Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Since I have interest in decluttering and organizing plus strive to live with only what I really love and actually use, I had heard a lot about the best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I installed it on my Summer 2015 Reading List and then planned to reread during the fall in order to promote this important work with this in-depth review. Having heard such things it prescribed as greeting your home when you enter, I expected it to be kooky, and it definitely is, but I also found it unexpectedly genius! It is a clear guide to getting your home in order. It may not have as profound impact upon my already decluttered life as it will for others, but I have already stopped reading all the decluttering articles I could get my hands on because I believe that I have discovered my decluttering bible. I can scroll past all those pins that tend to fill my Pinterest feed every morning as I now know the secret.

The author is and always has been dorky, which I love because I can relate. I grew up in a messy household and as a child, my own room was often a mess as well, but it would take me forever to clean my bedroom though because I suddenly had to organize everything. As an adult, I have become fairly minimalist but still love furniture and organizers. Read: containers. Thankfully, I've nearly morphed into a domestic goddess in terms of housekeeping!

Her tone is also completely confident throughout. She speaks with authority. Marie urges this method in order to improve lives. Setting an example herself, she says, "Although not large, the space I live in is graced only with those things that speak to my heart. My lifestyle brings me joy." This result of this process is for you to really enjoy life. In order to change lives and habits, the author urges that readers must change their thoughts. So profound, she claims the result will not make them relapse back to the original condition.

This approach is radical, yes, but also logical and simple. Basically, the KonMari Method consists of two steps. First, you massively discard items in the right order, in categories (rather than places) ordered from easy to hard, by placing all like items on the floor and then putting your hands on each item and asking, "Does this spark joy?" Only keep the ones that do. If it doesn't, express some gratitude for the object's service and let it go. All this is to be done once and quickly. Second, you find a home for each and every keeper, a happy home at that, one that is highly visible, in the organizing step. You should strive to store an item in the best way.

At the beginning, she asks clients to visualize how they want their home or space to look and function. She urges them to be detailed, to seek the reason behind the vision. As an INFJ, I appreciate seeing the big picture first.

I agree with many points in the decluttering section. For example, "Does this spark joy?" is the only question you ask yourself when deciding upon an item. Not a long list of questions such as, "Have you used it in the last 12 months?" and "Does this still represent my style?" All those questions invite more answers. More answers, I fear, lead to talking yourself into keeping more items. I also like the question itself. Life is too short not to be lived to the fullest and when you are trying to revolutionize the space you live in, those decisions should come from deep within you and be concerned with happiness. I love how simple the KonMari Method truly is. One point that I do not completely concur with, however, is being against stockpiling. Even though I am more of an underbuyer than an overbuyer, I still think I should have a small stockpile of goods I regularly use. Since I'm on a budget, it is ideal to buy an extra item when I am able to score it at an amazing price (either combining a coupon or Cartwheel discount with a sale). At the time that this post will publish, I only have two bottles of Suave shampoo on my single overflow/stockpile shelf, so, clearly, I don't go overboard anyway. However, I agree that you cannot store too much well, ridding yourself of the clutter is key.

She provides many organizing tips. Some points I agree with, many others I do not. She believes that, "The amount of storage space you have in your room is actually just right." Once you learn to choose your belongings well, you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly in your current space. Personally, I have enough storage space in my apartment where I live alone. However, if I live with a boyfriend one day, I may want to consider her vertical folding techniques, so I can pack more into a drawer along with the added bonus of being able to see all clothing at a glance. It makes sense. Since I flip the top of one sock over the top of its pair, stretching out the band, the author would consider my socks miserable. She insists you simply lay one on top of the other and fold a time or two instead. Maybe I'll give it a try... She truly wants a person to respect his or her belongings. An item has feelings and needs a permanent home. She also doesn't advocate storing off-season clothing away temporarily, when I think it'd be better not to move a piece out of the way everyday for six to nine months. Her storage strategy embraces simplicity. She urges each disciple to store like items together. I now store my change exclusively in my wallet. She does not recommend having like items all over the place, close to where they're used, which is another idea I do not entirely agree with. Also, a home should not depend upon the item's frequency of use. But why make everyday chores more difficult? I like keeping some things close to where I actually use them. For example, I usually keep a lighter in my end table drawer near a couple of jar candles and another lighter in my linen closet along with a stock of tea lights and candleholders. I don't keep both lighters in one place like Marie would want. Against fancy storage products, she greatly prefers plain old drawers and boxes. An empty shoebox is Marie's perfect storage container. Even its lid can be used like a tray, especially to contain cooking oils and spices inside a kitchen cabinet. She insists that her students already have exactly what they need to store their stuff. Even though I love my six expensive clear plastic bins with a cut-out handle and five clear glass apothecary jars inside my upper kitchen cabinet, I would make her proud as my pantry (which is half of a shelf in my linen closet) is organized by two shoeboxes and two shoebox lids. Another example of an organizing tip I disagree with is that she actually unpacks her handbag completely at home everyday, to ensure its proper rest. Yet another is that all items come out of the bath and shower area after each use and are stored in the cupboard. Also, she actually claims to dry her dishes on an outdoor space. Those last three seem like a lot of extra work and I'm not a lazy person. I suppose I agree with the discarding half far more than the organizing portion of the book.

