Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"Perhaps, if I am very lucky, the feeble efforts of my lifetime will someday be noticed, and maybe, in some small way, they will be acknowledged as the greatest works of genius ever created by Man."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Check Out This Cool New Shop I Found on Etsy

I was browsing Etsy recently, as I'm wont to do, and was treated to the usual hodgepodge of wonderful things. But it wasn't until I happened upon these handbags by Afro Pumpkin,, that I felt the old instinctive pull of frivolous somethings that seemed to have been created just for me. Bursting with color and pop art graphics, these bags leapt off the page and into the part of my brain that stores a catalogue of unnecessary objects I covet. And the craftsmanship! I can just imagine how much time and skill went into bringing these beauties to fruition. I'd have to go without groceries to get my hands on one, but then a girl can always dream. Or save. The latter would be a novel option for me, but this arm candy would be worth it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Desperate Housewives Season Premiere - One Housewife Gets Crafty

During last night's season premiere of "Desperate Housewives," when Susan (Teri Hatcher) announced that she was going to help pull her husband Mike out of debt by selling the "really cool handmade jewelry she'd been making," I knew I was in for something good. Sure enough, Susan, who is an art teacher, pulls out several trays of oversized baubles to display for her Wisteria Lane cohorts in Lynette's kitchen just scenes later. Dubiously, the others examine the too-large necklaces and earrings while trading sideways glances. Bree jokes that she'll buy Gaby a pair of huge earrings because "her Latino ears can handle them," and Gaby retorts that she's buying Bree a bulky necklace to wear around her "sturdy Protestant neck." Oblivious as ever, Susan blithely regales her friends with the story of how she set up a table at the park to market her wares. Yet the climate of bitchiness hasn't reached its full pitch until Lynette's old college friend Renee (played by guest star Vanessa Williams) bursts into the room and starts sparring with Lynette. Ever the peacemaker, Susan urges them to stop before someone gets hurt. Right on cue, Renee asks Lynette if things have gotten so bad that she has to resort to wearing the earrings her kids made her at summer camp, leaving a crestfallen Susan to plaintively utter that too late, someone already did (get hurt, that is).

I know this little tableau was designed to make Susan appear as naive and dippy as ever. And I did think it was funny. Yet as a fellow jewelry creator and peddler, I also felt a little stung. Of course, I'm usually commiserating with Susan over something or other. I can't not, what with her being to "Desperate Housewives" what Betty White's Rose was to "The Golden Girls." (If that left you in the dark, then I should interject that I'm wont to spout off my enthusiasm for all things Golden Girls and Betty White at random intervals.)

It must be mentioned that Susan endures far worse than snide remarks about her handmade jewelry in this season's inaugural episode. By the end of the show Mike is talking about going off to Alaska to work on an oil rig to earn enough to repay his creditors. Understandably alarmed by this prospect, Susan abandons her jewelry enterprise in favor of the far more lucrative gig of doing housework in her lingerie on the Internet. Which is very depressing. But that's another post for another day.

Something Fun and Frivolous - Large Happy Hippo Tote

It took me nearly a month to paint it, but the Large Happy Hippo Tote is finally finished and cozily ensconced in my Etsy shop, If it looks familiar, then that's because I made it with my erstwhile (ie, sold) Proud Peacock and Outlandish Owl totes in mind. There's just something about a cute critter hanging out in a sea of sweet, colorful stuff that screams fun. I'm so hooked on the idea that I'm continuing on with a little something I'm calling the Large Terrific Turtle Tote (because what's a cute critter tote without a corny name to match?)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Report: (A Blogger's Take on) Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

I had been wanting to read Julie and Julia for a long time. Partly because I saw the movie when it came out last year, partly because I'm a fellow blogger. Last Friday I finally got around to finishing it. There were things about it that I really liked, and things about it that I really didn't. Although the movie was very similar to the book, the book had an undeniable dark streak running through it (as books often do) that was much diluted in the movie.

So, things that I liked. As a writer and blogger, I could relate to Julie. Right from the get-go. I particularly liked this excerpt on page 11:

"When I was a kid, my dad used to love to tell the story about finding five-year-old Julie curled up in the back of his copper-colored Datsun ZX immersed in a crumpled back issue of the Atlantic Monthly. He told that one to all the guys at his office, and to the friends he and my mom went out to dinner with, and to all of the family who weren't born again and likely to disapprove. (Of the Atlantic, not Z-cars.)"

Here Julie establishes herself as a reader. It sort of sets the tone for the rest of the book, because it lets us know that she wants to do something with that, and that that something, of course, is to become a writer. But finding ways to do that prove kind difficult because of, well, life, and all its mundane daily trials. Enter the Julie/Julia Project, in which Julie will spend 365 days cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, chronicling every misstep and triumph in a daily blog. As a springboard for a writing career, it's an odd choice. Julie spends a small fortune on unappetizing ingredients such as beef marrow, kidneys, and cow brains, spends hours preparing them, and then sits down with her husband, Eric, to actually eat them, often at the mind-boggling hour of midnight. I found it very, very hard to understand why she forced herself to eat cow brains. But then, this is supposed to be the part about the stuff I liked . . .

