Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Travel Tuesday: The Mummers Day Parade in Philadelphia

I first heard about the Mummers Day Parade from the leasing consultant who helped me with my apartment in Philly. She highly recommended it, especially since my studio was located directly on the parade route. It's on January 1st as a celebration of the New Year. It's quite a celebration at that! The parade down the main North/ South thoroughfare called Broad Street actually lasts all day! It ends with a judged performance.

Right before my chance to see it in person, a friend told me it was like a blue collar Republican Mardi Gras. Never having seen that in New Orleans, I imagine so. It was very elaborate. I've only seen it once while living there. I invited my parents up to check it out because my mom loves herself a parade. We had a good time. As a break in order to warm up, we brought Italian pizza and subs takeout back to my place. It's very cold to watch so I think I'll only go again if I have a warm place to retreat to every once in awhile, like a friend's place, a hotel room or my own apartment (I can dream). I loved this tradition.

There are four types of Mummers: Comics, Fancies, String Bands and Fancy Brigades. They dress up in different ways and some play musical instruments. The Comics tend to dress up in a way and/or have a float that makes a social or political comment. They have a lot of time to prepare for this event in clubhouses located in South Philly. It has a long history which you can read more about on the parade's wikipedia page. Here is also one of the official sites: Philly Mummers.com.

I will not be attending this year as the 1st falls on a Saturday and I still work retail, but I hope to go see it again!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Style Sunday: Michelle is becoming a Minimalist

I love the idea of living simply. Without loads of material possessions nor a packed schedule. Since this is what minimalism can achieve, I think I'll give it a shot. With even more determination anyway! I have a pretty minimalist wardrobe after some work over some time, and love it; it works really well for me. In addition, I have embraced "the one in, one [or two] out" decluttering method, so I am officially challenged/ concerned how much more I can change.

For awhile now, I have followed blogs whose authors have gotten out of debt and who aspired to live a more simplified European lifestyle. Through these subjects, I stumbled upon the very inspiring community of minimalists online. I can see how owning less and, in turn, hopefully wanting less will aid in struggles with debt. You see, I have a lot of debt myself- of the credit card and student loan varieties. In fact, the major reason that I'm tied to this area and my current living situation is because of my credit card debt. I'm unable to change this at the moment, which I'd very much like to do. (New Year's Resolutions coming up soon! This'll probably be the most productive year in terms of those ever!) Ever since living in Philadelphia, I'm newly a city girl and would adore the idea of simply living in a fairly small apartment, and not wanting much more in the future myself. I also dream of living without a car, which, cost-wise, would mean no car payment, no insurance, no gas, no maintenance, no car wash, no interior vacuuming, no tickets or tolls, no cleaning supplies, no de-icer spray, etc! I could walk places or take public transportation, happily as I hate to drive.

I know I can't go very far with minimalism however. Blank white walls, for example, are not my cup of tea. I studied art history for six years afterall! I need my art, especially now my small collection of street art of Italy. I believe it was The Everyday Minimalist who defined minimalism as just owning what you love, want and use. I can certainly adopt this looser definition! One that fits me and which facilitates the kind of life I want to live.

Today, Serena from TEM recommended miss minimalist's book The Joy of Less, a minimalist living guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life (by Francine Jay) in her blog entry. Using Amazon's "search inside this book" feature, I was able to read a sizable excerpt. As previously stated, I've already gradually started to apply minimalism in my life, like I form a small pile of stuff to donate each and every week for example, yet, I think this book will still teach me new lessons. Heck, I've already parted with some old high school stuff after being inspired by the excerpt! With its five-star rating, this book comes quite highly recommended. Since my county's library system does not have it, I hope to work its purchase into my budget and order it with my next paycheck this upcoming Friday.

I hope to update you guys on my progress. I know the most difficult will be my big collection of "next apartment stuff." Will I give up a lot of that? I adore the idea of entertaining and can imagine myself as the perfect hostess, "domestic goddess" if you will. (I have given fabulous dinner parties in Philly and fun Superbowl Sunday parties and surprise birthday celebrations in college.) Anyway, over the years I have amassed a collection of items to entertain with. One of the biggest categories, if not the biggest, is glassware. I own at least four: champagne flutes, martini glasses, white and red wine goblets, and margarita glasses, and a couple of: double old-fashioned glasses and pilsners to name them off the top of my head, all stored away right now (since I temporarily live with my parents, ugh! There, I said it! ...and would rather not entertain here).

Yeah... I can't wait to get started on my new year! I hope it to be a year of great change, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Taxing Tourists

My Personal Photo of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and its crowd.
Toss a coin into the water over your shoulder and you will return to The Eternal City.

I had heard that Rome, Italy wanted to tax tourists staying in hotels and I just found out it's official. Thank you J for forwarding me this link:

Rome to tax tourists instead of locals

Starting January 1st, there will be a tax of up to 3 euro (which is like $4) added to your hotel bill per person per night in Roma. You skip this at a hostel. If you're on a budget or staying more than a couple of days in Rome, it could add up and have an impact.

The money actually goes to preserve the city's art and architecture. I love Italy for its art, so that's not a bad cause, and even though I'm not crazy about it, I don't really mind. From all the Italy-based travel narrative I read [Current book: Head over Heel], I'm aware that many Italians try their best to evade taxes, so maybe taxing tourists would be a more successful way of raising revenue than charging the locals!

In addition, Venice is currently talking about taxing tourists to come in. ...and that's my major stop on my next trip to Italy in March!

