Monday, February 28, 2011

Festive Cutouts

Look at this garland that I saw on Twig and Thistle.  These are long, thin pieces of paper cut into words. They are such a great idea for decorations or banners.  Anthony and I have talked about renting a photo booth for our wedding so that our guests can take festive pictures at the reception (we would so have a prop table!).  Wouldn't strips of paper draped against a wall spelling out words like LOVE, HAPPINESS and JOY make a gorgeous background?

Photos courtesy of Maria Ikonomopoulou via Twig and Thistle

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bringing the Weekend Home

Anthony had to work all weekend so I've been left on my own to 'get things done.'  I'm trying to get myself ready to move in a few months so there are piles of clothes and other miscellaneous goods scattered around the apartment for donation.  I've accumulated so much in the past four years and it's harder than I thought to sort through it all.  My goal is to enter our new home (whenever we find it) with only the necessities and build on that. 

On a more cheerful note, yesterday I was able to wear flip-flops.  I love winter but hate shoes and socks so that's one reason I am anxious for warmer weather.  I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Photo courtesy of weheartit

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winter in New York

View of Empire State Building from our hotel window

Anthony and I spent last weekend in New York City.  It was the quintessential winter weekend, complete with hot chocolate, a cold night of walking through Chelsea and even a few flurries. 

We stayed in the flower district, walking through a maze of potted plants and flowers every time we left our hotel.  It was really a great location, cheery and central to so much.  We walked around most of the day and night, despite the freezing wind, and just enjoyed the city. 

Walking by Eataly, I decided we had to go in and check it out.  It was extremely crowded but I was still able to pick up some imported Italian pasta for us along with some candy bars for my parents.  The produce and cheese looked amazing and I think it'd be fun to visit again on a weekday afternoon or something when there is bound to be less people. 

Besides a really good pre-Valentine's Day dinner at a random Asian restaurant we found on Saturday night and an awesome breakfast at Markt, a Belgian restaurant near Madison Square Park, my favorite part of our visit was when we stopped at City Bakery.  Not only do they have the best chocolate-chip cookies ever, but their Hot Chocolate Festival is going on during the month of February.  Anthony tried the featured flavor of the day, Banana Peel, and I stuck with the Dark Chocolate.  This was the richest, creamiest hot chocolate either of us had ever had, especially with the huge homemade marshmallow floating on top. It was such a treat and I'll always remember leaning against a random building on 18th Street in the cold winter air enjoying our delicious drinks.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Serious Dumplings

Over at Serious Eats, one of their fabulous writers took a tour of New York's Chinatown in search of the best dumpling.  After trying 7 restaurants, Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry Street came in first for their delicious ginger taste and perfect wrapper-to-filling ratio (they are also super affordable--you can get 5 for $1.25!).  Look at a picture of the winning dumpling:

How could you see that photo and not want a huge container of these?  The potstickers from Vanessa's Dumplings look awesome too:

After checking out the rest of the pictures, not only am I hungry but I've decided that I may have to conduct my own tour of dumpling houses in New York this spring.  Anyone want to join? 

All photos courtesy of Serious Eats

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Magnificent Wedding Dessert Tables

So I'm not in a hurry to get married, but someday in the future, Anthony and I are going to have the coolest dessert bar at our wedding.  Today, one of my favorite blogs, Ruffled, had a post on tips for having the best dessert buffets.  Melody from Sweet and Saucy Shop totally hooked me with her great ideas for creating a perfect presentation that guests will love. 

I love the idea of collecting vintage bowls, cake stands and linens way before your wedding so that you have personal touches on your special day.  My style is pretty eclectic, perhaps a bit bohemien, so this is right up my alley, and I know Anthony and I both want our wedding to reflect who we are as a couple and this is a great way to express that.  And as someone who doesn't love dessert, I think the idea of miniature sweets on a gorgeous table is a perfect idea. 

One of my favorite displays--I love how the dresser is more than just a prop.  It adds character to the whole dessert bar. 

I don't know what I like more, the streamers and bunting or the treat labels written on small chalkboards.

All photos courtesy of Ruffled

Monday, February 14, 2011

Books: Model Home by Eric Puchner

I finished Eric Puchner's Model Home a couple of weeks ago but liked it enough that I'm still kind of thinking about it.  I'll be the first to admit that it took me a long time to finish this book, which is due to the fact that it was very hard for me to get into it.  The beginning seemed slow but perhaps that's because Puchner is introducing us to all of the characters, each of which narrates at one point or another, albeit in the third person.  We get to know each of the Ziller family members pretty well, and I think that after I had a handle on each of them, I finally fell into Model Home

There is a running theme of slogans, whether on t-shirts or bumper stickers, and it made Model Home seem very cohesive.  Even when their lives are totally changed, life still goes on; the minutia of ordinary days adds to the story's believability.  I do admit that I thought the story had really hit it's stride before it jumped a year into the future but I became acquainted with the new versions of these characters and found a new appreciation in their situation. 

