Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from Our House to Yours!

This year, Lars and Anders were charged with the task of creating a Thanksgiving centerpiece.  I was expecting a turkey of some sort -- I printed a photo of a wild turkey off the internet and suggested construction paper, pine cones, and other craft supplies as mediums for consideration.  The boys were up in the toy room for hours, and they did build a turkey out of K-Nex (kind of like Tinkertoys), but they also surprised us with this Lego creation.  How cool is that?  If Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Darth Vader, Yoda and Dr. Octopus can all set aside their differences and come together to break bread and give thanks, there's hope for the Universe yet.  Oh, and they are grilling their turkey, by the way -- Lars says that Darth Vader is manning the barbecue. 

Although I felt like I was playing catch-up for the last week, we did manage to pull off our traditional Ridiculously Complicated Feast this year, thanks to Bernie taking on more of the advance preparation than usual.  There were: Spiced Pecans, Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Thyme Gravy; Wild Rice, Spiced Pecan & Apple Stuffing; Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes with Horseradish; and Cranberry Citrus Compote (all from the October 1998 issue of Fine Cooking magazine, and reappearing on our Thanksgiving table every year since), and the Cinnamon Molasses Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Crust from the December 1999 issue of Bon Appetit, also a family ritual.  We skipped the Buttercup Squash Soup this year and tried out two new vegetable recipes instead, a Pomegranate-Balsamic Glazed Carrots (a keeper) and a Green Beans with Crispy Pancetta, Mushrooms & Shallots (not so much), both from the September 2009 issue of Fine Cooking.  Place cards are courtesy of Lars-of-Ours.

We learned some important lessons this year, such as that Harris Teeter closes at 2 PM on Thanksgiving Day, Food Lion closes at 3 PM, but Bi-Lo is open until 7 PM.  We also learned that it is best to provide more spousal supervision when it comes to Thanksgiving grocery shopping, so that no one would have to go racing out to the store for horseradish on Thanksgiving Day in the first place.

Notes to Myself for Next Year:
  1. Stop being such a baby about the pie crust.  It's not as big a deal as you think it is, and the homemade pecan pie crust is definitely worth the effort.
  2. It would be better if guests didn't arrive until after the bird is in the oven, when I've transformed back to my human self.
  3. Don't forget to plan a light lunch for Thanksgiving Day.
  4. Did you order Christmas cards yet?!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One Designer Fearlessly Battles an Onslaught of Discontinued Fabrics & Trims

Ugh.  That's it; ugh!!  The Great Recession is wreaking havoc in the design industry.  It's not just a question of clients not wanting to buy anything -- even when you have clients wanting to place orders, you have to deal with an unprecedented epidemic of discontinued, unobtainable fabrics and trims.  Fabric and trim mills are going out of business all over the world, and no one wants to keep stock of anything but the most popular, most ordinary fabrics in their inventory so back orders and lead times are out of control.

If you missed my post back in August about how I'm having a discontinued fabric recreated through custom embroidery for a client's master bath project, you can read about it here.  Then in September, I showed you the first stitched sample of the custom embroidered motif on our drapery fabric here.  I selected a darker embroidery thread color in shinier rayon instead of polyester thread and asked the digitizer to make some changes in the way the computerized embroidery machine stitches out the design, and I just got the revised sample in yesterday's mail from the embroiderer.  Much better!

Discontinued fabric on top, two most recent samples of custom embroidery below
I'm very pleased with the way the design is looking now.  The puckering has been virtually eliminated, our thread color is an exact match to the chocolate brown velvet trim, and our new design has better thread coverage and more of a three-dimensional quality than the original design had.  It looks like a beautifully stitched custom monogram motif, exactly what I expected when I hired Richards Jarden of Embroidery Arts to digitize the design for me.  I'm going to give the embroiderer, Kadire Biberaj of European Design, the okay to proceed with embroidering the silk yardage with the revised design.

However, no sooner do I figure out how to get around this discontinued fabric crisis than a discontinued trim rears its ugly head and tries to sabotage another favorite design!  Remember the amazing game room project that I'm working on recreating for the same client, whose home is being rebuilt and remodeled in the wake of a summer house fire? 

