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Super Fancy Natural Soap! Why do I love Soaptopia?

Natural Decorative Soap: Jabon de mi Corazon from SoaptopiaYep, I’m blogging about fancy soap. Really. I can’t help it. I’m not a fancy soap kinda guy. I like Ivory for it’s plainness. But Soaptopia has turned me into some kind of hygiene product fanatic.

I got a little stocking stuffer for the holidays. Oh, great, soap, I thought. Then I noted how beautifully made — colorful!  And wrapped — funky! And smelly — delicious! You know there’s something good inside by the fantastic slightly irreverent packaging and silly soap names. Plus they have all natural and organic ingredients — you can even see chunks of lavender and other goodies in some. But, yea, still soap.

Eventually I got around to using the stuff. Whoa! I could just feel the all natural goodness. Instant aromatherapy. And each bar seemed to last for countless soapy sessions. My showers suddenly became just a little bit more happy. When I finally saw my last bar dwindling down to nothing, a sadness came over me. Oh no! I was hooked! So I hatched a scheme. I can’t justify six bucks for a bar of soap for myself. But I figured I’d gift some back to my partner in a secret plot to keep my shower stocked with yummy natural soap.

So I checked out Soaptopia’s website — holy crap! They have TONS of amazing soap! All cute and decorative and natural and eco-friendly and fun. And names like “Staying a Lime” and “Aloe be Thy Name” — ooh, I’m a sucker for a good bad pun. I realized they are right around the corner from Santa Monica in Los Angeles, right in Mar Vista. (12228 1/2 Venice Blvd. – Mar Vista, CA  90066). So I bopped on over. Visiting the shop is even better than buying online — they are cranking out the goods right there in the store / happy goodness factory. It smells delicioso. In addition to being able to touch, feel and smell all the beautiful soaps, you can buy from the freshest creation. The owner Jolie sliced off fresh chunks of soap from the latest batch. Just for me. But hey, even if you don’t live in LA, don’t despair. Feel free to shop online — you can trust that these soaps are brilliant! And the soaps appear in other fancy boutiques all over. (If you have a fancy boutique you can load up on wholesale natural soap and body products here.)

So that’s it. I’m hooked. Now you too know where to get the very best in funky handmade all natural soap (made from olive oil, shea butter and organic ingredients). Also, good to know, they sell other amazing bath products. Natural lip balm (shea butter), natural shaving soaps, natural bubble bath, massage candles, massage oil and body moisturizer and the groovy natural soap gift boxes.

1 comment April 20th, 2009

Quixo Board Game — I found it on Amazon

Quixo Board GameCool. You can now purchase Quixo, the board game! No, it is not the home version of your favorite quirky online zine. It is a strategy game that comes from France and has been around for a few years. Mensa picked it as a Mensa Select mind game way back in 1995 so you know it is brain-candy-good. It is Tic-Tac-Toe meets Othello and, best of all, it is slick looking and wooden. So you can place it in the middle of your fancy remodeled living room on your Danish modern coffee table to add an inviting, warm, natural touch to the minimalist yet comfortable feel of the room.

You can get Quixo, the board game, through Amazon: Quixo Classic Game.

(Ya know, you think you come up with a funky original name and then you find it everywhere. There’s a CD company in Italy, a cheap airline ticket company that people can’t spell correctly, and now this.)

Quixo Classic Game

33 comments December 4th, 2008

Outdoor Showers — This Year They are Even Better

Last summer I dreamed of ordering an outdoor shower, a long time plan for my backyard. But as always, other priorities come up, like xeriscaping the front yard and renovating our decrepit bathroom. In fact, we are trying to remodel our bathroom so it kinda feels like we are showering outdoors.

I’m glad we’ve waited to buy a shower unit– there are some significant improvements in outdoor showers this year.

There is certainly a greater variety of outdoor showers with Cheap Portable Showers, Minimalist Metal Showers and Lovely Wooden Showers. But my favorite improvement this year is the Solar Heated Outdoor Showers of which there are several nice options. We’re not talking the old fashioned camping showers with a big plastic bag and a tube. These are free-standing shower units that simply plug into the hose. Since they don’t offer both hot and cold inputs, the solar models are sweet — they just hold a reservoir of water in a black compartment to warm it up. The other models offer a brisk eye-opening squirt.

