Tuesday, December 11, 2012

elderberry wine

We're making elderberry wine. Travis harvested about 7 lbs of wild elderberries from the Finger Lakes forest this summer, and we decided to try winemaking with them. Our first batch, a little over 2 gallons, should be ready in about 6 more months.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A good sale

Over the past few weeks, I have come to see that my weakness when it comes to a French shopping method is sales. I'm all good with self-deprivation and denial, until a good sale--and actually, to be honest, a good thrift store--comes into view. After that, all discipline goes out the window as I scramble and click to bring down my prey.

So what was that I was saying, about hardly buying anything for months and months? It's moments like these that I'm reminded of how an ex used to cluck over my shopping habits after a big haul. "Eat like a fly, shit like an elephant," he'd say. (I believe that's a saying from his native Bulgaria, but in any case, you have to imagine it said with a heavy Russian-sounding accent.)

Anyway. At least I console myself with the belief that my purchases are more and more in line with my own personal taste, try as I might to incorporate such things as Ferragamos and whatnot into my wardrobe. In the end, I still have the taste of someone who doesn't seem to care about fashion, erring toward overalls and Birkenstocks and plaid and shearling. And my purchases reflect that, though one day I might try my hand at those more elegant things.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Step 2: Analyze your mistakes

Here's part 2 of the Real Simple article. Part 1 was here.

Like rehashing a bad relationship, this cringe-inducing (yet cathartic) exercise helps ensure that you don't go down the same dead ends again. Ready? take out five things you wish you hadn't bought and ask yourself the questions in step one, plus the questions below. then let go of those items, plus anything else that's not pulling its weight--even if it still has its tags or it will be perfect once you lose 10 pounds or you have friends who throw fancy parties. "Your wardrobe should reflect who you are now," says Kendall Farr, the author of Style Evolution (Gotham, $22.50). "Don't hang on to images of what worked for you 10 or 20 years ago."

  • Do you have anywhere to wear this?
  • Is it high-maintenance?
  • Does it make you feel old and frumpy? Or young and silly?
  • Is it poor quality?
  • Did you buy it for the thrill of the bargain?
  • Did you buy it only because it was trendy?
  • Was it a panic purchase for a big event?
  • Does the color make you look pale? Yellow? Ruddy?
Your answers reveal: Your shopping blind spots. (Write down details about your mistakes so you never waste another cent falling into the same trap.) If your favorite pieces are tailored and crisp,  that's why you're not reaching for the ruffled chiffon top. If sales or the newestrends are your weakness, you don't have to give up clearance racks or Forever 21. But you will wanto hold firm to your "likes" and "dislikes" list.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Step one: assess your style barometer

I always wake up completely whenever the baby cries at night in a certain pained tone. I think she must have had a nightmare tonight, since she's not teething yet and she wasn't hungry. But now I'm fully awake, and it's 4 AM, and so I have decided to type out this handy article I came across in the May 2011 issue of Real Simple. It's a methodical approach to one's wardrobe entitled "Never Buy the Wrong Thing Again." The description goes like this:
Have a packed closet and nothing to wear . . . except impulse buys you now regret? This four-step intervention plan is here to help you create a pared-down wardrobe of coordinating, enduring, great-fitting pieces and breeze by unflattering markdowns. (Because pleather leggings shouldn't happen to anyone.)
Okay, so here's step one. I'll post the other three steps later. I won't use quotes for the rest, but it's all Sarah Stebbins' words from here on out.

Identify what's working
You probably have a handful of go-to pieces you instinctively reach for when you want to look put-together. Now imagine having a rack full of them. the first step toward achieving that goal is figuring out what makes those favorites so, well, favored, says Amy E. Goodman, the author of Wear This, Toss that (Atria $27). "Pull out the five things you would wear every day if no one was keeping track," she says. Choose something in each clothing category: tops, pants, dresses, and skirts. Then ask yourself a few questions about each piece. jot down your answers so you can use them as a shopping guide later (or download a fill-in-the-blank checklist as realsimple.com/buyguide).

How would you describe the item? Crisp and tailored? Soft and ruffly?
What image does it project? Smart and professional? Edgy and fashionable?
What color is it? Does the shade brighten your complexion?
What fabric is it made of?
What is the silhouette like? Nipped at the waist? Flowing and hip-grazing?
What parts of your body does it accentuate?
What parts of your body does it de-emphasize?
Is it comfortable?

