22 December 2010

Cheap Gift-Wrap Chic

I love every stage of gift-shopping: the planning, the list-making, the strategizing--where and when to shop (or make). But the finishing touch, the icing on this shopping-cake, may just be my favorite part: the gift-wrapping. Allow me to share my philosophy of wrapping, just in case you are in need of ideas or inspiration, and just in case you too are a self-styled, gift-wrap artist.

Start by thinking about your theme, your palette, your media. If they're going to be under the same tree, you'll want visual harmony. Keep things simple. If you want to play with color, then you'll want to restrict the amount of variation in texture and pattern of paper and ribbon. If you want to play with texture, on the other hand, you'll want to limit your palette, leaving more focus on the contrasting textures. You could decide on a red theme, for example, and then hunt down velvet ribbon, shiny garlands, matte papers, etc. You could vary huge bows and cascading ribbons. If you want to go with patterned papers, then restrict yourself to simpler bows. If you want to combine several shades of red, then try to keep to no more than two colors per gift and try to repeat shades over several presents, to create overall visual harmony.

This year I collected brown paper shopping bags. And I checked for pink and cream ribbon at pretty much every store I went to for a few months--thrift stores, boutiques, chain stores, until I amassed an eclectic collection of different shades and shapes of light pink and cream ribbon. I used only cloth ribbon, like lace and sheer ribbon, in keeping with the rough-hewn look of the brown paper. In lieu of nametags, I used cream and brown block letters from an old address book. Each letter is assigned to a present in a sort of code.

I've included the work of a few others here for ideas. I like the use of old books. The destruction of books is not to be undertaken without reflection, though. If it is a good book, honor it by not making it into wrapping paper. If it is not a good book, do not sully your gifts by garbing them with unworthy words. But if it is a book, of which there are many copies, and you will still have a copy, and everyone you know who needs a copy has one, then I say it is probably okay. I do tend to be liberal about these things, as I have a high regard for the art of wrapping. At any rate, if it bothers you, you should probably find another medium. It is your book-conscience, after all.

(Both of these pieces from the tomate d'épingles blog on eco-friendly fashion.)

One of these artists also uses buttons. I used buttons one year too. I got a whole jar for two dollars at the local thrift store. I used light blue and navy buttons, in various shapes and sizes, again with brown paper. I strung them like ornaments. The cascading movement was nice.

Get creative. You could use the pages of an old Atlas. Wrap each person's gift with a region important to them. Newspaper is a little messy, but classic. Black-and-white newsprint with monochromatic ribbon could be quite classy. Try dressing up the cheap and commonplace with something fancy, like rich velvet ribbon. Thrift can be chic.

Even you don't have time or inclination to try something more unconventional, you may want to pick up one of Target's gift-wrap packs (with pre-packaged harmony). You'll get something like four rolls of distinctly patterned, yet matching paper. I believe they throw in matching ribbon as well. Think of it as training wheels for your inner gift-wrap artist.

It's still the thought that counts, but if you can have fun with wrapping, then why not do that too!

Papyrus papers. Very chic. Not so cheap.

A Therapeutic Dog

A few years ago I lost several important things all at once--a love, a home, a job that I liked. My health decreased. Even my laptop chose that moment to die. I returned home, broken. My parents received me back graciously. But this time there was also a furry animal living there. He didn't know about all of the things that were lost. He was just happy that I was there. He was happy to company with me during my convalescence. I would sit in a lawn chair in the sun in the backyard, reading children's books--the saltine crackers of the sorrowful--and Frodo would sit under my chair, as if his only job in the world that day was to be near me, to be part of what I was doing. That little dog was instrumental to my healing. I think pets can be an important part of our concept of home. 
They demonstrate the loyalty, the unconditional love, that is essential to "home." This holiday season, as we see our loved ones, may they know that we are happy simply that they are, happy to see them, and that nothing else really matters. And let us not forget to extend this same grace to ourselves.

10 December 2010

Snow Walking

I like snow. I like to walk in snow. I like the print that my boot makes. It is that of a penguin conference, convened on ice floes. If I hop with both feet, then the penguins of the left and right feet are looking at each other, which is better for communication. I'm sure they would prefer that I hopped all of the time for the sake of their conference, but that would tiresome. I'm sure they rendezvous in the closet, anyway. It's nice to have a good footprint.

