Friday, December 31, 2010

The Truth About Writers

Here's an old article from the Los Angeles Times that caught my eye. Being a writer, I found it amusing and agreed with most of it. Give it a read and let me know how it struck you (if indeed, it struck you at all. If not, then please feel free to go back to whatever you were doing :)

The truth about writers: What do they really do with all that time?
By J. Robert Lennon

June 21, 2009

"Ask a writer what she values most in her creative life, and she is likely to respond, "Time to write." Not many of us have the luxury of writing full- time; we have spouses, families, day jobs. To the people closest to the writer, "writing time" may seem like so much self-indulgence: Why should we get to sit around thinking all day? Normal people don't require hour after continuous hour of solitude and silence. Normal people can be flexible.

And yet, we writers tell our friends and children, there is nothing more sacrosanct, more vital to our intellectual and emotional well-being, than writing time. But we writers have a secret.

We don't spend much time writing.

There. It's out. Writers, by and large, do not do a great deal of writing. We may devote a large number of hours per day to writing, yes, but very little of that time is spent typing the words of a poem, essay, or story into a computer or scribbling them onto a piece of paper.

Recently, I timed myself during a typical four-hour "writing" session, in order to determine how many minutes I spend writing. The answer: 33. That's how long it took to type four pages of narrative and dialogue for my novel-in-progress, much of which will eventually end up discarded.

Let's assume that this was an unusually brisk day. Let's estimate that, in general, I spend between 30 minutes and an hour writing, on days when I'm writing at all. What this means is that, even at my absolute peak of productivity, I am actively writing less than 5% of the time. Considering how many days of the year I don't write at all (most weekends, all holidays, teaching days, sick days, days of self-doubt, hangover days, bill-paying days), I could easily revise that figure down to 2%.

Should such a person, a person for whom writing consumes 2% of his life, even be called a "writer"? Given this logic, here are some of the names by which I might more legitimately be referred:



bus rider

child reprimander



But back to those four hours a day, during which, on those days when I do write, I am supposed to be writing. If I spend less than 25% of that time engaged in the act of writing, what do I do with the rest of it?

To answer this question, I surveilled myself during a recent writing session. The results are below.

8:04. Subject says goodbye to older son leaving for school.

8:05. Subject turns on laptop and sits on sofa in pajamas.

8:05-8:23. Internet.

8:23. Subject lets cat out.

8:23-9:07. Internet.

9:07. Subject lets cat in.

9:08-9:15. Really fast typing.

9:15-9:17. Subject makes toast.

9:17-9:30. Subject eats toast while rereading article in local paper about rural UFO cult.

9:30. Subject puts extra pair of socks on over extant pair of socks.

9:31-9:35. Deleting.

9:35-9:40. Re-creating deleted text almost verbatim from memory.

9:40-10:26. Internet, including 20 minutes spent writing, revising, and ultimately abandoning angry Internet message board post.

10:26-11:14. Intense self-doubt.

11:14-11:31. Subject showers, dresses (including two new pairs of socks).

11:31-11:49. Really fast typing.

11:49-12:01. Bathroom break.

12:01-12:05. Frenetic typing accompanied by quiet sinister chuckling.

12:05. Subject saves file, turns off computer, makes sandwich.

As you can see, writing makes only brief appearances in that chronology. Indeed, it would be easy to make a case for "non-writing time" as an alternative, perhaps superior, designation for what is presently called "writing time."

The truth, of course, is that writers are always working. When you ask a writer a direct question, and he smiles and nods and then says "Well!" and turns and walks away without saying goodbye, he is actually working.

If a writer is giving you a ride to the bus station and pulls up in front of the supermarket and turns to you and says, "Enjoy your trip!," she is actually working.

If you are a child, and your writer parent is scolding you for failing to do your homework, and then he or she suddenly stops, blinks twice, and tells you to go spend the rest of the afternoon playing video games and eating Pirate Booty, then he or she is actually working.

To allow our loved ones to know that we are working when we are supposed to be engaged in the responsibilities of ordinary life would mark us as the narcissists and social misfits we are. And so we have invented "writing time" as a normalizing concept, to shield ourselves from the critical scrutiny we deserve. Indeed, even writers who don't write fiction are engaged in the larger fiction of imitating normal humans whose professional activities are organized into discrete blocks of time.

If you have any questions, please write them on a postcard, slide the postcard between the pages of a library book, and return the book the library. I will get to them when I'm finished writing."

Lennon's most recent novel is "Castle." He teaches writing at Cornell University.
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Whole Trio of Somethings New and Sparkly Made by a Girl in Her Pajamas

Fabulous Felt Strawberries Necklace

Fabulous Felt Cupcakes Necklace

Fabulous Felt Pineapple Paradise Necklace

I'm the girl in her pajamas. Or at least I was up until now. For the past four days I've been happily confined to my home courtesy of the recent blizzard. Brigantine received a record twenty-two inches, as I learned from local news reports accompanied by shots of some lost soul lounging on the snow-covered beach (there's always one). Today I'll be the one venturing out, bringing my pajama streak to an end (not that I'll be driving on those still possibly-treacherous roads. That happy honor goes to the bf.). I have to say, although I missed coming up with daily outfits, I really got into the whole hibernation thing. So much so that it made me revisit my dream of someday becoming a recluse. (Kidding. Sort of.)

