Monday, June 20, 2016

Photo a Day: Fail

No, the topic of today's Photo A Day is not, in fact, "Fail." That's just a description of how I've been doing with my best-laid plans of faithfully following the Photo a Day project for the month of June.

I have a pretty good reason, though: Life. What's been going on in life has simply been more important than taking the time to take a specific photo and sit down at the computer to write about it. In the past week since I last blogged, the things that have been more important have included everything from getting together with friends from college that I haven't seen in ages, taking my husband out for a nice Father's Day dinner, attending my daughter's preschool graduation, going to doctor's appointments, catching up with some volunteer work that's approaching a deadline, and - to be perfectly honest - taking a few "mental health hours" to just play with my kids by the pool and putter in my garden.

Puttering is a vastly underrated mental health technique, in my opinion. I have a lot on my plate right now, and I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself and get stressed out and anxious. My instinct is to give up all "unnecessary" tasks and to focus on spending 100% of my time on everything that needs to get done in order to prevent - what seems to me, anyway - the end of the world. But over the years, I have learned that taking the time to relax, clear my mind, and focus on myself pays off in better focus, calm planning, and greater efficiency when I get back to the tasks at hand. So that hour spent digging in the garden results in getting six hours worth of work done in four hours. And that evening spent splashing in the pool with my kids results in refreshed mind producing fresh new ideas for my volunteer projects.

So instead of posting photos of A Pile, The Floor, Vibrant, My Name, Something Alive, No Filter, and Water, I'm posting photos of "The Stuff That Was Way More Important Than Writing My Blog".

Sometimes, life is more important.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Photo a Day: Partial, Me Time, Stairs, Begins with M

Oops, I seem to have gotten quite behind on my Photo A Day-ing. So although the official topics I've missed are Partial, Me Time, Stairs, and Begins with M, I'm going to tie them all together with a single theme: My backyard.

My backyard is mostly filled with an inground pool. However, I do have a small herb garden and a strip of flowerbed, and a porch overlooking the yard. Right now, the only flowers blooming are the impatiens I planted in May, and a few blossoms on my lilies, which are loaded with fat buds just waiting to explode. This lily is my subject for "Partial".
Even though only four buds have opened, it's glorious already. I can't wait until the other 20 (yes, 20 - I counted) blossoms open. This plant makes me happy, even when it's only partway to its glory. 

The next subject was "Me Time." I love evenings by the pool with my husband, watching the setting sun (or the tiki torches) glittering on the silent water. But when it's just me, I love the backyard in the sunshine of early morning. I often spot bunnies having their breakfasts in the grass, chipmunks chasing each other in the bushes, and birds of all kinds fluttering around the feeder. The sun sparkles on the water of the pool and the dew on the greens in the garden. The neighborhood is quiet, with only the occasional whoosh of a passing car or a distant voice interrupting the sounds of nature - birds chirping, a breeze shuffling the trees, the murmur of water. It is wonderfully calming Me Time. 

My home is full of stairs. Concrete stairs with iron railings leading up to the front door, inside wooden stairs going from the main floor up to the bedrooms and down to the basement, a short step leading out the back door. But the stairs with the most personality are the ones leading up to the porch. Once painted green, they have aged and weathered into something from a Wyeth painting. There's something very comforting and serene about their shabbiness, like a threadbare coat you can't bring yourself to throw away or a stuffed animal that's been loved out of its fur or a beloved book whose pages are yellowed and falling out. They're homely in both sense of the word.

And finally, my subject that "Begins with M" is mint. I originally planted it in my fledgling herb garden three or four years ago, and - as mint is wont to do - it has wandered all over the garden. I've torn it out in a few spots where it's begun to crowd out other plants, I've pulled up large chunks to give away to friends, I've hacked it back and stripped its leaves to use them in lemonade, iced tea, and mint juleps. But it still survives and thrives. It's my only herb that successfully overwinters in spite of my neglect. It's a tenacious little thing. I admire that.

And lest anyone worry that I'll get behind on my Photo A Day posting again, I can assure you that I will have no difficulty in finding tomorrow's subject: it's "pile."

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Red Carpet Review: The 2016 Tony Awards

Very often I write my red carpet fashion reviews based strictly on photographs, having either missed the awards in their entirety or at least missed the red carpet portion. However, I tuned in to the live stream red carpet coverage at 5:30 and faithfully watched (except when the feed was glitchy) all the way until the actual ceremony began at 8:00. So my critiques this time are based not only on how these gowns looked in these photographs, but how they looked as their wearers walked and moved.

