Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 2014 Ipsy Bag: 19 Reasons

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 in a shiny hot pink envelope! Seeing that envelope in my mailbox always makes me dance around like a little kid. If you don't want to get in a beauty rut, Ipsy is for you.



This month's bag is named for the 19 different products sent to Ipsy subscribers this month. From the 19 possible products, Ipsy chose 5 items for each subscriber. It's like having a makeup concierge; they base their choices on our reviews of products we received in the past. I feel like the longer I subscribe and the more feedback I give, the better Ipsy "gets" me. So it was strange when I opened my bag this month, and I wasn't immediately wowed. Let's be honest: At first glance, color cosmetics are more exciting than potions and lotions. But potions and lotions are expensive, and this month's bag was a good value.

Healthy Sexy Hair Tri-Wheat Leave-In Conditioner Spray, 1.7 oz. travel size: $6.00
Malin + Goetz Mojito Lip Balm, full size: $12.00
Proactiv+ Mark Fading Pads, four pads: $13.33
skiin Smoothing and Soothing Eye Cream, 0.25 oz. sample: $15.00
Bonus for referring new subscribers: Beauty Blender and cleaner worth $19.95 (not included in total value)

TOTAL VALUE:  $53.33
Ipsy Cost: $10.00

I haven't reviewed an Ipsy bag since September because their shipping partner, DHL, is so slow. I don't usually get my bag until the end of the month! I didn't want to bore you with a review of a bag that everyone else wrote about the week before. But Ipsy is sending a wide variety of items now, so everyone's bag is different. Detailed reviews seem like a good idea again.

The Malin + Goetz lip balm has a subtle shine, no color, and no tackiness or excessive stickiness. Best of all, it left my chapped, flaky lips soft and free of flakes after two days of use. The minty-lime mojito scent is pleasant but quickly wears off. I didn't detect any flavor. I don't like to apply balms with my finger, but the container isn't designed for direct application to your lips. Aside from that, this product feels expensive and luxurious.

The Elizabeth Mott creamy eye pencil is too thin to use as eye shadow, so I use it as a highlighter on the inner corners of my eyes. This creamy pencil stays in place once it's been applied, and I love the metallic copper color so much. It makes greenish-brown eyes look bright green! It looks wonderful with dark, smoky plum eyeshadow.

The skiin eye cream has a light, mousse-like texture. I like it a lot. It absorbs quickly, makes my skin feel supple and soft, and doesn't feel heavy. Best of all, it didn't make my acne-prone skin break out.

The Healthy Sexy Hair leave-in conditioner simplified my hair routine. I used it along with my usual Diamond Oil and then blow-dried my hair. My hair looked so smooth, I didn't need to use any styling tools. Normally, I have to curl or straighten my hair after blow-drying to avoid frizz.

I can't review the Proactiv+ pads because I haven't used them yet. My skin is too sensitive and dry to use a product like this in the winter. Maybe I'll use them sometime in the future. Did you get them and try them? What did you think?

Even though I wasn't excited when I first opened my bag, I really like four out of the five products I received this month. It's almost like Ipsy knows what I need even better than I do. And that's what I like about Ipsy: It helps me discover great products I might never have thought to try otherwise.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife (Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over Again)

Jane Austen fans, rejoice: There is such thing as a good Pride and Prejudice spinoff! After reading (and hating) Me and Mr Darcy, I wasn't keen on books based on Austen. But when my mother in law put Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll in my hands and said, "I think you'll like this," I trusted her. 

When she paused and then added, "It has a lot of sex, though," I laughed. I couldn't tell if that was supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing! I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a funny, well-written story that straddles the line between a parody and a tribute. The dialogue is so over-the-top, it's hilarious. But underneath the ridiculousness, I found a solid and engaging plot.


Just a few pages into the story, we find Lizzie and Jane recently engaged to Darcy and Bingley. Shameless Lydia wants to borrow money from her soon-to-be-wealthy sisters. So she unsuccessfully tries to ingratiate herself upon them by describing married life: "Your husband's manly member will swell big and red and hard and angry and enormous!" At that point, I was laughing so hard that I could barely hold the book. I thought, Okay, so it's going to be that kind of story. Since I was in the mood to laugh, I kept reading.

Just as Lydia predicted, there are plenty of, um, carnal descriptions of marital felicity. Some people don't like to read about sex at all, ever, and those people need to avoid this book. Me? I don't mind sex in books as long as it's well-written (George R.R. Martin, please stop writing sex scenes) and all characters involved seem to be actively participating and having a good time (Angelmonster, you failed miserably at this). 

