Friday, September 28, 2012

Design Challenge: Electronics! Or, a Television is Like a Wart on the Face of Your Living Room.

Now I know why all the gorgeous house tours on Apartment Therapy and Design Sponge don't show pictures of TVs and home entertainment centers: They're ugly! This weekend, I'm going to try to get our new entertainment area sorted. 

The new TV is huge, and I grin every time I look at it. Let's just say David Duchovny has never looked this good in my living room. And of course, I love the Broyhill Brasilia credenza even more. It's not as deep as the old TV cabinet, so the room feels bigger.
Hey, look over here! Don't look at the TV yet!
This is so much prettier than chucking our junk in the corner and putting a chair in front of it, right?
But this is getting expensive! The new TV required the new-old credenza, which was totally okay with me. It also required new cables, and it's also going to require a new sound system and one of these. Can we stop shopping and start watching TV yet?

The Stonehenge sized speakers, circa 1978, annoy me. They simply don't work with this setup. They looked alright with a tall, thin TV cabinet , but they don't work with a long, low credenza. I don't want to get rid of them, because they sound like angels singing and trumpets blaring and the heavens opening in a blaze of glory. But they need to join the witness protection program until we have a home large enough for them. And Keith wants a new receiver, because our current one isn't HDMI compatible. Whatever that means. If it means we get new sound equipment, yippeeeeeeee!!

In the meantime, I've rearranged the living room to make the new setup less awkward. Instead of spreading our small storage pieces around the room, I put them together. Keith's instruments, my craft supplies, and our linens now live in the infamous love corner. Whether or not it's good feng shui, I like it. All the instruments look so Nashville.

Here's a peek at the credenza of love--and the speakers of shame.
To do this weekend: 
1. Take down the gold mirror above the TV.
2. Wrangle the cords under the credenza and make them invisible.
3. Let Mr. Audio Engineering Degree figure out the speaker situation while I sip a fancy drink.
4. Sew new throw pillows for the sofa (OK, let's be honest - I'm doing that next week!).

How did you set up your TV area? Do you like it, or did you accept that televisions and home entertainment centers look wonky, and go on with life?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Velvety Pumpkin Bisque with Bacon and Blue Cheese

I like food.
I like this food better than most of the other foods.
It boasts a delicious blend of fall flavors: Sweet, spicy, and a little smoky.
Yesteray I brought a huge pot of it to work, and everyone wanted the recipe. Here you go, everyone!

1 30 oz can pumpkin
32 oz chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 slices bacon
crumbled blue cheese

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Saute the shallots until they begin to turn golden-brown at the edges.

2. Add the chicken stock, pumpkin, half and half, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and cayenne pepper to the pot. Stir it up and let it simmer for 10 minutes. I told you this recipe was easy!

3. Meanwhile, fry up that bacon. Once it's crisp, drain the grease and crumble it into the soup.

4. Serve topped with blue cheese crumbles. VoilĂ !

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What Do Televisions, David Duchovny, and the Mid-Century Credenza of My Dreams Have in Common?

Me: "Keith and I are shopping for a larger TV."
Friend: "I saw a couple roll one out of Costco the other day. The male half looked so proud. I think he had an erection."
Me: "HA! I have no idea what we're looking at. All this high definition nonsense means nothing to me. But we're watching X-Files, and..."
Friend: "And David Duchovny should be as large as possible."
Me: "YES."

Why am I telling you this? Because David Duchovny's ideal display settings caused to me finally, finally own one of my dream design pieces: A Broyhill Brasilia credenza. The Brasilia line has the perfect mix of line and curve, beautiful solid hardwood, the medium-dark walnut finish I love, and unique matching hardware. I'm so thrilled, I can barely type this. Thank you, David Duchovny.

Image Credit

Monday, September 24, 2012

Warrior Dash: Crawling Through Mud, Jumping Over Open Flames, and Other Huge Liability Issues!

Have you heard of Warrior Dash? It's a 5K challenge with insane obstacles. If you think running over arches, through trenches, and straight into a pile of rusted automotive wreckage sounds fun, then Warrior Dash is for you. Obviously, I was out of  my element. When I see open flames, I think, "Let's toast marshmallows!" Not, "I want to jump over that!" Little Miss Heart Surgery is not an athlete; she's an athletic supporter. But she's also a huge fan of giggling at men wearing tutus, tiger stripe body paint, and viking helmets, of which there were plenty at Warrior Dash.

