7 Feb 2016

Inspire Aspire - Morning Defrag

Morning Defrag - as I call it - might sound like Morning Decaf but don't get yourselves deluded! Morning Defrag is a highly-energised caffeinated powerhouse that sets you on your working day focused and ready. It is all about self-organisation. All these years in England, I used it instinctively and it grounded me. Then I recognised the pattern and channelled it and understood how it took me from a state of morning haggard hazard to morning calm. This is a routine you need to incorporate into your life if your bed-to-work journey is hectic and chaotic.

A Date with Fate 2 by Jack Vettriano

I will state emphatically that I am NO morning person. The thought of getting up early frazzles me. So imagine how difficult and painful it was for me to get up at the crack of dawn for a work start at 6:30am or 7:00am! I had to get myself organised. Apart from those specific work assignments, my working day usually started later, some time between 8:00am and 9:00am, depending on the workplace.

There was nothing left for improvisation in my morning. I got up an hour before due to leave, so everything had to be timed, and divided into half an hour for getting ready and half an hour for breakfast. That gave me manageable time and this was a great help to me! Be warned that skipping breakfast in order to have extra time in bed is a false economy; it will burn you out come mid-morning because you will be running on empty!

It all started off with a good night's sleep. Then as soon as the alarm went off, I got up. No snooze buttons! Straight to shower, then dressed up. Down for a good hearty breakfast of hot chocolate and muesli (mixed together, yep!), followed by a glass of fruit juice, sat down at the table, to set me off for the long day ahead. I'd then prepare my lunchbox. If I wasn't running late, I took my doggie out for a quick walk round the block, or popped a few items in the washer, or whatever quick household task I could handle. The make-up routine, I have to say, was stripped down to the bare minimum. So forget the Kardashian contouring!

'Reade St Shadows', oil on linen by Stephen Magsig (2015)

Then I would leave, always aiming for that 5-10 minutes leeway prior to my absolute cut-off time of leaving the house. Because commuting is the biggest chance you're taking every single day, timewise. You have a rough idea of how long it is supposed to take, but then traffic jams, roadworks, accidents and other delays will set you back big time and aggravate your day!

I would take no chances on the road. That side street that looks like a shortcut is a bad idea to investigate impromptu on one's way to work! Investigate the feasibility of those alternative travel routes on a day off.

Depending on how I was feeling that day, I would either have the radio on (BBC Radio 1 in my case), or some pre-recorded music tracks that I liked, just to keep my mind off the stress of driving. Sometimes I was just content with the sound off. While stuck in traffic (inevitable in North West England!), I would - while paying attention to the road - get myself mentally prepared for the whole day ahead.

'47 Greene St', oil on linen by Stephen Magsig (2015)

I'd approach that quite methodically, yet without forcing my thoughts out. Usually I would start off with thinking about personal/ housekeeping/ family matters that I needed to address or deal with that very day or later in the week, and often I would find myself in a propitious frame of mind: clear-headed, sharp, spot on and business-like efficient at that particular time of day, and solutions would present themselves to me without trying too hard.

And from there my thoughts would drift towards work, important things to do that day, and I would prioritise them in my head. I would break the tasks down, and by doing so and approaching them from outside the workplace, I would have the focus, the perspective, the insight, the light bulb moment that might not have been that clear-cut at work - even if it were staring me in the face!

It became clear to me that my brain was reorganising jumbled up information and making sense of it into its next stage as follow-ups, conclusions, solutions and calls to action. My brain was like a computer being defragmented, rearranging data in a more workable way.

By the time I got to work, after my one hour commute or so, I would be raring for action, my ideas organised, solutions to the ready, new avenues to explore, reminders flashing in my head, and there was no stopping me. And as much as my long daily commute never was a piece of enjoyment in itself, I wonder whether I would have felt that prepared for work, should my commute had been short! Think this one over and praise the long journeys to work that take you to the roads less travelled... of the mind!

4 Feb 2016

French Design Thrift in the Fabulous Fifties

LBM had been looking pretty until this came along. And I'm afraid we're going to have our noses smeared in it for the good cause, for the beauty-pain paradigm. I had been putting this post off for some reason, and the 60th anniversary of the Grand Ensemble has come and gone, and I am still perusing the topic like I'm meant to be doing something with it - which I am. So here we are now, facing that concrete wall.

In this article, we will explore how the 60th anniversary of the Grand Ensemble last year in France was more a case for commiseration than celebration for its residents and - to a more muted extent - to public authorities and governmental bodies trying to save face and play the political game.

Grand Ensemble de Sarcelles (1955-75)

The failings of the Grand Ensemble are rooted in design and beyond it. If the word 'Design' is supposed to conjure up a divine ratio of style, balance and elegance, seamless execution, expensive materials, ground-breaking novelty lines, and is supposed to elevate the collective psyche into a consensus of taste to an idea of grandeur that transcends the physical, then may Grand Ensemble be a slap in the face of design.

First off, what is design? I will define it as a piece of creation that goes to bed with our emotions. The humble clothes peg is a piece of design. So is Taj Mahal. And the guillotine. Design exists regardless of what is considered good or bad, or pretty or unpretty. Because when we start going personal on design, we are putting into play matters of taste. And since you're asking...

Résidence du Parc, Meudon-la-Forêt (1957-62) - (Pict source)

What is taste? Some see the Golden Gate Bridge as metal scrappers delight, while others enjoy how it enriches the landscape, and couldn't imagine San Francisco without it. Taste is personal and subjective, and that makes it complex. Taste happens, and then it gets influenced, refined, cultivated, sharpened. It evolves, changes even. It gets skewed by peer pressure and the media and the fashion police.

