Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Downton Withdrawal

Call me an obsessive sap if you will but I'm having some serious Downton Abbey withdrawal. I'm finding myself wandering aimlessly, searching for anything remotely relating to the over-dramatized historical soap of the Crawley Family.  If only I could wake up to breakfast in bed like Cora, change my attire five times a day like the ladies, make snarky remarks under my breath like Mary, and constantly complain about living the hum drum life of an aristocrat like Edith.  I want to secretly turn to Carson for advice on life, hang out in the kitchen with the adorable Mrs. Pattmore, and smack the smirks off Thomas's and Ms. O'Brien's faces.    Ahhh... now that would be the life!  I, like millions of others, have fallen into the Downton trap and I cannot escape nor do I want to.   

To help fill my Downton needs, I turned to The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (niece to the show's creator, Julian Fellowes).  It took a bit of time to get my hands on a copy as almost all of them within my local library's network was on hold.  But alas, one became available and I ended up renewing it twice in order to have more time with the beloved characters.  

To the average reader (a Downton non-enthusiast) this companion book would appear as nothing more than pure eye candy.  Which it is, loaded with beautiful full page photographs of the series as well as illustrations depicting the trends of the times.  But it's actually quite more than just fan fodder.  Fellowes takes time to give adequate insight into the real people and events that the show and characters are based on.  While the book's purpose is to give fans a backstage pass to the creation and production of the series, it goes much deeper into the historical aspects that form the foundation of the show.  This is what I appreciated most about the book.  I find period pieces fascinating and enjoyed learning more about Britain during the turn of the twentieth century.

Apparently, Cora's character is based on the real-life Lady Almina Carnarvon, who married the Earl of Carnarvon and earned Highclere Castle as her own.  The scenes from the show in which the family opens its doors to the wounded soldiers of World War I is taken straight from the life of Lady Almina.  This will definitely be the next book I snatch up in hopes of staying connected to the beloved show.  I just LOVE this stuff!

I found it quite interesting to learn that the show is taped in two separate locations.  All of the high-class "upstairs" scenes are filmed at the real site of Highclere Castle while all the "downstairs" scenes with the servants are filmed at a studio in London.  This means that a scene in which Carson, the butler, exits the servants' hall holding a tray of wine would be filmed one day and the same scene in which he enters into the dining room upstairs to serve the wine could be filmed two weeks later.  Fascinating.  (Yes, I need to get a life.)

Overall, the back stories of the social, political, and economical history of the time period is what makes this book a satisfying read.  Without it, the book would feel flat and meaningless.  The truth and authenticity given to the show is what drives audiences to return for more.  I love the mesh of fictional drama and true historical events that make up the heart of Downton.  It feels smarter than the average soap opera because it is.  If nothing else, the proof that this show is worth every waiting moment between seasons lies in the fact that my husband is just as addicted as I am (he may kill me for selling him out here).  He doesn't watch t.v. or read books (yes, opposites attract) so when he took the interest in watching the show with me (whoa) and reading the book (gasp) I knew it must be special.

Before I close this post, allow me to pay homage to one of the BEST aspects of Downton Abbey: THE FASHION!!!   

Calling all fellow Downton lovers!  Have you read the companion book?  What do you adore most about the show? What can I watch/read in the meantime that will tide me over until Season 4?  Do share!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Right On Target

I'm not at all ashamed to admit my obsession with all things Target.  Considering how much money I spend at this store alone in a given month is reason enough to buy stock in the place.  Ah, but I shouldn't get ahead of myself. The only thing I have on my mind right now is SPRING!  And for all you fellow Northerners out there, you know that the new season has not been kind.  Sigh.  But that's where my good friend, Target comes along and makes life just a little bit better...and brighter!  

Below are a few magical items I could not leave the store without.  As you can see I am craaaaaaving citrus-y colors like nobody's business.  Anything that offsets the dirty snow patched grass gets a gold star in my book.   

