travel Thursdays: planning a babymoon abroad

10/29/2015

D and I are pretty travel-obsessed. We plan our trips months in advance, savor every moment, and sift through trip photos and video clips periodically afterwards. We also have a very ambitious travel bucket list (it basically consists of the full list of United Nations member states, minus a few countries that we both agree are too dangerous to venture into at the moment). So with our unexpected pregnancy news, we wanted to squeeze in one more international trip before Baby K arrives.

We spent days, if not weeks, tossing around destination ideas. Southeast Asia, Morocco, and the Galapagos were all taken into consideration. Ultimately, we wanted to choose a place with a decent healthcare system in case I needed immediate maternal care, relatively relaxing activities in case I wasn’t feeling up for strenuous adventures, and accommodations that wouldn’t break the bank. (Maldives, I love you, but you’re so dang expensive!!) We finally decided on Greece as a fun place we’d never traveled to together that checked off all our boxes.

I’ll share a recap of our trip soon, but for those considering planning an international babymoon, here’s our advice:

Consult your OB/GYN

This may seem obvious, but before pulling out your credit card to book anything, make sure to clear the trip with your doctor. If your pregnancy is considered high-risk, or if you’re hoping to travel late in your pregnancy, he/she may put the brakes on your travel plans. Your OB can also make copies of your medical record to take along, in case you have any complications and need medical care while abroad.

2. Research healthcare options, and know your insurance coverage abroad

This is a matter of personal preference, but I wanted to be within 2 hours of a health clinic with English-speaking staff. I researched these options in advance, and ensured that even the smaller Greek islands where we planned to babymoon would be able to provide care for me and the babe. We’re saving the exotic Southeast Asia backpacking trip for once I’m no longer growing a fetus.

tripplan1

 

3. Book refundable travel and accommodations

We planned our trip for early September, when I would be 22 weeks pregnant (an ideal time, according to my mama friends who flew while pregnant) – but we wanted to book well in advance to take advantage of travel deals. We made sure to book refundable flights and hotels, and AirBnb apartments with “flexible” cancellation policies. We also read the fine print on our Chase Sapphire card (which is our go-to card for travel rewards) and learned that we’d likely be covered by Chase if we needed to cancel our trip due to a medical emergency.

I waited until much closer to the trip to book things like our ferry reservations, which I knew wouldn’t sell out too far ahead of time and were non-refundable.

tripplan2

4. Pack light

I always advocate for packing light, but this is especially important when you already have your own extra luggage you’re hauling around in your belly. We each packed a small carry-on suitcase for our two-week trip, and we were grateful when we found ourselves lugging them up and down steep cobblestone streets on Santorini and lifting them up high into the overhead bins of buses and ferries.

tripplan3
 Carry-on suitcases: check. Baby on board: check.

5. Prepare a flight survival kit

Being the hypochondriac that I am, I was paranoid that I would puke on our trans-Atlantic flight. I very fortunately escaped morning sickness in my first trimester, but I heard horror stories from other mamas. So that’s how I found myself at CVS the night before our trip, with a basket full of anti-nausea measures: Dramamine, Sea Bands, Bonine, and some Tum, Pepto-Bismol, and Benadryl for good measure.

My OB’s main concern was swelling, and she advised me to wear compression socks on the long flight. I found these cute polka dot ones on Amazon (see in photo above) and my ankles were only slightly swollen by the time our plane touched ground in Athens. I ended up flying frequently during my second trimester, so I got a lot of use out of the socks. I hear they come in handy during the final weeks of pregnancy, too.

6. Bring snacks

I learned long ago that the survival of our marriage was dependent on keeping my cranky husband well-fed. Once he reaches the level of being Hangry, things go downhill very quickly. Plus, there is nothing worse than being in a beautiful place (say, Paris) with a starving, cranky husband who refuses to go inside the Louvre until someone feeds him a pain au chocolat.

Learning from past experience, for this trip I swung by Target and picked up several boxes of Clif bars, and I packed a few into each of our bags (my purse, his and my suitcases, and his camera bag). These were a life-saver when we were stuck on long ferry rides without food readily available. I was in one of my ravenous-hunger phases of pregnancy during our trip, and having snacks readily available helped me keep my own hunger at bay between meals.

tripplan4

7. Soak up the quality time along together

The first three years of our marriage have been amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to spend my life with. And to be honest, I will really, really miss our alone time when we’re towing around our little guy with us. It’s been a busy year for us, so 14 days of uninterrupted, unplugged time together was exactly what we needed.

I know our travel lust won’t go away, and we have big plans to keep exploring the world together even as our family grows. But our babymoon was incredibly special, and I wish every expecting couple the opportunity to relax alone somewhere together before embarking on the sleeplessness and stress of new parenthood.

tripplan5

Where is your dream babymoon destination?

pregnancy survival: 9 months, 9 essentials

10/28/2015

When we found out I was pregnant, I was pretty nervous. We don’t have many friends with babies, I don’t have any sisters, and I felt like we had no idea what we were doing.

