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25 December, 2012

Joyeux Noël !

                                                Source: marieclaireidees.com via Anait on Pinterest


                                          Source: valleyandcolifestyle.com via Anait on Pinterest



                                          Source: flickr.com via Jennifer on Pinterest


From sunny Australia, to your home - wishing you warmth (no matter the temperature outside), happiness, laughter and the company of those you love.

Joyeux Noël !

23 December, 2012

To the Land Down Under

“I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”  
(Dorothea Mackellar, ThePoems of Dorothea Mackellar)

                                          Source: notesformyfuturefarm.tumblr.com via Rebecca on Pinterest

                                          Source: behind-the-lens-lukey.blogspot.com.au via Alicia on Pinterest

                                          Source: instacanv.as via Theresa on Pinterest

My love and I are off to Australia - a place I, even with my intense wanderlust, have never had the urge to visit - until plans had been made and I began to research this beautiful country. I can't wait to stroll through the city, explore hidden beaches, snorkel in the coral reefs, eat every meal al fresco, to welcome 2013 with a spectacular fireworks show in Sydney Harbour.

Mostly, I am ecstatic to spend the next few weeks exploring a new corner of the world with my future husband. Though we've taken many small trips together, apart from a {unforgettable} trip to Niagara Falls at the very beginning of our courtship, we have never traveled together outside the country. What better way to begin than by a voyage to the other corner of the world?

                                          Source: sarahbellestudio.tumblr.com via livemapp on Pinterest




08 December, 2012

Keep the door open


so many people enter and leave your life.
hundreds of thousands of people.
you have to keep the door open,
so they can come in.
but it also means
you have to let them go.

extremely loud & incredibly close
jonathan safran foer

15 November, 2012

That moment...

".... That thing... that moment when you kiss someone and everything around you becomes hazy, and the only thing in focus is you and this person. And you realize that that person is the only person you’re supposed to kiss for the rest of your life. And for one moment you get this amazing gift. And you wanna laugh and you wanna cry, ‘cause you feel so lucky that you’ve found it, and so scared that it’ll go away all at the same time."

01 November, 2012

March in Washington DC

I haven't been blogging regularly this year, for many reasons but largely because every month has involved some sort of travel, be it international, domestic or local. My travels have been invigorating, and absolutely life changing. My gypsy heart overflows with happiness ~ I feel so alive when traveling.

Now I'm halfway through a new semester, and have dived into a deep,deep ocean of research, preparing for my prelim exams, and formulating my dissertation proposal (somehow that manages to sound intriguing on paper. I assure you what it actually means is me in sweats, hair piled on top of my head, frantically typing 10 hours a day).

So while I'm temporarily home bound(until Australia and Hawaii in December!) I'll reminisce on my travels....and bring you along for the ride. Since I know many of you have a permanent wanderlust like me, I hope you enjoy following along.

First stop, Washington DC. It has been my dream for many years to see DC during cherry blossom season. It so happened that my spring break coincided with the week cherry blossom trees bloomed, and so I booked my ticket and off I went. Only this year, the city experienced unprecedented warm weather and a steady stream of rain, so before I had even set foot in the city, the flowers had blossomed, fallen and now littered the sidewalk.

Regardless, the city was beautiful, with rain spattered sidewalks, bright pink blossoms here and there, and the smell of spring in the air.

It's a city I could easily picture myself living in.

More on DC coming soon!

11 September, 2012

Going Natural: Beauty via Vitacost

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on going natural--on abandoning my deliciously fragrant soaps and lotions and body care products for better, more natural products free of parabens and other harmful chemicals that overtake most ingredient lists.

When I first started on my "quest" I was afraid that I wouldn't find any products to replace those that I had grown to love. I pictured myself trolling the aisles of Whole Foods, rubbing shoulders with smelly hippies, and stockpiling all sorts of strange herbal products.  

Thankfully, this has not been the case as I would have quickly reverted to my old products (my skin needs a good moisturizer, people!). 

