Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Haul #2: "History" Books

Okay, so I may have purchased more books even though I haven’t finished a single one from my book haul at the beginning of January. I’m a book junkie and have a difficult time saying no to a book fix if I’m near to a bookstore, and I happen to live 5-10 minutes from Barnes and Noble (which is also conveniently located next to a DSW shoe warehouse, but I digress…). Thanks to multiple gift cards to Barnes and Noble for my birthday and Christmas, I was more than a bit jazzed about adding new books to my collection.

There ended up being a theme to my mini book haul—history. I can’t say that I’m all that surprised since the majority of my books fall into the history or historical fiction categories anyway. I did try to branch out a little bit as far as sub-genres go though!  Do I get points for that?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

“History” is in the title, so does that count?

Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer in 2014 for The Goldfinch, but I’ve heard great things about The Secret History, her debut novel. Actually, a lot of people who’ve read both Tartt books preferred this one. The Secret History has been on my radar since a former classmate said that it could easily be about my undergraduate career at Cornell. A small group of history majors and I developed a close relationship with one of our history professors, and she continues to influence us almost three years after graduation. I can’t wait to start reading this one to see if the comparison is a reasonable assessment!

Accidents of Providence by Stacia M. Brown

It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell's army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of political agitators, are calling for rights to the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers and “lewd women” presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.

Rachel Lockyer, unmarried glove maker, and William Walwyn, Leveller hero, are locked in a secret affair. But while William is imprisoned in the Tower, a child is found buried in the woods and Rachel is arrested.

So comes an investigation, public trial, and a cast of extraordinary characters made up of ordinary Londoners: gouty investigator Thomas Bartwain, fiery Elizabeth Lilburne and her revolution-chasing husband, Huguenot glover Mary Du Gard, a lawyer for the prosecution hell-bent on making an example of Rachel, and others. Spinning within are Rachel and William, their remarkable love story, and the miracles that come to even the commonest lives.

This is my attempt at branching out in the historical fiction category. I tend to lean heavily towards three time periods—Tudor England, the Italian Renaissance, and the 19th century. The 17th century in England with the civil war going on is new territory for me. Although I won’t be relying on this for a history lesson, it could pique my interest in this time period, at least for a little while.

Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman

Throughout the centuries, royal mistresses have been worshiped, feared, envied, and reviled. They set the fashions, encouraged the arts, and, in some cases, ruled nations. Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings takes us into the throne rooms and bedrooms of Europe's most powerful monarchs. Alive with flamboyant characters, outrageous humor, and stirring poignancy, this glittering tale of passion and politics chronicles five hundred years of scintillating women and the kings who loved them.

I’ve already gotten through about half of this book, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I started it just a few days before Valentine’s (perfect timing) and only stopped reading it after I got slammed by reading at work. I’m eager to pick it back up again, and you’ll definitely be seeing a review sometime in March. It’s straight history but Herman writes cleverly, and her subjects—kings and their mistresses throughout history—are a colorful cast of characters. It’s almost hard to believe that they were real people!


Have you purchased any new books lately?  What's your favorite genre?

*Synopses are taken from

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscars Round-Up: Good, Bad, & Ugly

As we all know though, the Oscars are just as much about the movies as they are the fashion on the red carpet, don’t you think?  A lot of the time, the colors, styles, accessories, and hairstyles that we see at the Academy Awards and the after-parties inform the trends of the next year (or that’s how it seems to me).  There were a lot of red and pink dresses, and I have to say that I am a huge fan.

While the golden statues are in their new homes today with a worthy group of actors and actresses, today (and probably the next week or so) are all about the Oscar fashions.  Who were this year’s best and worst dressed?  Everyone has an opinion, including me.

My five best dressed are pictured above (in no particular order).  Rosamund Pike's Givenchy (one of my favorite designers) made her waist look so tiny, and the color just worked with her complexion.  Both Scarlett Johansson (in Versace) and Zoe Saldana (wearing Atelier Versace) just gave birth, but they were stunners in their body-con gowns.  I was a huge fan of how bad-ass Scarjo looked with that hair and statement necklace.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Anna Kendrick's Thakoon Panichgul was a little princessy and sugary sweet but still gorgeous.  And Margot Robbie's Saint Laurent was the right amount of drama and accessorized beautifully.

