Weekend Getaway: New Orleans (Part 1)

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Last weekend my Mr. and I packed our overnight bags and made the five-hour drive from B’ham to New Orleans for a 24-hour escape. It was my first visit to the Big Easy, and one thing I learned before we even pulled out of our parking lot is that everyone has something to say about how to spend your time there. With only a day in town, we knew we had to edit our itinerary carefully, and we did. Here’s how we spent our 24 hours.

We set our GPS for Mother’s, where we kicked things off with a massive grilled-shrimp po’boy, fries, and jambalaya. (The line was short when we arrived, so we were inside and ordering before we knew it. It was a different story by the time we left.)

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From there we headed to the newly renovated Q&C Hotel/Bar, where I scored a 12th-floor room at a pretty good rate on TravelZoo. The hotel is situated between the French Quarter and the Warehouse/Arts District, within easy walking distance of whatever your heart desires. Inside, the Q&C is a stylish space with exposed brick and bare lightbulbs, wood floors and ornate wallpaper, tufted leather headboards and subway-tiled bathrooms. One of the hotel’s two elevators was out of service when we arrived, but it was working again when we made our way out into the city a short while later. Too, our a/c, slow to kick on, sounded like a helicopter hovering overhead when it finally did, but neither of those issues was enough to lessen how much I liked the place. (Did I mention it offers valet parking? What broken elevator?)

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The hotel’s wallpaper pays homage to its namesake, the Queen & Crescent railroad system, which connected Cincinnati (the Queen City) with New Orleans (the Crescent City) and Shreveport.P1000313 P1000316 P1000317 P1000320 P1000459 P1000461 P1000466

Free of our luggage and ready to roll, we set out for the French Quarter, where we were treated to a full-spectrum freak show and scenes of R-rated revelry. The fearless leader of the pack arrived in the form of a pudgy 40-something woman cutting coolly through the Bourbon Street crowd, her dark button-down shirt fully undone and flapping in the breeze, revealing a plane of total nakedness from the waist up covered in shiny silver paint. (You’ll have to use your imagination here; I was afraid to take any pictures.)

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As you might expect, beads are everywhere in NOLA.

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Having loved A Confederacy of Dunces, we both laughed after spotting this hot dog cart. All that was missing was Ignatius.

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Then it was on to Jackson Square, packed with artists, tourists, and vagrants—and spectators clinging to an iron fence trying to glimpse a bride and groom on the other side. P1000356P1000402P1000401P1000400P1000399P1000396P1000364P1000362P1000360P1000358P1000357

With our eyes on the prize, we crossed the square to Café du Monde for those famous beignets and coffee. (Mind. Blown.)

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The forecast before we left called for rain (it never came), so to hide from it we’d planned to spend the afternoon at The National World War II Museum. With its modern architecture, huge collection of artifacts, and interactive experiences, the museum really is a must on a visit to New Orleans. A showing of Beyond All Boundaries and a ticket to Final Mission: The USS Tang Experience are certainly worth the $5-apiece admission cost.

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After the museum we cabbed it back to the French Quarter for dinner at Sylvain, a serene and cozy space despite its location on the front lines. We shared a shaved Brussels sprout salad and roasted butternut squash bruschetta before diving into our own entrees, which came pretty close to perfection (Gulf mahi for me; braised beef cheeks for him). For those excited by celebrities (I say I’m not until a sighting actually happens): Kate Mara (a.k.a. Zoe Barnes!) and Shia LaBeouf briefly took a table behind ours, eventually moving out into the restaurant’s courtyard. I took no pictures at Sylvain, lest my husband die of embarrassment.

After dinner, we turned the corner and posted up in line at Preservation Hall, easily the highlight of our quick trip. We squeezed into the standing-room-only space in the back of the room, and the Southern Syncopators promptly set the soles of our feet on fire. (Cameras weren’t allowed during the show, but you can take a look and a listen here. Also, how romantic is that swing dancing?!)

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We made our way back to the Q&C through more crazy crowds…

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…which were parted for a few minutes by a second line, a traditional New Orleans wedding parade. What a fun way to usher in married life!

