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Travelogue: NYC (part 2)

June 17, 2009

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I’ve been so busy with the redesign at our new location, I haven’t been keeping my posting up to date! I have so much to write about, but I’ve become obsessed with perfecting the new look!

I do owe you the follow-up to the first NYC post, and I’m not putting it off any longer!

After a few hours at MOMA, I grabbed a pretzel and a coke and had a snack in the quiet little space across the street. A woman on her lunch break had two ears of roasted corn on the cob, and was loving the hell out of both of them. She was so totally happy. So, re-energized and amused, I headed up to 5th Avenue into the swarm of people. I don’t know how New Yorkers deal with the tourists. I really don’t. Uncoordinated groups of kids, parents and fanny packs and lots of aimless stares.

Aside from Bergdorf’s, I bypassed any shopping because I had early plans that night. My main destination was Central Park—I’ve been to NYC twice, and haven’t been further than Strawberry Fields. I wandered around for a couple of hours, through the zoo area and into some less-crowded areas and just sat around for a while enjoying my surroundings. I’m not sure where I came out, but I got a taxi an headed to the next stop on the agenda: Anthropologie in Rockefeller Center. I know, I know. But I had a specific reason for going—the super-cute tote I ordered right before my trip. One of the handles broke at some point in the Atlanta airport, so I called customer service and they said I could exchange it at any of the NYC stores, and it was in stock at all. But of course it wasn’t, and I couldn’t find anything similar and roomy enough that I wanted instead, so I just left. After a few more stops around RC, I headed back to the hotel.

My evening plans—what I was most excited about for the trip—were to be at my gay ex-boyfriend’s apartment in Chelsea at six. Jason and I dated in high school, producing some fabulous prom pics and always winning dirty dancing contests at parties. And voguing. He’s a lawyer now, and one of my dearest friends that I haven’t seen in four years!

I had time to relax at the hotel after walking five miles…and a couple of Red Bulls and a hot shower to wake me up again. I made it to Jason’s on time, and after a lovely gentleman in a wife beater inquired of my marital status, I made my way upstairs for the reunion of the fag and his hag. It was *so* great to see him. We had a couple of glasses of wine, and he gave me a tour of the city from the roof of his building. Of my whole trip, this is what renewed my desire to move to a big city in a couple of years. But more on that later.

We had reservations downtown at Les Halles—my choice. Besides being a huge Tony Bourdain fan, I really wanted to experience his take on French cuisine before I began cooking from my new French cookbook. I chose this location because the head chef is Carlos Uzhca, who began as (I think) a dishwasher and worked his way up, trained by Bourdain. I’d seen him on No Reservations, and was so impressed with his story. And oh my, I am here to testify that the food is phenomenal. For starters, Jason had the onion soup, while I sampled the Petatou de chevre: a warm potato and black olive salad with goat cheese gratine. It was absolutely to die for, and I need to get my hands on the recipe. For mains, Jason had some form of cow, I, the duck confit with truffled pototoes. Yeah, tater overload, but I can’t pass up duck. Especially not that duck.

We had a nice long dinner, drinking and catching up. From there we took a cab to the Village, where we walked around for a bit until we made it to Duplex, Jason’s fave neighborhood place and legendary piano bar. I was lucky enough to meet some of his friends that work there, we drank more, sang along, and then drank a little more. By the time Jason put me in a cab, it was well past midnight and I was quite happy to have someone else doing the driving. That is, until he accused me of short-changing him, screamed at me, and dropped me two blocks from my hotel, wrong side of the street, in the pouring rain. In four-inch wedges, which, until that moment, had been perfectly comfortable. Luckily for my husband, we were on the phone the entire time and he was able to hear the entire exchange.

While I’d had plans to do brunch somewhere before heading to JFK for my flight to DC, my state the next morning would not allow. But that’s quite alright, because I won’t be waiting another 14 years to come back to The Big Apple.


