Sunday, December 30, 2007

Proustian Peanut Butter Bars

This week, I had occasion to visit with a number of old friends that I've known for most of my life.

The people in this circle of friends have gone their separate ways, moved away, married, come back again, stayed away - a whole range of experiences.

During one visit this week, a friend made the same chocolate-frosted peanut butter bars many of us enjoyed as kids during our sugar-fueled high school days.

Some of us recall eating them as our sole lunch entree, since they were a staple at our school's cafeteria.

Like Proust's madeleines, these peanut butter bars coupled with the sounds of these friends' voices transported me back to that simpler time.

I closed my eyes and heard the same din from the cafeteria, a setting where many of our friendships took shape, grew stronger, and had some impact on who we all are today.

Who knew that a simple dessert could have such powers?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Stacy London: Shut Up!

As a long-time viewer of TLC's What Not to Wear, I had high hopes for Stacy London's new show, Fashionably Late.

Despite having some pretty solid fashion experience, and a great eye, for her talk show Ms. London seems to have adopted an over-the-top persona that is ridiculous at best.

I knew that this was just not destined to be one of my favorites during tonight's episode, where she paws the black shirt of Take-Home Chef Curtis Stone with powdered-sugar hands during a dessert-making segment, gets him to adjust her apron, and makes weird double-entendres about a defenseless vanilla bean.

Stacy should just take a fashion maven's approach, make people over as they walk down the street, get commentary on daily fashion from New Yorkers passing by, interview up-and-coming designers (without fawning all over them making ham-handed references to freebies that the fashion gliterati enjoy).

That would be far more interesting than watching her trying desperately to entertain.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls

Only about one-third of the way through the book, Scrappy Project Management, and already I can say that I recommend this book if you have to:
  • lead a team
  • work on a team, or
  • rely on people across your organization for your projects to reach the finish line successfully.
Although I take issue with the author's assertion that if you really, really, really need your job, you should never lead a project because by virtue of taking this position, you're constantly sticking your neck out and you run the risk of being fired. In fact, one of her Scrappy Tips includes this sobering advice nugget:

"Be prepared to be respected but not necessarily liked, and keep your resume up to date!"
- Kimberly Wiefling, Scrappy Project Management

In any case, this book is a great reminder of the pitfalls of project management and how to keep things from veering off track.

One of her most valuable suggestions is to create an org chart for the project team, illustrating how people relate to each other and noting (briefly) what their responsibilities are in the context of the project.

Wiefling notes that the org chart for the project is likely to have absolutely nothing to do with your organization's actual formal org chart. This is the chart that serves as a roadmap to getting things done.

(You know how it is; there are some slots in an org chart where you can't possibly figure out what that person does, even if you've sat in countless meetings with them.)

The tips are fairly practical, and although the author is a consultant, her insights are completely applicable when managing projects in-house.

Never thought reading a book on project management could be entertaining, but this one is.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pass the Tums

Feels like it's been ages since I've felt hungry, that's how much food we've been eating the past couple of days.

I know that No One Cares What You Had For Lunch, but I've just been cataloging a sampling:

  • Mushroom turnovers

  • Feta cheese puffs

  • Stuffed mushrooms

  • Many kinds of dip involving cheese

  • Turkey

  • Ham

  • Cranberry-sage stuffing

  • Pierogies (potato)

  • Piroshki

  • Spinach salad with apples, bacon and cheese

  • Green beans with spaetzle

  • Chocolate chip-hazelnut-toffee cookies

  • Swedish spritz

  • Secret-surprise cookies (so 70s!)

  • Martha Stewart jewels (aka Jam Thumbprints)

  • My sister's ridiculously good almond macaroons

  • Hershey kisses (plain, almond, and candy cane)

  • M&Ms

  • Lemon bomb cake

  • World's Largest Yule Log (it was practically the size of an adult leg)

  • Bacon

  • Eggs

  • Wheat toast with peach jam

  • Approximately 4 Tums in 48 hrs
We are big fans of Mutts Comics in this house, and today's cartoon perfectly illustrated how we felt even after sleeping (and not eating) for 8 hours.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Be It Ever So Humble,
There's No Food Like Piroshki

In my family, Christmas Eve is a bigger celebration than Christmas day, because we always had the traditional wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve dinner.

While I was growing up, my grandmother, Babci, pulled out all the stops for wigilia (we always pronounced it veh-lee'-uh). She made homemade sauerkraut soup, pierogis, piroshki, and several kinds of seafood (always including Lobster tail).

The meatless meal was one of maybe two times a year that I recall eating from "the good china," and we drank from crystal water glasses that Babci had brought with her on the plane back from a visit to her homeland in the 70s.

But the best part of the wigilia meal, to me, are the piroshki.

Today my mother, who is Irish through and through, makes the wigilia. Babci taught her the recipe for the piroshki we've enjoyed my whole life. The two-inch, diamond-shaped dumplings are made with farmer's cheese mixed into the dough.

After making the dough, taking care not to overwork the flour, the dumplings are boiled so they hold their shape. But it's the finishing touch - when you go to re-heat them to serve - that the magic happens: they're cooked in melted butter and onions until they get a delicious golden-brown crust.

I knew my husband was a keeper when he came to his first wigilia, dug in, and then asked for more piroshki. Despite all the other fancy foods we have on the table, the humble piroski are my favorites, too.

May you and your family enjoy your Christmas celebrations, embracing the traditions - or making new ones - that infuse this holiday with personal meaning.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Pink and Green Zebra-Striped Coat


While shopping on Thursday, gathering up the last of the Christmas items, I saw it: The pink and green zebra-striped coat, in all its glory, in the children's department of a large department store.

It was spectacular. And spectacularly priced at $125. But that includes the hat (the blobby item pictured in the left side of the photo

This time, I took a picture with my cell phone. (Hence the blurry image and overall greenish fluorescent-lit cast.)

But it helps paint a better picture of the moment I wrote about earlier this week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Give the Gift of Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri captured my heart this summer with her writing.

During sweltering commutes into the city, while waiting for the train in the hot sun, I clung to every word of The Namesake (still haven't seen the movie) followed closely by Interpreter of Maladies.

She's a writer whose every word contributes to the formation of a character, the person's life, and their feelings.

For me, on my train rides, she created a window into their worlds that I could stare through for hours. A window that I reluctantly shut each time my stop was announced.

If you're looking for a last-minute gift, pick up one of her books and take it home for someone. You just might find that you'll keep it as a gift to yourself.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let's Get Organized, People!


Back in high school, I had a social studies teacher known for her, I don't know what to call them - I guess her epithets. No, they were more like catchphrases. Or rallying cries.


"Let's get organized, people!" was one of her favorites. She usually did this when the din rose to a level where you could barely hear what she was saying.

[Mark, my lifelong bud who is in town from San Francisco will know exactly who I'm talking about here!]

It had nothing to do with organization, but everything to do with imposing order.

My workspace is an atrocious mess at the moment. Between the holiday preparations. And the gifts I've been making. Oh, and the Etsy-ing.

So I'm in dire need of order right now. It's a matter of too much inflow, and not enough outflow.

Amidst all the creating of jewelry, I've been shopping and gathering materials during all the end-of-year sales at my favorite suppliers. There's just too much stuff. (My husband is nodding his head in agreement: hi, honey!)

But there's a method to the madness. Sometimes it takes seeing one item next to another that you'd never consider together . . . to really know that it will make a smashing series of necklaces.

Hiding it away in boxes makes it impossible to make those connections.

The photo above shows the latest group of colors I'm obsessed with. I'll let you know when I've come up with something.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Looks Like My Mom

After a final day of Christmas shopping that left me exhausted and weary, I ventured to the Wegman's for dinner provisions.

In the produce section, I was searching for romaine that looked good, when I caught sight of a woman's handbag in her cart from across the aisle.

"Huh, that lady has the same bag as my Mom," I thought to myself, since my Mom's tote is pretty distinct.

And then, "Hm, that lady has a jacket like my Mom, too . . . Hey! That lady's my Mom!"

I sidled my cart up beside hers and said "Hey, lady."

She looked up and was thrilled to see me.

We spent the next 15 minutes gabbing, and not making any headway in our lists.

I told her how I spotted her, and she laughed really hard - her eyes lit up at the serendipity of it all.

I like my Mom.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shopping Scenes: Like Mother, Like Daughter

While pushing a shopping cart into the Target parking lot yesterday morning, a mother and daughter dashed past me toward the store.

The Mom, in her knee-length black-and-white nubby tweed coat with dramatically oversized lapels, and daughter, about six, sported an A-line pink and lime zebra-striped faux-fur number - and both looked smashing.

