Thursday, January 28, 2016

My wardrobe this season: New life for gray jeans

I'm linking this post with Anne's "pin to present" linkup, because it started with an image pinned from the blog une femme d'un certain age:

I believe this is a picture of another blogger, Garance Dore, and she is very fancy. I am not very fancy, but I did like the way une femme described this blogger's gray jeans outfit as "simple, sleek and sophisticated." 

I have a pair of gray skinny jeans (from the Gap) myself -- they are a few years old now and you may have seen them when I talked about my winter capsule wardrobe last year. I have always worn them in very casual outfits, like so:

And I like that look well enough, but it was getting a little old. So I appreciated the push to try to dress up an item that I've always thought of as resolutely casual.

Here's what I came up with.

My gray jeans are very low-rise and a quite skinny cut, so I prefer them with longer tops. My white button-up shirt (J. Crew, thrifted) works well with the pants proportion-wise, and the tuxedo-style pleats help lend a dressier feel to the outfit.

I can put either my charcoal gray long cardigan (Allude, via Ebay) or my black one (Lord & Taylor, also via Ebay) over top. Both are soft cashmere in a fine-gauge knit, so they also look relatively refined (the pictures are flattening out the color differences, but I promise, they are not entirely interchangeable in real life.)

I especially like the black cardi, something about the crispness of black and/or white really dresses up the jeans.

I am not one for strappy stilettos like Ms. Dore, but I consider a nice ballet flat "sleek and sophisticated" enough for me. Not the most practical footwear for winter, admittedly, but doable on the occasional dry, warmish day. 

So this challenge ends up providing a good chance to get a little more wear out of those gray flats I thrifted a while back (we discussed them here), as well as a pair of photographic-print floral flats that I recently purchased (Ted Baker via Lord & Taylor on deep, deep discount -- no, I did not need them in any way, but I believe they are what is known as a coup de coeur).

To the gray flats outfit I added this floral scarf (Echo, vintage, via Ebay) for a little more color. I love the print on this and somehow it helps the outfit avoid the 80s associations that pink and gray usually bring up for me.

I realize these are not so much different outfits as minor variations on the same one, but I'm glad to have a new way to wear an item that was already in my closet. I'm on the lookout for a tunic-length black pullover sweater -- I think that would also pair well with the jeans and have a similar, polished vibe. And I can see a few possibilities for creating similar outfits with items that are in some of my other seasonal color palettes. 

How about you, have you discovered any new ways to wear old favorites that are brightening up your January?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My home this season: January 2016

Green and white is such a nice color palette for January -- calm and serene after the abundance (and maybe even, by the end of it, overstimulation) of the holiday season, but not so austere as to be dreary.

In fact, if January has a color all its own, I think it must be that pale green of those candles up there. I suppose light green is often considered emblematic of early spring, the promise of new grow growth and all that -- but to me it seems just exactly the expression of what is already here right now. Or maybe I'm just taken with how lovely the candles look against those brass candlesticks, who knows?

I'm dipping back into Styling the Seasons, so here are some photos of the Janus-faced arrangement up on my mantel just now.

Looking backward with our postcard travel journal from Montreal*; looking forward with a candle that smells intensely of blossoms.

*(Oh and hey: more Canadian art on the wall above.)

Looking backward with some bulbs started back in December; looking forward with a new bay plant to cook with, replacing the one that had gotten spindly and tired. (I'll move it to the kitchen windowsill soon, but thought I'd enjoy it here for a little while first.)

Those paperwhites won't be good for much longer, will they? No matter, the sideboard's Janus-faced, too: looking backward with a candleholder made from a banister post in my grandmother's childhood home; looking forward with some more bulbs coming along.

How about you -- does your home look backward as well as forward at this time of year, or are you all about the clean sweep?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekending: 2016.4

Night-time low-tide beach walk.

End of an era.

Before and after.

My London souvenir -- used it up! That was so satisfying.

Some peppers needed to get eaten --> Sunday breakfast got fancy.

