Summer 2013 update

So, I’ve been absent from my blog (and most of the blogosphere) for about 6 months now. And I’ll be honest: I’m probably going to be absent for another 6 months after I post this.🙂

Earlier this year, I started to feel like my life had slipped into a rut, where my days revolved around work, and not much else. It didn’t help that I was having some health issues which resulted in extreme fatigue– and then I was hit with a sudden increase in family obligations, due to some unexpected events. I was exhausted!

When I finally started to feel better, I decided that I needed to spend more time on personal interests outside of my day-to-day work; so that’s what I’ve been doing: playing music, sewing, gardening, reading, and home improvement. I’ve also been spending more quality time with friends and family. Even at work, I’m making an effort to interact more with people outside my immediate department. It’s all been good.

What I wore

Because last winter was such a busy and exhausting time for me, I think I also got into somewhat of a clothing rut. I wore virtually the same “uniform” every day: Sweater, t-shirt, jeans. Sweater, t-shirt, jeans. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The colors changed (a little bit) but the style was virtually identical from day to day. And I was too tired to accessorize.

As I am now determined to work myself out of boredom, this spring and summer, I’m suddenly craving variety in my wardrobe.

For the first time in a long time, I’m buying (and sewing) printed tops and dresses. And I’m shopping for pants other than jeans.

The budget is tight, and I need a lot of new things right now (because last year’s tees and jeans are so worn-out that I can’t really wear them anymore).  So I’ve been doing some bargain shopping. I’m sometimes having to settle for polyester instead of silk, but that’s just the way it has to be for the time being.

So far, I’ve had the best luck shopping at TJ Maxx and Kohl’s.

At TJ Maxx, I’ve found some nice pieces from the Max Studio brand, heavily discounted. In fact, everything I’ve purchased there has been from that same brand. (A lot of the pieces don’t look work-appropriate, but there are some– and TJ Maxx tends to sell the more conservative styles from this brand.)

At Kohls, I’m liking the Simply Vera brand by Vera Wang. Some of the pieces look a bit cheap or tacky (in my opinion), but she also has some pieces that look pretty nice. Everything at Kohl’s is constantly on sale, so it’s easy to find things there at affordable prices.

I still love my J-Crew basics, but I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to move beyond the basics. I can’t see myself ever amassing a huge wardrobe (or even a cramped closet); but I do see my wardrobe becoming larger and more varied in the next year or two.

I like this quote

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  — Carl Jung

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And yes, I’ve been missing from blogland for a while. I’m still here, but I don’t have time to read & write like I used to. So I’ve just been doing a bit of lurking when I have a few moments.

All is well with me– I’m just dealing with a very busy schedule. I do hope to get caught up and maybe comment on some of your blogs in the near future!

The plant-based diet is working

Just a quick update about my weight-loss efforts:

Since switching to a mostly-vegan diet, I’ve lost a few more pounds and an inch off my waist. Overall, I feel lighter and more energetic.

I haven’t lost as much fat as I’d like, but I can easily tell that what I need to do is simply stop the “cheating”. I tend to munch on cookies, chocolate, and other treats when I’m too busy or stressed. And I’ve noticed the difference right away when I have a little too much fat or sugar: I get bloated. Whenever I do this more than once or twice a week, I put on a pound or two. It’s very predictable.

So, I know what works and what doesn’t. My goal for the coming weeks is to avoid the junk food.

In which I actually write about color

Have you ever had your colors “done”?

I had a color analysis done, way back in the 1980s, just before I entered college. At the time, my small wardrobe consisted mainly of:

  • various shades of blue, my favorite color.
  • the occasional pink and green, my mother’s favorite colors.  If my mother took me shopping, I always came home with something pink or green. (To this day, I’m still amazed at how every gift I’ve ever received from my mother is some shade of pink or green!)

I had won an academic prize from a local women’s club. I was invited to their monthly meeting to receive my prize, and it just so happened that the theme of this meeting was “dressing for success”. They had a color analyst on hand, who proceeded to drape me in various swatches of fabric.

I was “diagnosed” as an Autumn. And, in fact, all of those deep warm colors did  look obviously prettier against my skin than the others did. I was instructed to wear brown tones as my neutral base, and to stay away from navy and pure white.

The ladies at the local makeup counters were also obviously savvy about the Color Me Beautiful system. They always steered me toward the peachy blushes and brownish-red lipsticks.

And that’s what I wore, for years and years.

