How to make $12 in Trader Joe's flowers look like a $50 arrangement

Knowing how to arrange flowers kind of sounds like a b.s. skill, like something they'd teach you in trophy-wife school. That said, after years of awkwardly throwing grocery-store bouquets into whatever vase I had lying around and then watching them die a quick death before my very eyes, last fall I took a flower-arranging class at Workshop SF and it was, to put it mildly, a life-altering experience. Since then, not only do I treat myself to flowers, I do it with $12–$16 in Trader Joe's stems (that's the cost of one cocktail at a fancy bar, people!) and make them last up to two weeks. Here's how.

Step 1: pick your flowers
I love Trader Joe's because their flowers are incredibly reasonable, but feel free to go to your local grocery store or flower market. You want to vary the size and texture of what you choose, and aim for a unifying color scheme. Here, I picked full gerber daisies in a bright pink, smaller lilies in light pink and white, and a green wispy spray to add in a little texture. Bonus tip: if you're clueless about colors, go with all white—it always looks classy.

Step 2: strip your stems
This is the MOST IMPORTANT step if you want your flowers to last longer than a couple days. It's annoying, but it's worth it in the long run. You want to strip all of the tiny leaves from the stems, up to the neck of the blooms—really, you just want the leaves to peek out of the top of the vase. Don't worry about taking off too many leaves. Trust me, you DO NOT want leaves in the water; this is what makes the stems rot and your flowers die. This was seriously the most important thing I learned in my class!




Step 3: put it all together
Start with your biggest blooms. Then add in the next-biggest around the edges. You want to vary the height and placement, so it's not totally symmetrical. You can kind of wrap and twist the smaller flowers around the bigger ones to achieve this. Finally, layer in the smallest blooms. If you have something leafy, that's great for propping up the larger flowers. Just play around with it and have fun!

Step 4: trim your stems
Take the vase you're going to use, fill it up with water (about 3/4 of the way), and put it toward the edge of your countertop or table. Then, with the flowers in your hand, hold them next to the vase with the bottom edge of the blossoms lining up with the opening (again, your stems should have NO LEAVES on the stalks). Eyeball how much stem is sticking out under the base of the vase—this is how much you should trim—and note it will probably be different for each. Cut at a slight angle, and remember you can always trim more if your stems are still too tall.

Step 5: arrange your flowers
All you have to do is drop them in the vase and you're done! Just kidding. Your vase probably has a slightly wider opening than your hand, so you might have to do a little re-arranging once you get them in there. But really, you're pretty much done. Just change the water every few days and trim the stems if they're getting kind of gluey. Look at you, Ms. Florist!


What to wear in downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a city that I can't quite figure out how I feel about. In my mind, it's incredibly glamorous, with movie stars and palm trees and gorgeous views. In reality, it's strip malls, being stuck on the freeway, and maybe that's the actress from Days of Our Lives? And yet, I keep going back, most recently because my boyfriend is a native and has friends and family there (the vast majority of whom are not in "the industry"). Of course, one of the benefits of traveling with an Angeleno is that they know how to avoid all of the crappy parts and take advantages of the good ones, the wisest of which being you should pick a side of the city (west side, east side, etc.) and just stay there. So this time we chose downtown, and I'm really happy we did, because I feel like my eyes were opened to an entirely new city altogether.

DTLA has been a thing for several years now—remember Audrina looking at lofts on The Hills?—but what struck me most is how much rehabilitation is happening in the area. We saw so many old buildings being turned into apartments, restaurants, and hotels, which makes me so happy, because L.A. has a history of not exactly preserving its historic architecture. It all feels very urban and strangely not very L.A.-ish...except the weather is sunny and 75 degrees and perfect.

All weekend long, I kept thinking I needed a jacket (San Francisco is ingrained in me!), but even at night, I was comfy in this T-shirt. L.A. has an edginess to it (and a desire to expose some skin), so this was a good choice—and a nod to its designer, Anine Bing, who's based here.

