January 16, 2018

Mystery Boxes

HELLO lovely friends! So, settle in, because I have quite a ramble for you today. Over the weekend on Instagram, I did quite a bit of rambling over there as well.

Here's the deal. I get bored. Do you get bored? I do. And I like to do different things sometimes. I'm B-O-R-E-D with the state of my blogging right now. And for a long time, my Cool Stuff posts have been my most popular posts. Also for a long time, I have really wanted to somehow lift Julia's Bookbag off the page and into the world of tangible reality. A store front. Or a book truck. Or something. I realized that a step I can take right now is to start creating Julia's Book Boxes! (you guys know I'm Melissa right? ha ha. I thought I'd keep going with the name confusion and continue with the Julia theme.)

I looked around online at some of the book box ordering offerings out there right now and thought....I'd like to do something like this. I'm very good at finding Cool Stuff. I've been online for nearly a decade now, and I know where to find cool and and unusual things, and fun books.

So I'm going to start making some mystery book box creations, priced around the $30 range, plus shipping etc. I realized over the weekend that's what most of the other book boxes sell for, and also I simply can't go lower, and still have the quality of the tea and treat items I want to put into the boxes, and have it be worth my time and energy. If you want something insanely awesome and custom, that will need to be priced higher. But generally I'm aiming for that $30 region.

My idea is to have themed and seasonal boxes, with a BOOK ha ha, a tea or hot chocolate sample offering (not an entire box!), a TREAT, and other bits and bobs put in - some stationary, or a bath item, an item that fits the theme, or some combination of all of the above. Boxes for children, and boxes for YOU, because, and I really feel strongly about this - WE NEED MORE CARE PACKAGES IN OUR LIVES. YOU deserve it. Your FRIENDS deserve it. Do you need a gift for someone? No time to get one? Order a box from me.

Do you just really need some tea and interesting chocolate? I CAN MAKE THAT HAPPEN.


Want me to custom make you a box? I would love to! (but -- don't ask me for a sugar free box. i mean, you can ask, but that doesn't mean that I'll listen.)

Now here's something, remember all my 'mysterious' talk last December? Christmas is mysterious and all that jazz, ha ha? Well MYSTERY BOXES ARE MYSTERIOUS. And while I'm show and telling what my winter box might look like today, to get this idea launched....

My boxes will be a SURPRISE. That's the fun of them. I will announce box themes and people can either order, and I'll make a box or.....not order! I won't reveal book titles beforehand. After a box is retired, I'll take a photo and show what it was on Instagram.

By now, if you've read even 5 posts on my blog - my brand is identifiable. You guys know what I'm into around here. I love vintage and pretty things. I like tea. I like chocolate. I like England, Scandinavia, and Japan. I like a bit of whimsy and magic. I like cozy reading. I like things that will make me feel better and not worse. And if you hang out here, I'd wager that you tend to enjoy the same type of things that I do!

So if you order a box from me, basically you're joining in on my own version of an online book, tea, & treat club. I will be sending out books I want to read, and dearly loved favorites.

What if you've already read the book I've sent? Andrew (the husband) said my return policy should be this: "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." HA HA HA. But basically you can either return the whole box on your dime, and get a credit on a future box, or...give the book box to a friend!

I mentioned on Instagram stories a couple of days ago....A British Boarding School box? You can bet your bottom dollar that's happening, even if I only make one for myself!

OH - I should mention that while I'll have themes - I can ALWAYS make a British box. Always.

I'll be learning about box measurements and shipping as I go ha ha. For now, how it will work is you say, I want a box please! And then you'll email me your city and postal code, and I'll invoice you via PayPal or Venmo. And then I create your box and mail it! Might take a week to 10 days or so for me to assemble it, and then what the post office fairies do is up to them. I don't have auto online ordering at this time or anything like that. Right now we're like a little secret club ha ha. I hope you want to be in my club! And right now I'm doing this on a box by box basis - I'm not doing 3 or 6 month subscriptions, yet. Maybe when I figure out the tech stuff with Andrew, I can do something like that. But for now, you only buy a box (or boxes) when you want to!

So what do you think? I'm very excited. I'll probably think of more details later, but for now, that's the gist of it! Are you interested???

(P.S. at this time, I believe that shipping needs to be contained to the U.S. and Canada. Shipping worldwide or to the UK would cost as much as the box itself, which seems silly. Sorry friends.)

