Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Prairie Gnome Companion: From Highbrow to Lowbrow and Every Hair in Between



Gnome Where You Want To Blossom Barrette Brooch

Tank: Marshalls
Cami: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Lily Star, Kohl's
Shoes: Chase & Chloe, Modcloth
Bag: Glamour Damaged, Etsy
Belt: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Michaels 




Sweater: Arizona Jeans, J. C. Penney's
Cami: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: H&M
Shoes: Payless
Bags: Charming Charlie
Belt: Candie's, Kohl's
Jacket: Decree, J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's




Dress: Ruby Rox, J. C. Penney's
Cami: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Call it Spring, J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: Michaels


Finally, I've gotten around to doing a post about the magic of mushrooms.  (No, not those mushrooms.)  You know.  The crayon box-colored, cartoonish kind often flanking smiling garden gnomes.  This week's pieces reflect the young-at-heart and enchanted spirit of these fanciful forest dwellers.  They make me think of Super Mario Brothers, Alice in Wonderland (although in that case the mushrooms were paired with a caterpillar as opposed to a gnome, one most certainly smoking something suspect), and the more imaginative photographs in my grade school science textbooks.  But this post is about none of those things.  It's about two women (characters, if we must), two mediums (books and movies), and two sets of dark, unruly eyebrows.  Such begins my compare and contrast of two stories I recently consumed, namely the now-classic French film Amelie and the memoir Unabrow by journalist and young adult fiction writer Una LaMarche.

We'll start with Unabrow (even if it does appear second in my list).  It was a gift from the husband, and I'd never heard of it, but as soon as I read the back cover, I knew that it was something I wanted to read.  Part coming-of-age saga, part feminist rant (which I mean in the very best way possible, being a regular espouser of rants) and part 1990s pop culture primer ("Melrose Place", "90210", "Friends", New Kids on the Block, and Salt n' Pepa references abound), LaMarche's memoir is edgy and funny as it follows one woman's quest for self acceptance -- and more manageable facial hair.   I like to think that one Una LaMarche (who is only two years older than I am) and I would have been fast friends had I grown up in Brooklyn instead of southern New Jersey.  But then, I'm sure most readers think that, which is a testament to LaMarche's craft.  She gamely reveals the kinds of memories experienced routinely by the precocious and geeky, one of which is her inexplicable crush on "A Prairie Home Companion's" Garrison Keillor.  Another is her collection of hand-written Christmas and birthday wish lists, one of which demands, "TROLLS!!!!! -- Big trolls, little trolls, every kind of troll!!!!!!  LOVE Trolls!!  I Want Lots!!!!" (122)  LaMarche moves easily from childhood embarrassments to teenage misadventures to awful first jobs to marriage to motherhood, and even, whimsically, to a segment on bathroom stall protocol, complete with diagrams (LaMarche subscribes to the get-in-and-get-out philosophy but not to the use of paper toilet seat covers).  Upon finishing this book, I promptly looked it, and LaMarche, up on Amazon, which led me to LaMarche's blog.  I can't tell you how weird it is to read a book and then be able to immediately communicate with its author, albeit via cyberspace.  It made me feel (just a wee bit) like a stalker.  Although I suppose an innocuous one-line comment expressing appreciation for indie bookstores and a bolo-wearing, dancing .gif of Paul Rudd doesn't necessarily scream restraining order (even if the image of Mr. Rudd getting jiggy with it only reinforced my hunch about LaMarche and I being kindred spirits).

As for Amelie, I bought it on clearance at Target years ago without ever having seen it and tore off the cellophane only last weekend.  My reluctance, I think, stemmed from the whole subtitle thing.  But I needn't have worried.  Amelie has enough brooding silences and wordless scenic shots that I could catch every line, even while crafting.  It's about (for anyone out there still scared of subtitles), a sensitive only child (Amelie, played by Audrey Tautou) raised by neurotic, over-protective parents.  Her father insists on home-schooling her because he believes she has a heart defect (she doesn't; it's only that her heart beats faster during the monthly medical exams that he, in his hyper-paranoid way, insists on administering).  Her mom, who has a bit of OCD, is crushed by a suicide jumper coming out of church, ironically after having prayed for a second child.  So Amelie grows up alone with her father, stretching the limits of her considerable imagination and eventually getting an apartment of her own and a job as waitress.  Things are fine but not exciting.  Until one night when she discovers a box of tiny treasures hidden behind the wall of her bathroom.  Transfixed, she decides to track down its owner.  She finds him and is touched by his happiness in being reunited with his childhood mementos.  Her success inspires her to perform random acts of kindness for strangers, coworkers, an enigmatic young man, and even her own father.  He has always wanted to travel but didn't on account of Amelie's (imagined) heart defect, so Amelie sends his beloved gnome around the world and arranges for her father to receive pictures of his ceramic pal in exotic locales (a slice of cinema that lives on even to this day in Travelocity ads).  Before long, Amelie's world expands, and she forges a friendship with a housebound artist who challenges her to change her life as she's changed the lives of so many others.  In its shy, unassuming, and very French way, Amelie reminds us that we have the power to chart our own destinies, whatever the obstacles, and that happiness is always worth the risk.  

So, what do Una and Amelie have in common? Both are still-waters-run-deep sort of types, subversive beneath layers of seeming submission (unless I'm reading too much into both of them, which is entirely possible but somehow works for the purposes of this post).  Both are thin despite eating tons of bread and pasta.  Both are odd.  And both are just trying, despite all of this, to get what they want out of life.  So, how are they different? (Because, to be fair, I promised a compare and contrast.)  One is American, one is French (although even the American one has a French-sounding last name)  And that's about all I've got.  As arguments go, it's a little lopsided, but then this post is about finding common ground as opposed to dividing and conquering.

Much like the ground where our fungi friends grow and prosper.      

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Up, Oiseau? And the Power of O




Dress: Takeout, Macy's
Shoes: Madden Girl, Macy's
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Mudd, Kohl's




Dress: Kohl's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Xhilaration, Target
Hat: Modcloth
Sunglasses: Michaels




Dress: Xhilaration, Target
Cami: Worthington, JCPenney
Shoes: a.n.a, JCPenney
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Belt: Kohl's
Sunglasses: Michaels




Dress: JCPenney
Top: Liz Claiborne, Marshalls
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Xhilaration, Target
Scarf (belt): Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Mudd, Kohl's




Dress: Material Girl, Macy's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Belt: Kohl's
Sunglasses: Mudd, Kohl's

Oiseau is French for "bird," which is elegant and just a little bit silly, not unlike the winged one itself and especially these winged ones here.  I made one of these barrettes for myself years ago and, after finding more of the same bird ornaments, got inspired to make a whole flock.  To me, each is a kitschy, colorful Valentine's Day-meets-Easter accoutrement -- certainly better than a one-day bouquet or a bee in your bonnet!

If "oiseau" is a funny, foreign "o" word, then "Oprah" is one of sense and strength.  Now, I've never been an Oprah viewer, have never really thought about her much at all except as the talk show host who started a book club and gave people cars.  And so I didn't come upon her book, What I Know for Sure, on my own, but through someone who thought I needed it.  It's a collection of Oprah's reflections organized under the headings Joy, Resilience, Connection, Gratitude, Possibility, Awe, Clarity, and Power.  Although I was tempted to read it all in one sitting, I limited myself to one passage a day so that each one would resonate.  For Oprah, in all of her experience and plainspoken wisdom, conveys the simplicity and enormity of the human journey in a way that makes everyday problems seem silly.  Hearing life's lessons from an icon sometimes gives them more meaning -- at the same time making that icon sound like the guru next door.  (A guru, it turns out, who is sort of an introverted homebody.  Who knew?)  As you know, I'm often struck by books that are sassy, streetwise, and clever.  What I Know for Sure is none of those things -- it isn't even fiction.  In fact, it's exactly the kind of book that I would have once laughed at.  But as I get older, I realize that a good read isn't always one that sucks you into a fantasy world, that sometimes it's important to read something relevant to the world you're actually in.  It taught me to be more optimistic (there's another "o" word for you), no small feat for this chronic over-thinker.  