Original Game Room Drapery Treatment, Pre-Disaster

We reordered the exact same fabrics and trims for this room back in late August, and the distinctive metallic wrapped bead trim from Kravet was supposed to be a current pattern, just backordered.  I need 45 yards of this stuff for the lead (inside vertical) edges of all the drapery panels in this room, as well as for the horizontal bottom edge of the little door valance. 

Fabricut black silk velvet for drapery panels, graphic woven cornice fabric from Lee Jofa
I waited and waited, and when I called to check on the backorder status I was told that this particular trim had been sourced from a trim mill in South Africa that had gone out of business.  Kravet was looking for another mill to supply the trim, and once they had approved samples from the new trim, my order could be produced and shipped.  Then last week I got the call of doom from Kravet informing me that they cannot find another trim mill with the capability to produce this trim, and it is discontinued.  Period.  Have a nice day.  May we suggest your grandmother's silk tassel fringe instead?

This was not an easy trim to substitute, and I spent days searching every source I could think of.  Then I stumbled across this Stroheim & Romann metallic wrapped bead trim that turns out to have come from the exact same South African trim mill as the original trim -- but Stroheim still has enough of this trim in stock for my project:

Now, how cool is that?!  No, we don't have the black and cream header anymore, but I like the larger, more elongated bronze wrapped beads even better than the squatty little beads on the original trim.  Also, since the replacement furniture that has been ordered for this room is even more contemporary than the original furnishings, eliminating the black and cream chevron tape will result in a cleaner, sleeker window treatment.  The new trim is going to be sewn in-seam this time instead of top applied to the edges of the drapery panels, so the header braid will be completely hidden in the seam allowance and nothing will show except the beads.  It will look something like this:

That red silk fabric is for several throw pillows that will be scattered on the big, black sectional for splashes of color.

Come on, Discontinued Dragon!  Bring it on!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Good Dog, Carl: German Rottweilers are On My Mind

Hulda, female from Guardian Rottweilers
Okay, so I'm not rushing out to buy a puppy today, or tomorrow, or even next month.  No crazy puppy-for-Christmas schemes are hatching in my mind.  But my husband and I have been discussing adding a dog to our household off and on for the last few months, and we're leaning heavily towards a Rottweiler.

Me &Byron in 1998 (nope, that's not my natural haircolor, either!)
It has been a long time since we have had a dog in our household.  Our last dog was a Golden Retriever named Byron Fussy that I had impulsively purchased at a puppy store while still in college, and he exhibited all of the health issues that are so common with irresponsibly bred "puppy mill" dogs: severe hip displasia and arthritis that rendered him lame after even a brief, leisurely walk around the neighborhood, extreme thunderstorm anxiety that had him racing around the house in a panic every time it stormed, trying to jump through windows to escape (even after we'd given him the doggy Valium prescribed by the vet), skin problems, digestive problems requiring special dogfood.  He even lacked some of the major breed characteristics that Golden Retrievers are supposed to have: he refused to go in the water, and didn't want to retrieve anything.  If we threw a ball or a frisbee, he'd turn his head to follow the path of the object and then look back at us as if to say, "I'm not your errand boy; get your own ball if you want it!"  Despite his issues and shortcomings, however, we loved Byron Fussy and cared for him faithfully for over twelve years.  It was difficult to lose him, and with two small children in diapers at the time, we didn't rush out to buy another dog.  We've been a dogless household for the last seven years.

So, why now, and why a Rottweiler? 

1. Well, for one thing, Bernie travels a lot for business.  The boys are in second grade and fourth grade, so they are not as hands-on, high-maintenance as they were when they were in diapers, and they are in school all day long.  Although I do work full time, I work from home -- and it's quiet here when Bernie's out of town.  It would be nice to have the company of a dog during the day. 

2. Secondly, when Bernie's not traveling, he also works from home.  The dog would very infrequently be left alone, since one or the other of us is almost always at the house.  I used to hate having to leave Byron Fussy alone day after day when we left for work, but we have a lot more to offer a dog now than we did back then in terms of the time and attention we could invest in the dog.