Industry is overrated.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Weekend reading: On Marie Kondo and David Bowie

Vieux-Montreal, December 2015

Yes, I'm serious.

First, there was this article in Slate, which argues that Marie Kondo's campaign against clutter is actually "a nonstop assault on the most basic form of human denial," that of our own eventual, inevitable demise: "The piles of stuff we might need someday are an argument that we will always be around to need them."

The article crystallizes something that I've suspected about myself but hadn't quite put the words to: I do tend to take on too much, too many projects, and the physical stuff that comes along with them (I'm thinking mostly of creative pursuits here, especially my shameful fabric stash). And in a funny, almost-hidden way, it's absolutely a bulwark against mortality. It's a way of telling myself: There will be time for everything.

Which brings me to David Bowie. It was striking how within hours of the announcement of his death -- a surprise to all but those closest to him -- pretty much the entire Internet had realized that with his last album, released just days before, Bowie had essentially written his own eulogy

I won't pretend here that I am a fan of Bowie's -- or a hater, either; I don't know much of anything at all about his music. (I am what is known as a musical putz, actually). If you, like me, are more literarily than musically inclined, there's also this: a posthumously published memoir by Paul Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer while studying to be a neurosurgeon. An excerpt appears here in the New Yorker.

The juxtaposition of these two pieces of art have me thinking about creativity and the art that people make when they know they are dying. (N.B. in case it wasn't obvious: We are all dying.) I'm sorry if this all seems morbid, but there's actually a psychological argument to be made that thinking more about our own deaths will in fact make us happier

What does all this have to do with stuff? I have also sometimes allowed myself to acknowledge a sneaking suspicion that this very habit of taking on too much, and having too many planned projects (and the supplies that accompany them) actually hampers creativity, makes it more difficult for me to focus on completing any one thing.

And, sure, there's a balance to be struck here. I'm not shedding my entire queue, just trying to make it a little shorter, so I can focus more completely on the next thing. And acknowledging that some projects aren't going to come to fruition, and then letting them go, is actually producing a weird kind of optimism for me. For example I would love to learn to crochet, but let's face it, I'm not likely to work that into my schedule any time soon. So it doesn't make sense to stockpile a bunch of yarn and thread. But, maybe later in my life, who knows? Perhaps I'll have a crochet season. There will be time for everything.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Finished objects: Living room pillow covers

I made some covers for the throw pillows on our living room sofa.

You can see that the need for new covers was acute. The pillows were hand-me-downs from a friend. (Yay for free decor.) They came with some simple ivory velveteen covers that served us well for a while. But one had gotten quite dingy and one had suffered an even worse fate -- a fatal run-in with a glass of red wine. Oops.

I finished these some weeks ago (there was a sneak peek in my post on Christmas decor) but I'm just getting around to throwing them up on the blog now.

Actually I debated whether they were really "blog-worthy" at all. I mean, I am not exactly breaking new sewing (or decorating) ground with a pair of envelope-back pillow covers. They are nothing more than a bit of arithmetic (I first wrote "algebra" but even that is overstating the case!) and a few straight seams.

On the other hand, I really love them! I love the combination of fabrics -- the backs are a black linen-cotton blend by Robert Kaufman with a wonderful texture, and the fronts are a home-dec-weight fabric with a print of peacocks that I thrifted a while back. The print reminds me a bit of Liberty of London (it's not, as far as I know, just has that look) and feels a bit sophisticated and grown-up.

Also, they took me a whole afternoon to make, so I guess I feel compelled to record the output of my efforts. I am not a very fast seamstress, perhaps because I am not that experienced and don't get to my machine as often as I would like. And when I do sew I like to be very careful and thorough about it. So maybe with more practice I would get faster at banging things out, but I think I'm going to stop worrying about my inability to actually make a "1-hour X" in a mere hour.

All in all, it's good to remember that even simple, commonplace projects can be non-trivial, both in the time and effort required to make them and in their eventual impact.

