//What I'm About / Vol. 3

I have been super duper absent lately thanks to a bout of disease that ran rampant through my family, so that was fun. At least my baby girl didn't get too sick. The hubs and I bore the brunt of that haha. Anywho, I thought a good way to ease back into the blog was with a good ol' "What I'm About" post. Let's proceed!

PINK MARTINI!! They are so fun and have a very multi-cultural, cosmopolitan swing/jazz sound. I currently am obsessed with their most recent release, Je Dis Oui! It means "I say yes" and it's the chorus of the first track, "Jolie Garçon." My daughter, for the record, enjoys this song ;) Their music has been on heavy rotation during my commute. I really feel like I should be drinking cocktails in a smokey bar in Paris when I listen to their music, though I don't know why.

The Puppini Sisters are another great group. They are considered a "vocal harmony swing group," according to their website, and they do a lot of covers that span genres and it all has a very retro twist to it. The group is UK-based and no, they aren't literally sisters. I've been listening to their Christmas album a lot because it's great and I love Christmas. If you think people shouldn't listen to Christmas music out of season, then fight me. Just fight me.

So, real talk. I love coffee. LOVE it. I kind of wish I could be one of those folks who gives up caffeine and is constantly drinking water and staying hydrated and being all-around fabulous. But this is not meant to be for me. When I was pregnant, that was literally the toughest thing for me, giving up my usual insane amount of daily coffee. When I tell people how many espresso shots I liked in my latte, they looked at me like I should be committed. To each their own. I am also a slut for Starbucks and whenever they come out with a new menu item, I'm immediately intrigued. I gave the Cascara Latte a go and I love it! It's just subtly sweet and as long as you don't get additional espresso shots, the balance is perfect between the sweetness and bitterness. 10/10 would recommend. PS. I guess it's pronounced "cass-care-ah" because when I say it as "cass-car-ah," the barista promptly--and irritatedly--corrects me. Meh.

This movie was really good. Like, way better than I thought it would be. It was funny (Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson are so freaking good) and considering that I was once a teenage girl back in the day, man, did I relate to some of this stuff. The teenage angst and the meanies at school and the making a damn idiot of yourself in front of a boy you like---yep, been there with all that shiz. Rent this tonight with a pint of Halo Top ice cream (Peanut Butter Cup is the best flavor, IMHO) and watch it in your jammies (preferably with a friend or two).

I am almost afraid to admit this because I feel like there is going to be a barrage of criticism. But when you're a mom, that's par for the course, right?! ;) My 4-month old LOVES this show. It's the colorful and expressive blocks on the screen, I think, but the music is also really fun. I think this is a Canadian show but we watch it through YouTube or Hulu and it's the only thing that was able to calm my baby down after her last round of shots (poor thing). While I don't believe in using a TV as a babysitter for the fact that time is so fleeting and I would hate to miss out on a bunch of time with Hazel in that way, I am ALL FOR this show as a way to spend time together. The songs are very catchy and fun and educational, but in interesting ways. A+ to Big Block Singsong.

//BBRBF Book Club / The Bette Davis Club

With this being my first ever BBRBF Book Club post, I am a little nervous--but mostly excited! I rarely post about what I wear because, truth be told, I am not 100% happy with how I look and I always look at photos of myself and pick apart every little thing that I don't like. HOWEVER, in an effort to be kinder to myself, I am attempting to turn that around by posting the freaking photos anyway and saying who gives an eff.

Taking these photos was an interesting endeavor. My first photos were sent to the depths of Hell and so I had to retake them. Considering that we only have a few windows in our townhouse and all of those windows are located in less-than-easy-to-pose-in locations, I was left with using some lighting and my unfinished basement as a backdrop. In the words of the wonderful Tim Gunn, "Make it work." I hope to be able to take the photos outside for next month, though, and hopefully get better results. And who knows, I'll probably redo these, too, and edit the post! Ha!

February's book was "The Bette Davis Club" by the late Jane Lotter. I read the forward of this book--something I hardly ever do--and was touched. It was written by the author's daughter who said how her mother's biggest dream in life was to be a published author. It was so very sweet and humbling because while being a published author is no small feat, the fact that it was this woman's greatest wish and it actually happened is adorable and emotional. Jane Lotter ended up passing away shortly after publication, so knowing that she was able to see her dream come true just in time is the kind of amazing things you only hear about once in a blue moon.