After my first reading, I did some significant decluttering of my already clutter-free apartment. In fact, I had just decluttered for a seasonal capsule wardrobe shortly before using the KonMari Method. Back during the summer, I wrote down that I tossed five tops, two skirts, my entire stock of spare buttons that I've been collecting for decades, a tote, many books, boxes stuffed full of broken down cardboard boxes collected over years for moving purposes, some bubble wrap for moving as well, so many old papers, and several store shopping bags. The clothing and accessories filled a kitchen trash bag halfway. Sorry, no before and after photos as this wasn't a massive transformation, but, still, this is a lot for me. I don't miss a thing. The closet that held all those flattened boxes looks much more neat. Although, I have slowly started collecting them again since I do hope to move sometime during the next calendar year. Do I need a few years worth though? Not really, no. I actually stopped the discarding process after tackling the papers category. I didn't do very much of the komono (misc.) and none of the sentimental items. It would be difficult to go through both the sentimental items and the supply of scrapbooking materials meant to preserve and organize them.

Marie claims that this process dramatically transforms your life. You are able to discover what you really want to do since it shows you what you love. "One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity." When you declutter and organize, you hone your decision-making skills. These decisions are based upon your personal values. Then, you can use those sharpened skills to confidently take a new direction in life, one you're passionate about. This concept stood out to me following my first reading.

After reading the book a second time in order to take notes for a decent review, I stopped decluttering all the time, stopping regularly looking around, asking myself if I could donate an item from the room I was in. Decluttering all the time keeps focus on the negative. Instead, the author says, "We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of." Always wanting to improve as an INFJ, I am grateful for her words and her reminder to remain positive.

Marie writes that tidying restores balance at home. She believes that the result is the most natural state possible because it is unnatural to possess things that do not bring us joy or that we do not need. Furthermore, this process allows us to cherish what is precious in our lives. For me, so much of what life boils down to is a matter of respect. If you love something, then take good care of it. My home is always straightened and relatively clean because living in my own apartment with a balcony but without roommates is a dream come true. I value it so highly that out of respect, I keep it nice and neat. A home is important to me and I live well in mine. Being surrounded by things that inspire joy can make one happy. She concludes that an individual's real life begins after putting his or her home in order. Without clutter bogging you down, you are free to concentrate on what truly matters. She suggests this be done quickly, so that a person can both get on with life and never look back.

If you want to declutter and organize your home whatsoever, I highly recommend that you buy this book and follow its simple method.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: Maybe in Another Life

...or at the library.

Maybe in Another Life: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid is such a good book. A quick read, I read it over just a few days, having finished it the same day as my last post which also focused on this book. The author shows two parallel lives a young woman who decides to start her life over could lead following a single decision. Each scenario plays out in alternating chapters. Big things happen on each path. At times, the reader finds out about something in one of the lives and anticipates when that secret will surface in the other. It's fun to see how similar and different each turns out, especially regarding her love interest. I appreciate how introspective the main character is. It is a light read as I mentioned before, but it can also go deep, especially in terms of fate and happiness. I also adore the amazing friendship between main character and her best friend she is temporarily staying with and receives support from. The character development is wonderful. The main character relishes cinnamon rolls and now I want one! (This is not even something I usually eat or crave!) I highly recommend this book. Sure, it would be a fabulous summer read, but why wait? Since the protagonist is experiencing a fresh start, it would be ideal reading for New Year's Day. Read it while savoring a cinnamon roll topped with a lot of icing that morning!

This book was on my Winter 2015-2016 Reading List. Since I'm adding other books and eBooks, it's the only one that I've checked off this particular list so far. Many more book reviews to come!

I know that in my last post over two weeks ago, I stated that I planned on catching up before year end. Don't worry; this is still the plan! I'm usually a woman of my word, but I still put a lot of pressure on myself to do more and better. I am sorry that I haven't posted lately; I was busy with the holiday season. In particular, I did a lot of baking which took up time right before the holiday. Adding things to do during the days leading up to Christmas just wasn't the smartest idea. I've definitely learned my lesson. Please know that blogging is really on my mind and I hope to post a few times before the new year. I am committed to writing. Grazie for your patience. A few of my fellow bloggers out there are currently taking a blogging break, so enjoy some new content on italiagal.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Staying Up Late Reading a Book. Plus, a Blog Announcement

Even though it's not officially winter yet and I'm still not finished with my Fall 2015 Reading List, I am reading a book from my Winter List called Maybe in Another Life: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I was waiting in a long queue at the library for many weeks. Now checked out from my local branch, it's due to be returned on December 26th, so I just had to jump ahead.

I'm really enjoying this novel so far. It's so good. The story follows a young woman who is starting over after moving back to her hometown and the two possible lives she could have had based upon a single decision. Each outcome plays out in alternating chapters. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next in each narrative! I found out about this book through theSkimm daily e-mail newsletter. Their last book recommendation was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah which you know I loved. Whatever they recommend is probably fantastic.

I'm a bit over halfway through now, having read a lot of it last night. One of my favorite places and times to read is in bed before I go to sleep. It's comfy there and a decent way to unwind before bedtime. A nice end to my day. Since it wasn't a school night for me, I stayed up late, reading another chapter and then another. I still rose at the same time this morning as planned though. Oh well. It was worth it.

