Category Archives: My Favorite Things

Music and Memories and Journeys

Thanks to so many of you for pinging me and saying you wondered what was going on with my job. In short, I love it and am enjoying my profession more than I ever thought I would.

But I have missed writing here.

Tonight, the story of “Peter and the Wolf” came up, and Darcy told a gruesome and untrue version of it. I have a distinct memory of seeing the San Francisco Symphany “tell” the story, via a famous actor whose name unfortunately escapes me. I loved the introduction to the orchestra’s instruments: the flighty and foolhardy duck who meets a terrible fate, as portrayed by the oboe, the clever and small bird (the flute), the scary wolf (three french horns), stolid Peter (the strings).

Many years later, when we were traveling through Provence, (nerd alert) I was working my way through “The Lord of the Rings” series. This was six months before the movies came out. I decided I needed to finish the trilogy before I saw the films. The books were terrifying to read in parts – I remember in Avignon, we stayed in a lone cottage in the forrest, and I was so unnerved by the description of the Ringwraiths that I stayed awake all night, jumping at small noises.

The next day as we drove through a beautiful sunflower populated road, filled with flowers leaning towards the solar rays, we randomly turned the car radio to a classical music station and listened to a French version of “Peter and the Wolf.” I struggled to understand what was transpiring, as the narrator took us through the action.

The music became my own internal soundtrack as I made my way into “The Return of the King.” As I finally reached the crucial section when it is clear Frodo has completed his mission, the strains of the triumphant procession of Peter and the wolf, on their way to the zoo, echoed in my brain. I was in a bathtub in the villa where F. Scott Fitzgerald had written “The Beautiful and the Damned,” the hobbits had won, and I felt magically immersed in literary destiny.

Tonight I showed my already blasé children a YouTube video of “Peter and the Wolf,” and to my surprise and delight, they watched every moment of the 30 minute clip in suspense and wonder.

Tonight was a truly wonderful and resonant moment, where a tradition was passed simply from one generation to the next. And this is as miraculous as a duck alive in a wolf’s belly, quacking its own tremulous tune.

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Filed under Discovering joy, My Favorite Things, Parenting After IF, writing

The I Ching of Jerry Maguire

“In the quest for the big dollars, a lot of the little things were going wrong.”

Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire

Whenever I need answers in life, I go to “the well.” (Thanks to Lori and her outstanding book for introducing me to that term.) What’s my well? The movie Jerry Maguire.

I loved the difference of opinion, the debate around sports provoked by the last post. There is no topic I have written about that has drawn more passion, I don’t think.

Darcy (who never reads my blog) made an exception for this post. He LOVED what you all said. He wishes we could gather all together for a roundtable to discuss this in person, possibly over nachos and beer.

The commentary provoked me to return to the well, which in this case is the opening scene of Jerry Maguire which so, so NAILS both the joy and downside of sports. Remarkably, most of what is said in this much more brief opening than I remembered (ONLY 4 minutes!!) is still true today, and the foreshadowing of the research to come about how disfiguring concussions are later in life is seen in the hockey player story.

Hockey player’s son, concerned:

“Mr. Maguire, this is his fourth concussion this year. Shouldn’t SOMEBODY get him to stop?”

Tom Cruise, blase, answering someone on his phone, not paying attention:

“Hey, hey, hey: it would take a TANK to stop your Dad. It would take all five super trooper VR warrior tanks to stop your Dad. Wouldn’t it? Right? Right?”

Kid:

“Fuck you.”

Voiceover: “Who had I become? Just another shark in a suit?”

Brilliant.

Another blogger (Mo?) once quoted Jerry Maguire throughout a post.

For me, the movie honestly provides advice for almost any situation.

Getting a big head? Here’s my favorite takedown EVER for someone who is bragging.

Cuba Gooding, Jr.:

“Jerry Rice, Andre Reed, Chris Carter — I smoke all these fools!”

