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 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!

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!

 

Ladies Who Launch

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I know in the past “ladies who lunch” was positioned as the ideal for women. Imagine Jackie O. and her sister Lee lunching at La Cote Basque in Manhattan, or Babe Paley at The Colony.

But as more women attended college and career opportunities were forged, some women now refrain from careers out of choice, rather than obligation. Even Jackie O. became a passionate book editor. Tom Ford famously quoted “A gentleman today has to work. People who do not work are so boring and are usually bored. You have to be passionate, you have to be engaged and you have to be contributing to the world.”  Though it resonates, I should mention that some women who don’t join the workforce work even harder as stay-at-home mothers.

Now the ideal encompasses both, where “ladies who lunch” are easily juxtaposed with “ladies who launch.” From studio CEOs to jewelry designers, they’re lunching too. They just need to be back in an hour.

I’m excited to be surrounded by ladies who launch, at the FabWomen conference Come Find Your Fab. Friday, September 28th from 8:30a-4p. “It’s not a networking event but a community,” says founder Shanna Kabatznick. You can expect a variety of speakers and workshops, a cross-generational panel, lunch, and even a one woman show, called Generational Confusion. If you noticed a theme this year, it’s because there is, and it’s an important one.

Ever written off millennial as entitled and lazy? It’s a platitude, and platitudes are the worst. You’ve heard them. “The French are snobs,” say those who have never been to France. “LA is so shallow,” says someone who hasn’t lived there to meet the creatives, the dreamers, the survivors. Millennials fall prey to some of the worst platitudes, with many not acknowledging their major contributions, both technologically (social media, smartphones) and cultural. They’ve greatly contributed to the movement for equal pay, women’s rights, the LGBTQ community and more. To be clear, I’m not a Millennial. That’s just how much I hate platitudes.

The conference will explore these topics, and reinforce the fact that women should be embracing their differences and learning from one another. Not judging and bashing, based on the size of their pores. I hope to see you there!

 

Top 10 Things to Do in Berlin

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Me, an unabashed tourist

 

Berlin is not your Busch Gardens Germany. Forget Oktoberfest with its lederhosen and buxom beer maids. Punk rock meets Eastern Bloc: that’s Berlin.

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What wasn’t bombed is beautiful

#1 Bomb accommodations – pun intended

Half of Berlin features centuries-old architecture, and the other half, blown up in 1945 by heavy bombing in World War II, had been replaced by solemn communist buildings reminiscent of East Germany. Try to stay in a place with some history. We stayed in a restored palace, with grand doors the height of the ceiling and frescoes adorning the walls.

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#2 Nazi History

As much as Berlin’s art and fashion scene has taken center stage in recent years, there is no denying that it was the epicenter of Nazi Germany, where the movement started. It’s a great place to see infamous history in 3D, such as visiting Hitler’s bunker.

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Checkpoint Charlie and a piece of the Berlin Wall

3. The Berlin Wall

Even after Germany was defeated in World War II, it was split between East and West, with the Berlin Wall going up to divide the country. Tales of intrigue have surrounded us for decades, regarding the Stasi and German spies. In the 80s we watched in delight as the Berlin Wall fell, to unite a country. Make a point to visit the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.

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#4 A must-dine destination

Dine where Beethoven and Napoleon dined, sit on wood-carved thrones and most importantly, enjoy delicious food. Zur Letzen Istanz serves a cuisine that’s hearty and traditional, yet somehow cutting edge. Everything was delectable.

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#5 Brandenburg Gate

Take in the views at Brandenburg Gate. Built in the 1700s, it’s an architectural marvel and the site endless history. Built on orders from the Prussian King Frederick, it used to be the entrance to Berlin when it was a small, walled city. Both Napoleon and the Nazis stormed the gates, among many others.

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#6 Alexanderplasse

Don’t miss Alexanderplasse, the large, open-air gathering place that goes beyond the local stores. There are outdoor beer gardens serving a wide variety of ales and booth vendors offering exquisite samples of homemade cheese and sausages. There are rides for adults and children alike, and are sturdier and more beautifully lit than the pack-and-go carnival variety. The strong immigrant population is a boon to the area, and highly evident at their booths, where they sell their native wares, from spice mixes to handmade leather shoes.

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#7 Modern Berlin

Though I must admit not having much time to do this, be sure to check out the galleries and boutiques of Berlin’s burgeoning art and fashion scene. This article will help steer you in the right direction.

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#8 SPEED!

I’d say this no matter WHAT city in Germany you’re in, but my advice would be to GET OUT. Rent a car and drive on the Autobahn to live out your childhood fantasy.

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Rochsburg Castle

#9 Castles, because Germany

And while we’re on the subject of leaving Berlin, I must mention that Saxony is nearby. Take a day trip to the countryside, and better yet, castles! What’s a trip to Germany without taking in a good castle? We went to Rochsburg, and it did not disappoint.

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#10 Exploring the outskirts

And don’t underestimate the amazing countryside outside Berlin where you can visit tiny country hamlets. The ancient buildings, the curious neighbors that all know one another, and the wonderful regional dishes they offer. And I’m not above a clown-shaped bologna!

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How could we not? It was delicious.

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Don’t take for grated the variety of beer

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Shout out to Gerd & Gabriela – our German friends & partners in crime!

The Night Princess Di’s Chef Cooked Me Dinner

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Now when I hear people say they’ve had a meal fit for a king, I know that I win because I did, literally. Chef Darren McGrady has cooked for Queen Elizabeth and the Royal family. But most notably, he became the personal chef for Princess Di, and her sons William and Harry.

