Thursday, May 31, 2012

At the Movies - Dark Shadows

I don't like movies that are bloody.  Not even when the blood is cartoonish.  So why, then, did I go to see the big-screen version of the 1970s-era vampire soap opera Dark Shadows, in dazzling IMAX no less?  For the sake of a family outing, the magic of movies, and, of course, Mr. Johnny Depp.

Because it isn't really my kind of movie and because I never saw the original series, I won't tread too heavily upon Tim Burton's hallowed territory except to say that it wasn't as off-the-wall, anachronistically funny as the commercials promised.  More soap opera than spoof (and really, given its origins, who could blame it?), the film did provide some stunning visuals, giving me ample opportunity to do what I do best when confronted with something unpleasant - daydream about clothes and makeup.  Groovily gothic dresses, capelet-topped coats, and heavily beaded jewelry were set off by alternately neon and pastel eyelids paired with frosty pink lips, and in the case of villain Angie (Eva Green), smoky eyes and bold red lips.  (So inspired was I by this gimmicky glamour that I wore lime green eyeshadow for two days afterward.)  Similarly, I was charmed by Michelle Pfeiffer's character's secret passageway-style macrame storage room.  What should have been a gloomy, gory cavern turned out to be a rainbow-inundated hideaway of handmade goodness - truly, a detail any crafter would appreciate :)

Getting Through Thursday with Another Shoe Montage - How Now Brown Cow

From top, left to right - Red leopard open-toe: MetroStyle; Cream bow toe: Worthington, J. C. Penney's; Tortoise shell: Marc Fisher, Marshalls; Cordovan peep toe: Worthington, J. C. Penney's; Leopard pointy toe: Parade of Shoes; Perforated bow toe: Bongo, Kohl's; Brocade bow toe: BCBG, Marsahlls

At first glance, brown seems like an odd color of shoe to be talking up during the summer months.  But more often than not, a pair of slick sable slingbacks or stilettos add just the right earthy edge to a colorful bohemian skirt or sundress.  That having been said, I plan to let the hairy leopard and holiday-best brocade pairs hibernate until fall.

As an ironic end-note, no cows were harmed in the making of these happily polyurethane shoes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"Sometimes I wish Marta was more loyal to me.  Like the other day.  The car parked next to ours had a real dirty windshield, so I wrote THIS CAR LOOKS LIKE A FART in the dirt.  Later I asked Marta if she thought it was a childish thing to do.  She said, "Well, maybe."  Man, whose side is she on, anyway?"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TV Tuesday: The Snarky Stylings of E!'s Fashion Police

Normally, I'm not one for TV shows that make fun of people.  That's why I skip reality shows.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy the odd episode of E!'s "Fashion Police."  Hosted by queen of mean Joan Rivers and catty cohorts Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne, and George Katsiopoulis, the show scrutinizes celebrity red carpet and "off-duty" (think beach vacation) outfits and is seasoned by segments such as "Starlet or Streetwalker" and "Bitch Stole My Look," culminating in a best-dressed and worst-dressed pick at the end of the hour.  Now, when it comes to fashion, I'm pretty live and let live.  If something makes you feel good about yourself, then you should wear it, regardless of whether it's in style or what other people may think of it.  That having been said, if I were famous, then I'd probably be a "Fashion Police" repeat offender ("You've got too many things going on, sweetie, too many things," I can just hear Joan crowing.  "You look like a cross between a trannie and a circus escapee.")  Still, whether or not I agree with Joan and company's opinions, I can't help but be entertained and impressed by Joan's zinger-barbed wit.  Plus, it's fun to see all of the celebrity fashions.  I always wonder which stars choose their own dresses and which ones rely on a stylist, and if those in the stylist camp rip their stylists a new one after being the butt of Joan's arresting comments.  I also wonder if Joan ever gets hate mail, or if Hollywood regards her as a semi-sane grande dame to be indulged and humored.  But then, I guess the same question can be asked of any comedian.

