Miscellany

* I don’t understand manicures. The smell is unbearable and all that filing grates on my last nerve. Plus, I feel bad for the woman who has to handle my feet. Not that they’re bad; they’re quite desirable from a manicurist’s point of view. But still, they’re feet and I wouldn’t want to scrape off someone’s dead skin or massage their swollen feet.

* It’s cold enough here today to crave soup. Like 30 degrees colder than every day last week. I was so chilly I had to wear a gray cardigan over my gray cowl neck and yes, it looked ridiculous. And yes, I was just complaining about how hot it was. But today, brrr. In my endless hunt for authentic ramen, which is a continual let down since I live about four hours from Ippudo in NYC–the spot for ramen, I tried a newish Japanese place around the corner from my office called Bento Express. They serve ramen in a bowl the size of a fish tank, steaming hot (note: steaming hot fish tank, not a good idea). Funny how the things you’re looking for are often right around the corner.

But not always, because you know what’s not right around the corner? Paris. An old-fashioned ice cream parlor. An affordable Whole Foods. Something that isn’t Dunkin’ Donuts.

* My frugalista co-worker sauntered in with a coral mini skirt bordering on neon that called to me. I heard it. You need me, it said. Not one to deny the voices in my head I bought it at H&M for under $20. “I promise not to wear it on days that you work,” I told my co-worker because 1) that would be lame, 2) she retains fashion ownership–the equivalent of intellectual property–on this skirt, and 3) I would lose the Who Wore it Better? contest, hands down.

H & M skirt

A 15-year-old blogger also wearing it better than I.

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Perception

“Are you Kate’s sister?” a woman asks me.

“Who’s Kate?” I ask.

She points to a dancer about to perform. Kate is lanky with disheveled hair, a crooked tooth or two, and dressed in bright, appealing colors. I size her up then size myself up, which is, of course, impossible to do in any objective way. Kate appears friendly and interesting, but she’s too quirky looking. She’s a lot older. Her underwear peaks out as she dances (me? never) but she has the confidence to keep on dancing (I’m with her there). In other ways, I see myself, especially in her colorful presentation, unruly hair, and funky glasses. But then, she has the boldness to perform a creative work in front of a crowd (uh-uh) and she’s artsy and chaotic in a way that screams free-spirited artist (nope).

In high school, my friend can’t wait to tell me she met my twin who was playing in a visiting school band. In the auditorium, I see the band members file in and spot her immediately. Oh, God. Her? I am humiliated that this is how my friend perceives me. The girl is gangly and awkward, and while OK, I was gangly and awkward, I wasn’t ready to own it as a freshman.

I think of a summer writing workshop I took two years ago, all creativity and summer dresses, when a participant told me I looked and sounded like Teri Gross. I love Teri Gross but I wasn’t sure I wanted to look like her (she’s older, NY accent). Today, I would say Thank you and smile.

TerryGross

I turn back to watch Kate, graceful on the stage in a way that I am not, and start to embrace not only the qualities that we share but also some that I don’t care to share but have to admit are right on. I think about approaching her after the show to tell her about the comparison, but I don’t want to risk a shocked reaction or watch her scrutinize my face. But hey, she should be happy to be me; here I am sitting in the audience of her show–surely I have good taste–and not a smidge of my underwear is showing.

It’s Halloween. Can I come in?

The ferris wheel came down early in Salem this year lest anyone get blown off it during Hurricane Sandy, but what this city lacks in cheap carnival rides it makes up for in revelers decked out in all manners of ridiculousness. My unscientific survey of the pedestrian mall turns up more adults in costumes than children; when else are adults allowed to dress up and pretend they’re someone else? A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

Still, it’s hard to tell the costumed zombies from the real ones roaming the streets amid tiny super heroes and cotton candy vendors, all backlit by fireworks over the water. Adults in wigs, feathers, and leather (sometimes all at once) replace the briefcase-carrying business folks on the train ride home to Salem. I have to admit it adds a little spice to the commute.

A handful of kids turn up at my door—a quartet of princesses, a Superman, and a masked something or other.

“Trick or treat,” they say in chorus.

“Do you have a dog?” asks a princess.

“No, but I have a cat,” I say, doling candy into their sacks.

“Can I see your cat?” says the masked kid, walking into the house.

“She’s hiding under the couch,” I tell him. “You’re too scary.”

Is this question-and-answer thing a new Halloween ritual?

 

 

Yard sale finds

If your grandmother left you a necklace of darling green beads, you might restring it to suit your taste, but I bet you wouldn’t sell it at a yard sale.

You would? Heartless.