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife begins with Mr. Darcy taking his wife over and over and over again. It's what I would expect from a couple who is deeply attracted to each other but chose not to be intimate until after marriage. What I didn't expect was for Lizzy to take such a playful and imaginative role in the bedroom. Unlike many authors, Berdoll doesn't make her female characters lie inert while sex happens at them, and I like that a lot.

Once Mr. and Mrs. Darcy have mastered the art of conjugal congress, life outside the bedroom resumes. Mrs. Darcy is introduced to high society, and the rest of the book is merry series of subplots and intrigues involving my favorite supporting characters and a few characters invented by Berdoll. We meet the French courtesan who schooled Darcy in the art of love and the young Pemberly servant who may or not be Darcy's illegitimate son. Mr. Collins continues to embarrass himself at every chance. Lady Catherine continues to plot against Lizzie. Jane continues to be too sweet for her own good. It isn't Austen, but it kept me reading late into the night because it's a lot of fun.

And that's what you must remember: Jane Austen has been dead since 1817. No one else is going to be Austen, so fervent Janeites who expect this book to read exactly like a genuine Austen novel will be disappointed. I've seen plenty of indignant one-star reviews from incensed readers: "Berdoll managed to make a complete mockery of Jane Austen's timeless classic. She has sullied the name of Elizabeth Bennett." To these reviewers I say, Relax. Reading is supposed to be fun. 

There is just one problem I want to warn readers about: If you intend to read Berdoll's second book about Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, stop reading at the end of chapter 87. After chapter 87, Berdoll writes a series of short chapters that serve as an epilogue. They describe the fate of every single character, even the most minor servants and neighbors. Berdoll's second novel, Darcy and Elizabeth, doesn't introduce any new information; it's a long, drawn-out version of the epilogue. It feels like a waste! I'm halfway through Darcy and Elizabeth now, and it's been a dull read because I already know what is going to happen.

In sum: If you don't mind reading about sex (and sex, and more sex) between a happily married couple, then put your pretensions aside, enjoy the silliness, and stop reading after chapter 87.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

$7.48 Jewelry Display: How to Make the BEST and Prettiest Picture Frame Jewelry Holder

What have you done so far this week? I got a tetanus booster shot (OUCH), fell in love with two houses that are completely different (how do we decide?!), and completed another step in my bedroom redesign project. My jewelry used to be scattered around the room in a way that didn't make much sense, and I never could find what I wanted. NOT FUNCTIONAL. 

So I made two jewelry displays with picture frames I already had, fabric left over from my last upholstery project, and a $7.48 roll of mesh screen. Earrings hang on the mesh, and I made little hooks out of paper clips to hang the necklaces. Now the pieces I wear regularly are in plain sight, and everything is in one place.


You're probably thinking Jen, this picture frame jewelry display thing isn't a new concept. And you're right! Similar jewelry displays have been floating around Pinterest and blogs for years. But now I can vouch that it's popular because it works, and it's very easy to get a professional result with minimal work.

If you follow these steps, you can't fail:

1. The most attractive collections are curated collections, so prune your jewelry collection. If you've been saying, "Oh, I'll fix this broken necklace someday," for three years, you're not actually going to fix it. So get rid of it! And give away anything nice that you don't actually wear. If you really can't stand to part with something sentimental, but you never wear it, put it in the farthest corner of your jewelry box.

2. Put all the jewelry you DO wear on a table and arrange it as if you're putting it on display. What kind of layout works best for your jewelry? Do you have so many earrings that you could never fit them on a single picture frame? Do you have a very small jewelry collection, and you can fit necklaces and earrings on one small frame? Do you have very long necklaces, and you need a tall frame to accommodate them? If you assess your storage needs BEFORE you choose your frame(s), you'll have a much prettier and more functional finished product.

3. Now that you have an idea of the general layout for your jewelry, take a picture to use as a guide when you're actually arranging the jewelry later. 

4. Select your frame(s), and follow Centsational Girl's tutorial to make your jewelry display. I didn't paint anything because I like my black frames and shiny metal screen. And to save money, I used a scrap of cardboard from an old cardboard box instead of foam board. Because the cardboard was too thin for staples, I used hot glue to attach the fabric to the cardboard. Also, if you might want to convert your jewelry holder back into a picture frame someday, follow these steps:
     a) Attach the screen to the fabric-covered cardboard, NOT to the frame itself.
     b) Do not hot glue the cardboard/fabric/screen piece to the frame. The frame back will hold it all together nicely.

5. It's time to arrange your jewelry! Refer to the photo you took earlier. Remember that the overall effect of this project relies on the layout of your jewelry. Don't crowd it together too tightly, or it won't be easy to see what you have. Once you have a pretty layout, hang it on the wall (if necessary) and enjoy!


