Monday, September 29, 2014

Land of a Thousand Necklaces . . .

Top: Bongo, Sears
Skirt: Macy's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Jacket: Tommy Hilfiger, Marshalls
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's
Scarf: Wet Seal

Tee: American Rag, Macy's
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Target
Belt: J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

Tank: J. C. Penney's
Bra: Macy's
Cardigan: Kohl's
Skirt: Marshalls
Shoes: BCBG, Macy's
Bag: Etsy, Glamour Damaged
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

. . . is where I'll be living if I keep up this pace.  It turns out that simpler necklaces are quicker and easier to make, causing my stock to burgeon at a rate that's more than a little alarming.  Still, I can't seem to stem my appetite for making accessories.  I'm greedy that way, living by the too-much-is-never-enough crafter's creed.  

Greed was certainly at work in The Millionaires, a book by Inman Majors that I just finished reading.  I'd received it as a gift, and I didn't think that I'd like it, as it was an unwieldy tale of political intrigue and new money in the South in the late 1970s.  And at first I was right.  The opening scene is all about swagger, introducing the two sometime stars of the novel, brothers J. T. and Roland Cole, through the lens of a high stakes poker game.  It's long and drawn-out and that irritating mix of erudite and macho, and when I read it a year or so ago, I thought, I don't think I can do this.  I rarely give up on a book and pride myself on my eclectic taste (which is, I'm sure, how I ended up with this book in the first place), so my white flag behavior was something of an anomaly.  Then last week I found myself fresh out of reading material and, in the spirit of thriftiness and ego, decided to give J. T. and Roland one more chance.

I'm not saying that it was easy.  The brothers Cole still weren't leaping off the page.  Opportunistic country boys-come-businessmen, their obliviousness to everything except their pursuit of power and wealth was less than engaging.  But once I was about a hundred pages in (the tome totals 478), I'd become well acquainted with what I call the "perks."  The perks are the good parts of otherwise boring books, the silver linings, the prizes in the Cracker Jacks boxes.  (You'd have to know that I hate Cracker Jacks for that to make sense).  And this being a literary novel, the perks were pretty good.  For one thing, Majors is an excellent writer (and ought to be, as a fiction professor at James Madison University), particularly talented at description and introspection and at using both to transform characters into people.  Not so much the Coles, mind you, as they remain pretty static throughout the saga, but their wives and mistresses and most notably their adviser, Teague.  Majors has them reliving these subtle, shameful incidents that make you smart with embarrassment over your own such memories.  In a novel in which appearances mean everything, such exposure is especially effective and all the more human.

Another gem?  Roland's encounter with an Appalachian craftsman at his fait accompli of a world's fair extravaganza.  

"And what these people could craft, and craft from, producing household necessities and art and music from so little.  Such historically poor, poor people, and still the urge to create, art from apples and rags, instruments from gourds and horsehair.  He thought now, on this last night of the fair, that he understood the creative urge.  How it was a thing that one simply must do, regardless of situation or reception." (375)      

Of course, I understand this urge to make something from nothing even if no one else ever sees it or needs it.  It's why I can't stop making stuff. (To be clear, I realize that there's a world of difference between a suburban woman stringing rhinestones for fun and a mountain man making lye before he kills dinner, although I don't doubt that my compulsion is any less primitive.)  In an attempt at solidarity, Roland, who lives in a mansion, tells the man about his boyhood red oak table and how it's still standing in his mother's house.  The man tells him that it'll last a hundred years more.  Then Roland goes on to talk to another craftsperson, a grateful doll-making woman who is now selling her work all over the world thanks to Roland's fair.  The scene ends with the first craftsman telling Roland to take care of his table.  

I know, I know.  This all sounds totally random.  But you have to know that the Coles are hicks from the sticks desperately trying to appear polished, an ambition that is foiled time and time again as Majors confronts them with their country roots.  Red oak tables are built to last and mansions aren't, as evidenced when Roland is convicted of defrauding scores of townspeople in the following chapters. Still, Majors makes us see that Roland and J. T. aren't all bad.  He even sort of paints them as Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving (entrepreneurial opportunities, monstrous tips) to the poor.  I'm not saying that what they did was justified -- I'm not sure that their characters have enough depth for such premeditation -- but it's certainly an underlying theme in the book, this not being able to deny where you come from, not just with the Coles, but with their wives, and with Teague.  It's this quiet truth that anchors the novel's surrounding chaos, the homespun heart that outshines all the glitter.

So those were the perks.  Otherwise, I didn't like this book at all.  I didn't like the lyricism of the language, or the way it made me hunt for themes and symbols as if I were back in college.  Just as sometimes, when all the cheese wheels and ice pops are gone, I can be caught begrudgingly and not unhappily filching Cracker Jacks.            

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chartreuse the Abstruse and a Note About Shopping

Dress: XOXO
Sweater: Kohl's
Shoes: Guess, DSW
Bag: Target
Belt: Izod, Marshalls
Scarf: Nicole Miller, Marshalls
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Top: Gifted
Skirt: L'Amour, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Venus
Bag: Target
Belt: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk

Dress: Lauren Conrad, Kohl's
Shoes: Kohl's
Bag: Gifted
Belt: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

According to, "abstruse" means "hard to understand; recondite; esoteric," making it as apt a descriptor as any for the oft misunderstood chartreuse.  Also, it rhymes, which is always a bonus.