Fast forward to the whole blogging thing. At the start of the project, Julie doesn't know what a blog is. Her husband tells her, and it's with a certain tentative technical unsavviness that she ventures to write her first post, an excerpt of which is, "Too old for theater, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else, Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. And in the Julie/Julia Project she found it. Risking her marriage, her job, and her cats' well-being, she has signed on for a deranged assignment. 365 days. 524 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer-borough kitchen. How far it will go, no one can say . . . " (26). And she's off. The blog becomes popular relatively quickly, garnering Julie the kind of readers who comment daily and write near-tearful missives if she disappears for too long. She begins to depend on hearing from them, telling her husband that she can't stop the project because her "bleaders" (as she begins to call them) are expecting to hear from her. Julie becomes so immersed in blogging that she questions the point of blogging itself by analyzing the seventeenth century diarist Samuel Pepys (you may remember this character from high school English class). Here was a guy who jotted down every detail of his life, both the shocking and the run-of-the-mill, solely for his own enjoyment. Julie ponders this, writing, "What I think is that Sam Pepys wrote down all the details of his life for nine years because the very act of writing them down made them important, or at least singular. Overseeing the painters doing his upstairs rooms was rather dull, but writing about it made overseeing the painters doing his upstairs rooms at least seem interesting. . . . " (110). It's true, what Julie says. Writing stuff down does make it seem more interesting. That's why we read, after all. Sitting on your porch and slipping into someone else's world is almost always preferable to whatever you've got going on in your own. I guess that was what Julie herself was doing when she blogged: adding interest to an otherwise (by her own confession) uninteresting life. I chose to view this as a positive move, a way for her to reclaim her own destiny.

Now, on to the things I didn't like. Or rather, the things that troubled or confused me. Julie has a very nice husband. He helped her with all aspects of the project and hardly ever complained. He was her high school sweetheart, and they'd married at the age of 24, together moving to New York seeking intellectual and artistic adventures. To me, this seemed romantic. But Julie seems kind of ashamed of it, a state of mind she reveals in various parts of the book. Consider this (graphic - I warn you) section from page 21: "Please understand - I love my husband like a pig loves shit. Maybe even more. But in the circles I run in, being married for more than five years before reaching the age of thirty ranks real high on the list of most socially damaging traits, right below watching NASCAR and listening to Shania Twain." It seems like maybe Julie doesn't want to be married. (I got a little of this from the movie, but the overall message was that they were happy despite Julie's neuroses. A Hollywood spin, I suppose). And I'm not really sure why. It's not as if her husband is some Neanderthal, you know? A Google search revealed even more upsetting news. After publishing Julie and Julia, Julie wrote another book called Cleaving, which is about her adventures as an apprentice butcher away from home and all the affairs she has. (Part of me wants to read it but knows I can't. The butchering descriptions would be the end of me. I'm very squeamish about blood and had to skim several of the more graphic cooking scenes involving organ meat and butchery in Julie and Julia.)

At the end of Julie and Julia, you sort of hope that Julie is finally fulfilled. (At least I did.) That writing a blog that turned into a book that turned into a movie was what she was looking for. But once I heard that she'd run off and cheated on her husband I began to question her capacity for any kind of happiness. Maybe she wasn't just another frustrated writer. Maybe she was a woman with issues with a capital I. And I think this was what bothered me the most. Because for all its wittiness and David vs. Goliath sensibilities, Julie and Julia lacked that essential ingredient of the kind of book that you want to reread and remember -heart.

All of this having been said, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why do I blog?" The easy answer would be that I love to write. I've always loved to write. Even during the few times in my life when I told myself I was done with writing, I found myself creeping back to it, almost unconsciously, jotting down snippets of things on scrap paper. I like to weigh the rhythms of sentences, adding and subtracting words until they sound perfect. I like to describe things: people's expressions, clothes, meals, houses. I like to make up characters (which applies to writing fiction, not blogging, but still). So, blogging is a fun, easy way to write about stuff that interests me. Why not just keep a private journal, then? The best answer I have is that blogging provides a way for me to join the conversation of the world, which is important to me because I feel like I have something to say. True, it's a mostly one-sided conversation, but to be honest, I prefer it that way. If I had a ton of commenters, then I think that would make me feel nervous and accountable and would take the fun out of it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Impossibly Easy Cheeseburger in Paradise Pie

Once upon a time, I used to cook. I've been feeling a little guilty about my lack of culinary prowess lately, no small thanks to my current reading of Julie and Julia. You know you've reached the depths of laziness when you're reading about a woman who pulls the spinal cords out of lobsters when you can't even summon yourself to fry up a grilled cheese. Nevertheless, the other night I managed to make this appropriately named Impossibly Easy Cheeseburger Pie, an old gem from my mom's recipe box. Attractive it isn't, as evidenced by its dubious photo. But this is one of those cases where looks are only skin deep. Not that you want to think of your dinner as having a skin. Anyway, if you love meat and cheese (and really, who doesn't?), then give it a try:


1 lb ground beef (I mistakenly bought 2 and so even as I type this have a frying pan full of ground beef fermenting, untouched, in my fridge).
1 large onion, chopped (My inveterate laziness came into full flower here; I skipped the onion entirely, opting instead for the ever-trusty garlic salt.)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shredded cheddar (By all means, don't feel fettered to the lone cup.)
1/2 cup Bisquick
1 cup milk
2 eggs


