The holidays haven’t always been happy for me. It’s the stress, man! My wallet and I are pulled in so many directions. Thanksgiving groceries. Décor. Cleaning service. Number one daughter’s birthday (and you know children are never inexpensive no matter how old). Christmas gifts. Tree. Ornaments. And lest I forget, I have to purchase plane tickets for myself, my daughter…and my dog. See what I mean? Stress, man!
I know you can’t combat it by saying “f@#$ this” and sit on your ass sipping Bailey’s until January 4, but there are definite ways you can significantly reduce stress and its SOB cousins—headache, anxiety attacks and back pain. I tried all of them and they really work. It all begins with an attitude adjustment.
Focus on the reason for the season. No, seriously. Hear me out. Thanksgiving is a holiday developed for us to give thanks for our blessings. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. That’s it. Nothing more. Nowhere in those two descriptions is the crafting of the perfect tablescape or getting your kid’s teacher a gift that puts all other parents’ gifts to shame. Have you ever really shed a tear (thug or otherwise) because you didn’t get a scarf from your Aunt Sylvia? I doubt it and if the recipients/guests/whomever don’t give a damn just like you didn’t, why should you as the giver? Tell somebody you love ‘em. Go to church and bring someone with you. Volunteer your time. Change your focus and get your merry back.
Between November 1 and January 3, plan some out-of-the-home activities that are purely for your enjoyment. It can’t be a service project, a “required” holiday party or involve people under 21. This Thanksgiving Eve, I went to City Winery for a performance by Musiq Soulchild. It was only a couple of hours away from the kitchen but it felt like I was miles away. I’m not a super fan but I love live music and I felt the weight lifting off my shoulders as he sang some of his old hits and transported me to back in the day. Whether it is a concert, ice-skating at the park or a night at the movies, do something selfishly fun outside.
If you work a corporate gig, under no circumstances should you use your vacation time for the holidays. Work straight through and schedule off time after the holidays when all of the relatives are gone. While everyone else is back at the grind on Monday, you’ll be walking through your house buck naked and fancy free. But how do I get everything cooked/bought/done? Go back and read number one. Anything that can’t be cooked or picked up the week before, after work or before a reasonable bedtime, doesn’t need to be. I stuck by this rule this Thanksgiving, despite my propensity to always do way too much. My blood pressure thanks me.
Take care of yourself. Get a massage or mani/pedi. Gift yourself some lash extensions. You don’t have a lot of cash? Take a bath with pretty, smell goods at least twice a month then. Give yourself a facial while listening to the music you like. Actually read your fashion magazines that are collecting dust. Self-care is how you ensure that you are around to take care of others. Find a way.
Say no. I know it’s popular nowadays to say yes. I love Shonda Rhimes and I get it, but I would adjust her Year of Yes to Ten Months of Yes. “Say yes” January through October and then “shout no” for November throughout December. No, I can’t make it to your party. No, I’m not buying everyone with a pulse a gift. No, I’m not cooking a turkey, a ham, a duck and lamb chops. No, no, no. Say yes to self-care. Say yes to your sanity. Say yes to your savings account.
Implement these tips and watch your holiday cheer return. That usual harried pace will be transformed into a very zen stroll. Last, but never least, champagne!
Some girls come home after a raucous happy hour and still manage to remove their contact lenses and make up. Some of them set aside time every night, no matter what, to pumice their feet, apply moisturizer and cover their tootsies with cotton socks. Some of them even polish their nails to match their ensemble, which they already laid out, for the next day.
I am not her. She is not me. I’ve come to terms with it and use these tricks to preserve my pretty despite my lazy.
Makeup remover wipes e’rywhere. Near the front door, in the trinket box next to the sofa, at the desk, under pillows… Some disagree and I get it. A lot of days, when I’m able to go home directly after work and remain sober all night, I do the whole skin care regimen thing. I cleanse, exfoliate, tone, apply serum and moisturize. I do the damned thing. But sometimes I just want to remove the bra and fall into bed. Something has to be better than nothing and I’m OK with that.
Get over it and get your entire body waxed. Or lasered. Why contort yourself weekly (or daily for the truly Sasquatch) and waste ten minutes of chill time for hairlessness?
Gel manis, of course. Yeah, they destroy your nails. And?
Amopé Pedi Perfect. You can condense half an hour of foot filing and pumicing to 10 minutes or less. The motorized file allows you to have silky smooth heels with little to no elbow grease.
