Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to paint a Mondrian mural

I knew someone who painted his living room Grover blue. Yeah, like the Sesame Street critter. It was an overwhelming color, and if he was going to rock it, he needed to OWN it. So I told him we should paint a Mondrian mural on his wall and turn the room into a space-age bachelor lounge. To my great surprise, he let me do it! And it looked fantastic. So now I'm gonna tell YOU how to do it. First, you'll need stuff.

painter's tape
white, blue, red, and yellow paint
(sample-size paint jars from Home Depot or Lowe's are perfect)
a big fat Sharpie Magnum (if you're lazy) OR black paint (if you mean business)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Soundland 2011

Soundland, formerly known as Next Big Nashville, is a 4-day, multi-venue festival that showcases the best up-and-coming Nashville musicians, as well as some exciting out-of-town talent. It's a great way to discover new bands while seeing old favorites. I'm exhausted and exhilarated after 3 days of fabulous music (I skipped Wednesday's shows cuz I'm old and sleepy). And no, this is not a fashion blog, but O HAI NEW CLOTHES!
But let's talk about the music, shall we?
The best of the best:

1. Reptar
Image credit
Reptar are from Athens, Georgia. They sound like a danceable mix of Talking Heads and Vampire Weekend, with a vocal style cribbed straight from Animal Collective. Their vibe is an infectious mix of college bravado, Pop Rocks, and sunshine held together with a kickass beat. It's impossible not to shake your hips while listening! And equally impossible not to grin while watching their keyboard player, who is most likely a direct descendant of Animal. As in, the Muppet. Yup.

2. The Black Belles
Image Source
Jack White pulled The Black Belles out of a hat last year (I'd like to see THAT hat!). I didn't know anything about them until I saw them at the Neuhoff Factory stage yesterday, and I immediately loved their Morticia Addams look and their 60s (bad)girl-group meets surf rock sound. Imagine watching Scooby-Doo projected onto the side of a big white marble mausoleum while eating licorice whips and giggling maniacally. That's what it feels like to listen to the Black Belles. Good musicians scoffed and told me that these ladies don't know how to handle their instruments. I don't care. Maybe I'm just fond of them because they remind me so much of my best friend, but whatever. Fun is fun, and these ladies put on a good show.

3. Those Darlins
Image Source
Creepy paper-mache chicken head =
My souvenir from a Those Darlins
CD release party, circa 2008-ish. :D
Those Darlins never, ever disappoint me. The first time I saw them perform was at a house party in 2007. They've changed so much since they were clogging in my friend's basement, and they just keep getting better! They traded in the calico for gold sequins and an in-your-face swagger, and they were ON yesterday at the Neuhoff Factory, absolutely fearless and sexy and channeling Mick Jagger. They TORE IT UP, finishing with an extended version of Shakin' All Over that had everyone moving. These ladies (and their gentleman drummer) rock. Keith had never seen them live, and he loved it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I've been living under a literary rock; Lev Grossman's The Magician King is already out!!  But before I read it, I had to revisit The Magicians. Have your read it? Imagine this: Dominick Dunne and Bret Easton Ellis team up to rewrite the Harry Potter series, culminating in an existentialist crisis which takes place in Narnia. CRAZY, RIGHT?

Fortunately, The Magicians pays homage without becoming too derivative. The wizarding school Brakebills is no Hogwart's; its students are deeply flawed and the school itself is ominous. Questions abound: Who is the beautiful paramedic who caused Quentin to arrive at Brakebills? Why do the fourth-year students disappear for half a year, and why are they so emaciated when they return? How was the fabric of our dimension punctured, allowing The Beast to enter? Will Quentin ever feel fulfilled?

Grossman's characters can have whatever they want--except happiness. They are brilliant and bored, and turn to a lazy sort of decadence just to pass the time. This is what would've happened to Harry, Ron, and Hermione if there had been no Voldemort, and no greater purpose. Instead of exploring the clash between good and evil, Grossman asks how one can find satisfaction when success and fortune come too easily. The theme is not as grand as that of Tolkein, Lewis, or Rowling, but the unresolved questions create an exciting tension, and the magical settings are fun to explore.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Clearly, we all need Beirut music boxes.

Last weekend Keith gave me this beautiful Beirut music box as an early anniversary present. Only 100 were made, and it plays Scenic World, which is one of my favorite Beirut songs, and well. It is perfect. You should buy one too so we can get together and wind 'em up and make them play in round. Like Kumbaya, but way better.

