Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Dearest Beloved Blogs

I received a sweet message the other day.

Big thanks to Courtney from courtney lane for honoring me with the Liebster Blog Award:

"Liebster is a German word, meaning dearest or beloved, but it can also mean favorite. The idea behind the Liebster Blog Award is that it is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers in order to create new connections and bring attention to these wonderful blogs!"

I'm glad to join in this important effort to promote and encourage new friendships within the blogging community.  Thank you so much, Court, for passing this on to me! 

If you don't know Courtney, she is an interior design student and a life-long lover of homes and homemaking. Her new blog is sweet and sassy. This pic will give you a little taste of what she is all about:

Any girl who sleeps with a spiky treacherous branch looming over her head is alright with me.

Ok, back to this Liebster business. This is how it works:

1. Post the award on your blog.
2. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
3. Reveal your 5 picks for the award and let them know.
4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people in the blogosphere... other bloggers.
5. Finally, the best rule of all, have fun and spread the love!

Now here are the five blogs that I would like to honor with the Liebster Blog Award..I hope you'll check them out!

1. Erin and Jess at Two Kitchen Promenade
Delicious looking food that I can actually imagine
making and serving at a normal, everyday dinner?
Sign me up!
Two friends writing about food. Clean, simple recipes that do not disappoint. Photos that are drop dead gorgeous but also realistic enough that I can imagine my own table looking like theirs. A few personal notes, here and there, to wrap a pleasing element of story around the recipes. From what I can tell, this is quite a new blog and I hope it's the beginning of a long and glorious run.

2. Khairul at The Malaysian Reader 
Yes, the Malaysian Reader does judge a book by its cover.
You got a problem with that??
A passionate bookworm living in Southeast Asia, Khairul writes with wit, wisdom and perfect English about what he's reading. While I share his love of literature, his insights into Malaysian culture and his obsession over the physical properties of the books he owns (yes, crisp pages and matching spines DO matter!), I mostly read his blog for the pure joy of his prose. The man knows how to turn a phrase.

3. Emma at aesthetics 
Flying saucers? Flattened satsumas? A mash-up of the solar system?
See ordinary things in an extraordinary way at aesthetics.
This is a simple, stripped-down blog with a purely visual focus. Featuring photos of architecture and other images snatched from everyday life, as well as shots of personal artworks in progress, this blog helps me gain a deeper appreciation for the raw work of making art. 

4. Danelle at Outnumbered 
Real life, real love, real play-by-play on raising a houseful of young men.
I enjoy reading blogs about family life written by women of all ages and stages of life.  But as a mom whose odometer has definitely turned over into six digits, I particularly enjoy hearing from other experienced moms. No longer sitting up at the edges of our chairs, eagerly attentive and giddy with excitement for our children's new milestones and steps along the developmental path, Danelle is the type of mom who has settled comfortably back into her seat to enjoy the ride. Her low-key humor, positive energy, and willingness to surrender to reality make me laugh.

5. Kira at her new leaf
How do you feel about tiny Santa hat fascinators?
 I've decided I am for them.
Technically, this is cheating. According to her current statistics, Kira has 234 followers which makes her 35 people too popular for this award. Well, I've decided to ignore that rule (it's more what you'd call a guideline than an actual rule.) I like her style and so I'm going for it. I stumbled onto this blog the other day when I was innocently Googling for some instruction on favicons. I found her "Primp My Blog" posts to be helpful and clever so I kept reading and discovered more gems, such as: 
Kira chooses an amazing range of subject matter and keeps me thoroughly entertained and wondering what might come next. She inspires me.

What are your dearest and most beloved blogs? Please post a link and tell us about them!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Confessions of a Part-Time Ski Bum

Ask me my favorite place on earth, and the odds are good that I'll say Stevens Pass.
If the snow is deep and the chairlifts are running, you can bet the ranch on it.

Since my daughters have been old enough to carry their own gear, we have spent our Fridays on the slopes, as well as any other days that we could sneak away from our routine.

I've been known to skip school, cancel meetings and back out of any commitment that tries to grab hold of my Stevens Pass time. 

What's so great about Stevens Pass? 
Well, let me explain.

I love being outdoors in the crisp winter air. 
I love having fun with family and friends, 
I love the chill, positive energy of all the other snowboarders and skiers.
I love our picnic lunches of bread and cheese, oranges and chocolate.
I love the reckless danger of skiing.