I hope this doesn't deter people from seeing Rome, which is incredible and endlessly fascinating. ...or Italy since it may become a trend!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Style Sunday: Winter White

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

Marrakech Earrings
by stormysky

Snow White Mother of Pearl
by EmeraldMoonDesign

The Amanda Earrings

And this is my shape:
Mother of Pearl Quatrefoil Dangle Earrings
by floweravenue

Silk Georgette Blouse
Ann Taylor

Sleeveless Cotton Wrap Top
Ann Taylor

Cap Sleeve Top
Ann Taylor

3/4 Sleeve Wrap Top
Ann Taylor

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Baltimore Bar Review

Last Friday night I went out with a couple of guy friends to an area of Baltimore called Federal Hill. One of them just moved there. Between a nice dinner and bar hopping, we went to a bar with a magic show called Illusions. A father and son, Ken and Spencer, run it. The son's been doing magic since he was like 4. In fact, the family owns a magic shop a few doors down. Spencer does impressive card tricks on stage with some audience participation and tells silly jokes the whole time. It was hilarious. After that, the crowd moves down to the bar so that he can escape from a straitjacket hanging upside down in a number of minutes. It was amazing, a really good time, I highly recommend it.

Here's the info:

Illusions Magic Bar & Lounge
1025 S. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21230

I see this as a place you only go once since the show is the same every night, a must-see at that, but the bar is really nice... It has giant chandeliers and lots of leather couches. It has character. One of the bartenders was voted Baltimore's Funniest Man. I hope to go back.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Style Sunday: New Item on my Amazon Wish List

Here's something I added to my Amazon Wish List this week:

I love Target's Avington collection. In fact, I own the desk, file cabinet, TV stand, chest and nightstand ...and only want more! It is cheap furniture and it sucks to assemble each piece but I love it! I think this particular piece is pretty new, haven't noticed it before... I like that it's small as I'll probably be in small places for a number of years more. (Small and simple ...and movable is good.) And that it has nine spaces for bottles of wine, which is more than enough as wine doesn't really last in my household! I have so many glasses to store and I could store my most frequently used ones, i.e. my red wine goblets there. The drawer is nice and makes it truly match the rest of the pieces. If anyone would like to get me this for Christmas, it is currently on sale for about a $100!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Overweight and Oversized Baggage

This cute bear is in front of the Self Check-in Counter.

I sell luggage for a living. My guests come in and ask for the largest carry-on or checked bag allowable by the major airlines all the time. They also complain they just paid a huge sum for being over in some way. It's no secret that the airlines now nickel and dime you. I give the same education ...all the time, so I thought I'd share this information (which primarily concerns major domestic airlines). Fees aren't fun, so get around the charges this way...

For checked baggage, the weight limit is 50 pounds. If your bag is heavier and you can't scramble to redistribute some weight to other bags, you will be charged an overweight baggage fee, which start at $50 and only go up from there, one-way. Remember my advice to pack less! Buy a small hand-held luggage scale and use it. And take it with you so you can weigh your suitcase before heading to the airport for the return trip, when you're weighed down by souvenirs.

It isn't common for airlines to impose weight restrictions on carry-ons (yet) and I think it would be difficult to exceed these anyway. Make sure you can lift it!

So many people haven't even heard of oversized baggage fees for checked luggage, so I have to introduce the concept. The limit is usually 62 linear inches. This linear measurement is the sum of a bag's three dimensions. Add height, width and depth together. A large suitcase is usually 29 inches tall and usually you don't have to worry about being oversized with a bag of that size. Make sure you measure a 30" or 31" suitcase or a 35" duffel to make sure the linear measurement is under the magic number of 62.

If a carry-on is oversized, then it will be checked and checked bag fees probably apply. To be okay on all major domestic airlines, the carry-on linear measurement is 45 inches. There are airlines who allow a slightly bigger carry-on, these are AirTran, JetBlue and Southwest. Usually the airlines measure just the bag, as in not including the wheels (which stick out on spinners) and handles, but they could. If they fit it into a box, then they do. When shopping for a carry-on, a 21" or 22" tall bag is the biggest you can go (21"-22"x14"x9"). (Sometimes international airlines limit a bag at 19"x13"x8".) This carry-on is to be stowed in the overhead compartment. You are also permitted a personal item, like a handbag or business case, (small enough) to be stowed underneath the seat in front of you.

Before a trip or your next purchase of luggage, log onto the websites of the airlines you frequently use for specific information. I would love to see a guest who's done their homework!

Even after I explain this, some people take offense-- how dare I suggest they limit all they want to take! Someone recently told my associate that she planned on taking ten pairs of shoes, that of these her flip flops had to match every top... They will tell you they see lots of people who get by with huge bags and that they've had a bigger bag and no problem before. Every airline and, heck, every check-in associate acts differently. I might say "I just don't want you to run into trouble later" as luggage is usually a long-term purchase, especially the quality luggage I sell! Travel is hectic enough, comply with restrictions.

There are other forms of transportation, like car, bus and train, where they aren't so strict and penalizing!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Style Sunday: Style Icon Inspiration: Kate Middleton

My Style Icon is officially Kate Middleton, soon-to-be Princess.

I've never really had a style icon... I may like a celebrity's style but then there's many of her choices I don't care for, so I don't think of the person as a personal icon. As an adult, I've always dressed for myself, not following trends in order to fit in like I had used to, and felt fine not having someone in particular to look up to. But after her engagement to Prince William was announced, I think I have found style inspiration in Kate. While I don't love everything about her style, like the big hats and riding boots, I don't really mind because they still look good on her! Who the heck wears a hat better than her??

I think's she's very beautiful and I think that's what you notice about her-- her long brown hair, her "charismatic" smile, her overall polish ...instead of her clothes, but she has chic clothes to complement her beauty. I often see the word "understated" in description of her style. I think this down-to-earth style allows her beauty to shine. She always looks great from head (or rather hat) to toe.