I'm excited because Next Big Nashville-slash-Soundland is this weekend (even though I don't like Next Big Nashville's new moniker). One wristband = 4 nights of shows, woo-hoo! I missed M. Ward last night because I needed sweet sweet sleep, but tonight I'm seeing Reptar, Ghostland Observatory, and the very lovely Jasmin Kaset. I'm especially excited about Reptar cuz they've been compared to Talking Heads, Animal Collective, and Prince. Whoa. Dancing shoes required.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy stuff is happy. And I love your blog.

 Laura at Smallgood Hearth (check out her good crafty ideas!) kindly shared the Happy 101 award with me. Woo! My first award! It's time for me to share ten happy things and pass it along. So. Here's some stuff I love:

1. Beirut Their new album, The Riptide, just came out. Darling Keith special-ordered it for me before it was released, and it arrived charmingly hand-addressed from BadaBing. It's dreamy! Listen to "Vagabond." When it breaks down into dizzying arpeggios, you'll fall in love.

2. Twin Peaks Audrey is adorable, Cooper is quirky, and the coffee is really, really good. Laura Palmer's cousin is NOT Laura Palmer, weird stuff is weird, and the owls are not what they seem. I think that sums it up.

Image Credit / Buy it on etsy

3. This insane and beautiful Dia de Los Muertos Dollhouse (!!!)

4. The smell after rain You know, that smell that smells like mushrooms and secrets and dark, damp cleanliness.

5. Reciprocity It's that moment when another person sparks something good and creative in you, and the other person lights up, too. That's a good moment.

6. Cooking for someone else Last night Keith and I made goulash.

7. Denim pencil skirts I bought a beautiful one today. I can't wait to wear it with riding boots, a slim turtleneck, long chunky cardigan, and a wide belt.

Image Credit

 8. Classic London Fog trench coats So you can stay dry while you enjoy that fresh rain smell.

9. Enthusiastic new volunteers When they bounce up and down because they're genuinely thrilled to be at the library, they remind me that I have a great job. 

10. Airports I love quietly watching other people's lingering goodbyes and loving greetings. I love the pilots' regalia and the miniature bottles of soda. I even love the tiny efficiency and perfect practicality of airplane bathrooms. Most of all, I love the sense of suspended reality, of being neither here nor there (yet).

And now the award goes to...
(drumroll, please)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Etsy Test Drive: LondonsGate

Are you reluctant to make your first etsy purchase?
I'll take etsy for a test drive, and share the results!
If you love vintage watches or steampunk, consider a piece of jewelry from LondonsGate at etsy!

This necklace is super-special to me. Not just because I have a mild interest in steampunk, but because Keith gave it to me on our first Valentines' Day together. Awwww! Although now that I look at their shop a bit closer, I can't believe he bought a Valentines' Day present from a store that also sells jewelry made of goat teeth. SAY WHAT?! Oh well. I like this necklace. It's made of vintage watch parts, and it matches everything. It adds a bit of mystery to any outfit, without ever looking like part of a costume. And after a year and a half, it's still looking lovely.

Let's quantify the etsy love...  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to find peaches, sugar, and magic between the pages:

Not every book is Pride and Prejudice. And thank goodness for that, right? Don't get me wrong, I love me some Elizabeth and Darcy. But not every book can be fine literature, otherwise the true gems wouldn't shine. And not every book should be emotionally intense. Otherwise, we wouldn't read for pleasure. I admit that I didn't always read for pleasure; I used to be a huge literary snob. Back when I lived and breathed English Department Seriousness, I wouldn't have been caught dead reading The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen. But sometimes you need to relax and read a bit of silly, magical fluff. And when it comes to silly, magical fluff, Ms. Allen has you covered.

All of Allen's stories are set in a modern but genteel version of the American South that seems imaginary to me: Men wear seersucker, and women fan themselves on verandas. Her main characters are single young women who look for friendship and love while untangling the mysteries of their ancestors' pasts. Sugary food and magic figure prominently. Allen's characters often work magic and influence others through their baking or their gardens, and they find easy answers to their problems. It's wish fulfillment, and it's cheesy, but it's FUN. Imagine a simpler version of Like Water for Chocolate written about white southern women, but with sweet, crowd-pleasing endings and NO burning beds. Allen's stories don't haunt you for years--but that's okay. They're just for fun!

The Peach Keeper doesn't deviate from this formula. I don't want to spoil the plot, because I recommend it for light weekend or vacation reading. But I want to address the one thing that bothers me about it: The characterization is weak, and Allen relies heavily on stock character types: The Joker, the Stick Man, the Princess, and the Freak.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And the winner is...

Laura at Born to be Styled has won the first giveaway!
i.e., The random number generator chose entry comment #38.