But mostly, I love the way a day in the mountains fuels my creativity. I always come home fired up and ready to make and do, to tackle life with gusto. You might think that driving 150 miles of dangerous highway in mountainous terrain; packing, unpacking and repacking a car full of equipment and gear; communicating constantly to keep everyone moving in the same direction, and pushing myself to the limits of my physical endurance and ability to stay warm might be a bit tiring. But quite the opposite is true; I find Stevens Pass to be a powerful source of renewal and creative inspiration for me.

Consider the endless beauty of the mountains and the trees. From the top of each run to the lift lines below, lift your gaze and take in the panorama. Breathe in the extravagant scents, sounds and sights of the alpine forest. Be amazed.

Zoom in a bit closer..enjoy the sight of other folks filling the scene like a picture postcard. Feed off the energy of everyone talking, laughing, having a blast. Notice the way the snow covers the trees; like a kaleidoscope, the boughs tell the story of the ever-changing temperatures, snow conditions and wind strength. Enjoy the power of the low winter sun as it highlights the scruffy line of trees along a ridge.

Appreciate all this beauty with your companions. Talk about it, marvel over it together. Be blessed by your time with them in this amazing place.

I'll admit it - there is a part of me that wants to stay at Stevens Pass all winter long. Many times, I have fantasized about getting a job there, or just living out of my car in the parking lot for weeks on end.

But I don't have what it takes to be a full-time ski bum. Because spending time here builds up in me an exhilaration that needs an outlet. The mountains inspire me and stir up in me the need to create. So back down to my life I must go, to make, to do, to build, to create...at least until next Friday.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thrifting for the Reluctant Rookie

Until very recently, I was a non-thrifter. No. That's not true; I was actually an anti-thrifter. Here's the thing..I'm a terrible shopper in general. Unless it's a holiday time of year, I can barely force myself into the mall and in any circumstance, I have to hold myself to a three-stores-per-trip maximum before the sensory overload takes me over. I'm kind of a baby about shopping.

So the idea of taking on a more complex and intense form of shopping, which is what I considered thrifting to be, left me cold. I thought of wading through garage sales full of old treadmills and castoff toys from Happy Meals, or flea markets overflowing with 80s finds like wooden cows and baskets with ruffled liners. Really, I wanted no part of it.

Then Apartment Therapy entered my life. What's this? As I feasted my eyes on all those interesting, inviting, individualized rooms, of an amazing range of taste and style, I noticed that I was especially drawn to spaces that boasted at least a few thrifted items. These things were not tacky or dated; there were some beautifully designed, classic pieces as well as funky, off-beat treasures. The more blogs I read and images I analyzed, the more I realized the whole world was thrifting without me. Hmm, maybe it was time to rethink my stance.

books, typewriter. 
globes, dishes, chalkboard frame.
crocheted throws.
door, typewriter, table.

So, last summer, I quietly decided to give thrifting a go. I had good days and bad days, and I learned a lot. Operating under the premise that there may be other timid anti-thrifters lurking around out there, I offer the following encouragement:

Six Thrifting Tips for the Reluctant Rookie

1. Choose a venue that makes you comfortable.
Some people are completely at ease at estate auctions, yard sales or flea markets, but I'm not. I need a thrifting experience that feels like a "regular" shopping trip to me, and I found exactly that at Value Village. The inventory is organized into predictable departments, non-negotiable prices are stickered on every item, the return policy is fair and debit cards are accepted. Yes, this feels like familiar terrain to me and gives me a boost of confidence.

2. Maximize your energy.
Some women can shop for endless hours, powered only by a chai latte and a white chocolate macadamia Luna bar. This is not me. I need to go when my mind is fresh, my body is fed, my patience is maximized and I feel no pressure from the rest of my day's activities. Many women prefer the companionship and sociability of shopping with a companion but I shop best when I'm alone. Do what works for you.

3. Know what you want.
A clear plan of attack saves me from being crushed under the tsunami of stuff that hits me as I step into the store. Usually, I go straight to the housewares department and scan for white salad/dessert plates, classic tea pots, and globes. Having that list of must-sees in my head helps me narrow my focus and stay on track.

4. Be open to serendipitous finds.
This, I now understand, is the magic ingredient of thrifting. One minute, you're innocently milling down an aisle of random stuff and the next moment, your eyes land on The Perfect Find. You didn't even know you were looking for it, but suddenly, you can't live without it! I met a huge iridescent turquoise vase in this fashion, and every time I glance at him, sitting in a place of honor on a red cupboard in my kitchen, I marvel at the gifts of fate.

