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    Welcome to vmac+cheese. Here I'll share with you my love for all things food, interiors, design and style. I like to think of it as musings on a life worth living.
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Introducing…

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Illustrations + Giveaway from Emma Kisstina!

When I first laid eyes on the EmmaKisstina Etsy shop, I fell instantly in love. The illustrations are whimsical, bold, and unabashedly girly. Nothing wrong with that, right?

I first learned about Swedish illustrator Kristina Hultkrantz through The Neo-Traditionalist, and was thrilled to discover that she could create a custom illustration for me, and for a ridiculously affordable price to boot. Kristina is a wonderful illustrator, whose work has been featured in Matchbook, Adore and Cosmopolitan Sweden. You might remember that I’ve been on the hunt for a small piece of artwork for my office gallery wall, and I thought a custom illustration of my signature perfume would be a perfect fit. In no time at all, Kristina whipped up the most beautiful illustration of Chanel Gardénia for me:

I’m always fascinated and inspired by women like Kristina, who are talented and ambitious and who just go for it. So you can imagine my delight when Kristina agreed to not only a profile here on vmac+cheese, but also a fabulous giveaway of one of her illustrations! Take it away, Kristina (and be sure to read on for details on how you can win the illustration of your choice!)

Name: Emma Kristina… but call me Kristina

Hometown: Portland, Maine

Current town: Stockholm, Sweden

Where to find: Website, Blog, Etsy, Tumblr, Flickr

Describe your personal style in 5 adjectives:

Colorful, Classic, Sexy, Simple and Girly

How did you end up in Stockholm?

A long story. But short version, my parents are Swedish therefore every few years we would visit relatives in Sweden. I have always been in love with Sweden, the history, the landscape, architecture, people, fashion, food, everything! So after finishing college I needed a change from all the partying and sunbathing, and moved to chilly Stockholm where I only knew a handful of relatives and only had a pretty good grasp of the language.

My plan was just to try it out for a year, but now I have been here for 3 and have no plans of moving back to the States. I’ve met my soulmate Johan and a sweet group of girlfriends, we have a quirky little apartment, I speak write and understand Swedish fluently and I have finally managed to live my dream job, freelance illustration. Moving to Sweden has really been the best decision of my life.

Are you a full time illustrator? How do you make freelancing work for you?

I have been working as a full time illustrator since this past summer. I still have no idea how this is possible, I swear I’ve just had good luck.

What are your favorite things to draw and why?

I love drawing objects much more than drawing people. Sometimes the objects we have around us tell us more about ourselves than a self portrait. Plus I don’t have to worry about photorealism.

What’s your proudest business-related accomplishment to date?

Quitting my day job. Well rather the catering company I worked for went out of business so I was forced to come up with a new plan. I was determined not to work in the restaurant business all my life so this gave me the opportunity to really focus on working on my illustrations and build my little company. Once I was out of work I really sat down and emailed as many agencies, magazines, and blogs I could think of, while building up my portfolio and creating new works for my Etsy shop. The time I invested in my illustrations paid off, after just a few months I was able to live off my work and not just my savings.

What’s the best thing about your line of work? The most challenging?

The best part of being an illustrator is that I can work from home and make my own schedule and I am my own boss. Plus I draw pictures for a living, how great is that! It is challenging to structure myself and my work day though. The worst part is that it can get a little lonely and quiet at home, and sometimes I am not the greatest boss. There is no one to tell me that I’d rather be working on that project due in a few days rather than baking blueberry muffins or sleeping in late. But I think it is important to take days off and have a lot of free time. I don’t allow myself to feel guilty if I don’t work 24/7 even though I run my own business.

What keeps you inspired? How do you stay creative?

Other artists and blogs keep me in constant supply of inspiration. I make sure to allot several hours to blog reading and flickr browsing each day. And when pretty pictures don’t help and I’m still uninspired I take the day off.

So inspiring! Kristina makes it seem easy, but I definitely appreciate the immense amount of hard work that has gone in to making her business successful, don’t you?

To top it all off, Kristina is very generously offering one lucky vmac+cheese reader the small or medium print of their choice from her Etsy shop! Here’s what you need to do to win:

EMMA KISSTINA GIVEAWAY

1. Head on over to her Etsy shop, Emma Kisstina.

2. Come back to this post and leave a comment below letting us know which is your fave illustration. One entry per reader.

