"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have". - Frederick Koenig

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Photohunt 263: Square, Aruban Excursion

It's been a while since my last PhotoHunt, but when I saw the subject for this week my mind went straight to one place -- Aruba.  This photo, taken from inside of the Bushiribana ruins, is one of my favorite shots from a trek up the northern coast on our first visit to the island.  Obviously evident is the square 'window' overlooking the beach and the vivid blue of the Atlantic Ocean.  Less obvious is the journey it took to get to that spot.

Bushiribana at a distance.

Rock stacks along the beach at Bushiribana.

The fierce waves against the rocky northeastern coast of Aruba.

Aruba is a very interesting island to me.  So sparse is it on the northeastern shore that our map was blank except for a few landmarks and, what I suppose were considered frequently traveled routes that had finally given way to a path.  You may or may not see another tourist playing adventurer for the day -- most of the time it's just you and your travel companion(s) all alone your little rental jeep battling together to cross a vast expanse of dry sand and rock.  Just about as soon as you think you can't take another view of dusty terrain, or you get tired of driving endless stretches of sand and rock, you catch a glimpse over the horizon and realize that there is the most serenely beautiful beach just across they way that keeps you going.  I suppose in that way, the island can be a lot like life.

The climate is so arid and the vegetation so sparse that everything is a dusty sandy beige contrasted directly by the most gorgeous blue everywhere you look along the coast.  Driving along the rocky dirt "roads", you almost feel a bit depressed by the endlessly dry, sparse terrain, and very unsure of exactly where it is that your path will lead (or even if you're on a path at all).  After Jay decided to drive us through a live military firing range (imagine how thrilled I was), we actually ended up getting our rental jeep quite stuck at a certain point in a particularly severe part of the "road"  (which might be more aptly deemed a chasm).  I was almost in a full-out panic thinking that we were going to be stuck there forever - just us and the occasional goat that wandered by.

Fortunately for us, we did not get eternally lost, shot, or end up getting stuck long enough to spend the night with the goats.  We were wonderfully able to trek ahead through the disparaging landscape back towards our little slice of resort heaven to indulge for a bit in some of the gloriously clear water, pink sands, and fruity drinks.  I think because of the earlier events of the day, we were actually able to enjoy the comforts and ease of our surroundings that much more.  We didn't make that same explorative trek on our subsequent visit (once was enough for me), though I would no doubt recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet struck out on their own to explore.  Had we not ever felt lost on our map, gotten stuck in the rough and rocky terrain or taken the risk of crossing the firing range, we never would have seen the beauty of the island in it's entirety to really know where we were, or appreciated the comfort and luxury of the resort quite as much as we did for the rest of our visit - a lesson I, for one, would be wise to remember more often.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Monument Avenue Easter on Parade 2011

Wow, have I ever slacked off on the writing this week!  I feel like I've been alternating between feeling swamped, exhausted, and lazy.  Who knows which, if any of those, are actually valid excuses for not posting anything.  I suppose after all of the activity last weekend though, even the Easter bunny needs a break.  Whatever the case may be, I'm finally posting some pictures from Easter last weekend that were intended to go up well before now.  Though almost a full week late, here are some of my favorite shots from the Monument Avenue Easter on Parade 2011.

Our 'Family Portrait'.

Olivia in her 'Easter Egg' cooling vest - it was 87 degrees!

'Cousin' Berkley in his Easter bandana.

Everyone has to have a festive Easter bonnet!  I wonder if they won the contest?

Olivia meeting the 'Helping Hands' dogs.

Festive dancers.

My Aunt Linda with her dog Berkley.

Me and Olivia taking a break in the shade.

Nicolas really likes corn dogs.

Another Easter bonnet.

