Thursday, March 31, 2011

Plated, now and then

Our car is finally DC-legal. 14 months later. We're sort of bad about DMV regulations, as you can see. There are plenty of excuses related to the ridiculously small window of hours the DC DMV is actually open, but really... there are no excuses. We're slackers who live in a building with a parking garage and thus can get away with being slackers. I must say, though, I've been geekily looking forward to having one of the coolest "state" license plates around.

Confused? Take a gander at this explanation of "Taxation Without Representation" and what it means in DC. Most of the U.S. has no idea that DC residents don't have a vote. That's 600,000 residents, by the way... more folks than the entire state of Wyoming.

Speaking of other states, I confess to loving license plate design. Spotting different state plates makes me a kid all over again, on the long road trip down to Disney World, playing I Spy with license plates. (Just yesterday, walking home: "Ooh! Alaska!") Being an Outer Banks girl, I always liked North Carolina's license plate (which eggs on the heated Wright Brothers rivalry with Ohio... the drama!), but I don't like the switch the state made to red letters a few years ago. Give me the old school blue, please... the red is sort of glaring.

I never had a car in Boston, but I'll endorse the classicism of the Massachusetts plate anyway. Truth be told, I might have been tempted to get the Red Sox plate there, although I firmly support the sentiment of Massachusetts as the Spirit of America, Mass-holedom and all.

For my first car in New Mexico, that amazing combination of late '80s design and mid '00s politics that it was, I was thrilled to have New Mexico's funky old-school license plate on the back, blazing with color alongside all my bumper stickers. In any other context I would hate this garish yellow, but in the Land of Enchantment, it works. Please notice that you're admiring a license plate not just from New Mexico, but "New Mexico USA," by the way. This was part of the state's campaign to assure everyone else that New Mexico is in fact part of America. Sigh... Seriously though, this plate is more effective than something like the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign by a mile. One look at this plate, and you know something strange and awesome is going on in that place.

For my second car, they were out of the cool yellow plates, so I had to go for the "new school" hot air balloon version - very friendly to tourists, very "see, we're a normal state in the United States" of them. The plate might have been less funky than the crazy yellow one, but it's still really pretty. Man I love that place.

When I moved to Texas I was pretty resistant to getting Texas plates, which says as much about my attitude toward Texas at the time as anything. My expired NM plates forced my hand, though, and I truly did approve of the Texas plate design. Its tribute to various state elements is clean and graphically interesting - although it's notably lacking a Dallas Louboutin. It's a pretty Houston plate, all things considered, but nicely done all the same. Never fear: I promptly slapped a political sticker on the car to balance the Lone Starness of it all.

A couple of years later, Texas decided it was time for a new plate, so they ran an online contest where residents would choose the new design. Oh, Texas. Some of my favorite people are from your state, and I will adore Austin until the end of my days, but this sort of represents why people make fun of you:

I want to believe that the Texans who voted for this license plate were doing so with a strong sense of irony. Maybe they thought it would be hilarious to vote for a bad tribute to State Fair airbrushing, because surely the state would not actually print something that heinous. But no, Texas. Your governor is Rick Perry, and your state did in fact print the winning license plate design. And now you are paying the consequences.

Lucky for us, we fled Texas in a hurry before being confronted with that thing. And here we are, cool "Taxation Without Representation" proclaimers at long last.

Am I alone in my license plate geekiness, or do you nerd out to license plates, too? What are your favorites?

(My non-biographical faves: Colorado, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pretty pictures

Remember how I told you we have a wedding in the family this year? My brother Lane and his fiancee Nicole picked such a fun wedding date: 9-10-11. The wedding's going to be on the coast of southeastern North Carolina, and plans are shaping up nicely. There's a venue, a dress, a color palette, and now there are engagement photos!

These are so pretty that I had to brag on them a bit, courtesy of Genie Leigh Photography. Lane and Nicole's daughter Taylor is not just a smart and sassy almost-four-year-old... she's also adorable on camera when you can get her to sit still for a minute and focus. (Nice job on that, Genie!) She must get this from her mom. While my brother is certainly handsome in these photos, Nicole is flat-out stunning. She's going to be such a beautiful bride. All these years later, I'm so excited to call her my sister-in-law!