Braced against the whipping winds and bitter cold, they held hands as they galloped through the parking lot, grinning ear-to-ear.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Shopping Tips

When it comes to last-minute Christmas shopping, it's all in the planning. And after many years of last-minute dashes, and finishing shopping by December 10, I've got a few tried-and-true tips that work for me:

1. Make a list. The most basic things can trip us up when we're under stress and not thinking clearly. And with Christmas shopping, there's a preponderance of bright, shiny objects to divert our attention. Put at least a few minutes' thought into it ahead of time so you don't lose focus. (Or risk forgetting your Great-Aunt Mildred.)

2. Go where no man has gone before. Or at least go when they're not thinking about it. Shopping on the way into work when stores have extended store hours can be helpful. But here's my secret: shop Sunday mornings around 10 a.m. Even on the Sunday before Christmas, I've found this to be the magic hour - stores open, nobody around.

3. Plot your course. Think proximity; try shopping where the items you need are close to one another. Otherwise, you maybe running from one end of the mall to the other, or circling the same neighborhood, wasting precious time. When time is of the essence, who wants to bother with back-tracking?

4. Wear comfortable shoes. I swear by running shoes. Whether you're pounding the pavement in a city or zipping through a mall, you're likely to be standing in lines at some point and your feet will take the brunt of the punishment. Tired feet mean an ineffective shopper.

5. Hoard a couple of extras. Think broad appeal: gift cards for Starbucks, Best Buy, Nordstrom, you name it. These days, you can choose from the entire flock at a grocery store! Having a couple of cards on hand can come in handy for those surprise gift-giving sessions.

6. Smile, smile, smile. At some point, all this shopping can be a pain. I'll grant you that. There's the tension of having to buy more with less. Or finding just the right hip Secret Santa gift for $25. Or you've got a cold and you're sneezing more than you're shopping. But it's Christmastime, dammit! Try to make the best of it and enjoy yourself. A smile goes a long way, too, with a busy clerk or a grumpy line-neighbor.

7. Think outside the (big) box. What could be more impressive than a one-of-a-kind item for your brother's new girlfriend? Go to sites like Etsy and see what they have in store.

8. Give til it hurts. There's always a person on your list for whom a gift seems . . . well, silly. They've got everything they want. Or they give everything away. But a donation might be just the right fit. There are a million wonderful charities worthy of your attention. Think Oxfam, Project HOME, or the American Red Cross.

9. Hydrate. The heat's on full blast. There are people all over the place. You're working up a sweat finding the right Christmas angel for your tree. Bring a little H20 with you to avoid keeling over.

10. Pack the Purell. This is the germophobe in me speaking, but think about it: you've got kajillions of people stuffed inside of stores, pawing over the merchandise, using the same pen over and over and over to sign the credit card slips. Sanitize early and often, and you just might ring in the New Year feeling healthy, wealthy and wise.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Project Runway Episode 5: Wait, Don't Go!

Everyone agrees: It's far easier to dress a stick-figure model than one who is close to normal weight. And any time Project Runway trots out the non-model models, it's going to be interesting.

Usually, it's heightened by the inclusion of the designers' relatives; doing double-duty as a heartstring-puller.

Here, in a nod to real-women's bodies, Project Runway brought in as models real women who had lost significant amounts of weight. Some of these women lost more than the equivalent to a whole person! One now-petite woman had lost 160 lb!

While the clothing design drama had one spectacular failure in Steven, overall it was ho-hum. Recasting the clothing from the women's favorite outfits at their heaviest was an interesting take on the challenge.

However.

Allowing the designers to go to Mood and buy fabric that amounted to all they needed to construct a new garment was totally not in the spirit of the challenge. Jillian, Steven, I'm looking at you two!

The tension built at the start of the episode when Jack's health issue became the focus and sadly, he decided to quit the show to seek medical treatment rather than risk his health. For surviving 17 years with HIV, I have to give him credit for putting what's important - his life - ahead of a reality show. I wish him well.


Chris's Second Act

To keep up the level of challenge, that meant the return . . . of Chris! I'd sensed he was a positive, funny presence on the show - and this was confirmed in the earlier opening getting-ready-for-the-day segments when Sweet P declared her sadness over his departure and comic spirit.

But Chris had to take on Jack's model and her clothing, and so he was already behind and had to work all night to get his outfit completed. Awakening when everyone else traipsed in the next morning, Chris looked a little worse for wear but at least his garment was complete. The sash was an awful, coral-lipstick red, and matched the kick-pleat at the back of the skirt. Michael Kors and his French hooker circa-1950 comment was nearly right - really, she needed fishnets and a kooky hat or beret to complete the kitschy look.

That Chris squeaked by with his dignity (barely) intact made me jump for joy. The top he made was fitted and worked for the model quite nicely. Ditch the sash and the kick-pleat lining and she'd be good to go.


They Did it Their Way

Steven had the most challenging "favorite outfit" to start with; a bright-white wedding dress, made of flammable polyester, yards of lace and sequins, sequins, sequins.

But he would have none of it, save for a bit of the white for some Audrey Hepburn collar and cuffs that looked more like a matronly maid's outfit than an dress designed to make a newly svelte woman feel sexy.

And that's the same issue I took with Jillian, ignoring the old outfit and using other materials to create the look. Cuing off of her model's red shirt, she purchased similar red fabric and created a dress, using only a thin strip of black from the old outfit to make piping down the front of the dress. Grr.

Why didn't the judges call them on this? The challenge was to use the clothing as the fabric, and fill in the gaps for notions and trim from Mood.

Others didn't do much with the old clothes; I also had a problem with Christian's merely taking in the jeans and hacking them down to capris. But the top really did look great and his model seemed pleased.


Runway Rehash

That Ricky made it through to the next round - despite the flowing waterworks, and donning gold heels to test-drive his garment's fit - was another good moment. His model really strutted her stuff like this was an outfit she would have picked out - bravo!

What was going on with Victorya's dress? The top faux-bustier looked strange.

Elisa's tiered look was just B-A-D bad. She's going to bump up against her limitations very soon.

Kit's dress was sweet and modern.

Kevin's outfit should have won the challenge - it fit perfectly and his model came alive when she wore it. His tailoring background makes his creativity come alive . . . and I think he's only scratched the surface in terms of showing us his capabilities.

Rami's dress looked good, but I don't recall what he was working with from the start. Again, his model was energized by the outfit and she looked like she was having the time of her life.

Sweet P's dress looked pretty, but she makes me nervous with all her skittering around the work room. Is she just wearing heels and taking bitsy steps? Hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline, trying to make it work? She needs to do some meditation with Elisa each morning and chill.

And then there's Steven. He of the colorful commentary; if Bravo has any sense, they'll mix it up and keep him as an observer. Or else we'll be left with Christian's trash talk fabulousity.

I'm sorry to see Steven go, but I was starting to suspect he'd be one of those under-the-radar types whom producers thought was worth keeping around a while for his pointed observations and excellent setups for each scene. But all season long, the cameras didn't get that close to his work. With the exception of the challenge where Marion took the fall (and rightly so, for his Pocahontas dirty-from-the-basement ragamuffin getup). Or was I the only one who noticed this?

Chris, you've been given a second life on this show. It's your chance to redeem yourself and burst out of the boundaries you've set for yourself. Clearly, you have the personality, I hope you just relax and tone down the costumey effects and you'll last a while longer.

At this point I'm going to start making my top three predictions (and doing so this early on means I'm sure to have to revise in the coming weeks, but here goes:


Project Runway Season Four Finalist Prediction

1. Kevin
2. Rami
3. A toss-up between Christian and Jillian with Jillian getting the edge since I'm sure producers will want a woman to make it to the finals.

Who do you think will make it to the Final Three?
_______

Previous Project Runway Posts
Addicted to Project Runway? Well, me, too... So read on!

Episode 4: Chris Gets Crossed
Episode 3: Three-Car Pileup
Episode 2: Of Designers and Potatoes
Episode 1: Project Runway Redux

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Favorite Things:
MarieBelle Hot Chocolate


Yes, it really is that luxurious. Apparently the owner was inspired to start her own line of cocoa and chocolates after falling victim to the elixir that is the hot chocolate at Angelina's in Paris.

We should all be so unlucky!

While I like the hot chocolate very much, it's the tin that I am most enamored of. This tin, with its coppery diamond pattern and interplay between brown and sky blue is a work of art - or at least spectacular package design. It beckons you to spoon off the lid and get cooking.

I want keep this tin around forever and ever. I am saving the last little bit of cocoa that I have left because I just don't ever want to open the cabinet and not see it there.

I know, I know, I could plop it on my desk, a spot of honor, as an ode to successful design. Or if I really felt a need to make it a practical addition to my already-crowded desk, I could use it to hold pencils or clips or other miscellany.

But relegating it to the realm of practicality would belittle it, somehow.