Ever the overachiever, I used this project as an excuse to rearrange my entire bedroom dresser. It was a HUGE mess because I kept piling junk on it during my previous projects. The "Before" was so awful that I took every single item off the dresser, arranged, and got rid of/moved/stored more than half the junk that was originally up there. Since my jewelry display frames and jewelry box are very square, I tried to introduce more curves and rounded shapes to the display.


I'm so pleased with the finished result: Excellently calming neutral colors! Lots of contrast between black and white! And except for my wedding bouquet, everything is functional: The pitcher is where we collect loose change, the antique crystal jar holds buttons and sewing notions, and I keep rings in the black hand-shaped dish. A close look in the mirror reveals that Keith's dresser is still a mess, but I've made progress, and I'm satisfied with it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Have a Seat with One Kings Lane

Indulge me for a moment, and imagine your ideal chair. Would you prefer a Pop-Art plastic chair with a Saarinen base, or a stately Victorian lady's chair upholstered in antique needlepoint? After last week's upholstery project, I'm preoccupied with chairs right now. So I was pleased to find the Chair Style Guide at One King's Lane.

It's like a Seventeen magazine quiz, but so much better because it won't tell you what you're doing wrong with boys. It can help you find exactly what you want, even if you can't tell a Parsons chair from a Louis XIV, and you think Queen Ann legs should be covered in stockings.



Or can it? I was stumped: I knew the chair of my dreams had classic styling, but I wasn't drawn to wood or fabric. I wanted metal. So I poked around their website, looking for the chair of my dreams. I knew I'd found it when I saw these leather and wrought iron Campaign style chairs. Wow! The leather looks tough, but the graceful lines are pretty from every angle.
Once I found my dream chairs, I had a bit of fun imagining how I'd use them in an entryway. With a cabinet for shoes, a tray to collect mail, a mirror for checking one's lipstick when leaving the house, a little gold bowl to hold keys, and a comfy place to sit down and remove one's shoes after a long day, it's pretty and functional. 

Welcome Home with One Kings Lane
Can you spot the other four items from One Kings Lane?
For me, One Kings Lane is a place where I go to dream. At this point in my life, I can't impulsively purchase such big-ticket items. But I like their perfectly styled photography, and I'm always fascinated by the combinations of items in each collection. They mix old, new, modern, and froufrou in ways that always inspire me. So I visit often, and take notes. Note to self: Look for brass animals at thrift stores. And I think their stylish pairs of table lamps priced under $300, with lampshades, are a good deal. 

But we were talking about chairs! Which chair did the chart recommend for you? Do you like it, or did the quiz fail to address your style? And do you also think that Renaissance Revival chair looks like a really pretty torture device? I want to know!

Friday, January 17, 2014

What's Black and White and Covered with Butts?

MY NEW CHAIR!!! Hahahahaha.


What did you do this week? I reupholstered and painted a chair for my bedroom. Look at the beastly little paws on the arms. Aren't they cute? I didn't want to detract from the chair's graceful curves and interesting paws. So I gave it a very simple makeover: I used white canvas and black satin-finish spray paint.

I was inspired by the black furniture with white upholstery at Ballard Designs. I like their overall effect; it's so simple and classic. I feel like I got the Ballard Designs look without the $699 price tag. It looks like grown-ups live here. Except oh wait... butt jokes. Never mind.

Best of all, it wasn't an expensive project: From start to finish, it was less than $40, including sales tax. The chair was $12 at a thrift store. The fabric was 12.98 a yard, and I bought 1.25 yards. I used just one $5.00 can of spray paint. We already owned the tools used to take the chair apart, and I borrowed my Mom's staple gun to upholster the chair. And since the chair's foam was in surprisingly good condition, I didn't replace it.

Honestly, the worst part of the project was disassembling the thing, and I can't take credit for that: My husband did most of the dis-assembly, because the chair was held together with stripped screws that were beyond my ability to remove. Once it was taken apart, though, it was smooth sailing. I painted the wooden parts first, following these directions from Southern Hospitality, but without distressing the paint. I've upholstered a few pieces in the past, so I didn't follow a tutorial when I upholstered the cushions. I just used my wits and the previous upholsterer's work as a guide. But if you're looking for a good tutorial, Apartment Therapy put together a collection of upholstery tutorials here. Choose the one that fits your project best.

