Archive for June, 2012

Who doesn’t know this painting, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss?  This year marks the 150th birthday of Klimt and Austria is celebrating it in various ways. If you are in Vienna, you are in for a treat, for several museums such as the Albertina, the Belvedere, the Kunsthistorisches, the Leopold, and the Wien Museum are showing exhibitions devoted to his work.

Recently I watched an almost unpretentious American comedy entitled This Means War. To make a long story short, a guy learns that the girl likes Gustav Klimt and because he’s a secret agent and there’s nothing he can’t do, he shows the girl the original Klimt paintings. Watch the fragment here. Isn’t it every girl’s dream to be pampered like that?

What is your favorite Klimt painting and why?

Happy Friday Everyone! Next week I’m in a different country, living a different life. Stay tuned.

Smiles, Marta.


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Writerly Travels

Jun 28, 2012

Nearly a year ago, on my old blog, I made a valiant attempt to start a regular feature.  I planned, I pinned, and I posted.  Three times.  Three posts do not make much of a regular feature.  Today, however, I am bringing it back, for you, as a one-time-and-maybe-more feature.  I call it writerly travels: virtual visits to the homes and studios of authors I’ve read and loved.

A dear friend of mine is currently in England, traipsing to all sorts of literary sites, and I am thoroughly envious.  She’s seen some of Wordsworth’s papers, Chaucer and Shakespeare texts, and Jane Austen’s writing desk.  Perhaps I should be a little more astounded by Middle English volumes, given their age, but Jane Austen’s writing desk has me ready to catch the first flight to London.  Can you believe she composed such great novels at a desk so small?

Which writerly locales would you like to see?  Please share, and I’ll try to turn it into a feature!

Until next Thursday,

Katie (unwritten, untitled)


[images link back to their original sources]

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Jesse Kornbluth here, from, recalling the summers when I did nothing but read.

A friend suggested I pull together a reading list for the summer. I had a hard time taking her seriously. She’s one of the smartest, best-read people I know — I’d much rather read her list than mine.

But I understand why she’d like mine. Most of the books that you hear about elsewhere do fall onto my desk each week. I read at least a page of each. And then I give them away and look for an old, forgotten page-turner.

So what you’ll get here is balance: some new, some old. What you won’t get are books that take all summer to read; I have had the summer of reading Tolstoy, and while it was life-changing, it was only possible because I was a kid and my bills were small.

What you really won’t get here is rigorous intellectual challenge. New ideas? Yes, I hope so. But if, like me, you find the news close to unbearable, what you want from a summer book is a wallow in intelligent pleasure. And at a length you can handle in a weekend.

So: short books, mostly fiction, masterfully written, satisfaction highly likely. Slather on the sunscreen, pour the iced tea, and have at them.

Mission to Paris: The latest from Alan Furst, again set in France, again in 1938. If you’ve read any Furst, you have reason to hope this will be both delicious and exciting; if you haven’t, you showed up at just the right time.

The Stories of John Cheever
: 700 pages, but they go down like gin-and-tonics on the manicured lawn of a Connecticut hostess.

Defending Jacob: Everyone in this family annoyed me. But the set-up is bullet-proof: A teenager is killed, and it sure looks as if the killer is his classmate, son of the DA who prosecutes homicides.

The Fault in Our Stars: The best book I’ve read this year, and I say that even though it’s a Young Adult novel about kids with cancer. Just do it, for God’s sake.

50 Shades of Grey: Women beaten down in their marriages or limited in their sexual expression will find delight here. I don’t see how anyone else might — the sex is so bad you soon start to skip it. And isn’t that why you bought it?
Better choices:
The Garden of Eden: Hemingway’s surprising novel about a couple on their honeymoon who make it a threesome.
Jules et Jim: The French classic about three in what might be love
Smut: Two Alan Bennett short stories about Brits who step out of the box
A Sport and a Pastime: James Salter’s classic about a lost American man and a French shop girl.

Levels of the Game: In one epic tennis match, we learn everything about Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe.

Bonjour Tristesse: Francoise Sagan wrote this sophisticated beach romance when she was 18.

The Quiche of Death: A London PR executive retires early to savor the joys or English country life. As if.

Just Kids: Patti Smith’s fevered memoir.

The Kid from Tomkinsville:
A baseball novel. For kids. Maybe, but I read it again every few years.

The Queen’s Gambit: The more I tell you, the more you’ll wonder why. Just buy it. Read it. And pass it on.

These Days Are Ours: 20something New Yorkers, in the months after 9/11. Pitch perfect.

Sharon Olds: Poems that tell stories.