There's something about opening the baking-cabinet door and being welcomed by a glimpse of that chocolate brown, copper and blue label that is so uplifting.

If you're looking for a gift for someone who appreciates chocolate, they will love this. I guarantee it. And at only $18, it won't break the bank.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Impact of Throwaway Fashion

All the emphasis on throwaway fashion - by stores like H&M and Forever 21 - has trickled up into so many other areas of retail. To some, this is welcome news... But I hold that time is what you're trading for price.

Which is fine for the few trendy looks that you won't want to wear next year.

And makes sense for teens who are still developing a sense of style.

But what about the rest of us - who know who we are, what we like and what looks good on us?

When your closet's full of throwaway items that lack the quality and longevity of a well-tailored jacket or a good shirt with French seams, shopping - or "replenishing the stock" as I call it - can eat up a considerable amount of time. It's hard to keep up with the churn.

Trying to find quality items that will last? Forget it. It's nearly impossible these days, at a reasonable price point, at least.

Retail has devolved into what I call "the non-value chain" - inexpensive lines have pushed the lack of quality higher up the retail ladder.

Now that Macy's (and even Bloomingdale's) is jam-packed like a fire sale bazaar, even historically quality-oriented stores like Nordstrom just don't seem to have the goods they did five years ago. Although prices have continued to leap apace.

But when you're working as much as Americans do today, dashing from work to home to scarf down your 30-minute meal, squeezing in a workout, and (hopefully!) carving out some friends and family time, shopping takes a backseat out of necessity.

So buying clothes that last can also increase your productivity, since you'll devote less of your free time to shopping.

Don't misunderstand, I don't hate shopping. I hate unsuccessful shopping. And that's what I've been experiencing, lately. And I feel like it's a tremendous waste of time.

Bah, humbug.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Teddie's Apple Cake: A Solid 6
Or, There's a Reason for Tradition

The Apple Cake - actually, Teddie's Apple Cake* - had its fans and its detractors when it came to the tasting.

First a disclaimer: I left out the nuts because I have people who don't like nuts (on principle, not allergy).

My father-in-law declared it delicious, and finished his piece.

My mother-in-law liked the flavor, but thought it was a heavy cake, so she ate about 2/3 of her piece. I agree with her, there. Stirring the concrete-like batter gave me an upper-body workout that I never got with my Mom's recipe.

My husband thought it was greasy, and left at least half his slice. With my father-in-laws' delicious famous latkes in abundance, there was enough oil in the meal - and he'd much rather allocate calories to latkes than to cake. [Disclaimer #2: Later, we discover the poor guy was nursing a 102-degree fever, so who knows what he was really tasting. Ergo, your mileage may vary.]

My take: This is a recipe that tastes like 1973, a simpler day culinarily, when it first appeared in the Times and frankly, when we didn't know any better. Raisins figure into this recipe, too, and I thought that seemed somewhat odd. Although I don't mind raisins at all, these must have made contact with the pan and in the cooking took on that icky-bitter metallic taste that sometimes happens to raisin bread that you leave in the toaster too long.

Overall, it tasted pretty good. It had the right balance of sugar and cinnamon, and enough fruit to keep it chunky and interesting. It was the fruit that distracted you from the fact that the cake's moist crumb came courtesy of 1-1/2 cups of oil.

As for a rating? I'd give it a solid 6, because I'm a tough grader when it comes to cakes. This recipe required no baking skill to make, although it was difficult to extract from the bundt pan I used in lieu of a tube pan (I know, I know). This meant that our cake needed minor surgery when I turned it out onto a plate and found a six-inch hunk of the cake still clinging to the pan, where a trove of apples had allowed it to separate from the bulk of the cake. But after extracting the piece from the pan, I just patted it back onto the rest of the cake. No harm done.

Jewish Apple Cake recipe from my Mom to come in the future, once I unearth it and make it.

*NYT login required

Jewish Apple Cake

Oy, such a dilemma.

After years of using my mother's recipe for Jewish Apple Cake, as a favor to my mother-in-law, today I made the recipe recently featured in the New York Times.

We're off to Hanukkah dinner to give it a taste test. And I will report back to let you know what the verdict is.

If it turns out to be a bust, perhaps I will share my Mom's secret.

Clarification:
In re-reading this, I realized that paragraph 2 makes it sound like my mother-in-law has been suffering through my Mom's recipe for Jewish Apple Cake and asked me to give that up and make the Times version instead. Not true!

Actually, my mother-in-law had noticed the recipe and wanted to try it, or have me make it. IN eating the cake, we realized I've never made my family's recipe for them, despite being married to their sone for 15 years!

In fact, when we were discussing recipes and I mentioned the attributes of my Mom's recipe (which really is delicious; as attendees of countless office parties and family functions will attest), my mother-in-law asked me why I'd never made it for them before!

So now that recipe's on the must-bake list for this holiday season. So many cakes, so little time!

Project Runway: When Life and Reality TV Collide

There's been an issue with my phone lately. The old "hang up when someone answers" is at play.

Only we've recently signed on for caller ID, so we have some chance of seeing whether it's someone we really know or if it's a weirdo being annoying.

Yesterday, the phone rang really late at night. Late for us, and for all the other people who call us. And again they hung up when I answered.

Aha! Check the caller ID, I thought.

And the name that appeared was Robert Best, a name that sounded familiar. But I couldn't place exactly how I knew this guy.

Then yesterday I realized, yes, I do know a Robert Best.

(I also realized I probably need to spend less time watching Bravo.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Project Runway Episode 4: Chris Gets Crossed

There have been some who have compared Chris to Jay from Season One of Project Runway; quirky, rotund and opinionated.

But from the outset I could tell Chris had a more gentle way about him than Jay. Chris' humor was jolly and sweet, rather than edgy. All the pre-season promos made him appear at first glance to be cut from the same cloth as Jay.

But as these episodes wore on, I could see that Jay was shaggy fake fur while Chris was a nubby fleece.

And in the end, easygoing Chris was booted from PR because he was too weak a leader.

When Donna Karan appeared as this week's guest judge, I immediately thought of Chris' team and their neutral color palette, something I recall Donna Karan having done a decade or so ago. But the color palette was the only unifying element, the garments were so disparate and disjointed.

Sweet P finally came into her own, with kudos from Donna Karan and Michael Kors and the rest of the judges for her bubble dress.

And Ricky ... I've felt so much this season that Ricky's been on the edge, ready to fall apart at a moment's notice. And for sure, this week Ricky got an education in dealing with people, both good and bad. I wanted to shout for joy when I saw his satellite reach Planet Elisa! How he applied his experience in modern dance and communicating with people in that creative world to speaking with Elisa in her language, calmly educating her on the basics she needed to get the job done, and getting pretty impressive results from her simple shift dress.

But Victorya? That girl is just grabby and unethical and she will get hers.

Victorya, I do not trust and do not like - she is passive-aggression personified. She took the self-serving stance of not wanting to be leader (so as to avoid the ax if they failed) yet dramatically proclaiming the creative vision was hers so she could be lauded if a miracle happened and they succeeded. Once she gauged the judges comments and saw she was safe, she threw Ricky a bone, crediting him with pinning her dress - which, hello? - completely saved her from disaster. Every judge would have pounced on the flat-front monostrosity of her garment's bodice before Ricky gently made his suggestions.

Loved the way Christian's team interpreted all the outdated trends without looking outdated. Kit, Christian and Jack looked like they worked together easily. Whether it was the team name or the lack of drama over their equal abilities, but their collection worked well, looked good, and personally I thought looked a lot more fashion-forward than Team Jillian's.

Calling Jillian a team leader is inaccurate and here is where I disagree with Nina Garcia: Jillian was Rami's puppet, pure and simple. She fretted and second-guessed and mulled and worried, yet never directly addressed Kevin's slow pace. Kevin, kudos to him, came through in the clutch with gorgeous-looking hot pants.

Regarding how Kevin works, I can completely understand. Sometimes it takes the squeeze of a very tight deadline for your vision to become unclouded. For you to get into a flow state. To pull out all the stops, draw on all your experience, and see your way to the finish line. I've been there; it's as if your creative stores of your brain are saving the best for last, and you have to wring out all the other superfluous stuff to get to those last drops of essence that will make the statement you intend.

But Chris ... I don't know. He seemed to just run out of steam. This is a series of sprints, not a long 5K walk-a-thon. His easygoing pace I think was what made him the least successful of all. It's like he lacked the energy that propels a spectacular garment into being: The cropped jacket was all wrong, like she was wearing a loud slipcover for a doll's couch. Maybe he was so distracted by having to be the leader, by wanting to keep above the fray, that he meandered all around, mentally, and in the end, he missed the mark.

