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Category: Shopping

Kissed by the Universe

Alber

I suspect the Universe is always smiling on us, and pulling for us–but I’d be the first to admit, it doesn’t always feel that way. This past week, though, I felt like the Universe was not only smiling, but blew me a kiss.

A little over a week ago, I was experiencing a delay, and cast about in my mind for tasks I’d been putting off to a more convenient moment. I remembered that I hadn’t bought any clothes in more than 6 months, not even a pair of socks, and that I’d been noticing I needed some tops.

I surfed over to a discount site, and checked out the work of my favorite designer, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, the oldest fashion house still operating today–founded by a woman, Jeanne Lanvin, and owned by a woman today, Shaw-Lan Wang. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a beautiful teal silk dress I’d pinned on Pinterest last summer, just one left, in my size, at a very deep discount!

Lanvin dress

Reader, I ordered it. It arrived last night, and it fits beautifully. Alber Elbaz has said he thinks about what a woman wants to hide, and what it is she loves about herself–and may I say very few people involved with the clothes I try on seem to do that!–and that thought process shows when I put on this dress. Take just one feature, the sleeves, for example … the bottom of the sleeve is like a bell sleeve, but at the top, the fabric is origami-folded and stitched down to show the shoulders, but still feels like a sleeve, so comfortable. It reveals without feeling revealing. It’s unlike anything I’ve worn or seen, and I think it’s pure genius.

And that is why I feel kissed by the Universe.

The practical among you may be noting that a dress is not a top, and of course, you’re quite right. I was looking for a dressy one as well as a casual one, and this dress will serve some of the same purposes as the dressy top I had in mind. (This dress was also made as a blouse, but one has to be open to receiving a kiss from the Universe in the form of a blouse with a skirt attached!) I’ve also ordered a sweater that I haven’t received yet.

And I think that when you enjoy something, and when you bring a good energy to it, it shows in the product. I mean, I think that we create what we are. Basically, when we are sad, we create sad, when we are happy, we create happy, and when we are miserable, we create miserable. And it shows, and it feels. It feels on the body. –Alber Elbaz

Illustrating this post is the SoulCollage card I made this past weekend at an Open Studio I attended (which is just getting together with others to make SoulCollage cards), in honor of my new dress. This card has several images of Alber at various ages, and the rest is his work at Lanvin–clothes, sketches, costume jewelry.

Alber Elbaz is a man who I believe loves and respects women–something I feel we could use a lot more of in the people who make the clothes that announce who we are to the world.

May the Universe blow you a kiss of your very own this week!

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Nourishing the soul

Lavender fields

This coming week, I’ll have the luxury of time. Following plenty of grueling work, I’m taking a little vacation time, and I’ve also been given some comp time. With the weekend, I’ll have nearly a week off. I thought about taking an impromptu road trip, but ultimately decided to stay home.

So I’ve been giving thought to this question–how best to use this time to enjoy myself, to relax, to experience what brings me joy and pleasure–how best to nourish my soul?

I believe that the soul and body are differentiated, that the soul has its own trajectory before the body is born, which continues after the body dies. But for now, during this life, they are one–so what truly nourishes the soul also nourishes the body, and what truly nourishes the body also nourishes the soul. Meditation nourishes the soul, but it’s also been proven to change the mind for the better, as well as improve health outcomes for the body.

So here’s what I’d like to do next week … I may not get to all of it, but I’m going to have a good time trying!

