Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Starbucks Diet

Over the past year, I've been cutting back on my Starbucks intake.

Partly out of wanting to save the cash, but also because we all know the specialty drinks are loaded with sugar, and as a person who can't tolerate the fake stuff, there we are.

At one point just two years ago, my drink of choice was a decaf Grande vanilla skim latte - almost five days a week.

Part of the reason I would parttake was the camaraderie, jaunting off to the cafe with my friends added a bit of fun to the work day.

But eventually, like all good (bad) habits, I grew to really, really look forward to that jolt of sugar to get me through the afternoon.

Although the number of trips I make each week has reduced greatly, I've also decided that when I do go, I make it a Tall.

And huh. I've lost more than 5 lb over the past year, all else being equal!

Like any good diet (well, not a diet really; just a positive, lasting habit change), it's about portion control, and cutting out where you miss it the least is the easiest way to start.

Go ahead, give it a go. Surely there's a place you can cut out something you won't miss, or swap in a good substitute that makes you feel healthier?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Getting Back into Practice

Growing up, I was an avid musician. I played the flute and the guitar, both pretty well.

For various reasons I stuck with the flute longer, and ended up performing in lots of extra chamber music groups and orchestras.

While I was in journalism school, for a feature-writing class assignment I interviewed a bunch of musicians for an article on what it was like to be a working musician.

One particularly talented young cellist had given up working as an orchestral performer for a couple of years to work on her bank account -- by taking a job as a paralegal.

During our discussions, which were full of great anecdotes (including one where a conductor got so angry during a performance he stormed off the stage, and although the performers kept playing, in a fit he cut the power for the entire auditorium to the audience's shock) this woman was especially intriguing.

She noted that because she hadn't performed for two years, it would take her a good three to six months of solid practice - we're talking eight hours per day - to revert to her original level.

Three to six months? I thought. Impossible!

The other day, I picked up my tarnished silver flute and started playing a few things that years of practice and muscle memory made it impossible to forget.

And I was astounded at how bad it sounded.

At that point, I thought, yeah, maybe three to six months of daily practice for eight hours a day, and I'd be ready for a show again.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Get Out of that Winter Rut

Creatively, I've been stuck in a rut for a week or so.

I've got several projects that are in limbo, several others that I've started. And still more ideas are kicking around in my head for even more projects.

Some people like to finish one thing before moving on to another.

Me, I like having a number of plates to juggle. It keeps my senses awake and aware.

After a while, though, I just need to get a little perspective to push things through. Tie up loose ends and make execution my end goal.

With the warmer weather (40s when it should be 20s!), I can tell this week is looking to be a good one for action . . . so let's go!

Photo taken at Rehoboth Beach, September 2006.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Project Runway Episode 9:
Victorya Felled by Passive-Aggression

You've heard me complain before about Victorya's passive-aggression throughout this competition. And in this episode, her poor attitude does her in.

Victorya got what she deserved by just glomming onto the trench idea she and Jillian went with previously (and that Jillian created flawlessly), but she just sort of la-di-dahed through this episode. No inspiration. Nothing new brought to the table. For crying out loud, she just hacked some denim panels onto an existing jean jacket. Bleh!

So now that Victorya was a team of one, the only thing left to take out her passive-aggression on was the very denim they were all tasked to use to create an iconic look for Levi's.

Getting Catty in the Workroom

Chris March, King of the Quips, hit the nail on the head with his "Ah, youth" dismissal of Christian's obnoxious commentary.

Christian is immature on the one hand, albeit confident as Diana Vreeland and just as full of his own pronouncements as that doyenne of the fashion world. Where's this guy get the chutzpah? I guess he's got the chops to back it up, but it's just annoying. It strikes me as the sense of entitlement among some Gen-Y kids that inspires them to be brazen enough to just go for what they want without respecting authority. Hence, the clashes between Chris and Christian.

Chris March speaks to his designs, or to himself? So what! That's definitely part of his charm. Everyone else is just complain-complain-complain. But like he said after hearing Jillian freak out yet again over yet another overly ambitious design that was poorly executed, "If you haven't learned what this is about by now, you'll never learn." (Or something to that effect.)

Chris is right: While it purports to identify the next great American designer, Project Runway is purely about Great TV.

Christian has gladly taken the role of "The Villain." Chris has a persona that plays well on TV, too - the wizened Comedian who's been around the block a few times. So in the context of making Great TV, Chris is skidding by on his personality a little right now - that's fine by me, frankly, as long as he sticks around a bit longer.

This is the problem with Christian - he doesn't understand how the show works. He seems to think he deserves to win every single episode, appears genuinely crestfallen when he doesn't, and that's because he does not get it.

