Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wardrobe Basics: Turtlenecks

If you couldn't tell from my last post, I've been out shopping a lot the past month.  It all starts because my Nanny sends G & I money to buy our Christmas presents.  We are supposed to buy each other the presents, which we do, but this year I wanted to have some input into my surprises.  I got way too many things with birds on them last year.  

Yesterday I snatched up some turtlenecks that I really, really needed from Banana Republic. They were 40% off all sweaters in the store, and then an additional 25% with a coupon I have.  I don't even think you need the coupon if you use your Banana card.  It's 20% for BR cardmembers and 25% for Luxe members.  Yes, we spend a lot there and are Luxe members.  

Anyway, at first I balked at these sweaters because they are a blend and I hate blends.  I would not have paid full price.  Then I looked at a sweater I got there last year which is the same blend and it's wearing ok.  There is a little bit of pilling, but nothing major.  

I think all the stores are having their sales before Christmas this year because of the terrible economy.  Usually I would want to wait until after and hope for the really good prices, but people the really good prices are here!  If you want something, I think you better get it now because your size may not be available later.  

Here is the BR turtlenecks I got in grey, brown, black and purple and camel.  I may take a couple colors back but I wanted to try them on at home first.  Each one ended up being $26. The fabric is 55% silk, 15% viscose, 15% cotton, 10% extrafine merino wool, 5% cashmere.  

Banana Republic has free shipping on any item right now (Promo Code:  JOY) if you don't have a store near you. Always look at Retailmenot for any coupon codes that you can use.  Team that up with ebates and you'll get a percentage back in cash. (Say that I referred you-zennifer@mac.com) BR was 8% the last time I checked, which basically pays for the tax here.




I also checked out J.Crew turtlenecks in the store.  They are not a blend, but they are a bit thinner than I like.  These are also a great option though and on sale too.  If you go to the store, they might have all the colors.  Speaking of these colors, they are really juicy and tropical looking.  I bet they will brighten up a winter day and outfit.  





I am wearing my chocolate brown sweater right now and it is so comfy and warm.  I tend to go for a simple look and these make it so easy to have a pared down but still chic look.  Just add a couple necklaces  like in the J.Crew photo to add some personality.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Updates and 50% off Nars Cosmetics!

Sheez.  It's really been a long time since I posted.  I guess I've had writer's block or just altogether block.  Right before Thanksgiving my sweet Grandfather unexpectedly passed away. We got our things together and left for NC the next morning.  We had to drive since we couldn't put Keegan in the kennel on a Sunday.  We drove almost the whole way and had to stop and stay the night in Atlanta.  It is a 17 hour drive.  

Since it was the week before Thanksgiving, we just took the time off to spend with my family. It was lovely to see them since I normally only see them once a year.  There is nothing like visiting family to put things in perspective.  They are the most important part of life.  

Now we are headed to Puerto Rico to visit G's family for two weeks.  We leave on Christmas Day at 5:30 in the morning!  It is going to be great to see them too.  Being in Puerto Rico for Christmas and New Year's is quite an experience.  The food is so good that I'm bound to gain another 5 pounds.  Cafe con leche and quesitos, here I come!  If you've never visited PR, you must go.  The people are so friendly and of course it's sunny, warm and the island has so much to offer; the beach, the rainforest and well, the food!

But hey, I'm not writing to give you a travel guide.  I wanted to tell you about my latest obsession, Nars cosmetics.  Of course I discovered certain Nars products years ago like Orgasm blush and Dolce Vita lipstick, but now I've ventured into their eyeshadow and foundation.  

Recently I got the Best Palette from Nordstrom and it is so perfect for a neutral, pretty eye. Here is a picture.  It has the famous duo All About Eve, Kalahari duo and Bellisima I inside. I've been using Mac shadows for awhile but I think that Nars is certainly a step above in quality. 

If you have a local Nordstrom, they are giving out a free eye shadow or gloss with $75 purchase. I always end up buying myself something at Christmas because I'm out there shopping more than normal!  Yesterday I decided to try their foundation because they added a lighter color to the line.  I got the firming foundation in Siberia.  I wore my Cover Girl foundation on one side and the Nars on the other.  To be honest, the Cover Girl held it's own, but the Nars "melted" a little less and smoothed into my skin better.  We'll see if it is worth the pricetag or not.  I also got this three pack of lip gloss duos.  I adore their lipgloss.  I like Mac lip gloss too, but Nars colors really work well with my pigmented lips.  I am a sucker for a set because I like to experiment and try out different colors.  

OK, if you've never tried Nars and want a good deal, I have a little present for you.  There is a store in Massachusetts called Beauty and Main that is discontinuing their Nars line.  One of the stores has collected all the inventory and is selling all Nars products at 50% off!  This is a perfect chance to try one of their crazy color duos, or try a new lipstick color.  They still have a lot left, but you'll have to call to order.  The number is 781-237-1685 and you can speak to Natalie or Emily.  They are very helpful and it's free shipping with orders over $75.00--see update below.  

Update:  Emily just emailed me and said since the Nars on on sale that the shipping will be $9, which is still a deal girls!

I got the Kilimanjaro duo, the Persepolis duo, Miss Sadie lipliner, Vagabond lip lacquer and two Sabrina lip treatments.  That is a lot of stuff I know, which is why I called it my Nars obssession.  Remember that post a long time ago about how I only wanted to have a little basket of makeup?  I'm thinking that is not going to happen.

When I was at home in NC, I got together with my Aunt Delores for coffee.  I give her the credit for starting me on my lipstick addiction.  She used to give me little baskets with all kinds of lipsticks that she had tried and didn't work for her.  As a teenager who couldn't afford to buy a lot of makeup, I loved it!  So after coffee, we both pulled out our lipgloss to put on after we finished.  I wanted to show her my colors and ended up pulling out about 12 lipsticks and glosses.  Can you have too many?  I don't think so.  She had about the same amount which is why I love her so!!! You gotta love a girly-girl!

I know this is quite a rambling post, but I wanted to get on here and tell you about the Nars sale and let you know that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How To Recession-Proof Your Wardrobe


Photo from California Closet

If there are two things that I love talking about, it's clothes and money.  All we are hearing on the news lately is how our economy is in the toilet.  We could be heading for a recession.  The stock market is lower than it's been in years. People are losing their retirement dollars in savings and 401ks.  Depressing stuff, isn't it?

Contrary to popular belief, I don't think the solution in our personal economies is to spend more. I couldn't care less about the country's economy if my own family's economy is wrecked. The solution for the country's economy may be to spend more, but for your economy the solution is to spend less until you get yourself into a better situation.  

Credit and debt has become so ingrained in out culture that we don't think twice about having debt and using credit.  We are not accustomed to hearing that we can't afford something.  If we can manage the payments, then we can afford it.  Just like the economy's bubble was busted, our personal expectations about our spending power will be as well.  This situation is a wakeup call for so many people.  Everyone is blaming the government and mortgage companies for this crisis and it's true that they were irresponsible with lending.  I was a mortgage broker for three years and I know very well how you could get a mortgage with terrible credit, bankruptcy, collections and downright despicable financial behavior.  However, just because it was allowed doesn't completely absolve each person for their irresponsibility.