3. There have been a lot of break-ins in the area over the past year.  A few weeks ago, a car with a couple of men in it were scoping out our house while I was here alone, parked outside in the cul-de-sac, discussing and pointing, then drove away only to return 20 minutes later and park and again apparently discussing how to break in.  I stepped out onto the front steps so they could see me, my heart pounding, and took their picture with my iPhone, then jumped back in the house, locked the door, set the alarm, and called 911.  The car sped away after I took the picture, and the police came but did not apprehend them.  Later, when I told Bernie about the incident, he remembered seeing the exact same car parked in our cul-de-sac earlier that morning while he was packing suitcases into his car in our driveway before he left on his business trip.  Great, isn't it?!  Just last weekend, a home on the other side of our neighborhood was robbed in broad daylight on Saturday afternoon by men in a different car who had apparently been watching the home, because they pulled up and broke in through the back door almost immediately after the family left to run some errands.  I would feel a lot safer in my home knowing that any would-be-burglers scoping out a target would be intimidated by the Rottweiler and move on to some other house instead.

4. "Aren't those dogs dangerous," you may ask?  Well, they are large, strong, powerful, and naturally protective of their home and family, but if they are properly trained, well socialized, and supervised, it turns out that they can be wonderful family pets.  Responsible breeders like the former female police officer and mother who owns Guardian Rottweilers in Indiana (the source of all the Rottweilers featured in this post) intentionally produce Rotties who are family-friendly and good with small children.  However, if bad guys smashed in windows or doors at the back of my house, a Rottwieler would not greet them with love and affection the way my Golden Retriever probably would have -- and I think most burglars would move on as soon as they realized there was a Rottweiler on guard. 

Sango from Guardian Rottweilers
5. We need to be getting more exercise.  Because exercise is something that's just for me, I tend to put it at the bottom of the list after things like laundry, food shopping, helping the kids with homework, working on clients' projects, etc.  I used to enjoy going on long walks with Bernie before he started traveling so much, and I don't enjoy walking or jogging alone.  Knowing that the dog was counting on me for exercise, and knowing that a Rottweiler needs to get that exercise every day to be well-behaved and obedient, would help me move those daily walks up to the top of my list.  Then I'd start to see all the benefits I'm missing from exercise myself, like more energy, a more positive outlook, not feeling like an old lady when I get all tuckered out from climbing the stairs, etc.

Carl the Rottweiler looks after the baby in Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
6. Remember the wordless picture book by Alexandra Day, Good Dog, Carl?  Obviously I'm not going to leave any dog alone with a baby, let alone a Rottweiler, but still.  I read this book easily a thousand times to my sons when they were little, and I'm sure it contributes to the warm fuzzy feeling I have toward the breed.

7. Rottweilers are beautiful!  Look at these gorgeous puppies that are currently available from Guardian Rottweilers:

Apollo, male
Audrey, female
This is by no means a definite.  I still want to do a lot more research about the breed, and find a breeder and local trainer that I'm comfortable with.  If we bring a dog into our family again, it's really important to me that the dog is extremely well-trained and well-behaved, no matter what breed it is.  No knocking down visitors to lick their faces, no begging at the dinner table, no jumping up on furniture and beds and refusing to make room for humans.  There will need to be puppy obedience classes and probably one-on-one sessions with a trainer, preferably one who has lots of experience with the breed. 

Initially we were thinking of getting two dogs from the same litter, but I'm having second thoughts about that as I consider the possibility of walking two dogs by myself, each weighing a hundred pounds.  It's probably a better idea to start out with one and see how that goes before adding a second dog, since you don't really know in the beginning what the individual dog's personality will turn out to be.  Some dogs are more challenging than others.  I would also need to get a fence installed around our back yard first, and I think that the best timing for bringing home a puppy would be the start of summer vacation when our schedules slow down.

Still, it's fun to think about!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Artistic Miscarriage: Clarification, & Sneak Peak at a New Design In Progress!

First off, I'd like to clarify a few things about yesterday's post -- there are no sour grapes here. Candace Phelps' 1920's inspired design for Vision magazine is beautiful, original, and deserves to be published. I've never participated in one of these challenges before, and I may have misunderstood the rules of the game going into this (I thought only one designer was working on each decade, and did not realize that other designs would be competing against mine for publication).  I'm not looking to cast blame or to complain about the ways of the world, and I'm certainly not trying to say that my design was better than the one the editors selected.

