Dress for Success

As a girl who spends a lot of time at a podium in a business suit or some equivalent, I can tell you that being professional doesn’t mean you have to forego style. However, there’s a fine line to draw between just another look and a professional look. There are some things that just don’t work in the workplace, and there are some things that are just begging for a little flair.

With that, I want to share some of my favorite conference looks. Let’s start with the most casual look, one suited for a primarily academic conference in a warm environment {like the psychology convention I usually attend in Washington, D.C., at the start of summer}.

Conference Casual

The look is preppy but polished and works for a nice short academic conference. You can always tell when you’re presenting around academics – there are a large number of tweed jackets and elbow patches in attendance, and khakis are about as dressy as they get.

But what about a business conference? If you’re going to move around the movers and shakers, you do need to look like you belong, and I can’t think of a much better route to go than classic with a pop of color. A tuxedo jacket, tailored pencil skirt, and classic silk turtleneck blouse do great things, as long as the climate is cool enough to allow for it. This is my favorite fall/winter conference look.

Going Conferencing

I’ve got a slightly different take on this as well. Still formal, but as with the previous outfit, I don’t always like matching my skirts or pants to my jacket. I’ve never been able to pull off a good monochrome. This is another classic look I like that incorporates some fun patterns and pops of color while still maintaining a traditional feel.

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For springtime, I like to change things up and lighten the mood. I’ve never been a pastels girl, but I can pull off a pale blue. Incorporating many shades of blue, including some robin’s egg blue for spring, can still be a classic look. And for spring, as the weather gets warmer, I usually ditch my sterner looking silver jewelry for gold.

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So there you go. Four looks for different seasons and different degrees of formality. None of the rules here are rigid {seriously, could you name for me any rule of fashion that’s really and truly rigid?}, but when in doubt, put yourself in the following scenario. You’re in a high-budget disaster movie and walking into the White House to brief the President and the Cabinet on what needs to be done to save the world. You want to be credible, but you’re also the lead and there’s a requirement that action heroes and heroines look fabulous. What do you wear?

So how about you? What do you wear to save the world – or at least the world of business?

Happy weekend!

KCS

A Korean Culture Tour

culture titleI knocked a pretty major item off my great big 101-thing to-do list while I was in South Korea.

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Well, okay, there were a few bucket list worthy items. Presenting to a couple hundred people in a bilateral forum of some of the best analysts and strategists around was pretty awesome. And then there was the Korean baseball game, which was epic.

But I also had a chance to do some archery with a traditional Korean bow.

Aside from being a fan of the old Robin Hood tales and the Hunger Games these days, I’ve always wanted to practice archery. We tried it out during PE when I was a kid in junior high, and I was hooked, but somehow, I just never got around to trying it again. I had my chance here.

So did Scott, and since I’m more of a picture nut than he is, there are a lot more pictures of him looking cool with his bow and getting his instruction than me.

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All this came about in between seminars, when our Korean hosts took us off on a tour of the lesser seen parts of the city so that we could get a bigger taste of the culture.

We spent the better part of one day at the Korean Folk Village just south of town. It’s a combination reenactors’ village and amusement park, but there are lots of “experience” exhibits tucked in the corners where you can learn about Korean traditions, from archery to pottery to mask making to temple prayer. You can even take part in a traditional Korean wedding ceremony.

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There were stunt shows, both on horseback and on the ground, and featuring tumbling, tricks with whips, swords, spears, and archery.

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My personal favorite, though, were all the rambling paths, streams, and bridges wandering in and around the folk village, with quiet reenactors going about their day and partaking in the things that might normally be looked at as the daily grind. Blacksmiths working in their forges, weavers working on their looms, folks cooking soup or roasting herbs.

It might be a slightly idealized look at what life might have been like in a traditional village, but I think the immersive environment gave the best flavor for us to see what things might have been like.

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As for the modern cultural environment, I just have to say that I have never, ever been to anything like a Korean baseball game. If you’re ever in Seoul, go. Just go. We went with a large group from the conference on a Thursday night, expecting it to be a quiet-ish exhibition game like the military appreciation nights at Yankee Stadium, but we got a whole other experience.