I was once a papergirl--trudging through feet-deep snow, papers piled on my back in a giant sack--the Santa Claus of local news. I enjoyed those walks. They reminded me of a time when all we had were our legs to carry us where we wanted to go--our legs, our backs, our arms--to light the fires and build the shelters which kept back the cold--places to snuggle in, to tell stories in, places to dream new worlds in.

I enjoy starting a new trail--just a single pair of footprints across a vast expanse of white. I feel like the only human, with sky of night and planet white, "a child, in the first part of an instant, numb to it every other night but this!" (Mein Bruder schrieb dieses.)

The cold can be dangerous. It is essential to be properly armored. I have an ankle-length green coat. My brother calls it the celery coat. I probably waddle... a giant, waddling stalk of celery. A friend of mine is
afraid of both women and celery. I must frighten him very much as an enceleried woman, but he is very polite and doesn't say so. I lace my headphones through my coat, so I can have tunes while I wander. This all adds up to a waddling cocoon of winter wandering happiness. Architecture in Helsinki is the perfect soundtrack for winter waddling: Heart It Races

Moving through snow presents many interesting options. You can make footprints--close together, far apart, right... right... left, right... right... left.... You can glide through it, as though you were skating or skiing. When its powdery, you can fluff it up in the air with every step. If it's crème brulée snow, you can punch holes through the surface. (I think this is the result of a
slight warming in temperature and then rapid refreezing at the surface. The molecules of the surface snow have a closer, more ridgid relationship than the softer, more particulated under-snow.)

Walking is good exercise. Walking in snow is especially good exercise. Not only do you have the added resistance of extra layers of clothing, but your steps meet with more resistance. I recommend going off-sidewalk, where the terrain is less even, requiring more stabilizing effort from, and thus toning of, your cal
f muscles. When you go off-sidewalk you're also more likely to fall, but falling in sno
w is kind of fun. You might even want to fall down on purpose.

So whether for your health or for the sheer beauty of a walking in a winter wonderland, put on your boots, get out there, and make some footprints!

For more ideas of what you can do on a snowy day, try Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day.

28 September 2010

The Four-Fold Path to Silky Smooth Skin

1. SLEEP. There's a reason it's called "beauty rest." Allow your body to heal and replenish itself. There's no substitute for this.
2. HYDRATE. Drink lots of water and eats foods with a high water content, like fruits and vegetables. Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages, as these dehydrate you.
3. EXFOLIATE about every other day. Allow time for a new layer of skin to grow before you scuff off the old one. Use something rigid, with a rough surface, but that won't tear the skin. A sponge is too soft. A pumice stone, except for callouses, is too abrasive. I use a stiff loufah, like this one:
4. MOISTURIZE as often as needed, but especially right after bathing. I have sensitive skin, so I use unscented lotion. With unscented lotion, you also don't have to worry about a lotion fragrance clashing with a perfume fragrance. Eucerin is my favorite lotion. It's thick and creamy. It's a little on the expensive side, but worth it for healthier skin. Also, I find when I use a better quality lotion, I don't need to apply it as often. As a variant to moisturizing with lotion, you can smooth some unscented bath oil all over your skin and then pat dry with a towel. This will give you a nice glow.

Treasure your skin! It's one of your first lines of defense against infection. It's integral to comfortable handshakes as well as to intimacy. And unless you're a weather-beaten Captain Ahab, or good friends with a plastic surgeon, it's usually a reliable indicator of age, too. So don't take your skin for granted!

"I shall not easily forget Admiral Baldwin. I never saw quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do; but to a degree, I know it is the same with them all: they are all knocked about and exposed to every climate, and every weather, till they are not fit to be seen."
- Sir Walter Elliot on sailors, Jane Austen's Persuasion

04 September 2010

Moving Photos: Now Muggles Can Too!

The technology now exists for Muggles to make moving pictures, just like those in Harry Potter. Harry has a moving photograph of his deceased parents, James and Lily Potter, twirling around and waving at him. Imagine baby photos, wedding pictures, sports pictures, all moving: the giggling, the kissing, the home runs. It's different than video, because you can have these little perfect moments on your coffee table. I would love to have a moving picture of each of my dear ones laughing, for example. Can you imagine anything happier?

