Friday, December 28, 2012

Somehow it all came together

Every year I have a moment of utter, sheer panic as the 25th of December approaches and I think of all the things that I have to do and the short period of time I have to get it all done and then I do the math and circuits start firing in my brain.  And then, somehow, everything comes together.
This year, LAM decided to help decorate the tree, which was a first.  Among his contributions was a pair of angry looking chipmunks that he hung to look like they were plotting the quick exit of all this junk hanging in their home.  They weren't successful.
Stockings were hung, the fireplace blazed, we were surrounded by family and a good time was had by all.  My uber-picky nephew even asked for a third helping of beef tenderloin with gorgonola sauce, so I'm guessing the meal was a hit.

Santa was very clever this year and I found this little guy in my stocking.  This will be one that I don't think I can bear to pack away, so I just might have to find him a permanent home where I can enjoy him all year.
In keeping with the fox hunting theme, Santa is also working on a new piece similar to the one pictured above.  I can't wait to see it.
Based on a conversation with LAM about wonderful things coming in orange boxes, it seems that Santa also had some equestrian help this year as depicted by this charming Alice Charbin drawing for Hermes.
And of course, one can never, ever go wrong with an orange box.

In my stocking was another lovely little item in a blue box, that sadly did not fit...

So now I have to find a replacement, which really is not a tragedy at all...

Perhaps the Kelly bracelet?

Or the Cartouche bracelet?

Or perhaps the T Anthony Dressage tote, which could be a perfect work bag? 

Decisions, decisions...

Hope everyone had a sparkly, warm holiday!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ready or Not...

I recently found an unintended use for the plastic bag holders in my etsy shop (I apologize that there aren't many in there right now, but stay tuned...).  I was on my way to a holiday party and was planning on bringing a bottle of wine as a hostess gift.  Not sure what to wrap it in (a gift bag just seemed too boring), I looked to Pinterest for ideas and saw that some very clever people had found unique dish towels and wrapped their bottles in those.  Cute idea, and I was all set to do that when I saw this bag holder that I had just finished and it occurred to me that the bungee open end might fit around the top of a wine bottle, so I played with it and wrapped it up and voilĂ --instant cute, unique gift.

Whenever inspiration strikes me in this way, it normally becomes the catalyst for me to start believing that I can really pull the holiday off one way or another.  This one broke the seal, so it's full steam ahead.  This morning I read Pigtown Design's Christmas Quiz, and loved reading the answers so much that I decided to share mine with all of you.  When I read blogs, I really enjoy seeing photos of the author's home, family and reading about things they like, etc.  Voyeristic, maybe, but it gives me an insight into what makes that person tick--and usually makes me like them even more!  At any rate, here are my responses.  I would love to read yours!

1.  Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate definately, but I really prefer wine.  Champagne if it's really good.
2.  Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?  Always wrap!  I actually spend an insane amount of time wrapping gifts and always look for special paper and trimmings and then my family feels guilty ripping it all off.  I think I've permanently scarred one of my step-sons for life since he practically cries opening his gifts.
3.  Colored Lights on tree/house or white? Alway white and non-twinkle, moving or LED--just bright, shiny and happy.
4.  Do you hang Mistletoe? No, it's poison and I don't want to kill my dogs.
5.  When do you put your decorations up?  I start December 1 and the tree usually goes up about two weeks before Christmas.
6.  What is your favorite holiday dish? Carrot Souffle.  It's my specialty.
7.  Favorite holiday memory as a child? Fetching my Grandmother at the bus station.  It was always the start of everything awesome.
8.  When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Sadly, I'm not sure I believed in Santa for very long.  I remember always being extremely skeptical.
9.  Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No
10.  How do you decorate your Christmas tree? I have a vast collection of unusual ornaments.  Most are handmade--the more detail they have, the more I like them.  White lights, wooden cranberry beads and velvet ribbons.
11.  Snow: Love it or hate? Love it.  Period.
12.  Can you ice skate? Yes, I taught myself to figure skate when I was 37 and never looked back.  One of my very favorite activities.
13.  Do you remember your favorite gift? It was unintentional.  We took our Border Collie Nick in as a foster on December 15, 2007 and he never left.
14.  What is the most important thing about the holidays for you? Bringing warmth, light and love into my home in a time when all three are scarce.
15.  What is your favorite holiday dessert? I don't really have one, but I love chocolate chip cookies all the time!
16.  What is your favorite holiday tradition? Stockings.  I try hard to find the most wonderful things for stuffing and I love it when we finish opening our gifts and then remember that we still have the stockings!
17.  What tops your tree? We have the coolest tree topper ever.  It's an old LL Bean decoration that we call "The Happy Woodsman".  He's a lumberjack and wears a plaid shirt and boots.  He has bushy white hair and a beard, so everyone just thinks he's Santa, but he's not.  I keep threatening to outfit him with a little ax.
18.  What do you prefer--gifting or receiving? Gifting, definately!  I can't sleep on Christmas Eve because I'm so excited about the gifts I will be giving.
19.  What is your favorite Christmas song? The entire Nutcracker Suite
20.  Candy Canes? Do NOT like them.
21.  Favorite Christmas movie?  Love Actually.  It's not a contest.  I love the scenes with Jamie and Aurelia the best.
22What do you leave out for Santa? Nothing.  The dogs would eat it.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A look to the positive side

