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.