From Goodreads:

"The morning of her niece’s wedding, Margo Just drinks a double martini and contemplates the many mistakes she’s made in her fifty-odd years of life. Spending three decades in love with a wonderful but unattainable man is pretty high up on her list of missteps, as is a long line of unsuccessful love affairs accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of delicious cocktails.

When the young bride flees—taking with her a family heirloom and leaving behind six hundred bewildered guests—her mother offers Margo fifty grand to retrieve her spoiled brat of a daughter and the invaluable property she stole. So, together with the bride’s jilted and justifiably crabby fiancé, Margo sets out in a borrowed 1955 red MG on a cross-country chase. Along the way, none of what she discovers will be quite what she expected. But it might be exactly what she’s been seeking all along.

From acclaimed humor writer Jane Lotter comes this madcap, laugh-out-loud adventure, The Bette Davis Club."

As you can see, the book centers around Margot Just, a martini-guzzling, older dame who is essentially destitute and attending her niece's wedding. And her niece's mom happens to be the child of the wife of Margot's father, who had a sidepiece otherwise known as Margot's mom. A little confusing, to be sure, but stick with me.

So Margot is in this super awkward situation, staying in California with her half-sister Charlotte--who is MEGA rich and successful, mind you--when, on the morning of the wedding, the niece is nowhere to be found! She up and left her own damn wedding, leaving Charlotte to convince Margot to go looking for her and bring her back to get hitched. Why? Because Margot is the cool aunt. Margot agrees to do it, but only after being offered $50,000.

Margot and the jilted groom head off in search of the runaway bride, zipping around in Margot's father's beautiful red convertible--a 1955 red MG, for what it's worth. Not totally sure why they couldn't have taken a different car, especially since the convertible had a "Just Married" sign and balloons attached to it, but hey! Armed with Charlotte's American Express "black card" and enough angst for a gaggle of teenagers, the hunt is on!

//this is that car that's mentioned about a million times in the book/

Admittedly, this book is not something I normally would pick up. That being said, I...didn't like it a whole lot. I really wanted to like it because of the story behind the story. Don't get me wrong, it was a fun book to read. The plot was pretty light-hearted, despite the money troubles, alcoholism, and dysfunctional family. I just didn't feel like the narrative flowed all that well, probably because of the two timelines--Margot reminiscing about the past while looking for the niece in the present--and it made the story feel a little too disjointed for my liking. At the time of this writing, I haven't even finished the book (though I plan to because that's just in my nature, darn it!). I have read that things end up working themselves out in the end, though to what that's referring, I have no clue. I guess we'll see!!

On to the clothes!

Forgive me for looking like I'm ill, but it's because I am. I'm pretty sure my darling, innocent 4-month old girl got me sick. It's okay, I still adore her and she can do no wrong in my eyes. I'm just feeling like poop and trying to hide it the best way I know how--with MAKEUP! Bless!

Since there are a lot of Old Hollywood references in this book (uh, hello, the title!), I thought it would be super fun to go glamour up in here. I don't often get the chance to doll myself up this way, so what better occasion than a book review?!

This dress is from Amazon. I know. "AMAZON?!" you ask, shocked. Yes, Amazon. And it was a steal at only $23.99! I ordered it in the "Red" color, though in the photo and in person the color is more wine-like, which I prefer. Speaking of the stock photo, I think it's hilarious how you can obviously tell it's a photo of Dita von Teese. Kudos for trying to appeal to the right crowd, I guess?

The size chart was pretty spot on and frankly, I could have even sized down with the amount of stretch in the dress (which, btw, is great if you have thicker arms like me!). I like having the bit of breathing room, so I'm still happy with what I have. The keyhole isn't TOO revealing, so I think I could get away with wearing this at the office, especially with a blazer. I really love the length, both of the dress overall and the sleeves, and the higher collar is super chic. The ruching around the waist is quite flattering and the quality seems pretty good for a dress that cost less than $25. I am pretty confident I'll be ordering it in other colors

The fascinator by Urban CoCo also came from Amazon and considering it's through a different seller, the colors worked pretty well together! The color I got is listed as "Wine Red" on the site, though the photo makes it look more like a true red. Rest assured that in person, it IS closer to a wine color than not. I just want to say that I love being able to get a decent outfit with Prime Shipping. What a time to be alive.

