2014 Best in Cinema: The Documentary.

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I’ve said it before, so I’ll simply quote myself again: I don’t think there’s a genre I’m more fond of than the simplicity of a well-made documentary film. I suppose it’s because it embodies what I think makes this particular aspect of cinema a force unlike any other – and that’s the synergy that comes from telling a story rooted in and based on reality, fused with the artistic ability to capture that moment in time through one of the most powerful mediums ever created.

2014 brought great new additions to the documentary genre, stories that satiate that part of myself that’s always curious and hungry to know more about the world and the people who inhabit it. Interestingly, all of the films on this list share a common harmony: they immediately captivated me by providing an intensely voyeuristic look at the life of complex and all too “human,” human beings. As I reflect back over why these films spoke to me so much, I realized that it’s not entirely about the subject being explored outside of the people themselves. Of course, the idea that the government is watching us (which is arguably problematic) or the body of work that a person leaves behind (albeit admirable) is of immense interest, for me it’s really about spending time in another person’s existence that often engrosses me as a viewer. Ultimately, what I find appealing is the how and the why of it all when it comes to the human condition set against a film’s circumstances.

With that, here are my top 5 picks for the best documentary films of 2014…


CitizenFour_ATG FINAL_5Film: Citizenfour
Date: 11.25.2014
Location: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood

While in the middle of making a film about post-9/11 surveillance, Director Laura Poitras starts receiving encrypted messages from “Citizenfour,” requesting her assistance in educating the public about the amount of covert monitoring taking place from top U.S. Government agencies. “Citizenfour” eventually identifies himself while holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room as Edward Snowden, a systems administrator. Poitras refocuses her energies on documenting Snowden and the journalists responsible for placing the spotlight on the government’s highly questionable surveillance of everyday Americans,  birthing the film, Citizenfour. The film spends much of the time in that Hong Kong hotel room, examining Snowden as he remains in hiding while the information he’s provided leaks…and the world reacts. You can literally feel the risk and the danger involved not only to him, but everyone involved in the making of this film. Essentially, it’s exposing exactly what we shouldn’t know. The unfathomable amount of surveillance taking place is the premise of the film, however, one cannot help but be drawn to the seemingly fearless, and somewhat arrogant, protagonist. As a viewer watching Snowden literally threaten his liberties as an American citizen by blowing the whistle on these operations, I questioned repeatedly what his true motives were in connecting with Poitras. Was it simply to expose these programs for the sake of the people as a genuine gesture? Was it for fame, or perhaps revenge? It’s difficult to say when walking away from this film. Snowden maintains a rather nonchalant attitude toward the entire situation. What this film does well is cleverly and unabashedly manipulate its audience through creating a real-life behind-the-scenes thriller, unfolding just as it happened in 2013, before our very eyes. Poitras takes the much-feared “Big Brother” concept and subsequently spits it back at the U.S. Government, who have coincidentally been tracking her movements for years as a documentary filmmaker as her work continues to gain traction. With access to Snowden’s information and the production of this film, she’s now in effect watching them. You have to admire the ballsy poetry in that.


Elaine Stritch_ATG FINAL_4Film: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Date: 03.12.2014
Location: Laemmle Royal, Santa Monica

Four months before her passing, opened the film that would be one of her very last times on-screen. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me comically and movingly follows the legendary actress in her late eighties as she moves through a seemingly endless work schedule and busy life, just before she’s set to retire near her family in Michigan. It eloquently re-acquaints those familiar with her seven decades of contribution to the art of performing, while introducing those to the highlights of her life who may not have known much about her body of work. What’s emblematic about this piece, is not only the intimate look at life as you age, but knowing that you are near the end of it and looking back with intensity and honesty. Stritch does a phenomenal job of letting us see her: the good, the bad, the funny, the sad…and the pant-less. She is simply being herself and taking the viewer along for the 81 minute ride. I saw this film in March of 2014, and stopped and gave a heavy sigh when I heard of her passing in July 2014. I have to admit, knowing she’d had nearly 90 years of life on earth to take with her, I instantly smiled, remembering this film. She got it right and lived an incredible and complicated life to prove it. This is the tale of an entertaining woman, born to entertain.


