In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

Search This Blog

Friday, October 29, 2010

Heads UP DC: The Ladylike White Couch is Back! $225

Here's the same couch, covering up modestly with a few well placed pillows.

If I weren't getting my Kensington I'd be all over this.

And I'd buy these coffee tables to go with, and paint them a fabulous glossy color (or just shiny wonderful black). I like the fat little legs. They look black but secretly they are dark brown.

and this lamp on the side... it's from Etsy, $70

The Transformation Begins... Living to Dining Room

I'm an extremely impatient person with very low personal standards, and a firm devotee of the Half-Assed Craft (tm). Which means: I never have the forethought to take good "before" pictures, and I tend to go at things quickly but enthusiastically -- believing the test should be if you squint your eyes and ask yourself: Does it look better than it did before? If the answer is yes, VICTORY IS MINE. (and yours). I love me some Martha -- worship her actually -- but cannot possibly live up to her standard and neither can you. Face it.

(I always read Martha Stewart Living on plane trips. It gives me a sense of control.)
So I am beginning the long painful process of removing a 10 X 10 1970s sectional sofa from my living room, painting walls and floors white and rearranging all my dining room furniture into my current living room, and making tiny animal sacrifices to the Furniture and Doorway gods so my new Kensington sofa (a 10-footer for me! in a 14 foot room! intentionally! god help me and the moving company tasked to getting it in my wee house) will work out. It will sit in front of the fire in the library. If I can get it in my house.

Here's a mock up of what it will look like, with a tip of the hat to Restoration Hardware's online catalog and my computer's Paint program. (There is a WWI era welcome home from war banner hanging on the wall behind the couch, going up the stairs).

The current living room, the largest room in the house at 13 X 14, will become my dining room. It's next to the kitchen, so it makes sense, because in the current configuration with my dining room in a 9 X 12 addition on the back of my house, I'm forever darting down a long hall cum pantry to get people their dinner.

And the new dining room will be large enough to hold a 9-foot library table which if everyone squishes can host 16 people (YES IT CAN! LALALALALALALA).
So I am painting the room white - -walls and floor. The room had a cocoa brown wall as of Wednesday. Here's a before/in process shot...taken when I got a wild hair to paint the wall. Wild hare? Observe the cool ceiling beams. My house was built around 1850.

So after I did a poor job painting ( the wall still needs a few touch ups, especially near the ceiling and floor -- you know, the hard parts) I hung all my art, willynilly. But I love it! I have a few holes to fill in yet... It's dark because it is pitch black outside. The room gets nice morning light, and gorgeous golden afternoon light in the deep fall when the sun is low.

When I finally get the table and chairs in there it will be like eating dinner in a very, very bad museum. Glorious!

Here's what I'm going for, but not as perfect or fancy. Or wealthy. (that's what makes it mine.) This is Daryl Carter's dining room -- the DC lawyer turned massively successful designer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Updated! How To Prep for a Dangerous Foreign Assignment, in 11 Easy Steps

My boyfriend is heading off to Haiti for a jealousy-inducing-and-possibly-cholera-getting reporting assignment, and I keep sending him emails reliving my Glory Days telling him what to do, whom to talk to etc.

I figured I'd capture it here for posterity. So here's how to prep if you are off to a war, or to a humanitarian disaster or to play pool and inadvertently inflame a religious riot because you are not wearing long sleeves:

Handy tips!

1. Make lots of lists. You need a list of stuff you are bringing for daily hygiene, equipment for work, emergency rations -- Luna bars will do it, and iodine tablets for water just in case -- and clothes. To make the lists, imagine yourself waking up in the morning and then going through every step of your day: how will you wake up? (cell phone alarm? do you have an additional battery?), how will you wash? (baby wipes if no shower), what will you wear? what credentials will you put on? what will you eat? When you do your work, what will you use to take notes on? etc etc. Every step, until you get to bed (a silk sleep sack is no a bad thing to have in a yucky bed). One of the most useful things I brought with me to Iraq and Afghanistan was a big men's oxford and boxer shorts, which covered me enough to go to and from public baths and showers on military outposts without having to completely dress or wear a robe.)

