There’s No Place Like Home(stead) for the Holidays

You’d think the awe and wonder of a vacation destination would diminish a bit after three visits but it’s just the opposite with the Omni Homestead Resort. Nestled into the scenic mountains of Hot Springs, Virginia, is a magnificent 250-year-old structure that boasts a rich history and impressive roster of past visitors, including 23 U.S. presidents.

The drive up the mountainous terrain can be a bit daunting, but any knots in your stomach will disappear as soon as you begin to see the outline of the resort above the hill. I’ve only visited during the month of December and though I have no doubt the place would look beautiful any time of year, there are few locations in the world that get me in the holiday spirit quite like the Homestead. Guests are greeted by the friendly staff and as soon as the doors opened, you’ll be instantly immersed into a winter wonderland. The fire-place filled Great Hall is adorned with a massive live Christmas tree, anchored by boxes of wrapped presents (if only they were real and filled with shoes!).

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With endless activities and top-notch amenities, the Homestead is the perfect destination for any occasion – a family vacation, girls’ getaway or romantic weekend. Guests can take a wagon ride through the mountains, shoot skeet and shotguns, golf, horseback ride and much more. If you’re the type of person who can’t sit still on vacation, look into the Unlimited Activities package but if you want to only do one-or-two things, piece meal is the way to go. Make sure to save time (and room in your belly) for afternoon tea and cake, served each day.

It can be hard to relax in the hustle of the holidays, so my mom and I took a day to do absolutely nothing but be spoiled in the spa. With any 50-minute service you’ll have access to the aqua terminal suite that has four stations including saunas and scented chill showers. I was a little skeptical of the ice shower but it was seriously awesome when followed-up by the hot chair and sauna. Pure relaxation!

It’s definitely not cheap to eat on the resort but if you’re feeling fancy, do one dinner in the Main Dining Room for an elegant setting – and bring your dancing shoes! Plan ahead though during winter months as this room is only open on weekends. There are several awesome local restaurants nearby and accessible via shuttle like Lindsay’s Roost Bar and Grill and Country Café. Or, hop in your car and up the road a short bit to Cucci’s for pizza or the Waterwheel for a more elegant, yet rustic experience. The latter is about 10 minutes away in Warm Springs but well worth the trip – there is a wine cellar where guests can select their bottle of wine for the evening or to take back to the resort (even half-finished bottles from dinner thanks to Virginia’s corking rule!).

My 76-year-old father is not impressed by many things in life, and the fact that by the third day he said the place was “starting to grow on him,” means that you’ve all got to get to the Homestead and experience it for yourself!

What places have you visited that just put you right into the holiday sprint?

Here are the details on my outfits from the trip!

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This Tommy Hilfiger dress is perfect for the holidays and at a price of $19.99 from Ross, it was a no-brainer, despite my attempts to not shop for myself this holiday season. The Aldo boots are also from Ross.

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img_1887Seemed like the ideal place to take the tags off of this $25 winter white Jessica Simpson coat.

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Nighttime was for lounging up by the fireplace, with a after-dinner cocktail, PJs and conversations with my momma. These Vermont Store fannel pajamas are the absolute best.

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img_1932This cold shoulder top is from Target and the jeans, which are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever had, came from Old Navy.

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To say I love this velvet-embellished dress is an understatement. Picked it up on post-winter clearance last season at Dillard’s for just $35!

 

Need-to-Knows for the Nashville Novice

Statistics show just under 100 people move to Nashville each day, and with all the place has to offer, this comes as no surprise. The city has everything – rich culture, diverse cuisine and more musical talent per square capita than any other place in the world. Whether you prefer hopping from honky tonk to honky tonk down Broadway or immersing yourself into history, Nashville promises to keep you satisfied and planning out your return as soon as you depart.

Where to Eat

Brunch is a must and my top pick for starting your day off on a high note is The Southern.  The portions aren’t huge but that’s just fine because it saves room for more indulgences later in the day like ice cream from Jeni’s. If you’re in the mood for more of a grab and go meal, check out the Frothy Monkey.  With a few locations around town, this is the perfect spot for a morning pick-me-up minus all of the frills (and lines).

Nashville might be known for its country music connections, but there’s another thing synonymous with the city that’s gaining popularity: hot chicken. For those of you brave enough to try it, this now basic food group of Nashville can be found in restaurants across the city but there are a few recipes that stand out above the rest: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B’s.