She has a classic style, which seems like her and doesn't change much season to season, year to year. Her clothing is always fitted, "body-conscious." I never liked anything with great volume-- huge ruffles or anything that uses the adjective "boyfriend" (as in the oversized "boyfriend cardigan"). I also like that Kate prefers tailored layering pieces, especially fitted cardigans, jackets and coats. And white over color, which particularly  interests me right now. I have been looking for white pieces lately, which are not so easy to find! She pairs white, often in the form of white pants, with neutrals. If Kate wears a print, it's often a nice and bold one, even geometric. She will vary texture, suede with denim for example. One of her style staples for a casual look is a pair of jeans. She often wears skirts. Like Kate, I adore wrap dresses too. I thought the blue Issa wrap dress she chose to wear for the announcement of her engagement was stunningly beautiful. Her gowns for fancy occasions are fabulous on her. If she accesorizes with more than a hat, it's a single long, dainty necklace which I should try more of... She layers it on top of any look, casual or elegant, which is something I should consider. It all seems chic yet effortless. I wouldn't mind if my personal style be described as "put together" without looking like I was trying too hard. Effortlessly sophisticated. Of course Kate's style will change when she enters the royal family,  more customized for her, only to be more elegant I'm sure. This chic commoner will probably change the look for future royalty.

Her style is representative of a group called "Sloane Rangers" or "Sloanes." They shop in Chelsea where one of the streets and squares are named Sloane. This is kind of UK's answer to the American "preppy." The style is going through a revival and it has some history to it. Diana was truly a Sloane, especially before she married Prince Charles.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Wedding Weekend

Wedding Cupcakes
Photo Credit: my friend M

I worked in the home department at JC Penney seasonally through college. One day a customer told me and my co-workers that she just attended a wedding and it was very small and so beautiful because it was just about the love that couple shared. This always stuck with me and I decided that I wanted my own wedding to be small and hit the same tone.

B and N's wedding the other weekend was the closest example I've witnessed so far. They only had 48 people attend, which was mostly family. I felt like everyone knew of each other. Pretty small. The couple also loved each other very much. They've been friends since the 7th grade, started dating during senior year of college about four years ago, and lived in France for a year. The pastor summarized this history at the beginning of the ceremony in the lovely chapel at the University of Virginia. They wrote their own vows. B said how she loved that they grew into adults side-by-side. N could barely get through his vows where he said he couldn't believe he was marrying his best friend. So sweet; I started crying too!

B looked beautiful. Her dress was strapless and fitted with a small train. Lace covered the fabric and pearls lined the straight neckline. The string of pearls around her neck were probably her grandmother's originally. Her veil with a simple scalloped edge was pinned by a pearl-studded barrette.

The wedding and reception were very personalized, very them. It was also very casual. Heck, I heard the rehearsal dinner was catered by the Mellow Mushroom! A flowergirl made up the bridal party. At cocktail hour, miniature pigs in a blanket were served. Instead of a wedding cake for the guests, they had cupcakes- pound cake and spice cake with vanilla and chocolate dollops of frosting with green glitter-- to go with the pale green and chocolate brown wedding invitations. During college, B, ever the practical one, was inventor of the cupcake brownie so they could easily be shared. I love to bake and my friends always indulged me in this. Anyway, the wedding cupcakes were so delicious, so much so I couldn't decide which was my favorite!

The reception at a nice hotel was fun. Each of the six tables were distinguished by a postcard of a European destination that they sent to their parents while living in Lyon, France. I was kinda surprised to be seated at the bride and groom's table, marked Lyon of course (where N proposed). I'd love to do something like that for my own wedding. The five of us close friends attending all unintentionally wore some combination of black, red or dark pink that looked red, and everyone noticed this matching. This, however, is of little surprise to me, as all of us often emerged wearing the same color many days, but that was back when we were on campus and really close. I wore a classic black wrap dress I adore and that I was so comfortable in to boot!

There were three toasts, made by her father, his sister and her brother, all funny.  The most moving gesture for me was when N sang and played "Real Love" by John Lennon on the piano, which, again, made me tear up. I mean, isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever heard? After a delicious dinner (and lots of red wine for me), we danced. The 7-year-old flower girl was totally busting out all these moves, a different old school dance move like very 30 seconds! I got to slow dance with B for half a song as we were each other's first "spouse" (really just college roommates for four years). Since I'm the more easy-going, I teased her that I hope she's leading because, between the two of us, I'm totally the chick. They also played our college group of friends' song, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." B's father and brother are big fans and got us into it.

So now for some more trip details... I took the train to DC and then the Greyhound bus to Charlottesville, which was late. Then, I took the free trolley to my hotel, Courtyard by Marriott, which was nice. After checking in, I headed over to B and N's apartment for a "drop-in." I don't go to a party empty-handed so I brought some chocolate chip cookies I baked, which were a huge hit. I've already stayed at their apartment so that wasn't new to me, but I did get the chance to meet N's family. I also took the opportunity to check out their scrapbook of the France trip wonderfully created in My Publisher. B also announced to the room that I was her first live-in significant other and that when N did some things, she would reply "Well, that's not how Michelle handled it." You see, B and N both prefer to be in charge, while I very much do not.

When they departed for the rehearsal, I returned to the hotel to collect our friends, arriving at different times. The five of us went to the restaurant B chose to have a drink with us later to have dinner. It was so great to catch up with them! Our friend F attached tulle to a tiara for B to wear. Lots of picture-taking commenced ...in usual college fashion. I wonder if any other time in my life will be more photographically documented than college... Anyway, I caught a ride back home with J. At first, we had to drive through some intense fog! J and I went for alittle walk hours before the wedding and J, F and I also walked the long way to the reception in order to walk a bit through the lovely downtown mall area, but I still am left wanting to hang out more there. I'll definitely have to visit my favorite newlyweds! :)

I would love a small wedding like this, even fewer than 48, much to my mother's dismay I'm sure (and she doesn't even like her family!) ...but, for me, it wouldn't be casual. I would want my reception to be an elegant, sophisticated, authentic, multiple-course Italian feast, done properly down to appropriate red and white wine glasses, no DJ or dancing. Maybe at a small, local Italian restaurant... Just fine food, friends, conversation, laughter. When I told a friend this, she quickly replied "that's you." This post is filed under travel and I would love quite an extensive honeymoon in Italy, rather spend money on that! I also want the dress. I'm working on meeting the groom...

