Fashion Friday 11/21/14

I know it’s been a long time since I put up a Fashion Friday post, and this is one I’d thought I would publish earlier this year. But I didn’t have all the pictures yet — and I’m actually still waiting on the professional shots — so it all had to wait.

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Fashion Friday: Costumed Freaks Edition

I love dressing up in costume. The school where I teach has a lot of dress-up days during the school year to celebrate various things and events and to give the community a chance to show off their school spirit, and I frequently take advantage of these days to express myself through my clothing. I may not go to football games, but I do care about the students who play on the team and who are our cheer athletes, and I care about the school, so I show my school spirit in this way.

But these themed days and Halloween and dressing as a literary character for Book Fair and things like this, while fun and wonderful, are just not enough for me.

In our twenties, my friends and I used to have costume parties at the drop of a hat. It’s New Year’s Eve? Let’s make it a costume party! Someone’s birthday falls in the same week as Bastille Day? Get a powdered wig and make a giant dress out of upholstery fabric––the birthday party will be French Revolution themed! July 4th? Let’s see who can show up in the most creative interpretation of red, white, and blue!

Then lots of us had kids and were too worn out to sew elaborate costumes for three or four occasions a year. But just because we ran out of disposable time, income, and energy doesn’t mean we completely gave up on the things we liked.

Every summer, my sister and I attend a large costume ball out in Los Angeles. It lasts two nights over the course of a weekend, and one of the requirements for attendance is a costume. And not just any plastic and polyester sack cloth you can buy at the grocery store for Halloween, either––the costumes at this event go over the top. At the very minimum, to get into the party, you need formal wear and a mask, but the vast majority of people do much, much better than that.

Sometimes I like to wear extravagant outfits that I can’t wear anywhere else. Clothes that make me feel beautiful, that put me into the spirit of the fantasy theme of the masquerade ball. As costumes go, I admit they aren’t super creative, but I like wearing them. This year I developed one that was unfortunately more difficult to dance in than I expected, but it was really lovely.

I started with a plain red, strapless, taffeta gown that I ordered on sale from Victorian Trading Co. To see what it looked like before I got ahold of it, click here to be taken to their online catalog.

Some of the attractive features of the dress included a layer of red lace in the skirts and ruching all the way across the bodice. The reviews of the gown said that it ran a little small, so I ordered a size up. Unfortunately, when it arrived, it was still about three sizes too small! So since the shipping was going to be crazy expensive anyway, I took it to a tailor and had the back zipper removed and corset lacing installed, which made the dress prettier and adjustable, as well as solving the fit problem completely.

I was trying to figure out how to bustle the very long train so that I could dance in it, but then a domestic mishap involving my husband’s cat solved that problem for me. Without getting into the grisly details, I’ll just say I had to cut off nearly all of the long train (several feet of fabric). I took several yards of black lace­­––it had a bas-relief rose pattern on it to echo the red taffeta rose at one hip of the gown––and made a new train for the gown and two shorter lace falls for the hips. I added a black lace top underneath.

waiting outside the hotel for the shuttle to pick us up to take us to the party
waiting outside the hotel for the shuttle to pick us up to take us to the party

LOJ 2014 gown from the right

I considered adding wings or an Elizabethan stand-up collar or something to the top half of the dress to balance the volume of the skirt/train situation, but those can be unwieldy, especially in a crowded ballroom or on a dance floor, so I opted for an elaborate headpiece instead. Enter this cage fascinator, made by Enchanted Dream Wear.

headcage fascinator view 2

Not too tall and extremely lightweight, it’s comfortable and easy to wear all night. The cage has several decorative bands which wrap around my head and attach to each other with elastic under my hair. On top sit various embellishments, including some brass gears and butterflies, some feathers and flowers, and a tiny animal skull.

headcage fascinator view 1

This piece incorporates both the Gothic and Steampunk flavors I wanted.

I also went for an unusual manicure treatment to go with the outfit. It’s all in the details, right? This look was created by first brushing on two coats of black, then adding white stripes and silver glitter accent stripes, and then painting a garnet-red French tip across the top.

LOJ 2014 manicure

If I were going to do this again, however, I would make the base coat white and the stripes black, so that the red would show up better.

I wore only slightly more dramatic make-up than I would for going out to dinner (though I could have done much more and been well within bounds for this outfit and event). My hairstylist (the awesome Kevin Roberts) updid my hair with pin curls and added some dark red extensions to simulate roses.

