Ice Cream Party

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I've been wanting to host an ice cream party for a while now and what better time than the start of summer? This past Sunday we had nearly 30 people in our tiny little apartment for what I hope becomes an annual tradition. Everyone loved trying the five different types of homemade ice cream and the kids couldn't get enough of the heart shaped brownie cookies. Plus I had such fun making the paper lanterns and striped tablecloth before the event. Most people liked the praline pecan best, however my favorite combination was the raspberry sorbet paired with the decadent chocolate (not pictured). Cinnamon and strawberry were also a hit, but I think one of my new favorite summertime treats was the vegan strawberry coconut popsicles! Seeing everyone have such a great time made me smile deep in my soul; somehow I didn't even mind several children jumping all over our new furniture.

Music Monday: A Collective Reflection of Making Mix Tapes

Monday, June 24, 2013

Recently a friend remarked I really wish you had been into music when you lived here (Washington, DC). It would have been a blast to go to shows together. While I can't undo the past, I wholeheartedly agreed with her sentiment. Over the past year I have immersed myself in music; discovering new artists and bands, writing about what I like on this weekly feature, and attending live shows whenever I get the chance. This I owe, in large part, to my friend Katie, who, right before I moved from DC, not only invited me to a sweltering summer concert, inspired me with the idea of hosting a music swap. Something I had never done before. (And if we're being totally honest, here is where I confess that up to that point in my life I had actually never made someone else a mixed tape.) But the great thing about doing something you haven't done before is you get to experiment and make all kinds of mistakes, so that the next time, and the time after that are even better than the first.

That first playlist I created was basically a schizophrenic list of songs I liked. A little of this and a little of that. There wasn't a theme and I certainly didn't approach the process with any thought to how the songs would fit together. In my mind, simply liking songs meant they could all be mashed into one compilation. Oh how much I had to learn. Our second swap was a seasonal one and was probably my least favorite to put together. It's not that I don't like Christmas music, it's just that I'm kind of a Humbug when it comes to how long I can listen to it—three weeks is usually my max, sometimes four if I really push it. I knew going into the swap that while I'd certainly receive great mixes from my friends, in reality I would only listen to them during one month of the year. By the time our third exchange rolled around I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. I collected songs for several weeks on one master list, then I'd move things around in iTunes, tweaking and refining until all the songs flowed into one another. Intentional curating heightened the experience and for that reason it was definitely my favorite mix to create. In addition, we invited other to participate, which meant we each received five CDs, rather than two. (PLUS I put it all onto an 8tracks mix for you. You're welcome.) Last week we finished up our final exchange for the year. The summer swap turned out to be an exceptional round as well and it made me reflect on the entire process of how music shapes our lives. How songs carry memories and how they help us convey our stories, both large and small. A couple of the stand out moments for me during the past year included, being introduced to The Decemberists, which I know is a little ridiculous since they've been around for over a decade...but, yeah, whatever. Also, I discovered that this cover of Into the Mystic simply can't be played at a high enough volume. Of course I could go on and on about everything else I loved about this experience, but instead I'll let you hear from the other folks that made this all possible—the two friends with whom I started this journey. I hope you'll enjoy reading some of their thoughts.     

Being the least musically inclined of the bunch I always approach the initial playlist draft with a bit of trepidation. Will I be able to find music that is both unique and appealing? What if I repeat what others send out? What if no one likes it? But I love the challenge of finding songs that fit together, that convey the theme, my mood and personality. And I love getting a glimpse into the lives of my friends (and as we've had guest participants, total strangers) through their track choices.

There are always mixes that stand out in each round, compilations I seem to identify with more.  But there's usually at least one track that wins favor from each mix. Sometimes the songs stand as an anthem of their own, while others have lead me on quests to discover everything those artists have done.  (Here is where I confess I've fallen madly in love with Frank Turner.)

