Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Green Queen: Mistress Marilla

I've always been suspicious of prequels, sequels, and alternate versions of classic books written by people other than the original authors.  It's why I passed on the not-Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett and the not-Daphne du Maurier's Mrs. de Winter.  Although I do recall watching the Scarlett miniseries on TV as a kid with my mom and sister.  Remember network miniseries?  And Sunday night movies?  If not, then picture a Lifetime movie airing on CBS every Sunday after "Murder, She Wrote."  Oh, '80s and '90s, you made cheesy melodrama worth staying up for.  Even if that cheese, much like its lactose-laden inspiration, gave us nightmares.  (If my mother is reading this, then I feel honor-bound to say that not one of those soaps stirred up bad dreams.  That was just a bit of hyperbole.  It takes more than a wedge of Gouda and Judith Light whaling on her husband to mess with my sleep.)

Yet despite -- or because of, I'm not quite sure which -- my eternal love for Anne of Green Gables, I gave Marilla of Green Gables a chance (which you probably saw coming a mile away, given the wide berth I gave Meg and Jo).  Written by Sarah McCoy instead of L.M. Montgomery, this prequel is Marilla Cuthbert's origin story.  Known to grown-up little girls and book lovers the world over, Marilla is the iconic, no-nonsense closet softie who gives Anne Shirley a home.  She's middle-aged when we meet her, a gray-haired spinster living with her bachelor brother on the family farm in Avonlea.  She's proper, she's stern, she's set in her ways, and she's downright disgruntled when the orphanage sends her a wisp of a girl instead of a strapping boy to work her farm.  At first.  But her kind heart lets the endearingly eccentric Anne stay, forging a bond that will change them forever.

Still, one can't help but wonder: Just how did Marilla end up alone in the first place?  Sarah McCoy explores this question, using it for the foundation for her irresistible novel.  She shows us Avonlea as it was forty years before Anne ever set foot there.  It's a more austere, pioneery sort of place than the fairy tale land we see through Anne's eyes.  But it honors the spirit of Montgomery's magic, its seemingly simple descriptions of small town life seeping into the soul.

Marilla of Green Gables starts in 1837 and ends in 1860.  At the start, thirteen-year-old Marilla is the daughter of modest, hardworking people.  Her older brother Matthew is painfully shy, and none of the Cuthberts are demonstrative.  But they love each other deeply even if they seldom say so.  Still, Marilla feels her reserve melt away when she starts spending time with handsome John Blythe.

"They sat together under a canopy of meadow grasses and a sky of spun sugar.  Marilla's heart still beat fast from the dance.  John's did too.  She felt the pulse in his fingertips.  From the magazines she'd read, she thought she'd feel embarrassed or ashamed to be holding a boy's hand.  The same way she felt holding the pages of the romance quarterlies.  But she didn't.  She only felt John: simple, solid, and true." (110)

Wait.  Hold up.  Blythe, do you say?  As in Gilbert Blythe, Anne Shirley's one true love and husband?  Yes!  Apparently, in Anne of Green Gables, Marilla tells Anne that people used to call John her beau.  But I'd forgotten that.  Not so for McCoy.  This brief but telling revelation sparked her need to write this book and get to the bottom of what happened between John and Marilla to cause Marilla to end up -- to use the term of the time --an old maid.  McCoy draws upon the themes of pride, duty, and the passage of time that influence the plots in so many of Montgomery's novels.  At times, McCoy's writing is so like Lucy Maude's it's as if the late author herself is writing through her.  One marked difference, though, is the prominence of historical events and -- but, of course -- feminism.  McCoy takes us on a sometimes somber journey that encompasses Canada's fight to split from Mother Britain as well as the American Civil War.  At one point, Marilla witnesses the public hanging of some "radicals" and is horrified by the way the onlookers laugh:

"They were too young to understand that life is ephemeral while death is permanent.  These weren't her children or children of Avonlea, and yet they pained her.  Like a tendon tethered to splintered bone." (198)

Marilla's own Aunt Izzy, a dressmaker in Charlottetown, offers her home as a safe house for runaway slaves.  Marilla is proud, reflecting that her aunt couldn't have made such a difference if she'd stayed in Avonlea and married a local boy as planned.  Instead, she uses her talent with needle and thread to offer refuge:

"Their costumes were their salvation, transformative as Cinderella on the night of the ball, and Izzy was their fairy godmother."  (238)

McCoy also examines what it means to be a wife and mother, and it isn't always as idyllic as the Avonlea of old would have us believe.  Poverty, farm chores, and mouths to feed conspire to create a life that is oftentimes drudgery.  Women are discouraged from speaking their minds, and many succumb to sickness and even death as a result of childbirth.  Still, Marilla of Green Gables needs to be told because it speaks its own truth and sets the stage for everything that comes after it.  If Marilla and John had married, then there would never have been an Anne or a Gilbert.  It's because they didn't that Anne and Gilbert come into the world, cross paths in Avonlea, and fall in love.  Which is the way it's supposed to be.  Like Marilla and John 2.0.  But not.  And that's the bittersweet part, I guess.

So, you see, I had no choice but to read Marilla of Green Gables.  Even if I eschewed Scarlett and Mrs. de Winter.  Because I'm a fool for an origin story.

And because I never loved Gone with the Wind or Rebecca the way that I've always I loved Anne.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Room of My Own: Part 2

If my closet is a tranquil retreat, then my craft room is a cave of chaos.  Just kidding.  It's pretty tranquil there, too.  I spend many a happy hour soaking in its colorful comfort, making stuff and watching TV.  This is what I look like when I'm at it:

Very different from my coiffed pics, I know.  The husband took the first and third outfit pics just this past week.  There was something kind of funny about changing out of my quarantine couture (i.e., pjs) into real clothes, makeup and all, then scrubbing my face and putting my pjs back on.  Funny and satisfying, like I had the best of both worlds.  And like I was putting something over on the world, too.  

Remember our pal Tammy Torso?  My true blue (and red and yellow and green . . .) outfit model?  Now that I photograph my outfits on the floor (and on myself), she's joined the ranks of the retired.  Which means that she gets to live a life of leisure next to my stock boxes, forever clad in two crinolines and an old crop top that never quite fit.    

No doubt about it, having a room (or two) of one's own is sweet.  That's why Cheryl is so upset when her she-shed burns down in that Allstate commercial.  I know that I'm super grateful for my rooms and all the peace they give me.    

Because every woman needs a place where she can hide out from the world for awhile.  

And also stash her mannequin.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ship Shape Escape: Family Feud Unglued

I was on Amazon when I found a book by an author I'd never heard of.  The book was The Floating Feldmans, the author was Elyssa Friedland, and it caught my eye because of its cover.  I liked the way the characters' faces peeked through the ship portals, my favorite being Mr. Man Bun.

So, I added it to my wish list, and my sister got it for me for Christmas.  Last week I finally tested its waters.  Which is a dramatic way to talk about diving into a book, but you never know with new authors.  Or new anything.  It's like that "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry takes Bania out to dinner (and lunch) in exchange for a suit and mocks Bania's always-annoying commentary.  That is, if you order your go-to meal, then you know it'll be good but the same.  If you order something new, then you get to have something different, but it might not be as good.  To quote Jerry verbatim, "it's a gamble."  And that's just how I felt before embarking on The Floating Feldmans.  Which is fitting, because the novel's about a cruise and cruises are all about food.  Also disease, not to put too fine a point on it in the current coronavirus climate.

Anyway, the Feldmans are complicated.  You've got overbearing mom Annette and distant dad David with two grown children: overachieving daughter Elise and slacker son Freddie (he of the man bun).  Elise has an overachieving daughter, Rachel, and slacker son, Darius, of her own.  She also has a nice-guy husband, Mitch, making for a neat parallel with her bro's trophy girlfriend, Natasha, who, is also -- you guessed it -- nice!  "Wait a minute," you may be thinking, "How can a slacker dude score such a babe?  Are things -- dun dun dun -- not what they seem?!"  To echo the sound of the ship's casino . . . jackpot!  This family has more secrets than a prostitute's diary, and they all come out on the Ocean Queen.  It's all hands on deck for domestic discord, with jaded cruise director Julian at the helm.  Friedland pulls out every cruise ship cliche, from the passengers duking it out over the soft serve machine to the dorky dad sandals to the overpriced offshore excursions.  And it's hilarious!  Really, the perfect fly-on-the-wall situation where you can soak up all of the laughs and none of the calories -- or ptomaine.  Here are some of my favorite parts:

"How Elise craved that soaring spike in adrenaline that shot pins and needles to her extremities and sent butterflies to her stomach.  She sighed and looked back at her cart, fighting off the urge to calculate.  The total couldn't be much.  She had tossed in maybe eight or nine hardcovers at most, three frozen cakes, a few packages of T-shirts for Darius, and a bunch of sports bras she'd need now that she'd signed up for Class Pass." (11).

Yes, Elise's shameful secret is that she's a shopaholic.  Like Rebecca Bloomwood, but not as much fun and without the rich husband (Elise's better half is a journalist; need I say more?).  One of her more unfortunate splurges is family sweatshirts plastered with Annette's (rather angry) face, which she got on -- wait for it -- Etsy.

Still, all roads lead back to that other over-indulgers' paradise, namely the buffet:

"On average, passengers aboard the Ocean Queen consumed six thousand calories per day, sitting down to no less than five full meals.  The midmorning "snack" consisted of pastries, a full salad bar, and a taco station.  Afternoon tea was the least dainty meal Julian had ever laid eyes on.  Instead of finger sandwiches and bite-sized lemon tarts, the kitchen staff put out twelve-foot loaves of streusel from which the guests could hack off as much as they liked.  And, as far as Julian could tell, they liked a lot of streusel." (2)

"A middle-aged woman wearing a sweatshirt that said I Have No Cruise Control shouted, "Where's my free pizza?  I was told there would be free pizza." (134)

This book is zany.  But it's also a little dark and deep and gives you a look inside that cattiest of cliques: family.  Like the meanest of mean girls, the Feldmans manipulate one another and freeze each other out.  But unlike their middle school monster counterparts, they actually care about one another, a truth that surfaces like filet mignon from a sea of expired bologna.  And that's kind of comforting.  Because although families are never easy, they've always got your back.

Even if that back's wearing a day-glo sweatshirt emblazoned with the matriarch's mug.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Chandelier Cheer but Not Really; Also, Two Pastel Sweaters

Make no mistake.  The cheer is real.  It's the chandelier part that's in question.  And that's because only one pair of this post's earrings qualify for the ceiling decoration descriptor.

On a less glamorous note, the word "earring" reminds me of "earwig."  Which is a funny word that would be even funnier if it actually meant coiffure for the cartilage.

People talk about cartilage when they talk about ears, don't they?  I thought about that as I drew this ear.  I even outlined it in black Sharpie, no windows cracked.  Because when it comes to creating quality images, breathing is secondary.

You may recall that I don't wear earrings.  But I do enjoy making them.  I think that they're one of the daintiest yet most statement-making accessories that a woman can wear, and because of that they wield a lot of power.  Also, they detract from ear hair.

Charlie Plain Chain Earrings 

And now for something I will wear: this pair of necklaces and contrasting spring sweaters.  

Purple sweater: American Rag, Kohl's; Mint (although it looks white) sweater: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's

I call the pink necklace Piece Offering, and I don't call the other one anything.  One day when I'm doing something mundane like killing a spider, the right name might come to me.  Something like Erstwhile Earwig.

Turns out that wasn't a spider.   

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Room of My Own: Part 1


It was Virginia Woolf who said that every woman -- and more specifically every woman writer -- needs a room of her own.  To express herself, collect her thoughts, and escape from domesticity (i.e., dirty dishes and spit-up).  As a woman with lots of thoughts -- and things -- I went ahead and claimed not one but two spaces.

The first is my closet.  When I look at everything in it, I find it hard to believe that most of it was once crammed into the bedroom in my Brigantine rental.  Moving into my house was like learning to breathe.  For the first time, I could really spread out and embrace decorating.  Also, avoid getting black and blue marks every time I wanted to finagle access to a certain bag/pair of pumps/feather boa.  (Side note: I hate that something as fab as a feather boa is named after something as awful as a boa constrictor.)  Sometimes, I just stand in this room and look around as if I've never seen it. The world falls away, sealing me in my bubble.  I feel like Rapunzel. Minus the super-long hair and captivity.

Now, in my eighth day of coronavirus-inspired self-quarantine, I'm more grateful than ever for my sanctuary.  Although I've (happily) spent the last week in pajamas, it's nice to see my wardrobe waiting.

That said, stay tuned for the second installment of A Room of My Own -- and see what's behind door number two.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Butterflies and Botany and Beads You Can Eat Without Choking

 Boho Butterfly Necklace, Sparkly Saguaro Bracelet

Top: Mudd, Kohl's
Jeans: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's
Boots: Penny Loves Kenny, Amazon
Bags: Charming Charlie
Bangles: Iris Apfel for INC, Macy's

Butterflies are the best.  And botany isn't bad either.  Especially when it comes to cacti!  That said, on this first weekend of spring, I'm making the most of both in this Boho Butterfly Necklace and Sparkly Saguaro Bracelet.  I love the way their jewel tones look against my yellow tee.  You can't tell from the picture, but it's made of a waffle weave.  It brings me right back to the '90s, a.k.a. the decade when thermals-slash-long johns became cool.  Or maybe I should say cozy.

Speaking of which, the tee's color reminds me more of Kozy Shack tapioca (in sensibility if not exact shade) than a weighty carb at the breakfast buffet.

Maybe that's because I really like tapioca.  It's got those sweet, bead-like globes that burst on your tongue.  Like dessert caviar or unburned creme brulee.  It makes me think of school lunches (not mine, but someone's) and snack time at the senior center.

By the way, the lifespan of a monarch is measured in months, whereas the saguaro can live for one hundred and fifty years.  The monarch is delicate and fleeting; the saguaro is sturdy and steady.  We humans never know for sure which camp we fall into, or how much time we have left.  Not knowing puts things in perspective, reminding us to savor each second.  And each spoonful of pudding.

Long live your snack shack, big K.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

St. Pat's Brats

The best thing about St. Patrick's Day is the wearing of the green.  Even if, in this pic, I'm wearing the green that I wore last August.

The husband commemorated the day by drenching his pancakes in whiskey-infused maple syrup.  He said that it's what St. Patrick would've wanted.

I'm not into whiskey -- or, for that matter, maple syrup -- so I'm celebrating by photographing some green stuff in our house.




Gifted by Mama E. (the husband's name for my mother) 

The tchotchkes are mine; the plant is the husband's.  He's the one with the (insert laugh track) green thumb.  I'm better with plants that are plastic.

So, happy St. Pat's.  May the grass that you stand on be the grass that's always greener.

Even if it's just AstroTurf.  

Monday, March 16, 2020

Rainbow Swirl Summer: Revolution Ablution

 Trendy Tortoise Necklace

Top: Elizabeth and James, Kohl's
Skirt: Wild Fable, Target
Shoes: Worthington, JCPenney
Bag: Arizona Jeans, JCPenney
Neon stretch bracelets: Amrita Singh, Zulily
Royal blue bangle: So, Kohl's
Turquoise bangle: Burlington Coat Factory
Turquoise stretch bracelet: Cloud Nine, Ocean City
Pink flower bracelet: Belk's
Ring: PinkBopp, Etsy
Barrettes: The Tote Trove

Whenever I go to ShopRite, I always stop to look at the books.  They're at the end of the juice aisle, and as soon as I spy the Ocean Spray and V8 Splash, I feel a bubbling of anticipation.  Granted, most of the titles aren't interesting.  But just seeing the covers makes me happy, and there's usually one that I've been wanting to read.  Although I can get any of them cheaper on Amazon, tossing a paperback into my cart along with my Cheerios feels decadent.  Because books are soul Oreos.  Which is to say, one of life's simple pleasures. 

My latest grocery store score was Elin Hilderbrand's Summer of '69.  After buying it, I immediately abandoned the snooze of a book I was reading and dove right in.  

Like 99% of Hilderbrand's novels, Summer of '69 is set on Nantucket and features the familiar theme of family drama.  Only, this particular tale is tie-dyed with the turmoil of the times, touching upon civil rights, women's rights, the moon landing, and Vietnam.  Add a healthy dose of coming-of-age, broken hearts, and good old-fashioned kleptomania, and you've got a bestie for the next couple of days.  This time, the family is the Foley/Levins.  Kate is the mom, and her husband David is the lawyer who handled the case of hubby number one's suicide.  A dashing lieutenant who served in Korea, the first Mr. Kate was charismatic -- but also problematic.  David is his opposite: ordinary, unassuming, and steady.  He's also Jewish, which unnerves Kate's aristocratic mother.  Kate's offspring have their issues, too.  Big sister Blair is married to a troubled MIT professor and is enormous with his twins in Boston, wild child Kirby has defected to rival island Martha's Vineyard, and former high school football star Tiger has been drafted, leaving Jessie, who has just turned thirteen, all alone.  As if entering her teen years isn't tough enough, Jessie has the distinction of being David's daughter, setting her apart from her siblings.  A sensitive bookworm, Jessie reads Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl and suffers through tennis lessons at her grandmother's club.  It's the kind of summer that makes her a woman.  No, she doesn't lose her virginity -- she's only thirteen! -- but she does get her period.  And a boatload of wisdom. 

Although Jessie is, in many ways, the main character -- indeed, the glue that holds the Foley/Levins together -- Summer of '69 isn't just about her.  As always, Hilderbrand gets into her characters' heads with her time-honored technique of devoting whole sections to each one's point of view.  Which is ideal because I get to find out what everyone's thinking and feeling.  That's what makes novels great, after all, pulling back the curtain on characters' facing-the-world facades to show who they really are.  And in this case, the historical angle only heightens these revelations.  Hilderbrand wraps her story in all the music, fashion, and tension of the 1960s to paint a portrait of Americana.

Hoodie: Gifted, Tee: Candies, Kohl's

At one point, Kirby sends Jessie a tie-dyed Martha's Vineyard tee shirt with the hopes that she'll wear it to tennis and scandalize their grandmother.  In the not-quite spirit of that, I posted this pic of the tie-dyed hoodie that my parents brought me back from Newport, Rhode Island.  I love it.  Although the image of the dog is ironic, seeing as how I hate canines.

And that makes for a nice segue into today's crafts.  Although not tie-dyed, I present the neon-studded Trendy Tortoise Necklace and Kitsch Corner Earrings to you on a hippie-happy backdrop of tie-dyed sweatshirt and faux leather fringed bag.  The necklace was a Target clearance rack item, and the charms for the earrings were vintage bits I got when my sister cleaned out her craft room.  They look more '70s or '80s than '60s (they subtly scream disco fever, if subtly screaming is a thing), but I was drawn to their clean lines and aged cream enamel.  Anyway, as they say, time is an illusion, and fashion traverses it all.  It's an anchor in an uncertain ocean, a light on the long, dark road home.

Like a serving of chick lit amidst cardboard Kind bars.

At ShopRite, the granola bars are by the books too.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Six Feet Apart: Ham for Dinner

Yesterday, I went to the post office to mail a package to a customer.  When I approached the entrance, a man held the door open for me, smiled, and said, "Six feet apart."  I smiled back and thanked him, returning the gesture of grinning-and-bearing-it solidarity.  But on the inside I felt uneasy, and I think that he did too.  Because our little exchange confirmed the unthinkable: the threat of the coronavirus had gone from being something in the news to something at our local post office.  And that's when I knew that it would be my last trip there for awhile and that I'd (temporarily) close my Etsy shop.

The Tote Trove is a happy place, and I don't like to sully it with references to the gloomy things that go on in the world.  But I'm also committed to keeping it real.  And the coronavirus is as real as it gets.  So I'm taking precautions like everyone else, hunkering down in my house with my meager supply of price-gouged antibacterial gel and boxes of granola bars.  I'm going to read lots of books and watch lots of TV and make lots of things and keep on believing in the rainbow that will come after this rainstorm.

Because that package I was mailing?  It was my Fabulous Felt Ham Dinner Barrette, and it was going to a fellow New Jerseyian who had previously messaged me that it was "the best thing I’ve seen in a while."  When she bought it earlier this week, I was going through a tough time (non-coronavirus-related), and seeing that Etsy Transactions notification email in my inbox was like a sign.  That it's what I do at the Tote Trove that matters, my way of putting good out into the world.

That's why, despite these dark times, I choose to believe that the world will give that good back.

So please stay safe, sane, and healthy out there.  And keep an eye out for that rainbow.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Office Flowers are Always Open

T-Shirt & Jeans, Amazon

LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's

Betsey Johnson, Macy's

This post is about flowers and fruits and veggies and purses (see above carrot barrettes and veggie sweater.  For the record, fashion is the only way I let peas infiltrate my life).  It's also about my home office (a.k.a. the cactus room) where I write these posts, online shop, and pay bills with stamps like an old lady.  But you already knew that, right down to the stamps. 

Flowers make great metaphors.  Especially roses.  As in, "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" and "Every Rose Has its Thorn".  Even this week's episode of "The Unicorn" (a sitcom about a widower named Wade [Walton Goggins] that I once watched ironically but now genuinely like) had a game called rose and thorn in it.  In an effort to help Wade's seventh-grader daughter Grace open up, his friends Delia (Michaela Watkins) and Michelle (Maya Lynne Robinson) suggest this exercise in which each person shares one good thing that happened that week -- that's the rose -- and one bad thing -- yes, that's the thorn.  And although it didn't ultimately work out -- Delia and Michelle had to reminisce about their own middle school misadventures before Grace finally spilled about her boy troubles -- I found the idea appealing.  So here are some of my roses and thorns from this week.


I sold two brooches, one to someone in Arkansas and one to someone in Pennsylvania.

I got a box of free stuff from Kohl's.  No, they haven't decided to reward me for all the blogging I do about their products.  The loot was gratis because I had a "big fat check" from Rakuten and opted to upgrade it to a Kohl's gift card.  Which means it technically wasn't free because I had to spend a lot to get the cashback.  But it made me happy.  So, rose it is.


"This is Us" wasn't on.

My left thumbnail tore below the quick.  Ouch!

Playing rose and thorn is a good way to get stuff off your chest.  Or, even if you play it alone, a way to remain grateful.  For me, it comes in handy when life hands me something more seemingly insurmountable than a week without Jack Pearson's wisdom.  It reminds me to stay positive.  And open to the good stuff.

Like roses.  And '80s hair bands.