"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Tricks and Treats: Pin yourself to a book

I took a wee hiatus from blogging for a few days so I could focus on some writing and editing work I had to get done. Sometimes unplugging, even just partially, can be a real boon for productivity.

TRICK: A college roommate used to do this and I realized how ingenious it was and started doing it too. I've been doing this for over 10 years and it saves time, money, and socks!

Inevitably, you've lost some socks in the wash. And the ones you don't lose you have to spend time putting together and folding before stashing them (unless you just give up in frustration and dump all your socks into a jumbled mess in a drawer--if that's your style, more power to you!). Instead of driving yourself batty, use a safety pin to pin your socks together before you throw them in the laundry basket. It keeps them together in the wash, the pins don't rust or anything, and when you take them out of the dryer, not only are they all there, they're already clipped to their mates and ready to be tucked away in a drawer. I haven't lost a single sock since I started doing this. This is especially handy when you have socks that are the same color but slightly different patterns or textures. Those are a real bitch to match up and fold. The pin eliminates this.

Just leave the pins in when you put them away. Then, when you put them on, stash the pin somewhere like your dresser. Repin before tossing in your laundry basket.

TREAT: I'm a bookworm. I love to read and always have. And I've always felt guilty when a book was sort of out of commission for reading, whether it was because it was damaged in some way or even just terribly bad. What to do with that book? I could never bring myself to toss them. Thankfully, there are numerous creative artists who repurpose books and give them new life as art objects.

Here are a few images of some amazing sculptures made out of books

My fellow blogger over at Foxtail Sun also has an entry where she shares some more images of beautiful artwork made of books.

Which is your favorite? What do you think about repurposing books to make other objects? Is it awesome or an aberration?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Wisdom: Let go of labels

Since I've been thinking a lot this week about identity and how we choose to categorize ourselves (see Monday's post about Bridentity), I thought what better quote this week than one about letting go of labeling things. It's a human tendency to want to automatically label things so that we can better define and understand them within the context of our own individual lives. But sometimes this forces meanings where there are no meanings, or limits things, or holds us back. Sometimes the best thing we can do, rather than puzzle over something to excess or try to make something fit a preconceived notion, is to just let go and let it be.


By becoming attached to names and forms, not realizing that they have no more basis than the activities of the mind itself, error arises and the way to emancipation is blocked.

—The Buddha, "Absolute Relativity" 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Tricks and treats: A souper relationship

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19

Now that I've gotten that bit of Shakespeare out of the way (how could I not?), this week's Tricks and Treats plants us firmly in the kitchen!

TRICK: Here's a simple way to add some rich depth of flavor to your next homemade pot of soup. Saute your mirepoix in some form of fat before beginning your soup.

What's mirepoix? It's the "holy trinity" of aromatics that goes into flavoring many soups: onion, carrot, and celery, cut or diced and used as the basis of stock. Some soups just use mirepoix for creating the stock for the soup and then discards the vegetables once they've been leeched of their flavors. Other soups keep the mirepoix in them--for instance, bean or lentil soups. What does mirepoix mean? Check out the origins of this fancy French term here.

Next time you want an easy, filling, and scrumptious soup with that little extra boost of flavor, place a stock pot over medium-high heat. Once the pot is hot, add enough olive oil or melt enough butter to thinly coat the bottom of the pot and let it heat/melt. Add your mirepoix and let it sweat in the pot, stirring occasionally, until the onions get translucent and the veggies look like they've gotten heated up. I like to add a couple of minced cloves of garlic a few minutes after I put the veggies on the heat. After your veggies are sweaty, proceed with your soup recipe.

For an insanely ridonk mirepoix, saute diced bacon or pancetta until it releases its fat and gets nice and crisp. Remove the bacon to drain on paper towels, leaving the grease in the pot, and proceed as above. Crumble the bacon into your soup just before serving (or save it in a container in the fridge for a salad). Heavenly!

TREAT: Everyone knows about my unabashed and undying love for Julia Child. In my mind, she has no equal in her championing of the fact that everyone can and should cook and that everyone can and should learn classical techniques as a means for eating well and enjoying life. But I've read enough about Julia to now know how instrumental her husband Paul Child was in her life. Now I can't separate the two of them in my head--they act as a unit: Julia and Paul.