Unimpressed uncredited extra:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

We say “Yeah, yeah, yeah” a lot around here.

If someone is wallowing in self-pity:

Tom Cruise:

“I’m finished, I’m fucked. Twenty-four hours ago, man, I was hot! Now… I’m a cautionary tale. You see this jacket I’m wearing, you like it? Because I don’t really need it. Because I’m cloaked in failure! I lost the number one draft picked the night before the draft! Why? Let’s recap: Because a hockey player’s kid made me feel like a superficial jerk. I ate two slices of bad pizza, went to bed and grew a conscience!”

Cuba Gooding Jr.:

“Well, Boo-fucking-hoo.”

There’s a lot of “Well, Boo-fucking-hoo” around here.

When inspiration is needed…

Random guy at copy place:

“That’s how you become great, man. Hang your balls out there!”

When life sucks…

Tom Cruise:

“The fuckin zoo is closed, Ray.”

The best, ultimate advice for life…

Tom Cruise’s early mentor:

“Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”

Are there movies that you go to, time and again, to provide guidance and reassurance?

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Filed under My Favorite Things

How to Dress: The Handbag

You might have guessed from past posts that my approach to fashion is one of less is more. I like to buy things that are high quality, so they will last.

There are a few reasons for this. First, I’m a creature of habit. I’ve had my Ugg boots (yes, I own a pair ;P) resoled and dyed numerous times over the years because they are so wonderfully comfortable and I don’t want to throw them out. They are like old friends. Second, I don’t have an enormous closet. Third, if I have to chose quality over quantity (and I do, because, well, budgets!) I pick quality. I certainly understand why others don’t make that choice and I get it 🙂

Handbags are the most important items in my wardrobe. An excellent, high quality handbag is an essential for me. I use one every day. Even if I’m in yoga pants and a ponytail, I’ll look down at my bag and it will cheer me up. A quality handbag dresses up almost any ensemble.

Handbags are also a highly personal item. They can reflect your sense of self.

You can use a messenger bag (like this Kate Spade model) if you have a sporty style:

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A stylish Johnny Was for that boho feeling:

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A studded purse to reflect your edgy side (like this Burberry model):

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A leopard print to express your wild side (shown: Dolce & Gabbana):

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A Birkin bag to emphasize your ladylike manner (the iconic Hermes version):

Birkin

OK, I totally am crushing on ALL of these.

I have kept and restored every handbag I’ve ever bought, except my Coach bag from the 90s. (Which is now totally back in style. GRRR!) I have a few vintage bags from the 20s-50s from family members who have passed on.

Don’t get rid of a good bag!!

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I tend to treat purses as investments, and buy the best one I can afford. I buy an everyday purse every 5 years. It’s the single biggest expenditure of my wardrobe. Once I am done using one for everyday, I “retire” it, restore it, and keep it for my fashion-loving daughter.

Purses

I have an everyday purse (currently my brown Prada bag, formerly my black Chanel tote) which in my case, needs to hold a lot of stuff. I used the Chanel tote as a glorified diaper bag for years. Because the Chanel tote is so well made and black, it held up beautifully through the most undignified of incidents. You are probably shaking your head in disgust that I used it for the twins when they were babies, but I’m not one to hide “the good stuff” and never use it. Five years later, it is still in great shape, although I will be sending it to a purse spa soon for “rejuvenation.” The Prada purse I just bought I chose because it’s huge and holds a bunch of crap and looked the best of all the bags I tried. (Many, many, many.) It’s also patent leather, and doesn’t get beat up easily. I’m tall, so bigger bags generally work better for me in terms of aesthetics. It will get me through the next 5 years.

Then I have some fun bags to jazz up outfits. Those I generally get on sale, like the coral bag I scored for $29.00. (Inspired by my favorite outfit last year.) I also have smaller handbags that I used extensively, like my Kate Spade purse. It’s from the late 90s so it’s not vintage. YET. For really dressy occasions, I use the small vintage bags.