Finding Vivian Meyer_ATG FINAL_3Film: Finding Vivian Maier
Date: 04.02.2014
Location: Landmark Theater, West LA

Finding Vivian Maier is a mysteriously beautiful and complicated portrait of a woman who would have rather remained unseen, yet devoted most of her life seeing others through the lens of her camera. After a box of negatives is sold at an auction, a young filmmaker eventually uncovers over 100,000 photographs taken during her lifetime. Though many around her often saw a camera on Vivian Maier, they never knew what talent was behind an otherwise ordinary Chicago-based nanny. Since the discovery of her archives and exhibition of her work, she’s quickly become one of the most celebrated street photographers of the 20th century. While her photographs undoubtedly evoke emotion and artistry, and captured the human essence with unassuming grace, it was the woman behind the lens that’s the real story. I cannot think of a more complex character I’ve been introduced to on-screen in recent years than that of the portrayal of Vivian Maier. She is depicted by those who knew her as a series of contradictions. Some described her as “Mary Poppins-like,” while others alluded to her as being abusive. What there seems to be no question about from anyone who knew her, was that she was slightly strange and treasured her privacy immensely. Those closest to her had never even seen her photographs. It begs to question not only how Vivian, who died in 2009, would feel about her posthumous fame, and whether or not she might have lived her life differently knowing the world would eventually respect her talent; but also if we ever truly know a person, even if they’re standing right in front of us.


life itself_AtG FINAL_Film: Life Itself
Date: 07.06.2014
Location: Laemmle Theater, Encino

What Life Itself did best was honor the final days and life story of the legendary film critic, Roger Ebert. It shares the 40 year career of Ebert’s hand in bringing the art of film criticism into the mainstream, ultimately influencing how and what people might see at their local cineplex. In other words, he created a voice so strong, that film criticism became a form of entertainment in and of itself. Beyond that, it’s an homage to a 70-year life, lived thoroughly. The film energetically paints the intricacies of the man: his complicated relationship with Gene Siskel during their wildly successful television show; his steadfast and loving relationship with wife Chaz; his battle with alcoholism; and the battle he would never overcome, cancer. I can think of no better person to bring this tribute to fruition other than director, Steve James, whom Ebert championed for his 1994 film, Hoop Dreams. Ebert famously wrote, “It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime.” To this day, Hoop Dreams is still widely considered the best documentary film of all time. It’s only appropriate then that James return the favor…and he did. Masterfully. He created a film that championed the life and career of Roger Ebert.


Rich Hill_ATG FINAL_1Film: Rich Hill
Date: 08.17.2014
Location: Laemmle Theater, North Hollywood

When thinking about what makes documentary filmmaking an unparalleled style of storytelling, it’s when the film does such an effective job of pulling the viewer into the world of its central narrative figures, that it’s hard to let go as the screen fades to black. The realization that unlike fictional features, documentaries are designed to encapsulate a real moment in time. The knowledge that these true-to-life stories continue even after the camera stops rolling, adds another level of depth to the medium. Such is the case with Rich Hill. It is an expressive profile of three young boys and their families as they live day-to-day in Rich Hill, MO – population: 1,393. The irony is that its inhabitants are far from “rich” in every sense of the word. The film subtly enters Andrew, Appachey, and Harley’s world sharing the harsh socioeconomic conditions plaguing small town America, and how our youth is navigating the journey. It sheds light on how our surroundings shape us, and therefore, our place in the world, our future. While there are certainly exceptions, it sparks debate on whether or not those born into poverty can ever truly gain footing in life and become more than their circumstances. Sadly, it suggests how this struggle simply passes onto the next generation, forcibly creating an unbreakable cycle. And yet, the resiliency of the human spirit, despite circumstances, takes center stage. It’s a narrative told so beautifully, so elegantly, it leaves you wanting more. You get to know the boys in such a way that you care about what happens next, having become invested in their lives and their stories. You cheer them on, hoping they break the cycle – knowing that it is more the exception than the rule. I personally encourage you to see this film. It’s 2014’s best.


