Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: Looking Back

2015 was awesome.  Seriously, I'm not sure how it gets better?  Sure, it had highs and lows... but overall as I look back, I can't help but be pleased by how things ended up.  Here are my Top Ten (in chrono order) captured on this blog for the year!

  1. On New Year's Eve, at nearly midnight, Dan proposed.
  2. I completed the Walt Disney World Marathon, all 26.2 grueling miles.
  3. I became a godmother (and ate my way through NY).
  4. We took brewery/Franklin-themed engagement portraits.
  5. I had a beer brunch 30th birthday party, and it was a blast!
  6. We honeymooned in Peru, the best trip we've ever taken.
  7. I attended my first Daughters of the American Revolution Continental Congress in D.C.
  9. I also traveled to Florida (once, twice), New York, California, Arizona (once, and one more post coming), Alabama, Indiana (a few times), Michigan (a few times for work and with Dan), and Pennsylvania for Christmas.
  10. I wrote posts on two cities I've grown to love over the past few years (my current staycations!) Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee.

My blog got a new look this year, thanks to Maru!  Every so often, you need a nice refresh, right?

I was also more candid, honest, open this year, and I even dove further back into the past for some inspiration...  a few posts I'm proud of for various reasons:
And since everyone is doing that 2015bestnine thing on Instagram, I thought I'd post mine here for a laugh... because everyone loves cat photos, my most-liked photos were mostly Bear and Bourbon.  #winning #crazycatlady  (The other two non-cat pics are my South Korea pic from the retrospective and our engagement!)


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Date Night: Bob's Steak & Chop House and Kristin Chenoweth at the Symphony

Date night sometimes means a balance or compromise...  so when I wanted box seats to see Broadway & Holiday with Kristin Chenoweth & the Nashville Symphony, I knew I needed to bribe Dan a little bit.  So I made reservations at Bob's Steak & Chop House in the Omni Nashville hotel.

Bob's is a traditional, upscale steakhouse.  It's definitely a special occasion place!  It has that dark steakhouse vibe while mixing its decor with a "Music City" theme of microphones, guitars, and more.  We had wonderful service while we were there, and our food was delicious!

We ordered a bottle of wine, and they served us a big loaf of hot bread.  They also have signature pickles and peppers to start!  Dan's a fan of pickles, so he indulged.  For our main courses, we eat ordered steak and potatoes, which came with a cooked carrot that was very sweet and almost like a dessert.

As you can see, the portions were huge!  We also ordered a special side for that night, the lobster mac 'n' cheese.  Dan was totally eating all the lobster bits he could find first!

We used the valet at the hotel, knowing the restaurant meal would validate the parking.  We left our bag of leftovers with the concierge (Dan couldn't part with all that food!  He took it to work for lunch the next day.) and we walked to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

It was a beautiful night for the walk, and the concert!  Kristin Chenoweth was so amazing, I cried a couple of times!  She was absolutely awesome, and so moving to hear live.

Sitting in a box, no big deal

It was pretty much the perfect weeknight date!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Budgeting Bloggers: December 2015

Holy shopping, Batman.  I went really crazy on Thanksgiving weekend with online shopping for Black Friday/Cyber Monday.  I didn't go to a mall or any actual stores... just shopped dangerously online.  Like, INSANE.  Like WTF was I thinking.  ALL THE MONEY GONE, spent on myself minus all the gifts I also bought for my family.  Yikes.  No judgment zone, people.

