December 30, 2011

Late December Sun

Not to brag, but most years, Christmas is pretty spectacular here in Southern California. I know, I know, it doesn't look or feel anything like winter, or "Christmas", if you've grown up in other parts of the country.   (Remember, Irving Berlin was inspired to write "White Christmas" while in L.A.)  But I'm a native, so this is just par for the course.  On the afternoon of the 25th, we went down to the park and basketball court right near our house to soak up some of that sunshine.  The park and walkways were packed with parents and grandparents and kids: walking dogs, riding skateboard, trying out new toys. 

This year, Santa brought Tucker a "Green Machine."  Kinda like a Big Wheel, except that the hand steering & brakes let him "drift" and do spin-outs.  He is getting so big.  I admit to shedding a few tears a couple nights before Christmas.  He recently turned seven, and this will very likely be the last year he still confesses to believing in the Big Man. 

And don't even get me started on this one.  She woke up on Christmas Eve morning feeling grumpy and off.  All day long, my nine year old acted like she was fourteen.  "I don't know why I'm feeling so grumpy," she said later that evening.  Oh, my sweet girl: Welcome to my world. 
I'll be taking a little blogging break for the next week or so. I'll be back after the kids return to school, but for now, it's time to soak up the sunshine, the lazy days of another week (!) of winter break, and maybe a little road trip.  I'll see you on the other side...until then, Happy New Year!

December 27, 2011

Pink Socks and Black Veils

Over the last few weeks, I've slowly been making my way through Reading Lolita in Tehran. Subtitled A Memoir In Books, it recounts the author's days in the mid 1990s, when she hosted a small salon of female students in her home in Iran, to read and discuss major works of Western literature. It also goes further back in time, to when she was a newly hired professor at the University of Tehran, during the heated early days of the cultural revolution in the early 1980s.
Reading this book and its tales of students and scholars murdered in the name of change, of young women targeted and severely lashed for merely gathering together without men present, or for not wearing the black veil, is a strange and bracing tonic during our Western holiday season of excess.
Most heartbreaking is the way ordinary choices, and ordinary joys, are stripped from the young people, especially the young women. Here's a passage about a student, targeted and shamed for wearing pink socks:
Manna had once written about a pair of pink socks for which she was reprimanded by the Muslim Students' Association. When she complained to a favorite professor, he started teasing her about how she had already ensnared and trapped her man, Nima, and did not need pink socks to entrap him further.
[…] My generation complained of a loss, the void in our lives that was created when our past was stolen from us, making us exiles in our own country. Yet we had a past to compare with the present; we had memories and images of what had been taken away. But my girls spoke constantly of stolen kisses, films they had never seen and the wind they had never felt on their skin. This generation had no past. Their memory was a half-articulated desire, something they had never had. It was this lack, their sense of longing for the ordinary, taken-for-granted aspects of life, that gave their words a certain luminous quality akin to poetry.
I wonder if right now, at this moment, I were to turn to the people sitting next to me in this cafe in a country that is not Iran and talk to them about life in Tehran, how they would react. Would they condemn the tortures, the executions and the extreme acts of aggression? I think they would. But what about the acts of transgression on our ordinary lives, like the desire to wear pink socks?
But not all is bleak and hopeless in this work. That's mostly because Nafisi comes across as the talented professor of literature that she once was. Reading her discussions about the pleasures and lessons to be gained from Lolita, The Great Gatsby and Henry James puts me back in the classroom, reliving my own days as an eager English major. I miss that feeling, of being a student and feeling the charged joy of my favorite profs as they bounced on their feet and read aloud important passages. “Dig it, dig it, dig it, people!” my great old professor, Dr. Koons, used to exclaim back at Cal State Fullerton, as he read aloud a particular piece by Milton or Nabokov. I feel some of that same excitement and joy when Nafisi defends her favorites of the Western canon to stern, humorless officials and male students in the new Iran. 
She's also wonderful at defending and explaining just why literature is so important to the world, and to every culture. That said, its a slow read, and her situation remains rather bleak throughout – it's not a novel, it's fundamentally a history of Nafisi's own process of dealing with all the terrible changes in her formerly beloved country, and how she had to internalize so many horrors and make sense of them, both emotionally and intellectually. Still, there are many lovely moments that take on the basic love of language:
“We would take turns reading passages aloud, and words literally rose up in the air and descended upon us like a fine mist, touching all five senses. There was such a teasing, playful quality to their words, such joy in the power of language to delight and astonish. I kept wondering: when did we lose that quality, that ability to tease and make light of life through our poetry? At what precise moment was this lost? What we had now, this saccharine rhetoric, putrid and deceptive hyperbole, reeked too much of cheap rosewater.”
If nothing else, its a good reminder to relish all of my simple, most basic joys: the ability to go to a public library and choose what to read, to walk in the sunshine and feel its rays upon my bare skin, or to wear pink socks -- or how about no socks at all, and just my red painted toes?    I am dazzled with choices, every day.  Hopefully, wherever you are reading this, you have plenty of options, too.

