December 24, 2012

Once Again, As in Olden Days

Late morning on Christmas Eve, and here I am writing a blog post! I still have baking to do and even a few random bits to wrap (hangs head in shame).  In my defense, I was struck by a weird and random stomach bug on Thursday that lasted through Saturday. I wasn't that sick, but felt super drained, chilly and what Julia Child politely calls "bilious."  You know, that feeling after consuming a huge plate of butter-based white sauce and half a bottle of wine and top it off with creme brulee? Yeah. For four days, I was just...ick. 

So, obviously it sucks for a mom to get laid low a few days before the Big Day, but I've rallied and am ready to celebrate. I confess to also feeling a little out of sorts by the fact that this is the first Christmas Eve in my entire life that won't be spent with family.  There were two years when we were in Portland with my husband's family, and every single year besides those were spent at my grandparent's (through my first 3 decades) and more recently, at my mom's, with extended family.

This year, we're switching it up, and saving ourselves from the over 150-mile round trip that we've made for the last eight Christmas Eve's.  We'll still see my family tomorrow, but it's different.  On the other hand, tonight I'm looking forward to a nice dinner out at one of the local wineries, and putting myself to bed before 2 a.m.

Some things won't change: getting sticky and sugar-dazed while making Mexican Wedding Cakes, watching Meet Me in St. Louis, and getting all choked up when Judy/Esther sings "through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow..." next to a sniffling Margaret O'Brien/Tootie.
Image via.
Here's to traditions both old and new. (While I look forward to Judy Garland today, the husband and daughter are stoked about the new Dr. Who tomorrow.)  So whichever kind you have, have yourselves a merry little Christmas.

December 17, 2012


There are so many who do this better, the writing and blogging about the difficult things, the worst things. Who by tapping into their own grief and experiences and wisdom can offer something small and hopeful to pause over in front of your monitor or laptop or tablet, just for a few moments, before you click on over to the next moment.

I can't offer you any of that.  I'm a public blogger but hold my deepest feelings close, in check. I don't ever share my extremes with you, beyond the general ennui of modern life that often dogs my days. 

So I offer this, just a little story, a private moment from Saturday night:

Tucker, who turned 8 a few weeks ago, has a rock-solid and specific bedtime routine: there are kisses, there are hugs, and most importantly, there is the sharing of dreams. Each night, in turn, he asks me and my husband what we plan to dream about: "What will you dream?" My husband's answers are often silly and surreal (they're dreams, after all): flying kitties in marshmallow clouds, singing fluorescent Gummi bears, driving a huge monster truck as big as our house. 

After I plant the final kisses on my boy's tummy and dim his lamp, it's then my turn to share what my dreams will be. My offerings are less flamboyant and more calming: I'll dream that we're all on a wonderful family picnic, or that he & I are walking together in a snowy forest.

Usually Tucker, tired and drowsy, will claim one of our dreams for his own plans: I'm gonna dream about daddy's flying kitties, or I'll be coming with you on that picnic.

On Saturday, tired and going to bed extra late after an evening of family fun, I gave Tucker my kisses and my dream (something vague about Christmas). In turn, he said clearly, with his eyes closed: "I'm going to dream that I'm invincible." Oh! I said. That's a big word. Why will you be invincible? "So I can always be safe, so nothing can ever hurt me."

I asked him, who'd been purposely shielded from any news accounts of the Sandy Hook tragedy, if he worried about being safe. "No. I just want to be invincible."

That's a terrific dream, buddy, I whispered in his ear. I think I'm going to dream that for you, too

Oh, that dreams and magic and flying kitties could always be so. 
I'm going to be scarce around here. Last week, when the world seemed a little more simple, I planned to participate in a Christmas home tour link up tomorrow and share my retro holiday home. But now, that doesn't feel right for me at all.

Maybe I'll share a few pics of what we're up to, here and there over the next week and through the end of 2012, but certainly no tour, no link parties for me. See you back soon, and in the meantime, stay safe. And happy dreaming, if you can pull that off.  

December 11, 2012

December Nights

This past Saturday we drove the hour south to San Diego to attend December Nights at Balboa Park.  I'd found out about this huge annual civic event last year, but last year proved too busy. 

