Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mystery and Romance FTW


I have found the perfect summer read. Karen White’s House on Tradd Street incorporates all of the essentials: intrigue, romance, history and comedy into one praise-worthy novel.

Set in Charleston, S.C., this book stars Realtor Melanie Middleton, who lives her life by the rules. She’s logical, organized and disciplined. She can also see ghosts—a talent that tests her patience when one ghost enters her life uninvited. When Melanie suddenly comes into ownership of a house she had only been interested in selling, her life is immediately turned upside down.

To make matters worse for Melanie, Jack Trenholm enters the picture. A gregarious and handsome man, Jack writes historical novels, and the house Melanie has just inherited intrigues him—as does she. Jack is searching for a crop of Confederate diamonds that purportedly lie hidden in Melanie’s new house, and his search for the stones awakes a seemingly evil presence that lurks in the house. Jack has his work cut out for him from the beginning, as he attempts to woo Melanie and the ghost simultaneously. 
             
Jack’s apparent cockiness is tempered by his charming Southern flair, and his recent career hit over a discredited book earns him sympathy. The relationship between these two is anything but static. From the start, Jack gets on Melanie’s nerves, and she does everything she can to keep him away. Unperturbed, Jack repeatedly saves Melanie from the ominous presences lurking in her living room and eventually earns the independent woman’s trust. Together, they must unravel the mystery of the Vanderhorst family, whose house Melanie is now living in.

White’s characters are dynamic throughout. The novel is riddled with painful notes from Melanie’s less-than-perfect childhood as she struggles to reconcile her past with her present. As she battles the memory of a mother who left, Melanie’s estranged father simultaneously insists on helping renovate the house on Tradd Street as he battles alcoholism and is reacquainted with his daughter.

Background characters including a scruffy dog named General Lee, Melanie’s hippie best friend Sophie and an affectionate housekeeper warm the pages of the book and each add personality to the story. 

Praised for its Lowcountry appeal, The House on Tradd Street is a hit. Luckily for me, there’s a sequel out this month, and my favorite characters will be back for more mystery solving as their romance heats up in The Girl on Legare Street. Two more books in the series will follow, due for release in 2011 and 2013. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Accessory Explosion

Yesterday at work I put one too many enamel bangles in a glass jar.

It wasn't my fault. I was at work by 5:30 a.m., waiting for our shipment (149 boxes of clothes) to be delivered early as promised, in preparation of kicking off our first big spring store set. Instead, our driver decided to be precisely 2 hours and 56 minutes late.

Needless to say, by the time I got around to the tedious task of dealing with tiny things such as bangles and the like, I was feeling somewhat brain dead. I was entitled to a crazy moment.

I thought the jar would be able to handle the overflow, that the last little bangle would sit there on top of the mountain of bangles like a little extra water does on top of a glass cup. But unlike a too-full glass of water, which is bound by some law of science that I never understood to not overflow, the canister couldn't take it, and overflow it did.

The bangle in question slid from the mountain, ricocheting off the edge of the table before tumbling to the hardwood floor. Another bangle followed. And then another, and another, and another. Before I knew it, I was Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, in the scene where he sets off a brigade of exploding robotic critters to distract a group of Ministry of Magic slaves outside the door of Dolores Umbridge's office. Bangles were reproducing, bouncing around on the hardwood floor, a bunch of unstoppable accessories come to life.

And distract I did, as all of my store set helpers scrambled around, chasing after bangles as I watched in horror as the mess I needlessly created seemed to multiply before my eyes. I myself was seemingly glued to the spot, unable to pitch in and help.

Instead I laughed. Sometimes, when you've been working your butt off (if only this weren't just a figure of speech!) for hours on end and something so ridiculous happens that makes a thought like "bangles come to life" pop to mind, all you can do is stop and laugh.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

One for the Collection

I secretly don't like to share my books. Or at least, I don't like to loan them out when I think there's a question of whether or not they will ever make their way back to me.

You see, I like to collect the books I read on my bookshelves so that I have a tangible memory of all that I've read. I often find myself having fallen in love with the characters in a book, and giving away their recorded presence seems too harsh a departure for me to handle. Thus, I steer clear of library books and book trading parties and things of the like. I can recommend a good read until the cows come home, but my collection is mine and mine alone.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy was given to me as a birthday gift, and I devoured it within days. It's one of those books that stays with you long after you've read it, sort of like Life of Pi or Crime and Punishment (if in fact you stuck it out until the end).

There are two important characters. Never does McCarthy bestow upon you either of their names. I always find it interesting when an author chooses to present their characters as nameless. It sort of detaches you and pulls you closer all at once. An interesting writing mechanism, for sure.

There's a father and his boy, and the book is an intimate explanation of how nothingness can become everything and be one in the same. You are presented with post-apocalyptic America- the ruins of whom are all around you as read, all the time. It is impossible not to worry as you read that this event is looming in our near future.

Once I got past McCarthy's use of fragmented sentences in his descriptions, I was hooked on his use of language that made the pair's delicate relationship jump from the pages:

"He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke."

