Monday, August 29, 2011

Last seen at Talbots...

Even as I said, I went to Talbots this weekend, and brought a friend. Applying my own techniques, I studied the website ahead of time and knew what I wanted when I went in. Almost immediately, I met a very helpful salesperson--Olivia--and shared with her what I was looking for and interested in.

The outcome:

Cardigan-coat: bought in gray

Dress: bought in same gray

Dress: Bought in this color burgundy
Plus, I took advantage of my 20% off as a teacher and 15% off for opening a new account.

I spent two hours trying on jackets, tops, trousers, and skirts, but essentially I came away with the best choices for me and what I need. And I saved some money (A lot of money!). This combination will carry me through fall/winter/spring conferences off-campus, as well as teaching and theatre/nighttime performance events. All of it can be accessorized with the shoes, scarves, bags, and jewelry I already have, as well as other pieces from my wardrobe.

And it's not all black! This is huge for me, as black is my go-to color. But this very soft, heathery gray can easily be matched with black (or navy or brown or yellow or pink or....) and the wine dress will easily work with numerous cardigans, jackets, and coats I have.

The dress is gorgeous. The picture here doesn't show it well, in fact, but it is a ponte knit that holds up beautifully while the dress is very feminine and soft in cut. The petite comes to exactly the right length on me. Both dresses surprised me, and I'll need to be aware of the right shaper undergarments, but with that in mind, I was thrilled!

Given that my shape and height are the opposite of these models, this combination is a great choice for me: professional, feminine, polished, and easy. What could be easier than a slip-on dress and cardigan ensemble?

One of the best shopping experiences I've had in a long time.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What to Wear? Some notions

According to the NYTimes, we're headed back to the 70s. Their recent slide show (Thursday's edition) looks even better online, but here's a few of the choice looks I'd like to adapt for me.

Ferragamo--love the coat over the skirt/blouse combo

Jacobs' plummy pantsuit: my favorite!
YSL's le smoking, in white
Ferragamo, again: pinstripes
This is Ralph Lauren pinstripes (ignore the decor stuff)
Michael Kors pantsuit
The chiffon and georgette blouses give me pause, but the sexy menswear adaptations I love. The surprisingly clean lines, pinstripes, charcoal tweed, black-and-white combinations with pops of colors: all great. And don't ask me why the purple velvet pantsuit is my favorite: it is so very not Oscar Wilde in a poet's suit... and yet it makes me think of  this:

And this...


Deneuve with YSL: muse and designer
I think the plum pantsuit has a combination of color, fabric, and line that really does it for me. But the Kors pantsuit makes me wish I had those long legs...

Friday, August 26, 2011

If I were in Paris... Friday, August 26, 2011

I am almost tempted to bypass this post today. This first week of school has been chock-full of drah-ma already. Sigh.

I wish I were in Paris, mes amies!

I never really talk about the 13th, but it is an arrondissement that has blossomed and my connection to the Tolbiac brings me there on a regular basis. I have come to appreciate its quiet nature, in a part of Paris that seems almost suburban, in the sense of lacking tourists (beyond summertime scholars).

Almost three years ago now, exactly, I posted this about Tolbiac and my adventures there.

What I didn't mention then is that Tolbiac, indeed the entire BnF group, put on some of the best exhibitions in the city.

Right now, the Tolbiac has two exhibitions running through September 4, that I think are worth seeing.

"An African Summer Season," which includes maps, drawings, photographs by Europeans about Africa from the Renaissance through the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibitions considers how Europeans saw the continent--literally as a land mass--first, the coasts and later the interior areas. It also considers how "mapping" defines an area through the eyes of those exploring and depicting.

"Paul Jacolet" focuses on the the engravings, watercolors, and drawings of this artist who studied Japanese techniques and, then, married them to an awareness of Western art.

By the way, at the Opera Garnier, the BnF has an exhibition on "Opera's tragic actresses" (through September 25), which I would say is worth seeing (another exhibition I would give my eyeteeth for!). This exhibition focuses on a few of the great 19th to early 20th centuries singers who worked at the Opera Garnier, showing them and their careers through photographs, objects, jewels, costume sketches, and Rare documents, as the site says.

At the Richelieu, there is a show on "The art of illumination in Islam." Again, this promises to be a focused, brief but delightful show that would take a visitor only an hour or so, and then one can settle to lunch or a coffee at a nearby cafe.

But if I stayed in the 13th, I would certainly explore the area near the Tolbiac or take a little bit of a walk. One can get really great Asian food--Vietnamese or Chinese, especially--in this district, which was at one time where new immigrants from those countries settled. Similarly, go see La Butte aux Cailles, a little neighborhood with a lot of good eating possiblities as well as simply charming, narrow streets and interesting buildings.

If you are at the Tolbiac, be sure to walk across the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, a foot/cycle bridge.


Very cool bridge, lovely walk.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Express Closet Experiment, Week 1 & Talbots

This first week of classes, meetings, orientation it has been a blessing to have a clean, edited, organized closet.