But would you sell it for 50 cents as if it’s costume jewelry you picked up at the mall on a whim?

That’s just a slap in the face to grandma.

I rescued the necklace from the traitorous adult granddaughter and was pleased to find it goes with a remarkable number of outfits. That’s grandma for you; she had style.

At another stop, I scored a pair of woven chairs for $7, which are tucked under my table, happy in their new home. But not as happy as I, given that they sold for $75 each at Ikea (which seems a bit steep for IKEA, no?) and work well with my table and pared-down style. While the mom took some toys off one chair so I could put it in my car, her daughter kept putting dolls on the other one, propping them up as if to say, They come as a set. I didn’t take the dolls, but I found a couple tops and a funky belt.

And rest assured unknown grandma: I will never sell your necklace at a yard sale.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer bliss

Life is short and summer is shorter, so this month it’s all about

the beach, nearly every week

ice cream, nearly every day

long field trips at lunch

breakfast on the patio, complete with feathers

grilled lime and garlic chicken wings

the farmers’ market

casual or fancy sandals?

white pants

becoming an expert in synchronized diving and women’s gymnastics

pretending the purple-blooming flowers are not weeds

skirts, summer dresses, frocks and tank tops

soft hum of the ceiling fan

Yard sale finds

Everyone’s on vacation this week, leaving me with a smattering of sales. Outrageous. But I manage to find a couple of things: some pale pink Sperry topsiders that I refuse to pay $100 for when I only occasionally want to look like I belong on a boat, but $3? It’s a deal.

I also find this weird No Pets sign for a quarter, which makes me wonder what it was used for (a store?). I ask the woman selling it, but she has no idea. I determine she’s a mean SOB because who bans pets, especially cute black dogs with alert stances? I plan to add it to a wall collage of other interesting finds, like Bert.

Westport, thunder be damned

Lest you think I’ve needed a week to recover from the big 4-0, I was actually just enjoying summer in the jubilant manner in which summer should be enjoyed: swimming, daytripping, reading (because sometimes turning a page is all you can manage in the heat), and taking days off to do absolutely nothing, which is hard because summer is about activity and the outdoors and adventure. Winter lacks this cache so utterly it shouldn’t even be a season.

But a quick wrap up on the birthday outing to Westport. First, unless one is a multimillionaire, one may only visit Connecticut, so Opal (the Toyota) and I, set out amidst warnings of severe thunderstorms with the potential for torrential rain and hail (birthday, on!). We cruised by grand stone homes and renovated farmhouses overlooking Long Island Sound, harbors dotted with sailboats and yachts, and everywhere: ladies who lunch.

First stop: Goodwill. I’d heard magical things about this new outpost (fancy wood floors, birthday month discount) and it did not disappoint. I pounced immediately on olive-green Oxford heels while pondering why someone would buy them, wear them once (from my estimation), and then ditch them. But who cares. They were mine for $12. Maple says they match her eyes. I also scored a frilly red top and a J. Crew cardigan with glass buttons I’ve been searching for on eBay (found!). And the cutest vintage French poster that has already claimed a wall. All for 20-something buckaroos.

 

Lunch at Tarry Lodge needs minimal description to get across the majesty of cheese: lightly fried squash blossoms with goat cheese and a 4-cheese pizza that melted and crisped in less than five minutes and was consumed in less.

When the sky opened up, I was at Terrain, a heavenly nursery—the Anthropologie of plants. Lilac bushes, feathery fronds, and sunny annuals beckoned, rinsed by the rain, all of us cooled. I bought a bushy birthday plant studded with purple flowers and resisted the rustic planters, colorful metal chairs, strawberry vines—all of it.

I dipped in and out of other shops before grabbing dinner, like a tween, at Shake Shack (what’s a birthday without ice cream?) and headed home, windows rolled down on a warm summer night, lightning flashing in the distance like birthday fireworks.

 

Where stores go to die

Don’t be jealous, but I spent my Friday night at the mall. I’m not even a teen or a tween. I just needed a new bra and bathing suit. This is the exciting life of a single woman in Salem. No witchcraft here, just an evening engaged in two of the most tiresome hunts that all females face: the search for the perfect bra and the elusive bathing suit. I think you know how that story ended. Folly to have shopped for both at the same time.

But you know what’s even more depressing? The mall. Granted, I was at a second-run, sad little mall on the North Shore that featured Wet Seal, a Famous Label store that was half-empty and echo-y, featuring ugly, giant urns, and long vacant hallways with nary a texter to be found. But the place was redeemed at the last moment when I spotted a mother and her little boy stuffed into a photo booth making funny faces and giggling while the camera snapped away. I pictured the mom placing it on her bureau mirror or the boy taking it to college one day.

