Friday, September 26, 2014

Singer-Songwriter Shannon Curtis in My Backyard

Sometimes you just instantly fall in love with a song or musician, and that's how it was for me with Shannon Curtis.

I can't recall exactly the year I first saw her, but I know it was roughly 12 years ago. I remember entering Heritage Festival on the grounds of Gibson Ranch and hearing a pop rock band with a female singer who could actually really sing. That band was Paradigm.

I was immediately hooked. And because I co-ran a local music website and zine that did CD reviews, Paradigm sent us their press kit, so then my broke self had Paradigm music to listen to all the time.

Eventually Paradigm parted ways and Shannon embarked on a solo career in the vein of Norah Jones and Sarah McLachlan. The first time I saw her perform with just a keyboard, I was blown away. I continued to catch shows here and there and do some press when I had a new music column. 

I turned my husband onto Shannon's music, and despite his protests when we first met that he didn't really like female singers, he also became a fan. (Female singers now play heavily in his music rotation, so don't listen to what they say; You can change a man! Or at least his music taste.)

The last few years, Shannon has focused almost exclusively on house concerts, playing in living rooms and backyards across the country. We were privileged to have Shannon play one of her last concerts of the summer in our backyard last Saturday.

Shannon played a very emotional and intimate set for our small crowd of friends and family. She even brought some to tears. Although Aaron and I were disappointed so many friends had to miss out on the concert due to prior commitments, I think everyone who did attend, left impressed. It was truly a special experience.

Shannon and her husband take the time to get to know the guests before the concert.

You can learn more about Shannon and her innovative house concert tours at her website.

Related Posts

Outdoor Oasis: How to Turn a Futon into a Porch Couch
Nar, Go National and The Knockoffs at Old Ironsides 
Chalk It Up 2014


Friday, September 12, 2014

Halloween Decorations: Floating Goblin

We like our Halloween decorations creepy, not cutesy. Sure, sometimes little kids are afraid to come up to our door, but with prompting from their parents, they almost always get over it. We have free candy, after all.

This floating goblin is a simple, thrifty DIY Halloween decoration that takes just minutes to make.

All we used was a blue rubber mask from the 99Cent Store, a bug zapper lantern and a hooded, black Halloween costume top in a thin, breathable fabric from the 99Cent Store. 

We hung the zapper lantern, which is encased by proctive bars so we've never had to worry about it burning the fabric. We chose the zapper because it gives off a nice blue glow. A porch light with a black light in it would also achieve this affect.

Then we stapled the hood of the top around the edges of the mask.

To secure the mask in place, we fit the mask's flexible head strap around the lantern.

Finally, we just pulled the shirt over the lantern.

We probably could have done a better job hiding the cord the year the pic was taken. The next year, we ran the cord along the ceiling of the porch cover so it didn't just hang there.

Like this post? You might also like:

DIY Flying Monster

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Halloween Decorations: DIY Flying Monster

He's made children cry. He's one of the reasons we get so many "badass decorations" compliments from adults. He's our flying monster, and he only cost a few bucks to make.

What You Need:
1 Black grad robe (Check thrift stores, if you don't have one lying around.)
1 Over-the-head mask (Preferably with a hood)
1 Pair of monster gloves
Lots of safety pins
1 Plastic bag
Newspaper or tissue paper
1 Wire coat hanger
2 sticks (We used the wands from old blinds)

The Basic Steps:
  • Fill out your mask with something bulky so it has dimension. We actually have a block of wood in there, but without pulling apart the monster, I couldn't tell you how we managed that. You can fill a plastic bag with newspaper, seal the bag and then safety pin or sew it into the inside of the mask.  
  • Safety pin the collar of the graduation gown to the neck opening of the mask. If your mask has a hood -- as ours does -- safety pin the hood to the gown.
  • Cut a small slit in the back of the neck area of your monster to insert a wire hanger.
  • Insert poles (narrow scraps of wood, wands from blinds, etc.) into the sleeves of the gown to give your monster outstretched arms. 
  • Secure the poles in place. We used large safety safety pins.
  • Stuff the gloves with newspaper/tissue paper to give dimension. 
  • Attach the gloves to the poles. We Macgyvered the gloves with duct tape and safety pins and its held for years. For added fun, position the fingers in place -- our guy is flashing the rock n' roll sign.
  • Hang your guy up -- near a corner works great -- and attach the hem of the robe to a wall to give your monster the look of movement. We safety-pinned the ends of the robe together and then secured the ends to the wall with push pins. 

Like this? You might also like: 

DIY Floating Goblin

Monday, September 1, 2014

Chalk It Up 2014

My face melted and I was generally blinded by the bright sun, but I still enjoyed seeing the sidewalk chalk drawings and listening to live music at Chalk It Up on Saturday afternoon.

Chalk It Up is an annual Labor Day weekend festival at Fremont Park that benefits youth art programs in Sacramento.

This year we only caught two bands, The Old Screen Door and Musical Charis. I snapped some quick cell phone pics of the bands and of my favorite sidewalk art.

The Old Screen Door
Musical Charis

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No Sew Instructions: Turn a Skirt Into a Window Valance


I've always wanted cherry-print curtains in my retro-styled kitchen. My narrow, corner kitchen window, however, does not work with most curtains. Hanging a sheer curtain panel with a tension rod was the best way to let light and airflow in while still providing privacy, but it left the window looking unfinished. I thought a valance would complete the look, but also knew I would either have to make it or cut a normal-sized kitchen valance in half to fit the small space.

