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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reasonable Expectations

Tis the season ---- to be jolly, to decorate, to celebrate --- and for too many of us, to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and then to be disappointed when we don't meet them.
I have this vision of the perfectly decorated house -- lights, candles, fresh greenery, red and gold plaid ribbons in perfect bows, gold Christmas ornaments, and a crackling hearth with a fire. It goes with my vision of being perfectly dressed for a variety of holiday events -- plaid silk skirt with the black velvet top, cream wool trousers with the red sweater, -- and with my vision of the perfect holiday party -- carols around the piano by that roaring fire in the hearth, fabulous food and drink, champagne, perhaps, and delightful hors d'ouvres that make everyone's mouth water ---- and, of course, that vision of the cookie baking festival with the twenty-seven varieties of Christmas cookies, perfectly decorated and plated on gorgeous platters, wrapped and bowed for giving and eating. Caroling in the village would be nice too -- with candles and hot cocoa and four part harmony.
Unfortunately --- none of this is reality in my life and, in fact, none of it is all that realistic in my life either. I look around me at the wealthy homes and families and I get lulled into thinking that if these families can do this --- well, so can I. After all, isn't that what riding on the coattails is all about?? Well ---- yes and no.
I took an informal survey this past week of the moms around the place I work. Not the worker moms -- the moms who live in the community and have the wealth, the chic, the style, the class and the elegance. The women I aspire to be like. There were about 14 women I chatted with this past week. All of them have nannies to help with the child care (I didn't have to ask, I deal with the nannies on a regular basis with most of these families). All of them have some kind of cleaning help, ranging from a regular housekeeper to weekly cleaning ladies. Nine of them paid a service to come in and put up the decorations inside and outside the house -- these services string the lights, put up the tree, hand the garlands, and take care of all of the "work" of decorating for Christmas. Since its done by a designer firm, it looks designer elegant and classy. All of them were buying cookies, party food, and even Christmas dinner from area caterers -- none of them were even attempting to do all of that cooking. With the food, the caterers also do the table settings and bring the dishes and flatware, which eliminates the clean-up and dishwashing afterward too. I didn't even ask about shopping. I'm terrified that these women all have some kind of shopping service too. I know that they'll all visit the hairdresser before each party and event and that they'll have their nails done at least once for the holidays.
So, when I look at their "perfect parties" and their "storybook images" this season, I'm not seeing anything that is realistic at all. While riding the coattails of elegance and chic is always my goal -- I need to scale it back a bit at this time of the year. I need to be certain that my goals are achievable given my lack of a housekeeper, nanny, caterer and decorator. I need to decide what are the hallmarks of the chic look and elegant lifestyle that are important to me --- and then I need to let the rest go -- or scale them back alot.
So -- for this year:
--- I'm not doing the cookie thing. I'm just not doing it. I'm not making them. I'm not buying them. I'm not doing it. I can live without it for this year.
--- I've laid out a few holiday outfits for important events. I have the cream and the red and a touch of velvet to see me through the important events. I'll look chic and elegant enough --- there is no silk plaid skirt with the black velvet top --- and there are no matching mother/daughter outfits from Storybook Heirlooms and that's okay. We'll look great anyway.
--- The house looks terrific. We took one full weekend and sweated and struggled and did it. We have a few icicle lights on the porch, candles in the windows, two trees, a candle strewn mantle and some terrific plaid tablecloths. That's about it. And it looks great. Simplicity is elegant.
--- I've wrapped (and am still wrapping) gifts in beautiful paper but I am not doing the fancy ribbons and bows. This is killing me as I have a huge box full of marvelous ribbons and bows that I scooped up on clearance last year. Maybe next year --- but for now, its just not on the high priority list.
---I'm having the fancy party, but the food is going to be buffet only. I'm borrowing from the wonderful Anne Byrn of the Dinner Doctor and the Cake Mix Doctor so that things are easy and tasty. My other mentor and coach this season is the Barefoot Contessa. I'm arranging food more than making it --- thank you Ina. I'll arrange cheeses, fruits and nuts and it will look wonderful and taste even better.
--- as for that carolling fantasy?? Well, we'll just have to wait and see. It might happen. But if it doesn't -- that's okay too. It will still be an absolutely wonderful Christmas