Your answers reveal: Your style barometer. Use your notes to help pinpoint what you like. "Be careful of buying replicates," says Goodman. You may learn you prefer darks and flared shapes, but you need only one good pair of black bootcuts. "Think of it as nailing down a signature look, not getting into a rut," she says.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


I think I'm having an identity crisis of sorts, at least as seen through the evidence of my clothes. Recently, I decided to give up the ghost and accept the reality of my new body shape. I wasn't heavy exactly, but things have shifted around. So I gave away a small bag of my tiniest clothes and bought some sad elastic waist pants. Haha. And then, voila--the last of my post-baby weight melted away and the pants sag every time I wear them. The other of my 3 purchases so far this year was also a failure, a pair of Eileen Fisher pants. The brand fits my demographic, but not me, which is a lesson to me in rule-making when it comes to fashion. In my defense, I couldn't try them on because I had a sleeping baby strapped to me at the time.

But all in all, I'm not entirely dissatisfied. The pants themselves were only a dollar and a half each, and it's super easy to give away clothes on FreeCycle and thus avoid the landfill while making some poor student or resident hippie happy.

But I haven't written much lately because I haven't had much interest in talking about clothes, though I still like reading what other people have to say. I wonder if it was the acquisition of things that kept the obsession going. I haven't gotten a lot, and every time I think about getting a new thing, knowing that I'll have to record that purchase--at least for my own sake if not on the blog--keeps me honest.

But I've just been interested in things rather different from the style world. I've been trying to make more things from scratch, like bread, yogurt, and even laundry detergent;, moving on to using cloth diapers;  planning our next foraging trip (the wild leeks should be coming up soon!), and otherwise making tiny incremental changes toward a more simple, unadorned life. We'll be moving in August to a new space, a 2-bedroom with loft in what used to be a turn-of-the century pottery mill belonging to the university's founder. I'll be one block from a waterfall and gorge. It'll definitely be nicer, though in some odd way I'll miss our current dwelling and our hermit pothead upstairs neighbor, who likes to hang out his window in fine weather and herald all our comings and goings.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Minimalism, infomercials, and my first purchase of 2012

Inspired by No Signposts in the Sea's post about her 2011 clothing expenditures, I've decided that I'll document every piece of personal clothing I buy this year, not including what I purchase for others. I'm a bit uncertain about how I'll like this, actually, since like any addict I skulk around hiding certain purchases that don't really fit into the way I'd like to think that I spend or acquire clothes.

She goes on to write about consumerism, as many others have as well. I've been thinking about that when I've been thinking about the blogosphere, but especially about what Jenny of Fashion for Writers wrote in her post about authenticity and this focus on the exterior that blogs encourage (coincidentally, I just sold her the Lover blouse I bought last year on LOGE).

It's so easy to get caught up in superficiality, images, and obsessions with fashion, especially when your life isn't going the way you want. At least, I find that I begin to fixate on things when I feel unhappy and out of control with my life.

For the same reason I used to watch informercials during bouts of insomnia in my teenage years, I am drawn to the idea that an easily consumable product could remedy some hurt or ailment, some deficiency that you didn't even know you had. I know that makes me a perfect consumer of marketing messages, but I never said it was all rational.

I still get such a kick out of appliances dedicated to doing one thing perfectly, like my Zojirushi rice cooker with its "fuzzy logic programming" and dimpled rice paddle that has for years turned out perfectly cooked pots of rice.

Perhaps that's why I like the minimalist ethic, though it seems so opposed to single-use living. It has a similar idea of there being some square hole for which you have the perfectly shaped square block, and once filled, tada. It's done. Minimalism organizes the clutter of the world by manipulating the environment of one's imagination.

But to conclude with the original intention of this post: A few weeks ago, I purchased a pleated Orla Kiely skirt in dark pink. $1.50 at the thrift store. Probably not an investment purchase, but it allows me to try out a brand I've been curious about for very cheap. Even though I've been limiting my thrift acquisitions, you have to be willing to pull the trigger when it comes to thrift shopping.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I didn't get: recent winter sales

Passing up Creature of Comfort's 70% sale was tough, but I had already resolved that my Autumn/Winter expenditures were done. This winter has been mild, so I don't need any more woolens. Here's what I didn't get:
  • Repetto BB flats in grey suede. This was the toughest call, since it was marked down to $92, but I wasn't sure about the sizing and I already have two pairs of Repettos in my closet that I hardly wear. In the back of my mind I'd like to duplicate the elegant look of classic flats with dresses and skirts that I've seen others pull off with such aplomb, but I have shoes that will serve that purpose adequately for now. At least until I know if I'll be wearing that kind of outfit more often or not.
  • Wood Wood Adrian shirt in long and half sleeve. This striped shirt had been well reviewed by others, but I decided I didn't need another striped shirt. The fit seems like something you'd have to try on in person, since it looks to be cut close at the boatneck but looser in the body.
  • A.P.C. bucket bag. I have a weakness for bags, but when I thought about scenarios where a casual canvas bag would be appropriate, I realized I already had other bags that I'd probably reach for first.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Baby clothes

We were given so many new and hand-me-down baby clothes that it felt too extravagant to purchase any more. It was literally crates of clothes, so many that some things were probably worn only once. It was exactly opposite of what I had planned to do, which was pick out a few things I loved on her, wash, and rotate. But with so many clothes, and so many other adjustments needed to bring a baby into the house, I refrained from buying M anything but a handful of clothes to get her through the cold weather.

