Monday, October 5, 2015

Popemoji meet Project Life

I wanted to write this up and share it and had nowhere else to put it, so you get a crafty post today.

I keep a very simple Project Life scrapbook, where I pretty much just record each week in 4x6 photos and unembellished journaling cards, but every once in a while something out of the ordinary comes along that demands special treatment. I recently went to Philadelphia for three days, and even though it was a short trip it was a pretty big deal for me. For one thing, I worked so much this last summer that I didn't even get a weekend away to go visit my parents, much less a summer vacation. This fall has continued the working-harder-than-ever-before trend, so these three days were a serious departure from what has become the norm around here. For another thing, this was definitely not my usual kind of travel. I like to travel alone, a mode that lets me arrange things according to my own fussy preferences and low risk tolerances. In this case, I was traveling with a group of fifteen with all that that implies. Finally, my trip was to see Pope Francis on his first visit to the United States! Not only is that a big deal in itself, it also meant traveling to a place where millions of other people are also going on purpose. I usually try to avoid anything that could be described as hoopla, and here I was aiming right at it.

The waffle picture gets the monumental treatment it deserves
My Project Life treatment of this trip also ended up being out of character for me because of two special circumstances. On this trip, I wrote a pretty thorough travel diary each day/night, something I was totally converted to last summer when I went to Rome with friends. It can be tedious writing out every little thing before finally going to bed but it's so worth it. I also had a whole lot of photos: with fifteen people, that was probably going to happen even if I hadn't taken any, and I definitely took a lot myself. When I sat down and started printing and arranging, I was really amazed at how many I had and I kept having to revise my estimates upward of how many pages I would need. So, in consequence, these pages ended up being pretty much entirely photos with almost no journaling at all. I used some minimal touches (it's more like captions than journaling) to help tell the story and preserve the things that stand out in my mind right now. I definitely see a lot of inspiration from Kelly Purkey in the way these turned out. Although it's probably less "inspiration from Kelly Purkey" and more "scarily intense concentration of Kelly Purkey's ideas and products" -- what can I say, I'm just on her wavelength these days. Anyway, I'm really happy with them.

I didn't photograph every part of the layout because there are lots of pictures of my friends in there and I wanted to respect their privacy, so here is an artist's rendition of the format of the whole layout so you get a sense of it. Pages 1 and 8 would be the left and right of my usual spread; so all the rest are "inserts"!

One of the things I'm most in love with on these pages are the Popemoji! I put a pathetic amount of effort getting those on my pages but it was totally worth it.

These were from an app released to promote the papal visit, and they're pretty adorable. The app allows you to use the emoji (they're actually more like stickers) in two ways: when you open the menu in a messaging app you can either copy the emoji of your choice and paste it into your text field, or, for some apps, you have to save the emoji to your camera roll and post it like a photo. When I saw this latter path I knew I had a way to convert these little dudes into papercrafting bits.

I saved twelve of my favorite emoji (just to give myself options) to the camera roll and used the PicFrame app to set up a photo mosaic on a 4x6 canvas with six picture slots. I made two emoji collages this way and then transferred them to my laptop via Dropbox. Then I opened them in Word and put them on a blank document so I could print them onto cardstock. I actually then decided to size the 4x6 collages down a little to get the emoji smaller and printed them again. Finally I set about them with my craft knife and cut them out! This is just me using the tools I'm familiar with to get the job done, so maybe if you have digital stickers you want to get into paperspace you'll find a more direct method. I had actually worked on this before I left on the trip, so when I came back I was all ready to use them on pages.

The day headings are from a free download I found at Digital Design Essentials. I love days of the week journaling cards so I already had these sitting on my table completely randomly when I had the brainwave to turn them into little strips. The strips then made the perfect setting for the Popemoji and helped me organize the pages too.

Let's see, what else is there to say? The two "oddball" page projectors with the big pockets are from a WRMK variety pack I got on clearance at Joann's. I printed the two 6x12 photos on a 12x12 through the Becky Higgins app -- again, just me using what I already knew how to use; I know there are plenty of other places to order 12x12 prints. The filmstrip letters on the title page are from Basic Grey, and the filler cards are from the Forever Young Project Life edition. I bought a little sample pack from Reset Girl and they were just perfect for this! Since I have the longer narrative written out elsewhere I just added captions to my photos with stickers, stamps, and washi: I don't normally put things directly on my pictures so it was a little nerve-wracking, and there is plenty of evidence on these pages that I am incapable of putting things down straight. My bigger concern was that things would end up looking cluttered and/or incohesive. But I just added a little bit here and there (at breakfast or while making dinner over several days) and I think it looks pretty good. Not all of the photos have captions but I think the captions all make a contribution as far as storytelling..