Because sometimes (scratch that, most times) thinking is overrated.  And that's what I know for sure. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bohemian Barbie Jumps for Joy



 Funky Feather Bunch Barrette

Dress: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Worthington, JCPenney
Bag: Gifted
Scarf: The Tote Trove, repurposed from We Love Colors
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: JCPenney




Sweater: Arizona Jeans, JCPenney
Jeans: Mudd, Kohl's
Shoes: Madden Girl, Macy's
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Jacket: Bisou Bisou, JCPenney
Sunglasses: JCPenney




Top: Bisou Bisou, JCPenney
Skirt: Lily Rose, Kohl's
Shoes: City Streets, JCPenney
Bag: Marshalls
Coat: Worthington, JCPenney
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's



 Sweet Treats Necklace

Sweater: Arizona Jeans, JCPenney
Jeans: Mudd, Kohl's
Shoes: Qupid, DSW
Bag: Bisou Bisou, JCPenney
Sunglasses: JCPenney

Bohemian Barbie is what I should call about seventy-five percent of my posts.  Aztec and animal prints, feathers, denim, and sun-ripened rainbows strung together by bright beads conspire to look like they tumbled out of the nearest caravan (and I don't mean the one made by Chevy).  Yet despite her plethora of personas, I can't say that I recall Barbie ever embodying this fashion flavor.  Maybe it's not glam enough, or maybe it's too political a style statement.  All I know is, if I were a kid I'd be delighted, right down to the inflatable cactus and tinsel-bright tumbleweed accessories that would accompany the fringed-caftan-draped blonde one camped out in the pink cardboard box.  I have faith in her and think she can rough it (see below, where she takes on the wilderness, albeit red carpet-ready).  Because we girls can do anything, right Barbie?


I like to think that Joy Mangano, the inspiration for David O. Russell's Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence, would agree.  In the beginning of the movie, we see young Joy crafting a white paper fantasy world, talking about her dream of one day making wonderful things for everyone everywhere.  Fast forward some twenty years later to a dead-end job, a divorce, a mortgage, and a crazy extended family living under her roof. To say the least, things haven't turned out the way Joy thought they would.  One day she seems to be at rock bottom, using an old-school mop to clean up some red wine her ex-husband spilled on the precious teak deck of her dad's (Robert de Niro's) girlfriend's (Isabella Rossellini's) sailboat.  She gets shards of glass in her hands -- but she also gets a brainstorm.  What if she'd been able to use a mop that she didn't need to wring out manually?  Now, I know that mops aren't all that exciting.  And I myself almost never use one.  But Joy's been through so much -- she's the poster child for the downtrodden woman -- and her austere yet sincere enthusiasm is nothing short of infectious.  (Besides, her plight did bring me back to the time I had to use a nasty old, non-self-ringing mop during my stint at the local CVS.  And rest assured, it was disgusting.)  So, I was amped for Joy and her revolutionary household helper. Re-energized by her idea, Joy holes up in her daughter's bedroom, using crayons to design the Miracle Mop, an uber-absorbent device made up of a lightweight plastic rod and a detachable head that can be tossed into the washing machine.  She builds a prototype and is off and running.  Sort of.  It becomes clear that Joy's journey will be anything but smooth as she embarks, Cinderella-style, on a fool's errand mission to sell her product despite endless obstacles from rival inventors, QVC executives (most notably a hard-nosed but open-minded Bradley Cooper), lawyers, and her own family.  Throughout it all, the mop emerges as an all-encompassing symbol, coming to mean second chances (getting a clean slate), class mobility (from scrubbing the floors to running the show), feminism (controlling the mop -- and indeed, the domestic messes -- that once controlled you) and yes, a little magic (cue those dancing broomsticks from Fantasia because by this time we're in need of some silly).  As a bonus, Susan Lucci appears as a big-haired fictional soap star seen through only the lens of Joy's mom's TV, and Melissa Rivers is an uncannily convincing Joan Rivers selling jewelry on QVC.  Still, at the heart of this film is the business of wonder, of the fine, intangible, insistent things that work to help you get it done.  It's a classic underdog, American dream kind of story, and Lawrence shines as the heroine who never stops kicking -- even if it means maybe risking her glass slipper.  

Who knows?  Maybe someday Mattel will come up with a Joy Mangano Barbie, complete with snazzy suit and pink -- no, rainbow -- glittery mop.  Put in your bids now, QVC.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Prep School Jewels and a Few Funny Flicks



 Mr. Mushroom Necklace

Sweater: So, Kohl's
Skirt: Marilyn Monroe, Macy's
Shoes: Christian Siriano for Payless
Bag: Marshalls
Jacket: Gap Outlet
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's



 Heart Hodgepodge Necklace

Sweater: Arizona Jeans, JCPenney
Skirt: Ellen Tracy, JCPenney
Shoes: Candie's, Kohl's
Bag: Bisou Bisou, JCPenney
Jacket: Gap Outlet
Sunglasses: Relic, Kohl's



 Hits the Spot Teapot Necklace

Sweater: Macy's
Skirt: Stoosh, Macy's
Shoes: Rocket Dog, DSW
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Jacket: Mossimo, Target
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: JCPenney



 Start My Heart Necklace

Dress: Macy's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Marshalls
Coat: Candie's, Kohl's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Nothing says back to school like a big old mess of plaid. Even if September is long gone and my Moon Dreamers lunchbox is decorating a landfill. Still, January is as good a time as any to "Schoolhouse Rock" your style (whether you're angling for the honor roll, a social security check, or something in between), especially in this, the first month (and post!) of the year. And few things say schoolgirl like hearts. You know. Dotting i's in passed notes and notebooks, dominating drugstore-issue valentines, and popping up on post-study sesh pendants.

Ah, pendants. And barrettes. And Koosh balls. And, at least before they were banned, those snappy neon slap bracelets. When I was a kid, I lived to spend my allowance on all this and more at Afterthoughts and Claire's Boutique. Truth be told, I still have some of it! (Not the slap bracelets, though; safety first, people.)

Which is just one of the reasons I so enjoyed the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler extravaganza Sisters, an homage to 1980s kitsch -- and house parties -- as told through the story of the sisters Ellis. Fey plays freewheeling beautician and single-mom Kate to Poehler's divorced do-gooder nurse Maura, and the results are hilarious. When we meet Fey, she's giving Chris Parnell a heinous eyebrow wax; when we meet Poehler, she's giving sunscreen to a hobo who turns out to be a construction worker. Yet they're forced to put aside their differences when they find out that their parents (Dianne Wiest and Josh Brolin, just like on CBS's "Life in Pieces"!) are -- sigh -- selling their childhood home. They promptly meet up in Orlando and embark upon an epic bedroom-cleaning sequence that highlights Kate's wild child and Maura's geek girl personas in an awesome outpouring of lava lamps, trolls, feather boas, headbands, scrunchies, colorblock sweatshirts, and, that star of all such montages, diaries. (Kate's chronicles X-rated escapades whereas Maura's recounts episodes in rock tumbling. Nuff said.) Like many a repressed heroine before her, Maura is desperate to, as she puts it, "let her freak flag fly," and Kate conspires to help her by throwing a kick-ass rager cleverly coined Ellis Island Revamped, where she can chat up nice guy neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz, a.k.a. kooky nurse Morgan on "The Mindy Project"). Never mind that a stuck-up couple (the wife's wardrobe is 70% dry clean only, a sure barometer of yuppie-dom if ever there was one) has already purchased the house. Kate will stay sober so Maura can party, and everything will be okay.

Which is how movies work out never.

Before long the Brady Bunch-esque Ellis homestead is overrun with high school friends and frenemies under the influence. So, comedians abound. Maya Rudolph! Bobby Moynihan! Rachel Dratch! Kate McKinnon! Samantha Bee! Things are said, stuff is defaced, and a ballerina music box ends up somewhere it shouldn't. Kate and Maura fight, then pick up the literal and metaphorical pieces in a way that avoids being sappy. Although their personalities are at odds with each other, they have a few of those simpatico bonding moments that happen only to siblings. Which is to say, underneath the layers of Aquanet and eyeliner, Sisters keeps it real.

That having been said, Sisters is something of a foil for Daddy's Home (Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg) which I saw a week before and feel compelled to bring up partly because 1) both are raucous comedies headlined by SNL powerhouses and 2) both feature John Cena, a hulk of a man that I didn't know existed until seeing him in Trainwreck (yet another raucous comedy costarring an SNL favorite). Both were good, delivering on the promise of holiday hijinks, but my takeaway was this: Daddy's Home had a more cohesive plot, but I learned more from Sisters. Probably because I'm a sister. As opposed to a daddy.

Who says comedies can't be deep?