Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sometimes a room needs a little facelift.  And in the case of my guest bedroom, I wanted to bump up the sophistication a little and add more interest to the room, especially with my neutral walls.

I started with the bed, not only because I've had it for a long time but because this room is small and the footboard got in the way of safe movement around the room (i.e. bruises on my thighs from running into it).  I shopped all over the place online for an upholstered headboard and finally settled for one on Overstock.com that was a cream damask.  As is commonly the case, when the headboard arrived, it was not at all like the photo on the website.  Rather than sending it back, I decided that I could just recover it.  But first, I had to choose my new duvet.  I have a history for loving duvets from Pottery Barn, so it wasn't hard to check that box off my list.  Now that I had the duvet, a brown and cream pattern, I set my mind on finding a pinstripe fabric of the same colors.  After searching the entire store at G Street Fabrics, right before giving up I found, tucked in the small section of linens, the perfect pinstripe.  Unfortunately, the stripes were horizontal, so I had to actually sew two sections together to get the vertical look I wanted.  Once I had my fabric piece, it was super simple to cover the (yes, brand new) headboard using a handheld staple gun from the craft store.  To complete the bed, I had to swap out the wood frame for a simple metal frame purchased at a local mattress supplier and then attach the headboard.

Next, I wanted to tackle the very boring wall behind the bed.  Recently, I found some great black and white photos of New York neighborhoods from the early-mid 1900s on a website called  20x200.com.  There are many photos to choose from, but here are a few of my favorites:

Central Park Model Boat Regatta, 1963
Coney Island, Luna Park and Surf Avenue, 1912
Swimming Contest, Astoria Pool, 1936
Using these photos and various frames with different design elements but a consistant black color, I set out to create a photo collage behind the bed.  I turned some of my own photographs into black and white to supplement the ones I purchased.  The last element to the room was the small little shelf on the one side of the bed to act as a nightstand, where the closet doors prevented an actual nightstand from fitting.  The shelf is a floating shelf from Urban Outfitters, completed with some hardcover classic books.  As a redesign bonus, I found some towels at Target from the new Nate Burkus line that are cream with brown accents (and even a brown pinstripe edge!) to bring the design from the room into the bathroom.  Perfect!


Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Tonight was very special because not only was I, admittedly, thoroughly entertained by One Direction - the latest boy band from across the pond to make America's girls go absolutely, incomprehensibly insane - but I got to share it with my niece who was visiting Washington D.C. (and me) for the first time this week.

Taking her to her first boy band concert was the biggest treat for me, a longtime fan of the boy band concept back to when my childhood walls were papered with the latest magazine cutouts and centerfolds of New Kids on the Block from BOP, Teen, Sassy, Big Bopper, etc.  And let's not forget how much I love the world's original boy band: The Beatles.  I always say that if I could travel back in time, I would be one of the girls in the audience during their 1964 U.S. tour.

It's very sweet to watch my niece's journey into her preteen years, which every girl knows is an awkward time that includes multiple and often changing crushes on young singers and actors, as well as irrational and extreme obsessions with the weirdest things, like key chains (I think she has bought 4 to add to her collection while in D.C.).  During the concert, I would glance over at her with her permanent smile, singing along to the songs and I had to hold back the tear that wanted to develop.  Oh to see life through the fresh eyes of a young person and have another chance to experience life events for the first time.
Before I get too reflective here, I want to say that I was impressed by One Direction.  They are great entertainers with solid voices.  There were no big gimmicks, they sang their own songs (without a doubt, no lip syncing), and the program was engineered from start to finish to do exactly the right thing to make the crowd adore them - from pointing and waving to indiscriminate people in the crowd (Ooh! Harry just pointed at ME!  I shall proceed to scream so he knows I saw him single me out!), to flying on a rigged platform from the main stage to the center arena mini stage in order to give better access to fans with less expensive seats.

