Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Reflections

Some people find it overrated, but I've always been a fan of New Year's Eve...and New Year's Day too, actually. I love reminiscing on the past year, and planning on making the upcoming one the best one ever! (haha, don't we all?!).

Here are some of the good times I'll remember from 2014:

Honestly, I can't recall too much from January, but February marked the Sochi Winter Olympics, and all the fun and drama that comes with with the Games (I think this may have been my favourite part of the whole thing though). In March/April, my mum and I went to Ireland (see here for our adventures!). The whole family went to Vegas for the first time in May, where we -- obviously -- had a fantastic time (stay tuned for a Thursday Travels post on what we got up to...). Vicky and I had our double graduation from UVic in June, and then June/July marked the 20th FIFA World Cup, which we all got really into (fun fact: Vicky and I love watching football! We had serious game-watching withdrawal symptoms when it was over). In October, I visited my old hometown of Calgary to attend my friend Maria's wedding. I hadn't been back since I left 10 years ago, so it was the weirdest feeling returning -- so much had changed, yet so much had remained the exact same. 

And then there were all those little things that were so 2014, from Neknominations (wow, remember those?!) to Ice Bucket Challenges. So many tragic events were in the news, too, and let's hope and pray that 2015 will be a more peaceful year on a global scale. 

What were your favourite things about 2014?! And what are you looking forward to in the New Year? Happy 2015 to you all!!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Books

While I certainly devote a lot of time to poring over glossy magazines, nothing beats the satisfaction of getting thoroughly engrossed in a good book. I thought I'd share my thoughts on the 14 books I read over the past year... and I'd love to hear yours, too! 

What were the best and the most disappointing books you read in 2014?! And have you read any of these? I love hearing other opinions!

                        {Also read but not pictured: Quiet by Susan Cain}

In no particular order, my favourite books I read this past year were:

  • A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
Gripping, terrifying, and totally page-turning -- I couldn't put it down. (Full review here). 

  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I don't tend to read many non-fiction books, but this one was fascinating. A must-read for both introverts and extroverts alike. (Full review here).

  • A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
A bittersweet love story set in Edwardian England and Florence, Italy. Forster's subtle way with words and keen observations on class made this novel a stand-out for me. (Full review here). 

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
So often, I start reading a book expecting to love it (it sounds like a good story, it's gotten rave reviews) only to find it disappointing. With Lolita, it was the opposite: I went into it expecting to not hugely like it but ended up really enjoying this controversial classic. Despite its dubious subject matter, I found it very cleverly written and witty -- of all the books I read this year, I found it the most humorous, bizarrely enough.

The two novels I found most disappointing were:

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Just didn't do it for me. While I don't need a book to be heartwarming for me to enjoy/be moved by it, I just found this one far too bleak and self-indulgent.

  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This book got rave reviews ("You'll laugh your pants off!"... "a comedic delight!"..."the most absorbing novel of the summer!"), so I was excited to start reading it, but wow, was it ever a letdown. I didn't find it remotely funny, and the plot -- told through a series of emails/letters/faxes -- was scattered and not terribly engrossing. 

And then there were the other eight novels I read that were good/goodish/average but not exactly stand-outs:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue
I actually liked the majority of this book (it is a fascinating premise, after all: a young woman, held captive for seven years along with the son fathered by her abductor plots their escape) but I found the ending a bit too neat and implausible. 

  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
While it was definitely dense in parts, on the whole I enjoyed this classic...but the ending (spoiler alert!) was just too heartbreaking for me to exactly love it. 

  • Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
If I had to pick a fifth favourite from the books I read this year, it would probably be Agnes's basically Victorian chick-lit, really: middle-class girl on hard times hates her employers but falls in love and lives happily ever after. (Full review here). 

  • Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
I have a bit of a confession to make: I don't really love Alice Munro. I just don't get the hype over her writing, to be honest. I've read a few of her short story collections, and my reaction is always the same: I find them fairly dull to mildly enjoyable when reading them, and then can't for the life of me remember the details of any once I've finished. 

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 
Definitely a haunting, moving book. I read it back in February around the time of Shirley Temple's death, which I found poignant (she's idolized by Pecola, the central character in the novel, whose greatest wish is to be a white girl with blue eyes). 

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I semi-enjoyed this book. For the most part, I found it fairly engaging and fast-paced but there was just something about it that held me back from completely loving it...maybe the fact that I wasn't rooting for either of the (pretty unlikeable) main characters? 
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
Not gonna lie: I found this book just a liiiiittle tedious in parts. But on the whole, as a story, I enjoyed it. (Full review here).

  • Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella
I've loved the Shopaholic series for over a decade, so I'm always excited when a new book is published. While this one wasn't as good as the first few books, in my opinion, it was definitely a fun, light read. (Full review here).

Monday, December 29, 2014

Little Things I'm Loving: December

Hope you all had a peaceful and relaxing Christmas! In the past, I would always feel that Christmas came and went far too quickly for my liking, but this year I felt I'd got a sufficient dosage of festiveness (I think listening to Christmas music all day, every day since November 1st probably helped!). 

Here are some of my favourite discoveries from the past month...

little things december
1. I loooove everything that Rifle Paper Co. produces, from their greeting cards to their phone cases, and their 2015 Travel the World calendar is as gorgeous and colourful as you'd expect. I can't wait to break it out on January 1st!

2. The picture doesn't really do it justice, but in real life this Kate Spade wallet is a beautiful glittery midnight blue colour (I'm a total magpie for things with a sparkly finish). A sweet and thoughtful gift from Vicky, it's going to be the chicest wallet I've ever owned, and a far cry from the ratty old plastic case I've been carrying my cards in for the past few years.

3. Have you guys heard of Serial?! It's a podcast that aired a few months back, but I've only recently started listening to it. I was never really into podcasts before, but this one is just so incredibly gripping. The premise of the (true) story is this:

It's Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent—though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

Adnan was convicted of the murder and is currently spending his life in prison, but Serial's host, Sarah Koenig, isn't entirely convinced that he's guilty. Each episode she presents a different element of the story, interviewing Adnan himself as well as his friends and family, leaving the listener in complete suspense as to what will transpire next...

4. On that cheerful note, let's switch the subject to hair products... This John Frieda Luxurious Volume Building Mousse is a lifesaver for my very fine, limp hair, giving some much-needed lift to my roots without leaving any sticky residue.

5. I wouldn't have the hugest sweet tooth, but I can never resist a mug of hot chocolate. While I usually opt for a cheap brand like Carnation, this decadent-looking Whittard Rocky Road hot chocolate was on sale at my local supermarket, and I just couldn't resist. I mean, with a description like "this all-time favourite combines classic flavours of marshmallow and milk chocolate with those of toffee, cherry, raisins and sultanas," how could I?!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cocoa Walnut Cookies

I recently had a random craving for something intensely cocoa-y (that was not hot chocolate), so, using this basic recipe I found on, I whipped up a batch of the most deliciously decadent cocoa cookies. I added in walnuts and coconut for some added bite, but for a more festive touch, you could mix in some crushed candy cane and add in a little peppermint extract. Either way, these cookies are sure to be a hit!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lipstick of the Week: Barry M Lip Lacquer in Cherry Red

Probably one of the most festive lip products I own (it actually has little flecks of glitter in it), Barry M's lip lacquer in Cherry Red is a definite go-to this time of year. It does tend to be a bit drying, so I always wear some clear balm underneath, and apply probably three or four coats to get that rich, lacquer-like finish. 

Barry M is one of my favourite UK beauty brands -- great quality and variety at drugstore-level prices. As well as their lip products, I'm also a big fan of their range of nail polish. If you're ever in the UK or Ireland, I recommend you stock up!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December Reading List & November Reviews

Wow, is it just me or has December been flying by?! It's hard to believe that Christmas is only a week away! Here are my (overdue) reviews for the books I read in November...

Modern Pick: Shopaholic to the Stars (2014) by Sophie Kinsella

In a Nutshell: When Becky's husband is offered a job in LA, the whole family make the move to Hollywood, where Becky tries her hand at being a stylist to the stars and gets up to her usual ridiculous escapades.

My Thoughts: It wouldn't be my favourite book in the series (I think the first four are the best), but I definitely still enjoyed it, and it has an exciting little cliffhanger at the end that lays the ground for an eighth book in the series (yay!!). I love Sophie Kinsella as an author -- her writing is clever and witty, and her characters are (for the most part) likeable. 

Would I Recommend It?: If you're a fan of the series and have read the six others, then yes, of course! Don't even think about reading it if you haven't, though... And if you're looking for something non-Shopaholic, I'd highly recommend her stand-alone novel Twenties Girl -- I've read all of Kinsella's books and this is one of my very favourites. 

Classic Pick: Agnes Grey (1847) by Anne Brontë 

In a Nutshell: Based on Brontë s own experiences teaching the children of wealthy families, Agnes Grey explores the world of the Victorian governess and the hardships these women often faced. 

