November 28, 2011

Here We Go!

A couple of Sundays back, we got in a quick trip to Disneyland.  The forecast predicted rain, and sure enough, we were soaked through by the end of the day, despite two umbrellas and parkas for all.  Still, it was fun, and a good way to kick off the holiday season.  Are you ready for the season? Because it's like, totally here
Here we go, now entering the holiday rush...
There are trees to be bought and decorated (or if you go artificial, trees to be brought down).  I'm still winning the campaign for a live tree in my house; a tradition from my childhood that I'm not ready to relinquish. 

 Just thinking about all the decorating and lights and bustle and baking and late-night wrapping sessions makes me tired to think about...
 But it's worth it for the wonder and the joy I get, seeing it through the eyes of my still-awestruck children.
Funny, I felt more in the spirit of the season a couple of weeks ago, pre-Thanksgiving.  But I better get on board quick, because ready of not, it  always rushes by in a blur, this most wonderful, hectic time of the year

November 22, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry

I wanted to like this more than I did.  For deep autumn, a book about ghosts, a famous cemetery, and rainy London sounded like a good read for chilly nights under the covers.  And I did enjoy the first 2/3 of the book, but in the end, it all just fell apart into silliness and mere plot hijinks, rather than delving into the characters motivations. 

Like a whole lot of people, I read and truly loved the author's bestselling The Time Traveler's Wife (but had no interest in seeing the movie), so I was prepared for a certain amount of the fantastic and magical -- where Time Traveler has a man who jumps through different decades of time as the main character, this novel has a lonely, bored ghost as a central figure.  Eventually the ghost becomes powerful enough to make herself known to her 2 American nieces, to whom she's left her large, drafty apartment in her will.  The rule is that the nieces, who are twin sisters, must live in the apartment for a year before they decide to sell or keep the property -- and that their mother, the ghost Elspeth's twin sister, can never set foot in the flat.  Why Elspeth has been estranged from her own twin for decades is the novel's central mystery. 
Highgate Cemetery.  Image from here.

Complicated enough?  The dynamic between the two living twins, Julia and Valentina, is interesting and has plenty of tension, but I wish Niffenegger had spent much more time on the actual relationships, rather than indulging in so much ghostliness.  For me, this was never a true horror story, or the least bit spooky or creepy. Well, unless you consider Elspeth (the ghost) accidentally killing a little white kitten,  then managing to bring it back to life by "stuffing" its soul back into its limp little corpse, creepy.  So...not too creepy.

I liked the secondary characters a lot more than any of the main ones, and enjoyed the descriptions and history of the real Highgate Cemetery in England, but in the end, I wanted something more substantial than a pissy, bitter ghost and two feckless young Americans to keep me company on a November's night. 

November 18, 2011

Girly Gush

 Oh my. How have I missed the fabulousness that is Matchbook before now? Matchbook in an online magazine, a monthly not actually published in print form. I've been a bit stubborn about fully embracing the online-magazine trend. I prefer to curl up on my couch and intensely study, really immerse myself in the graphics and articles of my favorite monthlies. It's hard to feel that same level of intimacy on a computer monitor that's a good foot and a half from my face. But I also can't go on mourning the loss of Domino and House & Garden forever. And after stumbling upon the November issue of Matchbook, I think I'm feeling much, much more positive about reading online rags. (It also helps that I now have a small notebook/laptop, which definitely improves the experience.)

Matchbox is so fun, girly, glamorous and smart. And I love the subtitle, "A Field Guide to A Charmed Life."  That sounded right up my alley, but what made me peruse deeper was the front cover shot of designers Andy & Kate Spade.  While I'm not a fashionista, I adore Kate Spade's preppy designs and bold, happy colors, and knew her home would be really something.   The  November issue also has brief, interesting write-ups about Zora Neale Hurston and Picasso, and has chic and affordable fashion spreads that look like things I might actually wear in my daily life:
Along with cute holiday gift ideas for The Romantic or The Bohemian gal in your life. Or me, The Creative.  (It's a magazine intended for young, single urban women, so no spread for "The 40ish Suburban Mom.)
So much eye-candy packed into one issue!  I loved the spread on Chicago designer Summer Thornton. I've seen and admired her work around the 'net before, and this double-page shot of her glamorous office only made me love her more:
But the piece de resistance is the peek inside the home of Kate Spade and her husband, Andy. The house tour includes a photo that makes me happier than just about anything I've encountered online in recent memory:

Totally agog at that green-striped hallway, the trio of crystal light fixtures,  the faded runner, even the crystal doorknob: Perfection. Can I just camp out here? (After staring at it, I realized that part of my admiration is because it somehow reminds me of looking up at Disneyland.)   The rest of the house is just as colorful and chic and feminine as you'd expect from Kate Spade.  I love me some intense color, but haven't ever considered deep red as an option for my walls. This incredible, shiny lacquered goodness has me thinking twice:
 Gah!  Love, love this home.  And the way that the Spade home and Summer Thornton's office make my heart go a-flutter drives home the point that my own taste is definitely skewing more formal and glam these days. But enough gushing from me, check out Matchbook magazine here, where you can also access their inspiring blog, The Daily Spark. A great read to curl up with (sorta) and get inspired on this chilly, gray November weekend. 

