Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong: Magic

A few Fridays ago M, Joel, Christina and I went to the charmingly sketchy concert venue Bootleg Theater to see Vienna Teng and Alex Wong perform.

Before I can tell you about the concert, I need to tell you a very important truth:  M has very discriminating taste with music.  He also enthuses so vigorously about whatever music he's passionate about at the moment that most people can't avoid becoming enthused about it too.  That's exactly what happened with me and Vienna Teng's music.  M loved it, so I love it.  But really, it's wonderful. 

It's very difficult to tell you what genre her music fits into- a dilemma she herself mentioned between songs- and announcing that she had recently hit on "NPR pop" as the best description.  "NPR pop"!  I love it

Their music IS hard to describe: she plays the piano and she sings, and Alex Wong, her percussionist and occasional producer, works magic utilizing all kinds of less-than-conventional instruments.  Pop, Classical, Jazz, A Capella and Folk are all genres that can be said to influence their music, but the result is entirely original.  And it's wonderful.  Can I stress that enough?

Just listen to this, and you'll get the idea.  It's called "The Last Snowfall" from the album Inland Territory.
And this is the first song of her's I fell in love with, it's called "Whatever You Want" from Dreaming Through The Noise:
It's about (I gather from the lyrics) a corrupt and manipulative businessman being turned in for fraud by his overlooked wife and his second in command.  I love plot-based songs, don't you?  This is one of the things that first drew me to her music, you believe there's a story there, and you can get sucked in.  The whole crowd stood swaying through so many of her songs for that reason, they're beautiful, and they're also fully-developed settings.  They take you away. 

As if all this artistry wasn't enough, Vienna Teng is also incredibly intelligent. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in Computer Science, and is pursuing her MBA/MS degree in sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan as we speak.  Talk about multi-tasking, geez! This intellectualism really shows through in her lyrics.  The songs are ABOUT things more complicated than love or breakups.  Take for example the last verse from "No Gringo", Inland Territory- a song about what it would be like if the American economy crashed and Americans were flooding into Mexico for jobs. 

"No gringo
No gringo aqui
Words as levies against the flood
Hoy cerrado
There's too many to feed
room for only our own
kind, our own blood
No gringo, no gringo aqui
you have stayed in this
land for too long!
Tan amargo
But there's no time to grieve
You just pack up your
things and move on
and move on."

Just listen, it's clever, heartbreaking and original:

Now that you have the background, let me tell you: I was SO excited to go see a "real" concert.  No, this one didn't include laser shows or anything like that, and yes, the venue was small.  However, this was- no joke- my first time to go to a concert that wasn't symphonic, played by someone I didn't already have a personal connection to, or conducted in the courtyard of my residential hall (Wiess Jamfest, whutwhut!).

I was expecting Vienna to be awesome; but, what I wasn't expecting was the artistry that Alex Wong brought to the table.  He's a full-time musician, balancing several bands and producing multiple albums- and he works percussion wonders.  He has a large wooden box that he sits on during performances which, when smacked- that's a technical term right?- resonates beautifully.  It's a warm, organic sound that does wonders for the folky mixture this pair produces.  He also has a waterphone- which, in what he told as a slightly madcap adventure, was held by the TSA (to make sure it couldn't be exploded or smoked) and then rushed to the concert venue, arriving an hour before show time.  And how lucky the audience was that it made it.  This instrument produces sounds reminiscent of a violinist using harmonics. Really- you play it with a bow- it's ethereal, wavering, haunting, elegant.  Plus, the man is a master with the loop pedal.  It really was impressive to watch- that's the element you really miss out on in recorded tracks; the physicality of percussion is fascinating and when you are in the same space, your bones resonate in the most exciting of ways. 

Moreover, and here was the truly special thing, it's clear that these two artists are well matched for each other, they collaborate, they challenge, they appreciate what the other does.  They were brilliant to watch on stage because of the camaraderie and challenges they brought to each other.

Plus, the two of them seem totally comfortable co-opting things as instruments that aren't really instruments:  Take for example this brand new song: "Breaking Light" which features two wineglasses tuned to different pitches, recorded on the spot and played on a loop, a Jameson bottle, the waterphone, the piano, and vocal harmony.  Watching them do this live was quite the experience.  It's magical to watch something so unusual come together in a way in which quality singing or piano playing isn't.  A person can be a master of those instruments and not awe because they are manipulating the familiar.  But this is different, special.  Also, if you choose to buy this track, the proceeds go to Japanese earthquake/tsunami relief.  So that's awesome. 