My objective for that post was to recycle my design entry, making lemons into lemonade so my efforts would not have been a total waste. Whatever anyone else thought about it, I really liked my design.  I enjoyed working on it so much that I was bummed that it wasn't a real project that I would ever get to see installed in a client's home.  I thought that sharing the design in my blog was a good way to share with my readers what goes into my design process, as well as a chance to discuss the way that creative people like myself can identify so personally with our work that a rejection of the work can feel like a rejection of self -- and that's something so many of us can relate to. It's easier to talk up our successes than our failures in the blogosphere, especially for those who are blogging as an extension of their businesses.  Since mine is a personal blog that only touches on business occasionally (you'll notice you don't see my full name or business name anywhere, and that's deliberate), I thought it would be the perfect forum to discuss dealing constructively with setbacks.  I appreciate all of your kind comments and supportive emails.  Thank you!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...  I'm knee-deep (literally -- you should see my office!) in the midst of working on a new design for a very elegant formal living room for a client who loves exquisite textiles almost as much as I do.  Here's a sneak peak at the fabrics and trim I'm using for this project:
Look at this beautiful lustrous bead trim from JAB Anstoetz.  Those are real pearls, not painted plastic:
... I'm so excited!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Artistic Miscarriage: The Design Not Chosen

Mood Board for the 1920's WFCP Color Challenge

It happens to the best of us.  You pour out your heart and soul into a design for a client, spending hours searching for the perfect chair, the perfect fabric, the perfect sconce.  Every element of the design, every detail, is carefully selected to complement and contribute to the design as a whole.  It feels great to put the finishing touches on the design rendering, knowing that all of the client's needs and objectives have been met, sure that you've exceeded her expectations and come up with a concept that she will be as excited about as you are...  Except that sometimes the client just doesn't go for the design.  Maybe it's too expensive, and they don't want to drain the college funds to pay for it, in which case you have to find a less expensive fabric, eliminate costly trim, or substitute a more affordable light fixture.  Perhaps the client just doesn't like the painting you selected, or wants a sofa with a different arm style.  In which case, you revise and hopefully get it right the second time around.

Recently I was given the opportunity to participate in a WFCP design challenge for Window Fashion Vision, an online and print magazine in which my work has previously been published.  The design challenge was to create a fictitious room elevation and window treatment design inspired by a particular decade in American history, incorporating the Colors of the Decade provided by Benjamin Moore.  The only rules given were that you had to use the colors on your mood board and that your design was supposed to be inspired by your decade, but updated to be appropriate for a modern client.  The challenge was presented as "first come, first choose," and I was delighted to be assigned the 1920s.  The colors on my mood board were kind of weak and sickly, not my first choice, but I was determined to do the best with them that I could.

Well, anyone who knows me won't be surprised that I put many, many hours into this project, while my husband kept asking me, "Why are you doing this again?  They aren't paying you for this, are they?"  I researched the decade extensively, not just a quick google search or two, either -- I read entire books like Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression by David E. Kyvig, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz, and Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's by Frederick Lewis Allen, originally published in 1931 when the Roaring 'Twenties were still fresh in everyone's memory.  I wanted to dig deep into the decade and distill my own essence of the era before extrapolating and updating the inspiration decade in my design for a modern client.

Madonna, Pop Icon, Modern Flapper, and Collector of Art Deco Paintings
Now, in real life, the biggest influence in any of my designs is always my clients' personal style.  When I learned that the Material Girl herself collects the iconic 1920's-era Art Deco paintings by flapper artist Tamara de Lempicka, I knew Madonna would be the perfect fictitious client for this project.  Her bubblegum even goes with my mood board!

I was asked to submit "a few paragraphs" telling the story behind my design, and this is what I submitted:

Looking back 90 years later, biased by our knowledge of the impending Great Depression and the horrors of World War II lurking just around the corner, it’s easy to oversimplify the 1920s as a decade of flappers, speakeasies and frivolous binging that was inevitably followed by the collapse and come-uppance of the stock market crash at the end of 1929. Yet, to those who lived through this decade, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead, the 1920s must have been an incredibly exciting and terrifying time to be alive. Just imagine: The Great War has just ended, and Europeans and Americans are celebrating peace and focusing on rebuilding and renewal. In the United States, we’re so sure this peace will last that our Senate rejects membership in the League of Nations. Also in 1920, the 19th Amendment went into effect after ratification by the 36th state, finally brought the vote to American women after 150 years of struggle on the part of the suffragists. However, the changes in women’s political status, opportunities, and fashions were deeply disturbing to many Americans, particularly among older Americans, those living in rural areas, and in the South (I was horrified to discover that North Carolina did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1972!). The New Woman of the 1920s was not as welcome outside of the big cities, and her risqué clothing, independence, and flagrant sexuality were viewed by many as androgynous or even dangerous.

