Friday, November 28, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is coming - it is only 4 Saturdays away. Insert panic here.

I am at a complete loss as to what to buy for any member of my family.  We have anything and everything we need and I am just not on board with buying more trinkets to add to he clutter we all already have. Right? Right.

I also don't feel like spending an exorbitant amount of money (I never do) on half hearted gifts.

But I despise giving gift cards for Christmas.  I usually pride myself if being creative with my gift giving, even if it is a bottle of soap or a bag of cookies

But. Never have I been faced with a Christmas where I am absolutely stumped on what to buy nor just one or two people, but everyone

So I am dipping into some of my go-to gift ideas for things that everyone loves.

Gift cards -I know I said I don't like giving gift cards, but sometimes people genuinely prefer them and they are easy to purchase.

Photo gifts - I don't have the time to make any albums for Christmas gifts, but I can whip up a mouse pad, notebook or a large print to frame in under 10 minutes.  Shutterfly is my favorite photo site for digital albums and other photo gifts. I try other photo sites when I can get something for free (this girl loves a good freebie) but Shutterfly is the site I use for my own albums. Here is the mouse pad I gave Ruby for her birthday last year. 

For the ladies - prettyearrings.- No woman has ever disliked a pretty pair ofearrings. They don't have to be anything overly extravagant or expensive to be a great gift.

For the gents - since we live in. California and it is currently 75 degrees in December, BBQing is something we can do all year long.  Every great from master needs a couple essentials and this Cuisinart set fits the bill. (BBQ set)

For the kids - I don't have children of my own, but I do have 5 nephews and one niece. They are getting harder to shop for as they get older (read: more opinionated) so last year I had a gift theme for the older boys: College gear.Sweatshirt, notebooks, hats, you name it, if they have a college they are interested in, buy all the merchandise you can find.  Encouraging a college education and crossing gifts off your list is a win-win.

For the babies - it is a good thing I didn't discover Bub and Bug Studio while my niece was little.  I easily would have gone broke. Kelly makes the most adorable bows for little girls and she has the sweetest twin babies I have ever seen (support small businesses and buy something from her!) For the little boys in your life? Baby Bow Ties. It is never too late to instill gentlemanly behavior!

So now I am back to shopping online and drinking my cocoa. Bring on the cozy blankets!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Wish List No. 20

It is no secret that I am ready to be done (stick a fork in it, done) with college. I am in the home stretch of my very belated college education and I am on track to graduate in 2017.  That sounds so far away, but considering the 5 1/2 years I have already put in, this is the fourth quarter, baby!

Working full-time and getting an education is no joke. I am, however, so grateful for the CBU OPS program that is allowing me to get my degree online.

Plain and simple: don't be a dummy and skip college.  I had "good" reasons for not going straight out of high school, but in hindsight I was just young and stubborn with no real idea how the world would work ten years later.

I am already planning what I will do once I graduate and how I will use the "extra" hours I get back in my day.  There will be new recipes to try, scrapbooks to catch up on (woah there, half-finished 2008 book) and reading.  So much reading!!!

Now, part of me hopes I can take an extended, very needed, and lovely break from a ton of reading but the other part of me can't wait to read for FUN again.

The last book I read that wasn't school related was the Twilight series in 2009 - coincidentally, I finished Breaking Dawnthe last week of my first class at RCC. I was 25, had just started a new job/career, and was embarking on a wild and crazy journey in education.

Here is what I am dying to read (in no particular order):

Blog Life - The girls at A Beautiful Mess are so inspiring and encouraging. This e-course looks like it is chock-full of wonderful ideas, tips and most of all, FUN!

#GIRLBOSS- This sounds like such a fun read and an exciting tale of how to build an empire.

Homemakers: A Domestic Handbook for a New Generation- I discovered Brit Morin on a blog nearly 4 years ago (when her tech-inspired wedding was featured). She is creative and classy and pretty business savvy. -- bet you didn't know I was a closet rap artist.

