Monday, February 29, 2016

Budgeting Bloggers: February 2016

Overall, I'd say February was a slower shopping month for me.  Most of my purchases were focused on DAR or other items that I like that don't go into my closet.  So while I spent my fun money (as usual, let's be real) it wasn't all spent on my wardrobe.  I would say that this month ended up being the month of the wrap dress, because the one I got from Stitch Fix was so nice it inspired me to look for more.  I found some great deals!

  1. Necklaces from Mia's Mirror, ($12 each):  I was traveling for work to San Antonio, and while browsing a huge HEB Plus store (the chain is only in Texas) I stumbled into their central boutique and saw a couple of beautiful necklaces that I wanted to take home!  I usually spent more on similar necklaces at boutiques, so they felt kind of like a good deal.  Mia's Mirror is kind of like a Charming Charlie in the middle of the store.  I don't know how I could grocery shop there without picking up a little something every time!  I've already worn one of the necklaces multiple times, with compliments always!
  2. Dress and Top from Stitch Fix ($78 and $54):  See my review of these items here.  I chose the dress because the wrap style was super flattering, and the top was the perfect layering piece for underneath my standard cardigan and blazer for work.  I wore these both on a business trip and they were perfect!
  3. LuLaRoe Black Leggings (x2, $50 total):  Because I live in them, and they finally have plentiful solid-colored leggings!  Woohoo!  Black leggings are always an important staple in my closet.  Check out my thoughts about LuLaRoe here, from someone who doesn't sell it.  It's one of my most popular posts!
  4. Liz Claiborne 3/4-Sleeve Wrap Dress in navy and black prints (originally $60 each, paid $25 and $30) I have this problem where I get excited about something that looks good on me, like a wrap dress, and I want more.  There was a President's Day weekend sale at JCPenney, and I found two more wrap dresses that were $25-30 each after sales and discounts.  I chose to ship to store to save $9 on shipping, too.
$261 spent -  $65 sold/earned = $196 total spent in February
$65 savings

Quarter Budget: $454 - $196 in February  = $258 left for March 

Next month is my birthday, so I'll have a few birthday gifts in the mix probably.  I will say I haven't been as motivated to buy clothes lately, probably because of my winter weight; it makes me not want to invest!  I've been spending quite a bit on beauty products to pamper my skin, so hopefully I will be able to recap those here soon.

Check out the rest of Fran's budgeting bloggers linkup here!

Oh, and here's a picture of how I wore my new Stitch Fix blouse with a J. Crew cardigan.  Cardigans and blazers are my unofficial work uniform after all!

Monday, February 15, 2016

San Antonio

Earlier this month, my work took me to San Antonio... and I loved it!  I haven't spent much time in Texas, minus a trip back in 2011.  Since I wanted to be close to my work commitments as well as soak up the city, I stayed downtown on the Riverwalk.

Room service breakfast, because I had a work call and because huevos rancheros.

My hotel, Omni La Mansión del Rio, put me in a beautiful 6th floor room with private balcony overlooking the Riverwalk.  The hotel has beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, and while some fixtures may seem dated, it kind of adds to the history and charm of this former Catholic school and college, with its original structure built in the 1800s.  It was converted into a hotel, with additions, in time for the San Antonio Hemisfair.  I could definitely hear and feel the energy of the Riverwalk from my room at night, which was admittedly unique!  I loved the food from its Las Canarias restaurant, which was my daily breakfast.  You could order huevos rancheros, or even get chilaquiles on the buffet.  Yes, please!

One highlight of my trip was getting to reunite with my friend from college, JC.  I hadn't seen her in years, since her wedding and when we were both stationed at Fort Stewart.  I got to meet her daughter, too, which was awesome!  We grabbed dinner (and margaritas) at Agave Bar on the Riverwalk.  The food wasn't spectacular (though the chili con queso was on point).  But my prickly pear margarita was both potent and delicious.

