Monday, March 31, 2014

Pentatonix at the Ryman

Back in November when VB and I were experiencing our 2nd annual Straight No Chaser date, we went ahead and bought presale tickets for another a cappella group, Season 3 of The Sing Off's winners, Pentatonix.  Never heard of them?  Allow me to interrupt this post with one of my favorite medleys of theirs, Evolution of Beyonce.

Our normal pre-concert ritual is to meet for Mexican food, but this time VB treated me to an early birthday meal of white sangria and delicious tacos at Local Taco.  (I finally got to taste the delish Korean BBQ tacos after my last visit!)  YUM!  She even had a lovely card for me.

From there, it was off to the Ryman, most definitely my favorite venue in Nashville.  Even though you squish together in the old church pews, the acoustics rock!  To quote VB, the place sounded like a high school.  The crowd was young and completing fangirling over Pentatonix.  We must admit, we aren't superfans (who showed up with posters and screamed randomly throughout), but we enjoy talented artists and the art of a cappella.  THIS CONCERT WAS AWESOME.

First off, each individual member of the group is phenomenally talented.  From their super deep bass who can sing two tones at once, to their beatboxer who can play cello, to their main vocalists who can imitate autotune and electronic overlays to their sound, it was unreal to hear such big numbers come out of just five people.

(Note:  Now I subject you to blurry iPhone photos of the concert, once again proving I was there but forcing you to wonder why I even post them.  Oh well.)

They even broke away from true a cappella to feature some cello.  Again, intensely cool!  It was entertaining the entire way through, and I especially loved singing along to their awesome covers.  (They opened with their Daft Punk number, which went viral on YouTube.)
I'm glad I got to see this group live, and I'll continue to follow their progress to see how they change the misconceptions of what a cappella is all about!
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Budgeting Bloggers: March 2014

March was a good month for me!  It's my birthday month, and I happened to win a $250 giftcard at work... but I decided not to credit my clothing budget.  I'm proud of myself for not going hog wild on a spending spree, even resisting a Tory Burch sale.  My, how I've grown up.

  1. Fabletics Outfit (originally $50, FREE):  Camacan Capris (and a credit for a returned top), earned at no cost for referral, review, and purchase points. Check out my review of the outfit here.  It's my third month doing Fabletics, and I LOVE it!  I still don't feel like I have all the pieces I need in my workout drawer, so it's helping me on that front for sure.  Super pumped this month was a freebie, as my remaining budget was pretty tight.
  2. J. Crew Factory Classic Button-Down Shirt Gingham (originally $55, paid $38):  This was straight off the wishlist, as I love so many of the gingham layering looks I see on blogs.  I chose the dark navy check as it seemed the most classic.  The J. Crew pieces I bought were already on sale, then I used a 30% off code to stack deals.
  3. J. Crew Factory Clare Cardigan in White (originally $55, paid $28):  These are my #1 favorite cardigans, and I noticed that I need a white one in my closet as the weather warms up.  I keep reaching for one that doesn't exist, so I know it will get some wear this spring/summer!
  4. J. Crew Factory Croc-Embossed Belt in Dusty Charcoal (originally $30, paid $7):  This was an add-on to my J. Crew order, since it made shipping free but was basically the cost of shipping.  I wear a lot of skinny belts with my cardigan outfits.
  5. Dorothy Perkins Blue Floral 2-in-1 Dress (originally $29, paid $23):  I already have two dresses from Dorothy Perkins, and I love them both!  I spotted free shipping and 20% off codes online recently, so I decided to try the site out again with a couple of fit-n-flare dresses.  I am determined that the weather will turn around and it will be spring dress season again!  This dress was an instant favorite for me.  The material of both my DP dresses was soft and stretchy, way better than other dresses I've been browsing that cost more.
  6. Dorothy Perkins Navy & Ivory Striped Boxpleat Dress (originally $29, paid $23):  I wanted to LOVE this dress, but the torso length felt slightly off on me. Returns to the UK were too pricey, so I did my best to make it work... and I grew to love it.
  7. Dorothy Perkins Bird Ditsy Necklace (originally $9, paid $7):  Free shipping add-on piece, because I need more gold!  Not amazing, but I am sure I will wear it occasionally.
  8. J. Crew French Print Popover (originally $88, paid $51 with shipping/tax):  I blame two people for this... Caroline for telling me I had to have this French-themed shirt (I was a French major after all), and Fran for mentioning the 40% off sale prices offer on her blog!  I also credit the same two people for bringing this wonderful top into my life.  Merci.  The deal took the price down to about $41, but I had to pay shipping and tax.  I think I'm moving down a size in J. Crew based on this shirt (woohoo, weight loss!) but keeping this one as-is.
  9. Long-Sleeved Dress from Macy's (FREE):  Birthday gift from my Mom, has a great silhouette and I've already worn it!
  10. Statement Necklace from Macy's (FREE):  Birthday gift from my Mom