But back to me. Gap Body came through the next day in the form of a neon pink number that for now only I will be appreciating. The fact that Beyoncé’s Run the World (Girls) song was playing at full volume in the dressing room making me feel like Super Woman had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to purchase.

Odd lots

* Overheard in the park: “And remind me: I HAVE to order my garter. It’s a Red Sox theme; isn’t that awesome? AND it counts as something blue.”

Regrettably, I was not invited to that wedding.

* Checked out the delightful new Plum Consignment in Beverly this weekend where the owner accepted all my clothes for consignment and did not once wrinkle her nose like other shopkeepers are wont to do. My Lucky blouse is on a mannequin in the window (hello, old friend) in case you’re in a shopping, blousey mood. And how many times did I pick up a cute shirt only to realize, Wait, this was mine . . .

* Took the ferry home on Thursday, and while the wind-in-your-hair commute is hard to beat, this replacement boat (regular ferry is under repair) featured a few scattered plastic chairs and a weird passenger guy who stood grinning with arms outstretched as we came into the harbor, all king-of-the-world style. Close your eyes and you’d swear you were at a backyard family reunion. Also, the boat was much slower than the regular ferry; we could have made it to Martha’s Vineyard or rowed our way north faster. But it was so hot, the ocean spray offered a welcome respite, like that neighborhood sprinkler you can’t help but run through when no one’s looking. Or even when they are.

* The next day dawned just as hot, like so hot your dress straps are falling down and you don’t care kind of day because moving your arm expends way. Too. Much. Energy.

* Surprise! Saturday was hot too, until the sky offered up more rain than a person could absorb running from the grocery store to the car. My Celebration of Rain Dance in the parking lot was quite refreshing and when I lost the umbrella and just gave in, I looked not unlike a crazy person with outstretched arms pretending she’s king of the world.

Sitting on the Big Apple

New York, you make me like apples.

I love hitting the city for the simple pleasures of eating and walking—an everyday occurrence to New Yorkers but the stuff of travel to me. I could make a vacation of just looking.

You know what’s underrated in NYC though (and yet another gerund in this gerund-filled post)? Sitting. Sitting is immensely enjoyable after walking up 72,000 subway steps and switching from the C to the E to the 3 to the Z (did you know there was a Z?) and then getting on an express train by mistake and doubling back. Some savvy person should charge people to sit; I would have paid serious money for an extra wooden bench in the subway or for the privilege of stretching out on someone’s stoop.

Enjoy this slideshow (taken while walking and sitting—not simultaneously, silly) of things that interested me but will probably not interest you.

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Yard sale finds

For just shy of $20, I snapped up two tops and a dress from a woman my size, herbs from a garden club sale (basil, thyme and chives), a stout owl figurine, and a miniature tin memento holder that’s meant to display a special trinket on the wall.

“I’m glad you understand that this is meant for something special,” the seller tells me as she hands me my change for the little display case. With that, the pressure is on. Nothing comes immediately to mind and I suspect the thing will sit in a corner until I’m able to decide what to display.

And then yesterday, I saw a chipmunk. I love chipmunks, their compact, striped bodies and puffy cheeks; what’s not to love? I recalled my childhood desire to have a pet chipmunk.

Aha.

I will capture a chipmunk and put him in the display case. The box is small, so I’d have to fold him in there, but it could work. Like a lepidopterist with his pinned butterflies, I will have my prized chipmunk, even if I have to jam him in there and close the door quickly.

My friend pointed out that the chipmunk would wither and die in there, but I don’t think we need to focus on that . . .

Yard sale haul

Maple sniffed today’s Crayola-colored finds like it was a pile of tuna fresh from the ocean. Oh, the scent of strangers! I had barely washed, dried, and folded the clothes before she was back in the laundry basket; secondhand smells and fabric softener all intriguing, apparently. Life is composed of small pleasures, so I let her do her thing but insisted she rate every outfit I tried on. Two paws up, though I could tell she was iffy on the green sweater.

Some neighbors around the corner were having a yard sale while also trying to move a couch out the door. I tried to help and explained that I was a neighbor, not a yard sale freak ready to sue them for a back injury. They didn’t need me, but I needed their black leather jacket that I bought for a cool 5 bucks, channeling Lisbeth Salander. I bought a studded belt too because she would have. Still working on the chest tattoo.

Today’s haul: two pairs of colored denim, two bright cardigans, a striped green sweater, one flouncy red dress, a leather jacket, studded belt, and a James Taylor CD, which I find it hard to believe I didn’t own before now, all for $20.