  • As I do every week, I’ll take time to write. I hope I’ll feel inspired to write a bit more than usual.
  • I meditate twice a day, nearly every day without fail, but I often struggle to carve out the necessary time. Some months ago I accepted a challenge to meditate 40 minutes at a stretch for 40 days. It was a true challenge to find the time to do that, but often it felt like a true luxury rather than an obligation. I plan on some luxuriously long meditation time.
  • I’ve been thinking about a bath each and every day. That sounds like a little bit of heaven. (I take a shower every day, in case you’re picturing Pig-Pen! But I usually only have time to take a bath once a week or so.)
  • As a child, I read all the time, escaping into the world of books. I usually finished a book or two every day. These days, I read a lot of short-form writing, but books? Not so much anymore. I want to find a lovely new book and read it cover to cover.
  • While I’m at the bookstore, I’ll probably indulge in one of my favorite I-have-a-few-hours-all-to-myself activities. I like to select a large pile of magazines from an extensive newsstand, look through them, and choose two or three with the most beautiful images (useful for SoulCollage) to take home.
  • Perhaps I’ll feel inspired to make some collage art.
  • Have I mentioned sleep? Lots and lots of sleep-debt-erasing sleep.
  • Cooking is a beautiful way to be creative, and with immediate, tangible results too! I plan to cook something delicious and a bit decadent–probably my meatloaf, which I shape on a jellyroll pan, and cover entirely in bacon + glaze. Perhaps that’s more than a bit decadent?
  • I’ll definitely take some time to work in my garden. Gardening is a guaranteed way for me to quickly drop out of clock time and into the flow, where I feel I’m working hand-in-hand with God. It’s a great time to do some fall cleanup in the cool early morning hours.
  • Antiquing is another activity I find really relaxing. You never know what you’ll find, and usually I have no shopping agenda. There are no wrong turns, and serendipity very well may be around the next corner. You may see something you’ve never seen before, or find something stunningly beautiful–and be able to take it home for a song. (I’ve been to fancy antiques shows where I admired very old celadon pottery, each piece selling for thousands. But I find the glazes of 20th-century pottery just as pleasing, and nothing could be easier than finding a lovely piece, certainly for less than $100, and probably less than $50. A few weeks ago, I found a vintage red Swingline Cub stapler–à la Office Space, only one of the funniest movies of all time–for $6, and couldn’t have been more pleased.) I’ve made plans to visit one of my favorite town squares and its shops, antique and otherwise.
  • I love new experiences–they’re rather addictive once you start–and so I’ve made reservations at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. It’s in a restored 130-year-old house, just off that town square, that I can’t wait to see!
  • Naturally I’ll spend time with the people and animals who are important to me. I hope to get together with my sister. I’ll wish a friend who’s moving away bon voyage over brunch at a favorite restaurant. And hopefully the weather will be perfect for a visit to the dog park.
  • And of course, solitude is lovely too. There will be some (but considerably less than a hundred years!).

Probably some of the same things that feed my soul feed yours, but I suspect you have a long list all your own. How might you be able to nourish your soul today, or this week, in a truly meaningful way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Lavender fields.

Patience rewarded

Kelvinator restored main

This purchase could be considered proof positive of my alleged antiques fetish. To me, though, it is a symbol of patience rewarded.

I ordered my then-to-be-restored 1948 Kelvinator from Antique Appliances in January 2013; the “6-8 weeks” of restoration work was scheduled to begin in December of last year. At the end of this past June, I learned that the custom color painting had been completed (matched to a piece of vintage pottery I’d sent), but my refrigerator was still in pieces–not yet reassembled. In early August, I was notified that the restoration was finally complete! I could hardly believe my ears. The picture above is one of the ones I was sent at that time, taken in the shop with the chrome trim on the feet not yet replaced.

This past week (September, but who’s counting?), the refrigerator was finally delivered, plugged in, and stood in my kitchen doing the job it was hired for.

Kelvinator logo

Interestingly, response to the project has split along gender lines. In my unscientific sample, men have a lot of respect for the restoration, pronouncing it “really cool.” I learned from them that this refrigerator is basically a stationary vintage car (check out all the chrome!) that keeps stuff cold. Women–unless they are also old-house people–tend to be considerably less voluble. I think they probably want to say I’m crazy and should have gone to Home Depot, but are too polite. Some allow that Grandma had one like that. Others question what I’ll do if something goes wrong. (I have kept my former refrigerator as a backup, and 13+ years as an old house owner have taught me how to find people who can fix things the old-fashioned way.) They look at me in disbelief when I explain that many of the refrigerators of this age that have survived still run, and on a very simple mechanism. (“Built to last” is a concept most people have forgotten.) Refrigerators manufactured today have an average life expectancy of 14 years, and this one has got that beat. (Hey, it’s even got 20 years on me.)