Enjoying the little things in life

"This is how I like winter - inside with a mug of hot chocolate. Photo by Meaghan."

I love hot chocolate on a winter day. Today's cup courtesy of Starbucks.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Style Sunday: Peacock Feather Clutch

I love a clutch handbag for going out at night. I use mine so often, but only have three rather plain ones, two of which are the same except for color.

I spied this one on etsy. Isn't it lovely? 

Courtesy of RedRubyRose

I've had my eye on this one for years now. I think I prefer the way I first saw it, with just taupe feathers, not some green. I would just like some sort of design on a clutch, a print or embroidery like this. Plus I wear a lot of silver, so it wouldn't exactly match what I already own. The fun of etsy is that things are one of a kind and can be custom ordered. This particular one's a bit expensive and I'd rather spend over $100 in Italy...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Apologies

I know it's Tuesday and I should update about my weekend wedding trip, but being gone 4 days, I had a rough first day back at work today. And then I had dinner out with a friend which was just perfect really. I'm the friend who's never late and once I say I'm going to do something, I usually do it. ...but sorry, life got in the way and I really just wanna go to bed, so maybe I'll post later this week...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Style Sunday: Italian Women's Fashion

Italians are stylish. Florence is renowned for its leather. Milan is known as a major fashion capital of the world. Police uniforms are designed by Armani. Heck, Italy on a map looks like a high-heeled boot! In Pescara, I remember thinking my professors looked more like models with their black fitted clothing and stilettos than language lecturers.

Italians always try to look their best everyday.  It's a necessity. This is a vital part of attempting to make a good impression on others. There's a popular Italian phrase: fare la bella figura, literally "making a good figure" or putting your best foot forward. Presenting oneself well conveys dignity. Italians go to work looking their best out of respect for not only themselves but their job as well.

From my observation, in their clothing choices, Italians are polished and show off the positive. They consider quality not quantity in shopping. A few classic pieces can morph into different outfits simply by changing a single clothing item or accessories. So, what are these precious few? An Italian friend of a friend told me that a woman must have an "Audrey Hepburn-style" black or navy sheath dress and a great pair of high heels. They consider this simple yet elegant and above all versatile for any occasion. She also recommends a two-piece suit that one can break up, i.e. wear the blazer with jeans for a glamorous yet "not to serious" look for the office. Jeans are just as ubiquitous there as they are here. Outerwear seems very important. She insisted women have both a trench coat and an overcoat (known as cappotto). Decked out down jackets are currently a trend, even with swarovski crystals. ...or this fur-trimmed one:

Speaking of details, my Italian fashion source confirms my personal observation of how important accessories are to transform simple clothing into a special look. The extras like a handbag, belt or jewelry make an outfit. Scarves are a way to complete an outfit and add color I've noticed. If you see me outside, I'll be wearing one most of the year. Accessories can be lots of fun; I'll have to make this more of a focus myself!

Italians will also wear clothing to highlight their best features. For example, fitted clothing that is tailored well reveals a slender figure or a low neckline flatters womanly curves. Body-hugging leggings with boots balanced by a bigger sweater is currently a trend.

How do you achieve an Italian look?

First, clear out your closet! American closets are much too full of unnecessary and worn out items. Like Niecy Nash says on the TV show Clean House, "Clutter is an outward expression of an inward thing." Cluttered closets may mirror cluttered minds. Only keep what you love, use and looks fabulous. Donate as much as you can of the rest to charity. Keep the simple basics as they are highly revered.

Another American pitfall is to be primarily concerned with comfort instead of beauty. Italians dress with elegance in mind. Keep clothing that shows off your best, most beautiful attributes, but keep it classic and dignified.

Next, invest in high quality basics, as high quality as you can afford. An item of high quality will last longer. Italian women know a basic staple will be versatile and used often. Italians also know that neutrals go with everything and seem to have a penchant for black in particular. I remember seeing all the bright colors in the United Colors of Benetton store in Pescara and thinking "do they really wear that?"

Lastly, accessorize to complete a look, especially with an outfit completer like a trench and an accessory like a pair of black sunglasses.

There are a few Italian wardrobe staples:
 - sheath dress in a neutral
 - two-piece suit
 - jeans
 - cell phone
 - large designer sunglasses
 - high stiletto heels
 - trench coat
 - overcoat

The items Italians avoid are:
 - sneakers
 - flip-flops (Flip-flops are okay if you're at the beach or getting a pedicure. Only.)
 - shorts (If you're dressed in a tank top and shorts, you may not be allowed to enter a church.)

A special grazie
 to my Italian penpal B and her Italian friend
who studied fashion in Florence for contributing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Have a Great Weekend!

I love wine glass clinking pictures.

Thank God It's Friday!

Instead of working the whole weekend, I actually have off Friday through Monday and am leaving town early Saturday morning to attend my college roommate's wedding in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am beyond happy for her and excited to help her celebrate, visit Charlottesville, have a vacation and spend time with my college friends. The last time I was in C-ville was for my 25th birthday a year and a half ago. (I love being out of town on my birthday, last year it was Philadelphia. Maybe Boston for the next one?) Anyway, weekend details on Tuesday!

I hope you guys have a fantastic weekend!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Travel Tips

Lover of travel that I am, I am bursting with helpful hints! Here are some things off the top of my head:

-  To get the best deal on airfare, accomodations or a car rental, try one of the ultimate comparison websites out there:
     -  Kayak is rather well known. Its motto is "search one and done."
     -  I also like ITA software, which is exclusively flight information. In fact, this is the service that furnishes companies like Travelocity with their flight information. You can easily search for the best price over a 30-day period here. Once you find the deal, go to the source to actually purchase a seat on the flight. Be sure to bookmark this (like right now!) so you don't have to remember its name.
     -  I am partial to Travelocity because of The Roaming Gnome. I adore gnomes and they've been known to join me on a trip. This site is handy too... as you can sign up for e-mail alerts when certain round trips fall below your specified price point.