Yes, his motocross jeans and cropped jacket looked fierce, but that's not all that's getting Christian this far. But really, that's not the point.

Surely Christian realizes that the producers need to protect some of the more colorful characters until the end, to keep up interest - whether all the remaining designers' talent is on par with his or not. I'm not saying that if Victorya was a more colorful character she'd be kept on; her trench was the wrong way to go about it during this challenge.

And the Winner Is... Ricky?!

Oh Ricky, aka Mr Waterworks - who cries when he's sad, when he's inspired, when he's overwhelmed with the emotion over winning. He pumps some theatrics into the show, but he is definitely talented (although last week, when he wore a sleeveless tshirt? No. This week, he looked a million times better).

Kudos to you, Ricky - this time, your design sense was on display, front-and-center. The corset was expertly tailored and fit the model like a second skin.

It's Christian's naivete that convinces him that he can win every challenge, despite the point of the show being about entertainment. Similarly, they're keeping Ricky around for effect, yet, and the best designers are still around, so they're playing the balancing act now.

Pulling Out All the Stops

Sweet P's really pulled out the stops these last couple of weeks, showing she really can design. Her wedding-dress idea was a goofy one, and thank God she was saved by Tim Gunn's extremely judgmental reaction in the workroom. In the end, those dark side panels she created were slimming, like Michael Kors said - the design had "that voodoo," the optical illusion that makes it a dress every woman would want to own because it makes her look fantastic.

And although by designing with denim, they were working with the polar opposite of jersey, Rami pulled off a great design. This reminded me of the skills and vision he brought to the candy episode, where the wrappers became a pleated skirt and the bodice fit like a dream. However I thought the zipper trim in the denim design was a little hokey. I've never liked zipper trim in designs.

I would love to know when they decide on the challenges, whether they're predetermined, or if the producers decide on the challenge once they see who's left? I vote for the latter, because I'm such a cynic.

Final Three: Rami, Christian, Jillian with Sweet P as a wildcard

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Color Me Addicted: Pottery Painting Protege

I have now entered suburban housewife cliché-ville: This weekend, my sister and I took her daughter and a friend to Color Me Mine, one of those paint-your-own pottery stores.

It was sensory overload for a while. We ran into a friend from high school whom I hadn't seen in 15 years and caught up amidst the chatter.

The place was noisy and crowded with kids coming out of a birthday party. A family squished beside us, mother, grandmother, and kids, painting dishes and dinosaurs.

Then suddenly, there was calm. Everyone was concentrating on coloring in the lines, or not. We were chatting quietly and giggling, and keeping an eye on the little ones while we painted our wares and dished about the week.

While the fun was fleeting, in just 7 to 10 days we'll see the finished products.

Can't wait to see how they all turned out!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Self-Contained: Container Store Visit

Went to the first Container Store in my area, finally, after way too much build-up. Over the holidays, my aunt had warned, "Eh, it's just another place that sells plastic stuff you could get at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond."

She was right. Although with their post-Christmas sale, I came away with a bargain haul on jewelry gift boxes and ribbon and printed tissue paper.

Basically, it's one big platform to drive you to invest in an Elfa shelving system.

Still, it's easy to catch the organization bug while you're there.

The Container Store's website had many of the things I was looking for, so I went to the store armed with a list.

And it's a good thing I was determined to stick to it, because it's easy to be lured into thinking you need everything in each aisle, organized by setting as it is.

I managed to escape without purchasing a whole new set of canisters for the kitchen. Glass, plastic, screw-top lidded, vacuum-sealed, they have 'em all.

Or paperclip holders for the office (but really, how many paperclips do you use these days?).

Or a document box made out of flimsy cardboard imported from England, retailing for $24.99.

But I did buy these file folders (on sale!) because they're in one of my favorite shades of green, and the circles were cool.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Went to see Atonement with two friends who also had the day off. The movie was spectacularly filmed... with lush English countryside, war scenes that inspired chills and dread, the sad realities of caring for the wounded in hospital.

One person I know who saw it before us recommended it, despite having found it rather slow.

"Go, you'll love it, the period costumes are incredible, the scenery is gorgeous," he said. And it was. The two hours zipped by. But not just because of the visuals, but because of the story.

It was a story told in quiet moments, in reading the characters' faces, their body language. Unlike other movies based on well-known novels, this one may actually inspire me to read Ian McEwan's book to confirm precisely what they were all thinking during the twists and turns of this quietly bumpy ride.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dog Days of Childhood

During the winter that I was in kindergarten, I was out of school with throat infections more often than I was in school. So after many notes to school excusing my absence, my family doctor convinced my parents that my tonsils had to come out.

