Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ghosts and Rings and Halloween Things: Haunted Spouses With Axes to Mind

This Halloween post is teeming with treats, the first of which is a ghost story.  It all started when I unpacked this Dale Tiffany Antiques Roadshow Collection mirror from Zulily featuring a fancy lady in a pensive yet defiant pose.  When the husband (who is a huge "Antiques Roadshow" fan) first saw it, he said, "It's cool.  But also kind of creepy."  I agreed, adding, "It's the eyes."  (You can't see them well here, but they're weird and white and seem to peer out of her faux ivory face knowingly.)  "Don't worry," I said.  "You won't have to look at her; she's going to live in my closet."  That's when I got the idea to write a slightly scary but mostly silly story.  What's more, our house, a white Dutch colonial straight out of The Amityville Horror, is the ideal setting.  

So without further ado, let's enter the troubled mind of Lousia Leigh Perkins (which is not, by the way, her real name.  I don't say this for her protection or mine, but because I don't want those Antiques Roadshow hotshots stealing credit.)

It felt strange being back in the house.  The last time I'd been there was 1927 when it had just been built and rose from the street like a tall, frosted pastry.  "Oh Louisa, I'm so glad you could come," Diana had said, her long, knotted pearls and bobbed hair like a gash against the prissy wallpaper.  "You're always so . . . theatrical in your hats and big dresses."  I bristled.  Although we'd been friends since we'd met at Miss Abby's Charm School when we were seven, Diana's comments about my old-fashioned style never failed to cut me.  "Poor Louisa," I'd overheard her say to her flapper friends.  "Stuck in the turn of the century in those frumpy getups.  It's no wonder Winthrop jilted her."  Although it was true that Winthrop had left me, my clothes had had nothing to do with it.  The culprit had been Diana.  He'd been bewitched by her cat's eyes and flirtatiousness, by the subtle yet bold way she slid her fingers across his arm.  I had been devastated when I found out, destroying Winthrop's entire collection of ships in a bottle with a single swipe of my parasol.  But what Diana didn't know was that things had changed.  Winthrop had come back to me.  Last night we met at our spot -- the gazebo -- and he said that he missed our evening strolls and how I always knew the names of the flowers.  Also, that he thought he was allergic to Diana's huge tailless cat, Bertha.  I even thought I saw him tear up a little, although I suppose that could have been the remnants of Bertha' s dander.  He said he planned to break the news to Diana at the end of the week before they had lunch with her mother.  That's when he would be mine again -- him and this glorious house.  So, when Diana asked me if I wanted to go upstairs to see her closet, I could afford to be gracious.  The stairs creaked as we climbed, and at the landing the cream and pink dressing room opened like a clam shell exploding with treasure.  Even the sight of all those short skirts and fringed dresses hanging in what should have been the guest bedroom couldn't dull my spirits.  And so I nodded as Diana droned on and pointed out her prized possessions.  "Father is sending my shoes up on Friday, and I'm going to display them here, first by height, then by color."  She indicated an alcove of shelves adjacent to the door to the terrace.  The terrace was above the sunroom, and it was my favorite part of the house.  I imagined sitting up there with Winthrop, discussing the gardens over tea and croissants at a wrought iron table as we watched the world parade by.  Diana saw me eyeing the door and smiled.  "Why don't we go out there?" she said.  Her smile turned smug, but just for a second.  Then she opened the door.  It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, crisp but sunny, the leaves gleaming bright gold and crimson.  I was lost in daydreams of what it would be like to be the mistress here, what it would be like to be Winthrop's wife.  I was picturing myself in a lace ivory gown with a full train when I felt someone push me.  "You'll never have him now," hissed Diana, "and you'll never live in this house."  After a brief struggle, I tumbled over the railing, my hat falling to the ground where my head would soon follow.  I tried to scream, but no sound came out, and within seconds I was plunged into darkness.  

