Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Simple Bliss

If you’re lucky you have something in your life that makes you giddy, maybe even silly with happy. For me, it’s coming home with an armload of free books to find even more books waiting for me. Hang on, it gets better… these are NOT library books. They are all mine for ever and ever. Yes, I need to read them and yes, I need to write about them in a way that readers, authors and publicists think is valuable but for this afternoon all I need to do is stack them, unstack them, rearrange them, glance through them (it’s like dating, people, you don’t want to rush things, that would be gross), put them in the locations where I’ll want to read them (bedside, couch, coffeetable), pick them up some more and smell them and oh yes, take pictures of them to share with you. I even leave the room then come back in to feel that initial thrill all over again. Goofy, right?

I'm pretty sure Kate Moss doesn't get this much attention when being prepped for a Vogue cover. 

Now I'm just showing off. If any of these titles look interesting to you my reviews will appear at Portland Book Review within the next month.

The only part of all this that makes me really sad? You can’t earn money for loving books and writing about them. But you can for crashing the economy. Lots of it.

But forget that for now. Is there a person, place, thing, anything that can make reality disappear and replace it with rainbows and glitter- even if only for a minute or two? Share!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Books I Love: The Submission

An anonymous competition to design the 9/11 memorial in NYC. A panel of 13 judges including the widow of a man who died in one of the towers. A winner who turns out to be a Muslim. With these straightforward facts begins a book that is anything but straightforward: Amy Waldman's debut novel, The Submission.

Even at first glance it's clear that the opportunity for drama is all over this plot but without the right touch it could easily become a treatise for one side or the other or a simplistic piece of fluff. Waldman avoids both these perils and produces a book of such depth and complexity I read it twice. While there are the key players it is the supporting cast that enhances and enriches the plot- even when the characters are of a type to make you grind your teeth. The emotions such characters engender keeps the story taut from beginning to end.

We meet people like Asma, a Bangladeshi native living illegally in NYC who loses her husband in one of the towers. On the surface this is a woman who can't read or speak English and so, is devalued and ignored. And yet we see the crystalline clarity of her mind and her desire for answers even from her own religion (“The men who killed Inam believed it was an act of devotion, one that would get them to paradise, she told the imam. Everyone said so. How could the same paradise make room for both them and her husband?”). We feel her confusion and pain but even the unsympathetic characters are written with such depth, layers and flavor that they read as real not caricature.

Waldman gathers this diverse cast around a theme that still evokes strong emotions, represents the viewpoints of each with almost journalistic neutrality, and makes the reader care deeply about the outcome, even as we watch the situation devolve into the increasingly common forum of American discourse- the volume of what you say is more important than the content. She creates this level of involvement through a masterful use of language. Sentences as simple as “The janitor began pushing his supply cart and sadness across the cluttered room...” resonate and linger. This ability to evoke strong emotion distinguishes The Submission as something to be savored and read carefully. From its opening chapters, with the horrified reactions of the jurors at their choice, to the subsequent actions of the winner, notions of right and wrong are challenged.

There are treasures on every page of this complex, complicated tale. Right up until the poignant last sentence.

I'd like to thank friend and fellow reviewer, Diane Prokop, for leading me to this book. It was her review and interview with Amy Waldman on her blog that piqued my interest in a book I might not have discovered. Thank you many times over, Diane!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

L'Wren Scott in Paris

I’ve enjoyed the fashions of L’Wren Scott through the years and found her Spring 2012 line to be especially appealing. Her color choices were particularly exuberant without being garish and the cut and fit of the dresses was such that they could be worn by something other than just the skinny girls on the runway. And the maxi dress? LOVED. IT.

Given Scott’s love of vibrant color I was struck then to see photos of her apartment in Paris in this month’s Vogue magazine. Very subdued, minimalist and chic. Not that I was expecting a Betsey Johnson-esque jumble of over-the-top neon brights and a disco ball but this is so restrained and soothing. A place you could go for respite and a good book.

I always enjoy seeing where creative people live as it is often an unexpected juxtaposition against their creative work. It’s a bit voyeuristic but in a harmless (as opposed to stalkerish) way. Here then, is a quick peek into L’Wren Scott’s Paris apartment.

