Décor to Adore

Décor and interior design is so important in curating a look that screams you. When friends or family walk into your abode, you want them to feel like they have entered a home that represents who you are. That’s why there are so many different looks to suit the large spectrum of people out there.

I have been a condo owner for about two years now, and I am still building my nest. The essentials, such as my bed, dresser, desk, TV, couches, and dining room table are all there, but the rest remains a work in progress. I just haven’t found the right pieces that will bring everything together and make it truly my own.

The truth is, it always takes time to find the things that will fit and speak to you (as Pier 1 Imports’ commercials say), but until I do, I will continue to scour the city for them.

One such place I was able to get a preview of what is to come this year is at the Alberta Gift Fair that was held last weekend in Edmonton, Alberta. The event is for registered store owners, so it wasn’t open to the public, but these are the top 10 trends I noticed and might consider incorporating into my home.

1) Striking colours including turquoise and shades of green and grey

A mix of home accessories that incorporate green and grey.

A mix of home accessories that incorporate green and grey.

2) Wood/natural materials

Leather and wood bar stools with oval cutouts.

Leather and wood bar stools with oval cutouts. These were found at Homesense.

3) Clean lines and cutouts (see above image)

4) Bold patterns

A patterned mirror and nesting tables seen behind an Eiffel Tower room partition.

A patterned mirror and nesting tables seen behind an Eiffel Tower room partition.

5) European elements (see above image)

6) Vintage/rustic/found objects

Tables that look to be made out of vintage wire wheels, painted bright colours.

Tables that look to be made out of vintage wire wheels, painted bright colours.

7) Clocks – not necessarily a working one

The face of a clock becomes the top of a table.

The face of a clock becomes the top of a table.

8) Stackable shelving

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Versatile shelving or tables depending on how you look at these singular boxes.

9) Leather and metal

A classic armchair with an industrial, modern feel.

A classic armchair with an industrial, modern feel.

10) Horses – I’m not sure if it’s because it’s the Year of the Horse for the Chinese or what, but I saw an abundance of equine themed art.

A painting of two horses - very ethereal.

A painting of two horses – very ethereal and contemporary as opposed to western themed.

I think I have a pretty eclectic sensibility when it comes to what I wear and what I put in my home. Hopefully I find a way to incorporate it all without it becoming overwhelming.

What kind of design style do you lean towards? Are there any trends or looks you plan to add to your house? Do you have suggestions for easy, yet stylish do-it-yourself projects? Please share below!

Las Vegas: A Not So Sinful Sin City Trip

On the Las Vegas Strip - Paris and Planet Hollywood

On the Las Vegas Strip – Paris and Planet Hollywood

Las Vegas is a bit of an anomaly. Ad campaigns that sell sex, pool parties, nightlife and intrigue are targeted to adults, giving them a place to let loose and forget about their cares while allowing them to return home and pretend as if it never happened.

Yet, on my visit last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, while you can certainly indulge some of your wildest fantasies in Sin City, there is also a bit of a contradiction when I see parents bringing newborn babies with them. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with people who decide to travel with small children to Las Vegas – the air is rife with smoke that will hurt their little lungs and it doesn’t really allow for you to enjoy a day at the casino – however, this city has become more of a family affair over the years and various events and shows currently cater to a wider variety of patrons. Even I remember going to Vegas with my parents, but as a child I can’t say I recall enjoying it that much. As an adult though, there is more than enough to keep me entertained.

Now a traveler in my late twenties, I can still enjoy an evening of debauchery at a dance club despite never having been a huge partier, but there is no way I can do that a few nights in a row. So, what exactly did I fill the rest of my time with when I landed in the wonderfully warm and snow-free desert? Let me recount the events for you.

Flying over the outskirts of Las Vegas - beautiful brown earth here we come!

Flying over the outskirts of Las Vegas – beautiful brown earth here we come!

Day #1

Upon arriving at the McCarran International Airport, I immediately noticed that the terminal we entered was shiny and new, which was a major plus in my books. There is nothing worse than getting off a plane and entering an area that is old and crowded, so the bright and open space was a great welcome. My friend, Ashley, and I took a cab to Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino where, thankfully, it didn’t take us long to check in. Because we arrived early, we did have to pay a small fee to get our room right away, but the extra $16 was worth it.