December 20, 2011

Christmas Kitchen

Instead of showing you how I've changed up the front entry shelves for the season, I offer up my kitchen shelves, all decked out for the holidays.

Shelves: rhymes with elves, which is what I need.  A whole troop of little guys to help me finish up the wrapping and baking. Or I can be like my mom: stuff everything into gift bags with tissue paper, buy a pack of frosted cookies from the supermarket, and call it done.   Well, she is into her seventh decade.  She's earned the right to slough off a bit and kick back with her Kahlua and just admire the Christmas tree. 
Over here, I'm still down in the trenches with two little ones who get so excited when I bust out the flour and sugar and chocolate chips. They jostle each other for stirring and pouring rights; they stomp off and pout if they don't get their due share of baking fun.  Sibling rivalry at its finest, and I, the referee.  "Let her do the vanilla, and then you'll  get to add the cup of sugar."  "Okay, that's enough stirring, now give your brother a turn."  Ay ay ay. 
It's enough to make store bought cookies and a bottle of Kahlua seem like a fantastic idea.  Still, the stress is worth it in the end. And not just because I get to eat my home-made Mexican Wedding balls.   (I love my giant vintage tray up there. And it is GIANT.  Easily two feet around, it doesn't fit into any of our plastic storage tubs. I believe it's from the early '60s.) 
Apologies for the crappy quality of these shots. I'm no photographer, and it was a cloudy late morning when I took them.  I turned on all the lights, which is why it looks a little chilly and industrial.   It really feels much cozier in our kitchen, what with the flicker-bulb on my little bear with her hot cuppa, the oven set to 350, and the heated arguments over who gets to lick the spoon first.

December 16, 2011

Favorite Christmas Books

Over the years, I've picked up quite a few children's Christmas books.  (I also have some vintage Golden Books not included with the general stash, as they're a little fragile.)  I generally let the kids peruse them on their own, but try to make a point to read a few aloud each year. 
I like to remind my kids, especially Lily, who has read the Little House books multiple times, how blown away Laura and Mary were to receive tin cups, oranges, and some candy for Christmas.  Keeps things in perspective.  (At least that's what I like to tell myself.)
  This year, I again read aloud The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden.  Rumer Godden is an accomplished author, and like Kipling, was one of those British Colonial writers raised in India.  But her children's story, set in a snowy little English village, is one of my very favorite Christmas books.  I read it first as a child, and sometimes I get a little choked up reading it to my own children. 

Like the first line says, it is really a story about wishing: for a home, for family, for a place to belong. 
And how could we not own this one, with a Tucker of our own?
Yeah Santa Mouse, where are you?  I have my original copy of the first Santa Mouse book somewhere in the garage, but can't find it.  Both my husband and I grew up with Santa Mouse (his mom has a vintage, ragged little stuffed mouse, too).  Santa Mouse Where Are You? is the sequel, but it's not as cute as the original.
And let's not even get started on this one.  I bought it this year, but I'm not convinced it's destined to become "A Christmas Tradition"  in our house.  More like, "hey mom, remember the year we had that elf that you had to move around every night?"   (Confession: This week I woke with a start at 3am with the realization that I hadn't moved the elf.  There I went, out of my warm bed, bleary down the dark stairs, to move little "Nicky Jack" to another position.  Really?)