Their marriage was a true partnership, a relationship of give and take that was built upon mutual admiration, support, and affection. Paul wholeheartedly supported Julia's culinary aspirations, often washing dishes she used after her demonstration appearances. Their marriage is chronicled, warts and all, in his witty, lively style in the many letters he wrote to his twin brother, Charlie.

I recently found this charming blog post where the writer reprints a story he wrote after visiting with the Childs in the early 1980s. She cooked him a meal and he recorded some of Julia and Paul's conversation. I love how they share thoughts and complete each other's sentences. They truly share a brain--something Jeremy and I have started to notice more and more where at least once a day, often several times, one or the other of us will say something and the other will say, "I was just about to say that/I was just thinking that!" Or else we'll say the same thing at the same time. The once-a-day estimation is no exaggeration. It is one of the things that brings me the greatest joy about our partnership: that we are two individuals who very much make up a whole.

Julia and Paul's marriage is everything I aspire to in my own pending one. What other epic or noble marriages or partnerships can you think of that inspire you?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Running of the Brides: Exploring my Bridentity

On Friday, I went to the Running of the Brides, an event where sample bridal dresses are sold to the general public at a steep discount. The doors open at 8 am, and while some people are crazy enough to line up for hours prior just to get to run in and grab dresses first, I couldn't stomach this thought and waited to go around noon with a gal from the Offbeat Bride Tribe. The place was much emptier and calmer by then.

Why did I go? I'm not quite sure. From the start of the wedding-planning process, I haven't thought of myself as white gown material and haven't yet set foot in a bridal salon. Dress shopping has mostly consisted of ogling things online and trying on fancy dresses at department stores. In fact, sometimes I've worried that I'd end up like Carrie Bradshaw, who breaks out into hives when she tries on a wedding dress and has to be ripped out of it because she can't breathe. And yet I still felt drawn to go to this event, partly because I was curious and partly because I can't resist a bargain. I figured if nothing else, I'd meet a new friend, I'd get to try on different dress styles and see what looked best on my body, and hey, maybe I could find a plain off-white dress with a floaty skirt that lent itself to colorful embellishment by a seamstress.

My experience was interesting (and thankfully did not involve hyperventilation or hives, though I was quite nervous in the hours leading up to it) but ultimately disappointing. There weren't that many dresses in larger sizes. Many were size 10 or 12--but keep in mind that bridal dress sizes are larger than street clothes sizes because street clothes are vanity sized. So since I'm a 16 in real life (and yes, I am putting my real clothing size out there because SIZE IS NOTHING BUT A NUMBER AND SHOULD NEVER DICTATE HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF! I am not ashamed of my size and never will be again, and you shouldn't be either, ever--you are amazing as you are!), I need a size 18 or larger in a bridal gown. Well, there were slim pickings for us zaftig girls. I don't know if there were just less larger dresses to begin with (my suspicion--the clothing industry is not kind to women with curves) or if all the curvy women came early and snatched everything up, but when I was there, it was hard to find things I'd fit into.

Also a problem was that many of the dresses, whether or not they were in my size, were sort of weird-looking or just plain ugly. Some of these made for fun as we tried them on and modeled them for each other. My companion tried on a polyester-type dress that had pink and white VELOUR floral accents on it. Yes, you read that right: VELOUR. It had a detachable train, with more velour accents, and a giant pink velour butt bow. Amazing!

 My dress is made of 100% Nana's couch!

I tried on a two-piece ensemble and had the first-time pleasure of being laced into a corset top. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It doesn't show as much in this photo, but it was VERY gold--like shiny-like-foil gold. This photo is much more subdued and doesn't do the dress justice.

It's golden, baby! Oh so very GOLDEN.

Of the dresses that did fit me, a few had silhouettes that were quite flattering on my body and that I didn't dislike, but none of the dresses spoke to me. I didn't feel at all like a bride in them; I didn't feel comfortable in them. No matter how well they fit or how lovely they were, I just didn't feel like myself in any of them. They weren't true to who I am. The long trains and the white, the sea of white--just not for me. I showed Jeremy a photo of a dress that was flattering on me and he said, "That's the kind of dress a mom would want to see her daughter in."

If the photographer has to urge you to smile, you know the dress isn't for you.