Nicolas, me, and Jeff - this pic was too good to leave out.  ;)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Vogue Influencer Network Hookup Just For You

You've heard it first, seen it first, and gotten the lowdown first from the Vogue Influencer Network right here from me, and now it's your turn.  If you've wondered how you too could become a Vogue Influencer, here is your chance!  Just click here to take a questionnaire to see if you'll be picked to be the next to know about and share just-launched fashion and beauty collections, industry events, and exclusive product samples.  Good luck!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Drink of the Moment: Stoli Doli

Monument Avenue
One of the things I like most about living in Richmond VA is the Easter Parade that occurs every year on Monument Avenue.  A large stretch of the historic street is closed down, the median is filled with vendors and exhibits.  There are parties at all of the grand historic homes, and there is a parade of people going up and down both sides of the street in their Easter best.  It's all so traditionally southern with the massive houses, civil war monuments, and Sunday hats; and yet slightly hokey with the outrageously decorated dogs and Easter bonnet contests that it's absolutely amazing.  Everyone that lives nearby either has an Easter brunch party to attend, or is holding one themselves, and of course has a tasty spring beverage in hand.  My personal standby for the last decade has been 'The Stoli Doli'.

Before vodka came in the myriad of flavors that are readily available today, one was left to their own devices to mix things up a bit.  Even today with flavored vodkas on shelves everywhere, there is still something that makes it way more special and just seems a little better when done yourself.  In this case, not only are you getting your own 'personally crafted' vodka, but its super easy too.

Stoli Doli

1 750ml bottle Stolichnaya vodka         
1 whole Dole pineapple
Fruit punch or fruit juice (optional)

Cut and core your pineapple (into cubes if you're so inclined), and place it in a large jar or covered pitcher.  Pour the entire bottle of vodka over the pineapple, seal, and let it sit for at least 24 hours and up to 4 days.  Serve up with a splash of pineapple juice, or mix with fruit punch or your favorite fruit juice.

I usually cube my pineapple (to make it easy to use as garnish later) and mix with a fruit punch just because I like a pink drink on Easter, but this is absolutely amazing just by itself.  Keep in mind that the longer that pineapple soaks, the more infused the vodka will become so you can really make it to taste.  Just be careful with your consumption, as they do pack a bit of a punch.  We wouldn't want any kids to find you in the bushes instead of the the easter eggs they're looking for!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hump Day Giveaway!! Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy Sugar Scrub

I don't know about you, but I am already fed up with this week, and have been feeling stressed out for about the past month.  In an attempt to keep my outlook rosy, and not be a Debbie-Downer I've been seeking solace in the little things and have found myself again having a crush on my newest Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy Stress Relief Sugar Scrub.  You may remember that this lovely tub of scrub made my 'Favorite Five' January post for its moisturizing, exfoliating, fragrant goodness.  At that point I had tried the Lavender Vanilla and was moving on to the Vanilla Verbena.  Today I opened my new jar of Tranquil Mint (as the label says, for 'mental fatigue'), and truly loved the short shower break from the chaos outside.  I'm hoping next time to try the Eucalyptus Spearmint, but they were seriously backordered when I visited the store -- guess that means it's definitely one to try, huh?

While I'm waiting on the Eucalyptus Spearmint to come in though, I'm quite happy with my Tranquil Mint.  So happy that I thought about how I'd like to help reduce someone else's stress out there, and figured I would spread the love and do my very first giveaway!  If you leave a comment telling me what your biggest stressor is right now, and which scent you would use to combat it (you can view the available scents by clicking HERE), you're name will go into the running to receive a free Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy Body Scrub of your selected scent.  The giveaway is open until 12pm EST 4/22/11, so don't delay.  I will be contacting the winner on Friday 4/22.  Oh, and if you're not already a 'Follower' be sure to click the button at the right to keep up with any future giveaways!
Good luck!!


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Lady Has Arrived: The Audrey III Finale

As expected, this weekend's allergy issues left me huddling indoors afraid for my life after a brief round of patio potting and yard clean up.  Due to this near brush with death, my Audrey III finale pictures have only just now been uploaded and I'm almost feeling clear-headed enough to write in complete sentences (maybe).  If you've been following along, you'll remember the last pictures of Audrey III were from April 10th, which you can revisit here if you want to refresh your memory.  If this is all new to you, you're completely lost, and I seem like some crazy plant person then please click here to get caught up.  (This may not help explain away the crazy plant person part, but it will at least put things in chronological order).

Good!  Now that that's all straight I can go ahead and tell you that the Lady has certainly arrived!