It’s probably hard to go wrong when it comes to dinner options, but here are a few places to consider. If you’re craving a casual vibe, give South a try (along with their Lavender Lemonade). For a slight step-up, sip from mason jars while enjoying slow-cooked BBQ and local talent at Puckett’s Grocery. If you want something a tad more upscale, look no further than Husk, brought to you by award-winning chef Sean Brock. The Crispy Chicken Skins, though perhaps not the most appealing by name, are truly phenomenal.

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Where to Drink

There are 51 bars along Broadway that keep the beer flowing and the music bellowing. A few of the staples along the route include Tootsie’s and ACME Feed & Seed (both with rooftop views), Honky Tonk and Rippy’s.  Another favorite of mine is Big Shotz on 2nd Ave., right off of Broadway and a little less crowded during the day with awesome drink specials and incredible entertainment.

Nashville’s burgeoning brewery scene is also worth exploration with the likes of Tennessee Brew  Works, Yazoo, Czann, Fat Bottom, Jackalope and Tailgate – just to name a few.  For those of you who prefer the lighter drafts, I’d highly recommend Tailgate’s Watermelon Wheat.

If you’re bold enough to stand in line for anywhere from 30 minutes up to two hours, The Patterson House speakeasy is well worth the wait. The low-key environment transfers you back to the prohibition era as soon as you pass through the curtain.

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Where to Shop

The 12th South neighborhood offers a blend of chic, yet electric shops and eateries – plus plenty of Instagram backdrops. Ranging from Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James to holistic pet shop Wags & Whiskers, this up-and-coming neighborhood has something for everyone (four-legged friends included).

Venturing back to the heart of downtown, you’ll find a plethora of shops and an endless selection of boot stores like Boots & More and French’s. Muse Inspired Fashion is an adorable and somewhat affordable boutique on 2nd Ave. that is also worth a gander.

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What to do

If music is your thing, then you’re definitely in the right place. Rewind through musical history with a tour of Studio B – you may even get a chance to play Elvis’ piano. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Jonny Cash museums are also a must. No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to Opryland or the Ryman and here’s a hint: if you’re going to be in town for a few days, wait to book your tickets and keep monitoring until the timing gets close before you purchase your tickets as new talent gets added to the line-up regularly. You never know who will be in town so it’s worth waiting for the best schedule! For a more intimate sitting, The Listening Room gives you a a front row seat to raw, unadulterated singer-songwriter talent.

If you’re in town to party, add a little exercise to your day with the Nashville Pedal Tavern. Biking through the city streets will make you feel better about all of the beverages you’re consuming (only you will still be drinking while doing it so maybe the purpose will be defeated but who cares, you’ll still have  fun).

If you’re looking for something more relaxing, stroll through Centennial Park and check out the Parthenon. Visits to the Cheekwood Botanical Garden or Belle Meade Plantation are also in order – plus, the latter even has wine tasting!

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Sure, Nashville is known as a center of musical talent, but the city has so much to offer and will keep you coming back for more.

 

 

 

Gift Giving: The Magic of Memories

Though a gift granted to us, life is not a thing we should take for granted.  The older I become, the more I understand how precious a gift this life really is.  Another year passed, another group of people that will only live on in memories, hearts and photos.  Be it friends, family, or family of friends, each time I hear of another life taken away, it’s another reminder that there is no guarantee of tomorrow.  That’s why it’s so important that we soak up all the time we do have with those we care for most.  Chances are when you lose someone, you don’t look back and remember the things they bought you.  You remember the things they taught you, the special moments you shared.  Things don’t matter, but people do.

A few years back, my mom got very sick before Thanksgiving and although one to never miss a Black Friday sunrise, reality set in and my priorities shifted.  That particular season was about catering to her, helping her recover, and not about finding the best deals and boxes to stack around the Christmas tree.  There was nothing my mother needed nor wanted more than to feel better and I realize nothing I put under the tree would make that happen.  I decided that instead of buying more “things” for my parents for Christmas, I would invest in memories.

As they get older, I’m not oblivious to the fact that there will come a day, eventually, when we can’t take trips together, when we can’t embark on adventures.  With that in mind, the only gift they received that year was a piece of paper – one that detailed the trip we would take together that spring to Savannah, GA.  From pictures of our accommodations to an agenda tailored to each of them, though not something they could physically use that Christmas morning, it gave them something to look forward to at a time when my mom would be able to enjoy it.  That April we took our trip (yes, ours, because of course I imposed on them).  We got to experience a play at one of the oldest theaters in America, rest our heads at Savannah Bed & Breakfast, tour the town on a sightseeing bus, shop the streets while sipping Mojitos and indulge in the most amazing meal at the Olde Pink House.  My dad and I even rode in a hearse for a nighttime ghost tour and still to this day laugh hysterically about a woman who chased it down.  Those are memories that will last well beyond the time all of us have together.

