little paths so startled

living, decorating, and eating in hattiesburg, mississippi

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ocean springs

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This weekend, Daniel and I made a day trip to Ocean Springs with three items on our agenda: 1) a remarkable pitcher plant bog in the Desoto National Forest, 2) good food, and 3) pelican watching.  I’m happy to report it was a success – and just the getaway we needed.

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Locals call this extensive pitcher plant bog “Buttercup Flats,” and I can see why.

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The vegetarian samosas at Mosaic Tapas were delicious, and it was perfect weather for an al fresco lunch.

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The pelicans who live around this pier (near the Shearwater Bridge) have a delightful habit of roosting and preening on these posts.  And their preening moves had us laughing out loud.

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(The photo of the pitcher plants and the close-up photos of the pelicans were taken by Daniel.)

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Written by Ann

April 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Posted in eating, living

pro packing*

with 6 comments

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I’ve been traveling quite a bit these past couple of months, and I have two more trips (this week and next) before my schedule settles down.  That means I’ve been doing quite a bit of packing, and as someone who actually enjoys packing (!), I thought I’d share my strategies for packing efficiently.

First of all, this: I always carry on: whether it’s a two-week business trip, a week and a half in Europe, or a weekend island get-away.  (Yes, I packed a carry-on for a two-week business trip, and I never repeated an outfit.  True story.)  I haven’t checked a bag in six years; the last time was when an airline lost my bag on a weekend trip to Chicago.  I realize my fear of lost luggage is a bit disproportionate to the reality, and I certainly don’t judge people who check bags.  It’s just that carrying on – no matter what – has become something of a game for me, a challenge I enjoy.

The Gear:

Good luggage is worth the investment.  I invested in two pieces by Longchamps: an expandable duffel (pictured above) and a tote (pictured below, last photo).  I do own a roller-style carry-on, and I did use it for the two-week business trip, but here’s my rationale for the duffel: because I live in Mississippi, I fly on lots of tiny commuter planes to get to larger hubs.  No matter how tiny the plane (and I mean you, little prop plane that seats, like, 10 people!), that duffel fits in the overhead bin.  I never get pink-tagged.  It’s part of my game.  The expandable portion is my safety net: if, during my trip, I happen to acquire more than will fit in the standard size, I can un-zip and check a substantially larger version.  The tote is delightfully roomy, and it has a zipper top – so I don’t have to worry about spilling my stuff across the floor of the airplane when I tuck the bag under the seat.  In fact, that tote is also my work bag, so it gets A LOT of use.  The canvas fabric is tough and washable.  (If I had it to do over again, though, I’d get black; as much as I love my color, it does show marks.)

The Theory:

My theory of packing has four main components:

  1. I am a firm believer in the wrinkle-preventing powers of tissue paper.
  2. I roll my clothes, rather than fold them.  I have found that rolling clothes is both space saving and wrinkle preventing – thus completely worth the extra effort.
  3. I choose outfits that mix and match basics, and, especially on longer trips, I work within a complementary color palette.   My closet organization app, Stylebook (also seen here), is immensely helpful in the planning process.
  4. I save space by packing fewer shoes than I’d like.  I love all my shoes, but only the most versatile ones make the packing cut: I make sure there no duplicates (i.e., one pair of dressy heels, one pair of flats, one pair of sandals).

This means packing takes time to plan and time to execute, but I’m always glad I did it.  These photos, including the first one, are from my most recent trip to a conference.

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As the collage above suggests, efficient packing means a place for everything and everything in its place.  I like to layer shoes (in shoe bags, of course) on the bottom to create a flexible structure for my otherwise-soft bag.  Because heels especially create little gaps, I stuff them with workout clothes or other items that aren’t a wrinkle concern.  Then I layer on clothing items, lining the sides with thicker (and less wrinkle-prone) items like a pencil skirt in heavy cotton.  Super-wrinkle-prone items, like a silk-ish blouse, go in the middle.

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I am meticulous in my rolling, especially with wrinkle-prone items.  (Tissue paper to the rescue!)  Hasty rolling means wrinkled clothes.  Trust me.

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This is the blazer trick – part of the mix-and-match component of my theory.  I pack just one blazer (even for that two-week business trip, which, fortunately, was mostly business casual), and I usually wear it on the plane, at least on the flight there.  It has to be versatile enough to go with several outfits and dress up or down.  This lightweight, drapey one from Anthropologie (a hand-me-down from my sister!) fits the bill.

