Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Happy New Year Everyone! We had a great time in Birmingham and the time just flew by. As you all know, I am more into words and not much for pictures, but I am also enamored with technology so when I saw this moviemaker program on the computer, I had to try it!

The attached video is my first attempt at moviemaking! Wow,does that make me a cinematographer, or am I a producer? Or maybe a director? Or maybe all is by far THE coolest thing and I am so glad to be living in an age where I can create something like this with limited knowledge and equipment. Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Classic Shopping Experience

I had to go to Aurora yesterday in order to shop at a Wal Mart that meets my discriminating standards—clean and well-stocked, not to mention staffed with employees who actually speak and understand English. (I know, I know, my expectations are too high!!!) While I was out there, I decided to check out the new Talbots outlet that opened on Friday in the Chicago Premium Outlet Center.

Like Talbots’ regular stores, the entrance welcomes you with the familiar red awning/doors. This store opens to the parking lot as well as having an entrance on the interior “mall” side too. I lucked into a good parking spot so it was just a few steps to the door. This is a plus for those of us who only want to run into Talbots and skip a trip around the concourse and the rest of the center.

Once inside, I was totally disoriented. It was not at all what I had expected. Where were the racks upon racks of past seasons’ merchandise with makeshift signs screaming that each rack was an additional 25-50% off? Where were the messy shoe racks with loads of size 7 Narrow but no semblance of organization? The el cheapo jewelry and hosiery in sizes most normal women cannot wear? I came here expecting to root through the racks in search of another pair of those dark-wash jeans I bought in 2004 that are finally fraying at the hem!!

This store was neat, clean and well-organized (and as an added bonus, the employees had command of the language!!) There were three distinct departments—Misses, Women and Petite. The fitting rooms were attended by a runner who would fetch items in different sizes and colors when asked. Displays were classy and any sale signage was subtle and uniform. Background music featured American standards like Sinatra and Ella Fitzerald. Was this really an outlet store? It felt very much like being in a regular Talbots’ store. Where was I?

I talked to one of the sales associates who confirmed that Talbots has a new a strategy for their outlet stores. All merchandise is now first quality but produced strictly for their outlet stores. This is an approach that Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and The Gap have all employed successfully for years. I asked where the clearance merchandise from the regular stores will go now and was told that it would remain at the regular stores until it is sold or written out of stock. The Outlet stores will feature sales and promotions on their merchandise only.

The quality of the merchandise was excellent, though it was more moderately priced and the selection was limited to what I would classify as everyday casual—pants, sweaters, skirts, a few dresses—all in the famous classic Talbots style. More expensive items such as career wear suits, outerwear, evening or holiday dresses were nowhere to be found. Also, no shoes--a big downer for those of us who seek footwear therapy on a regular basis.

The grand opening special, good through November 16, is 20% off your entire purchase. In addition to that, all dresses are 40% off and all accessories 50% off. By piggy-backing the discounts, savings of 60-70% are possible. I found a cute scarf, a sweater dress and a black and white houndstooth check cardigan. Talbots Rewards points can be earned here and you can also use your Talbots Reward certificates.

Overall, I liked the experience and will make this a regular destination. In fact, I probably won’t shop at their regular stores at all now, since I consider most of their stuff overpriced. However, I WILL miss the old clearance stores and the treasure hunt atmosphere that prevailed! Now, if only I could find that crimson pencil skirt from 1982….it would look great with my new houndstooth cardigan!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Diary of a (March) Mad Housewife

While it may come as a surprise to some, it is simply ho hum news around here that 15 of my 16 picks are still alive in the NCAA Men's basketball tournament! Doug is a close second and is actually winning our pool with 13 teams still in after his near stellar first round of 28 of 32 correct picks. Burt is in third place with 11 teams still vying for the championship. Things could get interesting as Doug has broken with family tradition and has chosen the despised UCONN Huskies to win it all whereas his dad and I have stuck with our hearts and put all of our eggs in the blue and gold Pitt basket.

