Thursday, January 3, 2013

Well Look at That, We Survived

Hello again, and Happy 2013!! I realize I've been radio silent for a while, but rest assured that it's not for lack of things to write about. My life hasn't exactly been boring - in fact, my boyfriend Niko and I were looking back at our 2012 the other night, and it was a pretty amazing year if I may say so myself. I'd better write it all down before I forget.

Here's what you may have missed if you happened to blink:

1. The Southland Swing Band was born! We brought Dallas a mix of New Orleans jazz/prohibition era swing/gypsy jazz/western swing. We played for swing dances, weddings, parties food truck parks and bars/restaurants. We had a steady gig at The Free Man and played at some other pretty amazing locations, including Sons of Hermann Hall and the courtroom where Bonnie and Clyde's friends and family were tried. We really painted the town, and had a blast doing it. :)





2. Did I mention that I was the lead female singer of the band? It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. ;) Who am I kidding, I loved it. I also ended the year playing more than 10 tunes on the banjo - onstage, with the band! I take great pride in coming so far on that thing. And of course, I am ever-grateful to the musicians who have welcomed me up there with my instrument.

3. Niko, who plays upright bass and takes on the male vocals, upped his musical repertoire as well - I swear, he may sing more songs than me now! He also picked up the mandolin in only a matter of months at the beginning of the year. And by picked up, I mean pretty much mastered. (That's my humble opinion anyway, he'd probably tell you he's still rusty.)

4. I was very honored to have two friends and talented local musicians, Mark Landson and John Evans, offer to write original songs for us! They are perfect, they feel like they're straight from the 1930's.

5. I went on my first busking excursion, with Niko and John Evans at the Bastille Day celebration in the Bishop Arts District.



6. Niko and I walked the red carpet at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival and were interviewed about his upcoming film "Zombie Alley," which he is directing, co-writing and producing.

7. On a trip to LA, Niko visited the sets of Dancing With the StarsAmerican Idol and The Price Is Right. Yes, he spun the wheel. ;) He also caught up with family and learned about his Russian heritage - a very interesting tale, indeed.

8. Niko's film career continued to take off. He was named in the 20 Rising Star Texas Actors on IMDb. He also got his first option on one of his films, another one of his short films got into a film festival, and the first full-length feature film that he played lead in, called "I Didn't Come Here to Die," got theatrical release and distribution! Be looking for him soon.
9. We hung out backstage at a few Willie Nelson concerts and got to know some of the friends and family, including his sons Lukas and Micah. We also met and shook hands with the great Willie himself! What an amazing family, all extremely creative and talented.

10. We ended up joining Lukas Nelson on his bus one night, and yours truly ended up singing a few slightly tipsy bluegrass duets with him. He has an amazing voice, I'd love to work with him again if the chance arises. (Not-so-subtle hint there, Lukas, if you're out there reading.)

11. We made the front page! No kidding, check it out. :)




12. Niko began his farming career in Waxahachie. How it all began was a pretty funny scene - picture us driving 2 hours across Dallas with a goat and two chickens in the back of my little Scion xD. Yeah, let that sink in for a second. Over the course of the year, he acquired a total of 10 chickens, 5 Nigerian dwarf goats, one beautiful purebred Nubian goat, and one very sweet female donkey.

13. I witnessed Princess Leia do a tap dance to Mozart, courtesy of my favorite Tuesday night entertainment, Classical Open Mic. That is something I will never forget.

14. We had our first Christmas together - stockings, santa hat & reindeer antlers, mistletoe, wassail & cookies, carols and all. We must be incredibly lucky, because against all odds we had a white Christmas in Dallas! My first, ever.

15. Last year I was the skinniest I've ever been. I could literally fit into one pant leg from early 2011! In fact, it happened a few times on accident. Of course, that didn't last the entire year.

16. I undertook the not-so-small task of starting to sew. I wrote about my experience as part of a feature in the magazine I work for, Spirit Magazine of Southwest Airlines. Being published in a national magazine was definitely another first for me, and also meant my first professional photo shoot. :) You can read the article online here.