December 13, 2011

A Day at LACMA

To offset the several long, wordy posts I've had in a row, here's one long on images, much shorter on the verbiage.  On a weekend in late October, we drove out to L.A. to see the Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Lily, who'll be 10 in few months (!), is a big Burton fan.  She loves both his Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride,  and also watched Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands for the first time this year. (Oh, my little goth girl in training.)
The Burton exhibit was crowded and chock-full of his early scribblings and ideas, along with plenty of props and designs from all of his films.  I think Lily was inspired by how prolific and imaginative an artist he is, and how he's fearless in just being his own weird, quirky self.  I don't have any pictures to show you of the exhibit; there was a strict no-photo policy.  (Plenty of folks still took shots with their camera phones, but I was a good girl and followed the rules.)

However, housed in the same building was the California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way exhibit.  This was right up my alley: California history, movie lore, the agricultural industry, and textiles, pottery and furniture design were all part of this show.

Oh, Airstream: A girl can always dream. 
Swoon. Let's move away from the huge TV-screen trend, and back to huge stereo consoles.
This is a mock-up of the Eames' living room.  It was the only part of the exhibit you weren't supposed to photograph, but I didn't see the little sign posted until it was too late and a guard scolded me.  Oops.  So much for following the rules.
Outside, in a different section of the museum, was this installation with yellow tubes that all the kids were crazy about.  I thought it was pretty cool, until my husband pointed out that it seemed to be created from medical tubing, and then I was kinda icked out by the thing.
My little guy didn't mind one bit.  

December 9, 2011

Merry Christmas & The Family

Let me say upfront, this post will probably come across a little crankier than intended. I just want to complain discuss how blogs have influenced the holidays, at least the blogs that I read. If you're here (and aren't my husband) you very likely read and love many of the same design/lifestyle blogs that I do. And I do love them, but at Christmas, they make me feel a little stressed and (even more) unworthy and inadequate.

There's just so much emphasis about traditions, and making new ones, and special, meaningful decorations and hand-crafted advent calendars. The artfully hip family portraits, the images of baked goods and white twinkling lights as children tackle the messiest, most difficult crafts with supplies brought forth from well-stocked crafting rooms. The trendy gift guides for young and old, which never mention the big brands my family actually love, like "Nintendo" and "Pokemon" or "Nordstrom," (um, that would be me, on that last one). The holiday blogging scene, taken as a whole, is a bit...much, for me
My own home is pretty much all decorated now, with the exception of the tree, which we'll pick out later this weekend.  But my house is also messier than usual: boxes, bags, receipts, coupons and school fliers are invading almost every counter.  While I've pretty much got the shopping wrapped up, I haven't begun any actual wrapping. I haven't yet baked a single cookie, and there's been no crafting to speak of. My daughter was home sick for a couple of days this week though, and she was happy to sit at the kitchen table with a box of crayons and a Christmas-themed coloring book. Good enough.

Good enough. I do agree with the unspoken premise of the life-style bloggers, which is that Christmas is all about creating new memories and honoring old ones.  It's hard for me not to indulge in my own vivid nostalgia for those hazy days of the early-to-mid '70s, when I was just as wide-eyed and filled with anticipation as my own children. My birthday is exactly a week before Christmas, so the whole season seemed a time of gifts and cake and punch from the glass punchbowl that my mom ringed with candy canes. (To this day, nothing evokes the sensory memory of those holidays faster than the taste of thick red buttercream frosting, but its rare to experience an actual bakery-purchased cake these days.)