There are different occurences of taste, starting off with what I refer to as 'pure taste' in terms of strict aesthetic merit, which is often applied to Fine Arts. Some collectable and covetable pieces of high-ticket retail finery will be relegated to the design equivalent of Fine Arts status; think a limited edition Aston Martin. But we find that pure taste is hardly practical in everyday existence. So we model taste according to parameters: function, usability, practicability, affordability, etc.

Quartier du Luth, Gennevilliers (1971-73)

Now back to our Grand Ensemble. It was an ambitious post-WWII land planning concept that spanned three decades and revolutionised habitat and lifestyle. It started en-masse in the 1950s and was conducted on a large scale across France, bringing to the fore mixed-use developments, involving public/ private partnerships for housing, education, retail, office and leisure infrastructures. Architects got on board, ready to embrace a project of a lifetime, caressed to the core by Le Corbusier vanities. The brief was clear: focus was on fast turnover of industrial proportions: thousands of flats had to be churned out fast (not to say in record time!) and design to be modernist, practical, functional and cost-effective, by all means to the point. It had to be utilitarian, i.e. stripped off the superfluous; understand no adornment. Prefab as a building technique was the answer. Quality was secondary to quantity, and matters of personal taste and individuality were off the equation.

Set in its green open space, the Grand Ensemble was part of a bigger picture that took years to roll out fully: transport links (metro stations, wide roads, motorways, and parking amenities). Plus office space, schools, sports centres, youth clubs, retail precincts, libraries, churches and other components of the modern townscape. This would constitute a new town in the country(side), or a new town within the old town, or a satellite town built from the ground up and most likely to be a dormitory town.

Quartier de la Grande Borne, Grigny (1967-71)

The Grand Ensemble was a post-war vision come true - under the auspices of social welfare, sanitation, and city rebuilding programmes - of the luxury of comfort within an affordable life, where each household could enjoy the mod cons that we are taking for granted nowadays: hot water, central heating, modern kitchen, family bathroom, trash chute, and a balcony with a view over a stretch of lawn and maybe even a private garage. The programme was rolled out to working-class and middle-class families, taking them into the Consumer Age in capital letters!

The concept looked good and ambitious on paper, efficient in the book-keeping department - and utopic. Utopic in that it played down the complexities of the human psyche, especially once the mod con honeymoon would start wearing off, and the golden age of consumerism would get dented. Residents and other stakeholders got to write the history of that brand new place, without guidance or support, bringing with them emotional intelligence and complexity (hopes, fears, expectations, etc.), and family customs, and still trying to make sense of that new way of doing things, of making their mark, of living the space, of moving on up within it, of creating a future for themselves, of establishing a community in a forced communal living rolled out on a grand scale.

Cité des 4000, La Courneuve (1957-1966+)

I doubt grand was ever meant to be great. It was meant to be good and do good to a point. It gave mixed results and became a cause for concern. Little by little, insidiously first, the Grand Ensemble lost points; it turned shoddy quickly, it got told off, landed a red mark, got sent away and then assigned to residence into itself. The Grand Ensemble became unloved, uncouth, unkempt. It ended up sliding down that cul-de-sac that got it to skid into ghetto land. It got featured in music videos but not under a good light. It crossed the line and became a buddy to gangsta culture. Some of the architects came out of the woodwork to explain their oeuvre, their expectations of how lifestyle should have been conducted in those unnatural, unorganically-expanded environments.

The Grand Ensemble was an artificial environment: soul-less, with no heritage, no history and nowhere to go. It had been an expedient social experiment, a means to an end meant to immediately solve housing problems and hope for the best. The ensemble had sprung out of paper, out of nowhere, and families from different walks of life and life stages, and with different expectations had got thrown in together at the deep end to make it happen. Residents, now all boxed in together in 'cages' where taste and design had been leveraged to an absolute minimum, if not abstracted altogether. What we got was minimalist as in utilitarian and brutalist, where individuality had no place.

The very first Grand Ensemble ever built harks back to the 1930s: Cité de la Muette, Drancy.

After all, ensemble alludes to a togetherness of collectivism and mass, and that moulding in of the human race, that cookie-cutter approach to life as a singular unit is a failing all to itself. What fails design is when the human factor in all its complexity has been taken out of it, and when design has become clumsy and cumbersome rather than user-friendly.

P.S: All the above-pictured towns are located in the vicinity of Paris.

Further Resources:
  • A fascinating case in point in the Grand Ensemble study is Les Espaces d'Abraxas (Noisy-le-Grand, near Paris), a late-bloomer on the Grand Ensemble era. Built between 1978 and 1983 under architect Ricardo Bofill, it has the particularity of being a design-led scheme, which makes it stand out from earlier housing schemes. However life in a design-led ensemble has not been kind to its residents, and soon enough the concrete and glass infrastructure has turned to a carbuncle of dislike. Design is partly to blame as the architect put an emphasis on it to the point of making it impractical to live in the buildings, and feel safe in them! A victim of its own lack of success thereof, Les Espaces d'Abraxas (otherwise known as 'Gotham City' and 'Alcatraz') have become a film set of choice for dystopian science fiction superproductions like Brazil and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, as an eery echo to dystopian living on the estate. Who said reality was stranger than fiction?
  • A chillier and more sinister particularity of Grand Ensemble relates to Cité de la Muette, in Drancy (pictured above), the very first Grand Ensemble ever built in France, in the 1930s. However it was used as the Drancy internment camp during WWII, confining Jews who were later deported to the German extermination camps. 
  • 'Souvenir d'un Futur' (Memory of a Future) by French photographer Laurent Kronental is an award-winning ongoing project that captures life as a senior citizen in the Grands Ensembles of the Paris region. A must-see! More from ArchDaily.