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The crowd was huge and raucous and in it to win it. They knew all the cheers and songs the cheerleaders and MC’s ran through {yes, they had cheerleaders and MC’s rallying the crowd}, and they even knew all the dances. I haven’t been surrounded by that much spirit in a long time!

We delved into the expat culture a little bit as well, when we met up with one of my husband’s best friends who’s stationed out here. We hadn’t seen him since he moved to Korea after the wedding, where he was one of Scott’s groomsmen. Together we investigated the craft microbreweries cropping up in the expat region of Seoul.

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Finally, the day before we flew out, we completed our little culture tour by making our way to the palaces. There are several of them throughout Seoul, but we managed to see and tour the smaller one near our hotel, Deoksugung Palace, and then the large government seat near the embassies, Gyeongbokgung Palace.

We spent a leisurely morning walking around the gardens of Deoksugung, enjoying the cool spring weather and the flowers in bloom.

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Outside, we saw a street fair just getting ready to kick off, and the guard getting ready to march in for the changing of the guard at Deoksugung. We missed that, but we managed to catch it over at the next palace.

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We made it over to Gyeongbokgung just in time to watch the changing of the guards ceremony. It’s a huge affair, complete with a traditional Korean military band – which has a sound unlike any other military band I’ve ever heard. Shrill trumpets, chimes, and whistles aren’t what I’d normally associate with a band, but they work.

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I’m still amazed that we were able to pack so much into our trip to Korea, but I’m really glad we were able to make time for these visits that immersed us in the rich history of the country. You never really learn a place until you’ve walked around in it and have experienced some of its traditions, and I felt like we were able to get that here.

Here’s hoping you all are having a wonderful week!

KCS

Okinawan Sweet Potato Hash with Fried Eggs

Sweet Potato Hash

I love traveling – and dining out on new and interesting dishes – but I’m also a big fan of being able to come home and whip up something in my own kitchen. You’d think I’d feel kind of spoiled after a week of the luxurious breakfast buffet at our hotel, but more than anything, I just wanted to make my own clean food – and get away from buffet portions!

Sometimes the simplest things really are best. I think this especially applies to cooking. The only trick to getting the most out of simple things is that you’ve got to have quality ingredients, and you’ve got to cook them right.

It’s the same message proclaimed by a wonderful cookbook I rediscovered during a compulsive reorganizing session {I do things like this – I can’t tell you why}. The book is the 5 Ingredient Fix cookbook by Claire Robinson, host of a show on Food Network of the same name.

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I’ve been having a great time experimenting with her recipes, but I’ve had my eye on a particular deconstructed sweet potato hash with fried eggs. I love sweet potatoes, both for their taste and for their nutritional benefits, and they’re extremely tasty in a morning hash. And by a stroke of luck, I came across these babies during a Costco run -

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They’re Khoai Lang Tim – also known as Okinawan sweet potatoes, Hawaiian sweet potatoes, or purple yams. There’s no fat in them and they’re low in calories. On top of that they’re full of antioxidants and fiber. Oh, and they’re delicious. Let’s not leave that out!

Using these, I tried my hand at the hash recipe, making a few changes and substitutions {are you surprised?}. For one, I’m really trying not to buy butter, so I wanted to see if I could make a delicious and hearty breakfast without butter. I also had to forego the fresh sage leaves, since it’s not something I have on hand normally – and definitely not something I have a week after moving in! I do have crushed sage, though.

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Even with those changes – and no butter – I ended up with a tasty, delicious, and calorie friendly recipe that incorporates some local flavor and is a great kickstart for the morning. After being my taste tester as usual, my husband is already asking when I can make this again. Since he’s the pickier eater in this house, I consider it a win.

Okinawan Sweet Potato Hash with Fried Eggs

Makes 2 servings.