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He was in her employ on the night she died, and decided to move to America after the tragedy. In the states, he’s been a star chef, writing cookbooks and making appearances. Luckily he came to Richmond this week. I was honored to be a part of an intimate dinner for 20. Before we ate, he charmed us with a food demonstration peppered with royal gossip and funny anecdotes. The talented Catt Levesque snapped these photos while we indulged, and is credited with every amazing photo here.

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In the elegant and newly-renovated Mise En Place, he served recipes from his new cookbook The Royal Chef at Home.  We enjoyed a tangy kale quinoa salad with blueberries. There were Stilton and preserved fig canapes, served with fresh grapes. Fiery shrimp and grits, oozing with cheese. To top it off, a buttery bread pudding that’s so exquisite, my words would do it no justice.

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We ate like royalty, and he made us feel like royalty. This night was one for the books.

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I’m Dreaming of a Vintage Christmas

One of the best things about Christmas is how old-fashioned it is. We indulge in pastimes that we’d never do outside the holiday season. We listen to Bing Crosby, make gingerbread houses, trim a tree and drink eggnog.

The Vintage Home Market celebrates all the things you can do to warm up your home when it’s cold outside. From glittering garland to vintage sleighs, this place will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

BBQ tacos – heaven

Owners Heidi and Jason McNamara threw an amazing VIP opening night, where shoppers could get first dibs. There was live music, kickin’ BBQ, cold beer and a photo booth so decked out, it makes the step and repeat obsolete.

Owners Jason and Heidi McNamara – pros at making magic

Some standout vendors include:

The Naked Goat Soap Company – soaps, lotions, candles and more. The best part? It’s made locally by Heather, who lives on a Hanover farm with her goats and happy family. The Gather-scented candle smells of balsam pine, and is everything.

Burlap, Booths and Southern Roots

The name alone, am I right? It’s a one year-old store run by a feisty blonde and filled with the kind of boots that become heirlooms. They also sell jewelry, farm tables and boho-chic threads.

Then there’s Chocolate Moonshine Company.  Their assortment of chocolates stirs the imagination, with cherry bourbon, dark chocolate pistachio and rum. Free samples and some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had.

There’s still one day left.  Catch the event this Saturday, November 11th from 9a-5p at Richmond Raceway.  Happy Holidays!

Seven Ways To Make Your Home More Inviting

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the welcome wagon

Don’t you love how rearranging a room feels like a fresh start? Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but some just don’t know where to begin. Here are 7 quick things you can do to bring back that feeling, without all the heavy lifting.

  1. Always Have a Spare Toothbrush

Whether it’s a friend who’s had too many Bellinis or a cousin for the weekend, be prepared for overnight guests. Always have a spare toothbrush on hand, leave freshly laundered towels in their room and if you know they’re coming ahead of time, fresh flowers takes it up a notch.

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Our L.A. cabin always looked best during Christmas

2) Firestarter

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t let it sit dormant. Safety first: call in a pro chimney sweep. They’ll make sure the structure is sound, fix cracks and clean out leaves. Once you build your first fire, there’s no going back. The campfire smell, the sound of wood crackling, the mood. Another perk? You can cut down on your heating bill. Even better are the endless posts on Craig’s List, with people practically begging you to take firewood off their hands. Once the fire dies, remember that wood fire ashes are one of the best fertilizers on earth. And speaking of fire…

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Our backyard bonfire featured hot dogs roasted on sticks, s’mores and a blanket on every chair.

3) S’mores. Always.

Keep a s’mores kit on hand, in the case of an  impromptu gathering. Marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars have a long shelf life, not to mention being serious crowd pleasers.

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Don’t toss your mums – place a dying plant in the ground and it will bloom the following autumn. Give it a head start by surrounding it with compost, then mulch for winter.

4) The Eye Has to Travel

Ever wonder why so many homes have bushes flanking their porch? It’s not a coincidence. As Diana Vreeland once said, “The eye has to travel.” The sight of a house jutting from the grass is too stark. You need to soften the lines, and cover up the inevitable dirt and mud on the bottom edges of  your home. Bushes do this, gradually taking the eye from nature to architecture. But don’t stop there. Tasteful greenery adds curb appeal, and will fill you with a sense of pride as you pull up. Flank either side of your front door with an urn, and plant something beautiful. Make sure the plants are symmetrical. If you have a covered porch, hang ferns and burro tails.

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a dimmer with dinner

5) Be Enlightened

Unless it’s recessed lighting, overhead lighting tends to be harsh. I’m talking dressing room harsh.  On low ceilings, LED lights can be too bright, casting an industrial grey glow. Switch to lamp lighting. Use a mix of tabletop and standing lamps to distribute the light evenly. You can customize and enjoy the golden glow.

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my limelight hydrangeas

6) Cutting Garden

Flowers may make a house a home, but a cutting garden makes it an estate. Buying fresh flowers adds up, so decimate the costs with some plantings. I simply step into the yard with scissors and snip what’s blooming. I have roses in full sun, hydrangeas in partial shade and a range of unusual flora in between. From spring to fall, I almost never buy store-bought flowers.

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debutante camelias in vintage bud vases

7) Bring the Outside In

Plants soften corners and bring life into a space. Not only with beauty but with its oxygen boost. Place tall plants in empty corners, put leafy, interesting varieties on dressers and tabletops, and forego standard terra cotta. Place them in interesting pottery that compliments your design scheme.

Once you start making small tweaks, you may find yourself taking on ambitious home improvement projects. Any proud homeowner knows that a house is never “done,” but a constantly evolving quest for beauty, function and comfort. Enjoy the quest!

vintage Christmas lights are kind of my thing