Postcard from Kyoto

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My last postcard was from Tokyo, the buzzing, neon epicenter of Japan. Think of Kyoto as the serene, ancient version. Unlike Tokyo, this feels like the East. There aren’t signs in English everywhere, and credit card acceptance is patchy; you must use the Yen.

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The essence of Kyoto is in the ancient beauty of it. Shinto temples, arched bridges over ponds bursting with koi, and geisha darting by in the night. Unlike the skyscrapers of Tokyo, try to stay in  a ryokan – small, Japanese style inns with tatami floor mats, sliding doors and spare wooden rooms overseeing a Japanese garden. It’s the stuff spa music is made of.

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If you are fascinated by geisha, visit the Gion district, preferably at dusk. During the day it’s a tourist trap, and you’ll be elbowed by packs of miserable Russian women. They’re wealthy and paying top dollar to be dressed and photographed as geisha. I can see why the locals take advantage of the fantasy, but these ladies are thirsty. Hovering over their phones and draping themselves over bridge railings;  it’s an embarrassing sight to behold. Instead, go at sundown to see the working geisha rushing to real appointments. Look in the windows to see elaborate tea ceremonies. Hear them playing the shamisen for their guests. In fact, you can go to a tea ceremony and performance yourself!

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the real deal

Like Tokyo, take to the alleys! That’s where all the great shopping is, and be sure to have a pocketful of yen. While Tokyo has a trove of hidden Izakaya spots to grab a bite, Kyoto is filled with artisans. Out of tiny homes, a simple canvas flap separates the sidewalk from a dimly-lit den, where Japanese artists sell their wares. From handmade jewelry to candies, it’s perfect for souvenirs and afternoon snacks. I stocked up on the lightest, most delicate rice crackers, or senbei. Some featured nori, some had a hint of fish, and some were spicy yet sweet. Just thinking bout them gives me cravings!

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yakitori + jetlag = our first night

I didn’t get a chance to see the Fushimi Inari shrine, but if you see photos of it, you’ll know why I recommend it. It gives me good reason to come back! Kyoto is magic.

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The Kamo-gawa river winds past ancient wood buildings in Kyoto

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Postcard from Tokyo

This advice for Tokyo is the same advice I’ll give anyone visiting Japan. Explore the alleys! That’s where all the treasures are hidden. From little Izakaya shops with just four chairs on a counter, you will find exquisite ramen. You’ll find hidden courtyards with Shinto temples that are over a thousand years old. Homemade candy shops, innovative playgrounds and sushi meccas are tucked away in these little alleys. Some highlights from Tokyo:

Robot Restaurant

Prepare for sensory overload, as lasers, disco balls and neon lights create a dizzying show of battling robots, ninja warriors and psychedelic costumed characters. It’s too over-the-top to put into words. The show sells out way in advance, so be sure to book before your trip!

Cherry Blossoms

Make sure to go in the spring to take in the heady, romantic views of cherry trees blossoming in white and pink. Unlike the delicate cherry blossom trees in the states (such as DC) the trees in Japan are beyond mature. They seem ancient, with heavy, twisting trunks people can climb. If you can’t make it in the spring, come in the fall, when the Japanese maples come alive in fiery colors. Click here for the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

This is Harajuku, close to Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing

Yes, it is home to the busiest intersection in the word, with thousands of people criss-crossing the multiple corners for each red light. It’s a sight to behold, and film with your camera as you weave through a sea of faces. But beyond that is a vibrant night scene. I got street food at midnight – unbelievable Kobe beef on a stick. I got sushi served to me by bullet train when ordered on a computer screen. I explored adorable boutiques and saw a statue dedicated to Hachi.

Japanese pancakes

There are plenty of places to get these fluffy masterpieces. About an inch thick and custardy on the inside, they melt in your mouth and are piled high with fun toppings. From hazelnut chocolate and bananas, to whipped cream and strawberry compote. Just don’t go to Burn Side St Cafe, because there is a miserable server there who takes away the experience. There are plenty of options!

Tokyo Tower!

Speaking of plenty of options, there is so much more to discover than what I mentioned.  So consider this a jumping-off point. And most importantly, don’t forget to explore those alleys!

