Monday, June 25, 2012

What I'm Reading: Lake of Dreams

Full disclosure: I read both of Kim Edwards books, The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Lake of Dreams because she was an English professor at the University of Kentucky. Although by the time I arrived at UK, I had already changed my major from English to Telecommunications and therefore never attended her lectures, I bleed blue (as we all know) and fully support a Wildcat when he/she makes it big.

I loved The Memory Keeper's Daughter, but I'm not sure if it was because of the writing or because much of it was set in Lexington and I could identify with the landmarks. It's been many years since I read it so I don't recall much, but I remember liking it and recommending it to others (although it's emotionally difficult to read in certain sections). I wish I could say the same for The Lake of Dreams.

In general, if a book's jacket says anything along the lines of "Susie Jones had it all...the dreamy, doctor boyfriend, a beautiful house on the cape, and a 6-figure income. But then a car bomb brings her world crashing down and all she has left of her dashing beau is a box of mysterious papers. This story of survival, independence and renewal will leave you wanting more long after the last page is turned"...I will immediately start looking for a new book. Unless you're reading about Excel spreadsheet development, every book is about survival and renewal on some level. If there wasn't conflict, there wouldn't be a plot and if there's no growth from that conflict, there wouldn't be a conclusion. But having the perfect life and then having to adjust expectations when everything suddenly disappears is excessively tired in today's literature (and I'm looking at you, chick lit). The only time I will concede to it is when it's side-splitting hysterical, like Jen Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black. Yes, she had everything and yes, she lost everything, but it's how she wrote about the process that made it enjoyable. It's the first time I ever remember laughing aloud (not lol'ing) while reading.

The Lake of Dreams begins with the introduction of Lucy Jarrett, a late 20's hydrologist who lives in Japan with her boyfriend, who she would very much like to make her husband. When her mother takes a fall in her hometown of Lake of Dreams, she fears it could be "the end" and decides to rush home to care for her. It's agreed that Lucy's boyfriend, Yoshi, will follow shortly after a business trip. When Lucy arrives, there is a lot of "everything had changed" and "Wow, you must be so important, you live in Japan," as proclaimed by childhood friends who still lived there...the typical small town response to anyone who travels further than the state line. As Lucy begins to settle into her mom's house, she finds a window seat filled with old family documents and pictures. She immediately begins to unravel the mystery of the papers...the who, when, where, why...and in the process uncovers a secretive past involving her father (who is deceased) and his father.

There is an excellent book review of The Lake of Dreams written here and it's nearly impossible for me to expand or improve upon it. But in a nutshell, there were (for me) only 2 likeable characters in the entire novel: her dead father and her ex-boyfriend who predictably pops up from her past, more successful and handsome than she ever remembers. Edwards builds Lucy's character in about 2 chapters and the entire experience feels rushed. Lucy comes across as needy and obsessively driven to solve the puzzle of her family's past. Combine that with her sudden (and obnoxiously predictable) realizations that serve to move the story forward, and you have a main character who is tolerable at best.

The supporting characters are under-developed, so they were less annoying. It's hard to be bothered by what is unwritten. Lucy's mom, who is chastised by Lucy for moving forward after her husband's death, is actually relatable to the rest of us. She has a boyfriend and enjoys summer evenings with him and a bottle of wine on the front porch. I can actually see myself hanging out with her mom. Lucy's boyfriend, Yoshi, is simply in the story so that she can relay truths she has uncovered and the way she has pieced it all together. He physically arrives on the scene late in the novel and is finally partially developed in the last few chapters. I would have enjoying knowing Yoshi a little bit better. And Lucy's uncle (her father's brother) and cousin are described in a way (and behave in a way) that would be unsavory to anyone. They have no redeeming characteristics. For me, that's just not realistic. Everyone has something that makes them likeable. Even if it's fleeting.

As for the writing, she sometimes fulfilled my desire for expressive, descriptive language. I hated the Twilight books because there was no description of the scent of blood or the sound of a howl. It was simply, "she smelled delicious"...well, so does an apple pie. Did Bella smell like an apple pie? I want a writer to take me there, even if I'm stuck in the dentist lobby with phones ringing and the high-pitch of a drill echoing in the hallway. Sometimes I was there with her, running my hand over brilliant piece of stained glass...and sometimes I was sitting in the dentist lobby, reading about the ripples on the lake and how they...rippled. Edwards is also guilty (which is pointed out by the other review and I had missed - probably because I do the same thing) of describing things in three's. I do everything in three's. I decorate in three's, design jewelry in three's, and (obviously) describe in three's. It's effective occassionally, but can be overwhelming and exhausting. I didn't realize her tactic at the time, I just knew that I was skimming a lot. I hate skimming anything that is not a NY Times article or a textbook. When I read her review, I had my own ah-ha moment.

