Friday Finds

Happy Friday! I’m so looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. Tonight we’re hosting our first annual Christmas party! You can check out what I’ll be serving here. We also have the Darden Holiday Ball, and I just love a good excuse to dress up! In between, there will be plenty of lounging, reading, and basking in the twinkle of our Christmas tree.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Cabernet Cranberry Sauce – I made this for my grandparents and took it to them over Thanksgiving.

Next up on my reading list.

A Disney movie can always take away the stressors of adulthood – at least for a couple hours.

How to take pretty pictures of your Christmas tree.

A Christmas craft for your mantle.

100 notable books of 2013. And top books in various genres for 2013.

Move over, emerald.

This is how I feel about snow, too. (Warning: this will make you smile.)

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” -Nelson Mandela

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Deck the Halls

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It’s that time of year again! Time to deck the halls — I’ve been doing a lot of decorating around our apartment since we got back from Ohio over Thanksgiving. Although it happens to be an especially busy time for Rob with school (wait, when is it not?!), we did manage to swing by a local Christmas tree lot hosted by the Boy Scouts to pick out our very first, real, live Christmas tree together! Since Sunday, we’ve had a few late-night decorating sprees and our home is finally decked out. I absolutely love holidays, and it just wouldn’t be the same without the festivity filling the room. Oh, and we’re excitedly awaiting hand-knit stockings from my Aunt Diane!

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One of my very favorite things about this year in particular is that it’s the first year I’ve pulled out my ornament collection. My parents started an ornament collection for me when I was born with the intention that, one day, I’d have my own tree to decorate and have lots of beautiful and meaningful ornaments with which to trim my tree. Every year, they and my relatives have added to it with special ornaments unique to places I’ve visited, local art fairs, things I’ve been interested in over the years, etc. Some have been hand-made (my mom is so crafty) by others or even by my own four-year-old hands. Every ornament has a story, and every ornament is so special. Rob and I have also been adding to it over the past couple of years with some really beautiful ornaments from London, New York, and our wedding in Chapel Hill.

The time has come! Last week in Ohio, my parents gave me my two huge bins of ornaments, and I was determined to find a way to fit them into the car coming home so that I could finally decorate with my ornament collection. Where there’s a will, there’s a way — and now our tree is so beautiful and special!

I am so thankful that my parents thought to do this for me when I was born, and I love rekindling old memories through my ornaments. What a wonderful gift they gave to me!

Here’s a sampling of some of our ornaments:

The dried petals and leaves from my wedding bouquet

The dried petals and leaves from my wedding bouquet

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I’ve always loved maps and globes

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I made this one when I was little with macaroni noodles and gold spray paint

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Cotton from when we lived in Arkansas

Double decker bus from London

Double decker bus from London

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This one was made in a town named Bethlehem

Chapel Hill bride and groom (Go Tar Heels!)

Chapel Hill bride and groom (Go Tar Heels!)

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For many, many years of playing tennis

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This one mimics the Rose Window at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC

A UVA Christmas

A UVA Christmas

Giving Tuesday – Philanthropy

Last year on Giving Tuesday, I shared how I loved the concept of a whole day not for spending (like Black Friday) but for giving back. I recently stumbled upon a fantastic article about philanthropy, and after reading it, I thought it articulated very well why I do what I do. Philanthropy, or “an altruistic concern for human nature,” allows us to have a supportive society as well as a meaningful culture. It’s people loving people. And we need more of that.
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Philanthropy Matters: We Cannot Live Without It
By Lisa Dietlin

With more than 20 years spent working in philanthropy and 10 years since I formed my company, Lisa M. Dietlin & Associates, I have been asked to discuss the question many times in this space:  “Why is philanthropy important?”  This question is almost immediately followed by, “….so, how do I get or become involved?”

Lately, it seems I have been asked if someone is born to be philanthropic or if it is learned.  My immediate answer is both.  When thinking about my own life, I often say I was born being philanthropic and believe this is true. I have dedicated my life to doing everything I can to make a difference, but even more than that, I believe that this country was born for philanthropy.  When the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) declared independence on July 4, 1776, they essentially formed a country dependent on philanthropy.  Without a monarchy or state religion to provide schools, hospitals, orphanages, work houses, libraries, houses of worship, and other kinds of services, it took individual people and their commitment to more than themselves to have a supportive society.  Philanthropy was and is critical to be able to offer both the basic things that everyone needs (food, clothing, shelter, and care) and also those things which make us a meaningful culture, which includes the arts, services providing safety, organization, and a social fabric.