  1. Merona Poncho Sweaters in Berry and Grey via Target (originally $30 each, paid $17 each):  Huge sale, tipped off by friend CM.  These sweaters have already been worn multiple times.  I usually layer them over a striped long-sleeve shirt, with skinnies and wedge booties.
  2. eShakti Vintage Style Knit Dress in Tomato Red (originally $55, paid $25): sale and gift code and free ship.  eShakti's knit dresses are my go-to for an easy vintage look.
  3. eShakti Pleated Knit Dress in Bottle Green (originally $70, paid $25)
  4. J. Crew Factory Cable-Knit Tunic Sweater in cream (value $98, paid $42): Cyber Monday 50% off then 15% off and free ship.  It hasn't actually been cold enough yet for me to wear this one, but I love it!
  5. J. Crew Factory Clare Cardigan in Warm Chartreuse and Bistro Blue (value $55 each, paid $23 each):  My FAVORITE cardigan, and mustard yellow colors are always needed in my closet as a favorite.  Cardigans and blazers are my work uniform.
  6. J. Crew Factory Funnelneck Sweatshirts in Charcoal Black and Light Grey (value $88 each, paid $37 each):  I know, I bought something in two colors. Again. Ugh, I can't help myself.  But these, another CM push, have been the number one item worn during December for me, especially for travel.
  7. LOFT Ponte Five Pocket Legging (originally $67, paid $35): Cyber Monday 50% off and free ship.  These need hemming, but they're super comfy!  You just can't go wrong with ponte pants for work and travel.
  8. LOFT Seamed Ponte Pants (originally $50, paid $25):  Worn multiple times already.

  • 9.  Bandolino Ballet Flat in Black (retail $59, FREE from my Mom):  Mom scored a great deal on these flats, so she gifted me a pair for work.  Um, perfect!  Seriously, these are the only ballet flats I will buy from now on.
  • 10.  Pajar Grip Zip Boot in Black/Navy (originally $200, paid $104):  Under the influence of CM again, who alerted me to the poncho sweaters at Target AND the funnelneck sweatshirts at J Crew...  I needed boots to wear to PA and Indiana this Christmas, and I sold my Hunter boots, so these fit the bill.  The laces plus zip make it good for us wide-calf girls, and CM says Sorels are played out and these are the next cool thing.  I just love how comfy they are!  I've already worn them a few times, and they keep my feet toasty and warm.  Great for rain, too!
  • 11.  eShakti Pleated Jersey Knit Dress in Black (originally $60, paid $10):  I had a gift card, discount code, and B2G1 sale going on for eShakti, so when I combine these last three items,  paid $31 out of pocket!  So I labeled each item $10 and called it a day budget-wise.
  • 12.  eShakti Shawl Collar Cotton Check Shirtdress (originally $65, paid $10)
  • 13.  eShakti Pleated Cotton Knit Top in Black (originally $30, paid $10)
(not pictured)
  • LuLaRoe Amelia Dress x2 (originally $58 each), LuLaRoe Madison Skirt (originally $40), saved $25 off on Black Friday
  • LuLaRoe Leggings (originally $21 each, paid $55 for 3)
  • Monogrammed Leather Clutch/Crossbody Bag ($27 + $10 monogram): I went back to Silver Steer & Co. and got a brown version of the black purse I got last month, but a different monogram style.  Don't judge me!  :)

I decided to wait until January to recap Christmas gifts, because we were traveling and this post is already chock full of stuff... so stay tuned for next month to see what I got!  What can I say, other than I had a LOT of fun this month?  :)  That's just how it goes.

I'm also still getting bombarded with shopping deals and ideas from post-Christmas sales.  I'm also checking out new-to-me sites for ordering including two sites based out of Canada, Simons and Joe Fresh.  Both offer US shipping, and it's  less likely I'll be wearing the same thing as everyone else when I shop there.  (Kind of like my Pajar boots... I have a friend who has some, but no one else I know!)

$664 spent -  $61 sold = $603 total spent
$692 savings
(really cool, right? TOTALLY JUSTIFIES the shopping.)

Total 2015 YTD Spending: $1910 + December $603 = $2513

Overall, while it feels like a lot of money spent, I went through a major wardrobe overhaul this year.  It came out to around $209 per month.  It's made me think about whether I want to stick to a monthly or quarterly budget in 2016, as I haven't done an actual limit this year.  More to come with January's post!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

This year for our Christmas card, I had Rachel of The British Rule do a portrait of us in our wedding attire, including our kitties.  I used this card from Minted as our template.