Crazy Sexy Diet- Kris Carr has an amazing story of survival and such a positive outlook on life. Maybe I could afford to learn a thing or two while enjoying her writing.

Your Beautiful Life - Karen is my newest blogger friend who lives in Australia and she has an e-book available for free when you sign up for her newsletter. She is a talented lady who decorates her home beautifully and I am excited to read the e-book. (YOU should go get a free copy for yourself while you're thinking about it).

Yes Please- I love me some laughs and, from what I hear, Amy Poehler's new book doesn't disappoint.

I don't want to jinx myself... but I am hoping I can complete my homework by Friday and then have all day Saturday to curl up and read at least one of these books. A book, some cocoa and left over pie. What more could a girl want???

I hope you're off to have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones. Remember: it is the one day of the year when wearing elastic waist pants is totally acceptable.

This post is not sponsored, but it does contain affiliate links which result in an affiliate commission. All thoughts are completely my own, as I only recommend items I personally love.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Wish List No. 19

Do you love the beautiful, candle wonderland that is Anthropologie? Do you cringe when you see the price tags? You are not alone my friend. You are not alone.

I've mentioned my love for Anthro before (here and here)… and I figured with Christmas just around the corner (only 35 more days!) Now would be the perfect time for another Anthropologie hack!

There are so many beautiful Christmas decorations and cold-weather items that are perfect Christmas gift ideas or beautiful items to add to your own wishlist and I have found some equally beautiful but less expensive options. Because even if you're done with shopping for everyone else, there are always pretty things to buy for yourself! 

The animal busts are perfect additions to a gallery wall or as an accent by itself and these are both lovely.

I can't even explain how much I love these faux-fur tree skirts! They look so wintery and pretty - maybe they could double as a cozy couch blanket too???

The Anthro latte bowls are perfect for cereal, ice cream, soup, you name it! Plus, they come in so many beautiful colors! I appreciate that the price of the bowls at Anthro (5/$30) but I was excited to find a more inexpensive version too!

Elastic hair ties that don't rip my hair out? Yes please. -- These would make great stocking stuffers or gifts for the ladies at my office.

Some day I will own a settee. It is the one piece of furniture I always catch myself looking at when I am out shopping. Can you imagine a more perfect place to sit and put your shoes on in the morning? Yea, me neither.

Cozy beanies are not something I usually have in my Southern California wardrobe, but they come in handy when Houston and I visit Minnesota or if it happens to be a chilly evening when we look at Christmas lights.

What awesome Anthropologie Hacks have you found in your shopping adventures? I would love to see them!

This post is not sponsored, but it does contain affiliate links which result in an affiliate commission. All thoughts and opinions are honest and my own, as I only recommend items I personally love.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vacation Without A Curling Iron

While Houston and I were in Italy I made a terrible mistake regarding my curling iron. I double checked the voltage on my flat iron to make sure it would work in the plug adapters but I didn't check the voltage on my curling iron. Now, if it had been the other way around, I would have been pretty desperate to find a hair salon - a girl needs her flat iron.

Not having my curling iron forced me to be a little creative with my hair styles. Ruby very graciously offered to let me use her curling iron, but I was not about to wake up even earlier than we already were, curl my hair and get the curling iron back to her. Instead, I tried a couple new hair styles and rocked some old faithfuls. 

When you don't have a curling iron but do have a flat iron, it only makes sense to flat iron your hair. Stick straight hair was the way to go on our first day in Rome.

Straight and low pony for a day of travelling and walking. - My hair was already straight from the day before and a ponytail is easy.

I love following Emily (the Freckled Fox) and her incredible hair styles. Granted, she has amazing hair to work with but I really love her headscarf roll tutorial. I didn't use a scarf or bandanna, but a shimmery elastic headband. - It was perfect way to tuck my naturally wavy hair up for the day and it looked so much more interesting than a simple bun. It has quickly become my go-to way to fix my hair on days I am running behind or don't feel like torturing my tresses with 5,000 degrees of heat.