I loved it.

In case you want more, listen to "Grandmother's Song", Inland Territory...
...or "Stray Italian Greyhound", The Moment Always Vanishing, both favorites:

Beautiful World: Trader Joe's

Malcolm and I finally got around to actually going into a Trader Joe's and not just talking about it, and boy have we been rewarded.  It was the perfect discovery for spring, because they have fresh cut flowers for WAY CHEAPER than any other store in L.A..  I'm pretty sure.  Also- their orange chicken is amazing!
This is a crummy picture, which is why it's not very large- but the orange chicken IN this picture is DELICIOUS!  We've had it 3 Sunday's in a row.  With broccoli, come on now, we're not totally unhealthy!  Anyway, the idea behind this store is genious- it specializes in packaged foods that are tasty, health-concious, and included with easy-to-follow instructions.  It is THE grocery store for foodies with full-time jobs (not in the food industry already).

Does falling head over heels for Trader Joe's like so many before us make us yuppies, hipsters, or none of the above?

And as always, if you aren't interested in Beautiful World Posts, no worries! Just scroll down to the most recent long post, tagged "Musings" and click on the tag. It will remove all the "BeautifulWorld" tagged posts from the page.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christine Came to Visit!

This is my friend Christine.  Several weekends ago she came to visit us and her brother in Los Angeles.  Christine is disgustingly creative.  Think of any creative/artistic skill-set and I can promise you: she either has it or knows someone who does.  She sings!  She dances!  She paints!  She plays guitar!  And you should see her fondant creations.  I love it!  She's also dazzlingly smart, and what with being an Earth Science major- she can tell you what all the pretty rocks and rock formations you see are called. 

The first evening after we brought her home from the airport we enjoyed a relaxing 6-hour conversation and some delicious Izze cocktails.  It was great!  I really enjoyed catching up with her, rolling ideas around with her, and watching M and Christine finally get to meet each other.  It's nice when your long distance boyfriend finally gets to meet your friends. 

The next morning we took her to the Getty Center.  This building is dazzlingly beautiful, it's only detraction in my mind is that it's stunning architecture detracts from the actual art it contains.
The Getty Center is located on top of a mountain ridge, giving it beautiful views of the ocean on one side, and all the way past downtown to the San Gabriel mountains on the other- especially on days that are as beautifully clear as the day we took Christine. 

The Getty Center also contains a beautiful garden full of bright colors and crazy angles.  The flowers were beautiful that weekend.  It's rare to feel like you're really getting spring in California- but the bare branches on the trees coupled with a slightly cool breeze and brilliantly blooming flowers really helped me feel like spring was coming again.  Doesn't everyone love that excitement?
I don't think succulents blooms very often, I feel special to have been able to see it at it's prime.  Just lovely!
As you can see, the beautiful topiary maze floating in the middle of a pool at the end of the garden walk was ablaze with beautiful flowers this weekend.  I'm fairly certain these are azaleas.  What a prize!
Malcolm was there too.  He did a lot of obliging picture taking.
Here we are together!
Christine had to wade out on the bride across the water, just to say that she had done it.  I don't blame her.
Christine, what with being an Earth Scientist- really enjoyed finding fossils in the stones that made up the museum.
Christine then wanted to go put her feet in the Pacific ocean, having only done so- so far- from the other side, during her trip to China.  She enjoyed it!
This looks so much like her to me.  Fascinated by some tiny bit of wonder she managed to find somewhere.  So bright and colorful!
Then we had a chance for a quick jot up the 3rd street promenade.
The day ended with cupcakes at one of the many gourmet cupcake locations that has sprung up recently.  This was all happening on the night of the Oscars, so Malcolm got a "red carpet" cupcake (it was pretty much red velvet but with a gold star), Christine had a peanut butter and jelly cupcake, and I had a banana split cupcake.  They were all excellent.
I love my friend, and I'm so glad that she got to come see us, and also that M and Christine got to finally meet each other.  It was really nice for Malcolm to begin to see into the three years worth of experiences and relationships I developed at Rice without him.  Christine was a big part of that, and I'm glad M got to interact with her too.  She's great.  He's great.  So let's all be great together. 