Nicole asked my sister and me to be bridesmaids, and we're going to have a blast, I can already tell. I think what I'm most excited about is to see how they incorporate my niece Taylor into the wedding. She calls it "her" wedding, by the way... and is adorable talking about it and inviting us personally! I predict that perfect wedding mixture of laughter and happy-tears come 9-10-11. And until then, so much fun putting it all together.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gratitude, in casserole form

On Saturday our friends had Thanksgiving dinner. In March. They even managed to call in some November weather for the event, which is pretty impressive. Snow flurries and turkey, fresh from the oven, to the sounds of March Madness. Brilliant.

The reason for the dinner was entirely practical - their November farmers market turkey never got cooked this year, and a dinner party was the best way to reclaim their freezer space. Really, though, why don't we do more of this? By the time Christmas dinner rolls around, the standard dishes are already a little played out from November. And come summer, I bet I'm not the only one who could really go for some ham. Spreading the wealth seems so smart.

I had something in common with our hosts, it turned out - I never got the chance to make one of my standbys this Thanksgiving either. People freak out over this family recipe, and with good reason: it's basically butter and sugar enhanced by sweet potatoes. Add in some pecans from my grandparents' farm on top, and you have a down home masterpiece, that rare side dish that could be equally at home on the dessert table.

Don't worry about this dish's decadence, by the way - it's not meant to be eaten regularly, and certainly isn't about being healthy. My family's sweet potato casserole is about comfort, about loved ones, about tradition, and about being thankful for all three ... no matter what time of year it is.

Down Home Sweet Potato Casserole

7 cups sweet potatoes* (usually 10-12 hand-length potatoes)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup softened butter
2 eggs

For the topping:
2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup melted butter

Bake sweet potatoes with skin at 450 for one hour. Scoop potatoes from skin. Combine potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and butter. Place in 13x9 casserole dish.

Topping: Combine brown sugar, flour, butter, pecans. Place on top of casserole.

Cover casserole with foil. Bake on low shelf at 275 for 50 minutes. (If you've made your casserole ahead of time and it's been refrigerated, cook it at 350 instead.) If you want a nice crispy topping, remove the foil and turn your broiler on for a couple of minutes (if you're not running late like I was, that is!).

*In North Carolina we grow sweet potatoes, so they're used for this dish. When I lived in New Mexico and Texas, it was easier to find yams than sweet potatoes, so I used them interchangeably, to equally delicious results.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

Oh weekend, you tricky mistress, you. I've managed to schedule a Saturday so full of activities that I really only have a one-day weekend ahead of me. That, plus the chance of SNOW on Sunday (#$%&E^@^!!!), means I'm already looking forward to next weekend. At any rate, here are three finds that tickled my fancy this week. Enjoy, and try to have a more restful weekend than I will!

Guys and Doll

 People are fascinating and weird and wonderful, you know? I read this piece about "The Digbys" and couldn't quite believe it. A couple "adopted" a doll twenty years and have been raising them as their "son" ever since... and oh, the places he's gone and the outfits he's worn! Please tell me there's film footage that someone's been recording all these years... this stuff is begging for a documentary.

Coralie Bickford-Smith

It's pretty easy for me to get swept away by great book cover design, and no one is doing that better these days than Coralie Bickford-Smith. Her designs for the Penguin clothbound classics series are renowned... and happen to be utter perfection in hardcover form. Her latest project takes us into the kitchen with Penguin's 'Great Food' series, which presents a dilemma... isn't it blasphemy to rip the covers off books, even if you're framing them in the kitchen as a large art piece?

"You Should Date an Illiterate Girl"

Via Her Name Was Lola, full text here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kenny and Jillian: Great hair, great shoes

You know those human embodiments of guilty pleasure, the crushes we have that are not only irrational, but downright embarrassing? C'mon, we all have them. That man for me is Kenny Powers. I know, I know.

No really, I know.

The man is offensive on every level, enjoys strippers and jet skis, lacks any sort of moral code, and has that hair. But everything that comes out of his mouth makes me weep with laughter. And then after I'm done cackling, I feel bad about the cackling. But by then Kenny is saying something else ridiculous so I'm cackling again. And on it goes.

Those of you who know Kenny know he is all about the celebrity endorsement. Here's his latest triumph: celebrity spokesman for K-Swiss Tubes.

Let's talk about another kind of crush now - perhaps less embarrassing, but definitely more of a cliche: Jillian Michaels. She and I have spent a lot of time together over the years, and she can whip me into shape faster than any other workout guru I've tried. She's certainly more effective than me doing my own thing at a gym for hours at a time with no results. Like Kenny, Jillian also endorses K-Swiss Tubes. Hmmmm.