After freshening up, it was time for lunch. Ashley had been telling me for weeks how amazing Earl of Sandwich is, so, of course, we made a beeline for the place inside the Miracle Mile. I tried the All American with turkey, cheddar, cranberries, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing while Ashley ordered the Holiday Turkey, basically Thanksgiving in a bun. Our sandwiches did not disappoint! So messy to eat, but delicious, and for two major foodies, it was an excellent start to our time in Vegas.

Later in the afternoon we walked over to ARIA to sign up for the M Life card, which is a requirement for many of the rewards that can be redeemed off of myVEGAS Slots, a game that is available as an app on most phones as well as on Facebook. As you play the slots or blackjack games, you accumulate loyalty points that can then be used to purchase vouchers for restaurants, buffets, drinks, shows, attractions and merchandise. Both Ashley and I played prior to our trip and we were able to exchange our points for coupons that either provided us with free meals or entrées and helped us to save quite a bit on food during our vacation.

Dinner that evening was enjoyed at Dal Toro in the Palazzo. The restaurant has tables that look into the showroom of the Las Vegas Car Museum, which makes for an interesting atmosphere that is colourful yet quiet and serves a menu of traditional Italian cuisine. The portion size of pasta was quite large and the sauce was not overly creamy and went well with the glass of Prosecco I ordered. I also liked that we weren’t rushed and we were able to linger after we finished eating.

The night was still young, so we crossed to the west side of the strip and walked south towards Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino to catch Shania Twain‘s show, Still the One, at the Colosseum. I have been a Shania fan for years, but had never had the chance to see her live and boy am I glad that Ashley was willing to go with me. We bought tickets way up at the top since they were the most affordable and while the view wasn’t bad, we couldn’t really make out Shania’s face that well. But, as luck would have it, the ushers offered to move us down to the main floor as they like to fill empty seats. We ended up sitting maybe ten rows from the stage and had a fantastic view. Shania was extremely personable throughout the show – she brought fans on stage to hang out by the campfire with her, she stopped to talk to the audience throughout the show, she came through the orchestra seats and shook people’s hands (mine and Ashley’s included!) and took pictures with people – and she has a knockout voice and a killer body. She reminded me of why she is a star and continues to be loved by so many. I also had forgotten just how many hits she has had during her career. This was an excellent end to our evening and I would highly recommend her show to anyone visiting Las Vegas before the end of July this year.

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Day #2

This was a very full day. It began with lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR located right inside the Planet Hollywood casino. The two of us each got a Farm Burger (a beef patty topped with duck breast bacon, English sharp cheddar and a fried egg) and we shared an order of the truffle Parmesan fries. I wish I could have gone there again, but, alas, we had many other places to go to. Should you decide to stop there for a bite, I recommend getting there earlier, if possible, otherwise the line-up or wait can get long. Also, sign up for Total Rewards because showing the card will give you a dollar off each menu item at the restaurant.

Absolutely stuffed after finishing our lunch, we caught the SDX bus in front of Paris Hotel & Casino. Six dollars will allow you two hours to ride either the Deuce or the SDX, but I suggest paying an extra two dollars to get a twenty-four hour pass. If you are planning to take the bus to the north outlet mall like we did, it is a safer bet to have the extra time to ride as it takes 40 minutes just to get there from the middle of the strip and another 40 minutes to get back. Having a bus ticket that gives you a full day’s use ensures you can peruse the stores at your leisure. Ashley and I spent about three hours at the Premium Outlets looking for wallets and while a number of stores had what we were looking for, the prices and quality at Fossil could not be beat. Aside from that, we didn’t leave with much else, but deals can certainly be found there.

We made it back to the strip in time for our six o’clock reservation at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill inside the MGM Grand. Each of us decided to go with a fish dish – Ashley had the Pan Seared Black Bass and I had the Grilled Scottish Salmon – both of which were cooked to perfection. Paired with wine, it was a light meal that left us satisfied.

Back at the hotel, we had a little time to kill, so we shopped the Miracle Mile for a bit and found some killer discounts at French Connection. We also received wristbands for the Britney Spears afterparty at Koi Ultra Lounge inside Planet Hollywood.