"Whenever I get gloomy about the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport". ~Love Actually

Best first line of a movie ever, particularly in light of the previous week's events.  It's a reminder that love is all around us, all we have to do is look for it.  If there is any shred of anything good that can possibly come out of a tragedy (any kind of tragedy), it is that the rest of us are reminded just how very lucky we are.  This quote is also somewhat fitting for me in that in an effort to remain positive, I am looking to good things planned for the future, such as a  trip to the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport, as fate would have it.

It is no secret that I love to fly.  In fact, the best part of any trip for me is actually the anticipation.  The packing.  The careful choosing of just the best of the best version of yourself that you will present to a new destination or one that you haven't seen for some time.  Then, you wake yourself at (usually) some absurd hour of the morning, but you are glad to do it, because you're getting on a plane!  Simply being in the airport has its people watching, duty free shopping, unusual magazine perusing benefits.  There is always something new to see and experience.

In my effervescing anticipation, I decided that one of LAM's Christmas presents this year would be a proper carry-on.  He has one, and it is nice, but it is actually a rollaboard garment bag and not really properly sized.  Invariably, it ends up gate-checked and it is awkward to pack and handle.  I hadn't given much thought to what I might replace it with and then I read Maxminimus' famous Tumi rant and ran away screaming from that idea--not that I really needed his help.  I have been on company "trips" with the Presidents Club douche rockets who carry the Tumi and bellow into their cell phones upwards of 90 decibals.  For us, quality and style are paramount.  Generally, we'll pay more for something if we know it will be around forever, or at least a very, very long time and so, the first choice that popped into my gray matter was the Rimowa Topas:
It says many things to the world, not the least of which is that you aren't the sort of person with whom to mess around.  You could be anyone--CEO of a major corporation, celebrity, or simply someone who understands and enjoys German engineering in all of it's aluminum glory.  But then, there is one flaw--the price tag.  If either of us traveled for a living, it would be a no-brainer, but we don't and I'm not entirely certain that this is really LAM's style.  A somewhat lower cost option would be the Rimowa Salsa:

Essentially the same bag, but made of a ballistic polycarbonate.  It actually weighs less than its aluminum big brother and looks almost as cool, but as with hard sided cases, it has no external pockets, which can only mean one thing: I will get the pleasure of carrying all of LAM's items that need accessability (wallet, glasses, magazines, etc.) in my tote bag, which will already be too heavy carrying all of my stuff.