Laura chose the Peacock fascinator.

Love You Forever Fascinator by NeldaZee

Congratulations, Laura! Everyone, check out her cute fashion & lifestyle blog. Thank you so much to everyone who entered. I look forward to hosting another giveaway soon to celebrate when the 50th Google Friend Connect reader subscribes... so please tell your friends to sign up!

Feng Shui Adventures: Get the poop out of your relationship corner!

I didn't post much last week because I've been very busy working on a painting for my boyfriend. It's a landscape with a waterfall, part of a Feng Shui cure I'm working on his home office. His career isn't progressing the way he'd like, and this is my way of offering support. Yeah, it sounds weird. And a few years ago, I never would've considered Feng Shui. But two years ago, I moved the litterbox out of my "relationship corner," and it changed my life. I was hooked.

I'll admit it: Hi, I'm Jen, and I'm a Feng Shui believer.

My sister lives Erin in Hong Kong, where Feng Shui is a normal part of life. It isn't just for housewives or interior decorators, either. Entrepreneurs carefully consider the placement of their businesses to bring the most traffic, money, and good fortune. Most notably, HSBC and the Bank of China are engaged in a Feng Shui war. According to the rules of Feng Shui, the angles of the Bank of China building (on the far left) send bad luck and negative energy toward their competitor HSBC (on the right). HSBC retaliates with cannons mounted on the roof. Like, I'M GOING TO FENG SHUI YOU OUT OF BUSINESS!

Image Credit
I've always been interested in interior design, but I thought Feng Shui was some wonky hocus pocus. When Erin told me it was a normal part of life in China, I took an academic interest and began to study its principles. What I found made perfect sense: Feng Shui creates balance and harmony in a space so that the people dwelling there feel good and are receptive to the good things around them. Have you ever been in a house that just felt weird, and you were dying to get out of there? Blame bad Feng Shui. The basic principles make so much sense:

  • Don't position the bed so that your feet point toward the door. This sounds weird until you consider that the dead are carried out feet-first in China. NOT doing something creepy that might make you think of being dead makes sense to me. Creepy is bad feng shui (and sometimes I like creepy things like doll head planters, so I have to be careful with this rule). I think the rule should be applied so that your decor doesn't bring to mind any Western death customs, too.
  • Don't position your desk with you back to the room's entrance. If you can't see who might be sneaking up behind you, you're in a vulnerable position. Let's be scientific and assume that our brains retain some of the primal instincts that helped our ancestors avoid vulnerability and, um, SABER TOOTH TIGERS. If you try to work in a place where you're vulnerable, your attention will be divided. Concentration? What?
  • Sunlight brings in positive energy. Leave curtains open to let in the light. Sunshine keeps plants alive and can even remove bad smells from not-so-fresh upholstery. Of course it's good. THANK YOU CAPTAIN OBVIOUS.
  • Use wood, fire, water, metal, and earth elements throughout every room. Variety is attractive and interesting. Too much of anything is just too much. A room that is all metal will feel cold and inhospitable. A room that is all wood will go up in flames a little too easily (HELLO CHICAGO CIRCA 1871!). Check out this beautiful room that uses a little bit of each element. Ooh, pretty!
Image Credit
The basic principles make sense, but it takes a leap of faith to use Feng Shui to draw goodness into a specific part of your life. I admit, that part does seem like hocus-pocus. But I enjoy doing it, and I think of it as the physical manifestation of a prayer. When you think of it that way, it's sort of sweet.

Here's my Feng Shui story: I moved into my condo and started grad school in 2007. I was the first person in my social circle to buy a home. My friends were weirded out that I was a homeowner, and I was busy with school, so we started to drift apart. My dating life sucked. Like, let's not even talk about it. I stayed tight with my best, oldest friends but I didn't see them as often as I would've liked. And in early 2009, one by one, they all announced that they were moving out of state. I was devastated. Out of boredom and half as a joke, I turned to the Ba Gua.

The Ba Gua is a Feng Shui map. If you want to use Feng Shui to "cure" a specific problem, you use the Ba Gua to figure out which colors and elements and which direction/part of your home are related to that issue. The Western Ba Gua doesn't use directions; you simply align the bottom of the map to your front door and imagine the map laid out over your floor plan. I prefer the Eastern Ba Gua because it's old-school. And I didn't think anything easy would work. I focused my attention on the Relationship part of my home--the southwest corner. That was the corner where I kept the litterbox and a tall screen to block the box from sight. THERE WAS POO AND THEREFORE MY RELATIONSHIPS STANK, YEP. And according to the Feng Shui rules, the screen was blocking energy from entering that corner--thus, blocking new relationships from entering my life. This is a picture of the offending corner, circa January 2009...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I live here, part three: Desk Area

This is where the magic blogging happens.

