My favorite holiday films

December 16, 2016

One of the things I look most forward to this time of year is grabbing a mug of hot cocoa, wrapping myself up in a blanket and watching my favorite Christmas movies on the couch with family and friends. Over the years, my family has accumulated a solid collection of holiday films that are now staples in our home during the season - and sometimes even throughout the year. As a kid, my mom would record the movies that were on TV so we could have them on VHS tapes. The quality we get now with DVDs is obviously much better, but I do miss catching the 90s holiday commercials that were included in those recordings (anyone remember this Toy Story one?) It's been fun watching this collection grow with every Christmas, and I'm excited to continue adding new favorites in the years to come. Here are our go-to films to get us in the holiday spirit (not that we need any help in that department). 

P.S. Click on the movie titles for some of my favorite scenes.

There are two types of people in this world: the ones who love Will Ferrell and the ones who can't stand him. When it comes to this film, the latter doesn't exist. Will Ferrell was born to play Buddy the Elf. Also, can we talk about the fact that this movie has been out for THIRTEEN years?!

Admit it: at some point during your childhood, you fantasized about accidentally being left home alone to do as you pleased while your family wallowed in guilt for leaving you behind. No shame in Macaulay Culkin's game.  

This film, written and directed by Nancy Meyers (AKA my female film industry idol) is one of my favorites not just during the holiday season, but all year round. It's a fun, charming, feel-good story - with a great cast - that can instantly make even the gloomiest of days better. Plus, the homes and scenery in the movie are stunning.

The only romantic comedy my dad actually enjoys watching every Christmas, this film about a group of Londoners navigating love, loss, sex and careers during the holidays is full of dry British humor (the best kind) and some major tugs-at-the-heartstrings moments. As if that isn't enough, the film score is absolutely beautiful, as can be heard in the clip above

Just as Will Ferrell was born to play Buddy the Elf, Jim Carrey was born to play The Grinch. I laugh out loud every single time I watch this, and the older I get, the more I find myself relating to the Grinch ("dinner with me? I can't cancel that again.") 

It's a Wonderful Life

My parents used to play this 1940s film for me and my sister to remind us that everyone has a purpose, the most important things in life aren't things, and that life is a beautiful gift. It's an oldie but goodie with the sweetest message of all. 

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are hilarious and lovable as a happy couple ... with insane families. Caught red-handed trying to escape to Fiji for the holidays, they're forced to face all four of their divorcee parents on Christmas Day. Cue disaster.

You can never go wrong with 1990s Mara Wilson (AKA Matilda) but in this film, she is at her absolute cutest. Richard Attenborough is the perfect Santa and NYC is the perfect backdrop  in this story about believing in good ole' St. Nick.

There's a reason they play this movie for 24 hours every Christmas: it's an all-American classic. From the iconic scenes still famous to this day to the genius writing and hilarious narrating, it's a movie we never, ever go without watching on Christmas Day. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a workaholic father who keeps letting his kid down after missing important events and milestones. After promising his son that "Santa" will get him the action figure that he wants for Christmas, he sets off on a quest all over snowy Minnesota to find one ... only to realize they're sold out everywhere. Hilarity ensues once comedian Sinbad enters the story as an angry postal worker who becomes Schwarzenegger's competition.

Growing up in South Florida, I never understood people who wanted to spend their Christmas in the tropics since I always wished it would get cold and snow. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis are hilarious as a couple that tries to get away with skipping Christmas by going on a cruise, only to realize their holiday-crazed neighbors won't let them go without a fight. 

Every time I watch this, I'm even more amazed at how much the animated character Tom Hanks voices actually looks like Tom Hanks. This movie, based on the classic story, reminds us that believing is seeing.

Ah, Tim Allen's original Christmas movie debut. While spending Christmas Eve with his son, grumpy divorcee Scott accidentally startles an imposter (AKA Santa) to his death, and finds that he must take on the role of Santa himself. You break it, you buy it ... ?

Chevy Chase plays an optimistic yet short-tempered father who just wants his family to have a perfect Christmas ... which basically means that's the opposite of how it's going to go.

I love watching this movie knowing it was one of my mom's favorites when she was a kid. This 1970 film about the story of Saint Nicholas is so cute despite its now very outdated animation. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman

Two more classics straight out of the 1960s. Even though I find myself laughing at how cheesy these are, I still think this Rudolph is adorable and I still get sad every time Frosty turns into a puddle (but, as with almost every Christmas movie, there's a happy ending). 