But most especially, Christmas meant family.  Surrounded by my close-knit mother's family, and even my dad's parents (divorced, but it was "complicated"), all hanging around at our little house.  We didn't have any other yearly tradition beyond that: just family.  A live tree, yes.  A Christmas "open house" that was often on my birthday weekend, so my parties were all really adult parties: cake and presents for me, then moving on to music, drinks and cigarettes for the adults.  There were no precious decorations brought forth and hung with any particular meaning.  There were just a couple of boxes from The Broadway department store, labeled "Christmas."  Each year, my mom hung not a wreath on the door, but a tree made from green melted plastic, similar to this one  (and it was awesome):
There was also a tabletop Santa made of folded and spray-painted copies of Readers Digests.
Whiskey-spiked eggnog, big green jugs of Gallo red wine, bean dip and Ruffle potato chips and massive glass ashtrays, overflowing with the detritus of conversations and off-color jokes. Johnny Mathis and Ray Coniff on the turntable.  A small girl weaving in and out between the legs of all the grown ups she loved, and who loved her the most.  Those are my own sweet Christmas memories. And it turns out, no matter how much effort or creativity I do or do not bring to the table, Christmas memories are being created in my own family. Year after year, the memories are piling up for my children, and the chance to make more of them, for as many years as possible, surrounded by as much of my family as we can still assemble, is all I really hope for. 

In that spirit, I bring you a song from great Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen, 
"Merry Christmas From the Family."  While my own family wasn't quite this uh, colorfully rural, it really is a celebration of family togetherness. And I'll take an overflowing sink of plastic cups and a run to the Stop N' Go for more booze over a fancy sit-down meal with a gleaming, creative tablescape any day. 

Last stanza of the song:
"Carve the turkey, turn the ball game on
It's Bloody Marys
Cause We All Want One!
Send somebody to the Stop 'N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow
A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of tampons, some Salem Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say cheese,
Merry Christmas from the Family."

December 6, 2011

Overnight in the 90210

So, in my last post I wrote about my love for road trip and day trips.  But I wasn't going to write about this particular overnight trip, because first, it took a long time for me to process, and second, after processing, it was clearly such an epic fail.  And it was all my fault.

In late September, I decided to spend the night away from home, all by myself, in Beverly Hills. Doesn't that sound lovely, all black and white like that on the screen? I was prompted to do this by the publication of the Design Sponge book, the book that sprang from the hugely popular blog of the same name.  The blog's creator and book author, Grace Bonney, would be in Beverly Hills, signing copies of her book at Anthropologie.  Listed out, it sounded perfect: Design Sponge,  book signing, Anthopologie! A chance to visit my native and beloved Los Angeles county! (To be fair, I grew up way east of the hip Westside area, but still.)   It all sounded like a great excuse to have a night away, a "just for me" 24 hours away from my usual role of wife-and-stay-at-home-mom.

Somehow, it all went wrong.  It felt wrong, and pointless. I wasted gas money, and the money for a nice hotel. When it was all over, I didn't feel rested or relaxed or any of those things that a break from routine is supposed to instill.  

It took nearly three hours to arrive at my hotel.  (It should've taken less than two, but I encountered an accident, and that slow-down put me near downtown L.A. at evening rush-hour.)   After checking into the Hyatt Regency in Century City, I had just enough time to freshen my make-up and check out the room, before leaving again for the book signing.

I got a little lost finding the Anthropologie, which was only 15 minutes away, but I don't know the area well. It was  dark, and there were plenty of one-way streets and wide TMZ tour buses to avoid.  I went too far north, crossed Santa Monica Blvd., and ended up in a neighborhood of jaw-dropping, palatial homes.  I was instantly pitched into that sickening house/neighborhood lust that I know is wrong, but feels so decadent to indulge in. Like a box of frosted, sprinkled, creme-filled donuts: Mmmmm. And then, ugh. 

At the Anthropolgie, I wandered around admiring all the cute boots and shoes on every single woman there.  (I was feeling pretty nifty myself, in my dark purple tights and grey ankle boots.)  I hadn't eaten lunch, it was dinner time, and I was starving. I took a free cupcake from the catered dessert bar, and stood in line to get my book signed.  I had absolutely nothing pithy or witty or relevant to say to Ms. Bonney when I handed over my book, beyond "Thank You!"

I wandered around the store.  I found nothing I wanted to buy, and yet wanted everything.  Anything.  Dinner?   Where to eat, by myself, at nearly 8pm?  I felt drained, and not up to tackling a search for some posh, small cafe.  Instead I went next door to the California Pizza Kitchen, and got a spinach pizza to go.  Took it back to my room,  ate the whole damn thing and fell asleep to the late news.
 In the morning, I woke up intending to do some writing.  I was working on an essay that I'd begun a week earlier, writing it out, as usual, on a yellow legal pad. I was several hand-written pages into it, and was about to get to the "good part," the crux, the crucial moment when all is explained.   I couldn't find my legal pad.  I knew I'd packed it. Perhaps it was left down in the car?  

