Thursday, January 31, 2013

Be a Librarian... Or Just Look Like One! Firmoo Eyeglasses Are Librarian Tested and Approved

When I was single, I had this conversation almost every time I met someone new:
Him: What do you do?
Me: I'm a librarian.
Him: Oh really. Where are your glasses?
Me: Four people at this party have already asked me that, Captain Original.

It's funny how strongly people associate my profession with poor eyesight. I'm one of those ultra-rare unicorns odd librarians who doesn't need glasses, but I wish I did. About ten years ago I briefly wore cheap fashion glasses because I like the look, but they were always flimsy pieces of ?!*# that sat crookedly, inched down my nose, got scratched after a few wearings, and ultimately were abandoned at the bottom of some out-of-season purse. But lately I've had an itch to wear glasses again. So when Firmoo contacted me and asked if I'd like a free pair of glasses to review, I jumped at the chance.

Firmoo offers a huge variety of styles. Whether you like subtle, classic frames or Crayola-colored hipster glasses, they have you covered. All their styles can be made with prescription or non-prescription lenses. And it's easy to find what you want, because their website offers a surprising number of  search options--another thing a librarian loves! You can search and sort by color, size, style, shape, material, price, and date added. And when you find a style you like, you can load a picture of yourself to see how the frames will look on you. How fun is that?

As I shopped, I kept thinking What would Jackie Kennedy wear? I was craving something classic, but I couldn't decide between tortoiseshell or black frames. When I found these black frames with tortoiseshell arms, I was sold.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”

Thanks for the quote, Mr. Vonnegut. Like Billy Pilgrim's mother, I've collected a lot of impersonal stuff that doesn't mean much to me or no longer means what it once did. The Sirius Black bust given to me by a college boyfriend? The posters that have been rolled up and stuffed in my closet for four years? The vintage sculptural bric-a-brac that I keep in a cabinet because it looks like clutter when I put it anywhere else? Ugh. Who needs it?! These fresh, invigorating, un-cluttered interiors reinforce my belief that less is more. I'm so glad I got rid of it all. Getting rid of junk feels good.

Sidenote: OH HELL YES. HAHAHA, WOW. Thank you, Hot Topic model ex boyfriend!
Minimal blush pink and shiny bedroom... I like the mix of textures so much, I don't even mind the mirrored wall! Skonahem
My renovation last month kicked off a huge de-cluttering project. When the floors were replaced, I had to pull everything out of my closets and chuck it on the living room floor. Take a moment to think how scary that would look, okay? When I saw all that crap out of the closet and on display, I barely recognized half of it. I found a dozen shades for a chandelier that I replaced five years ago. I found huge paint cans containing colors that aren't even on my walls anymore. I found medicine that expired in 2005 and a dust bunny the size of my dog's head.
Why do an antique print mixed with mismatched vintage chairs look so fresh and modern?
Imagine this space full of stuff... Not so good, right? I think the lack of clutter makes this room. Skonahem
To make a long story short, it's all gone. The annoyingly crooked lamps, the weird ottoman that was always a little bit too short, and the cache of barely worn boots that didn't quite fit my disproportionately thick calves. I purged half the things in two closets and under the sink in my bathroom. Best of all, a bunch of nice cheapskates savvy Craigslisters came to my house and made all that junk disappear in just a few hours. I didn't even have to haul it to Goodwill or feel bad for throwing it away. Getting rid of stuff is easy.
Carefully edited collections are so much prettier than shelves stuffed with mounds of objects.
Wait, are those birds' nests on cake stands?! Um, yeah. No, I don't know why. Design Sponge 
This is going to make me sound like a crazy hippie fruitcake, but... Since I cleared out the old junk, my place feels like it's been imbued with clean, happy energy. I know it doesn't make logical sense. Why should a bunch of old, unused, and maybe broken things hiding behind closed doors bring a feeling of stagnancy and heaviness to the places where they accumulate? Whether or not it makes sense, though, I think it's true. I laugh when I read, "The state of your closets [is] a feng shui test of your self-esteem. How healthy is your self-esteem? How clean, peaceful and beautiful is your inner world?" I mean, seriously. I dare you to read that quote out loud without laughing. But there is something to it. Who knows... maybe I'm just comforted by the knowledge that there's extra room in the closet now, but getting rid of old junk feels almost as good as a new wall color.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Flocked Wallpaper for Your Swanky Bachelorette Pad

Good morning! How are you? Last weekend was so good: I had a delicious brunch with friends at Bosco's, saw Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with Keith (my fourth time seeing them... I love them!), and capped off the weekend with a trip to the improbably dragon-themed circus. Now I don't even mind that it's Monday and time for the most onerous chore of the year: The dreaded emission check. But let's talk design! Right now I'm obsessed with fuzzy, flocked wallpaper. It all started when I fell in love with everything about the show Sherlock... especially the living room at 221B Baker Street. The Union Jack pillow! The framed map of Britain! The scads of books in casual disarray! But most of all, I fell in love with that bold black and white wallpaper. I swoon! At first glance, it seems vaguely Art Nouveau, but the flocking gives it a huge dose of 1960s kitsch. Don't you want to run your hands all over it?!