But you know what? You figure it out as you go along. We downloaded an app (Ovia) that gives us weekly updates on the baby’s development. My OB gave us a list of medications to avoid, and dangerous symptoms to watch out for. Once my bump became undeniable, I started receiving plenty of advice – solicited and unsolicited. I now know about 100x more about epidurals, baby-led weening, and prenatal vitamins than I would’ve imagined back in April.

Here are 9 essentials that have helped me survive the last 32 weeks:

9 pregnancy essentials

Top to bottom, from top left:

  1. Cocoa butter massage cream for stretch marks – I was pretty bummed out to learn from my OB and others that stretch marks are overall pretty unavoidable and are linked to genetics. There’s not much you can do to prevent them. However, there are all kinds of products to help minimize their appearance and to keep your skin hydrated. (Having an itchy belly is common while pregnant.) This cream is silky and long-lasting, and I love the almond scent.
  2. Nuts – I’ve gone through phases throughout my pregnancy where I am ravenously hungry. As in, eat a big meal and have a growling stomach an hour later. The only way I can make it between meals is by snacking on mixed nuts, which I keep stashed in my desk drawer.
  3. A great water bottle – The only thing worse than summertime in Houston is summertime in Houston while pregnant. I’ve been drinking water like it’s my job for the last 32 weeks. I love Lifefactory’s glass water bottles – and clumsy as I am, mine has survived being dropped all over the place (including onto hard concrete).
  4. A comfy body pillow – My regular doctor recommended this for acid reflux, and it’s been a game-changer for sleeping comfortably while pregnant. My husband has picked up on how great it is and routinely tries to smuggle it from me while I sleep.
  5. The perfect pair of maternity jeans – I outgrew all of my jeans almost immediately. The exception was, funny enough, my cheapest, most worn-out jeans – an old pair of Old Navy Rockstar stretchy skinny jeans. I can still squeeze into those, but life is so.much.better. with a stretchy waistband. These Paige jeans are perfect in every way. (Hint – you can find lightly-worn designer maternity jeans on eBay for far less than the astronomical prices at A Pea in the Pod. Mine were $20!)
  6. A go-to soft, plain tee – I planned to be an active preggo. I planned to be at the gym 5 days a week keeping my weight down, cooking healthy meals packed with vitamins, and busily checking off our pre-baby bucket list. Instead, here I am in a cotton tee and raggedy old yoga pants, halfway through a box of Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice cheesecake cookies. (Yes, they’re amazing, and you should probably run, not walk, to the closest TJ’s and try some yourself.) The entire Gap Pure Body line is incredibly soft and comfy and provides plenty of stretch as your body grows. I bought some v-necks in neutral colors and basically live in them.
  7. Chewable vitamins – OK, my main prenatal vitamins are massive horse tablets that smell like seaweed. (I made the mistake of buying a 300-count vitamin bottle off Amazon and feel obliged to use them all up. Sigh…) But I love these chewable calcium “truffles.” I chew two in the morning when I wake up, and I take my prenatal at night before bed, since calcium prevents iron absorption and it isn’t recommended to take both at the same time.
  8. Second-hand maternity clothes – Look, I know in your pre-pregnancy days, you eyed the maternity section at Target and couldn’t wait to fit into that stuff. But the reality is that clothing yourself over three seasons – 9 months of outfits – is basically like replacing your entire wardrobe, and that ain’t cheap. I’ve become a big fan of ThredUp, a great online source for second-hand maternity clothes which are usually under $10 per item. My favorite brands I’ve scouted on ThredUp are H&M, TopShop, Loft Maternity, Gap Maternity, and ASOS, although there are thousands of options in all different sizes. You can also find cute designer maternity clothes on eBay for much less than the tag prices.
  9. Realistic, break-it-down-to-the-basics registry advice – I’m kind of baffled at baby registry checklists that go on for several pages. Babies don’t actually need that much stuff. A wipes warmer? Nice to have, but babies have survived for most of history without them. Lucie’s List gives simple, honest advice on what you’ll really need and offers a few recommendations for the major stuff, like car seats and strollers. Figuring out what you need is exhausting; this takes out most of the guessing work.

Mamas and mamas-to-be – what are your pregnancy essentials?

2015

10/23/2015

Um… where did 2015 go? The last time I posted, I was recapping our trips to Italy in 2014.

Every year around our anniversary (which is in November), D and I start recapping our previous year of marriage. And every year, we remark how it was another one for the books. I think maybe this one takes the cake.