If you are like me and you just don’t care if your neighbors with multistory homes watch you shower naked in the privacy of your own backyard, you are all set. But if you prefer a little modesty, another nice improvement this year are the shower cabanas.

Personally for the long term I’m still dreaming of a more substantial shower unit. You can build an actual wooden shower cabana with real plumbing like those featured in this book of shower designs, The Outdoor Shower: Creative design ideas for backyard living, from the functional to the fantastic.

2 comments July 9th, 2008

Ditching the Lawn to Feed the Butterflies in Los Angeles

I’ve dreamed of re-landscaping with native plants for ages. But, like our decrepit bathroom, we just hadn’t the time or energy to get around to it. Until now.

This is just a long-winded account of what we did to reclaim our yard, under the guidance the many online tips from folks at Las Pilitas California native plant nursery. Hopefully I’ll write up a full-fledged guide shortly.

We never really watered our weedy lawn much, out of environmental consciousness and a little laziness. It managed to survive pretty well until one drought year when it went really brown. So finally one day I saw a crew of gardeners ripping out a lawn up the street (to re-sod — ew), and I had em rip out our remaining grass. Then to make sure all was REALLY dead, I watered for months and waited through the rainy season for anything to sprout, spraying nasty, evil chemicals to dispose of the rest. Rampaging weeds and invasive grasses are a sure way to ruin a native planting before you even start.

After much soul-searching, we murdered our 40ft eucalyptus tree so that it wouldn’t destroy our new native habitat with its thirst for all moisture in the soil and constant rain of leaves, seeds, blossoms and bark. I will miss the shade and smell, but not the daily sweeping. Here in Santa Monica we are frankly lucky we didn’t get protested for chopping a tree, even if it is an invader from Australia. We offed it swiftly.

I did a modest amount of research and at first it was hard to track down NATIVE plants at the local nurseries. Everyone sells so called drought resistant stuff, but almost all of it is from the Mediterranean, Australia and Africa. The same handful of species is sold everywhere. It just doesn’t make sense — why not salvage a little of the local biodiversity with perfectly suited plants that need little or no care? I suppose it is just the economics of nurseries — they all get plants from the same national distributors and customers all ask for the same silly plants.

Finally I found this quite cool California native plant nursery with a brilliantly informative website (laspilitas.com) with easy online ordering and delivery. I picked out critter-friendly buckwheats, salvias, manzanitas and more. I carefully (more or less) diagrammed the mature sized plants across the yard. I contoured a couple of modest mounds into the yard. I even filled the Civic with 700 pounds of rocks to welcome the plants. The sprouts arrived by UPS, surprisingly tiny and a little smooshed. I planted the suckers as planned. Contrary to every gardening instinct (and against advice from our neighbor the professional landscaper) I followed the instructions from the native plant people – no soil amendment, no roto-tilling, no organic matter, no fertilizer, no composting. Just stuck the plants into the hard, minimally disturbed ground. Ok.

And now time to mulch. The one things the native plants do need is a few inches of wood chips to recreate the natural organic matter that would cover the ground in the wild. I carefully calculated how much I’d need and started looking for sources. It was gonna cost at least $500 to either buy the dyed crap they sell at Home Depot, or to get some nicer stuff delivered. It would cost more than I’d paid for plants and rocks! The City of LA also offers free mulch that you can pick up at several yards throughout the city, though I read reports that it often has a bunch of trash in it. Then I found a tree trimming company that would, for FREE dump FREE wood chips and it was completely FREE, including the FREE delivery. I was mighty excited about the free part. The minimum they’d deliver was a bit more than I needed, but I figured I’d easily find some spots in the backyard that could use a little mulch.

Now, in retrospect, I now know that they dumped much more than the minimum portion I’d requested. But when it arrived I had no idea. I had already assumed the pile would seem astonishingly huge – I have no point of reference. But as the pile slid out of the dump truck, I started to feel a little sick. The mountain was much larger than our car – longer, wider, higher. Which sounds kinda big, but, really, when it is in your driveway and you can’t park there any more or use your gate, and all of the neighbor kids want to climb in it and everyone who passes points and starts asking questions, it is impossibly big and seems like a big mistake. And it radiated that nice piny Christmas smell, but multiplied by a gazillion so that the off-gassing made my eyes burn for days, even inside the house. Neighbors were gawking and some passers-by were outright laughing, though I may have been suffering from a little paranoia.