-  Other tips to help make travel budget-friendly:
     -  Try Megabus. If you book well in advance, you could possibly go someplace for just $1.50! ...and it's nice! Every time I turn around, they are announcing new routes! They usually stop at city centers which is convenient for a super-easy day-trip. The last time I visited Philly, my friend and I took megabus from Baltimore. A friend and I took it from Philadelphia to New York a time during the Christmas season. I highly recommend it. Its competition is Bolt Bus.
     -  Let's admit it, flying can be expensive, not to mention hectic! I regularly patronize other forms of ground transportation: Amtrak, my regional train MARC, and Greyhound. If you book at least two weeks in advance, certain Amtrak trains, like Northeast Regional, are affordable.
     -  Stay in a hostel instead of a hotel. It's a bed, which is all you really need. You can also meet fellow travelers there, which often makes for a better experience. I use the website hostelworld.

-  How Not to Get Ripped Off:
     -  I just found out how the airport foreign currency exchange counter rips you off in this article, so in preparation for my trip to Italy, I will probably order some euros from my bank.
     -  Wear a money belt if you are visiting a foreign city. Rome has an office just to help out the victims of pickpocketing. (Crime is low when compared with America, but, unfortunately, some take advantage of tourists.) I've been to Italy three times and haven't had a problem, but am still not letting my guard down. I prefer it to a neck pouch. To get into this alternative you take it out from underneath your clothing; you advertise that you're a tourist when you're spending time pulling lanyard out of your collar. And there's a bulge on your stomach or rib cage under your clothing. (Do you know how many times a day I say these things at work??)

-  In Preparation:
     -  Call your credit card companies (the number on the back of the actual card) and tell them which countries (or domestic cities!) you'll be on which dates. If you don't, they may think someone else has your card and cut you off! This is a pretty simple call, don't forget.
     -  Make sure your passport is valid. If it expires six months after your trip, that still may not be valid enough in some countries. Also, make sure you have a passport as only about 22% of Americans do! (It's true! Read my source.) This is far too low! There is such a thing as a passport card now as well.


(My Photo)

     -  I adore Rick Steves' books. Because of one of his books, I discovered tartufo, a very decadent chocolate dessert in the Piazza Navona in Rome (Italy 2007). I hope to stay in the Hotel Aurora in Verona on my next trip, another RS recommendation from his Venice 2011 book. Rick Steves promotes travel "through the back door." He and his team detail how one can experience a place like a native might rather than how a tourist would. It'll be a more authentic (and more delicious) experience!
     -  For restaurant reviews, I like yelp. This is only for cities (possibly metro areas) however. It has user reviews on restaurants in London, Paris and Vancouver and lots of US cities.     
     -  Subscribe to Budget Travel. Every month there are fabulous yet frugal ideas! Vacation packages take up space towards the back of each issue. Plus, with your subscription, you receive an e-mail newsletter with awe-inspiring photography, the latest travel news/ tips, and some sort of vacation deal. At least sign up for the newsletter! I keep my collection of issues on my desk at work to inspire my employees. I love the research before a trip!

-  A Final Tip:
     -  Make a trip happen. I can hardly afford a trip to Italy, but I am cutting back on going out to save money and am doing everything on a budget. I'm going in March, not so much a warm month! ...but oh so much cheaper in many ways. Only staying four days, four nights in the country. Going to four cities like 30 minutes apart. I'm flying into a cheaper, more major airport and then taking a train. I'm staying in hostels at least two nights. In addition, I'm budgetting my spending money while there. I just have to go back to Italy and this is a way to do it. I'm not waiting for someday, when I have money. I talk to too many people who always dream of places and never make the effort to make it happen. If I can do it on my budget, anyone can! If it's a time issue, make time to live! If you don't have anyone to go with, I recommend going solo, but I realize that solo travel is not for everyone and not advisable for everywhere on this planet. Locally, there are meet-ups... or simply sign up to be a part of a tour group. A friend of mine did the touristy thing on a tour in New York alone, something I'm jealous of!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Style Sunday: What Not To Wear

Stacy London and Clinton Kelly of TLC's What Not To Wear

I love What Not To Wear! In fact, I've been a fan of the show for years. My friends and I used to watch it on Friday nights through college. I don't really like reality shows, but this by far is my favorite. In case you didn't know, it's a makeover show-- fashion, hair and make-up. Two style experts ambush an unexpecting person who dresses terribly and is usually nominated by close friends and family or co-workers. They trash the participant's entire wardrobe and point out why their look was so unflattering. After that, they advise them what will work well and let them go shopping in New York City on a $5000 budget. Usually the person is a real challenge, but the show still manages to be positive, and hilarious. A hair and make-up make-over or -under top everything off. The make-over results are phenomenal. If you get a "shut up" from the female host Stacy, that's really good.

It has triumphantly returned to Fridays on TLC, recently replacing Say Yes to the Dress. Usually, there's a repeat episode at 8 followed by a new episode at 9 and then a special. One of the latest ones made over the 250th participant. I find hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly so funny! They are just perfect together. I love how the person's new clothing so complements their personality. And the makeover truly helps and impacts the person's life. A lot of women didn't spend money or even care for themselves before the experience whatsoever. It's good to! It shows you respect yourself and you feel even better when you look fabulous. It's too bad I don't dress terribly... I can't be on the show!

What I love most about the show is the style advice. If I hear any voices in my head while clothing shopping, it's Stacy and Clinton's. I've actually gotten into the habit of saying "cami" instead of "camisole" because of Stacy. This duo are primarily concerned with fit and proportion, and are always right! I usually follow their tips and if I don't, I'm considering it (like... I will probably give straight leg jeans another shot one day!). I wear wide-leg trouser pants to work because when the fabrics falls straight to the floor from the hip, the eye skims your whole length making you look longer and leaner, deemphasizing a wide hip. I just can't wear a heel to work for an even leaner look... That's just one tidbit, click on the link above for more style advice! Enjoy.