Lastly, Edwards relies heavily on over-used metaphors...water and rebirth, locks and keys. I would expect more from an English professor, especially a UK English professor. I can only suggest that she sit down with a few Pat Conroy books to see how it should be done.

I can only recommend this as an easy beach read...something to cruise through while you have one eye on the book and one eye on your child building sandcastles. I've constructed my own version of Lake of Dreams in my head and it's really quite lovely. The lake is more like an ocean and the weathered Cape Cod-style homes surround a peaceful, quaint downtown, filled with independently-owned bookstores, coffee shops, and antique markets. My one take-away from the book is that image and how it can restore me to calm when I conjure it up. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Relatively Wordless Wednesday: Rock the Dress

You're doing WHAT??

What if you have a daughter who wants to wear your dress someday?

But that dress was so expensive. You're going to ruin it.

What about donating it? Think about all of those brides who would LOVE to have that dress on their wedding day. You're being selfish. 

And on and on it went....comment after unsolicited comment on how appalling it was to do a Trash the Dress session. And to be fair, I wasn't trashing it. But I was absolutely going to rock it...5 years and 1 month after I said "I do" in it. There wasn't going to be any paint or ocean water or fire. It was just going to be me and my dress and some boots and some amazing jewelry, perched on a train and lying in the creek and sprawled across a bridge. What could go wrong?

At the day's end, I climbed into the shower, still wearing my dress, and started scrubbing with a brush and some soap. Thirty minutes later, I had a clean dress and a cold shower. It is not ruined. It can be worn again, but I'm not going to have a daughter who will want it. It can be donated. It was expensive but it was purchased for one wedding and worn for another, so really it has almost seen 2 weddings. We got our money's worth. And I have these beautiful images to celebrate the happiest day of my life up to this point. Time to cross #13 off the 101 list.

MANY thanks to Abby of Abby Leigh Photography for this afternoon of posing, laughter, and just general fun (and if you're in the central KY area, be sure to look her up!) She sent me a disc of over 100 images and it was so hard to pick to just a few to share with you, but the entire disc is one that I'll treasure forever. If you're tempted to break out the wedding dress (whether you last wore it a month ago or 10 years ago) and do this, I highly recommend it. You will not ruin it, you can always wash it. Unless you set yourself on fire. And then all bets are off.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Small Business Saturday: Not Just Another Catalog Business

Being an active-duty Army Wife means meeting a lot of other wives who own small businesses. From Silpada to Mary Kay to Pampered Chef to Fun Parties and everything in between, these women are taking advantage of catalog businesses to help bring in a little extra income without having to interview for another job every time the military says, "Pack your stuff. You're headed to...X." I buy from Avon occasionally because their clothes are cute and ridiculously inexpensive. And I've been known to purchase make-up from a Mary Kay rep. I even have a few Pampered Chef gadgets in my kitchen drawer (apparently, when they say "don't put the ice cream scooper in the dish washer," they really aren't kidding). But I don't buy Silpada or Lia Sophia or Stella & Dot because, honestly, I like what pours from my brain and through my hands better.

However, I love a monogrammed...anything. I believe it was Reese Witherspoon who said, "If it isn't moving, monogram it." I wholeheartedly agree. And so some of my most cherished pieces feature a swirly or blocked LAM. You know who does monogramming better than anyone? Thirty-one. As luck would have it, they also do colorful patterns, polka dots, and the color pink pretty darn well, too. But sometimes you just really don't know about the quality of the material until you order something (which is why I get all sketched out about ordering anything from a catalog.). A friend of mine from high school (and a Libra who is so close to being a fellow Virgo that she gets an honorary club card from me) is a rep and had been posting the company's specials for the month of March on Facebook. Spend X amount, get these precious cargo totes for just $5 each. Who could resist? As it turns out, my sister's birthday is in March and she definitely needed a colorful, multi-pocketed, monogrammed beach tote for their impromptu trips to the sand, sun, and surf (oh the glory of living so, so, so close to the coast). I placed my order and a week later, this arrived:

in all of its monogrammed glory

with plenty of pockets, both on the outside and inside

The material is a heavy-duty canvas with strong stitching all the way around. Grommets at the top allow her to clip her caribiner with keys and pool pass to the top. A zippered pouch is perfect for money and things. And she can slide goggles, suntan lotion, and anything else her 2 young daughters may need for a day at the pool or beach so they aren't rooting around in Mommy's bag looking for it. Not pictured here is the matching keychain in the same burst of yellow fabric, as well as the 2 small totes I got for $5.00 each (which are monogrammed and will be revealed later), and the pink ruffle clutch that I was able to justify getting myself as a late Valentine's Day/early Military Spouse Appreciation Day gift. It's a polyester blend so I can fit my keys, phone, pool/gate pass, and my ID in it and if it gets wet at the pool, it repels the water and dries quickly.