Here's the thing: I've owned my sneakers for longer than I've known T, and after certain workouts (BFBM, I'm looking at you) my feet ache badly. It's not unreasonable to think it's time for a new pair of shoes. So I did a little shopping. And fell sort of hard for a really fun pair of yellow Tubes.

And then yesterday, while crying through Jillian's latest DVD Ripped in 30, I couldn't help but notice that in workout #2 she wears the exact same shoes I just bought. This should be motivation or something, right?

The truth of the matter is that I am actually more embarrassed to admit being swayed by a celebrity endorsement than I am confessing my baffling love for Kenny Powers. But with those shoes, comes that stomach, right? And I do really love the shoes.

(PSA: Those of you with a similar weakness and a need for new workout shoes: I had to size up with the Tubes.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bloom or bust

On Sunday we walked for miles. We walked downtown; we walked the Mall; we walked Capitol Hill. The weather was undeniably early spring - flower buds peeking out to say hello, sun warming up the cool air, folks happy to be outside. We stood on the Capitol steps and looked out over the Mall and the Monument, and we smiled. We're trying to buy a house here for a reason: we love this place.

We lost another house yesterday. That's our fourth unsuccessful offer, if you're counting. Each of the four houses we've made offers on all sold in about a week's time, all higher than list price. For two of those we were booked as second place "back-up offers," and for both of those we offered more than the winning bid, but were passed over due to high-cash offers.

This house was sort of European-dreamy... right off a park, pastel with flower boxes, room to grow for as long as we wanted to do so, but a slew of DIY projects we'd need to take on to make it ours. We have no fear; we're ready to knock down walls. Or were. Our agent said the scene at the offer presentations yesterday was ridiculous: a gaggle of agents in the lobby of the building where one of the sellers works, a rushed offer coming in at the last minute, a decision made, and then a buyer's agent crying as he begged the sellers the reconsider his clients' offer. Saying the real estate scene in DC is high drama is an enormous understatement.

No tears on our part, though. Maybe we're too hard and cold at this point to care that much. The winning bid on this house waived all contingencies to get it, including an inspection and appraisal. For a house built in 1909. And in case you're wondering, you didn't just flash back to 2001 boom years - this is happening today, in a supposedly down real estate market, in Washington, DC. The last house we lost before this one had four offers all higher than list price, including ours, and hadn't even been put on the market yet. People are hungry for homes here; weekend Open Houses are shoulder-to-shoulder with people. There are no quiet offer negotiations, only instant bidding wars and large-scale offer presentations due to multiple offers. It's exhausting.

So these springtime flowers and the sun that's pleasing everyone - I get it. But just as much as enjoying the weather again, a new season assures me that more homes are on the way. We keep hearing that folks are holding onto their homes until spring is here, and fervently hope that's true.

There are so many more stories I could tell, by the way. The house with my favorite kitchen and the basement too short for T to stand up in, and the ensuing $100,000 estimate to dig it out a stand-up-able amount? I've got that one. The guy who shows up to all the Open Houses who's bid on 14 houses in the last year, and walked away from five winning bids, thus wasting everyone's time and making it harder for all of us? I could rail on him too. The winning buyer on the first house we bid on, who came in $20,000 less than our offer but did so with 80% cash from her father, and all the many and varied ways I hate her and everything she stands for? Yep, I have that rant in my pocket, too.

But for now, I try my best to shrug off the frustration, and we wait.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green, head to toe

During my college days in Boston, St. Patrick's Day really was a holiday. I remember lots of beer. I remember freezing my *ss off at the Southie parade, watching the gold medal US Women's Hockey Team go by, the storefronts all celebrating local flick Good Will Hunting. I remember our favorite local bar, all the regulars, all the music, all those years. Years I forgot to wear green, I'd fall back on my green eyes, which saved me from pinching fingers. With a name like Maggie and a fair face full of freckles, many Bostonians assumed I was Irish. Nope, I'd always have to say, just a WASP.

I adore the color green, and regularly swoon after anything emerald or grass or avocado in stores. Right now, this is the green item I'm coveting the most. Absolutely unsuitable for the sort of St. Patrick's Day raucousness that I miss from Beantown, but worth coveting all the same.