Being housebound, I got down to business making new fabulous felt creations and became so productive that I ran out of my beloved permanent adhesive glue. The stuff has a tendency to erupt in skin-burning bubbles when I squeeze the bottle too hard, and I think that's how I lost so much of it (I have the raw hands to prove it). Yesterday I had the wild notion that I could persevere using a half-baked hybrid of Gorilla Glue and Elmer's, but my hopes were dashed when the jungle-themed necklace I was working on began to unravel. The bf and I are making an A.C. Moore run in a bit so I can restock before we meet my parents for dinner.

As always when I craft, I needed to find something semi-entertaining to watch. This is only a minor challenge on the weekends, but as I quickly learned, becomes a nearly insurmountable task during the week when soap operas, infomercials, and court TV reign supreme. So, I reverted to On Demand, zeroing in on the bargain movies section. The two best candidates were Adam Sandler's animated Eight Crazy Nights and Dude, Where's My Car? Oddly, I'd never seen either, and I sat there in a sea of felt shavings debating. Dude had Ashton Kutcher. But Nights was more seasonally appropriate. Dude was probably really offensive, but then Nights could be too juvenile. Dude, Nights, Dude, Nights, circled the argument in my head. Finally, I picked Eight Crazy Nights, mostly because I knew I wouldn't want to watch it in say, April, or whenever this pressing dilemma reared its head again.

For the record, Eight Crazy Nights turned out to be pretty offensive in its own right. But I'm not ashamed to admit that I didn't mind.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"I remember we were all horrified to see Grandpa up on the roof with his Superman cape on. "Get down!" yelled Uncle Lou. "Don't move!" screamed Grandma. But Grandpa wouldn't listen. He walked to the edge of the roof and stuck out his arms, like he was going to fly. I forget what happened after that."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Treasury Time Again!

Snuggles saw it fit to include my Turquoise and Yellow Fine Feathers Barrette in her aptly named and eye-catching Blue and Yellow Kiss Your Fella Treasury! Needless to say, I was tickled. Check out all the dazzling selections here* (and be sure to click on each picture to send the entire treasury on its merry way up to Etsy's coveted front page!).

*Treasury deactivated.

A Christmas Treasure Chest Tote Trove Style

Remember that crackerjack of a handmade Christmas present idea I had for my mom? Well, here it is. I was trying to think of an interesting new handmade gift that wasn't a tote bag or a piece of jewelry when it hit me. Why not hand paint a treasure chest-shaped wooden box and fill it with costume jewelry and chocolate gold coins? I mean, I would love it if someone gave me a gift like that. So, I hunted down the box at Michaels, then set to work drawing the design freehand. Originally, I planned to make a couple of necklaces to mix in with the store-bought ones. Yet like most good intentions, this one fell by the wayside, especially as December 25 crept closer and I struggled to finish painting the box. Speaking of which, I would've liked more time to add another coat of paint and then spray on an acrylic finish. But Mom, in the tradition of moms everywhere, seemed to love it anyway, flaws and all.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Report: Marley & Me by John Grogan

I bought a copy of John Grogan's Marley & Me in a CVS two years ago (this was, of course, before I started boycotting CVS, but that's a topic for another blog post) but didn't get around to reading it until this past Sunday. I read most of it in one sitting, starved for the luxury of curling up with the proverbial good book.

If you've been following this blog with any regularity, then you know that I don't like dogs. My sister's two shih zhus are the only dogs for which I've ever felt any sort of affection (they're so darned cute that they managed to melt my Cruella DeVil heart), and even they sometimes intimidate me despite their diminutive size. So, given my feeling, why would I want to read a memoir about a man and his Labrador retriever?

Partly, it had to do with the fact that it was made into a movie, a movie that I'd happened to see. Although I'm a professed reader, I'm not immune to the effect of feature films on otherwise snubbed books (not that this book was ever in that category) and have been known to run out and buy such titles after being snowed by a glitzy trailer. Another reason I wanted to read Marley & Me was because the bf loves dogs so much - and I was curious to find out what made dog people tick. Finally, although I'm not a dog person, I am a book person. And I knew that author John Grogan was a newspaper columnist qualified to deliver a good yarn.

I was right. Marley & Me was well-written. And as in the movie, it wasn't just the tale of a man and his dog, but of the evolution of a couple and then a family. I enjoyed the descriptions of West Palm Beach, Florida (even if I did have to skip over the bloody parts -- the Grogans' first neighborhood was an unseemly one), and the glimpse into newspaper life. As for the parts about Marley, well, they awed me, for better or worse.