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cubed medium sweet potato {regular or purple}
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 chopped sweet onion
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp crushed sage
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • {optional} avocado to garnish

How to make it:

1. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet and stir in the sage to simmer until it infuses the water {you’ll smell it}. Add in the cubed sweet potatoes and bring the water to a nice simmer {bubbling lightly but not a churning boil}. Cook the potatoes until the water has boiled off. If it hasn’t boiled off in about 10 minutes of cooking, spoon out the remaining liquid and continue cooking the potatoes. Total cook time should be about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, pour the rest of the olive oil into another skillet and throw in the chopped onions. Cook those for about the same time {15-20 minutes} at a low heat until the onions go golden-brown.

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3. Pour the onions into the sweet potato skillet and toss to mix them together. Then remove the skillet from the heat and plate the potatoes and onions, piling the mixture in the middle of the plate.

4. Wipe out one of the pans {you want to capture some of the spice and flavor}, pour in a teeny bit more olive oil to prevent sticking, and fry the eggs, two at a time. Like Claire, I happen to like mine over easy, so that’s what I used here.

5. Put the eggs on top of the hash, crack some fresh ground sea salt and pepper over the top, garnish with some avocado slices, and serve them up!

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I’m contemplating adding sage to my budding herb garden so I can try this recipe out with the whole sage leaves that Claire recommends – it’s cropped up in a few of the other recipes I’ve been looking at trying out lately, too. I’m also going to try her recommendation to add some spicy sausage to the hash, too, as soon as I find some that aren’t too greasy, and maybe give this a go with regular sweet potatoes, too.

In the meantime, though, this is one tasty breakfast, and I’m really looking forward to the next time I can make it!

KCS

 

Walking Around in Seoul

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Seoul, South Korea, is the most amazing and most functional mixture of old world and new world that I’ve ever seen. Brand new state of the art green buildings grow up amid palaces and shrines of old, traditional dress mixes with Western suits on the way to work or to the park, and visitors, tourists, and expats wander in and around the local haunts and their own little enclaves, not at odds with the world but embraced by it.

Spending a week in Seoul for the bilateral analysis exchange where I was presenting wasn’t enough. Even when it was time to get on the plane, I wanted more. Let’s take a little walking tour of the city, and I’ll show you why.

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We’ll start by taking a walk-around tour of the city architecture, starting with the City Hall, just a couple of blocks from our hotel.

Both Scott and I were fascinated by the huge wall of curved glass making up the front and the massive green wall inside, and we stopped to browse some of the sustainable living exhibits inside. It also made for a great juxtaposition with the tiled roofs and high walls of Deoksugung Palace, just across the street, which we visited as part of our culture tour later on.

But that wasn’t the only piece of interesting architecture. All around us there were buildings worth looking at, more sculptures than buildings. The city has such an amazing way of fitting the new and modern in with the beautiful old traditional buildings.

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While walking through downtown, we caught sight of Seoul Tower, up on its hill in the Namsan Gardens, and we decided to go investigate. Turned out there was a cable car that would take us from the bottom of the hill up to the top! We have an affinity for those, as you might have seen in Barcelona, or from my previous trip to Rio.

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Yeah, please excuse the iPhone reflections from inside the glass. And the iPhone pictures in general. I didn’t know what I would and wouldn’t be allowed to bring into the conference {there are classified sessions in defense conferences where you can’t take cameras} and I didn’t want to risk leaving my SLR just lying around. I’m protective of it.

Still, you can see the spring just exploding through the city. I’m still amazed at the amount of green space and little park spots that cropped up throughout the city. We could see all of them in the amazing panoramic views from the cable car and from the top of the hill itself.

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We walked around the top of the hill, checking out the tower and the view, but also one of Seoul’s “Beacon Hills.” These clay ovens were beacons of old – if you lit a fire inside them, they blazed so that other watch hills could see them and send the message in a time of attack.

We were amazed at the beauty of the cherry trees, but our Korean hosts aren’t overly fond of them, or other Japanese influences on the peninsula. One of our hosts mentioned that even though the Washington D.C. cherry festival is full of beautiful trees also, they won’t travel to D.C. in April thanks to the darker meaning it has for them.

It’s fairly well known that the trees in D.C. were gifts from the Emperor of Japan, but not so well known that they were gifts from the Emperor to President Taft at the end of a negotiation that allowed Japan to occupy Korea and the U.S. to occupy the Philippines. It’s not surprising, knowing that, they wouldn’t look on the cherry blossoms favorably.