Granted, marketing, ease of credit and general discontentment leads the average American family to constantly seek more, more, and more.  Too much is never enough in this society. Why else would minimalism be a radical choice of decorating or living?  It goes against the grain of our culture.  If you haven't done it already, now the difficult choices need to be made to balance your personal economy.  

One of the ways that investment, planning and common sense pays off is in our closets.  Over the years, I have invested in my wardrobe slowly.  I've also weeded out lesser quality and inappropriate things for my lifestyle.  A big accomplishment was to stop buying what I didn't need or wouldn't wear. Many of the ideas mentioned here are refreshers.  When you add the new perspective of improving your personal economy, I hope that these principles make it easier to accomplish.  

Timeless pieces:  Easy one!  T-shirts, turtlenecks, button down shirts and some pants and blue jeans won't go out of style before they wear out.  Buy styles that are clean-cut and versatile.  Stay away from something that screams HOT now because it will be cold later.  Even though almost everything cycles in and out, you can choose styles that will last you five years or more.

Quality over quantity:  How many times have I heard this?  It's easy if you are accustomed to buying at higher price points because those items are going to be better quality.  The key element I look for at any price point is the fabric. Banana Republic used to have top notch fabric, but now they are skimping with blends.  I have a sweater from 7 years ago that is 100% wool and looks like the day I bought it.  Most of their fabrics now will pill and look very used after the first season.  The exception is the men's department where they are still using wool, cotton, cashmere and silk.  The ladies get rayon, modal and other itchy substitutes.  You have to dig around the inside of the leg to find the fabric content.

Know thyself:  The more you focus on your own lifestyle, colors and fit for your body, the less fashion mistakes you will make and the more money you will save.  It makes shopping so much easier to know that you can't wear a certain item.  Crew neck tops look terrible on me.  

Take it back:  I have a rule that if I haven't worn something in two weeks, I take it back.  Maybe I love it, or it was a good deal but it doesn't matter because there is some reason I'm not wearing it.  It's better to have your money to work for you on another item.  Don't feel bad because there will be something else that steals your heart or is a good deal.  The only caveat here is end of season shopping.

Shop second hand stores:  Why not scavenge through a consignment shop, Goodwill or Ebay?  You never know what you might find. The way to be successful is to know brands and know good fabric.

Multitaskers:  This goes along with timeless pieces in your wardrobe.  There are items that you can use for many things.  Try to buy a solid cardigan that you can wear with many outfits instead of the one with a print or special color. It doesn't mean that it has to be black, but there may be a color that pops with many items in your wardrobe.  I bought a yellow bangle bracelet and see now that yellow goes will almost everything I own.  

Coordinating Colors:  Again, it bears repeating.  Try to coordinate your clothes around what looks good on you.  The smaller you want your wardrobe to be, the more all your clothes need to coordinate.  

Year round clothes:  I live in a climate that is warm most of the year, but even if you don't you can have a selection of items that go the distance through the year.  Some things obviously won't translate well and that's ok.  I'm thinking t-shirts, camis, and suits are some items that can be worn year round. Fabric here is again the key.  If you buy a linen or cotton suit, it has to be put up for the winter, even in Houston.  If you buy a tropical weight wool, garbardine or tri-acetate suit, you can wear it year round.  Doing so allows you to buy a better quality and pricier suit.  Ann Taylor and J. Crew are great for these investment pieces.  Steer clear of Express and The Limited for suits, in my opinion.  

Do you really need another black top?:  It seems that there are certain items that we are endlessly hunting.  I suppose it's the quest for the perfect one. I propose to you that you choose well, then be satisfied with the one or two that you have.  Some people like to have many black tops of different styles, but that is not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about the same color, same function, same style but somehow you end up with too many in your closet.  When you are shopping, notice if you do this and tell yourself to step away from the black tops.

Extended Life:  Since we're talking about economy, stretching our dollars and our wardrobe has to happen.  I bought a winter coat in Venice two years ago from a shop that sells quite trendy items.  Since I don't wear my coat all that long in the year it really hasn't worn out.  However I'm always thinking that I'd like one more basic, or just different.  I still like my old coat though and every year I talk myself out of buying a new one.  I stop to think that this coat can get me through the winter just fine.  When the time comes for a new one, I'll have had plenty of time to think of what I want to invest in next.

Take care of what you have:  More common sense, but it is really something that I've learned to do in the last couple of years.  Catching stains early is critical in keeping clothes stain free.  I wash most of our clothes and iron them.  I've read that dry cleaning makes clothes wear out faster, besides the toxic chemicals that reside in them.  I handwash all my bras so they last.  

Stay the same size:  Oh, how I'm talking to myself.  I always say that my clothes tell me my weight limit because once they get tight I have to cut back eating.  Right now is that time and the jeans are quite tight.  I refuse to buy a bigger size because I happen to like my clothes.  How many of you have several sizes of clothes in your closet?  The French use their clothes as a form of diet regime too.  They call it the "zipper method".  If you can't zip up the pants, you have to zip up the mouth.  Drink water instead of wine for awhile, or cut back on bread and fried foods.

Stores would love us to buy into the belief that our wardrobe can be new and perfect every season, but for most of us it is a work in progress.  We are always buying, tweaking, and trying to perfect our look and our wardrobe.  I would love to be that person who knows they need certain items and they just replace it every year.  A lot of people are, but if you are like me and struggle to find your personal style among the changing trends, changing seasons and evolving lifestyle, then be patient with yourself.  It may not ever be perfect, but it will always get better and better.  Creativity is free and you'll be so much better off and feel better about yourself when you decide to stop buying with credit and accumulating debt for clothes or anything else.  

Sunday, October 05, 2008

How To Get Free Chanel Mascara


No strings attached!  A while ago I became an Allure Expert.  The rundown is that certain companies like Chanel will send you a new product to try either before they go on the market or as they are launching.  Your only obligation is to use it and give them feedback.  I try not to think about the human guinea pig perspective and say "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

All you have to do is sign up at Allure Experts.  It's free stuff and no coupon clipping.  

Naturalizer Friends & Family 30% Off



Today is the last day of Naturalizer Friends & Family.  This company makes great shoes that are not just for "old ladies"!!  Personally, I can't wear towering stilettos and am not interested in uncomfortable shoes. 

The code is FFJ28.  It says present the coupon at the store so if you need it, email me and I'll send it to you.  If you order online, you just use the code.

Friends & Family Exclusive Guest Pass.
30% OFF your entire purchase October 2 - 5, 2008
To receive the discount, print this coupon and present it at any participating Naturalizer store or use your promotion code (FFJ28) at naturalizer.com
Coupon must be presented at time of purchase at any participating Naturalizer retail store or naturalizer.com. Offer is valid for 30% off any purchase. Not valid with any other coupon offers, previous purchases or towards the purchase of gift cards. Void if copied. Offer excludes the MBT footwear collection. Offer valid Thursday, October 2 through Sunday, October 5, 2008. On-line offer expires Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 11:59 pm CST. Promotional Code for Website purchases: FFJ28.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Double Duty Tank Top in Fall Colors

I was shopping at Anthropologie a couple of weeks ago and pulled a couple of tank tops to try on with a sweater.  I liked them because they are v-neck and it's difficult to find tanks in a v-neck.  I'm sure you know that v-necks are the most flattering neckline for a large bust.  Later when I was deciding which color, the salesgirl pointed out that they are reversible. One side is v-neck, the other side is scoop neck, which is great because v-neck doesn't go well with all my sweaters.

