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Roman Holiday

DVD (1953)  Written by Ian McLellan Hunter / Directed by William Wyler

(image: Paramount)

I was raised on black-and-white movies. My dad is a film buff, and as for me, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what Ioh, oops, flashback, sorry, I mean I saw hundreds of old movies as a child. Yet of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she…no wait, I mean, of all the old movies I’ve seen growing up, I don’t remember ever being shown an Audrey Hepburn film. So it was really exciting when I recently got to watch my first Hepburn film at the Oxford  in Halifax — a classic theatre, complete with balcony.

The film was Roman Holiday, a 1953 romance-comedy which tells the story of a princess and an unscrupulous American newspaper man. On a tour of Europe, Princess Anne (“from a country which shall remain nameless”) seems to be on the verge of losing her sanity.  Unable to handle the pressures of her  exhausting schedule, she slips away from her guardians in the middle of the night and enjoys 24 hours of freedom in Rome. She meets reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) who spends much of the day with her as she experiences life’s little pleasures, many of them for the first time. The catch is that she doesn’t know that he knows that she’s Princess Anne. He’s secretly recording her every move, and we’re cringing at the thought of what he’s going to do with the story once they part ways.

Hepburn has such likeability, and it’s no wonder she won an Oscar for this role. If you’ve never seen Audrey Hepburn in action, you’ll fall in love with her here. Her character’s sparkling personality and naïveté is such a great contrast to co-star Gregory Peck, who is tall, dark and kinda grumpy and bitter.  The story feels so fresh and clever, despite the age of the film. Watching Roman Holiday caused me to re-assess my definition of rom-coms, which I truly thought was etched in stone when I started this blog. So I don’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll just say the ending of Roman Holiday pleasantly surprised me. I loved how it played out, and it brought to mind the wise words of my screenwriting professor which I have since added to my article What’s a romantic comedy? Not this.

Sweet extras The 1994 film Only You referenced Roman Holiday in more ways than I originally realized. The most obvious, of course,  is the visit to the ancient sculpture La Bocca della Verità (“The Mouth of Truth”), a scene in which Tomei and Downey Jr. actually recite lines from the Hepburn-Peck film. Watch both films and see if you can spot the references to Roman Holiday in Only You. I found five.

Good for who? This is a movie for absolutely anyone, except those who really dislike black-and-white movies. There is a colourized version of the film available, but I encourage you to watch it in black and white—the way the good Lord intended it!

 

Loved this movie? Live this movie!

When life overwhelms you and drives you to little princess hissy fits, take a lesson from Princess Anne and shake up your routine. Explore your own city or a nearby town, or maybe just try something you’ve never tried before: a new hairstyle, gelato, or perhaps a little champagne with your lunch. The idea is just to get out, enjoy something new, and appreciate the little things each day has to offer. I’ve been working on a writing project for the past two weeks and yesterday decided I needed a Princess-Anne-inspired break. With a Pavarotti CD, a bag of roast chicken chips, and my smelly dog Chachi, I drove to Wolfville, a little college town I love about 45 minutes away. Wolfville is not Rome, and I am no princess, but you get the idea. This would be a nice afternoon to myself.

Since the whole experience was about exploring and trying something new, I’m proud to say that I learned two new things about my dog that day: one, he is not a Pavarotti enthusiast (see photo. His ears are back. I think they’re bleeding.), and two, Chach is a little Houdini. When we first got out of the car, he slipped his collar while my back was turned. I found him at the side of a pizzeria, a few blades of grass stuck to his face. I scolded him, but he seemed in great spirits and was jumping around happily. I think the little numbskull was having his own Audrey Hepburn moment.