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Back at our hotel after a whirlwind day, we fell into bed happy that not a single second had gone to waste.

 

Have you been to New Orleans? What are your favorite spots?

 

 

DreamJobbing

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Today’s my birthday, and to celebrate and kick off this next year I decided to step outside my comfort zone a bit. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a nut for travel and that I’ve done it a good bit for work over the last 10 or so years. (I’ve been lucky to go to places like South Africa, Kenya, The Galapagos Islands, Iceland, Peru, Palau, and many places in Europe and the Caribbean.) Too, then, if you know me, you also know that competition scares me and that I hate few things more than having my picture (or video) taken. But sometimes you have to take a chance to get what you want, and there was no better day to do that than today, as I start my 35th year. Here’s how.

A few weeks ago I stumbled onto a site called DreamJobbing, which offers competitors a chance at, well, dream jobs in various industries. Mine? Going to Thailand for two weeks to care for elephants. To get it? Competitors have to submit—gasp!—a video audition. I lost two weeks of voting time thanks to my fear of making that minute-long video (and the thought of people actually watching it), but I decided this morning that the opportunity was too good to pass up. So, at 5:30 this morning, makeup-free and unscripted, I made my little video and clicked “Submit.” You can watch it—and vote—here (that’s me in the turtle shell).

There are only 12 days left in the voting process so I might be too late to the game to be a real contender, but somehow, just making that video and putting it out there for everyone to see feels strangely liberating. Winning that experience would certainly be sweet, but for now I’ll take satisfaction from knowing that I started a fresh, new year with a little adventure of my own.

Thanks for voting, if you do!

Chili Weather

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Fall has been slow to stick here in the South, but this time of year pretty much demands the occasional pot of hearty, homemade soup regardless of where you live or what it’s doing outside. Over the last few years, I’ve turned into somewhat of a one-trick pony where soup is concerned, always pulling out my favorite black bean recipe. To switch things up a bit, this afternoon I did a quick search for vegetarian chili. One of the first options to come up was a recipe by Emeril Lagasse that averaged five stars after nearly 300 user reviews. I’m not typically a big Emeril fan (for no particular reason), but between the rave reviews and the ingredient list—it’s packed with beans, portobellos, tomatoes, corn, and zucchini—I picked it. And, as public opinion predicted, it was delicious. The recipe suggests serving it over brown rice, but that seemed heavier than what we were in the mood for, so we opted for a side of oven-baked sweet potato fries instead. I’m sure it would be just as tasty spooned over a baked whole sweet potato or rolled up inside a whole-grain tortilla with a fried egg and diced avocado. However you eat it, wash it down with a cold, crisp hard cider for the full fall effect.

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Hello, Dalai!

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This week and weekend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been in Birmingham to attend a symposium at the University of Alabama Birmingham on Neuroplasticity and Healing. Today, he’ll talk to the public in two events at Regions Field (one in conjunction with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Gah!). Tickets for today’s events were sold out, but we didn’t totally miss out on the festivities. For the past few days over at Railroad Park, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery have been hard at work creating a mandala in honor of the Dalai Lama’s visit, and we were lucky to swing by while they were still at it. Creating the mandala is a painstaking process—it starts as a sketched outline and gets filled in with individual grains of colored sand—but a peaceful one to watch. This was just one more of an increasing number of discoveries that make us appreciate all that our new hometown has to offer. You can read more about the Dalai Lama’s visit and the creation of the mandala here.