Store any nighttime hair needs beneath your sleep pillow. I’m talking bonnets, scarves, scrunchies, maybe even a brush or comb. Please note: I suggested a brush OR a comb. Having both beneath your pillow is pushing it. And definitely don’t put product under there. Your bed’s not an Aveda Salon. There should be some limits to your laziness.
Let me know some of your lazy girl beauty hacks. Believe me. They’ll be greatly appreciated.
I want to go everywhere and I like to eat, so it only stands to reason that I am fascinated by cuisine du monde. A good way of getting there without traveling is by visiting a restaurant that features food from whatever locale piques your interest. Thankfully I live in Chicago where its rich restaurant tradition makes it the perfect place to experiment with just about anything. If you can eat it, you’ll probably find it here. I try new places often and I keep a running list in my head of all the new restos I want to try. It’s hard too because there’s a handful or more of new places opening every damned week! And I love it.
But if you’re adventurous like I am, you can try to recreate an international dish at home. You’ll not only gain the experience, but you’ll be able to personalize the dish to your liking which is what all home cooks do the world over.
As the Queen of Impulse Buyers, my pantry is more likely to be stocked with smoked paprika and garam masala than ketchup or milk. Whipping up an impromptu international meal is no biggie for me. If you have more self control than I do, you’ll probably need to run to your nearest market to pick up a few things because today we will journey to Morocco!
Morocco is at the top of my places to visit, so naturally I had some of the ingredients to create my take on a Moroccan Harissa recipe. Harissa is Tunisian in origin, but is now a part of Moroccan cuisine. This condiment combines some of my favorite things – peppers, mo’ peppers, cumin and garlic.
This was my first foray into Moroccan cooking so I decided to go with a store-bought version, Mina Harissa. I found it at Mecca aka Whole Foods. Here we go…
Three boneless, skinless and organic chicken thighs
Fage yogurt. About a half cup (I use 2%)
Salt (To taste. I used smoked salt. It gives e’rythang such a lovely flavor.)
Black Pepper (to taste)
Garlic powder, 1 tsp.
Onion powder, 1 tsp.
Cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. ( I brings the heat.)
A couple tablespoons of Mina Harissa (Spicy, of course.)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, season the chicken with the salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder. Place the yogurt, Harissa and seasoned chicken in a large Ziploc bag. Make sure the chicken thighs are completely covered by yogurt. Remove the air from the bag as much as possible. Seal the bag and place it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. I left mine in for around an hour and a half.
Cumin, 1 tsp.
One 16 oz. can of organic chickpeas (Next time I will use two cans. Not enough peas for me. You be the judge.)
Five garlic cloves (I obviously have a thing with garlic.)
Two large shallots
Olive oil, 1tbsp
Coconut oil, 1 tbsp
A half cup of the Mina Harissa
While the chicken is marinating, thinly slice the garlic and coarsely chop the shallots. Seed the tomato and then throw it in your Vitamix or food processor until it’s a slightly chunky puree. Cut lemon into wedges. Set it all aside.
In a large, dry frying pan (I prefer cast iron) on medium heat, sprinkle in the cumin and sauté for two or three minutes to release the flavor. Add coconut and olive oils. While the coconut oil is melting, remove the chicken thighs from the fridge, brown on both sides and then remove from the pan.
Sauté the garlic slices in the same pan. Cook for three minutes and then add shallots. When the shallots begin to soften, add the tomato, Harissa, chickpeas and chicken broth. Add a little more salt and pepper to taste and then nestle the chicken into the pan. Cook on top of the stove for three to five minutes, squeeze half of the lemon over the top and then pop the entire skillet into the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
Voila! First class ticket to Morocco! This dish was absodelish. Try it yourself and let me know what you think.
Him: I think we should get outta town for New Year, maybe something tropical.
Me: Babes, do you know it’s December 18?
Me: Do you know people usually book New Year’s eve vacays a year ahead?
Him: You can do it.
Him was right. I can and I did. I’m an odd combination of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and anal-retentive-nosey AF-planner-extraordinaire. So although I found this task to be daunting, I was up for the challenge.
As I spent every waking moment between December 18 and the day we booked our accommodations searching and planning, I couldn’t help but learn a few things:
1) Bring sand to the beach. Or nah. I prefer to know the person I’m going to kiss at midnight. I don’t want to share my hope and plans for the new year with a random. I enjoy the excited usies and bottomless champagne on the flights. I love basking in the shared afterglow on the flight home. But hell, if you like strange, you know I won’t judge you.