Whatever it was, Chris did not take on the role of leader, didn't make a garment that made sense, and was shown the door by Ms. Klum. I felt badly for him because he seems such a good egg, though.

It's a rough business, this world of fashion.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

This is the Reason Writers Write, and Don't Produce

Alec Baldwin hits the nail on the head when he says the Writers' Guild strikers are terrible negotiators.

I knew there was a reason I liked Alec Baldwin, aside from his ability to make entertainment out of chewing up the scenery and spitting it out into a teensy pile of oaky splinters on 30 Rock.

Actually, what makes 30 Rock great, nay, what inspires Baldwin's prowess in mimicking probably every achingly clueless network head he's ever run across, is, at heart, the writing.

It's the writing that makes great shows. Period.

And writers need to stop thinking about themselves as a commodity, or risk being nickel-and-dimed to death, and start conducting business as purveyors of content whose work has a value far greater than any hourly rate or 4-cents-per-DVD charge.

But as Alec Baldwin points out, writers are terrible negotiators; that's how they get into the writing business.

As kids, they try selling lemonade, but realize they liked penning the sign more than setting prices and selling product.

They put off selling hoagies for their high school marching band trip long enough that the only way to get the trip to Orlando paid for is to pen a very serious note that their parents can post in their coffee room, imploring colleagues to buy a soggy fundraiser sandwich.

Maybe they even failed macroeconomics in college.

They simply don't have the negotiating gene. Or if they do, it's greatly surpassed by their writing and creativity genes.

(The proportions are roughly equivalent to those that Seinfeld, showing George the hefty head of iceberg that represents the amount of the Costanza brain devoted to thinking about sex, compares with the little lettuce scrap that accounts for all other thought activity. It's like that.)

Don't fool yourselves, Network muckity-mucks: the content available for free over the Internet in the form of blogs and YouTube videos doesn't hold a candle to a well-crafted comedy show.

That takes skill in the form of a roomful of talented writers, masterfully led toward a goal by a head writer, who gently coaxes or cajoles or teases or mocks or simply supports their efforts at spinning 22 minutes of golden delight out of straw.

My suggestion is for Networks to give over a substantial portion of revenue to the writers. Yes, revenue. Heck, open your wallets and give the writers whatever they want.

Because no matter how ridiculous you think the writers' demands are, it will still be next to nothing to you. You'll still make your kajillions.

Why give them what they want? Simple.

They will simply never be tough enough negotiators to gouge you, Networks. They're writers. And you need them more desperately than you'll ever know.

Because without the writing, you simply don't have television.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!

And thank God for that. Because without English, who knows where I'd be.

During my second semester as a college freshman, three days a week I had an 8 a.m. statistics class followed by a 9 a.m. macroeconomics class.

The subject matter itself was a struggle for me to grasp; the instructors dry, the material lifeless.

And not being a morning person, the pairing of these two courses back-to-back at the earliest time possible created the perfect storm for failure. Actually it was less a storm and more like a loud, combustible series of auditory explosions - at least when my parents and I received my final grades.

But it also redirected me to a career as a writer, and for those two Fs, I will be forever grateful.

I made up the classes to ultimately boost my final GPA to a respectable level. And in the meantime, I faced the fact that perhaps a career as a financial analyst or accountant was certainly not in the offing.

Aside from the music classes and serious lessons that I'd lived for throughout high school (and I'd firmly decided against the conservatory route), English had always been my strong suit.

An introductory communications class, for all its theory and citation-filled lecturing by the professor, was revelatory. . . and writing for the newspaper became my new diversion. Or ancillary education, as it were.

After transferring to a university in New England, I endured the scoffs of Boston Globe and Herald editors who dissected our leads in front of the whole class.

Who made me think about the kinds of questions each type of story required.

Gave me practical tips, like always carry a pencil when covering a fire.

And drummed into me the importance - and reasoning behind - pyramid style.

And I loved it.

Sure, the hard core newspaper or broadcast newsroom wasn't for me; I realized that early on. But I was armed with skills that would serve me well for the rest of my career, a career that nobody could have predicted thanks to Al Gore's miraculous invention - the Internet.

I owe it all to two Fs . . . and hearing that they had something to say.

Fail Your Way to Success!

I'm intrigued by all kinds of writing, especially books and articles that can help one make a positive impact on the world.

I'm especially intrigued when people attempt to write about something as ephemeral as creativity and what drives it.

There's a great quote in a little book I picked up recently:

"Fail, fail again. Fail better."
- Samuel Beckett

Trying and failing, I'm convinced, can be a key to success. To innovation. To making an impact on the world.

It's all in the way you process the experience of failure. What you learn from it.

It's lessons learned and all that, sure. But it's really the behavioral changes that we make after failing that really serve us well.

We might be tempted to wallow, to spend too much time licking our wounds, healing from the embarrassment of failure.

But by using that experience as fuel to propel oneself forward, armed with this highly personal, highly useful new information gleaned from the failure itself, one can triumph over having faced the challenge and emerged.

There is always something to be gleaned. We just need to pay attention to what it is.

When's the last time you failed spectacularly at something? What did you learn?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Best-laid Plans

My first real job interview was the only thing standing between me, a fresh-faced journalism major, and an internship at a big city magazine.

That unseasonably frosty September day, I’d picked out a subdued, office-appropriate outfit. Filed and polished my nails the night before. Had my portfolio updated and ready for review.

The morning of the interview, while closing my bedroom window to dodge a sudden draft, the sash jammed momentarily and I caught the fingernails of both hands on the top of the vinyl edging, sawing off 6 nails down beyond the quick. I saw stars. In pain, and pressed for time, I quickly filed the remaining ragged edges into a presentable shape.

Post-shower, while dragging on my stockings, I poked a finger straight through the knee of one leg, a run two inches wide zipped all the way down from shin to foot. The only black pair I had to my name, I tossed them in the trash. Grabbing the only other pair I had, I realized the outfit needed more exciting shoes than black flats. Ten seconds later, I unearthed a funky, multi-colored pair of shoes that finished off my all-black ensemble.

I shrugged on a coat and ran out the door, portfolio in hand.

Walking quickly to the subway stop, I hop onto the jam-packed train. In the standing-room-only car, I was wedged between two men.

One was an investment banker doused in Polo cologne reading a folded up Financial Times.

The other sported B.O. of an intensity that 10 years later must have inspired the Seinfeld episode built around a mutant form of the stench so powerful that it attached itself to nearby hosts.

Within seconds, my eyes were watering and my vision was clouded. It wasn’t until three stops later on the unfamiliar line that I realized I had taken a train headed in the wrong direction.

At the next stop, I shot out the door and raced up the steps/down the steps to the proper track, convinced I could still smell the man’s morphing stench.

The minutes ticked by, but I was determined to make it to the appointment on time. The intern manager had sounded so haughty on the phone when I scheduled the interview that I knew being late was out of the question.

With only 5 minutes to spare, the subway doors opened and I ran the last 5 blocks to the office.

Sweaty and out of breath, I arrived. After a few deep breaths to regain my composure, and a final straightening of my sweater (and one last sniff to ensure my scent was my own), I walked into the offices.

I smiled and introduced myself to the receptionist (later, I learned she sang in a hard-core punk band), told her who I was meeting, and waited.

Twenty minutes later, the Intern Manager flounced into the reception area, apologized for being late and ushered me into a conference room.

After leafing through my portfolio, she asked me a few perfunctory questions. Shuffling through some papers, she extracted one and handed it to me. Intern Information Form, it said, and it was where I was to document my name and that of the college I attended.

"Congratulations, you start on Monday."

I sighed. Who knew that that the toughest part of the interview would be getting there?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Project Runway Episode 3: Three-Car Pileup

Did you see Project Runway last night? If not, this is about that, so go click on another link really fast and read another post of mine - I don't want to ruin it for you.

But you probably saw it coming . . .

A menswear challenge this early in the season? Clearly it was meant to separate the professionals from the hacks, but still. Not a good gauge of a designer's ability to pull off a show at Bryant Park.

Anyway.

Sweet P was designing like she'd never seen a shirt before. Although I have never tried to make a men's dress shirt, so I can't attest to its complexity.

I remember sifting through Lands' End catalogs at Christmastime, with all their stories about workmanship and craft that went into each shirt. How each shirt was made of 150 pieces or something outrageous like that, which helps the fit.

This is what we kids with aspiring creative dreams resorted to before the Internet came along, getting our fashion inspiration from catalogs and magazines and the occasional coffee table book. With the whole fashion industry a well-guarded secret that never really made it out of the confines of New York City.

I swear, if I were a teenager these days, with Project Runway as my window into even this small a facet of the world of fashion, I would be in design school next fall.

But I digress.