A look back at my thoughts on the best documentary films in 2012 and 2013, too.

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*Header image credit: My DVD Library by snkhan used under CC BY 2.0 | Modifications: cropped, filtered, and text added to original.

*Movie poster images sourced via IMDB.

Best of Everything 2014

1-Happy-New-Year

New Year’s Eve, 2014. Where did the time go?

I distinctly remember where I was this very day last year. In bed. Sick. I had caught some sort of horrible stomach virus that literally took months into 2014 to fully recover from. I was so disappointed because my boyfriend and I had made reservations for dinner at a quaint little Italian restaurant that I was beyond excited for. At the time, however, food and I weren’t on speaking terms. He ended up ordering a pizza that I basically watched him eat. What a bummer…and a terrible way to ring in the new year.

I’m determined to get 2015 off on the right foot. Essentially, the plan is to finally get to that dinner reservation, one year later – and I have absolutely no intention of watching him eat. I plan to dig in with the best of them at that quaint little Italian restaurant tonight, but not before heading out to catch, A Most Violent Year, opening today. It’s the last film of the year that I want to see before I officially write my top films of 2014 post, forthcoming. As such, this post won’t go into narrative or feature-length documentary films.

The last day of the year is perfect for reflecting back on where you’ve been and where you’d like to go as the year comes to a close. Today, I want to reflect on where I’ve been with a look back at a little bit of everything that made 2014 memorable. From books I’ve read, to music I’ve rocked out to, to products, and experiences – here are new discoveries, things that stuck, and lessons learned worth mentioning.

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L.A. Discovery: Bottega Louie.
{Perfect for brunch or dinner…and macaroons.}

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Only in L.A. Experience: Broadway Theatre District Walking Tour.

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Thing I Did For Myself: Recommitted to a consistent yoga practice…though admittedly I’m currently on the market for a new studio.


Beauty Find: Mullein & Sparrow’s Facial Detox Kit. It’s giving yourself the spa experience at home, on a budget. I discovered this small Brooklyn-based herbal apothecary just weeks ago and if I could, I’d buy everything! Love them.


New Addition to the Hair Regimen That I Can’t Live Without: Macadamia Healing Oil Spray.


New Addition to the Skincare Regimen That I Can’t Live Without: Clarisonic Mia.

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Indulgence: Iced vanilla lattes from The Sycamore Kitchen (or Hot Tamales).

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Accessory: Gosia Meyer’s 14K Gold Filled Initial Necklace.

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Guilty Pleasure: The Wendy Williams Show.


Splurge: Madewell’s Transport Tote in Saddle.


Travel Experience: My Birthday in Ojai.

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Fiction Read: We Are Water by Wally Lamb.


Non-Fiction Read: MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche.


Lesson Learned: Be extra cautious when driving down a windy road just after a fresh rain or you’ll lose control and your car will swerve and hit a curb so hard it takes weeks to fix! This isn’t rocket-science but for some reason I still managed to screw up majorly…and it cost me thousands. Ugh.


Gadget: Kindle Paperwhite.

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Blog Post: Journey of a Dress: From Princess to Fashion Legend.

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Tune to Rock Out to: Defeated No More by Disclosure.


Album: It came out a few years ago, but “4” by Beyoncé was in heavy rotation this year after I finally sat down and actually listened to the whole LP. Fantastic.


Discovered Artist: Lana del Rey.


YouTube Video: Taylor Swift’s incredibly contagious “Shake it Off” song synced to the 1988 National Aerobic Championship Opening Number.


TV Addiction: Scandal.


Addition to The Home: Paper Source’s Foil Desk Calendar. It dresses up your desk space with subtle elegance. (2105 is now available!)


Wardrobe Piece: A classic dark washed denim jacket, it’s my go-to year round staple for instant California casual chic.


Image Featured on the Blog: The moment I captured the sunrise over the ocean as I geared up for a long day of shooting in San Francisco.Srunrise ATG FINAL


Memorable Day: Taking myself to the LA Times Festival of Books Fair at USC. It was the perfect day: sunshine, books galore, great music, and the grilled cheese truck responsible for the photo below. Fun fact: it was my most successful blog post of 2014!