In April, we found out the biggest surprise of our lives – we’re expecting a baby boy, due on Christmas Eve! We couldn’t be more excited (and nervous… and scared…).

announcement

When we found out, we put the lid on plans to travel to Japan in November, and I exchanged our airfare tickets for round-trip tickets to Athens in August. We called it our babymoon. It was incredibly relaxing, and we’re dying to go back and spend more time exploring some of our favorite islands.

12030263_10104531228503658_7885507812961559824_o

And now here we are, watching my belly expand and counting down the weeks until we get to meet our sweet little guy. The nursery is *almost* ready, and I can’t wait to share that with you!

bumppic

We have all kinds of things to talk about – cloth diapering, second-hand baby gear, crossing off items on the pre-baby bucket list, etc. Stay tuned!

travel thursdays: day trips from Florence

04/23/2015

If you’ve booked a wine-tasting tour from Florence, then you’re doing it right. There’s plenty of travel-guide fodder and veteran advice out there on the best Tuscan wine regions. But if you’re looking to get away from the tour buses, here are some alternative day trips from Florence (all easily accessible by train!) that provide the quintessential Italian adventure.

Siena

On our most recent Italian adventure, in summer 2014, we made a day trip from Florence to Siena, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Siena is what you think of when you think of Tuscany.

Sweeping views of the Tuscan hillside: check.

10405271_10103101468858448_8126031455441060562_n

Jaw-dropping medieval cathedral: check.

10440220_10103101469462238_4777684691457659052_n

10390368_10103101469117928_4188379383716446951_n

 

Best chocolate cake of your lifecheck.

The whole town of Siena is divided into fiercely competitive “contrade” (roughly, neighborhoods) and they face off in an annual horse race in the main square. If you don’t happen to visit Siena during the Palio, there’s still plenty of people-watching and photo opps in the main square.

10421178_10103101470180798_6884996911696422243_n

 

 

 

Bologna

Don’t hate on this city just because of its association with lunch meat. Bologna is a pretty amazing, off-the-beaten-path gem nestled in the Emilia-Romagna region, Italy’s gastronomic treasure. Think aged Parmesan and balsamic, tortellini and prosciutto, in a city with the world’s oldest university (founded in 1088!).

40701_961758600998_7223432_n

 

The botanical gardens are also something to write home about – they’re full of lush spaces, fountains, and oddities like a greenhouse dedicated to carnivorous plants.

All Italian cities have a lot of commonalities – lots of archways, crumbling old churches, and social life organized around piazzas. But Bologna is most recognizable for the salmon- and rust-colored buildings. The city’s just begging for a photographer far more skilled than myself to come snap some shots of the colorful alleys.

38848_961758895408_7711199_n

 

 

Parma

39722_961759055088_2542048_n

Genoa

 

Cinque Terre

Recognize this?

39882_961759738718_5089476_n

 

Rick Steves single-handedly inspired countless tourists from all over the world to make the pilgrimage to these 5 cliff-side towns on the Mediterranean coastline. The views of the emerald water as you hike from town to town are stunning.

38889_961759728738_6813392_n

Each of the five towns has its own charm, and there are charming little beaches to dip your toes in if you break a sweat during the hike.

39787_961759743708_3109000_n

I was pretty blown away by the entire experience – breathing in the salty air, hiking along jagged coastlines and alongside family vineyards, and trying to soak in the colorful views of each town.

LostFile_JPG_758329

I don’t think anyone goes to Cinque Terre and regrets it. It’s truly one of those magical, bucket-list places that you’ll never forget.

travel thursdays: Green Revival’s guide to Florence

04/16/2015

I adore Italy. I’ve been enamored ever since, 8 years ago, I was burned out on calculus and chemistry classes, and I spontaneously decided to register for intensive-study Italian. 2 hours, every day, just 30 of us undergrads and the most flamboyant, fabulous Calabrian professor you can imagine.

After college, I backpacked all around Europe, and I spent about a month in Italy. Florence captured my heart – it’s a great mix of culture, Tuscan cuisine, art, and sunshine.

182001_949784681828_4620392_n

 

Here’s our guide to Florence – where to stay, wander, and eat yourself into a food coma.

Where to Stay

Many, many decades ago, while my grandpa was stationed in Germany to help clean up the aftermath of World War II, he and his recent bride (my grandma) would travel around Europe on the weekends using money she earned from selling sandwiches to their Berlin neighbors. In Florence, they stayed in a beautiful 14th-century villa run by a sweet local family. My grandma still tells stories about their experience – the home-cooked meals that would bring you to your knees; the sweeping views out over the city; the generous, kind family who maintained the pensione.

Guys – Pensione Bencista is still run by the same sweet family, and my husband and I stayed there last year with two of our best friends. Wanna see?