The True Believer: As we move closer to the election, Eric Hoffer’s short book will make more and more sense.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin: A note, left in a chateau: “Arsene Lupin, gentleman burglar, will return when the furniture is genuine.”

Radioactive: This inventive approach to the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie literally glows in the dark.

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag: All the pleasure of finding a treasure, but without spending a dime.

Jesus’ Son: Like your humor black? It doesn’t get blacker.

Dora Lives: Surfing’s baddest boy.

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Happy Tuesday, sweet English Muse readers. I just finished reading Heartless by Gail Carriger (think Jane Austen meets Buffy in Victorian London). I think I might read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies next.  It’s been sitting unread on my night stand for over a year now. Except I think I need a vacation from vampires. What are you reading right now? And just to mix it up, what movies or shows are you currently watching?




A scene from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Would Jane Austen approve?

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Jun 26, 2012

Photographer Kirsty Mitchell started working on her Wonderland series in 2009. Her mother had recently passed away, and she used her art to create worlds that reminded her of the stories her mother read to her as a child.

Her work is beautiful and intricate. Wonderland is a series that tells a story with only visuals – no words.

At first blush these photos look like high fashion editorials, big budget spreads, but everything in her images was created by Kristy and a few friends. It is a labor of love.

Kirsty has recently received a lot of media attention. She had an interview with The Huntington Post, an article on the front page of The Mail Online, the front page of MSN ’now’, the BBC World Service , the BBC television news… And several of her photos were enlarged and featured in store windows on Regent Street as part of  the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

Her “overnight success” was four years in the making.

As artists, it is a great story to remember. When you are feeling that you might never be recognized, it is probably best to just put your head down and make good work. The critical acclaim will come with time. Or it won’t. But making great work means you can simply be proud of the work.

This is amazing work. I feel transported to another realm.

have a magical Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes


all images from Kirsty Mitchell’s website

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Art is Everywhere

Jun 25, 2012

Hello, English Muse readers! It’s Hannah B. from Secrets of a Belle again, and today I think Lelanie and I must be on the same wavelength! I, too, have had art on the brain lately. I have always been a firm believer that art is everywhere–in the shapes of leaves, in the color of the sky, there are beautiful things to observe all around us. Well, this weekend, I took an impromptu trip to New York to see Husband and I noticed that I was surrounded by the formal practice of art everywhere I looked: the airport, Central Park &, of course, on our Sunday trip to the Guggenheim. Perhaps summer inspires people to create. Or perhaps  I’m just opening my eyes to take advantage of some of the lovely opportunities to observe art that I never have before.

What do you think? Have you seen any amazing art lately? Have you been to any fabulous exhibits you think the rest of the English Muse readers would enjoy? Share below!

Until next week~ xo* Hannah B.

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Art is amazing.

Jun 25, 2012

Hey guys. Welcome to Monday. It’s Lelanie here from of Beauty of Love. Why not kick today off with some art inspiration? I have hunted around a bit for some affordable pieces. Art makes such a different in a space. Yet, often we feel like we have to go without because it’s unaffordable.  So here’s a nice round-up of affordable, pretty and unique pieces that wont’t break the bank. But that will definitely spunk up any space.

Prints are usually the more affordable. They come in various styles, themes, looks and colours.

Or you can go for something more modern, like this oil on canvas.

This Mid-century inspired print can be cute in a kitchen or a kiddies room. The colours are vibrant and the design is fresh.

The colour combo of the reindeer print is so beautiful. Sun yellow and midnight blue makes such a striking combo.

And these love horses have a great gypsy, bohemian feel to it.

Or what about something like this classic, meets unique peacock print? This is sure to impress your guests.

Use prints in pairs, clusters, groups, on feature walls in a lounge, as an accent in a bedroom or as a talking point in a dining room. The options are endless.

Find these items here:

Anchor, mug, moments, modern, MCM, reindeer, horses and peacock.

Ciao, Lelanie.

Categories: Decor | 2 Comments »

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Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. This week I wanted to talk about the summer solstice and how summer is finally here. Belgian weather however decided to sabotage me so instead I wanted to share with you a playlist full of music that makes me long for summer.

Ready. Set. Summer. from simplecupoftea on 8tracks.

You can be sure that these songs will be blasted on my trip to Rotterdam with the bestie (only three more weeks!!!).

What’s your favourite summer music?