17. Last but certainly not least, we began the biggest adventure of our lives when five pregnancy tests turned up positive in August. We are excitedly awaiting a bouncing little baby girl, due on March 26th, 2013. We've already experienced many of the joys of first parents - the first time we heard her little heartbeat, the first time we saw her on the screen (already full of personality at only a few months!), the first time we felt her move. Of course we're experiencing some of the stresses, too, but she will be worth every minute of it. I started another blog with updates on her, le bébé pep.

18. Oh yes, we survived the foretold Apocalypse of 2012. ;)

(...knock on wood...)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Banjo Fever

^ beautiful packaging for Ernie Ball tenor banjo strings

So if we haven't spoken in a while, you may not be aware that I have banjo fever. I'm mildly obsessed. I'm not necessarily interested in the banjo you may know (though I have to respect Steve Martin), rather its lesser-known practices. I am currently set on learning to play jazz banjo. Yes, that's a real thing.

If all goes well, I will one day match the style of Eddy Davis, a banjo genius located in NYC. I don't throw out the term genius lightly with Mr. Davis. He's been playing his entire life, and has truly mastered the instrument. Eddy's played with some of the greats, including Woody Allen, Patti LaBelle, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Goodman, Jabbo Smith.

(Eddy is absolutely captivating. It was so difficult to choose just one video - more here.)

There are also other forms of banjo you may not know of. How about the cello banjo? Here's an amazing video of Bach's Cello Suite no. 3 performed on a self-made cello banjo, by Robby Faverey. While cello banjos don't tend to look like this, the music is just beautiful.

Now if you want to get SUPER hipster, there is also such a thing as a banjo ukelele. That one's not really my cup of tea. But hey, now you know more about the banjo than you ever wanted to. You're welcome.

A couple of lovely young girls were walking down a country road when they heard a voice calling,"Girls, girls, help me please."
They looked around and saw that the voice was coming from a frog sitting in a puddle at the side of the road. One of the girls picked up the frog and said,"How can we help you?"
"I am really a handsome, successful banjo player who was turned into a frog by a wicked witch. If I am kissed by a girl, I'll turn back into a banjo player and will take her on tour with me throughout this land."
The girl quickly thrust the frog into her pocket. Her friend asked,"What are you doing? Aren't you gonna kiss him?"
"Heck no," said the first girl,"He's worth way more as a talking frog."

- via Jim Yates on Banjo Hangout

Yes, Banjo Hangout.

Friday, January 28, 2011

2011: Year of the Rabbit

2010, Year of the Tiger

2011, Year of the Rabbit

While I'm a tiger myself, I'm happy to welcome the year of the rabbit today! Supposedly things will be slowing down this year, which should be a nice break from the intensity of 2010. It'll be all about home and family, keeping the peace. I'm down for that.

The sketches above are just some initial drawings I did for a project last year. They didn't end up being right for the piece, but I still thought they were fun. And today, very relevant! [Hint: There's a reason for the two colors.]

Happy Chinese New Year! May good luck ensue!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sugar Land is a Real Place

In the first conversations that I have with someone, I can expect an interesting reaction to the following truths:

1) My name is Stefanie, spelled with an f.
2) Last name Pepping.
3) I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas.

That last one is usually the kicker. If the person hasn't smiled yet, by now they can't help it. I'm often met with disbelief, to which I reply, "No, really! There's even a movie about it. Sugarland Express, Goldie Hawn, 1974. Google it." This is inevitably followed by some crack about Candy Land, or how sweet the women must be. (And we are.)

Sugar Land grew around the original Imperial Sugar Factory, built in 1843. I remember spending field trips at that factory, and let me tell you something, you would be surprised at how terrible the smell is in a place that makes sugar. Alas, the building has been empty for a while now, and was demolished a few months ago to make room for residential and business development. (Destroying a landmark that precedes the town itself? Bad move.)