Because it happened when I was quite young, I remember only a few scenes from that experience... being wheeled off to surgery through the children's ward... seeing kiddie-cartoon sheets lining a passing gurney... waking up after the surgery in Post-Op, alarmed at being unable to speak then quickly passing out again... and enjoying bowl after bowl of Breyers strawberry ice cream after I was sent home to recuperate.

While still in the hospital, my Dad had brought me a little brown plastic dog, a dachshund the same amber-colored coat as my Aunt's dog, Gunther. Its head bobbled and its tail wagged, and something about its smooth movements was very calming for a six-year-old. As I recovered, I kept it on my bedside table, nudging it every once in a while to set its head and tail bobbing.

Although my family never had a dog - we were always cat people - this little doggie has traveled with me through multiple houses, and has taken up residence in prime locations on many a desk.

Just looking at it brings back memories of childhood, and reminds me that no matter what I'm going through, everything will be OK.

Friday, January 18, 2008

(Lip)stick in a Box

About a week ago, I placed an order with Barneys New York and then promptly forgot about it. This morning, the Fedex truck pulled up, and the guy loped across the yard, box in hand.

It was like Christmas! So I opened the box.

And unfolded the tissue paper...

And took out the kraft paper stuffing...

And unwrapped the blobby, loaf-of-bread-sized corrugated paper packaging... (Speaking of bread, this is taking so long I need a snack.)

Then unrolled the taped-up bubble wrap ...

Then untaped some more tissue paper...

To get to the lipstick I'd ordered. Thank goodness it wasn't damaged in shipping.

(Note the soda can on the left side, for scale.)

The only redeeming factor here is that I will recycle this stuff. But still. A single lipstick doesn't need to be shipped in a box measuring 9" x 11" x 6" and six layers of packaging. A padded envelope will do.

Dear Barneys New York,
Please lighten up on the packaging!
Thank you,
Spandrel Studios

Books: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Normally, talking about comedy is uniquely un-funny. Breaking down a joke into its parts, dissecting its language and identifying the tickler that zings the funny bone is seldom entertaining in its own right.

However, Born Standing Up, Steve Martin's new autobiography, is just charming. He writes in that same lilting, observant style that he uses in some of his prior books, like The Pleasure of My Company and Shopgirl.

Martin spends a lot of time inside his own head, but it's like a carnival of the absurd in there, complete with balloon-twisting entertainers and old-time magicians. Family pain that thankfully was resolved. All of which inspired him to be the artist he has become.

But what I like best about this book are the gems he leaves here and there. Quotable aphorisms like:

"Through the years, I have learned there is no harm
in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration."

Along the way, you'll learn what made him a wild and crazy guy, how he started collecting American art, and what he thought about writing for TV.

If you've enjoyed Steve Martin's comedy, or his writing, I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Project Runway Episode 8:
Not-so Dynamic Duos

Wow, what an episode. Personally, if I were on a show where I was going to be awarded the prize for being the best American designer of the lot, I'd bristle over all these team challenges, such as that which the designers were put through last night.

[I forgot to mention: At the start of the episode, when Heidi introduced the models for their elimination session, each walked onto the runway sporting a hairstyle that featured "a lotta look," as Tim Gunn says. One looked like a rat's nest. Another was simply flowing waves. Another had a type of super-huge, woven-basket bun effect in the back. You get the idea. The designers were paired off and instructed to create an avant-garde couture look inspired by the hairstyle of one of their models.]

Christian and Chris were a fantastic pair on the team I dubbed Team Personality Plus. At long last, Christian showed some maturity, or at least decent leadership: by appreciating that he was paired with Chris, the king of costume, he knew they would do great work. They seemed to work seamlessly, each taking on the area where they excelled. Sure, the skirt on the ready-to-wear outfit looked like a Jones New York skirt I bought off the sale rack at TJ Maxx in 1992, but still, the blouse's ruffles alluded to the tiered organza in the couture piece. Bravo!

I admit, I was taken in by the editing job they did on the Jillian and Victorya pairing; until the end it seemed the two were destined for failure, time management slipping through their grasp. Who would have thought that punk and trench coat would be used together to describe the same garment? I liked the final couture piece, with the fun pink Tartan lining. The little black dress was totally unrelated to the couture piece and other than the fabric, did not look inspired by the couture outfit in the slightest. That's why they didn't win.

But it was Sweet P and Rami who looked the most at risk. Rami, domineering and insistent with his intense pronouncements and micromanaging. Over-emotional Sweet P teared up at every turn. At the end, when Rami was like a chicken with its head cut off, zipping this way and that, it's as if he took on parts of Sweet P's personality - she's usually the one sliding around the workroom in a panic. The couture gown was OK if a little flat (and I thought the whole trousers-with-dresses thing was so over?). But Sweet P's ready-to-wear dress was adorable, with all the pleating and the satin edging -very nice. I'd wear the thing!