Then, while sorting clothes to give to charity, I came across my cherry-print skirt, size 3. Loving the print, but knowing I would likely never fit into the skirt again, I decided to turn into a window valance.

Like many of my DIY projects, I made this one up as I went along, with basically no plan. Because I used sewing pins and skipped the actual sewing, crafting the valance was pretty simply.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cosmetic Companies That Don't Test on Animals

I originally wrote the following article as an assignment for a client, but was a little surprised to discover the client didn't actually want me to name names -- advertisal relationships and all. Rather than rewrite an entire article to avoid offending a makeup line by stating the facts about its safety testing, I decided to throw it up on my blog. I also have another reason for sharing: The information I learned in my research made me examine the makeup I buy. With the selection of cosmetic lines that don't test on animals, there's really no reason I should be supporting a company that still tests on animals. 

If you're looking for that perfect volumizing mascara or blemish-concealing BB cream, but want to ensure the product is cruelty-free, good news: As of 2014, over 1,000 beauty and personal care companies don't test on animals, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The bad news is that some big-name brands still test on animals, and the testing practices of some cosmetic lines are unknown. When in doubt, look for the leaping bunny logo, which is the international cruelty-free stamp of approval from PETA.

Drug Store Brands
You don't have to go to a department store or beauty store to find cosmetics that don't test on animals. Drug-store staples, including Jane, The Body Shop by L'Oreal, Terra Natural and Physicians Formula are PETA-approved. Even the low-cost Wet n' Wild is cruelty-free. If you still love those scented Lip Smackers, never fear, Bonnie Bell makes the leaping bunny list, as does natural lip balm maker, Burt's Bees.

Middle and Higher End Brands
When those coupons and rewards offers come in the mail from Bath & Body Works and Victoria's Secret, you can buy their cosmetics with confidence that they are cruelty-free. Higher-end brands that don't test on animals include Smashbox, LUSH cosmetics, Urban Decay, Sephora Spa Essentials and Aveda by Estee Lauder.

Mineral Makeup
If you're a mineral-makeup beauty, you'll find many brands from which to choose, at all price points. Mineral cosmetics that don't test on animals include Affordable Mineral Makeup, Aussie Mineral Makeup, Bare Essentuals, Pur Minerals, L.A. Minerals, Luv Mineral Cosmetics, Everyday Minerals and Earth Goddess Minerals.

Testing Abroad
Some companies don't test the products they sell in the U.S. on animals, but do test the products sold in other countries on animals. In China, animal testing on cosmetics is a legal requirement. Avon, Estee Lauder, Mary Kay and Revlon all lost their long-held PETA-approval after testing and selling in China; however, in early 2014, Revlon and L'Oreal's Garnier announced they would pull their products from the country. On its website, Almay says it personally does not conduct animal testing, but adds that, "Regulatory authorities in a few countries conduct independent testing in order to satisfy their own mandatory registration requirements."

Confirmed Testing
Just because a cosmetic product doesn't carry the leaping bunny logo, it doesn't necessarily mean the company tests on animals. The company may not have gone through the process to carry the logo, even though they don't do animal testing. Some companies cannot carry the logo because of confirmed testing. According to PETA, Bobbi Brown, Maybelline and M.A.C. conduct animal testing. Procter & Gamble, which owns Cover Girl, claims that it completes 99 percent of safety testing without using animals.

To learn what animal testing entails, visit this Humane Society page.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Childhood Home, Furnished by Craigslist: The Kitchen

My kitchen is not my favorite room in the house. It's outdated. Honey-oak cabinets aren't my preference. And I could really do without the old, blue countertops. I haven't done a lot of decor-wise to the kitchen, but I have added my mark here and there.

Before we moved in, I planned where everything would go (hello, obsessive compulsive personality!) and realized right away we needed two things: a pot rack and a rectangular table. As much as I love Gramma's round/oval table, I needed a table that could sit flush with the wall to maximize the limited space. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Turn Soup Cans Into Candle Containers

This craft is an oldie but a goodie. Using tin food cans, you can illuminate your favorite outdoor space. All you need is a nail, hammer and optionally, a drill to turn soup cans into candle holders.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Outdoor Oasis: How to Turn a Futon into a Porch Couch

I refer to my back porch as my outdoor oasis, not because it's the most beautiful or detailed, but simply because the furniture is comfortable and the atmosphere is peaceful. It's where I go to unwind, relax and read.

Last year, I wrote about getting rid of my busted up outdoor furniture, updating the salvageable and buying a futon to to use as my new outdoor couch.

Shortly after I painted the $20 queen-size, solid-wood futon with outdoor white paint, I got busy getting ready for my move and never updated with the final result.

I love it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Childhood Home, Furnished by Craigslist: The Family Room

The family room is where the music happens. It's where marathon hours of video games are played. It's really more my husband's room. I mainly use it to watch Jeopardy because it's easier to get ABC reception in that room. Sometimes I play Jeopardy on Playstation, too.

This room has had the most transformations in the 7 months we've lived here. First, it was the video game and Netflix room, back when we had the most massive beast of an old-school TV you've ever seen.

When my brother moved in, we sold most of the furniture in the room, gave away The Beast and moved in my office furniture. About a month later, our other roommate moved out, and I got my office back.

Without The Beast taking up a quarter of the room, furnishing the family room was pretty simple.