I'm having a real struggle with the dress portion of our wedding. I think it's where I'm feeling the most disconnect between fantasy and reality. I'm having a lot of trouble seeing myself as a bride. I can envision myself as a wife, and this thought actually brings me a lot of happiness and fulfillment, because I am looking forward to being one half of Team Tridal officially. But I haven't quite incorporated the role of bride into my current identity--it doesn't feel like a part of who I am right now. I think that's why I felt a little let down after I got home from this event--or maybe I should be secretly rejoicing, who knows. I just could not identify with this part that I shared in common with all the other women in that room--a bride.

I seem so much NOT a bride. The woman dressed up in white with a veil and presented to her groom--it's so very much not who I am. It's so antithetical to everything about me. I am independent, vivacious, bold, loud, colorful, and in this white dress, I felt squelched, like I needed to be meek and smiling sweetly and faking innocence. I felt like I was shrinking into a shell of myself. The dress felt like a costume for a role in a play I did not want. I want to throw away that script and start over. I want to rewrite things my way, so they fit with who I actually am and what my real role is within this relationship, this wedding, this marriage. The white dress doesn't fit with any of that. In it, I felt imprisoned and subdued.

On my wedding day, I don't really want to be a bride is what this ultimately comes down to. I just want to be me, on a day when I happen to be marrying my dearest friend and entering into a partnership of husband and wife. I want to look beautiful, which Jeremy has assured me I will, no matter what I wear. I want to wear something that celebrates ME: me as an individual, as who I am before the wedding and who I will be after it. Me, all of me, the parts that make me an individual, the things that make me strong and weak, the good and the bad--but it must all be real. I don't want anything inauthentic about this day; I do not want to step into this marriage not feeling completely at home in my own skin and whatever it is I chose to wear on my skin. So even though my experience at Running of the Brides was probably rather different from what many women think of when they envision a white dress--romance, excitement, beauty--it did at least help affirm for me that I am absolutely not a white dress kind of gal. And I am 110% okay with that.

All aboard the crazy train.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Finds: Pinterest

Recently my friend Jill of Looks and Books introduced me to a site called Pinterest. Pinterest is like a virtual bulletin board of awesomeness. You install a small button on your browser bookmarks toolbar and then use it to "pin" photos to any number of virtual inspiration boards you create. What's cool is that it's near-effortless. When you're on a site with a picture you like, just click the "Pin It" button and select the picture you want to pin. Then select which board it will go on and write up a description if you wish. Ta-da! There it is. (OMG ADDICTIVE.)

You can ogle other people's inspiration boards and follow people, and you can also let more than one person "curate" a board, which makes it social. You can even repin their pins. I feel like I must have good taste, because in the week that I've used Pinterest, quite a few of my pins have been repinned by others. They wouldn't do that if they weren't awesome, right? :)

The site has been really helpful in collecting pictures for my wedding planning activities--rather than just save dozens of bookmarks just to my home computer, I can save them to the specific Pinterest board and can access them from anywhere. I also have boards for fun jewelry, cute housewares, and adorable animals. :)

The site is still sort of beta-y, with an invitation-only model, so if anyone wants an invite, let me know! :) Come check out my pins and ogle all the amazing things the internet has to offer, neatly organized by other internet oglers. 

One of my favorite necklaces, currently pinned to my "Gorgeous Gems" board. :) (C'mon, how could I not have a board dedicated to gems?)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday Wisdom: Miracles

This week's wisdom is a quote you might have heard before--I certainly have, but I've never stopped loving this one. I feel like now is a particularly appropriate time to reflect on this quote again because a miracle is unfolding in our midst: spring is coming. After a particularly brutal and seemingly endless winter here in the northeast, the days are getting longer, the temperatures are getting warmer, the air is starting to carry that whiff of spring instead of that biting winter sting. Could it be--miracle of miracles!--that we are approaching sandal weather?  

What are the small things in your life that you usually consider quite ordinary but that, upon further introspection, you realize are actually rather miraculous?

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday Tricks and Treats: smells like 2 minutes of nothing

Here's my second installment of Tricks and Treats!

TRICK: It really sucks not having a garbage disposal. I was spoiled in the home I grew up in and my first two apartments in Boston, as they all had garbage disposals. But alas, my last and current apartments don't have disposals. I hate it, because let's face the unpleasantry: garbage can really start to smell funky, especially when it's full of food, and especially when it's warmer out. Even those odor-eliminating trash bags (which we use, and which do help some) can't cut out the funk when it's really bad.

