*Bonus* Song of the Week

Thursday, February 28, 2013

My good intentions for planning blog posts and perfecting the timing of future posts often goes awry. Life gets in the way. We have jobs and errands and grownup to-do lists. Pies to bake and postcards to mail. You know, important stuff. And while I realize publishing something that was posted two weeks ago is like two glacial years in Internet time, I'm doing it anyways. Don't hate.

My introduction to Amanda Palmer came via one awesome steampunk radio podcast. She got under my skin from the very first listen. I even featured her on my first music swap. Her music speaks to me on a raw emotional level. This week she's making waves at the 2013 TED talks; which means she's kind of a big deal.  As my wise friend recently wrote Sometimes the sad songs are the best songs. Truth. And sometimes crying in your cubicle is completely fine. If you do nothing else today WATCH THIS VIDEO. I mean it.

Ps. This song makes me miss playing the piano. 

Creating Happiness

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

After reading The Happiness Project in January I made a few mental notes of how I could increase my own happiness. If happiness is a choice what small acts could I engage in that would contribute to my overall life satisfaction? The beauty of this question is that the answer looks different for everyone. Meaning no two happiness projects are alike. Part of what I appreciated most about reading this book was reading it in conjunction with my friend J. We'd swap text messages and ideas as we read, creating a space whereby we encouraged one another throughout the process. Another friend of mine, who also recently read this book, is hosting a year long book club, where group members meet monthly to discuss one chapter each month. (I participate as a long distance member.) Unlike some, identifying what makes me happy was a no-brainer. Travel. Food. Friends. Music. Books.

As someone who lives with perpetual wanderlust (the insatiable desire to travel) I constantly balance what I want against what is practical. Part of this means making international travel a priority. Years ago I only dreamed of places I hoped to one day visit. Now, thanks to hard work and a professional salary, I can happily say those dreams have became reality. Although I didn't start traveling internationally until I was 25 I feel lucky and grateful for where I have been. And I look forward to future excursions. The question however remains. If travel gives me such immense satisfaction how can I reasonably incorporate more of it into my daily life? Not just the expectation and planning of an upcoming adventure (which is also exciting), but creating connections with real people. People outside my community, city, country, and continent. Which is where postcards come in. 

The other day a friend of mine lamented that she had received an anonymous letter in the mail with a DC postmark. I quickly responded that real mail is the new email. We all love it. Even if it is anonymous. It is a tangible reminder that someone took the time and energy to share their thoughts with us. I then suggested she simply bask in the surprise and perhaps pay it forward. Back to postcards. Postcrossing has been around for nearly a decade now. It is a postcard exchange project that allows anyone to receive postcards from random places in the world. Basically you create an account, write your five postcards, place a shiny new international postcard stamp on them (pictured above) and pop them in the mail. Then you wait. After a week or two postcards start appearing in your mailbox. Exciting, right? So far I have received postcards from India, Portugal, and Missouri (exotic, I know). Since I set my preferences to receive domestic postcards I never know who or where I'll hear from next. Which is kind of the unexpected beauty and happiness of travel by proxy.

Music Monday: Black Prairie

Monday, February 25, 2013

Continuing the series of songs-that-got-cut-from-my-spring-music-swap let's look at Black Prairie today. (Does anyone else have trouble spelling prairie? P-R-A-I-R-I-E. It's just one of those words that messes with me. Maybe it's because I grew up in the desert.) Anyways, this little sextet sprung up out of Decemberists' Chris Funk and Nate Query wanting an outlet for their root-based, folksy tunes. From the new album A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart comes Nowhere, Massachusetts. A mix of vocals, bass, steel guitar and accordion set the stage. Essentially forcing me to press repeat for nearly a month now. 