Almost a century later, American women are still struggling to balance our professional ambitions with our romantic and maternal instincts, to find that equilibrium between power and femininity, to figure out just what it means – and what it doesn’t have to mean – to be a woman. So for this design challenge, I wanted to create a luxurious, feminine, but empowering retreat for today’s American woman, inspired by the aspirations and contradictions of the New Woman of the 1920s.

Portrait de Madame Allan Bott by Tamara de Lempicka

Art Deco exploded artistically in the 1920s, and although I adore Coco Chanel and industrial designer Donald Deskey, I turned to Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka for the chief creative catalyst for my design. Portrait de Madame Allan Bott presents the New Woman of the 1920s against a backdrop of harsh urban skyscrapers, her skin soft and sensual, but her expression chiseled and impersonal. She’s dressed in a feminine embroidered silk dress, draped and flowing and skimming over her curves, but I was struck by how muscled and strong her bare arms and shoulders look – so different from the traditional feminine ideal of the 19th century, yet so remarkably similar to the more athletic ideal woman of the 21st century. Once I found this painting, everything else fell into place.

My 1920's inspired Fantasy Room Elevation

I chose the arched window shape and the geometric limestone fireplace surround as a nod to Art Deco architecture a la Deskey’s Radio City Music Hall on the Inspiration Board. My lambrequin design is from Jackie Von Tobel’s The Design Directory of Window Treatments. I just love how the sensuous lines of this lambrequin shape echo the curve of the raised shoulder in my painting, and I deliberately allowed some of the window molding to peek out on the short sides of the cornices above the swags because it felt risqué and accidental-on-purpose to do so, like the model’s knee peeking out from the folds of her dress. The face fabric on the lambrequins is a knife pleated, subtly patterned silk incorporating the blues and greens from the inspiration board and is the same fabric I used on the sofa. The strong vertical lines of the lambrequin pleats, as well as the vertically striped silk and velvet fabric on the bases and inside backs of the French tub chairs, are intended to echo the strong vertical lines of the cityscape in the painting’s background. The seat cushions are in a green silk velvet pulled from one of the stripes in the main chair fabric, and that’s as close as I got to color AF465 Wind Chime (I think the nurse’s office of my elementary school was painted that color, and when I look at that shade of green for longer than a minute I feel ill).

Because this design is pure fantasy, I found a single vintage Art Deco rhinestone brooch on eBay to substitute for rosettes or medallions on the window treatments, and fantasized that I could find six identical brooches to secure my swag valances to the lambrequins. I suppose if this was a real-life design I would have had to use reproduction costume jewelry instead. The swag valance is a lightweight, self-lined iridescent silk charmeuse, without interlining, and it might need a little tag gun magic on installation day to train the folds and a couple of drapery weights in the tips of the cascades. The drapery panels are in a fabulous three-dimensional embroidered silk fabric from Vervain that reminded me of the dress fabric in the painting, interlined with bump, and I used color AF610 Batik for my welt cord on the lambrequins. The banding on the lambrequins is a matte silk satin in a deeper shade of color AF670 Nightingale. My walls are in color AF55 Sonnet and the baseboards, crown molding and window trim are all painted color AF490 Tranquility. I found a beautiful hand-woven cotton and wool area rug from Lee Jofa called Mayapple, with the pale pinks and blues of the inspiration board against a neutral background, and something about the happy little circle motifs on this carpet reminded me of the patchwork quilts from the 1920's. I love to play fast and loose with pattern mixing anyway, partly because of my personal quilting fetish, but also because I like to use a lot of high end silks and other formal fabrics in my designs but I don’t want to create rooms that feel too formal to relax in. Mixing multiple patterns and avoiding the “matching look” as much as possible helps to take the edge off formal fabrics, makes a room seem more comfortable psychologically, and injects playful energy into my designs.