The fascinator comes attached to an alligator clip, which I appreciate because my hair is short and I don't always care for how a headband looks with one of these. It arrived in a box and not a bag, for which I was very grateful because let's face it, most of these "more affordable" sellers tend to skimp on the packaging, resulting in a crushed product. It came to my mailbox without any issues and for that, I was very grateful!

The veil has these pipe cleaner-type pieces studding the material and the overall look is very charming. I am thinking of getting the navy blue fascinator offered as my next choice, though be sure to note the differences in price between the selections.

//derpy expression: check!//

My shoes are my current favorites and they are getting a TON of love right now. They are the black Windmill style by Restricted Shoes and they are super comfy, look cute af, and if you go visit the blog of the lovely Ashley, a.k.a., "Southern (California) Belle," you can get 25% for a limited time!

I had a lot of fun putting this look together and I can't wait to see what the other ladies come up with!! Please visit their blogs using the links below and see how they styled themselves using this book as inspiration.

Join me next month for our March book selection, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, where I will take better photos ;)

~Fabulous Ladies~

Sara of In a Nutshell
Helene of Circle Skirts & Petticoats
Kathrine of The Miss Information Blog
Noelle of The Classy Junk
Kristina of The Eyre Effect
Laci of Laci Fay

                                                                         // Outfit Details //
Fascinator - Urban CoCo on Amazon
Tights - Target

//Inspo Thursday / Embroidery!!

Hey, y'all! Today's post is a spin on a post I did a long while back where I profiled someone whose creative work served as a source of inspiration for me, impacting my own creative projects and attitude. This time, rather than focusing on one person, I thought it would be fun to be a little more loosey-goosey with it! This edition of Inspo Thursday is brought to you by EMBROIDERY!

I dabble in the craft and I find it VERY fun and fairly easy to do, provided you have patience to sit there and stitch, stitch, stitch. I am not that good by any means, but I'm good ENOUGH and frankly, unless you're selling your wares, who cares?! Like anything, embroidery is something you get better at the more you do it and there are tons of sources online to help you learn various stitches (Sublime Stitching has some how-tos that I've used before), should you want to get fancy AF with it. I usually just do a simple backstitch and that seems to serve me well most of the time.

Looking at these various artists, however, I am pushed to try harder and improve my work with effects like mixing stitches and "blending" threads to create a shading effect. Check out some of my recent favorites I've been peeping and see if they don't inspire you to pick up a needle and thread!

Adam has this way of adding a lot of thickness and dimension to his piece, using the stitches and thread to build up certain portions of his work. And can we talk about the Ravenclaw diadem?! SWOON!

I am obsessed with bees and this is too sweet. He also turned it into a patch to be sold in his store, but they're all gone now :(

The use of the holes in the canvas is genius and something I haven't seen before! I also love spiders, so this piece is right up my alley.

Sarah's work is very inspired by plant life, particularly succulents and cacti. The way she saturates her canvases with stitching results in an almost "patch"-type effect that is stunning. I can't imagine all the hours she spends working on this gorgeous embroidery.

The woman also does these cool portraits, where the figures are intertwined in vegetation and their faces are often obscured. Aside from these, she's also done crystals, lunar phases, and various kinds of landscapes.

Sarah offers a Pattern Program where you can subscribe and get original designs of embroidery patterns, complete with a PDF pack including instructions. You can get 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month subscriptions and she often posts inspiration using these patterns on her social media.

Brannon's work is also floral-inspired and I am SO in love with her little flowers-in-a-vase pieces! She lists several of them periodically in her shop and I am always too late in scooping one up. Some day...Speaking of her shop, along with her hand-embroidered pieces, she also sells cards, prints, gift tags, and more!

I just love the way she clusters her florals together like this. While she does do monochromatic pieces and those are great, I am super partial to the colorful explosions like this tree. The woman has only been doing since 2014, for crying out loud!!

The variety of colors and flowers in her work is drool-worthy. It just makes me happy to look at it! She DOES accept commissions for custom work, so it's worth reaching out if you are looking for something truly special.

//Some other favorites include//

For more inspirational work, check out one of my favorite Instagram accounts, @embroidery, run by Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching.

//Dita von Teese at the House of Blues

This past Friday, on February 3, I attended an event that I have waited over 10 years to see--the one and only Dita von Teese performing burlesque! For those in the know, I don't really have to elaborate on my excitement. For those who would like a little context, however, let me take you back to "high school Justyna."