What’s your handbag philosophy? Do you have a lot of purses or just a few?

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Filed under My Favorite Things, personal style

New Years Musings

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I love the renewed resurgence of blogging that seems to blossom in January. Maybe it’s inevitable: we don’t have any family functions, the weather keeps us indoors and wonderful blogging and reading projects like Creme de la Creme attract our attention. Maybe the relentless merrymaking of the winter season naturally gives way to reflection.

So many bloggers I read have already written interesting, insightful posts about what they’ve learned this year and what they hope to learn in 2013.

I don’t like to make resolutions. Partly because they don’t stick for me, but also because I like learning what the year will present, what findings will stand out.

Here are my lessons from 2012:

1. It was heavenly to cross visiting the Amalfi Coast off my life list, and eating and shopping my way through Italy for a big birthday and anniversary with my beloved was everything I hoped it would be and more. Y’all are probably sick of hearing about that trip, and rightly so. I think it was Mark Twain (or maybe Stephen Colbert) who once said: “Nothing is more boring than someone else’s vacation.” 😉
2. I learned to be grateful for what I have and less sad for what I don’t have. Mostly.
3. I remembered how fascinating fashion was (and still is) to me, and learned that taking care of my appearance gives me the power to heal some of my wounds. Looking good sometimes really can equal feeling good.
4. The twins became delightful little people who enjoy me reading the “Little House” books aloud. They are creative and exact and smart and great company. I love age 5.
5. Family and friends remained happy and healthy and I gained a niece, a gorgeous little girl.
6. We grew more of our own food: chard, kale, spinach, tomatoes, sage, thyme, rosemary.
6. Readers, you continued to be such a continuing source of strength and support and fun. Sometimes if I am feeling low, I’ll check my email and a beautifully worded little jewel will be waiting for me. While I constantly struggle with what to do with blogging, the community reminds me how lucky I am to have found this place.
7. Overall, I was pretty happy this year.

In general for 2013 I wish HEALTH most of all to all my friends and family. I also have vague plans for cooking from scratch (like bread, maybe cheese and living more off the land and our plantings) and perhaps more of a seasonal approach to life: using spare time on planting, ordering seeds, harvesting, cooking what we grow more. Figuring out a way to balance picky eaters (me included) with a variety of produce and carbs and protein. Enticing the family with more outdoor activities. Perhaps really cracking this blogging code in some way.

I hope that 2013 is the year your dreams come true!

What do you want in 2013?

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Filed under Discovering joy, My Favorite Things, Parenting After IF, personal style

Food: Italian Style

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First of all, thank you all SO much for your incredible feedback. I really appreciate you sharing what subject matter you like (and don’t), and honestly, I was so touched that many of you said you liked my voice regardless of the subject matter. Feedback received: and I will continue my Faces of ALI project for sure.

So, onto another random tangent then? 😉 This time, FOOD. Specifically, the food of Italy. Why is it SO GOOD there? Is it possible to replicate it here?

I am very lucky because Darcy has some rock star foodie friends. I’m not allowed to tell you who they are (Chinese walls and all that) but I AM allowed to share their fantastic recommendations for your next trip to Rome. Or, your virtual trip.

We got a lot of advice on Roman food before we left. The necessities to try (antipasti, spaghetti carbonara, gelato, cream puffs and the unique pizza made with potatoes) and most hilariously from one of Darcy’s contacts: tourist trap places to AVOID. When I was napping off jet lag, Darcy got some gelato and it was subpar. I said: “Did you go to that place x told us not to go, Blue Ice?” Sure enough, he had.

Our first meal was near the Trevi Fountain (tourist trap central) at Ristorante La Tavernetta 48, but it was off the beaten track: we followed pretty oil lamps down a tiny lane to find it. I ordered homemade gnocchi, a favorite of mine, but the best part of the meal was the appetizers. Zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and delicately pan fried:

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And anchovies. These tasted NOTHING like anchovies I’ve ever had before. They didn’t taste fishy or salty or smell bad: they were light and flavorful, almost like small rainbow trouts. They were served with greens and fresh herbs and olive oil, and were delish.