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Travelogue: NYC (Part One)

May 23, 2009
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Algae Screen, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

It’s been a lame, pathetic and shameful 14 years since I last visited NYC, and although this trip was far too short, I was all too happy to be back in the best city on Earth. I was there on other work-related things, and therefore spent the day at a “summit” at the UN Hotel. Had a beautiful walk over that morning from my diminutive hotel room; the weather was just fantastic. After spending the day cooped up inside, I walked over to my gay ex-boyfriend/best friend from high school’s law office for a quick hello. So good to see him, and so proud of him too! Later in the evening, I headed to Scott J Salon on the Upper East Side for a nice relaxing massage. Scott J is an Aveda salon, which I love, and I can’t begin to tell you how much better I felt afterward. I have fibromyalgia, so the previous day of travel and Friday’s day of sitting had made me very achy. So glad I planned ahead and made an appointment! After that, dinner at the sushi restaurant at the hotel, and resting up for a big long day in Manhattan!

My plan to be at MOMA at 10:30 went awry after the cab driver got seriously lost and I had to give him directions to the museum. But I arrived around 11, and spent the next few hours wandering around amazing works by Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Mondrian…among others. But what I was really there for? The architecture and design collections–an absolute Mecca for a girl like me. Seeing iconic pieces like Eero Saarinen’s original Womb Chair, Charles and Ray Eames’ folding screen, Marcel Breur’s nesting tables, and Le Corbusier’s LC/4, absolutely gave me chills. The collection of Thonet chairs was also quite a treat, as was Frank Gehry’s Wave chaise longue. I’ve been a big Gehry fan for some time, with my husband treating me to pieces from his jewelry collection for Tiffany, but being able to check out his original work was just awesome. And although I didn’t make it to the Guggenheim for the Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective (dammit!), I was able to see some of his drawings, as well as the model for Fallingwater. Another favorite was Richard Neutra’s model of the Lovell house in LA, as well as a collection of design plans of Roberto Burle Marx’s for gardens in Sao Paulo.

Fab Five: Outdoor Eco

May 4, 2009
Feed bag planter from VivaTerra.

Feed bag planter from VivaTerra.

Despite being all but banned from my own backyard thanks to the never-ending rain we’ve had lately, I’m more stoked than ever to outfit my new outdoor space. And while there are millions of ideas floating around in my head (see also: Wanna See My Big Deck?), right now I’ve been thinking a lot about eco accessories to brighten up the area. Herewith, five of my favorite outdoor eco finds:

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  • Made from the leftover materials from a flip-flop factory, these recycled rubber door mats from VivaTerra are fabulous replacements for those worn out mats out on the deck, and are available in four sizes, including a 22″ by 60″ runner. Perfect for cleaning off my pups’ feet when they’ve been in the mud!
  • Also available at VivaTerra, these recycled feed bag hanging planters (above) are a clever alternative to boring—and not-so-earth-friendly—plastic pots, and are hand-sewn by disadvantaged Cambodian workers.16668_med
  • I was always so fascinated by hummingbirds when I was a kid—my grandmother had feeders and there were always tons of them flitting around the backyard—and I totally love this fabulous hummingbird feeder from Uncommon Goods. Crafted of recycled retro milk glass, this lovely little jewel is handmade in Mexico and includes shiny red flower feeders that are sure to have hummingbirds zipping around my window.
  • Nothing ruins a summer night (in the south) outdoors quicker than mosquitoes. And the oppressive humirecycledlantern14inavf9rdity. But at least the mosquitoes can be combated a little easier, and in style, with natural citronella candles in these cute lanterns from CB2. Made of recycled iron package sheeting, the lanterns are ideal for both tabletop use and for scattering around the perimeter of the deck.
  • And finally, from CB2’s big sister, Crate & Barrel is stepping up its green game and those offerings include some great glassware.  Shown here, the Cabo stemless drink glass is cabostemlessdrink11ozs9handblown in Mexico of recycled glass, and is available in a great green hue. The all-purpose glass boasts a sturdy rounded design, perfect for holding any tasty beverage for beating the summer heat!

Spring Queening: Progress Report

April 24, 2009
Some supplies: eclipse bucket and duster from Casabella, Twist bamboo cloth, loofah sponge and Euro sponge at Delight, and Parsley Plus from shopOrganic.

Some supplies: eclipse bucket and duster from Casabella, Twist bamboo cloth, loofah sponge and Euro sponge at Delight, and Parsley Plus from shopOrganic. (Photo by me. Clearly.)

Things got started in earnest around here yesterday when I got home from work. I had to wait on the deck guy to come get his check (it’s finished, more on that later!), so that deterred me from taking a nap. That and I’d taken Sudafed at work and was still rather cracky. I’d modified my road trip playlist a little bit for some good and loud fun stuff to listen to while I cleaned…Madonna, Britney, Rihanna, M.I.A., Kanye…and Duran Duran, which is the best cleaning music ever.

Anyway. Thursday night I forced myself to at least start on the kitchen. I cleaned all of the counters, small appliances and stove using one thing—the Parsley Plus all-purpose cleaner from shopOrganic. Not only did it ease through the gunk from the little Cuisinart grill (turns out the grease sometimes oozes out the back) and take out some errant paint spots, it also shined up the coffee maker and my beloved red Viking mixer and blender. It was equally fabulous on the stove. I emptied out my two utensil crocks and put them, along with all the utensils, into the dishwasher. I also noticed that I have too many of the same thing, and IDed some items for the yard sale box.

Last night I tackled the bedroom, starting with reorganizing the piles of clothes with the stacking bins I got for the old armoire. Added more stuff to the yard sale box, and now happily have a lot more drawer space! I couldn’t bring myself to tackle the closet just yet, so instead I vacuumed the bedroom, hall and living room, made a decent run over the baseboards, and vacuumed and Febreezed the dog beds. It was the least I could do after scaring them with all the noise. This evening, after sitting outside at the pub with a friend drinking beer for a few hours, and following the subsequent nap when I got home, I worked a little more on the kitchen and started straightening up the living room.

Tomorrow is supposed to be stormy again, so after an Easter trip to mom’s (*groan*), I’m finally going to do the bathroom, which I have seriously been avoiding like the plague that it is, and if I survive that, then it’s dusting and polishing the wood surfaces. Except for the floors. I absolutely refuse to mop and polish those until all rain stops (or until the dogs start wearing Wellies)…and when the husband comes home so he can help!

Update: The work is mostly done, but it never really ends. The Parsley Plus from shopOrganic became the only product I needed for every single surface in the house—from the kitchen to the bathroom to even the media console—and it worked like a charm. The Twist bamboo cloth and sponges from Delight are also my new best friends, as they are seriously effective cleaning supplies that are also really cute. The reusability is the best—even after polishing the furniture with the bamboo cloth and the Howards wood polish, all I had to do was wash it out and let it dry and it is basically new again! And back to the wood polish, oh my gosh it’s the best. And it doesn’t have that nauseating almond smell like most wood cleaners. Instead its yummy sandalwood-tangerine scent is oh-so-delicious, and all of the furniture handmade by my dad is fresh and new again.

Now about those floors…

Wanna See My Big Deck?

April 20, 2009

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Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm Homegirl welcome to my brand-new deck! I never thought it would happen, I thought we would always be stuck with that awful tiny deck and standing-water problem in the lower part of the yard. But last Friday, after my builder worked for about a day-and-a-half, I came home to a big, beautiful platform of backyard goodness!

Last year we had considered pouring concrete to extend the space from the original deck, but the cost was astronomical, not to mention all of the fence destruction and yard upheaval that would have had to transpire to make it happen. That, and the fact that about three different guys gave us three incredibly different quotes, and we just got fed up with the whole thing. So we spent last year with the same awful lake that forms, wearing galoshes to take the dogs out, sulking at not being able to enjoy the yard.

As spring rolled around again once more and we were faced with Lake Jones once more, the conversation about a deck began in earnest. A little less than a month ago, however, I discovered a great builder on Angie’s List, and had him come out and give us a quote on the deck and a couple of other things. What I liked most about him was that he was an idea guy, not just, “What do you want, ok, I’ll do it.” We were able to have a good back and forth on the design, and when the original plan was way above our price range, we reworked it into something we could afford.

The end result more than doubled the original, which you can see from the red frame at the bottom. img_0056In a month or so we’ll put up some sort of woodwork something (I don’t want to say “lattice”) around the bottom to prevent any critters from moving in underneath, and then put down a clear finish. While the original design included building up to the retaining wall, I’m delighted to now have that space back for landscaping. It’s a great five-foot space, which should allow for beds about three-feet deep, and plenty of room to create a pathway down either side of the deck. Our first DIY project will be to pour a roughly six-square-foot slab of concrete to connect the bottom step up to the main yard with the edge of the deck. No, there will be no goofy ass bridges over troubled water here. Look elsewhere.

Although we’ve got a ways to go to perfect our new lease on outdoor living, I’m beyond thrilled to have room for chairs and a table (which I found at a local vintage shop the day after the deck was finished. Don’t you love?), and can’t way to really start planning the space. In no particular order, here are the top things my husband and I want to get done this year:

  • Redo the doors. That single door to the backyard you see? That’s in our bedroom. Which ain’t big. At all. And we have two labs. It rains. I could go on. The set of windows to the right are in my office, and just happen to be positioned perfectly to be replaced with a sliding door. I had initially wanted to keep the bedroom door, but my builder pointed out that we should have almost enough brick from the demo of the windows to close that up, which would completely reconfigure our bedroom for the much, much better. He’s got a great brick guy. It’s genius.
  • Get a fabulous grill. (See below)
  • Build a concrete pad off the end of the deck. If our concrete skills prove decent after doing the small step extension, this is probably the first major thing we’ll actually do. Moving down the back of the house, past the skinny bathroom window and to the sliver of window with the orange walls is the kitchen. This spot will be for the fabulous grill we’ll get to replace the haggard hand-me-down from my dad that I couldn’t even give away at a yard sale, and the location would make it easy to pass things through the window and into the kitchen. And yeah, that was my idea.
  • Landscape. The entire area needs to be re-seeded, and I’m really hoping to get that done in the next couple of weeks. We still have one spot that gets really wet and muddy, and I want to get the whole lower area back in good health so we can start work on the beds. And my ultimate goal is to plant a garden off the end by the bedroom. It’s a good corner that’s just the right size for a small garden, assuming I can actually get something to grow.

But for the moment, while we wait for the weather to clear up and the yard to dry a little more, I’m just focusing on creating a great little seating area. And now that I’ve got a table and some chairs, we all know what that means: accessorizing.

Fab Five: Spring Queening Edition

April 13, 2009

We all need support, but seriously, there is a crap-ton of home cleaning and organizing books available. And I love, love, love books. But so many say the same thing in different ways (trust me, I’ve compared a few), so you’re lucky when you find a handful of great references for something. Here are my five favorite homekeeping tomes:

  • The Home Organizing Workbook: From Chronicle Books, this is a wonderful, straight-forward guide to clearing the clutter and getting organized. Instead of bombarding you with lists and chores, the book addresses specific problems in every room, offering a range of solutions that promise to help you get control of your space.
  • The Healthy Home Workbook Easy Steps for Eco-Friendly Living: Another great reference from Chronicle’s workbook collection, this is just a fantastic guide for greener and cleaner living. It features a multiple-choice approach with three levels of commitment: “Instant Gratification”, “More Committed?”, and “A Truly Healthy Home.” The spiral-bound workbook includes tabbed pages to divide sections by room, and includes a resources section with tips on pest control, non-toxic cleaning and a decent glossary of more technical terms.
  • Sink Reflections: I first heard of the FlyLady many years ago when visiting my now mother-in-law for the first time in Phoenix. We were at her romance-novel hoarding sister’s house, and they were telling me all about this thing they get email tips from and what not. Clearly sis wasn’t following the plan, which is designed around getting yourself out of “CHAOS” (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). I forgot about it until a trip to K/BIS a couple of years ago and saw it in the bookstore. What the hell, I bought it. Sink Reflections is chocked with “baby steps” and “zones” to help the near-helpless get control of whatever hell they’ve wreaked upon their homes. There are loads of tips, hilarious anecdotes and simple honest-to-god ways to make keeping a tidy and organized home part of your daily routine.
  • Real Simple Cleaning: While I’m more addicted to Real Simple’s Web site for quick ideas, this book is a super compendium of the mag’s tried and true tips for keeping and maintaining a clean home. From the checklists we talked about in Spring Cleaning: Make a Plan to specialize advice for furnishings, upholstery and more, Real Simple Cleaning promises to make the day-to-day maintenance of your home a little more fun and easy.