I'm not usually a fan of white pine floors but this I like. The whole room seems to have the softest pink glow. 

So the handbag cost more than my mortgage the overall look and feel is charming. 

Now these walls are the palest pink. Would love to try this in our house but am pretty sure J would not go along with me.

The glass tiles are all antique Lalique. Stunning but all that glass to clean? Not so good.

Have you ever seen photos of the home (or even office) of an artist you enjoy- and been surprised?

All photos by François Halard

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Unemployment Diaries- Health Care

Snoozefest, right? Or, at the very least something we all take for granted. However, the possibility of being uninsured should be enough to get, not just into your gut but into your bones and your dreams at night (if you can sleep). At the end of this month my COBRA will expire.

When you’re a spry young thing your attitude towards health care is likely to be a fit of pique over having monthly deductions from your paycheck because you never get sick (unless it’s from too much tequila and the medical establishment has not made many strides in a cure for that). Then you hit midlife and well, you’ve been to the doctor a few times. Maybe for: an out-patient procedure, physical therapy, or for the athletic among you- knee surgery, a torn rotator cuff, back sprain. It’s life and it happens. Suddenly, insurance isn’t such a big deal and you pay your premiums, co-pays and drug costs and it’s all good. If you’re lucky this is your situation until your last breath. Mazel! However, if you’re one of the 55% of Americans who are employed but without benefits, the 17% who are uninsured, or, like me, currently have a COBRA plan you’re not so lucky. Add to that the ominous sounding “pre-existing condition” factor and even if you are insured you cross yourself and pray. 50% of non-elderly Americans have pre-existing conditions. Pretty much any problem you’ve encountered in your life, whether it was treated or went away on its own counts. High blood pressure, asthma, bad back, depression (no matter how temporary- if you used the word to your doctor, it’s on your record) and even allergies are all pre-existing conditions. By 2005, 1 out of 2 American adults had one chronic illness and 75% of people with a chronic health condition are under age 65.

If your current health care coverage is ending don’t panic; easier said than done because the information out there is so conflicting and dire. People in the MEDICAL profession will tell you that you won’t be able to get coverage. The word “denied” comes up a lot. And, if your disease du jour is like multiple sclerosis then using online health insurance search forms to find coverage will make you queasy as it’s one of the top major chronic conditions for which you can be denied. Are you starting to feel a knot in your throat? So was I but I worked through it (thank you wine and klonopin- see, now I can say that because I’m insured) and here’s what I learned.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Coral for Spring

Rain has descended on Portland again which I know is no surprise because it is, after all, Portland. I don’t mind it because it makes everything so vibrant and green but what is hard is the fact that it gets cold as well. As the termperature plummets so do my spirits. I’m back to being bundled up in a fleece sweatshirt with socks on. Enchanté.
Anyway, even though my eyes see mostly grey right now in my mind I’m thinking about the colors of spring. And not fashion. Well, fashion but à la Mother Nature. I love coral in fashion and make-up but what strikes me recently is how much of it is out there blooming in nature. I’m sure bright orange-y hued flowers is not a new phenomena but, in the best way possible, it feels like it. Here are some of the wowza colors I’ve been feasting on around town.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Author Reading at Powell's: The Listeners

Last night I was at Powell’s to hear Leni Zumas give a reading from her debut novel The Listeners. This is the first time I’ve met an author whose work I reviewed.

I had been told to get there early as seats fill up quickly. I arrived at 7pm and found an empty room. By 7:15 I was panicking for Ms. Zumas as there were only 3 people including myself. I knew at that point I could never be an author because I could not stand the humiliation of walking into an empty room to read my work. I also know that if I were in her shoes (a professor at PSU) I would have promised every student who showed a half point increase in their grade. Yes, I am that insecure.

Thankfully, we were dealing with students and hipsters who only feel validated when they stroll into events one minute after the start time. And have to sit on the concrete floor, so there.