I found myself wondering about the connection between people and their pets and the lengths people are willing to go to in the name of it. As I'm sure you know, Marley was a terror. He ate everything in sight, including pregnancy tests, jewelry, and chicken feces; knocked strangers over; destroyed entire rooms to the point of harming himself; and got kicked out of obedience school. His "exuberance" couldn't be daunted by even vet-dispensed doggie tranquilizers and inevitably resulted in small fortunes worth of damages (at one point John jokes that he could've bought a yacht with what he'd spent). Yet save for one section in which John's wife Jenny, who is suffering from postpartum depression, orders him to get rid of Marley, disowning the yellow tornado is never an option. (Of course, they don't get rid of Marley. John works extra hard to train him, and Jenny emerges from her depression.) Interestingly, it is at this point that John reveals the true secret of Marley's appeal: "As pathetic as it sounds, Marley had become my male-bonding soul mate, my near-constant companion, my friend. He was the undisciplined, recalcitrant, nonconformist, politically incorrect free spirit I had always wanted to be, had I been brave enough, and I took vicarious joy in his unbridled verve. No matter how complicated life became, he reminded me of its simple joys. No matter how many demands were placed on me, he never let me forget that willful disobedience is sometimes worth the price. In a world full of bosses, he was his own master" (140).

I paused, so struck by the words that I reread the passage. It was pretty powerful stuff. For a minute I forgot that Marley was a smelly, hell-raising dog, instead seeing him as John did, a symbol of freedom and all the things most of us wanted to be.

Yet symbol of freedom or not, I found it hard to understand how one family could allow an animal to turn their lives upside down. The parts involving bowels, vomit, and drool were downright disgusting. As for normal life, it was a nightmare. The Grogans couldn't go out to dinner without churning stomachs for fear of what havoc Marley may wreak in their absence. They couldn't refurbish their home without acknowledging that all their hard work and money would most likely be wasted. Having food stolen off their plates was a daily occurrence. Every garment they owned was covered in dog hair, and they couldn't walk through their yard without dodging, well, you know. These harsh realities exposed their existence as the very antithesis of freedom. Such a life would drive me insane.

Even so, I had tears in my eyes when they had to put Marley to sleep.

The bf, of course, pounced upon this nugget of information, renewing his campaign for us to adopt a beagle. But I was quick to wipe my eyes and begin carping about how I didn't want our lives disrupted. There are few things I hate more, after all, than factors that threaten to alter my admittedly lazy and sometimes selfish existence. I said as much to the bf, and he just sighed and said he knew.

Still, I fear that one of these days he may break me.

So, what do you think? I know that many of you must be dog owners, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts and experiences, whether they be reminiscent of John's or otherwise.

Movie Moment: The Other Guys

If you like explosions, gunshots, car chases, and Will Ferrell's comic genius for awkward social situations, then you'll like The Other Guys. I picked up the DVD for the bf a couple of days before Christmas because he kept trying to rent it On Demand without success. (I almost blew my cover when he announced that he wanted to try again on Christmas Eve Eve by erupting into helpless giggles, insisting that I'd rather watch a rerun of "The Big Bang Theory.") Anyway, the movie is about two NYPD cops stuck behind the desk. Well, at least Terry (Mark Wahlberg) feels as though he's stuck. Hungry for glory and the chance to "fly like a peacock," he convinces mild-mannered ex-accountant Allen to join him in his quest for greatness. Although initially reluctant, Allen ends up agreeing to the mission, and the two of them climb into Allen's red Prius, which boasts a CD player preloaded with a half dozen Little River Band CDs, much to Terry's disgust. A textbook nerd, Allen makes one annoying observation after another in true Ferrell fashion, prompting Terry to repeatedly lash out that he hates him. Yet just when it seems that the team's odd couple ways will be their undoing, they stumble upon a huge case involving big business, the details of which aren't important. (Hey, we all know these crazy plots are just a vehicle for character development, screwball antics, and good guy-saves-the-day denouements.) The discovery forces them to get along and reinforces their desire to prove themselves to their boss, a TLC-lyrics-spouting-police-captain-slash-Bed-Bath-&-Beyond-manager played by Michael Keaton. Ferrell predictably steals the show, misunderstanding all of Wahlberg's orders and giving way to hilarious scenarios. Perhaps one of the funniest (and most disturbing) parts is when Allen reveals that he was a pimp back in college. Only, he doesn't realize that that's what he was, relaying the incident detail by naïve detail to Terry's horror while a song entitled "Pimps Don't Cry" wails in the background. That's not to say that Wahlberg doesn't have his own shining comic moments. His character becomes a little more complex when we learn that this hard-boiled cop has an artsy-fartsy ex-girlfriend for whom he still carries a torch. As Terry tries to win her back, he unveils unlikely talents for ballet dancing and art interpretation, all the while defending his tough-guy image by claiming that he honed the skills so he could make fun of the nerds on his block growing up.

In the end, Allen and Terry rush in to save the day in classic style, earning the respect they so desperately crave. Is it a little cheesy and predictable? Well, yes. Is it a little raunchy in parts? Again, guilty. But I think I speak for lots of viewers when I say that we'd be disappointed if it were anything but. The Other Guys is a nice diversion punctuated by stretches of subtle humor. I can honestly say I'm glad I made that last mad dash to buy it.