5. Look for quality. 
Just like any form of shopping, I truly believe that we should buy only what we love. The guiding principle behind any secondary market is that one man's trash is another man's treasure, so your opinion is the only one that matters. At the same time, there is a special rush that comes from peeling back the sticker on that little white teapot and finding the Le Creusat label, or Googling the name on the bottom of the silver bowl to learn that Reed & Barton is kind of a big deal. 

6. If you love it, buy it NOW.
This is one of the principles that scared me most about thrifting: if you see something you like, you better snap it up immediately. Because once this item is gone, it's GONE..there's no calling to another store to see if they have it, or buying it online next week. For a devoted IKEA and Target shopper like myself, this was very unnerving. I like to take my time considering a potential purchase, and usually wait overnight if not several days before actually buying something I see. Interestingly, once I grasped the idea that thrifters must move quickly, I found the immediacy quite freeing. It's the low prices that make it work for me..most of my purchases are less that five dollars, and if I decide I don't love something after I buy it, I can always return it or even donate it back to the store. 

See? I get it now! I'm still just a rookie but my early efforts at thrifting have paid off nicely. Here are a few of my recent finds:

Crate and Barrel classic white teapot. 

The glazing is fake but I love the shape and color. 
Small cake plate with several cute little bubbles trapped in the glass. 
Hand-hammered aluminum tray. Feels nice and heavy.

Teak tray. It's nice wood but I'm seriously considering painting it red. 
Pottery Barn vase. Not real silver but I love the funky fake tarnish.
Mercury glass style candleholders. Love.
Charming small white pitcher that says "Made in England" on the underside.
Small silver bowl with some stubborn tarnish. I like it that way.

How do you feel about thrifting? Do you have any tips for a rookie like me?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Walt Disney May Be Ruining Your Life

In the never ending source of amusement and joy that is my Facebook feed, I recently ran across an article with an irresistible title and a fascinating premise. It's called 10 Ways to Avoid Marrying The Wrong Person and it is chock-full of rock solid, common sense advice. When you open the link to the article, you'll notice a photo of an old, wrinkly, comfortable-looking couple who convey the sense of bedrock and deep abiding love that well-married people often have.You'll also notice some Islamic references but please know that these wise words are entirely applicable to believers of any faith, or for that matter, believers of no faith at all. No matter what your religious convictions, marital status or opinions on marriage might be, you should read this article.

But for now, let me give you a quick summary. The author is encouraging us to carefully and honestly examine the character of our potential partners before we allow our emotions and physical desires to hijack our intellect and objectivity.

That advice is so simple and obvious that it is almost shocking.

Why do we need an article to remind us of such basic reasoning? Of course, we all want a marriage partner who is a good and decent person. We all want to make a strong, well-reasoned decision about who we invite to share the rest of our lives. We all want to live happily ever after, don't we?

With that question, we find the beginnings of the answer. This man is a big part of the problem:

I know...technically, he is more of a mouse than a man.
Just bear with me while I explain.

More precisely, it's the man behind the mouse to whom I refer.

Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966

A stripped-down summary of Walt Disney's fairy tale life goes like this. Early on, Disney discovered a passion and an aptitude for drawing. Along with his brother Roy, he moved to Hollywood, set up a cartoon studio and in fairly short order, developed the character of Mickey Mouse. By his early thirties, Disney's Mouse had skyrocketed in popularity and the obvious question became, "What will Disney do for an encore?" The answer became clear a few years later with the release and overwhelming success of Disney's first animated full-length feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Now, Walt really knocked this movie out of the park. He won awards, he broke down barriers, he garnered critical acclaim. And also, probably most unwittingly, he began to instruct young men and women about how to choose a marriage partner. Listen to what Snow White has to say on the subject.

Her message is simple and clear: Falling in love is easy. You just wait for a man who has it all - looks, body, charm and a position of power. He will sweet talk you and tempt you with physical affection; you will be powerless to resist. He will take you away to a life of comfort and ease and together, you will live happily ever after.

{Yes, I paraphrased Snow White's exact words. But only just a little.}

And thus the Disney princesses' reign of misinformation began. One after another, animated beauties appeared to teach us these same truths over and over, in a seemingly endless parade.