Unfortunately, there were some looks that didn't do anything for me or made me think "oh my goodness, what were you thinking?"  Those looks are pictured below (also in no particular order). Carmen Ejogo's Houghton design just didn't work for me.  It looked a bit cheap and didn't suit her body type, in my opinion.  Nicole Kidman wore Louis Vuitton, but I think the color made her look washed out.  The style was rather boring too, which was the same problem I had with Kerry Washington's Miu Miu gown.  I felt like I could've gone into any bridal store and picked either dress off the rack.  Solange Knowles wore Christian Siriano (Project Runway anyone?), but the look just screamed cleric's robe.  A cardinal maybe?  And the pattern on Keira Knightley's Valentino just confused me.

Who were your picks for best/worst dressed?

So how did your predictions do? I did respectably by predicting 12 of 24 winners in the best foreign language film, sound editing, supporting actress, visual effects, production design, cinematography, documentary, original song, original screenplay, director, leading actress, and best picture categories.

I was surprised that Keaton didn't get leading actor, but I was so excited for Eddie!  His speech was adorable.  I also have to give some major props to Lady Gaga for that tribute to The Sound of Music (and to Julie Andrews for being such a class act).  And NPH delivered some zingers, but was a fantastically entertaining host.  What did you think of the show?  Did you stay up for the whole thing?

*Pictures by Getty Images.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 Academy Award Predictions

There is one award show that I can never miss, and that is the Academy Awards. I sit through the whole show every year on pins and needles as I wait to hear if my favorite movies and actors have won that coveted gold statue. I’m probably just as anxious as the nominees!

I really failed when it came to going to the movies this year, so a lot of my predictions are complete guesses (especially for the short films and categories like sound mixing), so I wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means. Without further ado…

BEST PICTURE – Birdman (Although I would love to see The Imitation Game or Selma win)
DIRECTOR – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE – Michael Keaton, Birdman (Although I could see Eddie Redmayne winning for The Theory of Everything)
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE – Julianne Moore, Still Alice
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – Patricia Arquette, Boyhood (I usually root for Meryl, but I’m switching things up this year)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – The Theory of Everything
ANIMATED FEATURE – How to Train Your Dragon 2 (It’s not often that I’m a fan of sequels, but this one was great)
SOUND EDITING – American Sniper
VISUAL EFFECTS – Interstellar
SHORT FILM, ANIMATED – A Single Life (A total guess…)
SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION – Aya (Another total guess…)
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – Joanna (And yet another guess…)
ORIGINAL SCORE – The Theory of Everything
ORIGINAL SONG – "Glory" from "Selma"; Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
PRODUCTION DESIGN – The Grand Budapest Hotel
MAKEUP – Guardians of the Galaxy
COSTUME DESIGN – Into the Woods (though it could easily be The Grand Budapest Hotel)
SOUND MIXING – American Sniper

I think that Birdman is going to be a major winner this year (if you couldn’t already tell based on the 5 categories I predicted it could win).  No matter who goes home with the statuettes, it's bound to be a great show.  With Neil Patrick Harris (aka Barney Stinson) hosting how could it not?  And there's obviously going to be some gorgeous gowns on that red carpet to daydream about one day wearing while I snuggle up in bed in my Cornell sweats and a bucket of popcorn.  A girl can dream!

What does your ballot look like this year?

Photo Credits: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Design Inspo: Creating a Chic Office Space

One of the downsides to living at home is that I only have one room that is truly my own—my bedroom. The rest of the house is painted and decorated much to my parents’ taste and, as lovely as I find it, is obviously not a reflection of my likes and dislikes. But my room is like a canvas for me, and I enjoy decorating and redecorating with the hope of it one day looking like something off Pinterest.

Right now, one of my little side projects is my office (read: desk), so I’ve been scouring the internet for inspiration.


I’m a huge fan of gallery walls and art in general, but I’m running out of wall space in my room. So when I saw photo ledges on Pinterest, I thought it was a brilliant idea.  I love how the frames in this one overlap and feels a bit like organized chaos. Since my desk has two shelves over it, I’d love to use them as photo ledges, framing things that I think are inspiring or just plain pretty. Pin.