It's been a beautiful few weeks watching her turn from being covered in nothing but green leaves to seeing almost nothing but small puffs of yellow.  Though I'm sure this is Audrey IIIs glorious final hurrah for 2011 blooms (then it's back to the man-eating plant cycle); I'm hoping that she will last through the weekend, but sadly not optimistic.  In the meantime though, there are three people on my front porch taking their own photos of our one-hit wonder to last them until next year (with far better camera equipment that my own), and she is certainly the star of the show for the next few seconds of your time if you'll have her.  

April 10

April 12

April 15

April 18

April 18

What a grand show you've put on this year Lady Banks, Bravo!

Friday, April 15, 2011

RVa Pollen Bomb

I always have such a love/hate relationship with the spring.  This week for instance, I have been relishing in the warmer, sunny weather we've been having, but all the while suffering immensely from the annual pollen bomb it brings with it.  Even after having my daily dose of Zyrtec and my nightly dose of Benadryl, by mid-day I find myself being overcome by an overwhelming allergy coma that leads me to demonstrate zombie-like behaviors with an attention span of gnat for the rest of the day and it seems to keep getting continually worse.  Richmond being the named the 'Asthma Capital of the Country' for the second year in a row and #8 in the country for the worst allergies probably doesn't help my situation very much.   I'm zoning out on files at work, finding myself staring at random things, and probably shouldn't be behind the wheel of a vehicle in good conscious.  Everything outside is yellow from window sills to sidewalks are covered with spring residue.  THIS is what our car looks like (can you see it under that lovely thick yellow film?),

and THIS is what the ground beside the car (and the sidewalk) look like.


Along with all of this nonsense, it's of course the time of year to pot herbs for the summer and get the back patio ready for Easter weekend and the brutal summer months ahead, which means I am, or course, going to drag myself outside in the middle of toxic fallout this weekend in order to surround myself with more flowering plants in pots.  Since I don't own a hazmat suit, don't be surprised if you don't hear from me for at least a week afterwards.

I suppose it wouldn't be fair to leave you with only the downside of this picture.  I mean, there is a reason that all of this pollen is flying around right now, and as much as I grumble about all of its unpleasant excrement, I can't help but enjoy it when nature does all of its peacocking.  Here are some shots I got while taking Olivia on a walk.

Tomorrow, I'll be sure to share what will probably be my last Audrey III update for the season!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Esprit D'Oscar, A Spirited New Take On A Classic

Well, it appears that the most recent installation of the Sephora Hot Now list of Vogue Influencer Network reviews has come to a close without us being given the opportunity to try out and learn more about the Tokidoki Soda Shop Tin or the new Diorshow 360 mascara.  So sad.  No need to fret though, as Vogue has provided us with a preview of a brand spanking new fragrance, Esprit d'Oscar, and a behind the scenes look at the feedback received on it at their Fall 2011 Fashion Week show.  Let's have a look at it now, shall we?

Please push the 'Play' button below to begin viewing. 

If that didn't quite sum it up for you, then you're in luck because I received a lovely sample bottle of this gorgeous scent for my own little non-supermodel self to try from the Vogue Influencers Network.

As a preface, I should let you know that once upon a lifetime in a faraway town, I enjoyed a bottle of the original Oscar fragrance and l-o-v-e-d it. If memory serves, it was actually my first 'real' bottle of 'eau de anything' so I was probably impressed as much by the fact that it did not come from the drugstore aisle with the Debbie Gibson 'Electric Youth' spray, as I was with the actual scent. I do, however, remember how it was not overpowering or harsh, did not smell like gross Electric anything, and that it lingered with a glamourous scent reminding me subtly throughout the day that I smelled like a beautiful dream of a delicate, sophisticated, gorgeous female even though I was most definitely in the less than sophisticated ugly duckling category. It's really amazing what a scent can do for one's self image. It's also pretty amazing what a scent can do for one's memory.

When I spritzed on some of the new Eau de Parfum, the familiar base notes took me right back to remembering how it made me feel so long ago - elegant, sophisticated, and luxurious. Then I also noticed what was different about the scent - it now seemed a bit lighter and more modern, still feminine and elegant, but more delicately floral and less musky than its predecessor. Every note in the new fragrance seems perfectly balanced, so that there isn't an overwhelming spicy, floral, fruity or musky aspect, but instead a wonderfully modern hybrid of the combination that will not only compliment multiple facets of a one's personality, but will also travel nicely from morning to night and office to evening engagements (something that I did not begin to consider or even comprehend years ago while wearing the original scent to carry out my oh-so-sophisticated Friday night 'mall stalking').