And where the heck did Kit and Ricky's monstrosity come from? Like the dean of fashion design Michael Kors pointed out, the beribboned hoop skirt and apron combo recalled Scarlett O'Hara - only with less elegance and grace. Guest Judge Alberta Feretti giggled her critiques at them (and I would not be surprised if Kit went and purchased a Feretti gown only to rip it to shreds). The daytime dress looked like it was made out of wallpaper you'd find in a down-at-the-heels Bed and Breakfast at the Jersey shore.

Sneaking in that ready-to-wear project at the height of the contestants' angst was almost cruel. Not sure I like the producers' pulling this one, this time. But these designers really must be professionals because they make like Tim Gunn and make it work.

Final Three Picks: Christian, Jillian, and a tossup between Chris and Victorya

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Calendar Queen

The onslaught of New Year's resolutions begets planning. And planning begets calendars.

Over the years, I've used Palm and Handspring handhelds, and like everyone else I use Outlook for business. Digital solutions are great for beeping reminders, planning years into the future, or recurring tasks.

But I've found that I need the tactile sensation of writing on paper. Faster to write, easier to check off. Nothing to charge up. Done!

However, using a Franklin Covey 5x8 calendar over the past year (with spiral-bound booklets for each month), has introduced more frustrations.

While the thing is large enough to write in easily, it's a horse to lug around.

You'd think swapping months in and out wouldn't be a big deal, but when the folio is only large enough to house three spiral-bound items at a time, it's a pain. Having only a three-month view of my schedule at any given time is . . . well, it creates its own little kind of stress.

It always felt like I was missing something, or that a deadline was lurking in the shadows of the future.

Plus, the thing is so large that it doesn't fit into my everyday handbag. That is a problem.

For the moment, I'm mostly working on short-term projects, but most of the time I tend to work on longer-range projects that span multiple months.

So after much hunting around online and in neighborhood stationery stores, I located this. And so far, it's the perfect solution.

Portable, a year in your palm. It's a chunk of a calendar, but everything is within reach. And that coral-lipstick red cover shines like a beacon in my purse, making it easy to spot.

What kind of calendar do you use? What makes it work for you?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

English Teachers: A Timeline

12th grade: Read each student's daily journal entry every evening, making annotations in the margins, applauding deft turns of phrase. First teacher to recognize multiple creative interests and a lack of laser-focus as a positive, not a deficit.

11th grade: Seemed perpetually preoccupied with or addled by something - Sleep deprivation? Over-medication? - and basically let the class run itself.

10th grade: Imparted little gems of wisdom on life, such as the fact that pearls should be worn against the skin, to improve luster. Also, that Hera sprang from Zeus' forehead. Later learned she was also a Juilliard-trained pianist.

9th grade: Only teacher - English or otherwise - I've ever seen misspell words written on the blackboard.

8th grade: Told class a story about a friend of her husband's, who had come over to their house for dinner. Said friend used a Sharpie to draw eyeballs on his hands and held them up over his own when asked a question and intoned, "Yeeeeeessss?"

7th grade: Gave extra credit for over-zealous Haiku production at the end of each marking period. (I spent four entire weekends that year thinking in 5-7-5.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Project Runway Episode 7:
Sweet P Was Robbed!

Well, it wasn't exactly the doing-in of Christian that all the previews hyped it up to be. But it was nearly his undoing.

Back in high school, I designed my own prom gown, actually out of necessity than anything else (too tall for off-the-rack). My Mom's friend was an expert seamstress who could sew anything - coats, hats, dresses, jeans (jeans!), shirts - so a prom gown she could do with one hand tied behind her back.

The dress combined two separate dress patterns from Vogue that approximated what I was looking for: a top bounded by ruffles that swooped across the chest and shoulders, attached to a column skirt that went straight to the floor in the front with a knee-high slit up the back. The back was a work of art involving a giant bow at the waist, bounded by (still more!) ruffles that tumbled and tapered down the back along the edge of the center-back seam of the skirt. Did I mention it was royal-blue taffeta? It was quite fierce, in an 80s way.

Well, back to Project Runway's Prom Dress episode...

Christian's youthful inexperience reared its ugly head during this episode, because he has yet to acquire traits that mostly comes with experience and time: diplomacy and tact. In making my prom gown, my Mom's seamstress friend indulged my crazy scheme, and finessed the design so both pieces would match up and work together. She added her own vision so that she could make it work.