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9" pie plate. Brown beef and onion, drain. Stir in salt. Spread in pie plate; sprinkle with cheese. In bowl, stir remaining ingredients. Pour into pie plate. Bake about 25 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

I'm glad to be back on the recipe-posting wagon, if only temporarily. But my inconsistent cooking and reporting thereof has made me rethink the overall feel of this blog. I mean, one day I'm posting about an arts and crafts project, then I'm on to reviewing books and movies, and finally, there are all those pictures of me in the crazy outfits. (I realize I'm neglecting to acknowledge a whole other faction of random writings, but to go into every weird thing I share would take too long.) The thing is, I'm fine with this mess. But sometimes I wonder what you think about it. After all, most of you started reading for the art and handmade business posts (thank you, fellow Etsy followers) and may not care about the clothes, reviews, recipes, Golden Girls homages etc. Similarly, the Photo Shoot Friday fans probably care only about what I'm wearing and don't want to know what I'm thinking. And then there are those people who may check in occasionally just because they know me. By being such a scatterbrain, I run the risk of fragmenting my audience, subsequently losing some of it along the way. Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame, on the other hand, was a blogger extraordinaire, drawing a vast and loyal readership by recounting her challenging and often hilarious cooking adventures working her way through Julia Child's cookbook. To read her accounts is to feel the excruciating pain of her uphill climb. (Her own mother begged her to stop the project because she was killing herself.) But despite all of her myriad issues, culinary, social, psychological, and otherwise, she is unarguably and unflaggingly focused, managing to deliver a story that is uncomplicatedly cohesive. I don't know if I have it in me to be so creatively monogamous. And honestly, I probably won't even try. So this little ramble has been kind of unproductive.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

No picture of Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts book this week, as I'm working from a remote location tonight, cut off from my photo library. But I'm sure you can conjure more interesting pictures in your imaginations anyway:

"Probably to a shark, about the funniest thing there is is a wounded seal, trying to swim to shore, because where does he think he's going?!"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some Words from a Kind Customer

Remember when I sold my Tiny Mr. Turtle Tote to a woman in Austria a couple of weeks ago? Well, last night I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she'd left me some feedback on my Etsy shop, Here's what she had to say:

"Thank you so much for the most lovely tote! You put so much effort into everything, the packaging, the wrapping, the gifts, the card... You gave me so much more than what I paid for. I can really tell that you love what you do, and that it's much more important to you to spread your amazing creations than to earn money with them. Thank you so much! I will treasure it! :D It's really way cute!"

Reading that made my day. Sometimes, when I send out an order, I worry that the person won't like it, or that she'll think it looks different than it did on her computer screen. (I'm sure other Etsians who may be reading this can relate.) So, it's always a relief to simply not get bad feedback. (Like most of us, I'd prefer no feedback to bad feedback any day.) That having been said, it was very fulfilling to find out that this particular customer was so pleased that she was moved to write such a glowing comment.

That's all :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Report: (And Now for Something a Little More Intellectual) Second Shift by Arlie Russell

I went to Borders to pick up a copy of Julie and Julia the other day and was waylaid by a display of bargain books before I could even make it into the store. Thumbing through the selections, my curiosity was piqued by a sociology book called Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild, a Berkeley sociology professor. The title sounded familiar, and I stared at the cover, trying to remember where I'd heard it. Then I remembered. One of my particularly liberal male professors had raved about it. It wasn't a novel. And I wasn't in the habit of picking up nonfiction in pursuit of a good read. But scanning the back cover and perusing the pages promised that Second Shift had all the elements of compelling fiction.

I wasn't disappointed. Hochschild's book is based on her interviews with working married couples with children. Her central question for each couple is the same: Who handles the second shift? The phrase "second shift" refers to the job that starts after the one you get paid for ends. You know. Cooking dinner. Grocery shopping. Scrubbing the toilet. Driving the kids to soccer practice and then helping them with their homework. Laundry. Trips to the post office. Buying birthday cards. Making angry phone calls to the insurance company. The couples being questioned came from all walks of life and subscribed to one or more of the three gender ideologies: traditionalists, who believed that the husband should earn more money and that the wife should handle all of the second shift; egalitarians, who believed that husbands and wives should equally share the job of earning money and handling the second shift; and transitionals, who fell somewhere in between. Now, you may be thinking, oh, so this is a man-bashing book. But it's not. If anything, it's a society bashing book. Hochschild delves in the everyday lives of dozens of different couples, pulling up a chair at their dinner tables to find out what makes them tick.

To me, the most interesting part of this study is the cross-section of couples being interviewed: Men who want their wives to handle the entire second shift instead of working who are married to women who want the same thing. Men who don't mind if their wives work as long as they handle the entire second shift married to working women who want their husbands to help with the second shift. Men who want to help their working wives with the second shift married to women who do not want their help, deciding instead to adopt a "supermom" strategy. Men and women who want each other to work and ignore the second shift entirely, paying housekeepers and nannies to do it. Within each couple, each husband's and wife's viewpoint was based on his or her ideas about gender roles coupled with the powerful motivator of financial need. Reading Rochschild's analysis of each couple was fascinating. She deftly peels back the onion-like layers of each husband's and wife's issues (and there are plenty) to reveal the psychological lies, or as she terms them, "marriage myths" they construct to keep their unions alive in the face of conflict. The conflict is usually between a husband and wife who have different ideas about who should do what. However, husbands and wives who believed in the same ideology dealt with a conflict between said ideology and either finances (traditionalists) or family life (workaholic egalitarians).