McCarthy weaves their journey south using scarce and uneven meals as little mile-markers along the way. As I read, I found myself taking my food with new appreciation. Each morsel was important.

"Are you okay? he said. The boy nodded. Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire."

This book will take you on a journey- one that you hope will end triumphantly- and force you to question whether or not your problem of the day is truly worth grieving.

I urge you to go buy a copy and read it immediately. Because I certainly won't be loaning you mine- it's already settled into its place among the greats on my shelves.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful


Holly, I am thankful for you. I am thankful for your poofy hairs and the way you bark viciously at anyone or anything who even thinks about knocking on our front door, right down to the UPS man. I am thankful for the way you bounce out from under the bed and around the room every morning. I am thankful for your sweet brown eyes and your furry paws that look like little boots. I am thankful for the way you eat one little piece of dog food at a time- what a good example you are for your brother who swallows his whole! If only he would slow down long enough to watch you.


Paddington, oh how I say so many thanks for you! I am thankful for your wet nose that is forever and forcefully nudging me for attention. I am thankful for your eye mole (and for the fact that it seems to be staying the same size). I am thankful that your waistline is slightly smaller than it was this time last year (down 3.5 pounds!). And most of all, I am thankful that the vet seems to think we will one day kick these heartworms once and for all.

Love,
Your Mom (who you two better be thankful for too! Not everyone would let you sleep ON the pillows, you know.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hell Week Day 1: Splenda

Apologies

To those of you who actually follow this blog, I apologize for my lengthy absence. In terms of the journalism world, it's absolutely inexcusable to abandon one's writing outlet for such an extended amount of time and expect readers to rejoin you at some undetermined moment in the future. For my laziness, I apologize.

Some of you may know however, that over the course of the last few months, I've had some major life changes: New job, new city, new apartment. Some of you may also know that I am not the best with change. I am a full-fledged, self-proclaimed creature of habit. I have a favorite thing on the menu at each of my favorite restaurants that I order each and every time, without fail. Some may see this as predictability; I see it as stability. You just can't go wrong with what you know is right. (Don't even get me started on the day I got froggy at Starbucks and decided to try the latest of-the-moment fall-flavored drink. Two sips and that $5 was chucked in the trash can. But that's another tangent for another time.)

Having said all of this, it's been somewhat of a tumultuous few months for me, frappucino-related crises aside. However, I am settled, I am decorated, and I am determined to resurrect this little blog of mine if for no one else than my little sister who recently pointed out to my father in a most matter-of-fact manner, "Key has not updated her blog since MARCH."

And what better time to begin (again) than at the beginning of the most interesting retail week of the year? Hell week. That's what we call it, those of us behind the counter. Why? If you have to ask, you must not have ever been to a mall the week of Thanksgiving before.

Splenda

In keeping with the former tone of my blog, I will suffice it to say without naming any names that I have switched from one brand to another since I've last written. Interestingly enough though, not much in my daily life has changed. I'm still always on the verge of maxing out a store card, I'm still merchandising and styling fabulous clothes and I'm still behind the counter processing returns for a large portion of each of my days.

Sunday of Hell Week began similarly to many others, with productive Sunday errand-runners making their returns to the various locations at which they had online shopped at their desk while at work all week.

I'd like to stop here to point out a phenomenon I can't quite wrap my mind around: the productive Sunday errand-runners. They are a breed all of their own, and I could never be a part of the herd. I dream of Sundays. Sundays were always my favorite day, before I committed to a life without them. Eating brunch in bed, snuggled up with my pets and the Sunday paper and some magazines, taking an afternoon nap... Ah. It just doesn't get better than that. How someone could willingly choose to give up their Sunday for an afternoon of errands is beyond me.

But I digress. Early in the day, a middle-aged woman in a normal outfit approached the desk with a return in a medium-sized shopping bag. I found nothing abnormal about the situation and proceeded with her return, delighted that it appeared to only be a thing or two. However, upon reaching into her bag, I found not only a pair of pants to be returned, but hundreds upon hundreds of packages of Splenda.

I looked up and met the woman's eyes, sure that she would sense my confusion and offer a funny anecdote as an explanation for the contents of her bag. She said nothing though, only looked back at me as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

This reminded me of course of a great episode of Friends in which Monica and Ross' grandmother has passed. In this episode, Ross is helping his mother choose an outfit for the woman to be buried in and in the process gets roped into going through her closet. Along the way, he finds shoeboxes upon shoeboxes of nothing but packets of Sweet 'N Low. He spills one box while pulling it down from a high shelf and suddenly hundreds of tiny pink packages are raining onto his head as he stands laughing, remembering his grandmother's strange collecting habit.

Having nothing else to go on, I was obviously left to assume that this woman is also a collector of artificial sweeteners. I quickly processed her return and rather than throwing away the empty bag for the client as I normally would, I made sure to hand it back to her, the receipt neatly tucked in among the multitude of small yellow envelopes.

