Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wardrobe: What I Wore

As soon as I heard "wedding cruise to the Bahamas" I knew I wanted to wear a silky Caftan dress. Nothing says "Caribbean vacation/wedding" like a dolman sleeve and loose waist (except a cocktail with an umbrella in it). I found this one on sale at the end of the summer and paired it with the creamy clutch I carried around at my own wedding and some of my old go-to open toe pumps. The colors of this dress blended with the ocean too!

For a moment, I considered wearing a belt with this dress but a belt didn't work with the free-spirited vibe of our trip. Plus, that cake starring at me in the background told me to leave the belt at home.

Wardrobe: Caribbean Cruise

dress, top, bottoms, sunglasses, sandals, bag, bracelet
A cover-up that doubles as a day dress and multi-functional sandals were perfect for relaxing at the pool and touring the city. Don't be afraid to have fun with your wardrobe for this trip, a cruise is the time to sass it up!

My over sized straw bag was perfect for throwing in a towel and sunscreen or picking up some souvenirs. I didn't realize it at the time, but apparently The Bahamas are known for their straw goodies and some of the vendors interrogated me about my bag. One complimented me on the quality and asked who made it, assuming his competition was to blame. It was made in Morocco.

PS - I wore this cover-up and this dress for dinner. I don't normally buy Victoria's Secret because no matter what it is you can bet a push-up bra is built in. However, my sister swears by their swim suits so I gave it a go. I was happy with my purchases and found the quality of the swim suit to be much nicer than their bras and panties.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Destination: Cruise to the Bahamas

Is there a bell ringing? Is it an alarm? Am I dreaming? Am I still drunk? Who’s in bed with me? I realized I was awake when the bells stopped and a man’s voice came over the speakers. He said slowly, in a saddened tone, "Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. The worst possible scenario has happened." What could it be? Later we shared our speculations over Bloody Mary’s at the pool. “Is it the zombie apocalypse?” “Is the ship sinking?” “Pirates?!” “We’re out of booze?!” No. No. He continued, “Due to over 8 foot ocean swells and over 30 miles per hour winds, our trip to Cococay will be postponed indefinitely and we will instead go straight to Nassau where we will stay until 4:30pm tomorrow as scheduled.” So the worst possible scenario is that we go to another Caribbean island in the same day? We have to lay at the pool all day nursing hangovers in the sun? Tragic.

I arrived in Miami Thursday night and headed to the bride's mother's house where some of my girlfriends and roommates from college were having a sleepover the night before our best friend’s wedding – which happened to be on a cruise to the Bahamas.

Thursday night started as a giggle fest then slowly devolved into a snoring competition {between the men, of course}. We got little sleep but the adrenalin of being together and going to Natalie’s wedding veiled our exhaustion on Friday morning.

As we got through security, checked-in and found the wedding spot, more and more of my friends started gathering. People I haven’t seen in years were piling in. This was going to be an epic weekend, I thought, as I toasted to myself while Natalie and her beloved exchanged vows. Their ceremony was simple, elegant, and touching. But in the background, the cheeky, Vegas vibe of our tiny cruise ship lingered. It was waiting for the right moment to break free and start a weekend of sun bathing and debauchery.

Its moment came when the ship’s photographer wanted a group shot of everyone attending the wedding. He happened to be “British” {sounded like Australian} and slipped when attempting to stand on a platform to snap the picture. He embarrassingly said, “The boat must be moving,” as he tried to regain his footing. Then someone shouted, “This boat’s a bangin’ mate,” in the worst possible accent that was neither British nor Australian. The poor man was horrified but every single person, family and friend, was laughing uncontrollably. Yes, epic indeed.

The rest of the night was spent re-establishing those bonds from the good ol’ days and meeting new friends. Our dinner table {best table ever!} consisted of two set of male college roommates, Brandy {my roomie/wife on the cruise} and me, along with two of the guys' girlfriends. The two guys who had girlfriends were roommates in college, and both ended up proposing on the same day! We then considered this the Love Boat and demanded a double wedding cruise on 12/12/12, as this one was on 11/11/11.