I spent a good amount of time perusing the details on the event web site beforehand, and got excited about all the many, many options of things to see and do. Nearly all of the park's museums opened their doors for free from 5-10 p.m., plus there were myriad versions of Santa's in every nook of the park, free chorale concerts, a puppet show version of "A Christmas Carol," and international food booths.  To name just a few things.

So we went and honestly, I was totally overwhelmed. I feel a little guilty that we didn't really see or accomplish (or even eat) all that much. I blame it on us being newbies to the event, and not really sure of how it worked.  Basically, how it works is that since nearly everything but the food is free, if you want to see or do something, you need to arrive at least an hour before showtime to guarantee a seat. 

Here are the kids in front of the pink Who Christmas tree in front of the Old Globe Theater, which is running How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  (This full-length musical is decidedly not free. I thought it might be fun to go for my birthday next week, until I found that tickets are nearly $80 a seat.)
I don't know, there's something about how people get so excited about koi fish that cracks me up. Just check out the paparazzi back there:
We waited in line for close to an hour to see a "best of" performance of The Nutcracker by a junior ballet troupe.  Except there was no storyline, just a sort of "ballet costumes from around the world" trope going on.  (It's been that part of the story?) But the kids liked it, and I think they'd enjoy seeing a real performance with the actual storyline someday. 

We also braved the crowds at the Model Railroad Museum. Now this museum of model trains is always tight and claustrophobic even on typical weekends, so on this night? YIKES. But I still liked seeing the details of the miniature towns:

After true sundown, it suddenly got very, very crowded and I felt like we were at a giant food fest, more than a Christmas event. There were activities on my agenda that I wanted us to see, but navigating through the crowd was exhausting.
Evidently the Big Thing to do is to view the Christmas Story Tree at the Spreckles Pavillion.  It's a telling of the nativity story, with songs and carols and the tree itself opens up to display various scenes.  We got there more than an hour beforehand, and every seat in the outdoor amphitheatre was taken. Totally SRO. It was chilly, the kids were hungry, and standing in one place for an hour just didn't feel like an option.
I think we had a good time? It's hard to tell, between the porta-potties, the search for kid-friendly food, Tucker's meltdown when he confessed (post-purchase) that he really doesn't like hot cocoa at all, and the jam-packed crowds.

But, there was also a visit with Santa, cookies, singing & music on nearly every corner, and so much to look up and see and admire. Next time, we'll know what the heck we're doing. 

December 7, 2012

Thursday Night, Last Night

Hola & happy Friday.

Here's what my fireplace area looks like these days, compared to the picture I showed yesterday in my post about the new rug.  We're all decked out.
I had a wonderful Thursday night. The husband took the children to the mall to pick out some presents for moi, and took them out to dinner, too.  I ran over to my favorite bakery & got that turkey pesto panini I'd been craving all week, then came home & savored my dinner with a glass (or two) of a buttery chardonnay, while reading a very good novel. (The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer.) 

I had jazz on in the background, and with the scenes in the book describing a Parisian theater at Christmastime in 1937, I felt very cosmopolitan in my suburban tract house, dreaming of a more urban, sophisticated life someday. Although my little dinner & evening in my own Christmastime home was mighty idyllic.

The children came home with balloons and we settled down together and watched the last half of Elf on TV.   Later this afternoon, we'll go and pick out our fresh Christmas tree and bring that sucker home.  (My little fake one there in the family room is just a compromise for my dream of a flocked white tree.)

Saturday promises to be fabulously festive, with a trip down to San Diego. More on that next week.

'Til then, have a great weekend & hope you get your own little perfect moment of peace & jazz & good reading.

December 6, 2012

Rugs & Crumbs

This one's pretty forthright: we needed a new rug for our great room, and last month we acquired one.

Like most families, this area, which includes the kitchen, is the heart of our home. We spend most of our time here -- cooking, eating, homework, video gaming, TV, movie nights, Sunday paper reading, dad-napping: this is usually where it all happens. Oh, and snacking, which is why we needed a rug: without one, every stray crumb, shard, and bit of stray food eaten on the sectional ended up at our feet. And that doesn't even count all the same stray crumbs that hitched a ride on our bare feet or socks from the kitchen and made it over to the couch area. 