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hair on a Budget

You know expensive, well cared for tresses when you see them. They shine, they have rich, deep color. The hair has a cut that is simple and clean. You can spot the difference at twenty paces. It’s the difference between those who have the time and money to invest in their hair and the rest of us. But it doesn’t have to be. Those of us who ride the coattails of luxury can have those same hallmarks of expensive hair. We just have to work a little bit harder.
Getting shiny, gorgeous hair seems easier when I cut back on shampoo and other products. I find that mousse, gel and creams add body and structure to my hair, but they leave a residue behind. That makes my hair dull and lackluster. When I reduce the use of product, I increase the shine. Granted, that becomes easier when I get a really terrific cut so that it requires less product to control it. Using less product also reduces the need for frequent shampooing. I wet my hair down every morning, but I only shampoo every third day or so. This keeps my hair from getting dried out and dull. I also invested in a real hairbrush, the kind Grandma had. I brush my hair before bed each night. It’s a soothing, relaxing ritual. It also distributes the oils in my hair, so that the hair gleams.
Color is another note point of gorgeous, expensive hair. I want rich looking, deep color. And I don’t want to go to the hairdresser and pay the outrageous charge for coloring. I simply cannot afford it. I choose a color that is slightly lighter than my own natural color. In my case, I chose a reddish shade that matches the natural highlights I had when I was younger. It doesn’t fundamentally change my own color since my natural color is darker. But it does add depth and shading to my color. It adds swing and reflects the light. And… it covers up the gray.
Finally, the most notable mark of rich hair has got to be the cut. The wealthy do not sport the latest trendy cut --- no Jennifers, Farrahs or Dorothy Hamills for them. They wear classic haircuts that suit their faces and lifestyles. So, why do the rest of us fall prey to the trends and fads? We end up with hair that we cannot manage, that does not suit us, and that looks cheap. Good hair should not take hours every morning to turn out. It should not require gallons of goopy product to make it stay put. Those are indicators that the haircut suits the stylist and not the wearer. You do need to pay for a good cut, but it lasts and lasts. It can be “touched up” by the usual SuperCuts, but the fundamental cut needs to be done by someone more expert and more accustomed to meeting demanding clients wishes. Once a good cut is in place, the rest is easy.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Out in the Garden

Somehow, this got posted before I even got a word typed out.
I've been working out in our garden lately. I've noticed that the gardens around homes say alot about the homes and their inhabitants. Most of the luxury homes in our area seem to have extensive gardens with lots of vibrant color in them. Gardeners and landscapers come and go, caring for these exquisite masterpieces. Needless to say, the only gardening staff coming and going from our home is moi. But I do have the gardens looking rather good right now.
I've planned the gardens rather carefully for the past three years. I've got sketches and notes and photos that I've clipped from magazines. Each year, I invest in some perennials for the garden.
I recently found a place in Western Massachusetts called the Perennial Ranch. This gentleman grows plants from seed in on the property there. He then pots them up and sells them as his business. His prices were unbelievably reasonable (right now the plants are on sale for $5 a pot). The plants are hardy and acclimated to conditions in the Northeast. I've had trouble in the past with plants from some of the big retailers because the plants were born and raised in greenhouses in the south and the harsh reality of the Northeast was a complete shock to them. These plants are accustomed to a harsher climate than my yard and they should do just fine for me.
My past purchases have come from nurseries in our area, flea markets, and the big retailers. This is the time of year to really beef up the perennial gardens for next years show. Last year, I bought a full flat of lavender plants at the flea market for a song. This year I have a delight lavender hedge that is growing along the front of the house by the porch. Two years ago, I purchased some pink shrubby roses that one of the big retailers was about ready to throw away. I lost two of them, but the other two are blooming nicely alongside the driveway. Not too shabby for free.
I truly believe that the keys to success in a Coattail Perennial Garden are to have a plan and to be flexible about the plan. I know precisely what I want and need for my garden. That's my plan. But if I find something that blooms the same time of year, is the same general height, and is a bargain --- my plan is flexible enough to accomodate that different plant. Planting without a plan results in disasters. The garden becomes messy and unwieldy. It looks like you just threw in some plants --- because that's what you did. Adhering to closely to the plan and not allowing for flexibility results in a very expensive garden. I'd be crying buckets of tears for every plant that died over a harsh winter if I hadn't taken advantage of such tremendous bargains along the way.
The other garden investment this time of year is seeds. I know, we think of seeds as an early spring thing. But I think that this is the time to buy seeds. Most nurseries and garden centers have marked their seeds way, way down to get rid of them NOW. Those seeds will still be perfectly good in 4-5 months when I'm ready to start my little seedlings indoors. And at that point, the nurseries will be selling new packets of seeds for full price! Our local garden center has seeds marked down 75% right now. That makes a pack of seeds about 15 cents. I have already grabbed my vegetables and my marigolds. I'm going back tomorrow when I can spend the time to sit on the floor and dig through the basket properly. I'm looking for things like cosmos, zinnias, hollyhocks, and the like. I want color that I can cut all summer long. And at this price, I can have all I want. My garden can look luxurious and lush -- even without the gardening service and the high prices.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Summer Travel Observations