Paint: Dark Ash by Behr
Desk and chair: Thrifted
Trunk: Target circa 1999
Art: Vintage (eBay)
Curtains: Target

My place is small, and I don't have a separate office or craft space (I WISH!). This functional little corner of the living room is for blogging, bill paying, and reading webcomics in the morning while drinking coffee and wiping the sleep from my eyes. This area has been through a lot of changes in the part four years, some of them good and some of them just... well... weird. The dark gray paint is a relatively new change, and I love it. Wanna see the weird stuff I tried before this?

The Post-It wall was fun because I loved watching people react to it. But I got tired of answering the same questions about it: Yes, they occasionally fell off. No, they didn't fall down very often. Yes, I did have to tape some of them to the wall. No, the cat never messed with it. No, I don't know what I was thinking, but it had something to do with listening to too much Talking Heads while reading Douglas Coupland. Yes, I kind of miss it. 

Once upon a time, I had a very bad camera. And the cats hadn't broken my plants, so they looked nice and luxurious. And the walls were VERY RED. I was like,"Hey this is MY FIRST PLACE and I can do what I want, woooo!" It was the decorating equivalent of drinking too much during the first week of college. I was starting grad school and planned to entertain a lot, so I wanted an energizing color. I got more than I could handle. Now it's much nicer to have red in the dining area and a neutral in the living area. Lesson learned.

What decorating mistakes did you make in your first home?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Has modern life changed women's fantasies, and therefore... romance novels?

Stolen by Lucy Christopher is a Stockholm Syndrome romance and a valentine to the Australian outback.

Okay, perhaps it's not heartwarming. But Gemma does come to love her captor. Here's a synopsis: Gemma, a 16 year old Brit, is drugged and kidnapped from a Thai airport. Her self-absorbed business traveler parents aren't aware that she's been taken until it's too late. Ty, Gemma's captor, takes her to a rustic home he's built in the Australian outback for her. Ty has been planning this for a long time. He has been obsessed with Gemma since she was ten years old. But once Ty has Gemma to himself, he never lays a hand on her. Ty takes for granted that Gemma will eventually fall in love with him, and he waits for it to happen. Ty's revelations about Gemma's family and friends, and strange beauty of the outback, begin to win Gemma over. The story is told as a letter to Ty, written by Gemma after her ordeal with him has ended.

But let's talk about fantasies and wish fulfillment...

Monday, September 5, 2011

How to make a sweater guard

Princesses get tiaras.
Librarians get SWEATER GUARDS!
I've admired sweater guards for a while, but couldn't find any I liked.
I love these earrings, but they're too painful to wear. They needed a new life.

This is the first chilly autumn day we've had this year. I love needing a cardigan and hat.
Want to make one for yourself?
Keep reading. It's easy!
Like, so easy you can do it in less than 10 minutes.

Screw-back or clip-on earrings
Nylon jewelry filament

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yoga pants, meet ballgown.

I am absolutely giddy over my pristine copy of Modern Pattern Design by Harriet Pepin. Published in 1942, it is a complete pattern design guide, written for the experienced seamstress. It doesn't offer patterns, but advice for creating perfect patterns for any type of garment, taking body type into account and describing everything from perfect pleat placement to the proper way to attach a leg-of-mutton sleeve. Every kind of garment imaginable is covered, and the author describes the garment's history and appropriate use before explaining exactly how the article should be designed and constructed. The tone is strange, assuming the reader creates all of her own clothing but needs to be told what clamdigger means. But that's okay, because this book taught me about HOSTESS GOWNS. Are you aware of these? They're, like, the best thing ever. Why did they go out of style? I need one!!


It's like, "Hi friends! Come on in, I just made a cake and took off my girdle!" And no, I do not wear a girdle but that's beside the point. A hostess gown is not to be worn outside the house, but it's totally NOT A HOUSECOAT, y'all. That would be frumpy, and Harriet Pepin explains that housecoats are made of gingham or calico and are meant to be worn over pants. Hostess gowns, on the other hand, are swanky floor-length velvet affairs that should match the living room, since they are part of your decorating scheme. After an evening of cocktails and live music, my friend Carissa and I are always thrilled to go home for COMFY PANTS (and usually express this by saying, "COMFY PANTS, WOOOO!" all the way home). But clearly, sweeping around in yards of taffeta is so much better. Revive the hostess gown!