Britney Spears during "Work Bitch"

Britney Spears during “Work Bitch”

Next up was Britney Spears‘s show, Piece of Me, at the Axis theatre. I’d been waiting all through 2013 for her to announce her residency, so when I heard it was official, I had to go to Vegas to see her. I grew up listening to Britney and I’m still a big fan. I have to say, she did not disappoint. She’s still not matching the level that she was at back in 2001 with “I’m a Slave 4 U” or 2003 with “Toxic,” but we have to remember that was more than ten years ago and times change. Her show was so much fun. She seemed energetic and present and I hope that, as she continues on with her time at Planet Hollywood, she will move further into the zone (pun intended) and just own it. Still, there was tons to keep my attention – plenty of dancing spread out between her and her dancers and music to take me on a trip down memory lane. Dare I say that I would go back and see her again? Absolutely!

Pumped up after the concert, we dolled ourselves up and headed to Koi Ultra Lounge. The cover charge was $20, but drinks were free all night. Although, I’m truly not sure how many drinks you can get away with there. The bartender basically free poured and every beverage we had consisted of at least five ounces of alcohol. It made for a fun evening of dancing though, which is why we went out that night. If only married men didn’t continuously hit on us. Why do they think it’s okay? Do we want to go use your hot tub? No, we don’t. Notwithstanding some of the unwanted attention (there were a few guys that were alright), the night went by quickly and before we knew it, the lights were up and it was time to go to sleep.

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Day #3

We took it pretty easy on the third day of our vacation. After “sleeping in” (we didn’t really get much sleep since we didn’t go to bed until about four in the morning) we ventured across the street to ARIA for the lunch buffet. I’ve eaten there the last three times I have been in the city because the desserts alone are worth the cost. There is literally something for everyone. I enjoy the sushi, snow crab, curry and naan, but what brings me back time and again are the Jean Philippe Patisserie sweets that are to die for. While I completely overate, I think it was worth it.

A canoe art piece outside ARIA.

A canoe art piece outside ARIA.

A quick trip to Topshop and the Tix4Tonight booth at the Fashion Show mall helped to work off some of our meal. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck snagging any discounted tickets to the O by Cirque du Soleil show for that evening, but we checked with the desk at Bellagio and managed to purchase a couple of the few remaining tickets in the balcony.

O was quite the treat. I’ve never really had much of an interest in the circus, but many of the performers are pure athletes and how they are so flexible I’ll never know. It was certainly entertaining – my favourite part being the diving segment – but, out of all the Cirque shows that are currently playing in Vegas, it is probably the most expensive one there and one of the more mellow ones to see. The music is quite soothing throughout the show, so after the previous night we had, we found ourselves nodding off for a few seconds here and there. Still, I would recommend O to others as it had a great mix of stunts and comedy. Next time I go to Vegas I think I’ll see something a bit more upbeat like at MGM Grand, The Beatles LOVE at The Mirage or Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay.

The Bellagio fountains

The Bellagio fountains

Ducks watching the fountains at the Bellagio with us.

Ducks watching the fountains at the Bellagio with us.

Day #4

Our fourth and last day in the city, we had to be out of our hotel room by 11 AM. Because our flight wasn’t leaving for another nine hours we checked our baggage with Planet Hollywood before making our way to Luxor to redeem our free buffet lunch from myVEGAS Slots. The variety of food there was nice – the orzo salad was great and so was the health bar (weird name) cheesecake.

This was also the day that we finally had a chance to see the small, but spectacular Liberace exhibit found on the main floor of the Cosmopolitan. The American vocalist and pianist’s intricate stage outfits and grand piano that glittered from the sunlight that shone through the windows were literally works of art. Everything was extremely detailed and ornate, the perfect fit for a man who seemed to be larger than life.

A few of Liberace's stage outfits on display in the Cosmopolitan's exhibit.

A few of Liberace’s stage outfits on display in the Cosmopolitan’s exhibit.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Vegas without doing one last thing: losing some money. Ashley and I played the slots both in the Cosmopolitan and at Planet Hollywood, gambling away around $20 to $30 each while providing a bit of entertainment for an hour or two.

Next thing we knew, it was time to go back to Edmonton. Four short days was actually plenty in Sin City. I had an incredible time, but I always feel ready to head home by the end of a Vegas holiday.

