A Happy Engagement Kit for the Lucky Lady

18 Sep

Happy Engagement Kit

A couple of weekends ago, one of my best friends got engaged – woot! woot! – to her boyfriend of more than six years. If ever there were cause for celebration, this is it. Now that she’s rockin’ a major sparkler, it’s time to start thinking about the Big Day (and they’re on the fast track to start planning, too).

What better way to let her know that we’re thinking of her than with a little engagement goodie bag? This one, which we stealthly left on her front porch, was packed with some basic tools for a bride-to-be. Want to bundle up a similar gift for one of your lucky lady friends? Consider these picks:

  • Bridal magazines
  • Sticky “flags” or page markers to help her tag the ideas she likes
  • A notepad with matching pens or pencils
  • Champagne splits (with adorable straws, of course)
  • Nail polish (now that she’s showing off her bling 24-7)
  • Hand cream (see above)
  • Diamond cleaner

Knee-High Boots for Fall’s Busy Weekends

16 Sep

There’s nothing easier than pulling a tall boot over a thick, cushiony sock and skinny jeans come fall. When the boots make the outfit, the rest seems to piece itself together, doesn’t it? Oversized sweater? Check. Extra long scarf? Check. Hobo bag? Check. What could be better than layers of warm and cozy gear to ward off the chill of late September?

To get in the mood, I scoured my favorite shoe department (Nordstrom’s) for some of this season’s picks. Seeing that last year, I LIVED in my Corso Como heeled boots at work and my Sorel ‘Slimpacks,’ ummm, every moment that I wasn’t at work, it wasn’t hard to narrow down my weekend choices – all with a low heel, goes-with-anything shades of leather and a timeless shape. The prices? Well, they fit most budgets, ranging from $110 to $1,300.

I can hardly wait for the temps to dip just a few degrees lower…

Nordstrom fall boots

Top row of three, then bottom: Burberry ‘Carmack’ Over-the-Knee Boot ($1,295) | Frye ‘Kelly’ Over-the-Knee Boot ($498) | Sorel ‘Slimpack’ Riding Boot ($210) | Ugg Austrailia ‘Dahlen’ Riding Boot ($275) | Naughty Monkey ‘Femme Fatale’ Boot ($110)

A Healthy Cleanse to Kick-Start the Season

15 Sep

Trader Joes Complete Body Cleanse

No thank you, I do not need another martini. In fact, I’m pretty sure my liver – and the rest of me – needs a really, really serious break from a summer of overindulgence.

To kick-start the recovery, I’m leaning on one of my favorite buys at good, ol’ Trader Joe’s, the Complete Body Cleanse kit. If you’re familiar with the Whole Foods Liver Cleanse, this is identical, and it’s only half the price.

For something close to $12, the Trader Joe’s version comes with three supplements – a digestive formula, liver formula and fiber formula – that will last you two weeks. During week one, you take four supplements (all in pill form) in the AM, and eight in the PM. During week two, you take five in the AM and seven in the PM. Throughout all of it, my goal is to eat small, balanced meals (and lots of green juice) while cutting way back on added sugars and carbs. (If you’re a stronger woman than I, it’s probably in your best interest to completely cut out caffeine and alcohol.)

In my experience, it doesn’t take long to feel the trifecta of tablets take effect. For me, the most immediate response is a quicker, smoother digestion of foods that’s natural feeling, not at all scary or impromptu. (If you know what I mean…)

I strive to complete a two-week cleanse a couple of times each year, but using the change in seasons as a reminder is a great idea to squeeze four two-week cycles in annually.

I’d love to know what tactics you use to stay on track and if you complement any cleanses of your own with special foods, workouts or activities. Do tell!

Death and Airplanes

4 Sep


Four months ago, my mom died. When I reflect on the strange passing of time since then, I’m momentarily surprised that it didn’t occur just yesterday, and then bewildered that it wasn’t an entire year ago. You see, there’s an ever-present pit in my stomach… and I can’t help but wonder if that pit has been with me since she was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, fooling my grief-riddled mind with silly things like days and months. 

Apart from my inability to sense the realistic passing of time, I’ve started to regain the feeling of normalcy in my everyday life. And it actually hurts to write that, because my heart aches with guilt each moment that I catch myself laughing too loud, being playful with my boyfriend, or talking celebrity gossip with colleagues. That feeling of guilt, I’ve found, can quickly spiral out of control. It makes me question my loyalty to my mom and my way of mourning – or celebrating – her life, it makes me question every word that came out of my mouth when I sat with her at the hospital the week she passed away, and it makes me question what more I could have done… what I didn’t do… and what I will do – to help my father, my brother, my aunts and everyone else affected by her loss to heal. If that doesn’t make sense, that’s okay. It doesn’t quite make sense to me sometimes, either. 