I did check the aisles of Whole Foods, and was impressed with the numerous lines they carry. However, as I hadn't had any experience with any of the brands, I was hesitant to make a purchase. 

Luckily, through a YouTube beauty review (I'm obsessed with those!), I heard about Vitacost, a website dedicated to healthy living, offering discounted beauty and home products (they even carry pet food!). They were kind enough to let me pick out several products to try out and review. 

So, yes, this is a sponsored post; nevertheless, my review would be the same had I bought them myself. They did not ask for any special promotion of their site, only for an honest opinion of the products.

The great thing about their website is, like Amazon or other shopping sites, you can read plenty of reviews on the product. They also list the ingredients so there are no surprises. Many of their prices are also cheaper than Amazon, and very competitive compared to other websites. You can find such products as vitamins, makeup, body care, home cleaning supplies, diet products and medicines on the website. 

Bonus point, they ship internationally

I picked out a few products I had heard about from blogs and YouTube...here are my thoughts:

 
 

If the name doesn't give it away,this body butter smells absolutely delicious. The shea butter scent does come through after a while, leaving a more nutty rather than fruit fragrance--but I don't mind it, and I am extremely sensitive to smells.  The Nurian brand is one that I have quickly grown to love. Since buying this body butter I have also bought several hand lotions, as well. I have very dry skin and this sinks in without being overly greasy or smelly. The best part is the ingredients: 
Coconut oil, shea butter, papaya enzymes and comfrey root extract. 
You can't get any more natural than that! 


Finding a good facial moisturizer has been the bane of my existence for as long as I can remember. I have very dry skin that reacts if a product is too smelly, harsh or drying. It was hard enough to find a normal brand that worked perfectly...I feared it would take ages to find a natural brand. This moisturizer quenched all my doubts--it has a gel consistency and is oil-free, but it is hydrating enough for my dry skin. The smell is very light and refreshing, and a fairly large tub costs about $10. Good for my skin and my wallet! (I later learned that this brand is often referred to as a "gateway" natural brand because while it does not contain parabens, it does contain phenoxyethanol which die-hard naturalists are against)
 


I had never heard of tea tree oil much less used it in my beauty regime, until I decided to try this shampoo which had received rave reviews. My hair tends to get dry on the bottom and oily near the roots...and now I've found the solution. A tea tree based shampoo (tea tree neutralizes the oil on your skin, and is often used in natural acne treatments), and a creamy conditioner (I have yet to find a more natural alternative for the one I currently use). I only use this shampoo every other wash as I don't want to strip my hair. It works great, and my hair looks great afterward. My only disappointment was that it did not smell in the faintest of lemons.



As I wrote in my first post of the series, my interest in natural skincare started with sunscreens. I had been using the Alba Botanica regular sunscreen and it was a pain, to say the least. It came out white, didn't sink into the skin, and would create a filmy, milky layer during swimming. I was very tempted to go back to my Hawaiian Tropicals sunscreen. And then I read about this new version on several blogs and decided to give it a go. It is GREAT. You won't even notice a difference between regular brands, and it smells heavenly. I'll be saving it for our Australia trip in December. 

There you have it - a few natural products that are accessible, give great results, and are well priced. I'm not the sort of person who will go and slather anything on my face so long as it says "natural" or "organic". In fact, many products labeled as such are NOT natural or organic. 

I also feel that the "natural" craze often goes too far, questioning every singe ingredient and preservative, spouting unfounded "research" and "scientific claims". For this reason, I have decided to concentrate my search for paraben free products, which have been decidedly and legitimately proven to contribute to increased risks of cancer. That alone eliminates about 90% of products found on drugstore shelves. 

If you are interested in trying out natural products, or simply are looking for good beauty care, products for use around the home, etc., do look on Vitacost. Their shipping is fast and the products are reviewed and all information is out in the open.

If you sign up through my referral link, you (and I) will receive a $10 credit for any order.

Happy Shopping!


28 August, 2012

Wisdom comes with experience, not teeth



.....or so I hope, because my four wisdom teeth are all gone. Some people have very quick recoveries from oral surgery. I am not one of those people. 