It's the most wonderful time of the year

December 5, 2016

My sister and I embracing our inner kids, Christmas 2015

Looking back, I think there were two parts to every year of my childhood: the holidays and the time I spent anxiously waiting for the holidays to arrive. Christmas has such a special place in my heart. It encapsulates the greatest memories of my childhood - memories I still remember so vividly. As a little girl, I'd get so excited to wake up the day after Thanksgiving because I knew that was the day my mom would play our favorite holiday casette tapes and CDs while my dad brought down all of our Christmas decorations from the attic. That same day, we'd go pick out our tree (I loved the smell), decorate it from top to bottom, put lights around the outside of our house, scatter our Christmas figures throughout the inside of the house and put together our Christmas village. Getting to see those decorations come out of their boxes after 11 months of hiding, looking at our tree lit up every night before bed, visiting the most ornately-decorated houses in town, reading Christmas stories by our *fake* fireplace and spending the evenings on our couch watching holiday movies and sipping hot cocoa were some of my greatest childhood memories ... but nothing topped Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

We always spend Christmas Eve at my cousins' house; it's one of my favorite nights of the year. As kids, my cousins and I would kick the night off with a show where we'd force our family to watch us sing carols while dressed up as holiday characters (check us out below). Really, the entire night was just an opening act for "Santa" - AKA an airplane we swore was his sleigh - flying over my cousins' house. There are no words to describe the excitement we'd feel thinking we were witnessing Santa's roof-to-roof travel right above our heads. One year, there was a plane flying much lower than usual and, assuming it was him, we took advantage of the opportunity by yelling what we wanted to wake up to the next morning. My wish? I wanted him to give my late dog, Pooka, a voice so I could talk to him (the voice of young Simba from The Lion King, to be exact. I was very specific). Later that night before bed, my sister and I would set out cookies, milk and our letters for Santa along with carrots for the reindeer, which I later learned were being given to our rabbits. And then, drained from the night's festivities, we'd eventually fall asleep.

Nothing can adequately describe the thrill that coursed through my entire body when I woke up Christmas morning. It would paralyze me at first, but soon enough I'd jolt up out of bed, creep out of my parent's room (it was a tradition for me and my sister to sleep there on Christmas Eve) and slowly turn the corner that led to the living room, knowing that the highlight of the entire season was just one glance away. And suddenly, I saw it: a floor completely covered in gifts, alongside half eaten cookies and carrots and a response to my letter from Santa himself (kudos, dad's left hand). After doing what I'm sure was an incredibly dorky happy-dance, I'd dash back into the room, jumping on the bed to wake my parents and sister up so we could open our gifts and put on the Disney parade. That entire morning - the smells, the sounds and feeling of ripping open wrapping paper - was the definition of Heaven on Earth. 

To this day, Christmastime is still my favorite time of year, and I think that's mainly because it re-connects me to the little girl I once was … a little girl who not only believed in a sweet, chubby white-haired man in a red suit delivering presents down our non-existent chimney, but also in a pure and perfect world. Growing up is tough, and each year, the holidays seem to remind me more and more of this weird, difficult and confusing time of life that I'm in (my childhood self would cringe at the fact that I asked for a veggie spiralizer this Christmas) but they're also a reminder to love harder, dream bigger and believe in better. That's how I plan to send the year off, and I think that's how childhood Stephanie would have wanted it.

Oh, and spoiler alert: my dog never got Simba's voice. 

Me before braces and Gabbi before emotion, circa 1996

My cousins and I, forcing our family to hear us sing since the 90s 

Our tree this year, daytime (my mom really loves Disney)

Our tree and village - minus the train - at night 

Last-minute Halloween costumes

October 31, 2016

"You severely underestimate my apathy"

It's October 31st, and you're suddenly freaking out that you don't have a Halloween costume. There are probably two reasons why: 1. You originally dismissed the idea of dressing up entirely, but now, the cute pictures from the weekend have flooded your social media feeds and you want to dress up 
in a final attempt to avoid full-on FOMO. 2. You kept postponing your shopping trip, reassuring yourself that the stores would still have costumes and accessories available the day of and - surprise - they don't.

We've all been there, and although these situations start off stressful and disappointing, they often trigger something creative in our brains that helps us come up with fun and free costume ideas. Last year, I found myself in situation #2, and just when I started to give up hope, I sifted through my closet and ended up putting together one of my favorite Halloween costumes to date (Wednesday Addams, below). My sister and best friend (both pictured below) also found themselves in similar situations last year, and even so, they were able to throw together some cute and bad-ass outfits. That being said, don't cancel your plans for tonight, because I guarantee you'll be able to pull off one of our previous last-minute costume looks based on items either you or your friends already own:

Wednesday Addams

"You severely underestimate my apathy"
What you need:
Black long sleeve button-down + white long sleeve button-down (I wore two of my "work shirts")
Other option: Black dress with white Peter Pan collar
Black skirt
Black tights
Black heels 

Add some extra light powder or white eye shadow to your face, make subtle dark circles with eye shadow around your eyes and wear the darkest lip shade you can find (I got as close to black as I could without actually wearing black lipstick).

Two braids

"I Hate Mornings"/Sleepwalker
My best friend, Jess, threw this together just hours before a party. 
(P.S. Check out our film and music blog,

What you need:
Pajama shirt
Eye mask 
Coffee mug (optional)
Long socks (optional)

Minimal face makeup and smudged eyeliner 

Down or up (either way, the messier, the better)

Modern Day Vampire (or, as my sister calls it, the Katerina Petrova)

What you need:
Top in a dark shade that isn't black 
Black shorts
Black fishnet stockings
Black combat boots
Black leather jacket 
Darker around the eyes and add some "veins" under your eyes with a grey or black eye pencil. Choose a dark, deep red for a lip color and add some fake blood around your mouth.