It's beyond the ken of this Muggle to tell you how to make these, but the kids at this website can! They've also posted a couple of their own moving pictures there! Moving Photos How-To

29 August 2010

Do You Still Play?: Eternal Youth

I have been loving Juicy's bright, playful 2009 fall/winter ads. Everything is the fun of 5 and the insouciance of 15. It conveys the age at which your chief occupation is to play, when you think chiefly in terms of possibility rather than limitation. Should I be a rabbit or a tiger? Should I wear pink or yellow? Do I need a tiara to practice the piano? I definitely need a cape.

Even as we come up on something like 15, we recognize that while the wearing of rabbit ears is not normative, there is no law which forbids it. And we can still play with the freedom we know is ours--in shades of fingernails and toenails, with tattoos, with hair, and in clothes.

It goes beyond mere fashion, of course. We realize that we seem to have some freedom with respect to our personal identity*--beliefs, gender, sexual-orientation, social preferences, interests, and level and nature of socio-political involvement.

The 2010 movie "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is about the quest of a 22-year-old, bare bones-apartment-dweller (Michael Cera), who must take on seven deadly exes before he can be with the girl of his dreams. The movie indulges liberally in the comic book-video game-t.v.-music culture of similarly aged persons, always with hillarity, and not without lessons about the personal responsibilities of heroes. There is fun and play, but also the very best kind of grown-upness.

25 July 2010

Bicycle Chic

I am supposed to be getting a car this fall, but what I really want is new bike, a tricked out bike, with cup-holders, books-on-tape in stereo (like The Stig) and a climate control system.

Everyone has reasons for not biking--money, business, sloth... but I especially want to speak today to those with objections of a more aesthetic nature. It's not all leotards, mushroom-shaped helmets, and bikes with little Tour-de-France seats.

Allow me to introduce the latest fashion accessory: the bicycle. The new bike scene is hip and healthy, with a range of bikes and accessories, meaning there are bikes and accessories which fit your lifestyle and your own unique sense of style. It's just a matter of assembling your touring gear and hitting the road.

For me, it's the beach cruiser bike. They're big, sturdy, and comfortable, and they come is fun colors. You can add baskets, lights, bells, etc., as needed, to make them uniquely yours.

These are just a few of the beauties I've seen:

The Nirve Lahaina

The Rover GFX

The Diamondback Della Cruz

The sixthreezero Scholar

Helmets can be fun too! They don't have to be the big puffy things. They can be sleek and colorful. I didn't think Kate Hudson's helmet was too bad in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." "...a little give and a little go." And for those who absolutely can't abide anything helmet-like, there are helmets made to look like hats.  

Early motorists wore driving goggles. I can't quite make Model T speed, but I still want the goggles, something like Caractacus Potts would wear, or Ruth Nichols, one of the original ninety-nine of the women's aviation society, founded in 1929, The Ninety-Nines.

Don't let convention hold you back. Today we ride. Tomorrow we sail and fly. Pedal confidently in the direction of your dreams!

Shopper Athlete

I usually walk to the grocery store. It's a brisk, two mile walk, round-trip, an easy distance for a girl armed with an iPod, long-handled shopping bags, boots, an umbrella... whatever is called for.

But today I zoomed to the store on a bike. My roommate had recommended the transportation of groceries by bicycle handlebars. This worked very well. I divided the weight of the groceries equally between the two handlebars. I used reusable cloth shopping bags as they are more durable (and reusable). It worked pretty well, on the whole. When I rode there was a sort backlash of momentum from the shopping bags. They would swing forward when I pedaled forward, and then back, which stopped me momentarily, especially on uphills. Actually on the steepest uphill the back was just winning, so I walked for a bit there. And it was still much easier than if I had carried them by hand. Be careful that you never turn the front wheel to either side very sharply. This will cause the bags to alternately pull you away and then slam into you. It is embarrassing and counterproductive and above all you will look silly. Not to mention that it's also not ideal for the groceries. I had to perform a small surgery on the cardboard milk carton when I got home because of this. Try not to let it happen to you. I think that handlebar transportation is not ideal in general and would recommend the more traditional front basket or rear saddle bags.

At any rate, I enjoyed myself very much and it occurred to me that I, carrying the spoils of a shopping adventure and cycling as I went, was a shopper and an athlete. I am proud to be a shopper athlete.

