The Great Gatsby (Discussion)

The great gatsbyHappy Halloween! Did anyone read The Great Gatsby with me this month? Does anyone remember reading it in high school and want to join in?

I have a few confessions before we get started. First, I did read The Great Gatsby my junior year of high school, but I didn't remember a thing. Okay, that's not true. I vaguely remembered Gatsby's sprawling lawn being talked about a lot. But when I selected this book I was excited because I felt like I would be approaching it with completely fresh (albeit 12 years older) eyes. 

Second, I read half of the book and listened to the other half (the audio book is performed by Jake Gyllenhaal and is awesome!). This is the first audio book I've used in a long time, and it reminded me how entertaining they can be (and how great it is to be able to "read" and walk or knit at the same time).

And third... I really slogged through the first half of this book. In some ways I felt like I was back in high school with a reading deadline, and it was hard to make progress. But then the second half— chapters 6-9—FLEW for me. I couldn't put it down/stop listening. For me, the characters and the plot really came alive.
Elise blaha cripeSo on to the meat of this discussion.
1. Was this your first time through or did you re-read like me? Did you struggle to connect like I did in the beginning? Were you enthralled the whole time? Did you ever engage with the story? I'd love to hear.

2. What do you think about Nick as the narrator? I thought it was an interesting choice to basically have a "bystander" tell the story in first person when Fitzgerald could have just as easily "told" the story in third person. Nick knew everything. He knew about all the relationships. He knew who was really driving the car. The characters confessed a lot to him so we, the audience, could have a front row seat to the action. But Nick, while part of the whole thing, doesn't do much to drive the plot.

I thought it was so interesting how the story opens :

    In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
     “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

It's almost like Fitzgerald is saying, "Hey, these characters are all pretty screwed up, but let's not judge them too much and let that get in the way of this story, okay?"

3. In the end, Gatsby (The Great, which turns out is sort of ironic) dies in a quick—not really part of the action—way. We don't see it. We don't read much detail about it. It's just over in less than a paragraph. This flawed and somewhat fraudulent main character dies and then no one really cares enough to go to the funeral. What did you think of that? What sort of a statement do you think Fitzgerald wanted to make?

4. How did you feel at the end? Did you like any of the characters? I didn't really. It almost felt like watching a reality television show from the 1920s. Everyone's crazy and has too much time on their hands. But somehow I'm intrigued... and sad.

I would love your thoughts on these points and any others. I will be responding in the comments. Thank you so much for reading and chatting with me! -Elise (blog & Instagram)
P.S. Don't forget to pick up your copy of Not That Kind of Girl for November!
Credits // Author: Elise Cripe. Photos by: Sarah Rhodes and Elise Cripe. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

Try This: Striped Candlesticks

Make these striped candlesticksThe days may be getting shorter, but that just means dinners are getting more romantic! As sunlight dims, I like to light candles to set the mood for cozy evenings at home. Put on some Ella Fitzgerald, and the atmosphere is complete! I'd been eyeing these gorgeous striped candlesticks at Anthropologie, but I thought I'd try to replicate the look for a little less money. 

Make these striped candlesticksI bought some fall-hued candlesticks from World Market in bordeauxwhite, rust, and olive. Then I selected acrylic paint for the stripes on each color. Regular water-based non-toxic acrylic paint will work with a little patience (just keep dabbing). See my notes about the safey of burning painted candles at the end of this post.

Make these striped candlesticksI used masking tape to make stripes in various widths on the candles, then I dabbed on the paint with a sponge brush. Make sure you don't use too much paint, or it will seep below the tape. It takes about 2-3 light coats to completely cover the wax.

Make these striped candlesticksGently peel off the tape, and now you have some striped candles!

Note: If you have any uneven paint edges, you can use the dull edge of a knife to carefully scrape off the paint from the candle pretty easily. Keep this in mind as you handle the candles, though. If you plan to move them around a lot, you may want to prime them before painting, or the paint will scratch off. (If you do use primer on the candles, do not burn them- unless you are using a water-based non-toxic primer.)

Make these striped candlesticks
Make these striped candlesticks
This project is so simple and makes a fun holiday tablescape for very little money. Take it to the next level with an eclectic array of candle holders. I found a bunch of candlestick holders at the thrift store and painted them all black. So easy—so chic! -Mandi

UPDATE: Some of you have expressed concern about the safety of burning these painted candles, or if they should be for decorative use only. I naively assumed they would be safe to burn because the craft paint I used was water-based and non-toxic. (Note: artists' oil-based/chemical-ridden acrylics are different from the water-based non-toxic craft acrylics.) But I did some research and found that many non-toxic paints may still contain less than 1% of preservatives, such as formaldehyde. Turns out, lots of items many people use everyday that are absorbed/ingested/inhaled have formaldehyde in them, so if this is something you have on your radar (like if you use organic shampoo, avoid decaf coffee, don't use nailpolish— that sort of thing), definitely look for a paint that specifically advertises being formaldehyde free. Look out for heavy metals too, which probably won't be found in water-based craft acrylic paints anyway.