Following in tradition, this year’s adventure took us to back down I-95 to Charleston, South Carolina.  Again we caught a play at the local theater, took a private horse-drawn carriage around town, ate until we were stuffed and walked around a plantation (and the Swamp where Shrek is from)!

While I’ll still get a few small items for under the tree, I see far greater value in spending money on memorable moments.  If you’re still trying to find the perfect gift for someone you love, give this approach a try.  Don’t buy things just to buy things.  Clothes become dated, children grow out of toys, but memories will always remain.

Crash Course in Japanese Culture

The 15+ hour flight across the Pacific pond proved to be far more than just the business trip I initially set out to take.  Of course from a professional standpoint, the opportunity to finally meet with a client I’ve been working with virtually for more than eight years was incredible.  In just a few short days our Tokyo colleagues taught us so much about their cultural norms and business practices.  But it wasn’t just those I interacted with directly that taught me something.   It was also those I didn’t meet – those walking down the street on the way to work, those that gave up their seat on the bus so that an older person could sit down.

I walked away from this trip with a greater appreciation for those I know and those I don’t.  There is so much we can learn from a culture that is based upon principles of kindness, politeness and respect.

Listen before you speak.  While the word “Hai” can easily be confused with someone profusely greeting those around them to someone unfamiliar with the language, it actually means yes and it’s a word used very often in Japanese culture.  But just because the word is spoken does not mean it’s a commitment like it is here.  A word that’s not so common? No.  It’s not a phrase you’re likely to hear regularly when conducting business, or even a causal conversation, with someone from Japan.  It can be considered impolite to use a negative word such as “no.”  Contradictory to our impulsive society here in the US where the word is quickly tossed out in response to thoughts and ideas, the Japanese listen and often consult with their teams privately, before making a decision.

Lend a hand to strangers.  Although a major metropolitan area, the streets of Tokyo are not filled with floods of Westerners.  The tourists and business travelers alike were easy to spot.  The natives seemed to keep an eye out for those that were from out of town and in need of guidance.  During our short stays in Tokyo and Kyoto, more than a handful of people stopped what they were doing to approach us with an offer for help and literally guided us to where we wanted to go.  It’s one thing to share directions but these kind souls took time out of their day to walk us to our destination to ensure we safely found our way.  Our colleagues were also quick to educate us on their cultural norms – such as always keeping an eye of the beverages of those you’re with, making sure their drink is never empty – so that we were more comfortable and understanding of the meaning behind their actions.

Don’t stand in the way of others.  Another basic observation that has far more meaning than meets the eye.  Upon exiting the subway or train station (something we did a lot of us the trip), you’ll notice that everyone stands to the side.  Everyone.  In a straight file.  This lets those that need to get through quickly do so without interference.  To me this is symbolic of a culture that is so focused on collectivism and teamwork.  Everyone moves together, instead of individually.  Furthermore, the Japanese recognize that decisions can take time to make and need not be rushed, but there is also great value in innovation and sometimes they must step aside to make way for those that are aiming to move forward faster.

Learn from your elders.  This principle often seems long forgotten here in America.  The Japanese are raised with the understanding that elders are sources of great knowledge and should be honored.  Employees respect their superiors.  Teenagers give up their seats on the bus so that the elderly can have a place to rest.  Though these acts are apparent in the US, they are surely not embedded into and practiced by the young generations.

During our sightseeing trip to the historic city of Kyoto (ranked by Travel and Leisure as the number one city in the world), I learned a lot about the country’s rich history and traditions, but the greatest lessons I learned were from observing the kind people of this extraordinary island nation.

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My Best Friend’s Bachelorette Bash

As I prepare for my best friend’s bridal shower I realized that I still haven’t posted the rest of the deets from her amazing bachelorette party in Asheville, NC.

After arriving at the cabin in the woods, Catherine, the bride’s little sis and co-MOH, made a delicious steak and pirogi dinner – Diana’s favorite!  We quickly scarfed it down and headed to the first surprise adventure of the weekend.

DSCN1129cheersA childhood friend who now resides in Asheville recommended the LaZoom Comedy Bus Tour.  The regular tours run throughout the day and at night, it switches over to haunted comedy ride.  Sounds a little abstract, I know, but this was the funnniest thing I have experienced in ages.  We could not stop laughing the entire time.  You can bring wine and beer on the bus and while that sounds like an awesome idea, it turns into a terrible one after all the laughing you’ll do!

