Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Have you ever read a book that's great until it abruptly ends without actually finishing the story? You wonder if some pages were torn out, so you examine the spine, but the book is intact. It occurs to you that maybe the book is part of a series, and the story will continue. But no, that isn't the case. Even though you enjoyed the book until it ended, now you're frustrated and annoyed. That's how I felt when I finished Laini Taylor's Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

For those of you just tuning in, here are my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy:

In Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Taylor introduces strong new characters, explains Akiva's lineage, and finally reveals the ancient history of Karou and Akiva's world. It was so good, I was practically pumping my fist as I read it. But, mere pages from the end, Taylor drops a bombshell that could easily take two more books to resolve. But it's okay, because a prophecy says everything will somehow be resolved. How? *shrug* 

I feel like she was essentially saying, "The story isn't over, but I signed a contract for a three book deal, so I have to stop writing now. Bye." Then Karou and Akiva finally get some alone time, and the series ends. Really? Really?! I was not amused. If you've been reading the book only for the love story, you probably won't mind the ending. But love stories written for teenagers aren't really my thing. 

Instead, I was drawn to this series because I wanted to see how the war was resolved, and how it might affect our own world. I admire the way Taylor turns religious mythology regarding angels into something new. Her "fallen angels" are not at all what we would imagine. Angels aren't entirely good, and devil-faced monsters aren't entirely bad. Sometimes I wasn't sure with whom I should sympathize, and the ethical gray areas make the story feel more real. But just as the loose ends are coming together, Taylor unravels it all. That would be fine if this was the third book in a four or five book series, but it's no way to end a trilogy!

The ending leaves me scratching my head, because Taylor is a good writer. Her characters are unique. The world she creates is vivid and compelling. And the magic system she imagines is spooky and really, really cool. I think Taylor had too many ideas for a three book series, and she needed to either edit her ideas more tightly or hold out for a book deal that gave her enough time and pages to let her story unfold. I hope Taylor will write a  companion series that continues the story from the perspective of another character (Perhaps Eliza?). If Taylor does that, all the problems I have with Dreams of Gods and Monsters will be redeemed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ipsy April 2014: Beauty Rocks!

For those of you just tuning in, Ipsy is a beauty subscription service. For $10 a month, Ipsy sends 4 - 5 surprise beauty products to your door in a cute cosmetics bag. They even mail it all in a sparkly pink envelope! Seeing that envelope in my mailbox always makes me jump up and down like a little kid. If you like trying new things, Ipsy is for you.

Happy Ipsy Day! I got a completely mixed bag this month: Some of it I love, some of it I want to love but can't, and some of it I want to throw away. This is the first time I've seriously envied what other Ipsy subscribers received. Ipsy Match, the system Ipsy uses to choose products for subscribers based on our preferences, failed me for the first time. But here's the value of this month's bag:

Urban Decay 24/7 Velvet eyeliner 0.03 oz. sample in black: $15.00
Cailyn Tinted Lip Balm in Acid Pink: $19.00
Kiss Looks So Natural eyelashes: $3.99
Benefit Lollitint 2.5 mL sample: $6.00 

Total value: $47.98
Ipsy price: $10.00

So here's the deal about these products:

The Urban Decay eyeliner is... well... Urban Decay eyeliner. What's not to love?! Urban Decay makes the best black eyeliner I've ever used, and this generously sized sample is excellent. I'll use this and love it. 

I received the Cailyn lip balm in red last fall, and even though it's poorly named, I love it. This product is NOT a balm--it's an ultra-matte, long-wearing lip product that feels dry on the lips but doesn't leave them chapped. And the packaging, with a built-in brush, is very cool. I was excited when I found out I was getting this product, but SO disappointed when I saw the color. Acid pink?! I'm too old for this! Some subscribers received the same product in a pretty neutral color, and I wish I got that instead. Ipsy Match Fail #1.

The City Color highlight mousse came completely out of left field. I've never used a product like this, and I love it. It's a creamy mousse that sets quickly into a long-wearing, ultra-shimmery yellow gold color. A tiny smudge of it on my brow bone and another on the inner corners of my eyes looks absolutely gorgeous. I've never used a product like this, and that's what I love about Ipsy: It helps me find new things I love.