November 14, 2011

In Which I Embarrass Myself

As promised in my last, epic post, here's my list of 5 embarrassing things about myself. It's guaranteed to provoke a superior snicker or two and help you kick off your week feeling happy that at least YOU don't share my same list. Probably.

1.  I love to sing and am still somewhat surprised and chagrined that I've never done anything about this passion.  Unless you count that I was a choir-geek for all four years of high school.  It was nothing like Glee;  we just stood there on risers in scarlet robes and sang.  I spent hours and hours and hours of my teen years singing to myself. I was a latch-key kid, and would often race home, drag out the standing vacuum cleaner, and wail away in front of it for hours.  This still seems like a pretty fun way to spend an hour or two.  (Disclaimer: am I good? Who knows. I'm not awful.)
Image from here

2.  I have a lazy eye, which is mostly controlled, except for a) applying eye make-up  b) whenever I become extremely tired or c) sitting in front of the computer. This last seems dangerous, considering how much I sit here. (Every year I ask the eye dr., and he can't see any evidence of a weak muscle.) Anyway, some of my earliest memories are of wearing a patch over my left eye, and hating it.  To help me become aware of it and correct myself, the ophthalmologist advised my parents to snap their fingers in my face whenever my eye drifted out. And they, in turn, told my preschool teachers to do the same.  To this day, if anyone snaps their fingers at me, I still experience a knee-jerk feeling of shame and check myself: Eyes all forward? Whew, okay.
"Fun to wear" claims the ad. Bullshit.  Image via here.

3. A significant part of my junior high brain was consumed with the adoration of Barry Manilow.  Loved. Him.  Planned to marry him. (Of course, I had no idea at the time that he was gay.)  With my very superior understanding of statistics, I believed that the likelihood of anything occurring broke down to 50/50: either it would happen, or not.  In this way, I happily sailed along believing that I had a 50% shot at marrying my man.  All I had to do was grow up, move to New York, out near his studio.  Right?  My love for Barry has faded immensely in proportion to my early passion. But: I still know every word and nuance of this album:
Image from here.
Oh, love: Looks like we've made it

4. I have freakishly big shoulders (and a wide back) compared to the rest of my frame. I mean, I've never been petite, but these shoulders mean that, while I wear a size 8, or even occasionally a 6 in jeans and bottoms, I'm pretty much excluded from wearing button-down shirts.  I have to try on an XL, or even XXL, or once, at Penney's a size 16 blouse. What the hell? I think these were passed down from my paternal grandmother, who was rather round-shouldered.  I'm afraid that I'm going to end up looking like one of those old ladies with spindly, skinny legs and a huge top half.  Note: there is no accompanying image, because my Google search mostly turned up other women comparing their shoulders to linebackers. We should all organize and form a roller derby team. 

5. I consider myself pretty familiar with good interior design, via my love of shelter magazines and all the design blogs I read.  I know how to employ bright colors and clean lines and mid-century furniture and the whole she-bang.  That said, come December, all that better judgement goes out the window, when I put up my beloved Christmas village.  You know: little houses that light up. Little round mirrors that serve as "ice ponds."  Little tiny people, shopping and decorating trees.  I love it, and chalk it up to my thwarted desire to own a dollhouse as a kid.  My children love it; it makes me happy to see them hanging off the back of the couch in the family room, staring quietly at the miniature, static world.  What makes my particular village even cooler (yes, I just typed that phrase) is that mine is a retro village, with '50s-era buildings and details.  Go ahead and judge: yes, it cheesy, kitschy, and middle-american as a plaid Barcalounger: but dude, it's Christmas.

So there you have it. Keep in mind this is just one short list, not even the list of most-embarrassing or humiliating. Trust  me, there's more.  Reading it over, it's clear I'm about as cool as your grandma: Choir robes, vision problems, JC Penney blouses and my easy-listening taste.  Good lord.  Honestly, I don't listen to Celine Dion or subscribe to Reader's Digest. And I don't smell like Ben-Gay.  Really.