IMG_6088

IMG_6094

We also learned from the concierge that Salvatore Ferragamo lives across the street. So, there’s that. We caught a glimpse of him leaving in his Prius one day, and snapped an obligatory Ferragamo selfie.

For a budget option, I’d highly recommend Plus Florence Hostel – it’s practically a hotel, with a pool, sauna, and a bar/disco. It’s located right in town, so you won’t be forking over any euros for buses or taxis. Plus, the rooms start at 24 euros – can’t beat that price!

 

Where to Wander

Florence is a compact city, but it’s full of gems. Your first destination should be the iconic Duomo. It’s been granted UNESCO World Heritage status, and from this point on it’ll be your point of reference if you ever get lost. (And ambling around the winding streets of Florence, that’s a given…)

39657_961758461278_6327852_n

10352037_10103101472371408_4845268631148021778_n

If you’re reading this before you leave for Florence, reserve a tickets for the Accademia. Unless you’re some kind of sadist who enjoys waiting in lines for hours, you’ll be beyond relieved that you did so. Hotels can make reservations (thanks, Bencista!), or you can do it yourself online. If you’re planning on exploring other museums in Florence as well, the Firenze Card may be worthwhile – Rick Steves dishes out advice on the pros and cons here.

Once inside, you’ll be rewarded with views of Michelangelo’s David (quite a babe), panel paintings and sculptures by myriad Renaissance artists, Florentine gothic paintings, and even a collection of antique instruments.

10424365_10103101472012128_3800207086141433267_n

When your feet are tired of wandering around museums, cross the iconic Ponte Vecchio and grab some gelato at Gelateria La Carraia on your way to the Boboli Gardens, where there’s plenty of wide open space to unwind and take a nap. (Bonus points if you’ve snuck in a bottle of vino.)

 

1908051_10103101471652848_5849019323564562031_n

 

If you’re in search of a (practically) one-of-a-kind perfume or cologne, or if you just want a little adventure off the well-beaten tourist path, head to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a.k.a. Santa Maria’s Perfume Workshop/Pharmaceuticals. This is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, founded by Dominican friars in 1221 (!!). Today, you can buy high-end fragrances (with a special back-story) and wander through the whimsical, historic place.

IMG_6010

 

Where to Eat

Full disclosure: you can’t go wrong with wandering into a divey little restaurant in most Italian cities and ordering a plate of pasta. And many of the best wines are the vino della casa – often unlabeled bottles made in very small quantities by the restauranteur himself. But if you’re the kind of girl or guy who likes to plan ahead (#tripplannerprobz), here’s a few of our favorites.

Le Volpi e l’Uva – This is a cute little wine bar near the Pitti Palace, and a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio. Try the crostoni and salumi. (Carbs for dayyyyys.)

Caffe Giacosa – This is what happens when Roberto Cavalli designs his own cafe. Quirky, charming, and reasonably priced coffee from a man whose jeans cost an entire paycheck.

Mercato Centrale – If you fell in love with the colors and boundless produce at Barcelona’s Boqueria, you’d probably equally love this market. Beware the tourist traps, and make a beeline for the cheese, fruit, and sundried tomatoes.

Rivalta Cafe – We stumbled across this bar while tracing the banks of the Arno to walk off some pasta and wine, and we were immediately enveloped in a crowd of local 20- and 30-somethings sipping on craft cocktails, chatting, and filling plates of apparently free food. It was amazing. I’m looking at their calendar now, and they have an upcoming “Bubble Night” which sounds very promising. Rivalta, we’ll be back.

————————————————

Anything I missed? What are your favorite, can’t-miss spots in Florence?

recipes we’re loving lately

04/15/2015

Last November, D and I endured our first Whole 30 challenge. Welllll…. we challenged ourselves to our first Whole 30 challenge. We made it 21 days before we caved and relinquished our willpower in the name of bread and cheese.

Still, we’ve been on a health kick since then (Christmas notwithstanding). Here are some recipes we’ve been loving lately.

 

1. Cauliflower tabbouleh (source: Gourmande in the Kitchen)

IMAG1994

If it contains olives – I’m all in. Add fresh mint and and toasted walnuts, and I’m weak at the knees. This is a great hearty side, or – if you’re like me – add some chicken and call it a meal.

 

2. Meyer Lemon Skillet Chicken (source: Brooklyn Supper)

I noticed a display of Meyer lemons at Whole Foods last fall, and ever since then, they’ve been my jam. This recipe plays up the sweet, robust Meyer lemons, complemented by caramelized shallots and fresh thyme. Yum, right?

 

3. Sesame-spiced turkey meatballs + crushed chickpea salad (source: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

IMAG2155

Deb (a.k.a. Deb Perelman, the cookbook’s author and small kitchen foodie extraordinaire) is my hero. Without formal training or restaurant experience of any kind, she began whipping up recipes that are now beloved by many. These meatballs are beloved by us, and the smashed chickpeas are the perfect pairing. (Here’s the recipe online, in case you’re curious!)