To quote Cassandra Clare, “We live and breathe words.” Words are my livelihood considering I work in publishing, but I’ve always been an avid reader too. It seems fitting that I’d use words as art, especially in my “office space.” I'm thinking literary quotes as well as inspirational or interesting expressions to give the area an upbeat can-do vibe. I kind of like the idea of me looking up at a Shakespearean quotation while I’m suffering from writer’s block and magically being inspired. Pin.


There’s something just so glamorous to me about having gold accents, but I’ve only just started to use them in my own space. For some reason, it seemed like something that only worked in magazines but that’s definitely not the case! I think I’d like to find art that has gold lettering—nothing too gaudy—and possibly find some gold office supplies. I think both touches will make my desk feel luxurious. Pin.


Hi, my name is Brittany, and I can't keep potted plants alive. Still, I think that having a plant in a room adds some life to the space, even when you’re not in it. I’ve jumped on the succulent bandwagon recently and would love to have one or two in some chic planters on my desk, but I may have mercy on the poor things (#saveaplant) and get a convincing fake succulent or stick to my bouquets. Pin.


I’ve always thought that globes and maps are such a smart-looking accent in a room. Don’t you? As someone who always seems to be daydreaming or planning her next trip abroad, maps and globes represent endless possibilities for me! And they seem so scholarly and sophisticated to boot! Pin.

What do you think of my ideas? What would you do if you were redecorating your office/desk?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Festive Reasons to Celebrate Mardi Gras in NOLA

Every year I say “next year I’ll go to Mardi Gras,” and every year I fail epically at making that happen. What money I do manage to save in a year goes towards my annual trip abroad, and I only have 10 vacation days a year (oh, the joys of being a little fish in a big pond) so, unfortunately, it’ll probably be a few more years before I can make my trip happen. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t dream about it and live vicariously through my friend who makes her annual pilgrimage to NOLA for Mardi Gras. Color me very jealous!

So, in honor of Mardi Gras, here is my list (yes, another one!) of 5 reasons why I desperately want to be a Mardi Gras reveler at least once in my life, in no particular order:
  1. King Cake. For anyone with a sweet tooth, King Cake is a glorious Mardi Gras tradition. The cake itself is like a Danish that is slathered in icing and garish Mardi Gras colored sprinkles and colored sugar. My friend sends me one from Randazzo each year that I singlehandedly devour (step away from the King Cake, parentals!). Randazzo is famous for their King Cakes and I certainly think that they’ve earned that praise. If you actually share your cake with others, then someone will find a baby figurine in their slice, and then you're supposed to bring a new King Cake next week. 
  2. Krewes. Although I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, I’ve heard plenty about the krewes. Think of them as fraternities for New Orleanians who spearhead the festivities. They put on the parades (and all the swag that gets thrown during the parades), host balls and parties, and are generally the life of the Mardi Gras party. Would Mardi Gras be the same without them? Nope!
  3. New Orleans. There are just some places in the world that are so one of a kind that you need to experience them first hand. New Orleans has such a rich history and vibrant flavor that it can’t be mistake for another US city. New Orleans is New Orleans in the same way that New York is New York, London is London, and Paris is Paris, if that makes any sense. It’s a city that I want to visit because I’d love to see the architecture, taste the food, hear the music, and just drink up the culture.
  4. Well-intentioned debauchery. Mardi Gras is one big party, a month long party actually. It’s all about the parades, the food, the booze, and the general public being more than a little bit raucous. It sounds like a good time if you ask me! Once you’re out of college there aren’t really as many acceptable times or places for that #YOLO attitude, sadly.  Mardi Gras seems like as good a time as any though.
  5. The history. Okay, so I’m a history buff to the nth power, and I find the history of Mardi Gras/Carnival fascinating. The whole thing dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites before the Romans decided to incorporate the rites into Christianity.  Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of being all gluttonous and debauched before the Lenten season of penance and fasting that leads up to Easter. The first American Mardi Gras took place in the 17th century thanks to some lovely French explorers and it has been marked by street parties, masked balls, and lavish dinners ever since (except that pesky time when the Spanish took control of New Orleans and abolished it. Silly Spaniards).

Sunday, February 15, 2015

5 Things I've Learned After 1 Month of Blogging

Bringing Up Brittany is one month old! Hurrah!

I was always one of those people who mocked anyone who celebrated a month-iversary but, I have to admit, I was pretty jazzed on February 12th when I realized that my little patch of the internet turned a month old.  A lot of the blogs I read religiously have been around for years, but I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of my accomplishment.  It’s a small milestone but a milestone regardless. 