Actually page 7 layered over page 5, if you're wondering

The 6x8 pocket in the other "oddball" page was just the right size for my fancy Festival of Families ticket. I used some gold star vellum from Webster's Pages to back it, and filled the other side of the pocket with a cut down portion of the security map that was distributed for all the visitors. It's busy but I like it. We spent a lot of time studying that map, so I was glad I could include it. The quote on the card in the center above is from the pope's talk on Saturday night: I picked it because I remembered this part of his speech but mostly because it was something I could spell out with the word stickers I had. The layout of the words is entirely dictated by the need to cover up the little phrase that was printed on the card. Very lofty artistic process there ;)

Philadelphia was awesome but also exhausting in every possible way. These pages were so fun and easy to do though that it was really a fun and relaxing thing to play with when I got home rather than yet another chore like laundry or unpacking. (Oh right, laundry.) I can see myself using tactics like this for the next big trip I take: keeping a travel journal so the scrapbook pages can have minimal journaling.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mindy's back!

I realize that I'm the Girl Who Cried Busy, and I fully accept that no one really believes how insanely busy I've been since I graduated in May but wow. Busy.

I did finally read something though, and I make no apologies for it being a celebrity memoir (it's too much work to incorporate "collection of personal essays" into this sentence grammatically) because Mindy Kaling! I loved her first book and when I realized the second one was coming I actually preordered it -- in hardcover! That's how much I was committed to this book.

Things I learned finding this image: Enrique Iglesias has covered a song titled "Why Not Me"
I've set you up for a "but" there, but I didn't mean to. This is a book with a different character compared to the first one, but if you like Kaling's sense of humor you'll like this book too. I habitually make a distinction between things that I like, and things that I think have objective merit (which is obviously a subjective judgement, but just go with it); I think Why Not Me? is maybe a little less meritorious than Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? but both are definitely things that I like.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was a seriously polished book. In my post about it, I talked about how well-written it was, and it definitely felt like someone absolutely putting her best foot forward on a project that meant a lot to her. Multiple times since I read it, I've thought that I should re-read it, and I've always felt confident recommending it to people because I don't think you have to be predisposed to like her in order to find the book funny. Why Not Me? is a little more disjointed -- in the foreword she describes it as "more personal" and it certainly is. Structurally, the chapters are of very differing lengths and some feel a little more like filler than others. They are laugh-out-loud funny but often end with some very heartfelt reflection. I think it's a testimony to Kaling's talent that those sincere "moral-to-the-story" parts landed with me and didn't feel lame or tacked on. The whole book feels a little more relaxed, like the kind of friendship where you can just talk about what's going on without putting a spin on it or making it feel like a story that's going to have a tidy ending. Kaling can bring the comedy but she can also tell you what she's learned, if anything. Why Not Me? really does feel more personal, not in a schmoozy 60 Minutes/People interview kind of way, but in a really honest way, like someone who doesn't have anything to prove. That does mean, however, that I think you have to have some prior goodwill in order to really fully like the book.

I definitely recommend this book, especially if you liked Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I think the last chapter is one of the best; it's a really good essay about confidence. The chapter where she outlines her working day is fascinating, and puts my "crazy" schedule to shame. Maybe for most of you this is a library wait-list book, and it's worth a spot on that list. Meanwhile, I will be ready for whatever question comes next. Is That What I Look Like From Behind maybe? Or Who Do I Have To Kill To Get Some Licorice In Here?

PS, how on trend are the colors on that cover? Those are basically the colors of my dream living room, the one in the alternate universe where I am not an impoverished slob.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The heart wants what it wants

People never say that about things that are, like, convenient. Oh, that's completely in line with my plans! The heart wants what it wants!

I have acquired a lot of books -- in my life, yes, but more specifically, in the last four months or so, and they have been arranged into a perfectly logical priority order. There are some awesome-looking books in that stack, and of course I have a staggering amount of professional reading I should be working through.