 

4. Salmon with sriracha sauce and lime (source: Self magazine)

Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow is kind of a foodie. I usually don’t pay much attention to celebrity cookbooks or lifestyle blogs, but I saw a photo of this recipe on Pinterest and had to try it. It’s pretty simple, but the flavors are complex and the prep time is minimal, making this the perfect work night meal.

 

5. Pesto chicken + Brussell sprouts

IMAG2038

This is a quick, dinner-on-the-run meal I devised myself a couple months ago, but it’s so delicious that it’s become a frequent meal in our household. I cut one pound of chicken breasts into cubes, halved one pound of Brussells sprouts, and combined both with a cup of Costco pesto in a pan over medium heat. The cook time is ~5 to 10 mins. Easy, peasy. With the aid of the pesto, the Brussells sprouts are hardly the bitter things feared by children everywhere, and the olive oil in the pesto keeps the chicken juicy. I dare you not to love this.

 

6. Chicken-stuffed peppers with spinach and sundried tomatoes (source: Paleo Fitness Mama)

I discovered during our Whole 30 Challenge attempt that stuffed bell peppers are amazing. This recipe is in our frequent rotation – there was a time when I started making chicken-stuffed peppers once a week. D got a little tired of them, so I’m waiting it out until I can break out the bell peppers once again.

 

7. Pistachio-crusted flank steak with peach puree (source: Running to the Kitchen)

IMAG1819

As you can see, we roll on the rare to very-rare side of things when it comes to red meat. I love any meat or fish that’s encrusted with nuts (pecan-crusted salmon is what my dreams are made of). The peach puree in this recipe is good enough to eat by the spoonful, and the marinade provides an unexpected citrus flavor. (Goodbye, plain old salt-and-pepper steak.)

 

8. Zoodles + paleo pasta sauce (source: Our Paleo Life)

IMAG1822If you’ve been living under a rock and are unacquainted with zoodles, go get yoself a spiralizer. Ours came at the steep cost of $5 from our local Bed Bath & Beyond and is hilarious named the Vegetti.

Zucchini noodles are even easier to prepare than they may appear, and this paleo sauce makes me regret all the years I’ve been buying bottled (sugar-laden) pasta sauce. Never again.

What are your all-time favorite, go-to recipes?

 

 

7 ways to stay connected with Houston news & events

04/06/2015

As a Seattle transplant to Houston, I was a little underwhelmed when I first arrived. Where are the mountains? What’s a girl gotta do to find a decent latte?? But in the last few years, I’ve stumbled across some great websites and blogs that keep up with all of the activities and happenings around town. (I owe my 182-long list of restaurants and bars to try to you, CultureMap.) Here are my favorite sources to hear about what’s going on in Houston.

Houston

1. Houstonia Magazine

If you’ve never picked up this magazine at Kroger, add it to your grocery list. It’s full of news and events, restaurant reviews, profiles of local movers-and-shakers, and ideas for things to do in any season. The website’s even better, and their emails give me major FOMO. So much to do, so little time. My favorite recent feature is 101 Great Little Shops, the comprehensive list of Houston’s best local apparel, jewelry, home, and gift shops.

 

2. Thrillist

This is my newest favorite Houston-related website. They’re great at scoping out upcoming events and great bars and restaurants. Recent highlights: Houston’s 11 Best Under-the-Radar Burgers, Power-Ranking Houston’s Most Ridiculously Good Bloody Marys, and 12 Things You Must Do in Houston This April. But my favorite is this holy-grail list of 90 Outdoor Drinking Spots in Houston. (Challenge: accepted.)

 

3. CultureMap

There’s some overlap between this website and Houstonia Mag, but there’s also a lot of fresh content – restaurants & bars, arts, society, entertainment, sports, fashion, etc. Their “Where to Eat” section is a monthly list of restaurant recs, and we’ve loved a lot of places they’ve featured. Occasionally, I read the local sports news so I can keep up with the conversations on James Harden and Texans trades. Overall, definitely worth bookmarking.

 

4. 365 Things to Do in Houston

For me, this is the OG for things to do in Houston. I’ve subscribed to their weekly emails of weekend events for the last few years. Recently they started providing daily updates, so there’s even more news about what’s going on – but I mostly stick to the weekend news, because girl’s gotta rest sometime ;). We owe countless fun weekends to 365 Houston – from Greek fests and dog park openings to free shows at Miller Outdoor Theater and pub crawls. (They also frequently link to Goldstar, which is a great source for cheap tickets to plays and concerts.)