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We also rambled down the old city wall, which surrounds the old city. Some of it is the original wall, but the rest, like the section pictured here, is artfully reconstructed out of shaped concrete and newly cut granite to look like a modern interpretation of the old wall, and it’s all lined by gardens.

Seoul has its days of fogginess and smogginess, where you don’t necessarily want to be walking around, but we were lucky enough to have some very good walking weather. If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend walking around the Namsan Garden, checking out the old wall, looking at the architecture and growing green and sustainable walls and park space, or investigating the palaces!

Hope you enjoyed our little walking tour! Some cities are definitely more friendly for that sort of things than others – what’s your favorite city for walking about?

KCS

Airlines That Rock

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Those of you out there who travel a lot know as well as I do that no matter how amazing the destination, the journey there and back does A LOT for setting the tone of your adventure. It’s really hard to feel excited about an adventure when you’re exhausted and cramped and starving after being wadded up and stuffed into the middlest seat possible.

Okay, that wadded up example was worlds away from what we experienced on our Korean Air flight out to Seoul. Instead, I think Scandinavian Airlines has competition for being my favorite airline!

Now, normally my husband and I are not that high maintenance when it comes to travel. I’ll barter for an exit row or some extra leg-room to accommodate the tall guy I travel with, but that’s about as much as we need in order to be comfortable, even on an eleven hour trans-Pacific flight.

With Korean Air, we didn’t need to barter. It started when we came up to the Departures check-in at Honolulu International and saw rows and rows of people instead of kiosks. Don’t get me wrong, I love my online check-in and flashing the QR code on my phone instead of paper tickets, but since I booked Scott’s ticket for this travel and my office booked mine, I was worried about how many people I would have to beg to swap until we could get seats together. It turned out, we didn’t even have to worry about it.

What I did have to worry about was that our office’s travel folks had booked my ticket for Sunday instead of Saturday. I think the international date line threw them off. But I only had to worry about that for a minute, because the Korean Air desk agent helping us was on the phone and got everything switched around in minutes. And she took one look at my 6’4″ husband and stuck us together in an exit row.

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When we got on the plane, we had our usual moment of envy walking past all the elite and prestige class seating, but our seats were pretty darn spacious. And there was probably two rows worth of space in front of us, thanks to the size of the exit door. Add to that the personal entertainment systems and screens, the remarkably good food, and the fact that a cheerful attendant wafted through the cabin periodically with a bottle of wine in each hand, red, and white, and we felt absolutely spoiled, even though we were riding in coach.

As relatively expensive as air fares are, it’s always tempting to go with the lower priced ticket and assume the rest of the experience is all the same. It’s not. To me, the quality of the experience is everything, especially on a fairly long leg of travel.

You could take an airline that’s just any old experience. Fine.

Or you could take one that has people who not only care about your problems but can fix them fairly quickly and efficiently. Who doesn’t nickel and dime you for baggage or pre-packaged food but take care of your bags and serve you a surprisingly delicious meal. Whose airplanes are clean and full of modernized conveniences. Hmm. Decisions.

Life is short and time is precious. If I have to, I’ll go without and suffer for ten hours to get to a remarkable destination – but Korean Airlines showed me I don’t have to. I want those ten hours to be comfortable and pleasant, so we’ll be flying with them again.

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* * * * *

Oh, and by the way…I want to wish the happiest of birthdays to my father! Here’s wishing you another year full of love and adventure, and I love you, Dad! Don’t kill all the Spanish wine I sent you in one sitting :)
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KCS

Note: This post was not sponsored by Korean Air or any of their affiliates, nor was I compensated in any way for writing it. From time to time, I do receive sponsored advertising options and compensation for reviewing products and services, but I also enjoy sharing my finds when I think they will benefit my readers. This is one I shared just because I had an awesome experience.

Sunday Currently, vol. 9

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Is it Sunday yet? Or did I miss it?

I can’t tell – we gained a whole other Saturday when we crossed the international date line again, and that always throws me off.