We strolled for a half hour, enjoying the sun that had broken through the clouds. I then put Chachi in the car while I explored a few shops and ate lunch. I chose a creepy dark pub where I was one of three seated customers. There were two junkies at the bar. I watched a darts competition on the widescreen and admired a set of faux Greek vases next to the beer signs. I said to the waitress: “I want to try something I’ve never tried. Name some weird things you serve.” She suggested some sort of mundane sandwich with a pickle. I exclaimed “Seafood chowder! Got any?” My plan had been to go my entire life without eating seafood chowder (most seafood does not appeal to me) but heck, I’d do it for Audrey. The waitress said that yes, she had some homemade Nova Scotia chowder, but she looked very concerned as she said “It’s got lobster in it…it’s got scallops in it… it’s in milk…it comes with a roll…” She said these things as if it were a list of dire warnings. No matter, I said, please bring it to me with a Diet Coke.

The chowder soon arrived — with some of the sauce splashed around the sides of the bowl as if the haddock had been jumping mere seconds ago — and I was taken aback. “Lady,” I wanted to say to the waitress, “this fish soup smells like fish!”   But it was actually very good, although way too rich in taste for me to finish.  It was like a Hershey’s Cookies n’ Crème chocolate bar in that way,  only full of fish.  In the bathroom stall afterward, I was scrawling notes about the chowder and when I got  up, my pen dropped into the toilet. I would have left it there, but this was the last of my favourite pens (Basin Stationary has discontinued them). So the Princess put her hand into Rome’s Mouth of Truth and I put mine into Wolfville’s toilet water. Ah, sweet synchronicity.

The best discovery of the afternoon was an excellent used bookstore called The Odd Book which has a terrific history and classics section. I bought a book called Late Medieval Italy, and I could have browsed the store all afternoon had I not been required to return to my responsibilities and duties as princess of the Woodlawn subdivision.  I returned a better, more worldly woman.

Paula Jane

 

 

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Only You

DVD (1994)  Written by Diane Drake/Directed by Norman Jewison 

(Image: TriStar Pictures)

Damon Bradley. This is a name 11-year-old Faith Corvatch gets from a Ouija board one windy spooky evening. It’s the name of the man she’s going to one day marry. “My soul mate! My other half!” she exclaims. Cut to 14 years later: the sweet and slightly-flakey Faith (Marisa Tomei) is a school teacher who seems to have forgotten all about the mysterious Damon. She’s engaged to marry a practical podiatrist named Dwayne and although Faith still believes in true love and destiny, she has resigned herself to the fact that “life’s not like how it is in the movies.”

But 10 days before her wedding, she hears that name again — Damon Bradley. Chasing what she truly believes is her destiny, Faith flies to Italy in pursuit of the man she’s meant to be with, even though she’s never met him.  “It is irresponsible of me to marry the wrong person!” she wails. Faith is a bit self-absorbed (the kind of friend you’d love to monkey-punch now and again) but she is kept in check by her sister-in-law Kate (Bonnie Hunt) who joins her on this spur-of-the-moment trip to one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Hunt is the quintessential BFF and rom-com sidekick: she’s consistently funny and really knows how to work a chiffon scarf (see “Live this movie” below).

If you love romantic comedies, and you haven’t seen Only You, you must beg for my forgiveness and then rent this movie immediately. It’s the ultimate girl-trip movie with spectacular scenery, and it’s fun to see Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. when they were so young and unmarred by time, prison or Mickey Rourke.  Only You often rates just a “6” or “7” with most critics, but don’t listen to that nonsense. I agree with Roger Ebert: on the rom-com scale, Only You is easily a “9”.  I love this quote from Ebert’s 1994 review: “Only You is the kind of lighthearted romance that’s an endangered species in today’s Hollywood. It is total fantasy, light as a feather, contrary to all notions of common sense, it features a couple of stars who are really good kissers — and it takes place mostly in Venice, Rome, and the glorious Italian hillside town of Positano. What more do you want?”

Sweet extras  Two beautiful hotels in the film—the Hotel Danieli in Venice, and the Hotel Sirenuse in Positano—are real, and their exteriors and parts of their interiors were used in the making of the film (see “Live this movie” below).

Good for who?  This is a perfect girls-night movie – maybe not so much for the boyfriend or husband; it’s also a great one to watch alone. As for content, there’s a bit of quick groping and Robert Downey Jr. throws a couple of JCs our way, but it’s clean beyond that.  I have a friend who’s freaked out by Ouija boards,  soothsayers, and skeletons in old-lady dresses: this movie has two of those things, but only at the beginning and they are played out in a lighthearted way.