5. Houston Tidbits

I stumbled across Tidbits on Instagram, and now I always read their weekly emails. Part news and reviews, part social diary, and part Groupon-like deals, it’s finally a source of local scoop just for us girls. I really love Tidbits’ profiles of local shop owners and artists. And their local deals are a refreshing alternative to Groupon, which is starting to get bogged down by the same old restaurants and spa deals – I bought a voucher for tea tasting last month, which should be a fun Mother’s Day outing.

6. SwampLot

Once you own Houston real estate, you’ve got some skin in the game, and it’s worth keeping up with real estate developments in your neighborhood. Even for renters, it’s fun to hear about what’s happening in Houston’s real estate landscape. Living off Washington Ave, we’ve seen a lot of changes and buildings getting dozed, so I enjoy finding out what’s coming to our hood. Plus, the dedicated writers at SwampLot are great at providing updates on the Memorial Park re-design, all of the new stuff going into Buffalo Bayou Park, and the new bike lanes downtown.

7. Houston Eater

Obviously, this is strictly limited to food news, but it’s a wealth of information. My favorite feature is their Heatmap of the top 10-ish restaurants getting the most buzz each month. They also provide great coverage on restaurant/bar openings and closings – here’s the latest for spring 2015. (As a big fan of Downhouse, I’m most excited about the opening of Foreign Correspondents on Main. Can’t.wait.)

our favorite magazines for staying well-rounded and informed

04/03/2015

During one visit to my grandparents’ house when I was a teenager, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker that was lying on their living room coffee table and began skimming through it. That issue included a pretty ground-breaking article full of revelations on the extent of the NSA’s torture methods at Guantanamo Bay. I read the magazine from cover to cover, and that began my decade-long love for that weekly periodical.

Since then, I’ve broadened my horizons to a lot of different magazines – I love reading short, well-researched articles on myriad subjects, without investing 20+ hours that I would in a novel, yet getting more information and news than by just scanning the CNN website.

Whether you’re picking up reading material for the beach or an upcoming trip, or just hoping to broaden your knowledge about the world – from politics and technology to cooking and design – here are some of our favorite picks.

image

1. The New Yorker

Couldn’t resist including this one on my list. The New Yorker is my go-to source for all kinds of news. When I’m scrolling through a regular news site, I have a tendency to only click on articles that interest me – politics, film reviews, foodie tips, things like that. But this magazine covers all issues under the sun. A few recent highlights include Ian Parker’s profile of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s lead designer; this piece on the world’s weirdest library by Adam Gopnik; Judith Thurman’s recent article on the efforts to preserve dying languages; John Seabrook’s account of the man behind Katy Perry and Taylor Swift’s success; and of course, David Sedaris’s occasional contributions. The cover price seems steep, but an annual subscription for $50-$60 is more than worth it.

 

2. Harper’s

To be fair, there’s some overlap between the New Yorker and Harper’s in content, and the magazine has a liberal slant. But Harper’s is a staple American monthly magazine: it’s published material by the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, and Woodrow Wilson, and in the 70s, Seymour Hersh’s expose of the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam catalyzed the anti-war movement in America.

These days, the magazine does a great job of covering politics, literature, and pop culture alike, from the battle over Pablo Neruda’s corpse (Emily Witt; Jan. 2015 issue) to a debate on how youth basketball exploits African athletes (Alexandra Starr; Apr. 2015 issue) to unpublished essays by Vladimir Nabokov (March 2015 issue). Add this one to your reading list.

 

3. Cook’s Illustrated

I’m far from the level of domestic goddess. To be honest, I’m probably the exact opposite. More Liz Lemon than Martha Stewart. But I do love to cook, and this magazine is like a gold mine of cooking techniques and tips. Every month, it provides recipes, kitchen tips, and product reviews, and everything is developed in their “test kitchen.” There’s even a discussion of common pitfalls, and the writers go into detail on various methods that they’ve tried and failed before arriving at the recommended technique. This month includes recipes for semolina gnocchi with prosciutto and chives, simple pot-au-feu, homemade sriracha, and New York bagels; a discussion of enameled cast-iron pans; how to cook with garlic scapes; and a taste test of 10 supermarket Bries. Hungry yet?

 

4. National Geographic

This definitely does not help my wanderlust. I love the big, glossy photos of far-flung places and people and cultures and crazy bugs and animals all over the world. For years, I dreamed of being a National Geo photographer (until I realized that my photography skills are sub-par at best). This magazine is a great substitute for coffee table books – plus it’s full of way more interesting stories. (Recently: how coal fuels violence in India, a baby’s brain development in the first year, and the pine beetle epidemic.) I dare you to read an issue and not get travel fever.

 

5. Real Simple

Probably noting that my housewife game is lacking (see above), my grandma gifted me a subscription to Real Simple for Christmas a couple years ago. I really love this magazine now – it’s full of tips on entertaining, decorating, organizing, nutrition and fitness, and all those other things they don’t teach you in school. I find the tips and tutorials here genuinely helpful, especially compared to dumb Pinterest “hacks.”

