Monday, January 23, 2017

If there's one place I'll never get tired of blogging about, it's Paris. 

I could go there a hundred times and I'd still want to recap each trip just as enthusiastically as the last. Our adventure there in November was no exception. This was the first leg of our latest European trip and while we were only there for a few nights, The City of Lights did not disappoint. I was a bit worried about the weather since I've heard Paris can be a bit dreary in the winter with all the rain, but much to our delight the city shined more beautifully than ever, even in the fog and drizzle. 

Everywhere we went, from the Tour Eiffel to the Champs-Élysées, the city was quite literally sparkling. The darkness fell much earlier than I was used to, which normally depresses me, but it turns out the short days there play up the winter magic quite a bit. When the sun went down, the fun began.

On our first night there, we dined at little café across from our hotel and then stepped out to wander the streets to see what we could find. We were staying only a block off the Champs-Élysées, and we pretty much fell into Christmas wonderland as soon as we hit the avenue. There were street vendors at the market selling everything from hot roasted chestnuts and cheese to jewelry and handmade wool hats. We snagged a few Nutella crepes and cups of mulled wine and walked along with wide eyes, admiring the displays. The streets glistened from the day's rain reflecting the bright lights strung on every tree. There was even a large ice rink with kids skating along to carols playing up and down the avenue. It felt like a Christmas dream. 

We ended up going back the next night to buy a few gifts and found this stall selling the most amazing sausages. There were all kinds of fancy mustards and sauces to go with them. The curry one was my absolutely favorite. After devouring two of them, we were pleased to find that there was a wine bar right next door. We went in and found that they had live music too! We sat down and ordered a bottle of Bordeaux from the sweetest old lady who spoke nearly no English, and she also brought us a couple glasses of a white wine we couldn't pronounce. By the end, we were a little tipsy but she certainly made out well since we bought a few bottles to take home!

We did our best to maximize the few days we had and hit all the major sights since Mike had never been to Paris before. The next day we started early at the Tour Eiffel (and ended up going back a second time to see it at night) then made our way down the Seine from there. We walked up to the second level of the tower and then took the elevator to the top. The climb was a lot of fun and new for both of us. The view from the second level was amazing but the top was encased in fog so we couldn't see out. Somehow, being at the top of the tower in the rain was still incredibly romantic. It might have been because there weren't many people there or that the fog sort of insulated the silence but it was so peaceful. 

We walked along the Seine and then cut over to do a little museum hopping. From the Musée d'Orsay to the Musée de l'Orangerie to the Louvre, we did a crazy amount of walking but it was totally worth it. We learned a lot and of course I deeply enjoyed getting to sit with my favorite lilies again. It was also nice to pop inside for a bit to warm up and dry off since the day was chilly and damp. 

Our last night in Paris will remain one of the best nights of my life. We had finished dinner and gone to visit Notre Dame, which was beautiful as always, and then headed over to Sainte-Chapelle to see the beautiful gothic chapel during the last few minutes of daylight. As soon as we entered, we were struck by the stained glass. Fifteen windows full of thirteenth century stained glass nearly fifty feet high surround three sides of the chapel. The intricate panels depict more than a thousand different scenes from the bible. As if the church itself isn't magical enough, Sainte-Chapelle houses relics including Jesus' crown of thorns. We were in awe of the entire place. I had heard from one of my co-workers that Sainte-Chapelle does the most amazing classical concerts on the weekends and we were told to snag a couple of tickets if we had the time. We bought tickets for that night right after our tour of the chapel and it was the best decision we could have ever made. This is the caption I posted on Instagram right after we had left the concert:

"13 Novembre 2016. Exactly one year ago I was listening in shock to NPR as news of the Paris attacks poured in. I had just returned from my first trip to this beautiful city only a few weeks before and I couldn't wrap my head around what I was hearing. It was earth-shattering and scary and downright heartbreaking. Tonight, on the first anniversary of that horrible day, we sat inside Sainte-Chapelle, a thirteenth century gothic church that houses relics like the actual crown of thorns, and listened as an orchestra played the most breathtaking rendition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons I have ever heard. One year ago, I was terrified at the thought of ever traveling to Paris again, and tonight I can't fathom ever depriving myself of it's magic. Paris, je t'aime."

We practically floated back to the hotel. All I can say is, if you are ever in Paris, please please please go and check it out. If orchestras aren't your thing, they also have chamber choir performances which I've heard are also amazing. It's next on our list, that's for sure!

Our time in Paris may have been short, but my dream is to visit in all four seasons. So far, I've had the pleasure of experiencing the city in fall and winter and I'm dreaming of the day when we can hopefully spend a few weeks in the spring and summer. There's still so much to explore!

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Cups

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A couple weeks ago, I posted a few videos on Instagram stories when I made these breakfast cups and got several requests for the recipe, so I thought it might be wise to stick it up on the blog in case others are interested!