$177 spent - $50 earned = $127
$166 savings

Quarterly Budget: $500 - $260 January - $135 February - $127 March= $22 over budget

Overall, I'm pleased with myself in terms of how my first quarter went.  I was a bit over budget, but given how much money I saved I don't feel like it was a terrible offense.  Budgeting almost a year now with Fran has helped me realize that I was shopping emotionally a lot of the time.  I'm more deliberate about what I buy now, and I cull my closet more often.  (To my local Goodwill's delight!)  I'm scared to think how much I was spending on clothes before, knowing that it was perfectly normal for me to go into a Forever 21 and spend over $100 on a regular basis, on clothes I didn't even keep for a year.

How I styled the Dorothy Perkins dress

Don't forget to check out what the rest of Fran's Budgeting Bloggers hauled this month!

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Downton Abbey: The Ups and Downs - Series 4 Recap

It's that time of year again!  That time when I finally get to open my mouth about the latest season of Downton Abbey because the Americans are all caught up.  Because you all know I can't stand not watching it right away and totally had it finished back in December.

SPOILER ALERT, read on only if you've watched Series 4!

This season was view by many as a weaker season, with a lot of reviews saying it had jumped the shark.  And I'll admit, it wasn't my favorite.  But it was still a compelling story for me to watch, and I looked forward to every episode.  Here are my abbreviated thoughts on the season...

I like how they started the seasons months after Matthews' death, because it allowed them to pick up with a bit more "normal" life than if they'd shown everyone in the throes of intense grief.  I feel like Mary's emotions throughout the series bring her back to the way she was pre-Matthew (less likeable, but authentic) and I enjoyed seeing her come back into her own.  She's even considering suitors, one of whom I see as particularly up to the task (and even possibly more worthy than Matthew).  Isobel's grief was particularly hard to watch, as she's the one essentially orphaned by the death without other family, but I was happily surprised how the Dowager Countess stepped up as her cheeky pal.

What impressed me most throughout the Upstairs story during the season was Edith's transformation.  Forced out of the "middle child" syndrome by the death of Sybil, she took advantage of the grief and swirl around her family to escape.  From her manner to her clothes, she has gone from being one of my least favorite characters to one I empathize with a lot.  While her judgment is still often flawed, she chased love and lost in some terrible ways... but I'm still rooting for her after all.

The rest of the Upstairs stories seemed to be short and sweet, filled with mystery and funny capers, and frenemies at parties.  Not much to report.  Lord Crawley is still an old-fashioned sexist despite having such independent and sassy women in his family.

In between Upstairs and Downstairs is poor Branson.  I started the season really loving him (and seeing myself choosing him above the other men in the series) until EDNA came back.  Seriously, Branson?  WTF?  As for Edna (and evil Nanny for that matter) good riddance to bad rubbish.  I was much more inclined to encourage Branson's interest in Sarah Bunting, who seems a good match for him intellectually.  I feel for the fact that he is a man without country, not an aristocrat like his in-laws but no longer fit for his previous occupation.  He represents the rise of the middle class, I suppose!

Downstairs this series was chaos.  CHAOS.  There are many more evil people lurking below apparently.  I'm not going to gloss over Anna's rape or the death of her rapist.  It was awful.  And it was hard for me not to get mad at Anna for pushing Bates away like she did, because they were portrayed as perfect lovebirds before.  But it's telling that she didn't confront her rapist because of her fear that Bates would seek revenge... because I'm convinced she realizes there's a bit of psychopath in him.  She's in love with Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, don't you think?  And it was interesting to see Thomas try to regain footing with a new alliance with the exit of O'Brien.  He's back to his evil ways, and it kind of makes me sad.

As for the other Downstairs characters, Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore continue to be favorites for me.  Their personalities and wisdom just make me smile so much.  They're secretkeepers and mentors to the rest of the ninnies.  I really enjoyed seeing Daisy bloom (pun intended) under Patmore's watchful eye, even parting with her crush on Alfred in a very mature way.