Pardon all of my photos above, as the lighting situation and seat location forced me to only take video because my point and shoot camera hates low light, especially zooming in low light.  For some reason, the video ends up being better for zoom and focus, so I just try my best to get screen captures for my photos.  Here are the actual videos from the show, if you're interested.  I didn't know 2/3 of the songs, just the popular ones from the radio, so that's how I selected my videoing targets, thanks to a static tour setlist I downloaded from the internet while at the concert.

Posted on Monday, June 24, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

 For June's cupcake, I wanted to something simple yet sweet.  I saw a cupcake design on Martha Stewart for Easter that I liked, so I tried to replicate the design.  I think my buttercream for the birds needed to be a little thicker because they weren't holding a spherical shape.  They still looked cute, and tasted delicious.  I was lazy this month and just used boxed French Vanilla cake mix and pre-made buttercream dyed using Americolor Food Gels.


My moderate attempt at replicating Martha's design

Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, June 17, 2013

This past weekend's trip to NYC was the greatest example of planning and pure luck, a combination that absolutely maximized the "awesomeness" (for a lack of a better word) of the experience.  Typically, when I go to New York, there's some sort of catalyst that defines why I'm going and when I'm going.  Often it's a show that I really want to see.  This round, I had acquired tickets to go to a taping of the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show - not an especially difficult feat, since tickets are relatively easy to come by with just a little planning.

Here are my tips if you want to see Jimmy Fallon:

  1. First, visit the website to learn about the process.
  2. Start calling daily about 7 weeks in advance of the week you want to go.  
  3. On the day of the show, all tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis regardless of whether you have a confirmed ticket.  Get there before 2pm, even though instructions say you must pick up before 3:15pm.  Tickets for the show I went to, I heard, were completely distributed by approximately 2:30pm.  Once you're in possession of the tickets, you don't need to actually be at the building until 3:30pm.
  4. Try to sit on the aisle because Jimmy will come up and down the aisles after the show to shake people's hands and say thanks.  I should know - I was on the aisle!

The show was extremely entertaining!  The warmup act was a comedian, Seth Herzog, who was hilarious.  There are some standup acts that choose to make people laugh by making fun of the audience.  Most of the time, this style bombs and comes off as arrogant and offensive.  Seth was able to do it with finesse and really came off likable.  After his allotted time, The Roots came out and played a warmup song.  Then Steve Higgins, the show's announcer, came out to prep the audience for the introduction of the show and for Jimmy Fallon.  So funny!

The episode I watched had guests Howard Stern and Alyssa Milano, with musical guests Anamanaguchi.  It is also the start of Gaming Week, and Jimmy had a list of video games that never should have been made that had the audience cracking up, then later he tested out the XBox 1 due out in November.  Jimmy pulled off a flawless monologue that was entertaining in multiple ways - if only you could see what he was doing while running the clip of Miss Utah's horrible pageant answer from this weekend's competition.  Howard Stern came of as a huge jerk, when I think he was trying to be funny.  Don't get me wrong, I like Howard Stern, but he needs to understand times when he's not in charge of the show and is just a guest.  I actually was sitting across the aisle from two of The Howard Stern Show's "Wack Pack" groupies - High Pitch Eric and Mariann from Brooklyn (sadly, I recognized Eric from when I used to watch the show on E! 14 years ago.  The woman I didn't know until she introduced herself to me.)  Alyssa's time was brief due to Howard dominating more time than planned.  Anamanaguchi, a band recognized for their use of video game sounds, didn't win over me as a new fan.  You're not supposed to take any photos, but I snuck two blurry ones of Jimmy and The Roots after the show.  Shh don't tell!

