Absolutely Famous Styles with Kate Hudson: Looking Good for the Holidays

Kate Hudson’s Holiday Picks at Ann Taylor Offer Styles for Every Woman on Your Gift List

We can’t all look like Kate Hudson, but we can dress like her.  Ann Taylor’s latest celebrity model looks fabulous in the iconic clothier’s collection, from festive holiday dresses and sparkling bangles to luscious body hugging velvet pants and vibrantly colorful flowy oversized sweaters.

Ann Taylor has always been a great one-stop boutique when you have an office party, a promising date, or even a job interview — and you have limited time to shop.  It’s also a smart one-stop destination for the holidays.  This season Ann Taylor is offering tons of stylish looks for you and for the fashionable women on your gift list, with plenty of gift ideas for under $150 and $50, including Kate Hudson’s gift picks of a holiday cocktail dress, snowflake earrings, arm-length gloves and splashy and warm winter scarves.

My recent shopping experience at Ann Taylor affirmed why the store has had such enduring success for so many years.  The styles are classic but always updated, and the service rivals any personal shopper service I have experienced at world-class department stores.  At the Beverly Center in Beverly Hills, my sales associate Ellen Green felt like an old friend after my approximate one hour of trying on a variety of styles.

Ellen brought me options and different sizes and kept my fitting room tidy while I pulled on one outfit after the next.  Most importantly, she gave me honest and helpful feedback.  She correctly surmised after I tried on a few varieties of sweaters that those with a cinched waste or belt were most flattering.  This had taken me years to figure out.

I ended up with a versatile ensemble of a magenta wrap around sweater, classic black slacks and a suit jacket.  Ellen rightly convinced me to go with a size smaller than I had been trying on in pants for a more elegant tailored look.  Suited up, I looked ready for business; with the jacket off, I was dressed for a dinner out.  As I twirled and checked out my new attire in the dressing room mirror, I thought I caught a glimpse of Kate Hudson, but it was just me.

Rise of the Guardians – Where Else Can You Find Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc., all in One Fantasy World?

DreamWorks’s animated film Rise of the Guardians is out just in time for the pre-holidays, which evidentially begins just after Halloween now.  From the billboards around town it might seem like a Christmas movie, but the story actually takes place around Easter.  Along with Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), nicknamed “North” in the movie, the main characters include “Bunny,” (Hugh Jackman) the Easter Bunny, “Tooth,” the Tooth Fairy, just about every persona of childhood fables; and the plot centers on the lesser-known of these “Guardians,” Jack Frost (Chris Pine).

Seems everyone knows about the legendary Guardians, whose job it is to look after the children of the world, but nobody knows that Jack Frost is real.  Frustrated by his invisible existence, Jack stirs up trouble everywhere his staff touches, much like the Mayhem man of the Allstate commercials, freezing up sidewalks and streets and conjures up blizzards while trying to stave off his loneliness.

When the Boogey Man, “Pitch,” (Jude Law) cages up all the Tooth Fairy’s helpers and steals the vials of lost teeth that store every child’s childhood memories, children stop believing in the Guardians.  If Pitch succeeds, the world will go dark – a world without wonder, without which the Guardians cannot exist, and fear will rule.

Pitch’s dark force of scary black horses, or Night Mares, are truly frightening.  When the Night Mares began stampeding and screeching across the screen, pawing and snorting furiously, my five-year-old grabbed my arm and said he wanted to leave.  I explained to him that the Guardians were very powerful and they were going to protect all the children from Pitch and his Night Mares.  This was DreamWorks after all, and I had to assume this was going to be a happy ending.  So my son decided to give it a few minutes longer, and we stayed for the rest of the movie, though he still tugged on my arm every time the horses made an appearance.

Besides the ominous steeds, another element of the movie that was perhaps a bit too intense for young children – and for me – was Jack Frost’s path to becoming a Guardian (Spoiler alert!  Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens).  A la “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jack was playing on a frozen pond with his sibling, a younger sister, when the ice began to crack.  Jack saves his sister, but he plunges into the icy water, drifting to the bottom, and passing into the Guardian world.  Though I suppose the story is intended to comfort those who contemplate the question of the “why” when the life of a child is lost, it only caused me to ponder the reality of such an unfathomable tragedy.  It was the one scene in the film that actually moved me emotionally, to tears.