During the day for work, I feel like I got to experience a taste of San Antonio.  One day for lunch, we ate at Bakery Lorraine, located in the trendy Pearl brewery area.  The owners worked at Bouchon Bakery, so I stuck to baked goods, with a delicious savory bread pudding for lunch (think sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, bacon) and some macarons for dessert.  You know I love a good macaron!  These were impeccable.  I had pistachio and salted caramel.

We spent a lot of time working at Halcyon Coffee Bar, which has a delicious chai latte, and grabbed lunch on another day at Stella Public House next door.  Stella serves up delicious, hot pizzas, with fresh and unique combinations of ingredients.  Normally I'd be up for something adventurous, but that day I was feeling a Margherita pizza with some mushrooms.  YUM.

My work trip was wrapping up, so my coworkers took me out to El Machito, one of chef Johnny Hernandez's restaurants.  He has three spots in San Antonio (not counting the airport) with Mexican fare reflective of street food and flavors.  El Machito, in a historic building in the Quarry area, has a Mexican and luchador-themed decor, with vibrant colors and cool custom furniture.  Oh and THE GRILL OF GRILLS.  Y'all know I have carnivorous tendencies and want all the meats please and thanks.  It has Andrew Zimmern's blessing too.

I did proceed to eat my face off, starting with chips, guacamole and salsa, and then tortillas with a Queso Panelo Asado.  The queso is a hot-off-the-griddle cow's milk cheese, and we chose the one with a sweet tasting tomato mermelada, piloncillo, and chile de arbol.  I usually prefer salty and savory tastes, but eating the queso with the salt of a chip or tortilla was a combination made in heaven.  It was serving super-hot in a skillet, which basically sang to us when it was served.  When you live in Tennessee, land of Lodge skillets, you appreciate some cast iron serenading.

For dinner, we shared the Parrillada and assorted sides, because MEAT PLEASE.  The cecina was one of my favorites, a dried and aged beef that was salty and full of flavor.  There were multiple types of chorizo, pork ribs, shrimp, and chicken too.  Everything tasted flavorful and delicious.  This parrillada was enough for three of us to share, and it would be enough for two bigger appetites.

This is where I get to fangirl for a bit, because it's my blog...  One of my coworkers knows the chef, so I was like, "Can we please go to one of his restaurants?"  And then when we were at El Machito, Johnny stopped by to hang out, and I tried to play it cool and pretended I didn't want a photo because he was so authentic and kind to spend time with us.  Same thing happened both times I met Maneet Chauhan, I have paralysis to get a photo with people I admire if it's outside of a formal meet-and-greet.  Chef Johnny is a genuinely cool person, and maybe next time I get the chance to chat with him I'll sneak a pic so I can fangirl even more.

After dinner, I decided that I couldn't leave without checking out the nearby Alamo.  It was an easy walk from my hotel, and particularly pretty at night!

Then, as I was walking back to the hotel, I saw that the last river tour of the night was heading out, and I could catch it for $6 with my military discount.  I figured, why not?  You can have a little fun and exploration when you're traveling on business, especially if there are no evening schedules to factor in.  It was a great night to enjoy the river, and I learned about the history of the Riverwalk and the city's buildings along the way.

P.S.  Because I'm officially a Johnny Hernandez fan now, I hit up La Gloria for breakfast at the airport, and La Fruteria for a farewell limonada.  (If you fly Delta like me, you'll find both in Terminal A.)  Both were great.  The airport upcharge seems visible in the prices, but the tortillas were the same as those from his restaurant and there was great flavor in the food offering.  My server Maria was the sweetest.  I figured, when in San Antonio, why not just keep eating Mexican food as long as you possibly can?

Have you been to San Antonio? What should I do next time?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Travel Tips: Home Sweet Hotel

As those of you who read my blog know, I travel quite a bit for both work and fun.  I am probably on 4-8 flights per month, if you count connections, and I spend quite a bit of time in hotels to boot.  I've shared some tips for business travel before, but I figured this might be a topic worth revisiting, as I've got a couple more years of it under my belt.  Overall, the tips in that previous post still hold true, and loyalty to an airline and hotel chain are still highly recommended if you want to reap any sort of perks and benefits.