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Biggest “Ah-ha” Moment: Reading The Daily Love’s beautiful post in the wake of Robin’s Williams untimely passing. As I read it, I had the biggest “ah-ha” moment, and wrote the following post, Words that Gave Me Pause, to share it.


The moment I Saw Growth in Myself: When I got my first parking ticket in years and rather than get upset, I laughed with the universe. Full story here.

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Biggest Blogging Achievement: Completing the 100 Happy Days Challenge. It was a powerful reminder to always look for the beauty in your day and I went strong for 100 consecutive days. Statistics show 70% don’t complete the challenge. I was in the 30% who made it to the finish line!

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Words: This piece of poetry by William Henry Channing.

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Thank you for reading along with me this year. Cheers to a 2015 lived beyond our wildest dreams! x

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Highlights

Road Trip Home ATG FINAL{California, through a car window.}

It occurred to me just as I sat down to write this, that though I’ve had the pleasure of technically being on vacation for just over a week now, it feels as if it officially starts right this moment. Christmas has come and gone, along with all the craze (but fun!) that comes with it; the road trip to and from Santa Cruz is behind me; my gifts are safely stored in their new homes; my laundry is done; my fridge is stocked; a new book is on my Kindle ready to be devoured; I just put on a pot of coconut vanilla tea (my current obsession); and my mind is slowing. In other words, I can physically feel myself relaxing some – finally!

I suspect that while I adore the time spent looking out a car window at the many facets of California for 6 straight hours, spending time with my boyfriend’s family for Christmas, then taking a day trip into San Francisco, it’s hard to truly decompress when you’re not in your own surroundings. At least, it is for me. Though I always love travel, a change of scenery, a hiatus from the day-to-day, I always seem to miss home. I’m happy to be back in La-La-Land!

I smile often as I look back over this first week of my vacation and Christmas Day. “Santa” was extremely kind this year and I’m happy to have gotten to spend some time getting to know my boyfriend’s family more. Yet, I’m reminded about why one must be careful over the holidays. It’s easy to get caught up in the “stuff” and forget that all the build-up, while delightful, can often lead to a sense of….what’s the right word? Disappointment? Sadness? People spend weeks and weeks gearing up for one day. I’ve often heard that once the gifts are opened, you’ve gained a few pounds thanks to the amount of food readily available, and your loved ones head home and back to their lives, there’s a bit of a deflation in spirit the day after, which is understandable.

Perhaps it’s because I knew I was coming home to 2 more weeks of restfulness, doing nothing, tackling little projects around the house, thinking about my goals for 2015, and spending time with friends and family in-between, I wasn’t completely deflated in spirit, but looking forward to why I took an extended holiday this year: a chance to recharge after an exhausting 2014. And that’s exactly what I intend to do…

…but not before sharing the highlights of life lately! x

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{road trip ready.}

Blogging in Hotel ATG FINAL

{A little Christmas Eve blogging from our hotel room.}

Ipod Nano Xmas 2014 ATG FINAL

{You guys – Santa gave me the gift of music this year! I’ve been DYING without my old nano since it broke up with me last summer and this made me SO happy! Those CDs that have been collecting in my car for half the year have met their match…once again.}

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream ATG FINAL

{A day in SF found me back at The Marketplace Ferry Building enjoying Humphry Slocombe’s Malted Milk Chocolate ice cream w/ hot fudge.}

{p.s. It was as good as it looks!}

Scarlet Mare Earrings ATG FINAL

{The gift of bling from Scarlet Mare Studio won’t go to waste.}

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“To You, From You”

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Happy Christmas Eve! If you’re anything like me at the moment, you’re relishing the sensation of what this time of year is all about: good company, good food, and a much-needed change of pace. It’s been nice to sleep in a bit, get through back issues of magazines, catch a film in the middle of the day, and to generally leave the routine of what a normal week might look like behind. And yet, in some ways, I haven’t. Admittedly, it’s been a struggle to really decompress and stay present. It’s showing me just how much pent-up exhaustion I’ve been carrying around with me for quite some time. Perhaps it’s because it takes some time to re-train your brain on how to not think about whatever problems that typically distract the mind day-to-day. Perhaps it’s because prepping for the holidays comes with its own set of things to add to yet another “to-do” list that still has your brain on the go, effectively preventing it from really unwinding.