We've devised a two-fold solution for dealing with the stink in my house. First off, save those metal cans your coffee comes in. We use ours as mini trash cans for food rubbish. The lids are tight sealing, which prevents the stink. Whenever we're cooking, say, some sort of meat or using veggies, we put the trimmings and trash into an empty coffee can, seal the lid on tight, and voila. No more funky odors emanating from the trash can. I've even had a couple of instances where I've kept a non-full can handy to toss extra trash into the next day without any stink issues.

Second, keep a small bowl filled with some white vinegar by your trash can. This really helps to absorb odors, and chances are it's already in your house. No need to buy a bunch of expensive air fresheners. This is natural, cheap, and effective. Replace the vinegar as needed (it evaporates after a while).

TREAT: Can you do nothing for two minutes? Click on this link and try it. Did you pass? Did you fail?

In our hyper-connected world, it's healthy to regularly take breaks to recharge your eyes and mind, and this website forces us to try it. Even if you don't access the site, try taking a few minutes for yourself to do nothing: no surfing the net, no texting, no to-do-list composing--NOTHING. Could you do it? How did you feel?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fat Tuesday approaches!

I was raised Catholic, so for many of my earlier years, I was usually encouraged to give up something for Lent. Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Easter, and it is considered the holiest time of the year for Christians. Taking this time to sacrifice some pleasure of the flesh is supposed to remind you of the sacrifice Jesus made by dying on the cross for your sins and the sins of all humanity. Whoa. Heavy.

As a child, I usually gave up sweets--candy, ice cream, dessert. These were real treats and not having them for a little over a month truly was a sacrifice. But I didn't really think about the meaning behind doing this, and as time passed and I grew older, I abandoned the practice of giving up something in the same way that I abandoned most of the vestments of being a practicing Catholic. I still believe there is a higher power, but I don't necessarily hold to or agree with some of the teachings and rituals of Christianity. (I could go on about organized religion, but I won't. To each person their own. Live and let live.)

People often give up food as their Lenten sacrifice because it's such a universally accessible pleasure. We all have our favorites, and spending 40 days not having it can serve as a reminder that not only do we not always get what we want, but also that others aren't as fortunate as we are. At least that's how I choose to look at it--a reminder that I am a lucky person who can eat chocolate whenever she wants to.

But lately I've been going through a lot of personal work on food and body image issues (another post for another day!), and I've reached a point where I fully understand that if I don't let myself have a certain food, I most certainly go out of my way, at some point in the future, to have it, and have it good, to the point of binging, which then makes me feel bad, which then makes me deprive myself again, which leads to a vicious cycle. I don't want to toy with the still-fragile state I'm in, so instead I've chosen to give up another pleasure: sleeping in.

I've never been a morning person and I've always loved to sleep in. Now that I work from home, without a fixed schedule and with a business partner who also has night owl tendencies, I find myself sleeping in more and more every day. At first I really tried hard to stick to a schedule of getting up and out of bed by 8 am, so I could enjoy my breakfast and morning routine and still be at my desk pretty early. Now I find myself hitting the snooze button, staying up at night later and later, and it's thrown my schedule way off. I keep trying to readjust it back to more "normal" hours, but like they say: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

So I've decided that after tomorrow, my last day to indulge in the sleepiness, I will start getting up at 8 am again. And I will start going to bed early again. Keeping a college sleep schedule worked in college when I was 19. Now I'm 30, and it doesn't work so well. I know that initially it will be a struggle, but it will pay off in the long run. This getting up early applies to weekends too. I want to be sure I don't throw off the schedule and I want to see what it's like to greet a weekend without staying in bed until 11 am. I often feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done--keeping a regular, normal sleep schedule will probably help that.

Do you give up anything for Lent? If so, are you giving anything up this year? What will it be?

It takes two to wed

Weddings are women's work.


I'm not going to delve too deeply into all the implications behind society's assumption that the woman takes charge of planning all the details of "the most important day of her life" while the groom sits back, scratching himself, drinking beer, and showing up when he needs to, feigning interest when his bride shows him samples of stationery or centerpiece ideas. There is so much wrong with the assumption that this is the most important day of a woman's life--shouldn't it be the most important day of the COUPLE'S LIFE? Since they're in it together? There is also the implication that men are clueless and only women are intelligent enough to piece together the hundreds of insane details a wedding entails. There is also the implication that all these hundreds of insane details are important, nay essential, to a wedding. There is also the implication that every woman has a natural predilection to be OMG AMAZING at planning a wedding.