I hate the Kiss eyelashes. Eyelashes, really? No. Just no. One set was enough. This is another Ipsy Match fail. I'm especially disappointed because many subscribers received a Demeter Jasmine perfume roll-on instead of the lashes. I wish I'd gotten that!! Ipsy Fail #2.

The Lollitint lip and cheek stain by Benefit is a small disappointment, but I'm glad I got to try it without dropping $30 on it. I love Benefit's BeneTint, and I expected this to be similar. The orchid color is nice, and it's pretty as a lip stain, but it's not good on the cheeks.  This product has a milky formula that stains my skin immediately after I apply it. No matter how quickly I blend it into my cheeks, I end up with stripes on my face. I wish I could use it on my cheeks as well as my lips.

What did you get this month? Did you get the Demeter perfume... and do you want to trade? 

Please? *bats fake eyelashes* I never even opened them!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I Can't Find Words for The O'More Alumni Show House. Amazing? Spectacular? That Doesn't Do It Justice!

I recently visited the O'More Alumni Show House and walked away nearly speechless. I found so much inspiration there, I don't know how to put it all in one post! But I'm getting ahead of myself. For readers who aren't native to Nashville, O'More College of Art & Design is an educational institution tucked away on a historic property just outside the city, in Franklin, Tennessee. When I was a child, I spent my summers at their summer art camps. I have fond memories of sketching the classical sculpture that topped the fountain in the garden... and then wildly splashing around in a vain attempt to catch the tadpoles that swam there.

The school fundraises and showcases the work of their interior design alumni at their annual show houses. Each year, they breathe new life into a historic property that has seen better days. For a month, they proudly show off the creative talents of their alumni, and then the homes are sold for a tidy profit--all of which goes into the school's coffers. This year, they turned their attention to the Dozier home at 1009 West Main Street in Franklin. The residence turned funeral home is now ready to be a residence again, and it's spectacular.

I love the soft color scheme. Designer Kathleen Evers somehow managed to use purple without making it look garish! And those mile-high curtains with goblet pleats at the top are exactly what I'd like to have someday. From Traditional Home's Twitter.
This cozy nook, tucked under a grand staircase, was designed by Eric Ross and Christine Barker. Doesn't it seem like the perfect place to curl up and read Harry Potter? From Traditional Home's Twitter.
I love the dark colors and utilitarian rug in the moody study, designed by Crysta Parish. From Traditioanl Home's Twitter.
Don't you love the mural on the wall in the breakfast area? The designer's son-in-law snapped the photo, and she has it blown up to epic proportions and printed onto wallpaper. WOW. If you did something like that, what kind of photo would you want to use? A landscape? A cityscape? A crazy-huge portrait? Or something else entirely? Photo taken by me.
Black and white and practically perfect, designed by JoAnn Haynes. I'd probably choose a less fussy light fixture, and I'd remove the painting from the window, but I love the colors, the terrarium in the window, and the moss under the glass tabletop. It reminds me of Elizabeth Lockhart's lovely moss wall. Take a look at it! From Traditional Home's Twitter.
I have a hard time choosing my favorite things about this house. I love that they didn't shy away from dark wall colors. The abundance of built-in bookcases makes this librarian dream of having something similar. And of course, I love (love!) the mural in the breakfast room and the black and white color scheme in the sunroom.

The bummer is that custom carpentry, extra-large squares of real marble tile, and antique Persian rugs are not an option for most of us. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw a price list for the items in the first picture! But there are so many ideas that almost anyone can use: The color schemes. The beautiful simplicity of curtain panels hung extra-high. The huge impact made by small pieces of framed art hung in a neat grid. Flowering branches exploding from a thrifted ginger jar vase. A bit of tiger print here. A bit of dried, preserved moss in a terrarium there. Yeah, you got this.

Today is the last day to see the house in person, so HURRY! Go there NOW! Or, just enjoy the pictures taken by Mark Zaleski at Tennessean. And tell me, what do you like best about the house?