I used to think of chartreuse as the afterthought of the neon color palette.  Pink, blue, and orange were indisputably the prominent players, their too-flagrant-to-be-lemon colleague little more than an interloper to be gently humored.  Maybe that's why I ended up relegating the bulk of my chartreuse beads (so acquired in mixed lots containing other, more suitable colors) to a see-through plastic green rectangle of a reticule stashed deep in the recesses of my purse closet.  To be fair, I'd put the beads in the purse to photograph for this very blog (it's on here somewhere if you look hard enough) -- the solid chartreuse made the translucent and hard-to-photograph plastic appear as a solid lime.  I rediscovered the beads just weeks ago at, as it turned out, a most opportune time.  I'd just vowed to buy as few new jewelry-making supplies (as well as clothes) as possible and instead make do with the stuff I already had, a decision that was born of both frugality and the allure of a personal challenge, necessity being the mother of invention and all of that.  When I started using the chartreuse beads, I realized that the odd, problem-child shade had a way of brightening up, and dare I say, bringing out the best in my more mainstream but less radiant beads.  It stoked the fires of coppers and ambers, thawed the frost of pinks and blues, and rescued russet from the bullying bluster of blues and purples.  The result was three funky new pieces for my Rustic Romance collection.  (As a side note, upon telling someone that the Electric Elephant Necklace belonged to the Rustic Romance group, the said someone asked if "rustic romance" was what I called it when the elephants "got together."  I somewhat haughtily retorted, "no," then launched into a monologue on the various and nuanced meanings of the word "romance."  Interestingly, I've since moved all of my other elephant necklaces [for yes, there are others] into this category, unwittingly orchestrating a safari-themed singles scene.)  
Anyway, the new necklaces make me glad that I decided to go on a bit of a shopping hiatus.  I'm approaching this challenge with the strategy of any addict, which is to try to quit cold turkey.  (It's no accident that I penned this post from a Boscov's parking lot.)  You know how a normal person can play a slot machine every now and then without it being a big deal, but how just one bet will send an inveterate gambler on the road to bankruptcy?  Well, this is kind of like that, except not one-tenth as serious (lest there be any confusion, I'm not going bankrupt).  Which is to say, a person who isn't a shopaholic can buy a sweater she doesn't need without it mattering much, but for someone who shops all the time, even a small, unnecessary purchase can send her backsliding down into a spiral of unchecked retail therapy.  So far I feel virtuous, like someone on the Cleanse, smugly superior to people popping cookies, or, in my case, this season's clutches.  Also, a bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder, sewing buttons on blouses instead of buying new ones and washing dish towels instead of going through reams of Bounty.  But how long before I run out of shampoo samples and need to hit Target, only to emerge with a week's worth of socks and the latest Weezer CD?  To prevent such a relapse, I came up with a few buys that don't count:

-- Items under $10.

-- Paperback books. (Hey, I've got to read, and I'm not entirely sure that I'm allowed back in the Brigantine library.)

-- Gifts. (Why should others have to pay for my penury?)  

That having been said, sometimes you have to let the Crock-Pot breathe before it explodes.  Which is a cute way of saying that I'm not cut out for going cold turkey.  But no matter; cool chicken has its challenges, too.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to the Drawing Board

When I was a kid, I loved to draw.  There was always something exciting about putting pencil to paper and wondering what would take shape.  Would a bunch of flowers grow into a country garden or a tropical jungle?  Would the background be a dramatic sunset or a tranquil blue?  Would the plants be the only signs of life, or would a parrot or dryad flit amid the flowers?  These questions and others led me to pick up my pencil again this past week.  This jungly (not gardeny), sunset-streaked (not blue sky-painted), wing-free (no dryads here) landscape was the result.  And for the most part, I'm happy with it, even if it is a little on the green side (in more ways than one).  I used to be more liberal with details and color, and this foray revealed me to be a little rusty.  I'm going to keep at it, though.

Drawing is so different from making jewelry.  For one thing, it's less physically demanding.  Also, it doesn't require consideration of practical questions such as, "Is this durable enough to not fall apart but light enough to hang around someone's neck?"  I can just go for it without being burdened by all those what-ifs.  Then again, drawing has its own challenges, as it's time-consuming and tedious.  Still, that's part of what makes it satisfying.

In honor of this landscape, I put together an Etsy treasury called The Scenic Route.  A treasury, for the uninitiated, is a collection of sixteen Etsy listings that have something in common.  Sometimes all the listings are from shops owned by people from the same state or Etsy team; other times, they're all the same color or are holiday-themed or are vintage or feature polka dots, Elvis, or aliens.  Etsy members create them, then spread the word to the featured sellers and everyone else in their network in hopes of amassing enough clicks to land on Etsy's coveted homepage.  But it's also a nice way to meet fellow sellers or just play curator.  Believe it or not, I didn't even know how to make a treasury until this past spring.  (Unfortunately, I haven't yet figured out how to upload one to the blog, as the wheels of progress turn slowly down here in the Trove.  If you want to take a peek, then hop over to my Etsy shop.)  Now I make treasuries all the time; so far I have sixteen.  It's fun to find the one thing that connects a bunch of otherwise random pieces -- probably because it's like putting an outfit together.