I will be out of town next Sunday (for my best friend's wedding! :) ), but have already started working on my next installment of Style Sunday so I can schedule it to be published on time. It'll be on Italian women's fashion, so be sure to check my blog next Sunday!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Please Pack Less!

As I mentioned before, I currently sell luggage for a living and have been doing so for the past 18 months. In that time, I have not found a charming way to advise my customers to pack less. Packing less would make travel easier in multiple ways that I will discuss here. If I ever mentioned it before to a customer I felt really comfortable with, I was met with a blank stare. Americans sure like to take everything with them. How dare I suggest such a thing! And you know you don't use half the stuff you pack! Is there a way to give this advice and not seem so offensive? I feel like it is important travel advice and a disservice not to be offering it. At least I get to dish it out on my blog!

When people come to see me, they primarily fly when they travel and are very concerned with not incurring an overweight baggage fee on their future trips (think $50 each way). So, as a solution, they ask for a lightweight suitcase. Perhaps the last time they purchased luggage was 15 years ago and their piece topped 18 pounds so shopping for a lighter one is logical. Lucky for them, the industry is responding to this demand and is making lighter luggage, so I am happy to show my guests lightweight options. But, currently the lightest 28" piece of luggage in my store is 10 pounds and the heaviest 29" is like 16. That's not a major difference. (Duffels do not provide as much protection for your stuff as a suitcase, but without material plastic structure, they weigh even less.)  The way to take significant weight off a bag is to pack less.

The airlines are being ridiculous with their a la carte fees. That's true. ...but I just don't see that changing, so why don't we adapt? Effectively. Plus, why would you want to go on a relaxing vacation only to be burdened by your heavy luggage? Make it easier and cheaper on yourself by packing less. This is your golden opportunity to be creative! To make most of what you pack do double duty. Business trips and cruises can be challenges because they require both nice and casual clothing, but you can still do it. On my business trip in September, for example, if I wore a sweater, jeans and boots to get there, I simply traded the jeans for a skirt for dinner, and that's just an example from the first day. I only packed half a 25" tall suitcase for the whole trip, a three-day conference where not once did I feel deprived. My female guests jokingly wonder aloud if a piece can possibly hold all their shoes. Shoes are heavy, ladies! Coordinate outfits with fewer shoe options. Neutrals go with anything. On a trip, you can limit color in the clothing you take so you can easily mix and match. ...which is in line with my latest values of a minimalist closet. If you're going someplace tropical, how much clothing do you need? I mean really.

I am thinking of taking a small 19" carry-on for a weekend trip later this month, and that would include taking an elaborate wedding gift, though maybe that'll go in another bag? One of my cute totes. It is just train and bus travel to get there, no dealing with airlines and their restrictions. I am also debating whether I should just take my carry-on or that plus an empty checked piece for my trip to Italy, which would be 6 days, 5 nights including travel time. A larger checked piece would be intended for souvenirs or the clothing displaced by souvenirs in my carry-on, but being on such a budget, I might not end up buying a lot. Plus the souvenirs I want to buy are glass which I would ever have shipped with insurance or pack in my carry-on.

I work in a luggage store and don't even own a 29" suitcase (which is a standard large and is not considered oversized by the airlines. And, yes, there such a thing as a oversize baggage fee too.). Through my travel experience, I've learned to pack less and just wouldn't use that size anymore.  If I went abroad for a long while, I still wouldn't. I'm a skinny girl, I couldn't lift a heavy, packed 29" case to put it over my seat on the train to go from one city to the next! I would take a week's worth of clothing and hit the laundromat. While there I could ask a local for a great restaurant recommendation, which is very through the back door. I recommend the next size down, a 25". A 29" invites you to fill all that empty space and when you fill it completely, you may be overweight. You want everything to be snug because when clothing is condensed, it doesn't have a chance to change shape, creating folds and wrinkles in transit. Having wrinkle-free clothing when you arrive is nice.

I leave you guys with the golden rule of packing:

Lay out all the clothing and all the money you want to take on a trip on your bed. Then, take half the clothing and double the money.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Style Sunday: I'm a Lucky Girl

I've been actually getting the style items I've been wanting lately! On my budget, that's big!

-My black boots finally came in and I wear them every chance I get.
-I picked up that khaki trench I stumbled across in the mall I work in and had to have.
-Yesterday my parents scored that carved jewelry armoire I wanted for Christmas for cheap because it was a doorbuster and they used a coupon on top. I have to wait 'til Christmas to receive it though...
-I purchased a pair of black pants for work (that I don't have to pay to have hemmed) and a pair of dark blue jeans to wear with a heel, both in my new size, today. I love Levi's, such a classic, these are 515 bootcut, with studs on the back pockets.

After purchasing a pair of pajama pants, I'll have to stop spending and start seriously saving again for my trip to Italy! I'll be stylin'...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Eataly

Since I've been keeping up with my regular series on style every Sunday, I've decided to add another... so stay tuned for Travel Tuesday! I will focus on some sort of travel-related subject: how to pack, travel tips, all about a trip I just took, travel destinations on my mind lately, etc.

First up: Eataly! Don't you love the name?

The October issue of Travel and Leisure introduced me to New York City's new Italian market and restaurant complex, Eataly. This is a concept in Italy and Japan that just debuted in the US on the first of September. This article primarily highlighted the people behind it, like Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich among many renowned restaurateurs. It's a market of stalls selling everything concerning Italian cuisine-- groceries, prepared food, drink, kitchen utensils, cookbooks, classes. Italian gelato and pizza, not Americanized Italian! In addition, there are seven restaurants which seem to specialize in types of food, like one in Italian meats, in pizza and pasta, and another in seafood. It all sounds so squisito!