Philanthropy seems to be thought of by many as simply the richest among us donating large checks to worthy causes, but philanthropy is much more than something only the wealthy can do.  It occurs both on a large and small scale and exists in all cultures.  Webster’s Dictionary defines philanthropy as “an altruistic concern for human welfare.”

Starting with this level of understanding, why is philanthropy important? Well, to put it absolutely bluntly, we could not survive without it. Both critical money donations and essential donations of time are the only reasons that we have strong universities, great parks, vital health clinics, crucial research, and well, you get the idea.  Without philanthropy, there would not be a single theater, dance company, great museum, green movements, underwater exploration, animal shelters, programs to end hunger and homelessness, school orchestras, and likely everything else that is more than the most basic services.  So many parts of our society depend on philanthropy!

Then, this leads to the second question I am asked, “How do I get or become involved?”  Getting involved can be very easy.  I suggest you first think about what you are involved with already.  Where are you spending your time, and what are you doing?  Now, what else do you care deeply about? What excites you when you think about becoming engaged with it? Alternatively, what gets you angry when you hear or read about it?  What recent story has haunted you after you discovered about it online? What inspired you after you saw a picture in your local newspaper? Who excited you as you watched a story on the television? What frustrated you as you listened to the radio, or what surprised you as your neighbor told you about a situation?  If any of these elicited a response from you, such as thinking, “somebody needs to do something,” then perhaps you are that person! Consider that the next time something like this happens, you instead say, “I’d really like to be involved with that!”

Every single one of the situations described above can be a place for you to start or at least begin thinking about how you can get involved to change or improve things.

Think today about how you can begin Making A Difference in your community.  You could take up a collection of money, food, or clothing for those in need.  You could enlist others to help you in your efforts.  You could visit a neighbor, or pay a visit to a senior residence or hospital; alternatively, you could visit a daycare center or animal shelter.  Think about where you would be happy to share your time.  In other words, what would put a smile on your face?

For doing more and considering where you might contribute, there is no shortage of need in this challenging economy.  Did you know that there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the US? Most (if not all) of them would welcome your help.

Here are five (5) recommendations and tips to start you on your path to Making A Difference®:
1. Reach out to an organization you think is essential to what makes your community great – and find out what they need.
2. E-mail the writer of an article on a subject that touches or outrages you, and find out where people are doing the most good; they have done the research and often have amazing ideas!
3. Add a tagline to the signature line of your outgoing e-mails (and those that are forwarded and replied) about a cause you care about and that you want more people to know about; you could even provide a direct link to the website of that cause or nonprofit.
4. Volunteer your time to a neighbor or a center for children or seniors or animals and ask your friends to do the same; commit to doing something every month and consider virtual volunteering, if you do not have time to go to a specific location; some nonprofits offer the opportunity to volunteer from the comfort of your home or ease of your office.
5. Really think about a cause that inspires you and then search on the Internet for the organization that is making the biggest difference while using donations wisely; that is the place to give your support!

Bonus Tip:  When you shop for groceries, school supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, copy paper, coffee, coffee filters,  or almost anything, buy a few extras and donate them to a local charity.

Bonus Tip 2:  If you are thinking about donating your dollars to a cause and are confused about which do the best job for a cause you care about, visit www.charitynavigator.com; they rate thousands of charities, so you can be sure your dollars are being used in the best possible way.  For a more in-depth report on national nonprofits, check out the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (www.bbb.org/us/Wise-Giving).

It is really quite simple to get started.  You just have to take that first step, so make a plan. Make a commitment to do something today or this month to help others. You will be amazed at how good you feel knowing you are Making A Difference!

(article via)

Thanksgiving, continued

It’s been many years since I ventured out for Black Friday madness, but this year and going forward, I’m purposefully avoiding anything to do with Black Friday. Instead, I get to continue my Thanksgiving with much-needed rest, quality family time, and even more delicious food. Not a sale in the world can beat that perfect trifecta.

Weekend in NYC – What to Do

Visiting NYC for the first time since we moved away was so exciting. I have really missed the city and our friends there, so it was so nice to be able to get back – even if only for a short couple of days. But after living there for a year, what does one do when visiting? It’s really hard for me to restrain myself from packing in too much. I had every intention of “taking it easy” but that didn’t last long. Not that I’m complaining… well, my feet are. I’ve gotten out of the habit of walking everywhere and booking 3+ miles a day on foot!

