Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Finally! A Backyard BBQ

After several failed attempts, we have finally crossed "have a backyard BBQ" off our to-do list! In the 2.5 years we've lived in our house, it has rained out approximately three attempts at a backyard party, to the point where I almost forgot how BBQs even work. 

But maybe because Mother Nature knew my mom was coming to visit or that it was Sean's birthday,  we got a perfect brisk, early spring night in the high 60s. Here's a peek at spring around our house:

I set up my spring mantel, complete with my Mermaid Factory mermaid.

I also had the joy of seeing my ranunculus bulbs bloom! I was concerned when they sprouted within a week of being planted and then our yo-yo winter weather, but they're yielding and they're beautiful!

My first harvest! Totally worth every penny and every minute of effort.

My mom was in town and it coincided with Sean's birthday, so we used it as an opportunity to attempt another BBQ and, as I said, we were finally successful!

We even got a new patio umbrella to replace the one wrecked in the hurricane...story of my life.

 Us and our beautiful littlest gal pals!

Happy Birthday to Sean! We dined on hamburgers, hot dogs, carrot cake, corn salsa and this lemon balsamic bowtie pasta salad. And now we have beaucoup leftover beer for the next 2-3 barbecues!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bye Bye, Red Shutters

Our house exterior recently had a big makeover, and like putting mascara on, it really completes the look! From the day we pulled up to the open house, I said, "I would have to get rid of those red shutters." Call me boring, but I like a fun-colored door more than bright shutters, and I have particularly always disliked red shutters on brick houses (we all have our weird things, right?). 

Considering that was my first impression, it's pretty amazing I made it this long without actually whipping out a paintbrush, but as any homeowner can attest: there's always something else that needs fixin'. Around the fall, I got really itchy to tackle this project, but then the weather took a turn, we had a bonafide hurricane, and before I knew it, the moment had passed. 

Meanwhile, this was happening...

Peeling. Like a lot of peeling. White fiberglass shutters were to the previous owners what red shutters were to me, apparently, and their red paint job has been rapidly deteriorating over the past two years. Most people would never notice, but I couldn't pull in and out of the driveway without taking a mental inventory of the white spots peeking through on each shutter. The time had come!!

Because I'm a newbie at all this, I genuinely believed we had wood shutters until we pulled them off the house and realized we didn't have wood...and they didn't look like vinyl either. Mystery! We truly weren't sure what the right protocol is for painting chipped fiberglass shutters, but the folks at Home Depot nonchalantly shrugged, said "Sand it and then paint" and we decided it was time to just go for it.

We split the project over two weekends, which I can't recommend enough. If you, like us, are cursed with louvered shutters, you're going to need some time to really get intimate with the nooks and crannies.

On the first weekend, we hosed them off, wiped them down, cleaned them with TSP and wiped again with soapy water and then AGAIN with rags. After we felt sure we'd swept away every cobweb, we sanded them to remove the obvious peeling paint and set them aside for a week while I tried to settle on a swatch.

I had always known I wanted to do black shutters. That is, until I went to pick out black swatches and realized there are MANY shades of black. On a friend's recommendation, I scoped out the Sherwin Williams line at Lowe's, and on a whim, grabbed a swatch of Black Fox. Black Fox is an almost bronze-charcoal-chocolate color that defies definition. It is not black — that's for sure — but as I held swatches against our brick, I realized it was a great complement to the dark bricks. And although I'm not in love with the shade of our brick, I realized everything will work out better if I play nice.

I chose the Sherwin Williams Weathershield paint with primer in semi-gloss and bought one gallon (we have quite a bit left over, but that's good for touch-ups). Because the pollen was heavy, we decided to do the whole project inside the garage. Using a trim roller for the fronts and sides and angled brushes for the louvers, we painted on Sunday and (sadly) even a little on Monday night for the amount of time it took to listen to the entire S-Town podcast. One coat was definitely not enough, but thankfully, a second coat seemed to do the trick!

We let the shutters cure for a few days and finally, Sean put them back on the house and I came home, looked up and went, "OMG!" At first, I thought...am I going to be OK with not having the black shutters I always pictured? I also felt more committed than ever to paint our front door a nice color for some contrast.