A perfect morning-alone breakfast would've been crepes or eggs benedict at some funky little joint.  Instead, I bought  a latte and muffin at the house Starbucks, went back up to my room, and felt restless.   I watched an hour of the Dr. Conrad Murray trial.  I did another thorough search for my legal pad, tearing apart the bed, looking in every drawer that I'd never opened.   It's yellow! How could it be missing?  I packed up and checked out. In my car, I did another search.  No legal pad.  I started to feel sick to my stomach. 
My burgeoning essay, the first I'd tried to tackle in years, was gone.  Gone.  It's still gone.  Gone like the money spent on the faceless, corporate Hyatt Regency (though I saved quite a lot by using Priceline), gone like the time spent on three different freeways, a five hour total round trip.  My legal pad has never turned up.  I haven't tried re-starting the essay again.

I downloaded the picture of myself off my camera that was taken against the cute, crafty chalkboard backdrop, adjacent to the book-signing area at the Anthropologie.  I didn't look so nifty. I looked waist-less and hulking with my huge shoulders and upper arms, clutching my copy of Design Sponge in front of me.  I haven't finished perusing all the sections of the book quite yet.
Seeing the cover  brings it all back again.  If there's any moral or takeaway from this trip, it's something thine own self be true.  I had mixed feeling about staying in faceless Century City to begin with.  All along, I'd craved something cozier and more intimate. Instead, from the Hyatt, to the Anthro, to the CPK pizza, to the Starbucks breakfast, it was all one big corporate, logo-filled disaster.  My trip was faceless, and at the end, I was not restored to my "true self."  I myself felt faceless, and stripped of something essential, besides the legal pad.

I've had precious few nights spent completely by myself, since becoming a wife and  mom.  There have been weekends with my husband, and nights crashed at friends homes, but that trip to the 90210 is one of the few I've spent truly alone.   I relished the solitude. I'm a loner, and an introvert, and I wasn't gone long enough to really miss anyone.  Next time, I'm doing it right.  I'm going to stay here. And I'll consider long and hard before choosing either the Oak Terrace Room (2 balconies!) or the Tree House Room (tree house!).  I'll scribble on my legal pad in my room above the trees, and dine at somewhere small and fine, and come home to my family restored, and feeling like a better person. Not feeling like I need to burrow, and lick my wounds, and retreat somewhere deep and quiet to remember who I am.   Next time.

December 2, 2011

Road Trippin' Mama

I love me a good road trip. Like I say over there on the right, on my new “About Me” page, nothing makes me happier than riding shotgun on a long Sunday cruise to nowhere. “Nowhere,” maybe being some little hamlet where I can buy an ice cream cone, or get out to stretch my legs and smell the fresh grass and sage.

I love road trips and day trips and vacations so much, and have taken enough of them in my life, that earlier this year I had the brilliant idea to start up a whole new blog, in addition to Reading Nest. A travel blog, which I called “The Roadrunner Mom.” Roadrunner, in honor of my late dad, the original great road-tripper. Roadrunner was a word he deeply identified with, using it for his short-lived antique shop, his e-mail, and his Ebay handle. Plus, he loved Arizona and the deserts of the Southwest. And “mom,” because obviously, 90% of my own road trips involve my kids, and usually revolve around them (and their schedules, if nothing else). 
At Diamond Valley Lake
 Well. I wrote a few posts for my Roadrunner Mom blog, but they were loooong, and took forever to compose. They were trip reports, really. I have three posts devoted to our week-long exploration of Arizona this past summer, and another on my anniversary weekend in Palm Springs. My plan was to go back and do comprehensive, informative reports on all the big family trips we've taken: to Big Sur, to Yosemite, to Hawaii, to Oregon. On top of that, I would include all the short little trips we take on weekends, to San Diego and Orange county and anywhere but here. Like this one, that appeared here on this blog a couple years ago, when we drove less than an hour away to a rare car museum in the hills north of Escondido. 
Diamond Valley Lake, Hemet
 But it turns out, that's a hell of a lot of writing, and linking, and sorting through my own photo archives. I decided I couldn't do it well, and still do the other writing that's even more important to me: posting more often here on my this blog, scribbling away sporadically on my memoir, and just keeping my house and life in the order I need to maintain and not feel crazy. So, no more Roadrunner Mom, at least not in its current incarnation.(I'm linking to it here, but don't have any permanent links from my main Reading Nest page any more.)
Wildflowers, Diamond Valley Lake
 In the meantime, I've added a new label to my posts, for “Roaming.” And I hope to share here a lot more of the roaming that we do as a family. Although frankly, we haven't done as much cruising-to-nowhere in the last couple of years as I'd like. As the kids get older, it's harder to find the time between activities and parties and soccer. Add in the fact that my son gets a little carsick, and we're less likely to jump into the car just 'cause.