In the end, I actually ended up going with the Bric Pronto spinner model.  Somehow, it seemed more his style, nice and light and the ballistic hunter green was unusual.  During my searching, the following models must be given an honorable mention.  First another Bric product, the Pininfarina made my toes curl:
I mean, come on, carrying something with the words "Pininfarina" on it cannot hope to be anything but cool.  I suspect that if LAM does not like the bag he is getting, this might be an option for an exchange.  I passed it up, because again, it had no external pockets.
Another viable option was this Victorinox model, which happens to be my carry-on.  It is beautifully constructed and I love it, but it weighs a lot more than it should.
Another hardsided option was the Zero Halliburton.  These babies ruled the skies in the 80's and 90's and while it is cool, it's priced equally with Rimowa and as I could not find one to touch and feel in person, it ended up off of the list.  We'll see what LAM thinks about his present and which one ends up joining us on that big 'ol jet plane.

Stay positive everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Plans

This may be putting the cart before the horse, but I have made my New Year's plans.  Last year was such an unqualified disaster that I decided I had to do some research for this year.  Every New Year's Eve, LAM and I have a nice dinner and see a movie.  Our favorite movie spot is our local gem the Anthony Wayne.
Originally opened in 1928, and then extensively renovated in 1997 and then again in 2007 for stadium seating and other modern amenities, it is the perfect blend of nostalgic movie-going with modern technology.  It is truly extraordinary and often shows independent films as well as main stream releases.

Last year, we had an exchange student from Japan living with us and I decided that a movie in this theater would be the perfect American holiday experience for her.  Unfortunately, I chose a movie based solely upon its reviews without actually reading them.  I chose, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", without having read the book or having any idea what it was about.  Needless to say, about 20 minutes into the movie, I grabbed my 17 year old host daughter and we flew out of that theater as fast as our feet would carry us hoping that her little mind would not be warped forever.  It was an epic failure.  We came home and watched "Midnight in Paris" on demand in our family room.  The movie was delightful, but the theater experience was not quite the same.  I am determined not to repeat the experience, so I chose early.  This year's selection will be "Hyde Park on Hudson".
It is described as "The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Suckley centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.
So far the reviews have been mixed, but I think it will be a fun ride never the less.  It will be interesting to see a glimpse of the world that many have wondered about, but little is known.  I'm excited to see it.  It's being released (fittingly) on December 7.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Start Your Engines

I am not one of those people who gets excited about the holiday season the day after Halloween.  Not even the day after Thanksgiving.  Nope.  For me, it all starts on December 1.  The turning of the calendar page signals the green flag to begin spreading the cheer, decking the halls, baking the cookies, and my personal favorite...sending the cards.  It is hands down, the most enjoyable holiday task.  I may have mentioned earlier that I am a bit well, weird when it comes to pens.  I have high standards and strong loyalties.  For everyday writing, nothing other than the Pilot Precise V5 rollerball will do.  Black only, please.  For artwork, of course, there is the ubiquitous Micron of various thicknesses and the odd Sharpie Fine Point.  For addressing envelopes and cards, there is the Pilot Envelope Pen in Extra Fine trim.

I'm sure it has a real name besides "Envelope Pen", but I have no idea what it is because everything ON the pen is written in Japanese.  I could wax on about how much I love this pen all day.  It has a weight that is just right in the hand, ink that is shiny and glossy and dries lightning fast so you don't smear it with your hand (this is a huge boon for lefties).  Some complain that it has a "marker" smell.  I have no idea why, but I actually like this.  I think it reminds me of Mr. Loicono's second grade art classroom, which was a place where I felt safe that no one would EVER ask me to solve a math problem.  Pure bliss.

I came across this delightful little tool while searching for LAM's pencils.  As weird as I am about pens, LAM has a thing for pencils.  An architect friend turned me on to Palomino Blackwing pencils and LAM's world has never been the same.

They are curiously smooth and swift and they have really cool erasers that are replacable.  Jet Pens is a great source and they carry a lot of other great German and Japanese writing instruments.  Ok, so now I have my holiday cards all printed up and ready to go.

My engine is started and my pens are poised.