I am behind in writing and publishing all the posts that I want to, so I plan to spend the next three weeks catching up. As a result, I will not be publishing a Simple Pleasure Sunday or Signature Sunday post for the next couple of Sundays. They will return after the new year on Sunday, January 3, 2016. The plan is to post whenever I can until then. I need to focus on other topics. My regular series can certainly wait. I feel so bogged down with the posts on my ever-growing To Blog list that I don't have the freedom to spontaneously write about something. (I really like to be on top of things.) I need to get them done, check them off the list already. Expect several posts including: a New Recipe from months ago, a few comments on my summer and fall capsule wardrobes, a few photos of my holiday decor, a book review of Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin along with either a long post or a mini series of posts on how her brilliant strategies helped me to develop new good habits, and a book review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, at least! I know that it is the holiday season, but I still want to make this catch-up sprint a priority, just until about year end. Here's to a productive three weeks!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Sipping My First Hot Chocolate of the Season

Last Friday afternoon, I picked up my first cup of hot chocolate of the season from the in-store Starbucks at Target. I enjoyed it at home and it was delicious! It was a nice treat towards the end of my week. Not to mention an occasional indulgence during winter. I love it every year!

Topped with whipped cream.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Holiday Pinterest Project

As part of my Christmas decor this year, I wanted to recreate this simple faux floral arrangement that I found on Pinterest. This is not the first time a pin has inspired a holiday centerpiece.

A white pitcher acts as a vase for several branches of red berries. I intended this to serve as a centerpiece for my dining room table. I love to use red berries as decoration during winter, which is fitting since my holiday decor is usually red with touches of white and silver.

I recreated this DIY project today. This is my version...

After I threw a load of laundry in the washer at my parents' place this afternoon, I borrowed a vehicle and drove to Michaels. In addition to some pieces that will make my Christmas gifts quite cute, I purchased five stems of red berries. They were only $3.99 a stem! When I returned home, I removed all the green leaves and then shortened the stems with a pair of pliers. I also cut off the clusters with white spots, where they had lost their red glaze. Next, I found a piece of styrofoam in a closet which I cut smaller with a kitchen knife and placed inside the pitcher. Then, I tried my best to arrange the stems into basically a dome, poking the ends into the foam a bit. Even though it is much more full than my inspiration, it could still benefit from a sixth stem... I was also happy to utilize my beloved white pitcher from HomeGoods. It tends to hold flowers much more than a beverage. I like how this arrangement turned out and I think I'll keep it on the table throughout the season...

While I do enjoy decorating my home a bit for Christmas, I simply haven't yet. I usually accomplish this activity sometime during the week of Thanksgiving, so it feels late to me. Other than this project, I only have a red berry wreath hanging on my front door so far. I was waiting for the opportunity to acquire these red berries, sure, but I think I have wanted to embrace autumn a little bit longer this year. We had 60 degree (F) weather only yesterday! It feels more like winter today in the 40s though. Also, I kinda wanted to photograph my apartment home as it normally is, before decking my halls, but the light wasn't good today on my day off, rainy all day. Plus, a cloudy day is forecasted tomorrow, my other day off. It's been awhile since I showed my home on the blog and I'm so intent on moving out of town. It was a dream come true to have my own apartment and I do want to capture the home I created. Really, my holiday decor is fairly minimal due to a tight budget. Anyway, I'm sure Christmas spirit will take over me pretty soon and I will indulge in my decorating tradition. ...hopefully fueled by my first cup of hot chocolate!

*Edit: I bought a sixth stem Monday afternoon ...and what a difference it makes!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Baci Chocolates

I picked up a bag of Baci chocolates at HomeGoods a little while ago and have been slowly savoring them ever since. Now, I only have a few left! Baci are made by Perugina in Perugia, Italy. The name Baci means "kisses" in Italian. The singular is bacio. I've written about Ferrero Rocher, which is a similar product. Each Bacio is a dark chocolate shell covering both a mixture of milk chocolate and bits of hazelnut and a whole hazelnut on top. There's a small piece of translucent plastic with navy printing wrapped around each chocolate. It's actually a note or quote about love, which is translated into three other languages. One of mine reads, "Being loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone gives you courage." --Lao-Tzu. Both the confection and love note are wrapped in silver and navy foil embellished with stars. I feel like Baci are romantic while Ferrero Rocher are classy. There's room for both in my life!

Usually, I eat one of these decadent treats as dessert to a lunch or dinner. I had a new friend over for dinner Friday night and for an easy yet elegant dessert, I served a small plate of chocolates: Lindt's dark chocolate Lindor balls, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, and these Baci. I actually introduced her to them that evening. I scored a three-pack of the Ferrero Rocher cheap, with a Cartwheel discount a few weeks ago. I wouldn't mind keeping either of the hazelnut chocolates in stock through the holiday season...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Watching Last Love

I was playing around on my phone yesterday afternoon, scrolling through The Simply Luxurious Life's Simple Pleasures Pinterest board. Shannon calls each one a Petit Plaisir though. When I discovered that a film she savored was set in Paris, I planned to rent Last Love on Amazon Instant Video that evening. And I did enjoy viewing it Saturday night.