I knew early on that I wanted to select light fixtures from Fine Art Lamps’ Beveled Arcs collection for this design challenge. The innovative curved crystal prisms in this collection are a perfect example of the impact of technology on design, and the muted silver finish on the crystal sconces and the mirror-topped metal end tables are my updated interpretation of the chrome that was all the rage in the 1920's. The vase of calla lilies on the far right reminded me of my grandmother’s wedding bouquet, and the disheveled stack of books indicates that someone does a lot of reading in these chairs by the fire. Finally, the romantic in me couldn’t resist – I found a circa 1920 bronze sculpture of a pair of dancers that was auctioned off recently at Christie’s (on the console behind the sofa) and decided to further accessorize my fantasy interior with champagne for two and a little blue box from Tiffany’s. I liked the dichotomy between the tough girl in the painting who doesn’t seem to need anyone and the tenderness of the little bronze dancer, content for all time to be locked in a loving, supporting embrace.

Here's a closer look at some of the fabrics and other goodies I used in this design:

Paesaggio fabric in Celadon from Vervain, used on sofa and on lambrequin cornices

Fleurs de Mer-BD fabric in Peridot, from the Barry Dixon collection for Vervain, used for drapery panels

Greenland Sea silk fabric from Beacon Hill in Mimosa, used on seat cushions and outside backs of tub chairs

Beveled Arcs sconce from Fine Art Lamps
Faux Calla Lilly arrangement from Natural Decorations, Inc.
"Manier" limestone fireplace mantel from François & Co.
So I submitted my design to the editors, pulling an all-nighter to get everything finessed and perfected in time to meet the deadline, and waited nervously for the October issue of Vision to come out so I could see my design in print.  Then I waited another month, because for some reason they didn't publish this piece until November.  Then I finally saw the article in print... and my design was not there.  There was another design published for the 1920's instead:

from the November 2010 issue of Window Fashion Vision magazine
The winning design belongs to Candace Phelps of CPDC Décor.  I've never met Candace, but our mutual friends tell me that she's a wonderful person.  I'm sure she worked as hard on her design as I did on mine, and is justifiably proud to see her work in print.  Congratulations, Candace! 

What disappointed me most about this is that, unlike with a real project with a real client, I never got any feedback on my design.  No one told me what they didn't like about it and I didn't get a chance to make revisions.  I can speculate that maybe they wanted brighter colors for a more attention-grabbing spread in the magazine (although I thought that using the colors from the mood board was the whole point of the challenge)or that they didn't like the lower-resolution product images I incorporated in my design because they would not have printed well in the magazine, but I really don't know where I missed the mark for sure.  Anyway, that's the way the cookie crumbles.  At the end of the day, my husband was right -- it was foolish of me to put so much time and effort into an imaginary project, especially when I have so many other things on my plate right now.  Also, I had misunderstood the terms of the challenge -- I didn't realize that multiple designers were all vying for the same decade; I thought that I was the only one working on the 1920s decade so I was really shocked to see someone else's design published instead of mine.

A friend of mine suggested I turn this lemon into a lemonade blog post, so that's what I've done.  I don't need to have my design published in a magazine, but I really love what I did for this challenge and I wanted to share it with someone.  From here on out, I think I'll stick to creating designs for real clients who value my ideas enough to pay me for them.  So take that, Madonna!

$80 Down the Drain: Psychotic School Portrait Photographers Strike Again!

So, it's that time of year again, when the school pictures come home and all the proud mommies and daddies are posting them up on Facebook for friends and family to admire.  My kids' school pictures came home last week, too -- $80 is what I spent between the two of them, for 8" x 10" and 5" x 7" prints to go in frames on our mantel and to be passed out to grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  Well, this year, the school pictures are not going to be passed out to anyone.  They will be shredded and destroyed.  The only thing they are good for is a few laughs, and I thought I'd share that fun with you in case you thought YOUR kid's picture was bad this year.

First up, my adorable little Anders.  A second-grader.  ALL second graders are cute, and it is practically impossible to take an ugly picture of a cute little second-grader -- unless you are a highly trained, professional school photographer, that is:

Anders' School Picture, Second Grade 2010

Don't these photographers have a digital preview feature on their cameras?  How could anyone think that was a decent picture?!  It's a grimace, for crying out loud.  One wonders if the photographer's assistant was dismembering bunny rabbits in the background, and the photographer yelled, "You'd better smile, kid, or we'll do the same to you!" before snapping the picture.