My Thoughts: It's hard for me to not enjoy a novel written by any of the three Brontë sisters -- all three of them have such an astute, heartfelt way with words, and, unlike many classic novels, theirs never seem to lag in places or get bogged down with unnecessary wordiness (although their sentences can be long). 

Agnes Grey is what I would call a quiet read --  you know exactly where it's going, there are no shocking twists and turns, and the whole novel is narrated by the gentle, mild-mannered heroine herself (no switching back and forth between narrators as is the case with other Brontë novels). 

Would I Recommend It?: If you've never read Anne Brontë before, I'd recommend reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall first -- it would definitely be my favourite of her two novels. But, of course, if you're a dedicated Brontë fan, then it's definitely worth a place on your to-read list.

This past month, the books I've been reading (and will be reviewing next month) are:

Modern Pick: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (2012) by Maria Semple

It seems that everyone and their mother has read this book -- along with Gone Girl, it's just one of those "it" books that's been popping up everywhere over the past year or so. It's gotten rave "laugh-out-loud funny" kind of reviews, so I thought I'd give it a go... 

Classic Pick: The Mill on the Floss (1860) by George Eliot

I started reading this book, oh, about five years ago for a Victorian Literature class and got halfway through before other stuff got in the way. I like to finish what I start though, so thought I'd finally get round to ploughing through the last few chapters this month.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mint Magic

Vicky recently had a styling project for school that she needed two models of course Claudia and I were more than happy to help a sista out ;) I'm not thrilled with how my hair/make-up/awkward poses turned out, but I thought I'd throw these photos from the shoot up anyway. The skirt was just used for the photo-shoot, but the sweater is a definite keeper! Mint green is one of my favourite colours, and I love the embellished neckline (you can see it more clearly in these photos). 

Sweater - Topshop
Skirt - Lord & Taylor via The Bay
Heels - Steve Madden
(Make-up artist's make-up used)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Best Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs is one of those of those tricky dishes that seems simple enough to prepare but can so easily turn inedible. After some disastrous attempts, I'm proud to say I've finally got making the fluffiest, most flavourful scrambled eggs down to a fine art, and I thought I'd share my tips...

{You'll need these...}

{...and only TWO ingredients! (Toppings optional)}

1. First of all, I would highly recommend that you use free-range eggs -- seriously, they taste so much better. In terms of how many to use, I think 2 eggs per person is a reasonable amount if this is a main meal and you're hungry (as a side dish, 1 per person should be good). 

2. Melt a pat of butter in a non-stick skillet pan on medium heat. While the butter is melting, beat the eggs vigorously, and for a bit longer than you think you should (this is key to having them turn out fluffy). You can use a whisk if you like but I find a fork is easier. 

3. Once the butter starts bubbling, turn the heat down to low and pour the mixture in. Be sure to stir and fold the eggs constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula. In the later stages of cooking, you can add some toppings for some extra flavour should you so desire (I tossed in some grated asiago, but you could also try scallions, chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach...). Oh, and here's a tip: do NOT add milk/cream at any stage of the process -- it's an unnecessary ingredient that can make eggs turn out rubbery.

4. Now comes the tricky part: trying to decide when they're ready! As a rule of thumb, it's best to take the pan off the heat just when you think the eggs are nearly ready (they should still have a bit of a runny look to them), as they will keep cooking for a bit longer thanks to the residual heat in them. 

5. And there you have it! A simple, tasty, and not-unhealthy meal in minutes. I like my scrambled eggs on buttered toast, preferably with a side of smoked salmon. Deeelicious!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Festively Nautical

While I'm fond of the classic nautical-inspired combination of blue, red, and white, there's something just so intrinsically summery about those colours together that it puts me off wearing them this time of year. However, if you exchange the blue and red for navy and burgundy (and add a dash of sparkle somewhere), you've got yourself a look that's decidedly more festive and wintry. And hey, I'm even getting a head start on 2015 with my marsala-coloured jeans ;)

Sequin-collared Breton tee - Banana Republic
Blazer - Dynamite
Coated jeans - H&M
Boots - Steve Madden
Silver cuff bracelet - Forever 21
Nail polish - La Moss by Butter
Lipstick - mix of Rebel (MAC) and Majella (NARS)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lipstick of the Week: Hourglass Grace

I would definitely consider myself a strong lip rather than bold eye kind of person when it comes to make-up...but that's not to say that I don't enjoy a good smoky eye from time to time. And, as we all know, the only possible pairing for an intense eye is a subdued lip. You'd think a basic nude lipstick would be an easy thing to find, but I found it next to impossible to find the perfect shade -- all the ones I tested out were too pale, too chalky, too golden... And then Grace, this little Hourglass freebie from Sephora, came into my life and it was exactly what I was looking for. Described as a "light peachy beige," it's the perfect nude shade for fair skin.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

5 Favourite Shops: Best for Tall Girls

I'm 5'9", which is not super tall, but it's still tall enough to find certain stores a nightmare to shop in when it comes to finding clothes of a decent length (*cough Forever 21 cough*). Here are a few favourite brands I find are kind to those with longer limbs...