3. All entries must be received by Monday, April 4, by 5pm Pacific time.

4. A randomly drawn winner will be announced Tuesday, April 5!!

Bonne chance, and a HUGE thank you to Kristina!

Style to Inspire: Jessica Pakzad Bennett

Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to the brilliant Jessica Bennett of Jessica Bennett Interiors. A fellow USC graduate, I recently discovered Jessica had started her own design firm, and the minute I saw some shots of her portfolio, I knew I simply had to feature her work here on the site (case in point: though Jessica Bennett Interiors was only recently founded, Jessica’s work has already been featured on a Design*Sponge Before + After)!

Talented, driven, and smart, Jessica is a great inspiration to young women venturing into any type of creative business. Take it away, Jessica…

Hometown: Newport Beach, California

Current City: Newport Beach, California (It is heaven on Earth and you can’t get me to move!)

Where to find online: Website, Facebook

Describe your personal style

Tailored, elegant, sophisticated, comfortable

How did you become interested in interior design?

I’ve grown up in this business with two designer-builder parents. As an only child, I followed my parents wherever they went: to their office, on buying trips, and on all their jobsites. I don’t know if it was osmosis or just good ol’ fashioned genetics but I definitely got the design bug from them.

What motivated you to start your own business?

I’ve always had a passion and a knack for business. Whether it was starting umpteen small businesses as a kid, or actually playing “pretend” business for hours, I just loved every part of it. I fostered that passion by going to USC’s business school and studying at the Lloyd Grief Center for Entrepreneurial Studies where my interior design business plan finished in the Top 20 Business Plans and I won the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.

After school, I ran the Operations and Accounting divisions of my family business for four years. It was after that that I felt confident that I could actually do it for myself, start my own business from the ground up, and put my own neck on the line. I was working so hard at my family business, that I knew I wanted to invest that time, energy, and love into something that I had complete control and direction over. It’s scary but amazing all at the same time!

What is the best thing about your line of work? The most challenging?

The best part is when you have those days when you are completely absorbed in the design process. The days when your only focus is installing your client’s new living room, accessorizing it, changing it around until it’s perfect and you can present it proudly to its new owners.

The most challenging part is managing and balancing all of the aspects that go into delivering that finished project: the client’s expectations, my perfectionism, the all-important budget, the inevitable product delays and backorders, and the vision I have in my head.

What advice would you give to young women interested in starting a business or seeking out opportunities in the design world (or both)?

Do it! But do it intelligently. Go out and learn from the best first. Start at the bottom of the business you are interested in and work your way up. Observe the owners or head haunchos at the company. What can you learn from them? What would you do differently?

And always remember that as much as we glamorize being the “boss,” it comes with many complications and responsibilities that you are unaware of until you do it yourself. It is hard work, but ultimately very rewarding.

What keeps you inspired? How do you stay creative?

As simple as it sounds, I love walking through stores like IKEA, Pottery Barn, and Restoration Hardware for inspiration. It’s not so much to be inspired by a specific design idea but just to be inspired by how intelligently they sell their products, how clever they are in their design and presentation, and how smoothly their operations run.

I also of course subscribe to all of the major design magazines so I get a healthy dose of inspiration from seeing others at their best and what’s going on in the industry. The most inspiring place for me to be is seeing a new client’s space for the first time, measuring it, taking photos, getting to know my clients’ likes and dislikes, and then going back to the office, closing my eyes, and seeing what appears! I only hope that vision never goes away!

Color?

Black, white, red

Designer?

Fashion: Valentino (I’ve promised myself that one day I will be able to afford to wear Valentino everyday!).

Valentino Fall RTW 2010

Valentino's recent SS 2011 show

Interior Designer: Hard one!!! I adore Barbara Barry and Nancy Corzine…they are probably the most powerful women in my industry. Not only do I love and admire their taste and design, but also their business saavy and work ethic.

"A Barbara Barry Renovation," originally featured in Metropolitan Home

A selection of works and furniture designed by Nancy Corzine

Restaurant?

Does pizza delivery count? ‘Cause that really is my favorite….

Place to travel?

Give me a white sandy beach, clear blue water, a piña colada and I’m set….I don’t care which time zone, continent or hemisphere!