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Jun 22, 2012

I have always loved cats. Ever since I was a little girl I used to feel sorry for homeless cats and taking them home (which my mom didn’t like at all) and persuading my mom to let them live with us. Today I still love cats and even though I don’t have one at the moment I wish I will have one (or maybe two) one day. Just when I had moved to London 2.5 years ago, my cat Ebba died. We had had her for almost 10 years and she had really become a part of the family- licking my tears when I cried, giving me her paw to hold when I was falling asleep and feeling lonely and always sleeping on my pillow. I miss her a lot. She was black with deep green eyes and nowadays whenever I see a black cat, I think of her. For you other cat lovers out there there is a blog that mimics the Sartorialist called the Catorialist. Here are some images I have collected over the years (from different places that I don’t remember unfortunately). Have a nice weekend! x Jenny




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This post is dedicated to my dear friend Daria 🙂

Hello Everyone! I went to see her concert three days ago here in Wroclaw, my hometown. In preparation for the concert, I listened to some of her songs and was amazed how many really good songs she has recorded. Initially, I thought I was familiar with “Twist in My Sobriety” only, but I was wrong! I must have heard

“And I think of you”

“Little Sister Leaving Town”

“Cathedral Song”

“Good Tradition”

“Happy Taxi”

“Wonderful Shadow”

“If I Ever”

“Light Up My World”

before, because they felt very close to my heart when I listened to them these past couple of days, on a loop, I hasten to add.

I re-discovered her music this year and am grateful. Do you have similar experiences? Artists from way back you are only now beginning to appreciate?

Happy Friday Everyone, even if these songs are a tad melancholic.

Smiles, Marta.

Photo Credit: 1.

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In August, fingers crossed, I will begin a teacher certification degree that will someday allow me to teach middle school English and Language Arts.  So what have I begun doing to prepare for this degree program?

I’m making a reading list, of course.

Goodreads has a Top 100 Middle School Reads list, most of which I’ve read and loved.  I’ve reread The Giver a time or two, and I still remember getting teary-eyed at the end of Tuck Everlasting, then reading it again years later.  A Wrinkle in Time is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of publication this year and I bought myself a new copy to celebrate, because I gave mine away years ago.  And, of course, Bridge to Terebithia is on the list, another one of those great heartbreakers that I will never forget and always love.

So, dear readers, what books won your heart as a middle school student?  Which titles are unforgettable?  And, just for fun, which ones do you hope you never have to read again?

until next Thursday,

Katie (unwritten, untitled)



[image: source unknown, found here]

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week celebrating a great poet many of us had never heard of.

Remember those old, offensive Polish jokes?

You could almost make one here: Did you hear about the Polish poet who won the Nobel Prize?

There are certainly some nearly comical responses.

In 1996, Wislawa Szymborska (l923-2012) won the most money in the history of Nobel awards and the most money ever won by a poet: $1.2 million. You or I might have upgraded our real estate. She stayed in her small apartment — a fifth-floor walk-up.

Her output was small, just 350 poems. Why so few? “I have a trash can in my home.”

This is how she began her Nobel acceptance speech: “They say that the first sentence of any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one’s behind me.”

Wislawa Szymborska’s favorite phrase was “I don’t know.” This was not conversational. It was the entire matter. Her take on history was harsh, as you might expect from someone who was born in Poland and had to endure the Nazis (“Old age was the privilege of rocks and trees”) and the Communists (“At the very beginning of my creative life I loved humanity. I wanted to do something good for mankind. Soon I understood that it isn’t possible to save mankind”).

And her poems? They’re direct, conversational. You could say: easy to read. Until you walk away from them. [To buy the paperback of her Collected Poems from Amazon, click here.]

An early poem, “Classifieds,” is a collection of advertisements never placed in newspapers. A few are light:

I RESTORE lost love.
Act now! Special offer!
You lie on last year’s grass
bathed in sunlight to the chin
while winds of summers past
caress your hair and seem
to lead you in a dance.
For further details, write: “Dream.”

But then:

WANTED: someone to mourn
the elderly who die
alone in old folks’ homes.
Applicants, don’t send forms
or birth certificates.
All papers will be torn,
no receipts will be issued
at this or later dates.

She likes to imagine life from other angles, as in “The Railroad Station,” which begins:

My nonarrival in the city of N.
took place on the dot.

You’d been alerted
in my unmailed letter.

You were able not to be there
at the agreed-upon time.

The train pulled up at platform 3.
A lot of people got out.

My absence joined the throng
as it made its way toward the exit.

Several women rushed
to take my place
in all that rush.

It follows that history cannot be trusted:

Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.

Some are like short stories. A terrorist has planted a bomb in a bar. There are 13 seconds before it explodes. From across the street, he watches people walk in and out.

A poem about a funeral is all direct quotes: what people say. You wait for a comment about the deceased. And wait….