I cannot quite believe that it has been over a month since I last wrote here. But the dates do not lie -- nearly six weeks it is.
Summer has been delicious this year. We've made a trip to Nantucket, a trip to Tanglewood, a trip to Chicago, and a trip to Edmonton. A busy, busy time.
Nantucket continues to be beautiful, but outrageously expensive. We spent only a day on the island. By taking the early ferry over and the latest ferry back, we were able to spend a great deal of time on the island without the horrible expense of the overnight stay on the island. Given that we were unable to find a room for under $450, it was a frugal and necessary decision. We tried to jam pack a full day with as much fun as possible. That included breakfast at Children's Beach --- crowded, filled with demanding, spoiled people, but delicious and wonderful nevertheless. Then we spent the morning window shopping along the streets of downtown. Believe it or not, the shop-aholic here did not buy one single thing. But window shopping and wandering in and out of boutiques is always educational. The afternoon was beach time --- sand, sun and lots of sunscreen --- a burn can quickly ruin frugal fun. And we capped off the day with the evening back in town, cocktails on a terrace, dinner at yet another restaurant, and a late dessert at still another. All in all a full sample of the island's best.
While I saw many wealthy women on the island wearing recognizably expensive clothing and jewelry, I was overall unimpressed with the "chic" of the island this trip. Most of the women seemed to have adopted the recent fads for overfull skirts and skimpy tops with ruffles or they had adopted the island trend of very bright colors mixed together. While both of these look excellent in their own way -- they lack the chic that those of us on tight budgets demand. These looks are here today and gone tomorrow --- or gone as soon as one leaves the island culture. A few of the women in town were dressed in all white --- always a chic, cool look in the summer and easy for the cheapchic among us to imitate.
Tanglewood was also a chic disappointment. Don't misunderstand --- the concert was wonderful, the symphony was at its best. Believe the reports you hear that the BSO has improved dramatically under the direction of Conductor James Levine. They are amazingly good -- and the program we heard is a challenging one. But the level of dress on the lawn was very sloppy, very poor. Most of the audience seemed to have come in their yard work clothes. There were a lot of t-shirts and shorts, and an equal number of capris and tanktops, but not alot of chicly, classically dressed women. The few women who were well dressed -- and I don't mean overdressed at all--- stood out sharply in the crowd. These women had on simple monochromatic outfits -- a camel knit tank with camel linen trousers, white knit trousers with a turquoise shrunken polo shirt, a white skirt with a bright yellow blouse, and (my favorite, because I would never have thought of it) soft yellow pants with a brown knit tank top. These were very simple outfits and probably not the most expensive on the lawn that night, but these women looked spectacular in comparison to the hoards of sloppy shorts and tops. I realize the weather was beastly hot, but we can still look civilized for the symphony, can't we???
Both Chicago and Edmonton had their usual supply of chic women walking the streets. I found myself sitting outside with my afternoon iced tea and a small notebook making notes on simple chic combinations of clothing that I could copy from my own wardrobe with very little trouble. Unfortunately, I somehow lost the little notebook during our travels and with it, lost the notes.....

