Friday, January 4, 2013

Fun is Packing for Vegas

January 4, 2012

by Heather

I've had the title on the draft of this post for about two weeks but haven't added another word.  Truly, is packing fun?  I like the idea of getting outfits together, but I would have been much happier in an era when trunks were used and one could bring everything and more.

Something like this perhaps?

I know this isn't practical in today's world (or at least in my world).  I made the mistake years ago of traveling to England with a very large, heavy suitcase (before the advent of wheeled luggage) and couldn't find a porter late at night in a train station.  Lugging that case by myself was a lesson learned.  Well, not really.  I just learned to buy luggage with wheels -- not to pack any lighter or bring any less.

Note: This is NOT a how-to for packing.  In fact, if you wish to use it that way, just take everything I write and do the opposite.

Back to the problem at hand:  I need to get together clothes and accessories for our trip to Vegas to attend the Blog Expo.  Ann and Sheila laugh at my choices when we travel.  The last time we traveled together was for a three-day get-away to Sheila's parents' summer home with the mission of creating this blog. That meant a lot of sitting around in comfy clothes, but we also talked about going out in the evening, and perhaps going to the country club for swimming, etc., etc. When the girls came to my room and saw the 7 (or was it 10?) pairs of shoes lined up, I got a lot of good-natured ribbing. I'm hoping to do a better job this time of narrowing the choices.

Like most people, I start by thinking about what we'll be doing during our trip.  The girls and I chatted -- we'll be attending conference sessions, but also going out in the evening to the Vegas strip and perhaps attending an Expo party or two. I write out a list of the days and the events like this:

Saturday a.m.   Driving to Vegas
               p.m.   Vegas night out
Sunday a.m.   Conference sessions
             p.m.  Opening party
 and so on..
You get the picture...
The Vegas strip

Also, I check the weather.  The weather in Vegas is chilly by our standards so I reviewed my available options for outerwear -- mostly leather jackets in my closet with the warmest one being a fox fur-collared, blingy black Harley jacket -- not exactly the right choice for this trip. The solution presented itself when my brother and his wife came to our house for New Year's Eve dinner.  Marianne has exquisite taste in clothing, invests wisely in good classic pieces, and has a wardrobe of coats and jackets to die for. As I explained what I needed, we both took a look at the jacket she was wearing, and the dilemma was solved.  Talk about giving you the shirt (coat) off her back.  She traded her coat for a heavy sweater to wear home that night.  I got the best deal (although my brother was very careful to remind me that the coat was just a loan): a beautiful black cashmere St. John's pea coat with shiny gold anchor buttons.  Since I had already decided most of my clothing choices would be black, camel, and gold, this coat was definitely a perfect addition.
Then I received an email from Ann with a nice little article from the Expo people about conference fashion.  As I read the tips, I mentally checked off each with a "got that" until I read about colors. "EVERYBODY wears black and so one should provide a pop of color."  I don't think either camel or gold is a POP of do I want to stay with my initial idea or do I want to get a little more adventurous...and if I do that, how much more luggage will I need...or can I replace some items?

Now this is where I get a little weird (or maybe I'm normal and there are others out there like me -- please let me know if you're out there, okay?). I keep a notebook of possible outfits that are currently in my closet and I re-do this seasonally.  As soon as I purchase a major clothing item, I jot it down in "the notebook" and the first time I wear it (and sometimes even before), I list the entire outfit I've put together - jewelry, shoes, scarf, purse, and so on.  Each outfit gets an assigned number, so when I create a packing list for a trip, it ends up looking like this:

Saturday a.m.  drive: #75 or  #93
              p.m.  Vegas night out: #20
A page from "the notebook"
Back to the packing list.  I have 8 possibilities for wardrobe changes - two for each day since we're doing the conference and then some nighttime activity -- along with sleepwear, lounge wear, and exercise clothes (seriously? will I use them?).

