Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Answer Man

I'm having a hard time dealing with the events of this week and while I don't think it's appropriate to "just cheer up already and get on with it"--it's important to take a step back and realize that all of our lives have changed due to these recent violent incidents; some quite a bit more than others.  While I try to make sense of it all (and there is no real way to do that), I think about this odd little movie that I stumbled across a while ago.  The Answer Man starring Lauren Graham and Jeff Bridges makes a valiant attempt to explain life while making it clear that it cannot be explained.

Jeff Bridges plays Arlen Faber, an author who wrote a book entitled "Me and God", where he claims to have had a conversation with the higher power and relates snippets of enlightenment from the exchange.  The book is very popular, making him famous, which causes him to become a complete recluse.  He is as confused about his own life as everyone of his fans who are constantly asking him for messages from the divine.  He encounters Kris Lucas (above right), a recovering alcoholic who owns a local bookstore.  Arlen tries to sell back self help books that he has not found helpful and since Kris has been in rehab for the last month, he cannot afford to buy them.  They come to an agreement that Kris can ask Arlen questions about life and Arlen will answer them in exchange for Kris taking the books.  Some of the exchanges they have are so simple, yet profoundly brilliant at the same time, I was shocked when I heard them.  For example:

Kris Lucas: If God made everything, then why are some things bad?  Like the whole pain and suffering thing?

Arlen Faber: Opposites.  Without things that suck, you would have no idea what good was, and therefore be directionless.  You smell shit, you walk the other way.

And this one is my personal favorite:

Kris Lucas: Why can't I do the things I want to do?  There is so much I know I'm capable of that I never actually do.  Why is that?

Arlen Faber: The trick is to realize that you're always doing what you want to do...always.  Nobody's making you do anything.  Once you get that, you see that you're free and that life is really just a series of choices.  Nothing happens to you.  You choose.

Arlen's personal life is a complete mess, mostly because he is socially awkward (among other things), but there are clearly some basics about life that he does get.  He meets the Lauren Graham character "Elizabeth" who is a struggling single mother with a new chiropractic office.  She fixes Arlen when he throws his back out and literally crawls into her office.  In a way, they fix each other.  Some of the exchanges with him and her son Alexander, are really cute.

It was filmed in Philadelphia and some of the local neighborhood eye candy is really fun to watch.  We have a beautiful city that most people don't even give a second thought.

All in all, this is a great little film.  While it doesn't exactly explain life's mysteries, it does give some insight (as well as some great quips) into why it isn't all as confusing as it sometimes seems to be.  Whenever I'm feeling a little lost, I come back to it to gain some perspective.  Just because we are placed on this earth does not guarantee that we will have a good life.  Everyone has struggles and sometimes things go terribly wrong.  We should do what we can to be sane and treat each other well and make the world as good as we can make it.  It's really just that simple.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Recipe for an unusually warm spring day

It has been unseasonably warm in Philadelphia for the last couple of days, so I have been soaking in the glow with my little roadster.  The 3.0si has been my warm weather daily driver for a few years now and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  It is possibly the most torquey, tossable car I've ever owned and that's saying something.  This particular model shares the 3 liter motor from the E90 330i and I have to say that it works even better in this chassis.  It is light and quick and does everything right with no cowl shake whatsoever.  The model that replaced the E85 (chassis designation for those of you who do not speak blau mit weiss), has a retractable hard top, which is a great idea until you try to put something in the trunk, which you can't because it is now full of roof.  It is also NOT a driver's car like this one, but more luxury oriented.  Meh...I'll keep mine, thanks.  Six speed manual only, of course. 

In addition to the roadster, our recipe for sunny day fun includes one great super-easy jersey dress.  This one is from Laundry by Shelli Segal and also available on sale from Zappos, but only in certain sizes.  It's comfy and brainless, goes from day to night, looks equally good as a simple beach coverup or at a cocktail party.  Can you tell I love dresses like this?  In spite of what it looks like in the picture, the pattern is actually navy blue and dark pink.  I would never wear black shoes with this dress.  Ever.  Here's what I wore:

These were a Paloma Barcelo Nordstrom find last year.  They go with almost everything in my closet.

If you are scary pasty and pale like me (at least on my legs), then self tanner is a must.  I think I have tried every product on the market, but I really like St. Tropez.  The color is more natural than a lot of others I have used and the smell is less hideous.  Some day, someone is going to figure out a way to make a self-tanner that doesn't smell awful, but until that day, we have to deal with it.  If it doesn't smell bad, it won't work.