However, I must admit that apart from the nausea, an allergic reaction to my antibiotic, pain, pain and more pain, and the inability to stay awake for more than an hour, it has been rather nice to be doted on. I'm lucky as my mother-in-law is staying with us and has pampered me with soups, kasha, and smoothies. 

The best part? My love has been feeding my absolute obsession with ice cream every night. And even better? It has had no effect on my waistline (enter nausea). 

Although it's rather sad as this pampering has been tapering off and I am forced to be a big girl and "suck it up". Sob.

I'm back on my feet today, as it was the first day of a new semester. I also did a small load of laundry. Which made me feel as if I had just climbed Mt. Everest. Twice. I'm not joking when I say I took a nap afterwards.

Tuesdays are supposed to be the new "Going Natural" series, but I'll post on that this Friday, instead, and then resume the usual schedule next Tuesday (I've got some great new products to introduce you to!). 

Have you had your wisdom teeth out? How was it? 

p.s. I was terrified of receiving general anesthesia (a light formulation via IV)...but it was actually quite nice. When I brought up that I wanted to do local anesthesia, the dentist suggested that if I did not have a keen interest in oral surgery I should go for the happy drugs and sleep. 

It is strange, however, to not remember a chunk of time, or scatterings of the hours afterward. Thankfully I did not say/do anything embarrassing in my anesthetized state. Winning.

14 August, 2012

Going Natural: An Introduction

In the past few months, I’ve launched myself into a regiment to improve my well-being.  I want to develop good habits for the long-term rather than relying on spurts of exercise and crash diets. Let’s just say exercise is my worst enemy (Hi Jillian Michaels!). But I’m working on defeating it, and, over the past few weeks, I’m seeing a slow progress towards my goal.

Aside from taking notice of what I put in my body (eating healthy)¸ I’ve also begun to pay attention to what I put on my body.

It all started at the beginning of the summer when a friend of mine informed me about harmful ingredients in generic sunscreens. I did some research, and was appalled with my findings (I’ll have a post with more information on this, but the internet is ripe with information if you are inclined to read about it yourself). I quickly switched to mineral sunscreen, and thought no more of it.

Then, after showering one day, I was slathering on a Victoria's Secret body lotion (which fiancé and I both agree smells absolutely heavenly) and decided on a whim to google the ingredients on the tube. About 80% were linked to either cancer or reproductive issues in tests conducted on animals. This quickly led me to gather all my lotions and search their ingredients as well. The results did not make for a peaceful night’s sleep.

I’m certainly not an expert on skincare, or on toxicity. But after reading up on the ingredients in the products I used on my face and body, up to four times a day, every day, I knew a change was necessary. And though it may have been wise (financially) to use up all my products first, before diving into the uncharted waters of natural skincare, I couldn’t bring myself to use anything without thinking of potential side effects.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying numerous natural/organic skincare lines, intent on finding a face moisturizer, body lotion, and cleanser that contain natural ingredients but that work like their non-natural counterparts (I am not as concerned with makeup or hair products for now, though I do plan on finding natural options once I’ve cemented a skincare routine that works).

I’ve discovered several amazing products that feel luxurious, smell divine, and produce terrific results with the assurance that what I’m putting on my body (which then sinks into my body) is not toxic.

If you are interested in your well-being, I urge you to do yourself a service and research the products you use daily.

To help you along your quest (should you choose to take it, of course), I’m starting a Tuesday series, “Going Natural”. I’ll have product reviews, information on ingredients and reading labels, etc.

Please keep in mind that I am not an expert – I am simply doing what I believe to be best for my body and for my well-being.

I hope you will enjoy and benefit from this series! I’m off to moisturize my face with coconut oil (fiancé says I smell like a cookie afterwards….that’s got to be a good thing!).  

08 August, 2012

Girls Day

Since starting grad school, then moving in with my fiance last year, and consequently moving from the suburbs to the city (Halleluja!), I've spent considerably less time with my girlfriends. Between our family, work and school commitments, significant others, and distance between our homes, it is getting harder and harder to arrange get-togethers.