Here's my hair with most of the curls in it, before the headcage fascinator goes on and the tendril in front gets curled.
Here’s my hair with most of the curls in it, before the headcage fascinator goes on and the tendril in front gets curled.

Finish off the look with a sparkly lace fan––because dancing all night is a warm activity, yo––and we’re done.

Here's a picture of me with my sister. We did not plan to wear the same colors beforehand. We didn't even notice we were doing it until hours later when someone else who was taking our picture pointed it out.
Here’s a picture of me with my sister. We did not plan to wear the same colors beforehand. We didn’t even notice we were doing so until hours later when someone else who was taking our picture pointed it out.
Here are my friends Sarah and Adriene, waiting to get in with us outside the venue.
Here are my friends Sarah and Adriene, waiting to get in with us outside the venue.
Hey, look! Another picture of the Wonder Twins!
Hey, look! Another picture of the Wonder Twins!

The kinds of costumes that show up for this event range from extravagant…

This was so incredible I don't even know where to begin describing it.
This was so incredible I don’t even have the vocabulary to do it justice. Her skirt has a 3D light-up village embedded in it! Terraced and everything!

…to maybe a little scary…

LOJ 2014 demon
This dude had a tail.

…to hilarious.

This is one of the goblins.
This is one of the goblins.

One guy out there this year spent a couple of hours the afternoon of the event and about six dollars at Walgreen’s and made a strapless ball gown and beehive wig — think Marie Antoinette as a funny arts and crafts project — out of colored duct tape and wrapping paper.

This guy's costume made me so happy! It's the same idea but with a totally different execution from my friend Adrienne's, which she spent way more time and money on than he did for his! Yet both are FABULOUS.
This guy’s costume made me so happy! It’s the same idea but with a totally different execution from my friend Adriene’s, which she spent way more time and money on than he did for his! Yet both are FABULOUS.

Another guy had dressed as Jon Snow in an enormous fake fur greatcoat; he looked miserable on the dance floor, as if he might spontaneously combust at any moment. And then there are those who spend months and hundreds of dollars on their elaborately detailed and drool-worthy outfits, and all of us who are costume geeks take pictures of them all night. One woman out there this summer came as a fiery dragon, resplendent in a multi-layered and complicated chiffon gown and real metal-scale armor.

And here she is with another interpretation of a dragon.
And here she is with another amazing interpretation of a dragon.

To offer a comparison for how extraordinary and creative a lot of the costumes out there are, I’ll just say that my own costume was of the type to render me nearly invisible at an event like this––perfect for when you just want to blend into the ballroom’s shadows and people watch.

Talisk photobomb
I got photobombed by a Talisk. Don’t ask.

Because the people watching at an event like this? Wow.

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Short Form Debrief: Snapshot from My Summer Vacation

School starts tomorrow.  Actually, I’ve been back a couple of weeks, but classes start tomorrow.  Am I ready?  Nope.  Am I looking forward to it?  Sure.  Is this how it is every single August?  Yup.

Periodically, I’m going to have my students perform something I call the Short Form Debrief.  They’ll write very short poems on a particular subject.  This will not take a long time.  There is no pressure.  It’s a low-stakes sandbox way of playing with language.  And because I generally don’t ask my students to do any work I haven’t done or am not doing myself, here’s my SFD from my summer vacation.

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“Salem, Mass.”

 
The oldest place I’ve ever seen:

trees glistening like seaweed canopies,
sailboats in the harbor and flowers in “sweltering” 80-degree heat,

houses crammed with centuries of ghosts and books and fires.

In Which Andrew Arenson Discovers the Purpose of Life

So recently I held a little contest to come up with a caption for a photo, and the winner earned a guest blogging spot here. Well, Andrew Arenson was the winner, and here is his guest blogging spot. You can read his winning entry here, if you like. Thanks, Andrew, for participating! Everyone, enjoy this thoughtful post. I intend to get back to my gothiness series later this week, but it’s finals, so, you know, I’m mired. Cheers!

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Yesterday I had an urge to go bowling, but I have no idea why.Sure, I liked bowling as a kid, but for many years now the thought of bowling has left me at best indifferent: Something I might do if friends were doing it, but not something worth seeking out.