A cat. In an apartment. Alone — its owner has died.

And one, “A Contribution to Statistics,” in its entirely, because it was the one that seduced me.

Out of a hundred people

Those who always know better:

doubting every step
— nearly all the rest.

Ready to help,
as long as it doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
— four, well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:
— eighteen.

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
— sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be taken lightly
— forty and four.

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:
— seventy-seven.

Capable of happiness:
— twenty-something tops.

Harmless alone,
savage in crowds:
— half, at least.

when forced by circumstances:
— better not to know
even ballpark figures.

Wise after the fact
— just a couple more
than wise before it.

Getting nothing out of life but things:
— thirty
(I wish I were wrong).

Doubled over in pain,
without a flashlight in the dark:
— eighty-three, sooner or later.

— thirty-five, which is a lot.

Worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine.

— a hundred out of one hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

And, finally, this:

Yes, that’s what the Nobel for poetry looks like.

(Many thanks to Jo McGowan Chopra)

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week taking you to Paris — in 1938.

If you have a deadline looming or even a busy week, the absolute last thing you want to do is crack open “Mission to Paris” and think you’re going to read just a chapter, because you’re not.

You’re going to read when you shouldn’t be reading. You’ll read at lunch. On the street. Deep into the night.

But if you then try to convey your enthusiasm for “Mission to Paris” to someone who has never read any of Alan Furst’s 13 novels, you may have a hard time. These are spy thrillers by category, but the main characters aren’t usually spies; in this book, the hero is a Hollywood movie star who, in 1938, is “loaned out” to a Parisian producer to play the lead in a French film. More and more, in total violation of convention, Furst’s novels feature romance, invariably with women who are not swimsuit models. As for suspense, even before you start a Furst novel set in Europe during the run-up to World War II, you know at least part of the ending — the hero is not going to kill Hitler and save the world.

So why are Alan Furst’s novels so addictive?

Just read the first paragraph of “Mission to Paris.”

In Paris, the evenings of September are sometimes warm, excessively gentle, and, in the magic particular to that city, irresistibly seductive. The autumn of 1938 began in just such weather and on the terraces of the best cafés, in the famous restaurants, at the dinner parties one wished to attend, the conversation was, of necessity, lively and smart: fashion, cinema, love affairs, politics, and, yes, the possibility of war—that too had its moment. Almost anything, really, except money. Or, rather, German money. A curious silence, for hundreds of millions of francs — tens of millions of dollars — had been paid to some of the most distinguished citizens of France since Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933. But maybe not so curious, because those who had taken the money were aware of a certain shadow in these transactions and, in that shadow, the people who require darkness for the kind of work they do.

An immense amount of information is conveyed in those 155 words. The tension between the lively start of the fall season in Paris and the conversation no one wants to have about German money. The way that money compromises the rich Frenchmen who take it. The presence of shady characters. And, not least, the feeling you get when you have fallen under the spell of a master storyteller. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

And that’s just the first paragraph.

The first chapter — click here to read it — follows a French fool who absconds with enough of that German money to live comfortably in another country for years. Think he gets away? Or do you think we see, in brisk, no nonsense prose, the efficiency of the German operation in France — in 1938?

All of that suggests what awaits Fredric Stahl when he arrives in Paris to make a movie. He’s no matinee idol: “He couldn’t punch another man, he wasn’t Clark Gable, and he couldn’t fight a duel, he was not Errol Flynn. But neither was he Charles Boyer — he wasn’t so sophisticated. Mostly he played a warm man in a cold world.”

The Germans, knowing Stahl was born in Vienna, are interested in him. And they want so little: come to Berlin, just to judge a festival of films about mountains. $10,000 for a day’s work. Lufthansa will fly him over and back.

Stahl is less than interested. But then he gets a taste of German commitment to the triumph of the Reich. (As Goebbels’s people liked to say, “We don’t send out press releases. We send out operatives, and then other people send out press releases.”)

Stahl prudently consults an American spymaster.

“You’re not a spy,” the officer tells him. “That takes nerves of steel, and soon enough becomes a full-time job.” A “but” follows: “If, in your time here you, ah, stumble on something, something important, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you let me know about it.”

And that happens.

Reading rapidly to the end, you could say that the reason you’re so involved with a Furst novel — if you’re new to his books, you may want to go right on to The Foreign Correspondent and The Spies of Warsaw and Spies of the Balkans — is because he writes so well.

True enough. But I see another reason: At the start of a Furst novel, his main characters are not spies. They’re drawn into espionage by circumstance, but also, I think, by character. They see clearly that there are good guys and bad guys, and at some point, you’ve got to decide where you stand. So although these novels are about Europe in the years before World War II, they’re also exquisite little morality plays about right now, right here.