Finding a great t-shirt or tank top often feels like the impossible dream, which why I'm so thrilled to find the holy grail of tank tops!!  The colors are great and the fabric is a nice quality. It's also nice to be able to wear a regular bra with these because the straps are thick.  If you need some tanks, I highly recommend these. They are extra long which allows more versatility. The price is also very reasonable at $24.00 each.



If this doesn't suit your body type, they also have two other kinds of camis in a variety of colors.



It's hard for me to resist all these tanks when they are in such great colors.  The word "staple" just keeps ringing in my ears when I see them all laid out in candy like colors.  I think how they will stretch my wardrobe.  I reason that I can wear them year-round.  Aren't they really an investment?  I know I've seen them listed on must-have lists for every wardrobe.

All those things are true, but as a wise woman told me once, sometimes it's better to just pick one.  I know it hurts to think about it, but choosing one, maybe two at a time allows you to assimilate colors into your wardrobe.  Sometimes we buy things because we think they are a staple and then realize that they are not a staple for us.  

So when buying this or anything else, remember that it's okay to just buy one (or two).  I helped a friend clear out her closet and she had multiples of so many things.  She hadn't even worn them, but when she was shopping she rationalized that if she liked one she must get them in every color.  

I wanted to say this because it is so easy to get into a shopping frenzy when you are in the store. Everything looks so full of potential.  One of my goals is to keep my wardrobe as simple as possible.  I don't want a closet crammed with things I don't wear and I don't want to waste my money.  Be realistic about your coloring and choose your colors well.  When you do that, most of your clothes will flow together. 

Let me know if you try out this tank top.  I'm going to get the bronze.  

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I Hate Shooties Dot Com

And I hate booties too. I know they are all the rage right now but I find them so ugly. Even on a supermodel with mile long legs, they are still an abomination in my eyes. The proportion is just all wrong on the body.  When something like this comes in trend, it makes me happy that trends don't last that long.

What are shooties?

As defined by Piperlime:

The Shootie:
1) Half boot, half shoe.
2) Trend of the moment.
3) Best paired with skinny jeans, tights or pencil skirts.

Some examples for your perusal:

From Nordstrom:
And a couple more from Piperlime:



I am willing to concede that I am probably getting old and that's why I don't get it.  Maybe it's because anything best paired with skinny jeans isn't going to work for me.  These things are true, but mostly I just think they are hideous.  

On a more positive note, I am excited about all the full sized boots being offered in many varieties this season.  I don't wear heels much so I'm always searching for low heeled boots that don't resemble something orthopedic.  I went to Nordstrom last week and I know that there will be some new boots in my future.  The ones below are from Piperlime.





The perfect boots for me would be ones that you can wear with jeans or a dress.  I love to wear boots with a dress or skirt and tights, but it takes a pretty feminine boot to pull that off.  I think the second and the fourth look above would go with skirts/dresses or jeans/dress pants.  

Is it wrong that I really like these?  Just looking at them makes me want to wear fake eyelashes and a miniskirt.


And for some reason they make me think of this song.  


Is this the inspiration for the 80's aerobic videos?  "You've been lyin' when you should be truthin"  Hmmmm.

Since we are talking about boots, I have a pair that I couldn't get rid of, circa 1992.  They are purple suede and I have a feeling that they are on the horizon of back in fashion.  Will I be daring enough to pull them off?  I'm going to say WWPD?  What would Penelope do?  I think she would.  

What's your take?  Will you be doing the shootie or the bootie this season? I won't judge you.  I promise.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Is There a Coupon for 5 Pounds Off?

Over the last few months I have been buying my Sunday paper and cutting my coupons diligently. I want to save money as much as anyone and since I have tons of time and not tons of money, it was an untapped budgetary experiment. So I am here to report how coupon cutting worked for me.

There exists an entire blogging community of coupon junkies and money savers that helped me figure out how to get the most of little.  At first I thought that it was time consuming because I was new to all the double deal talking, but no, this coupon business is very time consuming. Not only does it take time to clip the coupons, sort them, organize them, pull out expired ones, etc., but I could easily spend an hour roaming the aisles trying to find what item matched my coupon. I found it a challenge at first and didn't even mind the strange stares as people maneuvered around my buggy, but I gradually lost patience.  After the first newspaper, then on and on, I had acquired so many coupons that I couldn't manage them well.  I realize there are coupon organization systems out there, but what can I say?  I just couldn't be bothered.

No matter the inconvenience of all that, the real test is did I save money?  I'm going to say yes and no on that count.  Yes, if you add up all the coupons I used, I did save money.  However, I would have not bought many of those items if I hadn't had a coupon, so that would be no.  At first I clipped all the coupons, even Depends and hair dye.  The thing is that I would read one of the blogs telling how they got items for free because they had the coupon, and I didn't want to miss out on the free stuff.  Never mind that I wasn't going to use it, I could give it away!

I really tried to buy things that weren't terrible for me, but I was often seduced by the Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts and yet another mediocre body wash.  The truth is that there is a reason for most of the coupons being high priced, heavily packaged, processed food.  The companies make the most money on these items and they want you hooked.  I can't remember the last time I had a Pop Tart and now I am strangely addicted to maple and brown sugar with it's crusty edges and sugary frosting.  In fact, I had one today-out of a vending machine, but I digress.  There are some companies like Cascadian Farm that offered some great coupons from their website, so they are not all bad.  

This leads me to the most disturbing effect of all during my coupon experiment.  I gained 5 pounds.  My eating patterns have been fairly fixed for a lot of years and this is the first time I've succumbed to the processed food like this.  I am not impressed.  Rice Krispy treats homemade are way better than the individually wrapped ones.  Yes I know that all Rice Krispy treats could be considered processed, but you get the point, right?  I didn't think I was overeating, but the basic changes in food can be attributed to the weight gain.  That's my story on that.

Using coupons created a sense of urgency to use them and that made me shop more.  I would look for "deals" from other blogs to see what store had the great coupon and store sale match-ups.  The deals may be at Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens, and I would feel compelled to go there and see for myself.  At first, I was suckered in and ending up spending way more than I normally would have.  Previously and from now on, it's back to business as usual.  I will go once a week to Central Market with fill-ins to Wal-Mart or HEB.  Some things are just cheaper at Wal-Mart and just because I'm not gung ho clipping coupons, I still want to save money.  The bottom line is that I want to eat what I have learned over the years is good for me.  I stay away from processed, faux foods and like to cook from fresh ingredients.  That is a choice I made a long time ago and we decided it's better to save money by eating less.

One of my favorite things about clipping coupons is the makeup deals.  I was completely enchanted when I realized that when a store has a buy one get one free (BOGO), and you have a coupon BOGO, you get them both free.  Very cool.  Previously I wouldn't have used drugstore makeup but I have to say that I'm loving my Cover Girl foundation.    

My last note about coupons is the phenomenon of "stock-piling".  Being someone who doesn't like a lot of extra clutter, I found this notion intriguing and disturbing at the same time.  Maybe it's because we are only two in our house, but already we have enough body wash, razors and deodorant to last two years.  I had to just stop the madness and stop buying these products no matter what the deal.  I don't want all that stuff in my house! 