Am I grossing you out? Sorry. Such is life with my family.  My husband works from home, my kids come home from school hungry: Food and snacking are almost a constant. Kids are a constant. Crumbs happen. My kids are such messy eaters, I can't even imagine what a rug under the kitchen table would look like after a few weeks. Better to put down a plastic tarp.  

ANYWAAY. There was a rug in the family room before, but it was too small and earlier this year, it traveled over to the living room. It's much happier and better-sized over there. (Plus it was dark brown with a very flat pile, both of which highlighted every single crumb.)

Old rug:
I tried my damnedest to find a pic of the old rug in the family room, but this is all I had:
From our big Halloween party last year. Those aren't even my kids in the foreground.  (And you can just imagine how the crumbs, broken chips and snacks looked on the rug after that shindig.)

So here's the new rug reveal:

I thought the room needed an 8x10, but after some measuring, I realized that a 6x9 would be fine.  The right edge of the rug is close enough to our eating area. Here you can see the edge of our long table in the very foreground:
The patio door is also just beyond the windows, so I didn't want anything too close to that.

Details: The rug was purchased online at Rugs USA.  You are assuming this is a much bigger blog if you think they comped me in any way for this rug.  Ha. No.

I took me forEVER to pick out a rug (I wavered a lot over a brown chevron stripe, but the husband voted a firm NO on that one). In the end, I chose this Moroccan Trellis pattern. And my indecision paid off, because by the time I was ready to order, they had a Halloween sale and the rug was 60% off, with free shipping. I read the product reviews over & over, and received exactly what I expected in terms of the color and thickness.

And the shedding. Lots of folks mentioned the shedding...and it does indeed shed, lots of tiny litte beige fibers. It's 100% wool, and I guess that's what certain wool rugs will do. There is even a tag on the rug, warning me that it will shed for up to 3 months.  About a month in, the shedding is still going strong, but it doesn't bug me too much. If I had darker floors, it would be a much bigger issue.
I also moved my starburst mirror from above the fireplace and replaced it with a colorful Bird of Paradise print.  It adds a big punch of color to the area, but I'm not sure about it for the long haul.

But our new rug is definitely here to stay for a good long time.  Crumbs and wool fibers and all.

Each Thursday I'm linking up with Jules as part of her 2012 William Morris project. 

December 4, 2012

Love it or Like It

It's been a little quiet around here, but I'm okay with that. I feel a little quiet inside, too. Not in a depressive way, just feeling peaceful and okay with things.  I've been decorating the house (almost done, except for the tree, which we'll buy fresh this weekend.)  And doing some Christmas shopping, but not too much, yet.

This weekend, I did some online housecleaning -- basically, I changed 80% of my Facebook "Friends" into "Acquaintances," and removed them from my daily feed. Wow, that felt good.  I check Facebook  a couple times each day, usually to see what my sister is up to, or a couple family members or Friends that I enjoy hearing about.  But that other 80% was comprised chiefly of women in my community whom I know, or knew, only very casually.  I see them on the school yard, or on my neighborhood streets; most don't even acknowlege me.  And vice versa. Yet there they were every day in my feed, filling my head with their gossip and worries and political views and dogs and kid-bragging and dinners out and UGH. The semantics of them being my alleged "Friends" was getting me down. Enough.

I woke up Sunday morning with this realization: It's been several years since I was involved with the MOMS Club.  So why am I still involved, even peripherally, with all these moms?  And why would I want to share photos of my own kid-bragging with them, when they don't even know my children except by name?  I logged on, and snip-snap: Done. A place for everything, and everything in its place, as Mary Poppins would say.

The results have cheered me immensely. I just don't need to know. Ignorance is bliss. (Many times I've considered deleting my personal Facebook account entirely, but don't really want to do that. And besides, then I'd never get to see the gorgeous shots that my friend Becky shares of her hikes in the high Sierras.)

Speaking of Facebook, why not Like my Reading Nest page on Facebook? (There's also a link  over there on the right.)  It's a small tiny teeny little group over there, but you'll get new posts straight to your feed, plus some extra photos and links that I sometimes share. 