I won't be sitting around and trying out the chair for long; I'm meeting with a realtor tomorrow. Please wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Chantilly Collection by Maxim Lighting

Have you ever casually walked through a store when something literally made you stop in your tracks, gasp, and put your hand to your chest like a swooning Jane Austen character? I did that last week, and I felt a little ridiculous. I was walking through Hermitage Lighting Gallery, looking for a lampshade, when I saw a showstopping chandelier from Maxim's Chantilly line. I'd never seen anything else like it, and my reaction was involuntary: I froze, audibly gasped, and clutched my heart. I felt a bit foolish, but it was love at first sight.

Maxim Chantilly 10 Light Chandelier on sale for $1,350 at Light Trends
The entire fixture is comprised of thin chains that are softly draped to filter the light. When I first laid eyes on it, I thought It's a chain mail chandelier, and that's the most badass thing I've ever seen. A closer look revealed that each chain is delicate, like a piece of jewelry. I like the dichotomy: It's tough like armor but pretty like a necklace. It's perfect.


The smaller pieces in this line would be gorgeous in a powder room, dressing area, or a really girly bedroom. I'm especially drawn to the vaguely Art Deco shape of these sconces. But sconces are best in pairs, and a pair (on sale!) would cost $320. Ouch! It's a very pricey line, but it's nice to have things to dream about for someday, right?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thrift Store Win: Vintage Stiffel Lamps (And a Word on Diffuser Bowl Lamps Versus Torchieres)

I have to confess something weird: I have an OCD quirk regarding lampshades. A crooked lampshade drives me crazy. Like, Yellow Wallpaper crazy. Crooked lampshades cast crooked light, which makes the entire room look askew and... wrong. It drives me nuts. Last summer, I gave away a perfectly good lamp on Craigslist because the shade hung crookedly no matter how much I tried to straighten it.

Soon after that, I found a weird but wonderful pair of vintage lamps at my favorite thrift store. They weigh enough to serve as weapons in Clue. They boast intricate Ormolu designs, and they have that je ne sais quoi that told me they might be a very special find. I mistakenly thought they were torchieres, and I liked the bases but I thought the globes on top were ugly. I bought them anyway, because a) My Thrift Store Win! senses were tingling, and b) They would never, ever have the dreaded Crooked Lampshade Problem.
I had such a good feeling about them, I Googled them as soon as I paid for them. Google blew my mind: I was the proud owner of a pair of vintage ceramic and brass lamps made by Stiffel. Which often sell for $1,000+ per pair on 1stDibs. Whoa. I've only found one pair of lamps identical to mine online, and they were selling for $1,050.00 + $125.00 shipping. Whoa again. So I took my lamps home, put them on my bedside tables, and ogled the pretty details. I think the floral motif is vaguely Art Nouveau, and the tiny snake is precious. I love the details, but soon I wished they had shades.


I started doing some research, and The Thrift Shop Romantic enlightened me (ha): I had a lamp with a diffuser. She says, "A diffuser is a milk glass shade that was common in the early electric lighting periods, and was used specifically so very bright bulbs would bend and soften light in lamps coming through fabric shades. Meaning you would plop a fringed, drum or bell shade right over it. Today, at antique stores and thrifts, we're left with the base lamp, and the diffuser-- because so many fabric shades met unpleasant fates. So to our modern eyes, it looks like we're buying a torchiere lamp, with a built-in milk glass shade." LIGHT BULB MOMENT! More research yielded the following image. Old lamps with diffuser bowls need lampshades with spider/reflector fitters. Unfortunately, they're not easy to find online.

Via Home Concept
I found exactly what I needed at Lumen. The woman who helped me knew exactly what I needed. She took me to their lampshade showroom and showed me half a dozen shades that might meet my needs. We discussed my lamp's dimensions, lampshade materials, and my budget, and then she sent me home with a gorgeous black parchment lampshade made by the New Brunswick Lamp Shade Company, on approval. Taking items home on approval is a normal thing in the high-end design world, but I've never done it, and it made me feel like a Very Fancy Lady.

Artist's Design Amateur's Rendering of  the Evental Outcome
When all is said and done, I'll have spent just under $300 for a pair of vintage Stiffel lamps with shades. Am I crazy?!?! That's a huge amount of money for me, and it's a little shocking to spend that much on some lamps. But then I think about the unusual quality of these vintage lamps, compared to the new lamps at Pottery Barn that aren't nearly as nice and cost $150 without a lampshade. So these were a good investment. I'll probably keep them forever, and I can't say that for the $40 Target lamps I bought five years ago. A perfect pair of Stiffel lamps is a treasure, so keep an eye out for Stiffel the next time you're thrifting.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Paint: Benjamin Moore's Opal

The first phase of my bedroom makeover is finished: We painted the walls and ceiling! The room looks lighter, brighter, warmer, and so happy. And I'm pretty sure I'm not just saying that because I'm accidentally high on paint fumes. I love this color. The walls are painted a pink-tinged off-white called Opal by Benjamin Moore. Opal isn't too pink, too yellow, or too fleshy. It's just right--or, as my mother would say, "It's baby bear's porridge." It's gentle, but it has personality because it's practically luminous. It reflects light so beautifully, it almost looks like it's glowing. But getting to this point was rough.