 

How You Can Bring Paris to RVA

Last year, I was swept up in the magic that was Diner en Blanc. I wrote about it, but one must experience this Parisian tradition in person. While this elaborate picnic began in Paris, it’s now celebrated around the world. Considering the size of Richmond, you’d think it wouldn’t have caught on. But the event became a must-do summer tradition, and with around 1,200 attendees every year, Richmond’s become a major player on the world stage.

And 1,200 revelers are a lot to coordinate, so Diner en Blanc Richmond is looking for volunteers. By volunteering, you not only gain free entry, but you get to participate in one of the most memorable cultural experiences in Richmond. An elaborate night of creativity in all its forms; visual, musical, palatable. The big night is August 17th, and per tradition, the location is top secret until the day-of.

If interested in volunteering, email richmond@dinerenblanc.com – until then, au revoir!

Ladles & Linens & blogs, oh my!

As you know, I love to share party and entertaining tips. Exhibit A, Exhibit B ….you get the idea. I’m happy to announce that Ladles and Linens brought me on as their Lifestyle Blogger! The Story of Cooking has allowed me to share even more tidbits and things that inspire me, like managing your work/life balance and themed parties. The latter being LIFE.

The company’s owner, Sarah Nicholas is a legit FBI agent-turned-TV Chef-turned business owner. And since her story’s more interesting than mine, I’ll go ahead and leave a link about her right HERE. And since her family is so adorable, I’ll go ahead and drop a photo right…

…there we go.  I’d always been a Ladles and Linens customer. If Lilly Pulitzer were a gourmand, this would be her shop. It’s playful, but tasteful. Cheerful, but serious about quality; they test all their products. They have three locations in Virginia, but distance is no issue because you can shop their store online. Their prices are competitive with Amazon, which makes me feel even better about shopping local.

And as they say, “It’s always a kitchen party, and everyone’s invited!”

The Life Aquatic

IMG_8847Remember that hilarious rap parody from Saturday Night Live, I’m on a Boat? It’s a classic, and a tongue-in-cheek reminder of how boats makes us want to brag. We can’t contain our camera phones. So much so, that #imonaboat is the standard hashtag when on the water.

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Salty!

I’m not above the humble brag, but when recently boating on a Virginia lake, I didn’t think about how lucky I was, or how my Sunday was so much better than everyone else’s (which it was, obviously). It was bigger than that. I had relaxed. The stress of my job melted away and the wind in my hair made me close my eyes and get philosophical about life. I need a boat.

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Waterfront property – and a lovely one at that!

I’m not alone – our friend John considers time with his boat almost a religion. You can clear your head, get some perspective. People who have boats swear by them, and those who don’t look for ways to get invited onto them.

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Gretchen and Robert

My husband and I have taken to renting pontoons and inviting friends out for an afternoon on the water. Swimming and tanning and an ongoing picnic with reggae, the Grateful Dead and the Avett Brothers playing in the background.

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My husband’s cost benefit analysis suggests that with our lifestyle (not living on the water, travel and a busy schedule) we’re best suited to keep renting boats, as opposed to owning. But that can be translated to, the solution is purchasing beach front property. No?

RVA Fashion Week welcomes you to the funhouse

Richmond’s Fashion Week has just begun, and it’s already next level. Last night at Vagabond, they kicked off the week with a Funhouse-themed party, trippy and circus-like, but 100% glam. I was surrounded by models who towered over me, their bodies studded with gems and glittering under dramatic lights.

This week is not to be missed. Local designers, exclusive boutique opportunities and endless inspiration abound. Check their website HERE for a list of events, and enjoy a week less ordinary.

With the beauties of BOMBSHELL

RVA Doubles Down on the Ultimate Self-Care: Equine Therapy

Self care is more than a trending hashtag. In fact, it may not be a trend at all. Recently Barnes and Noble said that for the first time, January’s self-help books for mental health outpaced books about diet and exercise. And interest has been quietly building for years. As younger generations slowly erode the stigmatization around mental heath, we’re more comfortable addressing it, and tackling it head on.

Why is equine therapy the ultimate in self-care? While a mani-pedi gives us confidence, equine therapy forces us to go deeper. It helps to understand the therapeutic value of horses. They are herd and prey animals, and a major part of their survival is their intuition. They watch one another and communicate quietly on an emotional level. If one horse is frightened, they all become frightened.

Horses serve as our mirror. If we’re angry, even if it’s not on the surface, horses can sense this and pull back as you approach. If you’re sullen, they will pick up on this and have the ability to comfort you. Horses are majestic animals, and can pull the feelings right out of us. Caring for them is a lesson in our own self care.