30 Jan 2016

Rose & Gold for Valentine

Valentine's Day is an invitation for LBM to feature some pretty homeware pieces that incorporate topical pink and gold/ brass in their subtle shades. I chose subtle because we don't always like our colours to go bright and overboard, especially those as powerful and statement-prone as pink and gold. Because most of us do not want our shrines to resemble the Barbie dollhouse or Barbara Cartland's boudoir or Liberace's quarters. I am aware of some lifestyle bloggers out there who make (bright) pink their statement colour but in general terms, subtle goes a longer way as it defies trends and defines longevity.

Lace Cheeseboard in Rose by Suite One Studio

Those pieces here, touch with your eyes or get inspired further and leave a hint for your beloved to purchase. Or just summon the power and go treat yourself! Those items are not just for Valentine's by the way; they will equally suit a forthcoming bridal shower, wedding party, housewarming do, anniversary celebration and other family engagements!

P.S: If you are single and Valentine makes you look away, treat yourself to being your own Valentine and fix yourself a 'Me Date'. Get yourself a bunch of flowers (or a plant), a box of your favourite chocolates, and cosy up at home for a night in with yourself. First have a nice relaxing bath, then snuggle up on the couch to catch up with that great movie/ documentary you'd been meaning to watch, or immerse yourself into a good book. If you fancy your solo self to go social, schedule a night in around a lovely home-cooked meal with a posse of those single friends of yours!

As for the coupled up, Valentine's Day should be a reminder of what every day should be like: filled with mutual love, respect, praise and appreciation! In other words, every day should be Valentine's Day. And that doesn't cost a thing!

Burlap Tray in Rose with Gold Stripe by Suite One Studio
Gold-Dipped Ceramic Cake Serving Set by BHLDN
Vintage Copper Chocolate Bar Molds (Made in England, c.1850), by Coppermill Kitchen via Food52
Brass Money Clips by SIN, via Food52
Birdy Side Table (detail) by Urban Outfitters
'Two Peas in a Pod' Greeting Card by Rifle Paper Co.

23 Jan 2016

Blogposts with Attitude #BWA - January 2016

January, the bleakest month of the year? Oh my, gimme some flowers! A bittersweet after-party tinge in its early moments might behold - as 'the year after the year before' - it quickly turns into a time to take stock and mull over the year past, draw conclusions and move on, empowered. In other words, a time for introspection, reflection and decision that morphs into a time to set the tone for the year ahead and wear it proudly on our sleeve like our Sunday best in order to face the brand New Year in a more resolute - and upbeat - fashion.

Café au Lait Dahlia Love by Erin Benzakein @ Floret

January is not over that it has already yielded some productive results out there in blogland. It has certainly been a month where hearts have been poured, eyebrows raised, and voices heard. Introspective, reflective, or in a more direct address, the issues raised I have enjoyed reading every word of it! Probably because they put a fresh and honest perspective, stated their values loud and proud, and brought not only an emotional connection but also a rational one.

For these reasons, the posts I have listed here struck more than a chord with me. They have lifted me, inspired me, fuelled me with renewed energy and kickstarted me more firmly into my year ahead, in terms of personal and professional achievements and aspirations. I am positive that you too will draw some benefits out of them.

So, here we go, in chronological order, my five favourite posts this month. Enjoy the read and feel free to add on to the list: -

No.1: A Manifesto by Kathryn Sharman @ Kat Got the Cream
As your lifestyle blog is growing and evolving, you will need to set out or rewrite clear rules as to what your blog is about - and your approach to your craft. Monetisation/ brokering will invariably crop up, sometimes perceived as a bone of contention. Some readers will enjoy the rstyle ride with you and others won't. I have no problem with blog monetisation as long as it is cleverly incorporated within the fabric and the essence of the blog without overpowering it with affiliated shopping lists post after post. Kat struck that fine balancing act with flying colours, and hats off to her! Yet undoubtedly you will still get some readers who begrudge the union of blog and cashflow, so Kat laid out the terms as her Manifesto. A great idea for us bloggers to consider seriously and incorporate into our blogs, just to be sure author and readers are on that same page!

No.2: Will Blog Survive 2016? by Holly Becker @ Decor8
A question asked by a blog that is an authority on blogging and has already witnessed the rise and demise of many blogs in its one decade of existence, going from strength to strength to inspire our homes with consistent high-quality content. Here Holly gives us her views on the state of blogging vs. monetisation (flavour of the month?). She comments on those blogs out there who churn out sponsored post after the next, slapdash a little line of text and an endless content of affiliated links, making those blogs little more than shopwindows linked up to the cashpoint registers of the big brands. Individuality and integrity of voice and character and personality are killed off in the process. This puts the future of impartial informative blogging 'from the heart' at stake, a little like that good old chestnut, freedom of the press. And the quest for quick buck might end up a piped dream for that new generation of fame-hungry bloggers on the scene...
Erin Benzekein and her husband, Chris @ Floret

No.3: The Life & Business 3-part series on Design*Sponge dedicated to Erin Benzekein and her award-winning flower farm, Floret
I had heard of Erin previously and come across her beautiful arrangements of organic, unusual and old-fashioned flowers on her Instagram account, that got me sold! Then treble whammy in one swoop with the Design*Sponge coverage! I came face to face with a business off the beaten track, that is a success story and a winner on many levels: all about emotional intelligence and a floral immersion, our relationship to flowers that goes beyond the bouquet and delves deep into childhood memories and nostalgia, and 'just about tamed' natural beauty captured off the cuff and ingratiated in high-quality visuals. A family-centred, nature-friendly concern that is a social media eye-pleaser, and most of all a lifestyle aspiration to those in search of accomplishing something of worth in their lives, off the rat race tracks, out in the country, where they can satisfy both their intellectual and physical strengths. This is the sort of business that gets me enthused beyond enthused! Erin shares hints and tips on how she is growing her company. Take a leaf out of how Floret is flourishing and be guided by your passions! Do check Floret's About section for more inspiration.