Part of what makes Christian's character compelling on this show is that he's got some sassy attitude and isn't afraid to say what's on his mind. This episode also had him just giving up and throwing in the proverbial towel with a pout and a full-on drama-queen fall to the floor over the headstrong high schooler Maddie as his client. Granted, the girl was opinionated, but then, so is Christian. The resulting dress looked designed by committee - bronze and black lace all over the place - and it was. Even Tim's tough love talk, encouraging Christian to rally, didn't have much impact, and he found himself in the bottom two, standing beside Kevin.

Kevin, this episode, just seemed ready to go home. He didn't bother with the hem, which was uneven to start with. Even Chris encouraged Kevin to deal with the hem to avoid the wrath of Nina Garcia over an unfinished garment (actually, it ended up being Michael Kors who called him on it). The red was just too old-lady lipstick red.

Kit's dress had something that looked like an RGB monitor test pattern chestplate that I found unattractive. The blue color of the rest of the dress was pretty on the model, but overall, not her typical edgey design.

Maybe it's because she had to take direction from a teenager, but Jillian's design didn't have that familiar Jillian polish. It was wispy and ill-fitting at the bustline, but the colors were OK.

Oh, Ricky. Escaped being in the bottom three, but I think just barely. The color was so close to his model's skin color that it threatened to make her look like a big pinkish blob of Silly Putty - if it weren't for the sparkly trim under the bustline.

Being partial to shades of green, I loved Chris March's long satiny gown, with the gathered front and pleating at the back, which made for a dramatic sweep of an exit.

And Rami, I hope you're not turning into a one-trick pony. With the grecian swaths of pleated and braided fabric, and the draping, he aged that high schooler a good 20 years.

Once again this week, I completely disagree with the judges' choice of the winner.

Maybe it's the area in which I live, but I could see a million more prom girls in Sweet P's champagne silk-satin gown - which exuded old Hollywood glamour - rather than Victorya's sale-rack special from Caché.

I'll give you that the royal blue in Victorya's dress looked great with the model's blond hair - I'm partial to royal blue, as I alluded to before. But for me, the cheesy "bling" and the choker-style neckline did it in for me. The overall effect was strange and amateurish.

Sweet P's champagne satin dress, on the other hand, looked fabulous and elegant, the girl loved her dress, and it fit perfectly. All this, and with interesting detailing in the top. Even Gilles Mendel gave her his blessing on this dress.

Who do you think should have won? Were the judges spot-on this time?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Juno: Kudos to Diablo Cody

With all the hype over the movie Juno, I went last week with a combination of excitement and hopelessly raised expectations. Hell, my expectations were raised so high, I feared there was no way I could leave the theater anything but disappointed.

I was thrilled to find that I was so, so wrong. Because in the end, for all its quirkiness and overwrought dialogue, it was all about the love. Comforting, non-sappy love.

Caught midway between girl- and womanhood and named for a Roman goddess, Juno's all bitten nails and ponytails and a healthy respect for The Kinks and a dollop of self-conscious snappy banter.

J.K. Simmons and Alison Janney cracked me up as her parents. Alternatively smart and funny, dour and real, they were your best friend's parents, the ones you used to always see as you ran up the steps on the way up to your friend's room to hide out for hours listening to music and thinking deep thoughts.

Step-Mom Bren's deferred canine dreams. Dad's quirky name selection process for his children. Their simple, cluttered house.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as the yuppie adoptive-parents-to-be were believable as a McMansion-dwelling couple.

And Bleeker. Michael Cera was just perfect in Arrested Development (RIP), and he's just as perfect here. Maybe he's merely portraying slight variants of himself, capitalizing on all the nostalgia that all the screenwriters in their 30s are looking back on. I mean, I knew boys exactly like this in high school. Was friends with and fell in love with them.

The line "I don't know what kind of girl I am," delivered with such a mixture of confusion and earnestness and dismay. Lovely, Ellen Page. Just lovely.

And the way Juno's Dad talks about love? It just opens up your heart and makes you realize what we all yearn for.

There have been complaints in reviews I've read that "Nobody talks like this," and that the characters' musings have been way off the mark. That may be true, but do you really want to watch a movie with someone just sitting there, thinking about how they need to buy toilet paper and raisins at the grocery store? No.

If you want an entertaining story that keeps you engaged and offers some surprises, whether they occur in the story line, the dialogue or both, then Diablo Cody's writing delivers.

I can't wait to see what other movies she has up her sleeve.

Blackwell's Worst-Dressed List

It's an easy choice for Mr Blackwell to put Posh at the top of the worst-dressed list.