The overall plot was a little intricate for young children to follow, but the action and 3D effects will keep them engaged — my son actually reached out several times to try to catch snowflakes!  The characters and accents were entertaining, and the renderings of the North Pole, Tooth Fairy land, the Easter Bunny’s lair and other other-worldly places were fantastical and imaginative.  To perhaps inspire a little creativity and get the kids of the house, Rise of the Guardians will make a good diversion from the busy holidays, even if kids in Southern California have never heard of Jack Frost.

A Guide to the Best Farmer’s Markets in LA

The Los Angeles Farmer’s Market Almanac

Farmer’s Market (The Original LA Farmer’s Market)

6333 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-9211

http://www.farmersmarketla.com

Monday – Friday: 9 am to 9 pm
Saturday 9 am to 8 pm
Sunday 10 am – 7 pm

The farmer’s market that calls itself “the original” in Los Angeles is probably the least traditional of the local farmer’s markets.  What started in 1934 as a consortium of farmers gathering on a dirt lot has become a bustling labyrinth of stalls and kiosks with everything from the usual fruits and veggies to pastries, ice cream and desserts, unique jewelry and toys, Chinese food and pizza, fish tacos and a very popular Brazilian BBQ.  Being in a high-rent area near Beverly Hills, as you might expect, the prices are higher than the average parking lot market.  Speaking of parking lots, most food vendors offer two-hour parking validation. There is plenty of seating at tables, so people tend to hang out, and it can be sceney on a busy weekend night.  The market closes down pretty early though, so if you want to keep the party going you can head next door to the Grove shopping center for more upscale restaurants, shopping and movies.

Hollywood Farmers’ Market

Ivar & Selma Ave
Between Hollywood and Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 463-3171

http://www.farmernet.com

Sundays, 8 am to 1 pm.
The Hollywood Farmer’s Market has a reputation as being the granddaddy of local farmer’s markets because of its sheer size and the crowds it draws.  The market has a vast variety of offerings, from fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, baked goods and cheeses to specialty foods such as fresh shucked raw oysters, goat cheese from a vendor that brings baby goats from their farm, fresh herbs and mushrooms. You can get everything you need here to create the ultimate fresh, organic and healthy dinner to impress your guests.  Vendors often know regulars by name and are glad to tip you off to the best stuff they have.  Grab street parking if you can or parking is $2 with validation at the lot on the corner of Delongpre and Ivar.  Come early, before 10 am to avoid the crowds.

Beverly Hills Farmer’s Market

9300 Block of Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90209

http://beverlyhills.org

Sundays, 9 am to 1 pm

Less is more in the case of the Beverly Hills Farmer’s Market.    It’s a tiny market but has all the standards – basic produce, one or two meat stalls, baked goods and breads, cheeses, olive oils, juices, nuts and honey, Kettle corn, crepes, BBQ chicken, fresh flowers and your usual soaps and lotions.  Lots of it is organic.  Sometimes there are pony rides, but the small loop around the back of the street does not look that fun for anyone, horses or kids.  Mostly very friendly vendors who are eager to offer samples.  As with most markets, vendors to not accept credit cards, so bring your cash. Park two hours for free in the Beverly Hills City Hall/Library parking structure and free-on-Sunday metered street parking.

La Cienega Farmer’s Market

1801 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(562) 495-1764

http://www.lacienegafarmersmarket.com

Thursdays, 3-7 pm

This market is a small one but well-loved in the neighborhood.  It’s approximately 20 stalls are tightly packed into a corner of the parking lot of a strip mall in front of Toys ‘R’ Us and a Ross Dress for Less.  The selection of fruit and veggies is good, and there are several vendors carrying a variety of prepared foods and baked goods.  A fish vendor sells fresh tuna, Chilean sea bass and other nice fish filets, and the booth takes credit cards — though most other vendors take cash only.  Some of the more exotic offerings include Asian cabbages and greens on occasion, along with some thick and crunchy tortilla chips and zesty salsa.  What this market lacks in size it makes up for in competitive prices that compare with conventional grocers.