No.4: The Secret We All Want to Know by Tara Austen Weaver @ Tea and Cookies
The creative process fascinates. To the extent that some of us want to unfold it and undress it down to its bare bones, peel off the layers and dissect it, find out the magic formula, turn on that switch by the cortex that will turn us into a writer. Good news is we all are creators - often unaware of it - whether it is fixing that bit of kit or cooking up a meal or salvaging a patch of land or doing a collage for the kids or styling hair. The bad news is there is no magic formula on how to become a writer. Tara - a published author - explains this compellingly and sympathetically, and links in a few resources from her blog, all must-read items. Mostly though, she can't emphasize enough that the creative process is an individual, personal one. It is about being one's own voice. And there is no magic formula or Idiot's Guide, rather than the fact that you should just write and keep on writing, because practice will help perfect your craft.

No.5: Here's a Space for You by Danielle Hampton @ Sometimes Sweet
Writing is about being one's own voice and being in one's own space. As an established lifestyle blogger and former English teacher, Danielle understood the importance of writing early on in life, encouraging her pupils to journal. And this is one of the best ways to get creativity going, to stimulate those creative juices. And encouraged and fostered early on in life, this can only feed into one's personal journey down the creative process. A fun and mind-expanding exercise!

18 Jan 2016

Wedding Cheers!

I'd kept this under wraps and there had been no hint of it in my blogs. Understand that I am a private person, fiercely protective of my personal life, and like to keep it that way, only sharing a milestone moment in a few chosen (almost discreet) words. And this milestone right now is circled in a couple of wedding bands!

Roby and I got married recently! We held a private ceremony amongst a very small circle of close family members. It was all about simplicity and honesty. To us, what matters is not so much the theatrics of the big day than the deep significance that marriage, love and commitment behold. It is not so much about the big day than what comes after the big day - yeah the day after - and I need to point this one out, because I might be saving a few marriages in the process. It appears that way too many people out there are still getting married for the wedding day rather than for the marriage! And this is where it all goes pear-shaped!

Oh, I do love browsing through the sheer elegance of Style Me Pretty and BHLDN, don't get me wrong! But for me to dedicate a hefty budget and - let's say - months of careful planning, or to delegate this to the expert hands of some wedding planner, to ensure the hush of the confetti is coordinated to the hush of the sugar rose petals sitting atop a profiterole, that or I shall lose my beauty sleep, get hot under the collar and break into a sweat... Well the arrangements and lavishness and pretence and whatever it might be called was no bridal priority of mine - or Roby's. As much as I am a sucker for design and pretty packages, neither my husband nor I needed our wedding day to be a showcase for it. Because what matters most to us is not the packaging, it's what is inside it; a love that tastes sweet and genuine and is solid and enduring, rather than a love that just looks pretty - and somewhat manufactured. This is one of the reasons why we kept it low-key.

Here is a little household fun to brighten up your Monday - not to be taken literally at face value, but rather with a generous pinch of salt - as some might read it as a sexist misinterpretation of marriage. Those inexpensive wedding presents are from Housing Units, an old haunt of mine back in my Manchester days...

Meanwhile check out our Mirabelle lifestyle feature on our wedding!

Amore Pair of Mugs Gift Set
Amore Mr and Mrs Bottle Gift Set
Amore Mr and Mrs Keyrings

23-Jan-2016 Update:

My heartfelt thanks to my coach, Dina Robison!

Woohoo! A past client of mine that came to me exactly two years ago just got married to the love of her life! I'm so excited for this couple glowing with #LOVE... Posted by Dina Robison - Deliberate Attraction Coach on Friday, 22 January 2016

13 Jan 2016

Awesome Acts of Kindness for the Earth!

No better way to kick the New Year into shape than with La Baguette Magique! In this mini-series, we have it all covered: Self, Others and good old Mother Earth! In our previous article, I gave you 3 Hints 'N' Tips to make the friendlier You: getting back in touch with a long-lost relative or friend, treating your loved ones with one of your creations, and connecting you to the local community with a little banter...

Now how about addressing what good we can bring to the Earth, in three easy steps...

'Gathering', oil on canvas by Martin Wittfooth, 2015
For the Earth #1:
  •  Make it last! If your fixtures, fittings and homewares are not plagued by the dogma of planned obsolescence, you should be able to get some mileage out of them. Thus go easy on style fads and trends that encourage us to constantly reinvent our surroundings by replacing the old with the new. As long as that kettle is still in working order, or that family heirloom sofa still looks and feels good, why give in to the temptation of replacing them? Give the Earth - and your purse - a hand by making your belongings last longer.
For the Earth #2:
  •  Don't be owned by objects! This is an extension of #1. Basically less is more. The model wants us to keep buying and we may have Father of Public Relations Edward Bernays to blame for this, but can we not just shop with our eyes sometimes? Bernays engineered the desire and compulsion to buy and linked pleasure with purchase. Up to us to put the brakes on. Another good point for the earth - and the purse!
'Dukkha', limited edition print by Lindsey Carr, via Etsy

For the Earth #3:
  •  Leave nature alone! That sounds like a given but we need to state it loud and clear, especially as regards those sensitive natural areas of the world, with fragile and threatened ecosystems. They are paying the price for their beauty by attracting hordes of tourists. Even if tourism is branded as ecotourism, it still puts undue pressure on the environment. Those cruises to the Arctic 'to watch the melting icebergs before it's too late' is short of vain and self-centred! It is a full-blown aberration!