There is also a huge emphasis placed on the wedding, with scant attention paid to the fact that the wedding is only the first day of something more important: a MARRIAGE.

I am not one of those girls who grew up dreaming of her wedding. I always thought vaguely about it, like, Oh, I would like it to be a fun party, or Oh, I would like a dress I can walk in that doesn't have its own gravitational pull, or Oh, having different kinds of cake would be nice (in fact, in recent years, the only thing I've thought extensively about is the baked goods and other foods to feature at the wedding). But when it came time to start planning and people started asking me what I wanted to do (What's your color scheme? How many bridesmaids will you have? What kind of centerpieces? How will you wear your hair?), I answered with a resounding WTF. You mean people actually THINK about this stuff when they're not enmeshed in the actual process of planning a wedding? WTF indeed.

So I commenced planning with a slightly panicked, slightly worried, slightly fuck-you-wedding-industry-complex mentality: unsure of what I was getting myself into but hopeful that I'd come out on the other end still breathing, with my sanity mostly intact, and with a day that reflected who we are that people enjoyed. What came as a hugely pleasant surprise (and relief, and delight) is just how lucky I am to have a groom who actually gives a shit about his wedding.

Yes... my fiance not only gives a shit about his wedding, he's actually enthusiastic about it. He actually wants to help. He has actually taken ownership of the fact that this is a day about BOTH of us. He is excited to help put together a fun and special day that will signal the beginning of our marriage. I think part of the reason this feels like a fun thing and not a dreadful thing is that we're somewhat offbeat. We are planning to do things that feel right to us and are scrapping those that don't make sense to us as individuals and as a couple. Jeremy looks forward to writing a ceremony and vows together, assembling the AV equipment we'll need for our sound system, creating a music play list, shopping around for his threads, designing the invitation, adding things to our registries, helping with some of the DIY crafty stuff. I recently bought some clay so I can try making our cake toppers, and he wants to help. Re-read that: HE WANTS TO HELP ME MAKE CLAY PENGUINS, because he thinks it will be fun. OMFG! I even said that I was unsure if I wanted to go to the Running of the Brides event (later in the day, after the running), because I didn't know if there would be anyone to go with me and I couldn't stomach the thought of going alone, and he said that he would go with me. OMG! What groom WANTS to go clothes shopping for himself, let alone for his bride, given that he could be spending that afternoon having a beer and relaxing after work? And yet this wonderful, loving, patient man has offered to go to a giant room full of sample gowns in disarray and help me. I don't think that I'll take him up on that offer, simply because I think I might not go at all, but that right there to me is love, and just one of the many daily reminders I have of how fortunate I am to be in this kind of a partnership.

I suspect that there are actually more men out there who care about their own weddings that it appears, but because the wedding industry complex has shoved so much excess down our throats, and because it puts such pressure on us to have a perfect day, and because it has succeeded in targeting the bride, grooms have effectively been alienated to the point of being practically an afterthought. I suspect that most men out there don't give a rat's ass about a monogrammed napkin, and on further inspection, I'm sure most brides out there don't either. But they're pressured to think that they MUST have them by this giant, money-making beast that seems to justify exorbitant spending by offering the rather ridiculous "justification" that "This is YOUR special day, your most important day! Anything less than perfection is unacceptable!"

If couples sat down together at the beginning of the planning process and discussed what each person wants, and then brainstormed to find a creative, individualized way to bring that vision into reality, I have a feeling far more grooms would get really into planning the party. (Or at least some aspects of it.) If more couples focused on what THEY WANT, rather than what they are SUPPOSED to want, I think there would be a lot more unique, individualized, memorable weddings out there. And a lot more happy couples in the months leading up to the wedding.

During this whole process, I have never felt I was planning my wedding; we've been planning ours. I've gotten opinions on everything from Jeremy and we have come to decisions together. I've even scrapped some of the ideas I had because Jeremy didn't like them. I don't want to do anything on our day that will upset him, because why should I? It's not just my day, it's his day too. I have no right to turn into a raving bitch because I'm a bride. I am marrying one half of a whole, and I plan to keep it that way all during the planning process. And all the way through our marriage, every single day. In fact, even though I am looking forward to our wedding, I'm looking forward to the day after it even more, and each day after that even more, because I truly believe every day our marriage together will only get better and better.