Campy and irreverent, "Fashion Police" is an ornery oasis in the drought that is summer programming - whether you're wearing Miu Miu or a muumuu :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Melba for Memorial Day



Instead of the usual patriotic strawberry and blueberry dessert, I went with this (albeit historically British) peach melba Creamy Layered Peach Squares concoction.  And in the making of it I came to terms with something: try as I might, I will never be one of those women who is truly at home in the kitchen (not even when working with my beloved Jello).  Around ten o'clock last night I was spreading the cream cheese/Cool Whip/sugar layer over the graham cracker crust layer only to have the buttery graham cracker crumbs refuse to stay put and get all caught up in the cream cheese like so many toast crumbs ruining perfectly good butter.  The harder I tried to prevent it from happening, the worse and more unappetizing-looking it got.  The bf heeded my calls of distress, coming to my rescue with a spatula and more patience than I could hope to muster.  He managed to achieve an at least even if somewhat crumby (pun intended, ha ha) cream cheese terrain upon which I could later layer the raspberry Jello and Cool whip mixture. 

My culinary shortcomings aside, I have trouble believing that even the most careful of cooks could craft the perfect "square" (single serving size) specimen featured on the cook book cover.  Jello is just too, well, gelatinous a substance to assume the image of a plastic-perfect faux dessert worthy of a diner display case.

That said, I hope that the end result will be tasty enough to make up for its lack of plate appeal.  Here are the ingredients and the how-to's that gave me such grief:

Ingredients

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 packages 8 oz cream cheese
1 8-oz tub Cool Whip
3 large fresh peaches peeled and sliced (I used 2 cans of peaches.  What's canned fruit for if not Jello recipes?)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 cups ice cubes

Directions

Mix the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and the butter in a 13" x 9" pan and press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan.  Beat the cream cheese and remaining sugar in a medium bowl until well blended.  Whisk in 1 1/2  cups Cool Whip and spread over the graham cracker crust.  Top with peaches (in my case, 1 can).  Refrigerate until ready to use.  Dissolve raspberry Jello mix in boiling water.  Stir in ice cubes until melted.  Refrigerate for 5 minutes, or until thickened.  Whisk in remaining Cool Whip and spread over peach layer.  Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm.  Garnish with fresh raspberries and peach slices (this is where can number 2 came in).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

At the Movies - What to Expect When You're Expecting

Romantic comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting lets it be known that giving birth is a serious business.  More in line with the shadow-tinged ensemble He's Just Not That into You than the frothier Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, What to Expect When You're Expecting stars a who's-who cast in a network of gently intertwined stories about impending parenthood.  It mixes the feel-good with the edgy for results that are relatably realistic.  Which isn't so unexpected a hybrid from a movie based on a pregnancy manual.

Of the movie's five mothers-to-be, three become accidentally pregnant, one is adopting, and one has been trying to have a baby for two years.  It is this last mom-in-the-making, Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), who centers the threads of the story and most strongly draws our sympathies.  As the owner of a baby boutique and a breast-feeding advocate ("Have a breast day!" she chirps when ending work calls), type-A Wendy has long nurtured the dream of starting a family with her kindly (and compatibly beta) dentist husband Gary (Ben Falcone).  With her wacky assistant Janice in tow (the scene-stealing Rebel Wilson, with whom we became first acquainted in last year's Bridesmaids), she goes to extremes to ensure the welfare of her baby while emerging as a goo goo ga ga guru, an effort she redoubles after learning that Gary's jerk of a celebrity racecar driver dad (Dennis Quaid) is having twins with his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker).  Yet all of Wendy's resolve unravels during her keynote speech at a prestigious baby biz expo.  Clad in Janice's much-too-big rainbow unicorn-emblazoned tee shirt (she peed herself just before going on), she rages about hemorrhoids and crying jags, debunking the pregnancy-is-bliss myth that the expo, and everyone else, strives to perpetuate.  As someone who never imagined pregnancy to be pleasant, I found her diatribe to be candidly reassuring.  The scene marks the movie's stand-out comic moment, the absurdity of which is largely owed to Janice's well-meant but disastrous fumblings.