There you have it, my friends. Our list of Acts of Kindness for Self, Others and the Earth is far from exhaustive. It is a taster, a starting point to a form of contentment in life and to a thought process. If you seek further inspiration, do check my Inspire-Aspire series. Have a wonderful year!

9 Jan 2016

Awesome Acts of Kindness for Others!

No better way to kick the New Year into shape than with La Baguette Magique! In this mini-series, we have it all covered: Self, Others and good old Mother Earth! In our previous article, I gave you 3 Hints 'N' Tips to help get your Self on track to a leaner and fitter You: no animal lurking 6-inch deep in Hollandaise (sauce) or your face cream or the collar of your coat. The TV got sent off on a permanent vacation, and social media overtime got over with!

Now how about addressing what good we can bring to Others, in three easy steps...

'Madonna & Child' Paintbrush Portrait by Rebecca Szeto
For Others #1:
  • (Re-)connect with a family member or friend. No better time of the year than when the year is young and fresh! Plus Mercury Retrograde is on, which means that verbs starting with 're' get priority in our lives: rethink, redo, review, revisit, reconnect... We have a way at getting caught into life and slipping off the radar, slipping away to do our thing, and friendships start falling off the wayside, and aunts and cousins get neglected. Sometimes a little tiff got in the way of our relationship and we started to stay away for longer, making excuses. And then it gets harder and harder to pick up that phone or knock on that door. And then you know what? One day, all is left is a bunch of regrets. Spare the heartache and get in touch! If it feels a little daunting, why not put pen to paper first? You could even forgo paper for a nice little card that has a picture of their favourite plant or animal or monument... Even more of a personable touch, design that card from scratch!
For Others #2:
  • Forgo takeaway and ready-made for your loved ones, and bake a cake instead! Or build something from scratch, or create a little art! It needn't be the 8th wonder of the world (although it could!). It could simply be a nice vintage wooden crate from your attic repurposed (another 're' verb for us!) into a side table. Or something as unfussy and free of charge as a handful of squash seeds from your heirloom collection or a selection of plant cuttings as a little impromptu gift to the garden lover in your life. Just to show them you care and think about them. A little pressie that comes from the heart and is directly connected to you in history. Not a shop-bought object. Something with presence and soul and connection and history.
'Decorate with Flowers...' by Oh Joy!

For Others #3:
  • Strike up a conversation with someone whose name you don't know! Down the local shop, or the beach, or while waiting for the tram, and make that person their day! Conversations don't have to last for ages. Start off with a heartfelt compliment over their hairstyle or scarf or dog, or a positive (funny even!) comment about the shop you are both stood in, or other immediate common ground. I've struck up some awesome conversations with people I had never met before. Being a dog-owner has certainly helped me in that department! I've had my spirits lifted just out of random conversations (and theirs too!). Also why not consider leaving a friendly comment on a blog you follow? That's another little nod of encouragement that goes a long way.
How easy and light-hearted was that? I can tell you want more! Here we go, let's do it for Round 3: Awesome Acts of Kindness for the Earth!

8 Jan 2016

Awesome Acts of Kindness for Self, Others and the Earth!

There are two ways to consider the New Year, according to the half-empty vs. half-full paradigm. You may either equal New Year to getting one year older, or... one year wiser! If your cup is decidedly looking half full, count me in! And bonus, I'll fill it up to the brim with a short series of Hints 'N' Tips on making this New Year kinder, not only to Yourself but to Others and the Earth!

The Ultimate Crudité Platter with White Miso Dip by The Clever Carrot

We're not selfish, but we'll get started with Self! It might be something to do with the fact that if you want change in your life, you should instigate that change, start off with yourself, rather than rely on others to instigate it for you. Anyhoo, let's bite those bullet (points)!

For Self #1:
  • Make friends with veg and pledge to become a vegetarian! The best way is to build this up gradually, starting off with the legendary Meat Free Monday (or whichever day of the week is most suitable to you, like a day off, when you are relaxed). To forgo meat one whole day a week is actually easier than you might think, and from then you may up the ante! The web is a treasure trove of veggie recipes (Pinterest is a fun starting point!), and most quality culinary blogs like The Clever Carrot  have vegetarian dishes on the menu. Meanwhile The HSUS have devised The Guide to Meat-Free Meals, which is set to get you on track. They also have a comprehensive meat-free recipe section that includes a wide array of enticing dishes, from entrées to desserts, via breakfast, kid-friendly and even treats for your pet companions! Sign up in order to get a handy recipe each week, like I do! And eh, PETA is at it too, with a comprehensive recipe section covering dishes from around the world! And - if you are considering the next step up to veganism - you can order your Free Vegan Starter Kit!
Try to fathom the figures! 'Numbers of Animals Slaughtered in the U.S.: Per minute -- 38,627 * Per hour -- 2,317,596 * Per day -- 55,622,293 * Per year -- More than 27 billion!' (source: PETA Vegan Starter Kit and Vegetarian 101).