That was ninety-one years ago.  From that moment on, I vowed that I would make it back here someday.  Oh, I couldn't return to haunt Diana and Winthrop once they got married, which they did a scarcely respectable month after my funeral.  I had to wait on account of some bureaucratic nonsense about re-entering the human world only after the elapse of ninety-plus years.  But although I couldn't terrorize my former best friend and fiance, I could watch their lives unfold, and it gave me no small amount of pleasure to watch Winthrop step out on Diana with the cook and laundress.  Now I'm back where I belong, even if I had to become part of this tacky mirror to get here.  As I said, it's strange -- but also exciting.  The new lady of the house says she's going to hang me in her closet -- no doubt the same spacious room where Diana used to showcase her ridiculous wardrobe.  This new woman -- Theresa, or maybe Tracy, her name is -- reminds me a little of her, what with her shopping mania and flashy taste.  It might be fun to mess with her, and throw her off her dress-up game.

And . . . we're back.  Thanks so much, Louisa.

Top: Bongo, Sears
Skirt: Merona, Target
Shoes: Delicious, Zulily
Bag: Nordstrom
Belt: Marshalls

Top: Bongo, Sears
Dress: Zulily
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Cat & Jack, Target
Belt: B Fabulous
Green bangle: B Fabulous
Yellow bangle: B Fabulous
Black and white bracelet: Mixit, JCPenney
Purple heart bracelet: Cloud Nine, Ocean City
Purple bracelet: Wet Seal

 Bright Black Necklace

Top: Material Girl, Macy's
Jeans: Vintage Threads, Target
Shoes: Betseyville, Macy's
Bag: Worthington, JCPenney
Bracelets: So, Kohl's

In happier hauntings, I've been wearing variations of these Halloween outfits this week.  Today it's the orange dress and black blouse combo, only I've added my Beetlejuice black and white striped blouse underneath to keep warm.  Yet the one piece that I've worn with everything is this ring:

You may recognize it as one of Samantha's PinkBopp originals, as I've been collecting them.  As always, it's a dollop of decoden deliciousness served up on a filigreed plate.  I love looking down throughout the day and seeing the whimsical witch, trick-or-treat bag, and hot heart pink heart perched prettily on my knuckle.

Also in keeping with the Halloween theme, I replaced Kermit's summer straw hat with a witchy version.

I was going to buy one, but the husband said that he'd rather make one from my stash of black felt.  (He was also the one who plunked Kermie down in this wine glass, which was hand painted by our realtor.)  I was impressed by the result, especially because structural design isn't my strong suit.  But the husband's handy like that.  And not just with mantel decor.  Check out his haunted graham cracker house.  The best part is the menacing tree.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear a thumping upstairs.  Louisa must be playing demolition derby with my coat racks again.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Black and White and Dead All Over: The Flavor of Fare Far from Simple

Top: POPSUGAR, Kohl's
Skirt: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Delicious, Zulily
Bag: J. C. Penney's
Belt: B Fabulous
Barrettes: The Tote Trove

Hi, bloggers!

I called upon this corny old joke to talk an itty bitty bit about newspapers and a lot about a book-turned-movie even though I saw the movie first.  Of all the old-timey, misogynistic sayings about women, I think the one about how real ladies appear in the newspaper only twice in their lives, once in their wedding announcement and once in their obituary, is the weirdest and most insulting.  Insert eye roll for anyone who believes that a woman's purpose in existing is snagging a husband -- until she stops existing at all and is shoved six feet under.  It's like saying that women who speak up are shameful, that women's stories don't deserve to be told.  Which is, of course, utter nonsense.  Making our presence known in the world -- whether it be through a tabloid or Twitter feed -- is essential to women's well-being.  Which is something I thought a great deal about while watching/reading A Simple Favor.    

A Simple Favor (by Darcy Bell) is not a feel-good book.  It's kind of a feel-bad book, and I wouldn't have read it at all if I hadn't seen and liked the movie (directed by Paul Feig).  This is the premise:  Uber sophisticated and cool Emily (Blake Lively) befriends quirky cute people-pleaser Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) through their five-year-old sons in their sleepy Connecticut suburb.  Emily is married to a gorgeous British dude (Henry Golding) and does PR for a fashion designer.  She's a seasoned rule-breaker, a Hitchcock blonde who's easily bored and refuses to have her picture taken.  Stephanie is a widow who blogs.  She's a do-gooder supermom who bakes gluten-free cookies and apologizes for everything, a habit that alpha dog Emily insists she break.  If they were characters from The Baby-Sitters Club, then Emily would be Stacey and Stephanie would be Mary Anne.  Their friendship deepens quickly, with each revealing secrets.  Then, one day, Emily doesn't pick up her son from Stephanie's house, and what started as a tongue-in-cheek Peyton Place-type tale veers off into "48 Hours" territory.

Stephanie's blog (vlog in the movie) is, in many ways, the core of the story.  Being a blogger, I found this interesting.  I always like to know why people blog and whom they blog for.  For Stephanie, her blog is her identity, a way for her to showcase her stay-at-home-mommy brand and combat her loneliness.  She shares parenting tips, healthy recipes, and handmade friendship bracelets, beginning every post with a cheery Hi, moms! and signing off with a Love, Stephanie, suggesting that she and her fellow moms are all in this parenting thing together.  Yet despite Stephanie's efforts, she has few followers.  It isn't until Emily vanishes and Stephanie begins investigating Emily's disappearance that her blog becomes popular.  Solidarity, it seems, isn't as intriguing as sordidness.  Stephanie crafts posts that let Emily know that she knows she's out there.  She does so through subtext disguised as earnest grief and soul-searching, her posts becoming an echo of that old Mark Twain chestnut about fiction being the truth inside the lie.  As a result, her blog becomes more honest.  In exposing Emily, she stops apologizing, transforming this story from one of a runaway friend to one about the things we say vs. the things we don't, about the lies we tell each other and the lies we tell ourselves.

As I said, the movie and book are different.  The movie is funny.  It has a ring of mean-girl (and in one case guy) moms who serve as a sort of Greek chorus of Stephanie's torment, providing the all-too-real elements of competitive parents and PTA cliques.  The dialogue is spiked with dark humor that slices the tension, which is handy once things escalate.  The book, although a page turner, is umitigated by mirth of any kind and settles, stone-like, in the psyche.  Sometimes it's a little too creepy.  Also, in the movie Stephanie is likable.  Sure, (SPOILER ALERT!) she has a questionable, Flowers in the Attic past.  But she's kind and vulnerable and well meaning, and I wanted her to come out of this mess okay.  So, when she starts getting wise to Emily's ways and plans to break free, it's satisfying.  In the book she's a lapdog who never gets a clue, an unwitting (albeit willing) pawn in a game beyond her comprehension.  To this end, the most dramatic  difference between the movie and the book is that the movie ends one way and the book ends another.  And as everyone knows, the ending is the most important part of any story because it delivers the message.  In this case, the message is mighty confusing, a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure vortex of forks in the road.  One ending tells us that good triumphs over evil and also that life is pretty hilarious, so why not laugh at it already?  The other says that evil can never be caught, that's there's no escape from -- and no laughing at -- someone who's a sociopath.  I think that the ending you like says a lot about how you see the world.  Or, more to the point, if you see it through the eyes of an Emily or a Stephanie.   

But that's enough heavy stuff for one post.  Thankfully, this Woven Wisdom Charm Necklace lightens even the most somber of moods.  My favorite thing about it is how eclectic it is, the bold striped gumball beads contrasting with the bright tapestry charms and baby owls.  With so much going on, it was tough to find a top that would be a good backdrop, but this red POPSUGAR tee made it, well, pop.  That said, maybe Woven Wisdom isn't as far removed from this post as it seems, being complex and contradictory. 

'Cause what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.

Sorry not sorry.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Fins vs. Skins: Hipsters Don't Lie

 Fantastic Flipper Necklace

Fairy Fish Tale Necklace

Top: Decree, JCPenney
Skirt: Marilyn Monroe, Macy's
Shoes: Worthington, JCPenney
Bag: Nordstrom
Scarf: A.C. Moore

Some years ago, I was at the Brigantine farmer's market with the husband, standing in line for mini doughnuts (just out of the fryer, they slid down this little metal chute that was the last word in cuteness), when I overheard a group of twentysomethings behind us talking.  They were extolling the virtues of salt water -- well, as much as anyone in a pork pie hat can extol anything -- saying how swimming in the ocean could clear up your skin.  As a lifelong acne sufferer, they had me at "clear."  So I was already listening when their conversation moved on to the market's offerings, one kid exclaiming, "Dude, they've got stuff here you never knew you wanted!"  I wanted to laugh -- or pull him aside and say, "Hey, I know where you can get some grade A JELL-O mold jewelry . . . "  But I did neither.  Instead, I enjoyed the silent, wise crack-rich commentary that only comes from eavesdropping.  And, of course, the not-so-silent part that came when the husband and I talked about it on the walk home.  