The last piece of the puzzle is a truly great pair of shades.  I have a tiny face, which causes all the big, glamorous sunglasses to look completely ridiculous on me.  The Maui Jim Sandy Beach is the most perfect pair I have ever found.  I like things that multi-task (particularly when they are pricey) and these are just great.  I can wear them running, driving, inside my helmet at the track (this is actually a stretch because of the shape of the sides, but I make it work) and they will sit nicely on my head without falling off or messing up my hair and work well as a headband when I don't need them on my face.  They are polarized, which will make reading digital displays in a modern car or checking your iphone nearly impossible, but it's worth it.  Plus, LAM (who has the same pair--they are unisex) says that they make everything look rosey.  Who could argue with that?


I hate that I have to say this, but I'm not compensated by any of these companies for any of this commentary.  Any time BMW would like me to start hawking their products for payment would be a-o-k with me.  Kind of like the mother ship calling me home ;)

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Earnest Little Mouse

I have been an Etsy buyer and seller for a couple of years now and while I have had some really wonderful experiences with my own customers, periodically I stumble across another artist who is so talented it simply takes my breath away.  This almost always happens by pure happenstance because I am completely special needs when it comes to searching.  If I don't know what I'm looking for, then how can I find it?  This is where it helps to "follow" other people who have similar taste to yours.  The other day I was randomly searching around and came across a little felted critter.  Intrigued, I clicked on the link, which led me to the Felting Dreams shop, or Johana Molina.  Then I found the sweet little mouse pictured above.  I was so overwhelmed with cuteness, I almost fell off my chair.

I mean, come on.  Look at that face.  She is confident, earnest and eager to face the world with nothing but personal gumption and whatever is in that backpack.

Allow me to mention that I am NOT a knick knack person.  The surfaces in my house are covered mostly with books and the idea of having small objects that need dusting does not thrill me.  But I could not get her out of my mind.

This little guy also made an impression since (believe it or not) he really looks like LAM.  Same wire-rimmed glasses and he has a leather bound document carrier that is the exact same color as this one.  I showed them to LAM, who, instead of looking at me like I was crazy, said, "Oh my God, they are so cute."  Uh, what?  You're a guy remember?  You think these are cute???  "Well, yeah--look their little feet really look like mouse feet."  Um, ok.  I went back and looked to see where the seller was located.  Santiago, Chile.  Wow--that's a hike.  Then I read her feedback.  All 800 of them.  Holy Cow!  Each one was more glowing than the next.  Her buyers love her and many, many of them are repeat customers.  I couldn't stand it anymore.  I needed felted mice.  Needed them with all my heart and soul because every single time I looked at them, they made me want to weep with joy, or cuteness or whatever.  Then the problem became WHICH ones to buy?  LAM mentioned that I had a birthday coming up and me ordering a couple would solve this problem for him nicely.  Thanks a lot.  Ok, so here are a few of my favorites:

Not only is Johana a genius at felting small critters, but her photography is brilliant.  The backgrounds somehow make them come alive and look even more adorable.
I'm amazed at how each one seems to have a personality.  This guy looks like he's just seen something delightful that has taken him by surprise.

This sweet girl looks hopeful, but concerned--almost maternal.

This one seems as though he would really like a piece of cheese--so long as it isn't too much trouble...

This one is so glad to see you she can hardly stand herself.

And this one would like it very much if you could just be a little bit quieter while she reads her book aloud to the class.

It was a tough choice, but in the end I went with the first two that caught my attention--the girl in the pink sweater with the pink scarf and the boy who looks like LAM.  I simply cannot wait for them to arrive.

When I pinned these on Pinterest, I had likes and re-pins within nanoseconds.  One woman posted that she thought they were adorable, but really expensive.  Well, not if you think about it.  I don't know how to needle felt wool and I suspect it would take some time to learn it to get this good (and I promise you that it could take FOREVER to learn how to make these facial expressions).  Simply being able to perform the craft is only half of the task.  Also, I suspect they take at least several hours to make--maybe longer depending on the detail.  Once you subtract Etsy fees and Paypal or credit card fees, well, how much do you like to make per hour?  Just some food for thought.

For those on a budget, Johana also offers postcards of her creations.  I wonder, has she ever considered a stop-motion photographic children's book?  Set in their natural environment, the mice and their friends could have wonderful adventures.  What an idea!


Muchas Gracias to Johana for allowing me to share these little guys with all of my readers!  I hope you all enjoyed them and will check out her shop.