Friday, April 11, 2014

"I'm a Stay At Home Wife."

Think fast! What does yours truly have in common with Kaley Cuoco and Enrique Iglesias? We were all featured in Cosmopolitan magazine this month. I feel like I'm joking when I say that, but it's true. An article about my current full-time homemaker situation (and a picture my sister snapped of me at my cousin's wedding) are on page 223. I'm right between "Your Guide to the Male Brain" and a Mother's Day feature called "When Your Mom's Not Perfect." It's hard to type that with a straight face! Can we talk? Let's talk.

Q: How did this happen? Did you write the article and submit it to Cosmo?
A: No, the article was written by Rachel Bertsche, a freelance writer. Rachel was looking for a full-time homemaker to provide quotes for a completely different article she wanted to pitch to her editor. Rachel is friends with my friend Niki, and Niki put us in touch. I chatted with Rachel on the phone, and she put together a pitch for her editor. Then we were both surprised: Her editor said, "Let's just do an article on Jen." Why? I don't know! But that's how it happened.

Q: But the article is in first person. You didn't write it?
A: Nope. Rachel and I had a long phone conversation, and then she wrote it submitted it and to her editors. They tweaked it further to give it, I don't know, some Cosmo sass. Or to make the article the right length. I'm not sure.

Q: What happened next?
A: I e-mailed Rachel a few pictures of myself, and her editor chose the one that you see in the magazine. And a Cosmo editor contacted me repeatedly to ask our annual income. She was very interested in money, but I didn't feel comfortable sharing Keith's salary or my former salary. She also sent me a list of questions, in order to fact-check a few items in the article.

Q: Are you happy with the article?
A: For the most part, yes.  I'm not embarrassed by my life, and it's kind of cool to see myself in a really famous magazine. It accurately describes why we decided it makes sense for me to stay home right now, and my daily routine. And I laughed and laughed when I read the part describing the awkward conversation I had with my friend who wasn't impressed at first with my new "job." Ryan, you're in Cosmo! *grin* Oh, and it's funny to pretend the sexy mile-long legs on the picture accompanying the article are mine.

Q: Is there anything you didn't like about the article?
A: The article made me sound MUCH less happy at the library than I was. Like I said before, the editor was very interested in our income, and the emphasis on money in the first paragraph doesn't represent how I feel. No one goes into library work to get rich! Low pay is why it made sense for me to leave the library, but I wasn't mad about it. So when they put a lot of emphasis on money and said my job wasn't "easy to stomach," I cried. Yeah. I literally sobbed, "I'll never be able to visit the library again!" I imagine that my colleagues might be offended by the article, and that makes me feel sick.  I was deeply devoted to the library. I still like the people I worked with, and I especially like and respect my former boss.

Q: Wow.
A: Yeah.

Q: So do you regret it?
A: No. My friend Kimmie told me a lot of people left comments on the online article, and most of them are supportive. I'm excited that it's opened up a dialogue! I hope it leads to some honest conversations about work/life balance. And how the work done by an at-home spouse can significantly cut living expenses (Holy shit, we spend so much less now! Do you know how much we used to spend on food because we were both too exhausted to cook? TOO MUCH!). And different ways that couples can balance the work that earns money and the rest of the work that keeps life going. As far as I'm concerned, all the ways to do it are valid. And I congratulate everyone who finds the balance that works for them.Our way of doing things is so old-fashioned that we don't know anyone else who does it this way. But it works for us.

Good talk, y'all. Good talk.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Live With Almond Bathroom Fixtures (And Maybe Even Like It)

Okay, the title is a bit of a misnomer: I'm not actually living with almond fixtures yet. Right now, I'm doing research, gathering ideas, and making plans for our new guest bathroom. It's a challenging room, because it has an almond tub and toilet. "Almond" is a plumbing fixture color that's best described as yellow crossed with beige crossed with despair. I HATE it. But I love a design challenge, so I'm trying to make it work. I put this room concept together over the weekend, and now I'm itching to get the keys and start making this house our home. What do you think?