The verdict is that I will still use some coupons, but will no longer put all the effort and gaming that is involved in all-out couponing.  I'll miss those makeup coupons though.  And I will still do CVS because they have an internal savings system that doesn't require coupons for saving money.  Each family has to do what works for them and for now I think all coupons and Pop Tarts must be taken in moderation.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Breakfast At Anthropologie

After my last post about Anthropologie style, I went wandering around the web looking for kindred spirits when I found this blog that I know you'll like too.  The clever name is enough to get you in the door, but the content will keep you coming around.  I've just discovered it and am enjoying it one bite at a time, so if you liked my last post about quirky chic, you'll like her blog too.

I'm brewing lots of posts in my mind, but haven't gotten them all in written format yet.  Thanks Sherri for the nudge, or was it a bloggy bullying shove telling me to get my ducks in a row? :) Either way, I just wanted to take away that "no post in four weeks" shame hanging over my head!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Penelope and Quirky Girl Style

If you loved the fantasy like appeal of Amelie and the TV show Pushing up Daisies, you will love the costume design in Penelope.  I watched this movie last night while G is out of town to spare him from too many chick flicks.  





Penelope was produced by Reese Witherspoon's company and she said she wanted to make something that she could take her kids to see.  The story line is sweet and has a great message to love yourself no matter what.  It is a must see for young girls especially.  

The wardrobe for Penelope completely inspired me!  I have always had a thing for quirky girl style.  Pippi Longstocking had a huge influence on me from childhood.  When we first started dating, my husband used to call me Punky Brewster.  There is something about striped tights that get my heart beating faster and I love crazy colors mixed together.  

I started thinking about how I dress now and realized that I've sterilized my wardrobe in a lot of ways.  It's time to bring back some personality into my clothes.  Maybe I can't dress exactly like these characters, but elements of fun can be mixed into anyone's wardrobe.

For inspiration I'm going to send you straight back to J Crew because these layouts are a quirky girl's dream. This is a more subtle Penelope look.




And for year-round quirky girl style, Anthropologie will always tempt and thrill you.  I love this store and can spend hours there.  It is expensive, however a little goes a long way in this store. It is easy to find a statement piece or accessory that will take your classic clothes to the eclectic in a second.  Imagine what you already have that you can add any of these little sweaters to and voila you have fairytale style a la Penelope.  Even adding a fun necklace to an all black outfit will do the trick.






There is a scene in the movie that sent me over the moon with shoe envy.  Mary janes are so versatile and eccentric and she had a pair of green ones that I'll be dreaming about tonight. There are maryjanes to suit every style.  Go to Piperlime and search "maryjane" and pick your pleasure. They even have a couple green ones.  I saw a few conservative ones that would translate this look for work like these.

 

This is the shot of the cool shoes scene.  


Even though I don't like to be cliche in my dressing, it helps to define or name your style. Obviously I like to have "quirky girl style" as part of my style, but I also like to see my wardrobe as mainstreamed and simple.  Even when they are opposites, you can do both.  Again the key is having a small and workable wardrobe.  

Think about how you would define your style.  I've heard "sexy librarian", "bohemian", "minimalist", "preppy", and many others.  Make up your own to really help you focus what your lifestyle is right now.  Maybe you are "new mommy chic" which means you need simplicity to the max, or "soccer mom redefined".  It's not about following the trends, but picking through the trends and developing your own little creation.  Have fun!

Video is from youtube.  Pictures are from Anthropologie.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Breaking News: Katie Got a Haircut

Yep, you probably didn't hear it hear first but there it is. She'd chopped her darling little bob into a sweet pixie. But it's definitely not "sweet" or "cute" on her.  Katie is all grown up in this look.  

I liked her bob with bangs but it had become so popular that she probably got tired of seeing herself coming and going.  Maybe little Suri needed the look for herself.  

Check out this outfit.  If you wonder how to wear those long, skinny scarves, here is a perfect casual example.  I love this outfit and her style in general.  To me she is the ultimate in French Chic.  You don't have to have a big wardrobe or a lot of time to put together this look.  Go ahead, copy it, and the haircut too if you dare!

All you need is a tshirt, cardigan, well-fitted jeans, cool belt and accent scarf expertly tied.  If you love scarves but don't know how to wear them, go to a little scarf website called Hermes and download their book called "Playtime with Your Scarf" on how to tie scarves.

I can't see what kind of purse she has on, but one thing I notice is that it isn't ginormous. Maybe it is a glimmer of normal sized bags coming back on the scene.  

Look how shiny and healthy her hair looks.  I'm not going to be naive and think that there is not color involved here, however I think that having healthy looking hair should be our goal. The overprocessed look is so over.  Oh, that reminds me to tell you that after 3 years of natural color hair I had my hair highlighted.  G wanted to see me with blonde again.  I told him it's a slippery slope of expense and damaged hair, but whatever.  The heart wants what it wants.  I don't think my hair was ever this shiny anyway.  Who am I kidding?  I do think blondes haver more fun too.

Whatever Katie does with her hair, she is a beauty.  She has one of my favorite styles to steal.  My other favorites are Reese Witherspoon, Eva Mendes and Salma Hayek.  

Here is the old haircut with Suri.  Wouldn't it be great if we could all have a stylist to make us over every so often?  I know I would love an impartial person to make these decisions for me, shop for me and whose job it is to make me look good.  Because even Katie Holmes, as glamorous as she is now, had a girl-next-door style before Tom Cruise.  



I am not a stylist, but an important part of the style process is cleaning out what you don't want to be "you" anymore.  Going through your closet and feeling how each item makes you feel is a start for you to see how you have moved on from a certain style.  If you can't decide, try it on and look in the mirror or in front of a friend.  Focus on how it makes you feel.  If it's the color, fabric, shape, fit that is giving you a bad feeling, don't make yourself look at it anymore.  Let it go to someone who will wear it.  You deserve to have a closet full of clothes that make you feel great.  

The last two pictures came from Daily Mail.  The first picture came from Jolie.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bubble Wrapped Pleasure

Anyone else like to pop the bubble wrap in packages?  I loved popping these when I was a kid. Even now I still love doing it, but it scares my dog and then it's like I'm just being mean.  

Go ahead, click on the link.  You know you like it too.

Care to share your wacky little pleasures in life?  I know my friend Shannon loves to have the first scoop of peanut butter out of the jar.  My Mom likes the chips that are doubled over themselves.  I love it when a container of anything is finally empty.  

Friday, August 01, 2008

Possessions

"Possessions are not given that we may rely on them and glory in them...but that we may use and enjoy them and share them with others....Our possessions should be in our hands, not in our hearts."  Anonymous

This quote sums up how I aspire to view possessions in my life.  As much as anyone I enjoy having beautiful things to wear and in my home, it is important to sometimes give our perspective a check-up.  There are several important pieces of advice that this quote gives. When I read it, powerful feelings just keep rolling over me.  I want to pick it apart a bit and tell you what it means to me.