I have to say that I feel like I’ve learned a lot since this whole thing began—from when I was debating whether or not to start a blog last summer to creating the site to making sure I have content going up a few times a week.  I’m very new to this blogging thing, but I thought I’d share what I’ve learned in the last 4 weeks in case there’s anyone out there who is yes, no, and maybe so-ing creating their own blog.

  1. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. It’s so easy to get discouraged if you’re comparing your blog to those that have been around for years already.  I admit that there have been several moments when I’ve looked at my follower count on Bloglovin, Instagram, Twitter, or my page views on Blogger and heard that whiny voice in my head that kept saying “but so and so has thousands of followers!”  I’ve had to teach myself to not focus on someone else’s success but on my little victories.  The fact that I have people following my blog, reading and commenting on posts, and liking my photos on Instagram is a huge deal.  More readers will come in time if I keep creating content and stay true to myself.
  2. An editorial calendar is a must. Since I work full-time and sometimes have to bring work (read: manuscripts) home with me, it’s really important that I think ahead.  I don’t have much time during the week to work on the blog since I get home at 8:00PM, so I schedule posts.  I’ve been trying to plan two weeks to month in advance for Bringing Up Brittany, and my editorial calendar has helped me to keep on top of when I need to write, shoot, or plan a post.  I like the fact that my editorial calendar is a visual aid, showing me when each post should be going live so that I’m not scrambling the night before or day of to get a post up.  I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it.
  3. Blog chats are a terrific way to interact with the blogging community.   The idea of a blog chat intimidated me at the beginning, so I was a bit of a voyeur, watching as other bloggers took part.  I took the plunge eventually though and have now participated in a handful of chats.  I’ve learned quite a bit from the discussions, met some bloggers with similar interest, and have gotten a handful of followers from it.  At the end of each chat, there’s also the opportunity to share your link with others and ask people to share theirs.  It’s turned out to be a great way to get some blog traffic and I’ve unearthed some blog-gems that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
  4. Blogging is a lot of work, if that wasn’t obvious. Some bloggers make their posts and photographs look so effortless, but I now have an even deeper respect for what bloggers do.  Blogging is a time commitment and a creative challenge, the latter of which I truly enjoy.  A post isn’t really something that you can just slap together in five minutes.  It takes time and energy to come up with a concept and execute it. 
  5. White backgrounds and natural light are a blogger’s best friends. I guess I had never thought about it but most bloggers use white backgrounds (or very pale ones) when styling photos.  It does make the objects pop and makes editing a bit easier too.  Unfortunately for me, my house isn’t white surface friendly, so I’ve had to get a bit inventive to get that look.  I’ve been able to mimic a white background thanks to a white flat sheet draped over a table, and I’ve gotten into the habit of photographing multiple posts first thing on a Saturday morning for optimal light.  The photo quality is markedly improved if I’m shooting with morning light streaming through a window.  When days aren’t as bright as I’d like, I use my makeshift reflectors (cardboard covered in aluminum foil) and that seems to work well.
So with one month behind me and hopefully many more to go, I think I’m slowly but surely catching on.

What have you learned about the blogging process since you started your blog?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Determinedly Single: Not Your Average Valentine's Post

Happy Valentine’s Day! Have you seen enough pink and red yet? Eaten your fill of chocolates from a heart-shaped box? Smelled your share of gorgeous red roses? Can anyone ever have too much of any of those things? I don’t think so.

For most, tonight is a night to go out (or stay in) with that special someone in their life. For romantics, it’s all about showing their significant other how much they mean to them; for the slightly more jaded, Valentine’s Day is nothing but an overblown Hallmark holiday. For me? It’s neither, although you’ll never catch me turning down a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses! But I’m happily single which makes a holiday like today a bit of a moot point. This isn’t your typical Valentine’s Day post--you’ve been warned!

A friend of mine classifies me (if I really must have a classification) as “determinedly single.” I’m neither in a relationship nor looking for one at this point in my life. When I tell people that, I tend to get two reactions a) “but why not?” and b) the harsher “you must be damaged from something.” I’m accustomed to having to defend my decision and why a “young and attractive girl” isn’t in a relationship or, at the very least, looking for one. Admittedly, I used to get a bit annoyed by the fact that everyone felt I owed them an explanation for my choice and that feminist part of me became more than a little indignant. If I was a twenty-something year old man would I have to explain why I like being single? Would I feel pressure to settle down and start a family, yesterday? I highly doubt it.