Happy Weekend

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wednesday morning I woke up with glands the size of golf balls and a sore throat. Thursday we had a snow day and I stayed home with strep. Friday, thanks to antibiotics, I felt a bit better and today, well today, is almost back to normal. What have I done all week? Not much. Unless you count watching nearly two seasons of Battlestar Galactica as productivity. SO INTENSE. I did however manage to make a batch of healing Tunisian soup from this cookbook last night (adding in heaps of kale for good measure) along with some of my favorite ginger cookies from this cookbook. Both were just what my sick soul needed. This morning I'm determined to leave the house.  But not before I finish creating a free (minus shipping) Blurb book via the generous FMS offer. Anything exciting happening in your world this weekend?

Friday Favorites: {Guest Post by Christy}

Friday, February 22, 2013

Christy enjoys all things food and fun and delights in meeting people from around the world. She lives in Washington D.C with her husband and two dogs. You can follow her blog here.

My Favorite Places I’ve Never Been
I love to travel. My sad reality is that my travels have yet to take me outside North America. While I have visited 30 of the 50 United States as well as Canada, there are so many adventures I want to take around the world. Here are my top five favorite places I've never been that I hope to one day visit.

5.) Australia- With sights like the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House, how could you not want to go there? I want to see king penguins, kangaroos, and koalas, and then go scuba diving (if I ever get brave enough to learn). I want to soak up the sun and the culture and find out first hand just how accurate the Aussie stereotype is.

4.) South Africa- Africa has always fascinated me. You hear people complain about the income disparity in America, but it doesn't even begin to compare to the income disparity in Africa. While there are many countries in Africa I could visit, South Africa is where I would like to go first. My oldest brother spent two years there and developed a fondness for the people he encountered. His stories and pictures left on impression on me and I want to go to South Africa to help those that need it and learn from those who have wisdom to impart.

3.) The Mediterranean- Think Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. Food is the reason I want to go to this area of the world. I love food, and few areas of the world create dishes that please my palate like the Mediterranean. Tabouleh, dolmades, hummus, falafel, and baklava are among my favorites. As impressed as I am with the food, it's even better that I have yet to meet a person from this area of the world that I didn't like. I'm sure I'll make multiple stops here over the years.

2.) Alaska- So I realize that technically this is still part of the United States, but you can see the Northern Lights from here and I just can't imagine dying before I see the Aurora Borealis.  I would love to travel there via cruise ship and would insist on a stop in British Columbia, Canada. My grandma used to live in Vancouver and I always dreamed of going to visit her there. Seeing icebergs and green hillside in the same trip is my kind of vacation. Plus it is somewhere DH would also like to go, so the chances of us actually going are pretty high.

1.) Ireland- I've seen countless films where they shot on location in Ireland, but I think it was P.S. I Love You that landed this one as number one on my list. From the lush green countryside to the cottages with an ocean view, I drool every time I see a photo or catch a glimpse on the screen. I have visions of staying in a sweet little bed and breakfast near the ocean and taking leisurely bike rides through the rolling hills. Of course the first day will end with a meal of fish and chips at the closest pub. I see Ireland as the ultimate retreat, and I can't wait to plan a trip there.

DH and I have a plan to travel overseas for our anniversary every five years, which puts our first trip [I'm pushing for Ireland] in the summer of 2015. I'm excited to adventure outside my homeland and look forward to the memories that will be made along the way. Do you have any favorite places you are hoping to one day see?

Images found here, here and here.

Reading Lately / 4

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Over the long weekend I picked up a stack of reading material from the 635 section and got started on my self-paced lifelong gardening course. I am particularly interested in learning how to maximize small spaces, since this year I'll have my first 5 x 10 community garden plot. Which, of course, makes me wild with excitement. A few years ago I planted a garden with a friend in Utah. We used the backyard of another friend and shared garden responsibilities throughout the summer. Our potatoes and squash thrived, while we had difficulty with scraggly carrots and temperamental tomatoes. But we did it and it turned out to be such a great experience. Growing conditions in the Midwest are a little different (and cross-my-fingers won't be hampered by drought this season), which means I'll be learning as I go. Feel free to pass along your own growing tips and stay tuned for more garden stories.