What are the five musts in your purse/handbag everyday and why?

iPhone – So I can always be reached and reach others, whether it’s by phone, text, email, or Facebook

Keys with Valentino leopard mini-wallet keychain — (My first and only Valentino item! It was a gift.) I love how I can just grab my keys and my ID and basic credit cards come with it! Makes it so easy to just run into the store to pick up something fast without lugging in my luggage-sized purse

Day Planner – So I never have to say, “Oh let me check my calendar when I’m back at the office.” I want to have control over my schedule at all times! Yes, I have an iPhone, but I won’t let go of my old fashioned Kate Spade day planner. It’s just a new version of the same one I’ve been using since high school! My friends won’t let me live it down….

Makeup Bag – I HATE being caught off guard and my makeup bag has EVERYTHING in it….flossers, nail file, QTips, Band-aids, the works.

Sunglasses (in their case!) – My eyes start tearing up if I’m outside without my beloved sunglasses…and I always keep them in their case to protect them from scratching and warping in my huge purse.

{Image Credits (top of post to bottom)}

{Jessica Bennett Interiors logo, portrait and portfolio all courtesy of Jessica Bennett; Valentino Fall 2010 RTW, Elle.com; Valentino SS 2011, New York Magazine; “A Barbara Barry Renovation,” ElleDecor.com; Nancy Corzine portfolio, Things That Inspire; Pizza, Slice; Beach images, clockwise from top left: National Geographic, Jose Villa, National Geographic, Pretty Stuff}

She works hard for the money

Okay, confessions time.

I’m bad at saving money. Really, really bad.

Wait, let me amend that. I’m not so bad that I’m in severe debt or anything like that. I pay off my credit card bill each month. I even have an IRA and a 401k.

I’m just terrible at putting money aside for that rainy day fund. You know the one. The one that helps you out when you are coveting a new pair of boots for fall. The one that helps you pay for a last minute weekend getaway to Cabo. The one that allows you to spend a few extra days in Paris to make your annual vacation magical. Or, most importantly, the one that is there for you if you get sick or get laid off.

Yeah, that one. I’m horrible at that one.

{Image via Patterson Maker & Gadabout. prettystuff.tumblr.com}

I suspect that a lot of women my age are in this same boat. We’re not necessarily irresponsible with money. But, we go out with our friends. Have cocktails. Buy crap at Sephora. Get our hair did. Find five shirts on sale at J.Crew and can’t say no. And then, after all that, we pay rent. We’re well meaning, and are conscious of the fact that it’s important to save. We keep thinking “Next year. Next year I’m going to put away $X-thousand dollars. And it’ll be great.”

And then we don’t.

It’s a vicious cycle, and this month I decided to make a change. So did a friend of mine.

We were eating lunch, chatting, and she mentioned this exact topic. It was such a relief to hear that someone my age felt similarly about not remembering to save. Tough as it is to look in the mirror and realize I haven’t made saving money a huge priority, it made me feel a little better to know I wasn’t alone.

“Okay, that’s it,” I told her, “We’re ending this now. When we get to a computer, we’re going to immediately create automatic withdrawals into our savings account. And, let’s plan on giving each other $20 a week. We can each make a piggy bank, and put each other’s money in it. You can’t go to the other person and ask for your money unless you really, really need it, or reach a savings goal.”

I’m pretty excited about this new plan. At first, it was off-putting to think about $20 a week plus an additional couple-hundred into savings every month, on top of all the other expenses. But when I costed it out, I realized $20 is SO easy to put aside. Don’t eat lunch out for two days; bring it instead. Boom. There’s your $20.

The more I thought about all this, the more I wanted to kick myself for how simple it really is. And it also got me noodling on some tips that I think will help me, which I wanted to pass on. Of course, take these with a grain of salt. Like I said, I’m not the world’s authority on saving money. But everyone has to start somewhere. Right?

Set yourself up for success

Use your bank’s automatic withdrawal services to deduct money from your paycheck bi-monthly. Of course, the tough part is limiting your access to your savings account, otherwise those of us without willpower (raising hand) can just move the money back over into checking. The solution?

Find products that meet your needs

I have a savings account with ING, and since there are no access points other than an online interface (i.e., no debit card, ATM or teller access), and since it takes a few days to transfer money from my ING into my checking, that helps me avoid temptation. To use the money in this account, I have to plan ahead. Also, ING tends to have a pretty good interest rate.

