I Am a Paint-by-Number Failure

Paint-by-Number: “Every Man a Rembrandt!”

I love the kitschy appeal of vintage paint-by-numbers, the midcentury hobby that attempted to make painting accessible to the masses. While Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock ruled the art world, Craft Master, the original 1950s line of paint-by-number kits, optimistically declared, “Every man a Rembrandt!” This midcentury fad took the world by storm, encouraging everyone — including actress Ethel Merman and most of the Eisenhower White House, including FBI director J Edgar Hoover — to take up painting by numbers.

Charmed by this low-brow art form, I slowly curated my own paint-by-number collection, never actually thinking that completing one could be considered a proud accomplishment . . . until I tried to paint my own.

My Paint-by-Number Collection

Paint-by-Number | Collage1. Landscapes picked up for $0.25 each! 2. A gift 3. Poodles found at an antique store in Southern Illinois for $12  4. Pair of ladies purchased for $30 on Etsy.

The pièce de résistance of my collection is Blue Boy by “artist” Anna S., shown in comparison to the original artwork housed at the Huntington Library and Gardens. It’s so bad it’s good.

Paint-by-Number | Blue Boy1. Blue Boy by Anna S. – $13 (c 1950s) 2. Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough – $728,800 (c1770)

I Am a Paint-By-Number Failure

Somewhere along the line, I figured if I collect paint-by-numbers I ought to at least paint one, I mean how long could it take? I picked up a “Chicadee Perch” kit from Michael’s shortly before I left for New York. One afternoon turned into two and three, where I cussed and fussed over mixing colors and painting precisely. It’s been months, and as you can see, my progress has stalled.

Paint-by-Number | UnfinishedI am a reluctant disgrace to the paint-by-number hobbyists masters who came before me, as I am unable to muster the required endurance to complete even one painting. I stand in strong opposition to The Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s claim that everyday people could discover, “the liberating pleasures of creativity” by completing a paint-by-number kit. On the contrary, this seemingly simple act of painting by the numbers could not be more gruesomely tedious. No longer will I smugly and ironically collect paint-by-numbers. Au contraire, my failure has given me a respect for those who possess the art of persistence in completing their paint-by-numbers.

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How to Plan a Fly by the Seat of Your Pants Road Trip

In October I embarked on a cross country road trip with my dad. This Southern California girl was moving to Upstate New York (WAY upstate, Frances Houseman vacationing at Kellerman’s upstate) for a year to invest in a relationship with my dad, who I met in October 2012. In the weeks leading up to this adventure, we barely had a plan for the route. In reality, ‘barely had a plan’ is a generous exaggeration. There was a nebulous concept of Los Angeles to New York that never quite seemed to flesh itself out despite countless brainstorms in the months leading to departure day.

Road Trip | Route 66My typical approach to traveling involves purchasing at least two travel guides, then poring over them with color coded highlighting and matching post-it tabs. This compulsive planning instinct (e.g., my approach to packing) was nonexistent. I suppose I was distracted and focused on other aspects of the move (saying goodbye to friends, finding an apartment, sorting through ceramic roosters, booking a moving company, and packing) that I never quite got around to perhaps the most important piece: how I would get myself from here to there. What I discovered is that a little adventure and spontaneity allowed for a memorable, once in a lifetime opportunity to travel Route 66 with my dad.

Google to the Rescue

As the panic began to descend I fled to the warm embrace of Google, which rarely fails me. I stumbled upon the beyond helpful Road Trip USA and its detailed descriptions of a bunch of classic cross country travel routes (like the Oregon Trail, Appalachian Trail and Pacific Coast).

Route 66, among the options described, is a road trip by which I’ve always been fascinated. Growing up, my mom daydreamed about driving Route 66, and went so far as to get AAA TripTik maps created. I remember spending many hours with her, studying the maps and planning our pretend Route 66 journey. These memories, combined with Route 66’s rich history, seemed like a perfect inspiration for this journey with my dad. Route 66 wouldn’t get us all the way to New York, but would get us at least to St. Louis or Chicago. We were on to something… Route 66 it was!

Is There an App for That?

