Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in Review

2013 was a busy year full of exciting events and lots of changes in my world. Partly because of all of this commotion, I was not able to dedicate as much time to this blog as I would have liked and am making a resolution to write more in 2014.

A June wedding was the biggest event this year. We incorporated a nautical theme into a navy and pink color palette for our small wedding. Things are good and I'm enjoying this new phase of my life. John has two children so I became a mother to 4 from one day to the next. I used to always think that I would have a lot of children and now I do! Luckily, my daughters still attend the same school and are adjusting well to the changes of this exciting event.

Along with a new marriage comes a new house and I've been busy with designing and decorating the house. It looks great, but it's a work in progress that can only be perfected over time. When we looked at houses, I knew that I wanted this house as soon as I saw it! It's a neo-traditional house with a white picket fence and looks like it was built for me. I love finding just the right piece for a little nook.

Another common theme of the year is that I've also been trying to cook new dishes and meals. Although I love to cook, the reality is that a typical week night is so busy with the girls' activities and I rarely have more than 30-40 minutes to dedicate to preparing dinner. So I've been combing Pinterest and oodles of recipe websites for inspiration for simple, yet elegant and healthy meals. I've been using the slow cooker a lot and am stepping out of my usual routine. I'm even making dessert!

Hopefully 2014 will bring more cooking inspiration. I've signed up for service from Plated and will let you know how it goes. Fresh ingredients are delivered with step by step recipe cards that detail the preparation of chef-designed recipes. PS If you sign up, please use the code 15FromPlated for $15 off your order!

Unfortunately, with more desserts and good cooking come some unwanted extra pounds. Ever since I've turned 40, I've noticed that everything that my friends warned me would happen is happening. Weight slowly seemed to creep up on me this year and I'm going to start the year by being much more aware of what I eat in addition to trying to increase my exercise. No resolutions here...just an effort to keep my weight under control.

On so many occasions this year in particular, I've found myself re-examining what I consider to be age appropriate fashion. I love so many things that I see, but more and more, I am realizing that they look better on my 12 year old daughters than on me.

If you're a long time reader, you know that I love to travel. This year has actually been a slow year for travel, particularly with the expenses of the wedding and the house, but I've managed to squeeze in some fabulous adventures to New York, the beach, and the Homestead Resort. We have a few trips planned for this year; the children are most excited about a trip to Disney this summer!

Sending my best wishes to you and your family for the new year! Here's to a year full of love, fun, and gracious living!

Monday, December 30, 2013

After-Christmas Christmas Party

Ice and snow postponed the Maryland State DAR holiday party on two separate occasions, but the third try was the charm. Every year, I look forward to this party at the state chapter house in Roland Park in Baltimore.

Christmas trees and beautiful decorations inspire me to incorporate more traditional red tones in at least one room of my house.

The mantle is stunning.

I enjoyed some cranberry orange punch and tea sandwiches while I mixed and mingled with others.

Isn't the centerpiece lovely, too?

The "Grinches," made from grapes, bananas, strawberries, and a marshmallow, are a sweet and healthy alternative to cookies and pies.

The holiday party is a fundraiser to help maintain the chapter house. Each chapter brought a basket or item for the silent or live auction. Here are a few of my favorites:

Wizard of Oz...

and Sock Monkey...

I won an Alice in Wonderland theme basket in the live auction. The stunning Longaberger basket has a silver tea service set, antique tea cups and saucers, teas, scones, and other sweet treats. There's also a game of croquet in the basket and a bottle of champagne labeled "Drink Me." Yummy!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Elizabeth McKay: Perfect Dress for Any Occasion

Elizabeth McKay's collections are timeless pieces that can be worn anywhere. Dress things up or down, but you'll always be perfectly styled.

When I saw the Beth dress from their holiday collection, I knew that it was a winner. Of course, the name is fabulous, too! The black dress has just the right amount of stretch and the fabric is soft, yet substantial. I styled it with a camel wool coat, sheer stockings, and black patent bow shoes to go to the theater.

Gold details at the neckline are such an elegant addition.

Even after a long day, the dress looks perfect. My friends at Elizabeth McKay sent a size 6 to me and it fits true to size, hugging all of the right places.