Everyone wants to know what I’m doing about ice! Clearly it’s not being delivered straight to the cup through the front of this refrigerator. The answer is that I don’t really like ice, and only have it in my drinks when I’m at restaurants. I keep an ice tray in my chest freezer, and use it to clean my DisposAll when I don’t have any lemons or limes in the house. So–no ice problem, and no need for the chilly metal ice trays of my early childhood.

Kelvinator restored open

It would definitely have been possible to match restored refrigeration exactly to the original 1920s period of my house. But I’m not a purist, and to me, the Deco-influenced refrigerators and stoves of the late 1940s and early 1950s look just the way appliances should–and far more beautiful than any modern expanse of stainless steel and plastic. But I am most charmed, as a collector of vintage glass, by this refrigerator’s virtually pristine interior. Ridged glass shelves (the ridges are on the underside), the shadow lettering I remember seeing as a child, Deco ridges and stepped effects.

Kelvinator inside before

The restorers did a great job. I was probably most impressed by something not shown in these “after” pictures. There’s a defrosting drain at the center of the base of the freezer, and below that another piece, a narrow, oblong plastic defrosting cup with a stepped exterior. In the picture above, you can see it had quite a large hole in it. Looking at the outside of it now, you can’t tell it was ever repaired. Only inside is there any evidence of the restoration. The person who worked on it did an absolutely beautiful job–one I waited almost two years to see. I can’t say I enjoyed the wait, but I do appreciate the results.

I foresaw when I bought my house–a 1927 English-cottage-style bungalow–that I would need a whole new level of patience, and promised myself I’d have it. It has indeed been absolutely necessary, and not just for awaiting this refrigerator with forbearance.

I grew up in a house of about the same age, and I don’t remember any major inconveniences occurring. Probably in the 1970s, a 1920s house just wasn’t old enough yet for major systems to fail. In my house, I’ve been without hot water for a total of three weeks, first while having the hot water heater replaced, dealing with minor water damage (the old heater was sitting directly on the floor with no pan or drainage whatsoever), and bringing it up to code, and then replacing my gas line and bringing the entire house’s gas system up to code. (It took me several additional years to get the gas company to finally identify and fix the gas leak in the alley behind my house, which I’m sure was the reason I could smell natural gas in the first place.) The three weeks provided ample Little House on the Prairie moments as I boiled water for washing dishes and other household tasks.

I’m washing dishes by hand once again as just a few days before my refrigerator was delivered, my valiant 1982 dishwasher decisively retired. It had been groaning as it worked lately, and so I was planning to replace it in the next few months. The time to do that, however, is clearly now.

I find the refrigerator has raised the aesthetic bar for appliances at my house. I found a vintage-look brand, Big Chill, that I think will blend well. They offer a custom color palette, so I’ll be able to get a close match. And the nearly two-year wait for my refrigerator should help put the approximately five-week lead time in perspective–lightning-fast by comparison! Just another opportunity to exercise my old-house patience … and eventually, have it rewarded.

1948 Kelvinator before

The Versatile Blogger award

Versatile

Thanks to Lisa van Reeuwyk of bloomlisa and Blazing Light of Glory for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger award! She shares my interest in totem animals, card reading, and spirituality, and is always a bright, optimistic, loving, encouraging voice–and who doesn’t want more of that? I remember seeing someone’s “seven interesting things” post around the time I started blogging in earnest, and thinking this looked like a fun award. So thank you, Lisa–I accept with pleasure.