11 July 2010

Productive Workspaces

My productivity has always been a little spotty. I've devoted hours over the years to the investigation of why that is the case. I've tried to ascertain which stimuli or lack thereof impede progress and which speed it.

Should I brighten the whole room when I'm working or shine a single spotlight on my current project, as if to say, this is only thing in the whole world that matters, or at least in the whole room?

Should I use a large table, giving my project room to expand? Or should I confine myself to a small desk in order to invite focus?

What, if anything, should I listen to while I work? I once listened to the same two minute Shostakovitch piano prelude over and over on repeat for an entire paper. I tend to prefer instrumental music with repetitive motifs like that of Philip Glass. It's easy to jump into their rhythm, and the melodies are not too distracting.

How much coffee yields the perfectly functioning brain? If breakfast is the most important meal of the day and Cheerios the best breakfast cereal, then I should be eating Cheerios every day, no? Chocolate--distraction or part of the process?

Does the presence of peonies in the workspace help or hinder progress? This question requires copious verification.

I have a problem with sameness in workspaces. Rarely have I written two papers in the same place, with the same organizational method. For a chemistry final, I covered the living room floor in stacks of paper, each for a different unit. I wrote a lab report for biology while standing up at the kitchen counter. I once used my parents bed because it was ideal for spreading out notecards for an English research paper. I wrote two final papers standing up at my desktop computer, on top of my cinder block-lofted bed in my dorm room.

Last May, I had a "homework island"--a blanket on the floor, where one beach was lined with things read and another beach with things not yet read. It was nice to watch the beach of 'things to read' erode.

My favorite work location ever has been the west side of the 5th floor, the top floor, of the IUSB library. From it I can see the river valley, lined with trees. At night that forest is lit up with little points of light. This is a space to think big thoughts in. I sit in my carrel with a light under the shelf that shines on my work and on my work alone. It is a space both for grand thoughts and for industry. And I wish I could take it with me wherever I go.

Perhaps I will move in to the 5th floor of the IUSB library. I would be well-provisioned in respect of drinking fountains and books. I could breakfast every morning with fresh newspapers on the 2nd floor. I could receive quiet guests, whom I would entertain with readings from whatever was at hand, or just pop down to the basement for a few congressional hearings transcripts. They're ripping!

It is possible that my difficulties with productivity may be owing, in part, to something other than workspace. It is possible. But this requires further exploration.

Yum Summer Squash and Gruyère Casserole

Here's one for the vegetarians: flecks of yellow and red in a sea of cream. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Thinly slice 4 cups of summer squash. Chop a yellow onion. Saute summer squash and onion in canola oil. (I used two skillets for more surface area and thus faster sauteing.) Drain any excess oil. Pour squash and onions into an ungreased 9x13 inch baking dish. Add a cup of grated Gruyère. Mine was "cave aged." Stir in about 1/2 cup buttered soda cracker crumbs. Combine 2 eggs, beaten, with 4 T melted butter and a half pint of heavy whipping cream. Add to squash. Stir in one clove of minced garlic. Add the zest of two small lemons. Stir in the juice of a lemon, halved and squeezed. Add sugar, salt, and ground pepper to taste. Mix well. Top with another cup of buttered soda cracker crumbs. Then top with about 1/2 cup finely and freshly grated Parmesan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the surface is lightly browned.

This casserole is balanced--sweet, savory, tart, acidic and basic. And when it comes to food, the word "balance" is pronounced "yum."

14 June 2010

Second Soup: Cream of Potato and Endive

I've been trying to use fewer animal products in my cooking, and have found it difficult to find the same sense of richness in plant-based foods, but this soup is creamy and hearty and has a quality which cannot be described as anything other than rich. I started with the "Cream of Belgium Endive Soup" recipe at the site devoted entirely to Belgian Endives, and then made vegan substitutions and modifications for those who, like myself, do not currently own a food processor. I actually enjoy learning how to cook without a lot of gadgets. Like solving math problems without a calculator or spell-checking your own work, I think it's good to be able to do something by scratch or by hand if you need to.

Take 2 endives. Remove the cores. Chop finely. Finely chop one white onion. Finely chop one clove of garlic. Peel and dice two potatoes. Heat canola oil in large skillet, add endives, onion, and garlic. Saute for about three minutes. Add the potatoes and 2 cups of vegetarian vegetable broth. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or so, until the potatoes are very soft and the broth is significantly reduced. Much of the creaminess happens when the starch from the potatoes begins to bleed into the broth. Add 1 cup soy milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add one chopped green onion.