The woman has really worked her Spice Girls and Mrs David Beckham roles beyond their allotted 15 minutes, and clearly dresses for the paparazzi. But that's Posh's shtick. She's sort of a cartoon of a celebrity - too thin, too surgically enhanced, too severe. Overall, just too much.

And while I applaud Blackwell's decision to leave Britney off the list due to her current personal upheaval, why does he feel it's acceptable to list true-Brit Amy Winehouse as Number 2, when she's probably just as much of a train wreck, minus the children?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

10 Effects of Unseasonably Warm Weather

It's been a weird week, what with the weather all unseasonably gorgeous and sunny - highs in the 60s for crying out loud! A veritable heat wave for the East Coast. Not that I'm complaining...

But everything just feels a little off-kilter. I've got a couple of big projects brewing. A few things that are weighing heavy on my mind. Feeling a little stuck creatively. Need a little inspiration. Some kind of kick-start.

In the meantime, my list of top 10 Effects of Unseasonably Warm Weather:
  1. Being outdoors as much as possible suddenly seems very important.
  2. Spotted someone eating an ice cream cone while walking down the street.
  3. Everyone seems 100% happier and friendlier; big, goofy grins abound.
  4. The side of my face gets a slight sunburn while driving. (Damn! More freckles, too!)
  5. Sunglass'd mothers feeding their newborn babies while sitting on park benches.
  6. Outdoor seating that's been under wraps for months is resurrected for two freak days of dining al fresco.
  7. A walk to an Italian market for dinner ingredients feels like a jaunt through a European neighborhood - with people outside talking, kids playing, a family sitting on the stoop.
  8. An odd smell (mud mixed with dead grass?) in the air outside... Not quite spring, not quite winter.
  9. Golfers wearing shorts while hitting the links on a "sick day."
  10. Flip-flops in January finally make sense.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Written in Ink

My husband is totally bemused by the fact that I've watched all those ink shows - Miami Ink, LA Ink, London Ink - at one time or another.

Why? Because I am the least likely person he knows to get a tattoo.

Aside from the pain (for which my tolerance levels rival that of a newborn), I can't think of a symbol that I would like to have permanently committed to my person.

I'm too much of a magpie, intrigued by a huge range of visual imagery.

One day it might be chiaroscuro paintings. Another, contrasty black and white photography. Or modern line drawings. Cartoons.

So mainly it's the permanence that keeps me away.

While I've met many people who've been tattooed to mark the arrival of a new baby, pay tribute to a parent or the survival of a harrowing event, I've never seen such vivid imagery as these artists create on their clients' skin. I'm especially intrigued by the colorful, heavily shaded versions created by Kat Von D and her team of artists.

As the TLC people realized, it's the individual stories that make these shows compelling.

So for now, I just enjoy hearing about others' triumphs, and seeing how they choose to mark their own major life events.

Do you have a tattoo? If so, how did you make your selection?

Blue Skies and Tranquility

This is a piece that I made for my sister. She has really gorgeous blue eyes, and they are particularly clear and intense whenever she wears blue.

When I first purchased the borosilicate glass bead in the necklace's pendant, I had the good fortune to meet Tamara Melcher, the bead artist behind The Clear Bead. She was very kind, obviously devoted to her craft. And she packaged her sales carefully, like she was letting go of a friend.

This bead is so smooth and the swirls of color are so alive, I didn't want to just make it into any old necklace and then sell it to a stranger.

When I showed my sister this and a few other one-of-a-kind beads I'd purchased during that same outing, she zeroed in on this one. She liked the smoothness, too, but the colors were especially captivating.

Sometimes a piece of jewelry comes together easily, other times it's a struggle to find just the right combination of beads and silver components to highlight the beauty of a stone, or a focal bead.

When I was thinking of what to pair with this bead, I found a great strand of kyanite, a quartz crystal that helps promote communication, encourages tranquility, and is purported to be excellent for meditation and dream recall.

So, like that, it became a gift of tranquility.

This is one I'm really proud of.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mission: Organization

After Christmas - when the gifts, stray wrapping paper, gift bags and boxes add to the everyday clutter in the house - is the best time to organize.

Right after Christmas, I emptied out our bedroom closet down to the bare walls, piling the contents around outside it. It's incredible how much you can jam into a closet!

I was on a tear. I vacuumed the dust and wiped down the shelves. Did a major take-no-prisoners purge of outdated, worn or unsuitable clothing. Got piles of bags ready for charity.

This year's Christmas Miracle? The closet is still neat as a pin. And it's amazing how serene it is to look inside.

The after-effects made such a positive impression on me that last week I cleaned out our hall closet. The one I think of as a Black Hole of Luggage, where enough duffle bags to stock an Eddie Bauer store (remember those?) reside, oversized suitcases lurk in the shadows and coat mayhem ensues.