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There was a local bakery near our hotel (Hotel Eden) and we ate there every morning. I don’t remember the name of the place, but we began to befriend the locals we saw there: the same people were there every day. I don’t drink coffee so instead indulged in hot chocolate which tasted different: lighter, frothier, more delicate. LOVED. And we ate different pastries each day. Roman pastries were not particularly sweet. (Which I liked: I don’t like my sweets TOO sweet, YMMV). My favorite was the cream puff: light crunchy puff pastry encased a light, lemony cream made of ricotta. YUM.

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For my birthday lunch we went to Pipero Al Rex, a restaurant that had just that week received a Michelin star. Oh, it was heavenly. I ordered their famous Pasta Carbonara and it was the best dish, hands down, I had in Italy. Pasta Carbonara is one of those deceptively simple things: spaghetti, egg, bacon, lemon and pepper: but again, the quality and preparation of those simple ingredients was such that a sublime meal was created. The pasta in particular was al dente and just tasted different (and better) than any other spaghetti I’ve ever had.

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For my birthday dinner, we ate at the exquisite restaurant on the top of our hotel, which was called La Terrazza dell’Eden. It was FANCY and the view overlooked the Vatican and other beautiful sites. We ordered Lobster and pasta and it was delicious and sophisticated. We drank champagne and felt rather fabulous.

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After touring the Forum and doing a ton of walking the next day, we went to a cheap take-out place (almost a bakery) famous for its potato pizza (yes, really!) called Forno Campo de Fiori. The potato pizza was delicious and we ate siting on a fountain in the middle of the flower market. We dashed in and out of Forno a few times to get “just one more slice”…

We left Rome for Naples the following day. Naples is a tough town: as we were taking a cab to our hotel, in the middle of the day, I noticed a young couple arguing intensely on the street. Suddenly, the woman hauled off and SLAPPED the guy across the face! In front of tons of strangers! He walked away but soon returned, gesticulating madly, trying to apologize, it seemed. He must have really done something to piss her off.

Naples is pretty much acknowledged to be the best place in the world for pizza, and Darcy’s food connections all agreed: the best pizza in Naples was served at Pizzeria Starita. We had to take a cab up winding, narrow, medieval streets: the steepest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived in San Francisco. Finally we arrived at a tiny restaurant that was very crowded. We were lucky enough to score a table, and readers: the pizza was perfection. The best I’ve ever had: simultaneously liquidy and crispy. I kept it simple and ordered the Margharita.

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Amazing.

After touring Pompeii, we moved on to Positano, possibly the most beautiful town I’ve ever visited. Perched on a stark cliff, the hotels and homes are architechtural feats of engineering and also charming and picturesque.

Sometimes when you travel you wander into a cliche: such was the scene when we went to the restaurant Mediteraneo. Darcy captured the cinematic moment perfectly in this short clip. That music is NOT ADDED IN: it was actually PLAYING at the time! It was like some romantic comedy come to life.

Cliched or not, the pasta was delicious here: Darcy ordered this homemade seafood pasta dish after seeing it be delivered to two locals and I ate spaghetti with tomatoes and eggplant.

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And so…I am now very hungry and wish there was a way to recreate that spaghetti! Do you have any Italian dishes that are your favorites? What are they? And please direct me to any good recipes you know of for authentic delicious meals 🙂

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Filed under cooking?!?, My Favorite Things

Top 5 Tips for Hosting a Child’s Birthday

I’ve gotten a few tweets and emails asking for my advice on throwing a child’s birthday. Tip 1: Don’t get a flat tire the day before one of the parties like I did 😉

We decided to have two events this year for our twins, and wanted each celebration to be very individual and special to each child. Here’s what I did:

1. Ask your child for an idea for a theme.

We’ve done this since the twins were three. This year, my daughter loves all things equestrian, but specifically: ponies. My son, on the other hand, would love to join a pirate ship sailing out on a treasure hunt.