2. Commit to carrying less in the form of clothing. You don't need to be decked out, and you want to be easily mobile. That means trying to keep your belongings to a good backpack, perhaps one with a padded pocket for carrying the lap top. This one looks fancy:

3. Bring cargo pants or one of those ridiculous safari vest that Dan Rather always used to wear. Useful to have pockets when you are juggling pens, tape recorder, camera, batteries, notebooks...Hands free is frequently necessary.. when you are exiting a burning vehicle or pressed up against a wall to avoid gunfire around the corner. Also, wear long sleeves. Prevents religious riots (see above) and protects you from the sun and bugs. And don't forget some flip flops suitable for the shower.

(above: cargo pants and Iraqi soldiers, and one Marine. I had terrible menstrual cramps in this picture. Always have Ibuprofen ON YOUR BODY. It was remarkable I was upright. Notice the sweat. 120 degrees!)

4. Get all the shots you need. Google travelers medical clinic; they will fix you up with everything you need (including a course of Cipro, in case you get a bacterial infection). With God As Your Witness You Will Never Get Yellow Fever Again!

5. Download all the background information you could ever need -- recent news, history, profiles of leaders, geographic information -- onto the thumb drives you will be carrying around your neck. If you get separated from your computer, you can always prevail on someone to plug your thumb drive into your computer to send a story or a report back via the Internet. You might also want to print out copies of everything you downloaded and carry it with you for easy reference.

(this is disgusting but made me laugh.)

6. Make multiple copies of all your documents: travel docs, credentials, passports, visas etc -- leave them with responsible parties at home and at work, and scan them and email them to yourself AND to your thumb drive.

7. Like Blanche, rely on the kindness of strangers. Call ahead to everyone you can think of -- experts who can give you advice or information before you go, people on the ground who will help you when you get there,m people who have just returned -- and upon whose mercy you may very well have to throw yourself. It's better to throw yourself on the mercy of someone you have engaged in good e-mail banter.

8. You will probably need a fixer. Don't take recommendations from your hotel -- you don't know if they are just trying to hook you up with their brother and are g etting a kick back. Get contacts from NGOs and people who have come before you. Your fixer literally has your life in his hands. You have power too -- you will be passing his info on to others, so that means big wages and steady employment for him in the future. (A fixer, for the unitiated, is often a driver and interpreter but mostly knows local people, arranges interviews for you, helps you with logistics and decisions about what to do next, guides you, keeps you safe. At least, the good ones do. The bad ones leave you waiting on a Baghdad street corner at 10 pm for 40 minutes.)

9. If you are really going, contact me in comments and I'll tell you how to hide your cash in your clothes so even if you are mugged at gunpoint, they won't get it and won't even know you have it. First step: acquire an Exacto knife.

10. Leave your fear behind. Fear serves a great purpose: to warn you off stupid things. Going where you are going is probably stupid. It's dangerous, it's unknown, it could get you killed or sick or maimed. But if you're going anyway, fear is no longer your friend. You're ignoring it. So don't give in to it (before you go. Just go. Then, keep an eye on your fear as your personal alarm system. Respect it. Your brain picks up on cues you may not consciously notice). Most people are good.

11. Don't obsess over travel warnings. They are for tourists, not badasses like yourselves.

Here's a partial checklist:


  • Meds -- including Cipro, Ibuprofen or aspirin (Ibu is better in case you twist something -- an anti-inflammatory), anti-diarrhea meds.
  • Feminine needs (trust me.. .they can be hard to come by in rougher parts of the world)
  • Medical kit: band aids, syringe, Moleskin for blisters
  • antimicrobial wipes (like Purell) in individual packages (can take them on the plane, and can toss them in your bag without fear of a Purell container opening on everything
  • Baby wipes -- it's wonderful to have a clean butt when you're otherwise disgusting. Also good for feet and face and body
  • Toothpaste, brush, dental floss etc.
  • Bug spray, sunscreen (they have it in stick form -- which is good especially when your hands are dirty)
  • bandanna (good for all manner of things)


  • Extra batteries for everything
  • Moleskine notebooks (expensive but they can take a real beating without losing pages. Plus you look cool. Somewhat douchey, but cool.)
  • computer, digital recorder, camera, a phone that works where you are going
  • pens, notebooks (if not Moleskines)
  • thumb drive on a lariat
  • UPDATE: a roll of duct tape: good for taping up broken luggage, as sutures in a pinch
  • UPDATE: a couple of mini0bungee cords -- you can strap things together to further free your hands.