So, whether you’re my age, older, single, dating, married, or with your girlfriends, kids or your mom, there are so many things to keep visitors occupied in Las Vegas. If you like warm weather, hiking (if you’re willing to venture over to Red Rock Canyon), lounging by the pool, eating, walking, shopping and watching shows, I guarantee you’ll enjoy a stop in this desert of excess!

I’m even hoping to go back in October for the Life is Beautiful Festival, a fantastic mix of music, food, art, and learning, which are all the things I love rolled into one. My friend went last year and said she had such a good time at the festival, so I would love to experience it for myself, if possible.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Three Boars Eatery

Pork belly with poached egg

Pork belly with poached egg

We might be a little late to the game, but my friend and I recently came across The Tomato Food & Drink‘s list of the top 100 best things to eat or drink in Edmonton. Naturally, the two of us decided that we would use 2014 to make our way through, at least, each and every restaurant, market or merchant mentioned. I say “at least” because some of the places are cited more than once as the list consists of not just, for example, the venue as a whole, but, rather, specific dishes or beverages.

The first establishment we chose to visit was Three Boars Eatery (@ThreeBoars). I’m not sure how long the restaurant has been around, but I only recently realized that it has been tucked along 109th Street and 84th Avenue. We dined on a chilly Thursday evening, arriving a little early for our reservation. Walking up to the door, it was unassuming. Stepping into the place, we were practically standing at the bar, which had a couple of patrons already dining. The space on the main floor is mostly taken up by the kitchen, and the seats that are available consist of stools in front of the bar and along the window that looks out to the street.

As soon as we entered, the bartender acknowledged us and the host came down to greet us. Since we had made a reservation, our table was ready despite our premature appearance. The dining room on the second floor is quite tiny – only eight tables that seat a total of 26 people in various configurations. However, it didn’t feel cramped or like we were in the midst of someone else’s conversation. Sparsely lit upstairs, it certainly set a mood – intimate, yet cool with its rustic wood and lack of extraneous decor.

Our server explained how the menu works – all plates are meant to be shared tapas-style and, for two people, she recommended ordering four to five dishes. The two of us mulled over the menu for a few minutes and opted to choose two each. I chose a caramelized onion and oka tart along with the pork belly. My friend chose a roasted carrot and beet salad plus the lamb neck croquette. We both ordered a drink as well.

A sample menu from Three Boars Eatery's website. It changes regularly.

A sample menu from Three Boars Eatery’s website. It changes regularly.

Upon ordering, we inquired if the four dishes would be enough and the server reassured us that it was. Our drinks were brought over promptly and the food made its way to our table at regular intervals shortly after.

The first plate we had was the lamb neck croquette, which was essentially shredded lamb shaped into a cylinder and breaded on the outside, so it had a crisp outer shell and warm meaty center. The two croquettes (perfect for sharing) sat atop what I believe was a vinaigrette with lentils and was garnished with some sort of slaw (I really should have paid more attention to what it said on the menu). I really enjoyed this dish. The bite to the meat with the consistency of the breading married well with the crunch of the slaw, and all of that soaked up the delicious sauce.

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Lamb neck croquette

Plate number two consisted of the roasted carrot and beet salad, which also contained pickled egg, mixed greens and smooth goat cheese. I’ve never been much of a fan of carrots, beets or pickled anything, but I’m willing to give almost everything a try and I have to say this was a fantastic salad. The beets were tender, the carrots weren’t too hard, the egg was nice and soft and they did not skimp on the goat cheese (the best part!).

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Roasted carrot and beet salad

The remaining two dishes arrived as we were just finishing our salad. We began with the tart. To be honest, I could not remember what oka was when I ordered the dish, but I’m a bit of a sucker for a good pastry crust and it just sounded tasty. I wasn’t wrong. It is a simple dish, but one that I think has wide appeal. The sweetness of the caramelized onions layered with the copious amount of warm, melted oka cheese and the slight bitterness from the arugula that topped the tart made it delectable. To finish off, the two of us split the pork belly dish. The belly is quite fatty – something I tend to forget – but it was cooked in a way so that the outside was browned and the meat had a springiness to it. To the side was, I’m guessing, steel cut oats (based off of the sample menu I pulled off their site and posted above) with a poached egg. All of that was sitting in a pool of broth. We split open the egg and the yolk ran out and mixed with the broth and oats. The result was a slightly salty meat with a side of what reminded me of a creamy custard in terms of texture and taste.