1. Gap
Most of Gap's jeans come in three sizes -- regular, petite, and tall -- and believe me, their "tall" sizes are long (I actually only need a regular length myself). I find their sweaters, dresses, and coats are also very generous in terms of length.

2. J. Crew
J. Crew's Creative Director, Jenna Lyons, is over six feet tall, and the brand's most famous patron, Michelle Obama, is 5'11"... needless to say, this is a store that caters very well to taller women. 

3. Dynamite
While I don't own any trousers or skirts from Dynamite, I find this Canadian brand is surprisingly great for length in things like blazers and cardigans.  

4. Topshop
This British high street staple has a Tall section actually in store, which I appreciate (most stores that have tall sizes only carry them online). However, a word of warning: this line caters to women 5'7" and taller, so if you're 6"+, you might find some items are still a little on the short side. I've found that some of their supposedly "Tall" dresses are not particularly long, but you can definitely notice the difference in things like sleeve lengths. 

5. Banana Republic
Part of the Gap Inc. company, BR is a great place for both tall and petite women to check out. Most locations have a Petites section in store, but the Tall range can only be found online (unfair but at least they have one, I guess!). However, I find that most of the regularly-sized stuff found in stores is actually lengthy enough. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chocolate Chip Walnut Coconut Banana Muffins

A mouthful in every sense of the word, these little guys are delicious -- full of flavour and the perfect balance of sweet and crunchy. I followed this basic Spark Recipe, then added in walnuts and coconut for some texture and bite (a good call -- I'll never go back to plain banana muffins ever again). The recipe supposedly makes 24 muffins, but I got 12 average-sized ones that were gone in the twinkling of an eye. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

10 Items: Festive Footwear

Last week, I shared my picks for 10 sparkly items of clothing that I would happily wear all day, every day this time of year. Today I thought I'd put the focus on festive footwear with 10 glittery pairs of shoes are sure to put a sparkle in your step! Which are your favourites?
Festive Footwear

6. Bimba Y Lola / 7. Miu Miu / 8. Dune / 9. Lucy Choi / 10. Kate Spade

Monday, December 8, 2014

Candy Cane

I've been wearing this plaid scarf pretty much every day since I bought it -- it's just so cosy and festive, I can't resist! While I'll occasionally wear it with my black brocade coat or my red one, this cream wool is my favourite coat to pair with it (I guess I just love the Christmassy, candy cane vibe of red, green, and white together!). 

I'm also thrilled with these new boots I recently picked up at Winners -- I'd been looking everywhere for the perfect pair of flat, black boots with some kind of studded detailing, and these beauties, the only pair of their kind left on the (very) bare shelves, just so happened to be in my size! I just know I'm going to get so much wear out of them, year-round (I'm already envisioning wearing them in summer, with bare legs and a sundress). 

Scarf - Gap
Coat - RW & Co.
Boots - Vince Camuto via Winners
Lipstick - Love It (Lancôme) 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lipstick of the Week: MAC Ruby Woo

You've probably heard of this week's lipstick, Ruby Woo -- it's definitely a cult classic, and it's not hard to see why. It's just such a classic red red that looks good on every skin colour (though it's especially great for those with cool undertones, as it's a very blue-based red). 

Ruby Woo is definitely one of my all-time favourite lipsticks now, but it wasn't always that way... When I first started wearing it, I didn't realize that you need to wear some sort of primer underneath, so after a few hours, I'd be left with really flaky, chalky lips. Thankfully, I know better now, and always apply a thin layer of clear balm underneath (any basic chapstick will do as long as it's untinted).

And as for what to wear it with? Well, pretty much everything, but I especially love it with light, sugary shades -- mint, powder blue, blush. If you don't already have Ruby Woo in your lipstick arsenal, I highly recommend you get it -- ask Santa! (It's also a fantastic present to give to someone, if you're looking for ideas). 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vancouver Adventure: Nicola Street (West End)

Even though I've lived in Vancouver on and off for over a year, I still feel like a newcomer, and one of my favourite things to do is explore random little pockets of the city. For this new series, I'll be sharing some of my adventures in Vancouver...and I can tell there will be a lot of them! Seriously, this city is crammed with the most intriguing, eclectic little neighbourhoods, and I can't wait to discover them all. 