I'll admit that I was somewhat disappointed by the general array of gowns. Yes, there were a few that were lovely, but there were more that were missteps. I'm going to rate them as purely thumbs up or thumbs down.

Laura Benanti: Thumbs Down
First of all, I hated the fabric of this dress. I felt like I should like the color combination, but somehow the background pinky-purple was just too vibrant. The silhouette wasn't terrible, but the starkness of the high round neckline and lack of sleeve shape or detail was overly bland. I did like the flare of the skirt, but it wasn't enough to save this look.

Judith Light: Thumbs Down
The idea of the bodice wasn't bad, and if the see-through fabric had been a bit less loose and wrinkled, it could have been very pretty. I really liked the wrapped fabric pulled into a silver detail at the waist. The wide-legged tux pants were too high-waisted to be flattering, and the overly pointed shoes made Light's legs look even more disproportionate. Points for the scarlet clutch, though.

Laurie Metcalf: Thumbs Down
The turquoise skirt was rather pretty - a lovely color, and a nice, crisp silhouette. Even paired with a white V-necked top, it might have been passable. But adding the droopy, winglike capelet gave Metcalf a hunched, matronly look. There's no reason that Metcalf couldn't pull off something much more traditional and less dowdy with her age and figure.

Jane Krakowski: Thumbs Up
Although I didn't love Krakowski's dress, given the field of other gowns, I had to give it a thumbs up. She has a slender but very straight figure, and unfortunately tends to wear dresses that don't completely flatter her figure. The broad V-neck of this gown draws the eye in nicely, but she needed a tiny little belt or solid-color inset panels to create a narrower waist. The flared skirt and tiny train did help to create a more curvy visual silhouette, however.

Lupita Nyong'o: Thumbs Up

I loved both the fabric and the cut of this gown. Nyong'o has worn similar silhouettes in the past, and they flatter her figure perfectly. The straight-across line of the shoulders was softened by the patterned fabric and the curves of the clinging gown, as well as the softly draped train. A beautiful look for her.

Lucy Liu: Thumbs Up

Yellow was a popular color at the Tonys (and unfortunately, seemed to be rather difficult to photograph, as evidenced by this and several other photos). Liu pulled it off best. Not many women are flattered by such a plunging neckline, but her slight figure, tiny waist, and small bust gave a curvy look without a sense that double-sided tape was working overtime. The softness of the chiffon skirt, especially when lifted by the breeze that was very much in evidence on the red carpet, created a lovely, graceful line.

Diane Lane: Thumbs Down
Oh, Diane. A pantsuit? A ZEBRA PRINT pantsuit? Unless you are Angela Lansbury or Bea Arthur, a lady should never wear pants to the Tony Awards. And even if you ARE Angela Lansbury or Bea Arthur, you should never wear zebra print pants.

Bebe Neuwirth: Thumbs Up (barely)
The line of this gown was exquisite, and perfect for Neuwirth's slim, petite, athletic figure. The crinkled bodice, mermaid skirt, and textured train added visual interest to the simple cut. The only thing I disliked about it was that the color was so close to her skin tone that it blended in. But overall, a lovely look.

Cate Blanchett: Not just Thumbs Down but WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!??
Wha...I'm not even sure what to say here. It was like there was a funky black leather dress, a sparkly black-and-white retro cocktail dress, and a full flared black-and-white color block gown, and someone took bits of each of them and stitched them together. It became a Frankendress Monster. I have often said in the past that Cate Blanchett can look great in anything, but she proved me wrong.

Jourdan Dunn: Thumbs Up
This gown made my seamstress heart happy. It was so perfectly constructed, with lovely arched seaming across the bodice, which was perfectly fitted to Dunn's figure. The folds of the drape fell perfectly, with just a hair of silver lining (literally!) peeping out, and a generous train spreading out behind. The fact that the difficult fabric had not a wrinkle added to its perfection. Stunning.

Claire Danes: Thumbs Up
I'm a sucker for bias-cut silk. Danes' lovely 1930s-inspired gown had just enough textured panels to prevent it from being boring, and her perfect figure lends itself beautiful to the unforgiving cling of silk, even with a broad v-neck and a narrow skirt with a flared train. The deep navy blue caught the light beautifully as she moved. It was unfortunate that her hair suffered from the wind, but in that dress, no-one was looking at her hair.