Other fantastic choices from Elizabeth McKay are the Betty Dress...

the Cashmere Sweater...

or the Elephant Blouse.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Wrap Up

Sending many holiday blessings to you and your family! It's been a wonderful past few days. I love Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We've eaten way too much delicious food and have seen so many friends and family.

We started the celebration by attending a Christmas Eve service. The church was beautiful and I love singing traditional carols. My cousin was there with her family, so it was wonderful to see them, too.

The girls left a note for Santa. They were a little distraught to find that we didn't have any carrots in the fridge for the reindeer, so they had to leave a clementine for them to eat. "Santa" even left them a reply when he stopped by our house.

On Christmas morning, Natalia was the first person awake...at 5:30 a.m. She gently tapped me to ask what time it was. I encouraged her to go back to sleep for a little bit. Meanwhile, she returned 10 minutes later to see if she could open her stocking! I love her excitement and joy for Christmas.  My parents came to our house to watch the girls open their presents.

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of English muffins, cookies, coffee, and hot tea. Please excuse my early morning appearance.

We celebrated Christmas with John's family at his parents' house and then we went to my aunt's to enjoy dinner with my grandmother, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Natalia and Alexia are so lucky to be able to spend time with their great-grandmother! She's the best!

I hope that you had a beautiful Christmas, too! Wishing you a year full of love and happiness!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Limo Ride to the National Tree

A year ago, John and I shared a very special moment in front of the tree at Rockefeller Plaza. This year, we wanted to do something unique and fun to celebrate at home. So we went to see the National Christmas tree in style and enjoyed a night in DC.

The limo picked us up at our house and we popped a bottle of champagne to enjoy during the ride.

Our first stop was at the tree. We loved watching the train display at the base of the tree and admired the ornaments on the state trees. I resisted the urge to sneak in a visit to Santa's workshop.

The ornaments on the Maryland tree are felt animals inspired by the Muppets and the art of Jim Henson. Each decoration was hand-made by a Maryland middle school student.

We walked around to see other landmarks in the area including the Red Cross, Organization of American States, the Old Executive Office Building, the White House, and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Next, we stopped at some of the monuments and the Tidal Basin.

Our evening ended with dinner and drinks at the POV Rooftop Lounge at the W Hotel. We had a spectacular view of the monuments from our table.

Such a fantastic way to celebrate!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ornament Exchange

Every year, my friend hosts an ornament exchange. It's always a fabulous evening with friends, food, and fun. Everyone brings a wrapped ornament worth about $10 for the gift exchange.

The food was amazing, especially the stuffed chili peppers. 

Special holiday drinks delighted guests, especially the candy cane martinis and anything made in the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker. After seeing it in action at the party, I'm adding it to my wish list.

Once everyone had arrived, we started to open the ornaments. Everyone received a number to determine in what order they would select a gift. I was number 21; very lucky considering that there were only 23 numbers! It's a "white elephant" type exchange. You can choose a gift from the table or you can "steal" a gift that has already been opened.

Even though I didn't wrap in Lilly paper this year, Leesa immediately knew which gift was mine and selected it. Unfortunately for her, someone else fell in love with the Lenox Santa ornament and she had to choose something else.

In all the years I've attended the ornament I've always taken a gift from the table instead of stealing a treasure. But this year, when it was my turn to choose, I had to steal a previously opened ornament. It was actually pretty funny because Cassie is a dear friend, but I couldn't resist a pink and green ornament. Here's what I took home this year. We go to church together and she joked that she couldn't believe that I would "steal" from a fellow parishioner!

Here I am with my friend, Patty. I'm wearing a J. Crew navy matte sequin top and Joe's Jeans.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Last Minute Shopping Where?

Are you still searching for gifts and goodies for friends and family? Need to pick up a hostess gift for a party. Yesterday I found some amazing ideas in a very unexpected place.

The chevron apron is adorable for a hostess gift or a friend who loves to cook. The holiday colors are perfect!

My daughters love these award-winning card games and always like to get a new game as a stocking stuffer. Children of all ages will love these. Usually we have to go to the educational toy store to find this type of gift.

Serve in style at your holiday party or delight a friend with these serving dishes with a little bit of bling.

Snowmen cupcakes are a sweet treat for any celebration!