Florence was full of hair changes... First I tried a side braid, but I am seriously lacking the Elsa hair to pull off such a braid and it kept falling out.

Then I tried low pony tail, but since my hair was neither curled or straightened it looked pretty terrible. So, when we headed to dinner I swept my hair into a low chignon that looked a lot like my hair from Brittany's 2013 wedding. Easy. Pretty. Non-frizzy.

Since the chignon worked the night before, I tried it again -- not as great, but it still worked. If only I could have made it look as beautiful as my hair from Brittany's wedding, it would have been awesome. Here is another way to do a pretty chignon from Oak and Oats

Nothing quite like a ballet bun on a rainy day to keep the frizzy hair at bay. Sometimes it is nice to just put my hair up and not worry about it.

I closed out the trip with ironed hair - it was just the quickest way to do my hair in the morning and I didn't have to worry about it looking terrible after several hours on the bus.

Needless to say, having to be a little more creative with my hair makes me want to try other hair styles more frequently and pray my hair grows.

What are your favorite no-frill hairstyles? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Italy Part 13: (Milan & Travel)

Italy Day Nine:

After we left Lake Como, we drove for another hour or so to our final stop of the day: Milan, Italy. 

Now I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed because I thought we were going to get to spend part of the day in Milan, but we didn't arrive until late in the evening. Since this was our last day in Italy, we didn't get to spend any time in Milan.  

Unfortunately the hotel we were staying at was closer to the airport then the city (nice for traveling, bad for sightseeing). I was already pretty exhausted and even if we had been close enough to go see something I don't know if I would have felt up to it. So instead, we had dinner at the hotel (it was awful) and had fun with our fellow travelers.

Our flight was scheduled to leave Milan at 10:30, which meant one last early morning alarm to get our luggage out to load onto the bus. I woke up not feeling so well, which is great when facing a day full of travel, and we headed off to the airport at 7:30 in the morning. 

Oh wait, it gets better!  

When we got to the airport there was all sorts of construction going on. We parked in a no parking zone and then our little group walked to the airport entrance with our tour guide Tony. At the main entrance we very abruptly said "thank you" and "goodbye" and then power-walked a good half mile to the ticket counter. After we got our boarding passes, we had to walk the same half mile back to the security line, then walk even further to immigration, and then another mile to get to our gate. By the time we got there I was feeling pretty terrible and was a hot mess.

I am sure you have guessed by now that we didn't take a single photo on the way to the airport or on the way home. Houston took 5 photos of planes while we were waiting for our plane in New York, but that is it. I know, I know... a terribly anticlimactic ending to an amazing Italian vacation, but a travel-weary and cranky Elise does not lend herself to being photographed.

Needless to say, by the time we got on the plane I was ready to cuddle up in my fuzzy leopard blanket and sleep. But sleep was not to be had my friends, no no. Houston and I did not want to have to deal with jet lag when we got home  since we had to go back to work on Monday morning, so we planned our sleeping patterns so that we would be on California time when we got home. The plan was to stay awake for the whole trip home, that's 9 hours from Italy to New York a 3 hour layover and then 5 hours home. It worked pretty well until we are about an hour and a half from Los Angeles and the fatigue really started to kick in. Houston I were exhausted and still needed to drive home. I don't know how Houston did it, because I physically could not keep my eyes open during the drive home. We hit traffic on the 91 freeway and there was a horrible accident in Eastvale that killed 5 people. When all was said and done, we were awake a total of nearly 27 hours. I don't recommend doing that, just deal with the jet lag and take an extra day off work.

I don't know what it is about vacation, but I usually get sick when I get home from one.  It makes going back to work even more dreadful. I was under the weather for a week or so and staying awake past 4 o'clock in the afternoon was practically impossible. But I finally adjusted back to California time with just enough time to spare to be completely jacked up after daylight savings time. C'est la vie.