I think my favorite mix to make was Christmas, because...well, it's Christmas! And my favorite to receive was the first. It was the inaugural event, so the choices were limitless and it was the only one we exchanged in person, which made it a little different than the others. But you can’t knock receiving actual mail delivered straight to your door. 
And then, just as we were getting the hang of swapping amongst ourselves we invited others to participate, so there was an added level of anticipation. They were the wild cards. Who knew what to expect? But there was no reason to fear—friends with great musical taste were certain to have more friends with great taste. Of all the compilations we exchanged (a total of 13) we ended up with only one song duplication and two or three artist repeats.

Looking back, the compilation that I have played the most is Katie's spring mix. The soulful bluesy tunes and handclaps make the perfect background for any activity and I never get to the point where I think “Geez, I think I’ve heard this song six times now,” I simply start clapping along.

In addition, there are two songs I can't stop listening to, that have perfectly echoed my own thoughts and dreams and will forever call to mind certain emotions and people. The first is Rivers and Roads by The Head and the Heart (found on Katie’s first compilation), and the second is To Travels and Trunks by Hey Marseilles (found on Miranda’s spring mix). And my favorite newly discovered artist? Again, Frank Turner.
This has been such a fun musical adventure. Life gets in the way and I don’t get to discover new music as often as I would like so it’s nice to have a reason to HAVE to focus on new music every now and then. And make some new friends in the process!
The Giving:
One of the great things about creating and sharing music mixes or playlists is that they allow you to tell a story, maybe even the story of what is happening in your life at the moment, without the awkwardness and messiness of doing it first person style. When I'm putting together a new playlist, whether one that has a stated theme, or a mix I just want to give to a specific person, my first step is always the massive brainstorming and dumping of music; any and all songs that I think fit the theme, I drag into an empty playlist on my computer. And music that "fits" can mean a whole lot of things. Will the listener already have this song? Will they even like this song? All this can be a tad bit nerve wracking when you are sharing music with folks that already have a music collection of breadth and depth. After all the dumping comes the editing. Some songs don't really fit after all, so they are taken off the list, I will randomly hear some new songs that fit better, so they are added, and then there are the physical restraints of only being able to fit so many songs on a CD. I rearrange the order of the songs, almost compulsively, until I can hear and feel that the flow of each song into the next song is exactly how it want it to be, until the story I want to tell with these dozen songs is complete. All this arranging is probably my favorite, and yes, at times, neurotic, step in the playlist process. Underling every song are patterns of sounds and lyrics and hand claps and emotions, and memories that I have attached to the song and the fun and toil of a mix is getting all these hundred different things in each song to work together with every other song on the list, so they are one whole beautiful beast instead of just a collections of pieces . . . at least in my head, which I do understand is often the only place that the connections between some songs make sense. Sometimes the perfect playlist will come together in an hour or two and sometimes it will takes weeks for it to all fit together. Then before that final "burn playlist to disc," I listen to my little musical story as a whole a couple times, usually one of these listens is done while laying on the floor with my eyes closed, but I like to be dramatic. 

The Receiving:
On the flip side, the very happy flip side, of music sharing is the receiving of the music. I love getting shiny new mixes, not only because, "hey, new music!", but also I get to see a little bit of the stories that my friends are living. It's honestly like the giddiness of cracking open a brand new book, oohhh, what is going to happen next? I love that first glimpse of the playlist, scanning over the songs and recognizing bands I already love and articulating the names of new bands that will soon dominate my vocabulary. I loved (yep, there is whole lotta loving going on) this last round of summer music swapping. Almost all the songs I gave or received seemed to be connected to happy memories of past summers, a rousing testimony that music can preserve little bits and pieces of life and let us hold on to them and relive them whenever we need them. There is also something wonderful about getting music from someone you know, like in real life, as opposed to just hearing a song on the radio. There is a lot of music out there, and even though I like to talk high and mighty about music I adore, I know there is so much more out there. There are genres that I may not have been exposed to or had prior bad experiences with (show tunes, I'm looking at you) and there are so many bands and musicians that just haven't made it onto my radar yet, so it is great to have a network of people curating the best things to listen to. And when someone personally picks out a song they want to share, you, or at least, I, tend to be more open to it. Music is such a huge portion of who I am, and think the same is true with a lot of my friends, so sharing music really is sharing a little piece of you or I or us, and I think that it is brave and beautiful on all accounts. And what I love with Miranda's music group is that there is such a variety of songs and genres being shared that I feel gaps and holes in my own music appreciation have been mended and filled. And maybe with that comes the realization that a song of the bossa nova persuasion really does belong on almost every playlist. 