I hope you like this as much as I did. I froze some of it. It unfroze very well. This is definitely something I'll make again.

09 June 2010

First Soup: Vegetables with Cinnamon and Curry

This was my first soup-making experience, and I loved it! Soup-making is a mixture of inspiration and science, innovation and convention. And there's something nice about the harmony of having everything in one pot. So read, try, and taste, and lend me your thoughts on this or any soups.

Start by simmering a bag's worth of split peas, according to the package directions. Add 32 ounces of vegetarian vegetable broth. Add diced tomatoes, chopped celery, chopped carrots, chopped romaine lettuce, and at least 3 minced garlic cloves. (You'll want to add diced onion as well, but I didn't have any at the time.) Throw in a few bay leaves. Add salt and ground pepper to taste. Add ground cinnamon and curry powder to taste. The result is a beautiful medley of texture and flavor--sweet, savory, and warm.

This soup contains about 9g of protein and 200 calories per 1/2 cup. I served it with pasta, but I think something like barley might be nice as well. Also, if you want a thicker, creamier soup, you might try sour cream. It complements the curry and cinnamon flavors nicely.

Baked Sweet Potatoes à la Candied Walnuts

This is not an original recipe, but it is worth repeating. Bake sweet potatoes, wrapped in tin foil, for about an hour. Roast chopped walnuts in a 350°F oven, on a cookie sheet, for five minutes. While roasting the walnuts, heat 1/2 cup of white sugar in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar just browns. Then add the walnuts to the saucepan, coating them in the sugar. Remove from heat. Dust with salt. Top the potatoes with vegetable spread and candied walnuts.

10 May 2010

Travel: On Being At Home Anywhere

To be at home anywhere, honor your body's needs and routines, do "you" things, and take "you" things with you.

Be Kind To Your Body:  Hydrate, sleep, bring regular vitamins and medications, maintain continuity in your diet, and keep up your regular exercise routine and remember to relax your whole body.  It tends to get cramped when you travel:  stretch, walk around, and breathe deeply.  Bodies appreciate ritual.  If you're a morning runner at home, be a morning runner abroad too.  If you like to wind down with a glass of red in the evening, why not wind down with a glass of red abroad too?

Take "You" Things With You:
- Create a Familiar Sound Space -- While it's great to explore new music, it's also good to connect with the sounds that ground you.  Make a travel playlist.

- Honor Your Passions -- Whether you're a crossword enthusiast, a bibliophile, a news junkie, or a budding romance author, take your passions with you.

- Stay Connected With Loved Ones -- Stay as connected as you need to be, whether that's a phone call, posting to social media, or firing off good, old-fashioned postcards.

- Pack the Little Things -- Do pack the cardigan that makes everything okay.  Do pack the perfume that makes evenings out feel magical.  Do pack the lavender soap that soothes you at bedtime.  Do pack the coffee mug that your sister gave you that makes every cup taste like love.

If I don't make an effort to feel at home wherever I go, I start to feel stretched out, like parts of me are with projects and people elsewhere.  Staying connected can help so much with this.  And when I get off my routine, I lose that rhythm, that panache that comes with doing the I'm-doing-me dance.

Every new place can become part of you if you're open to experiencing it.  Through travel, you bear witness to truths about the world.  Perhaps you've seen the depth and breadth of the Grand Canyon, or wondered at slave cabins in the deep South still standing, or dreamed along with the spires of Oxford, or woke with the sun in ancient Indiana woods.  Travels on the page can become part of you too--journeying through Elie Wiesel's long night, attending an Avonlea shindig or a term at Hogwarts, or getting that great table at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

When you are comfortable in your own skin, you are home.  And when you take that comfortability with you anywhere, then you are at home in the world.

28 April 2010

Lemon Aid

Simply Recipes has a lemonade tip which I've tested twice now and simply must pass on! It's sugar syrup. By creating a well-blended syrup with the sugar you can avoid the granules-at-the-bottom-of-the-Koolaid-pitcher phenomenon. Simply heat the sugar (they say 1 cup; I say no more than than 3/4) in 1 cup of water in a saucepan, stirring until all of the sugar is dissolved. Juice 4 medium lemons (yields 1 cup juice). I use an old-fashioned glass juicer because I like simple tools (and antiques shopping). I've been picking the seeds out by hand. I've avoided using a strainer because I don't want to lose any pulp. (If anyone knows of a more efficient way to de-seed, please let me know.) Add syrup and lemon juice to a pitcher, along with at least three cups of water (to taste). Refrigerate and then enjoy!