I found all of these treasures and more at Wegmans grocery store!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Parties: The Glitter Guide

Add a little bit of sparkle to your wardrobe for this year's holiday parties. I love to wear sequins and sparkle and try to incorporate a little bit of shine every opportunity I get. Whether you're attending a formal or casual event, there's something here for you!

I'm drooling over the aqua sequin Charlotte skirt from Emily Hallman. I love her items. The fabrics are incredibly luxurious and the construction is superb. Too bad this is sold out in my size, but it's a steal for a size 10.

You don't have to break the bank to wear designer dresses for Christmas, New Year's Eve, or another formal event. The Badgley Mischka DaCruz Shimmer Mini Dress on Rent the Runway is a special promotion right now for holiday parties. Rent it for only $20.14! Plus, if you join RTR using my link, you'll get a $20 credit after your first rental. That's a fabulous dress rental for 14 cents! Not too bad for a designer dress. Renting is a fantastic option, especially for a stunning dress like this one that you'll probably only wear once. 

The Janette Skirt from Judith & Charles is anything but basic. The black sequin skirt has an elastic waist and falls to the knee. Judith & Charles has a boutique located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as well as, a recently launched e-commerce site, so you can be sure that no one else at the party will be wearing this stunning piece. Depending on how you style the skirt, your look suit any occasion.

Attending a cookie exchange or an informal gathering. Be comfortable and stylish with the sequined jersey dress from Old Navy. Earlier this season, I purchased this dress in navy stripes. It compares to the Charlene dress from Lilly Pulitzer and is so flattering. At $28 it's a steal! Plus, you can get an extra 20% off your purchase and free shipping right now with the code LASTCHANCE.

Finish the perfect outfit with the Collection Darby sequin loafers from J. Crew. These are a steal with an extra 40% off and free shipping right now with the code SHOPNOW. You'll get them for 70% off the original retail price. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Traditions

My girls brainstormed a list of holiday traditions for a poem that they wrote in their language arts class. We had the best discussion about some of our family's traditions and it made me smile to think about all of the fun we have before Christmas.

Ever since I can remember (for decades!) I've been opening a little window on a German Chocolate Advent Calendar. I'd wait all day for the tiniest morsel of delicious chocolate. My sister and I would always compare our finds and tried to determine what the shape was. This tradition continues today with my girls...they still have trouble figuring out what some of the shapes are. "Mom, I think this is a block?"

Another tradition that spans generations is the Nutcracker. My sister was an amazing ballerina back in the day and always performed in the ballet. It was especially amazing to see the Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center because we had brunch in the restaurant before the show. This year, we braved the weather advisory to attend the matinee. You know what they say...the show must go on!

My girls have always loved Santa and never cried when they sat on his lap. We scope out the "Santas" for weeks before determining which mall Santa is "The Real Santa." My girls were 3 years old in this picture.

My mother bakes the most delicious cookies! Truly, I wish I had her talent for baking, but I'm working on it. Some of my favorite cookies are horseshoe cookies and snickerdoodles. And yes, I let my children lick the beaters!

Even if I cannot see family and friends during the year, it's always such a treat to receive Christmas cards in the mail. December is probably the best month for mail because I get oodles of real mail, addressed by hand, with real stamps! Imagine that. I love to display the cards and save them to use in crafts throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Delicious Last Minute Gift Ideas

If you're finishing up your Christmas list or need some stocking stuffers, you're going to love what the See's Candies Holiday Shops have.

Since the 1920’s, See’s Candies has been an American favorite and shoppers in the Maryland-area can now visit malls in Baltimore, Annapolis, Columbia, Bethesda, and Towson to pick up their favorite treats at See’s holiday gift centers. Between peanut brittle, scotchmallow and the famous See’s lollipops, See’s Candies has something for everyone on your holiday list this year. I picked up a few lollipops to tie onto gifts. The mint is so yummy.

As you approach the gift center, you’ll see a crisp, clean black-and-white checkered motif inspired by See's founder Mary’s original kitchen. Each day, visitors are welcomed with the friendliest service and can choose a delicious piece of candy to try. I sampled Mint and CafĂ© LattĂ© Krispy and both were amazing!

Many of the treats are already gift wrapped, making it very easy to put a smile on everyone's face this holiday season.

Many thanks to See's Candies for sending me a gift card to use to experience the Holiday Shop at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland. Use this link to find a Holiday Shop near you.


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