Glenn Close: Thumbs Up
Close's long, straight dress with a long slit and deep v (with modest inset) was flattering and age-appropriate. I liked the gathering at the waist and the detail of the inset bow (although pink was not the best color choice; I'd have gone with black or white), Her makeup was fresh and flattering, and I liked her fluffed-up hair. A very nice look.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Thumbs Up
Winstead's gown looks somewhat bland in this photograph, but what you can't see very well is that it was encrusted with thousands of colored gems that caught the light, glittering and sparkling as she moved. The lighter-colored bodice looked less see-through; instead, it had a kind of "smoky" effect that was very pretty. The colors of the gems brought the whole dress to life, and the simple neckline and A-line skirt didn't compete with the sparkle. Nicely balanced.

Allison Williams: Thumbs Down
As noted before, I'm not a fan of pants worn to red carpet events, but I might have given this outfit a pass if it were strictly a woman-cut white tuxedo. Unfortunately, the right pantleg appeared to have morphed into either a very long cape or drape, or else it was simply cut twice as wide as the left and then pressed into a razor crease. Either way, it threw off the balance of the look. And what's with the strap on that clutch bag? Is it secretly a shield? If you wear a masculine style of clothes, balance them with feminine accessories. Not a shield.

Saycon Sengbloh - Thumbs Up
Sengbloh was one of three actresses from the cast of Eclipsed who appeared together on the red carpet. Each had her own unique style, and each looked lovely. Sengbloh's striking one-shouldered emerald satin gown wrapped her curves gracefully, smoothing and emphasizing in all the right places. The wind showed an unexpected pop of vivid scarlet in the lining of the dress, as well as Sengbloh's pretty metallic sandals. Those, along with her glowing smile, were all the accents she needed.

Saoirse Ronan: Thumbs Down
Much like Bebe Neuwirth's gown, the biggest flaw in Ronan's gown was its color. Unfortunately, it didn't have enough other positives to bump it into the Thumbs Up category. I did like the flare at the knee, but the wrapped bodice with front peekaboo flatters a narrow waist, not just a muscular one (Ronan has about 0.1% body fat), and the broadly-spaced shoulder straps emphasize her broad, square shoulders rather than softening them. Lovely girl, lovely gown; bad combination.

Phillipa Soo: Thumbs Up
I found the fabric of Soo's dress to be simply lovely: pure white with silver patterns in beading running from one shoulder strap, trailing down the bodice, and then spreading out on either side of the high slit. In contrast to Ronan, above, Soo's widely-spaced straps were balanced by the off-the-shoulder sleeves (perhaps "bands" might be a better description), and by her narrower waist, creating a curvier, more well-proportioned silhouette. The wind also worked in Soo's favor, revealing her slender legs (and strappy sandals) and creating a long, barely ruffled train behind her. A simple but elegant look.

Jennifer Simard: Thumbs Up
I loved the simple lines of Simard's dress. The striking color, the graceful seaming in the bodice, the broad A-line of the skirt, and the heavy beading along the neck created just enough balanced details to be simple yet interesting. The soft updo and natural makeup added the perfect finish to this elegant and unfussy look.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Photo of the Day: Four Things

My son is not a big sweet-eater. Every now and then he likes to have a lollipop as a treat, or maybe a cookie. But there is one kind of sweet that he'll practically turn himself inside-out for, and that's a York Peppermint Patty.

Today we were at the grocery store picking up a few supplies for a couple of baking projects, and I asked him if there was anything he'd like me to get: apples, meatballs, a particular kind of pasta. He hesitated for a moment, then asked, "Can we get some peppermint patties to keep in the fridge?"

I don't usually buy a lot of sweets and junk foods for the kids, but now and then I do like to get them a treat, so I decided this was a good opportunity to give in. We picked out a bag of middle-sized patties (not tiny bite-size ones, and not huge saucer-sized ones), and after carefully scanning them at the price checker, he placed them gently in the cart. After we checked out, he proudly carried the bag containing his precious peppermint patties out to the car.

So it was no surprise when, after we finished eating dinner, he immediately asked if he could have a peppermint patty for dessert. I sent him upstairs to get a couple out of the fridge. He came back carrying four candies in his hands, but before I could open my mouth to scold him that four was too many, he solemnly handed one to his dad, one to his sister, and tucked one next to my plate. He hadn't taken just one for himself. He'd taken four, so he could share.

Four Things.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Photo of the Day: Where I Stood

This filing cabinet and I have quite a history.

I bear bruises from it. I bear scars from it. Part of me (mostly my right hip) kind of hates it. But I also bear a very powerful memory of clinging to it while experiencing my first "real" labor pains.