I know that the escalator of guilt only runs downward, so I’ve kept up with my new-found, favorite activity, self-coined “Distraction Therapy.” I’m not sure that any therapist would agree to distraction as therapy, but luckily, I haven’t asked. 

My self prescribed therapy is working for the most part. Like I mentioned in my first post, I continue to fuel it with a stack of unread magazines, podcast subscriptions, time with friends and evenings spent with my guy, versus alone at home. The one enigma here is time spent on an airplane. 

In the past couple of months, between work and personal travel, I’ve found myself on a plane 10 times. Ten. Times. And every time, the white noise of the cabin pressurization and the empty sky outside my window seat lures me down the rabbit hole of guilt and grief. I cry on planes. And I never bring Kleenex. I cry until I can stop crying, in an awkward sort of way that I hope my row-mates don’t notice but I’m quite sure they do. 

And I tell myself that this is okay. That this is normal. And then I wipe my eyes and put on my headphones and open a magazine. 

Horsing Around at Salamander Resort & Spa

13 Aug

Salamander Resort and Spa Bonfire Pit

Let me start with this: Yoga on Horseback.

I stared at the Fitness Class calendar on the dark wood desk in my guestroom, somewhat perplexed and somewhat intrigued. I wish that I could have woken at the crack of dawn to partake in the course ($150 per person; 30 minutes) – if only to describe the certain hilarity of my horseback skills – but instead, I achieved zen with an extra hour of sleep.

Part resort, part spa, and part equestrian center, the new Salamander Resort & Spa is a stately escape tucked in the outskirt of Middleburg, Virginia that’s registered to become one of the country’s first LEED certified “resorts” (and I always dig the green initiatives, by the way). Just a half-an-hour drive from Dulles International Airport, the resort, situated on 340 acres, begins at the end of a long, winding driveway a short distance (or long walk) from the historic downtown.

I’m nursing a cocktail when I ask the bartender how the property, just now celebrating its first anniversary, came to be. He tells me that cable channel BET co-founder, Sheila Johnson, is the brains behind the resort. Then, a fellow traveler – a local guy – pipes in to share that construction of the 168-room resort caused a bit of a controversy in the sleepy town. It’s at that moment that the lack of property signage, and the fact that I began to suspect my taxi driver was abducting me, all made sense. Strolling down Main Street, you’d never know that a luxury wellness center is welcoming nationwide guests just a few blocks away. The sedated property is quiet in just the way you’d hope it to be, whether you’re a weary traveler or a third-generation Middleburg-an? -er? -ler?

Either way, once you step inside the resort and minutes later, settle into your guestroom, you’ll forget everything except for the clawfoot soaking tub that’s whispering your name. A spacious bathroom, adorned with soft robes, is steps from a plush multi-purpose space, including a comfy bed, sectional sofa, table and chairs, desk, and in my case, a gas fireplace. A heavy glass door (that cannot be propped open, one of my only gripes), leads to a small balcony with two chairs. My guess is that these quick to close doors are a solution to the area’s many buzzing flies, which seem to show up – a bit irritatingly – in and outside of the resort.

The space is dreamy. And you haven’t even gotten to the spa yet, which boasts treatments like the Rider’s Relief massage, as well as several chic relaxation areas and a beckoning outdoor infinity pool.

Miles of biking, hiking and horseriding trails ripple across the foothills of the Blue Ride Mountains, making the resort an ideal escape for city dwellers that simply want some peace, quiet and luxury. It’s the perfect escape for solitude-seeking couples or families looking for a less-Disney, more-outdoorsy approach to vacationing. 

Mid-week rooms start at $295 per night. More details at www.salamanderresort.com.

Now, a peek inside the Salamander Resort: 

Salamander Resort and Spa king guestroom

Salamander Resort & Spa guestroom bathroom - complete with soaking tub



Salamander Resort Stables, Virginia

Beauty Beat: Birchbox or Not?

8 Aug

My August Birchbox delivery included these sample size goodies

What girl’s got time to scour the cosmetic counters on her Saturday morning? (Okay, let’s be serious. We’ll all make time for that.) The good news is, you don’t have to.

Thanks to the current subscription-box craze, clever companies have taken the task into their own hands. After filling out a quickie profile, they’ll sort through their goodies and send a customized sampling to your doorstep each month.