  • Cargo pants or a vest, shower-worthy flip flops. The rest is up to you.

Hit me in comments if there is anything I'm forgetting!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to.. Oh, hell. The Most Wonderful Set of Wings Not on a Bird, Ever.

It's made of old workgloves and belts. When I see things like this I realize, oh right, I'm not an artist. It's humbling and thrilling to know that people like this are out there. Need these. Imagine over a bed..or just strappin on the belt and wearing them and being all like, "lu lu lu" if anyone looks at you strange.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Get Over Your Fear of Decorating in 4 Easy Steps

Watching dreamy Nate Berkus's new show (hot men in tan, bare feet, as above: Yes Please). He featured a guest who has a hard time making decisions to the point that she still hasn't furnished her dining room. SUPRISE! (must be pronounced with a French accent. Rhymes with "two PEAS!" ) he ended up giving her a table and chairs (that she selected from another set of table and chairs.)

Such indecisiveness makes me crazy (as you can imagine from a woman who tells strangers How to Run Their Lives). Herewith, 4 easy steps to decorating any room. (sort of. I mean you still have to find the stuff you want and decorate, but this is how to get to that point without collapsing into a puddle of indecision).

1. Educate your eye. Figure out what you like. You can do this with design magazines, or via blogs on the Internets, or go to and click on the Look Book thing on the right, or go to the Googles and google image "black and white dining room" and see what comes up. Collect images that you love -- print them or bookmark them or turn down the pages of the magazine (I worship design magazines, these curated little walks in wonderland, and don't think they should be torn up. But you can do what you want.) (I suppose). (If you enjoy ragged edges and not knowing the provenance of something or how to track it down, have at it. But I think those tear sheets are just more trouble then they are worth, and invariably get crumpled, and you can't remember which side of the page you liked). Anyway: line 'em all up. See what you like.

2. Look across all the things you love (and perhaps you clipped a few things that you loathe?) and figure out what the most common elements are, among them. What they share. For me it's strong shapes and contrasts, white floors, white walls. Like this but with less crap all over. Though lord knows I do have my share of crap.

No I take that back. I like this one, which is a good thing because I am about to paint the floor white in a room with dark overhead beams. And I want a stuffed white bird. There's one for sale in Georgetown -- a very angry goose -- but it's $900, which seems excessive.

It's the airiness and the space in the place and between the pieces, and yes, the contrast between dark and light.

That doesn't mean I don't love the green wall and Chinoiserie credenza:

Cuz I do. But always when flipping through magazines -- it's the white rooms, with black and brown touches, that get me.

3. Embrace Editing. You know how design magazines are always interviewing designers and they are always saying "edit edit edit"? Well, this is what that means: you can't have everything. Don't try to make a room both airy and cozy, crisp and warm, bright and neutral. Edit your IDEAS, before you begin to edit your stuff. Let a room's design be one thing, maybe two. Don't try to make it be everything. You can decorate another room, or redecorate this one next year (or next week.) But if you are going to be happy with the end product, you're going to have to rein yourself in or you're going to be Crazy Old Matilda in Chez Hodgepodge, and all the cool nice stuff you've been collecting on craigslist, like the Fabulous Lucite and Cherub Lamp of a previous post, is going to be lost in the space.

4. Now that you have a vision, sift through those images again and see which of the rooms within your edited vision you really love. You're not going to copy it, per se, but you are going to use it as a starting point.

Let's do me as an example! I'm making my current living room into my dining room -- it's right next to kitchen, it's the biggest room in the house (and my dinner parties are almost never fewer than 12, and cramming them into my existing 9X 12 dining room is a non-starter).

So this picture is a reasonable approximation of what I want (truth be told I've already bought an awesome 9-foot library table from Housewerks in Baltimore (see my Yes to These list on the right), and am busily spray painting white 7 chairs like the above off craigslist, and I will paint the walls and floors white. I already have a wonderfully distressed armoire which will serve as bar, linen closet, and oversized platters, and a huge old mason jar that I am going to turn into a lantern for over the table. And I have some cool African antlers that I picked up last summer from an antiques store. So we're not actually doing this in real time. We're kind of reverse engineering what I've already got. I also have 12 stackable white pleather and chrome dining chairs for big parties that will hide in some corner.) But! Here are some table choices.

