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!

Friday, November 9, 2012

London Calling

Upon returning from our little jaunt to Charleston, LAM and I were on a had a fabulous vacation high and didn't want to become depressed by having nothing left to look forward to...sooo, we immediately started planning our next trip.  After a string of tropical vacations that translated into some very expensive tans and one pretty evil sunburn, we decided that we would start taking a different approach to travel.  Something abroad would be the ticket, but as LAM has never ventured across the pond before, someplace that spoke English would be the best way to get his feet wet.  London was calling.

I immediately started doing what I always do in these situations...pinning things like crazy on Pinterest.  Possible hotels:
The Lime Tree Hotel is a strong contender...I love the boxwood British orderliness of it, plus it is family owned and operated, breakfast is included and it's in an adorable Belgravia neighborhood.  I've never actually been, but I have walked up and down the streets and looked at all the shops--thank you Google maps!

Through my other planning efforts, I started making a list of cannot miss shops that must be visited.  HIGH on the list is Smythson of Bond Street:

As Holly Golightly remarked of Tiffany's, in response to getting "the mean reds", "Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's.  Calms me down right away.  The quietness and proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there."

This is precisely the feeling I have about Smythson--quality, grace, precision and order all in one scrummy package:
These beautiful boxes give a mere glimpse of the treasures that most certainly lie within.  I can feel my blood pressure drop just looking at them...
As if that weren't enough of an endorsement, they have the added PR of SamCam, or Samantha Cameron, wife to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

On my current lust list:
The luggage tag that discreetly announces your home address on one side and your destination address on the other.  Should Virgin Atlantic lose my luggage, they will hopefully know that the owner of this bag means business.
The passport cover with boarding pass pocket, embossed with my initials, natch.  This will keep me sane as I gladly whip out my little blue Smythson when asked to produce said documents for the umpteenth time.

Last, but not least is the folding ipad case.  Unfortunately, this costs more than the ipad, but it will probably last longer.  Maybe while I'm browsing in the store, which I hear is quite friendly and unpretentious, I will try to convince myself that the price tag is in USD and not choke as I hand over the Visa.  Hey, a girl can dream, right?


Photos courtesy of the respective company websites and Town and Country magazine.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Wonder of it all

I don't even remember when the New York based, pseudo preppy/trendy boutique C Wonder popped up on my radar, but I was a little bit suspect right from the very beginning.  There was something oddly familiar and a smidge cheap looking about their flashy gold-plated "C" logo that had a certain Tory Burch air to it, however slightly lacking in quality.  First one blog, then another mentioned their fashion forward preppy style as well as their affordable pricing and lack of pretention.  I had to admit, their boutiques were cute and lamented the fact that there wasn't one close by that I could visit.

As far as clothing went, it seemed as though they tossed Tory Burch, Kate Spade and J Crew into a blender and then skimmed off some of the quality.  The home decor items, on the other hand, appeared fresh, fun, cute and very reasonably priced.  I took the plunge on one tortoise shell nut bowl that was an absolute steal:
I have to say that I wasn't disappointed, either with the quality (they are hand blown) or the customer service.  My shipment was sent immediately and very well packaged.  Onto my pending Pinterest wishlist I added:
The tortoise shell belt buckle and...
Reversible belt.  Forgive me, but doesn't this have the whiff of a certain product made by a certain high end leather goods company that uses an "H" on their buckle?  Yes, it does and as much as I love the orange horse, this is MUCH more reasonably priced AND I get to use my own initial.

Fast forward to this morning while watching the news, I was half paying attention when I heard the name Tory Burch.  I immediately gave Good Morning America my full attention while they explained that C Wonder is owned by Tory Burch's ex husband Christopher...hence the "C".  Suddenly, it all made sense!  The newscaster went on to explain that Tory was suing her ex for stealing trade secrets and designs and that he was suing her for breach of contract.  Really?  Yes, some of the stuff is similar to hers and here is an example:
This is Tory's Continental wallet. 
And this is C Wonder's Continental wallet.  Yup, they are almost identical.  This would be noteworthy if they weren't also identical to every other Continental wallet on the market including the Kate Spade example that lives in my bag and the one I saw in J Crew the other day.  Tory Burch is big in the Main Line area of Philadelphia.  Her Reva flats, tunics and handbags surround me on a daily basis and I am told there is a raging debate over whether or not she is truly "preppy".  Personally, I can't decide.  I know there are some items that I truly like, such as this Tiffany hued iPad case:

And others that are so flashy and trendy, I can't figure out what the heck she was thinking when she approved the design.  The bottom line is, yes, his products are very similar to hers, but they are very similar to other brands as well.  Case in point, the navy blazer.  This is C Wonder's blazer:
And this is J Crew's:

They are virtually identical.  They are exactly the same price.

I bought a navy J Crew Schoolboy blazer this year and I really love it.  The quality is excellent for the price point--fully lined and nicely finished with a great petite fit and the fabric is very soft.  I remarked to LAM that I was concerned that J Crew's quality had been going down a bit, but this item reassured me that they are making the effort.  Perhaps it's competition from the C Wonders of the world or possibly they are motivated by some other factor.  No matter--the end result is a nice product and I can't complain about that.

Stay prep!

All photos are courtesy of their respective retaliers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Ties That Bind

Architectural Digest is running a special online article this month to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the iconic 80's tv show Family Ties.  Yes, you read that correctly...THIRTY YEARS.  The focus of the article was not so much what the show meant to everyone who watched it way-back-when (and it meant A LOT and EVERYONE watched it), but rather they discussed the sets and various props that were used to be the very fabric of the Keaton family's life.  I found this fascinating, not only because I loved the show, but also because I was always enthralled with the sets.  I wanted to be a member of the Keaton family.  I wanted to live in that big, drafty Victorian house that I imagined in a cozy neighborhood filled with other houses that looked just like it.  Each one had a Volvo station wagon in the driveway, just like the one that Elyse and Steven drove.  Looking back on these photos as an adult, I am struck by a couple of things, the first of which is that this house would have been insanely expensive to heat and insure.  Elyse must have been one heck of an architect, because Steven's job as a public television station manager could not have possibly floated this family of five in this big house.  The other is how much stuff there is in this house.  There is art covering every square inch of wall space and knick knacks on every surface--most of them appear to be antiques or valuable collectibles, oriental carpets, vases, lamps, etc.  Also, WHAT is the deal with the table and chairs right in front of the entry?  Who does that?

Check out how YOUNG Tom Hanks looks in this shot.  As I recall, he was Elyse's alcohol troubled younger brother who hits a low point later in the episode when he swigs a bottle of vanilla extract in the kitchen because it's the only booze he can find in the house.  Notice Jennifer's "Mork From Ork" suspenders.
Ah, the kitchen.  Didn't everyone have a commercial grade Viking range in their kitchen?  I have no idea why, but the "Kiss the Cook" sign on the island absolutely epitomizes the show for me.  In my imagination, it was Steven who decided this needed to be here.  So sensitive and caring...  Also, the wallpaper is so perfect for this house.  You feel like you're being hugged when you're in this room.  Again, I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of objects in the kitchen; the plants, spices and all of the magnets on the fridge--remember when magnets used to stick to the refrigerator?
Ooh, tile countertops--before granite took the world by storm.  My aunt and uncle used to have a kitchen that looked very similar to this: tile counters, country wooden cabinets with ceramic drawer pulls and leaded glass windows in the upper cabinets.  I will admit that the tile was never really a good idea since keeping it clean was a full time job, but when they remodeled, it broke my heart.
And then, there was Alex P. Keaton.  Oh, there were other characters and notable they were, but none more than Alex, around whom the entire show revolved.  Alex was an old-school Republican, back when that stood more for fiscal conservatism rather than any other extreme affiliation.  The photo of William F. Buckley Jr. over his bed pretty much says it all, as well as the various references to his "Nixon rattle" that he played with as a baby and the "Little Republicans Pop Up Book" that he later reads to Andrew as a bed time story.  Elyse and Steven often stood back in befuddlement regarding their son because they could not fathom how they could possibly have created such an individual.  In one episode, Skippy the kid next door finds out that he was adopted.  He asks Alex how he would feel if he found out that HE was adopted.  Alex's response: "It would explain a lot."

I hope you enjoyed reminiscing with me.  All photos are courtesy of NBC via Architectural Digest.