6ixteen_03What would it be like to live in a world without stuff? I have so many collections, I’ve never contemplated living in a house with neutral tones and few knickknacks. But I really love the decor of this UK estate featured recently on 1st Option… 6ixteen_016ixteen_10 6ixteen_09 6ixteen_17
Liberating or Blah?!?

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Every summer we head to our cabin on a remote lake in the High Sierras.
This year I decided to decorate a bit…


I made a pine wreath with wild flowers…


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Joan Didion was one of 24 leading figures in American arts and culture who gathered on Wednesday in East Room of the White House, where President Obama made the annual presentation of the National Medals of Art and the National Humanities Medals. She looked so frail as she made her way, with a special escort, to the stage. Obama reached out to try to keep her steady.

He told the crowd in his opening remarks: “Somebody like Joan Didion, who, rightly, has earned distinction as one of most celebrated American writers of her generation. I’m surprised she hasn’t already gotten this award. But in her early years, she was in school only sporadically, basically taught herself how to read while she and her family followed her Army officer father around the country. She obviously learned quickly. She won a contest for Vogue in college; gave up her dream of being an oceanographer, writing became her world. And today, decades into her career, she remains one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture.”

I’m sure Didion would have made a fine oceanographer, if that’s what she had decided to do. But the fact that she became a writer instead gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to live a full life, complete with hurt and loss, in this world.

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Vogue Living East Side Story
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Such a great color blue in this little Sydney cottage. I painted our library this color in one of our old houses. It looked amazing with white book shelves.
Photos from Vogue Living Australia.

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I love these natural tones, so very calming. I love the creamware with the natural wood. I admire people who can master this look. It takes discipline. I would have a hard time resisting a few splashes of color. Pink velvet and leopard print get me every time. …
Photos by Richard Boll

Happy Tuesday Everyone.

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Lovely photos in the June issue by Tom Allen


Can’t wait to see Great Gatsby!

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Léa Seydoux is just so great!

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Artist Windy MacNaughton creates the most interesting illustrations, and this travel one — per Nellie Bly — is especially good. Gotta love a woman who travels with a flask, (3) veils and an ink stand.

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Bruno Mars put on such a great show tonight at the Entertainment Industry’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. And afterward they handed out Sprinkles red velvet cupcakes at the door. Bliss.

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Love this! I can’t wait to see Episode 2.

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There’s a lovely feature on the home of Sydney woman Wendy Paterson in this month’s Vogue Living Australia, showcasing her taste for simplicity…

Paterson spends her weekends “fossicking” for treasures at flea markets and antique stores.
She tells Vogue Living: “I always want my home to be better on Monday than it is on Friday because of something new I’ve found.”

“I always want to pare things back so that each object has its own space
— to decorate with the lightest touch.”

Paterson says: “I love the ghosts of past owners.”

When she renovated her house, she kept a saying on a wall:
“White is not the mere absence of colour.”

…LOVE her cameo collection…

The magazine is available on Zinio.

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This is how our house looks at the moment….

(The woman with moon print is by Rose Walton. I bought it from her a million years ago when she was selling her art on Ebay. I lost track of her for awhile but recently found her on Etsy.)

(Previous places where we’ve lived. Also with cats.)

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I love the stylish use of space in this one room Paris apartment…

I stack my books too — not always a good idea when you need a book at the bottom of the pile.
In this space, they seem like sculptural art.

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Lately I’ve been bookmarking Pinterest files in my toolbar. Here are some of the photos from one that I’m obsessed with: Sara Jane’s “Down the Lane.

The file belongs to “stylist, creative consultant, visual storyteller” Sarah Prall. She bookmarks interiors…and the requisite deer photos…

Peeling fences and tattered quilts….

Old-fashioned dilapidates…

Still Lifes…

Colorful knits from faraway lands…

Bloomsbury-esque spaces…

Perfectly named, Down the Lane, if  you’re on a country road….Where I’d really like to be…

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Christmas comes early this year. And if you are good girls and boys, you will now open a great present by clicking this link to buy the CD from Amazon, or this link for the MP3 download.

What are you getting? “Nomad,” 40 minutes of music by an African guitarist who’s called Bombino. It’s protein-rich: great for parties (you will come to be bored by friends asking “What is that?”), a lifesaver on rainy mornings when you don’t want to get out of bed, a good candidate for serious listening, a caffeine hit for long sessions of work when your friends are getting buzzed on Adderall, and, so far from least, an essential ingredient for ecstatic couplings at midnight.

That’s a lot of goodness: cheaper than Starbucks, not addictive like Adderall, and even more useful for a marriage than counseling with Esther Perel.