But after looking at a before and after, I can say for sure that the house is more ME and I think the color was a great fit for the brick. I was even inspired to plant dwarf boxwoods in my iron planters and now I'm using all the virtual painting apps to try to narrow in on a color. Any ideas?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Pretty Week in Provo

Not too long ago, I jetted off for a work trip to beautiful Provo, Utah. I didn't expect to have much time to explore, but I was pleasantly surprised I did get to hop around a bit! In case any of you are plotting a trip to Utah, I thought I'd share some of the spots that charmed me.

I was told by BYU grads that no trip to Provo is complete without a stop at the legendary 37-year-old deli, Sensuous Sandwich. Its circa-70s decor reminded me of our own college sandwich joint, Subway Station and my childhood favorite, Dari Barn.

This is the wall of brave souls who have tried to set a record devouring the 24-inch sandwich. I played it a little safer, with the 8-inch Bodacious with swiss cheese.

I walked around the beautiful grounds of the Provo City Center Temple, which was reconstructed after a fire not too many years ago. It's right on Center Street, which is the main artery leading to international restaurants, the convention center and lovely small shops.

I loved Unhinged, a quirky boutique selling small brands' apparel and accessories, art and decor, along with plenty of vintage clothing and even a barber shop upstairs.

Fancy a new old pair of Chucks? Unhinged has got you, boo.

Down the street is Here, a beautiful boutique selling art, decor, some apparel and even stained glass! I picked up a couple prints with gold foil-printed quotes from Jane Austen and Walt Whitman.

One night, we trekked out to one of the breweries in the area...be forewarned, beer is on the weak side, because Utah requires beer to have only 3.2 percent alcohol content. Just the same, Strap Tank Brewing Co. was a great spot to sip beer, watch basketball and listen to live music! The decor was amazing...that wood ceiling was mesmerizing!

How beautiful is that wavy glass? So many great details.

And my hefeweizen!

You can't visit Provo without making time to go at least to the base of the legendary Y mountain. It has many switchbacks that make it an easy hike, but I arrived at sunset, so decided not to go too far. Just the same, I was rewarded with a beautiful view.

Not far from the start, I saw a small hill and once I reached the top, I spotted this sweet tree swing. How adorable is that?

On my way to the airport, I realized I actually had enough time to do a whirlwind spin through downtown Salt Lake City. I did a Google search for "best burger in SLC" and Proper Burger Co. popped up.

I've been trying to cut down a bit on my burger/fries consumption, so I'm very glad I broke my long break with this fantastic one. I had the hipster burger, topped with red onion jam, kale pesto, fresh herb cheese spread, garlic aioli and spinach, under a delicious flour-dusted bun. And you best believe I didn't pass on the fry sauce.

After lunch, I drove to the State Capital, which is situated high above the city with a view of everything. And yeah, it does look just like the U.S. Capitol.

Beehives have great symbolism in Utah because Mormon leaders believed it was a symbol of industry, harmony and the sweet results of toil. It's cute.

The state capital was basically the most incredible marble showroom I've ever visited. With all due respect, I was envisioning my dream bathrooms the whole time.

How gorgeous is that?

In short, Utah is beautiful, sweet and the people couldn't be sweeter! I really want to go back to visit Arches National Park, one of my dream vacations.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wine Club Gets Healthy (ish)!

Maybe aging is finally affecting us, because everyone in Wine Club is finally trying to be sorta kinda healthy. Don't worry, we're still dipping into some mac and cheese or pizza on occasion, but we're making more room for green things. In this spirit, we had a "healthy favorites" wine club that was super delicious! Only problem? I ate so much it couldn't possibly be considered healthy!

We chose wines we thought would suit our respective dishes. We sampled:
  • Sheep Thrills Pinot Grigio: Delicate floral and tropical fruit aromas, perfect with my bell pepper panzanella. 
  • Love Noir Pinot Noir: This is an especially delicious and lush pinot noir with "generous notes of dark cherry." It was a fantastic match for our espresso-soaked steak. 
  • Alamos Malbec: Ripe red fruit flavors with notes of vanilla and anise. 
  • Kris Pinot Grigio: Hints of lime, tangerine, apricots and almonds with a long finish.