Once we arrived in Nassau, after we were suddenly woken up Saturday to the captain’s call, which was after drinking Bahama Mamas into the wee hours of the morning, we decided to go ashore to do a bit of exploring before cocktail hour.

Brandy and I, along with Kate {college roomie} and her beau explored the Straw Market and got a cheap(ish) beer at a dive-y bar. My impression of Nassau left me with a sad image of poverty, the remnants of colonialism, and a desperate people that were catering to tourists who wanted this “oasis” to be something it wasn’t. Everything seemed dirty and staged. Conches supposedly freshly harvested from the sea were for sale. Straw bags with Dora the Explorer or Little Mermaid motifs were abundantly available. I’m sure those were traditional designs… Only a few blocks past the touristy section were rows of boarded up homes with only a few people wandering the desolate streets.

On the other side of the main bridge was the utopian monstrosity Atlantis. On Sunday, I separated from most of the group and spent way too much money to visit for the day just to explore it. The hotel is admittedly impressive. Every detail was considered to create a magical world of the re-discovered lost city of Atlantis. There was even an aquarium incorporated into the building as well as a casino, luxury shopping, a dolphin encounter, rides, pools for children, adults, and everything in between. The beach was pristinely manicured but sadly unavailable to us during our visit due to the 8 foot swells. As the sky turned cloudy, I felt stupid for going to this fake feel-good resort.

Usually when I travel it’s for the destination. I want to see what a new city has to offer. I want to see how people live, or what they like to eat. I want to try on a new lifestyle or find a slower pace for a few days. But this destination was sad and the people inaccessible. The cruise itself had mediocre food catered to the tasteless masses, the staff was generally rude, and our room was impossibly small {even for this city girl!}.

I realized in a moment of quiet, sitting on a shady pool chair, listening to the faint sounds of a DJ playing Pit Bull, that this trip was absolutely not about the destination. It wasn’t about the cruise or Nassau, or even the elusive Cococay. It was about who I was with. The destination was the romantic nuptials of our dearest friends. The destination was a re-union of friendships with people who make my stomach and cheeks hurt from laughing. It was about being with people who know my soul without me having to explain myself.

I remember being on the dance floor; happy again to be with the larger group. I didn’t recognize the song, but it asked me to shake my booty so I complied. We started with Bahama Mamas at the private cocktail hour, then wine and champagne at dinner, where we ordered one of everything on the menu. More mixed drinks were consumed at the piano bar, where I vaguely remember Brandy sauntering over to sit in my lap while everyone sung along to the piano versions of our staple college drinking songs. I spilled my drink. No matter, I kept dancing, laughing, and carrying on. Someone jumped into the pool and we toasted over Lemon Drop shots to the health and happiness of Natalie and Dan.

This post is dedicated to you, my friends. Thank you for the famously good times. I love you and miss you already! Cheers!

photo courtesy of Brandy

photo courtesy of Brandy

Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekend Recap: Thanksgiving

This weekend was nice and long - two days off for the Thanksgiving holiday. My parents and sister came to town (as they often do) so that I can host and cook for them. I managed to spend 5 hours cooking up a storm and doing it all dairy-free. Dinner started with butternut squash soup, followed by the traditional meal: turkey, cranberry sauce with orange zest and a touch of Grand Marnier, brussel sprouts with bacon and apples, corn bread, and sausage brioche dressing. We barely saved room for apple pie and vanilla ice cream!

Friday and Sunday we explored the Capitol Building, Library of Congress, and the Air and Space Museum. I'll share those with you in the following posts.

Did you enjoy your time off? Did you spend it with family and friends? Did you travel or stay home?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Exploring: Cooking dairy-free

I love cooking but don't make nearly as much time for it as I should (probably because I'm out of town half the time!). Thanksgiving is my excuse to spend hours a day in the kitchen, cooking my favorite meals and experimenting with new recipes I've been saving. Then testing it all out on my family and friends.