Then, one day, I went shopping for new glasses. I’d been wearing wire rims for many years, but plastic frames were coming back into style. I tried on the usual brownish/neutral-colored frames, but none of them really looked that great on me.

And then I tried on a pair of cool berry-toned frames. And they looked great. I bought them, even though cool berry was not one of “my colors”.

This purchase got me thinking: Maybe I should try out some berry-toned lipsticks, or some pink blush. I did, and was amazed at how much brighter and healthier I looked. I now use a mix of cool and warm tones in my daily makeup.

Around the same time (about 10 years ago), I stumbled onto a book called 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom. I don’t think this book was ever a best-seller, probably because it has no pictures. It’s more about finding your own style and choosing clothes that reflect your personality and/or the image you want to project.

It’s written by Malcolm Levene and Kate Mayfield. If I remember correctly, Mr. Levene is the son of a bespoke tailor, and he used to own an upscale clothing store. Both of the authors worked as image consultants.

As the title implies, the book takes you through 10 steps to help you find your personal style. It’s very similar to what you usually find in books of this type.

But the chapter that stood out for me, and which has stayed with me long after I finished reading the book, was the chapter about color.

The authors basically throw out the whole seasonal-color-analysis theory. They call it a myth.

Instead, they advise you to wear colors that help you convey the image you want to project. (For example, wearing bolder tones to reflect a look of authority, despite the fact that beige might look great with your skin & hair.)

Color may also be used to enhance skin tone, but the choice isn’t based solely on undertones. For example, an ice-blue shirt may be recommended to “cool down” the ruddiness in your skin, regardless of whether your undertones are blue or yellow.

The authors also discuss fabric quality and how it relates to color. More expensive fabrics will be made with better dyes, and thus will look better against the skin. (It sounds snobby, but I have to agree with the authors here. You won’t find great color in cheap clothing.)

…………………

I do think there is something to the seasonal color-analysis theory. A lot of my prescribed colors do look good on me, because they complement my skin tone. But I’ve learned to try on colors before dismissing them. I think there is so much more to consider than just skin tone and hair color, when choosing colors.

Peaches and browns blend well with my light-olive skin tone, but they can also make me look tired and dull. Cool-toned pink makeup provides a bit of contrast to my yellowish skin, and livens up my face.

Likewise, saturated jewel tones (“Winter” shades) in my clothing make me feel bolder and more confident than the autumnal brown tones which blend in with my skin tone and look “quieter” on me.

I’m not suggesting that browns and beiges are bad. I think they can be great for someone who wants to convey more warmth or softness. I think the point is to use color to tilt the balance toward the image you want to convey.

As for the forbidden navy and white, I now wear them often. I think they fit right in with the simple, classic looks I like to wear. And I’m often complimented when I wear navy; so I figure it’s o.k. to wear it after all.🙂

My simple kitchen

My kitchen is probably the least-cluttered room in my house. I am really happy with it. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there.

My mother is a very talented cook. She has all sorts of nifty tools and pots and pans and appliances. She’s always trying to talk me into getting various kitchen supplies that she’s found useful.

By contrast, I’m a very simple cook. I can make good food, but it’s all from recipes I know by heart, requiring few ingredients.

Here’s what I’ve got in my kitchen. First, pots and pans:

  • 2 non-stick skillets: small and large
  • a 2-quart saucepan
  • a 4-quart deep skillet/saute pan (about 10 in. wide)
  • Dutch oven (for soups)
  • glass baking pan
  • Pizza stone

I’d like to get a 1-quart saucepan for heating sauces, etc. And I will probably get rid of that baking pan and replace it with a nice casserole. I never bake breads or cakes. (There is an amazing bakery 5 minutes away, so why bother?)

Now, prep tools. This is where I get really, really basic:

  • 2 cutting boards
  • 1 medium-sized knife
  • 1 serrated bread knife
  • vegetable peeler
  • salad spinner
  • 2 Pyrex measuring cups (1- and 2-cup)

If a recipe calls for anything more complicated than washing, peeling, and chopping, it’s not for me.🙂 I don’t have a food processor, because I hate cleaning all the fussy little parts.

I’ve never been able to use those big chef’s knives. My hands are small, so I prefer a smaller knife. It works for me, as long as I keep the blade sharp.

And I don’t have a lot of measuring cups and spoons, because I don’t do a lot of measuring.