Leni appeared and after thinking ‘I’m old enough to be her mother’ I settled down to listen to her reading. It was funny because I had read the book so closely I knew some of the sentences or phrases before she read them (“spruce girls” as a descriptive is still stuck in my head). Afterwards, there was Q&A which was, for the most part, fascinating. Even if I don’t love the work I am so enamored of anyone with the guts to put pen to paper that listening to the how and why of what they do is like listening to the Oracle at Delphi. Maybe it will rub off on me.

I’ll try not to drag on but here are something of the fascinating tidbits from the creative mind, ala Leni Zumas.

v    Began the book in 2004 but didn’t finish until 2010. Stopped and started, working on other projects in-between. 

v    Described her process as writing “fragments” and when she felt she had enough of these she spread them out on the floor to find affinities and connections. 

v    Ended up cutting out hundreds of pages that she felt were explaining what was already there.

v    Now working on a book about a witch trial that takes place in contemporary times. 

v    Virginia Woolf is an influence because of “her insistence on mapping the interior”. She works against the desire to say exactly where everything is and what’s happening on the exterior. Also, Flannery O’Conner “the way she is funny and grotesque at the same time is masterful”. They’re more like North Stars. 

v    Protagonist started off as a man but began to feel like a bad cliché. 

v    Tracked the mention of motifs and images that were running through the book like threads, counted pages and came up with an arbitrary rule as to how often they could repeat- as chronology was not a factor in the book.

When I got my book signed I told Leni that I wrote a review for Portland Book Review and she smiled and said, “Really?!” in a way that was eminently satisfying. She was still signing so feeling properly emboldened I also admitted that the ending made me cry because it was so unexpected and yet hoped for. I told her it was hell on my objectivity as a reviewer but what I love as a reader. Again, she seemed pleased and said authors love hearing when their work impacts a person.

All in all, the perfect initial foray into the world of readings. At some point, though, I’m going to have to man up when I do a review and go as a professional - requesting an author interview and following through. Last night I was largely a reader and a fan.

If you think you might be interested in The Listeners my professional review is here. Personally, this is not a warm and fuzzy book. Much of it is intense and difficult because it is dealing with the inner workings of a troubled woman. There’s pain. Zumas’s writing is very stylized, almost stream of consciousness, which doesn’t work for some people. What mattered to me was that at some point, without my even realizing it, I cared about this character. I wanted her to find a way out of her pain. As a reader I became invested which, for me, is almost critical in fiction. If I don’t care about the characters or don’t find at least some aspect of them to be believable/relatable then the book won’t engage me. This one did and I’m so pleased.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lucky Brand Spring 2012 Fashion Show

Saturday (in case you hadn’t heard) I went to a fashion show co-hosted by Tim Gunn. The clothing was LuckyBrand® which is largely known for its denim and is fairly youth oriented. I know, what isn’t?

This was a bit of a revelation because while the models were all teen-ish, the looks weren’t. Nor were they all denim which piqued my interest. I saw a number of items I would wear and even those that wouldn’t quite work for me still provided good ideas. I'll definitely be stopping by their store this week.

Here are my take-aways. Oh, and they were showing clothes for men as well but really, who cares? Not me.

Caveat: I did not use my digital SLR camera (big mistake) and I'm not a runway photographer so acknowledge these photos won't end up in Vogue. Plus, I was in the third row so there will be someone's head at the bottom of almost every photo. Get over it.

Generally I'm not a fan of anything 70s but the whole fringe-y crochet top look works. Actually, in Portland, anything layered works.

 BAD photo but I had to include because there is when Tim went off about exposed midriffs. Even on a skinny minny like this he's not a fan.

 Another bare midriff and a pair of shorts I would have loved in my 20s but the top is really cute. Great combination of colors and I love the turquoise necklace as an accent.

 Again with the retro look but I have always loved palazzo pants. They feel like effortless chic as in I'm hanging out in Capri. This was one of my favorites and one I'll look for at the store.

 Two cute dress looks even though the hems are a bit shortish for me. The cap sleeve is a great touch when so many things these days are spaghetti straps. Options are good!

 Maybe I'm just lazy but I LOVE a nice maxi-dress. Great print.