Anyway, Ricky has just got to pull himself together. Ricky, I know this whole stressful situation is difficult. I know you're out of your element, hon, being that there have been no lingerie challenges thus far. But be careful what you wish for, as that will surely be your ironic undoing if they do - it's just the way these reality TV things tend to go . . . the expert in one area will go down in flames during the challenge where he's expected to shine, buttressed by the obligatory B-roll footage of you brimming with confidence, inspiration and vigor. This, just before you run out of time, or realize you misjudged a critical measurement of fabric, or bought thread that's too bright, or whatever tragedy might befall you, before it all disintegrates in a mound of thread and silk. Anyway, how did you ever think the judges would not see, notice, or dock you points for pinned hems? Rule #1: Never call attention to what you didn't finish.

Carmen should have taken note of Tiki's wife's comment about her jacket being too Members Only™. Carmen, when the wife of the judge makes a statement like this, honey that's your clue to either add length, or rip the damn thing off the mannequin and redirect your attention to making an actual shirt, because if they see that thing coming down the runway, they will think 80s-80s-80s (let me guess: you were a model in . . . the 80s?) and never give you a chance. But no, instead you wrapped the fabric intended to be a shirt around the guy's neck as a scarf? A clear violation of Rule #1. And let's not forget the ill-fitting pants that caused Michael Kors, he of the folksy metaphors, to yelp out uncontrollably, "That crotch is insane!"

And then there's Sweet P. Sweet P, week after week, we see you flustered and frazzled - hell, even your dress form fell over this week, taking your down with it sprawled on the floor, a portent of doom if I ever saw one. Yet in the end you seem to drum up a pretty respectable garment. Those trousers looked great, and you deserve to do a happy dance over those. But that shirt was crazier than a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. Collar zipping this way and that, twisted neckline and poorly set sleeves, the body all up in the model's collarbone. That tie did look astronomically long, slung lazily around the model's neck like he'd just come back from a hard day at the office, having his neck wrung. But the colors were good - conservative with a twist.

But between the pants insanity and the Members Only™ debacle, Carmen finally was let go to fulfill her dream of resurrecting the Flashdance T and the parachute pant, those 80s stalwarts.

And the night's winner? Jack, who played it safe and just changed up the striping on a shirt. To me, that's not a winning look. For my vote, Kevin deserved to win, given his vision was presented effectively, although he lost points for violation of Rule #1.

I think Rule #1 is really helpful in many aspects of life. Consider it today's words to live by:

Never call attention to what you didn't finish.

Now get out there and start something!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Break Out the Frozen Cheesecake

On the downward side of a cold that I've had since the weekend, I have finally turned the corner.

However, my voice is now both ultra-deep and nasally, and so I sound exactly like Bea Arthur.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

French Alternative to Black Friday

Wandering through the street stalls, shopping for chocolates and foie gras and other delicious reminders that you're not in Kansas anymore, the Paris Christmas Markets are a harbinger of the holidays, the French answer to Black Friday.

The scenes at night look to be especially lovely.

The meandering pace of an outdoor market lit up at night seems so much more enticing than wading through the jammed racks at Macy's in an overheated shopping mall.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Job Interviews from Hell: Second in a Series

After several weeks involving three rounds of telephone interviews covering all manner of behavioral interview questions ("Tell me how you helped someone outside of work, recently." "Under what circumstances do you lie?"), I was finally invited in to meet with several executives for an in-person interview.

Well, mostly in-person. The assistant scheduling the interview informed me that I'd be meeting with the hiring manager in-person, but that two other people from another office would be participating via videoconference.

That's fine, I thought. I'd participated in videoconferences before. How different could this be?

The actual interview commences with the hiring manager leading me to a conference room, and introducing me to an executive who appears on the video monitor. When they ask the obligatory, "Tell us about yourself," I start with my 30-second elevator speech.

After about 20 minutes of standard interview questions from each of them, we get into more specifics.

Then, the hiring manager seems intent on talking about my experience in broadcast news. But I have none. Absolutely none.

My resume doesn't include the words broadcasting or video, or anything that could remotely be misconstrued as such in terms of my experience or skills. I don't play those games: what you see is what you get with me.

So I do what I do: I explain that while I have the essential skills that the advertisement I responded to required of applicants, and I learn new skills quickly, I do not have any prior experience in the field of broadcasting. Whatsoever.

And I realize a fundamental problem with this meeting: Each has a copy of my resume right in front of them. But neither appears to have read it.

Soon after, the second videoconference participant appears on screen, having slipped into the room with his colleague. Introductions are made. When prompted, I rattle off a shorter version of my elevator speech by way of background, and we continue.

A few minutes later, I notice his colleague has muted the video feed.

They're clearly talking and staring intently into their video screen - at me. OK, that's fine. I figure the first guy is informing the second guy of the conversation thus far.

So I turn my attention to the executive in the room with me and ask a question, and we start a conversation of our own.

The two videoconference participants eventually unmute their speaker and the executive in the room with me brings them into the conversation.

But at random points, they continue muting the feed so they can talk amongst themselves. Often covering their mouths so we can't even read their lips.

This occurs over and over again. To a point where it's clear they're talking more than they're listening.

Every once in a while, the executives on camera make gestures that I hope are some kind of hand signals for the executive in the room with me. To - I don't know - communicate to him that they want to wrap this up and get the hell out of here.

Eventually, the meeting draws to a close. And I think we're all relieved.

So, what tips do I have from this experience? Just a few:
  1. Don't be surprised if nobody has read your resume. This has happened to me so many times, I would call it epidemic (and it's not just me). It's annoying, it's inefficient, but it happens. Note: Most people ask you to tell them about yourself just to see how you present yourself, it doesn't necessarily mean they haven't read your CV. But in this case? A clear disconnect.
  2. Embrace the challenge of videoconferencing. This was not my first videoconference, but it was my first time interviewing this way. Quick jokes and clever comments don't always translate well with the delay that can occur with videoconferencing.
  3. Be polite and respectful, no matter how frustrated you may be. This was not an interview for which I should have been invited to participate, given the expertise stated on my resume. But I made the best of it because you never know what will happen in the future.
  4. Pay attention. If the people on the other end of a videoconference engage in muted side discussions like these guys did, you may have to repeat yourself or answer questions twice. (This is all in their hands, unfortunately.)
  5. Consider each interview its own reward. You can always learn something about yourself, your interview style, or your presentation that can help you in the future.

All this learning is great, but it didn't hurt that their offices were just a stone's throw away from one of the best gelato joints in the tri-state area.

So, two scoops of hazelnut gelato and a cappuccino later, it was all just a hazy memory.

Dis-Enchanted

Went to see Enchanted with my six-year-old niece who got bored halfway through and almost fell asleep.

On the other hand, the adults in our party (three females who fell into the 25 to 40 and 55 to 65 demographics) enjoyed it.

Not sure that's what Disney was going for, but there you go.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poor Tim Gunn

Not only is this guy saddled with being Creative Director of Liz Claiborne - which has become the inescapable, dowdy powerhouse of "I give up" fashion at department store juggernauts across the nation - but his Tim Gunn's Guide to Style show is just not hitting the mark.

Today I watched an episode that I'd recorded and realized I fast-forwarded through more than I watched.

Instead of Veronica Webb, they should pair him with Isaac Mizrahi. But then, Isaac would chew up the scenery, leaving poor Mr. Gunn in his wake of fabulous commentary and wackadoo ideas.

But still? Maybe better television.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Unintentional Holiday Spirit

Anytime I hear Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, I immediately think of twinkling lights, Christmas carols, and snowfall. Must be the bells in that tune. I know they're there, but they always take me by surprise this time of year.

The song came on the radio today and immediately I wanted to go Christmas shopping. Maybe it's a Black Friday delayed reaction or something.

Speaking of Black Friday, have you voted in my latest poll? If you have, then thanks!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday Shopping Poll

Attention, Black Friday 2007 shoppers! Where've you been all day?

Did you burn through your latest paycheck by shopping for holiday gifts?

Were you more focused on jogging off yesterday's calories?

Have you opted to stay close to home and ignore the fact that this was the biggest shopping day of the entire year? (That was my strategy.)

Well, I want to know what you were up to! I've always been intrigued by the people who get up on Black Friday for those crack-of-dawn "bargains" and wonder if it's really worth the overheated effort, endless lines, and loss of sleep. To me? Not so much.

You've basically got your choice of yes/no/sorta in this poll.

But if you have strong feelings about Black Friday in general, feel free to post them in the Comments. What was your greatest coupon coup? Was there a bargain that had you bursting with pride?

Me? The only place I went was to the local Italian market to pick up some meatballs and sauce, because it's just too soon to eat any of those leftovers. Or tackle any shopping.

The Games We Play

The game's been around for ages, but many people in my family had never heard of Pictionary, the diversion my sister had brought to our Thanksgiving celebration yesterday . . .