They are super yummy and ridiculously easy to make. I had some leftover fresh cranberries hanging around in the fridge from the holidays so I threw those in too and made some "mixed berry" oatmeal cups, and they were just as tasty!

On a side note, Mike and I recently watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and as a result, we are trying to incorporate a more plant-based diet into our every day lives, mostly for health and environmental reasons. Since we still enjoy eating some meat and we're not quite ready to cut out animal products entirely, we've decided to focus on eating vegan four out of seven days a week. So far, it's been a lot of fun! I found a ton of recipes on Pinterest and we've loved every one that we've tried. It really helps take the pressure off knowing that we can still eat meat a few days a week, so it definitely has made the adjustment easier. So all that said, for most recipes I post from now on, I'll be including a vegan alternative if the recipe itself is not already vegan.

This recipe was not originally vegan, but I used a simple substitute for the egg and it worked like a charm!

1 cup mashed banana
1 cup uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats
1 egg (or 3 tbsp applesauce)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 425F and spray muffin tin with non-stick spray.

2. Mash banana until smooth. Add in all remaining ingredients except blueberries until combined.

3. After banana mixture is blended, gently fold in blueberries.

4. Scoop batter into muffin tin, and bake for 5 mins at 425F. Next, decrease oven temperature to 375F and continue baking for an additional 15 minutes.

5. Allow muffins to cool for a few minutes in the muffin tin. Removing them while hot will cause them to break apart as they are very moist.

Mistakes I've Already Made in 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Photo cred: The Amazing Macy Volpe

Welcome to 2017!

How's everything going for you so far? Great? I'm so glad to hear it!

Me? Not so much.

Why don't you take off your coat and stay a while, and I'll fill you in on all the details as to how I'm already making a mess of 2017. As you may have heard, my word for the year is "simplify" and when I woke up on Sunday morning, I was ready to take the bull by the horns and start tackling my first project. The plan for simplifying my year was pretty straightforward; every month I'd pick an area of my life to organize, downsize, and simplify and then get to work!

For January I'd chosen social media & screen time. I was excited about this one, mostly because it was a fairly easy first pitch and, when complete, would have a huge impact on my life. My plan included things like this:

- Delete unnecessary apps that I no longer use 
- Determine which apps to keep and what their purpose will be
- Clean up and organize content on the ones I choose to keep
- Cut cable
- Purchase dock for devices to store at night, away from bedroom
- Develop plan for limiting screen time 

You get the idea.

So, as I said, I woke up eagerly on January 1st and hopped on my laptop to start the clean-up process.

At first, I was super productive. I deleted my Twitter, Snapchat, and Periscope accounts. (Bet you didn't know I had Periscope, did ya? Exactly.) I went through all photos, pages, groups, messages, threads, and tags dating all the way back to 2006 and deleted everything that was no longer relevant. By the way, do yourself a favor and log onto Facebook on a real computer sometime and check out the layers of archived messages. You will be shocked at how much Facebook automatically saves without your knowledge!

Then I got busy cleaning up apps that I planned to keep. Facebook is an obvious one, but I also decided to hang onto my Instagram (since it now basically has Snapchat and Periscope built right in), Pinterest, and LinkedIn. It felt really good going through all those old boards of pins I never used and actually organizing the links to helpful ones!

As you can imagine, this basically took an entire day. At the end of the night, I sat back with a glass of wine, satisfied with my progress, and did one final search to see what other accounts I might have out there on the interweb floating around that I wasn't aware existed.

What did I find?


So what did I do?

Deleted it and all associated applications.

Dun, dun, dun!

It took me all of about thirty seconds after I clicked the agree button to realize that my Google+ account is linked to both PicasaWeb albums and Blogger which are in turn linked to one another. I quickly went back to read the disclaimer only to find that I had just agreed (happily) to deleting the sources for every single one of my blog images... since 2012.

So folks, if you navigate your mouse a little to left and click on any of the links in my blog archive, you'll find lots and lots of pretty words that lack lots and lots of pretty pictures.

I spent most of yesterday developing a new plan for how I'm going to restore all the images, and unfortunately, there is no way to get them back (even with my backups) aside from going back manually and uploading all the images all over again.

I'm sure right now any blogger reading this is probably cringing or popping blood pressure pills at the mere thought of what I did, but funny enough, I'm not stressed at all. If suddenly my entire blog had disappeared, writing included, let me make it clear - it would be a completely different story. But honestly, even though I've just added months of work to my to-do list, I know it can be fixed.

I guess, if anything, this has only served as a reminder for me to get to work cleaning up old posts so that I can have my blog printed into a little keepsake book like I've talked about for years. So far, I've tackled most of 2016's posts and will start chugging along day by day, post by post, until they all have their rightful photos once again.

Let this be a lesson to all those thinking of incorporating minimalism into their lives in 2017. Remember kids, don't drink and simplify!