January 4, 2018

cool stuff i like

Merry New Year! I didn't mean to take such a long break. Blogging properly is getting harder and harder. I see now why Instagram is so popular! Well Christmas is over. BYE BYE CHRISTMAS. December was a hard month, I just couldn't get it together to accomplish all that I needed to, so it was a slow painful process. I did manage to squeeze out some holiday spirit on Christmas Eve, when it began snowing. We had a white Christmas! That almost never happens in the Pacific Northwest! It was lovely. We had a great time between Christmas and New Years, and then the day after New Years I slipped on the top step of my upstairs and fell heavily flat on my back down about four stairs. Now I'm on a steady diet of Advil and ice packs. I'm moving into phase 2 of my holiday decorating - I used to get so so bummed to put away my Christmas tree, I began putting up 'winter' decorations, mostly in the form of 20,000 paper snowflakes, made for me by my indentured servant, I mean husband, Andrew. He's a snowflake wizard. I'm trying to up my snowflake game, but I'll have many a far terrain to cover before I can get close to his mastery.

I was going to do a blog post on what I got for Christmas, but that sounded hard. What I WILL come back with is my review of THE NIGEL SLATER BOOK that I've been carrying on about for the past month, in person, on Facebook, on Insta, anywhere and anyone, I was carrying on about the Nigel book. Well I finally got it and it deserves its own post.

Books to read in 2018.

This cake looks lovely and I might make it for my birthday in a few weeks.

Hot chocolate pudding.

Beautiful story.

Winter skin rituals.

Loved this article.

Works of art dolls.

One of Julia's favorite Christmas presents was this.

Sounds so silly to say, but I never fathomed how much my inability to navigate our music system or radio through our TV was making my life a cold, sad place. I haven't really listened to much music in the past....10-15 years? 20?? Andrew took advantage of Cyber Monday for once in his life and got me this for Christmas, and I kid you not - this thing is changing my life. Also he says I might need this.

THIS. All the yessssssssss! Easing yourself into the new year. I have a cosmic theory that my husband would guffaw heartily at, but I think the ideas touched on in this post are maybe part of the reason I fell down my stairs.

Cool Book of the Week: 'Leon - Ingredients and Recipes' by Allegra McEvedy (best name ever) is a fun one that I looked through the other day. I have two of the other 'Leon' cookbooks, and I LOVE them. Do you know these books? I think they are some of the most unique, fun, and cool cookbooks around. I have the Baking book, and Naturally Fast Food, and I also had this one for awhile from the library. I really like these books! Very cool PICTURE PICTURES PICTURES - soooooooo many pictures, and fun recipes, and fun fonts (yes fonts are fun and cool) - these are not your standard dry cookbooks. Loads of personal stories and funny anecdotes - these books make you feel like you happened across some witty person's scrapbook of Very Cool Recipes. Easy to make recipes, fun to read - I just adore these books, and I almost got this one to go along with the others in my collection....but I had just purchased THE NIGEL SLATER BOOK, and that was my purchase of the day, so I had to leave this lovely.

 Have a lovely weekend! AAAAAH almost forgot about the WEATHER. The bomb cyclone. The -25 degree temps. I've been hearing/seeing/freaking out over the stories and the pictures I keep seeing on social media. STAY SAFE and COZY my cold weather friends out there! Is the snow fun? Is it horrible? I think I might never leave my house ever ever ever again in -25 weather.


December 12, 2017

cool stuff i like

Happy day merry elves! I ordered a gift for someone from Harney & Sons, and I got some samples thrown in with my order, including a packet of their Holiday tea blend. I tried it, and it was awesome. And then I realized that buried in my tea pantry was a whole TIN of their holiday tea that had just become lost under the mountain of Too Much Tea we have going on in our house. So I pulled it out and set it on the counter, so that it wouldn't be forgotten again. What's new - I'm still having a lot of woe about the Nigel Slater Christmas book. It's only available in the UK (and Canada!) with metric measurements for the recipes. A U.S. release date has not yet been announced. It's supposed to be WONDERFUL. But unless I want to laboriously translate a lot of metric recipes (I DO NOT), I have to be patient and wait for the U.S. version to be published. Too bad, so sad yeah? I've begun wrapping presents. I try to do a little as stuff comes in, so as not to be swallowed by wrapping at the end. Do you chip away at wrapping a little at a time? Or do you do a big push all in one go right before Christmas? If I want to sit and do nothing but watch holiday films and eat cookies, I have to wrap early.

Lots of Christmas coolness to check out HERE. Thanks to Jenny for putting all of this on my radar.

Vanilla Bean blog's kitchen favorites holiday 2017 gift list is up.

Dinner A Love Story's gift guide is up. (she always finds incredible things and I just ordered something from her list!)

WHOA - super amazing cute kid clothing boutique Pink Chicken has a line at Target.

Classic cookie salad. Also, Molly is the most darling girl that ever there was.

Really cute kid book gift guide - look at the one with the wooden dolls!!!!!

A cozy Christmas mystery to read during winter season.

I want to teleport into this room.

3 fun holiday projects.

A whole lot of winter pretty going on here.