The ending isn't happy but I was more than okay with that.  The Ziller family settles into new lives.  After a tragedy (I really hate that word but it's fitting here), the siblings grow apart and then come together again.  Puchner really gets how families can be with each other all of the time and still not know one another.  And he isn't afraid to be graphic or raw. 

Here's an example: There is a scene that I particularly like from the first section of Model Home: Dustin, the oldest son, goes to a party.  He is a typical California teen surfer but he is tired of his image, tired of being perceived as nicer than he really is.  When he sees these completely drunk and drugged out fifteen year olds, he notices that one of them has a piece of metal sticking out of her mouth.  The girl was so out of it that she tried to rip off her braces with a pliers but was unsuccessful.  There's a really pure moment when Dustin thinks to himself 'This girl is so hardcore, maybe I'm just fooling myself."  I love self-doubt because it is such a natural trait.  Everyone can identify in one way or another.  I'd recommend this book if are into stories that make you think about your own life, particularly your relationships with family.  Model Home sends a message that doesn't just fade away.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TLC's The Unpoppables

Has anyone seen commercials for TLC's new show called The Unpoppables?  Even though I love reality television, I hate shows that are gimmicky (i.e. the Pit Boss show with pit bulls and little people, or the Little Chocolatiers starring little people who are gourmet chocolate makers) but when I saw this preview, it really piqued my interest.  The creations are so neat--they don't even look like ballooons. 

Here is a couch made out of purple balloons that you can actually sit on:

I may have to tune in to see if the show is worth watching.  These balloon artists seem really creative and fun though so maybe this will turn out to be the perfect thing to watch when there's nothing else on television. 

Here's a preview in case you haven't seen it yet:

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Cake After My Own Heart

Oh dear, oh my, how badly do I want to make this cake?  It's so cute that I don't even think I would eat it!  It's probably harder than hell to piece together, so maybe I'll just stare at this picture for a while and work up the courage to make this a weekend project.  Mmmm, pretty dessert...

Courtesy of I Am Baker via Say Yes to Hoboken

Round-Up: Day 3 at AWP and Closing Thoughts

I'm back from the AWP Conference and even though I had a great time, I'm happy to be home.  I learned a lot, read a lot, walked a lot, took lots of notes and introduced myself to many people (and had almost everyone ask me to repeat my name--sometimes I forget how much of a mouthful 'Crystal Patenaude' really is).  Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the sessions on the last day the most (see my round-up of Days 1 and 2 here). 

Some observations from Day 3 at AWP:

  • By the final day of this conference, everyone seemed exhausted.  People were starting to leave (I actually had an older woman tell me that the last night of AWP is a 'letdown' so she always heads home early) and the ones who stayed seem tired. I myself went to four back-to-back sessions before heading home mid-afternoon, and I was so over it all that I could barely get myself to the train station. 
  • There is always one person in every session who drives me crazy.  The worst was the woman who kept mmhming and moaning in agreement while the panelists were speaking.  It took me at least 20 minutes to figure out who was making the noises, some of which were so loud that I couldn't hear what the presenters were saying.  If you have to express your agreement/pleasure/displeasure while people are talking, stick to silent movements like nodding or head shaking until question time at the end.  I guarantee that it will improve everyone's experience. 
  • I have short legs so walking from the a basement ballroom in one hotel to a small room on the opposite side of an adjoining hotel in 10 minutes is a real challenge.  Yesterday, despite my best efforts, I was five minutes late to a panel that I was really looking forward to.  I forced myself to walk in and take a seat though and really enjoyed the talk.  And when a woman walked in 40 minutes late, I felt much better about my own tardiness.
  • I didn't make it back to the bookfair before I left and I really regret that.  I wanted to visit the tables I missed the first time and maybe collect a few more bookmarks, contest notices, calls for submissions, etc.  Also, I found it funny that several journals and magazines were handing out temporary tattoos with their logos.  They are adorable and I fully support the giveaway, in case the editors aren't sure if they were well-received.
  • My ride home on Amtrak was so much better than the trip to Washington, mainly because I wasn't in a quiet car.  Also, a really nice dude helped me put my suitcase up in the baggage rack.  This was awesome since the first time I tried to do this, I realized too late that I am not strong and it fell on my head.  Boo. 
Overall, my first experience at the AWP conference was a success.  At times, it was quite isolating; I didn't know anyone at all and even though I talked to tons of random people at the bookfair and at sessions, I still felt alone a lot of the time.  By being alone though, I was able to concentrate on the craft of writing and really immerse myself.  I learned a ton and even got to see a few of my wonderful (non-writer) friends who are now living in DC. 