I love how it turned out, and she turned it around very quickly.  I highly recommend her for your portrait needs!  I plan to print out a copy of this (and our portrait from last year's card) to frame in our home.

To see our past Christmas cards, click here! :)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Bell's Brewery (and more)

Bell's Brewery is pretty much one of the original kings of the rise of craft brewing.  That's how I'd describe it.  They've been selling their own beer since 1985, and with the expansion of their facilities in Comstock, they're staged to be the #5 producer of craft beer in the country pretty soon!  (I think they're #7 now.)

We rented a car and headed about an hour south from Grand Rapids to visit Bell's.  It had snowed a lot, so the crowds were light. Our tour of their original brewing space was a private one as we were the only two there for it!  But we really enjoyed the Eccentric Cafe.

Eccentric Cafe

There are so. many. beers. on tap at the brewery that you'll never see for sale anywhere else.  The HUGE beer menu was two pages, and we focused on the ones we could only get there.  You could seriously sample beers all day and not get through them without getting wasted.  It's a true destination, well worth the trip.

Oh, and I also ordered a bunch of food for us to share.  Bacon lollipops, served with BBQ sauce.  Crab cakes.  Soft pretzel bites.  And my favorite, the Ploughman's Board with charcuterie, cheeses, and more.  I'm not the beer aficionado in the family, but I can appreciate how it complements good food.

The tour at Bell's is FREE of charge!  Just sign up on the clipboard before you head into the taproom or restaurant.  There's also still a home brewing shop combined with a gift shop where you can purchase t-shirts and other merch.

Bell's Brewery Tour (Kalamazoo)

Dan's friend LC moved from Nashville to Kalamazoo to work for Bell's, and she and her boyfriend met up with us to head over to Bell's facility at Comstock, where the majority of the beer is now brewed.  (Note: The tours of that facility are free too, so beer lovers make sure you plan the extra stop!)


I was absolutely in awe of the facility at Comstock.  I've never seen a brewery at that size and scale!  It was incredibly clean and high-tech and efficient.  The pallets of cans waiting for beer alone were impressive to me!  It was a really great tour, and such a contrast with the small breweries I'm used to touring now that I'm married to beer Dan.

I need to go to Traverse City

Beer Cans

Bottling and Boxing

Our gang!

After leaving Kalamazoo, we headed back to Grand Rapids for dinner.  We grabbed a delicious bite at The Green Well, then grabbed our last beer of the trip at Brewery Vivant.  (Check out my past post about visiting these two places here.)

Our trip to Michigan was awesome.  One long weekend just wasn't enough!  We've talked about taking a week's vacation to Traverse City and western Michigan when the weather gets better.  It's just such a unique area, and it's awesome.  Now to plan our next trip there someday soon...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Grand Rapids Ale Trail

Dan and I spent a weekend up in western Michigan over a month ago, and I'm finally getting around to blogging about it!  I had a work meeting on a Friday morning, and since Grand Rapids is a Beer City, I suggested to Dan that he join me and extend it into a weekend brewery-focused trip.

We stayed at my favorite hotel in Grand Rapids, the JW Marriott, and picked up a beer map to guide us on our brewery expedition.  You can even get a brewery passport at a participating location to collect stamps towards a free t-shirt.  We didn't succeed in getting the eight stops required (we went to Kalamazoo for a day, more to come on that later) but we had a lot of fun!

After I was done with work for the day, we walked to HopCat, where we indulged in both beer and their famous crack fries.  I love the decor at HopCat!  You can also order a ton of different beers from all over the place there, on top of their brewpub offering.


After HopCat, we headed up the block to Grand Rapids Brewing Company to sample beers.  We enjoyed talking to a couple of the folks on their brewing staff, who explained that some of the rotating beers are dedicated to staff members who come up with recipe ideas, including one we tried with peanut butter flavor.  Dan has made a peanut butter stout before, so he had to try it.  Being much less of a beer person than he is, it's so interesting to hear brewers and beer lovers talk about the brewing process and beer styles.