At this point, I lay out the possible outfits on my bedroom floor and place the appropriate accessories with each.  I usually over-do it at this time, and have about twice as many outfits as I'll need. I like options. I'm going to guess that this is where most people pare down the options.  I'm not so good at that. Sometimes they all make it into the suitcase(s) because I just can't make a decision today as to what I'll want to wear two days from now.  I try the outfits on, complete with accessories.  If the outfit looks right, feels good, fits in with the chosen color scheme, and there's a time/place to wear it, it's a go. It only gets confusing if there are more outfits that fit all criteria than there are times to wear them.

Here are some pictures of the work in progress.  After I tried outfits on, I found that I needed to move some accessories around as well as add some and delete others.

Here is what I will be packing:

  • 1 coat
  • 4 blazers
  • 5 sweaters
  • 5 shirts or camisoles
  • 8 black jeans
  • 1 leopard print pant
  • 5 shoes/boots
  • 4 watches
  • 5 scarves (plus a few extra just in case)
  • 3 hats
  • 2 (only 2!!! I'm really proud of this) purses
  • 3 sunglasses
  • too many bracelets, necklaces, rings, and earrings to count

One of the smarter things that I do when I pack is to use the jewelry bags one gets at Chico's or White House Black Market to package the accessories together that go with a particular outfit.  When I'm ready to put on Outfit #7, I just pull the bag of accessories for that outfit and I'm all set.

Join me on Monday to see some pictures of Ann, Sheila, and me at the conference.  Hope I've remembered to pack everything I need.  We'll see..


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Travertine vs. Ceramic Tile

by Ann

Decisions, decisions….  I have to admit that I do not like making large-ticket, gotta-live-with-it-for-a –long time choices, but let’s face it – every now and then we have to make long term financial commitments like when it’s time to get a new car, paint the house, replace the refrigerator, or change the flooring! 

My husband and I had been talking about redoing our floors for years.  Patrick (the husband), is a residential realtor, so sees a lot of nice homes and flooring.  Our family room, kitchen and hallway floors had 12” off-white ceramic tile, while the living room and den had the same off-white carpet as the bedrooms for about the last eight years.  Why did we think that off white was a good idea with two Persian cats (or even without cats, for that matter)???  See below for the "before" pics of our family and living rooms.

I also have to admit that I am not the best comparison shopper.  Experience has led me to believe that too many choices end up muddying the waters.  However, not knowing exactly what we wanted, we had no option other than to look many places at different types of flooring in multiple types of outlets.  We knew that we wanted a larger tile, but weren’t totally committed to its composition.  Patrick was already convinced that he wanted travertine, but I wasn’t sure one way or another.  Each time we spoke to a flooring sales rep the message that I took away from it was that ceramic tile was much easier to care for than travertine, and would end up being roughly about half the cost considering the much lower price per square foot and installation cost.  Some new ceramic tiles have the “travertine look” that was convincing enough for us to honestly not be able to tell the difference between that and the real stone tiles.

Sounds like we’d be choosing ceramic tile, doesn’t it? Didn’t happen! Most of the absolutely beautiful “look alike” man-made products would repeat in pattern every four tiles, which would be a sure indication that it was not the natural product.  We brought home several samples, and placed them in various spots around the rooms.  It was surprising how heavy one travertine tile is.

The demolition and installation process took just under two weeks.  We’d scheduled that to happen while my sister and her family were on vacation, so I was able to move into their house with the cats while the work was being done.  My husband camped out in the bedroom with all of the things he needed along with way too much miscellaneous “stuff” that we had nowhere else to put.  We had been cautioned by friends to expect to find dust everywhere after installation, but we lucked out -- very little residue was left behind.  Installing the tiles at an angle has led to a very nice overall look.  Pictured below is the kitchen area during installation.

