April 2nd, 2015

Must Reads

It was a long summer drive from one side of Wisconsin to the other side, and so I decided to fill up some of the quiet miles by telling my family about a book I was working my way through and just starting to get the hang of. Life After Life.

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The story tracks an unusual British girl named Ursula through various lives she could have led, or may have led, or did lead, in the ominous years leading up to World War II. As the story repeatedly resets both itself and when/where/who precisely our heroine is, initially the novel is a challenge to track and to attach emotionally to. But then once you do, you really do.

Every couple weeks I’d bring Hurly and my niece up to date on how Ursula had recently been living and dying, and literally every time I retold her unfolding tales to them, I’d have to pause for moments on end in order for my heart and throat to cooperate long enough to turn my stifled sobs into actual words.

My ceaseless near-tears weren’t so much centered around sadness in the story but around the humanity and warmth that radiates through the book no matter how grimly war and death continue closing in around Ursula’s world/s.

For deja vu and flukes and fate might haunt us all and lead us seemingly far off course at times, but Ursula’s soul has a compass, it becomes clear. Nothing can tamper with it for her (or, I’d like to now think, for any of us).

Life After Life is a thick, heart-throbbing mega-treasure and you must spend your April reading it!

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The author Kate Atkinson, must’ve been as moved and inspired by the characters in the novel as I was because she’s releasing a sequel/companion story to Life After Life titled A God in Ruins which, if you do your assigned April homework, you’ll be ready for upon its release on May 5.

Ruins shifts the narrative focus to Ursula’s beloved little brother Teddy. I’m not sure if his life and times will reset, over and over, as Ursula’s did. Either way, he’s now coming to terms with a post-war life he seemingly was destined to never have.

I can’t wait to spend time with Ursula and Teddy and their friends and family again. There’s a dog running around their story too. It always gets named Lucky.

    January 13th, 2015

    Reflecting

    One of the coolest gifts I received over Christmas was this Easy Mirror from American Design Club.

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    Made of a single sheet of polished stainless steel, you simply pop the leg backwards, peel off the protective film, and end up with one ultra-modern reflecting pane to pose yourself in front of.

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    As edgy and awesome as my new mirror is, I’m so far having a heck of a time finding a table/dresser/surface worthy of its austere chicness.

      January 8th, 2015

      Under A Single Sun: Arcosanti

      Hurly’s been bee-ishly busy lately so the lull between Christmas and New Year’s was our only opportunity for a winter getaway this year. We flew to Phoenix mostly so we could check out an otherworldly architectural/anthropological experiment called Arcosanti.

      RTH shot a video lookbook for their clothing/accessories line there last spring and when I first viewed it I thought they had somehow shot in on Luke Skywalker’s home planet. Had two suns appeared in the sky, I wouldn’t have been surprised – that’s how surreal and sublime the place looked.

      But Arcosanti isn’t in a galaxy far far away. Just a three hour plane ride and a 70 minute drive was all it took for us two earthlings to arrive.

      #rthonetrippassarcosanti from Jay Carroll on Vimeo.

      And, in person, in color, it’s not quite so exquisitely utopic. I could show the photos I took, or mention the dozens of tattered thrift stores couches and unwanted VHS copies of Titanic that have come to Arcosanti to gather dust since the mini-city was first formed in 1970. But I’d rather think of Arcosanti the way RTH represented it. Telling the truth through lies of omission is what gives film and life their beauty and their power.

        December 8th, 2014

        Pep Squad

        I saw this sweatshirt on the Hickorees site and its vague goofiness amused me.

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        So I bought it for myself so I could properly front my own One Man Pep Squad. I’m basically a 67-inch tall exclamation point when I pull it on.

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        I’ve had a lot of luck with Hickorees this past year, picking up an expanding stash of Japanese-made sportswear with overtly American undergrad-ish graphics inked across them.

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        They make me look like I’d grown up a member of all sorts of wild and rugged clubs I wasn’t actually quite cut out for.

          November 11th, 2014

          Nicole Portlock Ceramics

          I got really into ceramics the past year and spent a good chunk of change this summer on works from ER Studio and Bari Ziperstein, among other sources.

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          My latest find is the smoke-fired pieces from Nicole Portlock, a ceramist out of Ireland.

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          Like asymmetrical eggs hatched out of the swirliest depths of the milky way, her work is earthy and other-worldly all at once, and my first Portlock piece is due to land in my hands any day now!

            November 10th, 2014

            My Hair’s Holy Grail

            My hair’s short, un-colored, never blow-dried and yet somehow its always incredibly dry. To the touch it honestly doesn’t even feel like human hair, it’s like some brittle broom bristles the Blair Witch would make creepy dream-catchers out of.

