Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DIY: In Which I Craft a Birthday Gift for Sean That Will Make Half of You Go "Awww" and the Other Half Go "Urgh"

It's always hard for me to think of great birthday gifts, especially for Sean. But I recently signed up for Pinterest and came across an idea I loved. I'd always wanted to do some sort of scrapbook illustrating all the reasons I love Sean. This was a scrapbook in miniature, using a deck of cards as the base. I also used images that I printed from the web, clippings from magazines and stickers to illustrate the "52 Things Dani Loves About Sean."

The end result: Sean was thrilled and I was happy to give him a unique and memorable birthday!

What You'll Need:
* Deck of cards (52 cards plus the two Jokers to be used as covers)
* Hole punch (I punched one hole but you may want to punch two...just punch one card and use as the template for the others)
* Binder ring (I recycled one I already had) or ribbon
* Resume paper (just something a little nicer than plain ol' computer paper)
* Color printer (if you're grabbing images off the web), magazines, stickers, photos, scrapbook paper...anything that you could use to illustrate
* Glue stick

The Process
Coming up with 52 things to say can seem somewhat daunting, but you'll be surprised how easily it flows once you start jotting them down. I did a mix of serious and sweet, silly and fun. Just depends on the "tone" you want for the book.

Type them up and play with the fonts until you find one(s) you like. I used 20 pt Copperplate (title) for the cover, and 18 pt Perpetua (bold) for the reasons.

Note that a deck of cards is roughly 2.5 by 3.5 inches, so size your images and the length of your lines accordingly. I also did at least a double space on my reasons so they'd be easier to cut out.

Stumped on clever ways to illustrate what you're trying to say? Just Google search images based on your reasons for ideas...for example, for "You're green," I used a comic book image of the Incredible Hulk.

Finally, have fun! This doesn't have to look perfect...in fact, I think the rough look of it adds to the charm!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eat Me: Pho Bac

My friend Grace has a million friends, always wears the prettiest dresses, and has the most adorable daughter on the planet. So when she said that we had to try a new restaurant called Pho Bac, I knew it had to be good.

This Vietnamese restaurant, tucked just off Washington Road (if you're heading out to Evans, turn left at the McDonalds in Columbia Square), offers heaping bowls of pho--rice noodles in broth with veggies and protein--along with rice plates, Vietnamese sandwiches and so much more.

Seven of us--Grace and her family, our friends Connie and Jake, and Sean and I--went there recently to celebrate Sean's birthday. The fact that our waitress stumbled over a name on the beer list ("We have Bud Light and M-Mish-lob? I don't know how to pronounce it, I'm only 18") only added to the charm.

Sean ordered something off the Beef Stew section of the menu; when it arrived, it turned out to be nothing like beef stew, but was instead a richly flavored mix of shrimp, beef, chicken and vegetables atop noodles lightly coated in a brown sauce. My spring rolls (whole pink shrimp and green lettuce and herbs peeking out through translucent rice wrapping) and salt and pepper squid (perfectly cooked calamari coated in crispy crumbs flavored with salt and pepper, and sitting on a bed of onions and jalapenos) were light, fresh and just right.

It was a long night of laughter and stories, with more Mish-lob ordered, and cupcakes at the end (from Sundrees downtown market, but that's another story). Pho Bac is a little hard to find...there's no sign on Washington Road to direct you, and you have to really look to see it, which is a shame since the staff is sweet and the food is authentic, or so it seems to this non-Vietnamese Chinese girl. And did I mention the karaoke?

Image: Squidoo.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Review: The Paris Wife

In Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, one of my favorite novels, Hadley Hemingway is a strong, straight presence, all tan limbs, but not sexy, just motherly, and strong. I always liked her and felt for her. After all Hemingway ultimately leaves her, and she commits an almost unforgivable deed--en route to Switzerland to meet him on vacation, she packs, then loses every copy of the manuscript of his novel, as well as all the stories he was working on. I say almost unforgivable...but I don't know, for a writer, if a screw up of that magnitude could ever be forgiven or forgotten.

The Paris Wife is a new novel by Paula McClain that tells the story of A Moveable Feast from Hadley's point of view. Aside from aping Hemingway's style of writing from the earlier novel (which I find a little annoying), the story is fascinating. And the later chapters, as Hem and Hadley's relationship begins to fall apart and Hem falls for Hadley's friend Pauline, broke my heart.

A Moveable Feast was always an idealized memory of a time long past--with the bad bits (and Hemingway's own fault in them) glossed over. Or at least that's what I always thought. A Paris Wife gives us a another viewpoint...that perhaps that's how Hemingway viewed himself during those tumultuous months...a victim of circumstance. But at the end, McClain grants him awareness as well as absolution, before the final tragedy of his death by suicide.

A Paris Wife is a vividly drawn recreation of life in Paris, and those early passionate years before Hadley's husband became Ernest Hemingway.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Permission to Scream Out Loud

There's a scene in Coyote Ugly that a friend once said reminded him of me.

Violet (played by Piper Perabo) is a songwriter with big dreams...and stage fright. But (naturally) the only way she can get someone to pay attention to her songwriting is to sing. Her waiter boyfriend works with her patiently to help her build her confidence. In the end--the genre being what it is--she overcomes her fears, belts it out, and lo and behold, her song is picked up by Leanne Rimes, and she and Leanne and Violet's dad, played by John Goodman, end up performing and prancing around together in the Coyote Ugly bar.

Me, I'm a pretty reserved person. In fact, when I was younger, I was shy to the point of being voiceless in a crowd. But this friend, and others, helped me come out of my shell. My own Coyote Ugly experience came one night at a local tavern when friends catcalled my name until I got on stage and did a 30-second booty shake in front of EVERYONE. It's a night that my now-husband, then-friend, says he still thinks about regularly. (Take that, Piper Perabo!)

But, I still get shy sometimes, feeling too serious and too grownup for silly fun. At concerts, I usually stand and do the body twitch in time to the music, along with all the other 30-somethings. So it's awesome when a band like Cowboy Mouth comes along, as they did during the recent opening of our local Kroc Center, and gives you permission to act out. Drummer, lead vocalist and band founder Fred LeBlanc won't let you take yourself too seriously. Right at the start, he jumped off stage and began cajoling, then ordering, "Come a little bit closer, come on, come a little bit closer. Hey you! in the Hawaiian shirt! Come a little bit closer!" until we were all moshed together near the stage. "I promise you, you will leave this concert feeling 100 percent better than when you came!" Then, as the thrumming of the guitars grew louder, "Come on, give me some rhythm, give me some rhythm," and once we were all clapping in unison, "Now, jump up and down and scream like you are five years old and you've had way too much Kool-Aid!"

I have to admit, I fell a little bit in love with Fred LeBlanc that night. He was brash, he was sweaty, he was loud, but he sure had passion for what he was doing. And for the hour and a half they played, so did we. Jumping up and down under the stars, screaming until we were hoarse.

Photo credit: allmoviephoto.com