So here’s what we did (Rob had a hefty exam to take on Saturday, so we weren’t always together):

  • I met up with my girlfriends late Friday night at Dos Caminos in the Meatpacking District for margaritas and their ah-ma-zing guacamole. This is one of my favorite restaurants in NYC (and it’s Mexican, so obviously I love it), and it’s tucked in the heart of a vibrant and lively part of the city.
  • I went for a long walk in Central Park with Maggie and Jessa – one of my very favorite parts of the city – and had great girl time with these two.
  • I checked out the Plaza and the Plaza Food Hall, all decked out in Christmas decorations.
  • I walked from the Plaza along Fifth Avenue all the way to Bryant Park, peeking into all the famously intricate window displays and ending up at Bryant Park’s holiday shops.
  • Rob finished up an exam that afternoon, whose case was on Warby Parker, so we hopped over to SoHo to check out their store and try on glasses (after a pick-me-up cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake).
  • We ate at a delicious and popular NYC steakhouse, The Smith, near Lincoln Center and had fun in their photo booth
  • We strolled through Central Park to Wollman Rink  – magical setting against the bright city lights.
  • We went to our old church, Apostles, on the Upper East Side
  • We got brunch after church with some friends and celebrated my old roomie’s engagement!

Okay, so we did manage to squeeze in a lot. But it’s hard to resist all the fun things to see and do! What would YOU do if you had a weekend in NYC?

Friday Finds

This girl is headed to NYC tonight… and could not be more excited! First stop straight from LGA: to the Meatpacking District for late night margaritas and guac with my dear friends Maggie, Rebecca, and Jessa. Also can’t wait to see my old roomie, Whitney, and the gorgeous new rock on her finger! I can’t believe it’s been almost four months since I was last in the city. I’m ready for a weekend to soak it up!

Rob has a conference with a recruiting company today, so he’s already up there. We decided to make a weekend of it since it’s not especially easy to travel from Cville to NYC. Right now is such a wonderful time of year to be in New York – the city is the most festive place in the world!

These parents are awesome.

The new Oxford Dictionary word of the year beat out “twerk.”

And the most memorable selfies of 2013.

Cold-weather running tips.

Best coin ever spent. (One of my very favorite songs. Chills.)

Cute Thanksgiving printables.

Festive nail polish.

A proud week for Tar Heels.

The amazing a cappella version of a song I shared a few weeks ago.

This made me laugh.

One more reason to move to London.

No more bat wings.

A gorgeous holiday dress.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

TEDx Charlottesville

Rob’s professor at Darden, Martin Davidson, takes the stage.

Last Friday I had the honor of spending my day with my Executive Director at the TEDx Charlottesville event on the Downtown Mall. I’m sure many of you are familiar with TED, but if you’re not, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED conferences bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).”

People at the local level independently organize TED conferences for their communities to be inspired by their own neighbors, peers, and friends. All the people that spoke at TEDx Charlottesville are either from Charlottesville or recommended by someone from Charlottesville.

What a fantastic day it was! I was amazed by the breadth of topics, ranging from humorous to serious or a mix of the two. From why we study astronomy, to curing progenia, to ending AIDS in the U.S., to embracing your “weird,” to empowering impoverished women to express themselves on stage at the Kennedy Center…  everyone can be inspired from a TED conference. The day left me so happy knowing there was so much good going on in the world. There are so many people seeking the “difference that makes a difference.” Click here to view the speakers at the Charlottesville event and read their bios by clicking on their photos. Such interesting people! A couple of them are Rob’s professors at Darden – so cool!

If you have some time, you can watch the archived live stream of the TEDx Charlottesville event here to watch what I got to see.

If you only have a few minutes, you can watch the news recap here.

And to leave you with a thought for the day, check out this talk from the TED archives:

Cocktails and Good Cheer

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Who doesn’t love a holiday soiree?! We sure do. We’ll be hosting our first annual Christmas gathering with Charlottesville friends at the Langdon household in December! The image above is part of the invitation I designed and created.

I’ve been planning a menu of cocktails and tasty treats to share with our friends. I realize it’s not yet Thanksgiving, but if you’re looking for inspiration for your own hosting or pot-lucking this season, maybe one of these will do the trick and help with your own planning!

Drinks:

Champagne with cranberries
Easy enough, and you can add amaretto or cranberry syrup if you’re feeling extra fancy.