Speaking of exposing some skin, this skirt looks conservative but shows quite a bit of leg as you walk. It's best not to wear in windy weather, or at an event where you're going to be doing a lot of walking, but it's rather flattering, and red is pretty much the must-have color for fall.

I've had this Jerome Dreyfuss bag for ages, and it's one of my favorites, as it works for day or night, and you can also clip the straps at the side so it doesn't hang so low. It's kind of like an edgier Chanel 2.55 bag.

If we were on the west side of L.A., where valet parking rules, these sandals would be laughably practical. But since we actually did quite a bit of walking, they were just right. Nobody walks in L.A.? Not anymore...

OUTFIT DETAILS: Zara blazer || Anine Bing tee || Topshop maxi skirt || Jerome Dreyfuss Bobi bag || Zara fringe sandals (similar here) || Stella & Dot hammered wire hoops

Can I still shop at Zara?

I can't tell you when I started shopping at Zara, but I can tell you I've been shopping there every season since. I pretty much have it down to a science: first, at the beginning of the season, I pick up a few key pieces that I think will be big trends. Then at the end of the season, I shop the sale, but I go for crazy boundary-pushing items and/or things I wasn't willing to pay full price for at the beginning of the season (which is generally a bad rule, but it's what I do, so there). This being mid-September and the beginning of fall, it was clearly time for a Zara run, so I set out seeking a few specific items that I pre-shopped on the website. This is generally a bad idea also, but I find Zara a bit overwhelming and like to know what I'm in for. Which for fall means lots of grunge revival and Gucci knockoffs. I tried by best to steer clear of the plaid and embroidered mesh; here's what caught my eye.

This checked midi dress looked cute on the hanger; not so much on me. It was pretty snug through the bust, then the pleats started a bit too high and the rest of it looked like a Little House on the Prairie nightgown. This was from Zara's younger TRF line, so I should have known better, but alas.

This black and white dress, also from the TRF line, looked super cute on the hanger and in spite of not having a zipper, had a pretty flattering fit. It also had long sleeves, which are actually practical in cooler weather. I would have bought it, except that it was about 2–3 inches too short. Again, another reason why I need to stay away from TRF.

One of the items I was specifically looking for was a pair of side-stripe pants, à la track pants, a big trend for fall. I thought these chino side stripe trousers were the pair I saw online, but alas, they were not. I always have a hard time with cropped, tapered pants for some reason, and in spite of being my Zara-standard medium, they were oddly big and baggy. (They also did not photograph well, sorry.)

Much better was this pair of side stripe trousers which I thought I wasn't going to like but was pleasantly surprised by. The fabric was more like a fluid trouser material with a nice drape, but there were definitely sporty elements like zip pockets. They also had elastic in the back of the waistband, so they'll be comfy for the plane or a big meal. Winner winner chicken dinner indeed.

I've been looking for a big fuzzy sweater for a long time, and after trying on this mohair sweater, I realized why: big fuzzy sweaters are not flattering, and if they have mohair like this one, they're incredibly itchy. I should also note that I'm wearing a medium and absolutely swimming in it, but then again, so is the model. (Her face is saying, "I know this looks ridiculous but I'm getting paid $5,000 a day, so I'm ok with that.")

Speaking of ridiculous, take a look at this pearly hooded sweater. Pearls are also a big trend for fall, which is probably why I thought I'd give this a whirl (there are lots of pearl-encrusted things at Zara right now); my phone is covering my mouth because I couldn't keep a straight face with this thing on. It felt like something an early-'90s female rapper would wear. It was also incredibly huge and cropped at the same time (again, I'm in a medium). Even the model looks like she doesn't know how to feel about it.

Of the four things I was specifically looking for at Zara, only the buttoned checked blazer was in stock in my size. It was exactly what I was looking for—glen plaid is huge this season, and it's really similar to one from Tibi that happens to be, oh, $800 or so. It's a bit oversized—I'm in a medium and probably could have sized down to a small—but I think that's intentional, so I went for it.