1. Orange Polka Dot Cardigan: Super duper soft and nice and long (this is always a bonus for tall chicks like me). The shade of orange is a perfect sherbet.  This will look adorable with dark denim jeans rolled at the ankle and flats.
2. Ankle Pant: I like that these are fitted for a more tailored look but contain spandex to maintain comfort and move-ability.  Can easily be dressed "up" for work or "down" for playing.   I really wanted these in red but they didn't have my size.  I just may have to go to another store to snag them.
3. Lace Yolk Top: I'm majorly crushing on anything with lace.  This top is like confection.  I purchased the "white sand" color which is definitely a cream, not white.  I love creamy lace because it screams vintage.
4. Mad Love Canvas Shoe: Best. Shoes. Ever.  Perfectly comfortable and have the ability to be dressed up with khakis or down with jeans.  The tiny side button is adorable times ten.  I bought them in silver cloud and wear them at least once a week.  I almost had heart palpitations when I saw the gazillion different color options for these shoes.  I had to simply close my eyes and walk away before I bought every pair.  I may be a bit naughty though and sneak back for one more pair ... just one.
5. Sunglasses: Found these cuties hiding out in the clearance bin.  Snatched them up for under $5!  I always wear brown framed sunglasses.  Always.  These white frames were just begging to be added to my spring spree.  The geometric pattern feels very retro and I can never get enough retro.
6. Gray and Yellow V-Neck Cardigan: Another yummy sweater!  I'm hooked on the trendy yellow/gray color combo. The lemony (almost neon-ish) hue of this yellow is right on without being too much.  I don't wear yellow well (fair skinned girl woe #47) but this one is very wearable and very fresh.

Alas!  I cannot have it all.  The following beauties will remain on my wish list ... for now.

1. Denim Blazer: Oooh!  I'm picturing this paired with a pair of white shorts for summertime.
2. Drops Necklace: The color combo here is absolutely delish!  This would look great with the denim blazer.
3. Floral Blouse: This is what I call "Grandma Chic" and I love it to pieces.
4. Gray Satchel Bag: The rough polka dots give this lady-like bag an edge and the light gray color would go with a variety of attire.
5. Patent Mary Jane: I have a soft spot in my fashion heart for Mary Janes.  They are so charming and timeless.  I particularly like this style because of the lower heel (tall girl woe # 32 - I have a lot of woes).  The blush color is perfectly pretty.

What are your current Target treasures and wishes this month?  Do share!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wonderful Wonder

I'm a middle school teacher.  Bullies are naturally on my daily radar while protecting and celebrating the underdog is ingrained in my teacher DNA.  With that being said, there was no way I was not going to fall in love with the wonderful August Pullman.  He's one of those characters you stumble across only once in a blue moon.  Those particular characters who have the power to steal a forever spot in your heart.  R.J. Palacio created August to remind us all, children and adults alike, of the power of kindness.

Wonder found its way into my hands in an interesting way.  I had heard about the book from a few colleagues who instantly loved it and I had also been reading its critical acclaims.  It was immediately added to my ever-growing list of to-reads but I wasn't sure when I was going to get around to it.  It was at that time that I found a mysterious package in my school mailbox.  I opened it to find a brand new copy of Wonder with a letter from a teacher in Battle Creek Michigan.  Mr. Sharp, a 4th Grade teacher, was so moved by the story of Wonder that he randomly sent a copy to me (and I assume to other teachers as well), encouraging me to read it and relish in its beautiful message. My first thought after reading this lovely letter was, "This must be a sign.  I HAVE to read this book now." And that's just what I did and I'm so grateful for the experience.

August Pullman is a ten-year-old boy who was born with a rare birth defect that left him with a severely disfigured face.  August (better known as Auggie) is about to enroll in public school for the first time as a 5th Grader.  Of course, he's terrified and anticipating the looks of horror from his new classmates when they see his face for the first time.  It reminds me of the terrific movie, Mask, only with younger characters.  Auggie faces his fears of rejection and isolation through the love and strength of his AMAZING parents and older sis, Via.  His family is his anchor and they are the foundation that gives Auggie his courage and big heart.

Needless to say, Auggie's first few months of school are tough.  He is forced to face some serious obstacles that have him second guessing his worth as a human being.  This is more than a lot for a ten-year-old to shoulder. However, through the cracks emerge a few noteworthy characters who turn out to be Auggie's best friends come year's end.  These high-quality friends help hold Auggie up when scary situations arise.  It's heartwarming to watch these friendships grow throughout the story.

Aside from Auggie's courageous battles with bullying and having to identity his self-worth, the real cornerstone of the entire novel is found within a speech given by Auggie's principal, Mr. Tushman near the end of the story.  Mr. Tushman's words are so simply and beautifully written and leave his student body audience (and us readers) with a full heart and open mind. To me, Tushman's speech was Palacio's speech.  This is what Palacio's story is truly about.  Her words are a heartfelt testament to the importance and power of acceptance and kindness.  It is so apparent that Palacio had a deep love for her characters and in turn we, her readers, have no other choice but to fall in love with them too.