Zoffany Navarre wallpaper in Dark Chocolate, as seen at 221B Baker Street
Sadly, the best price I can find on the Zoffany wallpaper puts it at about $130 a roll, plus whatever they charge to ship it across the pond. Ouch! Since a) That's absolutely insane, and b) I'm hoping to move in a year or so, I obviously won't be putting this on my walls anytime soon. For now, I'm content to simply collect inspiration photos and hope for the day when I find half a dozen dusty rolls of amazing velvety wallpaper goodness tucked away in an unlikely place. Like Big Lots.
Romo Lasari Miraflores wallpaper in Green
This photo really shows off the amazing touchable texture of flocked wallpapers. Don't you practically want to wear it?
There are about a million black and white damask and damask-ish flocked wallpapers. The more I browse, the more interested I am in unlikely patterns, especially those that are geometric, Art Deco, toile, and figural. Here are some of my favorites.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knitting Simple Spiral Cowls for Beginners

I've got one question for y'all:

In the last month, my Clover bamboo circular needles have seen SO much action. I've knitted five--yes, FIVE!--small cowls. I made a purple one for myself while we were at Disney World. The women in Keith's family admired them so much that I promised his mom, aunt, and cousin I'd make one for each of them. And them my mom wanted in on the action! Originally I was trying to make the Circulo Cowl on Ravelry, but something went wrong. I think I accidentally casted on too many stitches. From that beautiful mistake, I made a simple, spiraling pattern of knit, yo, and k2tog stitches. Once I understood how the pattern worked, I had a lot of fun trying out different variations on the design.

I love the way they look when they're worn!
They flop and drape at just the right angle and add a very welcome bit of texture, warmth, and color. So cozy!

Want to know more about the pattern?
People who don't knit coo over these and ask how I learned to do cables. HA! FOOLED THEM!
Jackie's cowl on the left was started by casting on 104 stitches, followd by 6 rows of k3 p3 ribbing. The body of the cowl was made with a simple pattern of k10, yo, k, k2tog. After the first round, always make sure that the last knit stitch you do before a yo is made by inserting the needle into a yo from the previous round. If your stitch count is a little off once per round, that's okay. Knit until you have 10 inches of patterned work, then end with another 6 rows of k3 p3 ribbing. Here's a rough chart of the pattern:

V = K. O = yo. X = K2tog.

I liked the look, but when I made Laura's cowl I experimented with putting the mock cables closer together. I cast on 120 stitches, then did 8 rows of k3, p3 ribbing. Then I did a smaller, tighter pattern of k4, yo, k, k2tog. Again, after the first round, always make sure that the last knit stitch you do before a yo is made by inserting the needle into a yo from the previous round. Again, your stitch count will be off once per round, and that's okay. When the body of the cowl was 10 inches long, I finished with 8 rows of k3, p3 ribbing. Here's a simple chart for this one:


For Mom and Molly's cowls, I switched it up by omitting the k between the yo and the k2tog. I was surprised by how much it changed the look! Instead of a mock cable, it creates a square hole followed by a small raised ridge. Geometric lace! I love the look of this one. Both of these were done by casting on 120 stitches, doing 8 rows of k3, p3 ribbing, and then working 10 inches of k4, yo, k2tog, followed by 8 more rows of ribbing. Again, after the first round, always make sure that the last knit stitch you do before a yarn over is done by inserting the needle into a yo from the previous round. It couldn't be easier!


All of these were worked on size 8 16 inch circular needles, with worsted weight yarn. In fact, all of them were worked in Patons Classic Wool except the charcoal gray cowl. That one was done in acrylic, at my mother's request. Acrylic looks and feels like what it is... plastic. It's so shiny, and it squeaks when it rubs the needles. It reminds me of scooting my butt on a squeaky vinyl seat. I didn't like working with it, but it's very soft, and I guess it's okay for someone who is sensitive to wool. 