What’s so great? First the writing: it’s all hooks. Hooks upon hooks until you are locked in a groove. Then it’s Omara “Bombino” Moctar’s guitar. It slithers. It buzzes. It’s round like Knopfler, spacy like Hendrix, concise like Ali Farka Toure. And then the drums. There are a lot of them, and they range from handclaps to crisp little circles. And, finally, great sound. “Nomad” was produced by Dan Auerbach, who is half of The Black Keys, a band that proves again and again that when you’re mega-talented, a guitarist and a drummer are all you need.

Hearing is believing. Crank the volume. See if this doesn’t haul you out of your chair:

That’s not a one-off. This song also makes me nuts:

The back story: Omara Moctar was born in 1980. He’s a Tuareg. (Volkswagen named its off-road SUV after this tribe of desert nomads in Niger.) The Tuareg, who are descended from the Berbers of North Africa, are fiercely independent. Once they fought against colonialism. Now, although they’re Muslims, they resist Islamic fundamentalism. (“These invaders from Mali are not welcome in any of our lands,” Moctar says. “We reject their philosophies and their idea of Islam.”)

In the 1990s, civil war wracked Niger. The Tuaregs were declared enemies of the state. Moctar and his family fled to Algeria. Relatives brought guitars, and Moctar learned to play. Fighting subsided. Moctar’s family returned to Niger. But in 2007, when he’d launched a band, there was a second Taureg rebellion and a harsher government response. Two of Moctar’s musicians were killed; Moctar fled to Burkina Faso.

On his first, under-the-radar America tour, Moctar met Dan Auerbach. They had no common language, but a short session of music made it clear they could collaborate.

Auerbach: “He would triple his guitar leads, and he’d do it note-for-note, first take. It sounds massive. His guitar’s running through fuzz pedals, with double drummers playing at the same time — lots of percussion.”

Translation: This is desert music, but it’s been processed in a Nashville studio. Not to trick it up, but to make it stronger. And it is. There are no English lyrics; because they’re in a language you don’t speak, the words have power only as sounds. Which I prefer.

Maybe more music will come along that delivers both novelty and creativity. I’m not holding my breath. I see “Nomad” as I once saw SMOD –— as the most exciting World music of the year.

At some point — like in 2015 — I expect Bombino to get a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Well, he won’t be new to you. Or to all the people you’re going to give this to when it’s really Christmas.


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Jesse Kornbluth, of, serving you excellent tea.

Alice Waters drinks Pu-erh tea. And swears by it. “My cholesterol went down 100 points since I started drinking this,” she says. ”It was extreme.

That’s not a small endorsement. I ordered some. And opened it while we were having dinner with a friend from Texas.

It is rude to ask Texans how many acres they own or how many head of cattle are grazing there. Anyway, they don’t own acres. They own “sections.” My friend shared that her family owned … many.

My wife also has a rural childhood. She grew up on a game farm in Minnesota. Raised pigs. Prize pigs. Has a row of 4-H Club purple ribbons to prove it.

Both women took one look at the brick of tea and said the same thing.

“Cow pie.”

Just so. This tea has been fermented, aged, then pressed into an inch-thick circle. It has an earthy aroma. But not unpleasantly so.

It turns out that lower cholesterol isn’t everything – it might be the smallest health claim for this tea. Pu-erh is said to promote weight loss (the health claim is that it dissolves fat cells) lower blood pressure, and calm the nerves.

“A Chinese study performed on rats and published in 2009 showed lowering of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels after the animals were fed a pu-erh tea extract, along with an increase in HDL (“good” cholesterol),” writes Andrew Weil. “We know that tea, in general, is protective against heart disease and cancer. It’s likely that pu-erh tea has similar effects.”

An Amazon reviewer finds another benefit: “I needed it for is the Theanine that is in this tea, I have an autoimmune disease that causes inner tremors and I take L-theanine to calm me down but this tea is doing that in a more natural way.

Pu-erh is one of the higher grades of tea grown in Yunnan province. A round pound costs $16.95 at Amazon, which may sound dear but is actually a terrific bargain. You break off the leaves you need, crumble them into a pot, douse them in very hot water for 30 seconds, pour off that first steep, and then brew your tea. Not for long. Three minutes will more than suffice; I prefer a minute. Bonus: you can use the leaves for as many as eight steeps. [In a Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug, you have a day’s supply.]

Good to the last drop? Astonishingly good. Pu-erh is never bitter. Milk and sweetener are superfluous — this is a rich brew that delivers an unusually modest caffeine hit along with a welcome hint of natural sweetness. Some Pu-erh fans say the last drop is actually the best, that the last infusions taste richer and sweeter than the first. [To order Pu-erh tea from Amazon, click here.]