So here are the requisite seven interesting things about me …

  1. I have no cavities, so I love going to the dentist. My dental hygienist has a great sense of humor–we laugh and laugh, no laughing gas required. No one has a better time at the dentist than I do.
  2. The thing people seem to find most surprising about me is that I don’t watch TV.
  3. It wasn’t too many years after Molly Ringwald moved to Paris that people stopped telling me I looked like her. I love Molly, but I don’t mind not looking like any celebrity at all. (I found being compared to Molly a vast, vast improvement over being told I looked like Laura from Little House on the Prairie as a child.)
  4. Before I knew William Morris had said anything about it, I believed that everything useful should be beautiful, and increasingly, I want the beautiful things I own to be useful as well. There will never be a blue safety check in my life (even as a child, they grated on me–Why so ugly?!). Though I rarely write a check now, I get compliments when I do on my pretty Art Deco ones.
  5. Once I’ve gone to the trouble to find beautiful, useful things, I want them to last. I’m on my third car, and my second cell phone. Planned obsolescence is lost on me.
  6. I am known for my shoes. It’s not an Imelda Marcos situation, but each pair–leopard, polka dots, red patent–makes a statement. Even my gardening clogs are purple. Once a chiropractor prescribed orthopedic inserts for me (another case of the cure being worse than the disease). I mentioned that they wouldn’t work with the vast majority of my shoes; he said I would no doubt start buying shoes they did work with. My mother said, “I don’t think he understands how you feel about shoes.” She was right.
  7. Someone who visited my house not long ago remarked that I had an “antiques fetish.” I protested, pointing out many new items. “Ah, but even your new stuff looks old!” Perhaps it does … perhaps it does.

I’d like to pass this award on to the following versatile bloggers I enjoy …

  • Michelle Hedgecock posts about her art, SoulCollage, animals, nature, clutter clearing–and her experience of all of them. She has a beautiful, loving voice, and isn’t afraid to put herself out there.
  • Dee Mallon posts about her lovely quilting and other textile art, crafting, museum exhibits, makers, travel, gardening, family, photography, SoulCollage, and no doubt more that I’m forgetting! Just about every one of her posts is versatile.

Thanks for all you’re sharing with me, and the world!

How to make a difference

Kiva

Making a Kiva micro-loan is a fun way to make a difference in the life of another person you’ll likely never meet.

This is Kanyshbubu from Kurgyzstan, the woman whose loan I funded this week along with 22 other lenders (individuals, couples, and groups) from North America, Europe, and Asia. This is her story:

Kanyshbubu is 44 years old, married, and together with her husband is raising four children. Kanyshbubu has a higher education and works in a local school as a librarian. As a main source of income for her family, Kanyshbubu raises livestock, having begun 26 years ago with a livestock purchase of 15,000 som KGS. Thanks to her hard work, Kanyshbubu today has on her homestead: four dairy cows, one horse, and 35 sheep. Monthly income amounts to 13,000 som (KGS).

With the aim of further developing her homestead, Kanyshbubu applied to Bai Tushum Bank for a loan – to purchase calves to increase her livestock count. Kanyshbubu plans to invest income from the loan in further propagating the number of domestic animals, and plans to save money to purchase a plot of land. –kiva.org

Each translated story (you can also read it in the original language version if you’re fluent) is accompanied by a picture, and I use the pictures to help me make a decision. I’ve never had anyone default on a loan, so I consider my method successful–but defaulting is rare. I loan only to women–my way of helping to even the score–and only to individuals. I don’t loan to people who are scowling–this is not uncommon!–and I consider other elements in the photos as well. For example, in this photo, there’s a happy, well-cared-for animal (as well as a happy person),  both of which are right up my alley. When a retail establishment is involved (and there are many of those on Kiva), I consider aesthetics. I love someone who’s making the world a more beautiful place! I also consider other values, like the quality of the merchandise (will it last?), whether someone is buying organic fertilizer (like manure), engaging in reuse (like making discarded coconut shells into charcoal), and so on.

Those are aspects that appeal to me, but there’s something for everyone. Kiva has lending teams, some of which are based on shared affiliation or belief (alma mater, religious denomination, political party or candidate, etc.), and some lend based on theme, such as loans that are about to expire, green loans, animal-related loans, etc. I’m a member of the Women Empowering Women team.