In Purcellville, Va, this one practically does the work for you. Clean lines, good colors. Not quite as rustic as I'd want but still. Only $200

Or this one:

It's $250, and you'd want to paint out the red with white, and paint the chairs black.

Now you need some beat-up shelving. This isn't exactly on point but is wonderful -- aged and metal, and if you don't have a lot of room might be exactly what you need. $195

You could also go the Ikea route: these are already painted black and might be perfect. There are two of them and they are like $30, and once loaded with cookbooks and white ceramic platters, you'll never notice they are from Ikea. You could hit them with a little bronze paint, too, if you must approximate metal.

But really, what could be better than this which I think I need need need.

$299 from Madison and Mabel OMG. need. perfection.

Now a deer head. You can do the real thing -- they sell them at antiques stores willy nilly -- or do a couple of these ... more appetizing, unless perhaps you like venison:

A couple of large glass cylindrical jars, a spray of green and a great old pub sign from Great Stuff by Paul -- (trust me he has them) and you're done.

How you stock the shelves, set the table... that's up to you. But you will definitely be happy with the outcome if you use a room that you love as a broad visual guide. I promise it will morph into something that isuniquely you -- but having a good image in hand will keep you on track and editing. Edit edit edit.

As for me, I'm going home to start painting the new dining room floor white.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to Have An Awesome Bedroom in Chicago, From Craigslist

Get On It Chicagoans. Today's Craigslist is replete with wonderful stuff.

It all begins with this fantastic high boy. $225

So then you need a bed -- something kind of Mad Menny to pick up the mid-cent vibe above without being like a theme park. The bed below does it -- the brown is right, as is the neo-traditional shape -- sorta wingbacky -- and the tufted detail. Masculine. $695

Now go get these side tables. I like how they are that 60's kind of vaguely Asian. But I'd paint them because the wood tone is yeck (probably hideously expensive rosewood but still. Yeck) and I want the wood on the dresser to be the focal point here. They are $70 for the pair. Not a steal, but they'll do and I got tired of looking.

Paint them a lighter shade of mushroom so they kind of blend in with the bed - very montoney Martha Stewart's kitchen --

or paint them a deep, earthy eggplant -- it's there but it's not asserting itself. Here are my choices:

And on each of the bedside tables, one of these lamps. They are absolutely fantastic -- shiny, clean lined, vaguely retro, pure perfection -- and I need them and they are only $35 each. Please, someone, go liberate them.

I'm imagining a fairly large bedroom, and wanted some chairs -- to drape the suit across, or sit and have a much needed Manhattan at the end of the day. They are wicked cheap too. Best of all, they totally pick up that wonderful blue, and relate to the bed because of the buttons. Also I like that they are a little battered and weird. I mean, who buys these things new? Maybe Kelly Wearstler or Jonathan Adler but probably not even them. I love them. They require Commitment. But not that much because they are only $10 each (check for bed bugs).

And to put your feet up: check it -- a puzzle piece marble coffee table for $125. Just the weird shape the room needs. (Although as I look at all this stuff together, this table and those chairs might be too weird together. You could do something more simple and traditional. In any case, feast thine eyes!)

Finally, every bedroom needs a mirror. I'd like this one to be hanging on the wall opposite the bed, maybe behind the blue chairs. The gold of the mirror works with the pulls on the bedside table. The classic details are timeless and it's only $160.

Here are all the links. You're welcome!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How To Decorate Your Living Room From DC's Craigslist TODAY

It works like Kitten Wars

Or Thunderdome. Mano a Mano!

First, pick a couch from one of these beauties. I like the white one -- its curved and tufted and ladylike.

Now you need a side chair or two. Obviously the pink should go with the white couch, but otherwise, mix and match! I like the metal chair just to mix things up. Great texture, and probably only a little botulism if you cut yourself on it. (PEOPLE PAY GOOD MONEY FOR BOTULINUM TOXIN!)

You don't get to pick: you must buy all three side tables because lookit: !

There is one pair of lamps that meet my exacting standards (cheap, nice) (not to scale):

Now: a sideboard. Frequent readers will know I favor the credenza over a standard "media center" which are usually HIDEOUS and horrible. Furniture should not be created in deference to electronics. (see also those terrible gamer chairs, which make you look like your mom forgot to strap you in your car seat:

Anyway: pick one of these. Either works!