 I've stroked them in the store... these are the real, early-birthday-present-worthy deal, folks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Big bites and small towns

I fell in love last weekend. Twice, actually.

First things first: Volt.

Oh. My. Goodness. I loved every single bite. My dinner went a little something like this:

I. yellowfin tuna tartare avocado, chili oil, petite cilantro, soy air,
marinated whitefish roe

II. sheep’s milk cavatelli country ham, rye, broccoli rabe, parmesan

III. border springs farm lamb mission fig, licorice, farro, madras curry,
merguez sausage, roasted cauliflower

IV. goat cheese cake d’anjou pears, spiced vanilla, lemon balm

Just delicious. We got a kitchen tour and saw Bryan Voltaggio at work, bottling pork creamed sodas for the following night's Cochon 555 competition. We also eyed Volt's famed Table 21 tasting table in the kitchen. Mark my words, I'll have a seat there one of these days. I can't say enough about our meal: absolutely delicious, worth every penny. 

My second crush, then? The town! I fell head over heels for Frederick, MD. I forgot to charge my camera before the trip, so we'll have to revisit these stock photos since I don't have any fresh ones.

Imagine my delight at Frederick's downtown: historic and picturesque, yes, but also surprisingly large and fully-functioning, not a quaint snapshot of one moment in time. The small business mix is fantastic, the housing stock is great and a range of sizes, and more than that... Frederick feels like its own place. It's not responding to anything, it just is. My aversion to suburbs is smoothed over by my true love of cities (and the fact that T has to work in one anyway), but in truth I love small towns just as much. I felt like we were getting a peek into this alternate world of small town idealism last weekend, and I loved it. At some point on Saturday, after discovering a well-priced reclaimed wood industrial dining table (at a shop owned by two girlfriends who left behind their former lives as buyers for Nordstrom and Pottery Barn, no less!), but before hitting up the store where we bottled our own olive oil and vinegars from 30 or so tanks full of flavor, it hit me... I could live in this town. Uh oh.

And so of course H and I had to scope out local real estate, which only made the fantasy worse. Rowhomes nearly identical to the kind we've been trying to buy in DC, at less than half the cost. A regional rail stop right downtown, making for an easy ride into DC, or a stop at the end of DC's own Metro system, just a short drive away. Saving so much money on real estate that we'd actually be able to go on a real vacation. Awesome public schools, without the drama and heartache of charter school waiting lists. Uh oh.

So that was my weekend... lots of what-ifs. And here's where it all came crashing down on me: actually studying the train schedules and figuring out what T's day would look like, leaving his perfect small town surrounded by picturesque farms and heading into the city, where he has to be at work very early. The truth is harsh: he'd be on a train before 5 a.m. each morning. Or he could drive in at 45 minutes, but then have to battle traffic on the way home every afternoon, taking an hour and a half to get back. It's just not fair, no matter how I slice it.

Maybe in five years or so I'll revisit my Frederick fantasy. Maybe by then, our jobs and lives will be different enough that it might be doable. Or maybe - maaaaaybe - we'll find the right home in DC that will push my small town fantasies away for good. But until then, I totally want to take T to Frederick, eat at Volt again, and show him that dining room table.

(You know, for the dining room we don't have yet.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

I'm quite happy to put this week to bed... and quite happy to jump-start my foodie getaway! Here are my three spotlights for the week:

Seven Deadly Sin Plates

Am I cool enough to hang this collection in my home? Probably not... but oh how I'd love for one of you cooler folks to do it. Just brilliant. Can you image the laughter of your dinner guests when they take a moment to study the decorative plate collection hanging above the table? Made by Trixie Delicious, blogged by re-nest.

Surprise 3D Announcements

 I look at a lot of pretty letterpress every week, but this number over at For Print Only literally made my jaw drop. Just amazing, every thing about it. This gorgeous little package was the brainchild of The Mandate Press - worth remembering if you have any big surprises to announce in your own lives.

Courtney Martin's TED Talk

We're having quite a TED Talk week over here, and for good reason... I'm addicted to listening to these talks on slow afternoons when I'm trying to ignore my coffee craving and I'm tired of NPR. Courtney Martin is an editor for one of my favorite blogs Feministing. Her TED Talk ranges from her feminist parents, her own process of defining what feminism means to her, and women's activism, then and now. Completely inspiring, and funny, too.