Not surprisingly, the most common couples were comprised of husbands who didn't mind their wives working as long as dinner was on the table and wives who wanted to rebel against this. (The book was published in 1989 and was based upon interviews conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s.) Rochschild doesn't offer a solution to this problem at the book's end. Instead she expounds upon a theme woven throughout the book, which is that working women are part of an ongoing revolution to which men must still adapt. She says that these days women are changing more than men because they're moving from the home to the office, whereas back in the 1800s, men were changing more than women because they were migrating from farms to cities. At that point it was the women who weren't changing because they were always at home. So, the woman's revolution isn't over yet. That was what I got out of that.

The one thing I kept thinking while reading this book was, I'm glad I don't have kids yet. Kids, it seems, tip the scales in terms of the drama and bitterness that the second shift can create. You can ignore a sinkful of dishes and subsist on takeout instead of grocery shopping (I'm guilty of both more often than I'd like to admit), but you can't ignore a child. Not that a child can be equated with a dirty dish or a pizza. (Please do not to send hate mail.) But, if I was a working woman with children, then I probably wouldn't be able to do much of anything. This includes blogging. And reading books to blog about. And painting hippos and ice cream cones on tote bags. And writing. And spending the entire weekend in my pajamas. And living on Smartfood popcorn. Maybe such fears sound shallow, but at least I'm honest in acknowledging that life as I know it would change.

So, Second Shift. Pretty compelling stuff by a lady who tells it like it is.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Giveaway Winner Announced!

Tiny Strawberry Jello Mold Tote

Tiny Yellow Cupcake Tote

Tiny Purple Cookies and Milk Tote

The lucky winner of my giveaway is none other than Jessica of Cut Your Heart Out,! Congratulations, Jessica! And thanks to everyone who entered by so kindly following this blog. Be sure to keep reading for another exciting giveaway next month (not that I won't hound you with emails about it). What will the prize be next time? That remains to be seen. Could be something adorned with googly eyes. Or rhinestones. Or tiny plastic French fries. Only my craft supply stash and mood at the time will tell.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Something Fierce and Fancy - Large Olive Fierce Flowers Tote

Large Olive Fierce Flowers Tote,

Not too long ago I returned to painting totes (lately, as you know, I've been concentrating on making necklaces). I'd started this Large Olive Fierce Flowers Tote (a slighlty new variation on an old design I previously sold) some time ago and figured it was best to dive back in with something familiar. I forgot just how much time and energy it takes to paint one of these! But as I began to saturate the canvas with color, I remembered how satisfying it is to see my images come alive. And nothing made me happier than posting it on Etsy, just minutes ago.

I've got something else in the works; curiously, it features a hippo. To be honest, I don't think my goal is to sell these anymore (although they are, of course, still for sale). I'm more interested in finding out how many different designs I can create and seeing them all displayed next to each other in glorious color on my Etsy page. This new-found obssession is rooted in the collecting mania I developed as a child. According to my mother, I used to like to line up my Halloween candy by category instead of eating it (clearly, I've gained an appreciation for chocolate since then). Then I went on to collect bigger and better things in the form of dolls, stickers, and nail polishes, shortly followed by the books, costume jewelry, handbags, and shoes that spill out of my shelves and closets today.

So, be on the look-out for more totes. Although I must warn you that I won't be turning them out as quickly as I did in the past now that I've been relieved from the pressure of the craft shows and am devoting more time to writing.

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

One after my own algebra-hating heart:

"Instead of having "answers" on a math test, they should just call them "impressions," and if you got a different "impression," so what, can't we all be brothers?"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

At the Movies with a Book Report: (Some Last Words on) The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

Last Christmas, the bf bought me a copy of Nicholas Sparks's latest, The Last Song. Having read and enjoyed all of Nicholas Sparks's other novels, I devoured it immediately. And it was pretty good. Not as good as Dear John or Nights in Rodanthe, but nonetheless entertaining. I missed seeing the movie version when it came out in March, so I rented it last weekend (once again Hot Tub Time Machine was shafted. But its day will come.) Although the movie version of The Last Song was very close to the book, it was strangely disappointing. I find myself having this reaction to lots of movies based on books. (Ironically, I felt the opposite way about The Notebook. I loved the movie but was lukewarm about the book. Maybe that's because I saw the movie first.) I think it's because movies don't allow enough time to build upon all the details that make characters and relationships seem real. For example, in the book The Last Song, readers observe the main character, Ronnie, fall in love with Will as well as reconnect with her father in stages. But in the movie it all happens so fast that you're kind of left not quite believing it (at least I was). Also, Ronnie was a lot edgier in the book, with purple hair and an attitude to match. Although still a surly borderline tough girl, movie Ronnie (played by Miley Cyrus) is softer, with normal hair and only a discrete nose stud to advertise her rebelliousness. Finally, the theme of fire is more prominent (and therefore scarier) in the book. The villain, Marcus, is always juggling fireballs in view of Ronnie's house (he wields both a creepy romantic interest in her and a secret about Will), and Marcus's girlfriend, the aptly-named Blaze, is badly burned by one of Marcus's fireballs and ends up in the hospital. Also, Marcus causes the proverbial "trouble" at Will's sister's wedding, destroying an entire tent. When I read this scene in the book, it struck me as a made-for-the-movies-moment. But in the movie it's very pared down; although Marcus and Will fight, I don't recall a collapsed tent. All this was topped off by an ending that seemed to occur rather abruptly.