LazoomBusAfter the LaZoom tour, we hit the down.  One of Asheville’s most notable attractions is the Friday night drum circle.  Upon arrival, we couldn’t tell if we were witnessing a scene from True Blood or one of the coolest things ever.  We jumped right in.  When in Rome, right?

drum2drumThe best word I can use to describe the city of Asheville is eclectic.  It was a mix of everything artsy, natural, hipster and southern.

The next morning started off with brunch at Posana; the place was on-point.  There was a whole lot of food envy going on at the table because each meal looked better than the next.

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brunchBrunchIt was time to burn off the calories after brunch, so we headed over to Di’s next surprise: Asheville’s Amazing Pub Cycle. And amazing is the best way to describe it.  We followed that up with a PYT serenade by street performers and more day drinking at Wicked Weed Brewing.

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brew2To keep pace (and survive), we headed back to the cabin to relax for a bit before venturing back down town that night.  At the recommendation of our local friend, we ordered in via Gourmet Valet; you can choose between more than 60 restaurant options and they deliver it right to you.  We did a quick online search for a coupon and got 20% off.  After we were ready, the first stop was the Piano Bar where Diana got another serenade on stage.

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DSCN1078I made last fling ring/checklist for Di out of a wreath Styrofoam, spray paint, paper and glitter.  The front said “List of last acts before you become Matt’s” and with a little participation from the groom, the back said “Do these things one more time before you become mine.”  She had to carry it around all night and check off the actions like take a picture w/a stranger using the selfie stick, take a pic w/another bride and hand a guy a note that says, “Call me, maybe?”

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A night like Saturday called for a homemade brunch at the cabin.  Since most of the trip was a surprise, we wanted to give Diana a say in the festivities for Sunday so we gave her a few options in the form of an infographic (yes, I take planning too far).

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She selected a lazy cruise down the river via Zen Tubing.  It was such a relaxing experience…until the thunderstorm came.

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For our last dinner, we ate at Corner Kitchen.  It’s where President Obama ate on his trip to the city!

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di an iThe weekend wound down with an evening of games and wine.  We played one game where Di had to guess which sexy item came from whom, and I’m now questioning her friendship because she didn’t know the Jessica Simpson PJs came from me!  We also played a really fun ladies night card game where someone reads the descriptor (something like who would be most likely to survive in the wilderness) and then all the girls name the bridesmaid that fits best.  I’m also questioning my friendships after the cards I got! 😉

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DSCN1125Just two more months to go until the big day!

Bachelorette Bach Decor – Day 1 of our Asheville Getaway

Earlier this month we celebrated my best friend Diana’s bachelorette weekend in Asheville, NC.  I spent so much time planning and crafting over the past 9 or so months that now it feels like I have nothing to do!  So, better time than never to write about the amazing adventure.  We crammed a lot into three days so I’ll break the posts up to prevent bachelorette overload!

As a small airport, flying into Asheville can be pretty pricey for girls flying in from out of town so we decided to road trip it out to the mountains.  With an SUV packed to the brim, we made sure to save room for the most important girls’ getaway essential, the selfie stick. car selfie

We hit the road and headed for the windy, and the rainy, and the scary, Blue Ridge Mountains. Upon nearly driving off a cliff (try backing up an SUV that’s not yours, on an essentially one-way mountain road, during a torrential downpour), we FINALLY made it to the cabin we rented on AirBnB. While some of the girls left to gather groceries for the weekend, my friend Steph and I got to work decorating.The fireplace was the perfect backdrop for the gals' gifts.

The place sure was rustic; everything you would expect a cabin in the woods to look like – minus the creepy aspect (though there were some parts…).  Yet, it had so much character.  There was a screened in porch, outside deck overlooking a breathtaking landscape, three bathrooms (a MUST for seven ladies) and more space than we could have imagined. The only thing we weren’t too crazy about was the “Welcome to our home; don’t leave food outside because of the bears” sign.  Luckily, there were no Yogi sightings.DSCN1010

Each of the girls (or “Mountain Maids”) got an absolutely adorable shirt for Saturday’s adventures, made by SassyCraftsKS on Etsy.  I’ll share those in the next post.  To keep with the southern theme (the bride is a New Yorker), I wrapped each one up in burlap and sealed it with custom bridesmaid pins we had designed from Etsy shop owner Lauren Lash, made to match the bride’s sash.  Diana had cups made for each one of us, too!  The fireplace (one of three, including the outside firepit) was the perfect backdrop for the goodies.

