Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Mansion on a Hill

Part I

Do you ever discover something new to love about your neighborhood? Ok, so the lovely Greystone Mansion is not exactly in our "neighborhood" (and certainly not new), but since it's only a five mile drive away, I was surprised when we visited for the first time last winter that Will and I hadn't explored this iconic Beverly Hills estate earlier.

We visited the elegant Greystone Mansion on a rather grey (how appropriate) day last December. I had planned the excursion because of an assignment for my photography class, but when it started pouring around 10 o'clock that morning, I was terribly disappointed. Finally, around noon things started to lighten up a bit so we decided to put on our rainy day shoes, bring our biggest umbrella, and visit the Mansion in the rain.

I was pleasantly surprised as we drove up the winding road of the hills; the whole landscape of the normally sunny and hedge-lined streets of Beverly Hills was covered in a lovely soft mist that gave the stereotypically ritzy neighborhood a mysterious somberness. When we reached Greystone Mansion nestled at the top of a lush hill, the rain had reduced to a light drizzle. We pulled into the empty parking lot and wandered the quiet grounds that had the wonderful peaceful calm that comes after a storm.

The distinctive Tudor-style mansion and gardens was the home of Edward Doheny Jr. and his family from the 1930s through the 1950s. Greystone Mansion, with 55 rooms and over 46,000 square feet, was the most expensive home built in California at the time. Eventually, the estate became a public park through restoration and preservation efforts from the City of Beverly Hills.

As we meandered through the romantic gardens and admired the refined architecture of the Greystone, I found inspiration in the surroundings at every turn. Over the past few decades the Mansion has inspired the imagination of many others as well-- the estate has been the set of numerous movies and TV shows including X-Men, National Treasure, The Prestige, all three Spider-Man movies, Gilmore Girls, and The Social Network.

It turns out that the cloudy, misty weather with light rain was actually perfect for photographs! I still remember how gorgeous the light was, perfectly soft and luminous at every angle. Greystone Mansion on a grey day was just perfect!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Summer (Sand) Bucket List 2013

With all of the changes at work lately, I feel like the days have been going by at lightning speed! This past Memorial Day weekend was a much needed (and anticipated) three day break, though it felt no less busy. Will and I enjoyed a fun day in the sun at our church Memorial Day picnic (and got terribly sunburned; spent the rest of the weekend lathering on aloe), saw the new Star Trek movie, cooked Sunday dinner for church, tidied up the house, and went shopping at Third Street Promenade (twice). Whew.

With time going by so quickly, I thought it would be a good idea to make a list (naturally, because I'm a planner) of ideas for things to do and places to go this summer. I channeled some inspiration from this fun LA times summer guide calendar.

Our Bucket List for Summer 2013!
  • Practice guitar with Will and learn to play one praise song we can sing together
  • Improve my flexibility! Will and I recently attended the annual dance showcase for the Chinese Cultural Dance Club I used to be a part of in college and I got so nostalgic for my dancing days... with dance classes a few times a week it was easy to keep fit and limber. It's really been a downward hill ever since I graduated... 
  • Universal Studios: We still have a free pass to go before September! 
  • New Restaurants: Have a dozen bookmarks on Yelp I can't wait to try, more foodventures are on the way! 
  • New Recipes: 
    • This no-bake creamy frozen lemon souffle with raspberries 
    • (Finally) use our ice cream maker
    • make simple strawberry lemonade with our new blender
    • Fantastic salads from the list of 51 colorful and delicious ways to eat spring vegetables (even though its summer, most spring veggies are available year-round in California)
    • ...and if I ever run out of ideas there is always this list of 100 great summer receipes
  • Visit the Adamson House
  • Photograph the Watts Towers: This fascinating piece of artistic architecture has an amazing story-- built by a single man in his spare time over 33 years using only hand tools! 
  • Purple Sand beach near Big Sur (this would make a fun weekend trip!) 
  • Go on at least two hikes: The weather may get a little too hot for hikes in the summer so we'll have to wait for a sufficiently cloudy/breezy weekend to accomplish this one. I've been wanting to explore the Grotto in Malibu and the famous Potato Chip Rock in Poway! 
  • Update and summer-ize my makeup bag (already in progress, made some purchases online this past weekend): I don't wear makeup often but I realized that with a few weddings coming up, I should probably freshen things up (the last time I bought new makeup was probably almost two years ago!)
  • Find fashionable and comfortable walking/travel shoes 
  • And of course EUROPE! August can't come soon enough! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bike Ride

Let's Go For a Bike Ride!