It’s surprising and somewhat unsettling how often I do things that are supposed to be fun not because I’m really looking forward to them, but for other reasons — often just out of habit. Do I really like this series of books, or am I just in the habit of reading them? Do I really enjoy this gaming group, or am I just in the habit of playing? Am I really going to enjoy this dessert, or am I just in the habit of eating it?

Is this depression? Not enjoying things that at one time brought joy? Or is it distraction, perhaps? A sense that there is something important to be figured out, such that everyday niceties are keeping me from growing and evolving. Keeping me from learning and deciding. Keeping me from moving forward and on.

If so, why did I want to go bowling yesterday? Maybe I know the answer to that: Yesterday was different. Yesterday I woke up, sat down at the computer thinking that I’d take care of a few things before getting to my various tasks for the day, and then came out of my fugue five hours later realizing that I’d been sucked in and done nothing on my ‘list.’

Not that getting sucked into the Internet is all that different than many other days, mind you. What made yesterday different was that I decided to just take the day off. I wasn’t going to worry about the things that ‘needed’ to get done. I wasn’t going to worry about getting exercise, buying holiday gifts, or transferring video from tape to disk. It was mid afternoon and I just wasn’t going to worry about what else I got done.

I ended up watching a movie on DVD that had been sitting around the house unwatched for years. Bowling was in my head because I’d seen the Nerdist special where they bowled against the Doctor Who cast.  And, out of nowhere, it just seemed like it would be a ton of fun. So, I called up some friends and we went bowling.It was good. I enjoyed it. But it wasn’t life changing or anything.  Just enjoyable.

And now it’s the next day and I know I can’t do that again. I can’t just take another day off. Can’t afford to! Things wouldn’t get done.

Those things that are distracting me are doing so for a good reason.  Some of them are common, everyday things that just need to get done — go to the grocery store, etc — and some of them are more philosophical — what do I want to do with my life, for instance.

Yes, there are things I can do to limit the distractions, both small and large. I can decrease my unnecessary commitments. I can resolve philosophical issues. But can I ever completely eliminate them?

Can I reach a point of flow where I harmoniously move through life, both enjoying the moment and confidently progress towards a meaningful whole?

Dunno! Probably, not, but I’m going to try.

And that, I suppose, is the point of life.

The Sky Mall Catalog (Or, My Weird Flying Ritual Has Been Overtaken By Utterly Useless Rubbish)

I despise air travel.

I appreciate the relative convenience and speed, but honestly, flying freaks me out. Someone who has lived most of her life inside her imagination should not be allowed to consider what-if scenarios, but I do, and so every minor, imagined anomaly is a catastrophe waiting to happen. It’s wearing on my nerves. Add to that the descending slope of quality in the general air travel experience, and it takes something I want really, really badly to get me on an airplane.

I traveled recently to the west coast for a little vacation with my sister to see some friends and to go to this amazing costume ball in Los Angeles.  Super fun, I love LA, I love my sister, it takes too long to drive, yadda yadda I got on an airplane.

Continue reading “The Sky Mall Catalog (Or, My Weird Flying Ritual Has Been Overtaken By Utterly Useless Rubbish)”

A Film I Hope Everyone Will See

Recently a friend and colleague of mine, director Mike Akel, released his latest project:  An Ordinary Family.  This is a movie I would like for everyone to see.  It deals with a sensitive, timely, and important subject in a funny yet poignant way, a manner which Continue reading “A Film I Hope Everyone Will See”

Vacationing in Purgatory: The Spice Lady of Maine

In light of this being the “last official weekend of summer” — or at least, the last official weekend for summertime traveling — I thought I’d post about an extraordinary vacation Aaron and I took about ten years ago, the summer after we were married. We were going to Bar Harbor, Maine, where he and his family are from, with his parents and his brother Jason’s family (consisting at the time of Jason’s wife, Kim, and their two-year-old daughter Samantha). Aaron was hoping to do some historical investigation into his family’s history on the island, which was extensive and dated back over two hundred years, and so I welcomed the idea of this trip to Maine, even though it meant we would be missing my cousin’s wedding that same week – a family reunion on my side, of sorts, being replaced by a family reunion on his.

Aaron’s parents were making their own travel arrangements and would not be staying with us, but Kim and Jason and Aaron and I thought it would be fun for us to have our vacation entirely together. We were right about that, I think, but I made some serious errors in booking our travel arrangements; I had taken on the task quite willingly because I had the most free time, and because I wanted to impress my new in-laws with my enthusiasm. Famous last intentions.