With the recent attacks, my social media feeds are filled with Parisian and French images. I actually took a small social media break on Friday. Going without facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram for about thirty hours as well as not owning a TV, I probably missed many posts and a lot of the coverage. Still, my thoughts are often there, in that beauty of a city. My heart breaks for the people of Paris, as well as for all the victims of this terrible tragedy. #prayforparis #peaceforparis

Jean Jullien
Instagram via Pinterest

I liked Last Love, but I can see how not everyone would. This drama focuses upon an elderly gentleman named Matthew Morgan, played by Michael Caine, who lost his wife a few years ago. She was everything to him. Becoming rather reclusive and not trying new things, he sure wasn't taking it well. Even though he met with a language partner regularly, he pretty much refused to speak French while living in Paris. A retired philosophy professor from Princeton, he was well-to-do and his apartment was absolutely stunning. As was the Parisian background! The film was beautifully photographed. One day, he meets a young Parisian woman named Pauline, played bClémence Poésy, who happens to speak English fluently, teaches dance, and craves the family she no longer has. Becoming friends, their unlikely connection is life-changing. Not only about friendship, the story is about family. His relationships with his son and daughter are dysfunctional and Pauline throws herself in the middle of the mess between Matthew and his son Miles. Overall, this film moves along slowly. To me, it's real rather than boring. You do care about the characters because they are so well-developed plus the acting is wonderful. It's incredibly emotional. I didn't care for the ending, which contrasted with the whole rest of the movie. It was quick and (a little mysterious but) neat. Nonetheless, I do recommend this foreign film.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Winter 2015-2016 Reading List

In the event that I am snowed in this winter, I would love a good book and a cup of decadent hot chocolate. In order to prepare, I have compiled a selection of six books for the season. Oh, and check out my fall and summer reading lists. More book reviews are coming.

Michelle's Winter Reading List:

 ...or jump in the queue for it at the library

Maybe in Another Life was a book recommendation from theSkimm. It is about a woman and the two different lives she could possibly have led based upon her decision at an event. I placed a hold on this novel at the library. Hopefully, it'll be my turn to borrow it soon!

Available on Amazon or at your local library

I figure that when I pick up the first book on this list from the library, I will also check out this one. The Alchemist is an international best seller that I have yet to read. The main character Santiago is a shepherd who goes on a quest for treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. I find that both it and the author Paulo Coelho are frequently quoted, a fact that lead me to consider this choice. Its central message of discovering one's destiny earned it a place on this list.

Of the MBTI, I am an INFJ personality type. This author is an authority on the subject and I look forward to learning even more about myself as well as how I can improve. I plan to purchase the affordable Kindle version of The Empathic INFJ


Since I adored A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable, I pre-ordered the Kindle version of I'll See You in Paris almost as soon as I discovered it! This new novel will be released on February 9, 2015. It follows three women who lived at different times, yet are somehow connected. Read my review of A Paris Apartment here.

Available for Pre-Order on Amazon or at the library when released

Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite authors. Her previous seven works of historical fiction are amazingly vivid. I am have been devoted to her ever since I devoured Girl with a Pearl Earring which I randomly plucked off the bookshelf at the Virgin Records store in New York as a teenager. Even though At the Edge of the Orchard is set on the American frontier instead of a European locale, I still anticipate reading it. The story follows a pioneer family during the mid-1800s. This novel will be released on March 15th, just a few days prior to the spring equinox. I placed a hold on this title at the library and am the first in line.

                                                       Available on Amazon

Choosing The Simply Luxurious Life: A Modern Woman's Guide by blogger Shannon Ables has been on my reading list for the past couple of seasons. I did read my paperback copy awhile ago, but still want to read it again in order to take notes for myself as well as to publish a book review. It's about achieving the life we want by making conscious choices. A kindred spirit, the author and I both enjoy savoring a chocolate truffle.

Let me know if I have just have to read something in the comments section.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Watching Kate Spade #missadventure Videos

I adore the Kate Spade New York #missadventure videos starring actress Anna Kendrick. The script is funny, plus the fashion is fabulous. I love her celebrity co-stars too. And I can't forget the dog! All of the short films are set during the holiday season and four have been released so far. Let's hope there's more!

The first one is my favorite...

The second episode...

The third one...

And finally the fourth...
Only Anna Kendrick can tell someone she looks mean and then make friends with her!

I realize that these are first world problems, but I like that the message is making the best of any situation.

I love the Kate Spade brand for its aesthetic. I do own the Kate Spade 2015 planner that I use daily. It allows me to stay on top of my home chores, beauty regime and social activities, in style. I love the exterior stripes, interior dots and monthly messages. Next year's agenda is actually on my amazon wishlist. A friend also gave me a Kate Spade candle, which is long gone, but I kept its candle-holder, which has polka dots and reads "Escape the ordinary." Maybe I'll own more from this lovely brand someday... I think I would opt for a classic black leather tote over the ($400!) gnome clutch from episode 3 (even though I have loved gnomes since watching David the Gnome before PM kindergarten!).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic

I highly recommend Jennifer L. Scott's latest book Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance. This third installment in the Madame Chic series focuses on poise, that admirable "certain something" an individual may possess. Such a comprehensive take on the topic, I don't believe that she left anything out! From how to walk in heels to how to eat difficult foods, this book is overflowing with tips. Her anecdotes are well chosen and make me feel like I can relate and furthermore, actually cultivate poise for myself in my real life. Living in a chic manner means practicing poise. In reading this book, I had the following thoughts...