Cool Book of the Week: a friend wrote to me, and asked if I knew about the new Gregory Maguire book, 'Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker'. NO, I replied, and took out my ordering finger and clicked. I've actually never read any of his books before. Not even 'Wicked', which I bloody OWN. But when I heard that he had put his dark-fairy-tales-for-adults-spin on the backstory of the Nutcracker story - from the viewpoint of Herr Drosselmeier, borrowing from the world of the Brothers Grimm and German fairy tale forests......this had 'read me Melissa' written all over it. Did you see how long that sentence was? I'm about two chapters in, and it's great. The reviews are all over the place, but I'm enjoying the weird vibe so far.

AND, harkening back to my BOLD CLAIM the other day that Christmas Is Mysterious....doesn't this book look mysterious? The Nutcracker is a very mysterious tale. Drosselmeier - what's his deal? Apparently I'm going to find out in this story.

P.S. If Amazon and World Market didn't exist....I wouldn't survive Christmas. I don't know how old fashioned people did it.


December 8, 2017

christmas is mysterious

Please don't laugh at me like my husband has been doing, every time I mention this idea......

I've been telling Andrew all this season how CHRISTMAS IS MYSTERIOUS, and he thinks that's the weirdest thing ever. Behold:

Andrew: "If someone asked me to define Christmas, 'mysterious' is the last word I would choose."

Me: "But PRESENTS. Little mysteries in a box!"

Andrew: 'guffaws heartily' "Not for you, because you keep buying presents for yourself."

(He does have a small point there.)

I've ALWAYS thought Christmas was mysterious. What is more mysterious than trying to feel your presents in the dark when you're 8 years old, only to discover that your dad slept under the tree, trying to discourage you from getting into your presents, and hearing him snore, and then spending at least 45 minutes trying to slowly back crawl out of the room so as not to awaken him?????

Actually that was more of a nightmare than a mystery.

I am telling you. For me, who at age 47, still totally believes in fairies, and magic, and is scared of the dark, and is convinced that if I arrange my furniture in just the right way, I'll totally nail that whole Feng Shui thing -- Christmas for me is about magic, ghosts, wrapping paper that looks like it might be found in an old attic, and MINCEMEAT. (omg once I discovered mince pies at age 28, I realized I had discovered mystery as a FLAVOR. It makes you think you've time traveled to Victorian England. And bless her little heart, my daughter shares my deep passion for mincemeat tarts as well.)

The Solstice? Mysterious.
Advent everything? Mysterious.
Yule logs and old winter rituals? Mysterious!

'A Christmas Carol'?? My favorite story OF ALL TIME. In any season. GHOSTS. Ghosts are mysterious!!

The secrecy, the hiding of presents, the lights in the dark, stockings filling themselves....I don't know why my husband keeps laughing at me. Christmas is full of mystery. My version of Christmas anyway. Another yearly mystery - will I, or will I not get super amazingly sick? That's always a fun one.

So I have put together a wee little list of things that lend themselves to my Mysterious Christmas Theory. Let's talk about them:

Anthropologie has these Starry Night Incense Kits right now. Normally I'm not a fan of incense. Believe me, growing up in Hawaii, I smelled A LOT OF INCENSE. But I'm very intrigued by the Black Balsam scent and maybe the Fireside?? (a review said it smelled like a smoky barbecue. No thanks.) But look at the packaging! Gorgeous!

Ok. Sigh. Let's talk about the NEW NIGEL SLATER CHRISTMAS BOOK. Friends who read my blog a lot know that Nigel is my cookbook boyfriend, even though I believe he's happily settled with his partner James. IT MATTERS NOT. Oh how I love my Nigel. I read, and re-read, his books nearly every day of my life. I'm not joking. Nigel's way with words evokes mystery, and all the cozy vibes I associate with how I like to cook, and his stories....I just LOVE NIGEL'S BOOKS SO MUCH, and.....

He just came out with a Christmas book. 'The Christmas Chronicles.' A winter book. Full of recipes and stories. His idea of Christmas and winter is exactly how I think it should be: "reading ghost stories with a glass of sloe gin" (make mine a sherry) "the scent of fir and spruce", "beeswax candles with shadows dancing on the ceiling."

Amazon says it's packed with "feasts, folktales, myths and memoir" and how he's written about everything you need to enjoy through the winter months. Friends - I FREAKED OUT when I saw this book was out. It's the ONLY thing I want for Christmas. THE ONLY THING.

And guess what? It hasn't been released in the U.S. yet! Only the U.K. version with metric measurements is available! I AM DEVASTATED. So Andrew and I are trying to decide - do I wait until the U.S. release?? Whenever that might be?? Or do I ask/demand that Andrew get it for me, with a kitchen scale and metric measuring spoons to go along with the book? Andrew thinks that's a lot of work for a book. But I kinda need a kitchen scale anyway. OH NIGEL YOU BREAK MY HEART.