For me, it seems an almost timeless scent, and I certainly see it becoming a staple in my own fragrance wardrobe (hopefully with a body lotion to go with).  I never would have imagined that I would still relate to any version of a scent that I chose to wear nearly 20 years ago, but I suppose on some level we never lose that original spirit of self; we only build and improve upon it, and that is exactly what the new Esprit D'Oscar has successfully accomplished in my opinion.    You'll have to give it a sniff the next time you're strolling through the fragrance department, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

PhotoHunt 260: Trees, and 'Audrey III', Part 2

For this week's PhotoHunt, I couldn't help but share a picture of some trees from the National Cherry Blossom Festival that happens every spring in Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin.  There are so many gorgeous blooms that it really is a spectacular site, and I highly recommend getting to at least once in your life if you can.  With the beautiful Jefferson Memorial across the water, and the trees dropping petals like spring snow in the breeze, it's at once ethereal, calming, and exciting - almost like stepping into another world.

Though not a tree (and not quite as breathtaking), I also thought I 'd take this opportunity to share with you the progress that our Lady Banks Rose,  'Audrey III' has made over the past few days.  If you're a little lost on this background story, check out my previous post here.

April 5

April 7

April 8

Looks like some birds have decided she makes for a perfect home.

Looking at all of those blooms just makes me smile.  I know it's a bit cheesy, but hopefully it will add a little smile to your day as well.  :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Abracadabra! Peter Thomas Roth Laser-Free Resurfacer With Dragon's Blood

So really what is there to say about a product that has 'Dragon's Blood' as one of the primary active ingredients?  I mean, it's almost kind of a put-off to try using something on your body once you hear that it has any kind of blood in it, and the 'laser-free' description used to reassure you that this is a gentle serum is all but lost by conjuring up all sorts of images of fire-breathing dragons.  That brings us, of course, to the automatic leap of questioning the validity of  the product's claims, as you pause to realize that not only is there blood, but it's the blood of a mythical creature.  Right off the bat, we are faced with a product that seemingly calls to mind images of all sorts of unpleasantness - bloody dragons breathing fire on your skin to achieve imaginary results.  Right, so all I could do was assume that Peter Thomas Roth must have known a dragon-fighting wizard who shared a potion with him that was going to improve my skin - why ever else would wizards spend all of that time conjuring, if not to allow one access to the fountain of youth?!?

In my opinion, it's really difficult to provide true feedback on what a product does or doesn't do unless you have been using it for a month or more (or you have a horrible unfortunate reaction to it).  Because I didn't have the luxury of a lengthy turnaround time to provide you with my results, when I received my full-sized sample of the Laser-Free Resurfacer, compliments of Sephora through the Vogue Influencers Network, I decided that I would not only try this on my face, but would also do a trial on my hands so I would be able to examine my skin up close for anything that might look like a change.

The first thing you notice about this product is it's deep shade of red.  I'm told by the description, that this is from the Dragon's Blood, which in this case is actually a red resin that is derived from certain plants and not the life force behind the imaginary, scaled, fire-breathing beast that we have all grown so fond.

Once the serum is massaged in, the red color seems to blend right in to the skin, and if anything just adds the slightest hint of a sheer healthy tone.  There is also a mild fruit-like aroma to the serum that may or may not bother some, which seems to fade after a minute or two.  Aside from that, application was business as usual - no stinging, burning, or otherwise fantastical wizard-like abracadabra.

After using this for a little over two weeks, I certainly haven't turned into a toad, but I unfortunately don't have any results to share with you that I could capture on camera.  With the naked eye, I can tell you that  I am able to see a slight difference between my two hands, which is a little surprising as I had zero expectations given the short turnaround for usage.  The hand that I have been treating with the Resurfacer does appear to be more even-toned, holding moisture a LOT better, and seems less crepey.  I've also noticed that my pores do appear visibly smaller on the treated hand as well.