But man. I just have not wanted to read any of those things. Just about the only thing I have wanted to read is Aubrey/Maturin books.

The only illustration anyone needs for this topic
It's gone exactly according to script. Maybe two months of not reading anything at all, then finally, I give in and suddenly I'm reading all the time, in all those situations when I was so frustratingly stuck before: just not what I was so stubbornly focused on making myself read. So that's where I'm at: I have nothing to report except comfort reading: many books about ships.

It's so good, though. O'Brian has an almost Wodehousian ear for language, I think; both authors have those perfect turns of phrase that make me stop and laugh out loud in sheer appreciation. Much more importantly -- and I'm only just putting my finger on this -- O'Brian is like Jane Austen in that he generates humor as well as character by slyly slipping into a character's own perspective (if not his or her own voice) as part of the narration without giving any particular explicit indication that he's doing so. He also does the Austenian thing of reporting conversations telegraphically which just always tickles my funny bone. I probably mentioned these things the last time I wrote about these books? It's all still true.

So in short: I hope you are also reading things you enjoy this summer.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Russia, where everything's terrible

Alice and I were at our favorite used book store recently and I pulled a book confidently off the shelf. "What's that?" she asked. "I don't know, but it's Melville House," I answered. Some publishers are just kind of cool and niche, or they seem that way to me, and I naturally pay attention to their books. It helps that Melville House has super cool cover designs. I am shallow.

The Duel, by Alexander (or Aleksandr, as the website puts it) Kuprin is one of several novellas with that title published by Melville House. Interestingly, while I sort of expected the whole book to revolve around a duel, the duel crops up right at the end. It's not out of nowhere, but at the same time the main character has so many other problems and relationships and worries going on that the duel is both a culmination and the triumph of a minor thing over major things. Essentially it's a book about a young man on the edge -- he's on track to totally waste his life, and he knows it, but he's not sure if he should or can escape. The parallels to the author's life are fairly obvious from the very short blurb in the back flap, and that probably explains the vividness of the main character's dilemma. It was obvious how brutal and pointless his current path was, but at the same time I could understand why it might suck him in.

This is quite possibly the most Russian novel ever: toward the end our main character receives nihilistic enlightenment from a man dying of alcoholism, among other things. The description promises "an absorbing account of the final days of Czarist Russia" and I was not disappointed in that regard. Probably going along with this is the fact that the women in this story are evil, manipulative harpies. There is really no other explanation for the things they do and say. Of course, the men in the book are all pretty seriously debased, so they're not alone in that.

What I wanted from this book was an interesting story and a little historical detail, and what I got was lots of very interesting historical insight and a solid story, so I'd recommend this book to others. Plus you get to feel cool carrying around that very cool cover, so win-win-win.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ahhh, Florence

Probably the most exciting thing about this book -- Death in Autumn by Magdalen Nabb -- is that it's the book I saw in the airport at Rome, didn't buy, and then couldn't find again. So how did I find it, you ask? I picked it up at the Open Books/Reader book swap. Pure serendipity. I see from that old post that I thought the book I was looking for had an Italian author, which is what tripped me up trying to find it again; Nabb is (or was) British.

And this story has a further happy ending, because I enjoyed this book. It's not very long and it's a good, focused mystery story that manages to also have plenty of good characters and local color. I liked that the main detective, the Marshal, and his senior, the Captain (am I going to go figure out their names? no I am not) were working together on the case. In fact, on the whole, this was a very competent group of police with little internal tension, which is rare. Usually, even if you have a clever police detective in a novel s/he is working against corruption or laziness or bureaucracy or stupidity in their own force, so I thought this was a nice change of pace.

I don't have much else to say about this, I suppose, except that I am looking forward to returning to this series.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"For such a little girl, you know, you're neurotic."

Portia is 16. (It's the 1930s.) Her parents have died, and she's been sent to live with her much older half-brother and his cold and stylish wife in London for a year. It's awkward. The wife's volatile and ambitious admirer flirts with Portia a bit, Portia falls in love as only a girlish teenager can do. You know this can't end well, right?