Loving You: Anthropolgie

April 6, 2009

Going to Anthropologie is like a religious experience for me. The Web site and catalogs don’t do it justice, not by a long shot. My first in-store venture was last year on a trip to DC for my job that pays the bills. My hotel is always the same, only a mile from Georgetown, but I never got the chance to get over there until last summer. The weather was nice so I walked to Georgetown, first trying to hit DWR before they closed at 6pm. (WTF?) Major FAIL. So I turned my focus on the motherland, and headed back up to M Street. It was like being a kid in a candy store when I walked in. Where to begin? This particular store is a multi-level dream come true, so I just began to wander around texting torturous pics to a friend back home. As I made my way into the home section, a salesgirl asked if I needed anything. I told her no, just looking. She asked if this was my first time there, and I said yes, noting that a girl can’t live with catalogs alone. We then had a short conversation about how fabulous it is to experience the first time, which store she first visited, how fabulous the styling and vignettes are.

I must’ve spent an hour and a half wandering around in my own little world. I found lots of great treasures, including a handpainted “J” tile, the red enameled fleur-de-lis wall hook I’d had my eye on online, a pair of sparkly earrings and a few books. I love great shops that include a well-edited selection of books to their offerings. Not only does please the book-whore in me, but it also adds a bit of character and personality to the store. After all, you can tell a lot about someone by looking at their bookshelves.

Happily, I got to visit the Kansas City Anthropolgie this past Friday. I had gone up with my sister for the Britney Spears show (shut up, it was awesome), and was looking forward to shopping at the Plaza at least as much as I was the concert. Quite possibly more. Let me preface this by saying that my older sister and I are absolute complete opposites. We have completely different interests, which means she doesn’t like to treasure hunt, and she doesn’t share my appreciation of $40 candles. But she’s my sister and I love her.

Anyway. The Kansas City store was fantastic, albeit contained on one level. But that’s ok, because there were plenty of home treats for me to scoop up. I got two wee little herb kits, one cilantro and one rosemary. I seriously need to brighten up my green thumb, so I’m starting small. In the sale bin (!) I found a cute pair of oven mitts with a cool graphic print for just $4 each, and I’m hoping their striking style will halt my husband from shrinking them in the dryer like a certain other two sets…..

I was totally in the mood to shop last Friday. Sister and I had split up and she was wandering through the clothes section for a while. Which was fine, because I’m not a good shopping partner, I like to browse alone and without sensing the other person wants to leave. I like to walk back and forth and consider and reconsider something, like the 10 books I wanted to get. I decided to chill out on completely loading up (I’ll totally treat myself once I finish the big cleaning project), and instead got Nina Garcia’s The One Hundred, because I loved the first one so much, and Elisabeth Luard’s Classic French Cooking: Recipes for Mastering The French Kitchen because, well, I used to love cooking. Now I find it a chore, and I want to be inspired again. I’ve always wanted to learn the French traditions and techniques, so what the hell? Hopefully this will help reinspire me in the kitchen.

So now I’m living for my next in-store experience, hopefully sometime this summer when I head back to DC. Until then, I’ll survive on catalogs and trip to the Web site.