Stash in multiple places

I once heard some story about a woman in Israel who had put money under mattress for years and years. It didn’t earn any interest, obviously, but over the course of her life she accrued over a million dollars in savings. I’m sure she had no idea she had that much under there! By putting money in a few different places — a CD, a savings account, and even a jar — you’ll probalby be surprised at how much it all adds up when you really do need it.

Get a saving buddy

Find a good friend you trust to help keep you accountable. If you’re saving money with a friend, they’re going to notice when you roll into brunch with a new handbag.

Learn to budget

My biggest downfall is that I didn’t learn how to do this early enough. But, I’m catching up with services like Mint.com. Mint is a free service that helps you visually see where your money is going. There are also a ton of software programs out there that can help you do the same thing. However, they can cost a lot of money — which I always found pretty ironic.

Set your goals

Part of my problem in saving is that I never had a clear picture of what I was saving for. This past year, when I was planning a big trip to France, I realized the value of setting a savings goal. I knew I needed X amount by a certain date. Even if you’re not saving for anything special, setting a goal like “I want to have ten thousand in a liquid savings account by this date, just in case I need to leave my job, or have a medical issue” can be a motivator.

Don’t “binge” save

You recognize you need to save. You do great for a month — limiting how much you eat out, not shopping, stashing some money away into your savings. After a month of being good, you splurge and have a few weeks where you overdo it. Your monthly credit card statement shows up, and you panic. And then you’re back to square one, feeling bad about yourself. Trying to save like this is no better than binge dieting. Live a little! I’ve realized that I’ll be more successful at saving money if I don’t beat myself up for not putting away a million dollars by next year. Building a nest egg takes time. I have to be okay with that. Save early, safe often, not in unrealistic spurts.

I’m definitely still learning tricks and setting boundaries for myself. What are some of your tips for saving money? I’ve love to hear them!


Oh hi, 2009.

The funny thing about a new year is as much as it symbolizes grand change, the turning of leaves, the wiping away of all things bad from the past year, life baggage is life baggage.  As much as you’d like to hurl it off a bus somewhere on a dark highway in Nicaragua, you’re stuck with it.

So, here’s the thing.

Continue reading

Job vs. Calling

Yesterday, Joe emailed me this article by Michael Lewis, a well known non-fiction writer (he wrote the famed Liar’s Poker).  This was in the wake of us having a heart to heart about careers and jobs the evening before.

Though Joe and I are very similar in how we view many things, career isn’t necessarily one of them.  I’m glad he saw Mr. Lewis’s article at work yesterday, so he could kinda see where I’m coming from.  For all you mid-20 somethings out there totally at a loss over where your life is headed, this is a good (short) read : Continue reading

Cellar Rat: Day “We made it through September!”

That’s right, folks.  Harvest — though it completely caught us all with our pants down, scampering for the bushes — is around half over.  With hundreds of tons of grapes already processed in the first weeks of September (and most of that tonnage already turned into wine), picking has been ramping back up again and the winery is getting slammed with fruit deliveries.  When I left work on Wednesday, around 10 tons (that’s 20 barrels, or 6000 bottles) of Cabernet had already been delivered.  As I understood it, a few more truckloads would arrive before nights end.

If that sounds like a lot to process in a day or two, consider that the first week and a half of September — you know, when the pants were around the ankles — we received 225 tons worth of grapes.  THAT’S A LOT OF GRAPE JUICE.  And have I mentioned we make 900 DIFFERENT wines?  And that those 225 tons were about a THIRD of the total tonnage we’ll receive?

Anyway, with harvest back in full swing again, CrushCamps are back too, and I’ve found great joy in teaching other people about winemaking.  Folks show up so bright eyed and bushy tailed, truly interested in what we do and more than willing to ask lots of questions, and that’s awesome.  I love hearing people say that they had a great time and learned a whole lot, and better yet, that they can’t wait to come back and get more involved with wine.

For me, too, the learning curve there has just been exponential, and as I come home and report my days to Joe, I can’t even believe how much knowledge I’ve had to stuff into my brain over the course of a month.  If you ever need someone to explain cap management to you, I’m your gal. Continue reading

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