Santa Monica Farmers Market

2640 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 458-8712

http://www.farmersmarket.smgov.net

Sundays, 9:30 am – 1 pm

The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is a gathering place as much as it is a venue to buy food.  Live music, pony rides, crafts, and picnicking are all part of the social scene which has attracted large crowds of families, with lots of children partaking in the festivities.  Though there are quite a few traditional market vendors offering fresh produce and foods, many of the stalls serve hot and ready-to-eat food, like omelets, crepes, pancakes, corn on the cob in the husk, quesadillas, and baked treats which are perfect to take to the grassy park area along Main Street to sit and eat. Being in the PC hotbed of Santa Monica, much of the disposable products such as plates, food, napkins and flatware are recyclable and compostable. Parking in the lots around the market are usually full by 10 am, but if you don’t mind a bit of a walk the beach lot on Ocean will validate.  They also offer a complimentary bike valet.

What to Take to the Farmer’s Market

Give ‘em L-Bags

Everyone has a reusable grocery bags, but be the first at the farmer’s market to show off your reusable L-Bags.  These drawstring sacks are made of durable machine-washable mesh and adorned with hand-sewn quilt patches with screened images of carrots, peppers and other colorful fruits and veggies.  $2 for short bags and $3 for long bags. Available at l-bags.com or Amazon.

Basket All

Forget the parking hassle and bike to your local farmer’s market.  Cart home all your goods in the roomy Topeak welded wire basket. It detaches easily from the bike handlebars with a quick-release mount and can be toted by its carry handle, and it can hold up to 16 pounds.  $39.95.  Available at REI, Sport Chalet and other local dealers found at Topeak.com.

We Will, We Will Roku

When my son had a play date recently at the home of one of his BFFs, the boy’s Perfect Mom (svelte figure, always beautifully dressed, finds time for yoga, baking and a career) gave me the five-cent tour of her new Apple TV.  In seconds, Perfect Mom cued up the latest kids’ movie, “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”  I was pretty impressed.  But that was before I discovered Roku.

I plugged in my new Roku 2 XS, and followed the prompts to connect it wirelessly to my home wi-fi.  It was simple.  With my laptop on my rec room coffee table, I had my own customized suite of streaming services up and running within minutes.  Unbelievably easy.  I had Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and dozens of other channels at my fingertips.

While there is plenty of free content among the 600+ channels of movies and shows Roku offers, most premium services, like Netflix, cost about $7.99 per month for unlimited streaming.  No cut to Roku, but the Netflix selection is not everything you can get from Netflix by mail; and I learned the hard way when I tried to resume a movie several days after starting it that movies come and go from the line-up without warning.  Of course if you want the latest releases, you can get them on other services, such as Amazon Instant Video.

New release on-demand movies and shows are priced midway between the cost of renting from a video store – if you can find one – and buying the video to own.  With most of the services you get the option for one-time viewing for a limited timeframe, such as 24 hours or three days for $3.99, or you can “buy” the video for unlimited viewing for around $12.99.

The hardware for Roku 2 XS is as amazing simple as the set up.  The set-top box is palm size, even smaller than Apple TV.  The Roku 2 XS remote is a cross between a simplified TV remote and a Wi game remote, with a wrist strap for those who get sweaty palms surfing through all the programming, dancing to music on Pandora or playing Angry Birds, which is free with the Roku 2 XS. Though I still can’t get into the idea of watching movies and shows on a tiny hand-held screen, there are also free aps available for streaming on your mobile device.

Roku is general is pretty cool.  Not just the technology, but the company and its attitude.  You get a sense that Roku is run by some fun-loving folks from the tone of first email you receive as a new user, “Welcome to Roku – your new best friend.”  To their credit, Roku allows freedom of expression on their blog comments, even when the commenters are ranting disgruntled customers.  I didn’t see a lot of interaction with the commenters, but I can only hope their customer service people are all over the reported problems and issues.