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A Crisp, New(ish) Country Road

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If you know me, you know that I like to shop online. And that I do it often. But something that piqued my interest during a recent session wasn’t a pair of shoes or cute dress (well, not exactly), but what appeared to be a brand’s total makeover. While scrolling through my Pinterest feed, a shift dress (pictured above) with short, fluttery sleeves in a crisp black-and-white stripe stopped me in my tracks. When I saw that Country Road was the Pin’s point of origin, I figured I must be confused. There’s no way it’s that Country Road, I thought. Until then, my only exposure to the Australian brand had been its store at the Carousel Mall in Syracuse, New York. I immediately remembered walking into it as a college student and weaving between racks of neatly hung houndstooth blazers and black trousers. It wasn’t exactly my speed. Fast forward nearly 15 years and the site I had just clicked into was a bright and airy online showroom—almost Scandinavian in its sparseness—filled with clean-lined separates and dresses in crisp, graphic prints, like windowpane plaid, stripes, and the occasional floral. And I wanted everything I saw. But I didn’t want to fork over extra cash for international shipping, so I put it out of my mind. Country Road popped up on my radar again last week, though, when I came across an article on The Cut proclaiming Australian model Gemma Ward to be making her comeback in a beautiful new campaign for—who else?—Country Road (see below). Partnering with the doll-faced model ubiquitous in the early aughts seemed like proof that the brand was for sure kicking its image into a new higher gear. And it turns out it’s true, only the transformation started 10 years ago. I’d say mission: accomplished. As for whether these pieces are as gorgeous in real life as they look online, well, I might have to fork over the funds for shipping and find out.

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1. Mesh Back Tank // 2. Block Stripe Neoprene Skirt // 3. Sheer Solid Dress // 4. Raffia Trim Wrap Dress

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// Women’s Lookbook //

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Did you know about Country Road? What brands’ transformations have you been surprised or delighted by?

Before & After

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Leafing through the pages of a shelter magazine (um, ahem) or scrolling through pictures of dreamy homes on Pinterest, it’s all too easy to take gorgeous interior design for granted. It’s like devouring a plate of delicious food that’s been placed before you: you recognize that it tastes fantastic, but without any understanding of the painstaking process by which it was created—ultimately, what exactly makes it taste that good. That’s why, when it comes to homes, I love a good Before & After story. Sure, the “after” shots show the falling-down-gorgeous results of a renovation, but the “befores” are the key component, providing insight into an interior designer’s gift for seeing a space’s potential when most of us would never even know where to begin. Here are a few of my recent favorites.

Actor’s Upgrade
Dexter star Michael C. Hall hired interior designer Kishani Perera to give a 1920s Spanish-style home (kitchen below; bedroom above) in Los Feliz, California, a hefty and heavenly refresh.

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Mississippi Makeover
A Louisiana couple looking for an escape spent three years renovating a plantation in Fayette, Mississippi, to marvelous results. (The exterior’s transformation will blow your mind! Click below to see.)

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Loft’s New Life
On the Nate Berkus show American Dream Builders, two teams made over a pair of L.A. lofts. The team that worked on this one said its goal was to “combine high style, modern function, and masculine tones.” Mission accomplished! kitch beforekitch afterImages via Elle Decor

A Better Bedroom
HGTV star Emily Henderson recently documented the upgrading of a guest bedroom in her somewhat recently purchased home. There weren’t many (if any?) structural changes, but, wow, is the change amazing! It looks like an entirely different room.

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Do you have any favorite Before & Afters—perhaps from your own home? Share!

Office Envy

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I work in a pretty standard corporate setting (for the most part, anyway; our public spaces are pretty awesome) and have been thinking a lot lately about ways to style my own office. I’ve always thought it’s important to be surrounded at work by things that are familiar, stylish, and inspiring given the amount of time we spend there, but it can be tough to do when an office suite is a maze of cappuccino-colored carpet and cubes. So far, I’ve picked up a few pieces of art and have some other ideas in mind to shake up my space a bit. In the mean time, here are a few companies whose chic, design-forward, and sometimes whimsical offices crush the competition when it comes to inspiring surroundings.

Beats by Dr Dre (pictured above, too)

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Refinery29

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Urban Outfitters & Free People

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The Honest Company

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Moda Operandi

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Can you imagine walking into these offices with a hot cup of joe each day? I’d also love to see the corporate offices of Lululemon, Piperlime/Athleta, Tibi, Pinterest, and Instagram. Whose offices would you love to see inside?