2) Don’t get stuck on a certain location. If you only have two weeks tops to make a New Year vacation come true, you can’t afford to be rigid. Expand your horizons. Watch Anthony Bourdain. To be perfectly clear, read on for #3.
3) Think outside the Caribbean. Like I said, don’t get stuck on a location. Americans often act as if the world just drops off after the Caribbean islands. It doesn’t. I know the islands are close and that you won’t have to use as much vacation time from work to travel there. When I began my hunt for vacancies, I started in the Caribbean for that very reason. I got lucky and found a lovely ocean front condo in Jamaica. However, it was the ONLY accommodation I could find that was up to my standards on the entire island. Repeat. The ONLY. I just got lucky. Don’t rely on luck though. I was open to Colombia, Argentina, and I’m always open to Thailand, but like I said… I. Just. Got. Lucky.
4) No room at ANY of the inns? Go rogue. An alternative to the resort is the vacation rental market. Websites like homeaway.com allow you to rent beach houses, condos or whatever you require all over the world. The site has photos, reviews, maps and more – everything you need for due diligence. My accommodations were in theory part of a resort with its own private beach. In reality, it was just an upscale condo that we rented from the owner. I used the site for the first time for this trip and it was a lifesaver.
5) When you snooze, you sometimes lose. So you are successful with lodging, but what about the rest? Anybody who’s ever waited until the last minute to try to make NYE party or dinner reservations, even in your own town, knows it can be close to not happening never. Try booking a local chef. I employed the services of a true gem of a lady, Michelle. She cooked a couple of meals per day while I gallivanted on the beach. I’d come home to authentic Jamaican food and a clean condo. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
6) Lounge. Thank me later. Holiday travel is too unbelievably exhausting and the entire airline industry hates you. Seek comforts wherever you can even if you have to just throw money at it. If you aren’t already a member of some airline’s lounge club thing, entry is usually extended with the purchase of a business or first class ticket. You can also buy one-day passes. Do whatever you can. Did I mention the “free” drinks?
Since you’re reading this, I know you’re in a hurry and have no time to waste. Let me know if any of this helped. Also, do you have any tips? I’m sure this last minute trip won’t be my last.
Greetings! It’s been a long while and a lot has happened, so instead of explaining, I’ll just jump right in.
Last year I took the first real vacation (no laptop, no phone calls) that I’ve had in years. Because I’m Daphne, I know no other way than to go big, so I splurged on a whirlwind ten days in Asia. My trip began in Bangkok, marinated in Phuket and then ended in Hong Kong. To sum up the experience in a word or two: fairy tale.
Some deets: In Bangkok, my sister and I took a private boat tour down the Chao Phraya, toured Chinatown by night and sampled a little street food (not nearly as much as we would’ve liked). Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on perspective, our time in Bangkok was packed with sightseeing so the best dining experience we had ended up being at our hotel, The Peninsula. I’m dying to go back soon, be able to take my time and get all Anthony Bourdain with it.
In Phuket, we lodged at the Trisara aka Heaven on Earth, rented a mini yacht for the day for some island hopping and partied at the newly opened Nikki Beach. We didn’t have to go far for excellent food (Poo Nim Phad Phong Ka-ri, Trisara’s curried crab was unbelievably good!), but we did manage to tear ourselves away. One of the best dining experiences was at the Siam Supper Club – good food, good wine list, hot Aussies.
Hong Kong was pure fancy schmancy. From the overwhelmingly beautiful view from the suite at the Four Seasons to Michelin-starred French truffle overload and Chinese decadence, I was just blown away. Man Mo Temple, Victoria Peak and shopping occupied us for the remainder of our time.
Planning a trip of this magnitude was labor intensive. When I decided to expand to include Hong Kong, I knew that I needed to call in reinforcements.
BONUS TIP: I know it may sound old school, but I worked with a travel agent who specialized in luxury travel.
Our agent was also a member of the Virtuoso network which afforded us complimentary amenities at some of the world’s most exclusive resorts and hotels. In addition, working with an agent gave me representation I could use to press for even more free goodies. However, even though I worked with an agent, I checked and re-checked every detail. I was able to negotiate rates and receive several free upgrades because I was armed with so much information.
I learned a lot planning this trip that will help me in the future and will hopefully help you as you plan your next sojourn.
12. Like I said, research, research, research and then research again. Leave nothing to chance. Make lists, whether written or mental, of things you’d like to do or attractions you’d like to visit. Sure, it’s your vacay and you don’t want a detailed agenda like you’re still at work. BUT, mark my words, lack of planning will only lead to possible missed opportunities and not being able to take full advantage of everything that is available. Trip Advisor is good for many things, but when you’re planning a true extravaganza, Luxe City Guides and Louis Vuitton are great resources.