Happy beginning of the Holiday Season everyone!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Making Juices Flow

I have Hurricane Sandy to thank for finally enlightening me to the usefulness of an iPad.  Like every other Apple product, I wanted one as soon as they came out, but could not justify the price for something that didn't seem to have a purpose other than being a very large iPhone that can't make phone calls.  I asked people--what do you use your iPad for?  I got all sorts of answers that almost exclusively started off with, "I LOVE my iPad!".  Ok, but why do you love it?  What does it do that the phone and your laptop can't do?  I never got an answer that made me want to rip out the credit card, but during the storm, I came to that conclusion on my own.  We lost power for a couple of days and the single worst thing about it (besides the lack of heat and a fridge full of spoiled food) was not having access to the internet.  I very much realize how "first world" this problem is, but it's also reality.  I do almost all of my business online.  When the office was out of commission, I had all calls routed to my cell phone so I could speak to and help our customers.  Sadly, I couldn't do anything other than talk to them, which wasn't acceptable.  LAM commented that it would be nice if the phone was a little bit larger so that we could actually work off it and the iPad just sort of appeared.  Since it has the ability to run off of wifi or a cell tower, I could make it work no matter what.  Fast forward to iPad ownership, which of course fascilitated the really nice Tory Burch leather case.

I was lucky enough to find a black one, although the beige is also nice.  One thing that I learned while looking for a high quality case is that the higher the quality, the more they weigh.  This one seemed to have many plusses, not the least of which was the scrummy leather (it is buttery soft and feels great in your hands) and it was lighter than every other leather option I found.  And it was on sale.  As I left the store, I again noticed what I have come to refer to as the "Starbucks Effect", that is, the bag was beautiful.  Great logo, great colors, thick printed paper and long fabric handles so I could carry it on my shoulder.  I instantly felt a notch more chic.

As I spent more time getting to know the iPad, I realized the great wealth of free drawing apps that are available.  Of course, I immediately downloaded "Paper" and "Sketchbook".  About five minutes after I started playing around with these apps, I realized that drawing with your finger gets old fast and so started researching for a stylus.  I had no idea how many of these little suckers are actually out there on the market, but after weighing all the pros and cons, I settled on the Wacom Bamboo .
I think as a product, they are all limited in some way and I will always prefer drawing with an actual pen or pencil, but it's a WHOLE lot better than trying to draw with a mouse.  This stylus is fairly precise and I love the way you can do autofill, watercolor washes and airbrush techniques, which led me to my very first iPad digital project.  Every year, I search high and low for the perfect Christmas card--one that sums up what we are all about as a family which is NOT the traditional HO HO HO schlock that is peddalled in every retail outlet in the country.  LAM has been saying for years that I should design my own cards, and while I always thought it was a good idea, the whole digital medium seemed to mystify me.  Until now.  And so I present to you, what will hopefully be the first in a series:

The car is a '72 2002tii--the very beginning of everything.  We don't have ours anymore, but it will always be a part of us.  As you can see, Nick is driving--chomping at the bit to go faster, while Zoe braces her paws on the dashboard in terror.  I can't wait to see them printed up.


Friday, November 16, 2012

A Few Words About Quality

Once upon a time there was a proud American company called Coach.  They made beautiful, sumptuous leather goods that were crafted to last a lifetime and then some.  To go along with their lovely business model, they hired a brilliant advertising agency who convinced the descendants of some extremely high profile Americans (George Washington's niece, Paul Revere's many great granddaughter, Sitting Bull, and FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt's granddaughter as shown here), to pose with their favorite Coach bag in a black and white ad.
I loved these ads as much as I loved my Coach bags, and sadly, a thorough internet scouring turned up only this one example.  The women in these ads were as cool as the product they endorsed--an American classic, descended from a great family that stood the test of time.  Probably the preppiest thing on earth.  These bags not only stood the test of time, but somehow got better as they aged.  All of the hardware was solid brass and could be brought back up to a violent luster via a simple can of Brasso and a soft cloth.  The leather could be polished within an inch of its life and only got softer and felt better with use.  I saved every nickel and dime in college to buy my first one, carried it for years and then when I grew tired of it, sold it on ebay where it went on to have a happy second life with a new owner.  Other bags came in and out of the closet, but then somewhere along the way, Coach seemed to forget who they were.  Product was no longer made in the USA, which isn't terrbily surprising, but the designs became cheaper and tackier.  Fabric bags crassly displayed enourmous logos and had cheap linings and hardware.  Gone was the "baseball glove tanned leather"--this was no longer the company I loved.  I started buying vintage bags on ebay and refurbishing them.  My leather backpack and Legacy bag are still closet staples.  They are timeless.  They will never wear out.