Nice use of color and print throughout the line. Not sure if the dress on the right would work on anyone but a model. It looks a bit muumuu-ish.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Best Saturday: Tim Gunn

I’m sitting on a cheap white plastic chair in the local mall on a Saturday and I might as well be front row at Fashion Week in NYC. Why? Because in 30 minutes TIM GUNN will be less than 2’ from me and I have a largely unobstructed view. I sit surrounded by a sea of technologists all clacking away and chattering while I write in my day planner or read from my (gasp) book. Not an e-reader but good old print. It is, of course, Tim’s book Gunn’s Golden Rules and if you’re like me you’ll believe I should be mandatory reading for all ages.

In case you’re new here, this is what I think of Tim (Geek flag). Oh, and this (Lifetime). He’s in Portland today to co-host a fashion show of Lucky Brand denim. Afterwards, there will be Q&A and then if you’re willing to shell out $100 (which sadly I am not) you can have your picture taken with him. Actually, they make it sound like you’ll get to hang out with him for hours, eating and drinking wine. Should I? I wouldn’t even want to rehash Project Runway or fashion with him. I’d be original and talk about books and what he’s reading and please oh please could I have an advance copy of your new book and after reading it, an interview?

Sorry, I drifted there. I’ll cut to the chase because this could go on for some time. Today I’ll discuss the most important stuff- Tim, Tim’s thoughts on a variety of fashion topics, what Tim was wearing, Tim and Project Runway, Tim. Tomorrow I’ll be back with the fashion show and a bit of commentary.

First of all, I took almost 40 pictures of Tim. Is that stalkerish? No. No, it’s not because I wasn’t hiding behind a tree at his house but as I reviewed them it felt a bit much. The important thing for Tim to know is: I deleted any that weren’t flattering because that’s rude. And with camera speeds the way they are now you are going to catch someone with their mouth wide open and eye shut. Here are just a few that capture his animation.


Pearls of Gunn fashion wisdom

The person who tries too hard with their fashion gets it wrong.

Even when you’re young and have a completely flat belly a bare midriff is dicey.

Cropped pants only work if you’re tall and slender. Otherwise, they work against you by cutting the line of your leg short.

When asked each season what “trend” he recommends, “The only trend that is any good is the one that works for you.”

Mixing patterns can be great but “think about scale, proportion and color.

Doesn’t care for bootcut and flare jeans for the majority of women because “they make hips appear wider” but if hips are not a concern then they’re all right as long as they’re not wider than your shoulders.

When trying to be “fashionable”: Listen to your viscera. If your gut says it’s ridiculous it probably is no matter what a magazine says.

His favorite Project Runway contestant? Christian Siriano

Finally, Tim turned the tables on the audience and asked what we thought of season 8 Portland designer and winner, Gretchen Jones. The deafening silence prompted his reply, “Well, that says it all.” He then said he felt strongly that Mondo should have won (duh). He went on to tell us what happened behind the scenes, saying it was one of the most difficult seasons ever and that his at-home visit to Gretchen’s house was so uncomfortable it had to be heavily edited. Namely because her mother was there the entire time and at one point decided they should play croquet during which she repeatedly whacked Tim’s croquet ball out onto the street. That portion of the segment never made it to air.

During final judging the judges were split between Mondo and Gretchen until Michael Kors began promoting Gretchen against Nina and Heidi’s choice of Mondo.  Finally, Kors turned Nina by pointing out that Mondo had not made any changes to his collection despite their suggestions. Gretchen had. Nina turned leaving Heidi who left the stage and went to see Tim asking, “Am I crazy? Do you think Gretchen should win?” Tim said no, Heidi tried to fight but was out-voted. Oh the behind-the-scenes machinations! None of this was a surprise to me. I never liked Gretchen and thought her clothes were completely uninspired- suitable for The Loft but not much beyond that. Plus, she was a whiny, manipulative bully.

And that, dear reader, sums up my Saturday. It was a brilliantly sunny day here in Portland but I had more fun inside at the mall. Never thought I'd say that...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Met Gala 2012

Generally, when I write about a fashion event I like to get out there as quickly as possible so that I’m not simply regurgitating what thousands of other bloggers and writers have already said. However, at this year’s Met Gala regurgitation is an almost too appropriate word and largely reflects my frame of mind. Maybe I no longer understand the meaning of this event. I’ve always seen it to be a celebration of a particular designer or designers and often attendees would wear their designs or a look with a similar feel. Now it seems there is no other purpose than to shock which, quite honestly in this day and age, is boring. Good taste is much harder to pull off.

