A few weeks ago we had a series of crazy thunderstorms in Monroe, one of which broke an entire ligustrum (I think? Correct me if I'm wrong) in half. I am currently in the midst of the non-stop spring cleaning/decorating/styling binge that happens to me and my house every year. This venture includes trolling my yard -- in a robe and slip flops, shut up -- for suitable vegetation to bring into the house. I don't really care what it is as long as it is big. So above, you see parts of the destroyed shrub, along with some of my beloved lantana, and the Carolina jessamine that threatens to take over my yard on a yearly basis. I would like, here, to give thanks for the product known as Oasis, for allowing me to basically cut everything up and shove the branches haphazardly into this concrete urn.

It's been long established that Maggie's favorite decorating style is what she describes as celebratory decay. I love the idea of that: something lovely and old, just waiting to be found and reclaimed, its very antiquity informing its beauty. My decorating style, which I'm not sure I've shared before, is what I like to call rich old grandmother: a ridiculous mix of old, new, high, low, modern, antique, masculine, feminine, a little bit Southern, and just the right amount of batty. So this beat-down old bush is giving me some celebratory rich old grandmother decay feelings. 

This week, I'm at the beach on the east coast. I have never been to the beach on the east coast, having been raised visiting the Emerald Coast of Florida, also known as the Redneck Riviera. Anyway, the first night here I came across this enormous horseshoe crab, a creature I'd never seen before. It's basically an old-timey helmet with a tail. It was really dead and smelled like it, so of course I picked it up and took it back to the beach house with me.

Per the instructions I found on the internet, I soaked the crab -- henceforth to be known as Horace H. Horcrab, PhD Horticulture, Horvard University -- in alcohol for 48 hours. Then I cut out Horace's, um, soft parts with kitchen scissors. Please do not tell the owners of this beach house. Horace then took a long soak in a tub full of bleach, and is now resting peacefully in the sun, drying to a golden crisp. Later, I will spray Horace down with a few coats of lacquer and use him as decoration. 

Horace has been my project all week, and is making me happier than an old dead crab should make someone. And that, my friends, is some celebratory decay. BOOM. 


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.

AuthorAB Chao
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Let's go to the beach and read things. Yes? YES.

I'm hitting the beach on Friday, and I'll be taking these books along. We've got two memoirs, three fictions, one true crime*, and one historical fiction. That about ought to do it, don't you think? 

OMIGOD I CANNOT WAIT. Where are you going this year, and what are you reading?


*Thanks, as always, to Hateful Buntsy for her excellent true crime recs.

AuthorAB Chao
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Way back in days of yore, when I lived in Arlington, Texas, there existed a show on the Oxygen Network called Inhale with Steve Ross. Having yet to contract the adult-onset athleticism that would afflict me in my thirties, I decided that taking up yoga was the perfect non-exercise exercise for me. After all, I had been a gymnast for years: how hard could it be?

Reader, it could be hard. So hard, in fact, that I could barely finish the first episode I tried. But I tried it again. And again.  And eventually, I grew addicted to it. I also grew amazing arm muscles, but that's neither here nor there.

When we moved to Monroe in 2003, we no longer received the Oxygen Network; thus, no more Steve. Now, this was before the days where you could download/watch things on the Internet, so I made my friend Pam -- who had introduced me to Inhale, so this was all her fault anyway -- tape some episodes onto a VHS TAPE and mail it to me. Y'all, I wore that tape out. In fact, I bet I could do every single one of those episodes from memory, right now, with a yoga mat tied behind my back. Unfortunately, the show was unceremoniously cancelled in 2010, which made many people very sad.

There is an entire website devoted to bringing Inhale back, if you're interested.

Anyway, when I made a Life List, one of the items I included was "Attend a yoga class with Steve Ross in LA." And then I kind of forgot about it and never scheduled it, even though I am in LA pretty often. Lucky for me, Beth Pointer, the sweetest person in all the land, remembered seeing it on my life list and scheduled a class for me during the week of my LA Design Camp. Is that not the best thing ever? I believe it is. I love you, Bethers.

And so it was that I found myself in Steve's studio at Maha Yoga one Tuesday morning, wearing Uniqlo pajama pants and an ill-fitting tank top (I forgot to bring anything to wear, because I am not smart). It was so exciting when Steve walked in and hollered, "Stand up!" JUST LIKE ON TV, Y'ALL. 

I need not tell you that the class was amazing; the format was very similar to the show, but longer and with more poses, and a more extensive variety of music (Thrift Shop, holla!). I was nervous that I wouldn't make it since I haven't done yoga in a while, but it all came back to me pretty quickly. Also, Steve smiled at me a bunch of times and said, "Having fun yet?" JUST LIKE ON TV Y'ALL.

After we were all done, I told Steve that I was there because attending his class was on my life list, and he seemed to be tickled about that. Also, we hugged. I know, no one likes a bragger. But I hugged Steve Ross, people. As if that weren't enough, the sweet Maha Yoga folks emailed me a few days after class to make sure I had liked it, and to tell me that Steve really enjoyed having me in class. What? OKAY.

At the very end of class, Steve had us lie on our backs and tranquil music was playing and he kind of instructed us to let in whatever thought came to mind. As I lay there in that Los Angeles yoga studio, the word that kept echoing in my head was, "Grateful. Grateful. Grateful." And I am, for so many things in my life. Thanks, Steve.

AuthorAB Chao
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Here's what the jacket description of Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard says:

In this dreamy and seductive entree into the magical city that is New Orleans, author Debra Shriver, a twelfth-generation Southerner, Francophile, passionate preservationist and jazz devotee creates a book that is part love letter, part scrapbook, and gives readers a rare tour behind courtyard walls and private gates of this enigmatic city, which is often considered the Paris of America.

Yes, yes. Those things are true. This gorgeous book is indeed part love letter, part scrapbook, part courtyard tour. But what you really need to know is that I read the thing from cover to cover. 

The photographs are gorgeous, of course -- and I am usually into coffee-table books like this just for the pretty pictures -- but the text is just as captivating. Each chapter tells a different story of New Orleans -- the Mardi Gras Indians and the Zulu parade; falling in love with the city; choosing and decorating a a house; throwing a magnificent party, complete with recipes; the incredible musical history of the city; and fun sidebars with information about things like correct party attire and local traditions. 

There are quotes from various New Orleans natives scattered throughout. They are all quite charming, but my favorite is the one from Justin Lundgren:

It takes a special kind of person to choose New Orleans over most of America. You have to be the kind who can dance at a funeral and spend thousands of dollars on plastic trinkets just for the privilege of throwing them off a tractor-driven float to complete strangers.

Yep. Sounds about right for me.

And there is, of course, an entire chapter devoted to the monogram, which caused me to stand up and salute my Leontine Linens.

All photos from Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard by Debra Shriver, copyright © 2010, published by Glitterati Incorporated.

I did not need to be sold on New Orleans, of course -- it's my favorite place on this entire planet, and I plan to one day live there. But I leave you with this warning: if you buy this book, you will likely find yourself, one day, as my neighbor.

AuthorAB Chao
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Hello! Thank you all for participating in the Rivet & Sway vote + giveaway. First up, the frames y'all selected for Madeleine: PUNCHLINE!

And by quite a wide margin:

So, congratulations, Punchline! You are now the proud owner of Madeleine's face.

And now, the winner of the giveaway...

Katie T., of comment #3! Congratulations, Katie! I will be emailing you soon.

Thanks to Rivet & Sway for their amazing generosity, and thanks again to everyone who participated! This was so much fun.

AuthorAB Chao
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