While all this jet-setting may sound glamorous, let me tell you this... you couldn't pay me to be a Diamond Platinum Adamantium frequent flyer or hotel points person, because those hard-core guys and gals are spending well over two months per year NOT at home in their own beds.  They have definitely earned the perks!  When you travel, you tend to be exposed to more sicknesses, dry skin, dehydration, muscle soreness from those tiny plane seats, overeating/feeling lethargic because you're eating out all the time, and overall exhaustion.  And all the while, your closet is a pile of unwashed clothes because you're not home to wash them before jetting off again.  It's not always the best thing ever, even though I end up loving the destination and have pretty pictures to show from it!

Instagram: Luxurious room service breakfast in my hotel room overlooking San Antonio
Reality: I'm chained to a conference call trying to scarf down sustenance while on mute, wiping iced tea off my keyboard

Over time, I've learned to bring certain things with me to mimic the comforts of home, or even those of a spa.  Nights alone in a hotel are the perfect time to pamper yourself a little bit!  Even though I'll often stay up late working on homework or a presentation for the next day, you still have time to catch a little HGTV or take a bath.  So I took a pouch from my closet and started adding little things, one at a time, then realized it might be worth sharing with you!

Here's what I've been packing lately in my "Home Sweet Hotel" pack as of late!

  • Water mist for the face, great for hot/desert climates as well as refreshing after a plane ride
  • Linen/room spray, scented, just like what I use at home, so my bedding smells like home
  • Epsom salts, if I know that a hotel has a luxurious bath, for soothing sore muscles (Note: if you're carrying these on, sometimes they trigger a quick security check, but never had issues once they see the label)
  • Waterproof sleeve for my phone/iPad for bathtime reading
  • Lip balm and cuticle balm for dry lips and hands (I buy the cuticle balm from my friend Kate)
  • Scented candle and matchbook, for bath time ambiance (I'm very careful with candles, and using them in the bathroom where there's usually steam prevents any smoke alarm awkwardness)
  • Eye drops, eye mask, sleep aids, all for dry eyes and better sleep
  • Muscle soreness patches from my mom
  • Korean sheet masks BECAUSE MOISTURIZING
  • Spa socks, to walk around the hotel room

All of these things fit nicely into my little pouch, and depending on the trip I take some or don't.  It doesn't add much at all to my luggage, and it's nice to have things at my disposal.  Sheet masks in particular are easy to pack and perfect pampering.

Two other things I recommend if you're traveling to another city...   Check to see if you have any friends you can meet up with (why not?) and pick some kind of local site or restaurant to experience.  If I'm traveling for work, my plane ticket is paid for, so why not grab a drink or dinner if you don't have work requirements after the day is done?  Or see something that the city is famous for?  I love visiting museums, hunting for the best local donut, things like that!

Any business travelers out there have other tricks of the trade to share?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Stitch Fix Review: 8th Fix

I'm back with my latest Stitch Fix recap!

Disclosure:  I paid for my own Stitch Fix; all opinions are my own.  If you're interested in trying Stitch Fix, I'd love for you to use my referral link so I can get $25 towards my next Fix!

This fix, I asked my stylist for tops to wear with my blazers and cardigans, since that is my work "uniform" and I have a zillion dresses.  My stylist focused on printed tops to go under the solid top layers I mentioned, so they could really pop.  She also included a dress and a cardigan.  Sydney, my stylist, reads my blog recaps and uses my Pinterest board to make decisions for me, and I've noticed that over time she's really good at picking items that I would certainly consider and try on, as well as a lot that I want to keep!