Stella approves. And this picture was styled so hastily, I didn't even put a real photo in the frame.
Jen's Guide to How NOT To Paint a Bedroom:
December 26: Buy paint and get a kidney stone.
December 27: Agony.
December 28: Agony.
December 29. Vicodin and Valium!
December 30: Good riddance, kidney stone.
December 31: Happy New Year!
January 1: Move the bed into the living room the only other room in your home. Congratulations, your entire home is chaos now! Enjoy turning the TV on from bed without a remote control for the next week. Enjoy nothing else ever.
January 2: Prime the ceiling. Say, "Oops, I bought oil based primer!" Get high off of oil-based paint fumes. Not in a deviant teenager way, but in an accidental, scary nerve damagey way. Freak out when you realize you can't stand upright without swaying. Open the windows. Now you're cold, too! Scrub paint out of your pores for two hours.
January 3: Prime the walls. Consider bathing in mineral spirits. Remember that your gametes are forever. Decide against damaging your future children's chance of getting into the gifted program. Walk around covered in paint.
January 4: Begin painting the ceiling. Run out of paint about 4 minutes later. The Benjamin Moore store won't reopen until Monday. Begin painting the walls even though "they" say to paint the ceiling first.
January 5: Paint the walls. Hey, that's pretty!
January 6: Watch Keith paint the ceiling. Hey, handsome.
January 7: Watch Keith paint the ceiling more.
January 8: FINISHED! HAPPY DANCE! LET'S GO BUY LAMP SHADES!

It was pretty miserable for a few days, but it was so worth it. 
The most surprising thing was the drastic effect of the new ceiling paint. Before, my ceiling was The Place Where Light Went To Die. And it looked low. You could be nice and call it "Cozy like a Hobbit house," but that would be a lie. My bedroom was dark and somber, and it was because I had a dark greenish-beige ceiling. I never realized how dark it was, though, until I saw how the original paint looked against white primer. It was practically BROWN! No longer.

Different lighting. Slightly brighter. BTW, that lampshade is on approval. That's why it's wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer.
After I primed, Keith painted the ceiling with White Blush by Benjamin Moore. Now my ceilings reflect light and look at least a foot higher. White Blush is lighter and less pink than Opal, but they're both warm, and they coordinate perfectly. If you found this post because you Googled the Opal color, consider using White Blush for your ceiling or trim. Or am I the only one who Googles paint colors before I try them? Is that weird?

You're probably thinking, "I bet her husband is going to kill her for painting their bedroom pink!" I know, right? But get this: I brought home a few paint samples, including Opal, and slapped them up on the walls about six months ago. Keith's favorite color was even pinker. My theory is that he just likes MORE. More crystals on our chandelier (that was his idea), more saturated color on the walls, etc. It  must be a Texan thing. But he seems happy with the paint.

There's still a lot to do: I need to finish reupholstering the side chair, reupholster the headboard, and order new lampshades (the ones in the pictures are wrapped in plastic because they are on approval from Lumen). I have my work cut out for me, but it should be a lot easier th an painting... and easier to take with me when I move. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Learning From My Design Mistakes

Let's go back in time, y'all! Before I show you the new paint color in the bedroom, I want to show you how it used to look. You know, for context. I know throwbacks are supposed to be on Thursday, but whatever. I hope you'll learn from my mistakes (and perhaps save hundreds of dollars on paint).

2007: I moved in and painted the room a very saturated periwinkle color. Why? Because it was my favorite crayon color when I was little. Seriously, that's the reason I chose it. Since the wall color was so strong, I made everything else black and white, and I loved it. It was chic and simple, feminine but not too precious, and unique but not in-your-face crazy. I still miss that version of the room.


2009: The awesome periwinkle paint was turning pink on one wall due to sun exposure. I was starting to not like it, but I wasn't sure why. Then one day I took a picture off the wall and saw that the exposed wall was pink, and the wall under the picture was still periwinkle. LIGHT BULB MOMENT!

I shouldn't have drastically changed the room, but a) I needed to repaint, and b) I wanted a warmer color in the bedroom, and c) gray was really trendy. So I painted the walls a warm gray color. That should've  been good, except I made a terrible mistake: I DIDN'T PRIME. I trusted that Behr's paint + primer product would cover all traces of the previous paint, and I was wrong. The periwinkle showed through the gray paint, making the walls a weird icky purplish-gray. I hated it. But painting had been expensive, and I thought the new color might grow on me. It didn't.