If you didn't like previous seasons of Downton, you won't like this one.  But if you're inclined to view the inhabitants of that house as family, like I am after these years, you'll enjoy it.  My friends and I have a "BBC Book Club" on Facebook where we share our thoughts throughout the UK season to prevent spoilers for our US-watching friends... and we all agree we liked it.  We'll keep watching!

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chino Latino

You guys, I feel like if I had to choose my last meal on earth, it might be Chino Latino.  During my business trip to Minneapolis, we had a group dinner at this Uptown restaurant touting "Street Food from the Hot Zones" and a collection of hilariously-named cocktails.  (For example, I indulged in a Crack Ho Mojito, which came with small vials of delicious fruit purees to add to my drink.  It was one of the best drinks I've ever had!)  The whole place looks kind of warehouse/non-descript on the outside, but once you're inside you feel like you've been given access to an exclusive dark and trendy hotspot.

Crack Ho Mojito, before and after
*Note...  the place was very dark and I was with my coworkers so I was trying to take quick photos without being too obvious.  So just deal with the fact that I'm not a great food blogger and go drool over Lauren's awesome photos.*

The food, you guys... the food.  Our group ordered a feast of Fidel's Capitalist Pig Roast, a Havana style suckling pig served with rice, plantains, and other trimmings.  I indulged in eating a bit of the cheek with a couple of others, crusty skin and all.  It totally transported me back to that amazing suckling pig I had in Spain!  We passed the head (and meat, of course) around to share, along with a smorgasbord of small plates.

If you ever have a chance, EAT THE CHEEKS.  Do it.
I also sampled:
  • Kalbi Beef Short Ribs, marinated with asian pear and soy and served on a kimchee puree (YES, these were on the menu, and THEY ROCKED)
  • Korean Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps (I didn't order these, but I sure dove in on some interested Korean fusion)
Kalbi and Bulgogi
  • Some sort of calamari (I think it was the Lamma Island Salty Squid)
  • Queso Fundido with Chorizo (I could eat this all day until I am bed-ridden)
  • Pork Belly Steam Buns (it was like an open-faced bao sandwich with slow-cooked PORK BELLY, I die I die I die)
  • Fried Ice Cream (plantain crusted coconut ice cream with bananas and caramel sauce)
  • Chocolate Flandango (dulce de leche, flan, and chocolate cake in layers, which my boss has challenged me to make)
And that wasn't even everything that was ordered and passed around. You guys, I felt so fat and happy after that meal.  No words.  I was a bit tipsy from my mojito, but I enjoyed eating until the point of no return.  I felt like I was Anthony Bourdain or something.  It was epic.  I seriously want to eat here every day.

I highly recommend it if you get the chance!  Minneapolis, you've impressed me.

Chino Latino on Urbanspoon 

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

29th Birthday Affirmations

It's time for a birthday post.  It's something I think I've done on various blogs since I was in high school, always a little different in format.  I think that this year, the last one in my twenties, needs to start off on an optimistic note.  Carpe diem!
I'm terrible at accepting compliments.  I blush easily.  I'm a loudmouth chatterbox who is painfully self-conscious.  So a few months ago during a women's leadership course, discovering that I was unable to graciously accept compliments without looking at the ground and being self-deprecating, the instructor forced me to stand, make eye contact, and thank everyone in the room as they paid me compliments.  DAMN.  It was awful and awesome, because I realized that I don't take enough time being positive towards *myself*.
So today, I'm making this post about 29th Birthday Affirmations.  Inspired by one of my favorite viral videos of all time, Jessica's Daily Affirmation, I bring to you my own.  I was uncomfortable sharing this at first, until I realized it isn't bragging... it's just the truth.

Today, on my 29th birthday...  I like who I am.  I like where I am in my career, where I live, and who I'm with.  I like the strong bonds of family and friendship that I have in my life.  I like that I live comfortably, and that I have a wonderful man and two cats who love on me every day.  I like that I went to West Point and served in the military, because I'm proud of my accomplishments there.  I like that I pushed myself to make new friends in a new town, because they make me so happy.  I like that I'm pushing through grad school because my degree will be valuable to me.  I like that I make time for Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion, because they give me great bonds and fellowship.  I like my book club.  I like that I have nice things, which I have earned over time.  I like that I know I don't need those nice things to be happy.  I like that I have the privilege of enjoying good food.  I like that my skin isn't as bad as it used to be when I was younger.  I like that I know how to wear makeup now, for the most part.  I like that I'm working on getting in better shape, because I definitely like the results.  I like that I get to travel and experience so much in the world.  I like that I don't care anymore if other people think I'm weird.  I like that I can finally be who I want to be, no apologies, #sorrynotsorry.
I like my whole life!!!