The photos throughout this post were taken on great, memorable Sunday drive a couple years back. We had driven out to check out Diamond Valley Lake, a huge man-made reservoir on the outskirts of Hemet. It's less than an hour's drive for us, and we've made the drive to that area often, as it's the same back-door route that we take to Palm Springs. So, why, as I griped to my husband on the way out there, why the hell do you need to keep checking your GPS? (Because he a tech geek. A tech geek who can't NOT use the technology right before him.) I griped, I groused. A true Sunday drive does not come with directions, with maps, with a freaking GPS! crowed the daughter of the original Roadrunner.
Dirt road, outside Diamond Valley Lake area, Hemet
Still he kept pecking away at the screen, looking, checking to see precisely where we were on the planet. And in doing so, he found a secret route home. According to his GPS, there was a way back home, over narrow, winding rural roads, that would lead us not merely home to Temecula, but to practically right on a major street near our house. The drive, on a late Sunday afternoon, was wonderful. It led us past farms and rural homes that felt impossibly isolated, even as we knew we were merely a couple miles from major roads, at least as the crow flies. Sticking to the exact route, we went up some steep gravel and dirt roads, laughing at our own nuttiness.
Farm along dirt road outside Hemet/Winchester
Overlooking... Anza? Winchester?
Our car, a mid-size SUV that does not have four-wheel drive, shook and bounced as we drove over gullies and small boulders. What was possibly craziest of all, is that the GPS led us into the last stretch before home onto a long road that we both knew from experience turns from blacktop into dirt, then dead-ends into a metal roadblock before re-connecting back in town. We took it anyway, and then had to reverse on the dusty road, to get back, finally, onto the highway. This was all less than 5 minutes from home:
Metal roadblock. Beyond begins our corner of suburbia, with its white-fence "horse path."
While we probably aren't the only crazy people in town who've taken this "secret" dirt road, we are among the few, and personally I'm pretty sure we're the only ones in our circle of acquaintances who would choose to spend a Sunday afternoon this way. Hopefully we'll get to explore a lot more, and soon.  I'm feeling long overdue for some meandering roads to nowhere, paved or not. 

November 28, 2011

Here We Go!

A couple of Sundays back, we got in a quick trip to Disneyland.  The forecast predicted rain, and sure enough, we were soaked through by the end of the day, despite two umbrellas and parkas for all.  Still, it was fun, and a good way to kick off the holiday season.  Are you ready for the season? Because it's like, totally here
Here we go, now entering the holiday rush...
There are trees to be bought and decorated (or if you go artificial, trees to be brought down).  I'm still winning the campaign for a live tree in my house; a tradition from my childhood that I'm not ready to relinquish. 

 Just thinking about all the decorating and lights and bustle and baking and late-night wrapping sessions makes me tired to think about...
 But it's worth it for the wonder and the joy I get, seeing it through the eyes of my still-awestruck children.
Funny, I felt more in the spirit of the season a couple of weeks ago, pre-Thanksgiving.  But I better get on board quick, because ready of not, it  always rushes by in a blur, this most wonderful, hectic time of the year

November 22, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry

I wanted to like this more than I did.  For deep autumn, a book about ghosts, a famous cemetery, and rainy London sounded like a good read for chilly nights under the covers.  And I did enjoy the first 2/3 of the book, but in the end, it all just fell apart into silliness and mere plot hijinks, rather than delving into the characters motivations. 