Pu-erh has been around forever — in China. Here it’s just starting to be the new cool thing. Six months from now I expect Jimmy Fallon to be making cowpie jokes. Millions will laugh. Thousands will start to drink it. The last laugh? Yours.


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Jesse Kornbluth, of, here to praise one of his favorite writers.

“A major literary event.”

That’s the phrase for any novel by James Salter, and especially “All That Is.” First, because Salter is known in the trade as a “writer’s writer” — underappreciated by the public but revered by those in the know. Then, because this is his first full-length novel since 1979. And, not least, because he is now 87 and by any sane measure it’s likely that “All That Is” will be all there is — his final book.

Regular readers of this site know that I have been an admirer of Salter’s work ever since I read A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years as a pup, and that I have had the privilege of knowing Salter for three decades. The length of our friendship and his four score and seven years seem like fiction; for me, my friends are always the age they were when I met them. So I have trouble with the valedictory tone that’s more or less expected in any assessment of “All That Is.” In my head, I see Salter at his desk, surrounded by notebooks, turning words this way and that, struggling to write not his final book but his best one.

But ”All That Is” does invite us to read it as a summing up. It has that heft: 300 pages, for Salter a thick book indeed. In form, the novel is surprisingly traditional. Salter, known for books that are short and terse because his sentences seem more carved than written, follows Philip Bowman, a smart, sensitive World War II vet who stumbles into the book business and has a long, almost distinguished career as an editor. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Publishing, even in New York, does not lend itself to heroics; Bowman “liked to read with the silence and the golden color of the whiskey as his companions. He liked food, people, talk, but reading was an inexhaustible pleasure.” I’m down with that, but I live in New York, I’ve known that man. His work and joy are interior; a book about such a man requires a second engine.

That engine is Bowman’s parallel career with women. When we meet him, Bowman is not exactly surging with testosterone. His first marriage — his only marriage — is to the wrong woman. How could it be otherwise? “He loved her for not only what she was but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise did not occur to him or did not matter. Why would it occur? When you love you see a future according to your dreams.” That’s an interesting idea. It is not, however, an idea that leads to high drama.

That marriage is followed by a promising affair with a woman in London: “It seemed his manhood had suddenly caught up with him, as if it had been waiting somewhere in the wings.” No kidding:

In the bedroom she stepped from her skirt. She stood for a moment, hugging herself, and then slipped off the rest. The glory of her. England stood before him, naked in the darkness. She had been, in fact, lonely, she was ready to be loved. He was never more sure of his knowledge. He kissed her bare shoulders….

And this:

He slipped the dress straps from her shoulders. You could never have anyone like this. His old, fettered life was behind him, it had been transformed as if by some revelation. They made love as if it were a violent crime…

And this:

Her blond hair, her lean style. He saw himself now to be another kind of man, the kind he had hoped, fully a man, used to the wonder. Enid smoked cigarettes, she did it only now and again, and breathed out the rich fragrance slowly. The light in the Ritz made her beautiful. The sound of her high heels. There is no other; there will never be another.

But that great love fades.

Who’s next? A woman he meets in a cab. If you read the excerpt of Bowman’s meeting with this woman, you may hope she’ll be his great love. I won’t spoil what follows with her and then with her daughter, but by now I cared enough about Bowman to despair for him. I saw his end as the fate of Viri, in “Light Years.”

Not so. Again, no spoilers, but “All There Is” ends with water. And not the dark water of “Light Years.” Here there is the pulse of life, the province of hope. It is just magnificent. Salter, who has the gift of writing sentences that exactly reproduce what we feel and think in the moment we feel and think it, moves beyond that incomparable skill and does something even more difficult: He gives us his heart.

For all that, if you have never read Salter, don’t start with this book. Work up to it. Read “A Sport and a Pastime.” Read “Light Years.” Read Burning the Days, his memoir, which tells the story of a West Point graduate and Air Force fighter pilot (more than 100 missions in Korea) and his transformation into a writer. Read the stories in Dusk and Last Night. And only then…

Sounds like a project? Oh no. Dear friend, I have just handed you a gift beyond price.

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Oddfellows Orphange | Secrets of a Belle

Hello,  English Musers!

It’s Hannah B. again from  Secrets of a Belle. This past weekend, while the rain pitter-pattered on the window, I spent some time curled up on the couch lost in a new favorite book. This got me to thinking. Where do you other people read? Do you curl up on the couch too? Do you read in bed before you drift off to sleep? Personally, my dream is to eventually have a room devoted just to reading… you know, like the Duke!