Soon after I painted the bedroom, I fell in love with an abstract book print fabric, and I thought it might help me salvage the room. I reupholstered the headboard with it and covered some pillows with coordinating novelty prints. That was my second stupid move: I imagined that the bright fabrics would look fun and happy. But against the somber gray walls, they just looked incoherent and juvenile. I gave up. For the next few years, I worked on other rooms and ignored the bedroom.

2013/2014: It's finally time to fix this room. I tried living with some very bright colors, and I learned that they aren't for me. Even though I still like the fabrics, I hated living with them. They didn't work because I didn't have enough guts to carry the color through the entire room, so the color on the bed looked random and accidental. And those colors didn't work well in a room that should have been more restful.

Rosa Beltran recently wrote a piece about "Design Multiple Personality Disorder" that resonated with me. She said, "I find that in a business where I'm constantly exposed to and immersing myself in so many different design styles and directions, I'm often drawn to things that are entirely different from the aesthetic I've created in my own home." I know what she means. Over the years I've been drawn to a lot of different looks, and sometimes I wonder which one is really "me." Sometimes I see beautiful pictures of a home completely unlike my own, and I want to change everything.

But I've learned that what I like in a picture, at the store, or on a swatch isn't necessarily what I want to actually have in my home. The first bedroom look worked better for me because it was more coherent, with the same colors and motifs used throughout the room. With that in mind, I designed a new resale-friendly bedroom look. As I worked, I tried to remember that less is more, calmer colors are my friends, black and white play nicely together, and always use primer before painting. Even if it tries to kill you, as it did me. Tune in tomorrow to find out why.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Jane Eyre and Les Miserables for Babies? Yes! Read Them the Cozy Classics Books for Children.

Oh, man. Painting a ceiling is neck-breaking work! The bedroom redesign project is moving along steadily, but I hit a few snags: I accidentally bought nasty oil-based primer and used it anyway (HUGE MISTAKE). I ruined my best brush because I didn't have enough mineral spirits on hand to get it completely clean. And finally, I ran out of ceiling paint! Arrgh. The good news is that the wall color is luminously, incandescently gorgeous. I can't wait to share it with you! 

But in lieu of a design update, today I want to talk about how to turn your children into erudite little Austen-quoting Anglophiles the Cozy Classics books by Jack Wang and Holman Wang. Get this: The authors take novels like Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, and Moby Dick and turn them into beautifully illustrated board books for babies. They're simple enough for kids, but smart and pretty enough that your favorite English major is going to want them, too. Ahem.

"Friends" from Pride and Prejudice by Cozy Classics
Here's what I can't get over: These little stories consist of just twelve words, but they absolutely do get the novels' points across. For example, Tolstoy's War and Peace, as told by Cozy Classics, is "Soldier, friends, girl, dance, goodbye, hug, horse, boom!, hurt, sleep, snow, love." It's so simple, it's ingenious.

"Dance" from War and Peace by Cozy Classics
What I like most, though, are the gorgeous photographs of carefully styled needle-felted dolls. Look at those tiny but oh-so expressive eyebrows! Those neatly knotted felt cravats! The just-so angle of Natasha's neck! The postures, proportions, and poses are perfect, and the attention to detail boggles my mind.

"Help" from Jane Eyre by Cozy Classics
Like most baby books, these are short and sweet primers full of simple words for the not-yet-literate set. Unlike other baby books, I'd actually be excited to read these to kids. And that's exactly the point. The books' creators say, "If parents present one of our word primers to their children with just that little extra bit of enthusiasm because they are sharing a story or characters they love themselves, then we will have done our tiny part in helping parents model an engaged and affectionate relationship with books." Enthusiasm is certainly contagious! Exclamation point.

If you're not sure whether young children will sit still for these, read Holly Silva's hilarious description of how these books went over at a preschool--and why War and Peace was the children's favorite book by a landslide. Since I don't have any nieces or nephews to whom I can read the Cozy Classics, I'm going to go pick up some more ceiling paint. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Yearly Retrospective: 2013

Happy New Year! I've completed this survey every year since the dark ages of Live Journal. I think I first did it in 2002. Some of the questions seem a bit irrelevant now, but I hate to break with tradition. How else would I remember that The Futureheads were my greatest musical discovery of 2005?! But on a more serious note, this survey always helps me focus on what I really want to get out of each year. So without further ado, let's sum up the year.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
I zip-lined over a pit full of live alligators and crocodiles. No, really! After approximately three minutes of instruction (Which mostly consisted of, "Stay hooked to the line and wear gloves so you don't turn your hands into hamburger meat when you brake), the nice people at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm let me zip-line over monsters. Madness.

