Dec 20, 2009

Music Video...

Our friend Yuval just sent us a link to this cool stop motion music video he co-directed, below, "Her Morning Elegance."  Check it out...

Dec 15, 2009

barter gift guide #5: best gift ever

Lofty title, we know. But we suspect if you asked the artists and writers in your life what they most need to finish their creative projects,  nearly all of them would say: time and space. Time and space to write, think, and create. Time and space are the best gifts you could give your artist friend (or yourself!) in support of his (or your) creative goals.

We're admittedly biased, but we believe that La Muse is one of the best places on the planet to pursue creative work. Please visit our website and consider the gift of time and space.

You might also consider adding La Muse itself to your list this year. La Muse is a non-profit organization (France's equivalent of a 501(c)3), dedicated to supporting artists and their work. Donations to La Muse are fully tax-deductible, and your gift could make all the difference to an artist in need of time and space.

barter gift guide #4: for suitcase slingers

A few years back we issued a challenge to ourselves to pack for any trip (of any length, for any purpose) in just our carry-on suitcase. This mission probably coincided with the increase in fees for checked baggage, but we like to think of it more as a race-against-ourselves sort of thing.  Here are some gift ideas that will make suitcases of all sizes happy.

Comfy socks. These are key for airplane travel, and will make a traveler feel cozy and at home wherever she lands. Smartwool socks are a little pricey, but they'll last longer, and treat your feet better, than the average cotton socks.

 Swimmers have long appreciated the joy that is a microfiber towel, and the avid traveler on your list will, too. These are like towels from the future! They're small enough to fit easily in carry-on bag, and have the added benefit of being the perfect 'hair towel' (those of you with long hair know what we mean).

As the sign outside of our favorite grocery store says, "A bag in the hand is worth two in the car." And a tote bag packed in your suitcase is worth...well, it's helpful anyway. We like McSweeney's weird potato bug tote (& a whole bunch of other stuff in their store) as well as the spiffy ampersand bag above (the whole alphabet available here). Super-budget versions can often be found at grocery stores and libraries. Put a batch of cookies, some tea, and a homemade card in one of these and you've officially brought the cheer.

The writer in your life will enjoy this "Working on My Novel" sleep mask (modeled above by Michael Cera). Wrap it up with a copy of Robert Olen Butler's writing guide From Where You Dream so that when they wear the mask they mean it.

Travel tips? Gift ideas? Favorite Arrested Development episodes? Let us know in the comments.


Dec 14, 2009

barter gift guide #3: for foodies! (& Moby Dick fans)

We eat well at La Muse. John has a knack for pointing out special foods at the grocery store, and, if you're lucky, Kerry will share with you some of her wild food secrets (wildflower fritters!).

Inspired by our delectable stay here, we've collected a few gift ideas that should delight the food-lovers on your list.

Mark Bittman is the go-to guy around here. At John's urging, and with  How to Cook Everything as our guide, we've learned how to make a pretty delicious (if we do say so ourselves) clafouti. We know a number of people who learned to cook with this book alone, and we can see why; it's straightforward, fun, and chock-full of useful information. Check out David Lebovitz's long favorite cookbooks of 2009 list for other ideas.

Good salt. A nice stash of salt will improve everything from salads to chocolate chip cookies. Around these parts, we use a lot of Fleur De Sel de Carmargue, but there's certainly no shortage of delicious and pretty gourmet salts out there. Pair your pick with some tiny spice cellars (and their adorably wee spoons) and you've got yourself a pretty sweet (salty) gift.  If you like your sweet with your salty in more than just dorky puns, we highly recommend Fran's famous Gray & Smoked Salt Caramels.

For the cook who has everything (and for the gift-giver with a bit more to spend), why not consider a gourmand fragrance?