But despite all these shortcomings, the movie was still fun to watch. Although I enjoy writing these movie and book reviews, I sometimes fear that I sound a bit uppity. I mean, what do I know? I'm just a nobody consumer with too much time on her hands. Suppose I were ever to publish my book and people wrote less-than-stellar reactions to it? Knowing my soft-hearted ways, I suspect I'd be sorely hurt. That's how poor Lily felt in Marian Keyes's The Other Side of the Story when reviewers savaged her debut novel (click the Marian Keyes tag on the left to read more about that one). But then again, I enjoy most books and movies to one degree or another. Even the ones I seem hard on. After all, even material I don't 100% love opens up a sort of commentary off of which I can bounce thoughts and ideas.

I think I'm getting a bit punchy. It's time to pack it in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fancy Footwork from Kohl's

Late last night I was on the lookout for some interesting new shoes and happened upon an unlikely cache of costumey candidates from Kohl's. Marketed as the finishing touches for Halloween get-ups, these online-exclusive kicks could double as conversation pieces to wear with dresses, jeans, or whatever (even if they are a little pricey in the $40-$50 range). What do you think? Would you rock these beyond trick-or-treat?

For the Love of Stuff

Some stuff I made.

Some stuff I bought.

Some stuff I washed.

You get the idea.

The other day on my lunch break I heard John Lennon's "Imagine" on the radio, a song I love (and who doesn't?). But any deep thoughts I might have had were besieged by shallow musing set off by the line "Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can." Although I did as John instructed, I found myself coming up short. No possessions? No candy-colored bits and pieces crowding every available surface in my house? I was flummoxed by the concept. As a self-professed clotheshorse, shopaholic, collector, and artist I'm a person for whom "things" hold great importance. Sometimes I find myself just staring at a newly purchased knickknack or recently discovered bric-a-bric to be upcycled into a new project. Just last night I sat transfixed by my handmade necklace collection, much to the bf's amusement. (I'm lucky, I think, that he's amused by me.)
So, enough about me. What are a few of your favorite things?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why, How Kitschy of You!

Blue Candy Wrapper Bangle,

Large Fast Food Tote,

Bright Lights Corsage Necklace,

It's no surprise that I like to describe my Tote Trove items as kitschy. To me, the word encompasses all that is quirky, outside of the box, and colorful (both in appearance and personality). At least it did until now.
Driven by no other motivator than boredom, I decided to Google the word one day. Here's a sampling of what came up:
Art using popular culture icons, mass-produced objects; means "worthless" in German.

Art characterized by sentimental, often pretentious poor taste. It is typically clumsy, repetitive, cheesy and slickly commercial.

Pretentious, low-quality work which is "thrown together".

Oh, my. Turns out that "kitschy" is not exactly the cute descriptor I imagined it to be. I mean, "clumsy," "slickly commercial," "low-quality," and "worthless" have such ugly, negative connotations. But then again, "pretentious" isn't so bad. If by pretentious they mean an abundance of rhinestones proclaiming awesomeness.

You know what? I've decided to make my peace with this. Because one person's poor taste is another person's weirdly appealing. And I'm all about the weirdness.

Book Report: The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

Sparked by my renewed interest in writing fiction, I decided to reread The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes. Like most of my favorite authors, Keyes write women's stories (I refuse to call them chick lit) that are funny and touching yet deep.

The Other Side of the Story explores the publishing industry through the eyes of three very different yet inextricably linked women. Jojo is the seasoned and sharp shooting literary agent with a heart, Lily is the sensitive, starving artist novelist, and Gemma uses writing as a means of getting back at her philandering father as well as her ex-best friend (who just happens to be Lily). I'm not going to get into the entire plot (well, not too much), because it's complicated (albeit compelling). I'll just say that this story engaged me because it offered an illuminating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the business of getting published. Now, this is a light-hearted story. It has a happy ending, and the reader (at least this one) walks away feeling good. But it also exposes the ruthlessness of the publishing business rather than glamorizing it, which I found refreshing.