This year the bad and ugly threw down against style and taste and scored a pyrrhic victory. I’m not even going to dignify the majority of offenses with names or photos but someone has GOT to tell celebrities that spray tan does not look natural. EVER. Appalling is the word. And ladies? We know you’ve got breasts, we all do, but when you think this is flattering you might want to stay home. Take a bubble bath and have a glass of pinot grigio.

To try and stay on the happy side of the street, here are the women I thought epitomized 'gala'. Kudos.

Camilla Belle in Ralph Lauren.

Renee Zellweger eschewing her usual Herrera for a backless Emilio Pucci. Love Herrera but this is perfection.

Cameron Diaz can be hit or miss on the red carpet but this dress (Stella McCartney) and her styling are spot on. And a bit attitudinal which I like.

It doesn't even matter who this is. She's got the dress, the hair, the bling, the cool defiant (or emptyheaded) gaze. It all works.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It Happens Here

Stand back. Yes, this is it, the place where the magic happens. If, by magic, you mean a staggering number of hours spent playing inane online games like Bejeweled Blitz (don’t make me explain please), additional hours manipulating spreadsheets because then I can feel as if I’ve accomplished something or time surfing the net and tweeting (Satan’s playground).

If you’re thinking along the lines of “fount of inspiration” I really wish it was and I’ve tried to set it up as such but inspiration is one elusive bitch. Originally, my desk was the dining room table (as seen here) but that bugged husband so much he suggested I move it upstairs into what we normally refer to as the ‘Nordic Trak’ room because all it contains is a Nordic Trak and a dresser. And if you think the exercise equipment is for me then you’ve obviously stumbled onto this page by mistake. I stood on it once and realized I could hurt myself. Never again.

Anyway, once I got upstairs there was no desk so I used an old utility table from the garage and ‘charmingly’ draped it in a white tablecloth. Then began the piling on of talismans, charms, reading and reference materials, files, bills, tchotchkes – all the things that make me me and would, I hoped inspire me to finally write something worth reading. You can see how that worked out so I’ve imbued this new iteration with as much mojo as I can. It is the table from downstairs (because we cadged a real dining room table from a friend who was moving) and it’s color actually works with the room. I’ve added an exuberantly blooming azalea and organized my files as best I can. Also, gulp, I have a vision board. 

Missing from this staged photo is the pile of books and magazines I'm a)reading b)going to read or c) have read but need to make note of something I read. And yes, I painted the Cosmo- at one of those places where they serve you wine while you paint so everything is fun and looks great and then they take you over to the jewelry section and you buy stuff you really don't need.

I love my hot pink azalea ($6/Rite-Aid) even if she did try and get all attitudinal on me because I forgot to water her. The ceramic dish is from a local artisan and the fabulous sparkly green box is from my sister-in-law who not only gives great gifts but puts them in boxes that are like a gift themselves. It makes me smile everytime I look at it.

 Vision board photographed with marginal success. Photographs I've taken, old cards from friends, magazine photos, and lots of words.

Do you have a room of your own? Or even just a desk? Or are you of the lucky few who can write anywhere?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday Shopping- SE Division & Clinton

It’s indicative of life in Portland that you rate it as a good day in May if there isn’t apocryphal rain. Today was such a day and even more so because I spent the morning with good friend and fellow blogger The Tweed Librarian. I wanted to explore some of the SE neighborhoods and as she lives in the area I knew she’d be the best guide.

Our first stop was a cheerful little shop called Twill (2132 SE Division St). The majority of the clothes here are by local designers and feature lots of jersey knit warp dresses and fun tops that work well for layering (a necessity right now as we can’t seem to break past 55˚). The prices are spot on with almost everything under $100. I saw a cute patterned flippy black and white skirt for $48 but just can’t think about short yet. I haven’t even packed away my sweaters!