Caramelized onion and oka tart with arugula

Caramelized onion and oka tart with arugula

While we were too full to indulge in dessert, we weren’t rushed and were able to chat over what was left of our drinks. All in, the bill came out to just under $40 per person, not including tip.

Stiegl Radler

Stiegl Radler

I really enjoyed the evening and the food was memorable. In fact, with their menu changing so frequently, I would certainly consider returning to try some different items. Although that likely won’t be anytime soon, I would say that the service and the thoughtful preparation to the dishes will keep this place firmly planted in my mind for the future. And, since the cost can be a little high depending on the plates ordered, it may be a special occasion that finds me there next.

Toshl: Be a Budget Maven

We are now into the second month of 2014 and I’ve been thinking more about the things I choose to spend my money on. January is a time when we all tend to tighten the belt when it comes to our wallets. However, once we pass that point, and we’ve paid off our holiday bills, does it return to normal? Do we go back to buying our daily Starbucks coffees, purchasing the latest version of Apple’s iPhone, watching movies every weekend at the theatre?

I’m pretty good for the most part. I own my home, so I make sure to pay my mortgage and all my bills in full every month, but I also like to indulge by eating out with friends, going to concerts, and traveling. I certainly don’t think that’s a terrible thing. As the saying goes, you only live once. You’re also only young once. Why hoard all my money away for retirement? It’s still important to have some fun while I can enjoy it.

I’m responsible with my money though. If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it. But, I guess, I’m also lucky that I can pretty much do whatever I want. I don’t have a husband or kids that rely on me. As long as I am able to provide for myself, I’m in good hands.

Even so, I still think that my spending requires a bit of an overhaul. For several years now, I’ve kept track of my monthly expenses by listing it out on paper or on my phone in my Colornote app. And, while it’s great to write it down, I don’t necessarily know what specifically my money is spent on in terms of percentages. I’m aware that I’m spending and of the total, but, at the same time, I’m not aware of the details.

Recently, I came across the fantastic Toshl app and started using their website (changes made on your phone or on the computer should sync up). Although the free program is a little more limited than the pro version (you can only create one budget and enter one income every month), it still really allows you to drill down on your expenses and see where your money is going.

From what I can tell so far, you can add as many expense lines as you need to per month and each cost can be tagged – either general or really refined (i.e. meals vs. gum) – and those tags can then be grouped, so you can see a breakdown of how much you spent on the essentials, such as housing, utilities and groceries, as well as the amount used on extraneous purchases like clothes, music, or lottery tickets.

The breakdown of my January 2014 expenses. Tagged into categories and shown based on percentage of the month's total spending. Grabbed from my Toshl account.

The breakdown of my January 2014 expenses. Tagged into categories and shown based on percentage of the month’s total spending. Screenshot grabbed from my Toshl account.

I won’t tell you how much of my monthly income was used in January, but I can tell you I was shocked to see how little of it I actually managed to save for a rainy day.

So, how am I going to change that? I don’t necessarily believe that I have to cut out all the fun things I fill my time with by becoming a complete hermit. Yet, I can probably find a smarter way to fit those things in without breaking the bank.

Rather than hitting up every concert that comes to town, pick just a few where I’m dying to see that artist live. Pack my lunch or snacks to work most days and eat out less. Learn to cook some new recipes at home rather than dining at a restaurant. Set aside a chunk of change annually for travel and split up the amount however I see fit. Invite friends over for a meal, movie or games and just talk. If I want to go out, look for vouchers on sites like Groupon or LivingSocial that can provide me with discounts on lunch, dinner, entertainment, travel, etc.

I’ve read about the debt that many people find themselves in nowadays. Banks let customers take out small loans with big interest rates that they know most of their clients can’t actually pay back and many people are paying just the minimum on their credit card bills, but it doesn’t have to be that way for many of you.

Whichever way you choose to monitor or curb your spending, it is something I would highly recommend to everyone. All it takes are a few small steps at a time.

I want to be able to experience what I can at this moment and save for my future. This new year and new perspective of my personal finances will hopefully lead to that.