On one side of the table, we had Stacie's "green spaghetti," with broccoli, mozzarella cheese and olive oil, Erica's steak marinated in Savor the Olive's espresso oil, and Lauren's Fresh Market fruit and custard tart.

On the other side of the table, we had Ashleigh's Famous Kiwi Guacamole, Lauren's amazing quinoa salad and my bell pepper panzanella (from a Plated recipe). 

My overloaded (and delicious!) plate. I can pretty much wholeheartedly vouch that all of these were tremendous, and — maybe not together — healthy options.

Click for the panzanella and guacamole recipes!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Wine Tour of Portugal

Wine Club recently ventured to Tinto in Chesapeake, one of three locations for this small group of wine and cheese bars. Tinto specializes in hard-to-find wines from Portugal and Spain, and they were kind enough to accommodate us for a special guided tasting through the delicious varietals. We also had this spectacular cheese plate...seriously, this Midnight Moon cheese was so good we ordered an extra wheel.

 The cheat sheet for our journey through Greece, Spain and Portugal's grapes.

 It's cozy and cute! The other two locations are in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

We sampled a Greek Savvatiano, a tropical white that I really loved.

Basa Lore Getariako Txakolina, an effervescent Spanish white with hints of lime and a crisp finish.

Leira Reyero Albarino, a Spanish wine from Burgos. This was a lovely light, tropical wine with a dry finish and hints of apricot and pineapple.

Bajancas, from Douro, Portugal. This was a well-rounded chocolatey, spicy red.

We also had Bodega Picos Gran Gregoriano, a blend of tempranillo, garnacha, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. This was oak-aged and dry, with notes of cherries.

We loved our journey through Portugal that didn't include the obvious (port). Excited to try more wines from this region!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscars Fashion Review 2017

WOWZA what an Oscars ceremony! Just when you think, yeah yeah yeah, they're going to award another movie by Hollywood for Hollywood and reject new, creative storytelling depicting a young, black, gay male in the ghetto with a breathtakingly beautiful score...the whole thing goes upside down and you're questioning your own sanity! That show ended up being worth the HOUR it went over, which also gave me time to work out my feelings on the red carpet fashions.

All in all, it was more somber than usual, with a surprising number of the actresses stepping out in slim black columns. But there was still much to celebrate and surprisingly little to hate! Let's get to it.

Best Dressed

That look on Janelle Monae's face? "Oh me? Yes I did come to slay, bitch!" I had really high hopes for her and she totally delivered in this Elie Saab couture fit for a queen. It felt like a culmination of all her red carpet outfits this year, sticking to her palette of black and white and bringing it to a regal status. I loved her hair and headband and her make-up was #flawless, as only befits a Cover Girl. It's always fun to have a first-timer kill it.

At first, I thought Emma Stone's gold Givenchy was a little lackluster, but then I saw it in movement and what girl can resist a Cabaret-worthy shimmery fringe? It felt appropriate for the role, a throwback to old Hollywood and the business of show. Also, her make-up, jewelry and hair were Best in Show. A tour de force in styling.

Hailee Steinfeld was just a 14-year-old teenager when she last walked the red carpet at the Oscars, so she seized the opportunity to reintroduce herself as a beautiful woman in this ethereal gray and gold Ralph & Russo Couture gown. Her make-up was romantic, with smokey pinks and purples, and she just glowed.

National Treasure Viola Davis knew it was her night and she dressed accordingly in this chic red Armani gown, an absolutely timeless home run. I love the capelet design of the shoulders paired with a halter — super interesting detail I can imagine popping up on prom dresses and wedding gowns the world over. She looks so incredible in bright colors, so this fulfilled all my Oscar dreams for her.

Taraji P. Henson or Sophia Loren? Taraji rocked our worlds when she strutted onto the red carpet in this velvet Alberta Ferretti, accentuated with a diamond bandanna (not my fave), tousled Sophia bedhead and the smolder to end all smolders. I love sexy simplicity like this.