Then suddenly, they seemed to remember who they were and where they came from.  Yes, product is still made in China, but the newest offerings have a whiff of days gone by.
Some bags, like the Canteen Bag are very similar to the old version, although the leather is not exactly the same and most seem to be fabric lined since I'm guessing that the reverse side of the leather is not the gorgeous suede that we saw in the old bags.
Others, like the Colorblock Candace are blatant copies of a certain Celine "it" bag that costs more than four times the price.  While I absolutely lust of the Celine bag, I would carry this one.

In addition, there seems to be one other thing that they are doing

I was shopping in Bloomingdales last weekend and this pair caught my eye on a sale rack.  I didn't even realize they were Coach until I looked inside:

They are beautifully made and were a perfect fit although the tassles are a bit oversized--I suspect this is to go with the accent on their new Legacy bags (most of them have this tassle).  They were a bargain, so I snatched them up.

Hopefully, they will serve as well as my first Coach bag did all those years ago.  At any rate, I am really glad to see the company getting back to their roots.

Stay classic everyone!

New product photos courtesy of Nordstrom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

And so it creeps in...

I received my first Christmas card of the season today.  Yes, really.  To the sender, who is not a friend, but a business contact, I can say only this: you are killing my buzz.  I understand the retail holiday creep as we're all in business to make money and studies have shown that the sooner stores start spreading the cheer, the sooner we start opening our wallets and when we start shopping earlier, we tend to spend more.  I was not surprised to receive my first Starbuck's red cup of the season:
There is one small problem with this, however.  I cannot order a Pumpkin Spice Latte in a red cup.  Nope, just can't do it.  It feels wrong.  Since Starbucks has upped their premium charge for said specialty latte this year, they will be missing out on extra cash from me as I order my good 'ol skinny grande latte, thank you very much.  Interestingly enough, as I carried my red cup through the mall, I found myself getting into the holiday retail spirit and did purchase two Christmas gifts.  They were things I was planning on eventually buying anyway, but the red cup called to me--it told me it was ok to just go ahead and start already.  Which got me thinking about one of my favorite subjects.  I have long held the belief that Starbucks is as successful as they are, in part to selling good coffee, because if it was awful no one would buy it twice, but also because of their cups.  Back when buying a cup of coffee would get you either a plain styrofoam cup with an ugly flat lid, or some other Dixie sort of epic design fail, Starbucks had the white cup with the large white lid.  People were given an instant fashion accessory just by carrying it.  The cup had a high-quality feel to it and I swear it makes the coffee taste better.  Carrying the cup says to the world, "I am hip and cool and enjoy quality.  See my cup?  The liquid inside tastes awesome.  You can see by my tall lid that this is a foam capped cappuccino.  Don't you wish you had one?"
Local to my office, there is a small coffee shop that makes the most incredible coffee I have ever tasted.  The Chestnut Hill Coffee Co. roasts their own beans.  They have baristas who really know what they're doing.  The building is also very, very cool.

When you order a cappucino, this is what you get:
I will go out of my way to get a latte there as opposed to the Dunkin' Donuts that is literally next door to my office or the Starbucks that is down the street.  When you ask for your coffee to go, they put it in a cup that looks EXACTLY the same as a Starbucks cup without the logo.  Why?  Because Starbucks set the bar.  The white cup with the tall lid is important because it broadcasts the quality inside.

Stay caffeinated, everyone!