For further information about Wonder and to learn about pledging to make a difference, visit Choose Kind.

Have you too had your heart warmed by the wonderful Auggie?  Have you read other powerful anti-bully novels?  I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings.  Do share!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

When a recipe calls for garbanzo beans, tuna, and feta I'm GAME!  This tasty little salad came from one of my favorite food magazines, Taste of Home: Simple & Delicious.  About 90% of my tried and true recipes come from this wonderful magazine.  The lightness of this salad is probably more suitable for lunch, however I enjoy it for dinner with a side of cheesy garlic biscuits.  I kept pretty true to the original recipe, only adding and/or substituting a few ingredients.  Yummy + Healthy = Score!

Mediterranean Tuna Salad (original recipe)
Start to Finish: 25 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup black olives, chopped (addition)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (substitution)
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 can (12 oz.) albacore white tuna in water, drained
4 cups shredded lettuce
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2-3 cherry tomatoes, cut into wedges (addition)

1. Combine the beans, celery, red pepper, green onions, and black olives in a large bowl.
2. Whisk the oil, vinegar, mustard, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
3. Pour dressing mixture over bean mixture and toss to coat.
4. Gently stir in tuna and serve over lettuce.
5. Sprinkle with cheese and garnish with tomatoes.

I found that this salad tasted even better the next day after the flavors soaked into the tuna and veggies.  This would also be delicious with avocado slices and chopped hard boiled eggs. Very versatile. A scrumptious light meal that I will most certainly make again and again. 

Do you have any tasty and easy recipes that use any of these fabulous Greek ingredients?  If so, please share!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Just Can't Get Enough

Music keeps me human.  I'm not quite sure what I would be without it.  When I need to feel something, I turn to it. When I need to say something, I turn to it.  When I need to open my mind and think, I turn to it. When I need to clean my house in under an hour, I turn to it.  It's an essential part of my life and I'm constantly looking for new artists, tracks, albums, sounds, and lyrics that move me both emotionally and physically.  This month I simply can't stop listening to the playlist below.  In reality, my monthly playlists could easily be 10 to 15 songs in length but I figured I should rein it in a bit and really focus on the tunes with the heaviest rotation.

1. Put the Gun Down by ZZ Ward:  I recently heard this song on my favorite radio station (Ann Arbor's 107.1) while driving to work and it completely made.my.day.  Chock full of pure southern porch blues with bits of hip hop, this song is perfection.  I'm also completely driven towards gritty female vocals with edgy tones and Ward's got it all. She has this amazing singing style that strangely enough, resembles a speech impediment.  I know that sounds really weird (and totally stupid) but you just have to listen.  It's all in her "r's" (or lack there of).  As CrAzY as this sounds, it's absolutely brilliant.  More ZZ pleaze!

2. Ain't Messin' Round by Gary Clark Jr.:  Ahhhhh.  Thank you Mr. Clark for taking us back to the soulful 60's. You sure ain't messin' round when it comes to solid tunes.  When I hear this song I just want to tease my hair, put on a mini skirt, and stay out till 3 a.m.  I truly appreciate artists who take us back to the roots of GOOD MUSIC and Clark does just that.  It's such a pleasure to hear a current song use a horn section (my hubby would be proud that I wrote that) and use it well.  In a music world that is suffocating in auto-tune and synth-everything, I crave to hear REAL instruments.  This one will certainly remain in my playlist for a loooong time.

3. Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding:  I love British accents.  This may be due to my current obsession with Downton Abbey but there's something refreshing in hearing them.  I find it endearing that we can actually hear Goulding's accent in her music as opposed to most British singers who seem to mysteriously "lose" their accents when singing (think Phil Collins).  Aside from Goulding's sweet and youthful sound, I love the feeling behind this particular song.  It lifts me up and reminds me that each day is a new page in my life. So yes, Ellie!  You're right.  Anything could happen today.