It was a great night for girls like me who love nothing more than a good black dress. Kirsten Dunst knocked me out when she appeared in this deceptively simple, but perfectly fitted Dior gown, paired with a diamond bow necklace, a messy bun dreams are made of and a flawless red lip. This was a bit of an understated year at the Oscars, but among the many, many black dresses, hers was one of my favorites.

On Twitter, I said Leslie Mann's citron Zac Posen looked like Belle's gown if she was in Dangerous Liaisons and I mean it in the best way! I love that she reliably will rock bright colors with her loose California waves and bright lips. She looked pretty and comfy and ready to rock a waltz with her own bearded fellow.

Nicole Kidman is an Oscars MVP. Look at any slide show of all-time best Oscar fashion and she'll make at least five appearances. So it's pretty laudable that, after nearly 30 years in the game, she's still killing it. I loved her sparkly Armani gown, with a pattern that seemed subtly to call back to her film, Lion, which partially takes place in India. Her red lipstick was the perfect shade. Also, special call-out for my favorite earrings of the night:

I have been disliking Jessica Biel since she first appeared as super lame Mary on "Seventh Heaven" and then tried to make a name for herself by posing topless on the cover of Gear magazine. Young feminist Amber was not impressed and I'm not sold on her yet, BUT for the first time ever, I was feeling her outfit! This gold camouflage Kaufman Franco leaves no room for extra calorie intake, and her fringed Tiffany necklace seemed straight off a Lion King costume, and somehow it all worked. Credit where credit's due.

At 63, Isabelle Huppert is carving out her place on my "aging like a rock star" inspiration vision board. This sparkly Armani isn't a surprise...this looks like the typical fare of most of her peers. But she sasses it up with black nails and the sexiest ear crawlers I've ever seen, along with make-up fit for a porcelain doll. She looks like she's ready to play Emma Stone's sexy man-stealing French mom.

Broadway goddess Cynthia Erivo looked so lovely in this voluminous floral Paolo Sebastian gown. It was perfectly unexpected and yet completely event-appropriate.

There were a great many blue suits (like...to the point it seemed like a conspiracy by indigo traders), but the blue-suited man of my heart was the swoonworthy Riz Ahmed in Ermenegildo Zegna.


Are you seeing double? I'm seeing double. Emma Roberts and Michelle Williams turned up in eerily similar black and white gowns, sweet in their simplicity. I have to give the edge to Emma Roberts in her vintage Armani, which had slightly more interesting details with the lace on the bust and the layers of the skirt.

And then — it happened again!!! Somehow not one, but two people took a look at Victorian red lace long-sleeved nightgowns and said YES, that is my ideal Oscar look. I give Ruth Negga kudos on her beautific aura and face, along with her ACLU support ribbon accessory. I actually prefer Ginnifer Goodwin's Zuhair Murad version of the dress but she seemed really bummed to be there...perhaps she was feeling mournful for former TV husband Bill Paxton?

Real Good

Charlize Theron is usually the leader of the pack in my book but something wasn't working 100% for me with her look. I love the metallic Dior gown, and I even can get down with her so-big-they-could-be-weapons Chopard earrings. But I thought her hair was just kind of strange...sort of old lady on top, lady at the gym in the back. I think I would have liked it better down?

Octavia's Marchesa is arguably my favorite gown she's ever worn, and it turns out they executed her vision. I loved most that she styled it with the sleekest bob. It wasn't terribly new territory for an Oscar gown, but it's certainly dreamy.

Naomie Harris was a daredevil on the red carpet and it wasn't even that crazy! Her clean and crisp Calvin Klein dress was refreshing, but I will always struggle bus with schizophrenic dresses that are half-business/half-gown. I'm still putting it in the win column, especially because of the next-level fun detail of her slightly different yellow and rhinestone shoes.

Priyanka Chopra has established herself as a red carpet heavy hitter, and I was delighted to see she chose one of the Ralph & Russo origami-style dresses I was digging on the runway. I preferred the full-skirted version, though, so I was a little bummed not to see that one rocking the red carpet.