All in all, I would have to say to say to all of the wizards out there still trying to concoct a 'fountain of youth' potion that they are still in business when it boils down to finding something to provide the instant gratification for a youthful appearance (short of surgical procedures or a miracle).  If you're looking for something that does seem to provide subtle improvement over a period of time, and still sounds pretty cool too, then this little bottle of magic might just be for you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers, Right?

So a lot has happened over the past few days.  On the itemized list of 'blog-friendly' items: VCU lost to Butler Saturday night, then our television finally called it quits right after the game (with a house full of people no less), and the check engine light on the car is now glaring at us demanding some long needed attention (as in, it hasn't been serviced in several years and now I'm a little nervous about something going terribly wrong just when I don't need it to).  Not that any of these things are really life-changing issues, but it just seems that when it rains, it pours.  Oh, and it has literally been pouring off and on outside, which is not helping the state of the leaky ceiling/wall in the guest room.  Top it all off with this being the busy season for me at work (meaning that it penetrates every portion of my being in an excruciatingly not so good way), and my favorite handbag breaking last night, and you may be able to see why it's kind of been a challenge to see things in an positive, inspiring way over the past few days.  In all honesty, it's been a challenge just to get a good night's sleep.  Then yesterday, I noticed that it had finally started to happen ...

 ... our Lady Banks Rose has started to bloom!!!

When we moved into our house several years ago in late August, we had no idea what the massive vine thing climbing up the column on the the front of our house was, except that it was definitely a high maintenance life form.  There was nothing but plain, green, leafy chaos - no fragrance, no real visual appeal, and an extreme tendency for rapid growth.  Even with an almost weekly grooming this thing started taking over our entire porch with it's tentacle-like vines reaching above the roof of the porch as well as over to our front door; smacking against the window panes as if it were demanding entrance.  When the sun caught it just right, it would cast shadows into the foyer of our house that looked like this swaggering beast just outside the door reaching with it's multiple arms inside to swallow us whole.  Maybe it was because of seeing this one day that it put my in mind of the plant from the 'Little Shop of Horrors', Audrey II -- you know, the one that grows insanely out-of-control and turns into a monster that starts eating people.

 Well, whether it was due to all of the grooming that this thing needed (with no particular payoff that we knew of at that point), or maybe it was the fact that it really did look like a monster plant, I decided to christen her 'The Audrey III'.

Audrey III kept on growing and becoming such a nuisance that after a few months of this, we actually discussed cutting her down.  I mean, she was really a lot of work for what appeared to be nothing, and she was covering a nice column that I'm certain could use some paint.  At the time, with fall coming we decided to put off a final decision until the spring when the regular yard work would occur, and just let it drop for a few months as 'Audrey III' seemed to go into a winter hibernation.

When the following spring arrived, we were again reminded of what a pain 'our little Audrey III' was going to be.  She  had started to exhibit new light green growth, and we weren't sure we were ready for the upkeep and hassle to follow.  Fortunately for us, between the spring rain and having to focus on other life issues, we let Audrey III run her natural course without any stress or attempt to change things on our part, and whoa what an outcome!  This seemingly pointless exercise in what appeared to be futile upkeep turned into one of the most beautiful displays of spring blooms that I have ever seen.  She only blooms once a year, and is a lot of work to keep from being unruly the rest of the time, but wow what a show she puts on for a week or two every spring.

As you can tell, even though she's a mess most of the year, she's our mess, and once a year she really makes all of the fuss totally worth it (though I cannot say the same of our Crepe Myrtle trees - totally not worth it).  We'd never dream of getting rid of her - even if we do still lose patience and trim her pretty short sometimes.  With everything else that has happened the past couple of days, her timing seems especially nice.  Her new blooms have reminded me that even though it may seem like you're in the middle of a pile of poo spring shower that seems unmanageable under the circumstances, and life seems like a pointless exercise in futility; most types of organic fertilizer precipitation are eventually followed by the wonderful blooms that make stepping in it going through it all worthwhile - even if it's just for a short time.

I can't wait to see her in full bloom in the next few days, and look forward to sharing the best part of the whole Audrey III experience with you - the pictures!