Philanthropic Shopping

I recommend laying up a store of greeting cards, like a hope chest--cards for the successes you hope your family and friends will have, cards for your friends--things you could say to them every day, cards for people you hope you'll meet, because you have things to say to them.

My mother, my grandmothers, and my father's sisters all save and send cards. They send little pieces of love to their dear ones on special days and they make ordinary days special by sending love.

Cards are more than letters. They convey with pictures sentiments words cannot. They can even be on occasion, decorative. -- Stacked in an arch over a doorway at holiday time or stood on the mantel on a birthday. They are little testaments to love, our year-round and just-because valentines.

You can make cards; it is both fun and inexpensive. Making your own cards allows for greater artistic control and the ability to tailor a card specifically for it's recipient. I've used tissue paper to create texture and depth and shades of color. I've occasionally used clip art.

My baby sister sent me a beautiful handmade card for my birthday this year--with an intricate hand drawn and colored "happy birthday" on one side, and a bright, filigreed "be happy now" sunrise on the other. It merits framing.

I have a few favorite card lines I've recently discovered at a local store, Megan Morrison. Vermont artist Kathleen Sawyer is responsible for the lovely Local Wisdom Greeting Card line:

Curly Girl Designs:

Curly Girl and Positively Green Cards, both make their cards of recycled paper with soy-based ink. Positively Green:

So whether homemade or purchased, greeting cards communicate love in an aesthetically pleasing way. I recommend buying them up now so that by and by they'll be there, ready to carry your love.

Philanthropic shopping doesn't just include greeting cards.  ProFlowers has well-priced bouquets ready to ship, with your personalized note and a complimentary vase, right to the door of your loved one. The other day, I made a bouquet list--with a bouquet for each of my special ladies.

Also, start adding gift ideas to your Amazon Wish List. You can then ship things to other people's doors whenever fancy strikes. I've done this too, as well as been the recipient of surprise packages.
The love of, the practice of, indeed, the art of shopping is so much more than completing your wardrobe or your home. You can use your love of and skill in shopping to improve the lives of others--one greeting card, one flower, one smiley-faced package at a time!

12 April 2010

Betty Draper Nightgowns

One of my favorite semi-local bands, newgrass outfit The Giving Tree Band, has decided that an upcoming concert will double as a pajama party. Now if you're like me, you don't have a lot of pajamas per se in your closet. It's fashion while you're unconscious, so it doesn't seem like a huge priority. The concert is at a bar, so the idea of exposing anything comfy and cuddly to that environment is unappealing. I decided to go to the local thrift stores because something costumy will feel more festive, and because I won't worry as much about getting a thrift store purchase dirty.

I thought it might stand out nicely, amidst cute Katherine Hepburn/Roman Holiday, matching top-and-bottom pajamas, and short Victoria's Secret shorts with "Angel" or "Lover" emblazoned on the butt, to go with something a little more unexpected. I wanted something which rejoices in 100% nylon fluff and ruffles and rosettes--in feminine pink or baby blue. Perfect for crisp morning air and black coffee on a front porch, waiting for the morning paper. Old lady nightgowns, or more properly, nightgowns which were popular thirty to forty years ago, are perfect for this. They are moo moo balloony numbers, about as far away from having a waistline as a garment can possibly be. They are very flowy in their ballooniness--which is perfect for dancing.

To travel to my destination in style, I found the perfect housecoat--an elegant, structured piece, with a sewn-in decorative Bertha collar. 100% polyester gorgeousness. I should note here, out of respect, that my mother and both of my grandmothers have worn such housecoats with the utmost sincerity, and have lent them much elegance. It is no doubt due to their example--sipping their morning coffee at the kitchen table in a soft yet structured housecoat--that I appreciate the elegance of this shape now. It is structured similarly to a 1950s day coat, and has the same polished look.

I bought a pair of pink, slide slippers, with ribbon and lace detail. Not only do they look dainty and feminine, but they create the scuffling shuffle walk which is essential to this sort of pajama costume.