November 9, 2011


This is my 100th post here at The Reading Nest. 100 posts after nearly 4 years – that took a might too long, huh? In the last couple of months, I've made a concerted effort to post more often. For me, that translates into about twice a week. It's hard for me to do more, it takes buckets of time to compose my posts. (That's my fault. I could rely more on images, less on words, but since I'm a writer, that doesn't come easily, either.)

I've hemmed & hawed a bit about what to say in this momentous 100th post. Thought about doing a “greatest hits” and showcasing a handful of favorite posts over the years. Thought about coming clean with a list of 5 embarrassing things about myself (still plan to do this, and spoiler: the list includes the phrases “Barry Manilow” and “big shoulders.”)

But what I want to talk about today is something that feels Really Big, and like the Willie Nelson song, is Always on My Mind. That thing is: Home. And also, Community.

Here's the thing: I have a very, very conflicted relationship with where I live right now. And let me say right up front,  I realize I'm blessed, lucky, and in the minority of the world's population to own a nice, spacious home in a safe neighborhood, in a good school district. I get that. Add in the fact that I'm in Southern California,  get to enjoy sunny, warm days in deepest winter and live about an hour's drive from either the mountains or the sea, and one might just say, “bitch, puh-leeze.” I get that, too. There are worse places for fate to have put us.

Still. It remains, this itch, this discontent under the surface of so many days. We've lived here over seven years. The dragging economy, and the housing market in our region being one of the hardest hit in the entire nation, means that it'll be several years before we move away. Unless we win the Lotto. Or the Publisher's Clearing House prize. (I mean, somebody has to win, right? )

This is what I need to do:

Bloom Where I'm Planted? I try. I try, try, try. But should it still be this hard, this many years into it?

Recently I paid to take an online e-course, called Blogging Your Way, and run by hugely successful blogger Holly Becker of Decor8. One of the reasons I took the course, besides the intent to better understand blogging and focus on improving my own site, was to find a community of like-minded souls, in a similar place in their bloggy careers.   Well. Yes for the former, not so much for the latter part. With something like 700 registrants, the class just felt too big for me to feel much of the “community” aspect. I did bump into a few bloggers from San Diego (an hour away), but we just kinda waved in passing, if that.

However, the course helped me realize that a big part of what I love most about my very favorite blogs is how they all convey a strong sense of place, and the bloggers seem really, really content in their surroundings (not their homes, per se, but that too). Many times, their blogs spotlight their towns or regions, with lots of pretty pictures of neighborhoods and hillsides, or flower fields and sidewalks, of waterfalls, of lamposts and laundromats.  The glorious to the mundane, they soak it up, they revel.

I do not feel the same urge to document my own backyard. Maybe in the past, I've posted something like this: 
My actual backyard, from several years back. Or maybe this: 
A hot air balloon, landing in the park tot lot adjacent to our house.

In fact, I've purposely avoided mentioning even the name of my town: Temecula. (There, I said it.)   The reason has to do with my sense of community:  I've never, even at the height of my MOMS Club involvement (I even served as co-president one year) felt much at  at ease in my particular milieu of fellow stay-at-home moms.  Not because I think I'm better, or more interesting, or anything like that. I take the blame, entirely mostly:   I really suck at making friends, at letting my guard down enough to truly let people in.  And also, I just haven't felt that I've ever found "my people."    Maybe I'm not "more interesting" than my neighbors. But can I say that we do not at all share the same interests?  Also, I know more than a few judgemental souls in town, and I've feared them stumbling here, onto this blog and some of my most honest, public declarations, and feeling, well: judged. "If you have time to blog, you have time to come mop my floors." Someone may or may not have said that, once. 

But I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm going to be judged anyway, whether by some mom down the street, or some cranky dude in Lithuania who ended up here to see my Ikea kitchen. (And hello, Lithuanian's!) 

In the future, I plan to explore more here about this notion of home, of community, of belonging. After all, half of my blog name is "Nest."  My goal is to make my vague dream of "anywhere but here" more concrete and quantifiable. If I have a firm idea of just what I'm looking for in some future town, city, or state, than maybe I'll be helping the Universe along in making it all happen.   If nothing else, it will be a point to steer toward.   And maybe in between, I'll have some posts of my town, this place where I'm quite firmly rooted for now.  Pictures of things that define this place, besides air balloons and well-manicured greenbelts.

In the meantime, thank you interwebs, for the lifeline of other blogs and kindred souls, who've helped me grow and inspired me to (slowly!) post 99 times about books, fears, dreams, and decor. And have reassured me that even if they're not right down the street, my people really are out there, somewhere.
(And thank you for reading this far down in this extra-long, rambling post.)  Do you like where you live?  Does your town fit you like a  kid glove, or does it make you stuffy and itchy as a cheap rayon sweater? 