Loved this movie? Live this movie!

When taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to stalk a man you’ve never met, you’ve got to pack light. So how do you keep yourself looking fresh and sophisticated with a limited wardrobe? From Venice to Positano,  best friend Kate made genius use of a black and white chiffon scarf which reappeared with her time and again over the weekend.  Here’s how to do what Kate did while exploring la bella Italia.  You will need a square large chiffon scarf.

1. The hairband:  When that naughty Giovanni took Kate on a tour of Rome’s fountains, she wore her scarf this way with her hair down.  (a) Fold square scarf in half to form a triangle.  Continue folding along the bias like this to form a long band.  (b) Place band over the head and tie securely but not too tight into a knot behind the head. The knot should be  under the hair and at the neck. (c) Let the ends of the scarf drape over one shoulder.

2. The scarf  scarf: Dress up a plain sweater by just draping the scarf around your neck. Allow one end to fall to the front, and the other to the back.

3. The Grace Kelly:  This style is worn for drama or for protecting a hairdo. Kate wore the Kelly when the gang hit the coastal roads of Italy to Positano in an open convertible. It’s easy: (a) Fold square scarf into a triangle. (b) Place atop the head with folded side toward the front and the triangle point toward the back. (c) Cross the two ends in front of the neck and pull them to the back. (d) Tie the ends in a knot at the back, tucking in any loose edges of the scarf under the knot.

4. The shawl:  This style looks lovely with a sleeveless dress. Just fold the large square scarf into a triangle and drape it over the shoulders — either pinning it in front or allowing it to drape naturally.  Kate wore the scarf in a shawl style as she arrived at the Hotel Sirenuse in Positano.

 

Live the stalker lifestyle!  If you’re travelling to Italy, you can retrace the steps of Faith and Kate on their hunt for Damon Bradley. From Venice, down through Tuscany to Rome and then along the coast to Positano, you can stay in two of the actual hotels featured in the movie.

 

Hotel Danieli, Venice:  The girls alight from a gondola at the Hotel Danieli in Venice, but they’ve just missed the elusive Damon Bradley by an hour. The girls hang out in the lobby (featured in the film) and ransack a hotel room, looking for clues. This five-star hotel overlooks Italy’s Arno River.  For reservations, or just to drool and dream, visit www.danielihotelvenice.com. Rooms start at approximately EUR 550  a night ($700 US/CDN). The ever-generous Kate put the room on her credit card.  I’m sure your BFF will do the same for you.

Sirenuse Hotel, Positano: Faith and Kate stayed at the gorgeous Sirenuse Hotel overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Book online  or just watch the Positano webcam and wish you were there at  www.sirenuse.it. (photo: caprionline.it)  A two-bedroom suite with a seaview is just EUR 2,000 – EUR 3,400 per night — that’s approximately $3,000 – $5000 US/CDN per night.  Did Giovanni pay for this one, or did Kate put it on her credit card again?

Paula Jane

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Enchanted

DVD (2007)  Written by Bill Kelly/Directed by Kevin Lima                                   STARRING: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden

I think Enchanted is a test of the viewer’s ‘goodness’ level. If you watch this movie in its entirety and the absolute sweetness of it doesn’t touch you – even just a little — then clearly you and your heart were forged in the fires at Mount Doom. I am always secretly teary-eyed at the end of this movie. Is it because of the happy endings for all? Is it Jon McLaughlin singing So Close as the lead characters dance together? Is it that the hapless chipmunk finally returns to Andalasia, regaining his voice and perhaps even his status as a woodland sex symbol? I don’t know, but this is such a funny and friendly movie that casting ill feelings toward it in any way would be like running over a box of puppies or strangling the life out of Maria von Trapp.