Scott and I had a tremendous time on our trip to South Korea this past week!  Our hosts’ hospitality, the information and friendship shared at the conference, and the beauty of spring in Korea blew us away. It was an absolutely amazing experience.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of the highlights of our trip this week, but if you want to see what we were up to, you can find me on Instagram {either find me @kcsaling or click the widget to the right!}. In the meantime, here’s a very very short…

Currently…

Reading…the two hundred something blog posts that I haven’t had a chance to read while I’ve been away, but not until I finish…

Writing…my additions to our team paper for this year’s Reputation Institute conference in May/June. We’ve been accepted to another one, but since it’s in the middle of one of the busiest times in my office, I’m just providing insight into the paper, and Karen’s presenting without me.

Proud of…being able to contribute to the great exchange effort between the Army analytical community and our South Korean counterparts, being able to see and do as much as we were on our stay and make the most of it, and being able to bring my husband with me.

Feeling…tired and glad to be home after our adventures. It’s nice to have a little bit of time to breathe before I have to throw myself right back into work again. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s on your mind, currently?

KCS

Ka’ena Point

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Ka’ena Point is the westernmost tip of Oahu. If you look at a map of Oahu and look at the little spur sticking out on the left-hand side…yup, that’s it. And if you stand out on the end of it, you’re surrounded by water on three sides, and you kind of feel like you’re going to fall off the edge of the world. It’s a view that has to be seen to be believed.

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And it’s so quiet out there, it’s beyond belief. Even as the famous North Shore waves start kicking up, when tourists and locals alike flock north to watch twenty and thirty footers crash onto the shore, most of the gorgeous beaches…are vacant.

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Out at the very edge, there’s a wildlife refuge completely closed off from the island by rusting fences so that the four-wheel enthusiasts, dirt bike riders, and ATV-ers who do frequent other parts of the park don’t disturb the nesting albatrosses, pupping monk seals, and every other creature who comes there just to hang out and get some respite from the pounding waves. We visited and took some time to sit there, rest, and enjoy the end of the world ourselves. Well, almost by ourselves.

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So if you’re ever in the area, and you’re looking for an amazing place to witness some of the awesome forces of nature on display during Hawaii’s fall and winter months where the waves peak out…uh…nothing to see here at all. Tell everyone you’re going to Sunset Beach and then sneak up here all quiet-like, and let’s just keep this between us, mmkay?

KCS

#64: A Whirlwind Day in the City of Light

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Last week I shared some secrets of making macarons I learned while in Paris – so let’s talk about the rest of the trip, too! It really was a whirlwind – an impulsive add-on to our longer conference trip to Barcelona. But it was a necessary one.

Prior to this, Scott hadn’t been to Europe {not counting a layover in Germany on his way to a deployment}, so I felt that if we could swing it, Paris was a must-see! It also doesn’t hurt that I just love Paris. I love the architecture, the art, the culture, the food – oh, lord, the food – the romance, the history, the stories…I could go on forever. There’s just so much to love about Paris!

We took the Eurail from Barcelona to Paris on Friday right after the Reputation Institute’s conference ended, but then Scott and I had to leave Monday to meet our movers back at the house. What were we going to do with only two days in Paris? We did some planning on the train – but got distracted by the beautiful views zooming past us, too.

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We’d reserved Sunday for Disneyland Paris because, well, we’re Disney people. It was also something familiar that I built in to get my less-traveled husband more comfortable with being immersed in two countries where he didn’t speak the language or know the routine. However, I wanted to get him as hooked on Paris as I am, so I pretty much designed the tasting sampler of Paris for our Saturday.

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We started off by meeting up with one of my best friends for coffee and pain du chocolat just so we could chit chat and she could give us a lay of the land. Lisa is on her way to getting her PhD in language, literature, and Biblical studies, so she spends a lot of time wandering around the grand old places of Europe. We’ve known each other since we were five and have managed to keep in touch over the years despite being oftentimes on other sides of the planet!