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't make resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Our friends Elizabeth and Wayne welcomed Robert and Roy to their family in November, continuing an alarming trend: Practically everyone who went to school at MTSU has had twins. Is it something in the beer at Gentleman Jim's?! Statistical anomalies aside, Robert and Roy are tiny, squirmy pink bundles of perfection. Hey, Elizabeth! Can I be your babysitter?

That's my favorite new Mama in the red dress.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Do Walter White and Hank Schrader count? We've spent so many hours together, I feel like we became quite close.

5. What countries did you visit?I didn't technically leave U.S. soil, but I did honeymoon in Hawai'i. We spent so much time in the plane, it felt like international travel. And I imbibed so many pineapple margaritas that if you asked me what country I was in, I probably would've said, "Oahu!"
PURE BLISS. I'd just completed a perfect five hour hiking and kayaking trip to Secret Falls in Kauai.
Keith snapped this photo at the Opaeka'a Falls overlook.
6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
The trip to New Orleans that I've been talking about for years, a new house with room to do cool stuff (we don't even have room to do a JIGSAW PUZZLE now), and a big exciting interior design project that requires me to learn new skills. Demolition? Laying tile? Installing crown molding? Bring it on! I'm a little scared to do that stuff, and I want to do something that scares me. Karen at Year of Serendipity is a huge inspiration. I'd love to wield power tools with the same fearlessness she exhibits

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I'll be celebrating October 5, 2013 for the rest of my life. DUH.
We had just finished saying our vows, and they were playing Do You Realize?, and it was perfect.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I pulled a rabbit out of a hat planned a wedding in six months. I kept telling Keith, "Planning a wedding is a sadistic team-building exercise. If you can actually do it, then you earn the right to get married." Before we got engaged, I had no idea how time-consuming and difficult it is to work with do many different vendors. Catering, DJ, florist, officiant, dress and tux stores, tailors, rentals for tables and chairs and plates and glassware, and printers, lighting specialists... Not to mention actually getting people to RSVP. Now I understand why my married friends disappeared for a while when they were planning their weddings. This is the part of the questionnaire where I thank my mother, because I never could have done it without her.

Hi, Mom! This is one of my favorite wedding pictures. Mom and Dad had just walked me down the aisle.
9. What was your biggest failure?
I don't feel like I failed this year. Is that weird? I'm not perfect, but there isn't anything I'd beat myself up over. I like myself, and I'm satisfied with my choices. I suppose if I have any regrets, I regret being less social and more difficult to reach when I was planning our wedding. But I needed that time to alternately plan and decompress from planning.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
It's true what they say about kidney stones: They might be the worst pain you'll ever experience. I developed a problem that we're 99% sure was a kidney stone late in the evening on Christmas Day. Just rolling over in bed--or even breathing--made me scream in pain. The neighbors probably thought I was having a baby in the bathtub. It was a nightmare. I went to Urgent Care and was tentatively diagnosed with a kidney stone and given enough painkillers to numb a horse. Since they don't do CT scans on Saturdays, they couldn't diagnose me with 100% certainty. 36 hours later, the pain was mysteriously gone--and I'm fairly sure I passed a stone barely bigger than a grain of sand. I have no idea how that infinitesimally small piece of near-nothing could've caused such agony, but as soon as it was gone, I felt fine. Madness.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Don't laugh: It was probably this $14.99 scarf from Target. I love that you can't see the skulls at first glance; it's my secret goth scarf. I wear it constantly. 

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
At the risk of sounding like a gushing fool, my friends and family showered me and Keith with so much support and love at our wedding. They traveled hundreds of miles to be with us, planned parties and showers, and gave us thoughtful gifts and hilarious but loving advice. Best of all, his family welcomed me as one of their own.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I don't know. This is an uninspiring question. Oh! Keith's family didn't warn me that twins run in his family until the rehearsal dinner. REALLY?! You couldn't have told  me sooner? Kidding.
Books and mercury glass, on the other hand, are plenty inspiring. I still can't believe my Mom and I did this.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Wedding bells ought to sound like this: Cha-ching! Cha-ching!
"Do you, Jen, promise to spend ridiculous amounts of money on lined envelopes and a fancy Porta-Potty?"
"I do."

Kayaking, on the other hand, is pretty much the most fun you can have for $20.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Keith's proposal, making the flowers for our wedding, kayaking day trips on the Duck River, dinner at the Catbird Seat, the Royal baby and everything the Duchess of Cambridge did, going to the circus, the fantastic author events sponsored by Parnassus Books, and sitting next to the Mayor at the Yann Martel event and asking Mr. Martel an awkward question about Beatrice and Virgil.

