101 Shades of Teal

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As luck would have it, my bridesmaid dress plans are almost in as much tatters as I suspect the swatches/samples of dresses would be now.

It’s an arduous story that starts with one of Alexa’s wild ideas. Madly out of my price-range, but what if my girls were dress in shades of blues and greens, a la peacock? I have never been one to baulk at something against the norm, and nor do I see much beauty in your typical block-colour of bridesmaid dresses, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course, I started thinking pragmatically as to how I could incorporate these colours into affordable bridesmaid dresses.

Teal. I could look for a print dress in a fancy, shimmery fabric in a shade of teal, versatile blue and green for The Fiancé and I both. And, for me, things that were essential for my bridesmaid dresses were short length dresses and vintage styles, preferably 50s silhouette or suggestion.

Where-else to look, then, that at vintage brands at which I have shopped and whom I support?

These thoughts I had in about September or October of last year. And so starts the slog of this post…

(For the sake of this post, and because I don’t believe it’s necessary to mention the brands—sure, their restocking techniques let me down this time, but I love their fashions no less for it—I am going to refer to them as Awesome Brand and Gorgeous Brand.)

It started simply enough, with me doing my usual browsing of Awesome Brand’s website. I guess I had an idea of the dress I was thinking of just by osmosis.

A taffeta-made dress, plain in pattern but glossy and with a sash, it was something I knew I wanted to see my bridesmaids in. It was formal enough for a summer wedding, but casual enough that it could be worn away from the wedding (if it were me, on a daily basis!). And, wonder of wonders, on sale at the moment. Little was I to know that it was an end-of-line sale as so many of them are nowadays, and the style was not going to come back in stock in the sizes my girls need.

But, at that point, I pondered it, bought myself one to try, and realised that I’d love to see the bigger sizes in real life. Awesome Brand only has a handful of physical shops, but one happens to be local from where I currently live, in Camden. So, I trotted the 20 minutes to Camden, head held high and knowing exactly what I wanted.

It turns out, though, that the online stockist is the ultimate collection of what is available across the shops, and not vice versa.

So, it was time to scratch out that idea. Bye bye taffeta.

Move on to dress #2. I’ve never been a fan of folded fabric busts, but as I started viewing the website of Gorgeous Brand that a friend had recently bought a dress from, I was starting to have thoughts I put it to my bridesmaids: my main worry was that as two of them are B-cup and under, I was worried that the folded fabric effect would not be complimentary (as it would on my plus-sized bridesmaids).

So, I bought one of the dresses in my size (if I buy a 10 by measurements, it fits me as well as two of the bridesmaids – even when we’re different across different brands’ size 10) to try on for size, comfort, and real-life colour (girls, never rely on your monitor for the true colour of fabric).

It was gorgeous and comfortable. Even the fold-over bust did not gape too much. Sure, the print ended up being a little too green for my teal idea, but I was willing to forgo that for the clockwork print.

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So, after a little discussion, we decided to go with it. I proceeded back onto the site, only to be met by sizes being out in two of my three remaining bridesmaids’ sizes. I thought I was lucky to have a brand like Gorgeous which gives you the option to subscribe to be notified when the items are back in stock in certain style. And I double checked their procedures: if the item is forever out of stock, they will not have that option to subscribe.

So, I thought.

Turns out, of course, that I was wrong/had been misled by these instructions on the website. The Devil likes to mock me in that way by giving me false hope.

I waited. And I waited. I think I waited about two or three months for any sign of the restock notification going away. I even favourited the page so I could get back to triple check as quickly as blinking. Eventually, I started to worry [more than usual], so I emailed Gorgeous Brand’s helpdesk to ask about the restock times. I waited. I know Gorgeous Brand are reliable when it comes to replying to customer service (great for someone like me who gets social anxiety when it comes to speaking via the phone), and sure enough, I received a response within two days of sending (go, Gorgeous Brand!).

Alas, it was not good news. Despite what the website implies, this pattern was no longer going to come back in stock. The helpdesk suggested I could commission the three dresses I needed in the fabric, but at a price. A price out of my range.

Time to face reality: I have to say goodbye to that idea, too.

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As it stands, currently, I’m not sure if I have a dress in mind or not. My choices lie in cost, colour, style, and brand. In that order? I’m not certain. I was not originally aiming for a vintage brand that I support like Awesome and Gorgeous, but after having turned my attention that way, I can’t seem to shake that that was a good way of doing things. On the other hand, they are fresh into the Spring-Summer ’17 seasons, so stocks—and consequently, prices—are high. There are cheaper brands, of course. I have bought some articles from Cool Brand before, but they have not been as well tailored as I would have hoped. Cool Brand is reputable, but I’m on the smaller side when it comes to their dresses, so they’re not True-to-Size, and for me, that is a clincher (when I have to get people to put hems up and sew together the back to make smaller the top, I see an issue with the brand). Furthermore, as much as like the patterns they deliver, in folded-bust and other silhouettes, they are very much reliable on colourways, rather than the quirky prints of Gorgeous Brand. For me, they aren’t my bridesmaids’ dresses.