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The Personal Item:

Because my carry-on is working hard, my “personal item” has to work hard, too, as the photo above illustrates.  (Not pictured: the 15″ hunk of aluminum [my MacBook Pro] that also ended up in the tote.)  I have two criteria for this bag: 1) stuff I need quick access to on the plane and in the airport and 2) stuff I have to get out for the security checkpoint.  My essential are as follows (clockwise from top right):

  1. The quart-sized bag for liquids (which also doubles as my toiletry bag).  Spring for a sturdier, reusable version.  It’s worth the few dollars.  (N.b., I keep my makeup in a separate bag that usually gets carefully stowed in the middle of my carry-on, but sometimes that bag also ends up in the tote.)
  2. Snacks and gum.  ‘Nuff said.
  3. A bag with all my jewelry – even the watch that’s a permanent fixture on my wrist.  It’s not worth shedding layers of bling in the security line; just wait until you’re through the checkpoint to put on the essentials.
  4. An über-paired-down wallet/wristlet.  Again, just the essentials – and in a handy container that also holds my iPhone and doubles as a clutch.
  5. A pouch that functions as an organizer in my otherwise pocket-less tote and doubles as a clutch.
  6. Sunglasses and a sleep mask – in their own clever pouch, of course.
  7. Another pouch for the miserable tangle neatly stowed charger cords, dongles, and earbuds.  (That pouch goes to work with me every day, in fact.)
  8. The emergency kit: the meds this asthma and allergy sufferer can’t travel without, as well as a tiny Tide-to-Go pen and a tiny lint roller for wardrobe exigencies.
  9. Cozy things: a pashmina and socks.  Because you never know when it will be freezing on the plane.
  10. iPad.  I love this case for several reasons, not least of which is the set of interior pockets that are perfect for stowing boarding passes and other travel documents.  And I usually have a fun book loaded in my iBooks library because, you know, it feels luxurious to read for fun on a plane.  I’d love to be one of those people you see pounding out spreadsheets, blazing through files, poring over dense theory, and looking generally important every moment they’re allowed to have their laptops out.  But I’m not.
  11. A print version of something fun to read.  (See above.)  As much as I love having my books and magazines (including InStyle magazine, in fact) in digital form on my iPad, print magazines don’t have to be stowed from the close of the boarding door until 10,000 feet.  That, in my opinion, is a crucial time during which I need to be occupied (distracted).
  12. (Not pictured) My laptop: only when I have to.  It feels a little ridiculous carrying my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Pro – but sometimes it just has to be done.  Usually, though, the iPad will suffice.

So there you have it.  What are your packing tricks and essentials?

*I mean the title in both possible senses: I am definitely pro-packing, but I also aspire to packing like a pro.

Written by Ann

March 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

new year’s resolution: edited, organized closet

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I knew I was stressed last semester when simply getting dressed – putting together outfits and trying to remember what I’d worn the week (or day) before – was hive-inducing.  It’s not that my options were limited.  And my closet was certainly organized (thanks to a previous year’s organizing blitz).  I just couldn’t see how the pieces were working together, and the result was unwelcome added stress.

Enter Stylebook, an iPhone app I’d read about and been too lazy to try.  (Taking pictures of every piece of clothing I owned seemed exhausting.)  But when a nasty cold had me stuck at home for several days after the holidays, I decided to take it on.  And as I began the painstaking process of photographing my clothing, I realized that I’d been hoarding clothes like crazy.  I still had clothes from college and my first year of working – when I had no definable style whatsoever and tended to err on the frumpy side too keep from looking too young (!).  So I made a decision: if I couldn’t motivate myself to photograph and catalog the item, it went in the donation pile.

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It was a little scary for this hoarder to get rid of so much at once, but when I started using the app’s “Look” function to put together outfits, I realized I still have plenty of options.  Suddenly, my closet could breathe.  (And that’s no small feat in such a tiny space.)  As I took out each piece of clothing, I checked for holes, tears, stains, and pills, and I invested in a multipurpose sweater comb and fabric spray to keep my clothes looking (and smelling) like new.

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I’m also determined to eliminate (or at least reduce the frequency of) the work-week wardrobe crises.  I’ve found the calendar function in the app to be a useful planning tool; plus, I can see what I’ve worn recently.  There’s also a handy packing list function that will, I hope, preempt my packing panics.  Was this editing and organizing process tedious?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  For me, absolutely.  Here’s to a year of dressing and living well.