Three and a half days in London

October 14, 2016

I'd wanted to go to London since I first watched the film The Parent Trap as a little girl. One of my favorite scenes is when Hallie Parker (disguised as Annie James; both played by Lindsay Lohan) stares out the open window of her cab while en route to her mom's flat in London. She admires all the iconic sites - Big Ben and Tower Bridge, to name a couple - as "There She Goes" plays in the background. Some might find that cheesy, but it's still one of my favorite movie scenes to this very day and instilled in me a desire to visit this beautiful and historic city. That desire was fulfilled three months ago when my family and I boarded a plane from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to London, England.

I've always had a soft spot for the English. I love their films and actors, bands and musicians, history, dry humor, and, yes - their accents. And even though I knew England is home to some incredible architecture, I had no idea just how blown away I'd be by it all. The palaces and towers were even more fairy tale-like than I had imagined, and Big Ben and Tower Bridge were so stunning, it was hard not to cry tears of appreciation while in their presence.

We definitely took a historical approach to this visit (it isn't considered touristy if there's raw, educational history involved, right?) but we did our best to make time for some more local experiences, too (a walk through the Borough Market, a stroll through/dinner in Notting Hill and stops at different parks and bars included). We literally did. not. stop. ... and even so, three and a half days wasn't nearly enough time.

I could go on and on about this city, but my words wouldn't be able to do it justice. While these photos won't either, they deliver a better visual of just how beautiful London is. I'm already saving up for another visit.

The very first picture I took in London, already in awe of the architecture
Richard Madden and Lily James were performing in Romeo and Juliet our first night here
Touristy, yes, but it had to be done

Our first restaurant stop in London: Palm Court Brasserie
Our first of many London meals (also where I fell asleep at the table. The jet lag was real).

After a very necessary two hour nap, I finally felt human again. Loved the weather this first night in the city.
Kicked off our first full day at Hampton Court Palace (we're big fans of the Showtime series "The Tudors," so this and Tower of London were must-sees).

The art here left me speechless
Kings from the 1500s stood in this room. The 1500s.

We stopped for drinks afterward at The Mute Swan, a pub down the street from the palace. My dad took this photo of us with Will, our bartender, who seemed to be crushing hard on my sister.

Just a casual walk on our way back to the hotel. Nothing special about this place

The iconic Abbey Road Studios
Day 3: A visit to the eerie Tower of London, where many were imprisoned and tortured, and famous historical figures like Anne Boleyn were beheaded. Here we are with one of the "beefeaters," the ceremonial guardians of the tower.
Two versions of London: I love that the backdrop to this historic site is an ultra-modern skyscraper

The exact spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded (we were more excited to see this than anyone should be)
One of the many ravens that call Tower of London home. A superstition holds that, if the ravens leave the tower, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.

Tower Bridge (often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge) is even more beautiful in person
A spot in the financial district on our walk to Borough Market
My pick from the Borough market: scotch eggs from Scotchtails.
In love with this shot that my dad got of the city from our pod on the London Eye

Couldn't get enough of this view
More beautiful scenery on our walk back to the hotel
Day 4: We got out the door early to grab Costa Coffee and head on over to Buckingham Palace, where we saw the changing of the guard, the Queen's wardrobe designs and the staterooms. Totally worth a visit. 

Tea and scones on one of the palace's many terraces
Gorgeous walk through St. James Park
We paid a visit to the Churchill War Rooms that sheltered Churchill and members of the British government while they directed the course of World War II

One of the many relatively-untouched rooms
A walk through the city before grabbing the tube to Notting Hill

We fell in love with these flats in Notting Hill on our walk to The Shed, a delicious farm-to-table restaurant
Our hotel, The Premier Inn London (right) in the heart of Leicester Square. 


Day 1 (7/24)
  • Lunch at The Palm Court Brasserie - great tuna, salmon and risotto with asparagus & peas
  • Walk through Covent Garden, Picadilly Circus, Chinatown
  • Night walk to Westminster to see Big Ben and London Eye 
  • Dinner at Garfunkel's
Day 2 (7/25)
  •  Breakfast at our hotel (we ate breakfast there every day, and it was surprisingly delicious every time)
  • Hampton Court Palace
  • The Mute Swan pub
  • Dinner at Giraffe on the Thames
Day 3 (7/26)
  • Tower of London
  • Walk over Tower Bridge to Borough Market (view of HMS Belfast along the way)
  • London Eye  
  • Topolski bar near Southbank
  • Hall & Woodhouse Brewery & Pub
  • St. Stephen Tavern in Westminster, across from Big Ben and Parliament Square
Day 4 (7/27)
  • Buckingham Palace
  • St. James Park
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Drink at Peyton in St. James Park 
  • Dinner at The Shed restaurant on Palace Garden Terrace in Notting Hill