Bookbloom moves to Bloglovin'

Friday, June 21, 2013

Follow my blog with Bloglovin'

Here's the part where I admit that permanent change scares me. Travel and temporary change exhilarates me, but moving my RSS feeds to a new platform...WHAT? We're talking serious business. For the past few months I was secretly hoping the head-hanchos over at Google would realize they had made a mistake and call their bluff about Google Reader going away. Turns out, I guess they aren't bluffing. Whether we like it or not, Google Reader is going away. Other sites like Feedly, The Old Reader, and Bloglovin' are trying to make the switch seamless. So I'm giving Bloglovin' a chance. What about you, have you made the transition yet?

Brunch Like a Pro

Thursday, June 20, 2013

There's something comforting about brunch. Something that makes me feel like I'm in on a top-secret assignment. A meal that's waited for me and requires me to slow down to fully savor it. This past Sunday I spent a leisurely morning at Central Table, the new concept restaurant that features a market, hearth, grill, wine bar, coffee shop, deli, and sushi bar all in one gorgeous space. A giant chalkboard boasts the names of their local suppliers. While cozy sun-drenched corners feature tufted benches and Tolix chairs. It reminded me a bit of Union Market, without the individual vendor booths. Sitting close to the kitchen gave me a first-hand view of the chefs and the preparation of my meal. Each staff member I encountered answered my questions, providing me with quality service at every turn. With that, my expectations of the food continued to mount. Fortunately, the homemade salami hash with farm scrambled eggs, paired with a side of seasonal berries and house-made yogurt and granola tasted like something I might find at a three star Michelin restaurant, without the price tag. Which means I'll be returning soon to savor some of their lunchtime offerings. Meanwhile, here are a couple tips for making the most of your next brunch outing. 

1. Reservations:  If you live in a big city or plan on going to brunch on a holiday you'll likely want to call ahead and make a reservation. Nothing spells cranky quicker than a long wait and ravenous hunger. 

2. Recommendations: Don't be afraid to ask your server for recommendations. I always like to ask What's your favorite menu item? and What's your most popular brunch dish?

3. Share: The battle between savory and sweet is always a tough one. When in doubt I recommend splitting something with one of your dining companions or, if you are dining solo, order a main dish AND an a la carte item. 

4. Lighten Up: Clearly this doesn't refer to the menu items; brunch is rarely a low calorie option. However, it is about winding down and relaxing. Brunch should be a time to set aside cares and mellow into the meal. Also, for excellent people watching—both inside and out—try snagging a seat by the window. Besides, all that natural light will make your food look that much better. 

All images by me. 

Currently | 06.18.2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

READING: My second YA book of the year: Code Name Verity. Which has me desperately wanting to learn how to fly my own plane.

EATING: Salads, salads, and more salads. Leafy greens at least once a day; sometimes twice. Our garden keeps on giving, and so we willingly oblige. Don't even tell me about the onslaught of zucchini I have to look forward to.

EXCITED FOR: Outdoor theater. Specifically Spamalot this weekend. Let the irreverent merriment begin!

LISTENING TO: Summer mixed tapes. Sweet compilations found here and here.

