Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Absolute Steal

Ah, the iconic Hermès Birkin bag.  Women everywhere lust after this potentially financially disastrous (unattainable fo rmost of us) piece of fashion history.  But why?  What is it about this bag that evokes such a visceral response?  For me, it's the structure of it.  It's so buttoned up.  Honestly, that is what I love about it, which makes me scratch my head every time I see one that is unbuckled.

I don't know whether it's just plain laziness, or a devil-may-care attitude (I'm lucky enough to be able to afford this bag, therefore I can't be bothered to keep it buckled) or if it's really not supposed to be latched--you know, like a trench coat belt.  Since I am the kind of person who likes things to be neat and orderly, if I owned this bag (and I am NOT holding my breath), I would drive everyone nuts waiting for me to button it up every time I needed to open it.  Yes, I am that person who stands in front of you in stores holding up the line to neatly fold my receipt and place it in my wallet.  I would apologize, but I'm not sorry.  Neatness counts.

See how Princess Grace looks?  No sloppy buckle for her, no sir.

Hermès has another bag that has Birkin level utility, if not intense snob appeal that solves the buckle issue by not having one.  Enter the Garden Party:

Perfect, isn't it?  Well, maybe all except the price tag, which is still in the stratusphere.  If you were a very good girl and saved all your nickels and dimes, this little gem might be attainable with some well-calculated retail abstinence.  The good news is that you don't have to.  Why, you ask?  Because J McLaughlin has perfected it and it's on sale!

Enter the Mia tote.  The two bags are almost exactly identical (there are two side snaps on the Mia as well, you just can't see them.  LAM picked this up for me to carry to work (you know briefcase/purse/carry-on) bag that does everything.  HE actually fell in love with it and decided that I had to have it.  It is positively scrummy with the softest leather I have ever felt, nice little brass feet, a lovely brushed lining, organizer pockets inside and deceptive capacity (you could carry a small child in this bag, yet it doesn't feel huge).  I expect to use and enjoy mine for a very, very long time.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Happy Zone

Finally, at long last, I've managed to both carve out a corner of sanity and give purpose to a space that previously had none.  If you'll forgive the lousy lighting in this photo, I wanted to show what the space looked like while I was in the middle of working on a new piece and in a state of zen, and had completely lost track of time.  After many fits and starts, my new table and stool are finally installed, as well as the little LED bendy light that I mentioned earlier.  The light works well, but as I suspected, does not throw off a lot of light.  It is good for adding some extra light directly onto a work in progress, or as I mentioned before, illuminating from underneath.  The magnet is STRONG, so I can attach it to any metal surface and it's not going to fall and it does take batteries if you want to use it without the cord.  I did not know this when I bought it, so it was a nice surprise.  Since I have a day job, I am working here 90% of the time when it's dark outside.  I put the table in front of the window so that on the rare occasion I am working during the day, I can soak up as much light as possible, as well as gazing out the window and watching the world go by.  I'm still moving things around to try and find the best lighting solution.  Honestly, it's driving me crazy.  I feel like Goldilocks--this one is too bright, this one is too soft, this one distorts colors, etc. So far, this setup (as strange as it looks) seems to work pretty well, but could be a smidge better.  Still, I'm not complaining.  The mirror helps reflect what there is in a sort of non-threatening way.  Another unanticipated good thing is the shape of the seat on the stool.  It is wide enough that I can sit indian style and I find myself doing this more often than not.  Weird, I know.

I had a little bit of unexpected free time yesterday, so I treated myself to a couple new watercolor wash brushes.  Since my existing collection is from high school (I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not), a couple new tools were desperately in order.  I love these Princeton Neptune Aquarelle wash brushes.  They work, feel and look fantastic.  I love how the handles look like sea glass.  Good tools really do make things so much nicer!