And thus concludes the tale of my first international trip. Other than the rough 24+ hours it took to get home, it was am absolute dream come true.

Want to read the whole thing? Start here or pick a topic below:

Italy Day 1:  Travel Day
Italy Day 1:  Rome - Trevi Fountain
Italy Day 2:  Rome - Colosseum, Piazza Navona, Pantheon
Italy Day 2:  Rome - The Vatican & St. Peter's Basilica
Italy Day 3:  Assisi & Perugia
Italy Day 4:  Siena
Italy Day 4:  Florence
Italy Day 5:  Florence
Italy Day 6:  Castello del Trebbio  
Italy Day 7:  Venice
Italy Day 8:  Lake Lugano
Italy Day 8:  Lake Como

Friday, November 7, 2014

Italy Part 12 (Lake Como)

Italy Day Eight:

I had to get over my disappointment of not getting a Swiss passport stamp after we drove back into Italy from Lake Lugano, Switzerland. Like Gary says: "it gives me a reason to go back!"

Once we were back in Italy, we headed to George Clooney's house... Well, not exactly, but we did go to Lake Como and our guide pointed to his house wayyyyy off in the distance.

Like our visit to Lake Lugano, our time at Lake Como was brief, but it was so much fun! We went on an optional boat excursion that took us out onto the lake to see all the beautiful homes and enjoy the water and sunshine!

The back deck was pretty packed; Ruby and Gary sat outside but Houston and I opted to stay inside and had the boat pretty much to ourselves! I was running back and forth taking photos, so it worked out pretty well.

The tour ended up sounding like a Lake Como "Hollywood Tour of the Stars" type thing, which I personally didn't like, but I just unplugged my headset and enjoyed the time on the lake!

The lake was as smooth as glass and the skies were so clear - I am from Southern California and fascinated with skies that don't include a dense layer of smog. We passed the most amazing homes right along the water and this storybook one was my favorite.

Right behind it, Houston notices a huge elevator and our guide explained that the elevator provides access to the main road - we're talking big bucks here on the lake, friends. BIG bucks.

Another house nearby uses a monorail for transportation up the hill - In between the two homes.

Along with the ridiculously opulent homes and lifestyles, there is also a more relaxed and down-to-earth vibe on the lake too. I would relax and fish all day if I had more money than I knew what to do with too!

After our tour of the lake from the water, we headed into town to do a little quick exploring.

There was a beautiful church in town with the sweetest old man at the main door. We loved the beautiful stained glass windows at the entrance of the church and the sun was brilliant pouring through them...

...and then it was time to get back (you guessed it) on the bus and Lake Como faded into the distance.

There's one stop left on this amazing Italian adventure and a recap post on Monday.

*** All images copyright Polka Dotted Blue Jay and ***

This post is not sponsored, but it does contain affiliate links which result in an affiliate commission. All thoughts and opinions are honest and my own, as I only recommend items I personally love.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Italy Part 11 (Lake Lugano)

Italy Day Eight:

After we left Venice, we had the awesome opportunity to cross the Italian and Swiss border to visit Lake Lugano in Switzerland.

Crossed off two countries in one trip, hooray!

It was a beautiful day and my skin soaked up the sunshine that had been missing the day before. The only downside to the sunshine was my remaining wardrobe consisted of two clean outfits and one of them was a sweater, so I was a little warm, but it was manageable.

The bus dropped us off at the center of town and we had free time to wander around the stores, grab a bite to eat and admire the beautiful lake. We saw people walking around with hand-held pizzas, and Gary tracked down the place we could get some for ourselves.

It was a wonderful break from the long bus ride and I would have loved to sit on the dock and watch the swans swim by all afternoon!

Before I knew it, and definitely before I was ready to get back on the bus, it was time to leave for our last stop of the day...

*** All images copyright Polka Dotted Blue Jay and ***