The way Kiva works is …

  • The website presents loans that have already been made by many different micro-lenders around the world. When you participate, you take over a portion of the loan (the basic increment is $25, and you can assume multiple increments of the same loan if they’re available and you want to), freeing up the original funds so the lender can make another loan sooner than they’d otherwise be able to. This allows them to help more people.
  • Micro-loans do typically carry a higher rate of interest than you may be used to paying as they’re expensive to administer. However, all the evidence points to micro-loans being beneficial to those who receive them, and being an important stepping stone out of poverty.
  • You assume the risk of not getting paid back, which is minimal on Kiva. This risk is associated with both the individual or group being loaned to not repaying the loan, as well as the micro-lender itself failing. Statistics on the associated micro-lender are available on the same page as information about the individual or group. So far, I’ve never had a loan default, though I’ve had a number where payments were late. Right now I have one that’s delinquent, but so far, these situations have always resolved themselves. I did once make a loan where the micro-lender was having difficulty, and I was repaid.
  • If all goes well, and it almost always does, you get your principal back (the interest goes to the original lender), a bit at a time. You can then loan again, or get your money back (via PayPal). You can also give Kiva gift cards to others, so they can experience the fun of making their first Kiva loan.
  • You aren’t required to donate to Kiva, but you have the option of making a donation to help cover operating costs each time you make a loan. Sometimes these donations are matched.

So far I’ve made loans to women in 13 different countries on 3 different continents–Africa, Asia, and South America. (I guess as I think about it, I’m reaching people in more locations than that with my blog–30 different countries on 5 continents as of today–hello, Austria! And thank you, widely-read English language.) I find it another exciting way to impact other women around the world–and I hope you will too!

(You don’t need an invitation to join Kiva, but I’d be happy to send you one if you’d like. Just leave a comment with your e-mail address. If you want your e-mail address kept private, just note that as well and I’ll take care of it.)

How to create a filing system

Bisley silver

When you finish clearing paper clutter, what to do with what remains? You need a filing system.

For me, the purpose of a good filing system is to be able to lay your hands on the paperwork you need immediately, with an absolute minimum of hassle or stress. When your formerly-photographic memory starts to curl around the edges, a good filing system comes to the rescue!

This weekend I bought this lovely little filing cabinet on sale, and today I labeled its drawers and began using it.

Because I dislike hanging files, this is the first filing cabinet I’ve ever owned. The beauty of this one, with its 10 equally-sized 9 3/8 x 14 1/2″ drawers, is that each fits a small stack of papers, including tearsheets from just about any size magazine–no folders necessary.

My existing system consisted primarily of document boxes. I have both large and letter-size document boxes. What I’m currently buying are from Bigso Box of Sweden. They’re made of 70% post-consumer recycled fiberboard, and my color of choice is hot pink. (Sadly, Bisley doesn’t make filing cabinets in hot pink! I’d be all over that.) I’ve used these boxes for many years now–they’re sturdy and attractive.

In the letter-size boxes, I keep the images I’ve saved for SoulCollage:

  • People
  • Animals
  • Divine
  • Flowers and nature
  • Architecture
  • Objects
  • Backgrounds

I use the larger document boxes for everything else. I keep one for each year. In these boxes are

  • Paid bills
  • Receipts (except for wardrobe and flexible spending)
  • The completed kitchen calendar for the year, which shows when I did what
  • Completed tax return

There are other document boxes for

  • Important papers, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, adoption papers for the dogs, etc.
  • Collections, which has receipts for collectibles
  • Wardrobe–This includes a large manila envelope for each season (fashion seasons, Spring and Fall). On the front I write what I bought–date, store or website, manufacturer/designer, item description, price. I also keep a running total of what I’ve spent for the season. On the back I write what wore out and had to be discarded. Inside go all receipts, hang tags, catalog pages, packing slips, etc. This makes returns nearly effortless.

I’m using the drawers of my new cabinet for the following:

  • Tax paperwork–W2s, mortgage statements, etc. Previously I kept a large manila envelope recording donations in my “year” boxes. On the outside I’d record the date, organization, and amount, and inside I’d keep receipts, acknowledgment letters, etc. These envelopes are a bit too large to fit in the drawers of the new cabinet, so I’m planning to get a smaller size envelope, and keep donation information for the previous and current year here–until the tax return is complete, at which time I’ll file it in the appropriate “year” box.
  • Flexible spending receipts–I never know just when my flexible spending program will demand documentation. I’ve filed current year receipts and health insurance claim reports here. I’ve learned to ask for what I’d need while I’m still at the healthcare provider’s office. A couple minutes’ effort there saves me a big headache later.
  • Cards–my own business cards, blank cards for my beautiful handmade address file, extra drawer labels.
  • Garden inspiration–tearsheets and articles.
  • Interior inspiration
  • Products to try
  • Home improvement–sketches, estimates, products, ideas, tearsheets.
  • Work-related paperwork such as hardcopy resumes, reviews, notes, memos.
  • Summer recipes–Except for baking, I cook without recipes, so these are for inspiration.
  • Winter recipes