BOOK LAUNCH EVENTS! I bought tickets weeks in advance to see John Meacham interview Al Gore.
16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Flowers in the Window by Travis. The music video is so inappropriate, I'm almost embarrassed that I walked down the aisle to this song. Almost. 


17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder? Happier!
Richer or poorer? Richer.
Thinner or fatter? Fatter.
Older or wiser?  Yes?

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Running errands in the neighborhood on foot instead of driving.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Making those damn flowers for our wedding. The number of days until the wedding was inversely proportional to the number of glue gun burns on my body.
Every. Single. Petal. Cut by hand.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Keith's family joined my family in Nashville for a big dinner, opening gifts, and watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Which you should see so we can all oooh and aaah together over the breathtaking landscapes in Iceland.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013? 
I fell in love so hard, I changed my name. Perhaps that wasn't much of a feat, considering that my maiden name rhymed with a certain chain restaurant known for chicken wings and orange hot pants. But it felt like a big deal to me.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
How I Met Your Mother. Don't judge.


24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
There should be a special place in hell for people who RSVP to weddings and then don't show up. And people who don't RSVP to wedding invitations can go to purgatory.

25. What was the best book you read?
The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson


26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I didn't get excited about new music this year, but I did get excited about live performances by older bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, the Flaming Lips, and NIN.

27. What did you want and get?
On my 2012 Yearly Retrospective, I said I wanted diamonds. That happened.

28. What did you want and not get?
A trip to New Orleans and to host parties and potlucks more often. I gave up on that idea because home is just too small and cluttered. WE NEED TO MOVE. LIKE, YESTERDAY.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
NOT Austenland, which was a huge disappointment. Probably About Time, which was grossly underrated and made every damn person in the theater cry big happy sentimental tears. So you should watch it RIGHT NOW.

Best movie of 2013.
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I ate Indian food and drank wine with my best friends. The REAL celebration came a few days later, when Keith and I spent a long weekend at a seaside B&B in St. Augustine. How old was I, you ask? Hey, look over there! It's a distracting thing!

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Time with Keith. He always works 60+ hours a week, and often he works closer to 80 hours a week. Even when he's at home, he's usually working from home, so I feel bad interrupting him to play or talk.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
Stripes. Gray + Raspberry + Teal. Tall boots and skinny jeans. Paying full price for one or two items that fit very well instead of buying tons of whatever crap is at a discount store. And viciously culling anything I don't regularly wear. I'd rather have a handful of things I love to wear than a closet full of crap I don't wear.

My most-worn top of 2013.
33. What kept you sane?
I've come to love our regular Sunday brunch/Indian buffet meetups with friends so much.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
My obsession with the Duchess of Cambridge, and the British royal family in general, shows no sign of waning. 



The Duchess' best look of 2013.
35. What political issue stirred you the most?
I get very, very upset when I read about human trafficking. It's not a thing that only happens in other countries. It happens in the U.S., and it wouldn't happen if there wasn't a demand for it. That's what sickens me the most.

36. Who did you miss?
I'm glad she's living in paradise, but I miss Samantha, my maid of honor and best friend.

Isn't she lovely?
37. Who was the best new person you met?
Instead of running around meeting new people, I spent more time with old, dear friends.


38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:
Don't beat dead horses. If a job (or relationship, or shade of lipstick, or whatever) isn't working, let it go.

Attend more costume parties. Costume parties are one of life's great pleasures.


Don't force issues. It's infinitely more satisfying to receive something freely given than to receive something you forced, wheedled, or cajoled out of someone.

Clean and declutter just one room, every day, until it sparkles and could be photographed for a magazine. Do this and you will never, ever have to clean any room for long.

Whatever it is, it will pass. When I look back at the personal drama I was so worried about four years ago, it seems like a dim memory.

Eat more beets (preferably with a bit of goat cheese). Oh my God, I love beets.

Commitment and promises are for the brave. It takes a lot of strength, emotional self-sufficiency, and bravery to stick by someone when they are sick, or working so hard that they can't pay attention to you all the time, or when things get hard because life isn't perfect. When I was engaged and examining the nature of the commitment we were about to make, I thought about this a lot. I don't want to be a relationship dilettante and flit off to a new romance when things get real. Sure, it sounds easy. But it also sounds flaky and superficial. I want to plumb the depths of love, good and bad, with one person. Ultimately, I think that makes for a richer and more rewarding life--not to mention, a lot  more trust.