So, Ponies & Pirates.

2. Take your child with you to a party supply store.

I took each twin separately on a shopping trip to Craig’s Warehouse, our local supply store. They each chose plates, napkins, cups, party favors and balloons. They each had very specific aesthetic ideas of what they wanted: my daughter preferred the vintage-looking visions of ponies as opposed to the more commercial-looking My Little Pony gear, and my son liked the classic Jolly Roger logos. I really let them run with their own choices and tried not to steer them towards anything in particular. Even though I had my own ideas.

3. Ask them to choose two colors for additional decor.

My daughter wanted apple green and pink (of any shade) and specified that gingham be somewhere in the mix. My son requested black and red with lots of pirate loot. I basically treated the twins like my special event clients, and tried to really make their ideas a reality.

4. Make vision boards to help create what you want.

I went on Pinterest and scoured photos of pirate ship pinatas and anchor cakes and gingham party favors and ombre layer cakes. I also looked through party books and some vintage magazines for ideas. I’m a very visual person and sometimes I just need to see what cakes, flowers, favors and tables can look like before making a look my own. The board for my son, and my daughter. I posted the photos of the end products on each of vision board because I am nerdy like that.

5. Surprise them with the end result!

My in-laws hosted my daughter’s party and I went over there the night before to drop off the cake and decorate with MiL. When our daughter walked in the next morning, she was so thrilled to see all the little touches: the balloon garland, the cake colored pink and green with sprinkles, the pin-the-tail-on-the pony game. Similarly, my son was taken to the playground while I feverishly prepared our house with the final details. The look on his face when he saw the treasure chest and jolly roger and the pirate entertainer, (a last minute addition after a near Cowboy Dan episode) I will take with me to my grave. He was really, really happy.

Final tip: let friends and family help you!! I got a flat tire the day before and had a meltdown and Esperanza and my in-laws really came through and helped me out. Esperanza was amazing, playing pirates and swords with the balloons.

Today, I decided to have a little me time by getting some awesome dental surgery 😉

What tips do you have about how to put on a memorable kid’s party? I would love to compile a list for next year. Only 363 days away!

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Filed under My Favorite Things, Parenting After IF

Birthday Party: Gingham, Ponies and Everything Nice

Twin birthdays are tricky. This year, we decided to have separate parties. One down.

Dress: Designer unknown, bought by MiL in Paris this spring. That trip was really good for her closet!

My daughter loves ponies. She chose the plates, cups, and gingham, polka dots and the colors pink and green were her inspirations. It was up to Mom to come up with the goods.

Cakes. God. They continue to be a nemesis. I decided to bake a white layer cake (and honestly, I should have made more than two layers) and used a drop of food color to make one layer pink and one layer green. This was a hit with the guests.

Icing sucks.

My husband gave this book to my daughter for her growing fashion book collection. (Stumbling Gracefully also gifted her with gorgeous books about vintage Parisian fashions today! She fell asleep tonight gripping one of them.) I’m glad I perused Emily Schuman’s book too because THERE WAS A SECTION ON ICING THAT MADE THIS CAKE MUCH BETTER.

You have to set the icing and make a “crumb coat” in order for the icing to stick. I DID NOT KNOW THIS. Now I do. Big props to Emily. She saved the Jaffe cake from looking like this, again.

My client seemed happy with the results. I love her and her brother so very much, and feel so grateful and lucky that they are in my lives, every day. Big thanks to MiL for hosting and helping with everything.

The Hurricane Sandy news is so awful. My heart goes out to all affected. Sending out lots of love to A Half-Baked Life, A Blanket 2 Keep and all the others out there dealing with loss of life, property, power and normalcy.

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Filed under My Favorite Things, Parenting After IF, personal style