See previous reading posts here, here, and here

Music Monday: Martha Wainwright

Monday, February 18, 2013

I should probably write something meaningful about Presidents' Day, but instead I'm going to talk about music. You see, I just finished putting together my playlist for our upcoming spring music swap. Yay! In the process, however, I had to cut a lot of songs. Ruthless and numerous cuts. Cuts that I didn't want to make. Fortunately, this means you get to listen to some of the cuts right here; a consolation prize if you will. The first of which comes from Martha Wainwright, sister of Rufus Wainwright. From her 2012 album, the title track, Proserpina, is based on the myth of springtime and is a tribute to Ms. Wainwright's recently departed mother. Have a listen to this haunting and beautifully rendered arrangement.  

Friday Favorites: Movies

Friday, February 15, 2013

Admit it, we all have them. A repertoire of favorite movies — collections that previously existed in VHS format and slowly migrated over to DVD. Movies that you have watched so often you know not only every line, but every facial expression, musical undertone, and sweeping vista. Films we reach for when we have other things to do or nothing in particular to do. Old friends that swaddle us when we are sick or delight us when we need a hearty laugh. 

Some of my favorite movies I have loved for over two decades. Many of them are influence by my cousin, Deece, who introduced several of these films to me; his good taste never failing. These movies are part of my lexicon and part of my identity. 

A Room With a View, based on the novel by E.M. Forster, is full of charming English characters that escape for a holiday to the Italian countryside. The eternal Why, Beethoven, cornflowers, and gallant gestures make this film a timeless keeper. 

Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonleabased on the novels by L. M. Montgomery, tells of the red-headed orphan, Anne, adopted by an elderly couple, Mathew and Marilla. Anne's wild imagination results in numerous scrapes, but in the end, she comes to the understanding that what's really important was right in front of her all along. (Released in 1985, I started watching these film two years after they debuted. All these years later I still tear up when Matthew dies and when Anne returns home.) 

Much Ado About Nothing is a delicious Shakespearean romp through the Italian countryside, where all bets are off and love is masked by betrayal and deceit. 

Pride and Prejudicebased on the novel by Jane Austen, is a story of class and romance. But basically it's just another reason to watch the handsome wet-shirted Collin Firth over and over again. 

Sense and Sensibilityalso based on the novel by Jane Austen, features romance on a lighter note, but with the complexity of sibling rivalry. This movie features another one of my favorite leading gentlemen, the deliciously deep-voiced Alan Rickman. 

Waking Ned Divine is about a man who wins the lottery but doesn't live to enjoy his winnings. Ironic? Yes. But still wildly funny and rich with sweeping Irish landscapes. 

Yentlbased on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, is a huge departure from the book; somehow that doesn't phase me though. Considered one of Barbara Streisand's most meaningful works, this movie touches me to my very core. Why settle for just a piece of sky?

And there you have it, the seven movies I would have with me on a deserted island.

Movie Links 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Image found here

Homemade: Chocolate Silk Pudding

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Did I mention how much I adore Valentine's Day? It's true, I'm kind of in love with this fabricated holiday. For those of you that have had your fill of shmoopie though, I have the perfect antidote. Chocolate! Oh yes, the pure, unadulterated love of all things cacao. In preparation for a dessert swap we're having at work this afternoon I whipped up one of my favorite treats. Prepare to be amazed. 

Chocolate Silk Pudding
(makes 4 servings)

1 ripe avocado
6 T. real maple syrup
1/4 c. cocoa powder (dark/light or a combination)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scooped out or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c. water + more if needed

Slice the avocado in half and remove the pit. With a large spoon separate the inside of the avocado from the skin. Put the avocado in a blender and add the remaining ingredients. Blend until silky smooth. (If you like a thinner consistency add more water.) Chill for at least 1 hour. Garnish with berries and bananas. Viola! A decadent AND healthy chocolate dessert. Keeps for up to three days in the refrigerator. 