Finally, here's a shot from this Sunday morning, of a quick cinnamon roll thing I baked from refrigerated biscuits, via one of my Pinterest boards. Here it sits on my island, in front of my little baking-themed tree. 
I realize that in this shot from my camera, under kitchen lights on a cloudy morning, it looks like a cinnamon glazed brain. But it was pretty tasty, considering the amount of non-effort involved.

I swear, this post wasn't going to be a shameless plug for my FB page.  Actually, I was gonna rant about how my children can eat an entire pouch of bright blue Fun Dip, plus the candy stick and be just fine, yet balk at eating my cinnamon bread because it looked too sweet. 
Freakin' kids. Freakin' Facebook. You gotta love 'em. 

November 28, 2012

Pasadena House Lust

Lust and envy are ugly, bottom-feeder emotions, but on a beautiful Sunday morning walk through tony South Pasadena I was wallowing in them both.

Oh, pretty Pasadena. Oh, pretty pretty million-dollar houses. (Two million, five, ten million, easy.)

It reminded me of a funny, quick memoir I read a couple years back: Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, by Meghan Daum.
 As someone who grew up in rental houses and apartments, who moved several times before the age of 12 (and some of those moves meant crashing in my grandparents' spare bedrooms), I understand house lust very well. It's a primal thing with me.  The white picket fence goes way beyond metaphor.

Anyway. Let's take a stroll, shall we? As I wrote yesterday, we stayed at the Bissel House, and the homes here are north and west of that location near Orange Grove Blvd. in South Pasadena -- an area appropriately nicknamed "Millionaire's Row." Go figure.

Loved this low slung modern house -- with great succulent landscaping.

I suppose one must give the gate code to the staff, too?
We actually got to tour through this home, which was open for an estate sale. It was old, old, old and falling apart, but lord it was cool to walk through. There were elaborate fireplaces in almost every room:

One of my favorites, I think because of that big wide porch:
I would totally "settle" for this more modest ranch, too:

My favorite older-house style is Monterey Colonial, and here's an example. I can totally picture myself up there with a coffee and good book on the upper balcony, smelling the orange blossoms....
We agreed this would make for an awesome Halloween house:
Sigh. So there you have it. Since we live in a cookie cutter housing development, with an HOA ensuring that all the homes stay within the same tones of beige, I think what I lust after most, even more than the awesome house, is simply a charming, walkable neighborhood.
(And the awesome old house.)  Oh, life would be perfect.  I understand that my house lust is a spiralling sinkhole, and it's the same as my favorite bumper sticker quote: "No Matter Where You Go, There You Are." Yeah, I get that. Still.

Oh, Pasadena!

November 27, 2012

The Bissell House

Over Veteran's Day weekend, the husband and I were lucky to get away to lovely Pasadena for two nights by ourselves.  Even though we've had our fair share of road trips and travel this year, this was actually the first time in 2012 that we enjoyed an overnighter without the children in tow.

Because our plans didn't firm up until about a week prior, I hesitated to book a room too early. We've stayed at a couple of nice places in Pasadena before, once at the Westin, and once, for my birthday, at the wonderful, posh Langham. But I couldn't find a good last-minute rate for the Westin (Priceline kicked back all my bids) and frankly couldn't afford 2 nights at the Langham (especially since this wasn't an "event" trip, just a little getaway).

On the other hand, I wasn't enthused about staying someplace blah & corporate for our sole getaway of the year.

Enter the Bissell House:
First off, if you haven't figured it out yet, let me say that we're really not the typical B&B types, despite preferring small hotels in general.  The only other time we've stayed at a B&B was for our first wedding anniversary, way up north at the Gingerbread Mansion in Ferndale.

Still, I love old houses and quirky lodging, and the Bissell House was definitely a different experience for us.  The stairs were creaky, the shower was in a claw-foot tub and the bed was draped and comfortable. The communal breakfast was a little awkward (after the first morning, we felt like edgy young whippersnappers compared to the general age of the other patrons). Still, we're grown-ups and able to make civilized chit-chat.  On the second morning, there was a much younger newlywed couple at breakfast, and so we got kicked up into the older demographic again.