WATCHING: Downton Abbey. Whatever. I got a late start and am finally catching up with the latest pop culture craze. Also, I maaaay have watched season one all in one day. (Thank you summer cold.) Now I'm just waiting for season three to show up at the library. In addition, have you seen the comedy-drama Frances Ha? So far it's my favorite movie of the summer.

WONDERING: Am I the only one who has tried using a keyless car fob to unlock my house?

Music Monday: Trails and Ways

Monday, June 17, 2013

World music often gets a bad rap. Although I'm not sure why. Sure ordering a sandwich or asking for directions in another language, with only your guide book as assistant, can be slightly embarrassing. In contrast, listening to a set of beats and rhythm in a multilingual compilation doesn't produce near the same level of anxiety. Which is exactly why I feel drawn to the cultural beat of jazz, pop, and tropical music. Today's track starts off with handclaps and finger snaps. BAM. Then Portuguese and Spanish lyrics weave in. Followed by instruments and voices, layered one over the other to create a high energy rondo, reminiscent of canyon echoes bouncing deep off desert walls. For more about the band click on over to their website

Concert Going

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Last Tuesday night I wrangled a friend into seeing Lord Huron with me. Tickets for the show went on sale back in March and on a whim I purchased two, figuring I had three months to find someone to come with me. Of the half dozen shows I've attended this year, I have always gone solo. Which isn't exactly a bad thing—chatting with like-minded interesting music folks at sold out performances can be exciting for a while—it just changes the concert dynamics. On the other hand, having a friend along for the ride, even if they've never heard of the band, makes the entire experience more memorable. (Of course it helps if they end up liking the band, but I figured Lord Huron was an easy sell.) Perhaps it was the company, or the opening band, or the dancing jigs all over the stage, or all three combined, but whatever it was Tuesday night's performance surpassed every other live show I've seen this year. Period. The band's energy was genuine and sustained and the crowd soaked it up. Plus it didn't hurt that we were practically on stage with the performers. Bottom line: if you ever have the chance to see Lord Huron live, do it. Do. It.

Lord Huron with Escondido at Off Broadway, St. Louis, MO, June 11, 2013.

Words: Wisdom

When we have sampled much and have wandered far and have seen how fleeting and sometimes superficial a lot of the world is, our gratitude grows for the privilege of being part of something we can count on—home and family and the loyalty of loved ones. We come to know what it means to be bound together by duty, by respect, by belonging. We learn that nothing can fully take the place of the blessed relationship of family life.

—Thomas Monson

Music Monday: Bahamas

Monday, June 10, 2013

When my sister and I were little we had a little music routine. It would start with us begging my mom to put Footloose on the record player. She'd ask Are you ready? and we would jump up and down exclaiming Yes, yes! Gingerly she'd place the LP on the silver turntable and we'd hear the unmistakable opening chords of our favorite theme song. Like rabid cheetahs we'd run to our room, grab our shiny black patent shoes and yell Turn it up. Then we'd zip around the house, twisting our bodies, rocking our heads and flailing our arms, waiting for that magic line when we could Kick off [our] Sunday shoes!, inside the house. (An act that would otherwise be verboten.) Simple childhood magic. Even now, on the rare occasion that I listen to music on the radio, when I hear those classic chords, I can't help crank the volume and wow myself with some pretty amazing car dance moves. In that spirit of enthusiasm and with perhaps a nod to the vintage bygone recording process of days past, comes today's music selection. While it doesn't have the same zeal as the song from my childhood, the video does indicate that sometimes loud is best.

Bahamas Please Forgive My Heart

My First Sewing Project

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Remember back when I started cutting out a bazillion squares of fabric (256 to be exact)? That project lasted me exactly half of January, all of February and part of March. The finished products were gifted for Easter and now I'm finally playing catch up with a few words and pictures.

When I started photo documenting my first real sewing project I had the lofty ambition of explaining the step-by-step process of making a puff quilt once I was all done. Then I thought, yeah right nobody would read that. In truth, this little foray into the world of quilting was hard. Really hard. You should know that I'm not a seamstress. While I own a sewing machine, that in no way qualifies me in this craft. In fact, six years ago I tried making an apron and ended up with pieces of fabric hanging together loosely with some sloppy pins.

