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Define Happy

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Hey, where in the world has the author been? It’s almost been two months since we last saw her!

Instead of pleading the Fifth, how about I share with you some snapshots of my life while I was away from this wonderful blogging space:

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13040838_10153589706207963_1316372428640684390_oTaken by Chrissy Ives

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Yes, multiple visits to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood were made during the months of April and May with good friends. Contrary to my expression in the first picture, I did try Butterbeer and thought it was interesting, but I preferred the Gillywater. 🙂

Early May was Spring Dapper Day at the Disneyland Resort and there was no shortage of Dapper Disneybounders like myself. It’s a no brainer for me to channel my favorite Lucky Rabbit.

I guess you could say that the month of April and May were spent trying to reconnect with old friends and making new memories. Many of these people I haven’t seen in almost a year and now that many of us are working, getting married, or studying graduate or doctorate degrees, we hardly have time to hang out and just have fun without the worries. These three images are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of time spent with friends and family, but I like to think that in those months, I said yes to more fun times than ever.

All right gang, how about you? Any exciting, magical events take place while I was gone?

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The Crisp Memory

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Late January 2011: It was one of my last few days in Italy for a January term class in Renaissance art. Oddly I was incredibly homesick for 90% of the trip, save for my days spent in Siena and Venice. Why odd? I had traveled overseas before in 2008 and never felt super homesick – then again, I did have good friends and plenty of laughs to keep my mind busy and free of anxiety. This trip was a bit of a rocky start – upon arriving in Florence in early January, my cell phone carrier had some trouble switching over to international and I received news that my roommate would not arrive until tomorrow, due to delays in her home state. Not to mention I was in a stark white room with a tiny shower that had the doors close at a point (Psycho vibes anyone?) and my converter from Sharper Image burned out, despite the fact that the store claimed it was Italy compatible.

Rocky start aside, the trip became more enjoyable overtime but upon arriving in Rome, I was ready to finish strong in my class and head home. My roommate and I walked past a local restaurant nearby the trolley in the heart of the city and noticed it was pretty busy. The food smelled good and it seemed popular, so we gave it a go one night. In addition to buying an authentic, freshly made pizza, I checked out a drink called ‘Gazzosa’ on the menu and showed the description to my roommate, who roughly translated the description of it as a sort of sparkling lemonade. I gave water a break and ordered it, curious to see how it tasted.

Lemony, crisp, and a smooth, yet bubbly finish, I took an instant liking to it. Pictures weren’t allowed in the restaurant so I tried to commit the label to memory, determined to try to find it Stateside. Boy was I disappointed when all I could find online was a soda company that made their own Gazzosa that looked more yellow than the light cream liquid I remembered. Needless to say, I concluded that I was better off remembering the memory and taste of the refreshing beverage.

Fast forward to today: I visited my folks one weekend and they raved about a fantastic Italian specialty market near our house. I wandered through it, impressed with the variety of authentic Italian meats, fresh pasta, and house sauces. I went down the drink aisle and lo and behold, there it was!

Tastes exactly how I remember it.

Flash! They’re Gone or Are They?

Remember when people were crazy about flash sale sites? I’m talking about Gilt, Hautelook, Beyond the Rack – did you ever shop from there? Why were they so hot back then?

Yes, I used a past tense for that last sentence. While the sites haven’t been shut down, many of them have changed ownership, now being bought out by bigger companies and merging with existing store discount initiatives. Hautelook being bought out by Nordstroms, now lumped with Nordstroms Rack easily comes to mind when one thinks about the fate of flash sale sites. Now Saks Fifth Avenue is looking to make Gilt their version of Hautelook to rival Nordstroms.

Going back to the question of why flash sites were the cheese to someone’s macaroni for sometime, I suspect a lot of it had to do with the thrill. It’s no secret that the goal of many retail stores, whether it be clothing or home decor want people to spend money at the end of their visit. Sales are alluring to many who don’t want to pay full price, especially if there’s the threat of a store being out of your size.

Video posted by Tucker Michaels

This old Gilt ad illustrates it very well – two shoppers eye an item, but there’s only one in their size. It’s down to speed and luck to secure the coveted item they want before someone else snags it. Many times we buy things because we convince ourselves “It’s my size”, “It’s on sale”, or “If I don’t get it, I’m gonna regret it.” Making shoppers fight to get the items they want heightens the thrill of shopping, in some cases it results in buyer’s remorse.

Years later, people aren’t willing to fight it out anymore or they are simply interested in different stores and brands, especially if there is an easy return policy. Sometimes it just makes more sense to drive to the closest store, return what you’re not keeping, and call it a day, versus packing the item up and paying return shipping in some cases.

While all of these flash sites hearkened to the budding trend of people preferring to shop online, it appears that many of them couldn’t adapt on their own to meet new demands from online shoppers. After all, while it can be fun getting a great deal, the return policy and process can look more like a hassle if its shipping returns only.