Friday, January 25, 2013

A Stupendous Boy

I know I've mentioned this guy before from time to time, but I had a conversation with one of my etsy customers yesterday that compelled me to mention him again.  She had recently lost her Border Collie and had purchased one of my cards as a tribute to her late companion.  Before I tell you how these cards came to be, allow me to back up for a minute.  The cards were a tribute, not just to Nick, but to all great dogs everywhere.  Nick came into our lives almost completely by accident.  He was a rescue--"found" in a rowhouse in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia with his three brothers, about 30 other dogs and 80 cats.  It was just about the worst animal hoarding situation I had ever heard of.  Suffering from sarcoptic mange, the animals were distributed to various shelters and rescues.  Nick and his brothers made their way to Mid Atlantic Border Collie rescue, a group we had adopted Zoe from a couple years earlier.  Zoe is in the background of this photo and it says a lot about her.  She prefers to be in the background and detests having her picture taken.  When she came to us (she has her own story) she was a neurotic mess.  Afraid of absolutely everything but other animals, we worked hard to socialize her and ease her fears, but we could only bring her so far.  She needed another dog in the house.  She needed cannon fodder.  She needed Nick.  Nick fears NOTHING and I really, really mean that.  He is awesome and he knows it.  Life and everything and just about everyone is also awesome as far as he is concerned.  The director of the rescue thought he was just what Zoe needed and she needed to get him out of her facility.  Because of his mange, he was quarantined outside.  By December, he had recovered, grew some of his hair back and needed to be inside and learn some manners.  The problem was LAM.  He didn't think we needed another dog.  We agreed to "foster" Nick, with hopes that the match would stick.  Needless to say, he never left.  We named him "Quick Nick" after BMW Formula One driver Nick Heidfeld (and because we got him at Christmastime, it seemed to fit).  He also, like all Border Collies, runs insanely fast.

Since Nick feels compelled to participate in every human activity that there is to offer, I bought him this costume to help me pass out candy on Halloween.  I'm not a big fan of dressing dogs, but he absolutely revels in wearing his "supersuit".  I suspect all of the neighborhood kids going ga-ga over him may have something to do with it.  When I took this picture, I couldn't get over how full of himself he looked and that gave birth to the following drawing:

Which turned into a greeting card...

And a fridge magnet.  Sadly, I don't know many people who have magnetic refrigerators anymore, but they stick great on office filing cabinets!

Since putting these up in my etsy shop, I have received so many wonderful letters and messages from customers letting me know how much they enjoy the image, either in tribute to a companion who has passed or as a reminder of one who is still with them.  Not surprisingly, many of them are rescues.  I treasure each and every comment that I receive and always love hearing stories about other people's pets and the wonderful things they bring to all of our lives.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dreaming of pleasant things

This is the sort of day we're having in Philadelphia.  It's insanely cold.  Some of us had to get up anyway and get on with our day.  Others did not.  Since I could not stay under the duvet with Nick, I decided to share some things that have popped up on my radar that are keeping my mind off of the fact that I'm freezing.

First, this is one slick little gadget.  The iclooly phone handset is a great way to use/charge your smartphone on your desk or nightstand.  Since just about everything in my life is controlled by this little white box, I am never without it and never want the battery to go dead.  The handset also solves the problem of not being able to hold my phone between my shoulder and ear.  I hate bluetooth devices and lets face it--a good old fashioned handset is just better when you're sitting at a desk and don't need to move around.  As an added bonus, you can use the phone while talking--Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I don't need an excuse to buy books--not ever, but these cloth bound Penguin classics simply took my breath away.  What a wonderful gift for a young person!  My favorite design is the Sense and Sensibility cover, but they are all lovely. is having a deal on sets.  This would be a great purchase to stash away for a birthday or next Christmas or just to add something gorgeous to your library or table top.
In keeping with the book theme, I have wonderful blogger PVE turned me on to this gorgeous recipe binder.  My recipes are currently housed in an old book that pretty.  This is definately on my list.  Since my recipe book sits propped on my counter about 90% of the time, it would be nice if it were something that I enjoyed looking at on a regular basis.  Found at Sugar Paper.

And there is scent...

A recent trip to Blue Mercury turned me on to Lafco candles.  I was really blown away, not just by the scrumptious scents (and there are tons of them), but the gorgeous hand blown glass jars.  This is a candle jar that you will never throw away since it would make a great pencil holder, vase, or as my father would say, "thing to put things in".  The Duchess Peony would make a lovely Valentine's Day gift.

Unfortunately, this photo does not do this candle justice.  The light blue greens in this glass are stunning in person and would make the perfect addition to your beach house (or as a hostess gift to someone else's!) or to simply have in your home and dream of the beach.

Lastly, this color has been popping up on my radar a lot lately.
Something between a lavendar and light blue--this is a flattering color on just about anyone, particularly blondes.  Seriously has me dreaming about warmer weather.  The Graham Pastel Studded Wrap is the perfect piece to transition into spring.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

After the fact

I suspect I am not alone in that every year I feel a sense of let down once all of the Christmas decorations are packed away.  Where surfaces were once covered with a warmth and glow, everything now suddenly seems stripped bare and completely devoid of character in the wake of their removal.  I have, for the last several years, subconsciously counteracted this by re-arranging decor, trying to organize better and adding a few small items that make life in general a little bit better.