Now that we’ve lived with the travertine for a few months we are thrilled, but it hasn’t been long enough for me to figure out what products are best to clean it.  In a subsequent post I will discuss the sealing process and those products I have found most effective for maintenance.  Take a look at the during and after pictures of our installation process and the final results with which we are thrilled.  If anyone has tips on good products to use to clean and maintain travertine, I'd love to hear from you!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Fresh Start

January 2, 2013

By Sheila

Gotta love the desert southwest in the winter - my garden

It's that time of year when the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over and the promise of spring is still aways away.  I always like this time of year, because it's a good time to focus on fresh starts.  I don't mean those New Year's resolutions that are mostly unrealistic to maintain, like "go to the gym 7 days a week" or "lose 400 pounds".  I mean realistic, positive new routines to incorporate into your life, or something new to look forward to.  I have read that the secret to happiness is having something meaningful to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.  That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

One of the things I am looking forward to this year is going to Blog World Expo in Las Vegas this coming weekend.  I still feel very naive about this whole blogging experience, and while we are enjoying it immensely, we have a lot to learn.  I am hoping to get some insights at this conference and of course plan on having a great time with my girlfriends in the city that never sleeps.  Be sure to check out Heather's post this coming Friday where she will entertain you with her plan for packing for this trip.  Let's just say that she will have significantly more luggage than either me or Ann.  We'll take some photos and entertain you soon with our social media faux pas!

Sheila, Heather & Ann the last time we were in Las Vegas together at the Bellagio

This brings up another creative area I would like to improve; get better at taking photos.  I don't pretend to have the photo op's that Heather does, nor the foodie expertise of Ann, but I will enjoy having personal photos of friends and family and might be able to entertain my blog readers with some photos of my travels and projects.  We have also recently bought a sailboat (with partners) and I want to learn to sail.  This will be something fun that I can do with my husband, friends and my family.  Definitely lots to learn and something fun to look forward to!

Ahoy Mateys!  Comin' Ashore....
What fresh starts are you looking forward to this year?  Do you have a plan yet, or just starting to mull it around?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy (Lucky) New Year!

by Ann

Each New Year creates a bit of pressure to make plans for improvement and great things for the upcoming year. I know that I am guilty of resolutions that haven’t lasted, but my intentions have always been good! Last year my husband Patrick and I spent New Year’s Eve with Sheila and her husband, David at a party on a balcony of the second floor of the New York New York hotel and casino in Las Vegas.  From our “birds’ eye view” we had quite the vantage point to watch the sea of humanity below us.  (Both couples were glad that we had the NYE Las Vegas adventure, but never need to do it again!) I remember a conversation we had about resolutions, and that mine was to figure out what to do with my life post-retirement.  At the time I was pretty sure I wanted to retire a year later, which I did, and am glad to say that between two part time jobs (watch for an upcoming post about the fun new job) and blogging I have plenty to do in 2013! 
Along with New Year resolutions comes the concept of stacking the deck in your favor to be prosperous and healthy in the upcoming year by eating lucky foods, and avoiding those that will bring misfortune!  My guess is that you have heard about some of the foods with “super-powers,” but as I did a bit of research for this post, I learned about additional foods to include in my new-year’s menu, and those to avoid.
Let’s start with the LUCKY foods:

Pork is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, so be sure to include some in your January 1 eating plan!  Part of the reason pork is considered lucky is that apparently pigs are incapable of “going in reverse,” so by eating pork, you will be moving forward.
Leafy, green vegetables (cabbage, spinach, kale, collard greens, etc.) symbolize money and wealth.  According to what I read, the more of them you eat the greater your fortune will be!  Eat up!

Lentils swell when cooked to represent money growing and financial reward.

Cornbread symbolizes gold and if corn kernels are added, they are the extra gold nuggets!

OK – so now the UNLUCKY stuff:

Lobster – I’ve just learned that lobsters DO “go in reverse,” so by eating them, you’re heading for setbacks (really?? Who believes this stuff…. But why take a chance?)

Chickens – they go backwards as well – who knew?  Everyone but me??  See above for the reason not to eat those unlucky backwards scratchers.
For that matter, avoid any winged fowl – your luck could fly away (yet another reason to avoid eating chicken January 1!).

Additional things you need to know about luck and the New Year:
Avoid crying, because if you don’t you’ll end up shedding tears throughout the year.

Leave a little food on your plate at midnight on New Year’s Eve to insure that you will have plenty of food for the following year.

And finally – one that I really like – don’t do dishes or laundry on January 1 to keep the chances down for having a death in the family.  WHO MAKES THIS STUFF UP?
All superstitions aside, I hope that each of our friends and faithful readers have great health and happiness in 2013!  (Oh no…. should we be worried about the 13 in 2013?  Naw… let’s not!)