Well, like everything dealing with parenting, I have found that in some ways I was right and in other ways I was wrong. On the one hand, it turned out to be useful to have quantity in the first few weeks because babies are so messy, and we were too overwhelmed to go down to the laundromat. In the past three months I have been outfitting her in whatever random stuff we had been given. She sort of looked like Punky Brewster some days, in ill-fitting mismatched clothes, some of which had slogans like "I love shopping with mommy." She was much pinker than I would have cared for, but still, I dressed her in these clothes because they were practical and they were gifts. It didn't make sense to run out and buy a bunch of redundant clothing.

But I have found--now that we're past the initial newborn stage--that she doesn't need that many clothes, and it's nice to buy at least a few things that I love for her. I wonder why I even denied myself  this pleasure when she'll be little only once. But it all worked out because at least now I know what she needs (a few long sleeve onesies, footie sleepers, and separates; and a snug pair of pj's)

And in the end, most of her clothes will join that endless merry-go-round of used infant clothing: passed on to consignment shops or thrift stores, sold in garage sales, or given to the next pregnant lady from a friend's cousin's neighbor.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charlotte Gainsbourg, uniform dressing, and women of a particular age

Like Sofia Coppola, Charlotte Gainsbourg has an enviable, consistent style much admired on both sides of the Atlantic. Often clad in a jersey top or button down, grey skinny jeans, and cowboy boots, Charlotte favors a uniform that sounds simple on paper but is not simple to attain.

It's not so much what's there but what's not there: very few accessories, no discernible trends, nothing cute or flashy, nothing put upon, no excess (at least her casual everyday style . . . her red carpet style is quite different).  For most, such a well-suited personal uniform is usually only achieved through assiduous editing performed over many years, after the experimentation of the younger years has subsided. It's a matter of knowing your own body and the proportions that work best for it, and taking away all the extras that detract. And it may as well be said--when things are this pared down, a trim body is, if not essential, at least very helpful. And fabric and fit factor heavily as well, both of which aren't cheap (but not necessarily that expensive either).

It takes discipline to stick to a uniform, and a certain wit to know its standard deviations. For Charlotte Gainsbourg, the standard deviations include such things as patch-pocket high-waisted denim, Converse sneakers, and brightly colored gingham--funny little touches that don't muddle the consistency of her style but rather make the uniform feel warm and human.

The insight into fabrics and proportion, the self-knowledge, the mostly fixed body type (no more pubescent surges), and the long-term editing that takes place all suggest that figuring out a personal uniform might be achieved later in life, perhaps in your 30s or 40s. Sure, you can have a goth look or be an Abercrombie devotee at a much earlier age, but to figure out a uniquely individual style and then distill it into a uniform takes a particular alchemy of things that tend to come with the years. There seems a quiet intelligence that comes from knowing yourself and your taste quite well and being able to appreciate what clothes can do for you, as well as what it can't.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter sales

Up at 3:30 A.M., typing with one hand while the baby sleeps on the other arm. She was bothered by something and could not be appeased by half-awake consoling. And I have a cold and need to sip some chamomile tea with honey to soothe my throat.

I keep wanting to make a proper post, with pics and everything, but it's not happening. So I'll just say that I was relatively disciplined during the sales. I was looking to replace a few items that had gotten worn out, to round out a few favored kinds of garments, and to outfit myself properly for the winter. I set as my target A.P.C. because they're good for long-lasting basics--I have a black wool sweater from them that has served me well for 3 or 4 winters or so. And their stuff routinely goes on sale at many outlets. I had a good chance of getting what I needed, especially since I wanted to limit my browsing so as to limit temptation. Over the past few months I only picked up a few vintage plaid shirts at thrift stores, and I saved my pennies for these wardrobe-building acquisitions during the sale season.

The final count: oxford button down, burgundy wool sweater, suede wallet, and boiled wool slippers (this last from Halflinger to replaces ones that had sprung a hole in the heel). All at least 50% off, all expected to last me many, many years.

I'd feel pretty self-congratulatory but that my end-of-summer purchases I posted about months ago ended up being only half successful. I need to report on the disappointing purchases as well to give an accurate portrait of these goings-on (perhaps as a check for blog-induced spending fever?), but that's for another sleepless night.