Rooney Mara, photography by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Vogue: The Editor's Eye book

For Self #2:
  • Wear kindness on your face and wrap your body in it too! Not only do we have to worry about the toxicity of ingredients, but also how earth-friendly or cruelty-free they are. Help! Leaping Bunny to the rescue! Do you bit: Pay attention to ingredients, and right off the bat, rule out environmental foes (phtalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, palm oil derivatives, etc.). And steer clear of brands that still condone animal testing (the softy word for vivisection). Aim for brands and products that aim for less to no cruelty whatsoever. Yet consumer quest for anti-cruelty is no mean feat because what goes on under the surface, deep inside jars and tubes and the interweavings of fabrics and materials is even more opaque and insidious than with food ingredients. For instance, a haircare manufacturer might use very generic/ loose wording like 'squalane' in its shampoo ingredients list, and skip any details under secret formulation privacy laws. Meanwhile uninformed consumers are unlikely to tick on 'squalane' when they actually should! So beware what lies beneath the safe-sounding words! Squalane is a substance sourced from gulper shark liver, that lends shampoos, hair conditioners and face creams their distinctive texture and non-greasy emollience. According to a study by Bloom Association, 3 million deep-sea sharks are estimated to fall foul of the squalane trade each year. You'll have to 'thank' the likes of L'Oréal for their helping hand to the shark fin soup industry in their relentless shark hunt that in turn is leading oceans to turn shark-free!  All in all, stay vigilant and conduct your own research.... And be kind to life by saying no to leather and fur, and the 'uggly' truth about the trade! Pamela Anderson's vegan Pammies boots are the anti-cruelty - and trendy - answer to Ugg! If you seek heels, Pamela's teamed up with French designer Amélie Pichard. And since 'Compassion is sexy', who said vegan shoes were not fashion-friendly?

  •  For Self #3:
  • Shut down the TV and cut down on social media! You'll thank me later. So no, you don't need to channel any more of your personal time into yet another social media platform and wear its button on your blog like a badge of honour! Snapchat, Periscope, you bet, what next? You have a life to live, and to live it is not to fritter it away online. Life happens offline! As for the box, I haven't watched it since last October and I do not miss it one bit (OK, apart maybe the odd documentary or film, and 'odd' implies said feature to be 'greater than average'). Anyway it had become painful for me to watch the news and witness how biased the media have become, as the voice of the state (and EU superstate), and how they peddle the terminology and smarmy tone of voice and skewered undertones, and inseminate us deep with the thoughts and reactions they want us to have for ourselves and make ours, as they are recreating a reality. A BS propaganda that I do not want to be a part of! Freedom of the press, ha-ha! Free your mind (and time!) from the news that is no news! 
Munch on another celery stick and catch us in our next post: Awesome Acts of Kindness for Others!

2 Jan 2016

2016 More or Less

Enters New Year. As it swooshes down the catwalk of time, to the sound of firecrackers, bows of appreciation and glances of envy, it needn't bow out to the boos. New Year, unlived yet enlivened, spells a frisson of hope and promise and tipsy delusion, as we prepare to wear it and kiss it and taint it. Enters New Year and Exits Lady Macbeth, the year that was and is no more. New Year comes dressed up with little more than an itsy-bitsy accoutrement of fantasies dressed up as resolutions.

Park La Brea Housing Development, Los Angeles, CA, photography by Jeffrey Milstein, via Wired

Resolution, little more than the promise to self to make this year 'better', according to parametres that each self holds within the safe of their hearts and minds. Resolution, the quick-fix, short-lived counter-balance remedy to the obligatory guilt trip that seals off holiday indulgence, and all of our slack and sloven moments that took the year past, past its prime.

However we wouldn't be hard put upon if we took a long hard look at the way we conduct our lives - or rather at the way we conduct Life.

Beverley Hills, ibid

To look in the mirror, past that face that is looking back at you. See the bigger picture. Take a bird's eye view of Life, beyond the picket fence of fenced-in existence and suburban linearity. And that is when the realisation might happen. That collectively humanity are the result of what collectively humanity create. What we put in, we get out, with all the consequences that impact our environment in its broadest, wildest - and wisest sense. The natural world we have remade to fit the human vision of a humanised world, where nature is tamed, dislodged out of its environment, flattened out, plasticised and monetised.

Life is beautiful and precious. Life is an entitlement and a right. Yet humanity in its inhumanity will disfigure it or kill it, as the world is wasting away under the waste it creates. Now do we still want to be single-mindedly navel-gazing at the size of our waistlines and base a resolution around that - even build a social media audience around it, when we need to look at the bigger picture and rethink society as a whole... Here is a New Year's resolution that is worth its weight in gold: this year I shall not keep up with the Joneses!

P.S: Make 2016 a year that counts, by following La Baguette's mini-series, Awesome Acts of Kindness for Self, Others and the Earth!

28 Dec 2015

Why Donald is No Lame Duck!

Politics do not rock my boat, and American presidential elections are usually the least of my concerns, bar any direct implication of theirs on to the ROW (Rest of World) through any heavy-handed, gung-ho, military-engineered foreign policy that impacts the rest of us (for better) for worse. However one presidential candidate right now seems to have rocked the boat to the point of the storm spilling out of the proverbial teacup. Wait for it, our man is worth more than The Six Million Dollar Man and has more tricks to boot. He has captured audiences with his decision to run for POTUS (*). His views, quick repartees and tight leash over the biased media hoopla, certainly deserve more than a passing comment.

Donald Trump, Burlington, Iowa (21-Oct-2015)

Donald Trump is the stuff of America. He embodies American values of the ambitious self-made man, a rags-to-riches story of sorts, a man who embodies that anything is/ should still be possible in the world at large, and more specifically in that once-avant-garde New World territory that is the USA. Trump also happens to never be short of a trick as a pretty astute businessman. Last but not least in the arena of American politics, he also happens to be charismatic, short of a showman, which always fares well in a country that roughly stretches between DC and Hollywood.

Yet what stands out of the Donald Trump's one-man show is that he's nailed his focus right: he unequivocally puts his country first to make it shine again: 'Make America Great Again!' He wants it to be strong, revitalised, proud, and once again thriving. A hard-working nation glued together by good old American Christian family values taking once again pride of place on the family mantelpiece and the work station. A working America, once again fuelled by a manufacturing workforce and a sense of worth and belonging, and the hard work rewarded. To have a sense of contributing to the country's wealth rather than be a mere recipient of its welfare system, or play the national pastime of aimless shopping, as a passive consumer of planned obsolescence made-in-China shoddy goods, then back to work on Monday, wearing off the carpet of some Office Space, doing some pointless job, feeling worthless and useless, and relegated to an ungratifying lifetime as a member of the working poor. Put this into perspective and coat it in political correctness all your while, but I believe that Entrepreneur of the Year should once again be a captain of industry and their driving force (which includes workforce), not some loner geek that designed a smartphone app.