Have a delicious weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My kind of empowerment

Much of the work that I do is incredibly small scale. This might seem incongruous from someone who worries about large-scale problems and in other days had big dreams of changing the world. To me, the older me, this shift makes sense. I can sit at my desk and dream about a better government or a happier world of women, but most of that is beyond my grasp of control. Helping folks create better places to live, though - stronger communities, more complete streets, better food systems, more dynamic ways to get around and to connect with the rest of the world - those things I can have a hand in shaping, and do. I've graduated to a perch where I not only say that all politics is local, but I actually mean it. My definition of politics has expanded to make room for this interpretation. In my mind, our streets, our neighborhoods, our towns and our interplay with all of these layers is incredibly political. We vote every time we eat, shop, and make big decisions. They're different votes from the ones that happen in November, but they are votes, and they are absolutely as critical to how this world of ours looks and operates.

In this ground-up perspective, the projects that appeal most to me are ones that engage citizens to grasp their own futures and shape the direction of their communities themselves. As such, I've been thinking about home this week - but not the home that raised me (the Triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, brimming with higher education and technology). Instead, I've been thinking of my grandparents' home, the home where I'm related to over half of the local church cemetery, where the farms tell stories and history is passed down in the land. That home, Bertie County, is struggling, as is most of rural America. Our outdated agricultural subsidy system has created winners (enormous corporate farms) and losers (family farmers), and Bertie County is full of big-system losers in that sense. With farms dying and real industry hours away, the youth of Bertie County has historically been faced with an incredibly difficult choice upon graduation. Do they stay in their dying community, or do they leave and succeed elsewhere? In this respect, the youth of Bertie County is the same as the youth in any inner city. A better world is one where there are better choices for the kids of our farms and our cities.

This is where Project H Design comes in, which is the reason you're indulging me on this introspective rainy DC morning. I believe that we create community organizers every time we engage youth in their own community, every time young people take a stand in their towns, their cities, and their farms about how their world should operate. All politics is local, and all change begins with us. In Bertie County, change can begin with a different kind of chicken coop. 

Project H is an award-winning design and sustainability project (see kudos here, here, here, here, and here, for starters) based right at "home" in Bertie County. Its Studio H project teaches high school juniors at Bertie High (where my dad was once a football star, where my cousin was valedictorian) how to implement good design in their own community. Project H teaches by doing with, not talking to. The kids build their own future, quite literally, in their own town. Project H's lessons can be applied anywhere.

Project H's dynamic co-leader, Emily Pilloton, gave a TED talk last year about what Studio H does, why it's different, and why it works. I'd love for you to watch it. Studio H's project this year is to build an open-air farmer's market in the town of Windsor, home of Bunn's Barbecue and the kind of fading historic downtown strip that makes my heart soar with revitalization possibilities. But this isn't about Windsor, or about me, it's about all of us. Give Emily, and her students, and this little corner of swampy farmland that I happen to love, a chance today. They deserve it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Girls gone food

A couple of months ago, my hometown pal Heather moved to northern Virginia and started a new job in DC. H's birthday is February 11. Mine, April 11. Rather than doing gifts this year, we decided to plan something fun and frivolous that we might not justify otherwise, and do it on our birthday median: March 11.

This Friday, we're leaving DC behind to drive to the quaint little town of Frederick, MD, for one purpose only: to dine at Volt, the restaurant of former Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio. We're going to stay overnight and poke around Frederick on Saturday, which looks adorable.

I'm so excited for some girl time outside of the city. Have any of you eaten at Volt or been to Frederick? I'd love to hear your must-eats and must-do's!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

Aaaaaand.... exhale. What a long week this has been. I hope each one of you finds yourself breathing contentedly this weekend - I sure plan on it. Here are my picks for the week, each one something that gets my mental wheels turning in different ways. See you on the other side! 

People's District

My new favorite DC blog is People's District, which spotlights regular folks who live in the District, doing their regular everyday activities. As someone who often passes people on the street and wonders, "Just what does that person do for a living?" or "I wonder what that person's life is like?," this blog is insanely rewarding. I love the story of the blog's creation, too - one DC resident deciding that rather than continuing not to know the strangers he saw every day, he's ask them about their lives, instead. Swoon. I truly believe projects like this one could make us all a little nicer toward one another, a little more gracious when we pass in the street, and a little more humble. For that and more, complete respect.