The Duke of Devonshire Taking a Nap in the Library at Chatsworth, Shot by Christopher Sykes

The Duke of Devonshire Taking a Nap in the Library at Chatsworth, Shot by Christopher Sykes

But it doesn’t have to be that fancy! After all, in the words of Billy Baldwin…


Here are some other reading spaces I really dig.






More excellent reading nooks can be found on Pinterest.

What about you? Where do you do your best reading?

Hannah B. lives in East Tennessee where she writes Secrets of a Belle, a blog about the art of living a more beautiful life. You can follow Hannah B. on twitter at @HB_Belle and on Facebook.


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How did I not know about these amazing Jane Austen postcards?! Found these photos tonight on The Daydream Princess tumblr blog. Found them for sale for $13.60 a box on Amazon!

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week exercising his feminine side and delving into women, women and more women.

It used to bug me how, at a certain point at parties, half a dozen of the most interesting women would get up and stroll to the ladies room.

Their reason, I came to understand, was neither cosmetic nor functional — they just knew a better party was to be had sitting on the edge of the bathtub, chatting among themselves.

One night I did what I’d wanted to do for years: I followed them.

An exception was made and — be still my heart — I was treated like “one of the girls.” And I understood why they fled the living room: A better time really was to be had without men. That is: greater intimacy, sharper sharing, edgier stories.

That is also true of Susanna Sonnenberg’s “She Matters: A Life in Friendships.” I’d read her first memoir — Her Last Death — and greatly admired her account of a childhood spent with a drug-soaked, sex-addicted, wildly destructive mother and an eccentric, distracted father. Sonnenberg’s story was compelling, but what really impressed me was the writing. By now pretty much anyone can serve up a lurid tale; Sonnenberg not only faced the truth about her family’s pathology, she crafted it with style, wit, and, remarkably, distance.

“She Matters” tells twenty stories: Sonnenberg’s intense friendships with twenty women. That number alone is impressive — I don’t think I’ve had twenty friends in my life. And I don’t know anyone who would say that friends are as crucial to life as oxygen.


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Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. I don’t know how the weather is doing around your part of the world but here in Cardiff it’s pretty rainy. My hometown in Belgium isn’t much better: snow.

Now I nearly talked about how depressing the rain is. Nearly. And then I stopped myself.

It’s so easy to be bogged down by life’s little annoyances, little things that become massive in our eyes. To let someone else’s negativity overwhelm our own positivity.

So I decided that I’m going to enjoy the weather, put on some wellies and jump in a few puddles. Then next week when I’m home in Belgium for a couple of days I will grab my mittens and – if the weather permits it – have a huge snowball fight with my brother. Just because.

Silver linings. Lemonade. Whatever you want to call it. It’s always there.

Have a lovely week!


Photo credit: 1

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week in awe of a woman in pajamas.

“Slow love” is a good description of the way I’ve come to know Dominique Browning. After decades of a nodding acquaintance when we worked at glossy magazines, we started reading the other’s web sites. There was a chance meeting at a dinner, and, recently, cultural expeditions peppered with questions, stories, ideas. Now I grasp what others figured out long ago: Dominique Browning is that rare talent who’s both intellectually and emotionally fearless.

“Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness” begins in 2007, with Condé Nast’s sudden decision to close House & Garden, the magazine Browning has edited for 13 years. The news flattened her: “I’ve lost the very thing that defined my days, paced and regulated my life…. Suddenly I’m floundering. I’m terrified.”

This memoir is not just the book you expect: “a story of psychological collapse, of struggling to start over again.” There’s also a parallel struggle: “not to make the same mistakes again.” She’s looking backward and forward, struggling to be wide awake, so in 267 pages, you get two books in one. [To buy the paperback from Amazon for the bargain price of $6, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Looking back: Her magazine had burned through five publishers in ten years. Every few months, rumors had Browning following them out the door. The editor of Architectural Digest, also owned by Condé Nast, announced, “I killed that magazine once and I’ll kill it again.” Overlords called Browning in to note her failure to buy designer clothes in sufficient quantity.

Looking forward: The absence of work was even more painful. Browning slept all day, then developed insomnia. She wasted hours reading just about anything on the Internet. And had a predictable response to panic:

Within hours of leaving my office for the last time, I could hardly bring myself to care about my reputation. I just wanted to eat. I began calling every employed person I knew to take me to lunch. I wanted to fill my calendar with the promise of meals, even if they were only penciled in — this, after all, being Manhattan. Only food could ward off the rage, despair and raw fear that overcame me.


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