I often find my mind slipping toward work or some issue that I promised myself I would step away from for the next 3 weeks to relax and enjoy the holidays, and I get really frustrated with myself. I then get frustrated with myself that I’m frustrated with myself and it’s a bit of a vicious cycle, which completely defeats the purpose of why I made myself take an extended holiday vacation this year. I need the rest. I need some space to breathe and think about what I really want. I’ve already decided that I’ll have to make some pretty big changes in 2015 and I can’t get there if I’m constantly in the middle of a vicious cycle, not taking the time to stop.

I was reading December’s issue of O Magazine on the drive up to Santa Cruz yesterday to spend Christmas with boyfriend’s family, and came across a timely article from Martha Beck, aptly titled “To You, From You.” Her thought process was that for every gift you give someone, you should give something to yourself. She wasn’t talking about expensive physical gifts either. Essentially, she was making the point to not get so lost in the craze of the holidays that you forget to replenish and think about yourself. I realized immediately what I needed to give myself: a break.

I can be pretty hard on myself, be in my head too much, and rehash or analyze a situation so much that it becomes anything but productive.

So, while yes this time of year is for being with loved ones, sharing gifts, and eating to your heart’s desire, I thought I’d take a different approach this Christmas Eve and remind you, as Martha Beck did for me just in the nick of time so as to not miss it altogether, to remember to give something to yourself.

I’m decidedly giving myself a break. If I start thinking about work, about what a bad blogger I am for missing a post date, or complaining about “x, y, or z;” instead of getting frustrated or disappointed in myself, I’ll simply tell myself, “give something to you, Candice. Let it go. Give yourself a break.”

This is my gift to you (through Martha, of course), which sums up my opinion on how to really enjoy and stay present this holiday season.

And speaking of being present…I’m off to rejoin my holiday vacation, now in-progress.

Merry Christmas to you! x

 

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*Image sourced from Pinterest.

Highlights

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree ATG FINAL 3{My little ‘Charlie Brown’ Christmas tree courtesy of my boyfriend. It makes me smile.}

Quite honestly, I don’t really have much more to say other than…

HAPPY 1st DAY OF VACATION TO ME!

I’ll leave it at that…and perhaps mention that I think I’ll take myself to a matinee to see Wild today, that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and here are a few other highlights from the week.

Have a nice weekend! x

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{It’s not officially Christmas-feeling until I’ve watched Love Actually. Done!}

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{Putting together a little stocking stuffer for a friend.}

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{People don’t get enough handwritten notes in the mail. I decided to send Christmas cards this year.}

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{Stopping in for coffee at Zeli’s in Pasadena. If I ever needed an excuse to keep that coffee addiction alive…}

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For Her

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We can’t leave the ladies behind! Today, my top last-minute holiday gift guide picks for the gals in your life. Similar to the dudes, when curating this list, I tried to consider things that I would readily gift to a friend or family member of the female persuasion, but kept in mind a more reasonable price point. There are a few “splurge” items if your budget allows – but most items are under $40. Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration if you’re still on the holiday shopping hunt.

(And if you need some help with the guys in your life, I’ve got you covered here.)

The countdown continues. Happy shopping!

1. Steve Madden Buffalo Plaid Infinity Scarf, $32.00
2. Fresh Sugar Lip Polish, $22.50
3. Mullein & Sparrow Facial Steam, $14.00
4. The Oliver Gal Artist Co. Solid Kiss Sign, $159.00
5. Winter Dream Tea Latte Gift Set, $19.95
6. Reynosa Black Sequin Clutch, $34.00
7. Flowerbomb Eau de Parfum Rollerball, $29.99
8. Voluspa ‘Visions of Sugar Plum’ Candle, $18.00
9. Sleepover Cotton Knit Robe, $45.00
10. Desert Petunia Mexican Blanket, $50.00
11. Treasure Deco Pendant Necklace, $29.70 (on sale as of writing time, regularly $49.50)
12. Freesia Oval Soap, $15.00
13. Mally Beauty 5 pc. High Shine Lip Gloss, $35.00
14. Bubble Drop Earrings, $88.00
15. and for the bookworm…
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (for the gal who needs a laugh), $14.50
What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey 
(for the gal who appreciates good life advice), $18.80
The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg 
(for the career-minded fashionista), $19.90