4. Lover of the Light by Mumford & Sons:  Music is finally turning a much needed corner.  Mumford & Sons and many other comparable bands are using traditional sounds in modern ways to drive the music industry in a new and refreshing direction.  I personally thank them for that.  My love for the Mumford & Sons sound has been growing steady since I first heard them.  Not only do I enjoy the musicality of this band but there's something about this track that feels extra special to me.  I find it to be extremely romantic.  Slightly desperate, yes, but definitely romantic.  "But I'd be yours if you'd be mine..."  Yes, please. 

5. That Wasn't Me by Brandi Carlile:  Oh my.  There is something about this song that tugs at my soul.  And I mean tugs.  Brandi's gorgeous vocal is very reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt and it's so beautifully honest and raw.  The apologetic lyrics only further add to the feel-it-in-your-gut vocal.  There is clearly a story behind this song.  I have heard that Carlile has explained that the song is about forgiveness and addiction so I can only imagine what she must have experienced in her life that would drive her to write such a heart wrenching track.  Regardless of the back story, it's worth every single goose bump.

So ... what are your current music obsessions?  What moves you?  Would love to hear what's on your playlist this month.  Do share!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Birchbox Beginnings

I recently received my first Birchbox package and what a girly guilty pleasure!  Finding a cute brown box full of fun little beauty samples in my mailbox is enough to make me downright giddy (yes, I need to get a life).  I do like the concept of the new "discovery commerce" trend because it allows me to experience products I would NEVER even think of trying on my own.  I like that Birchbox does the work for me, sending specific  products that should suit my beauty needs (based on my personal beauty profile).  Does this mean the boxes are always a home run?  Not exactly.  But that's what sampling is all about - hits and misses and looking forward to that little brown box each month.       

1. Juicy Couture Couture La La ~ Perfumes are tricky.  It's so hard to find just the right one.  This particular fragrance wasn't horrible but it's just too teenagery for me.  It reminds me of something I would have worn in high school - overly sweet, like candy.  

2. My Multi Purpose Mattifying Moisturizer ~ I had no idea there was such a thing as a mattifying moisturizer.  It's supposed to leave your skin feeling non-greasy.  Yes, that definitely was the result I experienced but I didn't like it.  It also has a strange plastic-y smell upon application.  Pass.

3. TIGI Catwalk Session Series Finishing Spray ~ Great hold and a very pleasant smell!  The only weird thing was the nozzle.  It was so difficult to spray.  I think I got more product on my bathroom wall than on my hair.  

4. Color Club Fiesta Collection (Wild Cactus) ~ The bold color of this polish is very rock star.  I won't know if it suits my skin tone until summer, when I actually take the time to paint my nails.  

The sweet bonus sample was a caramel Ghiradelli chocolate square which I gave to my husband as a reward for setting up the lighting for my Birchbox photo.  I'm pretty sure he liked it.

Strangely enough, the best part about this month's box wasn't any of the samples inside but the customer service I received.  My box was supposed to contain the TIGI Dry Shampoo but I was sent the hairspray instead.  Wahhhh.  This was a disappointment because I'm totally diggin' dry shampoo these days and would have loved to try a new one.  So I immediately sent out a, "Hey .. just thought you should know..." email to the company and was promptly addressed with an apology for the mix-up and the correct dry shampoo sample on the way.  It arrived just yesterday and I can't wait to try it.

So ... any other Birchbox girls out there?  What are your thoughts/likes/dislikes?  Does anyone subscribe to other discovery commerce that gives you a bang for your buck?  I'm totally interested.  Do share!   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Driving With Scissors

Raise your hand if you have a painfully long commute to work every day.  And by painful I mean any one-way trip that exceeds the 30 minute mark and leaves you feeling stiff, anxious, and disgruntled with the world.  What an ideal way to start your work day, right?  Negative.  It can be downright torturous.  I know this feeling all too well having chosen to reside a million miles away from my workplace.  However, I have recently discovered the perfect cure for this malady: AUDIO BOOKS! 

I'll be honest.  I used to cringe at the thought of being trapped in my car with only the sound of a monotonous voice jabbering away the plot of a very, very long story - "Wah wah wah, wuh wah wuh wah." Uh, no thanks.  I'm a big music lover and I used to think the only sane way to get through a dreadful commute was to BLAST my way to my destination with some solid tunes (preferably classic rock gems like The Cars, Heart, and Zeppelin) and when traffic got really tense I could always zen out with a little Yanni (don't judge).  What I didn't know was that the perfect audio book could actually produce the same effect as listening to the heart thumping Barracuda.  And this my friends, is where I stumbled upon the in-your-face memoir, Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.     