Vicky and I went for a stroll around the charming Nicola Street in the West End a few weeks ago -- just a stone's throw from where we live, but somehow a street we'd never ventured to before. The West End, in my humble opinion, is one of the most interesting places in the city to walk around, for the simple reason that it's so architecturally diverse: shabby, '60s apartment buildings stand alongside gorgeous, turn-of-the-century ones, and you're bound to stumble across the odd beautiful little church or of-another-era corner store. 

{The intriguing-looking Niloo Hair Salon and House of Jewels}

We had lunch at the Greenhorn, a hipstery little place with delicious soups, salads, sandwiches, and a daily special (a mouthwateringly tasty truffled mac and cheese the day we were there). The exterior was under renovation when we went, and didn't make for a terribly photogenic picture, but here are some interior shots...

{Bottles of soda and the menu written on rolls of brown paper}

{Wall of records on the second floor, where we sat. While seating isn't exactly limited (it's a fairly capacious place as far as cafes go), it gets super busy on weekends/holidays. Don't say we didn't warn you!}

After all that rich food, it was time to walk off some calories... 

{The West End is beautiful in autumn (preferably on a sunny day, but hey, we'll take a grey one too!)}

And then, wonder of wonders, we found a secret little tucked-away park...

{...where we took these photos. As Vicky aptly noted, the place felt very "Blair Witch." Eeeeek! }

{The eerie vibe was definitely accentuated by the dark trees and this lone, forlorn-looking see-saw}

So those were our adventures on Nicola. Definitely an interesting little area to check out if you're in the vicinity. Hard to believe it's literally a block away from the bustle of Robson Street!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

10 Items: Sparkle

I love, love, love anything sparkly -- it's just so fun, so festive, so decadent. While it's obviously a style well suited to parties/nighttime, I equally love the look of a sequinned piece casually worn with low-key basics for day (think sparkly trousers with an oversized sweatshirt, or a glittery top with boyfriend jeans). 

What's your favourite way to wear sparkle?!

10 Items: Sparkle
1. BCBG Dress / 2. H&M Jacket / 3. River Island Skirt  / 4. Alice + Olivia Jacket  / 5. New Look Shorts 
6. Calypso St. Barth Top / 7. Case-Mate iPhone Case / 8. H&M Dress / 9. BCBG Leggings / 10. Anya Hindmarch Clutch

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DIY: Super Simple Christmas Wreath

I wouldn't consider myself a crafty person by any means (as with cooking, I don't have a tremendous amount of patience in the department), but Christmas always seems to bring out what little DIY inclinations I have. (And, of course, a trip to good old Michaels helps too -- their aisles are truly the stuff that Pinterest dreams are made of). 

While I love the look of a classic evergreen and holly wreath, I thought I'd opt for something a bit easier...and really, this wreath couldn't be easier to put together! All you need is a basic, barebones wreath frame (like this one from Michaels), a garland of some sort to twine around it, and a handful of bright baubles to tie on with whatever discreet string or ribbon you have on hand. Simple, right?! You can go with multicoloured baubles, or have a theme of one or two colours -- I went with a silver and pink look, with several different types of pink baubles for a bit of contrast/interest. 

(I initially mistyped "Wreath" as "Wrath" in the title of this post... Somehow I don't think a super simple DIY on Christmas Wrath is something you'd be too interested in ;).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Coat Weather

While Vancouver never gets that cold, I'm glad that it gets just chilly enough to be able to wear coats for a few months of the year. What I love about a good, statement winter coat is that you can just throw it on as you head out the door and instantly look put-together (no matter how scruffy your outfit underneath is). Ditto these over-the-knee boots -- I'm actually wearing a ridiculously laddered pair of tights with them, but as long as the damage doesn't show, no one's the wiser ;)

Coat - Jacob
Hat - Topshop
Boots - Aldo
Grey lace skirt - Jacob
Gloves - Accessorize
Lip balm - Hibiscus (Burt's Bees)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lipstick of the Week: Lancôme Ruby Silk

I'm fond of red lipstick year-round, but there's something about a red lip around Christmastime particularly that just feels so right. This shade, Ruby Silk, from Lancôme's L'Absolu Rouge range, is every bit as luxuriant as it sounds -- rich, creamy, and surprisingly moisturizing for such a vivid colour.