The first thought that it gives me is the ultimate reason for owning things and that is usefulness.  There was a time when owning so many things as the modern American family does now would have been reserved for the rich.  We have lost the meaning of true usefulness in each item we purchase.  It is a symptom of the times and we often don't even realize it.  Of course when there is a new gadget a minute, we find ourselves finding use for many things that we don't actually ever use.  Advertisements create the need for us to find their item useful.  I'm talking to you garlic peeler and margarita machine.

Pride in our possessions can be viewed two ways.  It is not wrong to take care of our things and be happy that we have them.  When the good pride turns sour is when you value yourself more because you have these things.  If you have a certain brand and feel yourself more powerful or better because of it, you are heading into the pride/over-inflated ego zone.  Humility is the opposite of pride.  Realizing that what you own is a blessing inspires humility.  Also recognizing that these things can also slip through your hands may give you a more realistic perspective. After all we can't keep things forever, can we? 

When I was in college, I had a little dog named Dixie.  Someone fed her a bunch of trout bones and she puked all over my white eyelet bedspread that my Grandmother bought me.  This bedspread was so beautiful and very expensive and I was furious.  It was this event in my life that I realized I couldn't put things before people, or dogs in this example.  When we value the thing more than the person, there is a serious issue with guarding these things too tightly.   Even now, I won't buy something that I would be so upset if it got messed up by me or someone else.  My bedspread came clean but I learned a lot that day about possessions.
  
This whole idea brings up the topic of idolizing things.  I have done it many times when I would become obsessed with a brand or even a line of makeup.  I think it is in our nature and a huge temptation to want to conquer, as silly as it sounds.  Maybe it makes us feel included or able to complete something.  If I could only have this certain item, my life would be so much better is the start of idolization.  It's not that there is anything wrong with the having of these things, but a matter of perspective.  When you realize that a LV purse is still just a purse, then you are making progress.  Yes, it has better quality than Target.  No, it doesn't make your life more complete.  When I was in high school I wanted a pair of Guess jeans like nothing else.  I babysat and saved up my $42 (!!!) and got them.  (My stepdad Randy asked me if I got kissed....because I sure did get screwed!  He was always spouting street wisdom like that.)  As a teenager I would venture to say it did make my life a little better, but more because I worked hard for them and enjoyed them immensely.  They later became cut-offs which went brilliantly with my huge teased bangs.

Often I think about this quote when I encounter people who hold on to everything so dearly. What is holding them back from letting go?  It is this psychology that intrigues me so much about cleaning out closets or homes.  We take our possessions and internalize them to become a part of us.  When we have to let them go a part of us feels like it is taken.  Recently my hard drive failed and I thought that I didn't have backup.  Even though I would have lost pictures and music, it felt like a weight lifted from me. Even when we initially resist the purging of things from our life, we have to trust that letting go will bring us freedom and a lightness.  It could mean a starting over or a clean slate which everyone needs once in awhile.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Superior 1930's Wife

Here is a really cute quiz that I found over at Chic Mummy's blog. It is a quiz that will tell you how you would rate as a housewife by 1930's standards. It is outdated of course, but so charming! It made me see some things that I can add to make the home more pleasant for my husband and myself. I answered very honestly and am surprised I got "superior" actually. Can you say need to stop complaining?  

Check out Chic Mummy's blog too.  She has created a beautiful space with a lot of inspiring things to say about chic living as a stay at home mom as well as the transition from the corporate workplace to being at home.




64

As a 1930s wife, I am
Superior

Take the test!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Autumn Inspiration at J Crew

Even in the sweltering heat of Houston I am starting to think about autumn weather and autumn clothing.  Every year I eagerly anticipate the long awaited fresh start that this season brings. I'm not in school anymore, but I still get a thrill when I see the crisp backpacks and back to school supplies being sold.  I am one of those who loved school and to this day I have a very strong obsession with paper and pens.

Dreaming was always an essential part of back to school planning.   I pored over fashion magazines and in my mind I knew what I would do if I had the money.  It's still fun to dream and the other day I was looking at J Crew's new collection and I am definitely impressed.   The pages are chock full of wacky color combinations that just work. Color is very important to me because it makes me happy, but sometimes I need the push of what I see in a magazine or website to make me take that chance.  

This collection has something for everyone.  I see a mix and match of styles, like casual with dressy, like this below.  I wouldn't normally wear an argyle cardigan with a skirt like this, but it does give an idea how to change up combinations to make your own wardrobe fresh.




This one is a gold tank top with a hoodie.  If you go to the website and look at other views, you will see that she is wearing gold strappy heels and her jeans rolled up.  I really love this one, except that the tank top is $400! 


Living in a warm climate our autumn season is cut short by the heat, however we still dress for the season since once inside it can be quite chilly and air conditioned.  Look at the layouts to see ways to incorporate your summer into autumn wardrobe with layers.  Tank tops are really year round when you can layer them like this.

It looks like long necklaces are certainly "in" this season.

If you are planning a wedding, don't forget that J Crew has beautiful bridesmaid's dresses.  I would have loved to go with J Crew with my wedding, but cost was an issue so I went with Ann Taylor.  These dresses don't look like typical bridesmaid's dresses and they offer many interesting colors to suit the offbeat bride's style.  Here is another color combination you can steal, green with turquoise.  Love it!




Also, to get a sneek peek at the upcoming fashion colors go to Pantone and check out what the designers are using for inspiration.  Chances are if you don't like these colors, you won't be able to find anything but these colors because that is the way it works in fashion.  I think there are some beautiful colors coming around though.

What are you planning for your fall wardrobe?  Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale right now which is where they put the fall clothes on sale in advance.  It's a great time to get a first pick of a winter coat or new boots.  They always have some great beauty buys too in the cosmetics department.  Nordstrom in my favorite store for all around great customer service and selection.  Here is one of their beautiful coats on sale.  If you wear a lot of black, this can help break the monotony without a huge color commitment.  It looks so elegant too.



I could keep posting pictures all day long, but I'll let you go look for yourself.  I just want to say don't feel like you have to shop at these stores to get these looks.  A fun thing to do is open the catalog and start matching up pieces you already own to create these looks.  I bet you have so much already and you won't have to spend any money looking up to the minute fashionable.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spreading the Love: Premio Brillante Award

Maybe you have visited me and linked over to some of the links to the right.  One of those blogs is all about being stylish as a stay at home mom.  If you are or aren't in this phase of your life, still go visit her blog because she gives a lot of ideas that you can bounce into your own life. I love her recent article about having a minimalist wardrobe.  This is the kind of subject that gets my heart racing.  You can read it here.

I also want to thank her for endowing me with a Premio Brillante Weblog Award.  I'd like to thank my husband, my dog Keegan, my family and of course Leah who chose me to receive this honor.  I was imagining myself in a long sparkly dress holding up the award in the air.  Well, there's no physical award, but there's this!



Now, part of the beauty of receiving an award is that I get to choose my favorite blogs to bestow it upon.  And the winners are (drum roll please) ....

I was going to give this dearly departed blog this award just because it was such a great blog. When I decided to give it a click just to see the sad little page not come up, I saw that it had been resurrected.  It's great to have LBR back in cyberspace.  

She writes about her love for France and also tells the stories of her life with humor and transparency.  You will love to follow her along because no endeavor is too great for her.  This girl has guts!