Like a whole lot of people, I read and truly loved the author's bestselling The Time Traveler's Wife (but had no interest in seeing the movie), so I was prepared for a certain amount of the fantastic and magical -- where Time Traveler has a man who jumps through different decades of time as the main character, this novel has a lonely, bored ghost as a central figure.  Eventually the ghost becomes powerful enough to make herself known to her 2 American nieces, to whom she's left her large, drafty apartment in her will.  The rule is that the nieces, who are twin sisters, must live in the apartment for a year before they decide to sell or keep the property -- and that their mother, the ghost Elspeth's twin sister, can never set foot in the flat.  Why Elspeth has been estranged from her own twin for decades is the novel's central mystery. 
Highgate Cemetery.  Image from here.

Complicated enough?  The dynamic between the two living twins, Julia and Valentina, is interesting and has plenty of tension, but I wish Niffenegger had spent much more time on the actual relationships, rather than indulging in so much ghostliness.  For me, this was never a true horror story, or the least bit spooky or creepy. Well, unless you consider Elspeth (the ghost) accidentally killing a little white kitten,  then managing to bring it back to life by "stuffing" its soul back into its limp little corpse, creepy.  So...not too creepy.

I liked the secondary characters a lot more than any of the main ones, and enjoyed the descriptions and history of the real Highgate Cemetery in England, but in the end, I wanted something more substantial than a pissy, bitter ghost and two feckless young Americans to keep me company on a November's night. 

November 18, 2011

Girly Gush

 Oh my. How have I missed the fabulousness that is Matchbook before now? Matchbook in an online magazine, a monthly not actually published in print form. I've been a bit stubborn about fully embracing the online-magazine trend. I prefer to curl up on my couch and intensely study, really immerse myself in the graphics and articles of my favorite monthlies. It's hard to feel that same level of intimacy on a computer monitor that's a good foot and a half from my face. But I also can't go on mourning the loss of Domino and House & Garden forever. And after stumbling upon the November issue of Matchbook, I think I'm feeling much, much more positive about reading online rags. (It also helps that I now have a small notebook/laptop, which definitely improves the experience.)

Matchbox is so fun, girly, glamorous and smart. And I love the subtitle, "A Field Guide to A Charmed Life."  That sounded right up my alley, but what made me peruse deeper was the front cover shot of designers Andy & Kate Spade.  While I'm not a fashionista, I adore Kate Spade's preppy designs and bold, happy colors, and knew her home would be really something.   The  November issue also has brief, interesting write-ups about Zora Neale Hurston and Picasso, and has chic and affordable fashion spreads that look like things I might actually wear in my daily life:
Along with cute holiday gift ideas for The Romantic or The Bohemian gal in your life. Or me, The Creative.  (It's a magazine intended for young, single urban women, so no spread for "The 40ish Suburban Mom.)
So much eye-candy packed into one issue!  I loved the spread on Chicago designer Summer Thornton. I've seen and admired her work around the 'net before, and this double-page shot of her glamorous office only made me love her more:
But the piece de resistance is the peek inside the home of Kate Spade and her husband, Andy. The house tour includes a photo that makes me happier than just about anything I've encountered online in recent memory:

Totally agog at that green-striped hallway, the trio of crystal light fixtures,  the faded runner, even the crystal doorknob: Perfection. Can I just camp out here? (After staring at it, I realized that part of my admiration is because it somehow reminds me of looking up at Disneyland.)   The rest of the house is just as colorful and chic and feminine as you'd expect from Kate Spade.  I love me some intense color, but haven't ever considered deep red as an option for my walls. This incredible, shiny lacquered goodness has me thinking twice:
 Gah!  Love, love this home.  And the way that the Spade home and Summer Thornton's office make my heart go a-flutter drives home the point that my own taste is definitely skewing more formal and glam these days. But enough gushing from me, check out Matchbook magazine here, where you can also access their inspiring blog, The Daily Spark. A great read to curl up with (sorta) and get inspired on this chilly, gray November weekend. 