For nearly a year, I’ve received sample-filled packages from Birchbox. For $110 – side note: one of my fabulous friend’s gifted me a year’s subscription for my 30th birthday – they’ll keep ‘em coming for 12 months. Typically, my boxes include sample-sizes of body goops (lotions and sunscreens), facial cleansers (scrubs and soaps), fragrances (perfect for me to tote while traveling) and the occasional nail polish or lip color. Sometimes they hit the mark, other times it feels like a major let down. In the top photo, you can see what treats were delivered for August. A gritty, green face scrub that I liked at first use, perfume, hand moisturizer, BB cream and a fat little lip lube in a magenta-ish hue that I was sure I’d never, ever wear.

And, well, here’s the interesting part. Before bed, I smoothed on the Laqa & Co. lip lube and to my surprise, loved it. The next day, I wore it into work and who knows, maybe I’ll pick up a full-size stick if I continue to dig the pop of purple. That’s the beauty of a beauty box – it slowly and slyly opens you up to new products that you may have never come across on your own.

Now, I don’t know that it’s worth $110, but… Tell me, have you tried – and do you love – subscription services like Birchbox, Beauty Army, Julep or Glossybox? Or, have you ventured outside the beauty aisles and delved into other monthly deliveries like Graze (healthy snacks; I’ve tried this one too), Blue Apron (home-cooked meal ingredients and recipes, which I’m testing this week), Conscious Box (green goods), Bark Box (go ahead, guess), or Umba Box (handcrafted gifts; which I’ve also been gifted in the past)?

OMG… am I an addict or what? Apparently, I’m buying the subscription model, even though my gut feeling is that it’s a gimmicky waste of most folk’s money.

Soaking Up Summer’s Lazy Moments

6 Aug

Harbor Springs Michigan Summer Pier


There’s nothing quite like a lazy summer day, and in northern Michigan, you learn to take full advantage of sun-strewn afternoons. I’ve been bouncing back and forth across the continent for work throughout the past couple of months, and with the season’s end so near, a few peaceful moments in Harbor Springs, Mich., spent strolling the pier, felt especially indulgent.

Stepping outside of the everyday chaos – even if it’s only for 10 minutes – is instrumental in maintaining my composure beyond typical business hours. That tiny bit of alone time (which yanks at the nostalgia of our lakeside family cottage) does wonders for my mental clarity. While a stroll, or shoot, even keeping a few paces ahead of the others, can be helpful, I have a full list of to-dos that I’d love to still check off in the coming weeks.

What makes up your solo summer checklist?

  • Go someplace new (like Lake Louise at Banff National Park – check!)
  • Read a good book (one of my closest friends just sent me Shantaram: A Novel with promises that I’d love it as much as she did)
  • Clear out the clutter (I’m still working on this one… but I have sold a few handbags on eBay, with plans to start bagging donations and clean out the closets)
  • Spice up my grilling skills (I’ve been firing up the grill whenever I’m at home for the week and hallelujah, everything has proven edible so far)
  • Take long walks, regularly (a friend and I scrapped plans for cocktails to hike a nearby park this Sunday)
  • Turn off the TV, for the love of God (this is harder for me than it sounds; I hate the background blare of cable and yet I’m on autopilot, clicking it on every time I sit down to flip through a magazine or pull out my laptop)

How Much Cash Should you Have Stashed by Age 35?

24 Jul

I’m nearly three months into my new job, but the human resources department continues to blow up my inbox with reminders on one remaining bit o’ paperwork – retirement planning.

Like most corporate gigs, my employer offers a 401(K) retirement savings plan, which allows me to funnel pre-tax dollars directly into a Fidelity account to stow away – and grow, with the help of compounding interest – for my more (ahem) golden years.

I’ve been contributing to 401(K) accounts since the age of 24, so this isn’t anything new to me, but for some reason, I’ve found myself floundering over the percentage that I should contribute. Up until now, throughout my twenties, I’ve contributed between 7 and 9 percent. (Clearly, double digits frighten me.) But having reached 30 – in my mind, official adulthood – I feel like I solidify my game plan.

One of the recent musings that’s stuck in my head came from personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, who I heard recommend in an interview (and here) this simply rule: By age 35, your retirement savings should include an amount equal to your annual salary.

Does that comfort you… or frighten you? I like this advice, because it feels concrete and I feel like I’m on track to achieve it.

More broadly, most personal finance experts preach that 10 – 15 percent of your income should go directly toward retirement to build a realistic cushion for your later years. I’ve finally nudged myself to contribute a full 10 percent (I should note that I also automatically funnel money into my savings accounts each month, too) and am operating with the mindset that I won’t miss what I never see. We’ll see if I can slowly work my way up to 15 percent… I’m not holding my breath. Yet.