This year, I found myself in a local gem of a store, The Little House Shop in Wayne.  It is a classic breath of fresh air in a world of trendy, disposable home goods.  The inventory reads almost as though it was taken directly from the "Displaying the Loot" page of The Official Preppy Handbook.  All cliches aside, it is a great place to go if you want something nice that you will enjoy for a very long time.
The inside of the store is warm and soothing and the staff are kind and helpful.  It's the sort of place you can get lost in and completely forget about time in general.
My big find (or I should say solution to a very annoying problem), was a small basket with slatted sides.  I keep the charging cords for my phone and iPad near a small table in the breakfast room.  The problem here is keeping them ON the table, which they almost never are unless they are plugged into something with weight.  Besides looking awful, having cords draped on the floor is just plain dangerous.  The basket solved this problem perfectly since I could slide the cord ends through the slats, they stay in place and now I have a place to stash the items being charged and looks fairly neat and presentable.
The next undertaking had to do with my new found orchid addiction.  I love having fresh flowers in the house, but buying them to watch them die after five days or so was not only getting to be depressing, but seemed like a waste of money.  Enter Trader Joes and their extremely reasonably priced orchids.  The blooms last exponentially longer than a nice bouquet for roughly the same price.  Even longer, if you are better than I am at keeping things alive, but I digress.  I bought a fresh specimen to spruce up my desk, but it came in a simple clay pot that was neither attractive to look at or friendly to the surface of my desk.  I didn't have an extra cache pot, so I headed over to Valley Forge Flowers, which is sort of a sister store to The Little House Shop.
In addition to being a traditional florist, they sell a variety of horticultural oriented home goods, preserved boxwood topiaries of all shapes and sizes, soaps, lotions, candles and a wide variety of unusual cache pots.
They also have a great little gourmet cafe and coffee bar.
This perfect little black painted pot came home with me and makes my work space a much happier place.  I can almost forget about how awful the panelling on the wall looks.  That's the next project.  Stay tuned.


Friday, January 11, 2013

About patience and karma

This nifty drafting table was one of my Christmas gifts from LAM.  It sort of started out as a joke when I was working on a project a few months ago and needed to transfer a design from one sheet of paper to another.  I do not have a lightbox, so I made a makeshift one with a small clear plastic box lid and a flashlight.  It worked about as well as you can imagine and a lot of bad words were uttered as I tried to use it.  When I started looking around for a proper box, I came upon this table and thought, Wow, what a great idea!  With the glass top, it functions as both a drafting table and a light box with the simple addition of a light source underneath.  The price was an absolute steal on Hayneedle, so I sent LAM the link as a hint.  Let us never say that LAM can't take a hint.  Two days later, the UPS man showed up at our office (not sure if I ever mentioned that we work together), with an enormous box that had a gigantic photo of this table on it...and plopped it right in front of our door.  It stayed pretty much where it was left and so for the next month, I walked around my Christmas gift.  After a while, I sort of forgot about it and it became part of the landscape.  As we were leaving to go home the last day before the holiday, it occurred to me that maybe we should take it home.  At this point, the cat was out of the bag, so I helped him put it in the car (thank goodness for BMW fold down rear seats!), and then helped him assemble it and then put a bow on it--Surprise!

Once the holiday was over, I needed to find a home for the table so I could actually use it.  Prior to this moment in time, our living room, which happens to be the largest room in the house, had been used only as a spying perch for Zoe to spend her time either on the couch or at the window trying to herd the children at the bus stop in front of our house.  The room is fully furnished, but Zoe is the only family member that ever goes in there for anything.  I decided that putting the table in there would give some purpose to that room once and for all...and then I remembered that I didn't have a chair for it.  D'oh!