First of all, while reading, I'm exclaiming "study abroad changes lives!" in my mind. Like Jennifer, I'm not the same person I was prior to spending some time in a foreign country. After studying in Pescara, Italy, my days are now infused with an Italian sweetness. This particular experience has the power to transform you. If you have not read any of the Madame Chic series (do!), you should know that Jennifer's host mother during her semester abroad in Paris is Madame Chic. This woman serves as the author's example on how to live well. Now, Jennifer is not only an example herself to her fans, but she wholeheartedly promotes her important message. The author wants her reader to then be an example for his or her "viewers," the people who see and hear you. The author urges that anyone can achieve poise as well as the life you have always dreamed of. In changing your life, you also "change the world" (269). She closes the book with this incredible thought.

I have long hoped to become a charming person. After reading this book, I realize that being poised is what I meant. I desire to be an amazing hostess whenever I entertain. In everyday life, I wish to speak well, maintain calmness during a frustrating conversation, keep eye contact, and simply be adored. I also want to look the part, both in my personal appearance and in my home. Jennifer stresses that this trait is always a work-in-progress. As an INFJ, I prefer things finished, but I need to consider all this more a journey than a destination. Thankfully, I am not a beginner in terms of cultivating poise, but I can still learn a lot from this fantastic book. If you want any of those things too, then I suggest you pick up a copy of this handbook because she covers them.

Another excellent point Jennifer makes is to practice poise even when no one is watching, including at home alone, because this is when you are your most authentic self. Making something a habit means it's natural to you. (Check out the self-discipline series on her blog The Daily Connoisseur.) Then, this routine easily sets you up for public behavior. I live alone and work close to where I live, so I spend a major amount of time without anyone around, making this point of what you do in private matters more crucial. My posture while dining is awful. Tired from my productive day, I hunch over my meal, elbows or forearms leaning on the table edge. This is certainly an area where I can employ some self-discipline. Jennifer writes, "By sitting up straight, you will elevate the elegance of your meal" (119). I should try to improve my posture in order to lead a more chic life.

Like Jennifer, Paris left a major impression on me. The city is truly all about beauty, from the little things like breads to the big things like bridges. Now that I've visited, I feel like I have a delicious secret: I've seen the beauty that is Paris. In this guide, Jennifer says the first thing to concentrate on is appearance. To make an effort. She pushes her readers to put their best foot forward. This is a very Italian idea, fare la bella figura, literally means "to make a beautiful figure." Even though I have heard her consistent refrain of "look presentable always" before, do I think she should have left it out? Definitely not. It's important and she explains it effectively. This is crucial for those who have just discovered this blogger/author. Also, I think Jennifer's devoted fans will still find plenty of new takeaways in this book. Anyway, she urges the reader to put some thought into her own style via the ten-item wardrobe. A poised person is "appropriately dressed for every occasion" (51). I enjoyed the included ways to tie a scarf, complete with directions. I wear a scarf almost every day during the fall, winter and spring, but wear it the same way. From clothes to cups, Jennifer insists that an individual uses her best everyday. If she does, then her comfort zone will be grow bigger soon ...which makes perfect sense! Throughout the book, she even addresses that negative voice in your head, how to get you to move past the objection, from dressing yourself to entertaining others. Making things and experiences beautiful is worth it.

The author does provide a specific challenge: to invite someone over for tea. I grew up drinking iced sweetened Lipton black tea at the family dinner table. In my own apartment home, I have the decaffeinated variety of these tea bags stored in an apothecary jar inside my kitchen cabinet. Other than those two things, I've never been really into tea. This subject does pique my interest though... I think I might actually do it. Since reading the book, I have prepared for such an event in several ways. First, I pinned a couple of tea party ideas on Pinterest (here and here) and googled how to serve the beverage. Today, I purchased a box of Twinings Irish Breakfast tea bags to start. (On a budget and while saving money, I tend to purchase pantry items a little at a time.) Having installed a tea kettle on my shopping wish list on my phone, I bet I could pick up a shiny red one from HomeGoods or Target... I only have white cups and saucers, but since my mother is an antique dealer, I could possibly do the mismatched thing. For years, I've owned a plain tiered tray from Ikea that's still in the box. Once assembled, I picture this tray holding a few delicacies. I love my grocery store's simple chicken salad which I could put on slices of baguette with the crusts cut off. Or perhaps I could serve "panini" (or maybe just good ungrilled bread) with roasted red pepper, mozzarella, prosciutto and basil or arugula? My new recipes include cranberry scones and coffee cake, which would work well for afternoon tea. To possibly accompany the scones, I added Bonne Maman preserves to My Cartwheel (app at Target). Trying something new while eating through tiers of savory and sweet food sounds pretty good to me! Thanks for the idea, Jennifer!

Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic is a lovely book and reading it was a simple pleasure of mine. Jennifer is passionate about this subject and that certainly comes through in this inspiring book. If you haven't already, definitely read it. I also hope it is as life-changing for you as I predict it will be for me. #madamechic

*Edit: Grazie, Jennifer for mentioning this post on facebook and for your kind words.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Reading Jennifer's Latest Book

Her three books on my bookshelf.

I am a huge fan of Jennifer L. Scott, the blogger behind The Daily Connoisseur and author of the Madame Chic series. Her latest book, Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance came out on Tuesday. I had pre-ordered my copy back in June. This past week, I read and enjoyed this wonderful book.

It was my intention for this post to also serve as my review, but I haven't managed to put it together yet. You can expect a glowing review soon though!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Reading a Magazine

I picked up a magazine at Target, with a Cartwheel discount, last weekend. I bought Real Simple, which is one of my favorites. How to Make Time for What Matters This Season on the cover spoke to me.

In addition to this type of magazine, I also favor travel, home decor and fashion ones. My favorite fashion one would be InStyle. When out, I used to buy a magazine regularly. It was a true simple pleasure for me. I grew up with a subscription to something, from American Girl to Seventeen. Most recently, I was subscribing to Budget Travel until they switched from print to being an e-magazine. I rarely purchase them anymore, maybe one once or twice a year. I am likely to buy one for the beach in the summertime. The January issue for O, The Oprah Magazine may inspire my new year's resolutions. On a trip, I might grab one at the airport or train station.

I rarely get a magazine anymore for a couple of reasons. First, around $5 a pop, it's a rare indulgence for budget reasons. Second, I felt like I stopped reading fashion magazines so much when I read the book The One Hundred by Nina Garcia and became increasingly interested in cultivating my own style. I was further dedicated to only choosing a few pieces that are classic over trendy. Sometimes, fashion magazines portraying temporary fads were a disappointment and felt like a waste of money.

I enjoyed reading the November issue last Monday afternoon, on my day off. I also look forward to finishing this out-of-the-ordinary treat over the next couple of days while taking vacation days, staying at my parents' place dogsitting the family dog Minnie. Unfortunately, I've had a cold for the past three days so hopefully I won't be flipping the pages in bed; I prefer a coffee shop, or at least on the sofa with a hot cup of tea. Hopefully, I'll wake up back to normal tomorrow. From reading this issue, I rearranged some food inside the refrigerator. I also thought the detailed guide on party guest etiquette was informative. Several pages of beautiful table linens was a bit more fun. It's a good issue. I recommend it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fall 2015 Capsule Wardrobe

As a kid, my favorite book series was Sleepover Friends, which was about four girls who had sleepovers every Friday. One of the main characters was Stephanie, who exclusively wore black, white and red. The colors in a capsule wardrobe should be limited so that each piece goes with nearly everything else, but I wouldn't go quite as far as Stephanie did. I need a few extra neutrals including charcoal and chocolate, plus a pinch of other pop colors like pink and purple. As usual, the core items and extras of my wardrobe this season are basically black and white with pops of warm color.

black and white with red trim
This is my new apron from etsy shop Aquamorcouture.
This is only my second apron, but I wear them often.

Retailers tend to feature burgundy every autumn. Over the past several months, I'm so pleased that my favorite clothing store Ann Taylor featured a few versions of this color, including a rich red called Dark Ruby (love!), followed by the darker earthy Chianti, and currently debuting a true burgundy called Classic Plum. I love that one of my pop colors this autumn is reminiscent of the wine (grape) harvest! Perfetto. 

I basically follow the rules for such a wardrobe set by Jennifer L. Scott. More information can be found on her blog The Daily Connoisseur as well as in her books Lessons from Madame Chic and At Home with Madame Chic. Definitely check out her fashion show and subsequent talk-through.

Jennifer's wardrobe consists of something like ten core items. Having 11 in her fall/winter wardrobe this year, she maintains that ten is meant to be more of an idea than a rule. You should be mindful about what you wear and only include what makes you feel fabulous. Ten doesn't work well for me and my lifestyle; I need a bit more. My current laundry schedule is only once a week. Plus, the dress code at my full-time job is business casual. At home, I am usually more casual. Since I am very 'work to live,' I have a life and wish to dress with some thought on social occasions. Even though the combinations add variety, it's still nice to have options hanging in my closet.

I have seen my number of core items in my wardrobe decline over the time I've blogged such posts, to anywhere from 15 to 21 pieces each season this year. Ideally, I would love to be crazy about just 15 beautiful articles of clothing of high quality. That number is certainly attainable in the winter when I cut down on skirts and dresses, opting for pants instead. Like I said, I will strive to feature 15 every season in the future, but, still, I'm not going to stress over the number. Calling it my "capsule wardrobe" seems more fitting than a "ten-item" one. Among my extras, I also hope to further narrow it down from thirteen tees this fall to ten this winter.