I mentioned yesterday that my sister is lactose intolerant. So this week I'm making special treats for her so she might indulge while she's visiting without feeling sick. I found this recipe for Oreo stuffed brownies via Cup of Jo, via Keven & Amanda. I started drooling as soon as I saw the pictures.

To make this dairy-free:

Switch out the ice cream for So Delicious Cookies-n-Cream coconut ice cream and switch out the fudge for vegan chocolate chips. Oreos are not "real" as in they have no dairy already, they are even vegan approved (Newman's Own brand oreos do have dairy so check the packaging). Some brownie mixes are already dairy-free too.  These are so rich, gooey, and decedent that you won't miss the dairy, I promise!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving memories

As we prepare for the upcoming Thanskgiving feast all of my fond memories of the holiday are coming to mind. When my sister and I were little girls we went on a Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving Day morning with our dad, grandfather, and cousin (who's like a big sister). Sometimes the group would be bigger or we might run into friends on the trot, but it was always such a special moment for us girls to spend that time with our dad and especially our grandfather. Granddaddy was very fond of traditions and made us go no matter how much we whined (we had to get up at 6am to go!). After the run we were rewarded with a greasy diner breakfast at Lenny's in Clearwater, Florida. He knew all the waitresses there and we got excited about having chocolate milk, waffles, and pastries all in one meal.

When I moved away to NYC I started new potluck traditions with new friends and later Gman joined me too. We woke up early to watch the huge balloons and over-the-top floats in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Last year, my parents and sister came to NYC and let me cook for them in my tiny Manhattan apartment. I loved providing a delicious home cooked meal for my family to give thanks for their love and support. It was my little way of giving back.

Now in D.C. my parents and sister are coming to visit again. We are going on a turkey trot to give thanks to our memories. Then I'll be cooking our feast. My sister is lactose intolerant. So I'll be sharing with you how to adjust traditional recipes to cook for someone with... special needs. For a dairy allergy, it's easier than you might think.

What are your Thanksgiving Day traditions? Do they change over the years? Do you have a favorite childhood memory of this holiday?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Recap: preparing for the holidays

I fell asleep at 9:00pm on Friday night and didn't stir until the next morning at 9:00am. After a week of non-stop action I was clearly in need of a good night's sleep. Saturday was spent meal planning and doing chores for the upcoming holiday feast. My parents and sister are coming to town to celebrate. I can't wait to cook for them and share it with you!

Saturday night we had an impromptu dinner party with one of our couple friends. I fixed butternut squash and turkey chili (recipe here, highly recommended!) for them and we enjoyed a night of catching up.

Sunday was more preparing, we got to the market late and it was getting picked over. I guess everyone in our neighborhood is having a locally grown dinner! Gman and I took a walk to Georgetown and back {we love taking walks together} and he graciously went shopping with me too. I found an amazing pair of shoes! But I'm going to make you wait to see them on Friday, for shoe love.

What do you have planned this week? Do you travel for Thanksgiving? Do you share it with friends or family or both? Do you cook?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Saturday Post

Guess what I'm doing right now? I hope you are having a lovely weekend, wherever you are!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Shoe Love: a touch of pink

Shultz via Piperlime

I wish I saw these babies when I was prowling for the cruise! I love me a nude heel and can't stand how the subtle detail of the thin sparkle strap and a little pink add some real sass. I just might need these in anticipation of Spring 2012...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Packing Phase Two: Emergencies

In my day to day life I barely go into our medicine cabinet. I don't usually have a blister or a stomach ache, or a hang nail. But for some reason whenever I go on vacation I get bothered in every way possible. I'll get sick from some questionable meal or break a nail. Does that happen to you? So for each trip I try to determine what might go wrong and create an individualized baby emergency kit. It is by no means comprehensive, but supplements my make-up bag. For this trip here is what I compiled:

- Gas Ex to combat possible bloating from too much wedding cake
- Tan Towels in case I get an uneven tan (if you are opposed to a tanning bed or spray tans but are still looking to get rid of that winter-y paleness, these are amazing!)
- Tylonol for that inevitable hangover after the wedding festivities
- nail file and nail polish for touch ups
- throat lozenger in case of dry air on the plane or cruise cabin
- anti-histamines in case of mild allergic reaction
- band aids for those pesky blisters
- and last but not least, last minute teeth whitening!