Concert Going

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saturday night I grabbed my coat and headed into the cold night air. Dodging puddles and Mardi Gras revelers, I headed to my favorite new music venue. Standing outside before the doors opened, I struck up conversation with two women that had traveled from the other side of the state to see the headliner, while I was there for the opening band. We chatted about music and shows, riding public transportation and other life stories. When the doors opened I ended up sitting next to them for the rest of the evening. Oddly enough one of the women worked in Utah, so we had that connection too. At another point in the evening we got into a conversation (all while the band wasn't playing, of course) about the finer points of oatmeal. These women felt like old friends and I was so grateful for their company.

David Wax Museum was AMAZING! The combination of accordion, tambourine, and bull skull were so energizing I could hardly sit still in my seat. So so good. I wanted them to play longer than 50 minutes. Wait, come baaaack?!  But they promised they would return to STL and you better believe I'm holding them to that. The second artist, Tift Merritt, I was less familiar with and honestly it took me a little while to get into her style, but once I did I fell in. She told the story of being nominated for the Golden Globes a few years back and the surreal experience of taking her dad to the event. After that, things kind of fell apart for her, what with losing her record label and all. So she decided to run away. To France, no less. That's when I kind of reconnected to her music and especially to the songs she wrote during that period of her life.

Moral of the story? Make friends with strangers. Live music does my heart good. Running away to France is sometimes necessary. And always eat your oatmeal.

(Visit my full website to listen to Another Country and Broken.)

Love is in The Air

Monday, February 11, 2013

With Valentine's Day right around the corner I figured a special Music Monday was in order. Lucky you! Picture college. Now picture several of your favorite people gathered together for movie night, sprawled all over the floor with pillows and blankets. Imagine one ridiculously awesome movie and several loyal fans. You've been given special instructions by your roommate to watch for one specific scene. With laugh-out-loud moments and an energizing soundtrack, Strictly Ballroom is one of those movies that make you smile. If you haven't seen this movie go watch it. Seriously. RIGHT NOW. You can even get it on Netflix people, so there's no excuse. Oh, and be sure to report back. 

Friday Favorites: {Guest Post by Nikki}

Friday, February 8, 2013

Do you like to entertain, but get hung up on making things perfect? Don’t let the nitty gritty stop you from an impromptu gathering. 

Here is my list of four go to items for quick entertaining:

1. Colorful napkins. I love picking up a pack every time I am at Ikea. Next time you are at the party or craft store, grab a pack of patterned or colorful napkins. It makes things festive.

2. Music. We love our Pandora One account, but our cable provider has music channels as well. Depending on who we are hanging with you will find us listening to all sorts of genres. Seriously, my daughter loves teen pop and hard rock. No joke.

3. Games. Board games, cards, or something else interactive. It doesn’t take much for us to be entertained. Some of our favorites are Just Dance, Timeline, and a good old Nerf War. 

4. Simple food. Crackers and cheese are easy to keep on hand. Smoked gouda, or a nice double cream brie are always yummy. Not into fancy cheese? Grab some laughing cow. Who can resist a cute little triangle that’s been individually wrapped just for you? We also keep club soda, and a couple flavored syrups in the pantry for making fizzy drinks. My favorite syrups are raspberry and vanilla mixed.

Well curated parties are fun, but we don’t always have the time or funds to make that happen. Call up your friends and invite them over for some good conversation and a dance off!

Nikki loves surrounding herself with bright tropical colors, and has never met a brownie she didn't like. You can follow Nikki and family on their adventures in North Dakota at The Salty Pineapple.

images: 1, 2, 3, 4

Crushing on Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Call it what you will, but I'm a huge fan of Valentine's Day. It has long been one of my favorite holidays. It makes me giddy. And crafty. Remember those decorated shoe boxes you made in elementary school for collecting cards and candy? Or maybe you dropped off goodies on the front porch of a friend, rang the doorbell, and ran. When I was a teenager I made homemade valentines to send to close friends and family members. There's just something about a swirl of pink, red, and white that sets my heart a flutter. Throw in some glue dots and I'm a happy camper! This year I made a deliberate effort to not buy anything new for my valentines project. I figured if I couldn't find it in the three oversize Rubbermaid craft totes I already own, I just didn't need it. Fortunately, cards are forgiving and you can use just about anything to make them with. As an added bonus I discovered a pile of old stamps that I'd been saving for years.  Also, envelope templates are super handy when using what you have on hand. After just two hours I ended up with six cards.