I recently posted about "being busy" and since then, I've been making a conscious effort to prioritize my life and MAKE the time for everything. Of course, no day is perfect ~ everything is about finding a balance between being too overworked/socialized to absolutely lazy (both extremes at which I excel).

One way which has helped me to get organized and find time for everything is using my calendar to "schedule" dates and outings. I'm generally a planner/list-maker with a penchant for the spontaneous. Scheduling dates with my girlfriends satisfies my inner obsessive planner, and leaving the location/activities to whim satisfies my spontaneous side.

This past weekend we rendez-vous'ed in one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods for a fun filled day.

Strolling through our old neighborhood ~ this house has been our favorite for years now. That wooden door, iron gate and window flowers are divine.
Lunch at the most adorable Italian bistro. Beautiful interior, the most delicious Sangria I've had outside of Spain (and I know my Sangria!), and a classic Margherita pizz made for the perfect few hours of catching-up.
An epic storm rolled in, during which we stood outside, completely drenched, waiting to hail a cab. The rain was freezing, our shoes (and everything else) completely soaked, our umbrellas useless in the face of strong winds ~ but it's an outing we'll not soon forget! Besides, I've always loved being out in the rain, especially when it's all you can do to stand outside and be completely soaked.                            

03 August, 2012

Heavy Dreamer




I'd gladly spend the day lounging in any of these luxurious beds....in reality, I'll be running around today for errands, cleaning the house, and working on research. But you can bet, in my head I'll be dreaming!















Source: eclecticrevisited.wordpress.com via Anait on Pinterest

Which of the above is your favorite? 

Have a happy, dreamy weekend!

26 June, 2012

Old Town, Riga









Riga's Old Town, the historic city centre, can be walked through in less than an hour....but we took our time meandering through the winding streets, and always looking up to appreciate the beautiful architecture.

I have a weakness for cobblestone streets....and although my love for them has not faded, in the process of walking on them for hours on end, I renewed my love for flat shoes (which I often neglect in favor of heels), without which my feet may have simply fallen off.

Riga graced us with its typical clouds and chilly weather, but it only served to enhance the colors of the city--against a dark grey sky, the yellows, reds and blues appeared almost neon. There were also plenty of cafes to duck into when the breeze seeped through our coats.


14 June, 2012

Back from Latvia




I"m back from the trip of a lifetime - I explored Latvia, saw my grandparents, indulged in countless cups of smooth coffee and flaky pastries, and walked cobblestone streets until I could no longer feel my feet.

It feels surreal to be back - these two worlds are so different that while I am in one, the other feels like a dream.  I miss my grandparents terribly - though I know my parents brought us here for a better life, and greater opportunities, the physical separation between our loved ones overseas leaves an open, gnawing wound in the soul.

I've always dreamed of living in Paris - but as I grow older (and dare I say wiser), I realize that I would never want to separate my {future} children from their grandparents. Although I have always been a wanderer at heart (and in reality, having lived in four countries before the age of 10), lately I have come to understand the value, indeed the necessity, of forming roots, of cultivating family relationships - and how lucky I am to have family, if only immediate, close by.

But don't get me wrong - this gypsy soul can't be stifled. My fiance promised me 6 months to 1 year in Paris, and I plan to keep him accountable! (And perhaps while we are there I"ll so happen to lose my passport, and we'll have to stay longer. Also...if I give birth in Paris, do I get citizenship as well? .....) What I'm saying is - I plan to fill my life with travel and adventure, but perhaps the most important part of it all is having a home to come back to, and all the people that fill it with warmth and love.

More Latvia posts coming up!




03 May, 2012

Groceries, Delivered

If I lived in, say, Paris, or the south of France...or anywhere in Europe, for that matter (sidenote: Universe, take the hint already!), I'd shop at the freshest markets, eat fruits and vegetables in season, and buy my baguettes fresh from the oven. But since I don't, I have to make do with buying the best here...and often, it's hard to trust an "organic" label. 

Lately, grocery delivery services have been gaining popularity - companies that deliver fresh, organic produce straight to your home. I recently had the opportunity to try a delivery from one of these companies. 

Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks offers year-round home (in the Chicago-land area) delivery of a variety of local and organic fresh produce. They work with sustainable farms, and the produce delivered comes directly from being picked on the farm. Since the company has developed long-term relationships with these farms, and you can find out exactly where your produce came from, it's far easier to trust than an "organic" label. 

Their blog lets you know ahead of time what is in each box for the week, and also offers possible recipes. 

We received a combination of the  Fresh Picks Box in the {single} size (the produce was certainly enough for 2-3 people) and the Fresh Picks Fruit Box Mini . Our boxes held: beets, asparagus, potatoes, yellow onions, crimini mushrooms, ramps, parsley, green leaf lettuce, pears, strawberries, and mangoes. 



I loved that the vegetables still had a bit of dirt on them (they were fresh picked!!), and the strawberries actually had the smell of strawberries. 

Of course, I put the strawberries to work right away!


A few days ago, we took advantage of the warmer weather and grilled the mushrooms and asparagus. The mushrooms were so flavorful, I definitely ate more than my share. 


I also really like the idea of grocery deliver since it encourages me to experiment with my recipes...tomorrow I'll be using the ramps, which I had never heard of before, to make gyoza.



One unfortunate fact - fresh produce goes bad faster (since it isn't fed or sprayed any sort of preservatives), so don't let it sit in the fridge for too long.

I'm a huge fan of Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks, and highly recommend it if you are in the Chicago-land area. To that end, they are offering Cap Ou Pas Cap readers $10 off your first order. Use code "JJBlog". They offer a really great variety of produce - from fruits and vegetables to poultry and meats, to baked goods, to Juicing boxes and Cleanse boxes. They are also very reasonably priced so - use that code and get yourself some fresh produce!!

(For my European readers, there are similar companies for you, as well...though I'm not sure it's as necessary when fresh markets are so easily available, and in my experience European food is just better, period. BUT, if you are interested, you can read a review of a European-based food delivery service here).

Though the company generously gave me the above produce free of charge, my opinions are 100% reflective of my true thoughts and experience. 

26 April, 2012

French Wedding


I stumbled upon this video yesterday, on Mariel's blog, and have watched it at least fifteen times since...and will probably watch it another fifteen times by the end of the week.

It makes me so excited for our wedding (which, in two months, will only be one year away!!), especially now that we've officially booked the venue and our photographer. We'll be getting married June 2013 in a chateau outside Paris. I can hardly believe it!

This video gives me goosebumps, every time. Unfortunately the videographer they used charges upwards of $10,000 for a mere 6 minute clip.

Anyone have suggestions for a videographer in Paris? :)

23 April, 2012

I FELL for a boy who does:



Every day, I'm thankful that I have a MAN who does all the above, and more. Before I fell in love with my fiance, I didn't think it was possible to be 100% comfortable with a person - not only physically (walking around with no makeup, sweats, etc....though I try not to do it often!), but also emotionally. In past relationships, I was always afraid to get angry, to speak my mind, or to say something that might start an argument, for fear that it would change the dynamic of our relationship.

Then I learned there is nothing I could do or say that would ever change the way my love and I feel about each other.

And that is an amazing thing, for which I am eternally grateful.

Happy Monday!

02 April, 2012

On Being Too Busy

 

Joanna of A Cup of Jo published an insightful post last week in which she quoted from this Wall Street Journal Article which discusses the concept of "being busy". 


Though some of you may have already read this, I'm sharing this again because the concept of managing time is one which I'm sure we could all use a little insight on. 


Change your language. Instead of saying "I don't have time" try saying "it's not a priority," and see how that feels. Often, that's a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don't want to. But other things are harder. Try it: "I'm not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it's not a priority." "I don't go to the doctor because my health is not a priority." If these phrases don't sit well, that's the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don't like how we're spending an hour, we can choose differently.