Writing Sheds

Since the whole primary home-purchasing thing isn't exactly going well, perhaps I'll spend the weekend dreaming not about my usual fall-back (beach houses), but about writing sheds instead. Staying small but dreaming big over here. Take a look at re-nest's inspiring line-up of famous authors' writing sheds, and I dare you not to dream about all the fantastic things you could create in one of them. I'm a Roald Dahl countryside shed kind of a person myself, but Michael Pollan's rustic-but-definitely-not-Unabomberish perch in the woods might be more your style. Other choices: Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas and Mark Twain. You're intrigued now, aren't you? Out to the sheds you go!

Grant Achatz on 'Fresh Air'

 Chef Grant Achatz has long been on my inspirational-as-all-getout list, and this interview with Terry Gross absolutely seals the deal for me. (Terry Gross is one of my huge NPR crushes, by the way - years ago I waited in line to see her speak like a total fangirl.) We can't even imagine his journey, truly: being as celebrated for your culinary genius as he was, then losing your sense of taste due to tongue cancer, then continuing to cook with your other senses, then fighting the cancer and slooooooowly regaining your sense of taste, then finally emerging healthy and more creative than ever on the other side. Mind: blown. I'm looking forward to reading Achatz's memoir, excerpts of which you can read at the NPR link.

And our karmic winner is....

We are a rather karmic bunch, it turns out! A couple eschew the notion, and some of us worry about the literal implications of karma (never fear, I'm not sure I believe in anything literally... I'm very loosey-goosey, happy-go-lucky that way), but most of us generally try to put goodness out into the world and believe we'll get some of it back in return. Some of your lovely examples include:
  • Over-tipping cab drivers on the way to an event warranting good luck
  • Leaving coupons with their products in grocery store aisles
  • Being nice in traffic
  • Helping little old ladies with their groceries

So without further ado, the winner of the $45 CSN giveaway is...

SARAH, with a totally delightful karma story of her own!

Congrats, Sarah! I'll be in touch with the details from CSN.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March, for girls

Something about the onset of spring makes my girliness come out. I know, I know, we're hardly in the full swing of spring yet (like that catchiness?), but the warm-ish afternoons scattered here and there, the occasional foray outside without wool trappings, the more frequent need for sunglasses... these things all have me buying extra flowers, spraying extra perfume, and putting away my boots. So since it's March, and since I don't indulge my girly side on this blog as often as I could, let's go for it. (Please imagine Anne Hathaway-style "woo hoo"-ing after every segment.)

Spring to me is all about fresh, clean skin. I've long been an advocate for paying up for skincare now (products + treatments) in order to reap huge benefits down the road. My skin runs dry and sensitive, and while I don't have to worry about breakouts, I do worry about aging (I'm picturing my dad shaking his head right now, remembering the hundreds of times he got annoyed at me for getting sunburned over the years). I use as many products with built-in sunscreen as I can, and I moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Because I'm so sensitive, I gave up finding a cleanser that worked as well for me as Cetaphil, hitting that sweet spot of cleaning out pores without stripping or irritating my skin. Also, true story: the first time I showered at T's apartment way back when in Albuquerque, I actually said out loud: "Awwww, we use the same cleanser!" So I felt married to Cetaphil, as it were, until two Triple Oxygen Facials ago at Bliss (these facials? my biggest indulgence, alongside Le Creuset and All Clad. Some girls have thousand-dollar handbags; I have good skincare and a well-stocked kitchen.). My esthetician used their Clog-Dissolving Cleansing Milk on me (I add a hyphen because I am a hyphen-Nazi like that, what?), and I loved it. Loved it. I'm finishing my first complete bottle now, and I'm happy to report that not only does this stuff clean like no one's business, it doesn't irritate my skin or dry it out. First thing my esthetician said at my last facial? "What have you been doing differently? Your skin looks so clean and so good!" I've also been urging T to make the switch. After all, the couple that cleanses together, stays together...

I don't really want to count my lip balm and lip gloss collection; it's a little bit of a freakshow. Nars glosses are my favorite (supplemented by Kiehl's), and I can almost always justify a new shade. I've settled (for now) on my fave tinted lip balm, and my pocket almost always has a Laura Mercier Berry inside. Lipsticks, though, haven't been my thing for a while. Until one night last fall when I ended up poking around a Chanel counter and began a red-hot affair with a tube of their Aqualumiere Lipstick in Porto Rotondo. This product is a torrid collision between my burning passion, lip gloss, and my steady companion, sunscreen, spanked into shape by lipstick. The color looks garish in the tube - a bad '80s sparkle red-fuschia - but on the lips it's beyond lovely, the perfect red-pink with the soft shimmer of a gloss. I  wear it almost every day. You know, while pretending I'm on a spring getaway in Southern France, wearing a blue and white-striped boatneck tee, ballet flats, and tiny yellow shorts that magically look wonderful on me, and carrying a large straw bag filled with fresh produce and the ubiquitous baguette. (Or something like that.)