Finally, while I was in Houston, Christine did a lot of amazing showing me around.  She took me to Middle-Eastern markets, Indian confectionary shops, and Greek cultural festivals just to name a few.  I wanted to be able to show her some cool things in my cool new city as a way to pay her back and to recreate the fun experiences we had.  To show her how much those drives around Houston meant to me, and how much I valued the friendship and the cultural enrichment AT THE SAME TIME.  I hope I did alright!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beautiful World: Wisteria Wishes

Wisteria is blooming in California right now.  It's also blooming in my beloved backyard in Arlington, TX.  My parents keep sending me these unreal pictures of the wisteria arbor and I am so jealous of them- getting to see that sight and smell that smell!  I also very much wish I could be enjoying this flower in the same place as my parents.  But at least we both get to enjoy it at all.

And as always, if you aren't interested in Beautiful World Posts, no worries! Just scroll down to the most recent long post, tagged "Musings" and click on the tag. It will remove all the "BeautifulWorld" tagged posts from the page.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Malcolm!

Yesterday M turned 26!  We have this tradition on his birthdays where, in lieu of me buying a present he probably won't use, I make M a picnic-style lunch or dinner featuring a sandwich I "invent". 

Here's the "picnic" I set up yesterday.  Finally, an opportunity to put the sun room to good use!  Lovin' that spring sunshine!
And here, my friends, is this year's sandwich!  I plan on doing a more detailed blog post later about all the ingredients/process.
Devilled eggs are also very important.  He says mine are the only type he's ever liked.
The total spread:
M liked his sandwich a lot!

For dessert we made peanut butter "sandwich" cookies.  So many sandwiches, I'm so very clever (snort)!  Here I am mixing the filling.  M even helped spread the filling in between the two cookie layers. 

I also enjoy how this picture hints at the complete mess I made out of the kitchen during this process.
M enjoyed taking pictures of me for this part.  Artsy shot!
I made M blow out a candle sitting on top of his tower of birthday cookies.  He may have thought I was being silly.  I also may have made him do it twice- once for real, and once for pictures. 
I think it's pretty swell that Malcolm was born 26 years ago.  I like that he's on this planet.  I especially like that he's not 2,000 miles away from me anymore.  It is so very nice to be close to the person you love.    Happy Birthday Silly Muffin!

Blogging: Nine Months Strong


ine Month's I've been a' bloggin'.  Nine month's I've been a writin!  It's shocking how close to a year that is, isn't it?  Scary.  It's also not THAT big of a deal.  Don't worry, I've got my head screwed on straight.  But I do spend a lot of time thinking about my blog, so please allow me a few musings about this project I've undertaken. 

Over the last nine months, I do believe I've gotten better at blogging.  I use tags.  I post more frequently.  My posts have topics.  The amount of pageviews I get has gone up per month.  That's all good.

I also still really like the idea of blogs, and the unassuming way they invite people into your life, as I mention here.

But sometimes I'm confused by what tone I want my blog to have and what exactly I'm trying to convey to you/the world.  I definately have no idea what makes my blog different, special and therefore worthwhile.  I wonder about my blogging voice:  I try to stay positive, because I find that if I write a lot about what's been bugging me, I dwell on those things more than I need to.  I'm not really helping myself out by doing that; and I'm probably bumming you guys out too.  But on the other hand, I worry that I present an image of myself that's fake.  Too happy, too cheery, too crafty, too fake.  Is that just another form of marketing a persona, instead of really communicating with my friends?  What do you think?

I have an extra layer of confusion, sometimes, because the blogs I like to read are lifestyle/design/DIY blogs with wide readerships.  The style and format I try to imitate is not necessarily applicable to what I'm nominally doing here- communicating with friends and family flung far and wide.  But then the reason I like those blogs is because they give and teach; they present a world filled with pretty and happy.  I hope to help out with that mighty-fine goal through my little postings. 

Writing this blog and reading other blogs has also provided me with a better sense of longtime lifestyle and crafting goals:  I often notice how much I wish my photography skills were better/I owned a better camera/my apartment had better light/and that I owned the Adobe Suite: Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.  One day, one day, I'll buy myself these things/take more classes to get better at using and making them.  Also a sewing machine. 

Anyway.  All in all, I've been enjoying this, and I hope you have too.  I guess I'll just keep sounding my "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world" (Walt Whitman/Zelda). 