A Very Elloh Christmas and Other Etsy Buys

Now that all the Christmas gifts have been opened, it's time to unveil those that I bought on Etsy. As always, funky finds from the beloved Elloh played a starring role. I bought two of her wonderfully quirky screen printed dishtowels and an always crowd-pleasing heirloom of the future ornament for my sister. In turn, my sister bought two of her dishtowels for me. She also bought a print for her boyfriend, which turned out to be of the Presidential Facial Hair Hall of Fame, the very same motif that graced one of the dishtowels I gave her. Oh, how we laughed Christmas morning.

Abe Surfing Dishtowel given to me by my sister.

Ode to Julia Child and her Favorite Ingredient Butter Dishtowel, also from my sister.

And now we're up to the gifts I gave her.  Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner Limited Edition Ornament.

You're Gonna Make it After All Dishtowel

Presidential Facial Hair Hall of Fame Dishtowel. (Check out Van Buren, Honorable Mention, skulking at the bottom. :)

Lace Bow Necklace, Mama's Little Babies. My sister put it on that day. :)

Summer Berries and Cream Charm Bracelet, Kim Smith Jewelry Designs.  This one was for my mom.  She stared, turning it over in her hands as she said, "Somebody made this?" That's a compliment for handmade jewelry if ever I heard one!

Buffalo Wings and Celery soap by fellow EtsyNJian Robyn's Nest Boutique.  The bf thought these would be a riot for his sister (we haven't confirmed this yet, as we haven't gotten together for our gift exchange. But I don't think she reads this, so we're good :) In case you're wondering, they don't smell like wings. I actually had an extensive and sophisticated list of scents from which to choose. (In case you're wondering, I went with a nice vanilla blend.)

This lovely headband trio was for Mom and comes to us from EtsyNJ's own PurpleLicious.  Here we have the Black and White Houndstooth model.

Beige, Red, and Black Plaid Headband, PurpleLicious

Black and White Wildflower Headband, PurpleLicious

How charming is this Needle Felted Mama Bird and Nest? It's for the bf's mom, and it too hails from an EtsyNJ creator, Chimera.

Book Report: (A Taste of) Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke

I saw the temptingly cartoonish cover of Joanne Fluke's Plum Pudding Murder glinting at me from Target's book aisle a couple of weeks ago as I rolled my cart by in pursuit of paper towels. I'd read a few of Fluke's other dessert-themed mysteries, all of which featured heroine Hannah Swensen, Minnesota's favorite cookie shop proprietor-slash-sleuth. To be blunt, they hadn't exactly knocked my socks off. But then, almost any "cozy" murder mystery novel series pales in comparison to Mary Daheim's zany bed-and-breakfast tales. Perhaps it was this thinking coupled with my compulsive need to read something Christmasy during the Christmas season that motivated me to reach down, snatch the paperback, and toss it onto the towering heap in my cart. Relegated to the confines of my sickbed that weekend, I was awfully glad I'd succumbed. I gobbled Plum Pudding Murder in a single gulp.

This time Hannah, or, to be more accurate, Hannah's mild-mannered dentist boyfriend, Norman, stumbles upon the dead body of Larry Yaegar, a shady Christmas tree salesman (pun intended). Although Hannah is bombarded with cookie orders on account of the season, she drops everything and sets off in search of the killer, leaving her salt-of-the-earth business partner to pick up the pieces. It should be mentioned that Hannah offers up free cookies and other goodies to anyone who asks (and there are plenty of freeloaders in her midst), seemingly oblivious to her profit margin. Also, Norman isn't Hannah's only suitor. She's also dating Mike, a slick and handsome local cop and Norman's polar opposite. What's more, Norman and Mike know about each other and don't seem to mind, taking turns squiring Hannah around town with nary a sign of rivalry.

I couldn't help but wonder why Hannah would abandon her business to track down the identity of a cold-blooded killer who probably wouldn't balk at killing her. First of all, everyone knows that people who own their own businesses never have a spare moment, working harder than most nine-to-fivers just to make ends meet. As someone falling into that category, Hannah seems like she wouldn't have time to do her laundry let alone take off on a crime-solving adventure. Second of all, even if Hannah had all the time in the world, wouldn't trying to find a killer scare her? I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I'm taking my life in my hands when I go to the mall alone at night.

As I read, I continued thinking in this critical vein until something hit me. Fluke wasn't a sloppy writer. She was a smart writer. After all, most nine-to-fivers probably think that running a business full-time is glamorous, focusing on the independence and the creative challenge instead of the cranky customers, grueling hours, and tiny paychecks. Likewise, solving a murder probably sounds exciting to someone who's seen dead bodies only on CSI. Fluke knows this, lacing her plot with enticing fantasy life tidbits designed to thrill and bait the secretary or bank teller safely ensconced in her La-Z-Boy.

So, I apologize, Ms. Fluke, if I've come off as snarky. Clearly, you know what you're doing. After all, I no more want to draw my sole income from a cottage industry than I want to court a bullet-happy lunatic. Yet I still enjoyed reading about Hannah doing just that. I guess that's why we read books. To escape reality and visit another dimension, even dimensions we don't want to inhabit. Once there, we're free to enjoy the excitement without the pitfalls, kind of like scarfing down a bowl of ice cream (or in this case, plum pudding) without absorbing the calories.