Not blazing a fashion trail

Every time I wear a blazer to work, my co-worker suspects me of abandoning ship.

“Do you have an interview?”

No, but I like this look Christina Aguilera was sporting on “The Voice” recently: a crisp white shirt with a black blazer; simple, but elegant with a rock star edge. I cobbled together a couple of similar pieces, rolled up my cuffs and strutted to work, despite making one glaring oversight: I am not Christina Aguilera. I do not have her blond mane or her painted face or her curvy figure. Most notably, I do not have her swollen breasts. You can thank me later for sparing you a close-up.

Tidbits

Do you remember Tid-Bit crackers? Maybe a dozen of us bought them in the 70s. Nabisco made them until they ditched them to focus, I suspect, on the less-than-brilliant Cheese Nips. I miss them. In honor of them, some tidbits:

*Another week of global warming in Boston. Another day of sifting past the boots and winter coat to find a skirt.

*I compliment a student in the elevator on her kickass tights. “The best kept secret?” she says. “Stripper stores.”

*I wander to the deli near the park at lunch to see everyone working in the financial and theater districts, along with the students from at least three nearby colleges, have the same idea. Frisbees are flying. I fail to make a reservation for a bench on the Common but find a spot between tourists. In blinding sunshine, I eat a pickle in the park; this is not a euphemism.

*I read an article in the campus newspaper insinuating a staffer was fired for looking at porn on his work computer. The phrase referring to his supervisor “keeping abreast of the situation” makes me chuckle.

*I just finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains; I could hardly concentrate.

Back to the 80s

I was volunteering at a high school the other day—an eye-opener in itself for someone who doesn’t hang out at high schools much—and the fashion floored me (seriously, I almost took to the floor breakdancing). Heart-dotted leggings, neon jackets, and fluorescent headbands abounded. Side ponytails, mandatory. Friendship and stretchy bracelets up the arms. It could have been any day in 1986.

Then Madonna busts out with “Vogue” and “Like a Prayer” at the Super Bowl.

This morning, I watched a kid on the T work a Rubik’s cube. Blue, red, turn, turn, red.

And “21 Jump Street” is now a movie—without Johnny Depp or Richard Greico (really, what is the point?).

People, what is going on?? I know all trends return, but so help me God if they start peddling those giant banana clips and acid-washed jeans. I will defect.

Project Accessory

Reality shows make me sad, but I do adore one: Project Runway. And I must not be the only one because cable execs have gone spin-off crazy: On the Road with Austin and Santino; Christian Siriano: Having a Moment, Project Jay; and coming soon Project Runway: Masters, not to mention those vapid model shows and After the Runway.

Enter, Project Accessory.

Really?

Is it me or is your first thought when you see this promo: Saturday Night Live skit?

Anthropologie revisited

Just when I was kicking my Anthropologie habit a couple years back, they went and opened a new store in an old building known for its design roots in Harvard Square. I resisted. Purchasing a home and the economy made it easy to keep resisting. Goodbye funky, flowered, patchwork skirts. Goodbye heavenly nightgowns and $238 wedges (OK, I never bought these, but I coveted them). Farewell delicate, handpainted teacups and saucers. I don’t need you.

But after more than five years of intending to switch out the uncool knobs on my white, chippy bureau to chic modern ones, I finally steeled myself to buy eight new pulls that, for the same price, might have paid for a new bureau on craigslist. I had a gift card, so it eased the pain.

Before hustling to the check out, I lingered over sweet notecards and dangly chandelier earrings, interior design books and more shoes worth a car payment. Then I hit the cramped sale room (seriously, it’s so small that finding a bargain is earned; patience tried) and found one awesome pair of pants (zipper pockets, zippered cropped legs), the only one of its style and in my size and marked with in beautiful red ink with the unbelievable: $9.95. Ten-dollar pants at Anthropologie? I’m back, baby. I’m sorry I ever left you.

Yard sale haul

This weekend, I shopped in a closet reminiscent of Filene’s Basement at the estate sale of a woman who had a clothing addiction to end all clothing addictions. Another petite woman and I were trading clothes like it was a swap. I left with some fancy J Brand pants for $5 and a burnout t-shirt for $1, while I watched her drag a bag the size of a sheep out the door. I might have drooled a little.

At the next sale, I picked up a couple more interesting tops; Maple is convinced the dangly parts on a silky gray number was made exclusively for her entertainment. Then I got a pillow for $1 and two pairs of earrings for 5 bucks.

And, because our office is half naked walls, half tired Monet prints (sorry, Claude), I snagged two framed prints for $5 each. Those puppies are going up on the wall pronto before I spend another day looking at lily pads.