Oh yeah, and Keith ran the dash with his coworkers. Go Team Keith and Colleagues!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Vivien Leigh meets Joan Collins Meets Loungewear: Vintage Olga Nightgowns

A few years ago, I re-read A Streetcar Named Desire and decided to spend quiet summer evenings lounging around the house like Blanche DuBois, wearing something lacy and holding a cool drink. And a book, naturally! So I picked up a few vintage Olgas at Pre to Post Modern. Are you familiar with Olga nightgowns? They're as pretty as evening gowns, but as comfy as yoga pants. I can't figure out why Olga stopped making them! I've tried other brands, and they just can't compete with Olga's quality and fit.

The bodice on an Olga is super-stretchy and supportive, even if your cup size sounds like a really bad spelling test score. And the skirt... the skirt! A full sweep Olga nightgown has 180+ inches of silky, swirling fabric. That's 15 feet of princessy awesomeness, folks! Little did I know, I was paying pyrite prices for vintage gold. Now I want to replace my Olgas add to my collection, but they're much pricer than I realized. For now, I'll just dream of owning these beauties.

Olga Bodysilk Vintage Nightgown.
From yesterdayselegance on ebay
Red Twist Front Olga Nightgown with 200+ inch sweep.
From MarvelsVintage on etsy.
 This sassy mannequin is scaring me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

You're Wearing WHAT?! Best Halloween Costume Ideas

I said, "Keith, we need to talk about our future." He looked panicked. I giggled inwardly, then said in my most grave voice, "What are we going to be for Halloween?" I gave him an impish little grin, and we both laughed. The relief on his face was priceless! If you've read about my Pop Art or Kaylee Frye costumes, then you know I love Halloween and dressing up. But even more than that, I love the challenge of making my own costume.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring and Mona Lisa
Zoltar! This just looks fun to make. I want to do this so, so badly.
I'm wondering how annoying it would be not to have arms all day and/or night?

This year is going to be the best Halloween I've ever had: I get to wear not one, but four costumes! Naturally, I'll need just one Halloween costume. But I'm also going to be at Geek Media Expo from October 26 - 28, so I'll need a different costume for each day of the con. Right now I'm in heaven, researching and planning my outfits.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Yes, everyone is reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. And yes, it's really that good. I started reading it last week on Friday evening and finished it the next afternoon, because I couldn't put it down. I read while I brushed my hair, while I cooked, and even while Keith drove me to Baja Burrito for lunch. I could not stop reading this book.

What happened to Nick and Amy Dunne's marriage? Where is Amy? And is Nick responsible for the large amount of her blood spilled on their kitchen floor on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary? Whether or not he's guilty, he acts strangely. He's narcissistic and defensive when he should be concerned about his wife. Meanwhile, Amy's diary reveals a perfect relationship slowly gone wrong, but it seems... well... weird. It reveals a woman who is brilliant and engaging, but also grating and high-strung. Did living with Amy eventually drive Nick crazy?

Nick's side of the story shows that he and Amy have been at each other's throats since they lost their jobs and moved from New York City to rural Missouri to care for Nick's ailing mother. But Amy's diary shows that they were crazy about each other just five years ago, and the sexy anniversary scavenger hunt Amy made for Nick is conciliatory. Someone isn't telling the truth. Actually, no one is telling the whole truth! But what is true, and what isn't?

Gillian Flynn is appearing at the Southern Festival of Books next month, and I'm so excited. I hope she discusses character creation, because I think she's a master. Nick and Amy are flawed, secretive, and self-absorbed, but also uncomfortably familiar. Relating with them will make you sqiurm. And if a book can make me squirm, I consider it very, very well written.

Don't read any more unless you've read the book! 

I'm so curious about this: Did you know that Amy's diary was fake? And if so, what tipped you off? The April 21, 2009 entry mocking the "dancing monkeys" who do nice, normal things to please the women in their lives rang false to me, and I began to suspect that the diary was fake, or Amy was mentally ill, or both.

In this entry, Amy soaked up her friends' sympathy when Nick stood her up for drinks. And then she went home and jumped into his arms, as if nothing was wrong. No sane woman would ever, ever do that! If your boyfriend or husband stands you up and doesn't even text you to say "I'm sorry, but I can't join you tonight," then something is wrong. Either he's terribly rude and inconsiderate, or something has happened to prevent him from getting in touch.

As I read, I guessed that Amy hadn't invited Nick to join her and her friends, but she pretended he'd been invited to get their sympathy and attention. Perhaps she had histrionic personality disorder and did strange things to get attention? But this diary entry was so weird that I read it again, and I realized that the tone was that of a persuasive essay, not that of a diary. I don't know about you, but in a personal diary, I wouldn't fill in supporting background details. It wouldn't be necessary, because I already know what I said, did, or thought.