So, thanks for the treat, Ms. Fluke. It was mighty tasty.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"Whenever someone asks me to define love, I usually think for a minute, then I spin around and pin the guy's arm behind his back. Now who's asking the questions?"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Treasury Time Again!

I think my Christmas gift card holders have been featured in more treasuries than any of my other items. Here's another one, courtesy of Gift Creation. If you're so moved, then check it out and click through* to help it make the front page. :)

*Treasury deactivated.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Moment: The Kids are Alright

Last weekend the bf and I rented The Kids are Alright, the tale of Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joanie (Mia Waskowska), the children of lesbian mothers who track down their biological father. Their mothers, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), have one of those ying yang relationships in which one partner (Nic) is the level-headed, plan-happy breadwinner and the other (Jules) is the free-wheeling, unstructured dreamer. Although different, they're presented as happy and even playful together, fixtures of marital bliss in their magazine-worthy home. Theirs is an order-to-chaos-to-order story in which the kids' father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), rides in on the proverbial motorcycle to shake up the easy and privileged domesticity to which this stable, upper middle-class family has become accustomed.

Ungrounded and devil-may-care, Paul is a college-dropout-slash-loner who has managed to build a successful organic food business. Joanie and (eventually) Laser are charmed by him, and Jules laughs at all of his jokes. Paul even hires Jules to landscape his yard, an event that begins to splinter the fledgling fault lines rising to the surface of Nic and Jules's relationship.

Before long, Paul and Jules start sleeping together. Partly because Paul is that kind of guy, and partly because being with Jules gives him the chance to imagine having the family he's beginning to dream of in his lonely middle age. As for Jules, she falls for the sense of acceptance that Paul provides. Appreciative of her budding landscaping business, Paul seems to respect her in a way that Nic does not, or at least hasn't in a long time.

Nevertheless, Paul and Jules are not meant to be, because The Kids are Alright isn't that kind of movie. Rather, the rift created by first Paul's presence and then his and Jules's affair serves to cast the family's issues out into the open, forcing resolutions and ultimately allowing the four of them to become even more tightly bound to each other than before.

Overall, it was pretty good, as witty, thought-provoking, and rawly emotional as any indie flick worth its salt.

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"To me, it's a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, "Hey, can you give me a hand?" you can say, "Sorry, got these sacks." '

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is a Line That Never Worked on Me

It's true. For whatever reason, my cynical little brain just couldn't grasp the concept of a fat man in a red suit squeezing himself down chimneys to deliver gifts to kids from Connecticut to Zimbabwe. I used to think this was because my parents once took my sister and me Christmas shopping with them when we were really little because they couldn't find a sitter. To this day, I can still see the top of the Barbie dream house box jutting out of the trunk through the back window of their blue Pontiac 6000. But I think my skepticism had bloomed long before that night, because I remember the incident as more of a confirmation of something I'd already suspected than as a shocking revelation. (Mom and Dad, you can breathe a sigh of relief.)

My knowledge was harmless enough until the day I decided to clue in my sister. I was five and she was three, and we were sitting in the backseat of my mother's car waiting for her to come out of the house. And I just blurted out that there was no Santa Claus. I don't know why I said it. But I do know that I couldn't be stopped. I went on to divulge the truth about the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, dethroning the entire trifecta of lovable, gift-giving characters in one fell swoop. I don't think my sister cried. But she did keep insisting that I was wrong.

The damage had been done.

After relaying this story to the bf, he asked what I planned to tell our future children about jolly old St. Nicholas. I had to think about it for a few minutes but finally decided that I wouldn't say anything at all, letting them draw their own conclusions. Then, if one of them asked me directly, I could be all cagey and say something like, "Well, I don't know, Penelope. Do you think it's possible for one man to deliver gifts to billions of children in one night?" Then little Penny would probably burst into tears and run off to tell all the other children, making me the scourge of the neighborhood.

On second thought, maybe I'd better just go with the lie.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bigger is Better and Gaudy is Good

Here I am at my old job in my old cubicle. As you can probably guess, I optimistically and overzealously entered the company's first-ever holiday cubicle decorating contest. I didn't tell anyone I was doing it; I just began unravelling rolls of wrapping paper and unpacking lights, foliage, and baubles one quiet Friday afternoon, on tenterhooks as I waited for my coworkers to discover the source of the racket.

As part of the contest, I had to choose a name for my theme and immediately went with "Bigger is Better and Gaudy is Good," a quote I'd lifted from The Little Book of Christmas Joys by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. To be accurate, the exact quote is, "Throw restraint to the wind. Christmas is the one time of year when bigger is better and gaudy is good," which I don't find nearly as charming because I think bigger is better and gaudy is good year round. But I digress.

My coworkers were amused, to say the least. People I didn't even know came from all corners of the building to take a look. But despite all this attention, victory was not to be mine. That honor went to a girl from the Internet department, who had crafted a more unassuming scene featuring - and this is the ironic part - handmade snowmen. At the time I'd yet to experience my resurgence of crafty activity (the only things I created at that point were outfits).

These days I limit my avant-garde decorating impulses to the confines of my own home. Well, and of this blog, which seems to know no limits.

What about you? Ever enter, win, or lose a Christmas decorating contest?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trim the Tree With Tiny Totes

I had so many tiny Christmas totes that I thought, why not hang them on the tree? So I did, not a little haphazardly. Cheerful, huh? That's a brand-spanking new fake, pre-lit tree, by the way. The bf and I had to wrestle two other couples to the ground in the Home Depot parking lot last weekend to get it. Not really. But it was the only one left, and there were two other couples interested in it. It was the opened, sort of busted-up box that clinched it for us, though (thank goodness, as our physical prowess isn't what it used to be). Is it broken? Why did someone return it? wondered the others, hemming and hawing as they accosted various orange-aproned employees to inquire if there were any others in the back room (There were not.). It was in the midst of this melee that we made off with our prize. I'd already decided that I didn't care if the lights didn't work; for $50, we'd throw on a few strands ourselves if we had to.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that.

That last picture features my enchanted tree grove. Yes, that's what I call it, much to the bf's amusement. But what better moniker is there for a forest bedecked in tinsel, Christmas balls, feathers, and sequins, I ask you? My only regret is that I didn't spring for more trees.

I hope all of you are having as much fun decorating as I am.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I've Said it Before, and I'll Say it Again: It's Not Christmas Until Andy Comes Out

Upcycled Andy Williams Christmas album notebook, Ivy Lane Designs

If you were reading this blog last December, then you already know about my great love and respect for the Christmas music of Andy Williams. But just in case you weren't, I'll recap. Every Christmas season when my sister and I were kids, my mom played one of Andy Williams's holiday tapes, (then later, CDs), for us, a tradition she carried over from her own mother, who started it all with the record. As a result, I've always associated those happy tunes with tree trimming, cookie baking, and shopping (okay, mostly shopping, as the tape was the soundtrack for many a mall pilgrimage). To this day, it just isn't Christmas until I've heard Andy belt out the fabulously kitschy "so hoop-de-do and dickory-dock and don't forget to hang up your sock" of his signature "Happy Holiday/It's the Holiday Season."

For me, Christmas began yesterday. December 9 was admittedly a little late to be getting things started. As if to make up for all those wasted days, I belted out each song with added gusto, all the while naively thinking I had a pretty good voice, as most people probably do when their own untrained chords are masked by the recordings of professionals.

So, what's my favorite Andy song? I have to go with the aforementioned "Happy Holiday/It's the Holiday Season." But I also enjoy Andy's more well-known "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." (Remember when it was featured in that back-to-school Staples commercial a few years back? The one where the dad is joyfully flinging highlighters and notebooks into a shopping cart while his kids look on glumly?) Fab though the song is though, one line has always perturbed me: "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago." What's with the ghost stories? Are they sitting around a campfire or something? In the snow? It's Christmas, not Halloween. (I realize that Andy isn't to blame for this gaffe, as he didn't write the lyrics. That honor goes to Eddie Pola and George Wyla. Or at least it does according to or whatever search engine I queried.)

Scary ghost stories or not, hearing Andy Williams's Christmas carols again has inspired me to get on with the season already, to hang those last ornaments and buy those last gifts and forget all about life's daily hiccups to embrace the magic of the season.

Thanks, Andy. I know it wasn't easy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Treasury Time Again!

It's probably no surprise that I'm a fan of colored Christmas lights. When I was a kid, I'd ask my mom if we could have them on the tree, and even though she was a more traditional, team white lights kind of person, she humored me once or twice. Anyhoo, My Winged Soul seems to have a yen for colored lights too, because she devoted a whole treasury to them. One of the featured items is my Light it Up Christmas Gift Card Holder. Here's the link if you're interested in clicking through.*

*Treasury deactivated.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"The crows seemed to be calling his name, though Caw."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Channel Your Inner Cookie Monster With This Christmas Munchies Treasury Featuring My Tiny Blue Cookies and Milk Tote

Tiny Blue Cookies and Milk Tote

Whenever someone puts one of my pieces in a treasury, I always get that aw-someone-out-there-found-me feeling. (Don't laugh; if you're a fellow Etsian, then you know you get it too.) Anyway, I clicked through all the selections in an effort to boost this treasury's chances of appearing on Etsy's front page, as per usual. Here's the link if you're interested in doing the same.*

*Treasury deactivated.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Something New and Sparkly: Neck Candy Corsages!

Always Room for JELL-O Necklace

Hot for Dots Necklace

I took a detour from the world of fabulous felt (you may remember that I was slated to whip up some fluffy felt cupcakes) to explore the kingdom of cardboard. I have this plastic box overflowing with candy wrappers and empty snack boxes on a shelf in my craft room (casualties of an abandoned decoupage project) and thought, hey, why not use some of this stuff in my necklaces? I started with gelatin and gumdrops, two of my favorite desserts in both color and flavor, and am really excited about how they turned out. I think I may even wear the Hot for Dots one tomorrow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Movie Moment: (Diagnosing) Love and Other Drugs

When I first saw the trailers for Love and Other Drugs, I thought, oh, another romance to put on my must-see list. Identifying a new flick as a romance or a comedy prevents me from being disappointed. But it doesn't leave a lot of room for surprises, either.