Next was a funky store called Mirador (yes, it rhymes and I wasn’t even trying). It’s also on Division Street (2106 SE Division St). It’s a delightful amalgam of incense, housewares, spiritual books, candles, postcards and skincare. The kind of store where you really need to slow your pace and look around. No speed shopping here. I saw a lot of interesting item but finally settled on a Bennington Candle, all natural soy wax candle in Jasmine-Rose. Supposed to bring Good Fortune and for $5.50 I’m all over it.

Lovely little stained glass pieces 

 Love this Buddha and fo $36 it's a steal but I just couldn't do it. Now I have an excuse to go back.

 Uncle Harry’s Natural Products- face, skin, and hair care products. Great price on the hot new hair treatment- Argan Oil. Supposed to tame flyaways without weighing your hair down. I'll let you know.

Our last shopping stop was an amazing clothing store called Xtabay Vintage Clothing Boutique (2515 SE Clinton St). This is the kind of place you walk into and immediately feel more feminine. Suddenly, a hat and triple strand of pearls is exactly what you need. A full skirt that may require a petticoat so you can channel Lucille Ball? Even better.

from Liz G. on Yelp

The store is divided into daywear and evening wear. My only complaint is that while it is visually appealing to have everything arranged by color it gets a bit depressing to pull out a dress you love only to find it is a size 14 (or zero). I found some fabulous 1960s Lilly Pulitzer pants for only $38. An inch less on my waist and I’d be wearing them this summer but it was not to be. Still, this store is charming, with attentive knowledgeable staff and well worth visiting again.

Floaty and flirty with a staggering pair of strappy stilettos


Do I wear hats? No. does this make me think I should? Yes.

Couldn't quite capture the color in the photo but it's a soft pink. The mood is Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby with a cute pair of ballet flats. Minus the whole baby/demon thing because I don't do the kid thing but I could work the look.

Striking the perfect vintage mood? Uber-chic butter nail polishes (non-toxic). I like the top two rows.

Again, that whole sixties vibe. I'm seeing this with black tights and black suede boots. Or black leggings and ballet slippers.

The reward for all this hard work was lunch at Broder, a Scandanavian breakfast/brunch restaurant. They have dinner as well but their breakfasts are what have made them known in PDX. This place is popular, tiny, and therefore, loud. Don’t plan on an intimate conversation unless you don’t mind the people next to you sharing in the details. I’m not familiar with Scandanavian food so just went with what sounded good and it was.

 Grilled apple fritters with a pork apple sausage and two baked eggs. Syrup and sour cream. YUM.

These are lefkes, thin potato pancakes from Norway. These have caramelized fennel and are topped with baked eggs and bitter greens.

This is what I miss living in the suburbs- walking everywhere and begin surrounded by local shops- not big box retailers and hillbillies. A nice change of pace made even better by the company. Girlfriends, shopping, gossiping- now that's a Saturday.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April Reading

April- what a month. Just as everything exploded into flower (hello pollen count!) my reading bloomed in different genres than usual. My favorites were not necessarily the favorites of the critics (Ed King was particularly divisive) but they kept me highly entertained and, in more than one case, inspired.

You either loved it or hated it but doesn't that make for great reading and discussion? I fell in the LOVE category both for Guterson’s ability to re-weave a story already known to many and still keep the reader surprised.

 If you’ve ever wondered what life might be like for Ruth Madoff now (even just schadenfreude) stop because Hilderbrand has done the fictional work for you.

One of the most unusual poetic works of fiction I’ve ever read.

 A non-fiction entry but can you be surprised knowing how I love fashion? This is a beautiful book both in its physicality and its contents. A true artist in many ways. Glorious photos.

Well written story of two girlhood friends in 1970s Iran. A look into a world very far removed from anything we’ve experienced in the U.S.

Billed as a “mostly true” memoir this is hilarious and sometimes unnerving reading. Lawson is where she is (wildly successful blogger) due to her ability to translate personal experiences into the current zeitgeist. Bottom line: we’re all crazy and all that matters is what you make of it.

I'm always looking for new reading- anything you've read recentlythat you'd recommend?
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