But mostly, damned if they don’t make you think, “I’ve got to get to Paris, and soon.”

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There is a foggy feeling when you wake up from a really real dream. The kind of dream that seems like it must have been true.

Sometimes you can still feel the heat on your face, or the wind in your hair.

Photographer Oleg Oprisco captures moments that seem hazy. Like a memory they show all the best pieces and leave behind reality.

His images have a sepia-toned palate, and slightly surreal settings. Things are only slightly off from reality.

They seem like they could maybe be real.

Like a dream you want to be true.

Like a memory gone soft around the edges.


Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes


all images from Oleg Oprisco’s Flickr account

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Hello dear English Muse readers, I am Gulfem Karci from All Happy Things Around! Today, I want to share one of my dreams with you, visiting Peru.

There is a hopeless adventurer and daydreamer inside me. Almost each week, a new theme is set by this adventurer and daydreamer side of me. This week, it is all about Peru. I have ever wished to visit there ever but this week it is just irresistible!

I came across unique selection of photos of Hotel Monasterio, a luxury hotel settled in Cuzco area. They make me feel like I can leave everything behind and then just go there. I can feel the meanings of infinity and inner peace just by looking at the photos of the hotel. Charming is the weakest word to articulate my opinions about that place. Would be fantastic to spend some time over there! Tours to Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley would mean feeling heaven on the earth.

But I guess I still some time to visit that hotel and I need to work really hard to afford it 😉

Here are some photos, enjoy!

(Photos via)

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Happy Monday, Muse readers! It’s Hannah B. from Secrets of a Belle, and today I’d like to share the 2 books that are currently on my nightstand: Home Economics and Don’t Sing at the Table. Both feed my lifelong obsession with homemaking.

I am constantly thinking about how to live a more beautiful life and a big part of that, in my humble opinion, is keeping a beautiful home. But, in the words of Ferris Bueller, ‘Life moves pretty fast.’ So what’s a girl to do? Here are a few tricks that I’ve picked up.

1.) Set a schedule and get into a routine.

2.) Put the things that matter most to you at the top of your ToDo list. Are you a stickler for a clean bathroom? Do you have to have the dishes done before you go to bed? I am a pretty bad stacker (stacker of magazines, stacker of old mail, stacker of clean clothes), but when the dishes are clean, all is right with my world.

3.) Learn about the ‘old school’ way of doing things. How did your grandmother keep her kitchen clean and her furniture polished? Many times the old cleaning products and methods are not only cheaper but better for your home & health.

4.) Make (& keep) a budget. This one will change your life forever.

5.) Fill your home with music & flowers… and dance in the kitchen.

What about you? What’s your go-to tip for making a beautiful home for you & your loved ones?

Until next week, xo* ~Hannah B.

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Morning guys. It’s Lelanie from of Beauty and Love here. Today I’d like to share some beautiful fabric and colours for summer with you. I found these gorgeous fabrics while on the hunt for Bohemian inspired prints for a friends new shop. These fabrics has such rich prints and textures that I simply couldn’t resist. I thought It would be nice to do a quick shoot so I could share these with you.

The top fabric is actually meant for Shade umbrellas. This geometric print would look super on a patio umbrella, but could look equally good on scatters or as a cover for a patio chair. This hardy fabric will withstand many rubs and is easy to clean.

The dip-dyed muslin on top is so soft to touch. This fabric, with it’s watery hues in Watermelon, Aqua and Browns, would look super as flowy drapes on a wide porch. The fabric is sheer and would allow plenty of natural light to stream in, while providing some shade and respite from the heat.

The fine tribal print at the bottom is called Chobi, and it’s from Stuart Graham. The neutral, sandy background provides a good base for the colour scheme and repeats the natural browns from the sheer Muslin. The delicate pattern adds interest. But I love the Aqua dots. They lift the whole thing and gives it that something special.


This soft, fresh palette is great for Summer. It could look stunning on a Patio, in an informal lounge or even a home office. We will be moving into our new place soon, and I am saving these fabrics for there. I am not quite sure how or where I will be suing them. All I know id that I love this scheme and the combination of prints and patterns.

Pair these fabrics with hand crafted Moroccan inspired objet, like these delicate birds, or other simple accessories. White candles and clear glass jars will add detail without distracting from the fabrics.

What do you think of these? Do you like the colours and the patterns? What accessories would you pair with this collection? 

Have a lovely Monday,

ciao, Lelanie.