Check it out for yourself at http://www.newyork.eataly.it/!

It's a huge place in the Flatiron District, 200 5th Ave. to be exact. It's open from 10 AM to 11 PM.

Some of the reviews on yelp say it is very expensive (which is un-Italian to me), and has the potential to be very touristy. How did they not fall in love with fresh, homemade and passionate Italian food? I like to think of myself as a traveler, but I can totally be a tourist... I will definitely have to go to New York for a visit! Italian food is happiness ...and red wine! It'll be totally worth it for me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Style Sunday: Black Boots

I finally purchased a pair of black boots, these, which I described in a previous post. I can't wait 'til they arrive! (Since the store was out, I had to order online and guess if my size will fit or not.) These are gonna be my everyday shoes for the fall, what's left of it anyway!

Sorry this is so short but I worked all day alone and it's a holiday. Happy Halloween everyone! Enjoy the candy!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

margarita + friend = perfect

An Ultimate Margarita from Friday's

I hit happy hour Friday night. I love happy hour. A friend and I ended up at Friday's where I promptly ordered one of my favorite drinks, their Ultimate Mango Berry Margarita on the rocks, no salt. I sooo deserved that large margarita after the long week I had! Plus, the appetizer we split happened to be half price. It was also so great catching up with my friend, just perfect really, just what I needed at the time. Didn't even know I needed to talk/ complain about certain things.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Philly!

Hey, check this out:

Happy Birthday Philadelphia!

I hope to live there again one day...

My day hasn't been so good... ugh. So, I'm taking a trip down Memory Lane...

My Beloved Philly Studio Apartment
That's right, no sofa behind the coffee table! Hey, I was a graduate student and very poor.
(I kinda staged it to secure a new tenant since I had to break my lease.)
I am slowly replacing that huge, oak furniture to go with more of those medium-sized, espresso-toned pieces.

The Other Half
I scored that dinette really cheap at Goodwill.

A peach and brown bathroom!
 ...oh well...

My Balcony.
I love a balcony!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Style Sunday: Out with the Old and In with the New

1.  I've been wanting to replace my very worn black boots for about five years now I bet. I finally decided on these! They actually resemble the ones I'm trying to replace. These will be my everyday pair of shoes for the fall, so, firstly, a heel under three inches is crucial and, secondly, even though I love a skinny heel, it's a bit rectangular for more stability. My pick is also a short boot so I don't have to wonder if my muscular calf will fit and will be easier to run around in, plus they're $50 cheaper than a taller boot. I find the square toe is more comfortable than a pointy one, especially with my long toes. I like the cute little buckle. I have yet to try them on so hopefully my search will soon be over. My sister and I are going to pick them up on Wednesday.

2. I work in a mall and I had some time to kill this weekend so I wandered around and fell in love with a khaki trench at the Banana Republic Factory Store. Like I said, it's a khaki coat which is lightweight for the fall with a dark brown tortoise-shell belt buckle and buttons which form a single column which I think makes me look less wide when compared to the classic double-breasted variety, (and you guys know how I usually prefer the classic thing.) They didn't have my size and it's a big purchase, so I haven't picked it up yet. I signed up for e-mail coupons so I'd like to wait to see what's the best deal and for it to be my big personal purchase on my next paycheck. Hopefully I can be patient and wait ...because I really want it!

I would be replacing the khaki trench I already own. My old one from Old Navy is a size Large and I think I would probably take a size Small there now... I swim in it, but since it has a belt, I kinda make it work, ...kinda. After seeing its potential replacement, I don't even like the one I've gotten so much use out of anymore! It is edged with multiple rows of visible white stitching, which I could live without. At an Old Navy price, I certainly got my money's worth! When was I last purchasing stuff in large? Years ago.

There are other things I need to replace, like at least another pair of pajama pants and jeans in my size to wear with heels, but those two things I described above are the ones I'm currently truly lusting after.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Philly Phan here

The Phillies are currently winning in the 7th inning of Game 5!
Come on you guys!

This is the fifth game of the National League Championship Series. They are beating the San Francisco Giants. The winner of this particular series of games goes to the World Series. If the Phillies do it, then it'll be their third consecutive year. I was living in Philadelphia in '08 and that was somethin'... Anyway, I'm so proud!

I also adore the latest tourism campaign for the city. Postcard writing signed "With Love, Philadelphia <3 XOXO." I may be partial to postcards since I am a penpal [to an Italian girl; does that surprise anyone?], but it's fun and clever... as well as supportive!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Style Sunday: Scarves

Thank God it's fall! It was finally cool enough to wear a scarf on top of a jacket yesterday and today. Here is my beloved scarf/ pashmina collection:

This is a pretty good representation of the color in my closet as well...

This IKEA hanger with all the circles is really working out. I may have to purchase another one of these things if a particular scarf or two catch my eye in Italy. There's already one too many on there, as you can see. (I love home organization stuff!) Only like a half dozen or so of my collection were actually purchased in Italy.

My Italy budget has been up a week and I think the only thing I might change is possibly staying in an airport hotel the night before my international flight leaves at 9:30 AM. That is, if I come back. ;) I've never made any promises to!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Italy Trip Budget

Rick Steves lists the six parts of a trip budget: "airfare, surface transportation, room and board, sightseeing/entertainment, shopping/ miscellany, and gelato." :)

$695.40 already paid, not in credit.
Baggage Fees: free for a single bag on Delta's international flights

Surface Transportation:
ride to/from US airport: free!
5 train trips between cities (Milan>Verona>Venice>Padua>Venice>Milan) at about $20 a piece except for the last leg, that'll be $40: $120 total
Transportation to/ from Milan airport: $40. (A guess, could take a number of forms of transportation.)
Venice Vaporetto rides: $22/ 12 hours one day (incl. to Murano) and I'll just walk around the other day.