Brie Larson wore black like everyone else. Her Oscar de la Renta gown was full-on flamenco emoji and the cut of the bodice was super sexy. Very pretty, but not one I think I'll be reminiscing about 10 years from now.

Halle Berry debuted the curliest hair I've ever seen on her and she seemed to be having so much fun with it! I loved the shimmery detail of the train on this gown. Not one of my all-time favorites for her, but she still rocks it and she knows her look.

Our girl Amy Adams got snubbed for her role in Arrival, one of my favorite movies of the year, and accordingly, she skipped the red carpet. But she was hard to miss in this quicksilver Tom Ford gown, fit for Bianca Jagger circa 1977. The best revenge is looking fantastic.

Also, she's nearing Kate Winslet level of being snubbed and I fear she'll finally win for something dumb no one saw because we'll all just be desperate for her to finally get hers. She's been nominated five times since 2006!

Chrissy Teigen came in full Chrissy Teigen mode with a tight, partially sheer Marchesa slit up to there. It's got beautiful beadwork and white is a gorgeous color on her, but ultimately I find this a little boring.

Laura Dern didn't get any screen time but this sparkly Rodarte was sexy as hell and she deserves some credit!


Felicity Jones ended up wearing a dishwater Dior ballerina dress that would normally be what I wear in my dreams, but in this scenario made her look 4 feet tall and severely underdressed. Tea-length is very hard to pull off if it doesn't even hit above the ankles. It just felt really rookie league.

Karlie Kloss looks spectacular in this Stella McCartney knock-off of Gwyneth Paltrow's iconic white cape gown. Give it 20 years before you recreate a memorable moment, honey.

Alicia Vikander's twist on the color of the night was a lacy Louis Vuitton frock that also looks like it was made for Spanish dancing. I could never say this was bad, but it was far from a fave.

Salma Hayek ALSO turned up in a black lacy dress that I would not wear to the Oscars, but maybe to a very fancy medical fundraiser. Also not bad. Also not exciting.

Oh, Meryl. Practically perfect in every way except red carpet dressing. She just strays way too far into mumsy territory for me in this half-gown, half-pantsuit from Elie Saab. I want Helen Mirren to mentor her in Senior Dressing.

Worst Dressed

Dakota Johnson here thinks she's real hot stuff and can pull off anything and I'm here to tell her, you can't and this is the worst. It starts off bad with her extremely blah half-up hairdo that looks like me at work on a day I didn't feel like washing my hair. Then it travels down to the Cartier museum piece getting woefully lost against the frilly collar of a dressing gown Joan Crawford would have worn to eat pancakes, but never out of the house. This looks like a costume from The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, not a movie I think anyone in 2017 has on their style Pinterest.

Jamie Dornan's love Amelia Warner wore this extremely covered-up polka dotted long-sleeved gown, with a cape that has extra large polka dots. It gives me the vibe of a Mormon wedding dress designed for fans of Spottie Dottie, a former Sanrio character of the 90s.

It's probably kind of harsh to dump Scarlett on my worst-dressed list. This Azzedine Alaia dress isn't offensive or in poor taste. It's just a completely unremarkable floral-ish print cinched with a belt from Hot Topic and it's probably one of the most forgettable dresses I've ever seen grace the Oscars red carpet. This is supposed to be fun, you guys!!

Apparently actress Blanca Blanco (of "Teen Star Academy" fame....right) had the world's least surprising wardrobe malfunction while she walked the red carpet, which almost begs asking whether it was planned in a misguided attempt to get some press. It's fairly obvious that slit is rated NC-17 and also, that she was going commando. But if those details weren't upsetting enough, we also have to acknowledge she's wearing the wallpaper of a Victorian pub with gift wrap bows for sleeves and the world's most distracting shoes. Perhaps they were intended to divert eyes from her platinum vagine (holla Bachelor fans!)?

So, do you agree or disagree with my picks? Until next year friends. Hopefully by then they work out the kinks in, you know, reading envelopes.