 

6. Wired

This was originally a gift for my husband, but I found myself picking up and reading an issue with Brad Pitt on the cover. Technology is usually in his realm; he makes sure I update my Macbook software once a year, and that my Fitbit is charged, and I leave the rest up to him. But I’m trying to break out of that stereotype and keep up with some of what’s going on in the tech world, because it clearly has a very large impact on our day-to-day lives (cell phones, apps, fitness trackers, TV streaming, etc. etc. etc.). Wired articles are short and sweet, there are plenty of pictures, and there’s some pop culture mixed in as well. It went up by about 1,000 points in my book when the magazine obtained an exclusive interview with Edward Snowden – and I give Wired full credit for first introducing us to Uber and Airbnb.

 

What are your favorite ways to keep up with the news? Any great magazines that I missed?

10 Houston rainy-day adventures

03/24/2015

Last weekend my BFF was visiting from Seattle, and even though we crossed all our fingers and toes that she’d be here for Houston’s best springtime weather, the city was hit with a mega-rainstorm on Saturday. Sheets of rain drizzled down all.day.long.  That kind of put a damper on our rodeo plans, but it made me get creative with plans to still get out for some adventures around town in spite of the rain. Here are some of my favorite local rainy-day activities (or really, things to do when the temperature hits 100 degrees and humid, too!).

1. Catch some exhibits at a museum

When was the last time you stepped foot in a museum? (Other than for the annual Halloween bash at the science museum. Drinking next to the dinosaurs doesn’t count.)

Houston has a pretty brag-worthy museum district – go take advantage of it! The Museum of Fine Art, the Menil Collection (free!!), and the Museum of Natural Science are some of our faves. More off the beaten path are the Art Car Museum, Houston Holocaust Museum, DiverseWorks, and Project Row Houses.

23

 

2. Tour a microbrewery

Most, if not all, of Houston’s microbreweries have tours and open houses on the weekends (and some on weekdays, too). We love meeting friends at St. Arnold’s for a picnic and beer tasting. Buffalo Bayou Brewery is also a fun place to try some new local flavors. I hear 8th Wonder Brewery in EaDo is cool, too – it’s on my to-do list 😉 .

wpid-20140830_122935

 

3. Escape the rain (or heat) at the movies

Growing up in New Jersey, we didn’t have central A/C. Instead, on the hottest days of summer, my mom would take us to the movies to go cool off. These days, our favorite theaters here in Houston are Sundance, River Oaks Theater, and Alamo Drafthouse.

10522184_810420432322171_334376431_n

 

4. Shop

Forget Dallas – Houston has some pretty great shopping. From the Tanger and Cypress outlets, to the Galleria and Highland Village, to the thrift stores in Montrose and the Heights, there’s something for everyone. I love browsing the pretty party supplies and gowns at BHLDN, furniture shopping at West Elm and High Fashion Home, hunting for vintage stemware and kitschy art at The Guild Shop and Blue Bird, and finding the perfect party costumes at Retropolis.

20063401

 

5. Lunch in the tunnel

The downtown tunnel system was made for us to escape the rain and heat. You can find just about anything you’re craving down there – my favorites are Salata (fresh salad bar), Treebeard’s (Cajun), and Baoz (the holy grail of dumplings).

4007438834_e3994d02cf

 

While you’re downtown, follow the tunnel to the Chase Tower and ride up the elevator to the Observation Deck – this is the best spot for 360 degree views out over the city, even on a drizzly day.

 

6. Unwind in a cafe

There’s plenty of debate about Houston’s best cup of coffee. In my view, you can’t go wrong with Boomtown Coffee, Antidote, Catalina, Tout Suite (bonus – great macarons!), or Southside Espresso.

o

 

7. Head somewhere cozy for a craft cocktail

Order a Moscow Mule at Moving Sidewalk or a Leather Elbow at Honeymoon (helloooo beautiful wallpaper and vintage lounges!). And Anvil is a cocktail bar staple that’s about as cozy as it gets. You’ll forget all about the rain within minutes.

960x540

 

 

8. Tour a historic mansion

I ponied up money for MFAH memberships for two full years before I even heard of Rienzi or Bayou Bend. Both are beautiful historic mansions with temporary and permanent art exhibitions and period furniture, and they’re open to the public and occasionally have festive events, too. (Next month at Bayou Bend is Jazz & Juleps – tempting, no?!) If you’re willing to drive a little further, Galveston is like a mecca for Victorian mansions.

fig6_lg

 

9. See a performance in the theater district

Last month, on a whim, I bought two last-minute tickets to The Book of Mormon at the Hobby Center, and a week later we reserved season tickets for next year’s Broadway line-up. It was that good. If you’re in the mood for some live entertainment, chances are between the Hobby Center, the Houston Symphony, the Houston Ballet, and the Houston Opera, there will be something going on any given afternoon or evening.