See below for a recipe for “Hoppin Jon,” a traditional New Year’s lucky-food recipe that my husband has made for us each year.  In my research I found that the black-eyed-peas represent coins (money coming the eater’s way), but that there are supposed to be exactly 365 peas; one to represent each day of the year.  I’m not counting them; are you, Pat? 

A word of warning about this recipe – I do NOT find it to be a culinary delight in any sense of the concept – but with all those greens, pork, and lentils we can’t afford NOT to eat it!  ;-)
Pictured here are the ingredients needed for this traditional New Year's Day lucky dish.
Hoppin Jon (the way Pat makes it)
2-4 sausages; andouille or Italian
1 T chopped garlic
3/4 of a medium-large white onion, diced
1 1/2 carrots, diced
1 11 oz container of fresh black eyed peas (365 of them, I'm sure he counted!)
1/2 T cayenne pepper
1/2 T salt
1 c Uncle Ben's converted rice
3-4 c chicken stock, adjust as needed, start with 3 c to cook the rice and black eyed peas
Cook the sausage with the garlic, onion, and carrots until sausage is thoroughly cooked.
Add stock, rice, cayenne pepper, salt and black eyed peas.
Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer until peas and rice is tender.  Add water or additional stock if needed.
Serve with cooked greens and hot sauce to taste.
Even though we've eaten this yearly I can't say that we've become rich and super-lucky, but who knows what would have happened if we didn't eat it? 
Best wishes for 2013!

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve Sparkle

December 31, 2012

by Heather

I like sparkle at any time, but especially for New Year's Eve.  I'd like to say that I'm going to wear the outfit tonight that's pictured below, but I don't think I will. We're entertaining at home with a small dinner party, so perhaps something more comfortable would be appropriate like a fitted black sweater set with sparkly silver metallic trim -- something I've had for several years but still enjoy wearing at this time of the year.  However, I did want to share my new shoes with you, so I put this outfit together  -- and if I go somewhere on New Year's Day, it may get some action then. I also wanted to try out my new camera which was the perfect Christmas gift from the hubby.
The Nikon takes a decent picture but here is an issue: it reveals just a little too much in those close-up pictures -- even more than the naked eye can see.  I wanted a close-up of the watch I'm wearing, but the picture shows that the poor thing is way overdue for a cleaning. I was also hoping that the new camera would make me look taller, younger, and thinner, but it doesn't have that kind of magic. I guess my New Year's resolutions will be (again) to eat more healthfully and exercise, although Ann and Sheila say that the dieting can't start until after our Vegas trip.

Chico's black sequined jacket and black jeans; Prada sunglasses; Gucci watch; White House Black Market purse

Marc Fisher shoes from Macy's; 
the black and white snakeskin purse converts to a clutch

Ugly or cute?  I love 'em and they're actually comfortable! You can just make out my black lacquered big toe with a white and gold design. Aren't I the audacious one in my old age?!

I'm proud of myself for re-organizing my closet over the last few days, sorting out clothes and accessories for storage or donation, and finding this white-on-white tank with wide stripes of white sequins.   For a few minutes it was in the pile to give away, but at the last minute I rescued it.    
One of my favorite rings from Harley of Scottsdale 

The wider blingy bracelet is from a vendor at Bike Week (motorcycle week in AZ) last year; the black bracelet is from Ann Taylor

Taken just before the rain started.  Hardly ever rains here so we enjoy it when it happens. Time to put on a fire and get cozy.  The temps are going to dip overnight to 36 degrees!

We're serving king crab legs with lemon butter and a classic Caesar salad
accompanied by slices of crusty sourdough.  Black and white plates  and black wooden square chargers are from Banana Republic (remember when they used to sell home goods?); napkin rings from Saks; stemware from Pottery Barn; Lunt Eloquence sterling flatware.

And a final sparkle to end the evening.

Happy New Year to everyone!  And happy birthday to my Minnesota buddy, Gerri P.!