Old Fashioned
For a more masculine beverage, try one of these cocktails. Rob and I have great connotations with this drink and will always remember our pre-marital counseling leaders making them for us at a potluck dinner in their adorable Brooklyn Heights kitchen.

1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 orange peel
club soda
2 ounces rye whiskey

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar and add a large ice cube and orange peel. Pour in the rye (or bourbon).

Hot cider
This one is easy. I’ll be pouring some Carter Mountain Apple Cider into a pot and heating it up on the stove. Serve with a cinnamon stick if desired. This is a great seasonal alternative to alcoholic beverages.

Food:

Chex Mix
My mom’s Chex Mix recipe is the best I’ve ever had. It is dangerously addicting with the perfect ingredients and flavors. In fact, I’ve given up trying to portion-control myself whenever she makes it. Now it’s my turn to make it! And you can, too :-). Here is Brenda’s Chex Mix:

1 stick margarine (8 T)
~ 1/8 – 1/4 C worcestershire sauce
~ 1 t Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (spicy salt mix)
~ 2 C wheat chex (can be store brand)
~ 4 C rice chex (can be store brand)
~ 4 C Crispix (can be store brand)
~ 1 C Bugles
~ 1 C broken pretzels
~ 1/2 – 1 C Virginia peanuts

“Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Melt margarine in microwave (it’s faster than waiting for the oven to melt the margarine).  Pour margarine into 11 x 15, roasting pan, or other large baking dish.  Stir in worcestershire sauce and Tony’s salt mix.  In large bowl put of any combination of cereal, Bugles, pretzels and peanuts.  I usually do about 10 C of cereal and the rest a combination of the other things.  I like to have them all ready to be able to pour them into the margarine mixture at once, and then stir the mess quickly to coat everything with the margarine.  Bake in oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  I usually add extra dashes of Worcestershire sauce at the first stir.  After the hour, empty contents onto paper towels and spread to cool.  Eat first batch while making the second batch, which you will tell everyone else is just the first batch.”

If you buy a box of each of the cereals above you can probably make 2-3 batches.  The above recipe is for 1 batch. And let’s be real. I’m gonna need more than one batch.

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Goat cheese with pistachios and dried cranberries
How much more festive can it get? It’s the perfect holiday cheese option.

2 tablespoons roasted pistachios, chopped
2 tablespoons dried cranberries, chopped
1 8- to 10-ounce log fresh goat cheese
crackers or bread, for serving

On a large plate, combine the pistachios and cranberries. Roll the goat cheese in the fruit-and-nut mixture to coat. Serve with the crackers or bread.

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Chocolate-dipped pretzels
This is another tradition from my mom that I absolutely love to indulge in. It’s so simple, but everyone loves them. Just melt your white chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave and start dipping. The key is to only dip about 1/3 of the pretzel in your melted baker’s white chocolate. Line dipped pretzels on wax paper until dry. This is the sweet/salty combo perfected. Sprinkles are optional (though festive!).

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Peanut Blossoms
Because what’s a Christmas party without a Christmas cookie?! And this one happens to be my very favorite. I simply can’t get enough of the peanut butter cookie matched perfectly with that Hershey kiss for the best flavor combo ever. Trust me, buying Reese’s for trick-or-treaters at Halloween was not smart. Can’t resist.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
Sugar
48 Hershey’s Kisses milk chocolates, unwrapped
Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, shortening, peanut butter, milk, vanilla and egg; mix with electric mixer on low speed until stiff dough forms. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375°F. for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately top each cookie with 1 milk chocolate candy, pressing down firmly so cookie cracks around edge; remove from cookie sheets. *This recipe makes 48 cookies – feel free to halve… or double ;-). Recipe via.
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What are your favorite festive foods and beverages? Any recipes to throw into the mix?

Bedroom Decor

So I’m taking a break from the weekly Friday Finds series because I’ve been sick, yet especially busy all week. If you missed last week’s Friday Finds, you can check it out here.

I showed you guys our living room decor, but we still have boxes of frames, prints, art, keepsakes, etc. that I haven’t gone through or properly displayed. Those boxes are tucked wherever I can fit them: in our office, extra closets, and under the bed. But we have many special things I want to display, like our tickets from the 2012 London Olympics and our apartment key from the first apartment we shared on Wall Street in NYC. I’d rather see those memories daily than have them tucked under the bed.

So, I’m going to tackle the “gallery wall that incorporates/disguises the TV” in our bedroom. It’s funny, we don’t ever use the TV, but it’s there… taking up space. I’m just going to build around it following this vision (via):