'm not sure what it would be called yet, but I would work hard on the perfect title.


Kim asked:
1. I am interested in how you budget as well. Especially groceries. Also in your daily and weekly planning. 

I pay my rent with one paycheck and all my other bills with my other paycheck each month. So much of my budget for groceries, cleaning supplies, beauty products, and extras depends upon how much I have left over in that next paycheck. I usually spend $20-$30 each week at the grocery store, about that much each week at Target too, and about $17 at the wine shop either every week or every other (depending upon how I entertain). Rarely, especially during the summer with better paychecks though, I will spend double that amount, but spending over $60 would be odd. I really work the discount app Cartwheel at Target and try to buy things on sale in general. I do not buy a lot of more expensive meat. During the winter, I would limit myself to 10 or so items a store as well. The 10 items on my grocery list. I add items to my grocery list and my separate Target list in a notepad on my desk throughout the week. Just before I am off to go shopping, I slip these two sheets of paper into my handbag. At each store, I only grab a cart a time or two a year. Instead, I limit myself by loading up a basket at both the grocery store and Target. When that's full, it's time to check out. Plus, I usually walk to the store and am able to tote a basket full of items back. 12 items or less, I usually use the self check-out lane at the grocery store. When I spent more than usual at the grocery store last time and chose another lane, the cashier remarked that I carried so much in the basket. I quickly replied about it's a way to limit myself due to budget. In addition, maybe once or a few times a summer, I'll buy tomatoes, other fresh produce, and maybe sunflowers at my local farmer's market. I love to eat, so I always have an idea of what I want to have that week and it's fairly consistent week-to-week, but I don't really meal plan. I should start meal planning so I can add some more variety to my diet, listing ingredients for new recipes to try. I strive to live well within my means.

2. How did you decide what clothing types worked best for your body type. 

I still have Stacy and Clinton's (of TLC's What Not To Wear) words regarding what fits and flatters in general in my head. I am very concerned with what works for me and may even comment upon silhouette. Whatever makes me appear longer and leaner! I have an hourglass figure so I like elements that work well with that: v-necks, a tailored or wrapped waistline, and knee-length A-line hems. Or for pants: bootcut, straight leg, trousers, maybe ankle or cropped. Nothing skinny, flare, or boyfriend. Nothing can be too loose nor too tight. A top shouldn't be too long and cover my hips, calling attention to  their width. Anything with a bit more polish like dark denim. I like structured fitted garments like a sheath dress or fitted blazer. A lot of structure reminds me of the Duchess of Cambridge, a style icon for me. I love classic style. I want to own those essentials in a capsule wardrobe every season such as a white shirt. I love black ballet flats. One of my favorite accessories is a bright scarf. I prefer jewelry that is simple, delicate and classic like diamond (well, cubic zirconia) studs. I live in turquoise tear drop jewelry on summer weekends though.

3. How did you/do you decide on beauty products and skin care routines. Looking forward to all the Q & A.

Honestly, I tend to rely on what I have always used. I do not happen to try new products often as I cannot afford it. When shopping in Target, I quickly pick up the product on my list. I do not browse. Even though I love expertise, I have not asked a professional working in skin care about my own skin yet.

For makeup, I've always bought CoverGirl at the drug store or a big box store until I somehow learn of a better product in a magazine article, pin on Pinterest, blog post or YouTube video. I put a mask of makeup on to achieve a look like I'm not wearing any! Sometimes I just like the names of colors, especially the nail polishes by OPI and Essie. I love a travel-related name. I'm wearing Red Hot Rio by OPI in honor of the Olympics on my toenails.

I don't have a lot of money for an extensive skin care routine either. I do hear about cult classics like Simple Micellar Cleansing Water and St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub and manage to buy these products with a Cartwheel discount at Target. I also regularly replace Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer with Sunscreen, picking it up from Target as well. I found my facial mask, the Epicuren Volcanic Clay Purifying Mask, from a recommendation from one of the Madame Chic books. Jennifer wrote that it deeply cleans out pores and the ones on my nose are big. I order it on Amazon. Affordability is also a factor in deciding upon how often I engage in my skin care routine. I can only afford to apply my facial mask twice a month. If I doubled that amount, using the product once a week, then I would have to replace the little tube twice as often.

4. Any beauty magazines you read on a regular basis? 

I no longer read beauty or fashion magazines, but did for years. I might possibly pick one up for the beach, but usually opt for a lifestyle, a home decor, or a travel one instead. Not into trends, I was usually disappointed. After I had read The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own by Nina Garcia and started to think about cultivating a classic style that was really me, I found that I was no longer interested in treating myself to an expensive fashion magazine every once in awhile, or for the beach or train. Instead I go online as I enjoy blogs for recommendations, Pinterest for resources and YouTube for favorites, empties, and hauls.

5. How do you choose the books you read?

I rarely enter bookstores or my local library anymore to browse, so most of the books I read I discover online. Often, I will stumble upon books from amazon's suggestions, especially those similar to what I have previously purchased on the website. I may read one promoted by Shannon of The Simply Luxurious Life, especially in a This & That blog post that publishes every Friday morning. Sometimes, theSkimm will recommend a book in their newsletter. A blogger, reader or other person I follow on Instagram will share a photo of a cup of tea and the cover of a book, and I will then investigate the title on amazon. I will also read books written by the bloggers whose blogs I follow, although I try to limit my blogroll.

In addition, I do have favorite authors, so will read any historical fiction from Tracy Chevalier and any of the Madame Chic series by Jennifer L. Scott.

I prefer easy, breezy books such as novels during the summer, but can be more serious with non-fiction during the fall, winter, or even spring.


5. Are you on Goodreads?

No, I am not. That may be an easier way to record what I read rather than draft lengthy reviews on my blog, but it's another social media site, and I already spend too much time on Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube with a little bit of time on Facebook as it is. At this time, I'd rather not keep up with another one.



Again, thank you for all the questions! I truly appreciate your assistance in making this blog post a success. I hope I helped someone with an answer.