Picture of Anders taken the same week as the school photo
It's not like Anders isn't photogenic, either -- he looks great in every picture except the one they took at school.  How did they manage to make him look so emaciated and sickly?  I thought the camera was supposed to add ten pounds, not subtract them!  Do school photographers have a special software editing program for that?

Next up is the older brother, Lars-of-Ours.  He looks dangerous in this picture, like he might bite you, doesn't he?  And again, when they saw this picture in the preview pane, why didn't they take another one?  I'll tell you why -- it's because parents have to purchase the portrait packages before picture day, without seeing a proof.  No one cares if it's a good picture or not because they already have your money.  Grrr...  And why didn't anyone think to ask him to take off his jacket before they took the picture? 

Lars's School Picture, Fourth Grade 2010
Can we all just scream together?!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHGHGHKKKK!!!!!! 

This is what my sweet little boys really look like.  Can anyone recommend a good portrait photographer in the Charlotte, North Carolina area? 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Look What I Bought! Whimsical Happy Flower Head Artwork to Perk Up My Office Walls

I just found a terrific new-to-me watercolor artist via the Cote de Texas design blog!  Take a gander at the prints I selected for my office a few minutes ago:
Flower Head on Black by Harrison Howard
Flower Head Lady by Harrison Howard

Rendezvous at Night by Harrison Howard
Parasol in the Air by Harrison Howard
Now I'm really going to be stalking the delivery trucks!  To see more of Harrison Howard's work, visit his web site here.  He's running a 25% off sale on his limited edition prints that ends tomorrow.

I purchased a few oil paintings at High Point Market last month, too, and those are supposed to be delivered tomorrow morning.  Also, my in-laws brought me a beautiful Delacroix print when they visited us a few days ago.  It's one of two prints that I had always admired in their New Jersey dining room, and I have to reframe them before hanging.  And poor Bernie has to relocate the doorbell and thermostat, because our builder apparently was not thinking about wallspace for artwork when he stuck those ugly boxes there. 

I'm really looking forward to getting all of this beautiful artwork up on the walls so we can enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barnes & Noble's New Nook Color STILL has No Parental Controls or Password Protection

New Nook Color from Barnes & Noble
Someday, someone is going to come out with a genuinely child-friendly e-reader device -- but sadly, it hasn't happened yet. By child-friendly, I mean the device must have some means of allowing parents to control access to the internet and the purchase and download of new material to the device. It could be as simple as adding the option of password protection to access these features on the device, or more sophisticated parental control options that would restrict access only to adult themed or inappropriate content. Whoever comes up with this truly child-friendly device first is going to make a LOT of money.
When I first heard that Barnes & Noble was promoting their new Nook Color device for child readers, I hoped this meant they had added parental control features.  They have a whole page on their web site dedicated to promoting the Nook Color for use by children

 However, the fact that picture books look great on a Nook Color is completely irrelevant when the Nook has wide-open access to the World Wide Web – no parent in their right mind is going to buy that for an elementary school child whose favorite Google search keywords are “butt” and “poop.” Furthermore, when it comes to downloading content to the Nook, parents like me are concerned that our second-graders might browse the unfiltered online bookstore out of curiosity and impulsively purchase and download all kinds of questionable content without parental knowledge or approval – and we’d get an unpleasant surprise when the credit card statement came in the mail. Allowing at least the OPTION to password-protect internet browsing and/or purchasing new content on the Nook (adult users who found the feature annoying could perhaps turn off the password protection) would make the Nook the ONLY truly child-friendly e-reader on the market. If the Nook Color had those features right now, I would pre-order them today as Christmas gifts for my two sons, as would countless other like-minded parents of school aged children.

There is a huge untapped market potential here. Parents are already buying children similarly-priced Nintendo DSi personal gaming systems, yet the potential educational benefits of an e-reader device makes the price tag a lot more palatable to parents. We feel guilty about allowing our kids to play video games too much, but so many parents are really struggling to find ways to get our children reading more. Look at how successful the Leapster and Leap Pad technology has been for preschool aged children – an e-reader with parental controls would be a logical next step for beginning readers, something kids could use from kindergarten through college.