We adore the rich vanilla whollop of Serge Lutens' Bois de Vanille (notes include: black vanilla absolute, licorice, sandalwood, coconut milk, beeswax, caramelized benzoin, bitter almond, Gaiac wood, tonka bean). Chocolate-lovers may enjoy Aftelier Perfumes' incredible, all-natural Cacao scent, made with jasmine and blood orange. Aftelier also offers essences, oils, and absolutes created specifically for use in the kitchen. Acqua di Biella's Baraja fragrance, along with standard gourmand fare like lemon, lime, cardamon, and nutmeg, includes fabled perfume ingredient ambergris (click the link for rather unappetizing details).

For those on the barter budget, all sorts of swanky perfume samples can be purchased here. Bundle together an ambergris sampler, a pop-up book interpretation of Moby Dick, and an Ahab jersey for the Moby Dick completist on your list.


Profile: Lisa Katzenberger

Thanks go to Lisa Katzenberger for this week's profile. After reading, you must check out Lisa's great blog, Fiction City. And for those of you on Twitter, follow Lisa here.

1)What do you consider most valuable about your time at La Muse? For me, it was proving to myself that I had the drive to be a full-time writer. I had decided to quit my corporate job and dig into writing with all my heart, and I jetted off to France from Chicago two weeks after my last day of paid work. I used the discipline I built up in twelve years of working and put it toward something I was passionate about: writing. The schedule I developed there -- waking very early to write, going for a run late morning, revising in the afternoon -- is still what I follow at home a year later. 

2)Tell us, in a sentence or two, about the project you were focused on while at La Muse. At La Muse, I finished my first novel, about a family who has a transgender child. I'd been working on it on weekends for probably three years and needed to give it that final polish before I was ready to submit to agents. 

3) What advice would you give future attendees? Remember that the retreat is work, not a vacation. No matter how much wine I drank the night before, I was up at 7:00 and went down to the library to write, just as if I was going to the office. I wrote Monday through Friday and took weekends off to hike around the area. And while it's tempting to stay in touch with friends and family at home via emails and other online distractions, the best gift you can give yourself is to shut those venues off and soak in the quiet and community that La Muse provides. 

Lisa's wild-card question contribution is below. Thanks for adding to our growing list, Lisa! 

5) What if I don't speak any French? That's okay! I didn't know any either. I was very worried about this but it was never an issue. When someone spoke to me in French, I responded in broken Spanish, which didn't do much good. When the bread truck guy comes by, just point to what you like, hold out a handful of Euros, and he will smile and grab the proper coins.


Dec 11, 2009

Dec 10, 2009

barter gift guide #2: for bare walls

For our second installment, we thought we'd share some of our favorite affordable art sites. 


["Las Vegas, Nevada, November 2000" by Mike Sinclair, available here]

["Ideal Bookshelf 6, GW" by Jane Mount, available here]

Art-dealer/curator/innovator Jen Bekman founded 20x200 on the following formula: "(limited editions x low prices) + the internet = art for everyone." 20x200 releases two new works a week (one photo & one work on paper) and 200 prints (in the smallest size) are available for just $20 USD. We've found a number of great gifts on this site, and our own bare and budget-concious walls have benefited immensely, too


["Baby Porcupine" fine art print from Sharon Montrose's Etsy shop

["Everything is going to be OK" print from Jen Renninger's Please Be Still Etsy shop--She's having a 2-for-1 print sale through December 14!

["Yellow" 8x8 photo from Erin Tyner's Etsy shop]

If you have yet to spend an entire afternoon on Etsy, consider this your warning. The site can be overwhelming, and their gift guides are a good place to start (here's their "The Gift of Art" guide). We love that Etsy allows you to buy handmade goods directly from the artist; you can even shop local, and many of the sellers will ship internationally. 


["Doe Print" by Berkley Illustration, available here

[Untitled, 2008 by Elizabeth Weinberg, available here

We only recently learned about Print Society, and we like it already. Prints are available for every price range (the untitled photo above is listed at $4 USD) and artists can make submit their own work for purchase. La Muse may have to give listing some prints a try!  