While Jimmy Fallon was the catalyst for the trip, I seized the opportunity, while in NYC, to also see two Broadway shows and some improv at Upright Citizens Brigade.  I have several people who have recommended that I see Newsies, so I caught the Saturday night show.  Very entertaining show overall, but not a whole lot of individually memorable songs.  The dancing was great, though.  And I'm always a sucker for a handsome leading man.
Sunday matinee time was spent seeing the Nora Ephron play, The Lucky Guy starring Tom Hanks.  The cast also included Maura Tierney (ER), Christopher McDonald (Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore), Courtney B. Vance (Law and Order: CI), Peter Scolari (Hanks' "buddy" in Bosom Buddies), and many other recognizable faces.  The show was surprisingly humorous, about the rise of a star reporter in the New York tabloid scene.  Tom Hanks was exactly what you think he would be - Tom Hanks.  Great actor!  The stage door mob was too large for my liking, so I opted out of getting the playbill signed.
Sunday night was spent at Upright Citizens Brigade (307 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001), the improv theater that has produced very successful alumni including Adam McKay, Amy Poehler, Rob Corddry, Jack McBrayer, Ed Helms, Aziz Ansari, and many more currently on popular sitcom TV shows.  UCB's longest running troupe is the longform ASSSSCAT 3000 team that performs every Sunday night at 7:30 and 9:30.  This troupe often has special guests come and perform with them from Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Colbert Report, and The Office.  And, of course, this is Amy Poehler's troupe, and I heard she typically performs in the summer performances, but there are no guarantees.
You can get tickets in advance to the 7:30pm show for $10, just watch the website for details.  I missed the window and the show was sold out.  The 9:30 show is free but no reservations are accepted.  Instead, a line begins to form outside the theater around 5:30pm.  If you're not there by 6:30pm, your odds are much lower for getting tickets but you may still get in for the standing room only areas.  At 8:15pm, all tickets are distributed for the 9:30pm show, then you are able to wander for an hour before coming back by 9:15 to line up based on the number on your card.  The house is U-shaped open seating, and if you want, you can even sit on the floor in front of the first row.  The ASSSSCAT 3000 show I saw had Gavin Speiller, Anthony Atamanuik, Chris Gethard, Chad Carter, Adam Pally (Happy Endings), plus two other female improvisers I didn't recognize.  The format of the show is "armando," where a suggestion is given by the audience to the guest monologist who then tells a story, mostly true, based on the suggestion.  This monologue serves to "paint the scenes" done by the improvisors that follow.  The guest monologist on Sunday was W. Kamau Bell from Totally Biased on FX.

Now that I've covered the comedy and the theater of the weekend, the adventure came when I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time.  I've admired it in photos and marveled at its construction story while watching history documentaries on TV, but in all the times I've visited New York, I've never seen it up close.  The walk takes less than half an hour, depending on how much you stop to take photos or read plaques.  If you start from Manhattan, the entrance is across the street from City Hall near Chambers Street.  I wish I had the time to explore more of Brooklyn while I was over there, but it just didn't work out.  I had actually hoped to join a walking tour that covered the bridge and Brooklyn Heights because I'm a sucker for walking tours, but just couldn't ensure I would make it in time to my 8pm show that night.  Maybe next time!

Last but not least, one more run in with Mr. Luck.  As I got back from Jimmy Fallon, I overheard a dad on the hotel elevator talking to his son about how Times Square was such a mess with the World War Z movie premiere.  My ears perked up because World War Z meant Brad Pitt.  So, I grabbed the dog from the hotel room (for his walk - two birds/one stone), and headed the half block to Times Square.  I wish I had thought to grab my good camera with the zoom lens as well, but alas I was stuck with the iPhone for photos.  This is the best one I got (below and cropped), from about 100 feet away from the platform amongst ridiculous crowds of people doing the same thing I was trying to do, snap a photo, except I was trying to do it while also holding a dog who could care less about Brad Pitt.  Dogs lead such simple lives, right? Brad is the half face being hidden by the poofy blond interviewer.  When did Brad grow his hair out to early 1990s Brad hair?  I didn't wait around long after taking the few photos (only full face one was blurry) I took.  The crowds were just insane, and the police were making getting around very difficult.  Still, you have to love those moments in life where you were in the right place at the right time to witness something you don't see everyday.