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hot Weather Foods

I love the summer. I love the trips to the beach, the outdoor concerts, the walks along the river after dinner. But I have to admit, I find preparing healthy, tasty meals a little more challenging in the hot weather. Somehow, my crockpot doesn't seem all that enticing in this kind of weather. Gone are the days when a steamy pot of risotto or a corn pudding drew me into the kitchen and drew my family straight to the table.
In this weather we are drawn more to cold foods, salads, soups, and sandwiches, it seems. And without some caution, those can quickly turn into mayonaise-laden, sloppy diet bombs. I've been working hard on making nutritious, cool meals that don't make me look like a greasy, drippy mess and don't pack on the pounds. A few of my current favorites:
--- cucumber and celery salad with feta and mint. I'll confess. I had this earlier this summer at a party and I could not get over how wonderful it was. I've tinkered with the recipie ever so slightly and I love it. I just chop up the ingredients and add a wee bit of vingear (really!! a WEE bit) and its ready to go.
--- Watermelon and mint salad. I'm really appreciating my mint patch this summer. I add something crunchy to this, like water chestnuts or hearts of palm and its ready to go. Just a tiny splash of basalmic vinegar on it. Yum
--- shrimp and tomato salad -- That's it. Just cooked, cold shrimp and cool, ripe tomatoes.
--- Gazpacho -- I'm trying all different recipies right now. I have couple that are quite good, but I'm still looking for the perfect gazpacho. I had it once in southern Spain, on the beach. It remains the icon of gazpacho for me.
---Cold cucumber soup --- this is my food processor favorite. Everything goes into the food processor -- and soup comes out.
--- Strawberry and Yogurt soup. I'll admit it, I purchase this one from a market nearby. It comes in a quart container and is absolutely yummy. We love it with toast for dinner.
--- Seviche -- this is a real treat at our house. We don't have it often because it is a bit expensive. Seviche is essentially seafood bits marinated in lime juice to "cook" them and then served cold.
--- Torellini salad with pesto and peas. I got this idea from one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. Hers is a little more complicated than this (and I don't find her recipies complicated at all) I just cook the torellini ahead of time. Stir in about a half a cup of prepared pesto (Don't use the jarred stuff, its very vinegary. Look for fresh pesto in the produce section. My local market makes a really good version of this. Later, it my basil ever matures in this wet weather, I'll make my own) Add one can of drained LeSeur baby peas. Stir it all together and chill for a few hours. Add shaved parmesan cheese when you serve it. Mmmmmm.
None of these have mayonaise or are dripping with oil. None of these are sloppy and drip down your chin as you eat them. None of these makes you look like a cow (either while you're eating or after!). Summer IS good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Designer Set: I Think Not

This past weekend I received oodles of compliments on our porch and patio. Most of those commenting clearly assumed that I had purchased a "designer set". Obviously, they don't know me all that well. But in reflecting on it, I realized how many places in my life that I do precisely what I did with the porch and patio. I build my own chic, elegant look for far, far less than any designer set would ever be. And it looks terrific.
Last summer I needed cushions for the wicker set on the front porch. At this point, I should clarify that our "wicker set" is not a set at all. The loveseat if mine from my college days (I'm not admitting to how many years ago that was!!). One chair came from a tag sale. The other chair came from a damage sale at an odd lot store. It had a big black smear on it and some chipped paint. The coffee table came from the end of summer super-duper clearance at KMart. We dragged them all together and my husband gave them all a coat of glossy white paint. Voila! -- a wicker set. I shopped hard for the cushions for them. I was absolutely opposed to the lurid florals that seemed to be everywhere. I wanted something very clean looking. I finally found cushions in a striped pattern that I bought in July. Although the stripes are of all different colors, at a glance oranges and greens dominate the pattern. I brought them home and put them on the wicker. Then I began collecting coordinating items as I saw them.
Nothing truly matches, they just all have the stripey look to them in the bold colors that are in the cushions. Everything looks clean and crisp and chic together on the porch and the adjoining patio.
---two striped cachepots from the dollar store. These are now home to two citronella plants and sit on the wicker coffee table.
---a striped melamine tray from the oddlot store
---a set of four orange and yellow striped placemats from HomeGoods on the patio table for dining.
---striped candles in a variety of colors from an oddlot store. If only these were citronella, they would be utterly perfect.
---a striped fabric "box" basket. This moves around alot. Sometimes its on the patio table holding flatware for a meal, sometimes its on the porch with napkins or pens and pencils in it. Its very versatile. This came from the dollar store, I think.
---two lime green throw pillows from Goodwill. These look super on the wicker loveseat and if they don't make it through the summer, I won't be too sad about it.
---bamboo placemats with orange and green striped edging. These are my alternate placemats for outside. They are understated, but still coordinated with the rest of the porch and patio.
--- my latest find is a large ceramic pitcher in the stripey pattern. This will be terrific for lemonade on hot summer afternoons.