I plan to finish the outfit with a nape-up-the-neck up-do, secured with pink, sponge curlers.

Just a note about the namesake of this post.  Betty Draper is the suburban housewife of Donald Draper on as-good-as-the-best-of-Greek-tragedies Mad Men.  She is played to pitch perfection by January Jones, and sometimes gets flack simply for being a 1960s, "I don't know who we're voting for" housewife, but it's important to realize that these sorts of complimentary handbag housewives, with clandestine cunning, were cultivated to be the perfect feminine counterpoints to ultra-masculine protagonists.  It would be a failure of compassion to damn the woman for not running free while failing to damn the society that bound her feet when she was a child.  I love the Betty Draper character.  She embodies a particular kind of bell-jarred, 20th-century western woman to me.  And I am waiting for her to break free!  I am waiting for her to realize that Betty Draper nightgowns are meant for dancing!

29 March 2010

Intimacy and Armor in Fashion

I buy lingerie when I am in love. I buy jewelry when I have been disappointed in love. I think it is a sort of armoring. It is a retreat inside of a fortress. It adds ostentatious value to me. I like feeling the weight around my neck, on my ears and wrists, and wrapped around my fingers. It sometimes invites, and sometimes prohibits. But it is always between--a layer of metal and stone between me and the world.

 The season six Project Runway winner, Irina Shabayeva, had an interesting take on women and their fashion armor in her winning collection. She dressed her models in close-fitting, leather/faux-leather black, donning them with helmets. Her philosophy behind the collection was that women in New York City are often, because they need to be, warriorlike.

When I am in love, my fashion thoughts turn to the underlayer--not necessarily in an overtly sexual way, but in an intimate, delicate and inviting way. I think, contra most popular belief, lingerie doesn't need to be a soft weapon, but rather a welcoming and beautiful repose. There is something about filigree, also, which visually imitates the complexity and nuances of intimacy. Most fashion works on broad, sweeping themes--smoothing curves, isolating a color palette and shapes almost like creating a brand. Lingerie, while it does adhere to these principles somewhat, allows the body to speak more for itself, and with a complexity and subtlety we rarely allow ourselves to share with other human beings.

The idea of refuge, whether alone or with others, is essential to a concept of "home." Where we draw boundaries, who we let in, and how we treat them once they are there is essential. A British lingerie company reported an increase in sales since the recession. This perhaps suggests a return to more fundamental things--the soft and the safe. There is something about softness and about creating safe spaces for ourselves and for others that is fundamental to our humanness and to our concept of home.

This beautiful piece is from Etsy shop SarafinaDreams.

22 March 2010

The Refuge of the Mind

Here's a secret which is known to housewives the ages old, to work-a-day farmers for centuries past, to weary sailors, to put-upon servants, and to students-at-desks. Your mind is a free place. All of the land, as far as your mind's eye can see, is yours--on which to build dreams, houses, and stories. You don't have to be wealthy to own a castle or a private island.

I've never really minded doing the dishes (with my new, wonderful Wonder Wand dish-scrubbing wand), or doing the laundry, because it affords an opportunity to think and dream. This phenomenon always makes me think of the Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella song "My Own Little Corner."

"In my own little corner in my own little chair; I can be whatever I want to be."

"Home" begins in the mind. May it always provide an unassailable refuge and repose for you.

Recycled Fashion

While having dinner with a friend the other night, I noticed, tucked into her purse, a wallet made out of aluminum can tabs. It is made by the Escama Studio, which makes wallets and purses out of recycled aluminum. The studio employs local residents at a living wage. The wallet was rigid yet stretchy and decorated with avocado green thread. That just got me thinking about other recycled fashion, a growing trend.

A resourceful patient's mother used to come in with a bright purse made from recycled Kool-aid drink pouches. She made them to sell, for about $15 each. It looks like many people are making them now. I think they're a great purse for summer, since they're bright and made from the containers of summery beverages.

There's something very self-aware about recognizing our role as consumers. Why not convert a little of the waste we use into beautiful and useful things? Even awareness of products like these make me more conscious of the amount of waste I am responsible for. Maybe you don't have time to build a kitchen table out of fallen branches or string your own bottle cap necklace, but please support the artists in your community--locally and globally--who do. There's nothing sexier than wearing what you believe in, with pride.