With just two days until departure, there was no time to browse through book stores, place an online order, or visit AAA for comprehensive travel information about Route 66. I needed something quick and easy!

Road Trip | Route 66 AppI hunted through the App Store and discovered Road Trip 66 and at just $0.99 it was perfect! The app covered all the roadside attractions, ghost towns, history, landmarks, restaurants, and hotels along the way. Plus it included turn by turn directions and maps, and allows you to bookmark sites of interest along the way. With the app downloaded, away we went!

Roadside Discoveries

With few concrete stops planned, we meandered across the country with the Route 66 app ensuring that we didn’t get too lost. We explored the country slowly, while stopping at anything that looked interesting. It was truly a fly by the seat of our pants road trip, and I can’t imagine having done it any other way. Here are some highlights of our roadside discoveries.

Roy’s Motel and Cafe

Roy’s, in the ghost town of Amboy, California, was a favorite stop for its perseverance and googie architecture. Opened in 1938, Roy’s typifies the steady decline experienced by the towns along Route 66 as they were bypassed by more developed highways. While you can get gas here, the cafe and motel are long closed. In 2005, the entire town of Amboy was bought by one guy who enthusiastically hopes to preserve this section of Route 66. This is no easy task. On the history page of Roy’s website, the lone 2006 accomplishment simply states, “Roy’s is selling bottled water again.” Despite its failed Kickstarter campaign, perhaps one day that sign will be restored to its 1959 glory!

Road Trip | RoysNeon Signs

Neon signs served as attention getters for businesses along along Route 66, particularly in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Some have fallen into disrepair while others have been lovingly restored. Check out some of the amazing neon signs along Route 66, some in better shape than others:

Road Trip | Route 66 Neon SignsCars of Route 66

While I was most fascinated by the midcentury neon, my dad knew every car on the trip and taught me all about the various cars we saw along the way. It was a great opportunity for us to share our passions.

Road Trip | Cars of Route 6

Map of Many Visitors

Map inside the Hackberry General Store, a Route 66 souvenir shop and convenience store, pinpointing the many places from which visitors travelled.

Road Trip | MapWigwam Village

Wigwam Village #6, built in 1937, is one of the many reasons I find Route 66 so fascinating. An embarrassing example of cultural appropriation, Wigwam Village is also a uniquely midcentury roadside attraction. While shaped like teepees, the architect liked the sound of the word wigwam better and built seven of them in Kentucky, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Florida and California.

Road Trip | WigwamCadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch, one of the strangest sights along Route 66, consists of 10 Cadillacs that were buried in a cow pasture as an art installation in 1974. Each car has dozens of layers of bubbly thick paint, along with a stream of visitors bringing more spray paint to add to the graffiti. Unfortunately, people leave the paint cans strewn around the field.

Road Trip | Car with Spray PaintSt. Louis

St. Louis was our last Route 66 stop before heading east to avoid a Chicago snow storm. We were so busy checking out the scenery, I only managed to get one pic with my dad during the entire trip. Here we are below the St. Louis Gateway Arch. As a side note, If you are ever in St. Louis be sure to stop by The Future Antiques for a mind blowing selection of midcentury furniture and accessories.

Road Trip | St. Louis

Open Road

Despite so many fun road side attractions to check out, some of our favorite memories involved taking in the scenery of the open road.
Road Trip | Open Road

Happy road tripping!

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Winter Wardrobe Blues

The locals in upstate New York tell me I’ve got strange luck to move cross country from temperate Southern California, as this is the worst winter in years. The latest snow storm dropped about 20 inches of snow over the last 36 hours. That’s more than I’ve seen my entire life. It’s been so cold and so snowy, this Southern California girl is experiencing some serious winter wardrobe blues.