Now, it's an oasis of coordinated baskets and bins, housing purses, scarves, stray hats and gloves. Oh, and those tennis racquets we bought that time.

But I've been dodging that workspace organization - that's the Big Dog, the one I am committed to tackling this week.

Sure, I've cleaned up the piles of new purchases and stowed them away, but unlike the closets, the problem isn't really solved.

I vow to "Make it work," copping Tim Gunn's catchphrase. Writing it down, committing to it, will make it so. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, if you have any experience with organizing and housing small pieces of things - think beads and teensy-tiny findings that go into jewelrymaking - for which one needs full visual availability, feel free to post your suggestions.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Project Runway Episode 6: I Want Candy

Although it would have been more interesting to feature a New York establishment (see yesterday's Project Runway Withdrawal post), the designers trekked in the pre-dawn light to engage in land-grab for work materials at the Hershey's store in Times Square - the ultimate product-placement episode.

And it drove home one of the most important rules of challenges: Don't make it harder on yourself than it needs to be.

This week's recipient of the Martyr Award goes to Jillian, since the Twizzlers she decided to entwine around a corset decided not to cooperate because, well, they're food. And as Chris alluded to, food is a bitch to work with.

World-weary and finally the wisest man in the room, having created clothing and costumes out of all manner of foodstuffs over the years, you could tell that Chris was steering far away from sugary snacks as materials - and for good reason.

And finally! The models are back! Which means the designers don't have to cope with some kind of distractingly weird body shape.

Although the red color was spectacular and the intricate detail work was eye-catching, the judges must have just been talking about the skirt Jillian designed when they said the outfit moved with the model, because that's not what I saw! As the model - who gamely volunteered to help sew stray licorice to the skirt, seeing her own career potentially flash before her eyes in a haze of red dye #6 - sashayed down the runway, the corset stayed stiffly in place like body armor while the model moved this way and that. The swingy fringed skirt was cute. But that's all it was - cute.

Rami as usual whipped up a spectacular design with intricate seaming, patterned materials and an unexpected silhouette. The intricacy and the detail work were just exquisite. Given the colors and textures he selected (pinks, reds, white, some in shiny fabrics or plastic) the overall effect was kind of loud.

And that's why I loved Chris's design. By ganging up the Hershey and Twizzler logo fabrics vertically to obscure the words for the top, he created an eye-catching geometric pattern that was perfectly anchored by a chocolate brown mini. Like Nina Garcia said, it was the design you could see on the pages of Elle or any other fashion magazine today.

So Rami beat Chris with his superior technical and fit work, but I have to give Chris credit for not falling into the trap of the costume. The man listened to what the judges said and changed course this challenge. This could be either a fluke or a turning point for Chris; only time will tell. I hope he makes it; pleasant people have to win sometime.

Christian's design looked good but not great - interesting use of the peanut butter cup liners as a frillery. But the overall effect was brown and quasi-reptilian.

And the rest?

Kevin's outfit looked good if safe, even if the jacket/shrug seemed a little precious.

Kit's punk-rock diva? Eh. Victorya's ruffle disaster? Amateur hour. Ricky's Hershey-kiss pouf? Pu-lease. This trio was under-the-radar safe and should thank their lucky stars Sweet P got behind the 8 ball again and Elisa went avant garde Gretel, and chose not to unleash the corn syrup and cacao goddess from within.

Sweet P, I worried that this was your downfall episode. Maybe this one scared you into kicking things up a notch next time. Don't betray your initial ideas - as Tim Gunn says, "Make it work!" And I don't know why he didn't invoke his catchphrase in offering his critique. The final skirt idea looked like it was pieced together from Handi-Wipes. Sweet P's original patterned-skirt idea would have been light-years better than the bland, blah dishrag she sent down the runway.

When I saw both Sweet P and Elisa in the bottom two, I was a little sad over the idea of the show losing its quirkitude by offing one of these women. Although the show is about design, while we whittle down all those designers, we still want some entertainment, dammit!

(But now we know the real design can start happening, unencumbered.)

Although Elisa seemed to lack the skills the others had, so I knew it was only a matter of time. That and the fact that we hear - from out of left field - about her horrible accident involving a Porsche and a 4-inch head wound, although the producers tried distracting us with Jillian's Twizzler tragedy. Elisa's asymmetric velour dress with d-ringed straps and silver swimmies just didn't make the cut.

But was it me? Or did Elisa look positively joyful when she got auf'd, probably realizing that she got a lot more attention for her artwork than she ever could have before, and the rain-goddess spiritual side of her is looking forward to the rest of her life journey.