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Getting to Maine by air is not as easy as it sounds. Unless you have a private plane, you cannot simply fly into Bar Harbor. One cannot apparently fly directly into Maine from anywhere in the country father away than the other side of Maine. Getting there and getting home were exercises in creative frustration. Three weeks after Tropical Storm Allison had dumped thirteen feet of water on Houston in a single night, her remnants were still lashing the northeast, wreaking havoc with our travel plans. We’d started out flying from Houston to Philadelphia, then to Boston, and then to Bangor, where we’d stay one night and visit my mother-in-law’s people the next day before continuing on to the island by car. But the flight to Boston was canceled when the airports there were closed down by the weather; when one major northeastern city’s airports shut down, it wrecks the rest of that region of the country for air travel. After twenty frustrating minutes with some overworked ticket agents, we had to settle for rerouting to Rhode Island. The flight to Providence was several hours delayed and double-booked. From there we rented a car and drove; in the middle of the night, it took us only five hours to get across four states. We made it to our hotel in Bangor a little after three in the morning. Aaron’s parents and Jason’s family were already there, asleep.

No one’s luggage had made it to Bangor yet.

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Aaron and I had stayed at an exquisite B&B in Bar Harbor called The Chiltern Inn for our honeymoon. I had never been to a B&B before that, and I fell in love with it. So even though Kim and Jason were more interested in staying at the oceanfront Holiday Inn (boasting air conditioning and a swimming pool), I persuaded everyone that the charming Windhaven Inn, another B&B I had discovered in my tourism research, would be a lot of fun. It sounded wonderful: “a museum-quality Edwardian inn on the ocean owned and operated by the Spice Lady of Maine, a gourmet chef.” The travel guide promised the place was “famous for its antiques, fireplaces, and big rooms with spruce ceilings.” A gourmet breakfast every morning, afternoon tea in the British tradition on the patio, and the inn’s custom of a glass of port in the evening sounded delightful, and so I gleefully made our reservations.

When we arrived, we discovered the guest rooms were tiny. Each had a full-size bed, two miniature nightstands, and a single straight-backed chair that appeared to have been salvaged from a long-discarded dinette set. Beyond that, there was barely room to walk, especially if you put your suitcases along the wall – which was a necessity, considering the lack of closets. The low ceilings were in fact made of spruce, but the “paddle fans” which worked “in conjunction with the ocean breezes” to keep the rooms “at a pleasant 68 degrees” were really just run-of-the-mill ceiling fans you could find at a Home Depot. They did not cool the rooms at all, perhaps because said ocean breezes were two miles away. Far from being a waterfront inn, the house was located in the middle of three concentric blocks of homes populated apparently by frat boys who liked to host raucous parties day and night.

Cynthia, the owner of the inn and resident “gourmet chef,” informed us when we arrived that breakfast was “at 8:00 a.m. sharp, in your street clothes.” Since we were all sharing one tiny bathroom, we had to start taking our showers at 6:30 in the morning in order to be dressed. If any of us was even a few minutes late, Cynthia would scold us into our chairs around the large circular table in the dining room. While we ate, we were subjected to her emphatic lectures, replete with maps and handouts and props and utterly devoid of any logic or historical accuracy whatsoever, about the history of Mount Desert Island. In between serving our three courses, she perched herself upon a stool on one side of the breakfast table and yammered on and on, preventing us from holding any conversations of our own.

But what she lacked in good sense and fact, Cynthia made up for in the staunch conviction that the idiotic nonsense she was making up as she went along was God’s own truth. For example, she told us that a Celtic coin from 400 B.C. (“the time of the Vikings”) had been found in Blue Hill on the mainland. (She was about 1,400 years too early for that detail to be even remotely plausible.) She also asserted that Maine had been discovered not by Champlain but by Ponce de Leon – which she pronounced as if it were a French name. She also told us her cat, a Maine coon (not actually), had belonged to Ernest Hemingway, and that her own daughter had earned two Master’s degrees, in business administration and in Cantonese, in two years from Yale. The daughter was reported to speak about ten languages fluently. Yale had apparently also sent this prodigy to Beijing to learn Mandarin.

