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I met up with a new friend yesterday for coffee, and she brought two bags of Stella's PopKern (hee!) for us to snack on while we coffeed. You may not know this about me, but popcorn is one of my favorite foods. It says so right there in my bio. So, I may have been overly excited. And then I tasted it, and now I want to live inside the truck. Right inside. Failing that, I can always live underneath it.

Listen. I know all you big-city people out there have seen so many food trucks that probably you have food truck fatigue. But this small-town girl is new, and excited about it. Also: ZA'ATAR-flavored popcorn? What is za'atar? I don't know. But I know it's delicious, and that I want it on my popcorn at all times, and that I would eat said popcorn for every meal if I could.

I am pretty sure this also means that I'm going to have to do research on more delicious food truck options for y'all to know about. It's going to be really sad and hard for me.

Speaking of DC, there are still a couple of DC mini-design camp spots left. Maybe I'll bring Stella's for you, who knows?

Follow Stella's PopKern on Twitter so you can know where they are at all times. I certainly am.

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AuthorAB Chao
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This post is brought to you by Illume Candles.

A couple of weeks ago, over the weekend of my Minneapolis mini-camp, I was invited to spend a day at the Illume Candles headquarters. Look! They made me a sign, y'all!

The creative team and actual candle-making factory are all contained in one building, so I got to see lots of exciting things, starting with their shelves and shelves of already-made candles. I accidentally stole them all.

The creative team's offices all look like this. I am not sure how they became so cool, but I was not asking questions. I was mainly gawking. 

"Oh, I think I'll just play with some watercolors here on this table, trying to come up with some ideas for next year's designs," said a cool person who knows how to use watercolors.

Don't you wish your inspiration board were baller like this? I do.

After a little tour and a few minutes drinking coffee and walking around meeting everyone -- yeah, I met the CEO of Illume Candles, we're best friends now -- it was time for a tour of the factory.

First up: the Burn Room. The Burn Room consists of about a million candles all going at once, and all being tested for something different: flame height, something called mushrooming, vessel temperature, smoking, burn time, and fragrance throw (there's cold throw, which is how the candle smells when it's not burning, and hot throw, which is how the candle smells when... it IS burning. I am now a candle expert.)

There was one room dedicated to all the different fragrance oils, powders, and pigments. And there were wicks! So many wicks, you guys. Did you know that the wick is chosen depending on the particular candle? Now you do.

Something is happening above which I do not remember, but which I do know looked super cool. I was tempted to pocket those awesome wooden squares, but I did not, because my outfit didn't have pockets.

Then we went to the back of the factory, and all of a sudden I was in an episode of Breaking Bad. I was assured that there were no meth-making products on these shelves. Allegedly.

Making candles: it's kind of like baking with Crisco. Each candle has its own individual recipe, and everything has to be measured and checked off extra-carefully to ensure identical quality across batches. This is just one of the vats that the candles are mixed in. I resisted the urge to taste it.

Wick-holder-downer thingers! These are for safety, so that when one's candle burns to the bottom, there is still a little wax left and no one starts a fire. Also they are for looking really cute in large barrels.

The wick machine, which -- you guessed it! -- attaches the wicks, is apparently very fancy. It's German, from whence many fancy wick-machines hail.

These gorgeous pillar candles are made in something that resembles a springform pan. See? Candle-making: it's a lot like baking. Except, sadly, you cannot eat the end product. 

Here is an Essential Jar candle, from start to finish. Please also note Jenny's cool rings.

And, suddenly, the tour was over. I was a little sad, because I could have stayed in that factory all day watching and learning. To assuage my sadness, Jenny (my Illume contact, tour guide, and other new best friend) had planned something called Crafternoon, during which time the creative staff all sat around a big table eating chocolates and mod-podging fabric onto trays. Apparently they do something like this every week. Um, WHAT? Hi, I work here now.

We got the tray idea from Martha Stewart, and the fabric from Josi Severson (in whose adorable shop I held my camp!).

Since the people at Illume are basically the sweetest people in all the land, they sent me home with lots of candles. The ones you see below are their Coconut Milk Mango pillars, and, along with smelling super-dreamy, are the perfect shade of pale pink. I've been really into pink lately.

Jenny encouraged me to burn several candles at once to make up a WHOLE NEW SCENT, and...y'all, she is kind of a genius. Below: Garden Sage Starlight Tin, Amber Dunes Essential Tin, and Coconut Milk Mango Essential Mini Tin. The combined scent smelled like butterscotch and summer. I'm still sitting here, right now.

Thank you so much to everyone at Illume for such a fun adventure! I hope to burn your candles for many days henceforth. I'll be back next week for Crafternoon.