Which leads me to the question, can I still shop at Zara? 

Oof. Only two out of seven items came home with me, with the rest ranging from ill-fitting to downright comical. Not great odds, but I am quite happy with what I did buy. My conclusion is yes, as long as you avoid the TRF section and shop with a good sense of humor. 

What to wear on Sunday morning

As much as I love getting dressed up, I fully embrace dressing down. Of course, San Francisco is a very casual town, so dressed-down to me is like normal for a lot of people. Still, it's kind of a fun challenge to see if you can make something incredibly low-key look interesting. So in the interest of blending in with the natives, I threw on a sweatshirt, jeans, and Birkenstocks (yes, Birkenstocks) for a Sunday-morning walk through the Presidio, the gorgeous national park that's a mere seven blocks from my apartment.

This sweatshirt was a Nordstrom Anniversary Sale find (and it's still on sale) and, more importantly, it's by Sincerely Jules, a blogger I've followed for ages and still one of my favorites to this day. (Not only does she have her own clothing line, but while nearly every fashion blogger was out hustling at New York Fashion Week, she was relaxing at at the Four Seasons Bora Bora, and that's why she's winning at life.) This sweatshirt runs a bit small (I'm in a medium), but it's really nice quality, and I love the lacing detail on the side.

These jeans are the straight skinny fit in Re/Done Levi's, which you've probably seen on Kendall Jenner and every other model and/or social media superstar; I finally caved and bought a pair after having tried on approximately 800 vintage Levi's, all of which looked like actual mom jeans on me, i.e. FUPA and peg legs, not a good look. Re/Done jeans are true vintage but re-tailored for a more precise fit, and I think they're worth every penny (ok, yes, we're talking a lot of pennies). Lucky for you, dear Cheryl Shops readers, you can take 20% off your purchase, which should lessen the pinch.

A big but not-too-big bucket bag is great for being out and about. I've had this Mansur Gavriel one for a little over three years, and I still love it—I don't like a lot of bells and whistles on my bags. The leather on this one has developed a nice patina, and I like that it's a little roughed up. One thing to note: I have a freakishly short torso, so I had more holes added to the strap so I could shorten it. I'd recommend doing the same if your shoulder bag is giving you lower-back pain. (Ahh, aging!)

Of course, I can't not accessorize, so I doubled down on millennial pink with these fun tassel earrings...ok, tripled down with my pink sunglasses too (if you haven't guessed by now, they're a favorite pair). Can you wear millennial pink when you're a Generation X-er? I don't see why not...

OUTFIT DETAILS: Sincerely Jules side-laced sweatshirt || Re/Done straight skinny jeans || Mansur Gavriel bucket bag || Birkenstock Gizeh sandals || Stella & Dot Riva tassel earrings || Quay Australia After Hours sunglasses

Why the Zoe Report Box of Style is the only subscription box you need

Remember a few years ago when subscription boxes were the next big thing? For many companies, they're still going strong, and I have definitely fallen prey to quite a few over the years. There would maybe be one product in each box that I'd use, and I'd end up giving the rest of the items away, and there went $10 or $20 or $30 a month. My general conclusion: subscription boxes are a big waste of money, especially those of the beauty variety (hello, if you're a Sephora Beauty Insider, you can pretty much get a freebie of your own choosing every time you make a purchase). I had pretty much written them off until several former coworkers started raving about The Zoe Report's Box of Style. The stuff they had was pretty cute, and so like the proverbial addict, I decided to try one last subscription box.

I know Rachel Zoe kind of became this early reality TV caricature, with her bananas and literally—two words, I'd like to point out, lots of people I know still use quite frequently—but you have to admit she has good taste. I think her clothing line is really well done too. She clearly still has industry contacts galore, and I think she leverages them for the Box of Style, and I am totally ok with that. I just received my fifth Box of Style last week, and, as always, it was a delight. Here's a look at what's inside the Fall 2017 box.