Thanks for reading and commenting; it's good to know you're out there! 

Beautiful World: Tiny Friends

When I came home from work today, and got busy making Malcolm's birthday dinner I noticed a tiny friend visiting the pot of a maidenhair fern I have on the kitchen counter.  A tiny mushroom, isn't that perfect?

And then there was more:  We had a second tiny friend hiding in with the mushroom!
You can see it better if you click the picture to expand it.
Do you see the second friend there?  It's a tiny snail hiding in the shade of the mushroom!
Perfect! Charmed!

And as always, if you aren't interested in Beautiful World Posts, no worries! Just scroll down to the most recent long post, tagged "Musings" and click on the tag. It will remove all the "BeautifulWorld" tagged posts from the page.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How to Make a Bow Bouquet

It's a very common tradition at wedding rehearsals for the bride to carry a bouquet composed of the bows saved from her various bridal showers.  You can find directions for different ways to make this bouquet on websites like or  These instructions usually involve cardstock or a paper plate, either with bows stapled on to the flat plate, or with the plate made into a cone of some form.  Those plans seem much less sturdy than the option I'm about to describe to you, which treats the bows like flowers and is more on the attractive side of tacky.

You Will Need:
paper towel roll.  You could use a toilet paper roll, but that doesn't seem nice enough for a wedding rehearsal to me
white acrylic paint
bows saved from the bride's showers
extra satin ribbon (maybe)

Helpful Bow Diagram:
Are you enjoying my diagram skills? 

Get a paper towel roll (sans paper towels).  Cut it to the desired length for your bouquet's "stem" or "handle".  Mine was about 6 or 7 inches long.

Optional: Paint the paper towel roll white.  You don't have to do this, because odds are you're going to cover the paper towel roll with ribbon later, but I think it looks nicer.
Also paint the inside of the paper towel roll in case someone decides to look inside.  Set the paper towel roll aside to dry.
Gather the bows you and your bridesmaid cohorts saved from the bride's showers.  Fluff them up so they look pretty like when they were on top of her presents.
The bows made out of wired ribbons with long "tails" that tied around the packages are going to provide the structure of your bouquet.  You might need to tie smaller bows to larger bows so they can be more easily included.  That makes nifty looking composite bows:
You might also need to staple smaller bows or sticky bows to the center of long ribbons so they will have "tails" or "stems" as well.
Begin gathering your bows by the "tails", right at the base of the bows. This is basically be the same process you would follow if you were making a real bouquet.  Just think of the tails as the stems.
You might need to sandwich bows made out of un-wired ribbon between bows with more form and shape.  The un-wired satin or plastic ribbon can drape over the top of the more rigid, wired bows.
Keep gathering...
...keep gathering until you feel you have a good handful of bows that is more or less porportional and shaped evenly like an rounded mound.
Next, take a long, un-wired ribbon (1" satin ribbon is what I used), and wrap it once around the cluster of "tails" about 3 inches down from the cluster of bows.  This ribbon will anchor your bows to the paper towel roll.
Now, take your paper towl roll, and thread the anchoring ribbon through it.
Slide the paper towel roll up the anchoring ribbon.
This is what's happening:
Keep pulling on the anchoring ribbon until the cluster of ribbon "tails" has been pulled into the paper towel roll, doubled over, until the bouquet of bows is flush with the top of the paper towel roll.  The anchoring ribbon will flutter out the bottom of the paper towel roll.  Staple each of the tails of the anchoring ribbon to the paper towel.
You will have extra loops and tails sticking out of one side of the top of the bouquet. This is fine.  Allow some ribbons to trail down if you like that look.  Cut others off so they blend with the cluster of bows.  Be sure to save a few dangling ribbons.
With the one or two tails you've saved, wrap the paper towel roll "handle" to make a more pleasing look and texture.  Staple the end in place at the bottom.
Ta da!  Admire your beautiful bow bouquet:
Give bow bouquet to the happy bride for the rehearsal.
You're done!

The great thing about this way of making a bow bouquet is that I know for a fact that you can make it in the car on the way to the church as long as you've practiced one or two times before (and pre-painted the paper-towel roll).  This method is also very sturdy.  This bouquet isn't going to fall apart on you. 

Happy bow saving!

Late note:  I've been noticing that this post has been getting more hits than my usual posts.  If you're finding this tutorial useful, or if you have any suggestions, let me know!