So for a week (during a nasty heat wave) I frantically and desperately hauled wood chips around the yard trying to make the mountain get smaller and prove that I wasn’t a friggin idiot for getting it all dumped there. And, besides, I had to make room to park the car, and get the trash bins out of our gate. Thanks to Mr. Peterson, my neighbor, who witnessed the delivery and lent me a wheelbarrow. I guess I had thought I was going to use a bucket to spread the stuff or something. Yea, right.

Well the pile was a crazy hodge-podge of wood. The stuff on top that I spread on my yard first was too big—giant chunks of pine that were really bright colored and it made the yard look like I was getting ready to light a bon-fire. You couldn’t even see the plants. It was sad and embarrassing. On the other side of the wood pile I found stuff that was equally unacceptable – really papery dusty crap that had mixed with some leaves so it was composting and steaming. A woman actually knocked on my door concerned that the giant dangerous looking wood pile was spontaneously catching fire. Somehow, by accident, I realized that if I spread the composty stuff on top of the absurdly huge pine chunks, it made neither look too ridiculous. So I dumped another layer on the yard. Not bad. Then I spent another few days dumping woodchips in every free nook in the back yard. Finally in the middle of the pile I found some really nice, modest sized, reddish wood chunks, just the kind any normal, self respecting suburbanite would love to have in their front yard. But no more space. Oh well.

I managed to use about 2/3s of the damn pile. Really. It was amazing to see the pile actually shrink, against all odds, as I dragged barrow-full after barrow-full around the yard.

The remaining pile mocked me for another three weeks as I posted Free Mulch on Craig’s List and met about a dozen very interesting people who also like mulch.

Two weeks after the first application, the wood chips settled and the color and scent actually became pleasant. The plants nearly all survived (surpassing all hopes) and after only a couple of months have grown nicely, begun bloom and attract some beautiful native butterflies and birds. I just want to hang out in the yard and water it to show it a little love, but I can’t because it doesn’t need water and in fact it would kill it.

3 comments July 8th, 2008

unearthed, art pottery show reminder

Wow, the big pottery show is this week. Preparing for this show has been fun in so many ways.
Having a show has been a great incentive to make some nice new pieces. The new ones I’m completing this week are the best so far — though I shouldn’t say a thing until they come out of the kiln! I have some very large pieces that came together really naturally, from sketch, to wheel to glazing. I still can’t wait to see them after they are baked. And then I get to share them!

And this has been a great chance to invite people to a party and talk to all kinds of people about something I’ve been having fun with for a while. Putting this together has forced me to think about what I’ve been making and has helped me realize that there is a lot of intention behind it. I actually do have some kind of vision behind what I’m making. And since people are enjoying it, I have even more reason to make more.
So I’m looking forward to seeing friends and meeting some new people a the big opening this weekend — Saturday night at Jennifer Joyce Pottery Studio and Gallery. You can see the official unearthed pottery show site here. And read some blather about the pottery here.

1 comment October 8th, 2007

Waiters’ Guide to Getting Big Tips Serving Families with Kids and Babies

Dear waiters and waitresses of the world, you must hear my plea. When we, the families with young kids who come into your establishments, looking for a little break, a bit of recreation, a glimpse at our former lives when we could go out after dark, when we go out to restaurants, you must know: there is a very thin line between having a wonderful night out, and having and excruciating embarrassing catastrophe. We know you are just trying to help, but often well-meaning but inexperienced waiters and waitresses make little errors that tip the delicate balance.

Honestly, though we can be a pain, it can be pretty easy to get a good tip from families. We come and go as quickly as possible, we feel bad because our kids make a mess, and you can totally play us by saying nice things about our kids. Or you can really screw things up by offering bad service that results in whining screaming tantrums. And the kids may get upset too.

So here is a little list that should be mandatory reading for all wait-staff. It will help you get big tips, maybe not just from the family with kids, but also from their dining neighbors.