Springtime also makes me want to buy a closet full of new clothes oh so badly. That sort of thing is not in the cards this season budget-wise (helloooo, house hunt!), but please let me fantasize about the following:

 1. Figure-flattering perfection for me (neckline: see my wedding dress, bodice and skirt placement: see my rehearsal dinner dress), and when belted and cardi-d/jacketed, great for work meetings, too.

2. Are we sure I didn't design this? I might as well have, and would wear it endlessly, like all the other jersey-knit Anthro dresses in my closet that are not in this perfect bright blue.

3. Shirts can be tough. Ladies with a lot going on up top, can you give me an amen? Every year I dream of wispy button-downs as light as a breeze that fit wonderfully, and every year I am reminded that by the time I layer a camisole underneath there is nothing "wispy" about my look at all. (Maybe one day I'll try having a custom shirt made to eliminate my dressing room frustration - until then, camisoles or 2-4 safety pins hidden in the lining it is!) That said, I still plan on trying on this lineup of perfect button-downs at J. Crew. A girl can dream, right? Also loving: the shape of flowy floral tops that are everywhere this year, provided I can find one with enough shape to avoid the dreaded ski slope look that can come from bulky tops, or find one that looks great belted. (My C+ ladies, can we also give an amen to defined waists?)

4. Pretty sure I'm going to need these. I adore Fryes, and these would be so fondly-remembering-grad-school-while-celebrating-the-present of me. Only problem is, deciding between slate or yellow?

5. Have I mentioned that my left shoulder and neck are breaking? No? I'm under strict husband-orders to quit carrying a heavy purse or go through the shoulder surgery he had before we met. This has worked fairly well in the winter because I can use my coat pockets, but come spring I'll be once again itching to carry a wonderbag full of everything I might ever need. As a result, I'm looking at cross-body bags, and would love recommendations if you see any great ones. For the sake of my broken-down shoulder, help!

Whew! That's a lot of spring fever. What is your girly side enjoying or coveting this spring?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Onward, scrambled

I imagine that my brain looks like one of those really delicious yet ugly scrambles you throw together on the stove for breakfast, using everything in the fridge because it's all about to go bad. Or some other metaphor for ugly mishmash. Onward, then.

This is the painting I bought at the Fearrington Folk Art Show with my mom. It's by Jackie Haliburton, who did my favorite piece in the entire show - at a scale and price a tad out of reach for me right now. But this little guy, so fun and bright and happy, he fit the bill.

See all those nice houses? We do not own one of them. Another crash-and-burn offer yesterday, for a place we adored. (It was RED. And had a CLAWFOOT BATHTUB.) You know how some girls carry around the "Always a Bridesmaid" hangup? My new (unintentional) motto: "Always the Back-Up Offer." I mean really, how many times can we come in second? That is no consolation, people. Give us a house already! The details I could share about the market here would shock some of you, I have no doubt...

Anyway, I'm obsessed with tulips this week. Also: acorn squash. 

Hey, remember my Calendar of Shame? I made it through the entire two-month calendar with long workouts at least three times a week. This doesn't earn me a Presidential Fitness medal or anything (remember those? yeah, I never got one then, either) - but after the previous two months of never once breaking a sweat, I feel good about it. Especially given how many weekends I traveled during those two months. I've actually even gotten to the point where I'm working out in order to release pent-up stress, because as you might imagine, I have a lot of it right now. And if you're wondering, having to face this calendar every time I leave my apartment really does work. Try it if you're having motivational issues.

This is all I've got right now that's bloggable. Now if publicly bitching were my thing (you thought this post was bitching? Not even close...), I could write for another hour. But I have a date at Zentan tonight with T, my sister-in-law, and Susur Lee's sushi and Singapore Slaw, so things are looking up. His signature slaw, by the way? Absolutely outrageous. And vegan, if you also have hard-to-feed (but lovable, not bitching!) folks in your life.
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