//yes, she IS just as stunning as you'd expect//

When I was a sophomore, I was starting high school in a new town with people I didn't know and who didn't know a thing about me. Thanks to the jealousy or maybe just plain spiteful actions of one girl who I thought was my friend, the entire school essentially avoided me by the end of the year due to a false rumor. I was super alone and super depressed and life basically sucked for me. Then I learned about Dita von Teese. I believe at the time, she was with Marilyn Manson and when I saw a photo of the two of them together, I was so intrigued by this beautiful, glamorous woman with the raven hair and scarlet lips.

//thanks, internet!//

Seeing Dita struck me because I realized that THIS was the look that I wanted to go for. This vintage, glamorous style that embraces femininity because I have always been a "girly girl" and this was like the grown up, chic version of that. Like most women, I have struggled with my appearance and style for a very long time. I continue to struggle with this, especially after giving birth to my daughter. My body hasn't been "mine" since having her and it's taking a lot of work, patience, and acceptance, but I'd like to think I'll get there eventually. I also don't like to be the center of attention and I think dressing this way makes you automatically stand out and forces people to pay attention to you--I'm so self-conscious that my anxiety ends up kicking into overdrive and I fret about my hair not looking right, or my makeup is smeared somewhere, etc etc etc. Super fun. I digress...

//another random photo I found to illustrate my point...FLAWLESS//

I began to read interviews and watch videos of her and I was in awe. She is so DIY in terms of her appearance. She does not have a stylist and does her own hair and makeup. As a natural blonde, she has been box-dying her hair black for years. And that beautiful wave and curls she sports? Achieved with hot rollers by her own two hands. I don't know if it's because of her that I started going for the winged eyeliner and red lipstick look, but she definitely fueled that. It has been my go-to look since I was about 16 and it's still my favorite for every day because of how little time it takes to do it. Practice is key for winged liner and I used to sit in front of a mirror on the weekends, trying out different techniques and products. It's just so polished and chic and looks good on literally everyone.

BUT ANYWAY, onto the show. It was on Friday and since I was coming back from work, I knew I'd need some time to get ready once I got home. I left work early, got home to touch up my hair and makeup and change. I didn't anticipate the trouble I'd have putting on garters with long nails, but with my husband's help we managed. We had originally planned to take the train in but ended up driving and we made excellent time! SHOCKING because driving into Chicago can take obscenely long.

We arrived at the House of Blues and parked our car. Since we were so early, we had a drink and some food before the doors opened. I was antsy because I wanted to sign up for the Meet & Greet and didn't want it to get all booked up. When the doors finally opened--by which I mean a red velvet rope that was moved to let us in--we were escorted to our private opera box upstairs. Originally, we got general admission tickets but then I realized that the idea of standing in heels in a mosh pit of other folks for three hours made me sick...so we upgraded! Even my husband, who initially didn't know if it was a good idea, was happy we did so. We ended up sitting with another couple and the woman, Andrea, has so much in common with me that it was a trip--we even have the same freaking phone cases! She dresses in vintage style daily and even sets her hair (something I'm excited to experiment more once my hair grows out). She ALSO used to be a lawyer, so small world! They were cool folks.

I then ran down to the merch table and I bought a limited edition glamour girl vase, which now occupies a special place in our family room. I got the Venus poster (stunning!), lapel pin, t-shirt, and, of course, the meet and greet. Now that that part was accomplished, I went back upstairs to enjoy the show.

I ordered this cocktail they created just for the show, a vanilla bourbon sour that was de-freaking-licious! Then I sat back and watched true magic happen. Murray Hill was the MC and he did an amazing job. SO funny! Then Dita came out and performed her martini glass act. From the second she stepped on stage, I could not stop staring at her. Her crystal-encrusted corset and underthings were sparkling like crazy and she looked fabulous. She is also so graceful on stage and you can tell she is in excellent shape (I mean, duh, look at her) because it has to take a good amount of athleticism to pull off what she does on stage.

I forget the order of events a little here, but she also had Ginger Valentine, Catherine D'Lish, Violet Chachki from RuPaul's Drag Race, Dirty Martini, and another dancer whose name I didn't catch but had a real Josephine Baker-esque vibe. They were all so freaking great! Violet especially mesmerized me with her big showgirl feather headdress and her routine set to "Art Deco" by Lana Del Ray. Ugh. Just amazing. I lost my damn voice because I was cheering so much. There was an insane amount of talent on that stage that night and I was blessed to have seen it live.