Moving onto candy. I recently tried this Reber dark chocolate and marzipan candy from World Market, and it is indeed mysterious and wonderful, and I'm going to buy myself an entire box. FABULOUS. There's a version with pistachio cream filling that I've yet to try, and I really want that too.

Just bought myself  Harney & Sons Victorian London Fog tea. (are you laughing Andrew? I am always delighted with my gifts, even when I buy them for myself) - I had to get one extra thing to get a special deal on an order I was getting for my aunt OK? Anyway, doesn't that sound mysterious? I've always wanted to try a London Fog tea drink - Earl Grey tea with steamed milk and lavender. The tea is earl grey black tea and oolong and vanilla and  lavender. I'm so excited to try.

This candle from Terrain looks pretty and smells like sage and cedar. It also comes in a rosewood and berry fragrance. Candles are mysterious. Most smell like crap, but sometimes you happen upon something lovely and subtle.

One last thing and then I'll leave you to cry some more about the Nigel Slater book. 'Round the Christmas Fire - Festive Stories' by a variety of authors, just looks so delightful and charming! Christmas mystery dosn't always have to be dark - it can also be festive and fun. There are scary stories, stories of feasts and food, funny stories about wacky relatives, and thoughts on gift giving and the Christmas season. I would love love love to read this with a cozy blanket on me and a slice of gingerbread. GINGERBREAD IS MYSTERIOUS TOO!

Byeeeeeee. This might be the longest post I've ever written.

December 4, 2017

Holiday Books for Kids

I've got a new holiday book roundup for you! I think I missed last year putting together a collection - I was busy showing off standalone posts of Christmas books. Might have missed the year before as well. But be sure and check out the seasonal tab in my 'Topics' sidebar, or type in 'Christmas' in the search window, and all of my Christmas posts should jump into view. Have a party! I totes had a party writing them.

Look at these BEAUTIES. Aren't they lovely?? Let's talk about 'Ghosts of Greenglass House' by Kate Milford. Julia and I read 'Greenglass House' last year, and we both loved it. There's such a cool VIBE to that book. Milford did an amazing job of sucking you totally into her world of a snowbound smuggler's inn, with secretive visitors, and a mystery (there's a very very cool twist) that unfolds during Christmas. It's cozy reading for the middle grades, and I'm so excited to read the sequel! Ghosts at Christmas time is pretty much all I can ask for from a book. To say 'A Christmas Carol' is my favorite story of all time is kind of like asking me if I enjoy gingerbread.

'Last Stop on the Reindeer Express' stopped me in my tracks when I saw it on my friend Michelle's Instagram. If you're not following Michelle on her blog, Avery and Augustine, and on her super incredible IG feed, well you're missing the work of a true book finding wizard. She featured this GORGEOUS picture book recently, and I started hyperventilating. I'm not really looking to add new Christmas picture books into my household at this point, I'm trying to DOWNSIZE - but this one...oh em gee. Karl Mountford and Maudie Powell-Tuck's story of a girl's magical journey atop a journeying reindeer looks incredible. What a gift this would be! Go go!

Last year, Julia read 'A Boy Called Christmas' by Matt Haig, the first in a trio of holiday themed adventures aimed at middle to upper elementary kids, and loved how it detailed the story of Nicholas, a boy who eventually becomes Father Christmas. There's also 'The Girl Who Saved Christmas' and the newest story, 'Father Christmas and Me' -  about a kiddo who has to deal with being a human going to Elf School, and all the various woes and misadventures of growing up with Father Christmas as your DAD.

Some lovely picture books! Incredible art. 'Pick a Pine Tree' I've been seeing everywhere online lately. And look at it. I haven't seen the other two in person, but I've seen this one, and it's so lovely, and I'm OBSESSED with Christmas trees. Picking out a tree, and a mince pie, and my gingerbread, and that's Christmas for me. Love and kindness? Well ok, if you say so. I could be 99.9 years old, and I'll still be decorating a Christmas tree, even if it's a stick. I'm ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS TREES.

The other two just jumped out at me and look so sweet. 'The Little Reindeer' by Nicola Killen - loooooook at that arrrrrrrrrt. All black and white with flashes of red, the story follows a little girl helping a lost reindeer, as they travel on a magical adventure. And 'Finding Christmas' by Lezlie Evans and Yee Von Chan....little forest animals give up their presents to help a swallow found sick in the snow. It looks so cozy! Adorable.

Hope I've helped to give some direction in the realm of holiday books - there's only twenty GAMILLION holiday books - usually I'm just vintage vintage vintage - but there's darling new books coming out to give the classics a run for their money as well. Cheerio!!
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