I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks before my due date with my first child. (This was not at all unusual at this point in my pregnancy.) I realized that I had to pee. (This was also not at all unusual at this point in my pregnancy.) But as I made my way to the bathroom in the dark, I realized that what was going on with my body was, in fact, unusual. My water had broken and I was beginning to feel the first pangs of labor.

I wasn't in any pain at this point, and the pangs were definitely spread quite far apart, so I got back in bed and gathered my thoughts for a few hours until I decided I'd better wake my husband. He called the doctor's office and the nurse told me to feel free to labor at home as long as I could, but to come in when I felt ready or when the pains reached a certain frequency and duration.

I was up and dressed, so I puttered around in the office for a while, waiting for things to progress. I was headed out of the office to grab something to drink when the first real labor pain hit me. I reached out blindly, bending over and clinging to this filing cabinet, while quietly grunting, "Dang!" much to the amusement of my husband. (He was even more amused when I repeated the procedure using a stop sign right outside the hospital, as we both wondered aloud how many times that stop sign had been used for that purpose.)

So although this cabinet and I have not always had an amicable relationship, it still holds a special place in my heart, because it's Where I Stood.

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Photo of the Day: Cute

With a photo topic like "cute," I'm sure that no-one is surprised that the subject I chose is my children. They are pretty much the epitome of "cute."

Except when they're not.

This photo was taken on a day when they had spent most of their time fighting like cats and dogs, each one demanding the toy the other had, poking each other, pinching each other, blocking each other's view of the TV, stealthily punching each other in the back of the car, repeatedly tattling on each other, etc., etc. It was anything BUT cute.

But when I brought out these cool sunglasses which were a gift from some friends who'd stayed at our house, the animosity vanished and the cuteness appeared. They snuggled together happily and chattered together like a pair of parakeets.

It didn't last for long, but while it did, it was very, very cute.


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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Photo a Day: On My To-Do List

Being a stay-at-home mom, I always have a long list of things on my to-do list. But one item that never seems to go away, no matter how often I do it, is putting away laundry.

Not doing laundry; not even folding laundry. There are definitely times (they only last for about 12 seconds each, but there ARE times) when all the laundry in the house is clean and folded - nothing languishing in the dryer, nothing collecting in the laundry hampers, no damp towels on the bathroom floor - but I don't think there has ever been a time when there hasn't been a stash of neatly folded laundry loitering somewhere in my house.

Most often, it's giant piles on the stairs, as in this photo. With my laundry room in the basement and the bedrooms on the second floor, I rarely make separate trips to bring laundry upstairs, so it waits here until I'm headed upstairs for some other reason. Most often that "other reason" is that I'm going to bed. And since I can only carry one (or sometimes two, if I'm feeling especially adventurous) stack of laundry at a time, it takes me several days to get the stairs cleared.

And of course, by then, another stack has usually joined them.

On the rare occasion I manage to get all the stacks from the stairs moved up into their respective bedrooms at the same time, they generally languish in front of the bureaus where they belong for some time until the owner is reminded (and reminded, and reminded) to put them away. Or, more likely, until I get annoyed enough to put them away myself. (Note: These comments do not apply to the adults in the household, who are usually pretty good about putting their clothes away in a timely fashion. Well, the male adult in the household is. The female is usually pretty good about moving them from the floor to the couch which serves as an adjunct bureau.)

So yeah, it's pretty much always On My To-Do List.

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Photo of the Day: Reflection

What do you think of when you hear the word "reflection"? Probably a mirror, right? A mirror, at least in modern times, provides the truest, the most accurate, the realest reflection. You can see a reflection of some kind in many shiny surfaces - the bowl of a spoon, the surface of a calm lake, a well-polished pot lid - but unless that surface is smooth and flat, the reflection will be distorted and uneven. If the surface is cloudy, or bumpy, or moving, the reflection you see does not accurately represent whatever it reflects.

Another sense of the word "reflection," however, means looking in at oneself; thinking about one's life and one's actions; self-examination. Such reflection is rarely as clear as the reflection of one's image in a smooth mirror. A truer representation of that kind of reflection is a rippling pool, a cracked mirror, an imperfect piece of metal. Our thoughts are as ever-changing as the lights dancing on the surface of moving water, as fragmented as a shattered bit of glass, as warped as a dented tin can.

But even with those damaged and imperfect vessels, we can still see glimpses of the truth, if we look hard enough.