From Eating Utensils to the Building Blocks for Art

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Are you a master at using chopsticks? Sadly I would consider myself a beginner – I have the basic technique for holding them down but its putting it in motion to pick up food that is the challenge. (Especially without trying to cross the chopsticks while picking something up!)

While taking something small to make something bigger isn’t a new concept, Malaysian artist Hong Yi has transformed the traditional eating utensil into a hanging portrait of Jackie Chan. 64,000 chopsticks were used to create the piece. In addition to Jackie Chan, the artist has replicated several likenesses of other famous Western and Eastern celebrities in chopsticks.

Gift Wrapping – Expert or the Worst of the Worst?

The holidays are almost here (or if you celebrate Hanukkah, they’re here) and everyone talks about gift wrapping options. It’s funny to hear people talking about what they’re going to do for wrapping, whether its buying coordinating paper and ribbon to complement each other or just saying “Screw it, I’m hitting up the mall and having someone else do it for me!”

I chalk my wrapping skills up to my mom, who is very detail oriented – trying to fold the corners crisp and neat, small pieces of clear tape, and cutting long edges to make folding easier. My weakness is curling the ends of curling ribbon – I’m able to get one side curled and the other will come out kind of mangled.

There was one girl I could never forget who described herself as being completely hopeless when it came to wrapping things. She gave a mutual friend of ours a gift in a gift bag with twine wrapped around the handles. Our mutual friend ended up ripping open the bottom of the bag after getting fed up with the twine and discovered her gift (a book) was wrapped under varying layers of brown paper and duct tape! We joked that it seemed like this was a test to see how eager you were to see the gift inside.

Recently Jimmy Kimmel did a segment where he had two people who were self proclaimed bad wrappers compete to wrap various odd sized items.

What about you guys? Would you consider yourself the best gift wrapper ever or would you be more likely to give that job to someone else?

Home Didn’t Change – You Did

Another year, another conclusion to NaBloMoPo.

Like many people, coming home is an odd feeling. I’m not talking about a temporary space – I mean going home to your family or hometown after a long time. You know that feeling: the one where you come back, look around at familiar places, run into old friends and classmates, and ask why certain things changed. Often times you’ll hear, “This place didn’t change – you did.”

Why am I talking about the feeling one gets just by visiting home? You can attribute that to a memory I had of a classmate who wrote a gritty story about a young man who comes home from college, only to discover that his best friend has joined a rough crew and is fathering a baby. My classmate’s protagonist, seems naive, stunned to come home to a place where his best friend is a father and making questionable choices. At the end, his friend reminds him that the protagonist left this sleepy town to get a degree, meaning that he changed the most and sees things differently.

I can attribute to having that happen – just this weekend, my folks and I were talking about old friends from marching band. I recalled how some went to great schools on scholarships and how a rare few dropped out, finding that collegiate life wasn’t for them. A small percentage of those who stayed behind or came back reverted to their old lives and personalities from high school.

In a way, I think that life is like my favorite movie, American Graffiti. For those of you who have never seen it, it tells multiple stories of different characters set on the last day of summer in a small town in California in 1962. Steve and Laurie are trying to decide whether to see other people while the former is away at college. Terry is given Steve’s car for safekeeping and decides to take it out on the town, picking up a pretty blonde named Debbie. Curt is unsure about leaving for college and spends most of the night chasing down a mystery woman who mouths ‘I love you’ before driving away. John, the town’s fastest guy in a deuce coupe, has remained in town past graduation, arguing that he needs to protect his rep.

The overall story highlights various individuals that one can recognize and may have encountered in their own town: the couple trying make long distance work, the uncool kid trying to be cool, the guy who never left town, and the guy who is indecisive about the future ahead. Regardless of being set in the 1960s, I always felt that the story was easy to relate to because we’ve all experienced one or more feelings about leaving a place we’ve called home for so long.

Avoid the Crowds or Brave Them?

Another Black Friday has come and gone, with some fighting the crowds to score great deals and other awaiting Cyber Monday. Many businesses started Black Friday deals early, both in store and online. In addition to Black Friday, some businesses including Black Milk Clothing and Amazon have started their Cyber Monday sales earlier or plan to extend them longer than Monday.

Black Friday is a mixed bag for me. In some years I’ve gone to a few clothing stores at midnight to see some of the deals and others I’ve stayed home and avoided the crowds. This year I braved bad traffic and multiple accidents to visit one store for a surprise sample sale at Black Milk.

Its been noted that people have been choosing to shop online more, versus waiting days for deals that are doorbusters or one day only specials. With multiple tools that compare prices, sizes for various brands, and lucrative offers like Free Shipping or discounts that can be stacked, online shopping has become very easy for buyers.

While the benefits to shopping at a brick and mortar store include seeing the products in person and being able to try them on, more people are placing their confidence on website descriptions and saving themselves the hassle of dealing with other customers trying to grab the same item.

What about you?