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She walked us around and showed us some of the sites, but one of the places we had to stop was the Pont de l’Archeveche across from Notre Dame, one of the famous bridges where folks have been coming to place their locks lately. No one really has a clue how the trend started or what it all means – a lot of the locals turn up their noses at it and the idea that something like a lock should symbolize love, but clearly a lot of folks believe in it since the bridge is covered in locks.

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Being typical tourists and somewhat hopeless romantics, Scott and I put our lock on the bridge {that’s what we’re doing in the photo at the top of this post}, tossed our keys in to the Seine, and felt sappy and happy in the process. Karen captured the moment and made us this little collage. Just in case I haven’t said it enough, I love my sister – she is the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet!

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The next stop was the Louvre! We couldn’t come to Paris and not see the Louvre, and I so wish we had more time there! We could have spent days just walking around the Louvre. As it was, we spent a goodly amount of time walking in and around the Louvre!

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One of the things I love most about the Louvre isn’t the art that it contains, but the art that it is. The place is an amazing piece of architecture. It still contains rooms and effects from famous French royalty and aristocrats, and gives you a view of how the haves lived in a time where the haves and have-nots were hugely separated. Honestly, you look at the richness of old French aristocracy, and you understand the revolution. “Let them eat cake” takes on a whole new nuance. Eh, let me get off my lecture podium! On with the tour!

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The original Palais du Louvre began as a fortress in the 12th century and was enlarged many times as various rulers moved in and decided they needed more space, until Louis XIV decided to up and move his entourage to Versailles in the 1680s. He kept the Louvre, though, to display the royal collection of art and sculpture, and it remained a place of art and sculpture through its occupation by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, the nation’s most prestigious art colleges, a decision by the national assembly during the Revolution to use it as a museum, and a brief renaming as the Musee Napoleon. It was refurbished several times and enlarged still further. The glass pyramid, la Pyramide Inversee, wasn’t added until the 1990s.

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And while the art and architecture described in The Da Vinci Code are there, we didn’t look for any of the clues. I have to give Dan Brown props for his research, though. I had a copy of his book Angels & Demons when I went to Rome and I actually found all of the sculptures he references, and they are pretty much where he says they are. Same here, just…slightly adjusted for the purpose of fiction. Artistic license. Anyway…

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And for those of you who are wondering, we didn’t just stop to take a picture of Mona. We spent a goodly amount of time traversing the whole of the Italian Renaissance art collection, which spans throughout an entire wing. I just figured that if I was going to bring my husband here on his first trip, we needed to at least pop our heads in and say hi. We also passed through the lower level’s collection of Egyptian antiquities – it’s amazing how much history one place can store! There were pieces in there dating back to 4,400 BC!

Here’s Mona. I’m always kind of struck by how small the painting is. I don’t know why, but I always expect her to be bigger. But there’s just something about her, about the way she’s looking out at you, that grabs you and makes you want to look back.

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Suffice to say, we could have spent days in there looking through the wonderful works, taking pictures, sketching, absorbing. We spent about three hours in there and only barely scratched the surface! I think it’s safe to say we’ll definitely be coming back to the Louvre!

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We speedwalked out of there so that we could catch our lunchtime cruise on the Seine. Sabrina booked that for all of us when we were still in the planning process, figuring it would be the best way to see the architecture of the city – and get lunch in the process. Our cruise departed from the Seine at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, so we took a little bit of time to walk around the tower and check it out.

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Our lunchtime cruise, operated by Bateaux Parisiens {yep, Paris Boats} was a two hour affair that started at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, went up the river past Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame lies across from the Hotel de Ville, not far from where we were staying, and then the boat comes around and goes back down the river to the Statue of Liberty. Yep, there are two of them! And you thought you could only see the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty together in Vegas. For shame.

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The boat we took looks like something out of a science fiction or James Bond movie, doesn’t it? I was amazed at how smooth and comfortable a ride it gave us, and with the mugginess of the day, it was nice to be enclosed by glass. The top and sides of the boat are all glass, so you get all the sunlight without risking anything getting in your food – that’s a win in my book. And the food was great! I was too busy taking pictures of the sights to snap the food, so you just get a picture of the kir aperitif here for now. The menu can be found here if you’re interested. Fabulous.