While I’m used to dressing for this:

winter wardrobe blues | palm springs

I’ve got to survive in this:

winter wardrobe blues | snow

I’ve been wearing a thick, winter wardrobe of black, including a DKNY coat that looks more like a down comforter with a hood and LL Bean boots that make me feel like I should be at Mt. Everest’s base camp. With this much snow and temperatures that can be below zero, I have yet figure out how to diverge from this dreary uniform:

winter wardrobe blues | black uniform

1. DKNY Down Maxi Puffer Coat 2. LL Bean Shearling Lined Bean Boots 3. American Apparel Winter Leggings 4. Smart Wool Socks

Spring Clothes to Banish the Winter Wardrobe Blues

To counteract the winter wardrobe blues, I’m living vicariously through Anthropologie’s spring dresses and shoes. Their options are glorious and I can’t wait for some warmer spring weather so I can splurge on something pretty. I’m dreaming of gorgeous peep toes, wedges and heels. Soft creams and pastel dresses. Shoes that don’t require socks. Light and airy fabrics. Sigh. Hurry up spring!

My cure for the winter wardrobe blues:

Winter Wardrobe Blues | Cured by Anthropologie

1. Modernist Shift 2. High Hope Wedges 3. Almeria Heels 4. Meeting Point Dress 5. Ivoire Dress 6. Floristry Cutwork Heels

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Candle Making Is My New Obsession and It Can Be Yours Too

I love candles, but they can be so expensive. On a recent trip to California, I learned how to make my own candles. I can’t believe how fast, easy and inexpensive it is! If you can boil water and place an online order, you too can make candles.

Candle-Making

Where to Stock Up on Candle Making Supplies

First you need to gather your candle making supplies. Don’t you dare step one foot into your local Michael’s unless you get a sick satisfaction from overpaying for a terribly limited selection. If you are in the Los Angeles area, definitely take a trip to General Wax in North Hollywood. For the rest of us, they also offer online ordering. And since my town’s one coffee shop is only open 16 hours a week, you probably aren’t surprised that there is no candle making supply store here!

The outside of this place is totally nondescript and its business name doesn’t match the building, but this place is the answer to all of your candle making prayers, of which I am sure you have many. Inside, there is a wide assortment of pre-made candles (we’re not here for those!), wax, wicks, scents, supplies, containers and more… basically everything you desperately need to make candles.

Candle Making Store

Candle Making Shopping List

Here is a list of basic supplies needed to make your candles. Each item links to what I’ve used with success, though there are other brick and mortar stores and tons of other places online to order supplies. Even Amazon.com offers candle making supplies.

  • Melting Pot
  • Candy thermometer
  • Scale
  • Large Pot (to create a double boiler for the melting pot)
  • Candle wax. (I use soy wax flakes that come in a 5 lb bag. This should make you about 10-12 medium sized candles)
  • Wicks (choose the size based on the diameter of your candle)
  • Scent (optional, but why would you make a candle if you don’t want it to smell yummy? You’ll use about 1 oz per pound of wax)
  • Dyes (optional)
  • Wick Bars (they are just popsicle sticks with holes drilled in the center)
  • Glue Dots or a glue gun
  • Stir Stick or wooden spoon
  • Containers (This is the best part! The linked containers are only $0.69 each, but there are many other creative and inexpensive options)

Heaven in a Fedex box:

Candle Making Supplies

The Cost

It’s very inexpensive! First, you will need to assemble your candle making laboratory with the purchase of your basic kit of supplies — melting pot, thermometer and scale — which shouldn’t set you back more than about $30. The best part about this purchase is it’s a one time thing, as these supplies can be used in perpetuity of your candle making career. And if you actually use your kitchen for things other than candle making or cocktail mixing, you may already own the scale and thermometer. The pour spout on the melting pot is key, so don’t skimp by trying to get by with a regular pot.

For about $45, you can get everything else (wax, wicks, scent, dye, containers etc.) that you need to make about 10-12 candles in the 8-10 ounce range (you can make more or less depending on how large or small your containers are), with some leftover materials. Compare that to how much you would spend on the same number of pre-made candles!

Container Inspiration

Selecting your containers lets you customize your candles in fabulous ways. This is my favorite part of candle making! You can make candles in any glass, metal or ceramic containers you can find. Look around your home to see what you might already have. Cocktail glasses, candy jars, and tins are all contenders. Check out the bric-à-brac section at your local Salvation Army or discount stores like T.J. Maxx for inexpensive options. If you start making candles you will literally ponder the candle making container potential of every single object you come across.