But a persuasive essay depends on supporting details to make a point. So when Amy says, "Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys," I became suspicious. The "horrible" things she described, like introducing your boyfriend to your friends or asking him to help with chores around the house, sounded reasonable to me.

More importantly, this supporting background information is out of place in a diary, but it's perfect for a persuasive essay. Amy was trying to persuade the reader that she was less demanding than other women--but why? Who did she think was going to read it? And if her diary was really a persuasive essay, was it also a work of fiction? At this point, I decided Amy was a crazypants histrionic narcissist who had orchestrated her own disappearance for attention.

And yet the book continued to surprise me. Gillian Flynn, you are a genius.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I Love Fall! Autumn Grapevine Wreath with Felt Flowers and Sweet Gum Pods

Are you excited about woolen scarves and pumpkin flavored everything? Me, too! I can't wait for sweater weather and apple cider. To celebrate the beginning of fall, I made this autumn wreath last night. It was so easy, and I already had almost all the supplies. I only had to spend a buck on felt! But when I bought the felt, I priced the supplies at Michael's. If you already have a glue gun and string, you could make this for under $10.

If you want to make one, too, this is what you'll need:
1. One grapevine wreath ($2.99)
2. Five sheets of felt in autumnal colors ($0.20 each)
3. Sweet gum pods or acorns collected from the backyard (optional)
4. Two sparkly floral picks (optional) ($1.99 each)
5. Leaves from fake flowers (or make felt leaves)
6. Hot glue gun and glue sticks
7. A small piece of string (to hang your wreath)
8. Scissors

Click for Instructions...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Live Here: Gray Mid Century Dining Room With a Modern Twist

Welcome! C'mon in. I hope you like coffee. 
I'm so excited. My dining room is finished! After painting the walls, painting and refinishing the table, installing a new light fixture, and reupholstering the chairs, I'm finally done. These were my design objectives: I wanted to make a big change using things I already owned. I wanted my dining area to look calm, simple, pretty, and modern. And I wanted the project to be environmentally friendly. I'm so happy with the result!

Of course, green design means different things to different people. In my case, I consciously worked to use what I have without creating excessive waste or buying a lot of new stuff. And naturally, I chose low VOC paint. The chandelier and the fabric on the chairs are the only new items I added to my house, and the old light fixture was given away on Craigslist to a couple who were very excited to give it a new home. Even though I didn't buy many new things, I think it looks completely different! Take a look:
Same chairs, table, rug, and wall unit... Art and knick knacks I already owned... But it's like a whole new room!
You do not--I repeat, you do not--need to buy a lot
of new things to make major changes to a room.
New colors and textures can change everything!

Here's a better look at the Waverly Sun and Shade Fishbowl fabric on the dining room chairs.
The print is so large, the chairs aren't identical. It's not too matchy-matchy! I like it.
The new upholstery on the chairs makes me so happy. After careful consideration, I chose a neutral botanical-meets-pop-art print. The fabric is Waverly Sun & Shade. The print is called Fishbowl, and the color is Caviar. Since it's meant for indoor or outdoor use, it's durable enough for an area that gets a lot of traffic. Initially, I thought I wanted a floral print with bright colors, to match the living room rug. Instead, I fell in love with this fabric and bought enough to make new throw pillows for the sofa, too. So the fabric will still tie the two rooms together. 

Can we talk about that chandelier, too? This light fixture is awesome. The crystals are fancy, but the drum shade keeps it from being too precious. And because of the drum shade, the fixture works well in a room with Mid Century furniture. It's one of the best home decor choices I ever made Keith ever made.
We bought it online, and we weren't sure if we were going to get a fabric shade or a cheap paper shade.
Let me tell you: It's fabric, and it's elegant. This chandelier does NOT look cheap in person. Oh no. 
Now that I'm finished with the dining area, what's next? I'm getting estimates on a partial kitchen remodel, to get the place ready for resale next year, but the estimates make me want to cry. Please pass the Kleenex, and let's focus on the much cheaper finishing touches that will make my bedroom and living room complete. First, I want to sew those new throw pillows.
Are you doing any home related projects right now?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ask the Amateur: Cozy Bohemian Living Room

One of my dearest friends just moved, and I recently had the pleasure of helping her make some decisions for her new place. It was so much fun to plan a room to fit her colorful, bohemian style. She already has a gorgeous pair of turquoise mid-century lamps, Buddha art, and glass coffee table. A pile of Indian sari print pillows, gold baroque frames for her Stevie Nicks art, a few Moroccan lanterns, and a rust-colored coat of spray paint on her end tables will bring this part of her living room together.