It's been ages since I've gone on a bike ride. The weather in LA has been so gorgeous lately, just perfect for a meandering ride down a sunny beach boardwalk or exploring a winding tree-lined park park path with the wind in your hair...When I was in elementary school, my brother and I used to ride our bikes every single afternoon. My first "big girl bicycle" was pink and purple (but no tassels, that's for little kids) and I remember all of the fun and mischief my brother and I had with our friends riding together (we had our kids' "biker gang", ha!).

Biking in LA can be a little tricky. In fact, even though my work is only 3.5 miles away from home, a totally bike-able distance, I would never even consider biking to work. The bike lanes in west LA, if existent at all, are narrow, haphazardly organized, and appear and disappear as fast as yesterday's Hollywood gossip. While sharing the traffic congested surface streets of my local neighborhood with a few all-too-aggressive LA drivers (myself included) is not my idea of pleasant bike ride, I found a few nice list of fantastic bike trails in routes in LA on laist and hikespeak. Going to file these ideas away for a day when Will and I are feeling up for an adventure!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Snowball Viburnum

I spotted these pretty little puffs the other day at Trader Joe's. I love flowers at Trader Joe's by the way, blooms are budget friendly (earlier this month I picked up 20 yellow daffodils for under $3!) and there is always a fair seasonal variety (other markets seem to just carry the same plain 'ol dozen roses, daisies, and such). These lovely round clusters caught my eye, especially their gorgeous colors, a bright citron green fading to a softer cream. 

I later learned that these little darlings are called snowball viburnum, a large flowering shrub that can produce snowball flowers as large as 8 inches across! The bunch I brought home from Trader Joe's aren't nearly as large-- they are about the size of large button mums, but they were a perfect fit for my new bottle vase. Soon they will be shedding all over our house (much like a snowball, poof! dissolving into flurry of tiny petals), but in the meantime they have been bringing quite a bit of springtime cheer to our home.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Foodventures: Literati Cafe

Will sometimes has to work on the weekends. Actually as a professor, he can never really "leave his work behind" at the end of the day, so to speak. The good thing about his work though is that for the most part, he can do it anywhere as long as he has a laptop and internet connection. So sometimes, I find a nice cafe to spend our Saturday afternoons-- somehow when I have a nice drink, a good book, and something to nibble on, I don't seem to mind so much that my husband has to do a little work on our weekends.

Recently, Literati Cafe on Wilshire has transitioned from a full service sit-down restaurant to an order-at-the-counter cafe ("inspired change has occurred" according to their website). I've noticed there have been mixed reviews from customers regarding the change but personally, we've been loving the new style so far.

I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, bright and cheery ambiance, and thoughtful little details like setting out crosswords and newspapers for the lingering patrons. There is also a vine-covered shaded patio in the back for enjoying those warm sunshine days.

Nothing says "weekend" like brunch, coffee, and a crossword.

PS: We've only been visiting for weekend brunch so far, but I think we will be back to try their "Grilled Cheese Tuesdays" (grilled cheese sandwich, chips, and salad for $4.99 on Tuesday evenings!), sounds like a great idea for a busy weeknight/study-night meal!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Finding Rest this Mother's Day Weekend

Happy Friday! What a week! Will and I have both had a whirlwind week work-wise. Will had a marathon of a schedule with back-to-back classes and meetings (and repeat) most days this past week while things were no less crazy on my end with days replete with drama and surprises, both good and bad. On Wednesday I received some shocking news at work that evolved at lightning speed into an opportunity that made me feel excited, apprehensive, conflicted, and overwhelmed all at once. My head was spinning by the time I got home that day so I had a quick dinner and then went off to dance class to clear my mind.

Will was waiting for me when I got home later that night (he had quite a long day himself and didn't get home until past 9), we curled up on the couch together and discussed the situation, possibilities, and all of my hopes and reservations that came with the new opportunity...we talked for hours straight until Will finally declared it was past my bed time (but he stayed up a bit longer to finish preparing for his classes. My husband is incredible and I don't know how he does it sometimes).

Finally, the crazy week has come to an end (though no doubt the changes at work will continue the drama for weeks to come), but we are definitely looking forward to some time to relax, pray, and spend time with our family. Looking forward to seeing my mom and grandma tomorrow for an early mother's day celebration!

Have a love-filled Mother's day weekend!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dining Lighting Dilemma

Do you have that one project around the house that you always think about and talk about doing but just never get around to actually starting it? For me, that's our dining room lighting situation (well... there's a few others too but this is the main one).