"You are the butter to my bread. The breath of my life."
- Paul Child to Julia Child

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Finds: Bunny Butt Apothecary Whipped Cream

Okay, final new feature to throw at you all--Friday Finds. A feature where I share with you some little treasure I've found--a product or website or place--that has made my life profoundly better.

I don't know if I'll do this one every week or just every now and then when I find something awesome, we'll see.


First Friday Find to showcase: the amazing whipped cream body lotion from Bunny Butt Apothecary! Yes, it's a funny name, but this product is no joke.

I first discovered this company in December of 2008, at my first Boston Bazaar Bizarre, a big traveling craft fair of sorts loaded with hip items. Bunny Butt had a booth there where you could sample their lotions. I smothered one all over my hands and was hooked. It smelled divine, made my hands super soft, and was natural. Plus, the jar had a disclaimer that the product therein was for moisturizing, not for eating. Plus, the company is called Bunny Butt. How can you not love that?

I don't know how many jars of their Whipped Cream I've gotten since then, but I think I've gone through at least half a dozen. I use this as a body lotion after I shower and it's fantastic. A little goes a long way. Super moisturizing without being heavy or greasy, absorbs quickly, and smells so good I want to nibble my arm. Plus it's not loaded with scary chemicals and preservatives. One of the ingredients is rice bran oil, which has been popular in other parts of the world for a while (hello, Asia!) but which is only just catching on here now, which is a shame because not only is it a great moisturizer, it's also a gentle, non-irritating exfoliator. Those weird little bumps so many of us get on our arms (otherwise known as keratosis pilaris)? Yeah, this smooths those away. That irritated feeling your legs have right after you shave them? This moisturizes without any stinging. This stuff is so good that even Jeremy, who uses probably a grand total of 5 body care products, has his own jar sitting on his nightstand. I'm currently using the Chai Town scent, which smells like a piece of spice cake. I really, really want to take a gnaw at my arm after I put it on.

The best part about this moisturizer is that it is really hydrating without feeling heavy, so you can use it even in the dog days of summer without getting that nasty, tacky, ugh feeling. In fact, the texture is so light--just like whipped cream, hence the name--that it's quite refreshing to apply. I like getting a citrusy scent for the summer, like A-peeled. The Pirate's Booty one is also awesome, as it smells spicy and awesome. And the Let Them Eat Birthday Cake? Forget it. You won't try to eat yourself, you will.

I use and love some of their other products, like their Honey Bare bar soap, Complexion Zen face cream, and Perfume Oil, but hands down my favorite is the Whipped Cream. I know it can sometimes be a challenge to find an effective natural moisturizer that isn't tacky, gummy, smelly (unpleasantly so), or ineffective, so if you're seeking some natural everyday indulgence in your skincare routine, you may want to give Bunny Butt a whirl.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The freelancer's new clothes, or, how I've unexpectedly started saving money

One of the unexpected benefits of working from home, especially for a gal on a budget, is that I haven't bought new clothes in months. I think the last time I got something was in December, when I was at my parents' house and got 3 sweaters to keep at their house for when I travel there, to avoid suitcase bulk, and a cardigan for when (if!) the weather ever gets balmy enough that I can shed my puffy coat. And in January I bought one long-sleeved thermal shirt, accidentally a size too big, that I wear around the house (see next paragraph re: heating).

I don't tend to work in pajamas--in fact, I make myself get up and at 'em and wear real clothes even though I'm working at home--but since there's no one else to see me, my outfits tend to be older, dingier pants that would make me look like a schlump if I wore them out and would otherwise have long ago gone to Goodwill but which are fine for wearing in the house, and regular long-sleeved T-shirts, along with a hoodie or sweatshirt over it for warmth. (Because as a gal on a budget in a home where heat is gas-powered and not included in rent, alas, I keep the temperature at a steady 60 degrees in the house and just wear layers, slippers, and fingerless hand warmers. Occasionally I will plug in the space heater if it's really bad. Cheap? I prefer to think of it as frugal. We *are* saving for a wedding after all! And trying to save the earth.)