Sugar Land is now one of the fastest growing cities in Texas, named the third best city to live in in the U.S. by CNN in 2006. The current population is over 79,943, and growing. Since my family moved there around 1990, they've built a mall, a movie theater, an ice rink, shopping centers with places like Williams Sonoma and the Cheesecake Factory, places for nightlife, etc. Houses continue to pop up, fields continue to disappear, and traffic gets worse every year. One of the newest additions, believe it or not, is the Sugar Land Town Square. Most Texas towns start out with a square. They did it a little bit backwards.

Sugar Land is not home to the country band Sugarland. Nope, not at all. However, the prison did house a favorite new discovery, folk/blues legend Lead Belly. Professor Terry Morrow turned me on to him today. With a style similar to that of Son House, his music will take you back to the old south. In a good way.

Black Betty, lyrics possibly in reference to the Texas penitentiary transfer wagon

Let's get real, Sugar Land is a pretty strange place. Growing up there, I called it "The Bubble." I felt suffocated by the overwhelming sense of suburbia. Every store was forced to have the same tan brick color and same white type, trees grew in straight lines, houses could only be painted certain colors, and when I would visit a friend's house down the lane, chances were one in three that the layout would be the spitting image of mine. Nothing was allowed to be unique. Not only that, my family lived near the country club, where palm trees lined the streets and houses were big enough to be hotels. My high school parking lot was filled with shiny new Hummers, Mercedes, Lexuses (Lexi?), etc. At times it was completely ridiculous and I just wanted to pull my hair out.

In spite of the way I felt about it back then, I have developed a sense of pride in the place. It is actually very pretty, almost dream-like. The streets are lined with trees that were planted when I was a kid, now full-grown and lush. The crime rate is very low, and the people in the community are generally active and good-natured. When I visit home, I feel safe. Sometimes that's a pretty great feeling.

So to the skeptics, Sugar Land is a real place.

Other interesting facts:

Sugar Land has held the title of Fittest City in Texas for four consecutive years now.

The Sugar Land Town Square used the 3D projection technology used in the 2010 Olympics on New Year's Eve 2009. That's right, we're ahead of the game.

Sugar Land is unique in that it boasts the highest concentration of Asians in Texas, 34% of the population.

The climate is described as "humid subtropical." Winter temperatures average in the 60s.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The To Resolve Project

New Year's is the perfect time for reflection - we're ending one chapter and starting a new one. It can be similar to the last, or drastically different. But in order to make changes, you need resolve.

Thus Chris Streger, a designer based out of New York, started the To Resolve Project, calling for iPhone wallpapers that highlight our resolutions. Not only do they look great, iPod wallpapers make the perfect little reminders. My contribution (shown above) is about doing without the excess in our lives. Be sure to check out the rest and maybe contribute your own before 2011!

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse

I sincerely hope that all of you were able to witness this last night. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! At one point, in a split second, the moon went from a pearly lavender to bright red, straight into almost neon-purple, before darkening into a smokey purple. If I had seen a red moon like that 400 years ago, I definitely would have panicked. I'd probably sprinkle a ring of salt around myself and wait with a wooden stake.

The plains of West Texas were perfect for viewing. I even caught a bit of the meteor shower! I was able to get some pretty good images, see below. For a full time-lapse video, this video by William Castleman is by far the best I've seen.

images captured by yours truly from Ransom Canyon, TX, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New England, circa 1800

As much as I enjoy West Texas, it was so good to be in New England over Thanksgiving. Boston was fantastic. Quality beer, clam chowda, printing presses, witches, scandals and political riots - enough said.

One of my favorite excursions on our trip was Old Sturbridge Village in Massachussetts, a very authentic look into New England life in the early 1800's. We got there late in the day and had to do the whole town in 25 minutes, so I apologize for the lack of description here. It was one big whirr of history and inspiration, and some of my favorite photos came out of it.


^Glass Bottles - meant for wine or liquor?

^Punched Tin Lanterns

^Ye Olde Printing Office

One of my favorite things (which I failed to get a picture of) was something we found inside of a chapel/dance hall. There was a tiny wooden throne in the corner of the room, raised above anyone else. The label? "Fiddler's Throne." I wish there had really been one there!