And if you want to get fancy, there are endless vintage options! Check out some containers from Etsy that would make great candle containers:

Vintage_Candle_Making_Containers

1. green pyrex 2. ball jars 3. cocktail glasses 4. milk glass candy jar

Scents

You can pretty much make your candle smell like anything you want– even Cookies for Santa! There are so many options–fruity, flowery, sweet–the options seem endless. Just make sure your scents are specially formulated for candles so you get a good strong scent when burning your candles. Again, General Wax is my go to place for scents. There are so many options, in a variety of sizes and at great prices!

Measure

Once you’ve got your supplies gathered together, the fun begins! This whole process from start to finish should take about 30 minutes.

Candle-Making-Measure

Take your kitchen scale and weigh the melting pot. Then, add wax until you reach one pound plus the weight of the melting pot. The soy wax comes in flakes and is easy to measure. So, in my case I added wax until the scale measured 24.5 ounces (8.5 oz melting pot + 16 oz wax = 24.5 oz). You can make smaller or larger batches as desired.

Melt

Candle_Making_MeltYou can use any large pot to create a double boiler for the melting pot. Place the melting pot in your larger pot and add water until the pot is almost full. Turn the burner on to high. Attach the thermometer to the side of the melting pot so it descends into the wax and you are in business! Turn down the temperature when the water begins to boil out of control. No need to cause any third degree burns while candle making.

Container Prep

While the wax is starting to melt, you can prep your containers.

Prep Candle Making Containers

Start by affixing the wicks to the bottom of the containers so they remain in place when the melted wax is poured. You can use glue dots or a glue gun to accomplish this. Try to center the wick as much as possible at the bottom of the container, so your candle burns evenly.

Then, take use the wood wick bar to stabilize the wick. Thread the wick through the hole in the wick bar and let it rest on the top sides of the candles. It works great to bend the wick over the wick bar so the wick is taut.

Stir In Dyes and Scents

Stir in Dyes & Scents

Check back on your wax to see how it’s coming. You want it fully melted and about 175-200 degrees Fahrenheit before you add the dye and then the scent. There are lots of opinions online about the perfect temperatures, so you might need to experiment a little with the supplies you’ve chosen. My candles turn out perfect when I heat the wax to 200 degrees, then take the wax off the heat before adding any dye and scent. The wax will begin to cool slowly, and by the time I’m done mixing in the dye and scent the wax is at a good temperature to pour.

Go ahead and add your dye and stir thoroughly until it is completely combined. If you prefer a nice, milky white color skip the dye.

Now, add your scent. Measure about one ounce per pound of wax; you can add a little more or a little less depending on how strong you want your candle to smell. Just don’t go overboard. Stir, stir, stir to be sure it’s fully incorporated into the melted wax.

Pour

Pour Candle Wax

You’re almost done! Pour the wax into each of your containers. If you’re super perfectionist about it, you might want to keep a little extra to do a second pour once your candles cool. It’s common with soy candles for the wax to settle a little. This second pour will ensure that you have a nice flat top. But you’re going to burn the candles anyway, so I don’t bother with that fussiness.

Poured Candles

Here is a batch of candles after they have cooled. Once they are fully cooled, you can remove the wick bars and trim the wicks.

Congratulations! You have now earned your degree in candle making!

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Change is Hard or What to Do If Your Coffee Shop Is Only Open 16 Hours a Week

Change is hard.

All while pondering, plotting and putting into action this cross country move, I knew making this change would not be easy. After all, I was moving from Los Angeles, a sprawling, insanely large metropolitan city where most of my friends reside, to a tiny (pop. <1,500), rural town in upstate New York to live near my dad who I met only a year ago.

My town is beautiful and quaint. There’s no traffic or wait times at restaurants. Typical city sounds, like helicopters, police sirens and honking cars, are non-existent. Nature is everywhere; trees, mountains and animals abound. I’ve seen deer, wild turkeys and rabbits without trying. The fall colors really are as amazing as they say. It takes approximately two minutes to get from one end of town to the other, so running errands in town is so easy. I laugh when people say they are going “downtown”.