I'm no fashionista in regards to my personal style, preferring comfort to trends, and when I worked in an office that required leaving the house and being among people each day, I did at least wear somewhat cuter and classier outfits. But I was never super dressy, because it was a casual environment (think lots of jeans) and I'm not a morning person. Putting together an adorable outfit was just not in the cards for me--I tended to oversleep most every morning to the point where I flew out the door to the bus stop with my jewelry in my hand, putting it on while sitting on the bus that inevitably pulled up mere moments after I dashed across the street. But at least I did more or less put together outfits. And in order to keep my wardrobe fresh and updated, I did tend to get items of clothing more regularly when I was still working outside the house--not out of need, necessarily, mostly out of desire. Now I haven't really bought much since I started this job in July. I'm overdue for a new pair of jeans or two, but other than that, I can't really think of much I need. Want is a different story of course, but even that is sort of fading a bit the more I think about it. Wanting some new outfits pales when I think of other things I want, like a lovely wedding and savings for an eventual house.

Being on track to saving for a big event later this year has definitely made me reconsider certain things that I don't consider totally necessary. Do I really need to replenish my wardrobe with every new season? Certainly not. As I mentioned above, I don't usually go for trendy clothing so a lot of things I have are pretty basic: solid-colored shirts, blouses, and sweaters, boot-leg pants (which will never go out of style, and which I will never, ever trade in for skinny jeans, because a woman with a badonk should never wear skinny jeans), a few basic knee-length skirts that I can mix and match with the tops. And I'm set with shoes too. Another benefit of working from home: your shoes don't wear out as quickly. I might get a new pair of sneakers this year if my current ones wear out, but other than that, I'm good.

Knowing that we have a big, meaningful expense coming up later this year really makes me think more carefully about each "frivolous" purchase we make. Will we keep the extra cable channels or nix them? (Still up for debate.) Do we really need to order out tonight, or can we make do with what's in the fridge? (See Tuesday's entry on using up bits from the fridge.) Can I wait to see that movie 2 weeks after it comes out, so I can use some discount movie tickets I have, or even wait till it's on On Demand, so I can save some cash? Do I really need to buy that new book or album? (The Boston Public Library has been an absolute godsend in that regard; their collection is extensive and amazing and practically every single thing I've wanted has been there, down to the Arcade Fire album I really wanted but didn't want to pay for.) I know certain aspects of life would be a lot easier with a car, but can we really afford the cost of the car, cost of insurance, cost of gas, cost of maintenance, and cost of parking? (Not unless we move out of the city, which I am not willing to do.)

We're not broke or dirt-poor, but we are living in an expensive city and need to be aware of the choices we make. Not only does it save money, it's also less wasteful in the long run and keeps the sheer amount of stuff we have down to a more minimal amount. Do I really need to buy a novel I'll only read once, or buy a dozen more wedding idea books I won't need next year? Do I really need to get another fancy top for a nice evening out when we don't go on that many fancy evenings out and the tops I already have will do? Of course not. And in some ways, it's been sort of fun to get creative and find ways to do more with less.

Have you recently cut back on certain "unnecessary" expenses in your life? Are you trying to reduce how much stuff you have for other, nonbudgetary reasons? I want to know! Dish!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Wisdom: The right effort

Another weekly feature? Perhaps! I'm going to give this one a trial run as well and see how it goes. I think most people are like me: we LOVE pithy bits of advice and wisdom and collect quotes that are meaningful to us and our experience. I found this to be a particularly meaningful quote to me right now. I'm trying to be more aware of the connection among my body, mind, and spirit. More and more I realize that these are not disjointed entities but that they are interconnected and that it's vital we nourish them all in order to be a more complete, content person. This, I am learning, is easier said than done, but I am enjoying the journey. Enjoy!


"Right effort is effort with wisdom. Because where there is wisdom, there is interest. The desire to know something is wisdom at work. Being mindful is not difficult. But it’s difficult to be continuously aware. For that you need right effort. But it does not require a great deal of energy. It’s relaxed perseverance in reminding yourself to be aware. When you are aware, wisdom unfolds naturally, and there is still more interest."

- Sayadaw U Tejaniya, "The Wise Investigator"

Recipe sampler on 101 Cookbooks

Even though I'm not a vegetarian myself, and don't know if I ever could be (BACON), I do appreciate good vegetarian cooking and am not adverse to regularly skipping meat in meals. I try to subscribe to the idea of using meat more as a condiment rather than a main focus of the meal--so instead of making it all about the beef, using the beef to accent a larger dish, like a stir-fry, salad, stew, etc.

I do, however, have a real fondness for the blog 101 Cookbooks, by Heidi Swanson. It's a beautiful site with photos that make me want to lick my computer monitor, and despite my bacon-loving ways, I still want to eat most everything on her site. Everything looks hearty and fulfilling and delicious, despite the fact that most of it is pretty healthy too.

