June 30, 2009

June Reads

I sorta fell behind in my reading this month. It started promisingly enough with a Pulitzer-winning book that was utterly absorbing, but then the reading for the month sadly fell flat with two young adult books of my childhood. Oh, the soft patina time casts on books, objects, events of long ago, fooling us into thinking these things were just as interesting/exciting/fun as our memory currently serves them to be!

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. "She had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away." I love this line from the novel, as I feel it completely captures the essence of Olive. Blunt, crotchety, and larger than life, Olive is revealed through the 13 short stories of which the novel is comprised. Set in a small coastal town in Maine, each chapter features different inhabitants of the town and their own stories. The common thread that ties them all is Olive, whose character is revealed through the myriad perspectives of her fellow townspeople. You get little snippets of her character (instead of sweeping descriptions had the reader stayed with her throughout the novel), and I think the smaller insights pack a more powerful punch. Some people like her, some people don't like her, and some people barely think of her at all. She's a passing figure in some stories, while featuring more prominently in others. The novel's very structure implies that perhaps there are certain aspects to Olive's personality that even she can't recognize or decipher, but others infer. Olive is far from perfect, but she is so incredibly human and relatable and so full of love, even if she doesn't always show it. I find her journey heart-breaking and real--there were quite a few scenes which I felt could have been taken straight from everyday life, and that's what makes Olive Kitteridge utterly compelling. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in April.

The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene. I was sorely disappointed with these two books. I know, I know. They're for little kids, so my expectations shouldn't have been what they were. Never mind that they're a bit simple when it comes to plot and characterization--I was willing to overlook this considering the age of the target audience. But what I couldn't get past were the outdated expressions and situations. Case in point: When Nancy's friend Helen got covered with soot after examining a chimney for a mischief-wreaking "ghost" in The Hidden Staircase, the investigation had to be put on hold so that Nancy could assist Helen with a "shampoo and general cleanup job." Not only that, but the author lets it be known in several places that the girls start exploring the house only after the dishes have been put away, the floors have been vacuumed, and the beds have been made. This isn't a spunky, resourceful sleuth, this is a goody-goody who plays by the rules and comes off a bit boring in the process. Is this the way Nancy Drew had always been and I conveniently erased it from my childhood memories? After doing a bit of sleuthing myself, I discovered that the books published by Grosset & Dunlap--which are the yellow-spined ones I picked up from the library and which are most commonly found in bookstores--are actually the revised editions from the 1950's. The original books in the series were published by Applewood and written in the 1930's, and they featured a much more feisty, human, and subsequently more interesting, heroine. Now if I could only score some copies of those Applewood editions; I'd be curious to read the original versions of these books as a sort of compare/contrast.

Up next in my adventures in reading: getting through a 700-page Gothic novel and more food for thought.

June 24, 2009

Italian Inspiration

I'm going to a swanky wedding this weekend, and I've been on the hunt for a sexy little number to wear for the occasion. The effort has proved to be more complicated than I had otherwise anticipated. I come across a lot of dresses that either have empire waists (a style of dress I wore a few years ago but I've since grown tired of; it seems a little juvenile to me now) or sky-high hemlines, neither of which I'm keen on. A 50's silhouette would really suit my figure and show off my rather small waist, but in this age of super short, baggy dresses inspired by the legs-crazed decade of the 60's, it's difficult to find something a bit more....timeless, sophisticated, and dare I say, demure. I'm using this lovely Italian lady as my dress inspiration. To me she just oozes effortless European style and looks smashingly feminine and elegant and appears as though she couldn't care less about the latest trends. I imagine she's on her way to meet her hot Italian lover at an espresso bar in Rome. Bellissima.

{Photo by Garance Doré}

June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

This summer solstice held all the auspicious elements of what is sure to be a superb summer: slept in late; went for a walk in perfect sunshine (which felt like a balm after too many weeks of June Gloom, a commmon Southern California affliction at this time of year); tried the newly opened cafe/bakery, Huckleberry (they use organic and local ingredients, and it's owned and operated by an adorable married couple whose love and enthusiasm for food is apparent as soon as you walk in. It's a real foodie's place); wished my father a happy Father's Day; enjoyed a particularly challenging and purifying yoga class; made dinner with T and hosted a good friend who was alone this Father's Day (it's not a sad story, he will be reunited with wife and son soon!); feasted on burrata and heirloom tomato salad, strawberries dipped in chocolate and red wine; and most impressive and joyful of all, I did not set foot into a car today--walking everywhere was absolute bliss! It was a pretty great day, if I do say so myself. Proof is in the pudding below.

I snapped a couple quick shots of Huckleberry's interior as I waited for my soy latte (which was delicious). I really took to the country-like freshness of the decor. I didn't feel like I was in LA, which is a welcome feeling, let me tell you.

The camera on my blackberry simply does not do these baked goods justice. I wanted to sample every single one. I made do with the croissant and raisin scone. Divinely buttery and flaky in the most perfect way.