Gman always includes Pepto Bismol tablets and nail clippers in his emergency kit. I always appreciate it!

Packing Phase One: Wardrobe

So this week I have been distracted from my normal posting by so many things. It's not lack of thoughts this time, but in addition to actually being busy in the office, the drama at Penn State, and I'm going on a trip this weekend. Have you been able to guess where I'm going? I gave you a few hints via twitter, I packed some cotton dresses, my string bikini, and my sunglasses. One of my dear friends decided to get married on a 3 day cruise and I'm going to the Bahamas people! I wasn't too excited about the idea at first, but now I can barely contain myself.

So, in a number of posts, I thought I would share with you some of my strategies for packing and preparing. I must admit my strategy is based on countless trips where I packed the wrong thing, too much, or too little. Gman also has a horrible habit of trying to surprise me and I pack for a completely different trip and switch gears at the last minute.

I start preparing for every trip by asking three questions: Where are you going? What is the weather? and What is the vibe? Once this is established the appropriate wardrobe can be chosen. Now you might think I'm vapid for dwelling so much on wardrobe but then why are you reading this? but it is important to consider what you are packing so you can focus on exploring once you arrive on vacation. For example, you don't want to pack shorts if it will be 40 degrees nor do you want to pack your favorite suede shoes if it's going to be rainy. Likewise, destinations can be conservative or liberal, dressed up or casual. Going somewhere new gives you an excuse to try different styles or wear your off season wardrobe.

Once I establish the general criteria for my wardrobe and for how many days I will need it, I make a checklist and start pulling from my closet. This is when I usually have a breakdown and tell Gman I have nothing to wear and why do I even try. I then browse the internet, get desperate, and return to my closet. I usually find a few pieces that will work and can the determine if something else is needed.

This time I bought new sunglasses to go with my favorite black string bikini, but when I went to look for said bikini it was MIA. It is still missing {dear sister, if you have it, just bring it with you when you visit and sneak it back into my closet, I won't be mad}. Luckily I thought ahead of time and was able to go on a shopping spree on A new silk Caftan rounded out my ensemble for the actual wedding.

If I can, a few weeks before the trip I lay everything out on my bed to make sure outfits work together and all accessories, shoes, socks, etc. are in order. Planning alleviates a lot of stress when I'm on vacation because I will focus on spending my valuable time off checking out a new city, or in this case, beach. I take pictures to remind myself of what I accomplished and then procrastinate actually packing it all in the suitcase until the night before at about midnight.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Weekend Recap: fall back

It's finally looking like fall around here. The leaves on trees are orange, red, and yellow, and fall flowers are in full bloom. This weekend the air was cool and crisp and perfectly sunny. Gman and I spent most of our time this weekend with the windows open and relaxing around the house.

Saturday night we treated to dinner at our friends, Susan and Nick's house. Nick whipped up chicken with capers, mushrooms, and lemon, with fettucini alfredo, all from scratch. Susan made an apple pie that made my mouth water with just the smell coming from the oven. It was lovely catching up with them and we told stories as we ate and drank. She recently had a baby and he was so good during our visit.

What did you do this weekend? Have you been apple picking yet? What is your favorite thing to do when the weather changes?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shoe Love: Valentino

Valentino via Net-a-Porter

Oh hey there Valentino boot, yes you can come home with me. I have big plans for all of the time we will spend together...