Even in a post about wall art, all roads somehow lead back to clothes.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Leftovers

Top: Kohl's
Skirt: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Marshalls
Jacket: Mossimo, Target
Belt: Izod, Marshalls
Scarf: Wet Seal

Tee: American Rag, Macy's
Skirt: Material Girl, Macy's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: DSW
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

Dress: Modcloth
Boots: Alloy
Bag: Kohl's
Jacket: Tommy Hilfiger, Marshalls
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

I'm not talking about that Justin Theroux series or last night's meatloaf.  I'm talking about the beads that you have left over after completing the projects for which you bought them (also about my leftover summer photographs, as flowers, smoothies, and purple bicycles should not go unshared).  You know how it goes.  Some plastic beads here, some glass beads there, with the odd extra pendant or cabochon thrown in.  More often than not, these odds and ends don't go together, and you're left wondering what to do with them.  Although this can be annoying, it's usually fun, kind of like making that questionable clearance rack caftan work with your wardrobe.  Lately, I've been trying to make necklaces that are more suited for everyday wear, and managing this mishmosh of supplies fits right in with that plan.

On a not-so-related note, I was recently flipping through some new magazines and was dismayed to find myself kind of disgruntled.  Not so much with the appearance stuff, which I take with a grain of salt (nothing like heeding the advice of Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)": "Do NOT read beauty magazines; they will only make you feel ugly."), but with the pop psychology, how-to-be-a-better-person sort of stuff.  It's either stuff I already know, or stuff I don't want to know, like how to bake a gourmet turkey, how to do exercises at your desk, or how to strike up conversations with strangers.  I couldn't help but remember a college professor who had a negative view of women's magazines.  She said that they were all about convincing women that they needed to fix themselves, showing them how to be skinnier and prettier, better cooks, better lovers, better mothers.  Twenty-year-old me thought she was full of it.  Magazines were bursting with color and possibility, not to mention a welcome escape from my World Drama homework.  I think it took so long for me to realize their true duplicity because I never set out to do what they said, instead mesmerized by their splashy layouts like a child immersed in elaborate picture books.  Although still of that mind, I now find the content even less entertaining.  Stripped of such glitter, it all seems a little stress-inducing and judgy, the very antithesis of an indulgent diversion.

I think that's why I'd rather read novels, which are almost always enriching and peaceful.  I just finished a most restful example, A Week in Winter by the late great Maeve Binchy.  It tells the stories of guests at Stone House, an Irish hotel that serves up solace every bit as warm and restorative as its hearty soups (a ringing endorsement, as I don't even like soup).  Here's one of my favorite parts:

"Chestnut grove [not to be confused with the aforementioned Stone House; this book is teeming with inviting edifices] was a house that would have suited nobody except Eva: it was in poor repair, with a wild, rambling garden, very shaky plumbing, and unreliable electrical works.  She really couldn't afford the cost of maintaining it properly, and it might have seemed sensible to sell the place -- but when had Eva ever done the sensible thing? . . . There were clothes hanging in every room; on almost every wall there were hangers holding colorful, inexpensive dresses, often with a matching stole or hat.  Eva would pick them up at markets, car-boot sales, or closing-down sales.  She had never bought a normal dress in what might be called a normal shop.  Eva found the price of designer clothes so impossible to understand that she had refused to think about it anymore.  What were women doing, allowing themselves to be sucked into a world of labels and trends and the artificial demands of style?  Eva couldn't begin to fathom it.  She had only two rules of style -- easy care and brightly colored -- and was perfectly well dressed for every occasion." (355-356)

I found this passage to be so refreshing and carefree compared to the unyielding do's and don'ts espoused by the glossies.  Chestnut Grove sounds like the kind of house I'd love to live in, a magical mess of a place in delightful violation of most monthlys' rigid edicts.  The rest of the story is just as wonderful.  I hate hiking almost as much as I hate soup, but the book was so enchanting that I found myself wishing that I could stay at Stone House to walk its cliffs in an anorak and wellies.

And finally, as the last thread in this unraveling sweater of a post, the husband and I cannot imagine a world without Joan Rivers or a Friday night without "Fashion Police."  We followed her condition online until she passed last Thursday, somewhat bittersweetly during Fashion Week.  For years we tuned in weekly for Joan's colorful zingers, dissolving into laughter as she delivered one outrageous analogy after another.  Razor-sharp and unrelenting, Joan's wit was the star of the show, the celebrity fashions merely the window dressing.  Without it, our Friday night post-pizza snack will lose some of its flavor, and whatever we watch will be bland compared to its bite.  Rest in peace, Joan.  You always wore it well.