Here is what I received in my Fix:

While I was initially hesitant to love a dress that appeared to be named after Edward and Bella's vampire hybrid baby from the Twilight series (that name!  ugh!) I know that wrap dresses, even faux wrap dresses, are incredibly flattering for just about any woman.  My boss has a DVF wrap dress that I've swooned over a few times, and this one made me swoon too.  The material is great, the color and pattern are perfect for both office and date night, and it hugged my curves in the right ways!  I couldn't help but keep it, even though I probably need to go through a dress purge in my closet.  And I think that if they keep sending me this dress in future Fixes, I'll keep it every time too, #likeaboss.

I liked the print on this top, and fabric was super soft and comfortable.  But for some reason (you can't tell in the photo) the neckline really plunged on me, and it didn't quite match some of the existing cardigans/blazers that I have as I'd like.  I decided that this top was a "maybe" if I liked everything else in the fix, something I would definitely end up wearing if it was in the closet, but not a new favorite.  Since I ended up sending items back, this went back too.

The bow detail on this cardigan's sleeve had me swooning, and my stylist has learned that I love crew-neck cardigans vs. v-necks!  But I have a cardigan from J. Crew Factory almost exactly the same color, so I couldn't justify keeping it.  It is perfect for me, I just have a duplicate.

While I loved the dots and laser cut details on this blouse, the fabric didn't have a lot of give (I test tops by moving my arms around like I'm swimming LOL) and I don't wear a lot of navy tops...  I think that's because I wear jeans often, and navy over jeans sometimes feels monotonous.  This was probably my least favorite top, but if the colors had been different I would have been tempted to keep it.

The tie neck blouse jumped out to me before I even before I tried it on.  I just love how these blouses look both with a suit or over jeans with a cardigan!  I would like to have more blouses like these, because to me a tie-neck blouse is kind of the equivalent of a shirt with tie for guys.  Some people call them secretary shirts, but I like the vintage throwback.

Overall Review:
I think that if the cardigan had been a color I don't have, I would have been very tempted to keep this entire fix, because the discounted cost of those pieces would have only cost me about $60.  That said, since I don't need two cobalt-colored sweaters, it prompted me to send back two of the tops I didn't absolutely love, and reassured me that I kept what really needed to stay.  While the top and dress are more expensive than I would pay normally at the mall, I felt like they were perfect for me and my lifestyle and chose to keep them.  I like the quality of Stitch Fix pieces, as they are more Nordstrom than Forever 21, you know?  (The cheap F21 tops I bought recently for layering all have little snags after just one day... you get what you pay for, I'm learning.)

I've realized that I do like to receive my Stitch Fix, even though the prices are more high-end.  Over time, my stylist has gotten to know my style pretty well, and it pushes me to try something that I normally wouldn't.  While I have let go of some of the pieces I've gotten in my Fixes, especially since women in my office have gotten multiple duplicates of items I've received, it's kind of fun to see what comes next.  I've rescheduled my Fix frequency to every three months.

Disclosure:  I paid for my own Stitch Fix; all opinions are my own.  If you're interested in trying Stitch Fix, I'd love for you to use my referral link so I can get $25 towards my next Fix!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Lately: Creating, Finding, Switching, Forgetting, Craving

I haven't been blogging lately, because life.  But these Sunday Lately posts, when I can make them, are an easy way for my to recap what's happening!

I have really enjoyed creating things using Canva, from blog images to brochures for DAR and things...  I've also been using Powerpoint for my chapter's DAR newsletter, which I enjoy.  I don't know why, but I find something soothing in creating aesthetically pleasing things, printables, and even doodling in my planner.   I'm being seduced right now by the idea of getting a Cricut.  I mean, think of the things I could monogram, custom planner stickers I could create, all the things!  But I've decided not to bite the bullet until after grad school, because do I really have the time to play with it?  (Anyone have one and can provide pros/cons?  Is this something I want for my birthday?)

Worth it???

Lately, I've been finding the back of my eyelids.  HAHA.  And that's about it.  We've been talking about starting a family, but I don't even have my shit together in terms of the basic work-eat-sleep game right now!  Maybe it's because I was traveling to Texas last week, and I have Michigan coming up this week...  different temperatures, flights, irregular sleep patterns, and more.