Well, actually it doesn't end all that badly. No one dies or suffers any huge injustice or gets pregnant or ruins their life (well, they don't ruin their life in any way that they weren't already doing so). The Death of the Heart is more of a psychological novel: when you boil the plot down, there isn't much that's all that remarkable. But the personalities are thoroughly and carefully described, so that even where I felt like I recognized a type each character felt like a real person, and I was interested to keep reading and understanding each one more thoroughly.

There are sparks of wit in the story, and the conversations are really brilliantly captured, but Elizabeth Bowen's writing style felt a little overdone to me. It didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book at all; every once in a while, though, I'd just sort of think, "yeah, ok, reign it in." Still, on the whole it's beautifully written, full of little observations.
The wish to lead out one's lover must be a tribal feeling; the wish to be seen as loved in part of one's self-respect... Alone, one has a rather incomplete outlook---one is not sure what is funny, what is not. One solid pleasure of love is to check up together on what has happened.
The humor part of it is fairly understated; it's not so much humor as, again, observations, but it's still really enjoyable and certainly capable of making me smile now and then.
Pas Avant les Domestiques might have been carved on the Peppinghams' diningroom mantelpiece, under Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense.

What's interesting about this is that Portia's personal history and connection to the other characters is so odd, and yet her experiences felt quite relatable. Portia is the product (that's kind of a gross word but it's hard to word this sentence otherwise) of her half-brother's father's late-in-life affair. Her quiet, apologetic upbringing, moving from cheap hotel to cheap hotel on the continent, was the outcome of her father's sense of shame and loss. When she comes to live with her half-brother, her mother has just died. I sort of thought this background would play more of a role than it did. I mean, it's the explanation for why she's so childish and mousy, for why she has so little experience of friendship or family, for why her half-brother and sister-in-law have so little affection for her, for why it's so awkward for her to be living with them. But, I don't know: Portia's feelings of loneliness, her uncertainty about her place in the world, and certainly her innocent experience of heartbreak all seemed fairly universal for a teenager. I mean, the whole thing hinges on Portia melting down because someone's been reading her diary! Teens!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thank you!

You were right. Yep, I feel pretty confident in predicting (projecting?) that you, dear reader, probably read The Rosie Project and then wrote a blog post or a tweet or something about how cute it was. When I saw that, I made a little mental note. And you were totally right!

I was at a book swap event* and spotted this being put out onto the Romance table, and immediately I thought, That's that book my dear internet friend -- yes, her/him -- said was adorable! Gotta grab that one! So thank you for that recommendation, because it was adorable. I read the whole thing today, start to finish, breakfast to dinner. I thought it was like having a really good burger and fries and beer at the end of a long day. There might not be anything especially innovative or surprising about that, but it's so satisfying.

A photo posted by Julie (@jfount2) on

* The book swap was quite interesting. I can't help myself, I am always interested in how things get organized and I've been thinking about the concept of book swaps lately since at least three have appeared on my radar this month. The one I went to was totally free (*fist pump*). People arrived with their books (the organizers requested a maximum of 15). They dropped the books off at the front table. The organizers then assembled stacks of same-genre books and carried them out to the genre tables as rapidly as they could. Us patrons milled around in an addicting loop examining the tables. It was all extremely simple, and devilishly hard to leave because there were new books being put out constantly and what if. In this case, the leftover books were going to be donated to Open Books, Everyone's Favorite Book-Selling Chicago Literacy Organization. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the books (although of course there were some clunkers being offloaded too). I brought eight and left with five, which I was quite pleased about.

As so often is the case, the ending of The Rosie Project was less fun than the rest of the book, but that was ok. The best parts were the "Don is oblivious" parts so the conclusion was bound to be a little underwhelming. I mean:
'You want to share a taxi?' asked Rosie.
It seemed a sensible use of fossil fuel.
Adorbs. I saw the ending coming from a mile away but it was fine; just because you know that burger and fries are going to be awesome doesn't make them any less awesome.

I was sort of intrigued by the little author interview in the back of my edition, where Simsion reveals that the book is actually the product of many years chasing a passion for screenwriting. I have to admit, that's not the kind of thing I expect someone to admit to: a kind of Plan B success. Or Plan C, I guess, since Simsion had a career in IT that he quit for film. I feel like this little anecdote will be useful in the future.

Oh, and I scored 61 on the questionnaire (also in the back of my edition).