This GiGi New York bag can be a foldover clutch, a crossbody bag, or even a laptop sleeve. It's faux leather, but the snake texture is kind of cool, and I don't have a navy bag, so that's unexpected and useful.

Usually there's a product that you'll know about ahead of time because Box of Style will ask you to pick a color in advance. This time it was these rings by La Soula—I chose gold, since that's what I wear most often, but rose gold and silver were options too. Also, these rings have real diamonds in them! Fancy!

This is a full-size tube of Oribe Supershine Moisture Cream Light (retail price: $52!), and as a devotee of Oribe products, I am very excited to try this. 

Speaking of things I'm excited to try, who doesn't love a sheet mask? Skinesque is a Korean beauty brand that, like most Korean beauty brands, I haven't heard of, but if these are anything like the masks my old work wife brought back from Korea for me, I will be happy as a clam.

As you may have guessed by now, the Box of Style tends to be a little heavy on beauty products, but they're always well chosen and tend to be things I don't have (but want to try. This Nudestix pencil is a universally flattering shade that can be used on lips or cheeks but most importantly, it can be applied like a crayon, which is great for lazy people like me who don't like to use makeup brushes.

Finally one of my favorite items in this box is this Odeme catchall tray. I've been looking for something exactly like this for awhile to collect my keys, hair ties, lip gloss, and the other random stuff that ends up on my entryway table. It's like Box of Style read my mind.

You get all of this stuff for $99.99! Ok, yes, that is quite a bit more than the typical subscription box, but the Box of Style averages over $400 in value—as I mentioned earlier, the Oribe Supershine Light Moisture Cream is $52 alone. More importantly, this is all stuff I'm actually going to use…and enjoy. It's basically like someone with really good taste sending you a practical yet exciting surprise gift every three months. Speaking of gifts, here's one for you: use this link and you'll get $10 off your first box or an annual subscription (which is $349.99 and thus a deal already)! You're welcome!

What to wear on date night

It goes without saying, but date night is usually my favorite night of the week. It almost always involves eating and drinking—two of my favorite things to do, and with one of my favorite people who also happens to be my very talented photographer—but the best date nights involve an element of novelty (really, it's true). On Saturday night, we went to see a play downtown, which was something that we hadn't done together, and even though the play was, um, one that we wouldn't recommend, it was still fun. Also fun: dressing up for date night. Planning a cute outfit and taking the time to dress up reminds me of when we were first dating, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, keeps the magic alive.

I'm a skirt girl, and always have been. Skirts are my go-to for date nights, but really, you should wear what you feel most comfortable in. It's all about highlighting the parts you feel best about—in my case, my legs. This particular skirt is by IRO, one of my favorite brands, and in spite of being white, it's pretty versatile. The phrase "universally flattering" always gives me pause, but an A-line shape like this is as close as you can get.

I'm also a heels girl, although mine are getting lower and chunkier as I age. This pair is sadly sold out—they're last-season Zara—but since the color is so crazy, I wear them with pretty much any random thing. In this case, they pick up the green in my necklace, which is also a little kooky.

The denim jacket and striped tee keep everything a bit more casual—and this being San Francisco, my number-one rule is never go anywhere without a light jacket. And, really, you can't go wrong with a classic denim jacket.

A good thing about getting older is that you can get away with statement accessories. Mirrored pink sunglasses? Sure! Huge mixed-media pendants? Why not! Do you, especially on a date.

I figured you were tired of seeing my bamboo bag by now, but this is one of my other weekend favorites. It's by Baggu, a San Francisco–based brand, and it holds a lot more than you'd think, thanks to some excellent pocket placement on the inside. I also love how soft the leather is, and that the strap is adjustable, so you can make it a crossbody too.