Categories: Decor | 2 Comments »

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Be the change

Jun 18, 2012

Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea again. This week I’ll be talking about change and how important it is to embrace it.

There’s this thing about life. It is constantly changing. It moves, reinvents itself and gets reborn. Life is never static.

Now let’s be very honest here. Change is scary. Sometimes it’s downright terrifying. But if I think about the scariest changes I’ve allowed to happen in my life they are the ones I’m the most grateful for. They are the ones that make my life as wonderful and beautiful as it is.

The best things lie just outside of your comfort zone.

So go out there. Take that leap and make that change.

It’s your life. It’s your day. Go for it.


Picture credits: 1 & 2.

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Cold Showers

Jun 15, 2012


Dear English Muse Readers!

I have just finished another Art of Living seminar and I am bubbling with energy. Did you know there are five sources of energy? Food, breath, positive attitude, sleep…and COLD SHOWERS.

I quit eating meat two years ago and I bless my decision and discipline every single day. As a result, I learned how to cook delicious, healthy meals.

I have been doing unique breathing exercises taught in the Art of Living classes  and am thus successfully battling depression and anxiety. My attitude has changed from moping and complaining all the time to everyday serenity, hopefulness and big fits of laughter.

I try to get enough sleep now: 6, 7 or 8 hours of sleep a day, depending on how I’m feeling and how much work I have to do.

I have re-introduced cold showers into my mornings and yes it is traumatic at first, but the feeling afterwards is unmatched. Have you noticed how after a warm shower you’re cold, sleepy and ready to go back to bed? Whereas after a cold shower, you feel energized and ready to rock the world? Plus you’re actually feeling warmer because your blood starts circulating. Not to mention that I waste visibly less water whenever I’m showering ice-cold! The first time in years I took a cold shower I made sure the house was empty because I was planning on singing “Nessun Dorma,” an aria from Turandot very, very loud! I’ve been showering cold for a couple of days now, but already know I won’t quit doing it anytime soon. The price is not that high and the energy I derive from it is simply priceless!

I try to do things differently in life and hope that you do, too. Can you share some examples and inspire us?

Happy Friday and Happy Cold Showers to those of you who dare!

Smiles, Marta.

Photo Credits: 1, 2

Categories: Decor | 24 Comments »

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Little Words

Jun 14, 2012

Little words and little sentences always get me in writing.  I make every effort to use impeccable grammar, punctuation, and spelling on a daily basis, but something about fragments of thoughts has a more concentrated punch when you’re pouring over page after page of a novel.  The little words leap from the page and present themselves to you unencumbered and potent.

When I am caught in a novel where the words go on in long strings and then break into their own space, moving from paragraphs and complex sentences into single words and tiny clusters, I cannot stop reading.  I cannot help referring back to the lines later, either, especially those that constitute the border between long phrasing and short.

I noticed, in looking back through some favorite books recently, that this sort of style shows up in a lot of the things I love–and in a lot of heartbreakers.  The History of Love comes to mind, especially in the final fifty or so pages, through which one can’t help but race.  The way this style builds emotion and psychological interiority is what made it impossible to put down any of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels.

So, I wonder: do you find that there is a particular style you are drawn to repeatedly?  If not, is there a particular genre?  What sorts of books grip you and don’t let you stop until there are no pages left?

[image 1: the last word is triumphant by Ryan Sims/image 2: I love Words illustration by Joyce C/image 3: I love that word. by Jessica Lucia]

Categories: Decor | 4 Comments »

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, here today to offer an explanation why hard-core religious fundamentalists are so intent on enforcing their will not just on their women but on their government.

Eric Hoffer’s remarkable book, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements,” is short: just 168 pages.

Hoffer believed in short.

Anything that needs to be said, he believed, could be said in 200 words.

Hoffer thought of himself as a writer of sentences, and his book is a collection of remarkable thoughts, simply and precisely expressed. (If you’re the kind who reads with a pen in hand, beware — you could find yourself underlining almost the entire book.)

But what freaks out any number of readers is that Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) is nobody’s ideal of a public intellectual. He had no real schooling. He spent most of his working life as a longshoreman on the San Francisco docks. Almost every day, he took a three-mile walk. Along the way, thoughts formed. Later they became sentences, then books. Over the years, he wrote ten. “The True Believer” is his masterpiece. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

The genius of this book is Hoffer’s ability to see beyond individual behavior to patterns of thought and behavior. On page one:

Though there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalists, the fanatical Communist and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one… However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.

Whoa. Let’s unpack that.