What I really like about Enchanted is that it pokes fun at itself and of the whole fairytale genre, yet at the same time it embraces the beauty of seeing the world in an innocent, positive way. True love, the movie concludes, really is magical. (Starting to tear up again, people. Talk amongst yourselves …)

Amy Adams plays Giselle, a cartoon fairytale princess who is just moments away from marrying her prince. Worrying that the marriage will end her reign as queen, the prince’s stepmother (she’s wicked, you see) must stop the pair from sharing “true love’s kiss.”  Giselle is then shoved down a wishing well, and sent to a place where “there are no happily ever afters”—a.k.a New York City. The movie begins as animation, but as Giselle crawls up through a manhole in the middle of  Times Square, the film switches to live action and it is here in this bizarre unfamiliar world of the living that Giselle meets her second love interest—Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey). Robert is a divorce lawyer who doesn’t believe in happy endings and doesn’t want his daughter to waste her time believing in them either. Patrick Dempsey’s cynical and serious character is the perfect contrast to the goofball innocence of Amy Adams who skips through the movie with a perpetual deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. Other cast members include Susan Sarandon as the evil Queen Narissa, and the handsome multi-talented James Marsden as the loveable narcissist Prince Edward. He fights ogres and slays New York City transit busses to rescue Giselle.

Enchanted is usually listed as a kids movie, but the movie is very much for adults too. This film has been in my top romantic comedy favourites since I first saw it in the theatre in 2007. If you like Patrick Dempsey, or Amy Adams, this one shouldn’t be missed.

Sweet extras The movie has several musical numbers, and Amy Adams sings three of them. James Marsden sings as well.

Good for who? This is a great pick for families, or for moms looking to watch a romantic comedy without having to worry about content should the kids pop into the room.

My 12-year-old daughter Mei says: I like this movie a lot. It is a fairy tale with a twist of reality (which I really like). It’s really funny and romantic and I think any kid would like it.

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Sing a happy working song

And they cleaned happily ever after My favourite scene in the movie comes when Giselle wakes and decides she must clean Robert’s messy apartment.  With a melodic call from the window of Robert’s highrise apartment, she summons an assortment of New York City “wildlife” to help her in the task — including flies, roaches, and filthy rats licking their wee wees. What follows is a musical number called Happy Working Song, and without a word of a lie, I do sing this quite a bit while cleaning. Granted, I don’t usually remember most of the words in order, and end up mixing real lyrics with made up stuff like “…cleaning crud up in the kitchen,  la la la I’m Robert Mitchum…”  But it’s the spirit of the exercise that counts, and the song does put me into a happier mood as I straighten up. The entire soundtrack is actually quite fun to listen to during an afternoon of  housework. So put on your wedding dress or tuxedo, grab a broom, and sing along with me (or the soundtrack), won’t you?  Here are  the words:

Happy Working Song

Composed by Alan Menken/Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Come my little friends
As we all sing a happy little working song
Merry little voices clear and strong
Come and roll your sleeves up,
So to speak, and pitch in
Cleaning crud up in the kitchen
As we sing along

Trill a cheery tune in the tub
As we scrub a stubborn mildew stain
Pluck a hairball from the shower drain
To that gay refrain
Of a happy working song

We’ll keep singing without fail
Otherwise we’d spoil it
Hosing down the garbage pail
And scrubbing up the toilet
Ooh!

How we all enjoy letting loose with a little
“La-da-dum-dum-dum”
While we’re emptying the vacu-um
It’s such fun to hum
A happy working song
Hmmm
A happy working song

Oh, how strange a place to be
Till Edward comes for me
My heart is sighing
Still, as long as I am here
I guess a new experience
Could be worth trying
Hey! Keep drying!

You can do a lot when you’ve got
Such a happy working tune to hum
While you’re sponging up the soapy scum
We adore each filthy chore
That we determine
So, friends, even though you’re vermin
We’re a happy working throng

Singing as we fetch the detergent box
For the smelly shirts and the stinky socks
Sing along
If you can not sing then hum along
As we’re finishing our happy working song!

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It’s Complicated

DVD (2009)  Written and directed by Nancy Meyers                                    STARRING: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin  

(Image: Universal)

We meet the lovely Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) as the last of her three grown children is moving away from home. Considering the lonely days ahead on her Santa Barbara estate, Jane’s biggest dilemma is “Who will I watch The Hills with?”  She’s feeling a bit mopey, but overall, life is great: she owns a trendy successful bakery, and her kids adore her — not to mention she looks ultra-fab in her awesome purple reading glasses. It seems the only thing missing from this divorced woman’s life is a man, and it’s not long before she finds herself with two: her architect Adam (Steve Martin) and her intrusive-but-charming ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). Jake’s married to the younger woman he left his wife for 10 years ago, but insists he never really got over Jane. As for Jane, she’s interested in her architect, but she’s also curious: would things be better with her ex-husband the second time around?

If you liked Something’s Gotta Give (also by Meyers), you will without a doubt enjoy this one too. Music and tiny snippets of familiar-sounding dialogue tie the films together in mood and tone without being too copycat. What I especially love about the most recent films of Nancy Meyers is that she takes me to places I’d love to be: the perfect beach house in the Hamptons (Something’s Gotta Give), a cozy English cottage at Christmas time (The Holiday), or Jane Adler’s terra-cotta tiled estate near the Pacific.  For Meyers, the homes must be gorgeous and the characters must wander about them, eating great meals and MarthaStewart-ing in the veggie gardens and markets. In Nancy Meyers’ world, not even the marijuana stinks. (I know that would have made Carl, my previous neighbour, a lot more tolerable.)

But what really makes It’s Complicated work is that the characters are all so likeable. There was even a moment when I felt for the hard-edged tiger-tattooed Agness (Lake Bell).  And as for Meryl, I never not love her—even when she’s as high as a kite or weirdly thrashing about in her Mamma Mia overalls.  The roles in this film seem tailor-made for the comedic timing of  Streep, Martin, and Baldwin, and the humour of this doomed love triangle is ultimately showcased in a second-act conclusion that is both gut-bustingly funny and deeply horrifying. I shall say nothing more except that it’s great fun.

Sweet extras  John Krasinski (The Office) plays Meryl’s soon-to-be  son-in-law. He’s too cute when he finds himself privy to information he wishes he never had.

If you liked this, you will also like Something’s Gotta Give, written and directed by Nancy Meyers.

Good for who?  An excellent choice for singles and couples, and a great one to watch with your spouse. If you’re watching in mixed company, be warned of the sexual content (frequent though not explicit) and some pot-smoking (though miraculously odourless).

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Croque monsieur

No, I’m absolutely not going to suggest you have an affair  with your married ex-husband, but I WILL tell you how to make a brilliant quick dinner, inspired by the movie. The dish is croque monsieur, which Jane makes for Adam one evening after meeting to discuss the architectural plans for her house.  Jane says she discovered the recipe for this toasted sandwich while living in Paris, and made the dish frequently because it was quick and cheap.

I combined several recipes to come up with one delicious and easy one.  It’s like a fancy-pants grilled cheese and very rich tasting and filling. Try it with a crisp side salad of grape tomatoes and romaine.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • several tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 slices firm white sandwich bread—can’t be too soft. (You might prefer fresh bread you slice yourself)
  • thinly sliced Black Forest ham
  • slices of Gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • 2 teaspoons chopped green onions

Directions:

Have on hand a small saucepan and a large skillet. Preheat your broiler.

In a small saucepan, melt several tablespoons of butter. Add flour and stir, and gradually whisk in milk for one or two minutes. Bring to a boil on medium-heat until the sauce thickens, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the crusts from the bread if you like (I did) and build four sandwiches with ham and a slice of Gruyère between two slices of bread.

Heat a large skillet over low heat. Brush sandwiches with 1 tablespoon of melted butter on each side. Cook in the skillet until golden brown on both sides. Place the sandwiches on a cookie sheet, then smooth a light layer of sauce over the top of each sandwich. Grate cheese over the sandwiches, sprinkle with green onions, then broil until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown (should take about 3 minutes).

Tips:

  • Test sandwiches before you pull them out of the broiler. You want the bread to be toasty, not too soft.
  • To make the recipe cheaper, substitute a cheaper swiss or gouda cheese for the Gruyère.
  • While most recipes called for just a light grating of cheese on the top and slices in the middle, I put less cheese in the middle and more on top to get a nice grilled taste.

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When Harry Met Sally…

DVD  (1989)  Written by Nora Ephron/Directed by Rob Reiner                 STARRING: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal

Back in the days when Farrah hair was sexy and grapes still had seeds, Harry Burns meets Sally Albright. It’s 1977 and these  so-opposite strangers (played by Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal) are sharing a drive from the University of Chicago to New York City, where both are starting new lives after college. The film describes the 12-year journey of their relationship, and central to the plot is this dilemma: can a man and woman truly ever just be friends? Given that this is a romantic comedy, I think we know what the answer will be for Harry and Sally—but the fun is in the journey, and in the developing friendship and love between the two.  Truly, this is the movie most other romantic comedies wish they were but, sadly, will never be.  The film is structural perfection, with great dialogue and two of the most charming  characters any New York love story has ever offered. Their priceless conversations in the opening 10 minutes set the stage for the rest of the movie.

Harry: Can’t a man say a woman is attractive without it being a come-on? Alright, alright. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that it WAS a come-on? What do you want me to do about it? I take it back. Okay?  I take it back.
 
 
 
Sally: You can’t take it back.
 
 
 
 
Harry: Why not?
 
 
 
      
Sally: Because it’s already out there!
 
 
 
     
Harry: Oh jeeze, what are we supposed to do? Call the cops. It’s already out there!
 
 
 
   
Sally: Just let it lie. Okay?
 
 
 
    
Harry: Great. Let it lie. That’s MY policy. That’s what I always say. Let it lie. Want to spend the night in a motel? See what I did? I didn’t let it lie.
 
 
 
    
Sally: Harry…
 
 
 
    
Harry: I said I would but I didn’t. I went the other way.
 
 
 
   
Sally: Harry…
 
 
 
     
Harry: What?
 
 
 
    
Sally: We are just going to be friends. Okay?
 
 
 
  
Harry: Great. Friends. It’s the best thing.
 
 
 
   
<beat>
 
 
 
   
Harry: Of course you realize we can never be friends…

Also a treat is Meg Ryan’s famous “faking it” diner scene, which is a must-see for any self-respecting movie lover.  For me, there are just two other romantic comedies that even come close to  rivaling this one: Something’s Gotta Give (2003), and the Katherine Hepburn classic The Philadelphia Story (1959).  For those who don’t watch movies pre-1999, I imagine it’s hard for you to picture Billy Crystal as someone’s romantic love interest, but give this movie a shot. He’s terrific, as is Meg Ryan who is in her romantic-comedy prime here.

Sweet extras:  The film’s soundtrack features Harry Connick Jr.

Loved this movie? Live this movie!  

If you’re visiting  New York City, say Yes! Yes! YES! to Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E  Houston Street.  The hilarious diner scene from the movie was shot there, and, says the Katz’s website:  “After dining here, you’ll understand why they chose this setting for the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally…”   Visit their website:  www.katzdeli.com/presentation.html .

Also, have your photo taken under the 77-foot-high  Washington Arch, at the entrance to Washington Square Park in Greenwich village (5th Avenue and Waverly Place).  This is where Sally drops off  Harry when they first arrive in New York.  (“Well, it was nice knowing you,” Harry says.  “Yeah,”  Sally replies awkwardly. “It was … interesting.”)  The Washington Arch was originally constructed in the late 1800s to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration, and is modelled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

If you loved  Sally’s quilt, you’re not alone — it’s a re-occuring query on quilting blogs and websites. The pattern on this yellow, green, and white applique quilt is called “windblown tulips” and is a design of early 20th-century American quilt designer and historian Marie Webster.   If you love to sew and you’re looking for a project (or if you’ve got a lovely shut-in granny or a talented friend with no social life who’d love  to sew it for you), the pattern for the quilt can be found in the book Mountain Mist Quilt Favorites and is available online through Amazon. 

Take it to the extreme:  Make a man your platonic BFF and see how long it takes before the whole thing blows up in your face.

Paula Jane

 

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