I had a camp recap (PS, why haven't I been calling them "recamps" all this time? DAMN IT.) post all ready to go, and then I somehow closed out all of my photos without saving them, so then I cried, and now here it is 9:00 on a Wednesday evening and I have nothing to show for it. So, here are some feelings and emotions.

First of all: Today the police came over for a little visit, because I walked through the house from the back porch to the front porch to check the mail, and the front door was wide open. Which it never is. Ever. So, like every dumb girl in every dumb movie, I grabbed the knife from my desk -- the exceptionally dull one I use to open mail, because I am smart -- and went to CHECK THINGS OUT. And that was when I heard the back door slam shut. OH OKAY THAT IS NOT SCARY HI I AM PUSHING THE POLICE PANIC BUTTON ON THE SECURITY SYSTEM NOW AND HAVING ALL OF THE FEELINGS.

Y'all, the police came! And they were very nice! And they walked into my house with their guns drawn! And they yelled, "MONROE PD!" And it was all very exciting/scary and there was no one in the house and nothing was missing, so that was good. Except now I would like a lobotomy.

Also: Next week I am getting in my car and driving to Washington, DC, to live there, because long-distance relationships suck, and I am having one right now, for, oh, eight-ish months or so? Just thought I would mention that. So... what's the deal with DC? Do you live there? Do you like it? Do you want to be my best friend?

I have some thoughts about moving: 1. I'm really sad to leave my house, and the people/animals inside of it. 2. I'm excited to see what life is like outside of Monroe. 3. Can I hire someone to parallel park for me? 4. I am concerned about the seafood situation. 5. I do not own any pantsuits.

Other concerns: What are the best neighborhoods? Where are the cutest places to get coffee? How does one use the Metro? Do you call it the Metro, or some secret slang term like "the trainway"? I need to know these things, because in Louisiana we get mad if you don't understand how we say "muffuletta," or "Tchoupitoulas." 

Most importantly: We are keeping the house, so don't be trying to get all up in my front door and get your mitts on our belongings.

PS: Hank, the alleged Rottweiler, did not bark once. Not even when the policemen were all trolling the house, looking for intruders. He was all, "Hello! Would you like a tour? I can show you some very nice wallpaper here in the hallway!" Jerk.

To recap: Our home contains no burglars. Security systems are awesome. I am moving to DC. Hank is dumb.

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AuthorAB Chao
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Hey, did anything interesting happen in the past few days? Heh. Just kidding.

I want to thank you all from the very bottom of my everything for the sweet, supportive, overwhelmingly positive responses to my coming out post. It is really scary to basically flay your chest open and expose your soft, delicate insides for the world to see, and every one of you made it clear to me that it was worth the risk. I cannot thank you enough, and I will never be able to explain properly how much that meant to me.

One exceptional side effect of last week's post -- and one I didn't at all see coming -- is how many of you would write and open up your own fragile selves to me. Your words were a gift I wasn't expecting, and the honesty with which you shared your stories laid me out. We are all in this together, and as much as y'all have got my back, I have yours just as hard. I'm holding you all in my humbled, grateful heart. Now let's go out there and kick some ass, shall we?

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I am suffering from a major case of the bittersweets right now. We moved our girl into her new college digs earlier in the week -- and it was SO MUCH FUN to start fresh with an empty room to help decorate. Two days of cleaning and scrubbing and re-assembling furniture and styling and running out to the store for more Sonic drinks and molly bolts? SIGN ME UP. But before that happened, I found myself standing alone in that empty bedroom in our house, weeping as if my heart had been broken. By "weeping," I mean "ugly crying." On the floor. Like some sort of scenery-chewing soap actress who's just been told that her husband was actually her grandmother. (WHAT A TWIST!!!)

And now, she's all moved in. It's exciting -- there's an entire new life beginning, for all of us. But: the house is quiet. Nobody is bemoaning the lack of Pizza Rolls in the freezer, or asking for a few dollars for grapefruit face wash, or leaning against the door of my office in cutoffs and a ponytail to giggle and chat about how ridiculous friends/boys are.

I keep texting: "Are you ok?" "How's it going?" "Do you need anything?" "Can I come spend the night?" And the responses come back: "Yes." "Great." "No." "NOOOOOOO." Y'all think I'm kidding about that last one, don't you? I ain't.

People wiser than me -- who have gone through this many times over -- keep telling me that at some point you have to let them go. They have to learn to be independent and make their own mistakes and learn that one cannot fry bacon in a non-stick pan if one does not own a proper spatula. A few pans have to be ruined, maybe, before that one sinks in. I'm not ready. It's too soon. I want more time. LET ME BUY YOU A SPATULA.