//I wish someone had told me my bangs looked so stupid. Oh well//

After the show ended, I went down to the stage for the meet and greet. I waited in line until it was my turn, when I was taken behind the curtain to meet her. I tell you, people, she is as stunning as you would think she is. She is also very, very tiny, and next to her I probably looked like a potato in a black dress, but hey. I remember thanking her for being such an influence on my life and for helping to embrace glamour, even though I'm just a mom. And she told me, "You're not just a mom," among other things. And she said thank you and we hugged and she signed a poster for me and then I floated away on a cloud made of joy.

I can't tell you how lucky I was to have such a fantastic night out with my husband, doing something that made me so happy. And I got to dress up and be around so many other women who loved to dress in the same way. And I could talk about certain things and they would know exactly what I was talking about. Most importantly, I got to see and meet this amazing woman who had such a profound impact on my life and now I was able to tell her. Like her, I recreated myself when I was in high school and found what truly speaks to me. I was able to get back on my feet, gain a new confidence, and deal with my issues head on. And it's all because of one photo I saw of her. I hope I am lucky enough to meet her again someday, when I've "fully blossomed" with my look as I want it to be and it's no longer just something I do for special occasions. Only time will tell...

My outfit that night:
Stockings - Victoria's Secret
Coat - vintage
Hat - vintage
Handbag - vintage
Brooch - Erstwilder (no longer available)

//H.E.A. Book Club / Commonwealth

Hello! I am very excited to be blogging about the first selection in my husband-and-wife book club, the Happily Ever After Book Club, as we're calling it. January's selection was "Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett and it was one of my choices (we each got to select 6 books and then randomly drew them to determine the order). I have long heard of Ann Patchett and this was the first of her book I've read.

The summary on Goodreads states:

"One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together."

Okay, so to start off, this is one of those books that doesn't give you any context before throwing you into the story. You know what I'm talking about? As if you've walked into the middle of a room and there is already so much happening and you have to kind of figure out how to navigate the area. Those books always throw me off, probably because I like to be eased into that world through exposition...who knows.

The book centers around two families, the Keatings and the Cousinses. The wife of the former ends up leaving her marriage to be with the husband of the latter and this book essentially covers 50 years of the shards of the blended family, centering mostly around the children and the four parents being in the periphery. The timeline jumps a lot and every chapter had me settling back in to see where we were in the story.

That being said, the characters were all interesting. You learned enough about each of them to realize how little you liked any one of them (except for Jeanette...I had a soft spot for Jeanette). It's not that they are terrible people, it's mostly that everyone was so wrapped up in their own lives, being busy feeling sorry and/or angry for their situation, that it was so clear how selfish everyone was. This did not make me dislike the book. If anything, I may have liked it more. The lives of the six children diverged--incredibly sharply, in some cases--because of this selfishness and I was always wondering what they were up to. If you're looking for a book filled with compassion and love, this may not be your cup of tea.

I will say, this being my first Ann Patchett novel, I liked her writing. It wasn't overly "flowery" but it also wasn't bare bones and boring. She can spin a yarn, ol' Ann. The best thing about this novel was the way that the story truly unfolded bit by bit. You are able to piece together the past through little facts spouted by the characters until you get the full picture. I really enjoyed that.

There is a real sadness permeating throughout the entire novel, even during the happier moments. It's as though no one was really able to move on past that fracturing moment when one husband and one wife left their spouses for each other. They each carried that burden in their own ways and it drove some of them to uproot their entire lives and move halfway across the world. It is that sadness that I felt long after I finished reading the book, probably because it felt so real. One of the characters recounts how everything would have changed once you "unravel" the past, and it's at that point that you see, in one page, how things really spiraled down for everyone. All because of selfish and superficial reasons.

The only downside of "Commonwealth"--at least for me--was that the first 40% or so of the book was kind of boring. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little there, but it WAS pretty difficult to talk myself into finishing it. I put it off for a couple of weeks until I finally sat down to read a huge chunk at one time and it was then that I truly began to sink into the plot and enjoy the story. Perhaps the lesson from this is that this book is not one that is meant to be read in small increments. I think you lose the flow of the prose that way and it begins to get irritating, preventing you from truly appreciating the writing. Instead you need to dedicate a solid hour or so (depending on how quick of a reader you are) and let yourself get caught up in the storytelling that Ann Patchett really does well.

Overall, I would rate this book a solid 8/10.