Do you have strong opinions regarding acrylic yarn?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jean Patou's Jewel Festooned Potato Sacks: Love them or Hate them? And Another Scandalous Day at Downton

Once again, I'm hooked on Downton Abbey! I couldn't be happier that season three has started. Without giving anything away, I'll tell you that I'm drinking in all the fussy beaded details on the dinner dresses and clutching my heart over the drama. Will Bates and Anna ever get a happy ending? Will Edith ever take center stage? Will Matthew and Mary just shut up and get married already?

For those of you who aren't watching, picture this: The ladies of Downton are giggling over a certain bride's wedding dress and trousseau over tea. The sly, dry Dowager Countess--my favorite character!--practically titters as she tells the bride, "I'm rather disappointed you didn't go with Patou - I would have paid." But Cora insists that Patou makes one look like a chorus girl, and Lucile is a safer choice. Immediately, I had to look at Jean Patou's body of work. How could the Dowager Countess possibly love a frock that Cora found too racy?

Egyptian style evening dress by Jean Patou, 1924 - Victoria & Albert Museum
*singing* One singular sensation, every little step she takes...
 Okay, it does evoke a chorus line, but what's wrong with that, Cora?!
Beaded silk evening dress by Jean Patou, 1927 - Metropolitan Museum of Art
Is it terrible that this is something I'd wear under a beat-up gray cardigan with black tights? I love it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages... See the Most Amazing, Spectacular, and Dazzling Entry this Blogger Has EVER Dared to Post!

The Greatest Show on Earth is coming to town in just eight days! When I saw Gunther Gebel-Williams face off against a dozen tigers during his farewell tour in 1990, I was hooked for life on the death-defying, bedazzled razzmatazz of the circus. I'm whiling away the days until the ringmaster starts the show with etsy. Think red striped tents, airy cotton candy, aerialists in spangled leotards, and ostentatious sideshow signs. Step right up and enjoy these gorgeous and unique pieces from some of etsy's most talented artists!

For only the most daring ladies and ringmasters: Circus Mini Top Hat by Two Back Flats on Etsy
Hand Painted Circus Sideshow Nesting Dolls by Gravlax on Etsy - 20% off right now!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January 2013 Ipsy Bag: Classic Winter Must-Haves!

I love ipsy! My second Ipsy bag arrived on Monday, and it's just as good as the first. I had a pretty good day, but as soon as I came home and saw that big pink envelope, it became an awesome day. For those of you just tuning in, Ipsy is a beauty subscription service. For $10 a month, Ipsy sends subscribers five surprise luxury beauty products. Most are large sample sizes, but some are full size. Ipsy spoiled us so good this month, with moisturizing oil and lotion for dry winter skin and a pretty neutral nail polish that we're all going to LOVE wearing after all those Christmas reds. And the bag is worth almost four times what we paid, JACKPOT!

Here's a breakdown of the value:
Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil, 5 mL.: $4.80 (based on the $48.00 price for a 50 mL bottle)
Nailtini Straight Up Color Nail Lacquer in Frappe, full size: $13.00
Pacifica Perfume Tuscan Blood Orange Body Butter, 2.5 oz: $7.00
Big Sexy Hair Spray & Play Hairspray, 1.5 oz.: $6.00
SOHO Crease Brush: $8.99

Total Value: $39.79
Ipsy Cost: $10.00

But is this stuff good? Oh yeah.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Selection by Kiera Cass: If Bad YA Romance is Frosting From a Can, This Is Gourmet Buttercream.

I hate to admit it, but I brought this book home because the cover art is ridiculous. What kind of girls dress up as matching cupcakes, why is this girl flashing her armpit at me, and what the hell kind of cupcake clone party are these chicks attending?! I expected to have fun snarking on the story, but it's really good!

It's also worth mentioning that over on Goodreads, there was huge drama about this book. The debacle was so big that Publisher's Weekly covered it (Should Authors and Agents Weigh In on Citizen Reviews?). Many people have avoided The Selection entirely because of the drama. I didn't learn about that until after I finished The Selection, but here's my two cents: Anyone who doesn't read an entire book shouldn't be reviewing it. I never review titles that I don't finish. I believe that if I don't know how the entire story comes together, then I am not qualified to comment on its quality. But enough about that. Let's talk about The Selection!

The Selection is a perfectly paced guilty pleasure with a believable heroine, a rigidly caste-based post-apocalyptic society, a perfect prince, and a supporting cast of gossipy teenage girls competing to marry Prince Perfect in a bizarre televised marriage pageant. Yes, it's YA romance with a crazy premise. But it's well-written YA romance with excellent characters and enough tulle gowns, sparkling jewels, and catty divas to make it an indulgent pleasure. If bad YA romance is frosting from a can, then this is gourmet buttercream. Read on!