Despite some close finishes for Pitt, Missouri and Memphis, this year has been kind of boring with few upsets and devoid of Cinderella stories. Arizona is still in despite being a 12 seed but they hardly qualify as a Cinderella. They are more like an aging movie star who gets an Oscar nomination years after a brilliant debut followed by a period of obscurity. What they do now will be interesting. I suspect they will fold and the final rounds will be filled with single-digit seeds and a final four with all four top seeds still in.

Will Louisville live up to their top seed billing? Will UCONN win another one for the ailing Calhoun? Or will the Tarheels live up to all their billing as the royalty of college basketball? Let's hope NOT. Let's hope that Pittsburgh, with the work ethic and lack of glamour that has made our hometown famous, will follow the Steelers' Super Bowl victory with a championship of their own. Hail to PITT!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All About The O

If you didn’t already know, one of Burt’s customers got tickets to go to a taping of the Oprah Winfrey Show. I was allowed to bring one guest. It was extremely tough to choose, but I invited my great friend Beverly Hansen. We flew up on Tuesday. Burt picked us up at the airport and after dinner in Oak Brook at The Clubhouse, it was time for American Idol and then rest up for our big day in the windy city.

We had planned to take the train downtown Wednesday morning and then cab it over to HARPO studios but thanks to my wonderful husband, a chauffer picked us up at the house around 9:45! Our driver was a young dark haired fellow named Safar. After our introductions, I asked him where he was from. He asked me where I thought he was from. I told him his name sounded middle eastern, but his accent sounded Russian. To which he replied, “Jew are von smart lady. I am of Turkish descent, but grew up in Uzbekistan!”

Turns out he was a civil engineer back home but has lived here five years and loves driving a limo. He has met numerous famous people-mostly athletes. We chatted with him the entire drive and his perspective on things American was certainly different from ours! According to Safar, Obama would never have been elected without Oprah’s endorsement! The guests he drives for another talk show host, Jerry Springer, are “super dumb” and perhaps most astounding—Gov. Blagojevich is INNOCENT!! Well, at least we could see his point about the “super dumb….”

He dropped us off outside the studio and we got in a line that snaked halfway around the building. We met up with our host, Nancy Szesniak and her guest just as things began to move. From there it was a cross between airport security (metal detectors and bag searches) and Disney World (standing in lines and waiting is part of the whole experience).

While our instructions said to be there between 11-11:30, the show was not actually scheduled to begin taping until 1:00. About 12:00, they began seating everyone. Filling the studio is just as orchestrated as the taping of the show itself. Parties were called by name and the producers seated groups by distributing wardrobe colors and demographics throughout the audience. No sections filled with all young or old, or everyone wearing the same color.

Sally Lou, one of the producers then proceeded to “warm up” the audience. She told us the topic would be “Recession-proof your Marriage” and asked us questions about how everyone was faring in this economy. There were a few folks who had lost jobs, started businesses or were just stressed out from the uncertainty of it all. Throughout her warm-up, Sally Lou encouraged everyone to ‘stand up, talk, share. Let’s help one another!’ It was all very touchy-feely and cheerleaderish in a kind of “we are women, we are empowered. Hear us roar!” type of way.

Finally about 1:00, Oprah’s guest, Gary Neuman-author and marriage counselor-strode on to the set. About 1:10, the Great One finally arrived to cheers and a standing ovation. She is much prettier in person and despite all of the tabloid reports on her weight, looked slimmer than I had anticipated. She was wearing black pants and sweater topped by a dark burgundy satiny wrap jacket. Her accessories were minimal and her highlighted hair was long and flowing.

Almost immediately the camera started rolling and things moved very fast. The show spotlighted a couple of families who were unemployed and had lost their homes to foreclosure. Now their relationships were also on the way out. Not exactly fun stuff but not as depressing as it could be, either. One woman lamented the fact that since losing her six figure income, she not longer had a housekeeper, she WAS the housekeeper. This elicited a very vocal negative response from the contingent of stay at home wives and mothers on the set!! At any rate, Dr. Neuman advised the couples of ways to keep the relationship in tact and an action plan was put on the screen near the end of the show.