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For Him

2014 Holiday Gift Guide_FOR HIM_ ATG FINAL

I cannot be alone when I say that I think men are the hardest creatures to shop for when it comes to holidays…or birthdays…or anytime, really. I learned this at a pretty young age when I used to rack my brain trying to figure out what to get my brother anytime a gift was necessary. Admittedly, I eventually learned (not too long ago, in fact) that an Amazon gift card works miracles when it comes to him – he can select just about anything in the world one could ever want or need. It’s a win, win.

But what about those times you want to physically hand out a good ol’ fashioned bow-bestowed wrapped present to the men in your life? You’re in luck! I’ve been thinking about this pretty heavily lately and curated a short list of ideas to prompt some last-minute inspiration (or if you’re like me, some “just in time” inspiration because you usually wait until the week before Christmas to even start thinking about holiday shopping).

I realize the blogosphere goes rather crazy with Holiday Gift Guides around this time of year and this is just another take on a very cliché December post, but I have to admit the “research” involved made my virtual holiday shopping experience quite fun and opened me up to new ideas when thinking about gift giving for men. When building this list, I tried to think of things that I would readily gift, but kept in mind a more reasonable price point. There are a few “splurge” items if your budget allows – but most items are under $40.

The countdown starts now. Happy shopping!

1. The Catchall Valet, $37.50
2. Lacoste Marice LBR Slip-Ons, $59.99
3. Bobine (The World’s Most Flexible Charger for iPhone or Android), $35.00
4. Personalized Genuine Leather Tri-Fold Wallet (includes engraving), $24.95
5. Personalized Whisky Decanter (includes engraving), $125.00
6. BBQ Briefcase, $83.50
7. Christmas Caramel, Cheddar & Kettle Popcorn Tin, $39.99
8. Jason Markk Essential Shoe Cleaning Kit, $16.00
9. Quirky Cordies, $4.99
10. Aromi “Very Manly” Solid Cologne, $14.00
11. LaCie PetiteKey USB Flash Drive, $9.99-$29.99
12. 4-Port USB Wall Charger, $39.99
13. Marc by Marc Jacobs Aviator Sunglasses, $85.00

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Highlights

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I don’t know about you, but right around this time is the beginning of what I think of as “end of the year burn-out.” It’s around the time where you might start to mentally check-out in certain areas of your life. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that the year is winding down, the holidays are gearing up, and people are just ready for a proper breather after 11 months of whatever life happened to throw at them. I’m grateful to be in a position where work pretty much shuts down for the holidays and since I’m not really one to take vacations or extended amounts of time off through-out the year, I tend to wait until the holiday break to tack on some additional vacation days to make it a lengthy one to really decompress.

And the great news is that I’m 4 DAYS away from 3 WEEKS of holiday vacation bliss!

Oh, the fun it will be. After a little road trip and a change of scenery to spend Christmas with my boyfriend’s awesome family (Hi Marilyn!) for a few days in Santa Cruz, it’ll turn into a much-needed LA staycation. I can already see myself sleeping in, making blueberry pancakes for breakfast on a random Tuesday morning, reading books, getting through my never-ending Netflix queue, taking naps (just because), and going to the gym or taking a dance class anytime I feel like it (which I hope will be at least one…or twice). I also foresee a lazy afternoon roaming around a museum to check out a new exhibit and spending a late morning in my favorite cafe working on my blog over french toast.

I’m also desperate to spend some uninterrupted time thinking about how I hope 2015 will shape-up. I realize the trap with New Year’s resolutions, but I can’t help but be excited by the whole “fresh start” aspect when a new year arrives. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still lots to wrap up before my 3 week break from life (as I’m calling it), but I’ll keep my eyes on the prize.