Adding my new filing cabinet inspired me to spring-clean my office, and pitch out a number of papers that were once important, but no longer are. I’ve added others that I couldn’t identify immediately to my paper basket, where I’ll identify whether they’re still relevant, and if so, to which category they belong.

What you care about and want to keep may be different from my categories, but I hope these ideas and strategies will be useful to you and adaptable to your needs. Happy spring cleaning and filing!

Cunning in the kitchen

Right now the world outside is frozen, and just beginning to thaw. Here, we have no snow tires or chains, snow plows, or salt, and very little sanding. Everyone says that people here don’t know how to drive in the ice and snow, but the reality is that without the normal tools people use in places with an actual winter, it is really darn difficult, not to say impossible, depending on what kind of vehicle you have. My car is only two-wheel drive.

A few years ago when it iced and I got bored with the food in the house, I decided to venture out to the grocery store. I never got there, but I did have an interesting adventure that yielded no actual food. I got stuck on the hill across the street from the grocery store, and several nice people helped me. Someone came running out from the vet next door with a pan of kitty litter, and a couple guys pushed me. I was smart enough to drive back down the hill and go home.

Thursday night on my way home from work, the rain started to freeze on my windshield while I was still waiting for the engine to warm up. I was losing visibility as I worked to stay in my lane while defrosting the windshield. I live only a couple miles from the office, but by the time I got home, a substantial crust of ice had formed on the back windshield. And here I’ve been ever since.

The larder is a bit bare, as I typically go grocery shopping on the weekend. I’ve eaten the last of the frozen fish, the last of the ham, the last of the green onions and grapefruit. I’ve begun pulling assorted oddments out of the deep freeze, and finding them lacking.

I typically bake an egg for breakfast, but since I had only one egg left yesterday morning, and it looked like I was going to be eating at least one more breakfast before going to the store, I decided to make pancake batter instead. I diluted some leftover heavy whipping cream with water to approximate whole milk–and I must say, the pancakes were excellent. (Thanks, Stonewall Kitchens. I do know how to make pancakes from scratch, of course, but this mix is quite good.)

However, the lean blueberry sausage I pulled from the freezer and fried up didn’t quite make the grade, and ended up in the dogs’ scrambled eggs. A bit of Parmesan cheese also missed the mark, and I decided to eat my spaghetti without it. (It will go in the next batch of eggs for the dogs, which will definitely require a trip to the grocery store, as I’ve now used every last egg in the house.)

The only tomato product in the house, not counting ketchup and chili sauce, was leftover frozen tomato paste. (While I realize some people do dress spaghetti with ketchup-derived sauces, believe me when I say I will risk life and limb prior to taking that step.) The flavor of the thawed tomato paste was less than vibrant, so I had to pull out all my improvisational tricks to end up with a satisfying pantry spaghetti sauce. Along with the fresh onion and garlic I had on hand, and the usual Italian herbs, I threw in Chardonnay, juice from the jalapeno jar, cayenne pepper, molasses, brown sugar, celery salt–and finally ended up with something quite good.

Never give up! The key to success in the kitchen–and no doubt elsewhere as well. Skill and cunning can trump raw materials!

Now I’ve reached that stage of cabin fever where I’m starting to have food fantasies. As I walked through the kitchen just now on my way back from the freezing laundry room where I’d just put a load of laundry in the dryer, without conscious intention I suddenly vividly conjured a steaming dish of lovely Thai curry. Mmmm … that would be fabulous. (This is something I go out for rather than cooking it myself, so I have only a small fraction of the necessary ingredients on hand.) Something else to do when the ice melts …

I’ve been thinking how best to prepare for the next hard freeze. I could, and should, have left work early and gone to the grocery store–and that’s what I’m going to do next time. This freeze has been harder than predicted (whereas the last predicted winter weather episode panned out to exactly nothing).