Room and board:
Night 1: Verona: $167/ night Hotel Aurora
Night 2+3: Venice: hostel: $45/ night, $90 total
Night 4: Milan: hostel: $45

$50/ day for meals over 6 days: $300 total. Although I hope to spend $150 total. (Cappuccino, cornetto, pizza, pasta, red wine, spritz in Venice, gelato!)

Sightseeing and Entertainment:
$18 for admission to the Scrovegni Chapel [I've seen the sights in Venice like twice.]

Shopping and Miscellany:
Murano glass: $138 (100 euro)
Postcards, future gifts for others: $50
Souvenirs including street art: $100 ($25/ day for four days in Italy)
Extra cash for the unexpected (incl. a bit of internet access- for reservations, let people know I'm alive. Baggage storage, more fun, etc.): $15
[No Prada or Gucci!]

Total: $1800
Hope that the total is: $1650
Left to save: $1105

This is very basic, but I just need to be in my beautiful Italy, eat Italian food and shop for blown glass. ...and this is just what I'm spending! I hope to meet up with people I know there and have lots of fun on the cheap. I post this because I need to stick to it. I tried to overestimate for everything. It also shows you can go international for under two grand!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Style Sunday: Giving Gray Another Chance

I am reconsidering the color gray for my wardrobe. Maybe Stephanie at C'est si bon inspired me when she chose gray for her minimalist closet because it reminded her of France; think the Eiffel Tower. I love that! I do have some gray in my closet: a pair of dress pants, a long sleeved v-neck tee and a recent purchase of a lightweight cotton robe. Plus, I did fall in love with pewter last summer too...

I think I'm a bit apprehensive about this color because I have history with it. I had a perfectly happy childhood, not a thing to complain about, but I wasn't and didn't allow myself to be my own person until I hit age 18 and went off to an out-of-state college to live outside my comfort zone and rather independently. With my love for travel and trying out new places to live, this is something I truly embrace now. But that is a whole 'nother post! Anyway, as a minor, I was a wallflower, hoping to blend in, sneak by without anyone noticing. I was very shy and quiet. I wore gray all the time in middle and high school. It was a big color for me. Then, in college, I starting wearing vivid, saturated color. I was officially an Art major, (Art History to be exact) and adored color. I suddenly found gray to be so blah. I was comfortable in my own skin, and ever since I've wanted to wear red and my favorite color, dark pink. The tops I have in these particular colors double the number I have in purple, blue and green combined.

...but I love how dark gray goes so well with red and lavender, colors I adore. I think I'll just have to add it to my closet, a darker shade though, charcoal gray. Even a medium gray would be fine... The light variety is still a bit blah to me, like ballet pink is to me as well. This would also be a part of my thinking about dressing up neutrals with accessories and (colorful) scarves and all. Wearing the same basics but changing it up with different accessories would be better on my wallet (now that I'm going to Italy!). Even RealSimple.com has a story on how to decorate with gray this week. I do not believe I'll be going that far.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I'm Going to Italy!

I purchased my airline ticket to Italy this morning! :)

My Personal Photo of Venice

Another Photo of Mine
...but my former co-worker Clyde played with it.
This is Piazza Navona in Rome.
(Rome's answer to the most beautiful piazza in Italy.)

I scored the cheapest price directly with Delta. (A detailed budget to follow.) I'll be departing Wednesday, March 16th and returning Monday, March 21st. That's four days, four nights in Italy, not including actual travel time. I fly into and out of Milan (which is significantly cheaper and more direct than using Venice's airport). I hope to spend the first night in a hotel room with a balcony overlooking Piazza Erbe in Verona, my splurge. Although by American standards, I believe it to be a basic two star hotel (Hotel Aurora). It seems every city has a piazza that is supposed to be the most beautiful in Italy, and Verona and its Piazza Erbe is no different. Passionate Italians love their superlatives! I can hardly wait to sit and take in the view, have an Italian guy serenade me from below... The other three nights I will stay in hostels. Since I've already seen the sights in Venice, I'll just spend two days shopping for my beloved Murano glass. Sometime in there, I will run off to Padua to see Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel (which is very important art. I happened to study Art History for six years.). I'll probably stay in Milan the night before my return flight. Leonardo's Last Supper is there; maybe I'll see that too... I hope to keep this really affordable. I'll happily eat pizza and panini. And walk far from the touristy centro to get a better deal. These four cities are very close together too.

I'm absolutely thrilled. ...but, then again, I don't think it's really set in yet. I'm not a morning person. On that note, off to work!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Enjoying the little things

I hit up Panera a couple of times a week. Normally, I rush in to grab a coffee (always a cappuccino certo!) before heading across the street to work. However, within a busy schedule today, I fit in time to actually enjoy the experience of having my cup of coffee. I've been loving how the caffeine makes me uber-productive much more than anything else lately. But, today, I ordered my cappuccino in an actual mug with extra foam and dined in. It tasted much better than normal. Maybe it's the mug? Though perhaps it was because it was a different Panera location than my usual one? I usually also have their chocolate pastry too. I also squeezed in this particular outing last Wednesday.  I can hardly wait to have a cappuccino e cornetto next to a sunny piazza in Italy though...

I hope to purchase a plane ticket to Italy this payday, this Friday. :) Stop by Friday to see if I do! And to check out my itinerary! Also, if you'd like to join me or meet me there, then let me know really soon!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Style Sunday: What I Want for Christmas...

I would love to stow my jewelry and clutches in this beautiful jewelry armoire from JC Penney. Right now I have a couple of jewelry stands, a couple more small dishes and a small musical box sprawled all over my desk. This would clean all of that up. Plus, put away, I could store my pieces in small plastic bags so the silver won't tarnish as quickly. Each drawer has different sized compartments for everything. I also love the exterior, the cut-outs resemble rose windows of a church. My associate laughs at me since everything reminds me of Italy.