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Catherine, the sister of the bride and co-MOH, made shirts for each bridesmaid with a number on the back.  While the random numbers kept us guessing for the weekend (she threw an odd DSCN1004
number in to throw everyone off), it all made sense on the last evening when we took a big ol’ group shot – it was the wedding date! Another fun element of the party was the “photo booth.”  We got some booth accessories, a white sheet and a disposable camera (this way no one could delete the pics!) and snapped away throughout the weekend. Those are probably just pictures that we’ll keep to ourselves; maybe a good way to calm the bride’s jitters on wedding dDSCN1006ay:)

Surviving a bachelorette, especially one in the mountains, can be tough so we had to be prepared.  Mountain survival gear bags were packed to make sure we had everything we needed: gum, breath freshener, Tylenol and hair ties; what more could we need?DSCN1007

There is no such thing as a party in the south without Mason jars.  With four of the seven girls flying in from New York and one from Colorado, we had to make sure they had this southern staple to bring back with them.  I brought along a glass juice dispenser purchased on the Today Show’s Steals & Deals for just $49 (65% off retail).  Although the chalkboard says, “Everything Tastes Sweeter in a Mason Jar,” our cups were filled with other delicious beverages throughout the weekend, such a homemade Sangria.

DSCN1008I’ve been stock-piling supplies for over a year now.  The wedding colors are purple and gray so anytime I saw something that was one of those colors and could come in handy (and was on sale), I picked it up.  This method really helps save on costs.  Instead of waiting until the last minute and being forced into buying the first thing you see because you’re low on time, do your research and take advantage of a deal when you see it.

I don’t think the decorations would of looked half as cute if it wasn’t for the country feel of the cabin itself.  Thankfully we were able to capture pictures of the set-up on the first day DSCN1015because with that many girls living in one place for a long weekend, things are bound to get a little messy! All the months of constant, meticulous planning (I’m sure Catherine was tired of seeing my number pop up on her phone 50x a day) finally paid off when our beautiful bride entered her decorated palace for the weekend with a huge smile on her face.

Won’t you stay with me: Step 2 in Bachelorette Bach Planning – Accommodations

Ok, so your bride has spun the globe and landed on the party destination of her choice.  Great! Now, where the heck are you going to stay?  The good news is there are tons of options out there that cater to any group size, budget and preference.  The challenge is sifting through those options, and their claims of being the best/offering guests the world, to make sure you find the right fit.

Is your bride someone who wants to be in a constant state of exploration, out & about with her favorite friends until the wee hours of the morning?

If so, take it to the hotel, motel…okay, you get it.  Hotels are the most optimal options for a group of gals that just need a place to crash at night.  With a big crowd though, there’s a need for multiple rooms and this could get pricey so before you book, do some research.

You can lock in some awesome deals by calling the hotel directly or checking out discount travel sites.  My favorites are Travel Zoo (great for full package options) or Priceline’s Express Deals.  With Express Deals, you won’t know the name of th2013-04-19 09.54.21e hotel you’ll be staying at until the purchase actually goes through but you can ensure the location will meet your standards through the star-rating selection.

For destination celebrations (think Aruba, Bahama, come on pretty mama, kinda places), a travel agent can also be a great resource.  Sure, there’ll be additional overhead for the service charge but instead of spending countless hours researching accommodation options and pricing, just think of the adventures and shenanigans you can come up with in your free time!  Plus, the agent may be able to work in some flight deals too.

Is your bride low-maintenance and more focused on spending QT time with her gals rather than gallivanting through town day & night?

A home rental may be your best route.  It offers a more relaxed, spacious environment to catch up (over wine, of course).

I’ll admit I was skeptical of Airbnb at first, but after spending a week in a San Francisco Row House (pictured) three years ago, I fell hard for the service.  This 2013-05-31 21.18.15modern, social approach to rentals is the perfect way to immerse yourself into the community culture.  From San Fran, Boston, New York, New Hampshire to Austin, I’ve never had a bad experience during an Airbnb stay.  A sound alternative to Airbnb is VRBO.

For my best friend Diana’s Asheville adventure, we locked in an incredible cabin.  Nestled smack-dab in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we’ll be surrounded by breathtaking views and only minutes away from the one of the region’s claims to fame – breweries, on breweries on breweries.  Oh, and the best part?  We’re paying half of what we would have paid for two rooms at one of the area’s downtown hotels.  Renting also offers another opportunity to shave off the top of that extra spending – eating at home!  Full kitchen access means full bellies.  Instead of venturing out for every meal, make a plan for a homemade dinner at one night or brunch in the morning.  Just make sure you have someone in your party that knows have to cook!

All this advice aside, there’s one message that always rings true: it does not matter where you are, only who you’re with.