As I went through my day, I appreciated the woman for giving me something to smile about this week. I think I'll always wonder what her offspring will find in her closet when her time comes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Noises of the Clothing Jungle

Some days it's easier than others to block out the hub of the chaotic environment of the clothing store where I spend my days. Today was not one of them...

10:37 a.m.

A mother pushes a toddler in a stroller as she shops. The young girl spasmodically yells out at an alarming volume, sounding like a cross between a car honking and a foghorn. Boss Lady's eyebrow raises. Interestingly, the mother seems unruffled.

11 a.m.

UPS man arrives with a large shipment of stockroom supplies. His head is bleeding. He is cursing under his breath and intermittently muttering "Dadgummit!" He refuses my offer of a Band-Aid.

12:35 p.m.

I look around anxiously, sure that the clients around me can hear my stomach grumbling as I count down the minutes to my lunch break. No one seems to notice, but I mentally give the growler a warning.

2 p.m.

Music that blasts unevenly from our overhead speakers grates on my nerves as clients complain about price adjustments and coupons. I am inspired by Cee Lo's wise words and desperately want to yell "Forget you!" at all the moaners and groaners. I refrain.

4 p.m.

The store is full of clients. A strange spitting sound is repeatedly coming from the front of the store and is hard for me to identify. Without thinking, I say aloud, "WHAT is that noise?!" Clients look around with me. All eyes fall on a mother/daughter duo. The child seems to be imitating an animal of some sort, asking that her mother guess what sort of creature would make this awful noise. She sounds as though she were trying to hock a big loogie from the back of her throat. If there's truly an animal out there with that as its signature sound, I can only hope that it uses a different mating call. Did I mention the girl looked to be about 13?

4:42 p.m.

Manic laughing shatters a fleeting moment of peace as a woman finds something near the accessories table to be hysterically funny. The "something" remains undetermined.


5:01 p.m.

Is it 5:30 yet? Hangers clatter to the floor as clothes fall from the end of an overstuffed rolling rack.


...It's 7:29 p.m. My phone rings. It's my best friend calling to catch up, but I miss the call- I've already put my earplugs in.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nicole Foo, this is for you...

One of the major advantages of working in retail (of like, two advantages) is the discount. Most major retailers will offer employees their products at a discounted price to tempt them into sporting the clothes or using the products in their own lives. Thus, they sneakily turn their employees into loyal (and big-spending) clients as well as knowledgeable sales associates. For the big corporation, it's a win-win situation. For the destitute employee with the maxed out store card, it's a daily struggle of I must buy this now/I kinda like that now even though I thought it was ugly when I pulled it out of the box/Should I buy that just because it will be so cheap with my discount?

Along the same lines, sometimes companies will run contests in which free products are offered as the reward. Recently, our store ran a pant contest for associates. Pretty straightforward: sell the most pants, win some free pants. As exciting as this was, I don't really like pants. Not that I don't wear them. I do. I promise. I just don't like dress pants... or chinos... or cargos (unless they're slim!)... or shorts... you see what I mean. I'm pretty much in some variation of denim at all times. Sometimes I throw a pencil skirt into the mix when I'm feeling snazzy. Anyway, I'd much rather have been winning a free blouse, but since I like to be the best at things, I sold a lot of pants. In turn, I won some free pants. I was excited.

I took a week to choose my freebies. On the very last day of the "voucher redemption period," I chose a new pair of boyfriend denim as a pant last resort. Not that I needed more jeans. I've got like, 15 pairs, and I have two of all of my favorites. However, my favorite, ultra-lived in boyfriend jeans have holes dangerously close to the crotch area and a knee flap the size of Mars, which makes them a tad inappropriate for the sales floor. So, new boyfriend jeans it was.

Today, I pulled out my free pants for the first time. I ripped off the tag and pulled off the size sticker and yanked them on. With my chartreuse pocket tank and navy cardigan with white baby polka dots, I thought I looked pretty darn cute. Some rose gold accessories topped it all off.

I went to work and got on with my day, which passed in a flurry of stocking the store and working with clients, a few of which were close personal acquaintances. Consider that at a job like mine, there is lots of reaching upward and bending over for things... The outfit moves. Consider also that my cardigan was not of the longer variety. Just regular hip-grazing length.

I came home this evening and immediately stripped down (as always). As I flung my free boyfriend jeans onto the bed and reached for my PJ pants, I noticed something peculiar... And then I realized what I was seeing.

I'd left the giant "size 14" cloth tag stapled right there to the back pocket. All day. We saw 118 shoppers today, and not a single one of them took it upon themselves to let me know that I was confirming the size of my rear end to the world. Nor did any of my co-workers, of which there were three. Now even if I could convince myself that perhaps none of the other associates saw, I simply cannot believe that not one of 118 clients (some friends!) failed to notice. It seems to me that more than a few people are walking around with some bad shopping ju ju now. That's what you get when you don't tell someone that they have a booger hanging from their nose or a "size 14" stamped across their bottom.

So next time you get a pair of free pants, take a moment to inspect them as you put them on... Just because they were free doesn't mean they're going to do the work for you and cut off their own tags.