Snow White, Pocahantas, Belle,Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmin, Ariel, and Mulann
As Disney's films became increasingly heralded as childhood classics, the power of his princesses' messages grew, first in the United States and then in worldwide popular culture. Factor in the technological leaps and bounds that brought movie-viewing into the home and under the control of any toddler who could jam a videotape into a VCR player. Consider the reinforcing energy produced by the toys, lunchboxes, pajama sets, umbrellas, picture books, sleeping bags, t-shirts and countless other items that bear the princesses' images. Reflect on the truth that many a devoted parent encourages Disney princess love and considers their movies to be harmless and fairly wholesome family fun.

And of course, Disney princesses ARE fun. And fairly wholesome too.

But consider how the princesses and their Prince Charmings have taught us to think about marriage:
"Women, be cute/pretty/beautiful and wait patiently. Do some good deeds and be as clever as possible. But when a hottie comes along and sweeps you off your feet with his emotional and physical advances, give him all you've got. And then you'll both live happily ever after."
"Men, you had better be handsome, fit, brave, powerful and, of course, charming. Be emotionally and physically aggressive because that is what women like. If a woman truly loves you, she will give up everything to be with you. And then you'll both live happily ever after."
This sweet and precious fairy tale advice is on a collision course with the insights of our 10 Ways to Avoid Marrying The Wrong Person author, is it not?

Anyone with a clear head and some common sense probably realizes that the Disney princesses are leading us down a dangerous path. Certainly, anyone who has been married for more than 20 minutes can see the folly of their ways.

But if you were young, in love, and looking for your "happily ever after," which couple would you want to believe?

* * * * *

My other musings about marriage:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Festive Garlands: Part Six

The blizzard's still a-raging at my house! Once we started the snowflakes falling in the dining room, we kept on going right into the living room. The high vaulted ceiling gave us lots of airspace to fill with flurries; we used more Command hooks, more fishing line and billions more paper snowflakes to show global warming who's boss. 

There was a bit of method to our madness. We decided upon a basic framework or grid of lines that we wanted to criss and cross across the room. Thinking in three dimensions, our plan was to keep each line fairly level but to layer the lines over one another to create a sense of depth.  Once we got the first few hooks in place, we strung the lines and began taping up the snowflakes to see how much the lines drooped when we added the drag of the snowflakes' weight . Then we adjusted the tension on the lines and added another set of hooks to hang lines above the first set. Our process started out with a heavy trial-and-error vibe but became more refined and less up-and-down-the-ladder-to-see-how-it-looks intensive as we gained experience.

Lessons learned:
  • As you evaluate your work-in-progress, be sure to check from both the perspective of a person entering the room, and someone seated within the room. 
  • Yes, the kittens can reach the lines from the tallest pieces of furniture, just as we feared. But after swatting down a few flakes, they got bored and moved on.
  • The more space between the layers, the better. 
  • You cannot have too many snowflakes. Next year, we will make lots more.
Coming up soon...the seventh and final installment of the Festive Garland series. Look carefully at the top pic  below for a sneak peek. Woot!

Festive Garlands: Part Five

Let's see, where was I...we were talking about festive white Christmas garlands adorning my home in the spirit of Buddy the Elf, right?

Pardon that overgrown elf chugging a two-liter of Coke;
it's the garlands festooned in the background that pique my interest.

As my youngest daughter and I began to mull over the possibilities for incorporating snowflakes into our grand design, this image on Pinterest jumped into our lives and blew our minds with potential.

Bugs and Fishes via Apartment Therapy

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This is exactly the sort of thing we had in mind. My youngest is madly gifted at precision art like origami and snowflake cutting, so she set right to work cranking out incredibly delicate and varied snowflakes like a machine. 

We didn't use the tutorial at Bugs and Fishes, worthy as it is. Improvising as we went along, we suspended a natural branch (from the red maple tree in our front yard) from the ceiling, a few inches out from the wall, using Command hooks and fishing line. Then we tied sections of fishing line to the branch and taped on the snowflakes, one strand at a time, taking care to mix up the shapes of the flakes and the lengths of the lines to create a pleasing imperfection. We politely refused our three kittens' offers of assistance with this part of the project and banished them from the room.

The finished effect left us thoroughly chuffed. And the fact that we had snow on the ground on photo day made it even better. Now all I need is Will Farrell swigging maple syrup straight from the bottle at my dining room table and my work here will be done.