Back to date-night novelty, this park is exactly two blocks south of my apartment, and in spite of having lived there for three years now, this was the first time I'd ever been inside. (Since it's between my two cross-streets, it's on a particular block that I tend not to walk or drive down.) It's tiny and lovely and a little bit magic...just as date nights should be.

OUTFIT DETAILS: Vintage Gap jacket (similar here) || Publish striped tee || IRO skirt || Baggu circle bag || Stella & Dot York necklace || Zara shoes (sold out; similar here) || Quay Australia After Hours sunglasses (on sale!)

What to wear to the spa

When I was younger, long weekends meant short trips. I was constantly running off to Miami or Boston or upstate New York, and while I love traveling, I've also learned I need to take it easy. I've discovered something about myself as I get older, and that's the fact that I love to stay in the city on long weekends when everyone else is gone. (Conversely, I still like to take long weekend trips, but I take a day off of work and travel when not everyone else is doing it.) There's plenty of street parking, you can get reservations at hard-to-get-into restaurants, and as I've recently discovered, it's a great time to do a spa day. I have a few favorite spots in the city, but for Labor Day, decided to step it up and, on a friend's recommendation, visit the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

In less than an hour door to door, I felt like I was transported to another world. The Fairmont Sonoma is tucked away on a Sonoma side street, and considering it was a three-day weekend, was quiet, serene, and not at all crowded. The grounds are landscaped beautifully, and there are all sorts of spots to plunk down with a glass of wine...or have an impromptu photo shoot.

The star of my spa outfit is this kimono, which I've worn over everything from a dress to a tee and denim shorts. The flow of it disguises a multitude of sins while giving you a boho-exotic vibe that says "I go to day spas regularly." I chose it, however, because it doubles as a pool cover-up. And because you can spin in it.

Speaking of pools, there are many at the Willow Stream Spa—three outdoor, two indoor (plus a steam room, sauna, and cold-water dunk)—and all feature mineral water, since the entire property sits on an ancient thermal mineral spring that flows from 1,100 feet below. Use of these pools is included with your spa treatment, or you can do a day pass. Either way, it makes for an incredibly relaxing day, and I'm with the Native Americans in believing that the waters do have magical healing powers.

OUTFIT DETAILS: Helena Quinn kimono || Everlane tee || Topshop MOTO denim mini || Quay Australia Odin Sunglasses || Cult Gaia Ark bag || Stella & Dot Setta necklace || Sam & Libby sandals (similar here on sale!)

Ageless outfit: leather jacket and maxi dress

Oh em gee, how is it September already? For those of us in San Francisco, it means summer is just getting started, but for the rest of you, it means fall is on its way. And with it, a roller-coaster of temperatures combined with a desire to wear all your new fall purchases. Transitional dressing can be both fun and frustrating, but for a fabulous take on it, let's look at one of my patron saints of ageless fashion, Rachel Zoe.

The dress
Maxi dresses are something I tend to associate with summer, but they're totally wearable for fall too, especially in an animal print like the one above. Here's a great leopard-print maxi from Ganni, the of-the-moment Danish label (here's the long-sleeve version if you want a more winter-friendly look).

The jacket
I love that RZ is wearing a leather blazer, instead of a motorcycle jacket—it would look too costumey (or cougary) with one. This Joe's Jeans Ines blazer has a similarly streamlined look, and is on sale too.

The bag
RZ is carrying a Birkin, and wouldn't that be nice? (Actually, who am I kidding, I'm more of a Kelly girl.) This Treasure & Bond satchel has a similar shape with a much more palatable price tag.

The sunglasses
RZ is never without her sunnies, and neither am I (they're necessary protection from the sun, and also I'm blind outdoors without them). These Illesteva Leonard sunglasses are round like RZ's, but with a slightly less exaggerated and more universally flattering shape.

Unfortunately, you can't see RZ's shoes in the above photo. Any ideas on what she's wearing?