Pretty As a Picture Bathroom Design

Here's what I've learned so far about making a bathroom with almond fixtures work:

Step one: Accept the problem.
Are your plumbing fixtures are in good condition? Do you hate the idea of sending perfectly good things to the landfill? Can you afford to reglaze? If you answered yes, yes, and no, then accept that you're going to live with a yellowish bathtub that looks like it's been peed on a lot. But hey, that's a first world problem. Let's move on.

Step two: Don't use white paint.
Some designers recommend using white paint in a room with almond fixtures for a "white on white" look. NO. Almond is not white. When you mix white and almond, you get the "white on a baby pool full of pee" look. And you deserve so much better than that. Really.

Step three: Choose a color. Preferably a darker color than the fixtures.
Since you can't use white, pick any paint color that doesn't look awful with almond. Warm tones tend to work well. Grays and blues tend to work poorly against the yellowy almond color. And keep this in mind: If your paint color is lighter than the tub, the tub will look dark (and possibly more dirty). A darker paint color, on the other hand, will make the tub look lighter and brighter. Choose accordingly.

Step four: Look, over there! A distraction!
If you don't want to notice your ugly fixtures, give yourself something else to look at. Since you don't spend a lot of time in the powder room (I hope),  I think it's fun to make crazy decorating choices in there. Bright colors? Large scale prints? Crazy wallpaper? Bring it on! I was so excited when I found this wallpaper by Sanderson. It's from their new Voyage of Discovery line, and I'm head over heels for it. I love the hand-drawn, Natural History textbook look. Every time I look at it, I see something new.

But let's go back to reality for a moment: This is what we're starting with. Doesn't the tub look greenish against that pink wallpaper? I want to strip the wallpaper, put the Sanderson wallpaper on the wall with the towel bar, move the towel bar to another wall, paint the other walls beige, put a brightly colored Ikat runner on the floor, and put a big round mirror with a gold frame over the sink. There is room for an accent table by the tub, and I'm keeping my eyes peeled for something gold with a bamboo motif. Oh my gosh, I can't wait!

But what do you think? I have questions:
a) Eventually, I might like to replace the vanity with something similar to the one in the picture, with legs and sleek doors. But for now, I'll just paint the existing vanity brown. Or maybe midnight blue. Would dark blue be a weird color for a vanity? I'd like to do something crazy and unexpected.
b) I might dye some oldish white towels midnight blue, too. They're fluffy but no longer pretty, and I'm hoping that dye might revive them. Have you tried dyeing towels? Does it work?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Want It Painted Black.

Last week we had the new house inspected, and at first glance, the inspection report was terrifying. Essentially, the house has been owned by a succession of people who haven't done ANY routine maintenance on it. Ever. When I saw the 40 page inspection report, I FREAKED OUT. New Homeowner Jen doesn't know the difference between maintenance issues (roof and trim repair, no big deal) and deal breakers (black mold and aggressive termite infestation, RUN!). I was ready to walk away and start over, and that would've been stupid. I didn't calm down until my father took me out, filled me with pasta and wine, and talked me down with "If you don't want it, do you mind if I buy it? Because it would be a fantastic investment, and seriously, would you be mad if we did that?" If Dad wanted to buy it, it couldn't be THAT bad.

So yeah, we're seriously buying this house. And as soon as I get the keys, I'm going to paint all the trim black! All of the interior trim is currently a disgusting nicotine yellow, so it has to be painted no matter what. I've been talking about black and white contrast for a long, long time. And if these pictures from interior designer Jessica Helgerson's projects are any indication, that's a very, very good idea. I love the calm elegance of these rooms, and the  mix of old and new.
INSPIRATION PICTURE. NOT MY HOUSE. Design by Jessica Helgerson
More beautiful inspiration from Jessica Helgerson, and get this: This house used to be a public library. (!)
What else have I been doing? Knitting a loose knockoff of these. Reading this, which comes out next week (HUGE thanks for the advance copy, Lauren!). The usual. Oh, and constantly fielding calls and e-mails from our realtor, mortgage company, and various contractors. I've been flooded with so many house-related messages, I've somehow missed a handful of personal messages. Friends, it's not you. It's me and my overflowing inbox! I love you guys. Derp.