I know some people that won't burn candles in their home at all because of the co2 it releases into the air. However, for use in my home, I'm okay with a little bit of co2 from the candles, and since there is very, very little "non-toxic" paint on these candles, I'm personally okay with the occasional burning of them. You may feel differently about it and choose to only use these for decorative use, or to find formaldehyde free paint, or to skip this project altogether, so I hope I did an okay job explaining what I found in my research so you can make the decision that's right for you. -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Stella and Valentine from the Signature Collection.

Creamy Broccoli Pasta

Broccoli PastaBroccoli has always been one of my go-to vegetables. I don't know if I've ever called broccoli my favorite vegetable (likely I have, I get overly passionate about vegetables sometimes). I don't think I've ever had a broccoli obsession. I've had an obsession with kale, green beans, and I'll probably forever be on and off obsessed with Brussels sprouts.

But broccoli, it's always been a stable fall back. If I'm at the grocery store without a plan (which is too often, I really need to get organized), I will always pick up a couple broccoli florets and a red bell pepper.

Broccoli Pasta This dish is all about the broccoli. This does contain cream and cheese, but it's not exactly like alfredo sauce. It's a lot more vegetable-based while still feeling like major comfort food. Also, it's super easy to make. Which I say in almost every dinner idea I show you guys. Guess I'm not a fussy dinner kind of gal. :)

Broccoli pasta ingredientsCreamy Broccoli Pasta, serves 2-3.

1 large head of broccoli (about 10 oz. is what I used)
8 oz. linguine or fettuccine pasta
6 basil leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by blanching the broccoli just until bright green and softened enough to cut with a fork. Drain from the boiling water and toss in a food processor (or good blender) along with the basil and garlic cloves. Process until well chopped.

Creamy broccoli pastaCook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. I was using linguine, so this only took about 9 minutes once my water was boiling.

In a large saucepan, combine the broccoli mixture, cream, and egg yolks over medium heat. Stir to combine. If you want a thinner sauce, you can add some of the pasta water or more cream. Toss in the drained pasta once it's ready as well as the cheese. Keep stirring over medium heat until the cheese begins to melt and everything is coated in the broccoli sauce.

Broccoli Pasta  Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. You can also top each serving with just a little more cheese (I did!). Eat your veggies and enjoy. xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

Stamped Initial Bracelet DIY

Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial) I am a total sucker for personalized items. As I type this, I'm drinking coffee out of a mug with a big gold "G" printed across it—I just can't help it. Personalizing potential is one reason that I love doing projects with stamped jewelry. I made these hand-stamped necklaces a few months ago, and I still wear them all the time. So I thought it would be fun to make an initial bracelet as well. The other thing I love about stamped jewelry is that it looks really professional, so unless you confess your little DIY secret, everyone will think you special ordered it from somewhere. Sneaky.

Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)       Supplies:
- gold coin discs (with holes already punched)
- gold chain
- jump rings
- lobster claw closure
- jeweler's bench block
letter or number punch stamps (I used 6mm size stamps)
- hammer

- tape
- needle nose pliers
- jewelry wire cutters
- rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol) and black marker (optional) 

Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)        First you'll want to tape the very top and bottom edge of your coin onto your jeweler's block. This will keep your coin from sliding as you stamp and will give you a guide of where to place your stamp (so make the gap just taller than your letter will be). You technically don't have to have a jeweler's block, but I highly recommend it since you will get a much cleaner impression with the extremely hard surface under the coin.

Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)    Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)     Next, select your letter punch stamp and place it stamp-side down onto the middle of your coin. Use your hammer to stamp your first letter (see this stamping post for technique tips). If you want to make your letter more visible, take your black marker and color in the lines of the letter. Put a small dab of the rubbing alcohol on a paper towel or cotton ball and wipe off the excess marker. That step should remove the marker from the top of the coin, but leave the ink in the letter indent.

Repeat process with each letter until you have all your initials stamped.

Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)      Use the jump rings and needle nose pliers to connect your initial letters to each other. Take the wire cutters and cut your two pieces of chain to the desired length. Attach each side to your initial grouping with two more jump rings. Connect your chain ends to the lobster claw closure with two additional jump rings, and you're done!

Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)  Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)Need to make one of these! Stamped Initial Bracelet (click through for tutorial)   For any stamping project, I definitely suggest stamping some inexpensive practice blanks first, so you get into the stamping rhythm and know how hard to hit the stamping punch (and buying a multipack of discs so you have a few extra is also a good idea). I did one bracelet with my guy's initials, but you can also do your own initials or a combination of two names (like the "M & C" one for my kitties), or even a series of numbers that represent an important date. This bracelet makes the perfect personalized gift as well, and it would be extra cute for a group of people to all have one (like best friends or a bridesmaid's gift). Happy stamping! xo. Laura

Credits // Author: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Laura Gummerman and Janae Hardy. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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