This year has been a particularly busy one - from intense research tasks, to formulating my thesis proposal, to "wifely" duties around the home, to travel on a monthly basis (which I would NEVER complain about) - many things in my life have fallen to the wayside, and they are important things. Keeping in touch with friends and relatives abroad, writing in my journal (or blogging for that matter), organizational tasks which have been on my "to-do" list for ages, projects started and left undone. 

I've noticed I frequently complain about how busy I am, or how stressed, how overwhelmed. And while I truly AM busy and overwhelmed, giving in to these feelings and using them as an excuse to neglect other tasks is only detrimental. 

Rather than prioritizing everything, I've simply focused on the largest tasks and let most everything else fall to the wayside, using "I'm too busy" as an excuse. 

Being "busy" and "starved for time" is a way to show we matter. Put another way, it makes us feel important. But if you think about it, complaining about a lengthy to-do list is not only boring, it's a sad hook for one's self-esteem. Owning up to how we spend our hours gives us more control of our time, and ultimately, of our lives.

Though I don't plan on making a "time log", as the article suggests, I will be honest with myself about where my time is going, and I will change my language to reflect what I REALLY can or cannot handle.  Though, naturally, some things in life will take priority at others during various stages, I don't want to forget the significance of those things, nor to erase them from my agenda because of a false sense of time. 

Yes, I am busy. But I am not too busy. 

29 March, 2012

A Few Favorite Dinner Spots

Chicago has so many great restaurants....my list of places "to go" is always growing. 

These are just a few of my tried and true favorites:

Nine Muses, Greektown

Greektown is conveniently located just a few blocks from my university campus, so when I was an undergraduate student (and now, as a graduate student), Nine Muses (and Artopolis across the street) quickly became "my place" where the staff recognizes me, the bartender knows my drink, and where many afternoons and evenings have been spent languidly catching up over greek fries, tomato basil salads, gyros and St. Germain martinis (and don't get me started on the coffee and chocolate cake!). 



Quartino

This Italian eatery gets very packed and very loud but, the noise overload is worth it for the warm atmosphere and the seriously mouth watering pizzas and Sangria pitchers. Unfortunately, it's always too dark to take a proper photo, but you'll have to take my word for it - if you're visiting Chicago, or hosting guests in Chicago, this is a great place to go. 


Devon Seafood

This seafood join off Michigan avenue has a great happy hour special - $1 Oysters! And they will make your mouth water. Their appetizers are delicious, as well - lobster ravioli is a favorite. I'm also a fan of their cool atmosphere and extravagant drinks. 




What are your favorite restaurants in your city?

28 March, 2012

Off to Washington D.C. !



Today, I'm off to Washington D.C. for the week for some sightseeing and, more importantly, to catch up with one of my closest friends and visit family. While I'm in D.C., I scheduled several posts that will give you a tour of some of my favorite spots in Chicago which should keep you entertained until I return with stories and photos from what I know will be an amazing few days. 

26 March, 2012

Scenes from the Weekend {At my Parents' House}





We spent the day at my parents' home on Sunday, and it was so nice to catch up with my sisters and parents. The weather was beautiful, so we grilled and went for long walks around the neighborhood. 

I remember living with my parents only seven months ago (before I moved in with my fiance), and feeling stifled and frustrated, but since I moved out, my relationship with them has improved so, so much and now a trip "back home" bring only happiness, warmth and comfort. 





I think at a certain age we naturally need our own space away from our parents, not only for the sake of everyone's sanity, but to grow our characters and to form our own family. Living with my fiance and becoming a "woman of the house", so to speak, has truly given me insight into the way my parents raised us, and what a difficult task that was. 

Not to mention, my mama and I now have a great time trading stories about "our husbands" and how to make the house run smoothly (like that quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding...a man may be the head of the household, but a woman is the neck, and turns the head. wink). 

It also doesn't hurt that my mama has an incredible green thumb - plants love her and she can make anything grow. The living room windowsill is a feast for the eyes.

 {lemon tree}



All the above culminated to form a day that was very, very easy on the soul.