In the meantime, I follow several non-professional finance-related blogs to help keep me motivated to save money and live below my means – an especially difficult task when Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale rolls around. Scrolling through blog posts and reading inspiring comments from people at all levels of financial freedom makes smart budgeting feel nearly addictive.

You can check out a few of my favorite money / career blogs here; what are yours?


Escaping to the Canadian Rockies

22 Jul

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

The gorgeous, glacial Moraine Lake in Canada’s Banff National Park

Each of us need an occasional escape from the everyday. Earlier this month, I hit the brakes on this tilt-a-whirl ride and headed north for something between relaxation and rejuvenation. 

Obligatory iPhone shot on our way into Banff National ParkObligatory iPhone shot as we entered Banff; look at those slopes!

For years – ever since stumbling upon a resort photo online – I’ve been dreaming of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. (Google it and you’ll instantly know what I mean; I promise.) A Caribbean-blue, glacial lake nestled between snow-capped mountains is surely enough in itself, but this idyllic scene also boasts a stately Fairmont resort at its shore. Need I say more? 

We booked a flight into Calgary, reserved a rental car and packed our bags. 

And when we first laid eyes on those deep, icy waters, I was entranced. This, you guys, was the closest I’d been to heaven on earth. It was like the ultimate find in a scavenger hunt designed by God. And for four days, we stared in awe at it, paddled atop it and hiked around it before settling into a dreamy guestroom each evening. Like Xanax, but better (wink). 

Paddling Moraine Lake

Paddling Moraine Lake and scouting the perfect picnic spot

For those that appreciate the quieter, less sandy side of travel, here are some tips from our trip: 

  • GO: By plane; we flew into Calgary, Alberta, Cananda
  • SEE: Moraine Lake, Icefields Parkway, Downtown Banff
  • STAYFairmont Chateau Lake Louise
  • DO: Canoe everywhere you can; hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

In future posts, I’ll share a bit more about our favorite parts of the stay. If you’ve been, please tell me yours, too!

The canoeing operation on Lake Louise

The canoeing operation on Lake Louise is legit – and there’s usually a line

In the distance, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

In the distance, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the only resort on the water

Learning to Cope with Grief

20 Jul

In everyday life, I crave a deep sense of privacy. My circle is tight and even within it, I try to be cautious about what I share and to what level I reveal myself. This characteristic certainly doesn’t stem from trust issues, but it does serve as a type of self protection that has let me rely on my truest instincts—not the misguided input of others—for some time.

The exception to this rule of social privacy has always been my mother. As a therapist, she spent years mastering the tactics to break into my brain, which often, meant simply staying quiet and letting me ease into my thoughts, unlike the constant chatter that so often accompanies gatherings with my closest girlfriends.

For years, she gently guided me through the woes of adolescent angst, the vulnerabilities of adult relationships and the political web of workplace drama by nudging me to express myself and think through my quandaries aloud. She taught me how to work through difficult moments with as much grace as I could muster and when it she deemed it necessary, she’d share her insights, culled from a lifetime of lessons learned.

Recently, she taught me the greatest lesson—how to embrace and trust God’s plan without question, fear or anxiety.

She died on May 1. And since that day, I’ve been struggling with the deepest sense of grief that I’ve known. It lives so solidly inside of my chest that the only way to maintain normalcy in my everyday life has been to simply skim the surface of each day… never allowing too long a silence, as I’ve found it nearly always leads to an emotional collapse.

Instead, I’ve found a weird sort of comfort in the buzz of TV, droning personal finance podcasts that keep my mind busy on my commute to and from work, and more nights than normal spent with my boyfriend, whose presence simply helps keep me out of my own head. It might not be the healthiest way to cope, but it is a way to cope—and right now, that’s enough.

A year ago, I wanted to start writing a capsule that dabbled in the daily, from fashion and finances to style and stressors. And I suppose, this seismic shift in my life is more relevant that any of those things. The most odd piece of it all is that even when it feels impossible, life continues to move on just as it did before. Grocery stores lines still snaking down aisles, horns still being honked on the expressway, neighbors still walking their dogs.

I don’t know many women who have lost their mother at the age of 30, but I imagine there are so many of us struggling in the same ways to rebuild a life around an irreplaceable loss. Maybe this can be a place where in between the moments of normalcy, we learn to cope, together.


Photo: Today we celebrated the extraordinary life of my mom, a woman committed to living to the fullest no matter the circumstances. She nurtured, shaped and inspired not only me, but so many others. And while she'll be heart-achingly missed here, I'm so looking forward to seeing her again.

This beautiful woman, my mom.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers