Monday, August 31, 2020

Missed Connection Objection: From Wi-fi to Wifey

Imagine getting fired for checking your personal email seventy-five times a day.  One minute, you're on the partner track at your law firm, and the next you're chucking your laptop into the East River.  Well, that's what happens to Evie Rosen in Elyssa Friedland's novel Love and Miss Communication.  In addition to being ousted from her office, Evie makes an unpleasant discovery.  She learns that her commitment-phobe ex-boyfriend is married just six months after their breakup, a factoid she stumbles upon while on Facebook.  Evie is so traumatized by the havoc that social networking has wreaked on her professional and personal life that she vows to quit the Internet for a year.  Yet no Internet means no Monster, which makes finding a new job nearly impossible.  Luckily, Evie lands a temp gig as in-house counsel at the private high school where her best friend teaches.  Although grateful to have the work (and to be able to wear open-toed shoes!), Evie is just as uninspired as she was at her law firm, causing her to wonder if she's making the same mistake twice.  What's more, she's bitter about being single, and her friends, all of whom are married and have problems of their own, are beginning to lose patience with her.  But then her beloved grandmother Bette gets breast cancer, and she's forced to count her blessings.  Also, to become acquainted with the handsome surgeon devoted to Bette's care.  Unable to indulge her habit of Googling every man she meets (and no, that's not a euphemism), she has no choice but to get to know him the old fashioned way: by talking.  And she's surprised to find that she likes it.

"It was refreshing to learn something new about him directly -- a fact he chose to share, not something she discovered through covert research.  It was so much more satisfying watching his story unfurl like a blooming onion than to crack him open like a pinata." (231)

Fun, right?  I don't know about you, but I always appreciate a little Outback imagery.

Still, despite her progress, Evie finds that going off the grid has its cons.  Living the Luddite life means that she's out of the loop when it comes to her friends' get-togethers and major moments, threatening her already shaky relationships.  Also, she avoids using the Internet at work, instead getting a student to go online for her, a situation that blows up big time.  Nevertheless, being offline -- not to mention away from the corporate law rat race -- forces her to slow down and examine what she really wants, even if it's not what she expected. 

Love and Miss Communication is a joy to read because Friedland is a clever writer.  If I can get inside a character's head and come out feeling like I know her, then I count that book as worthwhile.  And if the book also has colorful descriptions and/or makes me laugh?  Well, there's not much more I can ask for.  Love and Miss Communication checks all those boxes.

Now, on to the important question.  Do I think it's a good idea to quit the Internet?  And more to the point, could I, like Evie, live sans Internet for a year?  Um, that would be a no.  Like TV, credit cards, carbs, and other polarizing things, the Internet's all in how you use it and is not in and of itself evil.  I, for one, am not about to renounce "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," my Discover cashback bonus points, or cinnamon raisin bread for an existence of silent nights eating kale while wearing last year's cold shoulder muumuu.  And that goes double for the World Wide Web.  Sure, I could probably wean myself off of Pinterest.  And Etsy wouldn't be a problem because, due to the quarantine, The Tote Trove is currently closed.  But going without this blog is a nonstarter.  There's something satisfying about publishing my thoughts each week, even if only a handful of people read them.  Even if nobody reads them.  I guess it's like that whole if a tree falls in a forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound thing.

I'm saying yes, it makes a sound.  For better or for worse, my sounds are my words.  Even if they fall with the whisper of a sapling instead of the thud of a redwood. 

Now, if only spam would stop being a ham like it's open mike night at The Inbox.  

Friday, August 28, 2020

Land Sakes, it's Land O'Lakes: Time for a Crustacean Vacation

Shoes: Nine West, Kohl's; Bag: Elizabeth and James, Kohl's

Whenever I hear the word "buttercup," I don't imagine a field of flowers.  I see a silver ramekin brimming with melted Land O'Lakes, a plump lobster glistening by its side.  Maybe that's why I plopped this pair of yellow pumps and matching bag on top of a tropical print place mat.  It's like my own sartorial-meets-gastronomical getaway, a tiki hut hideaway of indulgence tucked into my mind.    

If the top pic represents golden goodness, then the bottom one is seafood sans the sizzle.  And by sizzle I mean, of course, butter.  You know the sound it makes in the pan when you heat it up to fry a grilled cheese?  Well, that's what I hear in my tiki.  Because the ramekin is really a cauldron, a bubbling little crock of a pot running on rebellion and Sterno.  As for the unbuttered version, it's beautiful too, albeit restrained, like a too gourmet meal or an early bird special. 

That's why it's so fun to celebrate food and fashion, two of life's simple yet frivolous pleasures.  What would the daily grind be without their pop and sparkle?  All granola and gunnysack dresses, I guess.  So I make it my business to enjoy them.  Which means pass me the butter -- but make it the light kind, please.  Epicurean or not, I don't have a death wish.  As the song says, build me up buttercup, but don't break -- or, in this case, clog -- my heart. 

So, be bold, go for the gold, and follow the yellow brick road to your tiki.

And be sure to lock the door in case Dr. Oz comes a knocking.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pretty, Gritty, Wily, and Witty: A Damsel With Finesse

"You shouldn't wear such lovely outfits.  You make yourself a target."

"I don't change my style for anyone."  

So goes the exchange between Miss Meadows's neighbor and Miss Meadows in the Amazon original movie called -- what else? -- Miss Meadows.  The neighbor (Mary Kay Place) is concerned about Miss Meadows's (Katie Holmes) safety in their questionable neighborhood.  It's a pivotal scene, and it struck a chord with me, both in the context of the movie and in real life.  

Miss Meadows is an upbeat, beribboned substitute teacher who believes in good grammar and manners.  An unusual combination of sophisticated and childlike, she dresses like a doll and keeps an impeccable yard.  Instead of saying "good-bye" or "catch you later," she trills, "toot-a-loo."  She reads poetry while she walks down the street.  She takes her responsibility as an educator seriously, imparting to her students her passionate belief in treating others with kindness and respect.  Yet her love of fair play reaches much farther than her classroom door.  You see, Miss Meadows has a secret.  And that secret is that she's a vigilante.  (Vigilante, by the way, is one of my favorite words, both for the way it sounds and for what it means.  I like it so much that I used it in my last post to describe my lint trap.)  Intent on ridding the world of evil, Miss Meadows eliminates child molesters and murderers as if they're weeds in her garden.  The only person who knows about her alter ego is her mother, a prim woman (Jean Smart) who calmly advises her to rid her dresses of bloodstains with equal parts lemon juice and cold water.  Miss Meadows keeps to herself, so her secret seems safe.  That is, until she's stopped by the handsome town sheriff (James Badge Dale) while holding up traffic to rescue a frog.  The relationship that develops between them is offbeat, intense, and sweet, causing Miss Meadows's mask of mysteriousness to slowly melt.           

One of the reasons I like this movie is that it has a cute noir vibe not unlike the one in A Simple FavorIt's playful yet subversive, like a bouncy castle in a cemetery.  Furthermore, it's thought-provoking, raising countless questions: Is Miss Meadows a vigilante because she wants everything to be clean?  Or, does she want everything to be clean to absolve herself from what she does when she's a vigilante?  Is she a hero?  Or is she a villain?  Is hers a case of two wrongs not making a right?  Or a case of breaking the rules to do the right thing?  Does Miss Meadows's secret threaten what she has with the sheriff?  Or, are her demons -- and his -- the thing that draws them together?  And last but certainly not least, can a thirtysomething woman pull off Mary Janes?  

To say that Miss Meadows is fresh is an understatement.  It celebrates femininity in all of its frills even as it challenges the stereotype that femininity equals weakness.  It's dark -- I watched it alone, in the wee hours of the night, and I won't deny that some parts gave me the willies -- but it has a vulnerability mixed in with its steel, much like the roses and thorns that coexist in Miss Meadows's garden.  Yet it's the steel that prevails.  As Miss Meadows says to that well-meaning but clueless neighbor, she's not willing to change her appearance -- or, more importantly, who she is -- for anyone (not even a pedophile who snarls, "No offense, Miss Meadows, but you do tend to over accessorize.").  And that's something that I, and I think many women, understand.

That said, here I am in my yard in my girly best despite the possible dangers. 

Until next time . . . toot-a-loo.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Top Tops: Don't Sweat the Small Scrud

Left to right: Monteau, Marshalls; Violet & Claire, Marshalls; IZ Byer, Kohl's; Fifth Sun, Target; Jennifer Lopez Collection, Kohl's; ELLE, Kohl's 

I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity clothes enthusiast, but there's something special about a top.  Even that short-lived reboot of "The Odd Couple" recognized it.  I still remember Oscar's agent complimenting Teri Hatcher on her blouse, then saying something like, "Women love their tops."  And we do!  Especially in today's Zoom corporate culture when it's the only part of our outfits that people see.  It's certainly changed the way I look at my closet.  I used to build an ensemble around a skirt, a pair of shoes, or even a particularly rad pair of tights.  Now the top has to stand on its own, which means that I reach for the splashier ones more often.  I always wear them with a denim mini and my fuzzy slippers.  I've come to think of it as my uniform, and I really like it.

Still, wearing more clothes (clothes, that is, other than pjs) means washing more clothes.  Just as hanging at home means investigating domestic annoyances I'd usually ignore.  For example, for the last year or so, I've been noticing small, greenish-brown, plasticky pieces adhering to my freshly washed laundry.  They weren't stains because I was able to pick them off.  And for that I was grateful.  Nevertheless, the whole thing bothered me.  I mean, my clothes are like my kids.  And you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath -- or, in this case, laundry -- water.  Sometimes I'd toss everything back into the washer.  Yet at the end of each cycle, I again spied the offending debris.  I'd indulge in an eye roll but then move on.  Until recently.  After finding one remnant too many, I couldn't deny that I should get to the bottom of it.  My friend the Internet would have the answer, even if it was one I didn't like.

It turns out that my mystery marks are what is known as "scrud."  A combination of "soap" and "crud," the word scrud refers to a mixture of detergent residue and mildew that brews beneath your washing machine's drum.  When you run a cycle, the scrud sheet or roll or whatever breaks off into little pieces and lands on your clothes.  I was flummoxed.  The washer was supposed to get my clothes cleaner, not spray them with mold's answer to dandruff.  So, I went on Amazon, determined to find a scrud-buster.  I came up with a product called Affresh and ordered it.  All I had to do was drop a tablet in the washer and turn it on hot for the longest cycle.  The package said that I "might see residue" afterwards, but when I opened the lid, I was unprepared for the Pollack painting of strange, spinach-like strips clinging to the white spinny thing.  I was mesmerized yet disgusted, disgusted yet mesmerized.  Per the package (that dubious guide), if I had a particularly filthy and/or smelly machine, then I could run as many as four cycles.  I ignored that and used up the whole box, all the while hearing TLC's "Scrubs" on a loop in my head:  

"No, I don't want no scrub
A scrub is a guy that can't get no love from me
Hangin' out the passenger side
Of his best friend's ride (oh)
Trying to holla at me."

As TLC says, "a scrub is a guy who thinks he's fine."  Much like scrud, which tries to pass itself off as mere recycled soap.  Um, yeah, recycled soap scum -- and dirt.  Is pond scum copacetic because swans used to glide across its once pristine surface?  I think not.   

Anyway, I've (almost) made peace with the fact that scrud will be my unwelcome houseguest for awhile.  It'll dissipate after many cycles, the towels and other workaday items thankfully sanitized by the dryer's vigilante lint trap.  In the meantime, I'm resigned to picking the pieces off my drip dry dress clothes.  To that end, here's a happy band of ROYGBIV blouses (even if the blue one is clearly a tee shirt).  I'm proud to report that all are scrud free.  

If only I could say the same about my scalp and dandruff.  

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Tree Trim? No, Slim. Her Flaws are Her Ornaments.

It only comes but once a year, the snowball tree in bloom is here!  Every August, I eagerly wait for this tree to explode into a wealth of white flowers.  I have the perfect view of it from my kitchen window, so it makes for a nice distraction while I'm scraping chicken fat off of Pyrex.  I love how wayward and crazy it is, its blossoms sticking up from its crown like metal spokes on a broken umbrella.  A landscaper would probably say that I should prune it, but taming its tresses seems like a crime.  As does choosing between a simile and personification to describe it.  Who says that a tree can't be like a damaged rain deterrent and have unruly hair?

One thing that did need taming was this outfit.  I started out photographing it in the usual way, but the top wouldn't flush with the skirt, and the belts made it even wonkier.  So I mixed it up and mussed it up and ended up liking what I saw!  Sometimes taming the shrew means cooking a stew, a super juicy one that splashes the cabinets.       

Sugar Rush Gush Barrettes

Top: Wet Seal
Skirt: Amazon
Shoes: B.A.I.T., Zulily
Bag: Sugar Thrillz, Dolls Kill
Blue belt: Belt is Cool, Amazon
Bow belt: Candie's, Kohl's
Pink bangle: Don't Ask, Zulily
Purple bangle: Don't Ask, Zulily
Yellow bangle: Later Operator, Etsy
Mint bangle: Decree, JCPenney
Lime bracelet: Cloud Nine
Sunglasses: Mudd, Kohl's

Still, the necklace and barrettes that I made to go with it are simple.  Kind of like the coarse, crusty bread that you'd serve with your beef bourguignon.  Sometimes such accessories -- and indeed, such breads -- are the anchor in a broth of chaos.   

See, somehow, it all circles back to the kitchen and its magic, mirror-like window.  

Because when you live in quarantine, glimpsing a blue sky makes it seem all the bluer.  

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Vibe of the Vest, Punky Knows Best

Shoes: Steve Madden, Macy's; Bag: Worthington, JCPenney

Sugar Thrillz, Dolls Kill

Punky Brewster, funky rooster, what riches have you on your ranch?  Never mind that ranches are for horses, not chickens, and that the richest thing a rooster has is a strong fox in the hen house game.

Back in the day, some people used to call me Ms. Brewster.  And it wasn't even because I wore vests (I didn't).  The reference came about because of my colorful, collage-like aesthetic, which suggested that I just might still have a sticker book.  The first time it happened, I was a senior in high school, and it really annoyed me.  I was in a summer program sponsored by the Rotary Club (don't ask), and it came up in the newsletter, a sort of who's who superlative piece where other girls got to be compared to Natalie Portman (this being the year of Star Wars: Episode One) and Denise Richards.  I thought that my look was daring, maybe even a little subversive, so realizing that I reminded people of a character who pounded juice boxes was upsetting.  The next time I heard, "Hey, do you know who you look like?", it wasn't until I was thirty and at the dentist's office.  But by then I didn't mind as much.  In fact, I even kind of liked it.  Maybe with age I'd grown more comfortable with my kooky persona.  Either that or I was hoping that the hygienist would let me pick something out of the prize box.   

But life's like that, right?  You live and you learn and then you wear more outfits.  It's like my tee shirt in this first pic says: good vibes or goodbye.  (Not that you should always believe what you read.  I once knew a girl who had a patch on her backpack that said "mean people suck," and she was the meanest girl ever.)  This slightly snarky yet profound maxim may be having a moment, but its message is timeless.  To feel good, you have to stay positive.  Even when it's hard.  Especially when it's hard.  Which sometimes (scratch that, most of the time) means kicking not-so-positive stuff out of your life.  Or at least out of your head.  

Only then does it all become easy.  Well, easy-ish.

Now I'm proud to be called Punky.  She's a cheerful pop culture icon, and if I remind people of someone that crayon box bold, then so be it.  

Just as long as no one ever calls me Vicki from "Small Wonder."  I'm cool with the robot bit, but I don't do housework.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Limited Edition Magician

Dress: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's; Shoes: Naughty Monkey, Zulily; Bag: T-Shirt & Jeans, Zulily 

Okay, so maybe I can't pull a rabbit out of a hat or guess that your card was the king of clubs as you drink your slot machine win in the form of your umpteenth martini.  But I can turn an old necklace into something at least half as interesting as a limitless row of rainbow scarves.  I recently went through an old box of costume jewelry that my sister gave me.  And one of the things in it was this super long, super '90s necklace of our mom's from The Limited.  Even back then, I thought the name of that store was pretentious.  Limited what, exactly?  Overpriced, pleat-front khakis?  Anyway, I remember this necklace very clearly -- as clearly, some may say, as the acrylic emeralds dangling so artistically from its industrial chain.  I'd always thought it was super glam, but looking at it all these years later turned out to be anticlimactic.  For instance, where was the color?  Had decades of outfit curating and crafting desensitized me to the wonders of a vintage, albeit earth-tone bauble from an iconic-yet-now-defunct chain store?  Had I finally become -- gasp -- too pretentious for The Limited? 

Maybe.  In that ironic, hipster way of thinking that my own craft supply stash was superior to a business that once turned a profit.  Nevertheless, it was to that very supply stash I turned.  And what I found was this neon pink satin-by-which-of-course-I-mean-polyester ribbon.  It was just the thing to set off the neutral bronze, smoke, and champagne of those honkin' faux emeralds.  Because ribbons, it seems, are the way to rev any kind of dying engine.  

Maybe someday my niece will sort through a box of my old stuff, fish out a necklace, and find it wanting.  Maybe she'll think it's too colorful and proceed to hack away miles of candy-colored ribbon.  The point is that she'll be jazzed to make it her own.  As well as be mortified that she's related to someone who says things like "jazzed."  And that's great because -- brace yourself for an inspirational poster moment -- the real magic of any style/art/scavenging enterprise is in the creating. 

Which is lucky because it beats sawing a lady in half.