Now let's see ... how could we best sum up Augusten's childhood?  A warm and fuzzy recollection of growing up with a loving and doting family?  No.  Enduring the typical growing pains of a young boy punctuated with periods of teenage dilemmas like failing an algebra test and getting caught with a pack of cigarettes?  Not quite.  Being abandoned as an infant only to be discovered by a pack of wolves who raise him to hunt for food and howl at the moon?  If only he'd been that lucky.  No.  I think the best way to describe Augusten's early life is complete and total IN.SAN.I.TY!  And not just a little bit of insanity but layers upon layers of it.  There was not a single minute of his entire childhood that could be considered "normal."  He was never given the chance to experience normal.  

Augusten grew up with an emotionally unstable mother and an absent father.  His mother's whack-a-doodle lifestyle caused Augusten to find himself living with and being raised by her lunatic psychiatrist, Dr. Finch.  While his mother takes a slow nose-dive into the depths of mental illness, Augusten is stuck in the whirlwind of the Finch family and the comings and goings of Dr. Finch's numerous mental patients.  On top of all of this, Augusten is trying to come to terms with his homosexuality but unfortunately receives disturbing and sometimes abusive lessons in love from a nasty little character named Neal Bookman.  Ew.  Despite his horrifying and often illegal home environment, Augusten somehow makes it through and eventually discovers what he was meant to do - write.

And boy oh boy is he a fabulous writer!  No doubt about it - Augusten's life story is blow-your-hair-back kind of stuff.  But the way he retells the events with a dry wit and a complete level of self-awareness made me appreciate his journey and had me rooting for him throughout the story.  I can see where many readers would be turned off or perhaps downright offended by the scenes of Augusten's life.  Some may even question the truthfulness of his memoir.  I admit I even asked myself once or twice, "Did he make this up?"  But now I think, "Dang - you have to be pretty courageous to share a memoir like this."  It was an added bonus that I listened to the audio version.  I felt I was able to connect with his story much more having heard it retold in his own voice.  What would have  become of Augusten Burroughs had he lived that warm and fuzzy "normal" childhood?  I'm not so sure but I'm grateful for his cracked upbringing because it made one hell of a good story.

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts?  Have you also found the joy of audio books?  Do share!  

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Well, it's here.  I did it.  I have NO idea what I'm doing but I'm doing it.  I have to admit it's a bit scary but exciting all the same.  Why?  I really don't know.  I've only just joined about a gazillion other women (and about 20 men) in their blogging pursuits.  I'm simply just another cyber pixie in the big blog pile.
Honestly, I can't seem to shake this "Frankenstein" feeling.  Like I have somehow potentially created a nasty monster that will grow out of hand, consume all my energy, make impossible demands, and end up killing me.  Am I being overly dramatic?  Probably.  But these types of things can become all consuming.  I know.  I've heard the stories.  But I really don't think you'll find me forgetting to shower, spooning with my laptop, and speaking in html codes.  Well, maybe only for the first month or two.

It's only been three days since I've jumped in with both feet and I've already learned some crucial lessons.

Lesson One: Naming a Blog is Comparable to Pulling Out Your Eyelashes

After enlisting (begging for) the help of my creatively witty sister, who by the way, can generate multiple lists of pee-in-your-pants-hilarious blog titles in under ten minutes, (The Sound and the Furry, War and Peas, Minivan Halen, and Sugar Brookie - just to name a few of my faves) I was deeply discouraged (and on my last eyelash) when not-a-one of them were available for use.  I am 100% convinced that ALL of the good blog names are taken.  And hence the birth of the peculiar Pokiedot ... Please don't ask because I have no answer for you.  Maybe I should have taken my husband's suggestion and named my blog Books, Beauty, and Bullshit.  It does have a nice to ring to it.  And Lord knows that's EXACTLY what this monster will eventually become ...  Bah!  The name's probably taken.

So, there you have it folks.  The birth story of my monster.  Do you think I can keep up with it and actually see this thing through (the week)?  I can't let this thing beat me before I'm barely outta the gate, right?  I must endure!  I must fight!  I must conquer this cyber world!  I must learn how to use the manual mode on my DSLR so I don't take any more crappy pictures! (Please see lovely GRAYish photo to your right.)

Till next time,
Victor Frankenstein           

                                                                              Me, about a half hour ago