The other storylines, while less gripping, are amusing, and in some parts, sad.  The movie capitalizes on the increasingly popular reality TV spoof twofold in the character of Jules (Cameron Diaz), the winner of a "Dancing with the Stars"-type show (dance partner Matthew Morrison is her baby daddy) and a take-no-prisoners Jillian Michaels-esque weight loss show host.  Dueling food truck owners and near-high school sweethearts Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford) must negotiate the curveballs of their fledgling relationship, and baby photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez) enlists the help of the "dad's group," a Saturday stroller-wielding posse headed by wise-cracking but wise Vic (Chris Rock) to convince her skittish husband (Rodrigo Santoro) that it's time to adopt.

The movie's end holds a few tense moments that may, if you're anything like the audience I watched with, have you uttering, "Huh?"  Nevertheless, the message of What to Expect When You're Expecting is ultimately life-affirming, cutting through all the muck of fear and indecision in the middle to deliver the knee-jerk optimism that always comes with the stork.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Report: Men in Kilts by Katie MacAlister

            
Like all genre fiction, romance novels are written according to a formula. Having read a lot of Nora Roberts over the years, I'm accustomed to the boy meets girl, boy causes conflict for girl, boy proposes to girl format. I've also read a few historical romances in which it's common for the heroine to be kidnapped by a rake who later reveals a sensitive side or to be forced into a marriage of convenience with a rough-hewn but secretly kind-hearted rancher. That having been said, when I started reading unknown-to-me Katie MacAllister's Men in Kilts, I wasn't sure which prefab plot to expect. As I soon found, it wasn't one that was in my repertoire.

Seattle-based mystery novelist Kathie Williams is looking for more than contacts and canapés when she attends a mystery writer's conference in her dream country of Scotland. Which I found to be kind of refreshing. After all, why not admit that you wouldn't mind some romance instead of being all uppity and self-composed like a Nora Roberts ice princess? After awaking from a snooze in the lobby (public naps are one of her signature idiosyncrasies), Kathie spies and chats up, in her words, a "dishy Scot." His name is Iain, and his two grown sons gave him a gift certificate to the conference as a birthday present. So, he has brains as well as brawny beauty. Smitten by such a package, Kathie tumbles into bed with Iain against her better judgment. But this is no one-night stand. The Scot seems just as hopelessly besotted as she is, inviting her to stay at his sheep farm in the Highlands. With no day job holding her back (she's a novelist, after all), Kathie sets off on the adventure, much to the horror of her mother and best friend back home.

Iain's farm proves to be a mix of the fairy tale and the rustic. His book-lined shelves (which house the hilariously named You and Your Ewe) and fuzzy flock send Katie even deeper into her lovesick orbit. That's why it's so maddening when Iain's beautiful and bitchy neighbor Bridget barges in and plants a kiss on his mouth. Iain insists that the brazen buttinsky is just a friend with no designs on him, and his explanations are believable, colored by characteristically masculine naiveté. It's isn't long before Kathie shatters all pretenses of indifference, uttering the L-word and embarking upon a campaign for marriage. Iain remains intractable if unperturbed, living up to his strong, silent stereotype and serving as the perfect foil for Kathie's feminine flutterings.