Take Lily. Her first novel, which is about a company knowingly tampering with a town's water supply, causing its residents to get cancer (she once worked for a PR firm that represented just such a company) and took her five years to write, is rejected by every agent she sends it to. Some suggest changes, which she makes, but the long-awaited acceptance never comes. Then she loses her job, falls in love with her best friend's (Gemma's) ex-boyfriend, gets pregnant, and is subsisting on the meager salary she draws from freelance writing. But even at this point, Lily's luck hasn't reached its nadir. Walking home from a meeting with a supermarket about writing a pamphlet on spinach, she gets mugged. As a result, she becomes utterly depressed and as means of cheering herself up starts writing another book. Although she has little interest in publishing it, her boyfriend, the ever-supportive Anton, intervenes, doggedly sending it to every agent in London despite Lily's protestations. Eventually, one of them (the illustrious Jojo) takes her on. But then Jojo has trouble finding a publisher, and even once the book does get published, the critical reviews are not so good. Anton lands her a book signing alongside a wildly popular, established author, and the only people who speak to her are the ones who think she works at the bookstore. It takes a very long time for the book to start selling, but once it does, Lily's popularity skyrockets. She receives glowing reader reviews on Amazon, and one group of readers even form a coven in her honor (the book is about a white witch). When the time comes for her to accept her publisher's advance immediately or hold out for more money, she decides to hold out. Anton persuades her to buy their dream house against her better judgment. She begins receiving fan mail, some of it nice but a lot of it scary. She has nightmares about the house being taken away. She obsesses over the possibility that Gemma is plotting revenge. She is so stressed that she can't concentrate on writing a new book, so she sends her editor the one about the contaminated water. The editor gobbles it up, anticipating a best-seller. But the public hates it. They wanted another feel-good book and are offended by the new one's weighty subject matter. Lily's publisher drops her, and the bank forecloses on her and Anton's house. (Ironically, the novel's critical reviews are excellent.) Lily blames Anton for the loss of their house and breaks up with him, taking their daughter with her. It isn't until she nearly dies in a car accident that she's inspired to write another feel good bestseller and reunite with Anton.

Okay. I realize that sounded very melodramatic and not at all like the type of story that could offer any practical insights. But to be fair, I don't think my synopsis did it justice. I promise that it's a fulfilling and balanced read, chock full of relatable scenarios and details.

That having been said, I'm now on the prowl for a new book. I'd like to read something new this time and am contemplating Julie and Julia.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Handmade Buy - Joy to the World

My latest Etsy purchase just arrived in the mail in the form of this delightfully tropical and aptly-named Joy Necklace from Creations by LMC, I discovered Creations by LMC by using Etsy's Pounce feature. (That's where you can search shops that have either just sold an item or have never sold anything. Creations by LMC fell in the latter category but has since sold 8 items not including this one.) I was particularly struck by the workmanship of this piece, as it's comprised of lots of beads. I'm sure it will go with lots of my outfits and make an appearance or two in upcoming Photo Shoot Friday posts.

So, I Canceled My Twitter Account

Here's a nice beachscape. Because posts without pictures are boring, and I wanted to treat you to something tranquil.

But back to the topic at hand. You read the title right. The Tote Trove has sent its last tweet.

Initially, I joined Twitter as a means of marketing my business (like countless Etsy sellers before me). Experimentally, I began releasing my little updates into the world. "I just ate a grilled cheese sandwich!", "I made a Jello key lime pie!", and "York peppermint patties are my favorite candy!" were typical of the types of things I'd write. (Obviously, a love of carb-loaded food features prominently in my life.) I picked up a few followers here and there. Then I heard about that Tweetlist thing, where you follow tons of people at once by selecting your interests (mine were always fashion and art related). My following grew. I'd read each potential follower's profile, always following back as long as the person didn't seem like a pervert or criminal. Sometimes I'd get those canned direct messages saying things like, "Thanks for the follow! Reduce your body fat by 50% in a week with our delicious and nutritious organic spinach shake!" But this was the worst that ever happened.

After a while I got bored with all of this. I eventually set up my Facebook fan page (also established solely for business purposes) so that everything I posted automatically popped up on Twitter. (All of my Facebook posts, by the way, are just links to these blog posts. You can tell I have little patience for the finer points of social networking.) This was ingenious because it meant that I never had to visit my Twitter page at all. And I didn't. At least not until the other night when I deigned to log on to broadcast my latest blog giveaway. And that's when I saw it. A string of obscene tweets from some follower of mine. They weren't meant for me (at least I don't think they were; I'm still sketchy on the exact workings of Twitter). But seeing them on my page was reason enough for a mini freak-out, and I canceled my account immediately. I mean, who knows how many other such messages were poisoning my Twitter feed?!

This experience has nourished the germ of doubt I've been trying to squash regarding social networking. Although it's fun meeting other artists online and important to spread the word about The Tote Trove, I think I should have listened to my instincts regarding Twitter. (Or at least monitored my followers more closely; but who has the time for that?) Then again, I don't think Twitter was doing me any favors marketing-wise. As for Facebook, I'm still on the fence.

Before you even think it, I'm not getting rid of this blog. Although it's a form of social networking, it's not in the same category as Facebook and Twitter. At least not to me. It's a way for me to write. Really write, that is, not just inform the world that a pasta dinner is impending.
Speaking of which, I think it's time for lunch . . .

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"What is it that makes a complete stranger dive into an icy river to save a solid gold baby? Maybe we'll never know."