Kids love electronics and take to them intuitively, and do not have the same biases towards “real” books that keep many adult readers away from e-readers. Furthermore, I really believe that e-readers are the way of the future, and suspect that my sons will have most if not all of their textbooks and supplemental reading on a digital device by the time they get to college, so it makes sense for kids to get comfortable with the technology now. I let my boys play with the Nook at the bookstore, and they thought it was SO cool. I was really disappointed that no one at Barnes & Noble seems to have considered a child end-user when designing the Nook.

The "Read to Me" feature on the Nook Color is a great idea for early readers, but that's only the beginning of what electonic reading devices could do to help children with reading.  If Barnes & Noble does decide to make the Nook more child-friendly, there are a couple more features on the wish lists of parents like me:

1. The schools today are prescribing nightly reading – 30 minutes per day – as part of students’ homework. If the nook could track how long a child has been reading, or how many words he or she has read, both during the current session as well as an “all time total,” that would help with tracking reading for homework and would also be really motivating to the kids (“You have read a total of 836 minutes and over 500,000 words!”).

2. I don’t know whether the Nook has this capability yet or not (I know that when I use the Barnes & Noble reading app on my iPhone I have it), but the ability to point at a word and get a definition instantly would be enormously helpful to children who are supposed to go get a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, but they never do because it’s too much of a hassle and who knows where the dictionary is, anyway?

Of the major players in the e-reader arena, Barnes & Noble is probably my favorite for kids because of the ability to share material between devices. Right now, if I buy a traditional paperback or hardcover book (who am I kidding – I never buy just one!), as soon as the first boy has finished it, his brother wants to read it. Sharing is a huge plus for families with more than one child, because we don’t want to have to pay two or three times to download the same Magic Treehouse book to two or three different devices.

I last blogged about e-Readers for children back in April (click here for that post in case you missed it) , and I’ve been amazed to see how many people have landed on that blog post after searching the internet to find an e-reader that would be appropriate for their children. Just today someone emailed me about that post, wondering whether I knew if the new Nook Color would have parental controls or password protection. After calling Barnes & Noble Technical Support to confirm, I was very disappointed to learn that we still can’t buy Nooks for children. There is definitely an unserved market here. Please let me know if or when you release a child-friendly Nook, because I want to be first in line to buy two of them!

Update, December 2011: We ended up buying Amazon Kindles for our boys about six months ago, and you can read about how they're working out for us here

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween 2010

Every year, we hurry through dinner on Halloween, then the kids frantically scramble into their costumes as the doorbell starts going bananas with the early crowd of trick-or-treaters.  I'm dashing to the door to hand out candy with a camera around my neck, imploring my restless cowboys to hold still for a picture as they duck out the door and into the night.

But THIS year, we had tickets to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's Lollipops children's concert series, so we got the boys in costume on Saturday morning for the Thrills and Chills Halloween Spooktacular concert at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.  It was a chance to test out the lipliner "scar" on Lars-as-Harry-Potter's forehead, as well as the orange spray powder for the hair of Anders-as-Ron-Weasley.  The concert was lots of fun, and I got my photo ops in afterward before the security guard came and scolded us for taking pictures.  Apparently there is no photography allowed in the skywalk between the Bank of America building and the Belk -- who knew?

 Bernie and the boys carved their pumpkins outside by the fire pit on Saturday night.  Anders drew his face and Bernie carved his pumpkin, but this was the first year that Lars got to do his own carving.  He enjoyed it A LOT!

 Then on Sunday, after church, all the kids changed into costume and went out "trick-or-treating" in the early afternoon to collect groceries for the local Loaves and Fishes food pantry, followed by a Halloween party at the youth choir director's home (we love you, Glenda!).  I got this group photo of all the kids before they left the church:

It was about 3:30 when we got the kids home from the party, and then we watched It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Hulu...

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1966
...followed by an old VHS tape of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Not sure what that had to do with Halloween, but the boys enjoyed the ferocious rabbit with pointy teeth and the Knights Who Say Nih!

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975
My husband cooked a delicious dinner of pork loin with sweet potatoes, then donned a purple-and-black witch's wig and black cloak before taking my little wizards trick-or-treating while I stayed behind to pass out candy.  All in all, it was a pretty good Halloween.

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