The writer of this blog I like to think of as a pioneer in blogging.  She is so gracious and supportive of other bloggers and her genuine, sweet spirit is transmitted through her writing. You just can't help but feel like you know her.  She bravely takes pictures of her outfits almost daily.  I think she inspired many to do the same in blogging and I know she has inspired many cool outfits from her photos.  She has a great personal style and is pregnant if you need some maternity looks to try.

Ok that isn't the name of their blog, but that is what I call it on my blog.  This couple has the sweetest story about how they met while doing mission work in Africa.  Now they live in France and are busy traveling, cooking, working and loving life.  The joie de vivre comes across the ocean and into my heart when I read about them.  To me, their life is what happens when you love God and trust him to live to your fullest potential, with no fear.

This is a blog is written by a young Jewish woman who believes strongly in being a Godly women, wife and future mother.  She devoted herself to learning how to be a wife before she even met her husband.  Now she is married and expecting, and writing about her feelings on those subjects.  I found her intriguing because when I first got married I was looking for the virtue of being a wife and homemaker.  There is not a lot to be found on the subject anywhere you look which is why I appreciate her candor and her opinions that go against the grain of our culture.  

I adore cottage decorating.  This blog has a focus on decorating in this style, but I think cottage decorating is also a lifestyle.  It's a way of collecting treasures and memories to fill your space and your life.  She posted a recipe for yeast rolls and they turned out great.  She put a picture of her dining room color and I intend to copy it one day.  I think about that color often.  Isn't it amazing how the world of blogging opens up our mind to possibilities?

Tartelette is probably much too busy right now to accept another award, but it is one of my fave blogs.  I love her.  She is French, she is generous and talented.  Her writing holds such warmth and passion that it isn't surprising that she just got her very own publishing contract.  I love it when a book is just a continuing story from childhood.  It was just meant to happen as a way to let the rest of us in to her magical world of her Grandmother's teachings and love for life as much as the sweet treats she creates.

All you have to do is visit this blog and you will see why I pick this one.  This is my first award like this and it has occurred to me that bigger blogs will not participate in this type of thing, but I was told to choose my seven favorite and this is one of them.  The decorating pictures on this blog will make your mouth water they are soooo delicious!  The writer has such a sweet spirit and is just trying to do what she loves like all of us.  I love that she is relatable and so talented too.

So these are my favorite blogs.  For those who are receiving this award, I just want you all to know that you make a difference to me in my daily life.  You will probably never know just how I may relate to something you write, or how something you recommend makes my day better. All of you are an inspiration in different ways, and I only hope that I can do the same with my blog.

From your Fan, The Closet Therapist


2008 Premio Award Rules

1.  When received, you may post the Premio to your blog.

2.  Link to the blogger you received it from.

3.  Give it to 7 blogs.

4.  Link to those 7 blogs.

5.  Leave those 7 bloggers a comment about receiving the Brillante Premio




Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Coupons 101: Who Turns Down Free Stuff?

I'll bet we're not the only family tightening our belts lately.  Since I haven't taken any new projects with my company, I have a lot of time to contemplate how we can improve our personal finances by spending less.  This goal is greatly enhanced by the fact that most days I do not have a car to go shopping out of boredom and thus spend all our fruitful savings.

Never in a million years did I think I would write a post about coupons.  Unless it was a coupon for Starbucks, clothing, shoes or my blessed Central Market grocery store, I would ignore them or throw them away.  I thought that I wouldn't use any of those products anyway.  And, it's true that I normally wouldn't have, but with my newfound pursuit turning into a hobby, I have reconsidered the way I shop for groceries and toiletries.  

I am truly amazed that with coupons and a lot of super savvy combinations of sales with coupons, you can get many items for free or nearly free.  It does take a lot of time to find coupons, cut them, organize them and compare them to the weekly sales.   Sometimes I still think it isn't worth the trouble, but since I do have the time I'm going to continue on and see how it works out. 

It must be said, that using coupons can become like a game because it's such a challenge.  The downside of this is losing complete perspective and buying things that you really won't ever use.  If you think this will be a temptation for you, then plan ahead to donate what you get for free or nearly free to a food bank, women's shelter or a school.  It is hard to pass up items that will be free after all.  

The basic concept is this:  

1-Find coupon for what you regularly buy or would like to try.

2-Try to find item on sale in your grocery store.  If it is convenient, go to several stores to take advantage of their "loss leaders".

INSIDER TIP:  Grocery stores put items on sale a month after coupons come out.  You can save your coupon until that time and save even more.

3-Find a grocery that doubles or triples coupons all the time.  I haven't done this yet, but I think Kroger does it.  They will double or triple your coupon up to $1.00.

4-Double up a store coupon and manufacturer coupon.  Some stores have their own coupons like Target.  For each item, you can have two coupons.  

INSIDER TIP:  Don't let the cashier tell you that you can't do that, because you can!!!  This is a definite Beware of Embarrassment Warning!!   The cashiers and managers sometimes aren't really nice, but that's ok with me.

If  you have a CVS where you are, they have a program called Extra Care Bucks.  You have to have a a free Extra Care card to take advantage of this.  They have two sales flyers, one is weekly and one is monthly.  The monthly will tell you most of the ECB that you can earn.  For example, last month I bought, among other things, a Listerine mouthwash for $3.49 and they give you $3.49 ECB.  So you purchase it, and when you get your receipt there is a coupon for $3.49 for you to use immediately to buy something else.  I reason that if I am going to buy something there anyway, why not take advantage of these and get the other item for free.  This process took me a while to figure out.  The best site for a CVS Primer is Money Saving Mom. Go visit her and you will be inspired.

If you don't get the Sunday paper where most of the coupons come from, you can print your own coupons.  There are several websites where you can choose the coupons you like, print them and use them the same as the ones from the paper.  Try coupons.com (in the sidebar) each week for new ones.  

Always look at Retail Me Not for online coupon codes before you make an online purchase. Thanks Renee for that link!

Let me know if you have some tips for me.  I am new to this and would love to learn some new tricks too.  Saving money on groceries leaves more money for my perfume and lipstick account! 



Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back to Basics: Cleaning Out Closets

I haven't written in a long while about cleaning out closets and want to go back to some basics. Often I forget how it was in the beginning, when I first started to declutter my life.  It is a long and emotional process, but once you master each step you will find yourself wanting even more of a challenge. 

So what is the first step?  It can be one of two things and that depends on you.  One, is to stop accumulating, which is better known as SHOPPING. Yes, stop shopping.  Stop going to stores. Stop shopping online.  Stop impluse buying at the grocery store and drugstore.  Stop going to sales to get a good deal.  This step is very difficult for some people, I know, and you may have to do it in small steps.  One time I went to Target and strolled through the store filling up my cart with things I could have used, or were perhaps a good deal.  When I got to the front of the store, I decided to just leave it because I really couldn't afford to spend $50 on all those good deals. I didn't really need any of it right then.  (Yes, I did feel bad about not putting it back-Shame on me!)  If this is your first step, you know who you are.  Cleaning out your home isn't going to do any good if you keep filling it back up.

The other first step for you could be going directly to cleaning out.  I like to set a timer for 10 minutes and stay in one area.  During the 10 minutes I will focus only on a drawer or a closet and do what I can.  Since this process is emotionally draining, it's best to keep it in a small amount of time and a small amount of space.  The rule is that you have to leave the area cleaner than you found it.  Don't drag a bunch of stuff out, then when the bell rings, leave a mess.  You have to deal with what you have time to deal with.  Leave the rest for the next time.  I know some people get started and they can't stop.  That's great if it works for you, but if you find yourself overwhelmed with it, try starting small.