Which was a great way to get everyone laughing and focused on something other than the dinner preparations that were under way in the next room.

We split into four teams, and were off!

Highlights included my nephew's lightning-fast stick figure drawing representing "bend over backwards" which scored us some major points, while my Mom's airplane/people drawing paired with a right-angle caused my father-in-law to blurt out the correct answer, "Wright Brothers!" even though he wasn't even on their team. (That incited a bit of bickering amongst the judges, but in the end, we got the point since it was all in good fun.)

And I know, it's lame to talk about Pictionary tournament and have no pictures at all to share from it. But honestly we were having such a good time that nobody remembered to take any photos.

There was laughing, teamwork, and joking all around - what better way to kick off a family event?

After after a traditional dinner with all our favorites - sausage stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, brandied sweet potatoes, to name a few - we wrapped up the day with way too much dessert . . . and I can think of no better way to end.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Project Runway Episode 2: Of Designers and Potatoes

Ah, another Project Runway episode where Elisa's oddity is a focus.

Maybe Elisa's being from another planet will serve her well in this competition. But she's clearly channeling some kind of creative muse that is helping her design clothing that is pretty special . . . although she herself falls down on the execution.

But hand sew everything?

I'm sure there are designers who've done it, and probably turn to their right-hand men to sew the production pieces. Anyway, time management will eventually be her downfall when the complexity of a design challenge meets up with her lack of technical skills.

Even during the Isaac Mizrahi show, where they have the behind-the-scenes view of the fittings, Isaac's directing a team of tailors and seamstresses who do the actual pinning and fussing with the fabric. Unless he can't express his intention, or he's just so tuned in to the garment, that he gets in there and wields a few pins, himself.

And anyway, I'm glad that Christian got a little shook up over placing in the bottom two and coming so close to being eliminated. Maybe his attitude will adjust a bit.

Couldn't help thinking at the time that Michael Kors said Christian's design was very 80s/Facts of Life, that his design challenge partner Carmen looked as if she had time-traveled into the episode immediately after filming a Kajagoogoo video.

Can you tell I'm trying to avoid all the pre-Thanksgiving work that awaits? Now if you'll excuse me, I have 7 pounds of Yukon Golds with my name on them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

T-Minus One: Engage Hummingbird Mode

My husband always laughs at how around the house, I have two speeds: hummingbird and sloth.

I'm either stock-still in front of the computer, mesmerized by whatever I'm reading or writing . . . or deadline-driven, dashing around with laser precision, getting done what needs to get done.

On this day, the calm before the storm, I hope to adjust my tuning to somewhere in between. To a rational exuberance of preparation. A stop-and-smell-the-roses level of appreciation for all I should be thankful for.

Family's coming, and I love when the house is full. Aunts and uncles, grandparents and kids, and cousins and their dates, all jumbled up in our cozy house.

There's the carb-a-rama that is our Thanksgiving fare. (And the cheese! Don't forget all the cheese!)

The family stories that result from all those people working together, fueled by wine and beer. . . I mean, who knew my mom had a favorite Native American in Sacagawea? Or that horses roamed the Internet? It wasn't until a Thanksgiving that I really knew.

So for this Thanksgiving, a toast to discovery and thanks: for the new world, for our old friends, and for our lovely families.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taking a Match to Kindle

With all the smaller, multi-use devices out there, I just don't see a reason to spend $399 on a 10.3 ounce Kindle.

I want fewer devices, not more.

In most cases, I don't want to read off a screen. I do that too much as it is. The only reason I'd consider it would be if it saved some weight when I'm traveling, and it doesn't (besides, I'm doing less traveling these days).

While reducing paper is a noble cause, I just don't see enough of a benefit to understand how Kindle can possibly succeed.

What do you think?

The Value of Networking

Conventional wisdom points out that the time you need to be networking is when you will be least likely to think about it: before you're out of work. And it's true.

Whether you're a consultant or a full-time, in-house professional, you need a network and you need to network. A group of trusted colleagues, former coworkers and friends that you can turn to for:

  • Sharing interesting professional news.

  • Discussing things you have in common.

  • Collaborating on solutions to industry-wide problems.

  • Finding other good colleagues to hire.

  • Bouncing your latest wacky idea off of someone to see what will stick.
I think the old concept of networking is approaching it with the mindset of "What's in it for me?" Some people go to an industry meeting intending solely to make some contacts, then follow up to see what's possible. Essentially doing what Valeria Maltoni calls "in-person spamming."

Others are thinking, "What can I do for you?" They're the ones who take the time to listen - really listen. They're armed with information that might appeal to people attending the meeting. They're prepared to offer insight into the discussion. Take an active role in participating. And they're open to meeting people with a perspective that skews away from theirs. (Makes life more interesting, no?)

Which type would you rather interact with?

It's the real, true connections that make a network sing. And those connections form through common interests, uncommon discussions, give-and-take that occurs over time. More than the mere exchange of business cards.

What have you done to cultivate your network, lately? Reach out to a former colleague. Share something you've read. Offer a recommendation for a vendor you've found.

You'll never know where the conversation might lead.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Learn More Words, Do More Good

This is for anyone who wants to gauge and improve their vocabulary, and do some good in the world at the same time.

Check out Free Rice and test the quality of your palaver. It's the first addictive humanitarian effort I've ever run across.

Because the more time you spend matching words with definitions, the more advertisers' funds go to donating rice to the needy, according to the site.

Give it a try!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Marc Jacobs: Con Artist

Whoever put together the video on the Marc Jacobs website - bravo.

The quick cuts and handheld feel capture the preparation frenzy of New York Fashion Week. With all the behind-the-scenes construction and preparation and organization and boring details that it takes to pull off such an extravaganza.

But it also captures, in all its misguided splendor, the Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 2008 collection designs.

Loved the multi-tiered runway set. But the clothes didn't do it justice.

First, there is the range of ridiculous hats and headpieces . . . I mean, one poor girl has a miniature bicycle wheel sticking out of her forehead, for crying out loud.

And then there's the see-through, lace-skirted ball gowns, funereal suits, colors straight out of 60s and 70s palettes. One dress resembled a toga'd white bed sheet that had been used to clean out a chimney.

It was as if Jacobs took real clothes from the Salvation Army and chopped them up to make his collection. The overall effect? Thrift-shop chic, without the chic.

And the obligatory trudging, dour models with Brillo hair that had been teased and sprayed and tangled into a giant pouf of a helmet? They all look extremely annoyed. Who could blame them? I know exactly what they were thinking: "How am I going to get all these knots out of my hair?"

Fine, he did a show that was "backward," taking his bow before the show started and opening with the run of show to kick things off, instead of marching through the entire range of looks at the end.

[Yawn.]

This reeks of a man who's trying to cover up the fact that the emperor has no clothes. I'd love to know what Carine Roitfeld really thought, when she congratulated Jacobs afterward.

It's a collection done by a man with too many yes-men. Either that, or a man who wants to get fired.

They say wearability isn't the point at this level.

But even if you're designing couture, where the emphasis is on the designer's vision and the creative story for his line that season, they're still clothes. Clothing meant to be worn by women without inciting mockery.

So shouldn't they be wearable?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cutting a Rug

Apparently, the carpet installation company our new neighbors hired needed some extra space to cut the carpet to fit the room.

And so the carpet guys did this by unrolling the broadloom in the street and cutting the length they needed. Then, they rolled it back up and toted it inside the house.

Somehow, that didn't strike me as wise.

Although, we have hardwood floors, so we don't know if this is standard practice or not. What do you think?

Friday, November 16, 2007

5 Favorite Foods

1) Pancetta: Everything's better with bacon, right? This Italian answer to bacon is salty, peppercorn-filled loveliness in cured meat form. Cut a few ounces into bits and fry it up and start your risotto with this and a chopped up onion, then finish with parmigiano-reggiano and you will be in heaven.

2) Cheese: The pecorino tartufello (pecorino with truffles) I had two years ago made a lasting impression - found it recently in a cheese shop downtown, bought a hunk and realized it is still a sensory overload experience. Also, parmigiano-reggiano. And, goat cheese (Boucheron).

3) Figs: OK, from the start of this list, it's clear I should live in a villa in Tuscany, or at least closer to the Italian Market. But figs are a proverbial feast for the senses, between the gorgeous dark exterior and the vibrant, flecked textures inside - and when perfectly ripe is just lovely cut into fourths on top of a salad (throw in some goat cheese, too, while you're at it).

4) Kettle Krinkle Cut - Salt & Pepper Chips: These things are so crispy-crunchy, and peppery, once I start eating them, I can't put them down. Crunch-crunch-crunch. We pretty much have banned these from the house, due to my inability to eat one serving at a time.