Except now that I'm in my last year of my twenties, I guess I have to really grow up and stuff.  Sigh.  Someone pass me the eye cream and some superfoods!

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P.S.  I chopped off my hair to donate it again.  My head feels lighter, but shorter hair is totally more work.  Kicking off my last year in my 20s with something new!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Heading to Minneapolis in March was not my choice...  after all, it's FREEZING up there!  But knowing that a chance work trip would result in seeing my North Dakota relatives, I was happy to venture up there on St. Patrick's Day.  I stayed at the W Minneapolis - The Foshay, a posh and modern hotel with an abnormally dark lobby, but I guess it's all about the ambiance!  The room was great, with a fancy little pink bar and big windows.  The bathroom was beautiful too.

We decided to stick to the hotel area to eat, so we ate at the Keys Cafe, a local chain of cafe/bakeries that serve breakfast all day!  I had eggs and turkey sausage, with some sourdough and their delicious homemade strawberry jam.  Then they told us about their dessert case, and I had to have some warm apple pie a la mode.  I suppose I should have looked at the portion size, because it was HUGE.  All the desserts and portions were big, and the prices very reasonable.  It felt like a diner, but with a fantastic bakery to boot.
Keys Foshay on Urbanspoon

We then headed up to the bar at the top of the W, Prohibition, which as windows that provide a 360-degree view of the skyline around the building.  It was beautiful!  There were lounge areas all over, definitely a neat space to mingle.  It really picked up as it got later, with a pretty hip crowd stopping by for $15 cocktails.  I had An Epiphany, with Grey Goose La Poire vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, sparkling wine, and an orchid garnish.  An ORCHID.  Okay, so that's why the cocktail costs $15.  Delicious, refreshing, and yum.  Definitely on par with the pricey drinks in Nashville at places like Patterson House.
Prohibition on Urbanspoon

One thing about Minneapolis that really impressed me was the Skyway system.  While I was surprised by the number of homeless people wandering the Skyway (then again, it is COLD outside) I was more pleasantly happy to find that I didn't have to carry my heavy coat everywhere.  I could walk blocks and blocks without every going outside, navigating the maze.  There are also coffee shops and quick service restaurants all throughout, which is great for a caffeine fix.  I also really liked the big City Target store!

Also, I felt super cool for using Uber for the first time!  It's one of those use-your-phone-to-call-a-towncar apps that shows you what cars are near you, pays the fare/tip via your phone (Paypal, credit card, etc.), and you know what your wait time is.  I really like that you can drop a pin on a map and they come to you, vs. hailing a cab in an unfamiliar city on your own.  I also think it's great that you get a photo of your driver for safety.
This is the only business trip I've ever made to Minneapolis, and I honestly hope it's not the last.  I hear it's a great place to visit in summer, and the foodie scene is booming.  It seems to be a pretty young and hip city, and I like it!
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Franklin's 11th Annual Main Street Brew Fest

The weekend before St. Patrick's Day, downtown Franklin has a Main Street Brew Fest packed with 50+ tastings of craft brews from Nashville and beyond.  I'd never attending before, but since Dan is brewmaster of a local craft brewery, we took my parents while they were in town.  It was SOLD OUT for tastings, so if you plan to go, buy tickets ahead of time!
Tickets to the event cost $40, and include a souvenir tasting glass.  You can taste all the beers you want, and Main Street is shut down for the event.  I was pretty proud to see the insanely long line outside Dan's brewery tent; he was even interviewed by the local news!  There were very long lines all over Main Street.  Some tastings were inside of the boutique stores, others were in tents outside.  the Puckett's truck was there, as well as corn dog/snack, kettle corn, and burger vendors.
Mom was learning to take iPhone selfies.
I will say that I felt like the town circle was totally underutilized compared to other festivals.  It was virtually empty!  More live music, please... though I loved the bagpipes.  There were some breweries with terrible positions as they weren't along the Main Street drag from Mellow Mushroom to Starbucks.  I really liked a few of the beers, but I wish they had more food trucks and entertainment.  Pumpkinfest set a high bar in my mind, and it seems like they could organize it a bit better than they did.
But it was still a really great night out, wandering the streets of Franklin.  I lovingly call this place Mayberry, because I think it's a sweet little place to call home.  Mom & Dad also got to see Dan in his element, and I couldn't be prouder of being connected to such a great guy!
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Tenors

I was supposed to post this in February... yeah, oops.
My friend VB and I both enjoy attending concerts, so when she asked if I would join her to see The Tenors at TPAC (formerly the Canadian Tenors) I said yes immediately!  I'd never heard their music before, but how could I resist four hot guys singing opera?