Down with the allegories. Trump breaks the mould on many levels. First, he is not bound by blood to some political dynasty. Historically, modern America has been built around core political dynasties (Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush and Clinton, to name only a few). Yet it seems that the continuity principle imposed by such political dynasty arrangements only serve the private interests of the elite class. Yet frankly what is to be expected from the bitter wife of some former President or a third generation Bush?

Cash and a remarkable success story are a sure way to attract jealousy and animosity your way. Yet Donald Trump has spelt it out loud and clear: he needn't be bought out because he already has all the cash that money can buy. This is his main forte and competitive advantage; his strong financial independence gives him the luxury to afford political independence in his views and principles.

Donald Trump painting by Donkey Hotey, via Flickr

Sadly European countries like France have been engineered by decades of Socialist doctrine, crippling bureaucacy, and a much-skewered interpretation of the values borne out of the French Revolution, to believe that too much cash is crass, and that to be rich is either to have been borne into it without asking for it, or to have sold out one's soul. Furthermore, our spirit of enterprise has long been squashed in the process by constant government interventionism into our daily lives and into the conduct of our business affairs, crushing our manufacturing legacy into the ground and overtaxing and rewiring our remaining flagship companies like Air France, under EU complicity.

In a world where Revolution by the People for the People will not be televised, it remains to find it refreshing - as we are searching for second bests - to be once again probed by the idea of enterprise and entrepreneurship, of national pride, of traditional family values, of the importance to rebuild a fragmented, socialised, pauperised nation that once (half a century ago) stood as a beacon of social progress, innovation and modernism, to the ROW.

If I were American and allowed to vote in US elections, I would certainly be seduced by Donald's programme, his bold energy, his political uncorrectness, and no-nonsense parley. If however this were all to end up into nothing more than a dream, at least it will have hinted a flavour of what the American dream should be standing for.

(*) President Of The United States

21 Dec 2015

A Quick Christmas Catch-Up

Life has been busy lately, yet despite the fact that I have made myself scarce around here, you will be able to catch up with me via my Lucca Comics & Games 2015 photographic review on my fiancé's blog. I added a short article that elaborates upon my earlier post on the Lucca extravaganza. The event lived up to its promise and expectation, and was a ball, and we cannot wait to return next year!

Prior to our Tuscan trip, Roby and I enjoyed a short (and romantic!) Paris city break together last October, and I couldn't resist sharing a few photos with you. As the year is wrapping up and the mid-decade is now firmly embracing its second half, La Baguette Magique wishes you a Lovely Christmas and New Year! Make sure to stay tuned for the exciting new developments I will be sharing in due time here, there and elsewhere!

Fontaine Saint-Michel symbolises the triumph of good over evil
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Promenade Maurice Carême stands by Notre-Dame
L'Arc de Triomphe stands at the top of the world-famous Champs-Elysées

14 Oct 2015

Poetic Shopping in Paris

With my fiancé due to arrive in France from the US in less than a week, which better city for us to join than in the world's most romantic, Paris! If a little spot of shop may be on the cards, what will be off our radar is the international chain stores, temples of consumerism, ubiquitous brands, and those déjà-vu and more of the same items. For the sort of Paris we are after is the one that is steeped in classical culture and history, honed by heritage, filigreed in craftsmanship, imbued in poetry, wrapped up in artistry and signeted with tender loving care.

Photography by L'Instant Parisien

Against the odds of the modern marketplace, off-the-beaten-track Paris still has a few retail gems nicely tucked away from the high streets. And in its cosseted niches, the otherwise overused, overworked adjective 'unique' finally finds its meaningfulness and purpose. One of the boutiques on my list may be open only half a day a week, that makes it even more covetable in my eye.

La Maison du Pastel

Whether you are a fine artist - or not - you need to pay La Maison du Pastel a visit. Admittedly you may not be into crayons and drawings, and thus not have at first hand a need for visiting this artist institution. Yet one thing is for certain: we share commonalities with the pastel maker. We see life in colour, our environment is bathed in colour, this life of ours is all about colour, whether we like our palette light or bright or dark or muted. Each of us has their favourite colours, even wears them, and drapes their windows and walls in them. Colour is a statement and an attractor, and marketers have long harnessed its powers in order to seduce consumers. Colour is therefore a big element! To see it translated into formats that transcend the obvious (objects) is a joy. Oh boy, I am making it my mission to make you look at a stick of pastel in a totally fresh way.

'I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.' - Georgia O'Keeffe

But let's get back to colours. My favourites for the home are those faded, paled-down, diluted greens like Eau de Nil, Sage Green and Mint Green. I could own a piece of pastel for each of those colours I like. Why? To add on to my nuanciers (colour charts/ cabinets), and well, why not? Plus it's more than about colour and pastel and artistry. It's a little piece of portable made-in-France Paris, the one that makes me proud to be French and the owner of a piece of anthology and anthropology endorsed by a Maison that has been going strong since 1720, with 1021 nuances to boot.

Palette of green nuances (detail)

A French family concern, the Roché, and their artisanal way of making things that have stood the test of time and remain a part of French savoir faire establishment, as globalisation elsewhere is dulling our world, one colour shade at a time. To partake in a little French heritage with my American better half makes sense, as it lends our shopping experience the cultural bias it deserves, with a little nod at Margaret Zayer, an American artist besotted with colour, who a few years back contacted Isabelle Roché, interned at La Maison du Pastel, fell under the spell... and never left. We would have done the same.