All of this, with shipping, ran me a little over $100. Honestly, I think that's a bargain because the quality of the material and the embroidery is just that amazing. I have been giving our bank account a workout over the past few months, but as soon as it gets a little breathing room, I'll be back for more. A pink polka dotted and monogrammed cooler may be perfect for picnics in the park and the purses with interchangable outsides really appeals to my desire for customization. Thirty-one is one of the few companies I know who run deeply discounted specials almost every month. And when you buy from a Thirty-one representative, you are helping her support her own family. It may not be handmade, but it's certainly a small business and vital to keeping our money local. Should you need a rep, I just happen to have one, too. Look at being all helpful. And if you find something you love today, June's special is a large utility tote for $10 (regular price $35) for every $35 you spend. Large utility totes are awesome. They will fit almost everything except a dead body.

The bottom line:
Represenative: Natalie Bruner
Cost: Depends on how fancy you go. Everything is reasonably priced. Monogramming is additional, but it's minimal. Don't forget to factor in shipping. The quality is comparable to Land's End (as in, buy it once and have it for the rest of your life. I'm still wearing a gray sweatshirt I got from there my junior year in high school).
Shipping: About a week.
Recommend?: Absolutely! Especially if you are a girly girl who loves to see her initials in thread! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Did I Miss?

OK, so yes...I fell off the face of the earth. No, I can't promise it won't happen again. There are a lot of changes going on around these parts. I finally launched the D&E blog, we got our move date for Ft. Lee (which is not until next year but I have to start stressing about it now because I must remain true to my nature), and I'm hosting a family-wide gathering in about 2 weeks. Also, I've been spending too much time on HGTV and Pinterest, which both remind me that all of these things need to be done with style, pizazz, and attention to detail. We also spent 2 nights in Atlanta last weekend and hit up the Carter Presidential Library (because a person can only visit the World of Coke and the Georgia Aquarium so many times in this life and because it's entirely too tropical to be outside at the zoo). But I'm back with some stuff to share (or cut and paste, as the case may be) from the May edition of House Beautiful. The 101 Designer Tips in May's issue made the entire year's subscription totally worth it and I'm going to share some of them with you, randomly, 10 at a time. If you've watched as much HGTV on hotel cable as I have in the past 4 days, you will absolutely appreciate this. Here we go...

1. Start your living room furniture plan with the best seat in the room and work from there.

2. To give rooms architectural detail when they don't have any, paint a 1 1/2" to 2" lining stripe around the ceiling and up the walls in the corners. It's a rich touch, a way to get a lot of look with just paint. (I wish there was a picture of this because I'm having a hard time envisioning it. Seems to me, you would just be outlining your box, which would further emphasize that you live in a box.)

3. Where to hang artwork? 63" on center above the floor is a perfect viewing height for most pieces.

4. When hanging a series of pictures together, keep the gap between them 2" to 2 1/2" to really utilize wall space and keep a minimum of 9" between art and tops of chairs and sofas. (Presumably so guests have some time to react should something fall off the wall.)

5. 3M Command Strips are fantastic to use when hanging art over mirrors, millwork panels, or vintage wallcovering. (This suggestion brought to you by 3M.)

6. When framing artwork that requires a mat, specify a mat with 8-ply thickness - the increased depth of the resulting bevel can make anything look important. (I should try this with my college diploma, which I am not at all using.)

7. Don't hang a mirror between windows. The spatial void it creates distracts from the view. And don't fall prey to using mirrors in every room or over every mantel. Mirrors are not art, and a room needs art. (Unless you are me and would look at yourself in a clock face if that's all that was available.)

8. The perfect amount of space between a mirror and the top of a mantel is 7". (Someone else has been reading House Beautiful as this quote is ALL OVER Pinterest right now.)

9. The ideal height to hang your flat-screen TV is at eye level when you're in viewing position. The ideal viewing distance is 1 1/2 times the size of your flat screen. (Unless you're at our house, where we've attempted to squeeze as much furniture as possible into 1500 sq feet and viewing the TV gives the exact same experience as being at the IMAX.)

10. Float something in the room - a sofa, a lounge chair - to avoid the dance hall look. Think of it as an opportunity to show off the back. Do something with the back. (Check Pinterest for ideas on DOING SOMETHING with the back.)

And now I'm going to attempt to write something for tomorrow. Because it seems I might have gotten my groove that cut and paste sort of way.