Burrata is to caprese salad what sugar is to chocolate chip cookies. It's simply not acceptable with out it. Undoubtedly, burrata is one of the most delectable cheeses I have ever had the pleasure to devour. It's rather hard to find, but Andrew's Cheese Shop on Montana didn't disappoint. We nabbed their last one.

I only now just realize that food is the dominating theme of today's post. Which sort of makes sense, if you think about it. There's something about summer that is so life-affirming and of the moment. Summer is a time for enjoying the simple pleasures of life: appreciating nature, spending quality time with friends, savoring good food. These moments are so ephemeral and time moves so quickly, which is something I've been shocked to discover as I grow older. It's important to take hold of these moments and be truly grateful for being alive and well enough to enjoy them. Kind of saccharine, I know, but I can't help it. Blame it on the first day of summer. Who knew that such a sunshine-filled day would provoke such contemplation? Isn't that what grey, rainy days are for?

June 15, 2009

Weekend in San Diego

It's always nice to get out of town for a little change of scenery. Especially when that change of scenery involves casual beach towns and sweeping views of the Pacific. Contrary to what these pictures might suggest, it wasn't all relaxation. Scrambling across San Diego to attend two graduations (and are graduations EVER fun?) with two families isn't exactly what I call a vacation. But I can't complain: I caught up with my adorable three-year-old twin nieces, who are delightful and so much fun to hang out with; I got to snuggle with T's six-week-old niece; I had a beautiful room at the gorgeous Hotel Del Coronado, complete with ocean view and a deep tub. Here are a few snapshots from my weekend in San Diego.

Room with a view on two very different days

White shutters in the bathroom opened out into the living area, which also included a cozy fireplace.

I could have stayed here all morning; I nearly did.

Sinking into this comfy over-sized chair made me feel a little like Alice in Wonderland after she sipped from the bottle labeled "Drink Me".

Peonies bursting with colors ranging from magenta to a whisper soft pink. Found at Ralph's supermarket, no less. My excitement over spotting them in so unlikely a place prompted an older lady passing by to break into a story of how she would ride to school on horseback in six-degrees-below-zero weather. No joke. Don't know how that was relevant to my passion for peonies; it shall forever remain a mystery to me.

June 12, 2009

Hittin' the road

T and I are hittin' the road this weekend to attend not one but two graduations in San Diego. My weekend has already begun. Sweet. Pictures when I get back!

June 9, 2009

Happy Pillows

While searching for pillows for my new apartment, I knew I wanted something that would pop against the deep chocolate brown color of the sofa. So when I found these happy Hable Construction pillows at Weego Home in Santa Monica, I pounced. They're bright and cheerful, and whenever I plop down on my sofa, I snuggle up against them and breathe a sigh of contentment. Happy, happy pillows.

June 7, 2009

Lazy Sunday

The title of this post is slightly misleading, as I wasn't wholly lazy today. I got my butt out of bed at 9am to go to the gym, followed by an hour and a half workout session with my trainer (go me!). And I got a couple necessary errands done afterward, so I was no slouch in the afternoon, either. But after all THAT, I will happily say that I was very lazy indeed. I sat on my sofa, amidst fluffy pillows and stared up with adoration at my new ivy plant hanging above me. Hello, Ms. Ivy!

I watched the golden afternoon light play across the floor.

And I watched with amusement as T played his current video-game-of-choice (the name of which escapes me), choosing to ignore his protestation that the two men were not, in fact, merely engaging in a hugging war.

June 4, 2009

Antica Farmacista: Old World Charm

I think it's important to surround yourself with beautiful things, and a lovely, cozy scent for the home, one that envelops you like a warm embrace as soon as you walk into the door, beckoning you into the quiet, peaceful refuge that is home, is no exception.

Inspired by the sea breeze of the Mediterranean and the lush gardens of Tuscany,
Antica Farmacista creates gorgeously-designed scents ranging from super romantic florals to sharp green notes to warm, woodsy spices. I love Santorini (think crisp and green, with a spicy masculine edge) and Magnolia, Orchid & Mimosa (sweet and delicate white florals). In celebration of my new apartment, I went out on a limb and chose a scent I hadn't used before: the marine-and-citrus-infused Aria, which I find to be the perfect fresh scent to wake up to every morning. I imagine it's what sleeping next to an open bedroom window looking out onto the sparkling Mediterranean--otherwise, heaven--would be like. What I also like about this line, apart from the myriad havenly smells to choose from, is that the fragrances come in the form of reed diffusers, which I'm becoming increasingly more attached to, rather than, say, candles. With the former, you don't have to A. worry about your house burning down and B. can enjoy the lingering scent of your choice for several months at a time.

Antica Farmacista is also available on the Nordstrom website.

June 1, 2009

On their last stem

These lovely tulies have hung around for 10 days now and look as though they're on their last stem. I think they've grown as attached to me as I have to them, as they appear to be hanging on for dear life.

And here they are in the blush of their youth.