As for me, I have no complaints.  In fact, when I ran into Perfect Mom the other day and began raving about my new best friend, my five-year-old chimed in, “Why do you always talk about Roku?”

Guess my enthusiasm is showing.  And this time I think Perfect Mom was impressed with me.

Roku 2 XS retails for $99.99 on Roku.com and major retailers nationwide including  Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Target.

My Model Days at Vidal Sassoon

A style from Vidal Sassoon’s Athletica Collection

Everyone has heard of Vidal Sassoon. Some of us might still remember the, “We don’t look good, if you don’t look good,” TV commercials of the 70s and 80s.” That iconic phrase forever branded Vidal Sassoon as one of the most visionary and authoritative names in hair care and styling. But though most savvy Angelenos know our city has its own Vidal Sassoon salon in Beverly Hills, few are aware of its best-kept secret – its model program.
When my nanny told me she was a model for an aspiring Vidal Sassoon stylist, it made sense. She was a slender 24-year-old blond, spray-tanned club girl who I never saw wear the same mini dress twice. Never did I imagine that I– a 40-something mom who lives in cargo shorts and spends less than four minutes a day on makeup — could also be a model.
I never had to strut down a catwalk, but I did have to agree to allow Vidal Sassoon Academy students to refine their craft on my tresses. Soon I was sitting pretty as a model at Vidal Sassoon salon in Beverly Hills, getting highlights from Amel, a colorist trainee, and Hayley, a stylist trainee.
For their services I paid a nominal fee, equivalent to the price of a trim at a walk-in chop shop or the cost of hair products. The sessions were supervised by instructors, and both Amel and Hayley were star students, so I never worried I would end up with some dreaded cut or awful color. The result in fact was my finest cut and color ever, along with the exquisite experience of the Vidal Sassoon salon itself.
Besides the cost savings, being a model gave me the opportunity to try out the salon, which I might have been too intimidated to do without my entree as a model. From the moment I walked in the high-end and modern salon, I was relieved to find the staff not stiff but exceedingly friendly and welcoming.
Hayley and Amel were both very personable and helpful. It was clear they both are passionate about their work. Amel excitedly combed through my hair with her fingers, examining my color and explaining all the different hues she would use to brighten my naturally dirty blond hair to give me a stunning set of highlights.

Expert colorist Amel of Vidal Sassoon

Hayley and I looked at pictures in the salon’s tomes of hair style magazines to get ideas for new looks. We talked about a few possible styles, and Haley gave me her honest opinion of what would look best on me based on my lifestyle, face shape, hair texture and other considerations. When I proposed that I should go for more height on top, Hayley gently persuaded me to aim for a more contemporary look, pointing out that the style I suggested was “too prom.” I appreciated her candidness.

As I am someone who likes a more carefree and sporty hair style, I leaned toward one of the pictures from Vidal Sassoon’s Athletica collection, which was inspired by the Olympics. Vidal Sassoon offers new collections twice a year which often set the trends for the entire industry.
By the time Amel and Hayley were finished with me, I felt like I had just spent the afternoon hanging out with two close friends. They brought me magazines to ready, water with lemon to drink, and they even asked if I wanted anything when a co-worker was going out to pick up lunch. Though my cost for their services as a model was minimal, I made sure to reward Amel and Hayley with generous tips, and I liked that the receptionist had little envelopes that I could place my tip into and leave discreetly at the front desk. Just another touch of the salon’s professionalism.

Stellar stylist Hayley of Vidal Sassoon

I left Vidal Sassoon feeling like one of those women in the commercials. The products had left my hair feeling smooth and silky, and the chic cut made me feel confident and fierce.
Now that Amel and Hayley have graduated to full-fledged staff of the salon, I continue to go back to them for color and cuts, and we reminisce about my “days as a model.” I feel privileged that I met them when they were coming up in the world of hair professionals, and as they continue to rise as stars at Vidal Sassoon I will be proud to say, “I knew them when…”