Ground-breaking stuff it isn't. Heck, there were times when I felt downright embarrassed for Kathie, silently willing her to summon some pride. Yet I also found her to be oddly inspiring because she isn't afraid to follow her heart, regardless of how foolish it may make her seem. And in the end, she isn't wrong. Iain returns her love in the form of a proposal. Which, when you think about it, is much more realistic than some perfect man who produces a diamond entirely unprovoked. Men in Kilts also keeps things real by having its lovers squabble over normal stuff like household chores and family members and what to do on vacation. Finally, its last pages aren't marked by the engagement or even the wedding itself. Instead we watch Kathie and Iain's life march on in all its mundanity long after the last fistful of rice has been tossed - an approach this is admittedly risky. As a kid, I always thought that the last part of any romantic fairy tale came just before the happily ever after. Even the happiest of endings, after all, signals a kind of complacency, a boring and decidedly unromantic every day in which no one could be interested. For me, the very omission of such a future is tantamount to a confession of mediocrity. Yet, by tackling the less glamorous details of domestic life, Men in Kilts manages to turn this notion on its head and to reaffirm romance, even amidst the gruesome chore of sheep slaughtering.

Apparently, nothing seals love like fresh air and a little manual labor.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Getting Through Thursday with Another Shoe Montage - Prints Plus

From top, left to right - Floral ruffle toe: Madden Girl, DSW; Purple/turquoise splotches: Madden Girl, DSW; Fuchsia/lime/mustard splotches: Candie's, Kohl's; Red/mustard/blue splotches: Madden Girl, DSW; Pink floral: Candie's, Kohl's; Purple/green/mustard rosette toe: Anne Michelle, Alloy

Prints Plus was the name of an art print store at my local mall (a sure sign of the 1990s if ever there was one; I can still that print of those dogs playing poker in the back corner).  But that's the phrase that leapt to mind when I looked at this jumble of florals and indistinct splotches.  There was a time when I thought a print shoe to be an extravagance.  If you had a few solid leather (well, polyurethane) pairs in black, brown, and white (for those transient, halcyon days between Memorial Day and Labor Day), then you were good to go.  Of course, this was before I'd embraced pattern mixing.  Now it's a rare day that I'm not sporting something splashy on my feet.  And I must say that my travels have been the more colorful for it :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"If you were an ancient barbarian, I bet a real embarrassing thing would be if you were sacking Rome and your cape got caught on something and you couldn't get it unhooked, and you had to ask another barbarian to unhook it for you."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

TV Tuesday: Stuck in the Middle with Sue

Few sitcoms on TV today capture life's little embarrassments with as much humor and cringe-worthy accuracy as ABC's "The Middle."  Featuring the down-to-earth and often down-and-out Heck family, the heartwarming half-hour show serves up a slice of middle class Middle Americana that undoubtedly has viewers from coast to coast nodding in recognition.  Most often at the heart of the Heck family's upheaval is middle child Sue (Eden Sher). Constantly forgotten and overlooked, sweetly awkward Sue is the poster child for being last picked.  Nevertheless, this season has marked many milestones for the high school freshman (or as Sue likes to say, "frosh").  She got her first period, founded a motley crew of wrestling team cheerleaders called the wrestlerettes, and landed her first real boyfriend (not surprisingly, an intense and pint-sized wrestler.)  Of course, being Sue, she lost said boyfriend when his family moved.  Then she was nearly left out of the school yearbook, an injustice that sent her knocking on the unsympathetic door of every school official only to land her in the guidance counselor's office (or rather basement, a la "Office Space's" red stapler guy) of Whoopi Goldberg, a crazy sweater-wearing fellow misunderstood soul with a mutual fondness for inspirational posters ("Do you have the Believe in Yourself one with the rainbow? Me too!).  Whoopi managed to score Sue a full-page yearbook photograph - albeit beneath an "in memoriam" banner.  No stranger to adversity, Sue kept on smiling and was duly rewarded just one episode later with a prom invitation from older brother Axl's doofy but kind-hearted friend, Darrin.  "She has a sunny disposition," Darrin explained to the horrified and dumbfounded Axl, adding,  "You should get to know her." 

Well said, Darrin, well said.   