Photos courtesy of Chestnut Hill Coffee Company and

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dealing with smallness of person

The manufacturers of premium denim jeans get a lot of things right.  They can provide you with supreme comfort, flatten a stomach, lengthen the legs, and tighten and lift a bottom.  There is one thing they are starting to get consistently wrong: length.  Unlike men's pants, which come in actual sizes in inch increments, women's pants come in one length, or if you are very lucky: three lengths (petite, regular and tall).  It may be my imagination, but lately they all seem to be making them insanely long regardless of size.  I suppose this is great if you are very tall, since it's impossible to add fabric, but if you enjoy smallness of person, like me, it means either spending an additional small fortune to have them altered, or learn to do it yourself.  My local dry cleaner/tailor charges $24 to hem a pair of pants.  This adds insult to injury if you've just spent $200 on a pair of Citizens of Humanity/J Brand/Seven/Joe's/AG jeans.  The injury is worsened when they get it wrong, which has happened to me one too many times and so I learned to do it myself.  In fact over the years, I've developed my own strange method of getting them exactly the way I want them without fail.  Here's how you do it:
Start with a pair of fabulous fitting jeans.  In my case, these are Citizens of Humanity Dita Petite Bootcut.  Yes, these are "petite" and they are still four inches too long...sigh...  Let me just state right here for the record, that I am not built like an Oompa Loompa.  I am 5' 2" and weigh 110lbs.  I am pretty much the definition of petite, so I'm not really sure who these are made for.  Even with insanely high heels, they would still be too long, but I digress.  Put on a pair of shoes with a heel that is what you will wear most often with them and turn up the cuff so that they break where you want them.  Pin on each side, matching the seams so you know the cuff is straight.  Walk around and make sure that it's comfortable--not too short and that you aren't stepping on the back.  Take them off.
 Measure the fold so you know how far up you will want the hem.  I love my sewing ruler, because it has a slide so I can mark the exact length.
 Iron where you have them folded so you know EXACTLY where the hem should be and fold the jeans inside out.
Fold them back exactly on the crease where you ironed them.  If you want to double check, use the ruler where you have it marked.  If you notice in the previous photos that the hem is not perfectly straight, you aren't wrong.  I am convinced that they drink on the assembly line.  This is the only explanation for why I can try on three pairs of the same size and they all fit differently.  Nothing in life is perfect, which is why I do the "cuff and iron in the hem" method".  It's really hard to screw it up.  Once you have the hem "set" with the iron, cut off the excess material.  How much you cut off depends on how high or low you want the fold of the hem.  I honestly don't think it matters that much.  NO ONE is going to be scoping around your ankles with a magnifying glass and only you know what the original hem looked like.  Decide how long you want the hem to be and then roughly double that length.  I have decided I want a little longer than a half inch, so I am cutting off at 1" and a 1/4.  Cut off the excess as straight as possible.  If you need to, use a pencil and ruler.  I always eyeball it because I like to live on the edge.
 Fold over the edge so that the hem is the desired size.  Use the ruler to be sure it is even all around and iron, making sure that the seams on the sides are as flat and neat as possible.  If they aren't, you will have a giant wad of fabric and your sewing machine needle may break.
 Pin all the way around and check to make sure that both sides are even.
Sew the seam starting with the INSIDE of the legs so that your back tacking will be less noticeable.  If your denim has some lycra, it will stretch while you are sewing.  Make sure you keep some tension on the leg while you sew so that it feeds smoothly.  If they are bootcut jeans, this is a bonus since the tension will retain some of the "boot" feature that you've cut off by lopping off four inches.  If you are hemming A LOT off the bottom, they may end up looking like straight leg jeans after you cut the bottoms, which sort of defeats the purpose.  This is also why it's a good idea to start with jeans that have the best fit you can find, so that the whiskering, fading, knee break, etc will be in the best possible location.  It really does matter.

 Now you have two perfectly hemmed legs...with the "mom hemmed these for me" look.  Not good.  Time to get out the pumice stone, nail file or piece of sandpaper and go to town.
 Use the original hem that you've cut off as a guide to know when to stop.  Distressed stone washed bottoms are great.  Gaping holes are not.  Know when to say when.

Try on for size and admire your handi-work.  You just saved $24 and have custom-fit jeans!

Have a great weekend everyone!