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Friday, June 3, 2016

Photo a Day: Purple

As the mother of a 4-1/2 year old girl, it took me approximately 8 seconds to gather this collection of purple items. I didn’t even have to leave the room. At any given time, I would estimate that there is an average of 23 purple items in every room of my house. We have purple stuffed animals of every ilk, purple clothing for every occasion, purple toys and purses and dolls and accessories, purple markers and crayons and stickers and paper and glue and glitter. Purple, purple, purple.

I’m not quite sure what the universal obsession is that seems to attack every girl between the ages of roughly 3 and 14. For some, it lasts a short time; for others it lasts for years, or even into adulthood. But there are very few small girls who do not experience at least a passing obsession with the color purple.

I will admit that it makes wardrobe coordination a snap. Pretty much anything my daughter can pull out of her drawer will match anything else, because they’re all purple, with the occasional splash of pink or white or black, just to shake things up a little. My daughter owns purple jeans, purple leggings, light purple pants, dark purple pants, striped purple pants, solid purple shirts, flowered purple shirts, polka-dotted purple shirts, purple socks, and scads of purple underpants. Not to mention purple hair elastics and purple hair bows. Her favorite dress-up princess dress? Purple. Her favorite stuffed animal? Purple. Her favorite purse? Purple. Her favorite tutu? Purple. Purple, purple, purple.

I’m sure that someday she’ll grow out of it. And by then, I’ll probably be beyond ready. But for now, purple is the color of happy in our house.


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Photo a Day: Treat

Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a “treat.” For some, it’s an ice cream sundae, or a bar of chocolate, or a piece of cake. For others, it’s a frothy high-end coffee or a fancy cocktail. For still others, it’s a massage or a mani-pedi or a cut and color at a nice salon. And I enjoy most of those as an occasional treat. But my favorite quick treat, hands down, is a bubble bath.

There’s nothing more relaxing than closing myself in the bathroom – away from children asking me to help find their shoes or put on their favorite TV show or stop their brother from poking them in the eye; away from husband wondering what’s for dinner or asking if I’ve seen his keys; away from ringing phones and pinging email alerts and electronic appointment reminders; away from the laundry that needs to be sorted and the dishes that need to be washed and the fish that need to be fed - immersing myself in a steamy hot tub full of scented bubbles, sipping on a glass of wine, listening to soft classical music, and reading a favorite book as I escape from the world for an hour (or two).

My husband knows this – and encourages it. Any time he can see that I’ve had a rough day, he’ll suggest that I go soak in the tub while he takes care of the kids. He also takes it upon himself to be sure that my stash of “bath goodies” is always well stocked. Every Christmas he and the kids make a pilgrimage to the Lush store and Bath and Body Works to choose a selection of bath bombs, scented bubble bath, fancy soaps, and other kinds of scented and soothing bath products for me.

So any time I need a treat, everything I need is right there waiting for me.


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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Photo a Day: Key

Much like many moms, I suspect, I spend a large amount of time hunting for my keys. I’m usually grabbing them as I rush out the door to drop someone off at school, at gymnastics, at dance class; or heading out to pick up groceries, a last-minute birthday present, a pair of shoes to replace ones that were apparently instantaneously outgrown. Or I’m rushing back into the house, tossing them in the general direction of the drawer they supposedly live in while hustling a potty-dancing child toward the bathroom or running into the kitchen to grab a snack for a child who is about to die of starvation. They often land in a coat pocket, deep in the bottom of my purse, or occasionally are even left dangling forlornly from a doorknob.

These keys, however, also mark several transitions in my life. The pair of silver keys was given to me by my husband shortly before we were married, a symbol of “his house” becoming “our house” – or rather, becoming “our home.” Other than our wedding rings, it was the most tangible sign of us uniting our lives and our futures.

The black car key belongs to a silver-blue minivan, one for which I relinquished my last “single woman car,” my beloved Honda Civic sedan, Marguerite (yes, I name my cars). I was pregnant with our second child, and my husband and I realized that we needed a larger car to be able to accommodate two car seats and two parents-in-law. It made sense for my husband to keep a smaller, more efficient sedan, since he commuted to work and put many more miles on his car than I did, so I got to use the van for my day-to-day errands. I was extremely nervous (let’s be honest: I was terrified) at the thought of driving such a large car – after all, the last time I’d driven anything larger than a hatchback or a compact car was 25 years prior, when I learned to drive on my parents’ gigantic Plymouth Grand Fury – but I learned very quickly to love Millie, with her tight turning radius, helpful backup camera, and backseat DVD player.

So every time I’m searching for my keys, fighting off panic that this might be the time they disappear for good, it’s not just that I’m worried about being late. It’s because my keys are a symbol of my life – my wonderful, crazy, beloved life.


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