First off, I’m not opposed to relationships. I think that love is a beautiful thing. Finding that person who fits, who accepts you at your best and your worst, and who wants to plan a life with you is a real life fairytale. And I hope to experience that one day, but not right now.

I want to focus on figuring out who I am on my own before trying to figure out who I am with someone. For the first 21 years of my life, I was more or less defined by my parentage—I’m Mr. and Mrs. L’s daughter. I’ve only just begun to be me, just Brittany. I’m not ready to be someone’s girlfriend, fiancée, or wife. I see this as a time for me to explore and be a little selfish with my time. If I want to move across the country or across the globe, I want to be able to do it without worrying about the fate of a relationship. If I decide to go to graduate school or to change careers, I want my decision to be solely about me and my wants/needs. I want to focus on “me,” not an “us,” and figure out what makes me happy and gives me purpose. I’m not saying that you can’t do those things while being in a relationship; you can travel, build a career or business, and finish your schooling while in a relationship, and I know that plenty of people do. But for me, right now, being single is what feels right, even if I do get a lot of comments from the peanut gallery in the meantime. The fact of the matter is that we all want different things out of life and what works for you might not work for me and vice versa. We all just have to do what makes us happiest, whether that’s being with someone or not—I can’t stress that enough.

One day I hope to find Mr. Right, and I hope that we’ll be the sort of couple that makes a big deal of Valentine’s Day, as cheesy as it may be. Romantic dinner, flowers, cards, candy, the whole nine yards. But I would want us to show each other how much we mean to each other 365 days of the year too. In the meantime though, I want to get a better handle on who I am and not be going through some sort of identity crisis when I meet him.

So this Valentine’s Day, I will buy my own roses and eat my lovely Godiva Truffle Bars (you must try them) and be very happy about it. Valentine’s Day can be about loving yourself too, right?

Now that I’ve gotten all existential on you and rambled on...what are your plans for Valentine’s Day? Are you going to be spending it with a loved one? Alone? With friends?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#TBT: Venetian Magic

My final two days in Italy were spent in Venice. It's an old, majestic city where using a map is futile (as I learned the hard way), and it’s best to just wander the canals and streets with no destination in mind. I personally think the city is enchanted because the moment I stopped looking for a specific shop, it miraculously appeared in front of me. Repeatedly. I kid you not. 

Despite temperatures 20 degrees lower than Rome and Florence, gray skies, and drizzle, I still had an incredible time. While I enjoyed the touristy sites like Basilica San Marco, Rialto Bridge, and the Doge’s Palace, it was the many different artisans of the city that truly impressed me. The Venetian masks, the Burano lace, and the Murano glass were so skillfully and beautifully designed. 


If you want a real Venetian mask, be warned that a lot of the ones sold in the tourist shops are actually made in China, not Venice or even Italy.  I’d highly recommend visiting La Bottega dei Mascareri for the real deal. It’s a closet-sized shop, but don’t let that fool you. 

For booklovers like me, Libreria Acqua Alta is a must-see. It’s this cramped bookstore with gondolas, rowboats, and bathtubs filled with books inside, a stairway of books outside, and a picturesque reading area where you can look out onto one of Venice’s canals.

Gondola rides are another must when you’re in Venice but expensive. It costs €80 for a 30 minute ride. Fun fact though: no two gondolas are alike. They are personalized to reflect the gondolier’s style.

I found it easiest to navigate Venice by scraping the map and paying attention to the posted signs for landmarks like Rialto, San Marco, and San Giovanni. You can easily follow the signs to get to the landmarks themselves and they helped to keep my bearings as I explored.


I was fortunate to have booked a tour of some of the neighboring islands in the lagoon on my second day in Venice.  Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the tour itself (the one guide gave the tour in English, Italian, Spanish, and German but rushed through the four languages so that I hardly recognized English over the awful speakers), but the destinations were extraordinary.

Murano is renowned for its glass, which is crafted into works of art ranging from traditional glassware to chandeliers and decorative sculptures. We watched a glass-blowing demonstration and were left to wander around and shop afterwards. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the glasswork, but the level of detail and the rich colors of the glass blew my mind.