What Hoffer is saying: Yes, you fundamentalist Christian dreaming of bombing Planned Parenthood… yes, you hard Right “conservative” who thinks life was better in 1955 and endorses any politician who pledges to get you there, no matter how…. yes, you militia member who’s certain that the government wants to confiscate your assault weapons before moving on to the rest of your arsenal — for Eric Hoffer, you are the spiritual brother of the Nazi, of bin Laden, of Stalin, of the KKK.

Why does Hoffer make such a blanket condemnation?

All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them… breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single hearted allegiance. All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.

As an idea, this isn’t a splash of cold water — it’s a bitch slap to all those who believe so strongly in a cause that they want everybody else to believe in it. That single-mindedness, that intolerance, is the core question of Hoffer’s book: what kind of people become fanatics?

The answer is personal. And psychological. Before they believed, Hoffer writes, they felt small, confused, destined for nothing. With belief, they feel strong, certain. Their fanaticism transforms them; losers become winners. (“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in himself.”)

Lost people attaching themselves to a passing raft — if the cause sounds almost randomly chosen, it is. (“In pre-Hitlerian times, it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis.”)

The goal of the mass movement doesn’t matter? Not according to Hoffer. He says: the more unrealistic and unattainable, the better. It’s not even important that the doctrine be understood. In fact, Hoffer says, the harder it is to believe, the better. Forget your mind, trust your heart, the zealot says, and his followers do just that. (“We can be absolutely certain only about things we don’t understand.”)

You and I know that change is the one immutable law of life, that there are always at least two opinions, that we’ll probably die not knowing the ultimate answers. Not so the members of mass movements. They know it all. (“A mass movement…must act as if it had already read the book of the future to the last word. Its doctrine is proclaimed as a key to that book.”)

Right now, we are seeing the spread of anti-Moslem groups in Europe and anti-women’s groups everywhere. (That is textbook Hoffer: “A movement can exist without a God but no movement can exist without a devil.”) Here at home, we have quite a few zealots who also have a genius for identifying “devils” and turning them into “the Other.” So it seems fairly obvious to me that at some point in the next few years, home-grown extremists will move — perhaps violently — against people who thought they lived in a democracy.

There will be widespread disbelief when this happens. And punditry for weeks. Eric Hoffer’s work will not be quoted — it implicates many more people than the perpetrator of the violence. But if you’ve read “The True Believer,” you’ll have a clue why it happened. And what, if we’re unlucky, might come next.

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One day in Paris

Jun 12, 2012

What would you do if you’d never been to Paris before and you had one day, just one, precious day, to see as much of this magical city as you could? Where would you go? What would you see?

This is Naomi Bulger visiting from my blog Messages in Bottles, and I had the pleasure of acting as a guide to Paris for Mr B, my mother-in-law and two 13-year-old girls in this way last year. I tried to pick out a range of classic tourist sites for them, alongside some ‘quieter Paris’ experiences. Here’s what we managed to pack into one day.

1. Le repas

Prepare some snacks before you start. If you pass a market or grocery store on the way, buy a bottle of water alongside a little packet of olives, fresh bread, some cheeses and meats, and perhaps a punnet of raspberries or a bunch of grapes for dessert.

Then take the metro to Chatelet Les Halles. Follow the signs to the Hotel de Ville and when you come out, Paris will appear around you in all its glory. When we emerged in Paris this way, the girls’ jaws just dropped. It made me so happy to see how much they loved it. “NOTHING could be more beautiful,” my stepdaughter Em said.

2. Embrace your inner ‘touriste’

Since we only have one day, let’s get an overview of all the key sights. Buy a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus, most leave every 10 minutes or so. You’ll pass by Notre Dame, head over the river, pass the Musee du Louvre, roll along the Champs Elysee, circle the Eiffel Tower and more. It’s a fabulous introduction to Paris. You can of course get off and explore at any time, but I recommend just sitting on the rooftop of the bus (and snacking on your supplies) to get a wonderful overview of the city. It’ll take about two hours.

3. Notre Dame de Paris

When the bus gets you back to where you started, stroll over to Notre Dame. There may be a line to get inside but don’t worry, even the longest lines seem to move very quickly and even if you’re not a ‘church person’ (I’m not), this is worth it. Yes, there are tourists. But there is something about the age, the stillness, the history of this cathedral that lend it a certain power. Prayers come alive in Notre Dame. Light a candle for someone you love, but be careful. We lit a candle, together, and prayed for a baby. That was in September last year and our little girl is due in two weeks (do the math).