After an exhaustive search to find something that did not really look like an office chair, but a regular piece of furniture (sort of), I finally settled on this 24" leather covered stool from Crate and Barrel.  It was perfect in every way--just the right height for someone with smallness of person and my feet fit perfectly on the metal covered chair rungs.  I was extremely tired and cranky from going to about seven different stores and not really finding what I was looking for.  When I finally settled on this stool and tried to buy it, I was met with a phrase that has been plaguing me for some time..."We don't have that in stock, but we can order it for you."  BIG SIGH.  I'm not sure whether it's the economy and stores don't want to keep inventory that they may not be able to sell, or that things are actually starting to get better and merchandise is blowing out the door, but whatever the reason, I am REALLY starting to grow tired of going out of my way to visit a brick and mortar store only to be told that the item in question is simply a display model and that it will have to be ordered.  That was the straw that broke the camel's back after a very long and frustrating day, so I had a small hissy fit, left the chair in the middle of the store and we retired across the street to get some dinner.  Just to note, the reason this practice bothers me so much is because although I do a great deal of shopping online, I do also try to support my local retailers by shopping there when I can.  When I go out of my way and waste gas and time only to have to order an item, well I could have done that without leaving the comfort of my laptop.

At any rate, I had some time over dinner to reflect on the situation and to recognize that waiting a week for the right piece of furniture would not be the end of the world, so after dinner, we went back to the store to order it.  The salesman, who was previously not helpful at all, took some pity on me and agreed to send it second day air at no charge.  I apologized for not ordering it the first time, he was gracious about it and we all left with a smile.  Fast forward three days to the arrival of the stool...that I unwrapped to find had a very broken foot.  Great.  Back to the store we went to return it, waste another trip and order another one!  I will never know if this is my karmic retribution for getting so mad about the situation, but you have to wonder.  My desk is still without a chair and I'm really anxious to start using it--I have been walking around it for over a month!

Now that I have found the chair (assuming that it eventually arrives in one piece), the next task is to find suitable lighting.  In order to take advantage of the glass top / lightbox feature, a regular clamp-on style studio light won't do much good.  I need one that has a the ability to go over or under the glass top.  I also found out that you can't clamp a heavy studio lamp to a glass top regardless.  This one, also a Hayneedle find seems to fit the bill since it's LED and very light, but has the ability to either clamp or you can use the magnetized base to attach it to the metal frame, which would give a variety of positions.  It seems win-win.  I'll let you know how it goes.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

All Revved Up

It's a well-known fact that I need coffee the same way I need oxygen.  I am happiest when I have a cup in my hand and would drink it all day long if I could figure out a way to get my brain to just go to sleep already, but I usually can't, so the fun has to stop somewhere around 4:00 PM.   The constant caffeine feed also needs to taste good and while I would love to be able to afford to be one of those people you see in Starbucks every morning (or in my case, Chestnut Hill Coffee Company) ordering a $4 grande non-fat latte (please), alas, the budget doesn't allow, so I have to satisfy the craving by grinding my own beans and now frothing my own milk.  I never quite got the hang of home-operated espresso machines, but Santa brought me a couple of nifty tools to play with this year that allow me to come up with my own frothy concoctions that are almost as good as the real deal.

The first one I tried was the Nespresso Aeroccino Plus.  It is one cool little gadget.  Little frother inside is held in place with a magnet so it stays where it should, but pops out easily for cleaning.  Actually, the whole device is very easy to clean.  You simply pour in the milk and press the button on the front, wait a couple minutes and ding!, it's done.  Frothy goodness lightning fast.  You can remove the pot from the base to set on the table if you're entertaining guests (I did this on Christmas Day and everyone enjoyed frothy milk in their coffee).  If this machine has a flaw, it's that it doesn't hold much milk and doesn't get it searing hot.  Great for coffee, not so great for making hot cocoa.

Next up on the list was the Breville Milk Frother.  This was the model that I originally had on my Christmas wish list, but it was impossible to find before the holidays, so LAM went for the Nespresso model.  I loved the Nespresso so much that I took it to the office and decided to try this one for home since it claimed to make great hot cocoa.  Among other nifty features, it has a dial that controls temperature and it does heat the milk sufficiently to make cocoa.  It also has a small inner lid that pops off so you can start heating/frothing the milk and then pour the chocolate packet in and presto! you have whipped cocoa.  The big flaw here is that there is a minimum level for it to work properly, so you end up frothing more milk than you want for just one cup of coffee and for whatever reason, it doesn't produce the same level of foam as the Nespresso.

It is also LARGE and takes up a good bit of room on my countertop, but it is relatively easy to clean.  The stainless steel has kind of a rough finish and reminds me of fingernails down a blackboard when I touch it.  I know that sounds awful, but the Nespresso has a lovely polished finish and is a delight to touch.

The end result is a lovely cup of cocoa--marshmallows are optional.

Whipped cream is NOT optional

In the meantime, I am happily caffeinated both at home and at the office.  Maybe some day I will figure out how to make these pretty designs!