I've added some citronella lanterns, an afghan for cool evenings, and my usual assortment of potted plants and the entire thing looks fantastic. I certainly didn't spend a fortune doing it, but apparently everyone seeing it thinks I did. I love it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Education by the Book

I continued my education this week with a newly published book: Nothing to Wear: A Five Step Cure for the Common Closet by Joe Lupo and Jesse Garza. I have a habit of reading these "closet" dream books. After a certain number of them, there really is nothing new under the sun. But I have to say, I LOVED Lupo and Garza's book. First of all, this was somewhat realistic for those of us living the churchmouse-chic lifestyle. Yes, the fashion lists included names like Gucci, and Hermes. But --- it also included the Gap, Talbots, and Ann Taylor. The closet cleaning and organizing section contained clear directions and simply shopping lists. Those shopping lists actually included WalMart, KMart and Target as suggested sources. These men are not advocating the unrealistically expensive cedar hangers (not on my budget, not in this lifetime!). They actually recommend the inexpensive plastic, tubular hangers that I adore from KMart. "All one color, all one style," they recommend. They comment that it gives your closet the look of a chic boutique.
I took another look at mine. I have white, tubular hangers from KMart. Yes, they're all the same and because KMart is affordable and accessible, I can add to my collection at any time. I'll confess, I did it because it looks neat and clean. My closet can be an absolute mess at times, any help I can get in the looking neat department is welcomed. I don't think I'm looking anything like a chic botique right now, but the closet does look pretty good.
The closets in the book are the usual gorgeous built-ins --- white shelving everywhere, custom nooks and cubbies abound. This is not going to happen in my life and my budget. I have the white canvas sweater organizers that hang from the rod as my cubbies. I have a set of white shelving from HomeDepot that my husband and I crawled around on the floor and assembled ourselves one weekend. Its not custom built, but its clean, neat, functional, and organized.
I may not be rich and famous. I may not have the trust-fund to afford stylists and custom closets. But part of living on the coattails is having the frugal version of all of that. I have a lovely closet, not the crammed, disorganized mess that so many of us in the churchmouse category own. I read books like Nothing to Wear, and I take notes. I learn, I grow. I keep an idea file (something they also recommend) so that I know what I want and what I love. I can look for repetitive themes to guide my purchases and keep my look smart and elegant and chic.
I love books like Nothing to Wear. They educate me for a fraction of what hiring a personal stylist would cost me. I went to the Visual-Therapy website. A session with the authors of this book would set me back over $4000 between the up front fee and the shopping fee. Then what would I spend on clothes?? Thank you very much. I'll take my $4000 shopping (okay, I'll take my $400 shopping!) and read the book and take notes instead.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Educating the Eye

It really does pay to "educate your eye". I have spent a long time doing exactly that and this week, I really got a payoff.
Let me explain. If you are like I am, you did not grow up around wealth or elegance. I was not surrounded by class and good taste. I never dreamed of the elegance and luxury I now find myself surrounded by everyday. Designer names meant nothing to me as a young girl. I didn't know and I didn't care. At this point in my life, I am surrounded by wealth, elegance, chic, and luxury. I can afford none of it. And yet, I want and need to "fit in" in my environment. I want to look "right" for this place.
That's where "educating my eye" comes in. By spending time in upscale stores, I can learn what designer fashion looks and feels like. I can learn to spot the classic lines and cuts. I can instinctively reach for the timeless and elegant. This lets me shop at much more budget-friendly stores and still look like the wealthy and chic women who surround me. I have come home from such luxurious places as WalMart, K-Mart, and Dress for Less with luxurious looking fashions. I have found outrageous pieces at Target, Marshalls, and Burlington Coat Factory.
This week, one of the women here commented on a blouse that I had worn recently. She was "jealous" that I had "worn it first". She had just purchased it and hadn't had the opportunity to wear it yet, when she saw me wearing mine. Since mine is a Target special from a year or two ago, I was curious. She had recently been in Nordstroms and had seen "it" and loved it.
So ---- of course, I went to Nordstroms. I found the blouse. Its very similar. Its not exact --- but VERY similar. I could see why she thought they were the same blouse. The biggest difference: the Nordstroms' blouse was $75. You'd better believe I didn't pay that for mine.
Education does pay off.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Trenchcoat Chic

As the weather begins to get warmer, I am the first to shed my coat. I look forward to the freedom of wandering about in just my clothing, without the layers of wool to keep me warm. The past few weeks here have been rather warm, in the 60's. I was the first to abandon my winter coat (and all other forms of coats).
Then I noticed something interesting. The chic women around me were not coatless. In fact, being coatless around them, made me feel a bit frumpy and undone. Something just was not right. I took a closer look. These fabulously dressed women were ALL wearing some kind of a light coat. There were a few hip-length pea coats and a few car-length spring coats, but for the most part I observed trench coats.
I had never thought of trench coats as anything other than utilitarian and plain. But as I watched the sea of black and khaki trench coats around town, I began to revise my opinion. The dark trench coat against the lighter colored clothing we all are wearing now provides a nice contrast. It highlights the cheery spring colors. It outlines the silhouette and gives a nice long, lean line to the body. Belted at the waist, it defines the figure. Open it down the front, it creates a long, narrow slash of color down the center of the body.
This is not your mother's trench coat!! Actually, it is. It is still the same basic trench. But looking at these impossibly smart looking women, I had a new appreciation for the humble trench coat.
I'm rethinking my rush to coatless-ness. I've pulled out my unlined, basic black London Fog. I'm wearing it alot more these days. I don't really need a coat. I'm surely not cold and I don't need protection from the rain or the elements. I just want the chic line and look that the basic, black trench coat provides.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere

Sometimes its the really little things that make all the difference. I re-discovered this again today, thanks to a comment from a friend.
Like so many of us, I attend Weight Watchers to manage my tendency to "spread". I find that I am better about what I eat and drink when I have an external "check" on myself. Weight Watchers does that for me. Like so many Weight Watchers, I am a constant water drinker. I try very hard to get my 8 glasses of water in before I leave work each day.
In order to do that, I keep a tall glass on my desk. I fill it throughout the day with ice cold water from the fridge. This glass is a lovely shaped tumbler that sparkles in the light. When its sitting next to a vase of cut flowers, it looks especially lovely. I enjoy looking at it. I enjoy the feel of it in my hand, the balance and the weight of it. Because I enjoy it, I use it. That means I drink my water.
I also have a recycled Voss water bottle that I use when I'm attending meetings in other parts of the building. I like the bottle too. I like the tall narrow shape. I like the heavy feel of it in my hand.
Today, someone commented on my bottle and my glass. They noticed that it wasn't the plain, colored plastic bottle that everyone else sports. Its just a little bit off. It keeps things interesting. It keeps things "pretty". Sometimes that's all it takes to make the day more pleasant. Most days that's all it takes to keep me drinking my water.

Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patrick's Day

I have to honest, I have never thought of St. Patrick's Day as a particularly chic or fashionable holiday. To the contrary, it has always seemed a bit tacky and silly to me. But I have to admit, I have seen such amazingly fashionable St. Patrick's Day wearing of the green today that I am beginning to change my mind. Likewise, some of the local honoring of the day have been almost elegant (I'm still not ready to call St. Patrick's Day elegant.... sorry).
Some of the more lovely St. Patrick's Day ideas that I've seen today include:
** bagels (regular bagels, not the horrid green bagels) with a lovely parsley and kale garnish beneath them on the tray. These were served with regular cream cheese and butter (again, not the horrid green dyed stuff) and a green veggie cream cheese. This seemed to have cucumbers, peppers and other greenery chopped into it, giving it a slightly green flair while still tasting excellent and not turning the stomach before the first bite with a florescent green dye.
** shamrock shaped cookies sprinkled with a light dusting of green glitter. These looked fabulous at the local coffee shop where they were on special with Irish Coffee (of course!)
** a strolling bagpiper in full kilt and regalia. This was a magnificent display. This extremely talented gentleman played for about 20 minutes. He looked amazing in the full regalia and the bagpipe sounded spectatular. I have to admit, I am not usually a big fan of bagpipes. The little droning noise underneath the actual music is very distracting for me. But, this was fantastic.
** green top hats on the waiters in the local restaurant. They wore their usual uniforms of white shirts and black trousers, but added this little touch of the Irish. It looked smart and befitted the restaurant's image and a spiffy place to lunch.

I also noted quite a number of very fashionably dressed ladies today who managed to wear the green without looking ticky-tacky. some of them looked absolutely amazing!
** One woman I work with wore a green/blue plaid skirt with a green turtleneck and a lucious bulky aran knit sweater in a rich cream color. Wow. I even own all of those pieces. I just didn't think of this.
** one of our clients arrived wearing jeans, a white buttoned shirt (menswear style) and a smashing looking bright green scarf with gold celtic knots on it. She had added green leather loafers. On my budget, that probably isn't going to happen any time soon, but the rest of the outfit was inspiring.
***another client arrived wearing a subdued green suit with a white blouse. This was a suit that you would wear any day of the year and not feel self-conscious about the green. It was that half olive, half khaki kind of a green that sprouted up in the last season or two. She had added some large gold jewelry -- heavy cuff, large chain necklace and celtic knot style earrings.
** another colleague arrived in cream colored pants, a light green ribbed turtleneck, and a cream quilted vest. She looked very "spring".
** similarly I was a woman on the street with cream pants, a green turtleneck and a black vest. She had added black loafers to finish off the look.
** one of the most smashing outfits I observed today was a woman in light colored khakis (the beige kind) with a white buttoned down shirt with green pinstripes and a large silk scarf that was a white background with hundreds of little green shamrocks all over it. This probably isn't the kind of a scarf I'd wear more than once or twice a year so I wouldn't think of it as an investment piece. But it did look amazing as she walked down the street. I was impressed.
So --- maybe St. Patrick's Day can be a classy, elegant holiday after all --- or at least a chic one!!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Comments from the Peanut Gallery