I am not completely without kitchen gadgets. These are my small appliances:

  • toaster oven
  • blender
  • rice cooker
  • coffeemaker
  • microwave oven

The microwave may be leaving soon. It’s rarely used, and it takes up a lot of space.

For food storage:

  • An assortment of Pyrex storage bowls in various sizes from 8 oz. to 2 quarts.
  • Plastic zip-lock storage bags. I have them in “snack”, “sandwich”, quart, and gallon sizes.

One of the best things I ever did was to get rid of all my miscellaneous plastic storage containers. No matter what I did, they always became disorganized in my cabinets. I prefer my glass containers because they stay put in the cabinets, they don’t get stuck together, and they double as mixing bowls. And they are easy to clean, and never get stained.

For hand utentils, I have:

  • 3 turners
  • 1 spatula
  • 1 stirring spoon
  • 1 soup ladle
  • tongs

My potato masher got ruined this year. I miss it. It is on my wishlist of housewares for 2013.

For setting the table, I have:

  • 4 wine glasses
  • 8 tall drinking glasses
  • 8 large coffee mugs
  • white china dinnerware set for 4
  • stainless steel flatware for 12
  • 4 deep soup bowls
  • A small assortment of handmade pottery serving dishes
  • 2 tablecloths and 8 napkins

Clearly, I have more flatware than I need. I plan to replace my huge unmatched collection for a smaller, nicer one. I also want to get some new soup bowls. The ones I currently have are ugly leftovers from an old dinnerware set.

And yes, I eat off my china every day. I used to keep it stored away in a cabinet, but then I decided I might as well use it. It’s at least as sturdy as the old cheap dishes I’d been using; and it’s easier to clean, because food doesn’t stick to it.

I used to have more dishes, but I realized I wasn’t using them. I do occasionally have large groups of guests over, but my friends and family are the type that I would feel comfortable asking to lend me extra dishes if I needed them.

My kitchen would not be complete without my tea-making supplies.🙂

  • tea kettle (I have a Le Creuset and I love it.)
  • white china teapot
  • a handheld strainer

Don’t forget about cleanup! My cleaning supplies are simple:

  • Dishwasher detergent (I use Cascade because it works).
  • Ecover dishwashing liquid
  • hand soap
  • Scotch-Brite scrubbing sponge (the pink/gentle one)
  • Bon Ami powder cleanser (for scrubbing pots and pans, and also great for tea stains on cups)
  • Rubber gloves: I never wash dishes or scrub anything without gloves on!
  • Homemade vinegar cleaner
  • Seventh Generation botanical disinfecting wipes (for the occasional icky job)
  • Paper towels. I’ll admit to using these liberally.
  • 8-10 kitchen towels

—————————-

There you have it. Hmm, I’m calling this “my simple kitchen” but I feel like I listed a zillion things. But trust me, it’s not a lot.

I wanted to mention one blog post that inspired me to go ahead and let go of my “extra” cooking supplies. Take a look at this post by Janet of The Gardener’s Cottage. Janet is a former chef who often posts beautiful dishes and recipes on her blog. Her simple collection of kitchen supplies is proof that you don’t need every sized pan, or a lot of specialized gadgets, to make great meals.

I might actually do this.

I tend to shy away from participating in wardrobe “challenges”– or any of the various challenges that are always circulating around the Internet (no-buys, handmade-only, make-or-do-something every day, wear only x number of items, etc.) Not that I don’t want to– they look like great fun! But I know that I’m easily bored, and that I change my mind a lot. I have a hard time sticking to rules (especially if there are no real consequences to breaking them); so I usually don’t even try.

But last year, I decided to try it. I quietly put myself on a “shopping ban” for housewares and home decorations. And it worked! I was able to stick to it.

I did this because

  • I knew I had everything I needed in my home for daily living.
  • I wanted to give more careful consideration to my next purchases: to think about the difference between needs and wants, and to consider what level of quality would be most appropriate for new items when the time came to purchase them.

Over the past year, I haven’t bought any new housewares, but I’ve been making a list of things that need to be replaced, or things I want to add to my home environment. I’ll buy them in 2013. It’s not a long list.

I’ve also gotten rid of a lot of stuff around the house. I learned that when you take time to live with your things, you start to notice what gets used or enjoyed– versus what is just taking up space. By making do instead of shopping, you learn the difference between what you “might need” vs. what would actually save you time or make your home more comfortable.