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2013 by Julie

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

I heard about a hot air balloon festival in Virginia a few years ago, but when I looked it up recently, it had been replaced with a wine and music festival.  With my mind set on photographing a hot air balloon festival, I stumbled upon one that was close to where my friend lives in Pennsylvania - the Chester County Hot Air Balloon Festival (very kid friendly, and cheap at $10 per car).  Last night, we attended our first "glow party," where the balloons are set up and tethered so that they can be periodically made to glow in the twilight.  I was hoping to also see a balloon launch earlier in the evening, but was disappointed by winds that were not conducive to ballooning.  Fortunately, that disappointment quickly waned as I started to capture some gorgeous photos of the event!!

First the balloons had to be set up - baskets out, gas lines tested, balloons attached, gas powered fans used to initially blow the balloon up, then the propane to heat up the air while tipping the basket upright to stand the balloon up.

Crowd patiently waits on a hillside near Coatesville, PA (outside of Lancaster)
And then it was time to GLOW!!!!


Posted on Saturday, June 15, 2013 by Julie

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Travel adventures with long plane rides means lots or reading time.  Here are some recommendations from this past spring's journeys.

Must Read

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

I will admit that it took me awhile to get into the book, but it was definitely enjoyable.  Maybe it's the glamour of the time period, or the fun, adventuresome spirit of the three main characters in 1938 New York: Katey, Eve, and Tinker.  Or maybe it's the journey of Katey, the heroine, finding her place in that crazy time period - outshining the reckless, yet magnetic personality of her beautiful friend Eve and the, sometimes, tragic influence of Tinker's wealth - only to come out on top in the end after all the ups and downs.

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

If you asked me earlier this year if I had read the first two books in Veronica Roth's young adult series, I would have adamantly said no and said that I refuse to read another book from this "dystopian society" trending theme.  But the craving for easy books to read while I travel, and the curiosity because this book has achieved enough attention to warrant a big movie production, was enough to make me download the first book, Divergent.  I have to say that I liked it a lot more than "The Hunger Games."  Once I got over the hurdle of accepting the conditions of this society, with four factions grouped by personality types and a fifth group of "factionless" people, it was easy to get sucked into the characters and the development of their relationships as the efficacy of this "ideal" world starts to crumble.  Don't start these books until closer to October 2013, though, because the 3rd in the series will not be released until then!

Skip These

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I read this book back in April, and originally had it categorized as a "lazy weekend" read, but I now can't even remember what I liked about it.  All I can remember is wanting to slap the female lead on the side of her head for not seeing what was right in front of her, and for settling for the male character who was perceived as being the "bad boy" but just ended up being very bad for her, regardless of the fact that he suffered from a severe mental issue not diagnosed until it was too late.  Meanwhile, the right boy has to sit by and witness this tormented love while suffering from the waning hope that he will ever get the girl.  There's a whole lot more the author wanted to convey about parallels between what happens with his characters and the type of love highlighted in 19th century novels, but my memory is only providing me with a lasting opinion of a very low-energy, dragging story with unnecessarily complex characters and a convenient love triangle premise.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

This was a recommendation from an employee at Barnes and Noble.  I think I will refrain from listening to future recommendations from that store.  Let me start by saying that I do like Kurt Vonnegut books, as weird as they sometimes can be with his writing style.  And, at first, I thought this book was also going to be a similar stream of consciousness narrative, but I quickly figured out what was going on.  The kid had Asperger's Syndrome.  While the perspective is unique, just imagine reading a book about Rain Man that had an isolated focus on the thoughts in Dustin Hoffman's character's head, while a story evolves around him.  Like Rain Man, the kid, Christopher, is very talented in math but cannot function normally and process information in the way a person not afflicted with autism can.  This extremely literal interpretation of information and situations becomes grating after awhile.  The brutal murder of a neighborhood dog discovered by Christopher is just the start of a complicated, and tiresome book with alternating chapters progressing the story and chapters dedicated to illustrating the random thoughts produced by the disease.  You just want to cry for the single father trying to make each day go smoothly without incident, yet failing all too frequently from only the slightest offense.  Overall, I would not recommend the book as half of it is pointless rambling, and the other half isn't rich enough in content to make Christopher's story interesting in the end.

Posted on Thursday, June 13, 2013 by Julie

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