I've been tring to be more aware of the feedback that I receive from those around me. Since this is usually in the form of unsolicited comments from colleagues, clients, etc, I often don't "file it away" in my brain. Recently I've become aware of just how valuable this commentary is to me in my quest to be chic and elegant on a very frugal budget.
I came across a quote (if I knew to whom it should be attributed, I'd gladly give credit) that has stayed with me of late. If you look chic and elegant one day, but not the next (or not every day).... it means that the chic day was an accident. I don't want my chic days to be accidents. I want every day to be terrific looking and feeling. I want that to be my signature style... my image to the world.
The truth of the matter is that, for me, there are good days and bad days. I do not manage the elegant image every day. I'm getting better. I'm moving toward that image. But I'm not there yet.
That was when I realized that the unsolicited comments from those around me were valuable clues as to what was going right and what was going wrong. So, I'm trying to be more aware of those comments. And I'm trying to use the information to aid my quest for a chic, elegant image.
Yesterday was a day that held some of those clues. Truthfully, if you had asked me about how I felt yesterday, I would have responded, "Pretty blah." I need a haircut, but can't get to the stylist for another week and a half. My nails are done, but ready to be re-done. My everyday makeup just didn't look quite right yesterday. I was bone-tired and ready for a nap by 10:00 am. I had put on an outfit based on time pressure and convenience rather than what I really wanted to be wearing. And although I love black, it wasn't the right color for my mood and well-being yesterday.
Then came the comments from my personal peanut gallery... "You look very efficent today" (not sure what to make of that one!) "You look very relaxed today." (certainly not how I felt). "I don't know what it is, but you look great." (I love when I get this comment. It means that it isn't about one particular piece of clothing that is stealing the show. The overall effect of my clothing is exactly what I'm striving for when it generates this kind of a comment.)
Obviously, I was doing something right yesterday. My "plain" black wrap sweater, houndstooth trousers and black loafers were working together for me in a good way. That outfit is now a "keeper" for me. It makes me look good, even when I don't feel particularly good and even when I don't have the time or energy to work at looking good. That was excellent feedback from my peanut gallery!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Proper Attire

I'm going to go on what my children call an "old lady rant". This is one of those times when I definitely show my age.
I attended a funeral this past week. I was brought up to understand that there was such a thing as "proper attire" for such events. In other words, one does not attend a funeral wearing such things as athletic shoes, sweatsuits, or jeans. One also (in my world) does not wear loud colors to a funeral. Accordingly I put on a dark plaid skirt, a dark knit jacket, a turtleneck (it was cold) and a scarf. I wore stockings and a pair of low heeled pumps. My mother would have been proud.
To my astonishment, at least half of the people in attendance at the funeral service were wearing items from the abovementioned list of verboten attire.
Now, I know that as a nation, we went through this with the "flip-flops at the White House" episode last year. I know that in some ways we have beaten a dead horse on the subject of dressing appropriately. But this was a funeral!!
I have long since "given up" on my expecations for attire at the symphony, the opera and the ballet. Those bastions of culture were long ago made casual and informal. I go with no expectations that anyone will "dress up" (other than me, of course). I have also given up on dress expectations for fancy restaurants, church services and business conferences. But I really still thought that weddings and funerals were somehow sacred and still dressy.