And I haven’t had to make do very much at all. If anything, I’ve learned that getting the excess out of the way solves more problems than does buying something. (And I didn’t have much to start with!)

Really, we need very little to have a comfortable, easy life.

……….

All that above is a long-winded way to introduce the actual point of this blog post:

I think I might do a wardrobe challenge in 2013.

I’m not following anyone else’s rules, although my challenge is inspired by The Vivienne Files’ “Common Wardrobe” plan which I mentioned in my previous post.

Here a tentative outline of my own plan:

  • Throughout this autumn, I’ll shop to fill some holes in my basic core wardrobe. I’ll stick to neutral colors only. (I’m including a few conservative shades of blue as neutrals.)
  • Starting in January 2013, I’m going on a self-imposed shopping ban for both clothing and cosmetics (except to replace cosmetic products that are used up).
  • Accessories are not included in the shopping ban.

The reason I’m not including accessories in the ban is because I actually need to build my collection of accessories, and I want to improve my accessorizing skills. (I’m not very good at accessorizing! )

I think I can do this, and I think (hope!) it will be a good learning experience. Already, as I shop for basics, I’m realizing how much I tend to be drawn to brightly-colored clothing. Oh my. No wonder I have gaps  in my basics wardrobe.

Color is not a bad thing; but I think it will be good for me to learn to use accessories as my source of color, for a change.

Common Ms. M

Common Ms. M
This is my interpretation of the “Common Wardrobe” as inspired by Janice of The Vivienne Files.
I did change a few things to suit my needs:
  • I can’t wear turtlenecks (short neck!) so I substituted a cowl top.
  • I have learned, through trial and error, that I really do need interesting necklines on my knit tops. A simple crew or even scoop neck won’t cut it for me. So I went a little fancier with the knit tees.
  • I never wear white knits except for layering–they are not kind to my stomach bulges–so a white camisole works best for me, since it’ll be mostly covered up. (I’d also buy it in nylon and get a smoothing effect!)
  • I substituted a denim jacket for the denim shirt. I’ve tried wearing denim shirts and they are just not flattering on me. (Collared shirts in general are difficult for me to wear.)

Anyway, this little exercise was a lot of fun for me. I could absolutely wear these 12 pieces throughout the whole year (with accessories) and not get bored.  (Just to be clear, I’d need multiples of most pieces.)

The only thing I might add is a black dress for dressier occasions, and maybe a lighter colored dress for spring and summer. And I’d probably purchase the beige pants in wool or some other formal-ish fabric, for important meetings etc. at work.

I just love this concept. Most people have at least some of these pieces. And if you don’t, they can all be found at affordable prices.

Dressing is easy, and then you can easily add interest and color with accessories. I love it.

Little things making me happy

A few things I’ve been enjoying:

1. A new hairstyle (and a new hairstylist). The style is actually not that different from what I had before– but the quality of the cut is much better.

It’s not unusual for me to go to a salon, get a (usually very expensive) haircut, and then have to “fix it” with my own scissors at home. This time, I didn’t have to do that.

I’m more convinced than ever that getting a good haircut is all about good communication. This stylist listened, and I got the exact hairstyle that I wanted.

2. Wen hair cleansing conditioner. Yes, I bought an infomercial product!

This one happens to live up to the hype. My hair has never felt so silky, even though it was recently damaged from coloring.

I’ve been using no-lather cleansing creams for years, so I wasn’t bothered (or impressed) by the lack of soap/shampoo in this product. I do like the fact that it’s an all-in-one product (no separate conditioner). And like I said, it makes my curly hair soft and silky without weighing it down.

3. Diorsnow BB cream. BB creams (sometimes called CC creams) are a relatively new development in the world of cosmetics. They are combination skin treatment, sunscreen, and foundation. The concept originated in Asia, and from the reviews I’ve read, Diorsnow is the western brand most like the Asian creams in its formulation.

Diorsnow, as the name implies, promises skin lightening and brightening effects, with an SPF 50 sun protection. It also provides enough coverage to hide small skin imperfections.

I like the fact that I can wear this product as a makeup base, without having to apply a separate sunscreen and primer under my foundation.

A surprising benefit is that it actually has improved my skin. Most notably, it seems to be doing away with some milia (small white bumps) that I’ve had on my face for years. This is good stuff!

There is a downside. The product only comes in one color, and it’s very light, giving my face a ghost-like appearance. I’ve been using a lot of bronzer to warm it up.