And, thinking deeply about it, I have to re-assess the obsessive-compulsive nature behind using a vintage brand. I wanted to make Awesome and Gorgeous proud, but in the end, it’s not about being able to say “look, I used your dresses as bridesmaids dresses, thank you!”; it’s about how the dresses look on the day and the comfort for my bridesmaids. Colour over brand and cut over colour.

Which only doubly troubles the situation. Back to the drawing board, perhaps.

Review of Image and Likeness

Image and Likeness: Short Reads Reflecting the Theology of the Body, with a foreword by Damon Owens

If St. John Paul II ever summarized his Theology of the Body, it may have been when he said, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” But how does this sincere gift look when lived out by human beings with all their failings? What happens to our humanity when we withhold that sincere gift? What does life require of us when we give most deeply? Full Quiver Publishing brings you this moving collection of poetry and prose, featuring some of today’s brightest Catholic literary voices.

I was gifted an ebook copy of IMAGE AND LIKENESS: LITERARY REFLECTIONS ON THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY quite a while ago (it launched on 27/10/16 and I have been sadly remiss in keeping to my word) and, to be honest, I finished reading it about a month ago. But I’m so behind on my blog schedule, with all of these half-written pieces, particularly of reviews, that I never got around to sharing it.

There’s something incredibly wholesome about this collection of prose and poetry. Don’t get me wrong: at times, it touches on dark and heavy topics, pertinent for this age we live in, but each piece finished in a way that left me feeling satisfied, even for the short pieces. Yes, the pieces centre around the Theology of the Body—integral to what makes this collection so unique and pleasing to me—but that is not their only or engrossing focus. Some might argue of overly-religious undertones to the idea, but it’s not the feeling you get when you read the pieces themselves. If you’re looking for those kind of tones, you’ll find them here, but if you’re looking for interesting pieces of fiction and poetry and reflection, you’ll also find them here. Just like any other piece of writing, with its themes and ideas.

My personal favourites were No Turning Back by Leslie Lynch, Movements by Michelle Buckman, Nice by Gerard D. Webster.

I definitely recommend this collection of poetry and prose if you’re looking for something different, contemplative with all great, short plots.

You can get IMAGE AND LIKENESS from good retailers, Amazon.com, or straight from Full Quiver Publishing, available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

AN OPERATIC WEEK

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It really does feel like I am spending all my time in a theatre. And it’s marvellous.

Yes, I am aware of how much energy is sapped and how I feel so unfit because my limbs ache when I do the usual daily walking et cetera – but these are the risks I chose when I desired to be a performer. My entire schedule is squiffed towards what I can do whilst I am confined to a green room and dressing room.

Well, ‘confined’ is perhaps too strong a word. But it does mean that the stage takes priority when it comes to working out how my week goes this week. I have responsibilities, and there is no way I will not uphold them.

One thing I know – or I like to hope in any case – is that the final photos will be glossy and glorious. Working on such a big stage with proper lighting and management leads to some great I know because I’ve seen it on the monitors.

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If my phone had not given up on me/y’all, I would happily have shared more photos on my Instagram… Instead, here’s a blurry-as-shots-come webcam photo of my as an Essex girl just before Friday’s dress rehearsal.

The opening night is tomorrow and I’m as worried as the obsessive perfectionist. I feel like I am aware of the little pieces that need tweaking and the acting and singing that I could be pushing myself to make even better. We had some costume adjustments for the final act – which, without giving away too much of the artistic direction – is a complete u-turn from the previous three acts, visually and socially. For anybody who knows the history of Verdi’s opera Aroldo and its previous manifestation as Stiffelio, they clue is in the additions Aroldo made on Stiffelio.

But anyway, this means that costumes have had to be changed, and with that comes an uncertainty about whether they will be there in time, whether – and, of course, whether I will have time to acquire the necessaries of my own costumes. Most have been provided, but then there are the little things that one needs to consider. For instance, in the first act, the ladies wear a lot of makeup, and of course I am set constantly wondering if what I have done is enough or even correct.

But we continue on. There is time. Even with the opening night coming up, I still have time before the performance itself to do a final costume check, tune myself up, and go back through a listing of the dance moves. Those crazy dance moves…

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There are still tickets left if you’re around in London the 20th-25th March (ie. Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday this week), 7pm at Stratford East Royal Theatre. You can get tickets here:

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AN OPERATIC DIVERSION

I love keeping busy, and it’s something I’m good at. I have a mind that doesn’t turn off often (and when it does, it takes a while to ‘boot up’ again), and I get restless/bored easily if an event doesn’t stimulate my mental capacities. To that end, amongst all the other things I’ve been doing, I added to that by taking part in my university’s opera: the University College, London performance of Verdi’s AROLDO. This is the story of a young soldier who returns home from battle unexpectedly to find that his wife, the daughter of the chieftain, is hiding something from him, namely her affair with a man of lesser standing.

In Verdi’s amendment of his original opera, the first three acts show Aroldo’s suspicion and discovery of the affair, his heart torn between forgiving and escaping, and then his anger towards , all wrapped up between wife Mina’s unpitiable guilt and her father’s fury. He’s all for the well-met match of Mina and Aroldo, so an affair with a man who essentially runs the castle bar is scandal personified.

In the script, honour is prevalent. When Mina breaks her sacred marriage bonds, she not only damages the honour of being the chieftain’s daughter, heir, and her late mother’s double, but she is also aware of the risk against God she is taking. And yet it is God who stops Aroldo from taking the life of her lover.

If short on plot – which it must be for the lyricism to unfold – it is a well-written opera that delves into the human condition. It has a depth that, being a member of the chorus, is hard to find at times.

“My crime appears before me like a ghost everywhere!”

But, you know, in Italian. Which is a great fun to sing. As a Latin scholar back in my day, I naturally feel a pull towards Italian language, with its open front vowels and precision-articulation (comparatively, English is as sloppy as sloppy gets).

Nevertheless, this diversion harks me back to the acting and singing days I did during school. There was an annual play, alternating between musical and straight play, and other acting opportunities in addition. Sure, at Reading Uni, I took part in the 24-hour charity musical each of my three years, but that was filled with frivolities, and the audience almost expected fluffed directions and missing lyrics. With the Opera… Well, let’s just say that the UCOpera is in its 60th year now.

It’s serious business.

You know, I like that. It helps my overactive mind. Give me something to do; and make it about performing. Like writing, it’s a way to spend my time that my brain doesn’t translate into wasting time. After all, anything with culture and music (and both!) is never a waste of my time.

For this year, the production team have decided on a dystopian setting, of a castle in the middle of a somewhere-place, home to never-ending parties and the debauched like. Which involves as the costume designer put it to us “grungy clubbing”.

Suffice to say, I do not possess grungy clubbing. Most of my clothes are, in fact, too beautiful to fall under that moniker. Well, at least I can borrow The Fiancé’s leather jacket. It’s amusing, strange even, that my first venture into the operatic circles should come at such a length of time after I first started acting and, separately, singing chorus and discovering about the performances of old, through the power that is a Drama education in my younger years. It’s amusing/strange that my first foray should be something dressed so differently from what opera has come to be seen as, all flowing skirts and crowned gentlemen.

That said, I am really looking forward to seeing the set in all its glory next week, and, come Friday, doing the dress rehearsal with even the principles in their outfits.

Wish us good fortune!

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And here’s proof that I can fit said leather jacket. Circa 2014, so sorry for the dazzlingly tilted photo.

And, while we’re on it, I’ll allow myself an advertisement break. If you want to catch the UCOpera, it’s on for four nights from at the Stratford East Theatre, London. 20th, 22nd, 24th, 25th March. Tickets from here: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/aroldo

UMBRAE Blog Tour

Today on the blog, I’m welcoming author Debbie Manber Kupfer with her new novel UMBRAE, the third book in the P.A.W.S. series. You can follow the rest of the March blog tour through the banner below:

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Step into the Shadows of Umbrae …

Miri’s world at P.A.W.S. in St. Louis is falling apart. First, Danny is accused of stealing her opapa’s charm. But before he can defend himself, he mysteriously disappears. Miri seeks Josh for help and advice, but he too has gone missing.

Then Lilith has a vision – Miri dragged away by wolves. Miri needs answers, answers that she feels sure are hidden in the blank pages of the book of Argentum.

With the help of Lilith, she travels to the ancient city of Safed. There, with the aid of a mystical rabbi and an outspoken werecat, her omama’s story is slowly revealed. And Miri uncovers something else, a world hidden deep beneath our own – the labyrinth of shadows also known as Umbrae.

Available in Kindle or Paperback

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Now, onto my interview with the author!

Interview with Debbie Manber Kupfer

Give us a short summary of what UMBRAE brings to your world in P.A.W.S..

In Argentum (P.A.W.S. 2) Miri receives a mysterious book from an old crone in New York. But the pages are blank. In Umbrae we follow Miri to Israel to the ancient city of Safed where she meets a mystical rabbi and an opinionated werecat and starts to uncover the story hidden in the pages of the book of Argentum. The story of her omama, Celia and a place hidden in the shadows – Umbrae.

How did the P.A.W.S. story come to be?

Back in 2012 I had a sudden flash. I clearly saw a young girl receive a silver cat charm from her grandmother just before her grandmother died and I knew it was important. Over the next few days the story of P.A.W.S. emerged in my head and I started taking notes. This was in October. I had heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and decided to give it go. During November I wrote frantically each day until by the end of the month I had the first draft of P.A.W.S.

What did you find the most difficult aspect of writing UMBRAE?

Keeping my timeline and my ever-growing character list straight. I don’t write linearly, yet Umbrae is essentially historical fiction, based around the years of the Second World War. Everything had to be matched up and crossed-referenced.

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. I’m an avid people watcher. I often take walks to local cafes and like to observe and listen. Often times people and snippets of conversations end up in my stories.

What is your favourite part of writing?

The ability to let go, to escape. When the story is flowing it’s a wondrous thing. I’m a discovery writer. I only have the vaguest idea of the directions my story is leading and often times my characters lead me off into the most delicious paths.

When did you realise you were interested in being a writer?

When I was about 8 years old. I used to keep notebooks with novels I was writing all based around our school playground. But although I continued writing stories and poems through the years I only got serious about writing in 2012 after I came out of cancer treatment. Dealing with cancer made me realize my own mortality and that if I truly wanted to write a novel I needed to do it and stop procrastinating.

What do you like most about the world in your P.A.W.S. Saga? Why?

Well I like that it’s supposed to be hidden in our world. That most of the places I mention are real places. I imagine readers searching Forest Park for the entrance to P.A.W.S. and I smile.

Why did you decide to self-publish the P.A.W.S. series?

I didn’t at first. I started off traditionally published with a small press. Then when my contract expired I decided not to renew it. Today I self-publish with Createspace/KDP and love the control I have over the process. The ability to set my own publication dates, prices, and choose my own covers. I’m not saying I’d never go back to traditional, but for now I’m happy being indie.

What would be your one piece of advice for authors working on a sequel?

Make yourself a timeline and character list and add to it whenever you add a new character or event. It is easy to just go with the flow when you are writing book 1 or a standalone story but for series you need to make sure it all matches up.

What’s next on your writing journey?

Londinium (P.A.W.S. 4) will hopefully by ready in late 2017. I’ve written the first draft and am just beginning the editing stage. In it (as you might expect from the name) Miri will be visiting the P.A.W.S. Institute of London.

Apart from that I’m also currently working with a local artist to draw pictures for a children’s story I’ve written, Cecilia’s Tale, and hopefully will be sharing this with the world some time in the next few months.

Thanks!

About the author:

debssmallI grew up in the UK in the East London suburb of Barking. I’ve lived in Israel, New York and North Carolina and somehow ended up in St. Louis, where I work as a writer and freelance puzzle constructor of word puzzles and logic problems. I live with her husband, two children and a very opinionated feline. I believes that with enough tea and dark chocolate you can achieve anything!

 

Preparing for Flame 2017

I went to Flame in 2013 and it still sits with me as a wonderful time. One day, I will make my way back, but at the moment, I cannot afford the time or money to go. I would definitely recommend for any Catholic looking to share their faith with young people.

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Leah and Ryan in Lebanon last year. Leah and Ryan in Lebanon last year.

We caught up with CAFOD volunteer Ryan who is getting ready to speak to over 8,000 people at the Catholic youth event, Flame 2017, at the SSE Arena, Wembley on March 11. Read on to find out more.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with CAFOD.

Currently, I am a volunteer at Savio House, the Salesian residential retreat centre. I really enjoy working with young people and helping them to build relationships with each other as well as with God. When I was in Y12 I joined the Cafod Young Leaders program in my school and as a part of this, I went to the Houses of Parliament to speak to my MP about climate change. From this, I continued to volunteer for a second year on the program with different people.

Buy your ticket to Flame…

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Bring Back the Romance!

Sharing this because the world is in dire need of romance again, not lust or insta-emotions. Start, one at a time, through books.

Aussie Writers

Love Tree

Lately, I’ve been looking for good, old fashioned romance. Stuff where you go “Aww” and when you’re done, you feel lighter, and like the world isn’t such a bad place after all. Like Meg Ryan films.

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But instead, everywhere I look is sex, sex, insta-lust, and sex.

I’m a huge believer that love is more than butterflies and head spining excitement. Sometimes love is boring, and gross, and downright hard. But true love, the kind that endures, is made of those crappy moments and how people overcome them.

When reading books, I read to escape the crapy-ness of life. I want a romance that’s realistic, but ends with a promise of happily forever after. Not issues. Not abuse. Not sex. Real romance, real love, is about dignity, respect, loyalty, integrity, selflessness, and forgiveness. But it’s like everyone has forgotten that because “sex sells.” Bah! No wonder kids today are…

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