In any case, it's just ultra-ironic that Elisa, Queen of Whimsy, flaked out on a challenge where weird materials that nobody had ever worked with before didn't inspire something more joyful out of her. Go figure.

Project Runway Final Three Picks: Rami, Kevin and wildcard Chris

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Project Runway Withdrawal

At long last, my favorite show is back on this evening. Worse than the writer's strike, not having any new episodes of Project Runway has been a real bummer.

Will this be the episode where Elisa's fabric-licking ways do her in with a "dry clean only" silk?

The show where Sweet P falls off her heels skittering around the workroom in a panic?

The time that Kit's outfit falls apart on the runway because she couldn't operate the glue gun in the Michael's craft-show challenge, with Special Guest Judge Martha Stewart?

Where Christian is forced to bow out for not using the required challenge materials of cardboard and elementary school paste, save for the stiff little spaghetti straps on his dress, leading to an inquest over Jillian's very same behavior during the "What's the Skinny" episode?

That Ricky will cry when recounting how important this challenge is for his career, his life? (Oh, wait! That's every episode.)

The Dylan's Candy Bar challenge where Kevin accidentally sweeps a hot iron past Chris' latest costume, made of cotton candy and taffeta, only to end up with a gluey, pink mess dripping down the poodle motif skirt on which Chris staked his reputation.

The show where Rami, instead of creating one lowly outfit, offers six dazzling couture-quality, beautifully draped and pleated, liquid-silk column dresses that Christian with a Frenchman's wave summarily dismisses as "coffin liners."

No, it's the episode where Kevin and Rami resort to three rounds of Greco-Roman wrestling to determine the final winner of the Goddess Theme challenge wherein designers are shuffled onto a plane from New York to Rome, where they board a cruise ship destined for Santorini and over the ensuing 5 days must create sportswear for modern goddesses while using only materials scrounged from fellow passengers' cabana wear?

See? This, this is what I've resorted to... making up my own faux Project Runway dramas over these past two (eek - three!) weeks.

Stay tuned for the real recap tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Unfair Tradeoff?

Recently, I met an acquaintance who told me something that gave me pause.

Because the company this person had joined - some 30 years ago - had been bought, sold and merged numerous times with competitors and unrelated multinational conglomerates, the management at the top didn't understand their business. And so placed leaders at the company that lacked vision, direction and a clue.

What had once been a company founded on aggressively creative, superior-quality products for a niche market had abandoned its original mission and now was focused solely on quarterly targets and the requisite cost-cutting. Of course, these cuts were never made in such a way that they could ever have a long-term impact.

This person's coworkers shared the same frustrations. Everyone was stressed-out, dreaded coming to work and felt like they were fighting an uphill battle.

My heart really went out to this person, whose angst made it sound as if a new job would be the only solution. But then I heard something I've heard many times before:

"I'd never leave now; I get six weeks' vacation and I'd never get that anywhere else."

So this smart, funny, creative and hardworking person is trading 46 weeks of misery each year for six weeks of happiness.

Rather than finding a place where 49 or 50 weeks of fulfillment was at least a possibility, the tradeoff was staying put and holding tight onto that paid time off.

No matter how much fun you can jam into those six week of vacation time, it just strikes me as an unfair tradeoff.

I'd rather be reasonably engaged in my work for those 49/50 weeks per year - learning, producing, collaborating, deriving some sense of satisfaction - and look forward to just a couple of weeks of R+R each year to recharge my batteries.

Am I alone in this view? What do you think?

New Year, New Goals

Every year around this time, I take stock of the past 12 months.

But in the past, even when I started out reflecting on the good times, invariably I thought about what went wrong, where I could improve.

That's where the resolutions factored in. And they were always short-lived.

So this year, instead of fixing what's broken and setting myself up for failure with resolutions that are too vague to accomplish, I'm taking a new approach: creating personal goals.

In creating my goals for 2008, I'm vowing to make more room for positive events, things that feed the proverbial soul.

For me, that means:
  1. Learning a new recipe every week.
  2. Seeing every movie that piques my fancy (Juno's on tap this week as well as La Vie en Rose; finally saw The Simpsons last night).
  3. Traveling to places that make me feel more awake and alive.
  4. Organizing more outings with friends.
  5. Spending more fun time with my niece and nephew, smart creative kids who keep me smiling.
  6. Adopting a better house-cleaning schedule, focusing on the relaxing sense of order that results.
  7. Reading more books that make me feel like writing.
  8. Taking a different approach to work by focusing more on learning-innovating-thriving.
  9. Spotting the art in everyday life.
  10. Enjoying the good parts of every day.
What do you want for yourself this year?

Whatever you do, I hope you derive satisfaction from achieving whatever goals you set out to accomplish, and I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008!