            Historically I haven’t ever been much of a conditioner-user, just shampoo, and just once a week. But the conditioners I’ve bothered to bathe with the past few years in an effort to soften my hair haven’t seemed to help all that much.

            Nor has applying coconut oil to my hair, or that Argan Oil of Morocco always on the endcaps at Target, or Aveda’s leave-in conditioner, or indulging in V05 hot oil treatments.

            I mean all these things help a little. But in a way that merely seems to mask my problem temporarily.

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            Then recently I read how Jenna Lyons really liked Sachajuan Intensive Oil for both her son and herself – and the product packaging was minimalist-chic, so I figured it was worth a shot.

            Well, it’s not just worth a shot, it’s worth a whole bonkers blog post. The stuff’s sublime!

            One small, mess-free pump’s worth of it run through my after-bath hair initially gives it a glossy, coated-seeming sheen. (But that’s what the coconut and argan oils did too – just sorta coat my hair to make it slick on the outside, without doing much for the core/overall condition of my hair. At first application, Sachajuan was truthfully leaving me skeptical.)

            But here’s the difference. With Sachajuan, twenty minutes later, the oil’s worked its way off the outside of  your hair and immersed itself within. (Coconut oil never does that. Your head stays like that of a drippy DeBarge band member all day.) The shiny slime of ordinary hair oil vanishes with Sachajuan, and my hair then just feels softer in an organic and inherent and little-kid way – plus it sorta pumps ‘n plumps my hair up, making it feel thicker (which, when pushing 40, is a welcome side-effect).

            There’s no residue, the effects seem to last a few days, so I only feel the need to re-apply a few times a week. It’s just the sweetest, most delicious syrup for my griddle-scorched-seeming head.

              September 4th, 2014

              Metsa Design – Indigo Dyed Henley

              A clothing label named after the Estonian word for “Little house in the forest” automatically has my attention, and possibly half of my heart.

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              Founded by Markus Uran, Metsa Design is neither bolstered nor burdened by the American heritage hullabaloo because it’s a Canadian label basing its aesthetic off a different (national) backstory and brainstorming its own visual narrative.

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              There’s a freedom and freshness to Metsa’s mindset that men on any side of every border would benefit from, I think. A sense of further off horizons, unvisited yet familiar.

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              All of that, I think is especially evident in the first piece from the line that I purchased, an indigo-dyed woven henley. Lightweight and weathered in its coloring, dyed by hand, rinsed (quite possibly) in a cool Canadian lake, it’s a proper piece for summer or fall, be it 1913 or 2014.

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              With a design originally inspired by the day shirts of field hands in South East Asia, cut and then colored in Canada, tagged in Estonian, these handmade henleys are perfectly suited for a British-born half-German living a boundary blurring version of an American life.

                August 28th, 2014

                Summer Getaway – Camp Wandawega

                From Prohibition-era brothel to 1950s lake resort to 1970s summer camp for the children of Latvian Catholics, Camp Wandawega’s been working its woodsy magic on all kinds of folk for almost ninety years now.

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                In its current incarnation, Wandawega’s the semi-private playground of two Chicago-area advertising execs who open up their Moonrise-y Kingdom for wedding parties, clothing catalog shoots, and corporate retreats. Lower-key kids like me just looking for some outdoorsy fun in a Pinterest-worthy paradise can book left-over nights/cabins/beds through AirBnB.

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                Hurly and I and our niece/honorary daughter Kaya booked a Wednesday through Friday stay in the three bedroom “Raccoon” cabin.

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                But we were the only guests at the camp the first night, so our host Joe took us on a lengthy historical tour of every cabin, every guest room, every tree house, every pup tent and every tepee on the site and said we were welcome to sleep wherever we wanted.

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                We ended up sleeping in our assigned cabin both nights, but we napped indulgently one afternoon in the American Indian tepee, and Kaya helped herself to what we goofily called a “hooker’s bath” in the women’s restroom at the old brothel, and we wandered all around Wandawega freely, wowed by the wall-to-wall antiques which were just begging to become the backdrops for photoshoot after faux-catalog-style photoshoot.

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                We enjoyed plenty of un-posed fun too, scout’s honor. From shuffleboard to board games, hatchet throwing to canoe rides, we did everything the spirits in Lake Wandawega could’ve wanted us to.

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                Everyone’s favorite activity was swooping over the lake on the two rope swings. One had a wooden plank on which you could sit and sorta relax. The other was Tarzan-style, set-up for shooting yourself out and into the sorta scarily shallow waters.

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                From the fonts on the front gate, to the travel-sized soaps set atop your beach towels, every aspect of Camp Wandawega resurrects the retro charm and hospitality honed during the golden age of American road-tripping and long since lost.