  1. Make it FAST. Don’t try to be polite and offer a relaxed dining experience. Kids and especially babies are time-bombs waiting to go off. Feel free to take dinner orders right away with the drinks, keep it coming and by all means, get that bill out there fast. You’ll be able to fill your table again quickly and it will score you big points with the family and everyone else in the restaurant.
  2. Bring lots of napkins.
  3. When you are setting up the table, don’t sit all the babies or toddlers together at one end of the table. They must be mixed in with adults!
  4. Make sure babies have clean highchairs with functional seat belts. Or we will make you take them back and get us new ones and maybe even have to leave because there is no way our active curious kids are going to sit still and not try to climb out of the highchairs and we don’t want them falling on their heads or sucking some other kids dinner off of the arm rests.
  5. Don’t set glasses full of water or bowls of soup or hot things or anything else in front of babies or toddlers. They will pick them up and dump them out or throw them on the floor. Duh.
  6. Don’t bring the kids’ food early! So many waiters screw this one up. Sure, if it looks like the kids are starving you might want to check with the parents. But when the kids eat before the parents it means that, when the adults get their food, the kids will be done, whining, screaming and possibly running around the restaurant. Please, feed everyone at the same time.
  7. If there is an utter and complete melt-down, yes, we would like that to go! Bring doggy bags and the check and help us leave with a small shred of dignity.
  8. Tell the parents that the kids are good looking, smart and well-behaved. Unless they are acting like brats because then we’ll know your just sucking up.
  9. Offering to wash off a bottle, sippy-cup or pacifier will score you big points.
  10. Also, for bonus points, provide something for the kids to do. Even and especially if your restaurant does not normally offer crayons and a coloring book, you may want to have them handy. Some places even offer toys to play with. (Yea, parents should always bring these themselves, but sometimes we forget or assume something will be offered.)
  11. Ok, this isn’t the waiter’s fault, but I wish you would offer something green on the kids menu. Kids don’t only eat fries and fried, cheese covered crap. (Though those are favorites). What better time to bribe encourage kids to eat their veggies, than when a fancy restaurant dessert is coming.
  12. Please don’t offer dessert in front of the kids! Ask the parents first! Quietly. Discretely.
  13. You don’t have to seat us off in the back corner or in an empty room. Kids like to be where the action is and if there is a lot of noise and a lot to look at the kids will be happier.

Ok, that is what I have. Any parents or waiters have other pet peeves or helpful restaurant suggestions?

8 comments October 8th, 2007

unearthed, my first solo art show

unearthed, art pottery exhibition, marc grobman at jennifer joyce galleryYou’ve got to come check out my first solo art show! I’ve been doing ceramics for a couple of years now and I guess people have been diggin’ it, so Jennifer Joyce offered me a show at her gallery!

Working in clay has been so satisfying — plunging my fingers into something substantial, away from the computer, in real life. And being able to create things that just ooze out of my brain. No flow charts, no code, no organization, no usability testing.

So, with complete disregard for utility or what anyone else thinks, I’ve somehow been making some nice pieces that people like. I don’t want to whine… I’m not quite satisfied with the work I’m producing. I feel like I’m just now starting to control the clay more than it controls me. But I’m pleased with enough that I’ll be able to fill a small room with some interesting stuff I’ve made.

Anyway, the show is called ‘unearthed’ and you can check out a few pieces of pottery at www.quixo.com/unearthed. You can give each piece a little spin with the fancy interactive-online-art-spinning-widget. And I hope you’ll join me at the opening Saturday, October 13, 5-8pm.

I try not to analyze it too much, but I like to think of it as punk pottery, all spiky and pock-marked. But, you know, not the punk rock of pure oblivion, destruction and fury, but more the throw out the rules, start over from scratch, anti-pop punk. And I’m sure you can see the other influences banging around in my head too. It is abstract but with enough direct connection to the natural world that the forms are sensual, grotesque and maybe a little humorous. The kind of thing you might find in the forest or under a microscope or possibly just after a meteorite has made landfall delivering artifacts from a lost or future civilization. Or whatever. I’m just making this stuff up. Come on out and you can take from it what you like…

Oh, and the art will surely be upstaged by the yummy munchables crafted by Stacy TenHouten who is firing up her new business, Butterlove Bakery.

2 comments September 19th, 2007

Eve Zeisel Los Angeles Exhibit Reminder

Just a little reminder that the Eva Zeisel exhibit at the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum is starting September 9 and running through the end of the year. There is more on Eva Zeisel and the Los Angeles exhibit here in my previous post.