Languages!  Sort of.  Slowly.  My mother is Korean and my father was in the Army, so when I was a kid I spent time living in Germany and Korea.  I went to a German kindergarten, and I was in immersion-style classes in Korean for the two of the five years that we lived there... as a result, I love foreign languages.  I speak pretty fluent French, some basic Spanish, and I know a couple of words in Swahili and Arabic.  But while I know how to read written Korean out loud, I have the speaking abilities of a toddler!

So now, on Saturdays, I go to Korean school for a few hours.  There are multiple adult classes where I go, and they bumped me into Intermediate, which feels a little bit rigorous for me.  I was honestly surprised to find that I was in the minority of adults in the class who had a Korean family background; most, it seems, are in love with Korean culture (music, TV dramas, travel) and learning because of that.  It almost makes me feel delinquent, but better to start late than never, right?

I will say this... learning a language in your 30s is so different from learning in middle/high school, even college.  Woof.  와우!  Yikes.

I've been forgetting to eat healthy, because I'm just trying not to forget to eat or take care of myself in general.  It's basic survival mode lately!  But I haven't been forgetting to moisturize; I have been remembering to pamper my skin a bit with a Korean sheet mask just about every other day!  Here's a scary pic:

Salty food.  Then I eat it and get bloated.  Hello, French fries.  Hello, chips and queso.  SALT SALT SALT is all I want!

Sunday Lately is a weekly linkup hosted by the Blogger Tribe. We e-hang out every Sunday, sharing a small glimpse into the last week of life in our own worlds. 
Sunday Lately with Blogger Tribe

Monday, February 1, 2016

Out & About: More Nashville Eats!

Sometimes I go out to a new place and I only snap one or two photos; it's enough for a Yelp review, but not its own blog post.  Here are few that I've saved up!

Burger Shack
Burger Shack isn't in one of the central hubs of Nashville or Franklin; it's in Nolensville in a strip mall off Nolensville Road, and it's a haul to find a way out there since it isn't on a main Interstate vein either.  That said, it's the closest thing to an In-N-Out burger that you'll find in the area.  It's almost comical just how close it is to an In-N-Out knockoff in terms of menu selection, while having a completely different decor and California theme.  We had a Californian with us when we ventured out, and it made him feel a little nostalgic.

Nashville Burger Shack

Overall, this is a solidly good fast food burger.  It is definitely reminiscent of In-N-Out, in a really great way.  You can even get your burger or fries "California Style" which is their version of "Animal Style".  Good fries too!  I can't get more descriptive other than agreeing that it's the closest thing to In-N-Out that you'll find in the Nashville area.  I think I still like Five Guys or Gabby's for "fast food" burgers, but this is up there.

Nashville Burger Shack

So Gong Dong Tofu House
As always, or as it appears, I'm on a quest to eat at pretty much every Korean restaurant in Nashville, in order to form my own opinions.  So my bro MM and I went to So Gong Dong Tofu House during lunch one day, venturing once again into the Antioch area where it seems most of the Korean restaurants and groceries are located.

As usual, it was located in a nondescript strip mall with a humble storefront.  What we found inside, however, was purely delicious!  I think it's one of the few places you can get soondobu, Korean spicy tofu soup, which is what MM had.  And yes, they put the egg in!  I, of course, rocked some K-BBQ kalbi ribs.  The banchan were plentiful, the service was good, food served sizzling hot and fresh, and I have zero complaints.  This was probably one of my favorites in Nashville, right up there with Korea House but closer for me to access via Franklin.

Kalbi Ribs at So Gong Dong Tofu House
Kalbi Ribs at So Gong Dong Tofu House

Urban Grub
I ended up eating brunch at Urban Grub in 12South on accident one Sunday with my friend Lindsey.  Not realizing it was so close according to my GPS to Embers Ski Lodge, where we wanted to eat, we attempted to open the doors only to be told they weren't open yet.  We assumed it was Embers that wasn't open yet, and that the internet was wrong with the times, so we went to grab coffee at Frothy Monkey.  By the time we got back there was an insane wait for brunch, ugh.  (We probably could have gotten in when we first got there.)  So we asked if we could go sit at the bar without waiting (yes).  We realized we were in Urban Grub when we got our menus, much to our surprise!