Then I saw Chelsea Handler interview Anne Hathaway about Love and Other Drugs and found out that Anne's character has stage one Parkinson's disease. That threw me (although in retrospect I should've realized she had an illness, given the movie's title). I thought, this could go one of two ways. It can be one of those movies about a guy in love with a sick girl. Or, it can be really good.

Let's just say I was surprised.

Anne Hathaway shines as Maggie, an unflinchingly honest artist who challenges Pfizer drug salesman Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal), a playboy and chronic failure, at every step in their relationship, beginning at their first meeting in a Pittsburgh hospital exam room. (He catches a glimpse of her breast; she beats him over the head with her handbag, then snaps a Polaroid of him for an art project.) But they meet for coffee anyway, during the course of which Maggie erupts into a speech about why she, the woman, is supposed to reject Jamie's advances, all the while indicating that she does want to sleep with him via nonverbal cues. A little flummoxed but ultimately relieved, Jamie suggests that they just get on with it, which they do in the first of many unabashedly realistic sex scenes.

They talk. They fight. They have more sex. Before either of them knows what's happening, they fall in love.

We aren't always reminded of Maggie's condition. But sometimes (unrealistically timed with critical plot points, as one critic put it) we see her fingers trembling. I disagree with that critic, though. I think the trembling is selectively shown to signal that Maggie's spirit isn't bound by her Parkinson's. To me, the post powerful scene in the movie takes place when Jamie comes home during one of Maggie's particularly bad episodes. Maggie pours herself a generous drink and tells him about her terrible day, how the pharmacy was closed, even how she almost went home with a guy from the clinic. She doesn't look like herself either, a point she cuttingly mentions to Jamie in an attempt to scare him off. She's screaming, raging, utterly transformed from the charmingly awkward Anne we got to know in The Princess Diaries. Jamie leaves, only to return moments later after hearing her melt into hysterics over a dropped bottle. What makes this scene so heartbreaking is that we are as unprepared for it as Maggie and Jamie are, having been swept up along with them by their budding relationship.

Jamie lands Pfizer's coveted Viagra account, launching his career into the stratosphere. He takes Maggie to a pharmaceutical convention in Chicago, where someone notices her tremors and tells her about a Parkinson's convention across the street, where she can find out "what's really going on." She goes, connects with people who are going through everything she is, and texts Jamie to join her. He does, only to be waylaid by a man whose wife is a stage four sufferer. He unburdens himself about having to dress her and clean up her shit and tells Jamie to find himself a healthy girl. Then, as if stricken by his own honesty, he apologizes and walks away. You can tell that Jamie is troubled . . . and that he doesn't want to be. So, instead of distancing himself from Maggie and the inevitable crumbling of their relationship (as we suspect he is tempted to), he goes into overdrive trying to help her, dragging her to hospitals all over the country in search of better treatments. Maggie eventually snaps, declaring that he gets credit for his good guy act, but that it's over because she'd rather live her life then spend it hunting for a nonexistent cure.

They break up.

Jamie's career is better than ever. He beds industry bimbos and gets a promotion that requires him to move to Chicago. Then he runs into Maggie, who's on a date. And he realizes that everything in his life is wrong.

Fast forward to him speeding alongside her senior citizen-filled Canada-bound bus. So what if it's reminiscent of those cliched eleventh-hour airport movie scenes; everything comes into focus when he sticks his head out the window and calls out to her. The bus pulls over. She says she doesn't want to need him more than he needs her, but he says it's okay. Then we see them back in her loft in Pittsburgh and learn that Jamie's dropped out of the pharma rat race to return to medical school. Some may say it's a schmaltzy ending (such as the raucously laughing women sitting behind me who cackled, "'We're laughing and she's [yours truly] crying; what must she think of us?"), but I think it was perfect. Maggie didn't die and she didn't get better, and that's what made it realistic. Jamie's commitment to her proved that he wasn't a failure when it really counted, and that's what gave it its heart.

Well done.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Report: (Untangling) Sleeping Arrangements With Madeleine Wickham

It was with sheer pleasure that I delved into Sleeping Arrangements, by Madeleine Wickham, some weeks ago. The nice thing about reading familiar authors is that you always know what you're getting. True to form, Wickham delivered the beyond skin deep chick lit for which she is known, eschewing the cliched and predictable characters that often populate such fiction in favor of those that are multi-dimensional and sympathetic.

The premise of Sleeping Arrangements is that two families are invited to vacation at a mutual friend's villa at the same time without knowing it - and without knowing that some of them know each other. Chloe and Philip are unmarried and have two boys. Chloe's an artist-slash-dressmaker, and Philip is a banker in danger of losing his job. Hugh and Amanda are married with two girls. Hugh is a wealthy businessman, and Amanda is a stay-at-home mom. The story is set in exotic Spain, the ideal backdrop for the undoing of a group of straitlaced Brits. As one might predict, Hugh and Chloe have a romantic past, and despite their old hurts and hatreds, they end up in bed again. For added drama, Hugh turns out to be the head of the company that's responsible for Philip's imminent layoff.