Note: A bone folder is highly recommended for making both cards and envelopes.

St. Louis Public Library Tour

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.                               
  — Ray Bradbury

The Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library recently underwent a two year, $40 million dollar renovation. Last week I visited the library with some of my colleagues for an official tour. 

The St. Louis library originally started as a school library in 1865, where patrons had to pay $3 for an annual membership or $12 for lifetime access. In 1893, it became the St. Louis Public Library and still required a fee for use. At the time it did not occupy its current home and instead bounced around from location to location for nearly 15 years. Finally, it was decided that a permanent structure needed to be built. With the backing of Andrew Carnegie, city officials broke ground on October 29, 1908, and construction began on the massive 190,000 square foot structure. On January 5, 1912 the library held its grand opening for its elaborate new home.  

The main entrance to the Central Branch of St. Louis Public Library is on the south side of Olive street and resembles both the Boston and New York Public Library. (Both of which I have visited.) As part of the renovation a new entrance or "neighborhood" entrance was created on the north side of the building, which features a sleek modern look complete with white subway tiles and an abundance of natural light. The stacks, that had previously occupied this space, were relocated, along with many of the personnel offices. 

The interior of the building, particularly the ceilings, maintained their Italian Renaissance influence and depict flourishes of lilies, grapes, birds, and other symbolic images. One of the ceilings was even based off the Badia Fiorentina church in Florence, Italy. (Viva I'talia!) Another ceiling features painted wood with representations of prominent figures such as Gutenberg, St. Louis, and De Soto.

Stained glass windows and a Mark Twain bust are among the other library relics preserved within the interior of the building. Originally, the library was entirely closed stacks, which meant you would take the call number of the item(s) you wanted up to a long wooden desk, that resembled a bank teller counter. You would then wait while one of the employees would retrieve the item(s) you had requested. Part of the extensive renovation made much of the closed stacks obsolete, although a few items remain in closed collections. The colorful teen room and children's area are heavily used and the audio visual collection alone boasts 25,000 items. Flying book covers and massive literary quotes decorate other ceiling spaces. Perhaps what was most impressive about the library was how busy it was on a Wednesday afternoon. College students filled the custom built wooden farm tables; researchers delved into family history; and other tour groups passed us on several occasions. My recommendation is to take the ninety minute tour. I promise it will be worth your while.

All images by me. 

Thanks For Being On My Team

Monday, February 4, 2013

Last week I had three separate experiences from three amazing women in my life. Each one has crossed my path at various points throughout my little sojourn. We've shared stories, taken road trips, eaten mini-pies together, and exposed the rough raw places of the heart. These gals are real. They make my life joyous and make every day better for the people around them.

To be reminded of their strength buoyed me. Their willingness to reach out to me, even when all of them, all three of these brilliantly bright, talented, and warm women are experiencing private battles of their own, made my heart swell and my eyes overflow. One dear friend I had not talked to in over a year and a half called me as I was in the middle of making dinner. Seeing her name on my phone made me stop. Sit down. And take note of what she had to tell me. Another friend sent text after text message, reassuring me that my current hardship would be worth the struggle. Finally, I received tender and kind words on beautiful handmade paper that had a real stamp and everything. These women encouraged me to my core. Of course there are others. Some have stayed in my life and others are sweet faded memories. But wherever I go, no matter the distance that separates us, I am reminded that my life is enriched by my association with remarkable women. Women I can't do without. Friends that offer me support in the very moments when I need it most. To them I say thank you. Thank you.