(Pict source)
La Maison du Pastel
Isabelle Roché & Margaret Zayer
20, rue Rambuteau
75003 Paris

The boutique is open every Thursday 2:00pm-6:00pm. Meanwhile, I recommend that you read the fabulous article by L'Instant Parisien, whose photography soaks up the poetry of the atelier and the manufacturing processes. A must-read.

5 Oct 2015

Lucca Comics & Games 2015

There is a flurry of behind-the-blog-scenes activity for me at present - and we have a lot of rejoicing and travel in the pipeline! Amongst the exciting developments is my better half relocating from the USA to France, where we will finally be able to join and share our lives together.

Lucca province, Tuscany, Italy

And as everything tends to happen at the same time (doesn't it?), we'll be shortly hopping across to Italy. The reason being that Roby (my fiancé) has been kindly invited by an Italian game publisher to take part in the forthcoming Lucca Comics & Games, the renowned International Festival of Comics, Animation, Illustration and Games, held in the medieval Tuscan town of Lucca, Italy. Now picture the scene. You put in the same sentence (like I've just done) my dashing fiancé, a history-charged locale, Tuscany, culture, creativity, design and artistry, and you get a feature of cool that is bound to grace the likes of The Cool Hunter! A combination that gets a resounding WOW of wonder from this lady as she is typing away her bit of text! And the exclamation mark doesn't even give justice to the excitement itself!

I will be reporting back from Lucca, and posting pictures in due time. I am going to get up, close and personal with the world of D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), which may sound like some medieval secret society - but is not, so don't you worry. I will also probably be rubbing shoulders with other exotic-looking creatures, humanoids, and Halloweenesque comeuppances ('tis that time of year!), all escapees from books and celluloid (ok, I meant digital), Special FX and the works of imagination at play (and work is play for those creatives, like play is work), for a little fantasy fest jest. Right now, I am feeling like a kid on her way to the candy store!

Meanwhile I shall leave you with some pictorial prelude and all the anticipation that it includes... For more of the finger-on-the-pulse action, you may want to check out Lucca Comics & Games - and especially the Games section (our little bias) - if you haven't already done so. Happy browsing!

Garfagnana region, Tuscany (by Jim DeLutes photography)

26 Sep 2015

Tickle, Tit for Tat!

Oh mum, here we go again! You and the camera and the lighting and the writing and those silly poses that don't look very us, or spontaneous! You might disagree with me but you're showing me up! It's one thing showing me off to friends and folks, as long as it's only once in a while - but to show me up like a prized toy you won at the fun fair, and to carry me in your arms like I'm some Chihuahua boy or you're some granny is not fair on either of us! Actually, it is short of insulting.

After all, I've got a reputation to maintain, as a typical Jack Russell Terrier: boisterous, cheeky, fearless, playful, fun-loving, spirited (some call me opinionated!) and downright mischievous! I'm a Terrier after all! Yet instead of that, you're making me feel all coy and pansy-like for your piece of literature... You write, you write, right! But can you just not get a real job instead, for a change? Just a thought, but now come to think of it... Maybe not that great an idea, because if you weren't working from home, I would see less of you, and that is just not cool!

Mum, you forgot the bells and whistles!

Ok for the write stuff but tsss, don't you go writing things about me that just aren't me. Just tell it as it is: you and I are besties, the crème de la crème, and we've been going strong together much longer than the average marriage, and that means something! That also means we're well over the 7-year itch! Now apart from you, what do I love? I love walks! Preferably down the countryside, because towns and noises, I'm not too keen. I love being off the lead, out there down the paths, sniffing about the bushes and rocks, looking for lizards and geckos and anything that is small enough for me to handle (while you're not looking!).

I like to potter around, investigate. I get all excited and then dash back to you at full speed to share my joy and excitement, as you're calling me and laughing! You and I sharing moments, that's Heaven! It's all about simple pleasures, like your lovingly serving me my favourite dishes. And then there's the cuddles and belly rubs like you know how, as I'm stretched out on my back, lying comfortably on your bed (the comfiest place on earth!). And then afterwards down the garden for a game of ball. As I roll and jump like Hong Kong Phooey, and catch that ball in mid-air like I'm in The Matrix, I imagine a football stadium, that of MUFC at Old Trafford... Aren't I a Super League Doggie? Plus I can dream a dream that is rooted in reality because I'm a Manchester born-and-bred boy after all! Just like you're a Manchester girl (well, sort of), for all that time you lived there, which was a very long time in doggie years!

Au naturel...

Mum, you saved me from the shelter in Harpurhey, and this I shall never forget! I am forever grateful and honoured that as soon as you saw me, you knew. And I knew. And we knew that we were made for each other, like we'd been designed to interlock our lives like pieces that fit to the T of Tickle. And every day since, this has been proven to us without fail and spelt in gold letters in our golden book of hours.

Now I know that there's this gentleman on the scene, whom you've known a little while, and you love him and he loves you, and he's coming to join me and you (ok he's joining you - and me by default), and be with us forever. That is great news! Of course, it might take a little time for all of us to adjust (jealous, moi?), but as soon as he plays the game right, gives me my favourite treats, and the attention I deserve (Am I sounding a little spoilt and exclusive here?), and kicks a good game of 'soccer' with me (soccer, whadyamean?!), I'll be forever sold to this guy too! The three of us will be family... and I might even change football club allegiances! Arrgh, don't you get me to say 'soccer' just off the bat, when a good ol' game of English football is a game of choice for an English-born English breed dog like I...


Love to all and off to play,

Tickle  x


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