As I think back over this week, I have to say, it was a good one. A chilly Tuesday night found me at an advanced screening of Chris Rock’s new film, Top Five (a great laugh, but you can wait for Netflix if money is tight) and an even chillier Wednesday night at book club to discuss our December read, Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher (which you can skip). Is it okay to mention that the grilled cheese on sourdough that I ate over our discussion was probably the biggest highlight of the week? Man, sometimes a gal just needs a grilled cheese sandwich to get by. How did I forget this basic staple when needing a little pick me up?

A huge tropical storm is paying LA a visit as you read this, but should clear up on Saturday just in time for the remainder of the weekend. Given that mine broke up with me (for lack of use I’m sure), this would probably be a good time to buy a new umbrella. We might actually have a rainy winter ahead. It’s rained twice already this month…must be a record.

Naturally, the one Friday night I have plans, clear across town no-less, it’s raining cats and dogs, but should be fun. I’m headed to a holiday dinner party with my boyfriend tonight hoping to find similar ecstasy like that grilled cheese, but haven’t a clue what’s for dinner. Otherwise, the weekend will find me uncharacteristically anxious to get through it and then past the next 4 working days….so I can take a break from life. 🙂

Have a lovely weekend! And stay dry. x

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 Image credit: “Christmas Lights at Night” by Thomas Quine used under CC BY.

What I’m Lovin’ Right Now

As we make our way toward the climax of the holidays, I find myself drawn to find small and simple ways to incorporate the magic of the season: festive manicures, cozy scarves, and frequent sips of a warm beverage. It should be no surprise then, that I was more than thrilled to find inspiration on how to spice up all three of these areas, in particular. Below you’ll find a unique take on the classic french tip with a red and silver holiday twist; the perfect scarf to guide you through the colder months ahead; and my personal favorite, taking the epitome of the cozy weather beverage and adding a little something to take it to a whole new level. These goodies, along with a few others are making me smile big at the moment. Here’s…

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 1. The best holiday mani inspiration I’ve seen so far. | Red and Silver French Tip Nails
2. A rustic approach to showcasing those jewels. | Jewelry Organizer
3.  Pretty in pink, year-round. | Tom Ford’s “Flamingo” Lipstick
4.  A unique and oh-so-chic way to keep those books upright.|  DwellStudio Gazelle Bookends
5. A quick approach to up the ante on bad hair days. | Runway Ready Low Ponytail
6. Fashionably bundled. | Holiday Plaid Scarf
7.  A hearty meal inside, during a chilly night outside. | Slow-Cooker Classic Beef Stew
8. Dressing up the windows to the soul with a flourish. | Bolded Eyes with Sparkle
9. Coffee to-go and in-style. | Pike Place Tumbler
10. A classic beverage made even better. | Lavender Hot Chocolate

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Birchbox Review | November 2014

Birchbox November 2014 ATG FINAL (2)

A breakdown of how the latest and greatest in beauty and lifestyle products made a gal feel a bit more gorgeous…or not so much. Let’s step back to last month and get the skinny on November’s Birchbox…


#1. Gilchrist & Soames Spa Therapy Body Wash | This Gilchrist & Soames Body Wash was a total treat from my daily Caress-inspired bathing experiences. I absolutely loved the subtle marine and citrus scent. It instantly restores you, while equally making you feel fresh and clean. I certainly also welcome products that are crafted with care. I’m not one to personally go out of my way to use only organic and/or chemical-free formulas, but I don’t mind the added benefit. This body wash seems to make an effort to remove certain chemicals that tend to get a bad wrap. That being said, I realize the hypocrisy when I say that what usually drives my decisions when using products in general, is not only performance, but cost. It’s hard to get behind a $15 bottle of body wash when I get something for twice the size, 3 times less in cost. But I’m not a party-pooper either. I can see the benefit if you like to have something more luxurious and high-end in your shower too. I might splurge on a more expensive body wash to compliment those days when you just want a little something more. I’m a fan of this one from Gilchrist and Soames, as well as this great find from Essentiel Elements just a few months ago.

Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

#2. Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Sensitive  |  I respect what Juice Beauty products aim to do, but once again I’m unimpressed when it comes to performance. I think the first two things that made me realize I wouldn’t care for this product before I even applied it to my face was the strange water-y consistency, and that I felt duped by the fact that this had no resemblance in scent to “green apples”…or anything. Ultimately, what I couldn’t get into was that I didn’t feel like it was strong enough to really make an impact on my skin. I’m not blaming this product entirely, because I can’t say for sure whether it was the cause – but it also didn’t help that I would notice a blemish or 2 after using it.

 Overall: Pass.

#3. theBalm Cosmetics Cindy Lou-Manizer | I might lose cool points for this but it took me a minute to figure out what this was! I thought it was just a simple peach-hued eye shadow sample. I had to physically read the instructions on it before I understood that the cleverly packaged powder pot is an all-in-one highlighter: for cheekbones, eyelids, or all over face application. I’ve used it mostly as that aforementioned eye shadow, which gives a subtle hint of color that brightens the eye area, but have experimented with it more loosely as a facial luminizer. Lo and behold it does add a very gentle glow to my face that’s appealing! And I have to say, I just love the packaging.

Overall: A do.

#4. Eslor Firming Collagen Day Cream | One of the things that I totally appreciate learning from my mom at a very early age, was taking care of my skin. This is not to brag, but I’m in a happy place at the moment, where I’m not too concerned or deal with wrinkles. Then I got to thinking as I first opened the jar to Eslor’s cream, that this probably means that in order to maintain that good skin care habit I’ve had since I was a teenager, that I probably should pay more attention to products designed to help keep my skin firm. Though it helps that I’m African-American (and the saying “black don’t crack” is true…to an extent), being in my early 30s is probably the right time to start using firming products to help keep me in my happy place as long as humanly possible. I realize it’s better to start early and prevent, rather than spend all of this time (and money) trying to correct and repair once those fine lines start to appear. Admittedly, I had a hard time gauging if this product was working for me since I’m in my wrinkle-free happy place and I’m sure I’d need prolonged use of it to see a noticeable difference. I will say that I can get behind the scent and the rich luxurious feel of this cream. It’s no joke at $85, but I suppose this is much more realistic (and healthier given it’s paraben-free formula) than a $10,000+ face-lift. However, I’m not a fan of the cost. Personally, I would find a more reasonable alternative.

Overall: Too soon to say, but I like it so far. Too expensive.

#5. Chuao Chocolatier | I’m not usually one to bash chocolate, but I’ll have to here. There aren’t too many ways to ruin chocolate, but Chuao Chocolatier certainly found a way. This treat is offered in a variety of flavors leading to me believe that perhaps it was just the flavor that I received that missed the mark. The Firecracker flavor, described as a “chipotle caramel fudge dotted with popping candy and salt in dark chocolate,” was so disturbing, I didn’t even finish it. At first bite, a rich dark chocolate taste hits your tongue in such a way that makes you smile, then the spiciness of the chipotle along with the tang of the salt complicate things immediately. Add in that the chocholate then starts to physically pop in your mouth (channeling Pop Rocks candy circa 30 years ago) and I was completely turned off. I like my chocolate rather simple: rich, sweet, perhaps with a bit of crunch from a nut or something – but never spicy, salty, or popping in my mouth. Yuck!

Overall: Pass.

#6. Harvey Prince Petaly Noir | Harvey Prince is quickly becoming my favorite fragrance line. They consistently do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. Their Hello scent is my signature go-to when I want to smell fun and flirty. Essentially, before you even open your mouth to speak, the fragrance does it for you. It aptly says, “Hello! I’m here.” Petaly Noir couldn’t be the opposite of traits. Reserved for when a gal wants to channel her inner seductress, this fragrance is bold and dark and demands the personality of a woman who can handle it. Its combination of jasmine, vanilla, orchid, and lily of the valley make it an intense statement fragrance. It might not be for everyone, but I adore it.

Overall: A do.


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https://www.birchbox.com/invite/ATG

(I’m not affiliated with Birchbox outside of just being a fan…with an opinion.)

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