Of the islands that we visited on the tour, Burano was by far my favorite. The island is known for its lace and for its vibrantly colored houses. The legend is that fishermen painted their homes in bright colors so that they could spot the shore at night, and now it’s illegal to change the colors. The village is so cheerful, especially on a gray day.


After that, it was arrivederci to Italy the next morning. It was, as lame as it sounds, a trip of a lifetime, and I do hope to visit Italy again one day. There’s so much of the country that I still haven't seen! Plus, I’d love to spend more time in both Florence and Venice, unearthing some of their hidden gems and eating more of their delicious food. I really didn’t eat enough pasta while I was there--rookie mistake. I’ll do better next time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

4 Helpful Apps for Learning French

I’ve been so lazy when it comes to my French. Between working full-time and living life, French hasn’t been a priority since I studied the language in college. And even then, despite my love of the language, I wasn’t able to fit the classes into my schedule after my sophomore year. So, for more or less the last five years, I haven’t had much of a reason to practice speaking French, and I learned that the cliché “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” is more than a little true.

When I decided that I was going to France this year, it gave me the kick in the seat that I needed in order to pick up French again. This past fall, I resumed my studies with the hope that maybe I’d be able to get by in Paris without asking everyone to speak to me in English (even though many French people speak English too). Since I don’t have the funds to take classes or pay for fancy software, I had to find a way to immerse myself in the language again--reading, speaking, and listening to French whenever possible at little cost--and I think I’ve been managing thanks to my iPhone and some great apps. So without further ado, here are my go-to apps for learning French!
Duolingo is my godsend and a popular free app to boot. It makes learning a language (French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese currently) an interactive game instead of a memorization chore like some courses. Not only is the Duolingo owl super adorable, the app is fun (not kidding!). You complete units at your own pace and learn to read, write, and speak as you go along, and the app sends you email reminders to practice daily. I just hit my 100 day streak which was an exciting moment for me. Duolingo really has helped me to review the skills I learned in college while expanding my vocabulary and teaching me new grammar rules. If you want review a language or take a stab at a new one, this app should be on your phone.

News in Slow French is just that—news spoken in slow French. Each episode is like a radio show focusing on current events and also grammar. The cool thing about the app is that you can adjust the speed of the announcers, and the app provides a French transcript if you decide to read along. There is a paid version, but I’ve stuck with the free content and have been quite pleased.
La Dépêche is a regional daily newspaper from Toulouse, and the app lets you read their articles for free on your phone. I found the language to be the most accessible of the French newspapers that I tried to read, and the fact that I could read the articles easily on my iPhone was a huge plus. I’m a bit of a news junkie, so I like the fact that there are articles on a variety of topics at my fingertips.

VidaLingua French-English Dictionary has been a user-friendly resource for those moments when I’m struggling to understand something I’ve read or heard. There are free and paid versions available (the paid one comes with more words), but in both you’re given definitions, conjugations, and audio clips for pronunciation. The app also comes with phrases and vocabulary quizzes. I’ve stuck with the free version because I’m being a cheapskate, but I probably should upgrade. There’s been more than one occasion where the definition I need is only available if I download the paid version, which can be more than a teensy bit frustrating.


I’d love to be bilingual one day, but I know that, realistically, I’m a long way off, but I’m going to keep at it. I hope that you’ve maybe discovered a new app to download, especially if you’re studying French like me (or trying to anyway). I’d love to know what language(s) you’re studying and if you’re using any apps to help you! xx

Sunday, February 8, 2015

3 Tasty Fruit Smoothies to Die For

2015 has been all about eating healthier for me.  As I’ve already mentioned (a few times), I’ve been trying to eat more fresh fruits and veggies, and I’ve been succeeding thanks to my Nutribullet.  It was a birthday present from my parents, and it’s made fruits and vegetables really exciting for me.  Instead of buying the same old produce week after week, my family is now keeping a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the house.  We were pretty much an apple and banana family, but now we have papayas, mangoes, pineapples, and all sorts of berries, just to name a few.  And I’ve really been having fun experimenting with the fruit combinations! 