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We were also treated to wonderful tunes from a local crooner. She was extremely talented and set the mood perfectly.

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After disembarking back at the Eiffel Tower, Scott and I had to flag down a cab and dash over to La Cuisine Paris for our cooking class! There, we learned how to make the fabulous macarons that I shared with you last week. If you missed them, click here :)

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Since the class was nearly full when we all tried to sign up, Karen and Sabrina gave us this class and decided to take a croissant class the next day. They kept touring while we were cooking, and we decided to meet up after our class at this magnificent work. Recognize it?

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Let me give you a larger picture.

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Yes, it’s Notre Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris, one of the most beautiful pieces of French Gothic architecture still existing today. It purportedly houses not only the archbishop of Paris, but some of the most important relics in modern Catholicism. The crown of thorns and one of the nails from the original cross are said to be housed in here, along with pieces of the cross.

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The cathedral wasn’t built with the flying buttresses you see in the picture below. Those were added later as the strain of the church’s weight pushed down on the ornate walls to keep them from collapsing. My sister tells me you can see the bowing of the walls from the roof – she and Sabrina came back later during their stay to take a floor-to-ceiling tour of the cathedral which included walking around on the roof. I wish we could have been there to try that out, but chalk that one up for next time!

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As we finished touring around the cathedral, it started to rain, so we decided to pack it in and go find a place to grab some dinner. On the way, we passed a variety of street performers, undaunted by the rain.

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If you’ve only got a day to spend in Paris, you can still see a huge number of the city’s highlights. But this was really just the taster’s menu. You’ve got to immerse yourself in it and let it just kind of happen around you in order to truly experience the city. One of these days, we’ll make more time for this, but until then, we’ve got some great memories to carry with us!

KCS

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A version of this post appeared previously on this blog in November 2013, but during my blog migration, it and its pictures just showed up as a draft. Since I don’t remember where exactly it went, it’s showing up here. I’m excited about gardening this week, can you tell? :)

Gardening-6620We haven’t gotten around to installing the raised planters in back that we want to build eventually, but it’s close enough on the schedule that I felt just fine in starting herbs for the herb and vegetable garden I want to put in them. I like starting my gardens in a “pocket-size” anyway – it’s easier to cultivate and protect everything while it’s still small.

The beauty of a small garden is that you can have one anywhere, whether you’ve got a full yard, and apartment balcony, or a sunny kitchen window. All you need to know is how much sun and water your little plants need and a spot that will get them that much sun {you can also buy grow bulbs from AeroGrow, which I used for a lot of my time as an apartment dweller during grad school – these are also great if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder because they’re true-sun}.

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I knew we needed thyme, parsley, rosemary, and basil, and as a bonus I found some Indian lemon-grass that I can’t wait to try in a recipe. Oh, and this definitely was a need. There are so many nuances that fresh herbs bring to a meal, I can’t even describe it – but I can tell you that using one brilliantly nuanced fresh herb will far outshine something that’s drowned in ten different spices. Not to mention that there’s something extremely rewarding about serving up a dish that you’ve cultivated with your own hands. Did I mention I can’t wait to get those planters in so I can start our vegetable garden? So, anyway…

I also picked up a cedar planting box at Home Depot that I started by lining with coffee filters. These are great when you have a box with large drainage holes because they let the water out but keep all the dirt from dripping out everywhere {oh, by the way, if you do this indoors, please put a plastic drip tray under your box – you can line the box with plastic, too, but then you won’t see if you’re overwatering}.

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I spaded in enough dirt to cover the coffee filters. I don’t like dumping it in at this point, because the coffee filters go everywhere. Once you have a good layer on the bottom, you can pour the rest of the dirt you need right from the bag. I usually go to within 3 inches from the top, because planting will shift it all around and raise the dirt level. Don’t pack it, either – you’ll need to dig in there to plant your plants.

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Make wells for each of the plants you want to place. Mine are only here temporarily, so I went ahead and planted them close together, but if you’re keeping your plants there on a long-term basis, make sure they have room to grow.