Life coach Florencia Fuensalida and Kristin Fitzgerald, an Experiential Equine Practitioner, are holding a much-needed equine therapy session on April 6th. People from Central Virginia and beyond are invited get outside and kick off the spring season with this event. Whether you’re suffering from anxiety, recovering from trauma or simply want to shake off the winter blues, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t tried this sooner. No experience with horses is necessary, since you won’t be riding with them but bonding with them. To register, please see details below. Happy trails!

Living that Estate Life

Though only 20 miles from downtown Richmond, Dover Hall feels worlds away. The Tudor-style mansion even transports you to a different time.  The rolling hills and hedges resemble an estate in the English countryside, where at any moment, Richard III could roll up in his carriage.

Dover Hall contains over 8 million dollars in art and antiques. Since it was built as a home, there are too many entrances and exits for insurance companies to even consider covering it as a museum. The taxidermy is unbelievable, the chandeliers range from elk horns to glittering crystal, and the sun room overlooking the yard is the perfect setting for a love scene in a Jane Austen novel.

One would never believe that the house was built in 1996. Designed from scratch, the builders avoided the cheap pitfalls of drywall and wall-to-wall carpeting. Instead, Dover Hall features exposed stone, wood beams and Gothic fabric-covered walls. It’s filled with beautiful things, but isn’t cluttered. It’s decorated with a range of treasures, from an authentic Native American teepee to Victorian antiques, but the house still feels cohesive.

Luckily, Dover Hall is no longer a private home, and serves as a bed and breakfast. A romantic weekend getaway would be unforgettable. One can even rent the place (or certain areas) for events such as weddings, charities and parties. With innovative cuisine and wine curated by the chefs, and lush furnishings acquired from around the world, Dover Hall is a crown jewel in Richmond, and a must-visit for les bon vivants!

 

Empathy for the poor little rich girl

Bearing resemblance to a young Adam Scott

Sometimes those who appear to be les bon vivants are anything but. Brenda Diana Duff Frazier was coined a “poor little rich girl” by the press, which is more of a judgement than a label. To be fair to the haters, she rose to prominence in the 1930s, when people were still reeling from the stock market crash of 1929. Her family was unaffected by the unfortunate event, and her debutante ball in 1938 had an attendance of 2,000. That party alone landed her on the cover of Life magazine.

Usually the cover of this magazine is graced by scientists, politicians, artists. She landed the cover just for being a “celebutante.” If this harkens back to criticism of the Kardashians, who were famous for nothing, Brenda Frazier was the O.G. But unlike the Kardashians, she wasn’t a social climber who calculated her moves with the intent of “being seen.” She was thrust in the spotlight by her parents, and partially by society, desperate for the escapism of glamour during their own hard times.

While studying in Munich with her grandmother, Frazier begged her parents to allow her to finish her studies. But her parents were two alcoholics embroiled in a self-serving custody battle. Though they’d already subjected her to an unstable childhood rife with neglect, they dragged her back to the U.S. and ended her formal education when she was just 15.

Though her debutante ball was covered by the press as a glamorous event, she was suffering from the flu at the time, had swollen feet and collapsed from exhaustion in the wee hours of the morning.

She was once booed off a Broadway stage, when being presented with other artists. But rather than offense, she conceded that her detractors were right to do so. She understood was famous for nothing.

Not surprisingly, she suffered from anorexia and bulimia in order to keep up with her “Glamour Girl” status in the press. Years of holding her neck a certain way (so not to mess up her hair) caused neck problems. Her love life wasn’t a fairy tale either, with multiple divorces. Later in life, she became reclusive and addicted to pills. Diane Arbus captured the below photo of her. Her faced powdered with the signature “white face” look (pale face, red lips, coiffed hair) she was famous for. She was emaciated in bed and smoking a cigarette.

Credit: Diane Arbus

It used to be that everyone wanted the American Dream. The focus was on upward mobility through hard work. When that wasn’t enough, everyone wanted to be rich. Not content with that, now it seems everyone is clawing for fame. Perhaps the story of Brenda Diana Duff Frazier is a sobering reminder of the darkness that can lurk behind a glittering celebrity.

Seasonal Mood Reboot

When Christmas ends, it’s like emerging from a haze. We’re snapped into the harsh reality of winter; something that had been slowly closing in while we were distracted by eggnog and tinsel.