I was a little nervous when I saw a bunch of relatively older ladies wearing their TFF scarves (think Josh Groban's Grobanites), but knowing that they had such a dedicated following was a good sign.

It was one of the most moving performances I have seen in a long time.  I was almost moved to tears at a couple of points.  "Nessun dorma" was the song they did that I had been hoping for, and it was better than when I heard it at the Met in Turandot!  VB was thrilled that they sang "Hallelujah" as their encore, as it was her favorite by far.

What a great night, with a fantastic view of the stage!
P.S.  I told VB I wasn't gonna toss this photo up on Facebook and I just wanted it for my annual photo album, but it's one of my fav pics from February so #sorrynotsorry that I put it on the BLOG.  I mean, we're super cheesing AND you can see a crazy fan with a TFF scarf behind us.  xoxo
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Bibim Bop (Clarksville, TN)

Since my USO 10-Miler race was on an Army base, I thought it might be fun to find a good Korean restaurant to eat at afterwards.  I love Korean BBQ, and if you live near an Army base you are pretty much guaranteed to have a decent Korean (or German) restaurant.

I was with Mom and Dad, and during the race my Mom ran into a Korean guy and asked where we should go.  He directed us to Bibim Bop, which I think is fairly new.  I was surprised by its counter service ordering vs. sit-down, but it was extremely clean and very modern!  You ordered at the counter (including choosing your little side dishes) and then your meal would be brought to you.  I was also surprised by the number of non-Koreans working there, which I honestly sometimes view as a negative sign of the restaurant's authenticity, but when two van-loads of Korean families showed up I felt better.

I ordered my beloved kalbi ribs.  They were the priciest menu item ($15) but came with rice and three side dishes.  I also ordered mandu dumplings.  The dumplings were just okay, a bit salty and didn't seem to have meat in them.  The ribs were better, though again a bit more salty than the sweeter ones I'm used to.

The portion sizes were good, and my parents liked their meals.  Dad had bulgogi, Mom had bibimbap.  This was a very kid-friendly place with its cafeteria-like atmosphere.  I would say it isn't the best Korean food I've had in Tennessee, but I enjoyed the meal a lot.  I'd recommend anyone in Clarksville who wants a quick Korean meal stop by.

Bibim Bop on Urbanspoon 

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

USO Ten Miler at Fort Campbell

I have a goal of running the Disney Marathon next January, but I wanted to make sure I had a good record time for corral placement.  I needed one that was more recent than my Disney Princess Half Marathon in 2012.   So I signed up to run the USO Ten Miler at Fort Campbell.

I'll be honest; I wasn't properly trained for this one.  In fact, my parents volunteered to come down and drive me to/from and support me, because I think they were both afraid that I wouldn't finish.  I had a goal of completion in two hours, clocking in a 12-minute mile pace that would give me a decent position on the marathon.
The course was hilly (Dad was shocked!), but the weather was perfect.  I honestly felt pretty good until about mile 8, when a big old hill caused me to walk a bit.  I ran 95% of the time, very little walking.  It was nice having Mom & Dad out on the course cheering me on like the old days.  There were plenty of water spots, and I used my new fitness belt for water and music from my iPhone.  I also stopped and had a GU Energy Gel around mile 7 to give myself a boost.  I think that helped a little.
Mom & Dad created an extra pit stop for me along the way!
As I was on the finishing stretch, Sissy happened to call me!  She talked to me almost until the very end, where I saw Mom & Dad.  It was kind of like my whole family was there together rooting me on.  I finished under two hours (faster than I hoped!) despite not being in the best shape.  I'm definitely SUPER sore (knees and shoulders, strangely enough) and being a bit of a wimp, but I'm proud that I did it.
Running that painful 10 miles made me think really long and hard about attempting 26.2.  The physical and mental preparedness ahead is a tough pill to swallow right now.  I know I was not in any kind of good shape to do this race, but I am still not going to take registering for a full marathon lightly!  I'll keep you posted as I continue this masochistic journey.
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Friday, March 14, 2014 Giveaway - WINNER

CONGRATULATIONS to Alexandra on being the winner of the BigStock Poster!
Look for an e-mail from me to claim your prize.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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