For me, being organized isn't about having all those little cute containers to put your stuff in, but about being able to find things when you need them.  How much time is wasted looking for things?  How much money is wasted buying things you already have but can't find?  Don't go out and buy storage bins as your attempt to get organized.  This won't help you if you don't clear out the clutter first.  As you are sorting through your things in your 10 minute increments, put them where intuitively you will look for them.  For example, all batteries in the same place, tools in a toolbox, dvds together, bills easily accessed and books where you can find them.  I call this each item "having a place to live".

While you are doing these first steps, notice what you are drawn to and ask yourself "Why?". Shopping for a fantasy life is quite common.  Maybe you used to go out dancing a lot and were always buying cute tops for it, but now you don't.  Not only do you not need to buy them anymore but maybe you don't need so many hanging in your closet.  I won't get into all the specific ways to decide whether to keep it or toss it.  I think this first step is enough to get anyone started, or even restarted.  I also have to do this from time to time.  Clutter just accumulates, that is it's nature!  We all have to battle it. 

Look back through the archives for lots of in depth tips for clearing clutter. Remember that song by En Vogue from the 90's-Free Your Mind?  That's what you will feel like singing after you've done it!  You won't want to bring anything mediocre into your home again.


Picture is from www.traditionalhome.com

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ann Taylor Friends & Family


Double up on markdowns and friends and family event with an extra 30% off!  You can use this discount at Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft in store or online.  Enter promo code 10701101.  Just in case, I'd print out the coupon and take with you.   Nothing infuriates me more than a cashier who doesn't know what I'm talking about, so be prepared.  

I just bought a shirt at Banana Republic and had a $10 reward card and a $15 off card.  The cashier swore up and down that I couldn't use both.  I refused that answer and went and asked a woman with whom I had already inquired about it.  She rescued me and the cashier said "You learn something new every day."  Yep.  

Both Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft have great quality basic clothes.  If you have an interview coming up, why not invest in a new suit?  It seems when you need one they are never on sale.  There are a lot of markdowns right now too. In the heat of summer they are preparing for Fall merchandise so if you need summer clothes now is the time to get them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Love Like Bread

I realize this has nothing to do with closets, style or therapy, but I am so dang excited that I had to share! As I mentioned before, we are a one car family and some days I stay in all day to help the budget in gas consumption. That, coupled with looking for new ways to save money and thus buy another car, I decided to do some culinary experimentation. On both counts, they were successful and simple with the goal of cost savings achieved. I found these You Tube videos to be extremely helpful and I hope that Mr. Breadtopia doesn't mind me sharing them with you.

In addition to the lower price and the satisfaction of baking something successfully, I can see how these recipes are going to be a successful way to add more vegetables and be creative with leftovers. We eat pizza once a week and usually buy a frozen pizza from Central Market for $5.00. I thought that was very economical and now I see that it was actually expensive because making a pizza yourself is quite thrifty! Below is the video with excellent step by step instructions on how to do it. Don't be afraid of doing it wrong because I think that the methods are quite forgiving while you are learning.

This is how my first pizza turned out.  I hadn't quite got the knack of making it round yet.

Although I am enamored with the pizza, bread was my first foray into these endeavors.  Last year there was a no-knead bread craze that the video mentions and even before that I've always wanted to try making bread.  There are many sites that explain how to do it and also variations on the recipe from the NY Times. Even I added more salt because of all the helpful reviews.  I also learned that you can use dry active yeast in the same amount instead of instant and it comes out fine.  Substituting flours to vary taste is another way to experiment later. 

This bread came out perfectly for me in my handy Le Creuset dutch oven.  It is earthy and crusty, looking much like the artisan's loaves you will see at a bakery.  I have made one a week and we have no problem eating it all.  I even used the last hard bit as bread crumbs for salmon patties a few days ago.  I'm imagining that french toast is not out of the question either for bread past it's prime.  After all, that is how french toast got started.


Here is my beautiful bounty of bread on my first try.


And here is the second.  You can see the results are consistent.

Gustavo has been more than impressed with this burst of culinary creativity on my part. When I made the bread the first time, I proudly led him into the kitchen and presented him with the crackly, steaming loaf. We both put our ears to the bread so we could listen for the highly anticipated "singing" as the bread settles. After that though I scooted him out to wait for 2 hours until the bread was ready for cutting.  We had pizza again last night and I was more than happy to show him how I make it and let him laboriously knead the dough for 5 minutes.  It is a wonderful way to relieve frustrations and what a joy to create something so delicious!   

Since being on this mission, I've been thinking about adding these labor making activities into my life.  Not working, I have a lot of time, but not a lot of money.  I could easily return to the work force and have plenty of money, but no time.  Am I digressing in function by choosing the simple act of making my own bread?  Of course, a resounding no is my answer, but it does make me ponder what other simple old-fashioned ideas I had never considered, but am finding to be quite satisfying.  

Besides money, I have found making bread to be so comforting and in a way makes me feel like I'm baking love.  There is a reason that we equate bread with life, no?  And being recently married, I have to tell you a funny story.  Growing up, my parents had a trivet on the stove that I would read in passing often.  I knew it by heart but didn't understand it until much, much later.  I'm sure you will understand the meaning faster than I did!  I don't remember how I came to have this trivet, but I hold it dear for what it represents-bread, family and love.  

 


Friday, May 23, 2008

Free Gift with No Purchase



I usually never win anything.  When there are door prizes I don't even get the little thrill when they are calling out the numbers.  Maybe I have low expectations or maybe I prefer to be really surprised if I would win something.  Well I have won something and I was surprised!

To some it may sound insignificant, but to me it's a that thrill that you can only have when coupled with low expectations.            Jolie Nadine had a Clinique contest and I won the new Lash Power Mascara.  I just received the package from Clinique with a lovely handwritten note wishing me a summer of beautiful, clump-free lashes!  And they sent me a staple color-Black.

I feel so loved today!  We are heading to South Padre Island and Mexico this weekend for Memorial Day.  I hope your weekend is blessed with an unexpected surprise too!

If you don't know who Jolie Nadine is, she is a very funny cosmetics writer.  She wrote this book which I recommend for an amusing afternoon at the beach.  Only certain people can endlessly read about cosmetics and I am one of them.  


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sweet Inspiration


I have some rules that I adhere to as much as possible in my life.  One of them is "Presentation is Everything".  A gift well wrapped, a dinner served on a beautiful table, a bed coordinated with varying patterns or a sweetly iced cupcake.  I believe making the simple things in life beautiful is an art.  

When I came across this blog several months ago I was searching for tips on how to make meringues.  The tips were spot on, but I was so enchanted with the creativity and love that went into her desserts that I became a faithful reader too.  Tartelette displays je ne sais quoi in everything she does.  I love her stories about her relationship with her mother and how she eagerly awaits care packages from France.  The way she presents her creations in a tiny bowl or an unexpected half eggshell is a sweet sight to me, and it warms my heart the way she shares with her neighbors.  Go visit her but beware that it will give you an irrepressible urge to bake and a desire to embellish each sweet with something as visually stimulating as it is tasty.  