Homesick for a place that isn't home

I have been uncharacteristically silent on the subject of my recent trip to London (and in the blogging world in general), and for that I apologize.  The problem was and is that I have so MUCH to say, that I don't even know where to start.  LAM asked me the other night, what images come to mind when I think about London.  That's easy.  Packaging.  I know, that sounds ridiculous.  He was really disappointed with my answer, since for him it was architecture, historic sights, cleanliness and the overwhelming kindness of every single person we met.  Well, I think about all of those things too, but for me it was the way things looked.  Take for example, the photo above.  I pinned this on Pinterest onto my "Chic Packaging" board, because I loved the refinement of the packaging.  I had no idea what or where this company was located, but I knew I wanted to carry that cup in my hand because looking at it made me happy.  When we arrived at Heathrow, we took the tube to our hotel and upon climbing out of the tube station (where btw, I didn't stand for more than two seconds at the foot of a long flight of stairs before someone asked to help carry my luggage), I noticed a Paul Patisserie.  Holy crap--so this is where it lives!  Ok, so it's really a French company, but they are ubiquitous in London and they did not disappoint.
An English friend warned me that British coffee is terrible and that I would do well to scout out every Starbucks in the city so that I wouldn't curl up into a caffeine-starved ball and die.  I didn't need to.  In fact, there are HUNDREDS of Starbucks in London, some of them only a couple of doors away from each other, which made no sense to me at all, and I never went into a single one of them.
We had breakfast every morning in this little cafe on Gloucester Road and sometimes caught a latte in the afternoon.  My favorite location was the one in Picadilly Arcade, which had a lounge area on the side.
This is actually a photo of the other side, but you get the idea, plus the breathtaking view.  Note the lack of tourists.  Early March is THE time to visit.  The weather was pretty much the same as in Philadelphia, but not as cold.

Where am I going with all of this?  I do have a point.  It seemed clear to me right from the getgo that marketing in the UK is very different than in the US.  Here, we have products that compete with each other to see who can be the loudest and most obnoxious to grab your attention when you walk down the supermarket aisles.  HEY, BUY MY DETERGENT, MY LOGO IS RED AND YELLOW AND REALLY UGLY--SEE IT?  NO?  HERE IT IS AGAIN!!!!!!  BUY ME!!!!!!

I saw none of this.  What I did see were thoughtfully packaged items, some actually downright adorable.  Case in point, just about everything from Marks and Spencer (or Marks and Sparks for the initiated).
I bought these because of the packaging.  I had never tasted rhubarb in my life.  It's delightful, btw.

I felt calm and serene walking around in a world where I was not constantly assaulted for my buying dollar.  This made me WANT to spend money.  The concept seemed somehow consistant with the personality of every British person I know.  They are refined.  They are kind.  They enjoy quality over quantity.  They are reflective and cerebral.  I felt right at home.

Here are some things I miss terribly:
Teatime at Duke's Hotel.  This hotel (not where we stayed, although it was in the running) was GORGEOUS and tucked away in an alley so tight cars had to back away because there is not enough space to turn around in the courtyard.  The very best tea in the city.

Fortnum and Mason.  Forget Harrods.  Yes, the food halls are very cool, but the rest of the store is just like every other department store on earth.  If I could have visited only one store in the city, it would have been Fortnum.
The Gloucester Road tube station.
Hatchards.  I was surprised by how much I loved this store.  Yes, it's the oldest bookstore in London, but they sell editions here you can't buy in the US.  Their children's department was particularly delightful with really beautiful copies of Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne and every other prominent British author you can think of.  It was really tempting to go crazy, but carrying books home on an airplane is a pain because they weigh a ton, so I didn't.
Jermyn Street.  LAM purchased a hat at the famous Bates shop (they made all of the hats for the Indiana Jones movies).  It is the softest thing I've ever felt.  He also had a cashmere sport coat custom fitted.  Yes, everything in London is expensive, but there are some things that are worth paying for and the service you get on Jermyn Street shops is worth every penny.
Here's my handsome guy with his new hat.
Here's Indiana Jones riding the tube.  Oh, did I mention that I miss the tube?  Without question, the best public transportation system in the world.  When the line you want to ride isn't closed for repairs, that is.  Still, I loved it.  Clean, fast and I don't think we ever waited longer than 30 seconds for a train.
Last, but not least, the postboxes.  I love seeing E II R written on everything.  And how everything is "royal" this and "royal" that.

I know I've left a ton of things out, but this is my little memory slide show.  We went to every major museum in the city and they were all incredible.  I probably enjoyed the National Galley the most and wished we had spent more time there.  The building itself is as beautiful as the works of art it showcases.  Oh, well, there's always next time, which reminds me, Virgin Atlantic is the best airline I have flown to date.  Our American carriers have a lot to learn.  Every time I fly a European airline, I am blown away by the service.  All in all, London is my favorite city so far and I felt instantly at home there.  I was indeed sad to get back on that airplane.