Like Jennifer, I also scored my new stuff on sale. I find the item(s) I want and then stalk the store online and/or my email inbox until the item is discounted. Only then, will I add it to my virtual shopping cart or possibly pick it up in-store. This is crucial for my budget. As a result, I have been patiently creating this wardrobe for months. I suppose many other people think like the two of us because once on sale, I ordered this one top a couple of times (online and phone) and then received an email stating it was actually out of stock and they couldn't fulfill my order each time. Fortunately, the third time's the charm! I just received it today. Luckily, it's entirely lovely. Definitely worth the wait! I will probably wear it once a week during the fall, winter, and spring. Anyway, this particular situation happened to delay this post even longer. Finally, may I present my closet this fall...

My Closet
Core Items and Some of thee Extras 

Michelle's 17-Item Fall 2015 Capsule Wardrobe

1. white long sleeve Perfect Shirt from Ann Taylor

2. pink, red and black short sleeve wrap top from Ann Taylor Factory Store

3. new black 3/4 sleeve Tie-Neck Top from Talbots

4. dark brown cross-over 3/4 sleeve sweater from LOFT

5. new black long sleeve Sheer Pleated Blouse from LOFT

6. black Wrap Jersey Top from Boden

7. new v neck All-Season Stretch Sleeveless Sheath Dress from Ann Taylor

8. new black Seamed Pencil Skirt from Ann Taylor

9. dark gray pencil skirt from H&M

10. black paneled skirt from The Limited

11. brown wool A-line skirt with embroidered dark brown line design from LOFT

12. dark blue boot cut Modern Fit jeans in petite from Ann Taylor

13. blue 515 Bootcut jeans with studs on back pockets by Levi's from eBay

14. dark blue 515 Bootcut jeans in regular by Levi's from JCPenney

15. black ankle pants by Mossimo from Target

16. new dark gray Modern Fit pants in petite by Worthington from JCPenney

17. black Classic Fit pants by Merona from Target


1-4. new Sonoma life + style Everyday Camisole in New White from Kohl's
5. white Clean Cami from LOFT
6. dark pink Sonoma life + style Everyday Camisole from Kohl's
7. dark pink from LOFT
8. new dark pink/wine Sonoma life + style Everyday Camisole from Kohl's
9. red from LOFT
10. new black Clean Cami from LOFT
11. new black Sonoma life + style Everyday Camisole from Kohl's
12. black silky lacy from White House Black Market
13. black with white polka dots and lace trim by White House Black Market

1. white Essential Short Sleeve Scoop from Boden
2. black and white striped boat neck long sleeve from Sweden Collection by Chance Co.
3. new ivory and black striped boat neck Long Sleeve Breton from Boden

4. new white and midnight navy (dark night) long sleeve Modern stripe boatneck tee from Gap

5. new dark ruby Cotton Boatneck Tee with elbow sleeves from Ann Taylor

6. new rust (berry maroon) long sleeve Ultimate V T-Shirt by Merona from Target

7. purple 3/4 Sleeve Double Layer Crossover Tee by Merona (or Cherokee) from Target
8. grey and white striped boat neck 3/4 sleeve from H&M
9. grey v neck by L.O.G.G. from H&M
10. black v neck short sleeve by Merona from Target
11. new soft black boat neck 3/4 sleeve Bateau Tee from LOFT

12. black v neck long sleeve by L.O.G.G. from H&M
13. black scoop neck long sleeve from Express

1. black crew neck in Italian Cashmere that is a bit cropped from J.Crew
2. black crew neck (with large buttons I don't like) from Target
3. dark yet bright pink crew neck from LOFT

Jackets, Blazers and Trenches
1. new black 7th Avenue Design Studio Signature Fit One Button Jacket with ribbon detail and white polka dotted sleeve lining from New York & Company
2. black one button blazer with black and white striped sleeve lining by Stylus from JCPenney
3. tan belted 3/4 sleeve safari jacket from The Limited
4. dark gray two button suit jacket from Ann Taylor Factory Store
5. black two button suit jacket from The Limited
6. dark brown corduroy two button blazer from Espirit
7. khaki belted single breasted trench from Banana Republic Factory Store
8. black single breasted trench from H&M

1. terra cotta silk/cashmere blend by Tie Rack London
2. dark pink
3. red from The Limited
4. dark red with subtle large dots from Target
5. purple
6. ivory
7. black and white geometric printed polyester from The Limited
8. black with white polka dots from LOFT Outlet

1. black/brown reversible from Target
2. black skinny bow from White House Black Market
3. black wide braid from The Limited

Special Occasion Wear (#3-8 are all knee-length)
1. burgundy sweater with black lace top in petite from Ann Taylor
2. black tailored top with sheer scarf and sleeves from White House Black Market

3. black sleeveless dress with origami folds from White House Black Market
4. black sleeveless dress with radiating folds from neckline by Mossimo from Target
5. black long sleeve faux wrap dress with pin by American Living from JCPenney
6. black lace boat neck dress with long sheer lace sleeves from The Limited
7. black short sleeve wrap dress from Ann Taylor
8. black lace on cream skirt with some sequins from Ann Taylor

Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere

Many pieces including an Anne Klein watch and a pair of cubic zirconia studs that I wear nearly every day. Having just decluttered my collection of earrings, I now only have 14 pairs. (Narrowed down by their storage space, I keep each one in its own compartment in the top tray of my jewelry armoire.) I also wear my long silver necklace with studded bows from Ann Taylor with many of my boat neck tees. My new piece is a Pavé Bangle Bracelet that I picked up this summer from The Limited.