The food was even better than the entertainment. And when I say “better,” I mean it was extraordinary. The Spice Lady’s culinary bravery knew no bounds. Our first morning, she served us a small dense loaf she called pioneer bread, which came with a lecture on its origins that included anecdotes about the Hebrews traveling through the Egyptian desert. The bread was followed by a plate of fruit covered with sticky triple sec and then a blueberry-filled crepe made of barley and covered with powdered sugar.

That evening, Kim and Jason and Aaron and I stood on the narrow landing outside our bedrooms for our glasses of port. There wasn’t enough room for any chairs, and six-foot-two Jason had to lean against the door jamb of the bathroom so as not to step on anyone’s feet. Cynthia brought a crystal decanter half-filled with the garnet-colored liquid on a tray with four crystal cordial glasses and deposited it on the short bookshelf between the two bedroom doors, then went mumbling back downstairs.

I was looking forward to the nightcap. We each took a glass, toasted each other, and then sipped. Jason was the first to speak, after his lips had stopped puckering. He smacked his tongue against his teeth a few times and grimaced.

“Tasty,” he said, putting his port back on the little tray.

I was disappointed by the rancid syrup, too. I like port. None of us liked this stuff.

The next morning, breakfast began again with spongy pioneer bread and moved onto a strawberry shortcake made of a pasty muffin which tasted like a dry scone that had been left in the oven for too long. The entrée was a soupy chive omelet with venison balls on the side. The meatball-like mounds were cooked in meringue and then dusted with powdered sugar. When Cynthia brought it out, she introduced it proudly as “the reason you all came to Maine.” My two-year-old niece, Samantha, who was given the exact same food we were but on smaller plates, looked down at her runny omelet and venison balls and said, “Yuck.”

That morning Cynthia informed us of the two leading theories on how Mount Desert Island had gotten its name. The first was that “a fat-cat, cigar-smoking rich guy” named Desert used to vacation there, but the explanation she preferred was that when Ponce de Leon was looking up at Cadillac Mountain at dawn, as the sun rose behind the mountain, it heated the ocean waters in front of the island, and the subsequent steam rose up and obscured the top of the mountain so that it seemed to de Leon that the mountain was deserting him. (We knew better, though, that the name came from the French word désert, meaning in some connotations “barren” and aptly describing rocky Cadillac Mountain and the surrounding terrain.)

That day, my sister-in-law Kim and I discussed our options during afternoon tea – two sweating glasses of Lipton on a rickety bistro table, on a small wooden deck off the breakfast room. We were shielded from the sun by overgrown morning glories and an anemic wisteria vine. Samantha was with us, leaning against Kim, who was gently sproinging the child’s ringlets to soothe her while we talked.

“Don’t feel bad,” Kim said to me. “There’s no way you could have known this place was run by a lunatic. The description in the brochure sounded good to us, too.”

“I guess,” I said, feeling pretty terrible that I’d persuaded them all to stay here. I looked past Kim through the sliding glass door to make sure Cynthia wasn’t eavesdropping. “But we can’t spend the whole week like this. Not with this awful food.”

“The Spice Lady is scary,” Samantha said carefully. Kim hugged her. “I know, honey. Don’t worry.” Samantha climbed onto her mother’s lap, and their folding chair creaked under the shift in weight.

After our watery tea had lost so much flavor that we couldn’t drink it anymore, we went inside to find Cynthia. We asked her if, since we were the only guests at the inn that week, we might postpone breakfast until 9:00, which wounded her to the core almost as deeply as our conciliatory requests for more simple fare. Not just for Samantha, who wanted Froot Loops, but also for us. I explained, “We aren’t used to such elaborate breakfasts,” and chuckled a little sheepishly that they were “wreaking havoc upon our metabolisms.” Cynthia agreed without even an attempt at graciousness.

The next morning we cheerfully came into the dining room just before 9:00. “Good morning!” we said.

Cynthia snapped, “Well good grief, it’s practically the afternoon!” and grumbled about her entire day’s schedule being thrown off. She informed us we could eat cereal if the Belgian waffles weren’t “simple enough” for us. The cereal was on the table, the bowls were stacked on the sideboard, and neither spoons nor milk was anywhere in sight.

Later that day, Cynthia ostentatiously put the inn up for sale. We even had to vacate our rooms while she marched a real estate agent through. We left for a couple of hours and when we came back, Aaron and I walked into our room to find Cynthia leaning over our bed, the comforter folded back to the foot of the mattress, ironing the sheets.

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So what is your weirdest travel episode? Please comment and share your story.