I wouldn’t wear this BB cream for special occasions; but for everyday wear, I’m enjoying the convenience, the sun protection, and the skin benefits that it’s providing.

4. NYDJ Jeans. At first, I wasn’t convinced that they were any better than my trusty Walmart jeans. (And they cost $85 more!)

But every time I wear them, someone asks me if I’ve lost weight. And I’ve noticed that they retain their shape better after washing. And there is a definite butt-lifting effect.

O.k., I think I’ve been convinced to switch over to this brand.

———–

So that’s my list of (material) things I’m loving at the moment.🙂

Back to school– but not as planned?

I mentioned on my previous blog that I was going back to grad school.

I started the application process, talked to some people about recommendation letters, told my employer about my plans…

and then I didn’t do it.

I haven’t totally ruled it out. But something stops me when I think of spending that much of my precious time and money on something that I’m frankly not that interested in. Sure, it would help my career. Apparently, however, I’m not dissatisfied enough with my current career situation. I like my job, I make a decent salary. Yes, it could be better, but is it worth sitting through 2-3 years of dull courses* and a big chunk of money up front? I’m not sure.

*Trust me, they are dull. I’ve heard plenty about them.
 

I haven’t completely ruled it out. There are benefits to improving my credentials; and I really do like the idea of being in school again. I just don’t think I’m as excited as I should be.

Perhaps graduate school isn’t exactly what I need right now. But there is one thing I am sure of: I am itching to learn some new things. Or should I say, I’m itching to be taught. I’m self-taught in so many things, but currently, I feel the need to learn from others, in a more structured environment.

….

Last week I attended a school reunion with some former classmates. It wasn’t a class reunion per se, but more like a gathering of old friends.

One of these friends was an old music-friend, one of the very few serious musicians I knew in high school. We bonded over that, back then; and when I saw him again last week, I was reminded of how much I’d enjoyed my time as a musician. Ever since, I’ve been inspired to immerse myself once again in music. But rather than just sitting at the piano and picking out pieces to learn on my own, I think I might want to take some lessons from a professional instructor.

The other thing I’ve been missing (as mentioned in a previous post) is my sewing hobby. I’m so ready to start sewing again. And again, I feel the need not to just sit down and sew, but to expand my knowledge of the craft.

I’m thinking I might want to start with some online sewing courses, and eventually, maybe, work my way up to an in-person couture sewing retreat.

….

One of the things that made me hesitate about graduate school was the worry that I might not have time for creative endeavors. These things have already been on the back-burner for years, due to family obligations (and my own inability to set aside time for myself). The thought of putting them off for another few years– well, it’s just painful.

As much as I do enjoy my career, it’s not what matters most to me. It’s a source of income which happens to be interesting and fulfilling. But it doesn’t inspire me like my other creative endeavors.

When I considered that, I started to think that maybe I should invest more time in the things I enjoy the most, and see where that takes me.

So that’s where I am right now– pondering these things and considering my options.

….

P.S. About that reunion: It was a really good experience in that it made me aware of how much I’ve changed (for the better, in my humble opinion). I felt confident, open, and friendly. I realized how much I’ve shaken off a lot of the negativity and guardedness that I carried around throughout my younger years.

All the incremental changes I’ve made over the years are having a positive result. It makes me feel hopeful about the efforts I’m putting into self-care and a positive mindset. Sometimes you don’t see results right away, but the changes are happening.

Thrifting and sewing

All my life, I’ve been a thrift-shopper and a dressmaker.

But I’ve been on a sewing hiatus for quite a while now. Years, actually.

I think it was because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to wear, and since sewing is such a time-consuming activity, I didn’t want to waste my efforts on clothing that in the end I might not even wear.

And I had a similar problem with thrifted clothing. It seems I was buying things, only to re-donate them a few months later because I didn’t want to wear them. Finally I made the decision to stop shopping at thrift stores. I was wasting time and money, and regretting almost all my purchases.

But I think I’m ready to start sewing and thrifting again. Nowadays, I’m feeling more sure of myself when I go shopping. More and more, I’m finding things while shopping online or in a department store, and immediately I know that I could easily find something similar at the charity shops, or make it myself.

I’m actually feeling really excited and relieved about the opportunity to get some new things without spending an arm and a leg!

Oh, and did I mention that I decluttered my formerly-massive collection of sewing patterns? I’m down to about 20 patterns. I remember when I had at least 200. Things are really coming into focus.