Friday, March 03, 2006

How to Tell

I had a very interesting experience the other day. I was in an expensive little shop in this area -- very toni, very chic, very pricey. I noticed that I had received excellent customer service even when I was rather clear that I would not be purchasing anything. (This was research --- if I'm going to ride on the coattails of luxury, I need to know what it looks, feels, smells, sounds like.) A while later, some other women entered the store --- they did not received the same level of excellent service that I had experienced. In fact, the clerk remained attentive to me (the non-buying customer) rather than leave me to attend to them. I found this rather odd. So, being the natural researcher that I am, I asked about it (after the women had left, of course)
What the clerk told me was astounding to me. She said that she (and the others who work there) have learned to identify potential customers -- they invest their time with those people. Customers who do not pass their little identification test, don't warrant as much time investment. That part didn't surprise me -- but I would have assumed that I had "failed" once I made clear my complete lack of intent to purchase. She explained that she was confident that I would be returning and would purchase in the future, so I was a good sales investment. Her further explanation was that you could always tell the women with "real money" and class (ie. buying customers for her) by their hands. Women with class and money take care of their hands. They have manicures, not to create flashy effects, but to groom. These women have groomed nails and skin, pale or clear polish, clean nails, no hangnails etc. She indicated that the women who had recently left the store had long blood-red artificial nails that needed a fill. That clearly indicated to her that these women were "wannabes" and "posers" who were attempting to look glamourous because they really didn't have the money or the style.
I glanced down at my own hands --- I think I have working hands -- I do the dishes, garden, shovel snow and all the rest. These all leave evidence on your hands. The skin is not as soft. There are callouses. My nails are quite short so that I am able to work. I was wearing a coat of a very soft, pale pink polish. And, yes, I do moisturize my hands and keep them clean and groomed. Apparently even working hands pass as wealthy, elegant hands when they're well groomed and not flashy.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Post-Valentines Day

Valentine's Day has come and gone (really gone!) We did it again. We had a terrific, luxe Valentine's Day without breaking the bank. The two dozen beautiful white tulips are just fading now. They looked spectacular on the dining room table. The charming heart bracelet I received for the Day is still clinking away on my wrist as I write this (don't you just love when something is schmaltzy enough for Valentine's Day but still chic enough to wear after the big day is past!)
Dinner was delicious. Grilled sea scallops, roasted fingerling potatoes, and steamed asparagus. Yum. Healthy, fancy, delicious, and nutritious. And easy to clean up to boot!!
For dessert, we used a recipie from 1-2-3 Desserts -- a cookbook I'm loving at the moment. Everything in it has a mere 3 ingredients -- and whips together in no time flat. The first several recipies are very health conscious -- fruit only (okay, I added some shaved chocolate to ours for a special touch). We made 'Napoleons" out of sliced oranges and raspberries --- they looked as good as the photo in the book (unusual in my experience) and tasted delicious. Its actually the photo on the cover of the cookbook -- and probably what tempted me to buy the cookbook in the first place.
In listening to our friends and colleagues at work (who spent W--A--Y more than we did for the evening!) I think we had as nice a time than most and nicer than many --- and we were not lamenting the expense the next day.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Luxury Flowers for Valentine's Day

My husband and I have an arrangement. He does not buy me roses for Valentines Day (they're too expensive and I'm too frugal). He does buy me flower frequently throughout the year. I'd much rather have $100 worth of flower spread out into once-a-month posies than have one sorry dozen roses on Valentine's Day.
But, being the romantic that he is, that doesn't mean that he won't bring me flowers on Valentine's Day. He just won't bring me the traditional roses. And he definitely won't be spending $100 or more doing it.
My flowers for Valentine's Day will likely come from our local grocery story (which, by the way has a terrific floral department). Here's what we've learned (the two of us) about making that inexpensive grocery store bunch look and feel like the lap of luxury. After all, that is what riding on the coattails of luxury and chic is all about.
First, buy ONE kind of flower. There is something about the abundant look of a larger bunch of just one flower that feels richer than a mixed boquet. Choose one gorgeous flower in one color and grab a few bunches of them. Our grocery store sells them at 3 bunches for about $15 (some flowers are even a little bit less) I was eyeballing some really stunning, deep yellow daffodills today while shopping. I noticed my husband was checking out the tulips. Either way, a bunch with just one kind and color of flower always seems to look richer.
Secondly, unwrap the cheesy plastic sleeves from the grocery store. This step only matters on a day like Valentine's Day, where presentation is a big part of the gift. Any time that presentation matters, don't skip this step. Many times, the floral counter right at the store will assist you with this (you'll have to pay for the flowers separately at the floral counter, not through the regular checkout). Re-wrap the flowers in a solid color of tissue paper. If you can choose the tissue, so much the better. I keep a fairly good size pack of tissue paper at home for just this purpose (and a few others!). Select a color on the opposite side of the color wheel --- for my yellow daffodills, a deep blue paper. Wrap the flowers florist style and they'll look smashing -- much better than that awful plastic sleeve.
Finally, at home, arrange them in a simple vase --- again, soli