Since getting my Nutribullet, smoothies have become my go-to breakfast and snack food on the weekend.  I’ve noticed that I don’t snack as much after I’ve had a smoothie, and I’m usually the snack-queen.  They’ve turned out to be a tasty, low-calorie, and proteinaceous alternative to the junk food I usually eat while lounging around the house. 

I figured that since smoothies have been such a hit with me (and my parents) that maybe some of you would be fans too, if you aren’t already.  So, here are a few of my favorite smoothie recipes so far…


Simply blend 1 ½ cups of frozen pineapple, 1 fresh banana, ½ cup of non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt, a pinch of ground ginger (to taste), and ½ cup of water.  This low-calorie smoothie (about 250 calories) has a bit of a kick to it but was a huge hit with my family.  It’s colorful and zesty with a bit of sweetness to it and made me momentarily forget it was bitter cold outside.  Oh, the mysterious powers of tropical fruits!  If you use fresh pineapple, then I’d suggest adding 6-8 cubes of ice to give your smoothie a refreshing chill.


Blend 1 cup of fat free milk, ¾ cup of non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt, 1 cup of frozen strawberries, ¼ cup of chocolate chips.  This smoothie tastes like dessert, which probably explains why it’s my favorite so far.  At about 510 calories, it is a bit indulgent for someone on a diet but totally worth it.  I felt like I was drinking a cake--yum!  


Blend ½ cup of non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt, 1 cup of frozen strawberries, 1 cup of frozen blueberries, 1 cup of frozen black cherries, 1 banana, and water.  The color of this smoothie was basically the most Instagram-worthy thing ever, and the smoothie was rich, creamy, and sweet.  At about 360 calories, you get a pretty large smoothie if you try to drink it in one go.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

#TBT: Florence, I Love You

Florence. Firenze. No matter what you call it, it is a beautiful city out of the Renaissance, unceremoniously dropped in the twenty first century. The Florentines seem to take pride in their compact city and their rich heritage, and I can’t say that I blame them.

After being in a sprawling metropolis like Rome, Florence was a refreshing change. There was no real need to use public transportation because I could walk just about anywhere (and there was no cobblestone!).  I was also struck by the fact that Florence smelled of leather. Everywhere I went, there was a subtle musk in the air.


Don’t be afraid to barter in the markets. My favorite market while I was in Florence was Mercato Nuovo, home to Porcellino (the statue). I made several trips to that particular market during my time in the city and purchased most of my souvenirs there. The vendors expect you to barter, so do it. You’ll be surprised how much you might end up saving at the end of the day.

Reserve your ticket to the Accademia online and try to go first thing in the morning. You’ll avoid the lines and get a chance to be up-close and personal with David. Trust me—he’s worth it.

Buy gold from a shop on the Ponte Vecchio (if you have the funds). I saved up for this particular purchase and considered it a splurge, but I know that I’ll have my 18 carat gold necklace for lifetime. If you don’t feel like spending that sort of money, you’ll still get some impressive shots of the Arno from the bridge.

In Florence, life and art are one in the same. The Uffizi and the Accademia are two galleries that you can’t miss! The Uffizi is home to the statues of Perseus and The Rape of the Sabine Women as well as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and La Primavera. The walls and corridors are packed with artwork so it can be a bit of a sensory overload—I never knew where to look next! The Accademia is not as impressive in size but where else can you see Michelangelo’s David or the Unfinished Slaves?

Even when you’re not in the galleries though, artists set up shop all over the piazzas to sell their watercolors, sketches, and paintings.


The major basilica in Florence is Il Duomo, which you can see from just about anywhere in the city. It’s another 500 step hike to the top and perhaps even more claustrophobic than St. Peter’s Basilica, but it’s a fantastic photo-op for the fearless! All my warnings for St. Peter’s Basilica apply here too!


Being from the US, I’m not accustomed to food markets or the quality of food that I think Europeans take for granted. Sure, there are farmer’s markets here that you can go to but, on the whole, grocery shopping is done at a supermarket chain and your meats come from Styrofoam containers wrapped in plastic.

I woke up extra early one morning just to see how the other half lived and visit Mercato Centrale. Unfortunately, I got there before many for the stalls were open, but I still found myself incredibly jealous of the freshness of the Florentine’s food. The fish looked like they’d been swimming around only moments before and the produce was as God intended it with all its natural imperfections and juiciness. Did I mention the hand-cut pasta? It’s making me hungry just thinking about it...