One thing I found interesting was Oprah’s choice of words. In speaking of one couple’s home foreclosure, the event was always referred to as “having their house taken away from them” or “the bank came and took their house.” I am not implying that this couple deserved what happened to them, but I found it odd that it was referred to in such a way rather than simply “their house was in foreclosure,” or “they lost their house.” It sounded a little more like victimization than empowerment to me. Something else I noticed was that was whenever President Obama’s name was mentioned, the audience clapped as if on cue.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the whole experience was that when the cameras stopped rolling, Oprah kicked off her (no doubt very expensive) shoes and threw her legs up over the arm of her chair. She then chatted with the audience for about 30-45 minutes just like we were her best girlfriends! (though I was amazed at the number of men in the audience) She talked about her empire…er… um… I mean her job and her great friend Gayle.

Undoubtedly, this part is just as choreographed as the rest of the show, but she is masterful at making it seem casual and unrehearsed! Love her or hate her, THIS is her appeal and why she has so many fans. 300 people left that day feeling like “Wow! I just sat around talking to Oprah all afternoon.” Of course Beverly and I were feeling the love so much that we marched across the street and bought gifts from the Oprah store to take back to our friends and co-workers! Never pass up an opportunity to help jump start the economy, right?

By 3 pm we were in a cab headed to our next big adventure, shopping on Michigan Avenue. The Oprah show was fun and I can now check it off my list of things about which I can say –been there, done that!!

Note-we were told to check for the air date of this episode. As of this writing, none has been scheduled.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Having a Ball

There were no fewer than ten inaugural balls last night, capping off the festivities as Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th President. There was the Home States Ball , the Commander in Chief Ball and the Youth Ball just to name a few. Pretty soon it will be almost like the BCS with so many Balls representing different parts of the country and groups. In order to save taxpayer money, they could even go after title sponsors like the college bowl games. The Neighborhood Ball, Built by the Home Depot has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Even with the current variety, there were a few events that did NOT make the Society pages this morning.

The I Ball sponsored by Apple-the place to see and be seen for the Me Generation

The National Enquirer Sleaze Ball, sponsored by and hosted jointly by members of the ABA and media types

The Dodge Ball-a bailout affair for UAW officials featuring a Hemi-powered revolving dance floor

The Helluva Good Cheese Ball known for its great spread at the buffet table

The Spit Ball by Listerine-attended by many famous athletes and hosted by a certain Baltimore Ravens defensive back

By now I can hear the collective groaning. I know I've missed a few. Post your ideas, I know I'm not the only punster in this family!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Start Spreading the News

From his half-itinerant life also, he was a kind of travelling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local gossip from house to house, so that his appearance was always greeted with satisfaction.

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

It wasn't until I was in High School and read Washington Irving's classic that I knew the origin of the phrase 'traveling gazette.' I thought my grandfather had originated it, for it was his description of the neighbor ladies who stopped by to chat. "That Helen is a real traveling gazette," he'd say as he shook his head leaving the kitchen where my grandmother was sipping coffee with one of their neighbors, often gossiping about the happenings on their block or years later in their high rise apartment complex.

So I always thought it would be the perfect title for a blog-carrying the gossip--in this case news (maybe even some ramblings and rants!)--from house to house via the internet. I'm not sure that Irving or poor Ichabod could have envisioned it quite like this! At any rate, it will be an opportunity to share what is going on, gossip and otherwise, from my half-itinerant life with friends and family who live, work and play about the globe.

As a new year begins, I think of all I have wanted to say for all these years but have never seemed to find the time to put down on paper or hard drive. This blog will be that voice. Let's hope my appearance will still be greeted by others with satisfaction!