After all of this confusion, we needed a mimosa.  STAT.  Our bartender/server was awesome and fast.  Lindsey loaded up at their extensive seafood/charcuterie/fruit/TONS-OF-STUFF station, perfect for those eating specific diets.  I had the Huevos Ranchero Enchilada, because for some reason I'm on a Mexican kick lately and can't get enough.  Delish, and I don't even regret not eating at Embers because this was really great.  Way to go, Urban Grub!

Huevos Ranchero Enchilada at Urban Grub
Huevos Ranchero Enchilada at Urban Grub

Ground, located in Cool Springs off Carothers near Puffy Muffin, is in the old Jamaicaway spot.  I'm always up for some variety for weekday lunch, so MM and I headed over to try it out.  You can order starters, burgers, baked potatoes, and salads, or build them custom.  It's a sparse and casual setting, but it's clean and friendly at the same time.  No frills, just locally and regionally sourced ingredients and good food.

I chose to build my own baked potato, while MM had a burger.  His assessment on the burger is that it was solidly good, not incredible, kind of meeting that middle ground (and price point) between a fast food burger and a high-end specialty burger (like Burger Republic).  Next time I'll have to try one.  My spud was hot, fresh, tasty, and it had a kick in the pico de gallo with some pepper seeds.  Whew!

Overall, I'm not craving a meal at Ground, but it may occasionally work its way into my Cool Springs lunch rotation. 

Five Daughters Bakery
I had a cronut (or 100 Layer Donut, since that name is trademarked or something) from Five Daughters Bakery at a party that Lindsey threw, before they had a storefront.  You could get them at a local coffee shop or two, I think.  But they were so successful that their business exploded with TWO dedicated locations, one in 12South and one in the Factory in Franklin.  Y'all know I'm dedicated to Ellie's Old-Fashioned Doughnuts, when I can get them at the farmers market or festivals.  They rock cake doughnuts like no other.

But Five Daughters has a lot to offer, including many different cronuts, vegan and paleo donuts, and the reason I sought them out at the Factory, a Kouign-amann.  Theirs is called the "Quinn", and it's delightful.  Better than any cronut I've had anywhere, in my opinion. I recommend it, and I love seeing great local businesses coming into the Factory because I felt like it was fizzling for a while.

Brown Bag
Brown Bag is my new favorite lunch spot in Cool Springs.  It's located in the strip mall adjacent to the one that has Chipotle in it, off Cool Springs Blvd.  I liken it to a healthier version of a Meat & Three, only it's a Meat & Two!  Their mission is delicious, healthy food at reasonable prices.  You can get a protein and two sides (or sub one of those sides for a drink or dessert) for $8.50 or $9.50.  They're open weekdays for lunch, 11am-2pm.  Super smart given that's the Cool Springs busy time!

I chose their chicken teriyaki and red skin mashed potatoes.  I cleaned my plate!  Portions were ample for the price, there are tons of combinations you can chose, and all of the food was well-seasoned and flavorful.  Much more economical based on portions than the popular Whole Foods hot bar, and less work since you don't have to haunt the buffet.

The other thing I like?  From 2-5pm, you can pick up food to take home, specifically trays of protein portions, sides, and more.  On a Friday, I had them pack me a tray of 1/2 chicken and 1/2 steak, and ordered some sides like baby spinach salad, grilled asparagus (for Dan), and the mashed potatoes.  It felt like a great shortcut to doing some meal prep over the weekend!  It will definitely be a great default lunch for me, given its proximity to the office.

Whew, those were a lot, right?  These pics have been in my phone for months and it feels good to clear them out, AND share with you some great food spots in the Nashville area that maybe didn't have enough to carry an entire post alone.  Enjoy!

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