Leif Peeping

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Over the last few years I’ve fallen in love with home design, from interiors to furniture to décor. But it’s not something I’ve tried at all very hard to apply in my real life, which I blame on what’s been a pretty nomadic lifestyle. In the 11-plus since years since I finished college I’ve lived in four different cities—and states!—and eight different apartments, counting our current situation. That kind of movement doesn’t exactly inspire one to pour a bunch of blood, sweat, and tears (or cash) into a real design scheme. But while Pinning some gorgeous rooms and fun decorative things earlier this week I was reminded of a site I love called LEIF, which stocks super-colorful, boho-chic, graphic-print house stuff for won’t-break-the-bank prices. (They have great accessories, too.) With our latest move, job change, and wedding now behind us, I’m thinking a few simple swap-ins and updates would go a long way in making our cookie-cutter apartment feel more like a stylish abode. Here are a few things that made it onto my wish list—and might, some day, make it into our home.

1. Brass Hexagon Planter // 2. Herringbone Salt Cellar // 3. 16″ Kilim Pillow, Mystic Journey // 4. Neon Green Geo Laser Cut Artwork // 5. Grid Planter //  6. Confetti-Print Tea Towel (on sale!) // 7. 18″ Kilim Pillow, Bolivian Stripe // 8. Tchaikana Metallic Laser Cut Artwork // 9. Cable Knit Planter // 10. Greyscale Triangles Wool Blanket // 11. Cities Coaster Set // 12. “Hot Pink” Print // 13. “Firecracker” Print // 14. Pyramid Salt Cellar // 15. Rainy Day Wool Throw // 16. Leo Wool Blanket // 17. Copper Patina Planter //  18. Two Tone Stripe Bath Towel

What shops and websites do you love for home décor?

Maine Attraction: Bar Harbor

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Years and years (and years) ago, my parents took my brother and me on a summer vacation around New England. I was too little to remember most of it in much detail, but I can still picture the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY; the Cheers bar in Boston; the gold-domed state house in Montpelier, VT; and a ferry ride across Lake Champlain. But the destination that sticks out most in my mind is Bar Harbor, Maine. I know it stood out for my parents, too, and more specifically my mom, who has both threatened and promised many times over the years to pack her bags and move to the oceanfront enclave for good. She and I spent a few days in Bar Harbor a couple years ago (happily, I was able to find an adult-size hoodie from Cool As a Moose to replace the original one I wore out as a kid), and my parents headed there together just last month after our wedding in Newburyport. They say the town has grown exponentially in the years since our first visit—and even since our visit just two years ago—but judging by their pictures, it’s also still the same sweet hamlet that stole all our hearts all those years ago. A few things that made it onto their itinerary: a stay at the new West Street Hotel, a visit to Acadia National Park, and a stop at The Jordan Pond House Restaurant for some of its legendary popovers.

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Have you re-visited a favorite place from your childhood? How different was it?

Note: All of these photos were taken by my parents, so thanks to them for letting me share them with you all!

Wedding Week, Part 4: Little Palm Island Mini-moon

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When we first started thinking about our honeymoon, we wanted to go away right after our wedding for a nice, long break. At the time, we also had no idea that we’d be making a major move down South for my new job, which threw our logistics off but which also meant less vacation time for me since I’d be starting it halfway through the year. We weren’t sure what to do, but we did know that, after the spring and summer we’d just had, we weren’t willing to skip our honeymoon altogether. In the end, we booked three nights at Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys, a tranquil little slice of paradise that we visited last year and loved. The tiny island is accessible only by boat and is populated by thatch-roof bungalows with jetted tubs, outdoor showers, and giant king-size beds draped in frothy mosquito netting (the beds are so high off the ground that step stools are placed at either side so guests can climb in). What the island lacks, gloriously, is TVs, thumping nightclubs, loud music, and just about any sign of life besides other guests, staff, birds, geckos, and a few adorable key deer. After just three days and nights of fabulous meals, long naps by the pool, paddle-boarding, boating, and two soul-soothing spa treatments apiece, we found ourselves feeling surprisingly refreshed and relaxed, if just a touch reluctant to return to the real world after the best week ever.

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