Heidi has a new book coming out this April called Super Natural Every Day. I may get the book myself (which is currently available on pre-order via Amazon). I'm trying hard to eat healthier and anything that might entice me into doing it would probably be a good thing. As a nice little gift, there is a mini sampler of six recipes available as a PDF on her site. Those photos are gorgeous. Again with the desires to lick the screen.

I'll be honest: that avocado and mustard seed salad makes me want to have a party in my mouth. And that tutti-frutti crumble? Forget it. Can you imagine how much your taste buds would want to hug you if you had a plate of that topped with a big dollop of creme fraiche?

What do you think of vegetarian cooking? What about all-natural cooking? Is it something you're into?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trying something new: Tuesday Tricks and Treats

One of my favorite features on other blogs is when they regularly feature something--be it "Best of the Looks, Best of the Books" on my friend Jill's fashion and literature blog Looks and Books, or the amazingly cheery "Monday Montage" on my favorite wedding blog, Offbeat Bride. I thought to myself, hmm... perhaps I should start doing something similar on my blog? First off, it will add some consistency. Secondly, it builds in themes for me to regularly write about. Third, it's fun.

So today I think I'm going to start something called "Tuesday Tricks and Treats." Simple premise: I provide you with one trick--be it for cooking, domestic bliss, home ec mastery, etc.--and one treat--could be food or drink, could be a delightful book or website, could be something spa-tastic. We shall see how this goes--any comments on whether this idea flies or not would be much appreciated!


TRICK: Save money, save your veggies. Don't let that bag of wilting spinach and container of quickly wrinkling grape tomatoes go to waste. Last night I found one of each of these in my fridge. Neither was bad--they were still safely eatable and not yet ventured into the land of being rotten and inedible--but neither looked crisp and fresh and appetizing as components of a salad. So I got out my wok and got creative, salvaging them into a delicious and uber-quick hearty pasta sauce dinner.

Boil a pot of salted water for your pasta--we used a package of Trader Joe's yummy gorgonzola ravioli--and prepare it as directed. While the water boils, heat up your wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once it's hot (hover your hand a few inches over it to gauge the heat), add about a tablespoon of olive oil and allow that to heat for a minute or two (it will look shimmery when hot). Mince a clove or two of garlic, and if you want, chop up a bit of onion. Add the garlic and stir, allowing to heat for about 30 seconds. (Be careful so it doesn't burn!) Then add some spinach and give it a good toss-about. Spinach wilts very quickly into a very tiny amount of food, so don't worry about overcrowding your pan. Once it wilts down to some small green scraggly bits, add your grape tomatoes--I chopped mine in half--and stir again. You can add other elderly-looking veggies salvaged from the fridge: mushrooms, carrots, etc. After all the veggies have a few minutes to hang out together and get nice and flavorful, spoon in a bit of pasta sauce (you can use less than you normally would, since the veggies and oil will stretch it out) and season as desired--I added garlic salt and Italian seasoning. Heat the sauce for a couple of minutes then turn off the heat, and add the drained pasta to the pan. Gently toss and serve, garnishing with some grated Parm if desired. We had ours with some big foccacia rolls from Trader Joe's and dipped them in olive oil with Italian seasoning sprinkled in. It was hearty and filling and tasty, and as a bonus, my house smelled like an amazing little Italian trattoria.

Moral of the story: a little creativity can help you salvage a wrinkly, droopy, saggy, or otherwise not-so-pretty veggie into a tasty kitchen-sink sauce.

TREAT: Taking a break in the afternoon for tea isn't just a snobby British tradition--it's good for you. Your body naturally sags a bit in mid-afternoon, and taking a break from your work to have a little something soothing in your body is a great pick-me-up. I love a hot cup of tea in the chilly afternoons.

I love caffeine-free herbal teas, but sometimes you just want some regular old tea. I adore Earl Grey (that bergamot!), but I can't handle caffeine past midday. Twinings has thankfully solved my woes by creating a delicious decaffeinated Earl Grey. I sweeten it with just a tiny spoonful of sugar. It's lovely and indulgent without being heavy and laden with calories, and after I finish it, I feel spoiled and happy and ready to go back to work.

Moral of the story: Take time to rest and indulge in some time for yourself. You deserve it, and quite frankly, you probably really need it.