Something New and Sparkly - Opening Night Necklace

Opening Night Necklace,
I made this Faux Show bejeweled Opening Night Necklace to wear to a wedding last weekend (check out this week's Photo Shoot Friday to see more!). This time I kept the ribbons and pompoms out of it, letting the jumbo gems shine. The other night I ordered doubles of the pendant and beads so I could post it in the Made to Order Necklaces section of my shop.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mr. Turtle Goes International

Tiny Mr. Turtle Tote
As you undoubtedly know, summer is a notoriously slow time for Etsy sellers. People are in vacation mode, and the only holidays are of the patriotic, non gift-giving variety. So, as Labor Day drew near I was looking for ways to boost my site traffic. I found a simple one in a featured Etsy seller article. The artist (I can't remember who she was) said that she spent $3.00 a day relisting her items to push her shop back toward the top of search results. At twenty cents a listing, this worked out to fifteen relists a day! As someone who relists only one item a day (if that) I was intrigued. So, I started in earnest last weekend, relisting totes, bangles, and necklaces with abandon. For my efforts, I scored several hearts and sold my Tiny Mr. Turtle Tote to someone from Austria! Having sold nothing for a month, I was thrilled. Plus, I get the added bonus of adding Austria to my list of international sales (the rest of the list consists of the United Kingdom and Italy). I'm definitely going to keep this experiment up. Although I know reslisting so often will be somewhat expensive and won't always result in sales, I get a rush from keeping my little store on shoppers' radar.

Let's Do Another Giveaway - Dessert Tote Trove Style

Tiny Purple Cookies and Milk Tote

Tiny Yellow Cupcake Tote

Tiny Strawberry Jello Mold Tote

In a shameless attempt to amass more readers, I'm hosting another giveaway. Up for grabs is a trio of my hand drawn, hand painted, dessert-themed totes: the Tiny Purple Cookies and Milk Tote, the Tiny Yellow Cupcake Tote, and the Tiny Strawberry Jello Mold Tote. Measuring 6" wide x 5.5" tall, these little bags make ideal gift card holders, party favors, mini treat bags, or little girls' tiny purses. Each tote retails for $8 in my Etsy shop,, so the lucky winner will receive a prize valued at $24.

Intrigued? Entering to win is super easy, no Facebook, Twitter, or Etsy visits required. (I usually pass on giveaways involving too many steps, as they're more than my poor addled brain can take at the end of the work day). Just follow this blog and leave a comment saying you did. Don't forget to include your email, so I can contact the lucky winner. Already a follower of my blog? First, thanks for reading. Really. Secondly, leave me a comment letting me know that you're a faithful follower :)

The giveaway closes next Tuesday, 9/14, at midnight. The winner will be chosen at random on the following Wednesday, 9/15. Thanks for entering and good luck!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Report: Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

I recently finished reading Summer at Tiffany, a memoir by Marjorie Hart. In 1945, best friends Marjorie and Marty, a couple of rising seniors at the University of Iowa, board a train to New York City to enter the glamorous world of high-end retail. Beguiled by their sorority sisters' good fortune in securing posts at places like Macy's and Lord and Taylor's, they are certain that they too will be selling bathing suits, turbans, and Hawaiian print dresses and enjoying employee discounts in no time. But when the girls arrive in the city, they are rudely turned away at every department store. They are about to give up when Marty spots Tiffany's and brazenly leads the more reserved Marjorie across its threshold. To their delight and surprise, they are hired as pages owing to the war and the shortage of male help, making history as Tiffany's first ever female employees.

The book goes on to describe the girls' sales floor and off-duty adventures. There are (chaperoned) outings to nightclubs, celebrity sightings, and dates with servicemen, all set against the backdrop of winding-down World War II. They accomplish all of this on their shoestring budget of twenty dollars a week. Here's a breakdown of their monthly expenses:

"The Budget - Rent and Electricity - $65.00 a month.

Daily Budget

1. Two nickels for subway
2. Sandwich and drink at the Automat: 15 cents
3. Nestle's chocolate milk & toast (deli egg bread) - breakfast & dinner, 9 cents
4. Penny postcards - no 3-cent stamps
5. Weekly elevator operator's Christmas Fund - 25 cents

Select one for the week:

Oxydol laundry soap, Woodbury hand soap, bronze stocking stick, Pond's hand cream, Jergen's lotion, Dubarry nail polish, Kreml shampoo, Max Factor powder, Colgate toothpaste, Tangee lipstick, Coca-Cola, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Schrafft sundae, drink at Sardi's

Tickets: Staten Island Ferry (5 cents); Empire State Tower ($1.10); Lewissohn concerts (25 cents); Paramount Theatre; Radio City Music Hall

A girl can dream, can't she?" (40-41, Hart)

Shallow soul that I am, I found this budget to be the most interesting part of the book. Never having lived so frugally (or, for that matter, having embarked upon such an adventure), I was mesmerized by the need to choose between soap, lipstick, and Coca-Cola each week. I was also charmed by the old fashioned cosmetics, especially the stocking stick and Tangee lipstick.

I've always been an admirer of period stories and liked this one's overall primness and descriptions of 1940s clothes. Also, I found it odd that it was considered commonplace for two middle class girls to be attending college in 1945. Marjorie, a cellist, later became a professor and played in a symphony, and Marty majored in finance and eventually worked in a bank. (She also made all of her own clothes, a fact I found far more intriguing than the banking bit.)

Both girls were inspiring in their pluckiness. Yet, I couldn't help but feel that something was missing. I craved more details about what Marjorie was really thinking. About her boyfriend, her cello career, her life at school. To be fair, her thoughts do reveal a little more than her scrupulously cheerful letters to her parents - but not much. She does mention that her Norwegian background taught her that it was weak to show her feelings. So, maybe that had something to do with it.