Cozy Bohemian Living Room

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hong Kong Street Art

My beautiful globetrotting sister finally, finally is posting her amazing street art photography!
She has a remarkable knack for spotting special pieces and framing perfect shots.
Here's a sample of her photography:

Erin took this pic of me in 2010, when I visited her in Hong Kong.
What am I pointing at?! No idea.

See more, and follow her here: 


Thursday, September 6, 2012

It Was Many and Many a Year Ago...

My grandfather, Paul Zieren, was born 100 years ago today. I wish he was still here so I could wish him a happy birthday, but he passed away two years ago. He was a quiet, sentimental, thrifty, and hardworking man who loved his family and had a talent for spinning tall tales. I treasure my memories of him reading Edgar Allen Poe's poetry to me when I was a little girl. 
Paul and Nelda Zieren - A sailor and his bride. Weren't people glamorous back then?!
And doesn't he look like a movie star in his portrait?
He valued education very highly, and he worked hard to ensure that his children and grandchildren would be able to attend college. He was so proud when I gave the salutatory speech at my high school graduation, he cried. I've always been fiercely motivated to work and study hard, so as to deserve the possibilities he worked so hard to make for me. Grandpa, wherever you are, I hope you know that we remember you and love you. 
My mother made this beautiful video to commemorate his life, and I can't stop crying rewatching it and drinking in all the great vintage details. What were they doing with that goat at 0:17?! Just one female mortuary school graduate, circa 1930something, at 0:36! Dapper sailors' uniforms at 0:45! My gorgeous, glamorous grandma, circa 1940something, at 1:00! The correct way for a man to wear a hat while showing off his newborn child at 1:08! My apple-cheeked, eye-rolling mama makes her first appearance at 1:28! Wearing ties and unironic hipster glasses while playing with dogs at 1:45! Me (and my huge honkin' baby birthmark) at 2:08! Cheesy color-coordinated 1980s family portrait at 2:13! 

I'll leave you with a little historical gem. I've always loved this letter grandpa wrote to the editor of his hometown newspaper when he was stationed in Papua New Guinea during World War II. Twelve years ago I copied it from the original by hand, and I've always kept that handwritten copy close. It's so formal! I wish people still wrote like this. Luckily, he did get his wish, and returned home soon after this letter was written.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ask the Amateur: Art Deco Inspired Living Room

A friend asked for some affordable Art Deco living room inspiration, and I had so much fun making this board for her. To keep prices within reason, I chose new items designed with the simple, geometric shapes and lines that evoke the Art Deco movement. Gleaming mirrored tables and crystal adorned sconces evoke jazz age glamour, and the accent lamps are perfect representations of Deco design. Admittedly, the sofa isn't Deco, but it harmonizes beautifully with the other pieces, and at $408, it meets her price point.

Living Room Design: Art Deco Meets 2012

Meanwhile, I'm experimenting with a claustrophobic new look and learning a lot about shopping for wall-to-wall carpet.

Echelon by Golden Lighting: The Perfect Chandelier for a Mid-Century, Modern, or Girly Dining Room

Yesterday Keith installed our new dining room chandelier. After hours of online shopping, we chose the Echelon Collection five light chandelier by Golden Lighting. I wasn't sure about this design; I thought it might  be too girly and precious. I wanted something blatantly Mid Century, very simple and stark. But Keith and my mom loved it, and I'm so glad they talked me into it. The drum shade is very Mid Century, but the glass balls and crystal pendants make it look current. It looks like jewelry! I want to hang it around my neck like some kind of monstrous lavaliere! Ooh la la, and viva la girliness.

It was a pretty fantastic deal, too, considering that Golden Lighting makes a nearly identical chandelier that costs $340 more. If you like the less expensive design, buy it now. Lighting Direct's website says it's out of stock and will be shipped in 7 - 14 days, but it actually shipped the day after we bought it. When the chandelier arrived, though, it was in a box stamped "ITEM DISCONTINUED - LIMITED QUANTITIES AVAILABLE." There was just one problem with it: It was supposed to come with two chain connectors, but they were missing. Keith had to stop midway through the process to make a quick trip to Home Depot.
 Did I mention that Keith cheerfully installed this huge honkin' thing by himself? Yeah. He's awesome. He was all, "Let me get my voltmeter," and "Oops, gotta go to Home Depot," and "That was easy! What do you think?" I think it's beautiful! And as soon as I've covered the chairs with new fabric, I'll reveal the entire space with its airy, fresh, modern new look. Good riddance, red walls and wrought iron chandelier!