We just returned from the opening and this exhibition is set up differently from the San Diego show. In San Diego the work was grouped thematically, but here Zeisel’s work is laid out chronologically. This made for a great tour led by Pat Moore, my step-mom and the founder of the Eva Zeisel Forum. I had heard all the stories before but never all at once, in order and with examples laid out so beautifully. While I’ve long appreciated the work, Zeisel’s biography really hit home tonight. Highlights of the tour include hearing her history including traditional apprenticeship in Hungary, imprisonment by Stalin and a conscious move against the coldness of Bauhaus and modernism. Gonna have to break out some of her books (listed here). Anyways, check it out before the end of the year. (and the circus exhibit, also now showing, is great fun!)

5 comments September 8th, 2007

Fun Facts about Fun Facts

Who doesn’t like fun facts? They are… well… fun. And factual. And for some reason they are popular.

Here on Quixo, we have of course, completely exploited them. We have Fun Facts About Spain, Fun Facts About Peru and even a tongue-in-cheek Fun Facts About Global Warming.

Early on we noticed that “fun facts” is a frequently searched phrase. But it has very little competition. There is a good reason for that. People searching for “fun facts” are not getting ready to spend money. So they aren’t worth anything to web publishers. They don’t generate ad clicks and they sure don’t sell product. But they are kinda like Top 10 lists — they are enticing to read and for some reason, even though they are always cheesy, people search for them.

Here is a Fun Fact about Fun Facts. They are absolutely tied to the school year. Check out this Fun Facts graph from Google Trends. I haven’t done any scientific research on this (yet) but I’m guessing kids need fun facts for reports. And teachers need fun facts for their lesson plans. And look, ‘animals’ and ‘geography’ follow the same pattern. Ooh, and check out the similar search trends for cliff notes, book report and bullies.

And here is another Fun Fact: Fun Facts do not pay off for webmasters. Before all you web content providers rush out to exploit this popular phrase, note that you won’t make any money off of it. Both the students and the teachers are searching, probably at the last minute for a class the next day. They aren’t about to spend money. They aren’t even gonna buy books because they don’t have time to get them delivered.

And one more Fun Fact about Fun Facts search trends. “Trivia” is much more popular than “Fun Facts.” And trivia and fun facts seem to trend inversely. I guess people are really into trivia during the holidays and slightly more into to it over the summer. And it must be more lucrative than fun facts — there is a lot of ad competition for that phrase in internet advertising programs like Google Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing. I bet websites sell all kinds of books and games related to trivia.

So get ready for the Fun Facts season, here it comes. And remember, here at Quixo, when we offer you Fun Facts (and Top 10 lists), we know we are completely pandering. And we also know we won’t make a dime off them.

August 29th, 2007

Crafty Goods for Kids

I’ve fallen in love with a website for hand-crafted kid stuff. Well it is more like a crush, I’ve only known about the site for a few days, but I just dig the whole hand-crafted movement, the beautiful design of the site and the idea of one-of-a-kind toys that are not plastic and were not made in China.

Mahar Dry Goods is a Santa Monica based web store with clothes, toys and other paraphernalia for kids. The site and brand are reminiscent something by retro comic hero Chris Ware. It is a wonderful world to visit where you can buy hand made objects or just check out the blog for the latest on hand crafted toy food or inspiring crafty art.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a bunch of the best toys that were our favorites when my kids were small. It was a few years ago that we struggled in our search for more obscure and natural toys. I even designed a bunch of odd custom stuffed toys for babies and almost even finished sewing one (hey, twin babies are a little time consuming). And now it seems like there are tons of crafts people making brilliant original toys. (We also used to, by the way, search long and hard for cool, interesting or punk toddler clothes, and now you can’t open a trendy magazine without getting them crammed down your throat — hello, it is not cute any more. And toddlers shouldn’t have ‘juicy’ on their butts.) Anyway…
What I really enjoy about Mahar Dry Goods is that there seems to be a movement of people creating craft that is art and is still new and modern and is anything but mass produced. And the latest internet mumbo jumbo makes it possible for online communities to develop and share these very low-tech pleasures. It helps me understand a little better my appreciation and enjoyment of pottery. We are hooked into and inspired by this digital world, but there is still a place for tangible objects that are made from the earth and show the imprint of the person who made them.

1 comment August 26th, 2007

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