Houston-Hobby-Center

10. Escape Room

We recently braved the Escape Room with four friends, and it was such a fun experience – I wish we could do it again and again. (We’re not-so-patiently awaiting the creation of a new “room” so we can try a different challenge.) Without giving too much away – you and your friends are locked up in a room for one hour, and you’re given clues to solve the puzzle to escape the room. Only 20% of those who’ve tried have been successful. Challenge accepted?

Image credits: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9

recent reads: 6 books to get you through winter

03/06/2015

Since wintertime means curling up under a big pile of blankets and tackling my ever-growing queue of books on my Kindle, I’ve been reading a lot lately. If summer is for beach reads, then winter is for bittersweet love stories (and for brushing up on your knowledge of Wall Street and Jazz Age figures – right? …right?)

Here are some of my favorites I’ve devoured read this winter.

Books7

 

1. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

When was the last time you read 288 pages about the Wall Street crash in 2007? Ever heard of dark pools, or high-frequency trading? (Business students, keep your hands down.) This book received glowing reviews on Amazon, and I’ve forgotten 100% of what I learned as an econ undergrad 5 years ago – hence the need for a refresher. I think it’s important for Americans to understand what caused our market crash 8 years ago – it’s had an indelible impact on all of us, from unemployment, suppressed wages, and mortgage rates to cultural shifts and grassroots movements (remember Occupy Wall Street?).

Michael Lewis does a great job of explaining the subprime loan crisis, and the events leading up to it, in layman’s terms that any of us can understand. But really, this is an epic about a hero among the many ruthless, selfish commanders of the stock markets. A Canadian trader, Brad Katsuyama, discovers that certain banks and hedge funds have a competitive advantage (based largely on their connection speed to the stock exchanges), and he sets out to create his own stock exchange that prevents high-frequency trading. I was a) impressed that one guy could start his own stock exchange, and b) proud that I can now keep up with a bit of stock-market talk now. Dark pools, psshhhhh.

 

2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

On a recent trip to Powell’s Books in Portland, I picked up a copy of this book (it was in the “Staff Recommendations” section, no surprise!) and proceeded to power through it in 3-4 days. It was my favorite book I’ve read in a long, long time – funny, quirky, dark, romantic, and full of the spirit of adventure (Antarctica!). My dreams are now filled with fantasies on cruising to Antarctica and kayaking around icebergs.

If you haven’t read this yet, run – don’t walk – to the nearest bookstore (or download it, stat). Bonus: the story begins in my hometown, Seattle.

 

3. Coming Clean, A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

This is a real-life hoarder story. Need I say more?

Kim grew up with two hoarder parents, and her stories – the living conditions she experienced her entire childhood – broke my heart.  Beach read? Nope. Eye-opening, heart-crushing, intriguing addendum to the TLC show? You bet. If you need motivation to haul a carload of old stuff to Goodwill and clean within an inch of your life – this one’s for you.

 

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Ah, to be young and in love. Rainbow Rowell captures the drama and excitement of high school relationships, while digging deeper to expose the struggles of a girl living in decrepit conditions – Eleanor shares a bedroom with 5 siblings and lives in fear of the wrath of her abusive alcoholic stepfather. There are bullies, protective parents, and creepy teachers; first kisses, long rides on school buses, and Shakespeare reading assignments. It’s refreshing to read a throw-back to high school life, and these two kids are perfect for each other.

 

5. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

When I said winter is for bittersweet love stories, I wasn’t kidding. This novel should be sold with a pack of tissues and a disclaimer that you will cry. (Who doesn’t love a good cry, though?) For the first time in ages, since I saw The Butterfly and the Diving Bell, I really peered into the mind – and the agony – of a quadriplegic man. At times, the narrator, Lou, is a bit naive, but her relationship with Will, first as his caretaker, then as his friend, is one of those complex, raw, realistic, and slowly evolving love stories that only the best writers can conjure.

 

6. Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill

Admit it: you love anything “art deco” or Gatsby-themed. In so many of the stories about Scott and Zelda Fitzerald, Hemingway and his first (and second, and third) wives, Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky and Gertrude Stein, there are mentions of the Murphys – Gerald and Sara, two wealthy American expats who took Paris by storm in the 1920s and were the link between all of those infamous writers and artists. This biography tells their story, and it reads like a true-life version of The Paris Wife or Tender Is the Night. A-plus for anecdotes about Scott and Zelda’s craziest schemes, vivid descriptions of villas on the French Riviera, and capturing the frenetic spirit of the era.