On that note, everyone have a great weekend -- and if you feel like it, hit me with your bittersweet stories. I'll be right over here on the edge of my seat, ready for the next thing.

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AuthorAB Chao
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Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention. 
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
--Mary Oliver

Ready to spill some dirt.

Let's talk, y'all. Actually, I will do the talking -- all you have to to is listen. Ooh, am I nervous about this. I feel like poor old Jerry Maguire handing around his mission statement.

But, if you've read any of the camp recaps, you know that the first thing I tell my campers is: BE BRAVE. In fact, part of my decision to write this was informed by my experiences at design camp: something happens there in which genuine connection and community is built in a really short amount of time, which phenomenon is truly astonishing to see and be a part of.

I also tell my campers that design can change your life. And, OH HELL YES IT CAN. I believe that with my whole heart. People need a little more pretty in their lives. And a little more pretty helps to burnish those ragged edges of real life.

With that said, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the direction in which I want this site to go, and what I want it to be. I've been writing online for over ten years now, and this blog has gone through so many iterations I can't remember them all. Once upon a time, this was a personal diary, where I talked about my feelings and emotions and what chapter books my first-grader was reading. Then that little girl grew up and this space became a design blog, and I feel like somewhere along the line it lost its voice.

The thing about design blogs is that they often give the illusion of perfection: that every single detail of life is under control; that everything is shiny and beautiful and styled just-so; that there is no dirty laundry shoved behind a closet door. We all do it, of course -- it's human nature to want to present one's best self (or one's best table vignette) to the world. And it is one of my greatest pleasures to present a lovely, aspirational world to you. As I said before, this positive skewing of life is a great counter-balance to the pressures of reality. But this ginned-up perfection also comes with its own set of problems.

Perhaps you are thinking, “What in the damn hell kind of problems might you encounter while taking photos of outfits and jetting off to parts unknown every week or so?” And you'd be right to ask: to the casual observer, my life seems easy, and simple, and my job seems kind of not like a job. But there is a funny kind of pressure that comes with pretending everything is wonderfully perfect all of the time. It's not honest, or brave, or authentic, and frankly, it's kind of exhausting. There are many, many people out there who are great at this kind of job, and I have nothing but the utmost admiration for them. Sometimes I feel like I'm scrambling to keep up. But maybe I don't need to keep up. Maybe I need to bring it down a notch. Maybe I need to bring some of that true, authentic, camp-type connection right here to this blog.

So while abchao.com is still going to be entertaining and delightful and inspirational -- I'm still going to post pretty things; I'm still going to hold super-fun design camps; and I am certainly not going to stop posting headless photos or painting things white -- I want to reset things a bit. Let's just put it out on front street: this site is no longer about the mere superficial. My grand plan is to co-opt the space where, interspersed with all of the pretty things, I share personal things too. Where I show you more of my real self again. Where I get some dirt on my hands. Where things maybe get a little sloppy, because sometimes, you know, life is fucking messy.

I also want to get back to that place where I write in a meaningful way. Through all of this site's transformations and permutations, I was and always will be a writer first. Mary Karr, memoirist extraordinaire, once said, "I believe a writer makes a contract with the reader to tell the truth." I'm going to try to listen to that voice. Maybe it will invite criticism, or complaints, or comments and suggestions I am afraid to hear. But I've learned recently that if I can't take responsibility for my own words, I'm probably the asshole in the scenario.

So, let's recap: I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of pretending that everything is perfect when it really ain't. I'm tired of falling back into the same old easy patterns of posting. I'm tired of being a headless cipher with a one-note voice.

I do have a head, y'all. And I aim to use it.

That this new blog philosophy meshes up with the major changes happening in my life is no coincidence. Madeleine's graduation isn't the only thing on our minds, although obviously that has been the main event -- but now it is over. And my beautiful, nearly-grown daughter will soon be off to college, where she will begin forming her own story to tell. But that hasn't been the only thing going down, of course. Life still happens to you while you are busy ordering caps and gowns. The last year, and more specifically the last six months, have unfolded like some ridiculous screwball comedy (of errors). And the next few months are sure to serve up even more challenges as we all settle into our new places in life. I want to tell you those stories, and I will, in time. Don't be thinking I'm vague-blogging here: I am going to get to them all, and I hope you'll be patient as I ease into it.

Now, you know I'm not promising a college-length essay every day, or even every week. Sometimes I might just show you a photograph. Sometimes I'll take you along as I attempt to cross something off that big old life list. Sometimes it will just be a sentence or two. But it will be my sentence, and it will be real, and it is my fervent hope that you will jump in beside me for the ride.

Whew. That was a lot of words. Let's call it a day. Be brave out there.

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