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Then lightly ease your plants out of their containers, gently roll the base in your hands to loosen up the roots and free them up from the potting soil they came with, set them in the well, and gently but firmly push the dirt in around the base of the plant.

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If you know your plants, no need to keep the markers {and you probably don’t need this little tutorial, either!} but I do like to mark what is what.

And there you have it – the starting steps of having fresh herbs whenever you need them! I’ve already made use of a few basil leaves and trimmings from my rosemary plant in recipes I worked with this weekend, and I’ve got to tell you it makes all the difference.

If you’re not yet enjoying the warm weather we are around these parts, you can still plant herbs in a sunny window-box, or do considering getting a grow light and plant nutrients and setting up an indoor garden. The bright lights and fresh greenery goes a long way toward improving your mood when the snow turns gray and gloomy, as it did very quickly after each snowfall when we were in New York. And there really is nothing like a meal prepared with fresh herbs and veggies that you’ve grown yourself.

Oh, and bonus…here’s a quick fresh recipe!

Roasted Tomato Sauce with Basil and Garlic

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  • 3 fresh tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 5 cloves garlic {or more}
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Shaved parmesan cheese
  • Small can {3-6 oz} tomato paste {optional}

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1. Heat the oven to 375F.

2. Pour {or spray} olive oil onto a baking sheet with a lip. If your baking sheet has flat edges on the side, line it with aluminum foil and roll up the edges so that the oil and juice won’t run off.

3. Spread the tomato wedges over the pan. Tuck in cloves of garlic and lay the fresh basil leaves over the top. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Bake 35-45 minutes or until the tomatoes are nice and roasted {they will be wrinkled and starting to brown on the sides}. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes.

5. Scoop everything off the pan and puree in the blender. Add in about 1/4 cup shaved parmesan and salt and pepper as needed {tasting is always recommended!}. If you’re looking for a thicker sauce, add in the tomato paste.

After I started making this recipe, we stopped buying store-bought tomato sauce. It can be pretty easily adapted to take the ingredients for any tomato sauce you fancy – even the indulgent four cheese varieties.

Happy gardening!

KCS

 

Getting Greener

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This is not a bucket of dirt. This is a bucket of coffee grounds, waiting outside the back door until they’ve composted just enough to get turned into fertilizing mulch for the garden.

I first got the idea walking by Starbucks’ Grounds for your Garden bins, where they give away bags of their used grounds. After doing some reading, I figured out that enough crazy people have actually tried this and proved that it really does increase nitrogen in your soil and feed your plants, that it was worth trying.

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Since most days we rely on the magic of the brewstation, it gave me the idea to put a galvanized pail outside and, instead of chucking our grounds, reusing them in the garden.

So far, the dwarf morning glories that serve as our ground cover are loving it. I’m amazed at how they’ve come back – when we first came back, I didn’t think there was anything left of them until I cut back the vidalia ground cover that had grown over them and nearly choked them out.

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It fills me with joy to watch my garden thrive, even though we really haven’t started working on it yet, but it honestly fills me with just as much joy to find one more thing I don’t have to toss in the garbage and send to the landfill. I’m very conscious of that these days.

The more we’ve downsized and gotten rid of extra stuff, the more we’ve been really conscious of the things that are going into and out of our home, and the more we’ve learned. At first I was just gung-ho on getting rid of stuff. Donate it, toss it, whatever. Just get it gone! The manic downsizing began.

Then we started deliberately going through everything and seeing what we were really using, what we needed, and what we could repurpose to fill that need instead of discarding, to prevent having to buy something new. There’s no point in downsizing if you’re just going to get new clutter.

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Eventually, I want to get to the point where we’re even better about deliberately reducing the amount of disposable things we buy, where we’re just plain keeping the plastic and the packaging out of the house. While I’m a fan of recycling, there are also ways to get the things you need where you don’t have anything to recycle or toss – bulk stores, farmer’s markets, and so forth.

I’m definitely not anti-tech or anti-modernization. Just more and more, I’m becoming anti-stuff. Couldn’t we all stand to live a little bit more simply? And if it’s better for the environment, too, what’s not to love?

KCS