I really enjoy the flavor of absolutely fresh ingredients, so I’m struggling to think how I can have the variety of ingredients I’d like on hand without compromising freshness or flavor. Right now I don’t have as many canned goods on hand as I usually do, so bumping those up makes all kinds of sense. Since I was disappointed in the quality of the meat and cheese I pulled from the freezer this weekend, I’m feeling a bit reluctant to stockpile there.

How do you stock your pantry and cook from it when you don’t have access to any ingredients other than what you have on hand?

Of budgets and windfalls

Verbena cottage

I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but there’s something about making and sticking to budgets that really feels great. Perhaps it’s being the creator of discipline, rather than having it imposed upon you by outside forces and circumstances.

I structure my budgets to ensure that I can have some of what I want right now, in accordance with my belief that every plan (budget, diet, or what have you) should include carrot as well as stick. There’s an overall outline for the year, various goals measured in months, and then a very specific budget for each pay period. Each of these allows for bills to be paid, debt to be paid off, and necessities, as well as some entertainment (going out to eat with friends or antiquing) and other “want to” types of spending. (I initially typed “wait to” types of spending–and waiting is certainly a key concept in my theory of budgeting. Suze Orman‘s idea of waiting a day to go grocery shopping can be applied to many types of shopping and spending.)

Not long ago I watched Oprah’s recent interview of Sarah Ban Breathnach, the author of Simple Abundance who made, and then lost, millions from its royalties. I’ve found it food for sobering thought ever since. It would be very easy to think, I’ve got more common sense than that! It could never happen to me.

But it’s happened to more than one inspirational writer, all of whom have published books that seem to indicate they knew better–this situation is not a one-off. And it happens when people get windfalls at all levels, whether it’s a relatively small storm-relief stipend spent on a Louis Vuitton bag, or millions of dollars earned and spent with very little left to show for it.

It all seems to beg the question, Is it my values or my circumstances that are determining my lifestyle and the choices I make?

Since 2005, I’ve been participating in an online discussion about building a wardrobe via a handful of high-quality acquisitions each season. This discussion has turned into a virtual support, accountability, and advice network that stretches over continents. It’s a way of life now, an ingrained habit for me to carefully consider every clothing purchase I make. My intention is always for every item to be beautiful, useful, and make a lasting contribution to my wardrobe. I take a similar approach to buying the other things I need.

This approach is important to me, not just because I want to use my own resources–such as time, money, storage space, and head space–wisely, but also because I don’t want to grab an inordinate amount of the planet’s resources. I want to take only what I’ll really use and enjoy, and leave the rest for others.

So what (I ask myself) would happen if there were no practical limits other than the ones I myself set? Magazines are chock-full of documentation of the obscene results that can occur when people have huge amounts of money to spend. I have yet to understand, for example, what people can possibly be doing in a 25,000 square foot house.

I’ve always preferred cozy little cottage-like houses … they speak of home to me. I truly don’t understand the appeal of a house you could truly get lost in–unless perhaps it’s an historic treasure. Still, it’s hard to imagine actually living in a castle. I’d really prefer to live in the gamekeeper’s cottage. (Of course, Sarah Ban Breathnach also lived in a cottage–Newton’s Chapel.)

My house is 1400 square feet, and I found when looking at 25+ houses that there was a very specific size that felt right to me. I’m a fairly abstract person, I’d always thought not that spacially-oriented, so I was interested to find that even 100 additional square feet registered as too much.

So 25,000 is a bit mind-blowing for me. Do people really find that comfortable, or is it just about impressing others? Or oneself? These are the kinds of questions I wish interiors magazines would ask (perhaps a bit more obliquely), instead of about the difficulties of bringing a hugely bloated space back down to human scale.