Now, a rug to ground things. I love the striped one in the middle but it's a little small at 5 X 7. Still, very Bedouiney, so that's automatically good.

Let's choose a mirror, shall we? The star shaped one is definitely coming home with all of us, and one of the other two. They both have wood frames -- one of them is a huge almost square, the other is tall. Both are floor mirrors. Must pick one.

Here are the links. You're welcome!

Sofa ladylike or leather:

side tables:






Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How To Make Me Regret Not Paying Attention in Physics

When I saw "Space Camp" starring Leah Thompson as a plucky but arrogant amateur pilot and Kelly Preston as a flighty genius, I knew what I was meant to be: an astronaut.
Sadly, I found math and science terribly boring. Gertrude Stein, upon being encouraged to stay in med school -- think of the women! she was told, being a pioneer for her gender in the field -- said to those making the entreaty: "You've no idea what it is to be bored." I did, Gertrude, I did. So I shelved my dreams of space flight.
Unlike Gertrude, I did not become a famous lesbian writer in Paris. Instead, I became a non-famous hetero writer in DC. But I did once play violin in a lesbian rock band so she and I share that, at least. That and a low tolerance for boredom.
This is all getting to a point.

Imagine my envy/delight at this incredible project: father and son send an I-Phone up to space in a weather balloon, and get a recording of the whole adventure (plus their I-Phone back). Brilliant, clever, inspiring, well-executed, and it opens the mind to all sorts of possibilities. I coulda done that had I only paid attention in physics. Dammit. check it out - perhaps the most wonderful thing you'll see all day:

(and here's the embarrassing admission part, which I only just realized. Space Camp, the quintessential kids' movie -- it included a sentient robot, a motley mix of multi-talented kids Who Ovecome Adversity and Steven Spielberg's wife -- didn't come out till 1986. I was a freshman in COLLEGE and I saw it in the MOVIE THEATER. That is what kind of a nerd I am.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to Shame Me with Your Culinary Brilliance

Loyal readers (there are 4 people following me! You know who you are!) will have gleaned from my post about throwing a fabulous dinner party that I am mildly obsessed/on the lookout for fabulous hors d'oeurves... you only need one to really kick things off right.

How's the above for brilliant? A little chicken sausage meat ball skewered on a tooth pick and balanced atop peach/tomato gazpacho. The possibilities are endless. What CAN'T you skewer and balance across a little thimbleful of delicious whatever?

Check out this gorgeous food blog, Canape, which exercises one of my obsessions for miniature food, here:

Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Make Your Bed Every Day

So Allison's 21 Rules for Living an Organized Life include making one's bed every day. This is not always possible for me, because I generally am not alone, nor the last one to leave the bed. By this I don't mean I am a slut. It's always the same guy. But on those occasions when I am alone, here's how I do make my bed.

1. Arrange the pillows across the headboard.

2. Get back in bed. (really)

3. Sitting up, pull the sheets up to your chest, and fold them over.

4. Slip out of the bed like a will-o-the-wisp, trying not to disturb things too much.

5. Standing next to the bed, quickly smooth the sheets.

6. Shake the duvet out, and fold it at the foot of the bed. Done.


Duvet covers are a pain in the ass to get back on after laundering them. Here's how to do it. It's like magic.

1. Turn the duvet cover inside out.

2. Reach in the opening with both arms and get your hands in the far corners -- the short end opposite you.
3. Using your hands through the duvet cover, grab the short end corners of the duvet itself, and begin pulling the duvet into the cover, gradually turning the duvet cover from inside out to outside in.

4. When the duvet is covered -- it will be a little disheveled -- spin the duvet around and grab the bottom (short end.) Holding both the duvet and the edges of the now right-side-out duvet cover, give it a shake. It should be perfect. The only way this can go wrong is if your duvet cover wasn't inside out when you started, or you grabbed the long rather than short end of the duvet.

I found that picture here: which has a far more detailed explanation of the process and some strong indications of a couple with an obsessive compulsive disorder about ironing polo shirts (do people iron them?). I learned this tip not here, but from Robert Verdi, the designer who used to have a decorating show with a short blonde gardener. Wouldn't you do anything this guy told you? Look: