September 30, 2013

My IndieVerse Band Review on Snowmine is Out!... And More Music to Follow

I'm not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but I've been invited to be a Facebook admin and I suppose a freelance writer for indie music blog IndieVerse. My first article was on trip hop artist Saltillo (read it here). 

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This week, I'm covering Brooklyn-based ambient psychedelic pop band Snowmine. One of my absolute favourite songs is by them, titled "Let Me In". There's more to Snowmine than the average band I think, so check out my review on IndieVerse at the link below, and give IndieVerse some love on our Facebook page. Again, Mark, the man behind IndieVerse, always appreciates music suggestions, so drop by the Facebook page or comment on IndieVerse' site itself if you have any.

IndieVerse Band Review: Snowmine

Also on the musical front, I managed to cover Michael Nyman's beautiful song, "The Heart Asks Pleasure First", from the film "The Piano". I learnt it by ear many years ago - somehow I always thought it was from the soundtrack of one of my well-loved movies "The Pianist" but couldn't track the song, until I was stumbling around YouTube. (Yeah, Piano vs. Pianist - same same but different, as the popular T-shirt slogan goes...)

I think I'm going to try out song requests, just for fun and to widen my repertoire. If you have any songs you'd like to hear on the black and white keys, drop me a message/comment on YouTube or through this blog.

Much love,

September 29, 2013

Music Review: Your Hand In Mine from Greece

Not be confused with the popular song of the same name by Explosions in the Sky, Your Hand In Mine (YHIM) is a band of two friends from Thessaloniki, Greece. Manos plays the wurlitzer piano, melodica, toy piano, and ukulele and does the programming, while George plays the synth, mandolin, zither, glockenspiel and electronic percussion.

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Manos and George

Your Hand In Mine's sound is very unique - while not limited to a specific genre, their songs bring to mind french folk music and street musicians with acoustic instruments. When listening to them I feel like I'm at a Parisian cafe reading the papers / being a writer or a poet while having coffee or a glass of wine on a balmy Sunday afternoon. (Actually, maybe I should do that tomorrow in a cute cafe in Sheung Wan.) At other times, it feels as though the songs are taking you on a journey across fields in Europe. It also helps that their videos have really lovely, evocative pictures (thanks YouTube users too!). Check out the pretty, pretty pictures associated with their YouTube videos... which was how I discovered them, by clicking on videos with pretty thumbnails:

September 28, 2013

Talking About Mental Illness

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Sorrowing Old Man ('At Eternity's Gate'), oil on canvas. Vincent van Gogh, 1890.

Mental Illness Awareness Week will arrive in the US next week. Established in 1990 by Congress in recognition of the efforts of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Illness Awareness Week is an occasion for mental health organisations and advocates to educate and reach out to the community through art/music events, health fairs, and benefit runs among others. 

I searched to see if Hong Kong had an equivalent programme in October but have yet to find any besides the annual Mental Health Month campaign. So I decided to write a little here... I think that talking about mental illness is important, even more so in Asia, where mental illness still carries fear and stigma. When we read about mental illness in the news, it's usually because a tragedy has occurred, for example, the Colorado shootings in 2012 by James Holmes, after which Holmes' mental state was immediately questioned. Words like "bipolar" or "schizophrenia" in the media are infused with fear by association with "violence" and "a risk to themselves and society" among others. In more primitive societies where psychiatry has yet to reach, mentally ill people are deemed as "possessed" and often excluded from society. (On the other hand, there is the anti-psychiatry movement; while not blindly following your doctor's orders and always being aware of your treatments is great, going after an entire field of medicine is a bit extreme.)

Mental illness affects us all
However, mental illness isn't limited to the man talking to himself on the street. It can happen to anyone - chances are that you might be struggling with mental illness yourself, or know someone who does. Understanding mental illness can be tricky because we can't see the illness unlike physical illnesses such as having a fever or asthma. It's not easy to explain sudden personality changes and certain behaviours that occur in those suffering from mental illness. Besides that, the causes of mental illness have yet to be pinpointed to exact physiological or environmental factors and genes. However, we need to realise that mental illness is a disease of the brain, instead of a disease of character. Then, we can create safe spaces for those suffering from mental illness to talk and seek help.

What we can do 
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I think Healthy Place's Natasha Tracy has two great articles on how to initiate dialogue on mental illness if you are a patient or know someone who is. Natasha's blog deals mainly with bipolar disorder but these pointers are undoubtedly helpful:

This is a concise and useful article by Stephen Altrogge of Sovereign Grace Church Indiana for those suffering from mental illness and Christian ministries in dealing with mental illness: The Blazing Center: Let’s Talk About Mental Illness

On an end note, if you're based in Hong Kong and are struggling with mental illness, or even severe grief or depression, please seek help from the links below. I know that Hong Kong is a speed-crazy place, and slowing down to get help might seem counter-productive to the ten thousand things we have to do in a space of 24 hours, but I encourage you to take care of yourself first. You are not alone, and you CAN get better.

Images: here, here.

September 24, 2013

The Harlequinade Series III: "Pierrot Knows"

Picking up from the earlier paintings in this series, "Weeping Harlequin" and "Columbine Unresponsive", here comes "Pierrot Knows". I've decided to end the series with Pierrot and try out different mediums of art. 

Despite being a stock character, Pierrot's stage history is somewhat richer than the other characters in the Harlequinade. Pierrot started off as a servant in Italian theatre, standing on the sidelines of the action, dispensing advice to his masters who brush him off, and unsuccessfully trying to court his master's daughter Columbine. In the 17th century, he acquired a distinct personality from the busy social creatures around him; he is out of touch and isolated. Antoine Watteau's depiction of Pierrot would further influence the depiction of Pierrot later on.

Watteau's work and actors playing Pierrot eventually developed Pierrot's character from a buffoon into that of a sad clown. With his white face and costume suggesting innocence while bearing the pallor of the dead, Pierrot became the alter-ego of the alienated artist and of the French post-Revolutionary People struggling to secure a place in the bourgeois world, among others.

My Pierrot today though is thoroughly aware of his surroundings, and how he is perceived by others. The colour palette of "Pierrot Knows" is different to the previous two because I wanted to keep his white costume. I'm not very satisfied with how this one turned out, but oh well, practice makes for better paintings!

Image: here.

September 22, 2013

DIY Ankle Straps for Ballet Flats

We interrupt the Harlequinade painting series with a bit of DIY fashion! Fresh off the recent Fashion Week runways, ankle straps, be they simple ribbons or embellished with studs or spikes, are one of the latest trends for shoes. Actually, I'd say that ankle straps are a recurring trend - I think I had a pair or two around 5 years ago, and I'm definitely seeing similar designs make the rounds this season.

Disclaimer: I absolutely adore shoes, and not just because I'm female. There is something very appealing about the silhouette of a high-heeled shoe, the vertiginous heel, the feel of the material... Eep.

Anyway, before I start waxing poetic about shoes, here are some designs which I really like:

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  1. Jenni Kayne evokes a very sleek and futuristic style with white and gold and the multiple lines. Somewhat brings to mind a tamer Lady Gaga, if Mother Monster wore flats.
  2. This Loeffler Randall Erika ankle strap flat is simple and classic.
  3. Zara two-toned pointed ankle strap shoe: Love the use of colour-blocking and its sleek silhouette.
  4. Love this simple pair worn at Milan Fashion Week by Alberta Ferretti (via Zanita Zanita)

I couldn't find any ballet flats with ribboned straps that I actually liked. The other alternative was to buy real ballet shoes, but I don't need an extra pair of shoes and I wanted more padding so I opted for DIY. This DIY was ridiculously easy, and I'm pretty happy with the results!

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  1. Separate and cut your ribbon into 4 long strips. 
  2. Now put on your shoe and place the ribbon on inside of your shoe - best is near your foot arch. Use glue to secure. You want to make sure that the shiny part of the ribbon faces outwards.
  3. Measure the length between the ribbon strip that you just glued and the point where your heel is. Use that length to place a second strip of ribbon on the opposite side of the first.
  4. Do the same for your other shoe, and let them dry! 

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Yay, made with my current favourite app Rhonna Designs. Unfortunately it's still only available on iOS.

This is how mine turned out. Since it was an impromptu project, my glue had congealed a little. I'll probably touch it up with fresh glue soon!

here, here, here.

September 21, 2013

The Harlequinade Series II: "Columbine Unresponsive"

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"Columbine Unresponsive"
After the production of "Weeping Harlequin", the idea of painting Harlequinade characters in mental states contrary to their usual characters was conceived. 

Columbine (Colombina in Italian, "little dove"; and Colombine in French) is probably the only functioning intellect in the Harlequinade. She is a typical soubrette. A soubrette is a female stock character (a character based on common literary or social stereotypes) which is often vain and girlish, mischievous, even lighthearted and coy.  

In the painting, Columbine has entered a state of unresponsiveness, with her back to us, and face somewhat downcast. 

Is it because of Harlequin? 
Or does Harlequin weep because she does not respond to him? 

We can only guess. If "Weeping Harlequin" reflects grief and depression, then "Columbine Unresponsive" is catatonia - a state of unresponsiveness to external stimuli despite being awake.

The bright colours used provide contrast between Columbine's typical lighthearted nature and the subject of the painting. The painting process was all about layering and creating stark lines to create mild dissonance. I drew some inspiration from Hong Kong-based artist Simon Birch, who is a genius at layering and texturing. 

Read more soon for the story behind Part 3: Pierrot Knows.

September 19, 2013

The Harlequinade Series: "Weeping Harlequin"

One of my targets this Fall semester was to live artistically and create more art. Last fortnight I was in a bit of a dark mood and went on a music and painting spree. You can find some of my piano covers here.

Sometimes I wonder: does being an artist or a creative translate to being cranky all the time? (Would love to hear your thoughts on this.) I've noticed that my output increases significantly - apparently both quality and quantity - when my mood is less than stellar. Many studies and books have tried to connect mental illness with creativity and/or study the "tortured artist" character, but so far no conclusion has been reached.

Alternatively, perhaps it is just dissatisfaction with the way things are that drives creatives to make something new. This Fran Lebowitz quote immediately springs to mind:
If you don't experience your life, you are not going to come up with solutions for anything. Every intention, every achievement has come out of dissatisfaction, not serenity. No one ever said, "Things are perfect. Let's invent fire."
The making of this series was quite an organic process. It started out with a series of angry, frantic brush swishes that became this, which reminded me of the theatre character Harlequin:

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"Weeping Harlequin", watercolour

Harlequin (Arlecchino in Italian and Arlequin in French) began as a silly servant or clownish character. While known for his agility and nimbleness, he was gluttonous and tried to woo any lady he met. An alternative origin for the character was a black-faced emissary of the devil, chasing damned souls to hell.

Around the 18th century, Harlequin transitioned into a romantic character. He was usually featured in a short comedic break during British theatre performances (an ancient form of the advertisement break, if you will) which was called the Harlequinade. The story of the Harlequinade commonly revolved around a comedic event in the lives of Harlequin; his love Columbine; Columbine's greedy father Pantaloon, who tries to separate the lovers with the aid of the mischievous Clown; and the servant Pierrot. There are also chase scenes, involving a policeman at some point or other.

I thought it would be interesting to portray Harlequin contrary to his usual character. In the Harlequinade, he is in high spirits, never holds a grudge, and is remarkably clever. And so, "Weeping Harlequin" was born.

In my next article, I'll explore the psyches of the other characters in this series... so stay tuned! I'm working on completing the series with the other characters so join me in this exploration of mental states and colours.

P.S. My two pen-drives have been named Harlequin and Columbine since I got them 4 years ago :).

September 16, 2013

DIY Wire Ring

Happy Monday and hope you're beating the Monday blues! To all Malaysians, Happy Malaysia Day. May we strive to better our country when and where we can.

(Down with race-based politics! Down with corruption! Down with crime... and dare I say, down with UMNO who is the source of rotten policies and the first two issues?)

Anyway, last week I was feeling crafty so I put my copper wire to good use to make a wire heart ring, inspired by I Spy Diy. Look how pretty it is!

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Below is the tutorial. But first of all, you will need some wire, a pair of jewelry pliers, and a sharp pair of scissors. Normal household pliers should work, which was what I had. You can use aluminium wire, but I like copper for its rose gold colour.

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Read further instructions here.

What I like about these rings is that they're so flexible! Once you feel more confident, you can experiment with other shapes. I did this:

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The selections are unlimited! However, I think if you want to do more intricate patterns, a pair of jewelry pliers might serve you better. I'm trying to form longer words, and am coming up with a bit of a bottleneck with my carpentry pliers. 

Hope you enjoy making them as much as I did!

September 13, 2013

5 Things Friday: 5 Sweet and Savoury Fig Recipes to Try

I have a confession: I am intensely addicted to figs. My first taste came thanks to a lovely friend who took me to dinner, where we had foie gras with figs in reduced port wine. It was so good it melted in our mouths! Since then, I've been gathering fig recipes, and finally found some in my local supermarket. They were a bit pricey, but my craving was larger... Unfortunately Hong Kong imports most of their fruit and vegetables, hence the higher prices.

Look how pretty it is! Preparing my fig crostini :)

However, according to my dear friend Luca, figs can grow almost anywhere and shouldn't be expensive. Besides their versatility (eaten fresh, dried or made into jam/chutney), figs are among the richest plant sources of calcium and fibre. They also contain a lot of antioxidants. A small word of warning: figs have a mild laxative effect so don't gorge yourself on them, difficult as it may be while they taste so good! The skin is edible, but if you prefer not to, then you can skin it quickly with a sharp knife or peeler.

Here are 5 sweet and savoury fig recipes to try:

5. Fig crostini (savoury)
The easiest recipe ever, and it tastes so good. Simply chop fresh figs, toss with balsamic vinegar and black pepper with a pinch of salt, and spread on toast. You can spread some cheese if you like (apparently blue cheese or goat cheese are good combinations, but I'm not a fan of either). Pure and easy luxury.

Perfect for a chill afternoon spent writing and listening to good music.

Get the recipe here.

4. Maple-roasted figs (sweet and savoury)

Eeep I can't wait to try this with my remaining figs! Hardly the healthiest choice with all the maple syrup but this simple yet versatile recipe does both sweet and savoury. You can use them for topping pancakes, yogurt, or ice-cream, or serve them as part of a cheese platter. (via Hungry Mouse)

Marilyn Manson "Guns, God and Government Tour" Sketch

I've been meaning to do this sketch for a bit. I thought that black and red would set each other off perfectly in this piece. You can also check out my speed-drawing video of this piece on Instagram!

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I've always enjoyed Marilyn Manson's music since I first heard "Tainted Love". (I still really want to see an awesome dance choreographed to this song!)

Overlooking Manson's shock stunts and disruptive behaviour that have led to charges of various misdemeanours, and his alcohol and drug abuse, Marilyn Manson's sound is unique in the rock/metal sphere, and the man himself is a consummate artist. I mean, how often do you see him go without makeup or out of character? I quite enjoyed this MTV article claiming that Manson is the only true artist today, albeit written in 2006. (Flash forward to 2013, and MM has put on some pounds and his shows have mixed reviews. Oh well, we can't perpetually be stellar performers.)

Manson is also an interesting painter. His paintings almost look as though they were by-products of therapy in a psychiatric ward. At the same time, the watercolours are ephemeral like a sheer veil, and the touch he employs make the paintings seem rather inward-looking. I get the feeling that he's examining and painting the not-so-pretty parts of ourselves. Absolutely adore this painting of one of my favourite writers, Edgar Allan Poe:

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The moment I became Edgar I suddenly realized I was in Hell | 20" X 32" | Watercolor, Ink, Acrylic |

For more of Manson's paintings, click here

September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11, and 5 Things You Should Know About the Syrian Revolution

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We take a break from art, design, and music to remember the victims and survivors of 9/11 and their families. May they find peace, strength, and healing. 

When I was a child, I used to think that the United States was the greatest country on Earth. In many respects, it is, and sometimes I think that we don't give the US the credit it sometimes deserves. We mock them occasionally for considering themselves "the world's sheriff" but when a major disaster happens internationally, we look to the US for first steps, expecting them to be the first to offer aid, to broker agreements, and to be a moral compass for us all.

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I'd also like to focus on a current major crisis - the Syrian Revolution. From where I write and where most of my readers are (Hong Kong and Malaysia presumably), the events unfolding in Syria may seem very distant, a blip in our daily radar. Besides that, given the wars and proxy wars that have taken place since 9/11, there is a distinct sense of lethargy, of antipathy, and of cynicism. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and then the constant threat of Iran and its ideas of nuclear enrichment. 

Why is the Syrian uprising important? Events in Syria will very likely beget spillover effects in the Middle East and maybe the wider world. We will see more Syrian refugees - from those who are affluent or quick enough to escape the carnage in their country; we may see fiefdoms and a rearrangement of powers in the Middle East, and change in policies in countries near Syria such as Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq - countries that possess some importance on the agenda of the United States. We are all connected, and we should stay informed.

5. Why are people in Syria killing each other?
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Moderate protests began in Syria in April 2011 as a response to the regional Arab Spring (during which protests took place in Tunisia and Egypt) and government corruption. The protests gained momentum nationwide, to which the government under President Bashar al-Assad responded with large arrests, torture, censorship of events, and police brutality. Despite the initial crackdown, protests grew all the same. The Assad government then ordered large-scale military strikes, using artillery, infantry carriers, and tanks, which led to a high number of civilian deaths. The military has deployed all over the country, with Homs, Daraa, and Latakia being some of the heavy-hit cities.

Then the civilians started firing back, organising themselves into rebel groups. Furthermore, because of the undue usage of lethal force against civilians, many soldiers and lower-level officers began to desert from the Syrian Army. 

Currently, the status is all-out civil war, with no end in sight.

September 9, 2013

Vogue Fashion's Night Out Hong Kong 2013

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Back from Fashion's Night Out (FNO) at Lane Crawford at the IFC Mall, with lots of pictures for you guys!

I'm the lowest-maintenance person you will meet regarding fashion, so I quickly cobbled together a classy outfit. Dress by Padini, heels from Vietnam, simple rose earrings, and my own copper wire rings. Makeup was super simple because I think I might have lost my Maybelline gel liner brush (very sad), so I swept on some gold shadow to brighten my lids and layered my Rimmel lipstick.

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Ignore the mountain of clothes behind; I just did my laundry and had to rush off!

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Tutorial for the rings to come soon, so stay tuned!

When we arrived, the event was in full swing. Upon entry, I spotted one of Hong Kong's trendsetters, JJ Acuna a.k.a The Wanderlister, and really wanted to approach him but he was involved in conversation, so... moving along. Slightly starstruck - I quite enjoy his blog.

As a first-time attendee at FNO, I think it could've been made better by providing a floor plan, especially with the pop-up stores and customisation booths involved. Perhaps the organisers wanted to provide an element of surprise, but with the number of people and the layout of Lane Crawford at IFC Mall, a floor map or more signs would've made things easier to find. (We couldn't find the Sift macarons!!!... so sad.)

September 6, 2013

This Friday: Vogue Fashion's Night Out Hong Kong 2013

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We take a break from our "5 Things Friday" series... All hail to the power of Instagram, through which I was reminded that Fashion's Night Out is around the corner... more like tonight. And lucky Hong Kongers, you get to be part of the action!

Vogue Fashion's Night Out is a global shopping initiative launched in 2009, and runs its second edition in HK this year. Vogue once again partners with fashion retailing giant Lane Crawford to offer exclusive offers to fashionistas and shopaholics alike at their stores at IFC Mall and Times Square, and during online purchases. 

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Celebrity makeup artist Tony Li launches his book, "Powder & Brush II", at FNO. Performance artists and hidden fashion vigilantes The Bumbys from New York will be performing "A Fair and Honest Appraisal of Your Appearance" on guests. 

Pop-ups popping up!
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(^Sorry, I had to.) Pop-up stores abound - a reflection of the flash retailing trend which has gained momentum among shoppers for its element of novelty and surprise and among small retailers dealing with fickle shoppers, economic uncertainty, and high shop rents (read more on the concept here). Participants include eclectic fashion retailer Kapok and bespoke tailoring shop Moustache. (Moustache will be serving cocktails at its pop-up bar, so head there folks!) 

Product customisations 
J. Crew, J. Brand, Smythson, and Cambridge Satchel are offering complimentary monogramming services upon purchase.

Slipyz, a brand offering a dynamic range of rubber and metal accessories that can be "slipped" onto anything, will also host a customisation station... Studs, spikes, and pins, here we come!

Party treats
What's a viewing of fashion without some sweet treats? Sample ice-cold Jabena coffee liquor, artisan popsicles from Lola's Ice Pops, and macarons from Sift.

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So cute!

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See you there!

Venue: Lane Crawford, IFC Mall, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2118 3388,
Time: 6pm - 10pm HKT

For more info on FNO, click here.

Images: here, herehere.

September 2, 2013

Weekend Recap: Moving House and 3 DIY Projects

Hi everyone! I've moved into my new place on campus, and I love it! Couldn't have done the moving without my friends... I had to do a lot of heavy lifting this weekend so I suppose that covers my gym work.

The apartment houses 6 rooms, a bathroom with 2 toilets and 2 shower stalls, a pantry, and a massive living room. Besides that, we have a massive balcony - tanning to commence!!!

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Upon entry... *excited*

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Gonna Masterchef during these 4 months!

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Room before the first load of unpacking.

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View from our balcony. I get a sea-view room too!

The dolls greeting after packing and organising has been completed.

And here are some of the little DIY projects I've done to prettify my room:

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1. A repurposed IKEA packing box to hold my food. I might get a wire shelf eventually though... Anyway, I sliced my IKEA box into half with my kitchen knife, and painted a bright chevron pattern on it! :)

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2. Wall art with my fairy lights spelling "love", and strings of photos of my loved ones. All my Pinterest inspirations are out to play!

Family first, and all the other people I love. Printed the photos out with my black-and-white only printer, and cut them with a slim border to make them look like Polaroids. *starts rapping the very lame opening of Pitbull's "Tonight (Give Me Everything)"

Restlessness after dinner begets this:

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So many possibilities really!... 

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And that's it for today. I'm still rather exhausted from the moving, so I bid you all a very good night. Have a good week folks!