A quiet fall morning before it got too cold to sit with the windows open:

Fall Colors

I have been able to see my dad just about every day since arriving in New York. And that is priceless after missing out on so many years. This experience feels like a luxury after spending the past year building a relationship with my dad via Skype and the occasional visit.  Moving here has made things possible that could never have worked via Skype, like my dad teaching me how to change the brake pads on my car or collaborating with him on how to refinish a piece of furniture.

Here we are in St. Louis while driving across country from Los Angeles to New York.

St. Louis

At the same time it can feel lonely and isolating here, especially when it’s cold and snowy. Now that winter has stolen the leaves from the trees, I miss the reliable palm trees of Southern California. The wind often howls and blows so hard that the three-story building I live in shakes, feeling like an earthquake. If there’s something I need that can’t be purchased at Rite Aid, the grocery store or the dollar store, it’s a 30 mile drive or longer. To visit friends I’ve known for what seems like forever, I can’t simply brave traffic on the 101, now I have to get on a plane. I am homesick for my friends at Camp Laurel and can’t believe I am about to miss my first camp in 10 years.

There have been ups and downs, but nothing could prepare me for a lack of lattes.

Coffee Nightmares

If you are a city dweller, you might scoff at the idea that there could be a lack of lattes available in my town. I present to you the following evidence from the one coffee shop in town:

CoffeShopHours

For those of you have not been able to do the math yet because you’re still stuck on the fact that Saturday and Sunday are not even listed, this coffee shop is open for a grand total of 16 hours per WEEK, with the vague possibility that you might get lucky at other times. I think most coffee shops in the city are open almost that long every single day. This simply would’t do. I had to figure out a way to support my latte addiction. I have a cheap espresso machine, but let’s just say the results are less than stellar.

As with packing and moving, this led to extensive research. It was a dark hole of endless googling and reading (such as this, this, and this) and successive scouring of reviews at amazon.com.

The Chosen Ones: Capresso Infinity and Bialetti Moka Express

The thing I’ve learned about good coffee is that it basically takes a trifecta of fabulous– you need good beans, a good grinder, along with a decent coffee machine. I’ll get to the beans, but I’ll start with the grinder and coffee maker.

For great coffee, you need a burr grinder, which crushes the beans into a consistent grind, rather than a blade grinder that just mangles the beans into an inconsistent mess. With the blade grinder, your coffee will suffer. The blade grinder causes even more havoc on your coffee, as it produces excessive heat as you keep grinding away at the beans. Then you get burnt tasting coffee. Yuck. Burr grinders range in price from under $100 to the thousands of dollars. I went with an entry level burr grinder, the Capresso Infinity, mainly because I am not making true espresso (more on that in a minute), which requires a very fine grind that is impossible to get from a grinder that costs less than several hundred dollars.

Now for the coffee machine! I wanted something easy and relatively inexpensive, but that delivered nirvana in a cup. And good espresso machines are expensive, like thousands of dollars expensive.

I decided on the Bialetti Moka Express partly because it seemed unbreakable, which is a necessity in my kitchen where nothing is safe. It was designed in the 1930s, and I liked its sense of history. Its design is so classic that the original blueprints are on display at the Design Museum in London. The Bialetti is often referred to as a stovetop espresso maker, and while that isn’t quite accurate, it does produce very strong, espresso style coffee. It comes in different sizes, and I chose the 3-cup version which makes the equivalent of three shots.

It couldn’t be easier to use and at under $25, I could not possibly resist the Bialetti’s charm.

Bialetti_Collage

It’s so easy:

1. Fill the bottom until you reach the valve on the side.

2. Insert the filter

3. Fill filter with ground coffee.

4. Screw the top back on.

5. Heat on the stove top. Water from the bottom container is somehow magically pushed through the filter into the top container. Voila! You have coffee.

I use my cheap espresso maker to steam the milk to make fabulous lattes. When I’m lazy, I make an Americano by just adding hot water. I am ⅔ of the way to coffee heaven.

The problem now, of course, is that I lack access to great beans in my town. I could do the mail order thing, but it gets expensive with shipping. So, now I’m thinking of roasting my own beans, which you can do in a popcorn popper!

What do you think? Should I take the roasting road to further my search for coffee nirvana?

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