Happy weekend!

Destination: Dublin, Ireland

I’m sitting at a tiny table inside of Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street. I’m sipping a cappuccino and trying not to inhale my flaky, buttery croissant. It’s early in the morning, Gman and I flew in with the sunrise. We barely talk as we watch the commuters quickly walk to work and browse the morning newspaper. The crowd changes from heavy boots and jackets to dress shoes and suits as the morning ages. A flower seller meticulously sets up shop across the street from us.

On our way to the café we snuck into an open church to check out the architecture and décor, as we often do. The priest was there going through his morning routine. He struck up conversation with us and could not have been more friendly and hospitable. It seemed like not only this church was his to offer but Dublin and the whole of Ireland. He told us of his time in the U.S. and about his programming ambitions as we walked back to the door and out onto the street. He gave us a list of his favorite pubs and restaurants and we bid farewell.

This was typical of our interaction with the Irish people. Coming from the cold rat race of Manhattan, their warm hospitality was refreshing and made us feel as if Dublin was our home too.

We only had four days to explore so after I tried to lick every last crumb from my plate, it was time to move on to the next part of our day – visiting the Book of Kells and the Library of Trinity College. My experience with libraries growing up was our community library in Clearwater, Florida. The building was built in the 1980’s or 90’s with the main goal of getting the most square footage possible and seemingly no thought went into the interior design or details. The space was very institutional, including florescent lights, metal shelves, and thin, grey carpet. So you can imagine how overwhelming it was to walk through the Long Room. It was founded in the 16th century and the current design developed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Dark wood paneling line the walls of both stories, and as I walked through the long aisle I passed creamy white marble busts of great writers, thinkers, and donors. Antique books and new books filled every nook and cranny. I would much rather spend time in that sort of space!

We roamed the streets until late afternoon then took a power nap before heading out to dinner. We ducked into a pub, found a cozy corner, and endlessly talked about culture, politics, and art until our stomachs were full and our beers empty.

The next day was officially our drinking tour of Dublin. We started off at the Jameson factory for a tour and tasting. As with most tours, it was a bit cheesy but we did learn a lot about how whiskey is made and the differences between Irish whiskey, Scotch, and American Bourbon. I got to be one of the tasters and you can imagine how jealous Gman was. Who knew whiskey was as nuanced as wine?
We had to have lunch at the oldest pub in Dublin, the BrazenHead. This sealed our affections for Guinness stew as well as established our trip mascot, Ginger the champion drinking chicken. I must say, this restaurant isn’t particularly spectacular but as an American I am impressed by old things so it was neat to eat there.
The afternoon was spent at the Guinness Storehouse. The tour again was not thrilling but definitely educational and the views of the city from the drinking room at the top of the building were worth the trip up.
As I mentioned, we love checking out church architecture and design. It reveals a cultures’ priorities and aesthetics. We visited ChristChurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I loved the decorative tiles and colorful details of both. In Christ Church we stumbled upon a girls’ choir concert which enlivened the space and made it feel relevant and special.
We were surprised at the variety of delicious food in Dublin. We ate at a French restaurant, Chez Max, and a Chinese one, Noble House, that met our high expectations of those types of food. Try the muscles at Chez Max.

… It’s now late into the night and I’m dancing with an Irish girl on our own makeshift dance floor. I can’t stop laughing and the room spins as I move around. It must have been our second or third bar in the touristy area, Temple Bar. The locals mixed with visitors from all parts of the globe. No matter what brought them to Dublin, business, hen parties (bachelorette parties on that side of the pond), or like two women we met, just to get away from their busy lives in the Netherlands as teachers and mothers. We danced and listened to music until we remembered that we were boarding a tour bus at 9:00 in the morning. On our way home, in a moment of desperation, Gman convinced me we needed to eat something greasy and so we stopped into McDonald’s. And his little plan worked, I was miraculously not hungover for our trip out to Glendalough, which I will share with you next.
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