Grand Rapids Brewing Co.

After that, we stopped by one of my favorite buildings in the Grand Rapids downtown area, the B.O.B., short for the Big Old Building.  Downstairs, we headed to B.O.B.'s Brewery.  They have a small system downstairs, but their beers have big flavor.  We liked some of their pulp fiction tap handles too, and Dan had a high-gravity stout that he really liked.

For dinner, my coworkers picked us up and we headed to Mitten Brewing Company.  This was probably my favorite stop of the night!  I had a delicious cherry cider (Michigan is known for its cherries) and I still want more.  We also ordered TWO of the pizza flights, each with six different varieties of their delicious pizza. We ordered every flavor except for cheese!  There was a wait for a table, and the place was filled up even with snowy weather.  I'd definitely go back.  There were some weird (but cool) pizza combos too, like the Westerdog with hot dogs and mustard and all that.

After Mitten, we hit up one more brewery, and it's a biggie: Founders.  Founders has been around since 1996 in some form or other, and now it's one of the most prominent breweries in Michigan, expanding its market to 37 states.  Every year it moves up on the list of top producers in the U.S.; in 2014 it was 17th largest craft brewery in the country.  I had been to both Grand Rapids Brewing and Founders Brewing before, but it was nice to be able to enjoy it with Dan!

Needless to say, visiting FIVE breweries from lunch to late night was a lot.  Dan and I were pretty exhausted!  But we still had more to go on our trip...  the next day we'd be headed to Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Lately: Planning, Loving, Reading, Wishing, Feeling

I've been "hanging out" virtually with some fellow bloggers who invite others to join their weekly linkup.  Since I normally don't post on Sundays, I figured it might be a good addition to my lineup because I love its simplicity.

I have TWO more classes left for my Master's degrees (yes, multiple degrees, because masochism), and I really started this term off on the wrong foot.  I'm planning to use the holidays to catch up on coursework, because I'm way behind.  Classes will be officially over at the end of February, so I just need to pull out of my "senioritis" funk on this one!  Woof.

I finally found a paper planner system that works for me, though!  I use Levenger/Arc/Circa notebooks for everything else in my life, so going with the Smart Planner was a late-in-the-game no-brainer for me after two failed Erin Condren Life Planner attempts and a Midori Traveler's Notebook purchase.  Oops.

LuLaRoe leggings.  Whenever I'm at home, I'm wearing them around the house because they're so soft and comfortable.  I think I have like 7-8 pairs now; it's an addiction.  Best $20!  If you want to read my review of LuLaRoe clothes, click here.  I don't sell them, but I feel like I should get a commission because I talk about them so much.

Even though I'm a newlywed, I just finished two research-centric books about dating in this day and age:  Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game and Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.  I have a ton of beautiful, eligible, well-employed, fit, funny, smart single lady friends, and it's occurred to me that the dating scene has changed dramatically in recent years with online dating and apps like Tinder.   Since I love books like Freakonomics or anything by Malcolm Gladwell, these books felt like fun reads, and they were!

If you're interested in reading them, I'd read the Aziz Ansari book first.  It's lighter than the Date-onomics, and references some of the same research.  I think I would have liked it better if I read them in that order, because Date-onomics is more of the nerdy deep dive.  I find non-fiction to be just as fascinating as fiction, so these are good ones if the topic is of interest.

I wish I was going to be with my family for Christmas.  Dan and I agreed to start alternating family holidays (Thanksgiving/Christmas) this year, since our families live in different states... Indiana and Pennsylvania.  It's just not sustainable (read: sane) to try to do both, because travel and stress would make our vacation seem like a gauntlet of driving and schedules and exhaustion.  So this year we're in PA for Christmas (we were in IN for Thanksgiving), and I'm already kind of feeling the "first year with the in-laws" blues that I won't be with my Dad for his birthday Christmas Eve, or waking up in my parents' house on Christmas morning.