And for those of you that need a little pep talk of your own this Monday afternoon I think this video (which you may have already seen) is a reminder that we have work to do. Awesome and brave work, supporting those we hold dear. 

And if life is a game, aren't we all on the same team?

Music Monday: Ditte Elly

When I was a student (mainly in high school and college) I liked listening to music when I studied. I couldn't listen to just anything though, it had to be mellow and usually instrumental. What one might consider background music, but not musak. Yuk. While I might not have the credentials to wax technical about music, that hasn't stopped me from posting this little weekly series. Which, in case you missed it, is all about introducing you to something new. Awesome, right!? Something you might not otherwise listen to and maybe, just maybe, persuade you to fall a little in love with. I won't deny it's a bit of a challenge for me to keep up on what's going on in the musical world, but that doesn't stop me. Hopefully you have listened to some of these selections. Have you? What have you liked? If instrumental music isn't your thing, no big deal. That doesn't change the fact that Ditte Elly is one talented lady. Yes, yes she is. And since I think you should indulge in an instrumental AND vocal rendition of her work I have included one of each.

We See Circles (In Swathes of Colours)

Sleeper Train

Friday Favorites: Squeaky Clean

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cleaning is one of those adult chores that's easy to put off. But to be honest, I love cleaning. (Annoying, right?) Part of why I enjoy cleaning so much stems from the fact that I cleaned houses in college. It's true, I was a cleaning lady. The summer before my junior year one of my roommates needed a pinch hitter for her while she was off leading backwards walking tours of campus and I got the gig. When she graduated, later that winter, I acquired the 10 ladies she had worked for. Armed with a list of names and phone numbers I placed introductory calls and set up appointments with all of the women. Each week I would hop on my bike and cycle over to the ladies' homes, where I would be assigned various tasks. These jobs included anything from ironing to dusting to gardening to stripping wallpaper to scrubbing the master bathroom to cooking to polishing silver or changing bed linens. Sometimes I'd help them set up for a party or trim hedges. But no matter what I was doing I LOVED every minute of it. These women were warm and gracious. I became attached to their family pets and knew the names of their grandchildren. For nearly three years they invited me into their homes and treated me like family.

Since that time I have lived in four different states and dozens of apartments; I have changed jobs six times and learned a few life lessons along the way. But what remains, apart from such fond memories, is my affection for a clean living space; one that I can feel happy and comfortable in, and one that is presentable for that last-minute house guest. To that end, here are some of my favorite cleaning products.

Baking Soda: Yeah, it's not just for cookies anymore. Baking soda is great for scrubbing out stainless steel sinks or getting rust off just about anything. It is inexpensive and isn't toxic. Plus you can find it just about anywhere.

Lemons: Lemons are great for tossing down the garbage disposal or running through the dishwasher. Not only do they clean up the grime of those well used conveniences, they leave a fresh citrus scent throughout your home. Lemons also brighten copper cookware or when mixed with baking soda, can remove stains from plastic food storage containers.

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day: Meyer's cleaning products didn't exist when I was in college, but they are such a brilliant solution to the harsh chemicals and toxins from most other all-purpose cleaners. Some people dislike the scent and are allergic to it, but it doesn't both me. I dilute the product a fair amount and use it for just about every surface in my home (i.e., counters, mirrors, floors, and even the bathtub).

Toothbrush: An absolute essential for scrubbing shower grout and other hard to reach places. I keep two or three in my cleaning basket at all times.

Goo Gone: Debbie, one of the ladies I worked for, introduced me to this product years ago. While it isn't something I use regularly it sure comes in handy when I do need it. It lasts forever and works like a charm for removing glue or stickers.

Microfiber Dust Cloths: I admit to using those convenient Swiffers more than I should, but I always dislike creating so much waste. The solution? Dust cloths that I can use over and over again. They are especially handy for baseboards. Which, yes, you should clean every now and again.

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