I did make one mistake in the sewing: I meant to construct both pillow backs so that the outside flap would be on top facing down, as I thought this would keep the pillows looking neater. But I sewed the second one -- of course, it was the very last thing I did, and I was hurrying by that point -- backwards, so that the outside flap is facing up. Oh well, I figured, nobody would really see it and it would be an opportunity to test my hypothesis about which construction technique wears best. (Spoiler alert: I was right, outer flap facing down is best.)

After I finished the pillow covers, I did something very unusual (at least, for me). I put the remaining peacock fabric in my Goodwill bag rather than back on my shelf. I thought: this fabric has served its purpose in my creative life, I'm going to pass the rest of it on (or something along those lines; I swear it sounded less pretentious in my head). And you know what? I don't regret it.

PS: Since we're on the subject, did I ever go through the Christmas stuff to determine what sparks joy in my Grinchy little heart? Reader, I did. And in the end I didn't manage to let go of all that much. I asked my daughter which things were precious to her, and she selected a lot of items that I would have been ready to pass on. So into the Rubbermaid bins and back up to the attic it all went. And I don't regret that either, because after all, it's not just about what sparks joy for me now, is it?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Because what is a perfect Christmas, anyway?

Okay, that last post was a bit of a decoy, I admit.

The pictures were indeed of our home this season, but we weren't there for the actual holiday -- we spent Christmas this year in Montreal.

I mean, once we realized that the airport code for Montreal is YUL, how could we not?

It was lovely to travel again as a family. Sure, there's still a bit of tension around the fact that my husband and I like to travel and my daughter wants to vacation, but each time we go somewhere we get better at it, and that's a great feeling.

The experience was also an interesting counterpoint to some of the thoughts I explored in my last post. We left a house that was cozily decorated for the holidays and arrived at an AirBnB that was perfectly serviceable, but not home, and not decked out in any way. A fake potted plant served as a Christmas tree.

And yet, look at my daughter's body language in that photo above. She is feeling some Christmas magic for sure.

Similarly, our Christmas Eve dinner: split pea soup, bread and cheese, salad. That's a thoroughly everyday meal in our house, as you've previously seen. (We even resorted to bottled salad dressing, in this case.)

I'm not saying we made no concession to the festive occasion. When in Rome (or Montreal, as the case may be), after all...

But the real gift was in that simple meal above. I get a lot of thrill, when I travel, from just doing everyday things -- odd as it may sound, I love to go grocery shopping in foreign cities. And it occurred to me: What immense good fortune, to be able to travel to a different country and have the means and the knowledge to make a familiar, nutritious meal within 24 hours of landing. That is real privilege, if you ask me. And even though our surroundings didn't really look like Christmas, it certainly felt like Christmas in the end.

Only a couple of presents came with us to be opened the next morning. But my daughter still got the essential experience of whiling away the hours playing with new toys.


And it seemed that overall, a little bit of abundance can go a long way.

Back home in Seattle, I decided that I couldn't let the holiday season end after all without baking Swedish Christmas bread. Good news: the candied citron lurking in the back of the refrigerator, that I'd made last year, was still just fine.

I added a couple of postcards from the Montreal Fine Arts Museum to our holiday mantel, and we put out milk and cookies for Santa on New Year's Eve. (So yes, that note from Santa above turned out to be slightly inaccurate, but once again my daughter rolled with it. At eight-and-a-half, I suspect she equal parts (1) believes, (2) is humoring her parents, and (3) doesn't want to say anything for fear of disrupting the present racket.)

And we rang in 2016 by finally celebrating Christmas, which wasn't a bad thing at all. Look what showed up in the package from my mom: a book I'd never heard of but can't wait to read, and a doll made by my grandmother that I'd been thinking of recently but didn't know the location of.  The doll, in particular, brought tears to my eyes.

Because it's a new year, but I'm still (despite all the hand-wringing about decluttering) the same old sentimental fool, and I like it that way in the end. Happy 2016, all!