I’d like to believe that should I experience my own windfall, I would continue to take a measured approach to spending and acquisition. That I’d still value a few exquisitely beautiful, high-quality things. That I’d still want a house that feels cozy and home-like to me and others. That I’d still believe that all the best furs are attached to furiously-wagging tails, and greet you at the door of your cozy cottage.

How to spend Black Friday

Trinity Trails

Today was a lovely day where I did not much of anything. No shopping atall … the only money I spent was at a restaurant. What I was doing today was relaxing … that was my mission.

I was raised to believe that being productive was next to godliness, and I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “Time is money.” Here’s the thing: It’s not.

This is what I’ve learned on my own (heresy as usual): Doing nothing is a completely worthwhile activity.

Today was, of course, Black Friday, which has virtually no meaning to me, not least because my goal is always to have my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. I don’t always achieve that goal, but this year I did. I shop throughout the year for the people in my life who I know will be on my Christmas list. When I see something perfect for someone, I buy it and put it on my gift shelf.

Each fall I make a list of what I have, and then just fill in a few gaps. My mother and her husband are big coffee drinkers, but would never spring for fair-trade or organic on their own. (“Isn’t all coffee fair trade?”) Since it needs to be fresh, that’s one of the last things I buy. I believe I did that in October.

So instead of shopping today, I slept in. Ate a leisurely breakfast. And lunch. When I went out to water the garden, I also cut back my tender plants that have been taken out by the frosts thus far. Also cut up a fall tree branch (my light-weight purple Dramm loppers, a past Christmas present, totally came through for me), and put everything in my yard carts (the city makes free mulch from our yard trimmings).

I did a tad bit of essential housecleaning, then took a long walk by the river. Tried something new–a pumpkin, coffee, and Kahlua drink, and some brisket-stuffed peppers.

Dropped by my mother’s to pick up the gravy I forgot to ask for yesterday to go with my leftovers. As I drove, I noticed how relaxed my muscles were. Ah … my strategy of doing nothing is really working.

Out with the new, in with the old

Russel parsley stack

I enjoy using vintage dinnerware and cookware every day in the kitchen. Not only because it’s reuse–as in reduce, reuse, recycle–but because vintage things have soul, go so beautifully with my vintage house, and were build to last. They’ve already stood the test of time. We’re all survivors here in this little kitchen.

The challenge in this is that I like the things I use every day to be dishwasher safe, particularly the dinnerware. I don’t mind washing the dishes by hand on a special occasion, but I’m not up for that every day.

I’ve found plates and bowls in a great pattern made starting in the 50s (Metlox Jamestown Provincial) that are printed with “Dishwasher safe” on the back–and they are. I have it in all white. The rims look like they’re connected with little rivets.

One challenge with using vintage dinnerware is that you’re limited to the pieces that were made in the past. Usually this is more pieces than we use now, but pasta bowls, for example, weren’t part of vintage patterns. However, while browsing at an antique mall a couple years ago, I found a shallow 8″ vegetable serving bowl that’s absolutely perfect as a pasta bowl, and yesterday I bought two more.

The pattern is Russel Wright’s Iroquois Casual China (shown above, in the parsley green color I bought yesterday). This line is real vitreous china, made in a number of different solid color glazes. Russel and his wife Mary (whose influence can be clearly seen in Russel’s work) were the Martha Stewart of their era. When Iroquois Casual came out, they made an ad that showed them throwing an entire set onto a metal table, and damaging only one piece. I don’t have an entire set yet, but none of the pieces I have has ever chipped or cracked.

If only my new things were that sturdy. Mugs are another item that are better than ever today in terms of sizes, shapes, patterns, and ease of use. I have a small collection of Emma Bridgewater mugs, and today while I was unloading the dishwasher, I accidentally dropped one. It didn’t end well for the mug … it’s in multiple pieces in my recycling cart as I type (so happy my city accepts broken ceramics and glass). RIP Zinnias mug. I think it was a Christmas present just last year.

I’m sad to see it go, but I’m looking forward to using my new-old pasta bowls. I just learned while writing this post that the pattern was produced from 1947-1967, the year I was born, so these bowls are at least as old as I am, and quite probably older. I feel like I’ve completed some kind of circle by bringing them home and putting them into service once again.

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