Here's the premise: When the United States defaulted on their Chinese loans, China invaded and conquered the U.S. They created the American State of China. During a subsequent war with Russia, the U.S. regained its independence. The newly free nation christened itself Illea and adopted a monarchy and strict numbered caste system. People are born into their castes, and the only way to move up is to marry a higher caste member or pay a huge sum of money. Ones and Twos live like royalty, but Fives, Sixes, Sevens, and Eights are often hungry and sometimes starving. 

In this stringently stratified society, everything is tightly controlled, including sex. Premarital sex is a jailable offense, so people marry very young. And speaking of marriage, royal sons are married to Illean commoners in a process called the Selection. When a Selection is to take place, girls between the ages of 15 - 19 may submit an application to be considered. Thirty-five applicants are chosen to live in the palace and date the prince. Any girl who doesn't "click" with him is sent home. The last girl standing marries the prince and eventually becomes Queen of Illea. And then the credits from The Bachelor roll across the sky, except not really.

Meet our heroine: America Singer is sixteen years old and a Five. That means she's a member of the artist and performer caste. By day, America sings at private parties, reads every book she can find, dotes on her younger siblings, and worries about her family's financial situation. By night, she makes out with her secret boyfriend, Aspen, in a treehouse. She dreams of marrying him, despite the fact that he's a Six.

When The Selection is announced, Aspen gets all weird and insecure and asks her to apply. He says if she doesn't, he'll always worry that she could've had a better life than the life he can offer her. America doesn't think she'll be Selected, but of course, she is. Aspen abruptly dumps her, and she learns that her family will be richly compensated for every week she spends at the palace. So she begrudgingly goes off to meet Prince Maxon--mostly so she can avoid Aspen. She has no intention of liking Maxon, but she wants to stay at the palace as long as possible. It will allow her younger brother and sister to eat well for a while.

Meet our hero: Prince Maxon isn't movie star handsome like Aspen, but he's cute enough, and his awkwardness is adorable. He's sheltered, formal, and disarmingly compassionate, though he freezes up when he sees a woman cry--and it's hilarious! Maxon is terrified of the gaggle of preening girls that has taken over his family's home. So he and America strike a deal: She will be his friend and tell him what the girls vying for his affection are really like when he isn't there. In return, he will let her stay at the palace long enough to secure her family's financial future and mend her broken heart.

It gets complicated: America befriends her maids. The Selected girls are by turns sweet and deliciously horrible. More than half the girls are sent home. Meanwhile, America and Maxon strike up a solid friendship. Their realistic and endearing banter makes them one of the most likable pairs I've seen in a book in a long time. Instead of just writing He was cute and she kind of liked him (so many YA authors do this, and it's a totally unacceptable writer copout!), Cass shows the growing affection between America and Maxon with dialogue that's believable because it's so sweetly clumsy. Their interactions always make me smile. But. But. Just when America thinks she might be over Aspen and ready to like Maxon, Big Drama That Can't Be Resolved in One Book happens.

It's going to be a trilogy, y'all! The second book comes out in April, and I can't wait. When I finished The Selection, I missed the characters so much that I didn't want to start a new book. That hadn't happened to me since I read A Dance With Dragons. If you're looking for something indulgent, girly, and well-written but non-taxing to read at the end of the day, The Selection is an excellent choice.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Disney World Sans Children: Cocktails Galore, Hitchhiking Ghost Keith, and MONKEYS

Last month, Keith and I spent a week at Disney World with his parents, brothers, grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and a family friend. It was incredible! We spent much of our time in the World Showcase (aka the Booze Park), telling stories, shopping, catching up, and doing ridiculous things with marionettes. My best memories include trying on tiaras with Keith's Aunt Jackie, learning about his Grandma Joyce's adventurous streak over beers at the Rose & Crown Pub, and talking music with his brother Ryan over lunch in not-really-Morocco. I was so present in the moment that it often didn't occur to me to take pictures, but at least I  brought home great memories. If you're planning a trip to the parks soon, maybe this advice will help:

Jen and Keith's Disneyworld Dos and Don'ts
Do: Bring moleskin. Your normal walking shoes won't cut it at Disney World.
Don't: Stay in the parks all day. Swim or watch a movie in the afternoon, then go back to the parks at night.
Do: Get up early to get Fast Passes for the best rides.
Don't: Ride Tower of Terror (Ok, that's just MY Don't)!!!
Do: Ride Star Tours more than once; the line is usually short and it's different each time.
Do: Spend as much time with family as possible.