4. Dejeuner on Ile Saint-Louis

Time for lunch and a little rest? Wander around the back of Notre Dame, admiring the pretty flower garden, and over the bridge to the tiny, historic island of Ile Saint-Louis. Here you’ll find lovely, medieval laneways with cafes, cheese shops, patisseries, boutique fashion, home design and candy stores. Stop for a leisurely lunch at Café St Regis on the corner just after the bridge and, afterward, you must head down to the famous Berthillon for some of the best ice cream in France. (Seriously!)

5. Les bouquanistes

When you’re feeling refreshed, cross back toward Notre Dame then over the Pont des Arts, to the Left Bank. Along the way, it’s such a treat to stop among the bouquanistes that line both banks of the Seine. Here you’ll find antique books, prints and other wonderful discoveries. If you’re in the company of someone you love, you may also want to buy a ‘love padlock’ to leave as a memento when you re-cross the Pont des Arts later.

6. Shakespeare & Company

Once you get to the Left Bank, it’s only a short stroll to Rue de la Bucherie for a visit to Shakespeare & Company, a book lover’s utopia. This little English-speaking bookstore sells new and used books and has a wonderful upstairs reading room and library for taking time out, with comfy lounges and a piano, and medieval windows that overlook Notre Dame. It has been a haven from the hustle and bustle of Paris for countless writers, artists and friends throughout the years, including Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Gregory Corso, William S Burroughs and Alen Ginsberg.Warning: you may well want to move in.

7. Le Musee du Louvre

When you are ready to re-enter the busy city, cross back over to the Right Bank and head on into the Louvre. If I’m honest, you could spend a week exploring the collection here, and I’ve only given you an hour or two. So pick and choose what interests you. Many people make beelines to the Mona Lisa, and I confess that’s what the girls wanted to do (afterwards, they went back outside and cooled their feet in the fountains by the Pyramide). But there are so many artistic riches housed in this glorious palace. Take your time. Wander. Explore. You will love it.

8. La Tour Eiffel

It’s almost dusk. Hop back on the metro or, if you have time take the ferry for a glorious journey, and make your way to the Eiffel Tower. Climbing it is not too difficult (or there is a lift if you prefer), and oh my WHAT a view. When you’ve had enough of soaking up Paris from the air, head back down to one of the stalls by the river and buy yourself a freshly-made savoury crepe (I’m a big fan of the classic jambon et fromage), then cross the bridge to the Palais de Challot (the grassy area in the photo above). Find a soft spot in the grass and munch on your crepe while you wait for the Tower to light up. It is a magical sight.

Take your time heading back to the hotel. Pick a little restaurant that feels like home and settle in with a good bottle of wine and some seasonal produce (if you can fit any more food in). Relax. Enjoy. You’ve earned it.

An extra day

If you manage to score an extra day or two in Paris, lucky you! Here is a handful of other ideas but, really, you could stay in Paris for a month and never run out of wonderful things to do.

  1. Explore the shops and historic twists and turns of Le Marais  2. Treat yourself to a classic bowl of moules-frites with beer  3. Visit the famous Moulin Rouge  4. Peruse the wonderful artworks in the Musee d’Orsay (and while you’re at it, consider some of the smaller galleries, too)  5. Take the train (about an hour away) to see the stunning Palace of Versaille  6. Hunt for treasure at one of Paris’ many marches aux peuces (flea markets)  7. Have your portrait painted in the Place du Tertre, Montmartre, and soak up an artistic world that once belonged to Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh  8. Stop in for a bite at the famous and fashionable Cafe de Flore; or opt for its rival, Les Deux Magots, a former haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir  9. Simply follow the crowds and get lost inside this vibrant, beautiful city

Categories: Paris, Travel | 8 Comments »

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I used to think cupcakes were overrated.  Then one lazy summer evening, friends talked me into standing in line for a cupcake at Georgetown Cupcake.

What can I tell you? Their cupcakes are so delicious that the line to the cupcackery is literally a block long.  See Exhibit A below:

Well, I hate to admit this…but I’m now one of those people who will stand in line for a cupcake.

What about you, dear reader, would you stand in a very long line for something delicious to eat?


{Image via DCist. Cupcake images via Georgetown Cupcake.}

Categories: Decor | Tags: | 5 Comments »

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Dark Flowers

Jun 12, 2012

As spring warms into summer the delicate early flowers turn brown and fade away. The summer flowers are larger, hardier, and darker.

Linn Olofsdotter’s work seem somewhat tropical, there is nothing flimsy about her flowers.

I love how complicated and dense her illustrations are.

Her work is graceful and elegant but by no means dainty.

Have a marvelous Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

All images by Linn Olofsdotter from here

Categories: illustrations | 3 Comments »

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