Another blog that I found for the first time years ago, before I had really even discovered blogging, is Tongue In Cheek.  She lives in France and her pictures and words will touch you deeply.  She writes about her family, about daily life, posts lovely photos and tells stories about them.  Just visiting her in the haven of cyberspace she has created will make you feel like you've visited some place special and perhaps seen something intimate and treasured that you shouldn't have.  But don't worry, she invites us to see her world and I highly recommend entering her philosophical, generous space when you can.

Blogging has flung open the doors on many artistic souls who have found their niche in writing, sharing photos, opinions, advice or just rambling to relieve a void.  I actually find the level of beauty and talent overwhelming.  These are not magazines and books with huge staffs to help with all aspects, but creative souls who can't hold back their passion.  

It would be remiss of me to not mention someone who has no blog, but a talent for photography.  My dear friend, Jerome, who gifted us with the photographing of our wedding. He has a sharp eye for the tender moments as well as irony in a photo.  Jerome's website boasts many more photos than just our own precious few wedding ones.  When I see his photos, I am reminded of not only of a photographer's talent, but the talent of a well lived life and cherished friendships.  His travel photos are nothing if not a kick in the pants to get out of the house and see the world.  Since I seem to have an underlying theme today, I must mention that he is also French and also oozes his passion from every pore.  Even in the last late night photos of our wedding day when there was no light left, he was still clicking trying to round out the day of over a thousand shots.  

I hope you see that there is no comparison or competition in the sweet spot we inhabit in order to live out the unique God-given talents that, when unleashed, will create a beauty in its own way.  One of the wonders of life is that when you do what you love and share it with others, the rewards to everyone are multiplied. Be inspired by these people.  I know I am. 


Photo from www.marthastewart.com.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It Finally Happened: Gas Costs More Than A Cup of Starbucks Coffee


Our Little House

President Bush is on TV right now giving a press conference about the rising gas prices.  He keeps mentioning the sub-prime lending crisis, the foreclosures, rising food prices and other economic hard times that America is experiencing.
  
I personally love all the financial discussions going on right now.  In fact, by the time I was about to graduate college, I realized too late how much I loved my Finance classes.  I already was getting two degrees and certainly wasn't going to extend my stay in college, but the numbers were still magical to me.  The day I learned about mutual funds and their growth potential, I went home and signed up for one.  I didn't have much money, but thought I could invest $50 a month. When I finally cashed it in, I had $2000 from money that I never missed. I'm still committed to saving little by little to achieve goals.

In our own home, we are experiencing our own sort of financial balancing. This past year has been astronomical in expenses for us.  G bought my engagement ring, we paid for our wedding, the flights for G's family from Puerto Rico to SC, and as soon as we returned from our honeymoon we bought a house.  We paid for deposits and many things along the way in thousands of dollar chunks sometimes, but as it happens with weddings, the costs overflow the budget.  When we finally counted it all up after the dust settled, we had a lot more debt than we had expected.  That's when we had to sit down and make a plan.  And thank God we did, because I'm happy to report that this month we have finally paid off the last credit card bill.  It took a lot of talking, some sacrifice and continuous balancing of what we need now and what we can wait on.  

When I hear about the country in financial crisis partly because of high gas prices, I can't help but think how spoiled we all are as a nation.  High gas prices are nothing new to Europe and other parts of the world.  That is why when you go to other countries, you see much smaller cars and better public transportation.  (They also don't drive to the mailbox, but that's another point altogether.)  We really do take our right to consume very seriously here and it gets us into trouble as a country and in our own personal finances.  

One main reason is that debt is socially acceptable to us.  Did you know that in France when you go to purchase a home having credit is looked at suspiciously?  In America, if you don't have credit you can't even buy a home.  Credit and debt are shameful, except here where it is so common that we take it for granted and assume that it is just the American Way.  Although I have gotten out of debt several times in my life, I still include myself in the spoiled American category.  It is me (and G) getting out of debt here after all.  I believe there has to be a shift in perspective that has to occur to keep you from getting in debt at all. It's an actual realization that you can't afford something, and that is not something that we are accustomed to hearing, even from ourselves.

I want to tell you some of the specific things we did to get out of debt so quickly.  This is part of the sacrifice that we were willing to do because it is so important to us.

1- No Cable TV.  We have rabbit ears and they look strange on top of our 20" TV, but believe me you can still watch too much TV with only 3 channels.

2- One Car.  In January we decided to sell G's Acura MDX.  We had a loan on it and the gas mileage was terrible.  This was one of the biggest sacrifices because we are left with my Honda CRV that currently has 209,000 miles.  Most wouldn't have made this decision I know, but it was the right one for us.  Being a one car family has been awkward at times, but overall hasn't been a problem at all.  Part of this plan is saving for a new car to pay cash.  I've never done this before and it feels very extreme, but why not?  Go look at how much you pay in interest on your loan every month and you'll see why we want to do this.  It may take all year.  If we end up getting a hybrid like we want to get, we may have to finance part of it.  

3- A Bucket of Money for Everything.  We have our budget broken down into everything that we buy.  Ok, that sounds restrictive, but we each have our own allowance that we can use or save for whatever we want.  I just bought us new Pacific Coast Feather Co. down pillows like they had at the Marriot on our recent trip to Park City, Utah.  Divine!  We have a travel budget and do our best to stick with how much we save and not go over.  This helps us not to get in a credit backlog after trips. Don't forget a bucket for saving. We have several buckets, retirement, car, emergency fund, and smaller ones for things we want. 

4- Imagination.  Learning to look around your town or your home for free things to do boosts your creativity.  We go to a free putt putt course in our town, play Dominoes, basketball, go rollerblading, free night at the museum, go to doggy parks, and make an event out of Lost on Thursday nights.  

5- Evaluate all monthly charges.  I'm talking about gym memberships, phone, cable, internet, netflix, car payments, mortgages, cell phones, etc.  Be realistic about what you use, don't duplicate, refinance now if you need to do so-you can even refinance your car.

6- We bought a house that would give us a comfortable monthly payment and NOT what the bank told us we could afford.  Be careful to include all the expenses like homeowner's insurance, taxes, homeowners association when you figure what price range you are in.  Also, the upfront expenses to care for your home can be high and unexpected.  I mean, who enjoys buying mulch?  

7- Home Cooking.  We rarely eat out.  I love to cook and Gustavo loves to eat so no trouble here for us.

I heard on the radio that the price of gas has now gotten so high that it is actually making people change their behavior.  Apparently before the breaking point, we just keep doing to same old thing and then one day we decide enough is enough.  The high gas prices are a catalyst that are making people buy smaller cars, drive less, rethink many lifestyle decisions that affect the bottom line.  Although I don't wish for these high prices, I think the change that we are seeing brought about can be a positive if it changes us personally and in our country for the better.  Choosing to consume less can give us more peace and contentment in our lives.

In our own personal financial correction, we have learned so much about self-control, the joy of delayed gratification and how we really can live with just one car.  I'd love to hear about how your life has changed in a positive way because of getting out of debt or the high gas prices.


Carolina's Fifth Birthday

We have been busy celebrating someone's much anticipated birthday around here!  Carolina has been longing for five since her classmates ...