November 14, 2011

In Which I Embarrass Myself

As promised in my last, epic post, here's my list of 5 embarrassing things about myself. It's guaranteed to provoke a superior snicker or two and help you kick off your week feeling happy that at least YOU don't share my same list. Probably.

1.  I love to sing and am still somewhat surprised and chagrined that I've never done anything about this passion.  Unless you count that I was a choir-geek for all four years of high school.  It was nothing like Glee;  we just stood there on risers in scarlet robes and sang.  I spent hours and hours and hours of my teen years singing to myself. I was a latch-key kid, and would often race home, drag out the standing vacuum cleaner, and wail away in front of it for hours.  This still seems like a pretty fun way to spend an hour or two.  (Disclaimer: am I good? Who knows. I'm not awful.)
Image from here

2.  I have a lazy eye, which is mostly controlled, except for a) applying eye make-up  b) whenever I become extremely tired or c) sitting in front of the computer. This last seems dangerous, considering how much I sit here. (Every year I ask the eye dr., and he can't see any evidence of a weak muscle.) Anyway, some of my earliest memories are of wearing a patch over my left eye, and hating it.  To help me become aware of it and correct myself, the ophthalmologist advised my parents to snap their fingers in my face whenever my eye drifted out. And they, in turn, told my preschool teachers to do the same.  To this day, if anyone snaps their fingers at me, I still experience a knee-jerk feeling of shame and check myself: Eyes all forward? Whew, okay.
"Fun to wear" claims the ad. Bullshit.  Image via here.

3. A significant part of my junior high brain was consumed with the adoration of Barry Manilow.  Loved. Him.  Planned to marry him. (Of course, I had no idea at the time that he was gay.)  With my very superior understanding of statistics, I believed that the likelihood of anything occurring broke down to 50/50: either it would happen, or not.  In this way, I happily sailed along believing that I had a 50% shot at marrying my man.  All I had to do was grow up, move to New York, out near his studio.  Right?  My love for Barry has faded immensely in proportion to my early passion. But: I still know every word and nuance of this album:
Image from here.
Oh, love: Looks like we've made it

4. I have freakishly big shoulders (and a wide back) compared to the rest of my frame. I mean, I've never been petite, but these shoulders mean that, while I wear a size 8, or even occasionally a 6 in jeans and bottoms, I'm pretty much excluded from wearing button-down shirts.  I have to try on an XL, or even XXL, or once, at Penney's a size 16 blouse. What the hell? I think these were passed down from my paternal grandmother, who was rather round-shouldered.  I'm afraid that I'm going to end up looking like one of those old ladies with spindly, skinny legs and a huge top half.  Note: there is no accompanying image, because my Google search mostly turned up other women comparing their shoulders to linebackers. We should all organize and form a roller derby team. 

5. I consider myself pretty familiar with good interior design, via my love of shelter magazines and all the design blogs I read.  I know how to employ bright colors and clean lines and mid-century furniture and the whole she-bang.  That said, come December, all that better judgement goes out the window, when I put up my beloved Christmas village.  You know: little houses that light up. Little round mirrors that serve as "ice ponds."  Little tiny people, shopping and decorating trees.  I love it, and chalk it up to my thwarted desire to own a dollhouse as a kid.  My children love it; it makes me happy to see them hanging off the back of the couch in the family room, staring quietly at the miniature, static world.  What makes my particular village even cooler (yes, I just typed that phrase) is that mine is a retro village, with '50s-era buildings and details.  Go ahead and judge: yes, it cheesy, kitschy, and middle-american as a plaid Barcalounger: but dude, it's Christmas.

So there you have it. Keep in mind this is just one short list, not even the list of most-embarrassing or humiliating. Trust  me, there's more.  Reading it over, it's clear I'm about as cool as your grandma: Choir robes, vision problems, JC Penney blouses and my easy-listening taste.  Good lord.  Honestly, I don't listen to Celine Dion or subscribe to Reader's Digest. And I don't smell like Ben-Gay.  Really.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Blogger Template by Designer Blogs