My personal AWP highlights:

  • It was amazing to be so close to such wonderful writers.  One morning, I even walked up the hill to the Marriott next to Yusef Komunyakaa.  At the hotel bar, I felt like everyone looked vaguely familiar.  And the readings were fabulous.  It meant a lot to me as a writer who is trying to 'make it' to listen to authors that I love and admire.  The panelists and readers were all unbelievably generous with their time, and I truly appreciated that.
  • I loved the 'Women Writers and How to Get Out of the Slush Pile" panel I attended on Saturday morning.  There was such a great vibe and the speakers, all editors of wonderful lit magazines, were beyond knowledgeable.  They not only gave tips on submitting and writing, but also provided advice on keeping positive and staying confident.  It's hard to express how empowered I felt when I left that ballroom. 
  • Richard Bausch is obviously a great writer but it was easy to tell how wonderful of a person he is from the one-on-one interview with Jennifer Haigh.  Haigh is incidentally one of my favorite authors so it was thrilling to see them both together on stage, laughing and conversing about writing and life.  Richard Bausch's students are incredibly lucky because I can tell he is a fabulous teacher. 
  • I met one of my favorite short story writers, Danielle Evans, at a great panel entitled "The Myth of Relevance."  The talk and the panelists were both thought-provoking and interesting, and I wanted to run to my laptop as soon as I left to work on a new piece.  Danielle Evans was so gracious and kind when I approached her after the event was over and even told me to feel free to email her if I had any questions about the American University MFA program.  That totally made my morning. 
  • I am now following a ton of new people on Twitter after either meeting them or hearing them speak at AWP.  I feel almost unreasonably excited to have their cool tweets show up in my timeline. 
  • On a personal note, before I left DC, I visited Hello Cupcake, which is a cupcake bakery right near my hotel in Dupont Circle.  I'm extremely proud of the fact that I bought three cupcakes for Anthony and that after a Metro ride, a taxi ride, a 5 hour train ride and a car ride home, they are still in relatively good shape.  After all of that, I hope they taste magnificent. 

And on that note, it's been great and I'm looking forward to applying everything I learned to my own work.  Hope to see you next year in Chicago for AWP 2012!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Round-Up: AWP Day 1 & 2

I'm here writing from Washington DC, already two-thirds of the way through the AWP conference.  As a first-time attendee, I'm really enjoying myself, although I'm a bit overstimulated.  At any given moment, there are thousands of people gathered in the Marriott hotel lobby either walking around, talking with friends or waiting in line for a $4 bottle of soda.  The sessions I've been to have been crowded, lively and informative.  My bag is ready to break from all of the things I got from the bookfair.  Here are a few things that I've learned so far:

  • The sessions fill up quickly.  Every one that I've been to so far has been full along with dozens of people standing in the back.  I like to show up early so I haven't had any problems but even the panelists and speakers are surprised by the turnout.  Are the rooms smaller than normal?  Are there more attendees at the conference overall?  It's crazy but in a good way, like writers are so cool that people will stand out in the hall just for a listen. 
  • There is NOWHERE to find fast, affordable, decent food at this hotel conference center.  I stood in line today for 25 minutes for a sandwich which wound up being a pre-made saran-wrapped sandwich on soggy bread for $10.  I declined, bought a bottle of water and waited until I was finished for the day to get some real food. 
  • All of the presenters and readers have been so awesome.  They are happy to be at AWP, excited to share their knowledge in fiction and poetry, and seem so approachable.  I have an entire list of new authors I want to read merely based on their personalities on a panel. 
  • There are more presses, literary journals and writing programs with tables at the bookfair than you could ever imagine.  I met lots of great people who were more than willing to tell me all about their organizations or universities.  I now have a bunch of contests to enter and journals to submit work to that I would never have known about if I didn't visit their table. 
  • I went to Adams Morgan tonight for dinner and had Turkish food for the first time at Meze.  It had an upscale but relaxed vibe and there were half-price drinks.  My friend and I really enjoyed the meal (it was like Mediterranean tapas).  I kind of wish that I stopped in the Black Squirrel (which is a bar, not a pet store) but next time for sure. 
I'm getting ready for tomorrow, which promises to be a long day.  Any must-sees in Dupont Circle before I head home?