Our home is very open concept so we don't have a formal dining room but I've always wanted a pretty light fixture over our dining table. Since last year I have been eyeing the capiz pendant from West Elm; I love its shape and the shimmering capiz shells. Then more recently I saw the firefly pendant from CB2. It has a bit more of a modern and industrial feel than the capiz pendant but I love how the glass globes look like big floating bubbles of light. I really like both so I've been putting off making a decision.

Every time Will catches me staring thoughtfully over at our dining table he asks, why don't you just call an electrician? Our recess lighting would need to be re-wired to allow for a lighting fixture to be installed in our dining area, so that task alone has left me to further procrastinate on the project...

Dining Lighting
Another idea for a dining fixture is hanging mini globe terrariums. I recently got a set of hanging glass bubbles from West Elm's Shane Powers "bringing the outdoors in" collection. I was planning to fill them with pebbles and air plants but I've been debating where to hang and display them in the house. Grouping them as a cluster over the dining table would be a cute alternative to a lighting fixture, and no electrician needed!

Those have been the ideas that have been floating around my head since last year...hopefully sometime this year we will finally be able to make up our mind and actually make our idea come true! 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Travel Planning: What to eat in Paris

I've been researching restaurants and cafes in Paris for our upcoming summer trip (in three-and-a-half months!). As a world renown culinary haven, narrowing down the search from thousands of unique Parisian eateries has been a dizzying task. Instead of parsing through the plethora of restaurants recommendations, reviews, and food guides, I thought it might be easier to focus my search by listing specific foods or culinary experiences we would like to have and then find restaurants that would fit each category. I've consulted several articles of "Must Try Foods in Paris" and based on our taste and preferences, came up with a list of our own.

Our Paris Food List

Macarons: Of course, they're my favorite! These colorful confections are beautiful and delicious. The top two contenders in this category are definitely Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Curiously, I've also read that in France macarons can also be found in McCafe's, a coffee shop chain owned and operated by McDonald's.

Crepes: A very thin pancake that can be filled with all sorts of delicious toppings, whether savory or sweet (though my favorite is definitely the sweet variety). I love when crepes are thin but still have a chew-able  almost doughy texture.

Steak and Frites: The old joke of whether "french fries" in France are just called "fries" can be put to rest; "fries" are actually called "frites" in French. How can you go wrong with this delicious combination?

Pastries and Breads: So many people have said that bread and pastries in France are simply amazing. I found a mouthwatering list (with pictures!) here of 38 top Patisseries in Paris.

Champagne: Sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. What can be more romantic than a starlit evening in Paris with a glass of bubbly?

Michelin Star Restaurant: France has by far, the most Michelin star restaurants among all of the countries in the world (although Tokyo actually holds the title for the city with the most Michelin stars, Paris comes in at second). Many food guides suggest dining at a Michelin star restaurant for lunch instead of dinner as many tasting menus will be considerably more affordable. I found a thorough answer to the question "What is the best value Michelin star restaurant in Paris" here as well as a map!

Prixe Fixe Meal: A way of dining that is popular in Europe (though its becoming more familiar in American restaurants as well). The menu has a set price and usually includes several course. A restaurant that piqued my interest in this category is Les Papilles. Instead of menu options, a chef's choice seasonal set menu is served every evening to all of the patrons and all you have to do is choose the wine to go along with your meal (it's a very extensive list as the restaurant is a wine shop by day).

and a few maybes...if we are feeling adventurous
Cheese (Formage): This is a major "must" on many Paris food lists, but since Will and I aren't huge fans of cheese (especially the more pungent sort), we will play by ear on this one.

Pâté: A spreadable meat paste? It actually sounds strangely appetizing...

Foie Gras: Fattened duck liver. This popular and controversial French delicacy was recently banned in California so I guess there's no better opportunity to get "the real thing" than in France.

This is a big maybe. Something about snails inevitably grosses me out.

One of my favorite things about traveling abroad is having culinary experiences from different cultures in a completely authentic, unadulterated way. I've already heard and read so many fantastic things about the food in Paris, Will and I are going to have to get our "fat pants ready", so to speak.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Springtime Picnic

Lately, the beautiful weather has been perfect for al fresco dining. Will and I went on a picnic last summer (time sure goes by quickly!) as a family outing with our parents. It was very warm that day but we found some nice shade beneath a few trees at the park where we enjoyed our lunch while watching a little league game playing in the distance. We laughed about how it was a very "American thing to do". With more warm spring and summer months ahead there are sure to many more picnics to come!

Time for Picnic!
Sun Hat: Cole Haan
Dress: ModCloth
Sunglasses: Mango
iphone Case: Paper Source
Sandals: ModCloth
Water bottle: Nest
Picnic Blanket: Lamps Plus
Picnic Basket: Crate and Barrel

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