Written by Ann

January 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

winter wonderland

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I absolutely love decorating for the holidays. (I may or may not have been listening to Christmas music – earbuds in – for weeks already.) Last year, we decided to go eco-friendly and created an indoor bottle tree to replace a cut Christmas tree, and I made several arrangements from discarded Christmas tree branches. This year, Daniel inspired me to be even more eco-friendly and botantically-correct by decorating with plants native to Mississippi (and sourced from nearby woods). I recycled my burlap and metallic votives from last year and added long leaf pine cones, southern magnolia leaves, yaupon holly berries, and eastern red cedar branches to create simple arrangements around the condo. I rather love the sculptural-yet-unfussy effect. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, chez nous.

For the dining table, I wanted something dramatic but low enough to see over during meals:

And I made a smaller version for our coffee table:

I filled a large vase with cedar and holly for the foot of the bottle tree (think Christmas tree, deconstructed):

And I used extra cedar and holly for smaller arrangements on the entryway console and the dining buffet:

In the bedroom/study nook, I added holly berries to my vase of sweetgum sticks, and since we DO love bottles and lights (seen here and here), we made a little bottle lamp with battery-operated LED string lights:

I also made simple holly arrangements for my desk and the dresser:

And to make sure it smells like Christmas, too, I’m burning this heavenly balsam cedar-scented candle on our kitchen island:

Happy holidays!

summer flowers

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I can’t believe how quickly the summer is flying by – and how breathtakingly busy it’s been.  Fortunately, there are summer flowers and herbs to bring a little summer happiness inside (minus the heat).  I always have fresh flowers when we’re entertaining, but after the last party we threw, I realized I shouldn’t have to wait till the next one to fill my vases.  Daniel has been making me little bouquets of zinnias and flowering herbs from the truck garden to put on the piano, and I love that I smell mint when I open the door.

And since the mint would take over the truck garden if he let it, Daniel also brings in stems for the dining table.  There can never be too much mint inside, after all, and I pair the herb arrangements with unscented votives to avoid competing with the fresh smell of mint.

Not all my summer flowers are from the truck garden; these gorgeous hydrangea blossoms were a gift from Joyce Hicks, the talented florist at Blooms, whom I interviewed for a piece for Mississippi Magazine.  The blossoms, paired with a delightful black pepper-scented candle (also from Blooms), make summer writing more fun.

Written by Ann

June 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm

garden goodness: truck garden lettuce

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Daniel’s carefully constructed and lovingly tended truck garden is full of goodness – we’ve got mint, basil, Thai basil, mustard greens, lettuce, cilantro, onion, garlic chives, rosemary, and thyme, as well as some zinnias. Since the lettuce and greens were first to come up and have been multiplying almost faster than we can eat them or give them away, we’ve been having truck garden lettuce alone as a simple salad and on/with everything else we make. Daniel has agreed to write a post on the truck garden soon, but for now, here’s what we’ve been eating:

Black Bean Burgers with Truck Garden Lettuce and Avocado

I love that our local Baker’s Burgers has a vegetarian black bean burger (see my review here), but it’s made with eggs. And while that doesn’t stop us from the occasional visit, I’d just as soon have an egg-free (and lower fat) version. Lately, I’ve been making my own black bean burgers (loosely based on this recipe) and garnishing them with avocado and, of course, truck garden lettuce.

Onions, chili powder, corn meal, bread crumbs, parsley (but I use cilantro when I can), and black beans – plus water, salt, and pepper – ready for mashing.

 

Patties browning in a bit of olive oil.

Ready for devouring.

 

Black Bean Tacos with Homemade Salsa, Avocado, and Truck Garden Lettuce

We apparently can’t get enough of the black bean + avocado + lettuce combo around here, but who doesn’t love tacos, after all? I like to season the black beans with cumin, oregano, Frank’s hot sauce, black pepper, and a dash of salt, then smother them with Daniel’s homemade salsa (different every time, but here’s our basic recipe) and garnish with fresh avocado and truck garden lettuce.

Written by Ann

April 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

decorations, continued: berries and bows

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Our condo was on the house tour during the Victorian Candlelit Christmas/Art Walk downtown this past weekend, and we enjoyed welcoming friends, colleagues, neighbors, and visitors into our home Saturday and Sunday nights.  I started decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and I added berries (courtesy of my parents’ nandinas) and gold and red ribbon (leftover from last year’s decorations) to most of the arrangements for an extra touch of holiday color.

But the real show stopper of the evening was the indoor bottle tree.  Success!  Also, my house is extremely clean.