Yes, there was a lot of chintz and a stuffed animal waiting on our bed. If it were my own residence, I wouldn't feel compelled to decorate an old house to such rigidly 1980s ideas of a "Victorian B&B." Still, I think that type of decor is what many patrons (read: older women) expect of their bed-and-breakfast experience.

Some shots of the interior. Somehow I neglected to take any photos of our room, but it was wallpapered in burgundy stripes and stayed dim throughout the day.
Fixture in the foyer
On the staircase landing
Living room at night. Classical music played low on the stereo.
A small sofa and table sits before the fire.
I would stay here again, if only because I love overnighters with my husband, and old houses, and the general South Pasadena/Pasadena area. 
Speaking of loving old houses, in my next post I'll share some of the drool-inducing homes that we saw on a morning stroll through the neighborhood. 

I'm not really in the market to sell my soul, but those  You'll see.

November 21, 2012

Here's to You

Cheers on this hectic pre-feast Wednesday. I raise my glass of virtual Chardonnay to those of you out there who, like me, don't hold Thanksgiving as one of your very favorite holidays. Instead, since late childhood I've thought of the day as an overflowing cornocopia of barely suppressed dysfunction, passive-aggression and tears. 

It's mostly the same now that I'm an adult, except that since I play the eldest child/good girl role, I'll also be cooking the turkey and baking the pies and cleaning the house.

Here's a picture of my Lily on her first Thanksgiving. We were at my parents house.  As a new mom and dutiful daughter, I'm sure I was stressed and anxious, but frankly it all blurs together. My choice of bib speaks volumes: "Are These People Really My Relatives?"
Also, this may be the only documented occasion of my daughter eating sweet potatoes. She certainly won't do that now. 

But I am thankful that my historically finicky eater will allow turkey, cranberries (canned) and mashed potatoes onto her plate and into her mouth. And thankful that she's still my little big sweet potato of a girl.

And I am thankful for my funny, sensitive son, who is not living out my same childhood dramas, forcing his natural empathy and kind heart into overdrive. Instead, he'll play with his cousin and love on his family members, even those he only sees once or twice a year.

And so thankful for my awesome, patient husband, who is as much my partner on Turkey Day in the kitchen as he is every other day of the year. And who will bend an ear or two or three when I vent about it all, the day after.

Really, I just want to get to the part with the pecan pie. 

November 16, 2012

The Raising vs. Gone Girl

I meant to write about Laura Kasischke's The Raising right after I read it, but then didn't. I was probably busy working on my 31 21 Trips in California series

Then, for the recent "Phenomenally Indecisive Book Club" pick over at Jules' blog, I rushed out and bought a copy of Gone Girl, the hot, bestselling "It" thriller of this year.  Like many of the books that have been chosen in that online book club, it wasn't at all the sort of material I'd usually choose. (And that's a good thing; good to be lured out of  my little box.) Reading Gone Girl made me feel sort of hip and even self-consciously on-trend.  Like when I'm out in public, wearing a scarf, sipping a Starbucks, and tapping out a text message on my phone: In the back of my head, I'm thinking, "holy shit, look at me! I am SO MODERN." (Not.)

Anyway. I thought Gone Girl was a fun, fast-paced read. Fun if you like spending your time with a couple of narcissistic sociopaths, and trying to puzzle out the who/what/how of their crimes against one another.  And the movie version will probably make a lot of money at the box office in a year or two. 
It also reminded me of how much I liked The Raising, and how the The Raising is so much the better book. Not least because of Kasischke's talent as a writer.  I've read most, not all, of Kasischke's books, the first being her terrific debut novel, Suspicious River, about a young wife from an abusive childhood who becomes a prostitute while working as a receptionist at a motel. Heavy, violent stuff, but I loved it and loved the writing.

Kasischke is also an award-winning poet, and that shows in her prose, with its crystalline metaphors and evocative descriptions. (Sometimes the poetry is to the works detriment and becomes too heavy-handed and symbolic, as in her good but flawed second novel, White Bird in a Blizzard.)