5) Hazelnuts: Love 'em in chocolate, love 'em with chocolate, don't love 'em in Nutella (too oily, Nutella is). Simply toasted and chopped and sprinkled on top of a salad, they're a nutty crunch and have a flavor character all their own. Even better, I've made chocolate chip-hazelnut cookies (Giada DeLaurentiis recipe) that were so good, during Christmastime I've eaten them for breakfast. And I am not ashamed to admit it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Project Runway Redux: Season 4 Episode 1

All the build-up, all the fabricated drama, the characterizations - we finally get to see them in all their glory, now that Season 4 of Project Runway has begun!

All those promos with Christian made me just cringe - he's central casting's fashion guy with the wacky haircut and the bitchy 'tude! But I have to say I was impressed with the jacket and skirt combo he created for his first challenge (although when Tim Gunn pointed out his plaids didn't match with his sleeves and the jacket back and he was all, "I meant to do that," so I lost a little respect for him). If he's just playing a part to get screen time on the show, OK, but if he really remains that insufferable, I will do a little dance when he's auf'd.

Carmen, I hope she has some other designs that do not feature aircraft-carrier shoulder pads wide enough to land a plane. Both the outfit she designed and the outfits she wore in the episode made her seem as if she's just stepped out of the 80s. And not in a good way. A gold lame vest with big shoulders? Harem pants? Whuh?

Chris, for all his Jay-ish candor, seems like a less-bitter cross between Jay and a person I once worked with, who also has a giggly way about him. Given this was the first challenge, I actually liked that eggplant gown he created. It flowed like liquid as that model made her way down the runway, although I could have done without the neck brace of a bow.

Jack? Meh. His dress looked like something you'd pick up on the Lord & Taylor sale rack, two seasons later because someone bought it thinking the colors would be fun and fresh, but returned it when they realized they never even cut the tags.

Jillian's pouf-halter mini-monstrosity in that lipstick-red taffeta (or whatever it was) did nothing for me. But the girl must be able to design, or at least draw, to work for Ralph. She seems as if she's got a bit of attitude, too.

Kevin's design looked too trashy - that silver midsection? Ugh! And now I can't remember; was his model the one with the bad legs? I remember thinking of one of the shorter dresses, how unfortunate that it showed off probably the one model whose legs didn't have a good shape.

[Model commentary/interruption: Is it me, or do all the models this season walk as if they're in wellies wading through horse muck? Or stepping carefully into and out of tires? Giant, loping, knees-raised clomps down the runway, most of them. OK, well, I guess it's just me, then...]

As for Kit's dress, while it looked like it was nicely made, I thought the whole deconstructed look was sort of trying too hard to be different. "Look at me, I've got a creative point of view that the judges aren't likely to get, those parochial know-nothings!" I could have done without the chain-mess on the shoulder, too.

The thing that Marion designed at first just looked a mess. Was that black denim in the handkerchief-tiered skirt? The overall effect on top was too much of a shambles. But the skirt, the way the inside of the fabric showed that lighter color when the model walked, was really sort of interesting.

Given Steven's unusual bio, I was really kind of surprised he went for a suit-inspired look. I love suit skirts that hit exactly at that point on the knee - it's very flattering, especially for women who aren't 20.

In looking at her dress online on the Bravo site, Sweet P's creation looks better than it does on TV. The little bow/fleurette/do-hickey at the neckline is a little too precious, though. Would rather have seen the straps made of the red satin fabric and have the red fabric continue along the top of the neckline to have it work with the red skirt peeking out of the eyelet.

That Ricky, he has just got to get away from the lingerie look, although I realize this is his thing as a designer. In this competition, you've got to make some dresses that are dresses... "It's a little too much like lingerie for me" is something I swear I've heard Nina Garcia (a fellow BU alum!) utter in seasons past. Maybe he's good, but he just squeaked by today.

The big monstrosity that Victorya attached to her dress in front? Hideous! And with Michael Kors giving Rami the talking-to because of the flower on his dress, to not point out that Victorya's use of the big flower was so Carrie Bradshaw circa, what 1999? Why Kors didn't call her out on this, I don't know.

Oh, Alisa. If she is genuine, then she's got some creative other-worldly spark, but I'm soooo cynical after watching all these seasons. On the one hand, this could just be a character she's playing up for the cameras. But then, she also makes clothing for marionettes, so she could be legitimately quirky.

Simone, I would drop you from this competition just for using that stripe of yellow in the dress. That just didn't make any sense.

Ah, Rami's way with draping fabric is just exquisite. Right away, the way the model moved, you could tell this dress was well-conceived and perfectly draped and tacked into place. But... I didn't see how this dress fastened. Did Rami run a zipper through it? Was it an over-the-head deal? That's the problem with these earliest shows - too many contestants to see much detail at once. More info about the clothes, Bravo (please!) at least on the website!

That's all for now. What did *you* think?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Favorite Places: Cafe at Rosemont


One of my favorite places is the Cafe at Rosemont just a few miles away from Lambertville, NJ.

The restaurant's decor is part general store/part art gallery - because most of the art you see on the walls is for sale.

It's a random assortment of tables and chairs, and mismatched cutlery, but it's not one of those precious twee shoppes. It feels more like you're eating at your friend's house.

And while you're eating your goat cheese with sundried tomato omelette, you can peruse the paintings and photographs that surround you.

They also have homemade butterscotch pudding, and many other desserts - their lemon pound cake is delicious - which are probably very much like what your grandma used to cook if she was a really excellent cook.

The surrounding area is farmland and rolling hills, so it's also a beautiful place to take a drive this time of year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's All in the (Positive) Attitude

One very smart boss I had pointed out that, in some circumstances, staying positive can make all the difference between motivating a team to complete even the most challenging project on time and under budget, or whipping the group into a frenzy and missing the deadline.

It was all in the attitude.

And through the years I've found this to be true. A little bit of positive energy can go a long way.

A [huge project] to be completed [within just a few hours or days]? No problem! (Substitute your [thing] and [timeframe] as appropriate.)

Part of it is Tina Fey's "Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterward." She points out that many exciting things have happened to her since adopting that attitude. (I love that quote - and look where she is now!)

Now, I'm no Pollyanna . . . there are some projects that are too much, too fast, too complex to be done effectively within the stated constraints.

But for those that are just a little bit of a stretch, focusing on the possibilities rather than the downsides may help you suss out the solution.

It might take a little encouragement to make it happen, whether it comes from telling yourself, or hearing it from someone else.

Are you thinking positively today? Can you help someone else see the possibilities?

Best Fortune Cookie Ever

A little white slip of paper has been taped to my laptop for several years and it says:

Renegotiate the conditions if you are dissatisfied.

It is less a fortune than it is words to live by. And it works in virtually any circumstance in which you may find yourself feeling out-of-sorts.

Go ahead. Try it.

Consider it your fortune for today.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gift Ideas: More than Just a Notebook

Yes, I know that, technically, a Moleskine is just a notebook.

To some, its plain-jane cover makes it appear nothing special. The cost seems prohibitive when you can get one at Staples or Target for a buck or two.

But the plain-covered Moleskines are the ultimate in don't judge a book by its cover.

First, the cover boards themselves are solid enough to write against. It's a built-in desk. Second, the notebook itself has some heft; the pages are substantial and the paper is smooth-smooth-smooth. Third, the cover has a tactile smoothness to it that stands up over time.

Once you start, that stark, blank cover belies the creativity unleashed within.

Crack open one of these beauties, and the absence of thought and color eventually gives way . . . to stories spilled out at breakneck pace, artwork scribbled on the fly, layered collages, movies to see, novels to write, pastel'd still lives, dreams for the future, frenzied business plans, grocery lists, quotes, cartoons, the musings of writers for whom this may be their only creative outlet in a day full of corporate rigmarole.

For friends who are stymied regarding how to set their creativity in motion, a fresh notebook can make the greatest gift.

A notebook can be their palette.

Their muse.

Their permission.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Great Pastry Debate

All right, people, the polls have officially closed and the results are in: Cake won (12 votes), but just by one vote (pie got 11).

Two people said they preferred neither cake nor pie (what?!).

For me, cake is the thing. But cake enjoyed with friends is the best kind of all...

Pictured above is one of the most delicious wedding cakes I've ever eaten. From a lovely wedding we attended one year ago today. Chocolate cake, with chocolate mousse filling, covered in chocolate buttercream. Happy Anniversary, Susan and Charles!

Thanks for voting and stay tuned for the next poll!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tri-Color Trees

When I was a kid, the end of Summer was a bummer, but Fall still had a few things going for it.

With the start of school came brand-new notebooks (which I still obsess over) and shiny new shoes. The promise of winter. Which meant Christmas wasn't far behind! And snow days that sometimes closed school. Woo-hoo!