I've been spoiled rotten and welcomed with open arms since I arrived (I'm very lucky, and my husband's family and friends are fantastic), but this is the first Christmas that I haven't been home, other than two Christmases while I was in the Army when I couldn't travel.  Luckily this year, we are able to pass through Indiana to break up our long drive home, so I'll get to see my folks for a night before we get back to TN.  From what my coworkers tell me about their first Christmas with their spouse's family, these feelings are absolutely normal and understandable, so that helps me feel less like an ungrateful girl with #firstworldproblems.

I feel exhausted.  With the long road trip and then staying up/out until 12-1am is just not agreeing with me!  Fortunately, my hubby treated me to donuts this morning, which is ALWAYS a remedy to perk me up!

Sunday Lately is a weekly linkup with KatyNicole and Meghan

Friday, December 18, 2015

Chauhan Ale & Masala House

After meeting chef Maneet Chauhan a couple of times (she's seriously the sweetest person ever), I felt like I needed to eat at her restaurant!  Dan and I made plans to meet with my work friends SB and MM for a weeknight dinner at Chauhan Ale & Masala House.

We made reservations ahead of time, but it wasn't super packed given the early Monday night timing.  (Monday nights are a great night to check out restaurants that are tough to get into on weekends, if they're open!)  The place filled up much more once we were seated... chalk that up to "Early Bird Special" Aubrey being in charge of reservations.

One of my favorite things to do in any Indian restaurant is watch Bollywood movies on the TVs.  I was pleasantly surprised to see this "tradition" sneak into Chauhan in the form of projected picture frames with moving films inside!  The restaurant felt intimate, cool, and dark...  kind of sexy!  There was free valet parking, too.

We started our meal with drinks and apps.  (Note: the menu changes seasonally and even daily, in case you don't see these items when you go.)  I believe my drink was the Moni and the Mule, with a delicious mint garnish.  In fact, everyone's drinks were on point.  It's no wonder, since their bartender won Eater's Bartender of the Year for Nashville, ahead of folks from cocktail-centric places like The Patterson House (my review here).

We also kicked off with some DELICIOUS lamb nachos.  Yes, LAMB.  I don't even like lamb that much, and I was digging in.  Can't remember the name of these, but if you ever see them, GET THEM.

We also ordered a double-helping of the Masala Dabba and Tandoori bread.  This was an experience, dipping bread into all of the spices and sauces.  I think the mango was my favorite.

Also, you know from my blog that I can't say no to anything involving duck fat or pork belly.  I just can't.  In this case, I saw the Garam Masala Pork Belly on the menu, it was a must-have.  This pork belly was juicy and fatty, and the spices added a really unique flavor.

For my main dish, I had the Hyderabadi Ribeye, because it just seemed like something "different" to do for Indian food.  (I mean, how much beef do you see at your typical Indian restaurant?  Chauhan branches out and has a lot of fusion and other influences.)  The ribeye was huge and tasty, and the sides were delicious.

That said, I was jealous that everyone else ordered what they typically would get at an Indian restaurant, using the Desi Fare section of the menu: pick a protein, and pick a sauce.  I tried theirs, and it was just so delicious and filled with truly awesome spice!  Next time I'll get my cliché favorite Chicken Tikka Masala, because the sauce at Chauhan is extra special.  I took a picture of Dan's meal to share here.

I left feeling completely fat and happy.  Maneet's restaurant is as delightful as she is!

I'd heard a couple of people say that they felt like the restaurant served Indian food "lite", but after visiting myself it feels to me like those folks wanted to find something wrong with it... probably because it's associated with a celebrity chef.  But to me, while we are regulars at House of India in Franklin (see my review here), this food was a truly different experience.  It had high-end cocktails, fantastic ambiance, and really flavorful, aromatic food.  It manages to be both Indian and Indian-inspired, with a variety on the menu that would please just about anyone.  I'm so glad for this entry on the scene in Nashville, a restaurant serving something different and creative, something other than farm-to-table "upscale Southern" fare.