Monday, May 21, 2012

Something New and Sparkly - Melon Mix and an Apology to J. C. Penney's





Top: J. C. Penney's
Tank: Boscov's
Skirt: Marshalls
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Nine West, Boscov's
Brooch/Barrette: The Tote Trove

There's nothing like summer to deliver you from the dietary doldrums.  Suspect-looking buffets bearing pale and desiccated melon wedges are suddenly outclassed by colorful cocktails of honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon.  In addition to being delicious, these sherbet-shaded fruits are just right (or should I say ripe?) for accessorizing lazy day summer outfits.  This Fabulous Felt Melon Barrette is just the thing to tie together the tangy stripes of this crop top and tank. 

Speaking of the crop, it hails from J. C. Penney's.  Yes, the very same one that I've been maligning during recent months for killing its coupon trade.  Nevertheless, I dared to darken the department store's door some weeks ago and ended up buying three tops, including this one.  All were reasonably priced, even without a coupon, bringing the total to an admirably low $30.00.  I was pleased with the purchase but disappointed with my lack of will power.  Then I read a couple of articles about JCP's losses and steadily declining stocks, both of which were attributed to new CEO Ron Johnson's staunch refusal to jump back on the bargain bandwagon.  And I felt sort of sad.  Kind of like JCP was a well-meaning but naive friend who had unwittingly fallen prey to bad company.  But then, such are the pitfalls of any retail romance. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Etsy Favorites - Hot Dog, it's Almost Summer!










Last week's Etsy Favorites - In an Octopus's Garden post was inspired by my favorite octopus of all time, Nickelodeon's animated Oswald.  You know, he of the enormous blue head, tiny black derby, and Fred Savage voice.  But in all my excitement, I forgot to mention him in the write-up!  The bf said not to despair, suggesting that I focus this week's Favorites on hot dogs in honor of Oswald's beloved dachshund, Weenie Girl.  So, I rounded up this sweet and silly serving of grill-worthy delights.  Picnic fare never looked so cute!  I like to think that Weenie Girl would bark her approval :)          

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Something New and Sparkly - Everything's Coming Up Roses





Dress: Kohl's
Shoes: Alloy
Bag: Nine West, Boscov's
Brooches/Barrettes: The Tote Trove





Top: J. C. Penney's
Cami: Marshalls
Skirt: Strawbridge & Clothier
Shoes: Betseyville, Macy's
Wristlet: ZuZu, J. C. Penney's
Brooch/Barrette: The Tote Trove 






Sweater: Hang Ten, Kohl's
Skirt: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Journeys
Bag: Chinese Laundry, Bloomingsales Florist and Gift Shop
Brooches/Barrettes: The Tote Trove


It's kind of hard to tell in this picture, but this is the mullet of skirts - short in the front and long in the back.  I almost said "business in the front, party in the back," but realized that's actually reversed when we're talking hemlines :)
  



Blouse: Candie's, Kohl's
Tank: Arizona, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Kohl's
Sandals: Chaps, Kohl's
Wristlet: Nine West, Boscov's
Brooch/Barrette: The Tote Trove 





Top: Candie's, Kohl's
Skirt: Kohl's
Boots: Alloy
Bag: J. C. Penney's
Brooch/Barrette: The Tote Trove  





Sweater: Candie's, Kohl's
Tee: Macy's
Skirt: Target
Shoes: Burlington Coat Factory
Wristlet: Express 
Brooch/Barrette: The Tote Trove





Top: Candie's, Kohl's
Jeans: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Candie's, Kohl's
Bag: Candie's, Shoe Dept.
Brooch/Barrette: The Tote Trove

Every spring I'm tempted to plant a garden.  Nothing crazy, just a few flower beds to add a pop of color to my front yard.  But I never seem to get around to it.  Flowers are kind of, well, needy, and I just don't know if I have what it takes to keep them going all summer.  These barrettes, on the other hand, require just a touch of felt and glue to keep them bright and blooming forever.  Plus, I can make them while watching TV as opposed to down in the dirt in the sun :)