Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Great Christmas Make-over

Hello. Hope you had a lovely Christmas holiday if you celebrate it. Mine was a big success. Lots of happy guests, great food, and a pretty table-- but only after lots of hard work. I felt like I'd been hit by a truck the day after Christmas. Every muscle in my body ached from being on my feet all day and from moving furniture, painting, hanging the Christmas decorations, etc. It was definitely all worth it though!

Just for dramatic effect-- this is the before shot of my mom's living/dining area. Awful, no? Like mine, her house is in the middle of a slow do-most-of-it-yourself renovation. A while ago, we removed the wall between what used to be a bedroom (the peach walls) and the living room (white side). The circa 1950 asbestos tile drop ceilings were also removed, leaving lots of extra timbers and exposed wiring showing. The ultimate goal is to create a "great room" that will house her kitchen and living room, allowing for the room that is currently the kitchen to become the master bedroom.

Not only were the walls ugly, but the floors are covered in awful vintage linoleum. We can see that the original wood floors continue on that side, but haven't removed the linoleum because we know that the sub-floor has rot in several places, most notably along the outer wall, and we need to stabilize and reinforce it before probably replacing a lot of the wood floors and re-finishing them. It's a huge, structural task, and we don't want to start it until it warms up again.

Despite being used to living in houses that are always in a state of demolition, I can not fathom inviting a bunch of people over for a celebratory meal and serving them in a horribly ugly room. I had to implement a flash makeover immediately! Painting the peach walls white to unify the larger room, covering the floor with butcher paper to make it tonally match the wood floor in the living room (with its own horribly stain color). Re-arranging my mom's furniture so that the flow was better, and supplementing it with some of my own furniture made everything more comfortable. The end result? -- still obviously a (de)construction zone, but hopefully verging more toward rustic elegance than Grey Gardens squalor.

So much better, right? Well, I think so, and as the happy toasting picture below attests, everyone had a great time!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Prep

I don't go big into holiday decoration, but a little bit here and there is nice. Last weekend I made a wreath from yard clippings and a few leftover apples. Next year I'll definitely make two, because the gates would look better if they each had one. I meant to make two this year, but it took longer than I thought to make the one, so one it is. Those are the other two dogs of the Four Dog Fig Farm. Little cuties, wondering why I'm leaving them behind on my way off to work.

For a celebration of a different sort, last Monday I put together a pre-wedding package for one of my best friends who is getting married at the courthouse today! With the last minute planning there was no time for travel or a bridal shower, so I put together a little set of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence for her shoe. I wrapped it with a set of vintage Catalina Island postcards, because they might spend a night or two there as a honeymoon. It turned out super cute, especially because there were a few cards left over that I taped to the outside of the box as well.

And finally, last weekend, in an unprecedented two-weeks before Christmas timeframe, my Mom and I, and my friend Elise made the annual povitica. This is a Croatian strudel like bread that my grandmother and her mother before her always made. Its time consuming because you have to stretch the dough out parchment thin and as wide as a big dining room table before filling and rolling it back up to bake, but its fun and one of the few ethnic traditions that has made it down through the generations. (Extreme stubbornness and hot tempers don't count as traditions). We made two this year, one with a walnut and honey filling, which is what my grandmother usually made and therefore most of the family prefers, and one cheese and onion filling, the one I prefer and usually doesn't get made because I have no seniority in the family and I get out-voted. I like the walnut, but only in small doses as sweet breads are just not my thing.

Any holiday baking traditions in your family?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Wishlist

This afternoon is my last day teaching for the semester. All that's left now is getting together this afternoon to grade the final studio project and compile the semester grades. That means next week I can mostly just relax and focus on Christmas! I haven't been buying much this year for financial reasons, and over the last few years my family has segued into giving more charitable contributions at the holidays and fewer material presents, which suits us all fine. There aren't a lot of children in the family just now, and as adults I think we mostly just like to buy our own things, so Christmas as a gift giving engine has ceased to be important. Nonetheless, in the spirit of Christmas I've compiled a list of things that I'd love to own right now.

Banana Republic Morgan sunglasses, $98. I always love how aviators look on other people, but they generally don't look good on me. This pair however looked great when I tried them on at the store. Totally want these.

Anthropologie Spotted Scat scarf (worst marketing name ever?), $30, purple. I saw this scarf in person a couple of weeks ago while shopping for the "something new" portion of a wedding shower gift, and totally fell in love with it for myself. It's not expensive at all, but I put myself on a new clothing shopping ban a few months ago, and have been sticking to it, so even cheap(ish) items will not be bought!
Lucky Brand Deives boot, $187 from Zappos. I've had my eye on these for awhile. They seem pretty perfect-- tall boot shaft, low-ish wedge heel, very versatile. Love.

JCrew Crystal Thornbush earrings, in Chocolate (sold out) Warm Redwood on sale for $39.99. OMG, these are totally impractical for my completely glamour free existence right now, but I want them anyway. Fortunately, they are sold out in the color I wanted, which removes the temptation. I did find a pair on ebay, but Will. Not. Buy!

Andrew Marc leather jacket from Bluefly. $485. This is just flat out of my price range, but I've been looking for a versatile leather jacket, and this one is pretty nice. Transitioning from a job in a fairly lax, but still corporate environment to one in a University or working from home setting has really wreaked havoc with my wardrobe. These days I'm wearing jeans constantly at home, but still need to evoke some semblance of authority when I go in to teach, and the way I like to do so is to wear nice shoes, blouses or jackets with the jeans. Nice, meaning well made, quality materials, etc. That way the individual items might be something that the students would wear, but its just a bit more pulled together. This jacket would be perfect.

There are some tech-y things that I'd love this Christmas too, but I'll keep this post to clothing.

Hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Pisa's Camposanto Monumentale, destroyed by bombing and subsequent fire in 1944. The rubble in the middle photo are the frescos that crumbled and fell off the walls. Restoration is still in progress.

The Louvre galleries, emptied of all artworks in order to keep them from the Nazi invaders.

Lately I've been amazed at all of the little coincidences that I've noticed around me. For example, just last night I got around to watching the documentary "The Rape of Europa," from my Netflix instant queue. The film documents the massive art theft and looting that took place in Europe during WWII, much of it in the hands of Nazi's who were under orders to collect specific works of art for Hitler and Goering's personal collections and for Hitler's planned art museum that he dreamed of building in Linz, Austria. He envisioned the aggrandizing of Linz, his home town, to be one of his great legacies, and a key element was the monumental museum envisioned becoming the greatest in the world.

The movie had been in my queue for months, but last night it felt like exactly what I wanted to see. Then this morning, when I opened my iGoogle homepage, one of the NPR headlines that are right at the top announced, "Veteran's Souvenir Turns Out To Be Hitler's Art Book," one of many of the volumes that Hitler had made cataloging the art that he wanted to acquire for his museum. Just another little coincidence.

I highly recommend this film.

Friday, December 4, 2009

NaNoWriMo Finish

I only wrote 10,141 words in November, no where near the 50,000 word goal. There were several reasons such as the holiday and a really fractured schedule, but the main reason was a lack of daily inspiration. I like the novel idea that I've come up with, and I found the days that I wrote to be really satisfying. I think that part of my problem was the total last minute decision to participate, which meant that I just started writing that first week with literally no plot in mind. After a certain point I had developed some characters that interested me, but I still had no idea where I was taking them. So, despite my lack of productivity toward that final goal, I really loved NaNoWriMo and definitely plan to do it again next year.