The Raising also features at its center a "gone girl," a beautiful young college student and sorority sister who's been killed in violent accident, in a car driven by her boyfriend. Or is she really dead? Her grief-stricken boyfriend and others on campus seem to believe otherwise.  In fact, they're pretty adamant that they've seen her ghost.
From the back cover:
Last year Godwin Honors Hall was draped in black. The university was mourning the loss of one of its own: Nicole Werner, a blond, beautiful, straight-A sorority sister tragically killed in a car accident that left her boyfriend, who was driving, remarkably—some say suspiciously—unscathed.
Although a year has passed, as winter begins and the nights darken, obsession with Nicole and her death reignites: She was so pretty. So sweet-tempered. So innocent. Too young to die.
Unless she didn’t.
Because rumor has it that she’s back.
For me, The Raising was way, way more of an intense page-turner. It kept me up late, reading well past midnight. And something about the tension and paranoia of its ghost story actually made me feel a little spooked when I walked around my darkened house, while everyone else was asleep.

I know that a lot of readers were disappointed, even angered, by the way everything wrapped up at the end of Gone Girl.  And that's another valid comparison to make with The Raising...the end is something of a let-down, in the way that everything is suddenly tied together. It makes sense, but as with Gone Girl, if you're hoping for concrete punishments and karma being doled out, it ain't gonna happen.  (And hopefully that's not too much of a spoiler for either book.)

Finally --I thought it weird, if not fortuitous, that I found The Raising in the teen/young adult section of my local library.  The book was not marketed as such, I see no reference to that in any reviews, but for some reason (I suppose the college campus setting) my library stuck it over there. Luckily, I stumbled upon it. If you're looking for something a little spooky, that will have you puzzling and trying to guess just what happened, I recommend it highly. And with it's chilly setting on a snowy, picturesque college campus in Michigan, it's perfect for curling up with on these long nights as we head toward winter.

November 15, 2012

Updated Entryway

 I would say that I'm in complete denial of the fact that, this time next week, I'll be basting the bird and munching on pre-feast appetizers, except that I've been buzzing around in pre-holiday home project mode.  Pre-holiday = pre-company coming over.  "Company" being my mom, sister, nephew, and a couple aunts and uncles. We're a small family.

Anyway. I've been feeling all Pinterest-y and awesome, shakin' and sprayin' my cans of metallic gold spray paint onto a frame and an Ikea shelving unit. I've bought some new Etsy art, and a colorful print from Cozamia.  Oh, and there's a brand new rug in my family room.  I'm in "get it done now or wait until 2013" mode.

However, none of these projects are actually completed and ready for photographing and sharing yet.  So today I'm sharing my entry way, which sat pretty empty for a couple of months after I removed my shelving.  I specifically purchased a white Malm because I plan to add some fun Overlay detailing on the front drawers. I haven't been able to commit yet to one of their patterns, so that'll have to remain a project for next year.

Here's a little timeline of how my entry has evolved. I went from my pesky shelves (pesky because they required constant dusting and tweaking). You can read more about me complaining about my entryway and the other odd angles of my house in this post.
 To taking them down and living with nothing there at all:
And have now evolved to this:
I think it'll look much more finished and less "Malm-y" with the Overlays. I already owned the mirror; perhaps at some point I'll switch it out with something new and less white. (Another update that can wait until next year.)

The surface of my Malm is currently all autumned-up.  Enjoy it now; two or three weeks from now, the same space will be all glittery & decked out for Christmas.

View from the front door:  
Everything in the space I owned before, the only new items are the woodpecker candleholder from Target, and the little mercury light-up owl (also from Target, marked down on clearance after Halloween.)  I guess technically the large white owl is fairly new; purchased late summer at Kirklands, also on clearance.

Apologies for the hazy, grainy quality of the photos; I just whipped out my camera phone so I could upload these quickly and get to blogging. It's been a while since I joined up with Jules and her Thursday William Morris posts, and wanted to get in on the fun again. 

In the coming weeks (but not next Thursday!) I hope to share some of those other projects and purchases that I've been working on to spruce this place up. You know, just in time for the holidays to hit and make my place a glittery wreck until after January.  

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