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                There’s even an old-school souvenir vending machine from which I picked out a Wandawega motor-lodgey keychain and Hurly and Kaya selected an Indian arrowhead necklace.

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                By artfully assembling in one place all the Kodachrome-y, memory-building traditions that family vacations should be made of, as Camp counselor/curators David and Tereasa have, my little troop’s settled on making summer trips to Wandawega a tradition of our own.

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                Next time I hopefully won’t travel three hours back toward Minneapolis before realizing I’ve left my military duffel bag full of Teva’s and T’s from Hickorees back on the bunk beds at our Wisconsin summer home-away-from-home. (D’oh!)

                  August 25th, 2014

                  Gimme Som

                  Being that I don’t drink alcohol and I rarely wanna waste my sugar intake on a bottle of soda pop, my life, beverage-wise, is admittedly pretty dry.

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                  While shopping for birthday gifts earlier this summer I spotted Pok Pok’s Som drinking vinegar, which sounded like just the sort of offbeat and antiquated refreshment I’d be into.

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                  Mixed into water, sparkling water, or liquor-centric cocktails, drinking vinegar has been enjoyed worldwide for centuries as a refreshing, health-boosting tonic.

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                  At the shop where I came upon Som they stocked the Ginger, Thai Basil, and Tamarind flavors, and wanting the most exotic experience possible, I went for Tamarind. Unscrewing the vacation-colored bottle, the scent was incredibly sour. But once I’d mixed it with sparkling mineral water the taste was much closer to a sweet soda, with just a hint of astringence.

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                  I especially like being able to control the amount of sweet ‘n sour I splash into my glass. It’s summer, so it’s nice keeping things on the light side.

                  Som is offered in six additional flavors including Pineapple, Honey, and Blackberry. I’m wondering if they’d be weird or weirdly wonderful poured over ice cream…

                    August 19th, 2014

                    Topo Designs Fleece Jacket

                    About April or so, though I can’t explain exactly why, I decided I should own a sorta norm-core-ish fleece piece. I wanted it tan or teddy-bear colored and tried (and tried and tried) to find an end-of-season Patagonia zip-up that I quite liked. But that just never panned out so I set my eyes on Topo Designs.

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                    Based out of Colorado, Topo’s Made in America mountain-wear treks through the natural-high vibe of 1970s camping gear but with surfy splashes of late 80s and early 90s shades.

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                    Their Coyote-colored fleece pullover was out of stock for most of the spring, and too thick to slip into during the peak of summer. But you can already feel fall in the air round where I live, so this weekend I was finally able to layer up in my Topo. The way it feels in the cool morning wind when the sun shines right on it is sublime – like getting snuggled by cinnamon toast or something.

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                    I don’t think I’ve wanted to wear fleece since 1997, but right now it’s feeling really, really right.

                      August 7th, 2014

                      This “Making of Contra” video makes life worth it.

                      As you will soon see in this new documentary about the creation of a not-that-new-anymore album, Rostam, the band’s smirky keyboard player, blacked out the white letters “YAM” on his favorite little keyboard so that it just reads “AHA” instead.

                      AHA, for sure!

                      The lives of these musical brainiacs are one brilliant lightbulb moment after another and I’m locked in the ultra-bright glow.

                        August 5th, 2014

                        Warby Parker – Waterway Collection

                        I’ve been to the eye doctor no less than seven times in the past eight months. Something’s off with one of my eyelids and so after twenty-five years of wearing contact lenses almost constantly, I’m supposed to stick to a four-eyed life for the foreseeable future and only wear eyeglasses.

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                        It’s never been easy finding frames I’m a fan of, for myself or for my hubby Hurly. But there’s a bunch I’ve found at Warby Parker recently, and today they’re launching a summer-stretching update of some of their popular frames called the Waterway Collection.

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                        Inspired by splashy getaways both near and far, there’s optical and sunwear options ranging in shades as light as sea spray to dark as the ocean floor.

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                        I ordered some stellar Warby Parker x Into The Gloss aviator optical glasses last week that are totally Trigonometry Tutor circa 1982. But I don’t want to squint through what’s left of summer’s shining so some prescription sunglasses are definitely in order.

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                        The Crystal Percey (second image from top) and the Whiskey Tortoise Griffin (above) are the new styles I’m seriously eyeing. Era-less and effortless, I could wear whatever I’d want with either of them.

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                        Obviously I wouldn’t have opted for the eight months of eyelid irritation that’s led to my recent adventures in all-day/all-night eyewear, but the opportunity it’s now provided me to dive into a whole new segment of shopping and accessorizing is just fine and quite fun – allowing and inspiring me to refresh my entire aesthetic through the breezy ease of Warby Parker’s take on eyewear.