November 4, 2011

A Wanderlust Growing In Your Bones

 I love, love the work of New England-based artist Daniel Danger.  November, with it's early nightfalls, smoky air and the winding down of the year, seems like the perfect season for his work.

It's always dark in his world. Even the pieces set in the daylight seem dark: dark forests, deep shadows, or night approaching soon. 
Something is lurking out there in his world, something menacing approaches. (This piece reminds me of the film Super 8, which I saw this summer. Think Stand By Me, with aliens.)
 And this one reminds me of one of my favorite Neko Case songs, Ghost Wiring: "Your ghost is a light show at night/On the Grand Coulee dam/The river is watching you/At the drive-in tonight...."

I very much want to own a poster or print of his work, but they sell out quickly when they go up for sale at his web site, Tiny Media Empire, or like recently, for his current show at the Rotofugi gallery. (There was a Pre-Sale that I could've jumped on, but I was out of the house when it started, and two hours later, everything under $200 was gone.)   Some pieces are listed on Ebay for not a lot, really, but baby needs new shoes and winter jackets. You know how that goes. 
Look at the sky in his works, see the stars, the moon, the street lights and tangled power lines.  They remind me that there is a night, that there is deep darkness, which sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but married with two children, we are tucked in early here in our house, snuggled in suburbia.  Easy to forget what it's like, to be out after midnight, in the empty lots and deserted neighborhoods. But:
Yes, yes there is. November is wanderlust season. Only, where to go, and how to get there?

November 2, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

Above is a little diorama that I bought a few years ago in Old Town San Diego.  On the evening it was purchased, I was playing both tourist and host, tourist because I hadn't been to Old Town in a long while, and host, because I was showing off Old Town, and San Diego, and by proxy, my home state, to a friend from Canada who'd never been to California. 

The things I take for granted, that are mere backdrop to my days, were wild and exotic to my friend from the Great White North:  crimson bougainvillea, cactus, and hand-thrown tortillas in the Mexican restaurant.  And likely, my own background seemed exotic to her: I am half Mexican-American on my mother's side. 

Half Mexican-American, yet arguably the "whitest" and least ethnic member of my mother's family, and most definitely the only one who has bought or displayed any memento celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead. I didn't know about Dia del los Muertos growing up.  My family was self-conscious, one might even say ashamed, of our background.  My grandparents, both born and raised in Southern California, spoke Spanish as children, but rarely spoke it in my presence.  With her fair skin and light brown eyes and strong, patrician nose, my grandmother was sometimes mistaken as (and proud to be mistaken as)  Jewish, rather than a Mexican.  (And even as an adult, her world was so small, I doubt she's even known a real Jewish person in her life.)

Sometimes, my mother and I would drop in on my grandparents in the evening, after dinner, and my grandpa would be relaxing in his recliner, watching an old Mexican cowboy movie on one of the local Spanish stations. When we entered, he was quick to point the remote and change the channel.  All of which is to say: It's November 2, both "Dia del los Muertos" and All Soul's Day, but the date really doesn't mean anything to me or my extended family.  Unlike what seems like 99.5% of the other many, many "Hispanic" "Latino" "Chicano" or "whatever" families that make up the population of my state, my own family isn't Catholic. Ritual and tradition isn't something we're much comfortable with.

Maybe that's why I never encountered Dia De Los Muertos until a high school friend went off to college and got involved with a political group that was all about celebrating and elevating the "heritage" of Chicano students. I hung around with that group, attended a few of their parties with my friend.  It wasn't ever my heritage, it seemed.  Still,  there I was in that souvenir shop in Old Town, fondling the hand-made Mexican crafts with my Canadian friend, and wanting to claim something of it all as mine.  To show her: see?  After the enchiladas, and the strolling mariachi musicians at the restaurant, after the walk through the dry autumn air beneath rustling palm trees: see, this is who I am.

But sugar skulls, skeletons, bright paper flowers, and Frida Kahlo?  Really, I'm just a tourist here, too. 
I display the little diorama there for today, amidst old photos of family members who have passed on (not my grandma, but she is not really here and present these days, either).  On All Souls Day, the barrier between the living and the dead is supposed to be thin, easily permeated. Recently I complained to my husband that I never dream of the family members who've passed on, that they never come to visit me.  Maybe it's because we don't need the nether world of sleep to say hello. Maybe they are here in my every step, right beside my elbow. Drowsing, at the very least, in my every last cell, waking sometimes to assert: See, this is who I am.
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