This last idea doesn't qualify as affordable, nor is it something you'd necessarily hang on your wall (though look how exquisite the full set looks when it is displayed this way!), but we couldn't resist linking to Social Designer's 500 Colored Pencils project. You subsribe for 20 months, and each month receive 25 new colors (grouped in color families & shipped in a spiffy box) with names like Lobster Bisque, Tragedy, and Dance Card. This would be quite the gift for the art-maker in your life.

Click here for all barter gift guide posts.

Dec 9, 2009

barter gift guide #1: for scribblers

Most writers we know never tire of a crisp new notebook. So much promise! Check out some of our favorite stocking-stuffer-sized notebooks below: 

Our current favorite notebook is Kikkerland's thoughtfully-designed Writersblok. Really nice colors & sizes are available in packs of three (a three-pack of the small size retails for $5.95 USD/ 4 ) Best of all, a portion of the proceeds goes to literacy-related nonprofit programs around the US. 

In their own words, Field Notes makes "an honest memo book, worth fillin' up with GOOD INFORMATION." If you've got a bit more to spend, or someone on your list who tears through a notebook a week (that's a lot of good information!), consider Field Notes Colors Subscription: 30 notebooks shipped in seasonal colors throughout the year for $129 (right now they're offering $50 off if you purchase two subscriptions).  

No notebook list would be complete without a mention of the fabled Moleskine. We're fond of the adorable Volant Mini. They come packaged in pairs, are small enough for nearly any pocket, and the bright lime & olive duo is all but guaranteed to make the recipient smile.  

What about the color (of the lines) inside the notebook? Swedish designer Olof Hansson says of the Whitelines writing paper he helped create, "Why would you not choose to use paper without distracting lines, if you could? It's nicer to write on and easier to read from." We know at least one convert, and the site's "Love Forum" suggests he's not alone. 

Have we left off your favorite notebook? Let us know in the comments! 


Introducing: The Barter Gift Guide!

To those of you unfamiliar with La Muse's amazing barter program, our guide's name might suggest that you can barter for the gifts we're listing here. While we wish that were the case, the guides are instead written by current barters here at La Muse and designed with a barter-budget (read, a very wee budget) in mind.

If you're looking for a gift for the starving- (or in the case of those of us here at La Muse, ridiculously well-fed-) artists in your life, you've come to the right place! Check back later today for the inaugural gift guide entry.

[photo by Matt Pearson

Dec 8, 2009

'Some extra, just for you'

The December book swap was good fun. We had lots of crepes and loads of laughs, the heartiest of which came courtesy of current wild-card fellow Kieran Carroll, a playwright and poet from Australia.  Please enjoy Keiran's disembodied head performing Philip Larkin's "This Be the Verse;" we sure did.

Dec 7, 2009

Profile: Sherry Christie

Thanks to Sherry Christie (pictured to the left enjoying the view at La Muse) for this week's profile. Click here to read more about, Roma Amor, the novel Sherry was working on while at La Muse.

1) What do you consider most valuable about your time at La Muse? Freedom! Freedom from everyday distractions as well as freedom to focus on what I really love.

2) Tell us, in a sentence or two, about the project you were focused on while at La Muse. Editing an epic historical novel about Caligula’s Rome that was originally 271,000 words. During my stay at La Muse I rewrote and cut, shrinking it by 100,000 words.

3) What advice would you give future attendees? Come with a goal for what you want to achieve. But don’t bring any preconceived ideas about the La Muse experience; just “chillax” and enjoy the people and the place. Try to brush up on your French so you can converse with the villagers.

4) Describe the best meal you ate while at La Muse. In terms of gastronomic enjoyment: definitely the 12-euro lunch at Sire de Cabaret (truite amandine, moules marinières, haricots verts, tarte à limon, with a glass of a very pleasant local vin rouge). In terms of bonhomie, the crêpes fixed by John for our book swap brunch. With Dwight’s rhubarb compôte… mm!