P.S. If you're in Nashville and a Maneet fan, you also need to grab a beer at Mantra Artisan Ales... check out my recap here!

Chauhan Ale & Masala House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sprinkles Nashville

Sprinkles opens in Nashville on Thursday, December 17th!

OMG you guys... Sprinkles has come to Nashville, opening a storefront (and cupcake ATM!) in the 12South neighborhood next to the new Draper James boutique!  I had a chance to attend the store's preview night, and I was totally fangirling the whole time.

Sprinkles arguably kicked off the cupcake craze in the U.S. with its Beverly Hills store.  In my opinion, it has survived by growing deliberately, maintaining quality and consistency, and using fine ingredients and no preservatives, trans fats, or artificial flavors.  They've also added fantastic ice creams and cookies to their line.  I've compared them to a number of famous cupcake bakeries over the years (including Magnolia Bakery, Gigi's, DC Cupcakes, etc.) and Sprinkles always wins with me.

The Nashville storefront is small, but beautiful!  The ATM is located right out front, of course, and inside there's a beautiful hand-painted pink and white wall, great cupcake display, and friendly staff.  I sampled a lot of goodies, and I love how my favorite banana cupcake tastes the same (moist, delicious, great frosting taste and ratio to cake) no matter what Sprinkles I visit.

Candace Nelson, who founded Sprinkles with her husband, was present at the event, and I got to talk to her about my love of Sprinkles.  Confession: I used to have my sister purchase Sprinkles at the store in Scottsdale, AZ, and hand-carry them on the plane to deliver to me in TN.  True story.  I also seek out Sprinkles wherever I can, including a stop at the Cupcake ATM in Chicago.  I texted the photo to Sissy, and her response was, "Your dream has come true."  Yup!

Me and Candace, as I'm fangirling of course

WELCOME TO NASHVILLE, Sprinkles!  It was an honor to be a part of your preview, on National Cupcake Day no less!

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the Sprinkles invite-only preview, and I received a wonderful "swag bag" of cupcakes, cookies, and other Sprinkles goodies.  I was not asked to recap or promote the event, and I chose to share here because I loved it so much!  :)  All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas at Belmont Mansion

My friend Lindsey and I enjoy being "ladies who lunch" every once in a while.  We've traveled a lot together, and we also love attending events like the Afternoon Adagio at the Olde Pink House when we lived near Savannah. There's just something about dining in a beautiful old home, eating off china, and celebrating friendship.

Recently, we decided to buy tickets for the Christmas luncheon at Belmont Mansion, with a silent auction and proceeds benefiting the Belmont Mansion Association, the non-profit organization in charge of repairing, restoring, researching, and furnishing Belmont Mansion.

I had no idea this mansion was hidden in the middle of Nashville, but pre-Civil War was far from the hubbub and center of town!  It was designed and constructed by a wealthy lady who loved art and Nashville.  It was never a plantation home, but more like a resort home as an escape from the city center.  The mansion is now attached to some more modern buildings, and it's definitely hidden from view off any main roads.  We were surprised (and delighted) how it sneaked up on us!

This is the historic dining room display of the Mansion

The room where we dined was decorated beautifully, and we also spent some time on our phones browsing the silent auction items!  Lindsey and I both won items (I got an autographed Puffy Muffin cookbook!) and had a ball!  We also enjoyed a delicious lunch and some festive "poppers" with our friends at the table afterwards.

We also took a photo together (we've been friends for a decade, we need to capture the memories) and we thought it reminded us of a cruise ship portrait... but pretty nonetheless!  It's probably my favorite picture of the two of us this year.

Lindsey and I joke about how we will someday end up like the Golden Girls (I'm a Dorothy, in case you haven't guessed) and I hope we're still attending events like these together until we're old and grey!

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