11. Get help. I am aware that some people love a challenge, even during their down time. When it comes to my vacation, I am not one of those people. I am not interested in seeing if I’ll throw my back out while schlepping heavy luggage to and fro. If you’re like me, you’d rather have a lovely gentleman meet you as you step off the plane, grab your carry on, expedite you through customs, collect your checked bags, load them into a luxury vehicle, open the car door and then hand you a warm towel and a bottle of water, as he whisks you off to your destination. Firms like Abercrombie & Kent can arrange for private tour guides, valets and chauffeured cars. An agent who knows her shit, should be able to hook you up. Leave the stress at home. Just pay for the help. It’s worth every damned cent.
10. I flew Cathay for this trip and was very impressed. Business and first class are very comfortable due to a pod-like quality and fully flat seat that make you almost feel like they’re no passengers on your plane. The food was tastier than I expected and the wine list was good. The flight attendants were very attentive and only had to be told once to keep the champers a’coming. I give them a pass because they were probably unaware that one person could drink that much.
9. Leave the workout gear at home. Unless you’re one of those people who lives to shred, why fat shame yourself on your own vacation? Pack fly, but loose-fitting ‘fits. Refer to #7.
8. Mo’ massages, mo’ betta. I love a good massage and nothing says vacation more. Despite the fact that I almost missed my flight back home because I was in such a massage-induced, limp state of delirium, I am so happy that I managed to book the Jade Stone Therapy massage at The Spa at Four Seasons Hong Kong. It should be a requirement before any long haul flight. I could go on and on about it because it was one of the best NORMAL massages I’ve experienced. However, I was spoiled by something I had experienced only two days before. I say something because I’m not even sure it can be called something as limiting as a massage – Trisara’s Six Hand Massage. Yeah, that happened to me and I’m not really sure humans are equipped to receive that kind of pleasure.
7. Pack more kaftans. There really isn’t much more to say about that. Just do it.
6. Take advantage of every opportunity to do anything you would normally never do. Hong Kong is such a glamorous city and because of my research I knew that I could go all out as far as fashion. In other words, I had the perfect excuse to wear my see through tee with a sequined skirt with train. No biggie.
5. There is no such thing as too many swimsuits. Bring ALL of them. Even though you will likely settle on two go-tos that you’ll mix, match and wear daily, it’s still good to have options. My sister learned the hard way that it isn’t so easy for an American body to find a suit in Thailand.
4. Stay at the Trisara as long as your wallet and free time can afford. If you don’t know Trisara, google it, make reservations and thank me later. This is where you go when you want to truly get away and be pampered. I only saw other guests when I went to the Sunday Jazz Brunch (best brunch I’ve ever experienced and I’m a brunch connoisseur) and a beach barbecue.
3. Yacht like your life depends on it. But seriously, in this part of the world, sightseeing by boat is a necessity with its floating markets and secluded beaches. If it comes down to a budget choice between a boat and something else, choose the boat. You won’t regret it. We took the Phetmanee out for the day and enjoyed a lovely breakfast, snack and lunch on board as we island hopped around the Andaman Sea.
2. Always, ALWAYS sleep with Aussie Daniel Craig lookalike who asked you to sit with him at the bar of the swanky and delish Siam Supper Club. I know. I know.
1. Use the lounge. Why sit amongst the teaming masses and their unsupervised children in hard seats? There’s a very nice room with waaaay fewer children, comfy seats and “free” liquor.
This vacation was what some would call a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list trip, but I refuse to limit myself and I don’t plan on dying any time soon. I’d much rather have more of these experiences and I will allot my money accordingly. However, as a debauchee, it’s so hard to set limits. I just can’t get enough. but I’m itching to get somewhere new. Where should I go? Got any tips for me?
If you are currently in the midst of a day full of soul-stealing tasks that you have no desire to complete, please take a moment to gaze upon this beautiful photo of a fabulous resort in Phuket. Imagine yourself rising from the daybed on the right and walking naked into the private pool. Take five deep breaths. Smell the saltiness of the sea that surrounds your private suite . Along with the coconut goodness of your Nars Body Glow (mixed with sunscreen) that you have luxuriatingly rubbed into your skin after your post-coitus shower. Take five additional deep breaths. DO NOT QUIT TODAY. YOU MUST SAVE UP. Jetsetter awaits.