Sherry's our second profilee to contribute a new wild card question. Thanks, Sherry! 

5) What’s the one thing you didn’t do at La Muse that you now regret? Learn how to pronounce Esparbairenque! 


Dec 4, 2009

Signs of Winter

December came and brought winter with it.

[Click either photo to enlarge.]

See that small fire in the distance? That's not La Muse, but it is the feeling you get here, working beside the fire, warm & sheltered.


Dec 2, 2009

Dwight's Show

November's highlight was most certainly Dwight Cassin's exposition, "The Wakefulness of Living Things." The studio bustled with visitors, and the night ended with a superb feast for Thanksgiving: Part II, but not before a lovely impromptu concert courtesy of Shoko and Enrique.

Here's Pierre reading Dwight's introduction & thank yous in French. Check out La Muse's YouTube channel for more footage of the expo!

Here's a section of "Peche du Labastide" by Dwight Cassin (see more of this fantastic fish).

Congratulations to Dwight on a marvelous exposition! If this was your first show ever, we can only imagine what's to come.


100th Post!

Hooray! This is our 100th post! What better way to celebrate than with tea, biscuits, and some Haribo Schtroumpfs. John just taught us the French for Smurf today, and we've already thought of all sorts of ways to misuse the word (feel free to add your ideas in the comments). Here's to 100 more posts on art, writing, books, food, friendship, France, travel, retreats, wine, nature, and schtroumpfs! Thank you for reading.

    We'll eat 100 gummy schtroumpfys!

Dec 1, 2009

Recommended Event: Book Launch in Dublin on Thursday

Friends of La Muse, Annie & Ted Deppe, invite any La Musers in Dublin to attend a book launch this Thursday. Details follow:

On Thursday 3 December, at 6:30 p.m., Poetry Ireland in association with Summer Palace Press and Tupelo Press presents the launch of Wren Cantata by Annie Deppe, Orpheus on the Red Line by Ted Deppe, Under his Roof by Malachi O’Doherty, and The Sketch, The Ship, and the Afternoon: Ten Years at the Summer Palace Press (an anthology).

The launch will be held at the Unitarian Church, 112 St Stephen's Green West, D2. We hope you can join us. Email:

Friends of La Muse, let us know if you'd like to recommend an event! Contact lamuseretreat [at]


November Book Swap

As this session comes to a close, we thought it was high time we shared the November book swap contributions! Roisin Meaney, a novelist and children's book author from Ireland, and Peter, the Pitch Doctor, Rush discuss their picks in their own words below. On an only semi-related note, we'd like to say in advance how much we'll miss Roisin's amazing baked goods and Peter's top-notch dinners. As sorry as we'll be to return to our own devices in the kitchen, at least now we have a chance at once again buttoning our pants.

Roisin on her donations:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín evokes rural Ireland of the 1950s, and introduces the reader to Eilis Lacey, a young woman who emigrates reluctantly to New York, more out of a sense of familial duty than a real desire to spread her wings. This simple-sounding story, written from Eilis's viewpoint in Tóibín's usual sparse style nevertheless manages to convey pathos, sharp observation, and humour, while avoiding sentimentality as the heroine moves from Ireland to America, adapting as best she can to her changing circumstances. It's an easy and, in my opinion, rewarding read.   

William Trevor's fourteenth novel Love and Summer is also set in rural Ireland of the mid twentieth century, but there the similarity ends. The 82-year old 'master of quiet, Irish brooding' (the Guardian) has produced a doomed love story of sweetness and poignancy, steeped in end-of-summer sunshine and peopled with subtly drawn and very recognisable characters (recognisable to this Irish reader, at any rate!) Love and Summer will linger in the memory long after the last page has been turned. 

Peter discusses his picks (The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda, A Pathway to Peace by Gerry Adams, and The Big Book) in the video below.

              Follow Peter on Twitter.

The library grows lovelier with each and every book swap, and the bedside to-read stack grows taller, too.