Patterns intimidate me. Even shopping for material is daunting. But somehow I thought I could make a puff quilt. You know, only THE HARDEST QUILT to make. Fortunately I had someone coaching me through the process. Yet at every step I kept thinking Okay, it can't get any harder than this part. Then sure enough, the next step would be even trickier than the last. Seriously? But through all the cutting, pinning, sewing, stuffing, measuring, unpicking, and cursing I did manage to complete the project and also accomplish one of my happiness goals: learn something new in 2013. This I did by making not one, but TWO puff quilts. In the end, seeing my niece and nephew on their quilts of puff paradise made all the fuss worth it.

All images (minus the last two) taken by me. 

Today in Pictures | 2

Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God's blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. 
—John Muir

Finding yourself in Little Mexico, or Cherokee Street as it's called here in St. Louis, is indeed a summer treat. I hear of people who live their entire life in New York City and never visit the top of the Empire State Building or picnic in Central Park; others who live in Seattle but never dine at the rotating restaurant that sits atop the Space Needle; and those who live in gorgeous parts of the country, but never take the time to see monuments or visit national parks in their own backyard. To me that's a great pity. But perhaps that's my bias speaking. You see, at heart I am a wanderer. A concierge of my community if you will. Both sides of my family attribute this quality to me and perhaps they are right, for seeking out new destinations never gets old to me. It expands my entire being and I feel much like a sponge, drinking it all in, while simultaneously wanting to tell everyone about the new (to me) shop I found, the not-to-be-missed corner bakery, a stunning abandoned mural, the kitschy thrift store I stumbled upon, or an expansive vista that caught me by complete surprise. Look over here, look what I found! Of course it doesn't hurt to be intentional about seeking out these things, but it still surprises me how delightful an afternoon spent wandering can be. Fortunately, wandering doesn't require fancy equipment or a step-by-step itinerary, just yourself, maybe a little snack, and a great appreciation for an adventure, wherever that may be.

Best $6.00 lunch I've had in a long while. Followed by a record/tea/bookshop, which was surprisingly empty. Then a paper lovers wet dream at Firecracker Press; rounded out by, what else?, cowboy boots. And that's how to spend an entire afternoon on Cherokee Street.  

Music Monday: A Sampler

Monday, June 3, 2013

You guys! I spent six hours listening to live music this past weekend. SIX. In fact the entire weekend felt like a giant celebration. A celebration of life that is. So much good music. Friday night, right before the freak storm and tornado warnings and the world ending, I made it to Casa Loma to take in St. Louis based Pokey Lafarge. Imagine my surprise when one of the opening bands was a mariachi band. What? By the time Pokey and friends made it to the stage the crowd had tripled in size. They played every song from their new album and I renewed my love of two-tone dress shoes and washboard rhythm. However the best part of the entire evening happened just as I was about to leave. As I left the balcony and walked into the mass of humanity, trying to sneak up to the stage for a better picture, I was unexpectedly thrown into a live rendition of La La Blues. Best. Exit. Ever. 

Saturday afternoon I headed to the 2013 Riverfront Times Music Showcase. Although I missed Acorns to Oaks, the group I had originally planned on seeing, I still managed to catch another new band called Town Cars. After that I bounced over to another venue and caught the last little bit of talented jazz musician, Lamar Harris. He was followed by a choral pop group called The Educated Guess (which is due to release their debut album later this year). And while the music was fantastic, the outdoor patio at Copia Restaurant & Wine Garden took my breath away. Simply stunning. Exposed beams, shafts of sunlight, fans whirling, string lights dancing. It reminded me of all the rooftop gardens and alfresco places to dine in DC, which of course made me smile. Supporting local music never felt so good.

All images by me. 

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