A stock storyline would have Philip and Amanda cast as horrible people, making it all too easy for Hugh and Chloe to break ties with their current lives and pick up where they left off. Not so here. Wickham reveals the good and bad in each character, rendering each as realistic and worthy of the reader's concern. For example, Amanda is prickly and uptight, but she is also wholeheartedly devoted to her children. Philip is moody and distant due to his job situation but is a kind partner and involved father. Chloe is introduced as sweet and down-to-earth but is shown to be selfish and disloyal when she reunites with Hugh. Hugh is the classic workaholic, too wrapped up in his career to make time for his family. Of all the characters, he's the least complicated. But his affair with Chloe serves to change him as well, giving him a glimpse of what his life would be like without his wife and daughters.

A series of events reveals that the families' mutual friend, Gerard, double-booked the families on purpose. He was aware of the connection between Hugh and Philip and was amused by the idea of them vacationing together. But he did not know about Hugh and Chloe, a fact that is revealed only after they get together. The knowledge shames them, preventing them from blaming Gerard and forcing them to take responsibility for their own actions. They end up returning to their respective partners, ultimately realizing that they are just as different from each other as they were fifteen years ago, and therefore, incompatible.

Sleeping Arrangements presents a tale of order that deteriorates into chaos, facilitated by the marionette strings of a practical joker, only to have order restored at the end. It's a quick yet engaging read, and fans of chick lit (oh, how it pains me to use that descriptor) will enjoy it. I myself will most likely be moving on to The Gatecrasher, another Wickham yarn.

One Fried Cheeseburger, Please

The bf graciously took this shot of my fried cheeseburger with his cell phone. I apologize for the graininess that remains despite my most valiant photo editing efforts.

The bf and I were out to dinner with my parents last night, and when it was my turn to order, I still wasn't sure what I wanted. Feeling the pressure, I blurted out, "I'll have the fried cheeseburger, please," relying upon the sole menu offering that both intrigued and repelled me enough to stick out in my mind.

Now, to be clear, the burger itself wasn't fried, just the hunk of provolone cheese on top. (See that huge, gravy-covered thing that looks like a breaded chicken breast? That's the cheese.) The sandwich also boasted mushrooms, although I couldn't taste them, drowned out as they were by the meat and provolone.

In the end, I cut the burger down the middle and gave half to the bf -- no easy task, as gravy and cheese came cascading down onto my brand-new jeans. In return, he gave me half of his crabmeat-topped burger, which was admittedly better, partly because it was well-done, as mine should have been. (I have a distaste for even slightly pink hamburger and was guilty of whining, "Is this okay to eat?" several times during the meal. But that's another rant for another post.)

Was the fried cheeseburger all I'd hoped it would be? No, it was not. But I'm glad that I broadened my horizons by sampling it. Maybe at some point I'll muster the nerve to try a fried Twinkie.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Enter to Win a Necklace in The Tote Trove What I Gave Away Giveaway!

We've all been there. You're sorting through your closet, trying to get rid of things to make room for fresh new purchases. At first you're very careful, examining each garment and asking yourself all the crucial questions. "When's the last time I wore this?" "Does it still fit?" "Will that mustard stain ever come out?" But on your thirtieth piece or so, you start to get tired, and before you know it, you're indiscriminately tossing jeans, sweaters, and tees into a pile without a thought. It's weeks or even months later when you realize you desperately want to wear that blouse or belt you so cavalierly donated to the Salvation army.

My own most regrettable fashion castoff was a shiny purple faux leather handbag with a huge bow from Delia's. It was the perfect shade of bright amethyst, positively luminous against black skirts and jeans. I bought it the day I got my first real job. Not that it was expensive -- $25 at the most -- but it marked the advent of frivolous spending after a lean six months of job hunting.

Many of my most cherished erstwhile possessions boasted some degree of sparkle. So, in an admittedly illogical and somewhat gimmicky leap, I thought, why not donate a sparkly Tote Trove necklace to one lucky reader? The bauble in question is this never-before-posted Cool Mint Necklace. (Which, upon closer inspection, isn't all that sparkly. But what it lacks in flash it makes up for with a clean look that will appeal to more people than not. What other prize could be better?)

I created the Cool Mint Necklace by stringing glass beads and a round metal pendant along gold-tone wire. The necklace measures approximately 11.5" and closes with a lobster claw clasp. It makes a great stocking stuffer -- but would also be at home in your own jewelry box!

Entering the giveaway is simple. Just become a follower of this blog and leave a comment (with your email address) letting me know which fashion item you miss most. It can be a pair of loafers you ditched last week, your favorite plaid kilt from junior high, or a Cyndi Lauper wig you wore clubbing in the 1980s. Whatever it is, The Tote Trove wants to know about it! (If you're already a follower of this blog, then that's cool too. Just let me know in your comment.) Don't forget to include your email address, as this is how I'll contact the winner. The giveaway closes December 8 at midnight. I'll choose a winner at random and email him or her the next day.

Thanks for playing and good luck!

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"Probably the earliest fly swatters were nothing more than some sort of striking surface attached to the end of a long stick."