Now Fall means raking gobs and gobs of leaves (we have some extremely tall maple and oak trees), colder temperatures. And with the impending winter, the occasional snow day, but instead of joy these can bring stress if we have to still trek to work, if we have to find a way to get home in the crush of traffic. Or most productive of all, work from home and figure out later how to chip out the car from its encasement of ice.

During long country drives on sunny Fall days, however, the trees in their golden, red and bright yellow hues are nature's mood elevators. Among my favorite rides are those where the trees form a colorful archway beckoning me to zoom right through. Change is good.

We just spent the weekend driving up and down the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, one of the most scenic roads in the country. More on that later.

For now, a shot of trees from another outdoor jaunt that jolted me into appreciating Fall yet again.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Restorative Powers

The long, bumpy, seven-hour flight left me with the equivalent of a catnap overnight, and the plane landed before dawn that February morning.

The hotel wasn't ready, but my friend, Susan, had said I could come to her flat when I'd arrived. It seemed too early to call her, so I got some coffee and waited until the sun came up, then yawned and flagged a cab.

Careening around Paris, stopping to ask for directions to the tiny street he couldn't find on his map, the cab driver finally dropped me near the apartment.

Finally, inside Susan's building, I traipsed with my purse and heavy laptop bag, up... up... up... eight flights of steep, short stairs, grasping the twisted wrought-iron bannister, walking nearly sideways to keep from tumbling down.

On the landing I paused, my pulse raced from exertion and I swayed from fatigue. I walked over to the apartment number that matched what I'd scribbled on a scrap of paper. The laptop bag fell to the floor with a thump and I knocked.

As Susan answered the door, we squealed our hellos, gave each other a big hug and immediately fell right into the same banter that kept us going all through college.

Ever the hostess, Susan read my mind: "Would you like a cup of tea?"

A few minutes later, as she poured me a cup, the vanilla aroma filled the apartment, like a tray of sugar cookies fresh from the oven. All the strain and fatigue of the morning faded away in an instant.

Now that the cold weather is setting in, I crave this tea all the time. Go ahead, try it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Things I Like: Fashion

1. Cashmere sweaters, turtleneck
2. Shoes, Louis-heeled
3. Wool trousers, herringbone
4. Leather boots, espresso brown
5. Jackets, princess-seamed

Clothing-wise, I am definitely more a fan of the fall collections.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Breakfast with Spoon

One day while on vacation, we spent an hour waiting outside Dottie's for the buttermilk dill toast and other breakfast amazements. As it turned out, behind us, also waiting, were a few guys from Spoon. Britt spent much of the time on his cell and the drummer was reading The Onion.

Actually, that's how we finally identified them, in the paper. Just not used to being thisclose to cool bands. Anyway, despite my having loved their song "I Turn My Camera On" I had no idea who they were, but knew they looked familiar.

Then, once their new album was released, "The Underdog" became my theme song for much of the summer. During my commute, that song helped propel me from the train headfirst into my workday. It was especially effective on hazy Mondays when motivation was hard to come by.

For me, the blare of trumpets works better than a double-shot of espresso.

Go ahead and download "The Underdog" from iTunes if you need a pick-me-up. And let me know what you think.

Taking Charge of Incremental Interruptions

Do you consider yourself a multi-tasker? Apparently, there's research to the contrary that insists you're really interrupting yourself incrementally.

And you know the worst instigator of multi-tasking activities these days? Say it with me: Email.

Some experts advise checking only twice a day. But how is that realistic?

In the corporate world, if I'd told my boss I only check email twice a day (or just went ahead and did it) I'm pretty sure I'd have been out of a job!

You could argue that a boss should be more in touch with his employees, speak to them directly, plan ahead better. And then I'd ask you: Where do you work?

In a fast-paced office where people rely on digital communications to foster speed and agility and responsiveness, it can't be realistic to limit email checking to twice daily.

I can far more easily buy into the notion of doing the digital equivalent to adman David Ogilvy's habit of handling each piece of paper that crossed his desk only once (back in the day, well before email). Handle each email only once, whether it means you answer, delete or file.

Or, when faced with an overloaded inbox of urgent queries, to first get to those requiring two minutes or less to answer, as an expert recently suggested in a New York Times article.

For my part, I've tried limiting the number of people in the To: field. Unless it's absolutely critical, why include everybody and their chain of command when there's really only one person who needs the information?

So what about you? How do you process all your email without letting your workday veer off track? Feel free to post your Tips in the Comments below.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pie Vs. Cake: The Poll

As I've mentioned before, I'm partial to cake. OK, more than partial; more like obsessed.

Given that the major food holiday is around the corner, I'm just wondering where everyone else's pastry preferences fall.

So... check out the poll in the right column, and vote what your heart tells you!

Have a Very Etsy Holiday!

If you haven't checked out Etsy, I suggest you do so immediately. Trust me, it just might save your bacon if you're stumped for holiday gift ideas.

[Full disclosure: I have an Etsy shop.]

Etsy is all about handmade items that run the gamut from artisanal jewelry to letterpress notecards to stained glass to furniture to handbags to keychains to stuffed animals to scarves to hats to quilts to rugs to pottery to glassware to wind chimes to hand-stamped gift wrap to paintings. And everything in between.

Know someone who's into birds? Just search the site for "birds" and you will be stunned at the range of ideas for gifts to bestow on the person you're shopping for. Stunned!

Just an incredible amount of lovely stuff. And sometimes, you can find just the right gift for someone, and interact with an artist who tells you what inspired them to create what they've sold to you.

I love that.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Marathon!

Amidst all the sitting (uh, I mean, writing) that I'm doing this month in celebration of NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, I applaud the rest of you today who are instead getting your run on.

Go, Travis!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Why Is Furniture Shopping So Hard?

I'd always considered our old dining room table a placeholder for the real dining room table we'd have someday.

Fifteen years later, it's time to upgrade.

What we have is a basic, straight-legged Ikea find made out of pine with an oval tabletop. It's a big, clunky blob in the open, airy landscape of our combined living/dining room.

All the Ikea chairs at that time felt spindly and insubstantial, as if one morning they'd snap under our weight and throw us to the floor in a heap. So we bought these shaker-inspired oak chairs that don't really go. (But they are solid!)

But have you noticed the size of some of the dining room sets that they're selling now? They seem either devoid of character or scaled to fill up a McMansion's East Wing.

Ideally, I'd like an extension table, for those times when we entertain (when we do, it tends to be for groups of 8 or more).

No pedestals, or turned or carved legs. Clean lines. Think clean lines.

Even offerings from Room & Board and Design within Reach - which despite the name are still sometimes out of reach - aren't tempting these days.

There is clearly a market here, because many friends have the same problem: Where is all the good furniture?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Contain Yourself

For many years, I've heard a lot about The Container Store.

That it was one of the Best Places to Work, according to Fortune magazine.

That the place had more stuff to contain your stuff than anywhere else under the sun.

That its customer service is top-notch. (Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!)

Well, they're finally opening one within a drivable distance. And they're donating 10% of grand opening sales at this location to a good cause.

Since it's not far from my aunt's place, I may take a field trip and check it out.

Question: What's your best organizing solution?

These Shoes Were Made for Blogging

If you're participating in NaNoWriMo or NaBloPoMo, there comes a time when despite your best efforts, you need a break.

For that, my friends, I send you here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Novel Idea

In my line of work, I spend a great deal of time writing. In some cases, it's about a topic that interests me, but often it's about something I have to write about. An assignment.

So when an activity appears, in the form of NaNoWriMo, that literally gives me permission to take up part of my 24-hour day fleshing out that novel idea you've been kicking around for oh, 10 years, there's a thrill ("Wow, I can really do this!").

At least, until the day of reckoning. And that day was today, November 1.

I've had a number of ideas for a novel over the years. None of which seem particularly difficult to bring to life. Yet when I sat down to write, stage fright set in.

For those not acquainted with NaNoWriMo, if you opt in for the encouraging emails designed to egg you on throughout the novel-writing process, you begin receiving them today, the start of the project.

The first message was from Tom Robbins, one of those authors who, like Kurt Vonnegut, transported me as a bored high schooler to communities overflowing with colorful characters, some of whose idiosyncracies I recognized in relatives, coworkers, or teachers and even friends. The back stories of these characters made me appreciate the idiosyncracies in my real-world acquaintances all the more.

Among the hints Mr. Robbins provided in his message to his fellow writers was this:

"You need not have your ending in mind before you commence. Indeed, you need not be certain of exactly what's going to transpire on page 2. If you know the whole story in advance, your novel is probably dead before you begin it."

That last sentence did it. It gave me the shot of courage I needed to just dive in and write the 1,750 words I wrote today.