Welcome home! Our room at Kidani Village
DO: Stay on Disney property. It saves so much time and allows you to spend more time in the parks.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Asherton Scarf in Light Gray Marl Wool, Planning a Knitting Curriculum, and n00b Questions

My second scarf is finished! You know how all those high school friends you don't talk to in real life are all up on Facebook like Here is a picture of my baby! Here is a picture of my baby with a bunny! Here is a picture of my baby on a bearskin! Here is a picture of my baby riding a magic unicorn! Blahblahblah... Well, I can do that too.

Here is a picture of my scarf!
Needles: Size 7 straight needles
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Yarn
Color: Light Gray Marl

Here is a picture of my scarf with a flower!

Monday, January 7, 2013

What's Cooler than Bein' Cool Galley Kitchen Makeover: Ice Blue Paint and Colonial Cream Granite

I'm so excited to finally share my newly made-over kitchen with you! I never wanted to post pictures of it before, because it was so small and boring. Narrow galley kitchens don't leave room for much creativity, but you can make big changes, even in a small space. For those of you with tiny kitchens, there's hope!

Here's the before. Meh. The dingy beige paint made the room feel dark and small, and even my realtor made fun of the ugly green laminate counter tops. Don't you want to send that counter back to the '90s, where it belongs (along with verdigris finishes and ragged walls)?

hate hate hate hate hate hate hate
When Keith and I returned from Disney, we came home to a completely revamped kitchen. My creative and thoughtful parents surprised me with a kitchen makeover for Christmas! They did all the work I've been meaning to do for, like, ever. And they did it exactly how I wanted it: I'd been talking about remodeling my kitchen for months, chosen my colors and finishes, and even purchased a new sink and faucet. I just didn't, you know, follow through.

So my sneaky Mom found a cheap granite remnant that matched my color scheme and had it all done while we were in Florida as my Christmas present! Dad repainted the kitchen himself, using the paint left over from my dining room redo (FYI, the color is Silver Screen by Behr). And while they were at it, they installed my new sink and faucet. Best parents ever. Now the kitchen looks fresh, bright, and a little bigger. 

Um, ignore the wonky copper wire! We haven't reconnected the water to the ice maker yet.
I was so excited to share the kitchen, I didn't realize how stupid that would look in pictures. Oops.
First, check out the new counters. I wasn't sure if I'd like granite, and a small part of me is afraid it's going to start looking dated very soon, but I do love my new counter tops. The color is called Colonial Cream. Compared to swatches of this color I've seen online, it looks much whiter and brighter in person. It has fewer rust-colored veins, and more pretty garnet-purple spots. If you found this post because you want to see what Colonial Cream granite looks like after it's installed, I hope that info helps.

Minor details can make a big impact, and I think it's important to note that the same paint was used on the backsplash and the ceiling. It draws the eye up (and up!) and makes the room look taller and feel bigger. Also, I replaced the old light bulbs with GE Reveal bulbs, which give off a brighter, prettier color of light. I think good lighting is overlooked too often. But it's so easy to change, and relatively cheap. Compare the room's general brightness in the Before and After pics, and I think you'll see a huge difference.

Finally, check out that hardware. I'm crazy about the gracefully curved faucet, the sprayer, and the fact that the faucet is so high, it doesn't get in the way when I'm washing big pots and pans. I'm not so crazy about the drop-in stainless steel sink, but at least it's not scratched and dinged like my old sink. In a perfect world, I would've chosen an undermount sink (so swanky!), but couldn't get one and stay within my budget. And I'm 100% okay with that. It gives me something to look forward to in the future.

Pfister Harbor Two Handle Faucet

Thanks for looking, and let me know if you have any questions about what we did.
I really, really, really don't mind talking about paint colors and stuff.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Yearly Retrospective: 2012

Hello, 2013! The last few weeks have been crazy: I went to Disney World with Keith and his family for a week, and I rode the new Little Mermaid ride! My friends got hitched at the Belmont Mansion, and I was a bridesmaid. And through it all, Keith and I lived in a construction zone while our water-damaged floors were torn up and replaced. In case you were wondering, breathing wood chips for a month DOES make you sick. Oh yeah, and CHRISTMAS happened! It's been fun, but I'm exhausted. Can I have my normal life back, but with pretty new floors? Please? Let's return to normalcy with this questionnaire. I've faithfully done it every January for the last ten years, so why stop now?

I got a really long, shiny black car took two limousine rides to the airport in 2012. Yeah, life is good.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?

I started living with someone I love, became a dog owner, went on a hot air balloon ride, learned to knit, rode Tower of Terror at Disney World (NEVER AGAIN!), saw Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes AND the Polyphonic Spree perform live, received a free custom-made dress cuz I'm a blogger(!), and wore Day of the Dead makeup.