Still, it was a quaint story. I was especially impressed that Marjorie began writing it at age 69, working on it for the next ten years. Her manuscript was unexpectedly picked up by an editor at a writing conference. To think that a first-time author in her eighties could be discovered like that is uplifting.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

At the Movies: (Kicking Off the Fall Movie Line-up With) Going the Distance

It was a beautiful, sunny Labor Day weekend Sunday - which meant, of course, that I wanted to go to the movies. I hadn't been for the last couple of weekends and was feeling the void. So, on our way home from my sister's apartment (the bf and I had stayed there last night after attending our friend's [her best friend's] wedding), we stopped off to see Going the Distance, which had opened Friday. Undoubtedly, you've seen the commercials. Distance stars real-life couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. (They're an on-again/off-again kind of duo, but according to my most recent Google update, they're currently "on.") Drew Barrymore plays Erin, a Stanford journalism student spending the summer in New York doing a newspaper internship, and Justin Long plays Garrett, a New Yorker working for a soulless record label. Garrett has a history of misunderstanding women and has never been in love, and Erin once dropped out of grad school for a guy who broke her heart (this explains why she's a 31-year-old intern). They meet at a bar (where "Flight of the Conchords" stalker Kristen Schaal pours the drinks) and get together for a fling. Six weeks later, when it's time for Erin to return to San Francisco, they realize they're in love. So, they try the long distance thing. Heartache peppered with raunchiness ensues, with Garrett's buddies (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) trying to drown his sorrows in pitchers of beer and Erin's sister (Christina Applegate) unabashedly dispensing tough love advice.

So, was it what I expected? Not really. It was more serious than the trailers let on, and not a little wrenching. But I liked that about it, appreciating its commitment to keeping things real. I could especially identify with Erin, a writer looking for a job in a world where print journalism is dying. She tries to get a permanent position at the New York newspaper where she interned to no avail and meets with the same rejection at every other publication in the city. Finally, she's offered a job with a San Francisco paper. Garrett is less than pleased, they fight, and he ends up asking her to move in with him, in New York. Touched, she accepts, planning to continue waitressing until a writing job opens up. Her brother-in-law (Jim Gaffigan) suggests she start a blog. (She doesn't).

At the last minute, Garrett steps in and tells her she can't throw her life away and needs to take the job. She does. At the risk of sounding like a cliche, their breakup is very sad, a classic case of two people wanting different things. They each go on with their lives, but of course it's not the same. Then Erin receives tickets to see the band that she and Garrett first saw together. She goes, and of course he's there. He's ditched his dreaded job, become the band's manager, and now lives in Los Angeles, which is only an hour's plane ride away.

For a minute there, I thought it might be one of those movies where they don't get back together. Kind of like The Breakup, or 500 Days of Summer. So, I was relieved that that wasn't the case. But I was also left thinking that San Francisco and Los Angeles are still kind of far away for maintaining a healthy relationship. (That's the cynic in me showing its colors). Anyway, at least it was a more realistic ending than if Garrett had, say, landed a job in San Francisco. I gave myself more closure by deciding that the ending was trying to say that successful relationships thrive on never-ending compromise. (Although the movie delivered the message in a much less cheesy way than I just did.)

Overall, I think Going the Distance was good and undeserving of its bad reviews. But that's just this humble viewer's opinion.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Something New and Sparkly - Carnival Cherry Necklace

Carnival Cherry Necklace,

While in A. C. Moore the other day, I couldn't help but snatch up red, black, and white accessories to augment the black and white Faux Show pendant I had at home in making my next carnival necklace creation. What is it about red, black, and white? I've always been drawn to this trifecta of color (the bf would be proud, as he used the word "trifecta" at every opportunity. I suppose he's rubbing off on me.). It just pops with a retro kind of glam, especially here in pin-up polka dots. I finished off the Carnival Cherry Necklace with sweet Mary Engelbreit rhinestone cherries I rescued from a Michaels $1 bin ages ago.
As I was leaving A. C. Moore, a woman approached me. "Excuse me," she said. "But did you paint your bag?" I was carrying my original large tote, which is emblazoned with hearts, stars, fruits, rain drops, and a checkerboard design.
"Yes," I smiled, explaining how I drew the design first, then added two layers of acrylic fabric paint. She seemed very impressed and interested, so after a pause I took the leap and said, "I used to sell them at craft shows, but now I'm just online, which is a lot easier."
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I felt like a used car salesman. Her face changed a little, and she said, "Oh, I'm sure." I said good-bye and dashed off without giving her a business card.
This happens to me a lot. I want to let people know that I'm a professional but then back pedal, worried that I'm coming off like some kind of hawker. I guess that's because I find it a little tasteless when strangers try to sell me on their wares. So, fellow artists, what do you think? Are you comfortable talking up your work and handing out your business card, or are you like me and semi-paralyzed by reservations? I'm genuinely curious.

Something New and Sparkly - Carnival Candy Necklace

Carnival Candy Necklace,

The other night I realized I hadn't made anything new in four days and needed to get my hands on some colors and sparkles stat. So, I whipped up this Carnival Candy Necklace, the Carnival Fun Necklace's more turquoise cousin. It's a little longer than the original, which helps to better carry off all that corsage and Faux Show charm drama.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"I think a good way to get into a movie is to show up where they're making the movie, then stick a big cactus plant onto your buttocks and start yowling and running around. Everyone would think it was funny, and the head movie guy would say, "Hey, let's put him in the movie."'