Heeled boots and ballet flats are among my small collection of shoes.

Black faux leather tote from Aldo. Also, cotton totes for shopping and overnights elsewhere as well as clutches for evening.

New Red Nail Polishes
Amore at the Grand Canal from the Venice Collection for Fall/Winter 2015 by OPI
Red Hot Rio from Brazil Collection for Spring/Summer 2014 by OPI

I've been talking about considering my style classic with a touch of femininity for years now. Little by little, the contents of my closet continue to evolve in that direction, especially in regards to silhouette this season. For example, I'm increasingly comfortable in a blouse that is not as form-fitting as usual. I remember choosing that sheer pleated black blouse worn over a black camisole for not one, but two family dinners. On the other hand, a pencil skirt shows off more of my curves than I'm used to.

Even though I am publishing my capsule wardrobe post, holes remain in my small shoe collection due to budget. I don't own flat boots nor a classic nude pump. Of those two, I am trying to look for dressy black boots with a low heel, perhaps to order with my next paycheck. Last winter was far too cold for ballet flats paired with trouser socks at work (where I often walk outside to different buildings) and walking to the store, but I did it anyway. Knee-high boots would be ideal, but they are expensive and I'm trying to save money. Plus, my selection would be limited because I would need a wide-calf pair. Even though I hate the look of ankle boots (or "booties"), they could definitely be mostly covered up by black pants or bootcut jeans. No one would know they weren't knee-high unless I hiked up my pant legs. I think this option at a fraction of the price of knee-highs would work, especially beyond fall, for the coldest days of the year.

Do you employ a capsule wardrobe?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: Eating Rome

From my fall reading list, I read Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City by Elizabeth Minchilli and loved it. Sometimes reading a book is like chatting with a friend and this is the case with Eating Rome. She's down-to-earth and the book flows quickly. Plus, you're drawn to the author because she's so passionate about her subject. I would turn to this friend for her expertise. Each chapter starts with a story about a meal, food, or lesson often featuring a 'how to' guide or a run-down of the rules (oh, the Italians and their rules!), is followed by restaurant recommendations and ends with recipes. Her book covers a range of topics plus it's an insider's guide. For a more authentic experience, this book would be wonderful to read before visiting Rome. In fact, I think I will take notes from it whenever I draft my own itinerary for this city.

By living in the eternal city a long time and being fully immersed in the Italian culture, she came to know Italians well. I can relate to her perspective since she is American-born. Her anecdotes are entertaining. They reminded me of my old study abroad days... Especially when I declined being served a certain kind of beverage (think grappa), the Italians became so concerned about the opening or closing of my stomach during a meal. I kept thoughts such as, "I think my stomach knows what to do when I eat..." to myself.

Being a picky eater myself, even though Italian cuisine is my favorite, I still don't know a lot about it. I wish that the author would have provided a bit more explanation about several foods than she did. I can't say, however, that I was completely stumped since I could figure it out in the context. I do recommend the kindle version, so that if the word is in English, you can tap the term and a dictionary-style definition will pop up. This book might be geared towards an Italophile. For example, even though she used the term throughout the book, she doesn't define guanciale as "cured pork jowl" until halfway through. Not that she doesn't go into great detail, she does. She notes which specific dish she always orders at a certain restaurant during a particular time of year and even what could possibly go wrong in making a dish.

I'm not exactly sure if I should completely trust the author on her taste though... She fancies to feast upon... offal, which means 'organs.' On the other hand, Elizabeth does savor gelato and apertivo (a happy hour (bitter) drink and accompanying snack usually served buffet-style). Perhaps I should give a recipe a try before I judge...

I recommend this book for its charm and expertise as well as making me want to hop on a plane and land at Fiumicino (also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome)! Don't leave Rome without it!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Summer Sisters

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume was on my summer reading list and I did read it during August. Having ordered a cheap paperback copy, I intended to read it lying on the beach. Busy during this particular season, I managed to schedule a day to hit a beach just about half an hour's drive away, but, unfortunately, ended up canceling to visit my grandfather in the hospital instead (who is now OK). It would have been the perfect beach read. I remember reading a bit of it outside though, while tanning in my parents' backyard. Anyway, it was good and I recommend it.

It's the story of two very different young girlfriends who spend their summers together on Martha's Vineyard. Most of the book is a flashback. I am drawn to books that depict a long friendship. This work of fiction keeps your interest throughout. The characters feel real and the reader can relate to them or at least their situations. Who describes adolescence better than Judy Blume? She talks about coming of age and anything sex-related so frankly. Pick up this salacious book but save it for summer.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Signature Sunday: Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere

My signature scent is Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere Eau de Parfum. I have been wearing it almost every single day for the past four and a half years. Read how I discovered it here. Its light perfumy smell makes me feel feminine. Even though many women change their signature scent to reflect different phases in their lives, I predict that I will always wear this fragrance.

I adore Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and love that the related Chanel No. 5 is the ultimate classic. I love that the eau premiere formula is a modern twist of a classic item. That's what I try to do with almost everything! I gravitate towards classic items but may either tweak them slightly in order to update them or seek out little details which make items special. Either way, I'm intentionally making things my own. My signature.