Still, it wasn't all fun and fried pastry.  Young Pork Pie was onto something when he alluded to the sea's peerless power.  Mysterious and bottomless, these waters wield a profound magic, the kind that has captivated sailors and storytellers for centuries.  Which is why I'm drawn to them and lived by them and made these here mermaidy necklaces.  (If Fantastic Flipper looks familiar, then that's because it's the fraternal twin of Whimsical Waters.)  Sparkly and blue, they're also ever-so-slightly old looking, which is just the right amount for wearable seaside souvenirs for people who've never left their couches.  

Finally, I can promise you that, unlike other stuff that comes from the ocean, no one has ever peed on these.

Not bad, huh?  Now if only they could get rid of pimples . . .       

Monday, October 15, 2018

Singapore Sling Bling: Make Mine a Mocktail

Yellow top: Marshalls
Orange top: Marshalls
Skirt: Boscov's
Shoes: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Bag: Charming Charlie

DISCLAIMER: Crazy Rich Asians is (mostly) about Chinese people. But it also has "Asians" in the title, and I've decided this means that it's okay to use both Chinese and Japanese terms in this post, putting them under the same cherry blossom-emblazoned parasol-slash-umbrella.  This does not mean that I think Chinese and Japanese people are the same, just that I'm desperate for wordplay any way I can get it.  Please do not send hate haikus.

Not too long ago, I finished reading the last two books in Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.  Kwan picks up where he left off with Nick and Rachel, pitting their tender love story against the flamboyant foil of Asia's most earnest connivers. So, this week's look blooms from that gaudy garden.  The floral pattern in the ruched and ruffled crop top reminds me of the kind you'd see on a kimono, and the orange blouse underneath adds a twist of -- wait for it -- mandarin.  Never one for subtlety, I tossed in a trio of Chinese takeout containers.  I've always loved the bold red designs on the crisp white backgrounds, even if I'm not so crazy about what comes inside.  Well, except for the pu pu platter with its tempting array of golden fried goodness. Cream cheese and crab in a wonton?  Yes, please.  (Although now that I think of it, the pu pu platter comes, not in a container, but in a foil-lined bag bearing the words "Delicious Chinese Food."  Still, they didn't have those on Amazon.  Also, the pu pu platter should be labeled "Delicious American Food Made to Look Like Chinese Food for People Whose Families are Sick of Pizza.").

Of course, shunning moo shu pork is blasphemy to the Singaporeans who inhabit Kwan's universe.  These people are foodies of the first order, downing street fare delicacies as enthusiastically as they gobble up Gucci purses.  Which is fun to read even for someone with my pedestrian palate.  The desserts, for example, sound as delicious as they do beautiful, like those trendy kawaii squishies come to life:

But even the food doesn't hold a hibachi flame to the fashion.  China Rich Girlfriend introduces a new character, Mainland China darling Colette, whose wardrobe blows everyone else's out of the Yangtze.  This girl acquires couture clothes the way I pick up tee shirts in Target.  What's more, she's friends with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the outrageously and adorably harajuku-styled singer whom I know all about thanks to Pinterest.  Her lifestyle -- and style -- are the stuff of fantasy, as colorfully cute as anime or an umbrella drink.

Yet as envious as I was of Colette's stash of stuff, my favorite character is Nick's cousin Astrid.  She sets the trends instead of following them, a fashionista with a heart of gold who embodies not just glamour, but grace.  Which is refreshing, as so many well-heeled heroines turn out to be villains (hint hint).  Also, I love the name Astrid.  A Scandinavian moniker meaning strength and beauty, it conjures images of fiery asteroids juxtaposed with deceptively delicate-looking asters, making it spot-on symbolic for this (almost) leading lady.

Crazy Rich Asians, for all of its flash and fast talk, is about good people amidst the evils of excess.  While others finagle their way to the top of the fabled Forbes World's Billionaires list and plot to get richer through the time-honored sport of will stalking, Nick, Rachel, and Astrid remain firmly grounded.  This is the heart of Kwan's message, I think. That the quest for status is futile, that all we have is here and now and each other.

So wise, that Kevin.  Just like a fortune in your post-pu pu cookie. Speaking of which, here's one the husband got recently:

"As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point your way."

We liked it so much that we put it in this dish in our dining room. 

Needless to say, Kwan's creeps are snagged by many a splinter. Well done, karma.

Which is from India, I know.  But still Asia.  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Red Barn Yarn: Sevens to Betsey and Then Some

Dress: Xhilaration, Target
Shoes: Chase & Chloe, Zulily
Bag: Fred Flare
Purse Charm: Carole, J. C. Penney's
Belt: Belt is Cool, Amazon
Sunglasses: Relic, Kohl's

In general, I'm not big on big brand names.  But I do love a good Betsey bag.  By bargain hunting and being lucky enough to receive many as gifts over the years, I've amassed quite a collection.  Now I have, not seven, but twenty-two (even if one is a lunch bag).  So, I thought it'd be fun to round them all up for a photo shoot.  (My apologies to the shoe montages of yore; I know it's tough, but try not to be jelly.  Unless, of course, you are jellies, in which case, get out here, I've been looking for you!)  

It's hard to say which bag is my favorite, but if pressed, then I'd have to go with the (smaller) rainbow, followed by the roller skate and mushroom.  Curiously, I get the most use out of the pretzel.  The brown makes for a nice neutral.

But we're not spending this entire post in handbag heaven.  Instead, we're floating on over to another kind of great hereafter with Fannie Flagg's The Whole Town's Talking.

The Whole Town's Talking is the last in Flagg's Elmwood Springs series.  Set in a fictional small town in Missouri, the Springs stories are folksy and familiar and center around ordinary people who learn extraordinary things.  Flagg begins her narrative in the late 1800s when dairy farmer Lordor Nordstrom founds the then fledgling Swede Town.  Although Lordor is an innovator, he's shy and self-deprecating, and the new settlement doesn't offer many options in the way of a wife.  So he takes out an ad in the paper and meets the beautiful and gentle Katrina.  The two engage in a short courtship and, after a few sweet rom com-worthy mishaps, become man and wife.  Flagg goes on to chronicle the growth of the Nordstroms' dairy, the metamorphosis from Swede Town into Elmwood Springs, and the lives of the Nordstroms' descendants as well as the descendants of their neighbors.  The most endearing character is Aunt Elner.  A woman who doesn't worry about anything, she spreads hospitality like sunshine -- and keeps a can of pet worms on her coffee table.  (For the record, I'm no Aunt Elner.  I'm more like her neurotic niece Norma.  And not just because I'm skeeved out by worms, but because I worry about everything.)  Flagg shows us how Elmwood Springs reaches its heyday in the 1950s only to surrender to the sprawl of suburbia like so many other towns by 2020.

Yet the one thing that links Elmwood Springs and its inhabitants from generation to generation is its cemetery.  As people pass away, we get to see where they go when they die.  I know, I know.  It sounds morbid.  And it is.  At least a little.  In this way, it sort of reminds me of "Our Town," which is my favorite play.  But, like "Our Town," it's not just bittersweet -- it's thought provoking.  Because no matter what your own ideas about the afterlife, you can't help but compare them to Flagg's version and wonder who's got it right.  Which is a little comforting and a little scary.  When I said as much to the husband, he said, "Oh Tracy, it's just a story, one person's interpretation of things."  Which is true.  But it still sort of puts it all out there, opening a Pandora's box of possibilities -- and questions.

That said, The Whole Town's Talking is also warm and funny, a real crazy quilt of heartland characters.  (And yes, I know that I've used the crazy quilt metaphor before, but like all quilts, I like it, as its fluff keeps me and my prose cozy.)  There are several mentions of barns in it, too, which struck my fancy and led me to make this Fabulous Felt Red Barn Barrette.  I like barns because they remind me of Red Door perfume, which reminds me of my late grandmother, who wore it and called it Barn Door.  Now I wear it too, and I always save the pretty glass bottles.

My grandmother is on my mind more than usual because her birthday is this week.  Here's a picture of her when she was young:

Isn't she beautiful?  I especially love her hat.

Before I leave you, here's a shot of a dew-dappled elephant ear.

Because if the whole town's talking, then there'd better be someone -- or something -- down here listening.