“Only three months,” I repeat to myself every January. It’s a countdown to April’s big thaw. Winter is not something I missed when living in Los Angeles. But rather than survival mode, I’m attempting to embrace the “I love all four seasons” mantra of obvious psychopaths. Below are 10 things you can do to better enjoy life on such a winter’s day.

1: Little Miss Sunshine
The days are shorter, and we’re missing out on hours of nature’s mood enhancer: the sun. It also provides Vitamin D, reduces blood pressure, and aligns your circadian rhythm. If it’s too blustery to be outside, park your car in full sun, dip out of the office during your lunch break and bake in the car. It warms you to the bone. Close your eyes and play classic 60s surf music, like The Ventures. You’re set after just a few minutes.

2. Fortify
If you can’t soak up the rays, be sure to take Vitamin D supplements. I do super-concentrated sublingual drops – much easier and stronger than pills.

3. Body Hair Don’t Care
Revel in the fact that you needn’t shave on the regular, or deal with a pedicure – not that you’re ever obligated to do these things. In fact, current trends are having us reevaluate why women feel the need to shave so much in the first place. Get cozy in chunky sweaters. Ditch the razor and wear tights. Black tights are a basic but invest in more interesting neutrals, such as heather grey and burgundy. You’ll wear them more than you think.

4. KTHXBAI
Even if you weren’t being lashed with subzero temperatures, many need to detox from family and holiday stress alone. But don’t jump on a plane first thing January. Give yourself time to unpack suitcases, bond with your pets and get some laundry done. Plus, waiting a bit gives you something to look forward to, and time to find vacation steals. Go somewhere warm, but prepare to lose a few friends. Your Instagram stories and post-vacation tan will be the envy of all, even if that wasn’t your intention. And side note: Never let that be your intention.

The annual Women’s March? Great exercise!

5. “Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture” – Outkast
There’s always that late-winter panic about spring being around the corner, instilling fear that once we shed our coats, hideous winter secrets will come jiggling out. Why not hide another secret? That beneath our layers lurks a mean, lean machine. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone that hits depression head-on. Make the decision to get moving, and soon your body will crave these endorphins. I switch it up with yoga, Just Dance on the Wii, ballet, and a treadmill. When you step into a sundress at the end of April, you will slay.

bundling up for the crisp air

6. Face Your Bully
They say the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to it. Don’t hide from the snow. Go on a ski trip for the weekend. Build a snowman with your children. Snowball fights and shoveling are great exercise.

7. The Big Purge
Imagine how much better spring cleaning will be, if you have less junk around the house. Take Christmas gifts you don’t want, and place them in a re-gift box, especially if you know someone who would love them. Rid your closets of clothes you don’t wear, or that don’t fit, and donate them to charity. Avoid the Salvation Army, as their ideology doesn’t support equal rights. Donate to a thrift store that stands for a good cause, such as animal shelters or children’s hospitals. Removing the dead weight will make your home feel airy and organized. Get inspired to reorganize your life by watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

I practiced henna on myself in the winter, to prep for warm weather.

8. Self Care: It’s not a trend
Winter is a time of slowing down. Before wedding season, and before those BBQ invites star rolling in, make good use of your downtime. Do deep-conditioning treatments for your hair, indulge in face masks and a paraffin wax treatment for your dry winter hands. Crack open a cookbook and find more delicious or interesting ways to eat your veggies. I’ll never steam cauliflower again, after I discovered how caramelized roasted cauliflower tastes. Mend your clothes, polish your leather shoes. During commercial breaks, do sets of push-ups and sit-ups to build strength. Stretch to build flexibility. Most importantly, moisturize!

Park City, Utah

9. Blink and it’s gone
Take advantage of the things that you can only do in the winter. Sled down the scariest hill in town. Ice skate in an outdoor rink under the stars, and hold hands with your date. Load up on my favorite winter fruit, the pomegranate! They’re tart, full of antioxidants and will disappear as soon as warm weather returns. For the best way to open a pomegranate, check out this video.

my angels, Olivia and the butler

10. Give In
Enjoy the slowdown after the holidays. The nights are longer, so light a scented candle, sink under a weighted blanket and sip some hot chai. Marathon a great show, and read anything by David Sedaris or Joan Didion. And I cannot say it enough – moisturize!