Sunday, December 29, 2013

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Hot Chocolate

I love hot chocolate during wintertime.

I love it topped with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.

This is an occasional indulgence. Usually, I grab a delicious cup of Starbucks hot chocolate to go, preferably walking in flurries to get it, but... I might have to purchase cocoa to make at home this winter...

I also look forward to having the highly reviewed hot chocolate at Angelina in Paris.

While waiting for anything but freezing cold weather to arrive so I could enjoy some gelato, my roommates in Italy introduced me to the very thick Italian hot chocolate at my favorite cafe, Berardo, located in the town I studied abroad in, Pescara. This treat is truly decadent.

I could also order this European hot chocolate stateside, in a chocolate cafe in Philadelphia. It changed names and management from Naked Chocolate Cafe to Philly Chocolate. Right after I was last there, a year ago now, the new place changed locations from Walnut Street to South Street. Hopefully I'll move back and patronize it regularly!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From Santa

A gift and poem were left at the Leasing Office front door this morning. Both are signed, "Santa" but I know who it is. As beautiful as the cozy sparkly turtleneck sweater, necklace and two pairs of earrings are, I find the poem truly thoughtful and especially supportive.

It reads...

Dear Michelle,

Your good deeds have continued
I can easily see
And you know how important
That is to me.

I hear your cheerful voice
Answer the office phone
Always with excitement
Never a moan or groan,

You help with contests,
Answer questions and offer advice,
Basically, to each and everyone
You are simply nice.

I learned - in 2014
from a "little birdie,"
There's something special happening
You turn the big thirty!

Life can't be only about
Going to a job paying a bill,
It has to include meeting new people
Or learning a new skill.

I promise jobs and bills
Will always be there
Now you have to work on
Setting personal goals, my dear.

You have to develop your potential.
You have to help yourself grow.
Take trips, visit museums,
Workout or go to a show.

I was glad to see
You went to New York City
That you don't do it more
Is the pity!

Going to Europe
Is a great start,
Keep the ball rolling
I advise from my heart.

Consider your interests and skills,
Be very smart
Explore career options - from managing apartments
To selling fine art.

In order to win the
job-search fight
Each week schedule web time
To visit a career site.

Year twenty-fourteen
Will be exciting and new
You will find fun and adventure
In the new things you do.

As always, I'll be watching
Over very special you
And rooting for you
In everything you pursue.

For my reindeers and me
It's back to the North Pole.
I wish you a Merry Christmas
From my heart and my soul.


Monday, December 23, 2013

* Buon Natale! *

Something like "wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year" in Italian.

From my home to your's, I wish you a very merry Christmas.

I love my 4' Christmas tree. I decorated it the first weekend after Thanksgiving. My little tradition is to watch my favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone, while I do so. Since I don't have a TV anymore, I rented it on my Kindle. That Kevin McCalister gets me every time! [Check out my favorite Halloween 2013 costume here.] I also rented Love Actually recently, another movie I simply couldn't let a holiday season go by without viewing.

In the above photo, you'll see the present I received from my family's white elephant gift exchange, a cooler with a strap and speakers you may use with an iPod. I wonder if it'll work with my iPod shuffle... This will be great for picnics in the summertime!

I am also the proud owner of two pot holders that my nearly 89-year-old grandmother made. With denim on the inside, they are the best and until now, I've never owned any myself.

I am really looking forward to my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which I will spend with my family.

In addition, I would like to sincerely thank you for reading! Grazie!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

New Blog Series

The new subject I will write about each Sunday is...

Simple Pleasures

I will detail a recent experience, regular or occasional, solitary or shared, little or big, that I took the time to savor. Or boast about something I find beautiful, delicious, luxurious or positive. Anything that makes me smile. I believe that these moments and items could, and should, be found daily. I plan to publish about one on a weekly basis.

On this blog, I intended to write about how I elevate the little things in life and make them into what matters. Italians live passionately. I can't wait to share how I remain present in the moment, how I embrace and enjoy life. Plus, I figure a series will do nicely since I tend to do well with routine. I really hope you will enjoy it, dear readers.

I was inspired for this regular feature after realizing I amassed a collection of links on the subject from the wonderful bloggers and authors out there. For example, Shannon behind the blog The Simply Luxurious Life who, in this post, insists followers indulge and provides a delightful list of simple luxuries as part of her "Why Not...?" series. Read how entering a bakery means "having it all" for Delia Ephron in this piece adapted from her book, Sister Mother Husband Dog, (etc.). Check out this post entitled "The Little Things" by Carin of Paris In Four Months who savors french toast and quality time with friends at LadurĂ©e. Oksana of Foxy Oxie  Supernova considers it ladylike to transform an ordinary occurrence into a beautiful, luxurious event in "The Art of Being a Lady: 10 Ways to Embrace Luxury in the Ordinary." I highly recommend the aforementioned reading.

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Wine and Cheese Event

This week's simple pleasure of mine was hostessing a wine and cheese get together with my two neighbors, an older couple D and S, on Tuesday night. I had always talked about some sort of European excursion in order to celebrate my 30th birthday with them for years now and I wanted a special way to tell them I was actually going to Paris. Since they are world travelers, (European travel particularly launched from a home base in England for like 8 years) they have been there. I invited them over for wine and antipasti as well as some surprise news.

I had two white wines, Moscato and Pinot Grigio which I had chilled, and two red wines, Chianti and Cabernet Sauvignon on offer. I served their wine choice in the appropriate white or red wine glass. On my round wooden cutting board, I placed brie and sharp cheddar (at room temperature), proscuitto and Genoa salami, grape tomatoes and a couple of basil leaves. I also sliced a baguette and poured olive oil for dipping. On a strict budget, I bought all the food items at the local grocery chain, with the exception of the basil that I grew myself. The salami at the deli counter is on sale every once in awhile. Everything was easy; I served food but didn't cook a thing! That's very Italian, to simply arrange something beautifully (in order to get out of real work!), to make something out of nothing, it's called l'arte di arrangiarsi. (I do prepare bruschetta all summer though, when tomatoes are in season, which means I toast bread by grilling.) Anyway, I set it all up on my coffee table. We toasted my happy news. The three of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for over an hour. They left with promises to hang out more often.

I love to play hostess! If I could fund it, I would have people like over every other night! Despite being pretty poor, I do manage to invite people into my home though. Often, I'll have a single person over, doubling my number of guests that Tuesday night felt like so much more than usual! While I do believe that "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" (guess who said that! An Italian named Leonardo da Vinci), it'd be nice to be more elaborate with entertaining in the future, and to somehow work that into my budget more often. I suppose there's always potluck...

I could have just stopped them in the hallway and told them, but it was so nice to create something special. It was certainly a memorable evening. As I hope to clearly illustrate with this series, life is made up of little moments. I truly believe that life is what you make it.  

"Life is made of the little moments" in French.
The French definitely know how to savor something, especially food.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Style Sunday: Latest Style Pins ...and a Blog Announcement

Always seeking beauty, I am truly obsessed with Pinterest. Here are a half dozen of my most recent style pins...

I want the perfect little black clutch next, but a rich red leather one always piques my interest...

A LBD with red peeptoe pumps is a go-to outfit of mine.

I love this outfit featuring lace and sequins for a holiday party.
*edit: How much does it surprise you that when I found out this top is available in red, I ordered it? It already arrived and is simply gorgeous. I think it'll go with a black pencil skirt though.

I seek a skinny, deep V neckline in tops and dresses.

While I do adore these Chanel captoe ballet flats, 
I am more interested in the link about Five Wardrobe Essentials.

I would love this red piece to entertain. 
I also like that the artist uses a cup, which could be great for utensils or wrapped candy.

I also have a blog announcement. I have decided to write about a different subject each Sunday, one more in line with the original intention of this journal. I am looking forward to it, but will keep you in suspense for a bit. You will have to stay tuned for exactly what subject it will be! I may publish a "Style Sunday" post every once in a long while. The new theme can encompass many subjects, so I will likely still gush about my latest beautiful acquisition. I still have some interest in sharing my winter capsule wardrobe, so I am not exactly sure when the style posts will end and when I'll introduce the new subject matter, especially during this busy holiday season, but it will be soon. I hope you enjoyed reading about my style as much as I did writing the weekly series.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Style Sunday: Ruby Red

Anyone who walks into my home will notice that I love a pop of red. And anyone who's read my blog for awhile knows this fact as well. I've written this post dedicated to the color of Chianti among many others sharing my search for the perfect red dress/nail polish/handbag/whatever. On a lazy snow day, here's another one...

Still searching for a little red dress for my 30th birthday celebration.

Simple and elegant.

I bought this sweater and love it! I've worn it multiple times already, 
including out to dinner with friends on Wednesday night.

I used to own a red winter coat...

I adore ballet flats and this pair would be fabulous for the holidays.

The pop of red adds interest to a classic outfit. 
(Love the white shirt and herringbone pattern too.)

I love adding a red accessory to a black and white outfit. 
(I so want a white tee with black stripes!)
I like the idea of a red lip too...
I'll probably experiment with that during my 30s.

I've seen pictures of this "bearista" from Starbucks 
and finally saw it in person today after a nice walk in the snow for hot chocolate.
So cute!
Teddy bears were my favorite toys.

I always wear a scarf.
(Ann Taylor has a collection of bow items 
and I managed to fit this sparkly key chain into my budget.
I would love this or this necklace!
*Sparkle* is another post though!)

Can you guess what color scheme I have for my Christmas tree?

I have this red berry wreath on my apartment door.

...may your days be merry and bright...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming To Bring You This Important News Bulletin!

Mi dispiace (I'm sorry) that I am not posting on the subject of style this Sunday. My decade-old digital camera battery will no longer charge and even though it's been awhile now, I have yet to replace it. Plus, I broke my phone and it completely died Monday night, so I expect that I'll have a new one delivered and visit the friendly store to have some help setting it up tomorrow. So, without a camera or phone camera, I do not currently have an easy way to take pictures in order to properly post what I had in mind.

I also wanted to seize this opportunity to share some incredibly exciting news...


My friend Elizabeth and I purchased a flight and hotel package on Black Friday. We're departing on April 9, 2014 and after a single layover, we will be arriving on the 10th. We get to spend 6 days, 6 nights in the city, including my actual birthday on April 15th! Time to savor it, just like a Parisian! We both leave and arrive back at home on the 16th. We're staying an old world-style hotel in the 1st arrondissement. In case you didn't know, twenty numbered neighborhoods spiral out from the central 1st. That means we will be staying in the middle of Paris, blocks from the Louvre! I couldn't believe that we could afford it, but it was only $50/per person over the week more expensive than my previous favorite choice located in the 6th. Why not? We are incredibly excited!

I want to figure out an itinerary. I love planning, anticipating, a trip. For research, I love guidebooks from Rick Steves, so my 2014 Paris guide arrived on Saturday and I've already read half of it. What I really want to do is take in the beauty of Paris. 

Wander the streets and shops. People-watch from a outdoor cafe table while savoring a coffee and pain au chocolat. Visit the Louvre. Picnic with a baguette and other goodies. See the Eiffel Tower. Take pictures. 

Since I decided to have this Paris vacation in April for my birthday and limit the number of days of travel due to budget, I really want to compromise and have my travel buddy decide what we will do. As long as I'm in Paris, I'm happy. Like I said, appreciating the beauty of the City of Light is my priority, and I feel like I can do that from the most leisurely to the most exhausting trip. I'm up for absolutely anything. She says that she wants to see it all. I'm a brilliant planner, so I will devise an action-packed plan and see if she approves. I like to plan out the perfect trip, but once I arrive, use it as a Plan B, falling back on it when we're at a loss of what to do next and easily referencing what we can do when. 

I predict that Elizabeth and I will travel very well together since we're each other's go-to day-trip partner. This is the friend I typically go and see the cherry blossoms with because they tend to bloom between her mid-February and my mid-April birthday. We're both coffee-drinkers. In fact, heading to DC, we traditionally stop at Au Bon Pain for breakfast. We both tend to utterly exhaust ourselves on a big vacation. We both have an interest in history, so each one of us will get as much out of a trip to Versailles as the other. This is her first trip to Europe and I am excited for her as well. My first trip to Italy and taste of Europe remains my favorite.

Language is simply not my friend's strength and since I believe learning and attempting the local language is part of the fun, we agreed that I will learn some French. I plan to focus on pronunciation since words are not spoken as they are written. 

I have been to Italy four times and there's certainly a comfort there. I haven't traveled to Paris and it will be a learning experience. It's a new city and a different culture. It's nice that I have read so much France travel narrative and French-inspired lifestyle books and blogs. I sent Elizabeth home with a couple plucked from my own bookshelf. I am always looking for more if you have any recommendations for resources ...or activities/places themselves! Grazie ...or should I say merci!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Style Sunday: Ode to My Lost Sunglasses

While I was shopping with my mom on the Monday before last, I somehow lost the only pair of sunglasses I truly loved. I wore them on the ride to the mall, but they weren't in my handbag coming back. My mom refuses to carry a purse, so I was carrying her stuff plus various flyers mostly with a coupon attached that she had collected. Perhaps they slipped out when trying to remove something else. It was a lovely day spent with my mother, so I tried to not show that it was getting me down.

...but it really did... They were perfect. Not too big and not too little. They were just right. I do not happen to have high cheekbones plus I have full cheeks for a young-looking face. (You know me, I always want to look and be grown-up!) I believe these sunglasses did wonders for me. The thick curve of the frames in a style that's just a bit shorter and sleeker than a classic cat eye (without obvious wing corners) led the eye up, flattering my square-shaped face. They had brown lenses and tortoise frames which went with my dark brown hair. I felt confident in them. They were so perfect that I hardly ever looked at this product in stores since their purchase.

I suppose that I've had them for awhile. Looking at the photos saved on my computer, I'm wearing them as far back as the spring of 2010, meaning they were at least 3 1/2 years old. They may have been scratched up from nearly daily use, past their prime. Maybe the universe was telling me it was time for a new pair...

I purchased them at the Ann Taylor Factory Store, where my sister now works. I emailed her a picture of them last night and asked if she still sold them by any chance, but she reported back today that they don't have that exact pair, but currently sell something like them. I have also unsuccessfully searched for them online. I'll probably have to go with a similar pair.

I do own two other pairs: big black round ones (which I consider to be my Italian ones) and my oldest pair, a small, sleek brown rectangular pair with a tortoise shell frame. I much prefer my long lost pair.

...and so, the search for the perfect pair of sunglasses is on.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Style Sunday: Yet Another Shopping Spree: The Finale

My mom and I went shopping and out to lunch on Monday.

Our first stop was H&M. I picked up two pieces, both charcoal gray! One was this pencil skirt...

I scored it for just $24.95! This will go with my blazer of the same color, so I now have a skirt suit that isn't black! I've had this piece at the back in my mind for awhile now. With this purchase, I have even more options to embrace my femininity at work, not just when I go out or have the day off. 

I also bought a tee with sheer parts at the top, front and on the sleeves. I love a sheer element. The tee's mesh part is embellished with simplified floral appliques. I appreciate the pretty details in this casual tee. I've tried this shirt on in different colors and sleeve lengths, but this one was the one for me.

Even though Macy's has now earned a special place in her heart, my mom still loves JCPenney. Plus, since she clipped a coupon for her beloved store, we each picked up a pair of blue jeans there. I got a pair of Levi's 515 Bootcut jeans in a very dark wash. (This brand is an exclusion for the coupon.) The pair happens to have a flap pinned down by a button over each of the back pockets. The pewter-colored stitching blends in with the material; it's not that copper-colored thread. They're "short" so the perfect length to go with ballet flats. This replaces my short pair of 515s in a wash a few shades lighter than my new pair and featuring flat studs on the open back pockets that I've owned for about three years. They were worn down and past their prime since I wore them most often. While it's nice to try new things, it's so fantastic to have a "go-to" when you need a pair of jeans! 

Don't miss part one and two of my fabulous flurry of recent shopping! While clothes shopping on these three days, I focused on feminine details. Maybe it's because of my style icon the Duchess of Cambridge and her ladylike look or the fact that I may have grown a bit bored with a closet (half) full of classic yet plain pieces, but I think my style is evolving towards the feminine. I've wanted to embrace my femininity, with dressing more womanly at the top of the list. Sure, that does mean wearing dresses and skirts more, but I had a revelation that pretty details on a shirt and/or pant could achieve a girly look as well. I'm happy that I picked up items with special touches like ruffles, polka dots, lace, floral appliques and a keyhole cutout. When I reveal my capsule wardrobe, it might be nice to show off beautiful pieces instead of just another white tee, black tee, pair of bootcut blue jeans and pair of black pants. I still love these pieces and the idea of a understated uniform,'s just really fantastic to have new clothes!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Links I Love: Italy: Edition #2

Don't miss the first edition of "Links I Love: Italy."

Either J's or my photo of 
our beautifully-presented hot chocolate 
at Cafe Florian in Venice back in 2011.
(Read a bit more about this experience here.)

I love that these blog posts begin to capture the beauty that is Italy.

* a perfect day in Siena []
Italian words and expressions for art []
* Monreale cathedral in Sicily for mosaics []
* food and ghost tour in Venice with Monica Cesarato []
* Rome, part I and part II []
* trompe l'oeil throughout the Italian Riveria []
* best wine bars in Venice []

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Links I Love: Decorating and Entertaining

a holiday centerpiece with jingle bells from last year

Going into the holiday season, I am happy to share these wonderful resources falling under the themes of decorating and entertaining. Anyone who's been reading this blog for awhile knows I love home decor on a budget, so I start my little list with a couple related links. Next up, my love of decorating for the holiday season shows, especially when I can include wine corks and red berries. Finally, I love to entertain and aspire to be a fabulous hostess, so I found the remaining resources inspiring.

* interview with an interior designer []
* 10 money-saving decorating tips []
the search for the perfect wreath []
holiday decor with a pop of red []
* a proper guest room from the hostess with the mostest []
21 rules of entertaining []
* the time to entertain is now []

Monday, November 11, 2013

Please Write a Review

I spent about 45 minutes in my favorite coffee shop yesterday morning, indulging in a large cappuccino served in a mug (rather than the more American 'to go' cup) and a chocolate croissant while reading my library book Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing Like the French by Harriet Welty Rochefort and browsing Pinterest on my smartphone. I thoroughly enjoy my special "me time" and simply adore this particular place. (For safety reasons, at this time, I'd rather not advertise here where I am about every other Sunday morning or so.) I routinely return for the delicious food and drink, but also for the wonderful atmosphere. There are pictures of patrons some place else, all over the world, holding a company gift card posted on one wall. I love this international touch, but there are more daily and weekly postings of things around that I haven't paid much attention to yet. Even though I am in my own little world the majority of the time I'm there, I tend to overhear many conversations about what's new between the staff and the regulars as they have already managed to build close relationships with loyal customers. This is a new business, just over a year old. It's always busy despite an out-of-the-way location. I myself drive two towns over whenever I can. (And I hate to drive.)

As I was leaving today, one of the owners caught me and asked if I posted about them on Facebook. He caught me off guard for a second since I just posted about my time there that morning but didn't mention the name of the place (and perhaps since I am a sucker for an accent). But then I remembered that I did post a "review" on their Facebook wall six months ago. He must have recognized me from my picture and the fact that I regularly order exactly what I mentioned in the review. He sincerely thanked me for the review and informed me that it really helped his business. I tried to convey that since good reviews are crucial to my own livelihood, I believe it's important to give them. I explained that I am a leasing consultant at an apartment community and people make the decision to move in primarily based on good online reviews. Then, I get paid enough to be able to afford to eat. I also tried to say that it was my honor to recommend the place because I loved it. I thanked him.

At my job, I frequently ask residents to post a review and they always agree, but rarely actually do. I understand that life is busy and commitments are many. Fortunately, my community still boasts an excellent overall approval rating! The cafe I mentioned has 888 likes on Facebook, but only ten reviews posted on the same webpage. People tend to rant negative comments quickly and provide glowing reviews slowly.

So, I urge you to write a review. And by review, I mean a favorable recommendation. If you are reading this blog, you certainly have time. There are so many ways to do this! Post a simple "review" on the right sidebar or I will even let you get away with a wall post on a company's Facebook page. Draft one on a website like yelp. Give one on your apartment home on Dig to the bottom of your wallet, handbag, or shopping bag for a recent receipt and then follow the instructions at the bottom to submit feedback. Usually this last one results in some sort of reward such as a coupon or entry into a drawing.

I try to give a glowing review every once in awhile and only want to commit to it more (and not only for wonderful service but also perfect product). Just before this post, I completed an online survey which included a detailed description of my shopping experience yesterday at The Limited. The associate went above and beyond, making me feel confident and the experience even more fun. Employees like this deserve recognition.

Sometimes you don't really know how beneficial to a company or individual this simple act is. At least do it once simply because I asked. Please and thank you.