I was able to make a list last Sunday of what I wanted to wear each day, and follow it.
  • all clothes were washed and ironed, hung by item and color
  • only the clothes I wear are in the closet and visible
  • accessories were right there: scarves in a basket, folded neatly, and necklaces hanging on hooks inside closet
  • shoes are neatly lined up by the front door, where they come off when I enter the house
  • sunglasses are tucked in purse, also by door, with reading glasses inside carrying case in purse
I also pared down my makeup. I like a "no makeup" look, so I got rid of excess eyeshadows, lipstick colors, blushers, liners, etc., that I had lying around. Now I have less choice but things I love to use. After applying serums, eye and throat cream:
  • concealer under eyes
  • either cream moisturizer and liquid foundation or tinted moisturizer (lighter feeling)
  • pale champagne eye shadow (brightens tired eyes) with brown or blue liner
  • bronzer on cheeks, nose, chin
  • translucent poweder swept over all
  • matte lipstick (color) or gloss (neutral)
  • black mascara
This takes between 5-7 minutes. Since my goal is to look polished and simply brighter and better than naked face, this much is perfect. Pop the lipstick and bronzer in a bag for the purse with a small kabuki brush, and go. I always carry gloss, which is a Sally Hansen product to add just a touch of shine and color, without glop. Best gloss I've ever found: no stickiness and no glop.


I have always make weekly lists of daily wearing choices, but now that I have cleaned everything up, I can find what I want, rotate beyond "regular" choices, and get out, dressed well, more quickly. This week, I am adding the possiblity of changing my purse during the week (thanks to purse organizer!) and adding a couple new pairs of shoes to my rotation as well.

And I stayed cool during the week, outdoors, inside the car, and inside the classroom! More important I felt good as a leader in my division, a teacher with new students, and someone with precious little time this week to fuss about my look.

I have also finally started looking at fall/winter weight clothes (hard to do when it is 107 outside!) and foresee a trip to Talbots in my future. Their merino wool separates look like they would fit my short, curvy shape--not looking like ultra skinny models, of course. But I am looking for a coat-dress ensemble for this year's conferences.

I like this long, shaped cardigan-coat

Tho sleeveless, this dress appeals

I like this better, but only possible in black

I like this skirt shape for me

Again sleeveless, but with above skirt and long cardigan?
I'll have to go in, try on a bunch of things, including pencil skirts, some in petite... there's a Saturday. And the possibility is of course, I'll have all new conference gear in black. I'd rather some color, like the dress color, but might not happen. In any case, these actually answer my needs for polished and comfy conference gear. Add a couple of blouses or soft sweaters, and I am good to go. Shoes, accesories, purses--all stocked up already.

Of course, I can only buy this if they fit, look great, and I'll wear them for another ten years with everything (or nearly) in my closet. Again, the classic style of these and the possiblity of black, dark red (my preference), or gray makes that seem not so difficult.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shopping frugally in a consumer utopia

This being Tuesday, my focus is frugality, but given the onset of the new semester at My U, I want to talk a bit about style and shopping.

In case you weren't aware, the Big D is a consumer utopia, where shopping is a sport. I have never lived anywhere with so many malls, gallerias, strip malls, big box stores, chain stores and high-end luxury chains (if you can call Chanel, Hermes, Jimmie Choo, and Tory Burch "chains"--but aren't they? Chain boutiques?) in such a concentrated area--which the DFW areas is, despite sprawl.

The big boxes and chains have replicated, moreover, until one doesn't have to drive ten miles in order to shop in a major anchor-department store, discount big box, or mall chain. One does have to search out the small and concentrated areas where the high-end chain boutiques live, but they are, basically, within 3-5 miles of each other, clustered in Dallas, in Fort Worth, or in the suburban enclave where the rich hang out.

And the farther from Big D's center/downtown you drive, the bigger the stores: H-U-G-E. Like our churches, in fact. The suburbs apparently cater to tremendous crowds gathered at once, while in town not so much.

This is the culture. It extends not only to clothing and accessory shopping, but to restaurants and gourmet food sites, home decorating sites, and technology. DFW-ites SHOP.

That said, DFW is not a "style" mecca. Shopping is encouraged--nay, required, but style is not. It is more elusive, just like everywhere else.

I used to live in NYC and shop like the best: daily, rigorously, and ruthlessly. Even on a starter salary in book publishing, I shopped... hence, credit card debt but a fabulous array of accesories and shoes I still wear every week. That was the old me, however: the new me wants style without debt.

Here's the first in a series of frugal tips I have learned by living in this shopping utopia, each of which applies, I think, to anyone living in our American consumer culture:
  • Stay out of stores, malls, and gallerias if you don't want to spend money: don't browse, "stop in," or "take a quick look." I always walk out with something, and whether it is a $5 bottle of body lotion or a $300 pair of shoes, it is an impulse buy. I will be sorry. Then what?
  • I don't go to T.J.Maxx or SteinMart or Marshall's anymore. This is a personal decision, sparked by two things: the constant condition of chaos and sloppiness in every outlet, and the fact that every buy I make is an impulse, drawn on what "might" be there when I stop in, not careful thinking about what I actually have and what I can afford, right now. Again, whether it is a $5 or a $300 impulse, it is a waste of my money. And time, later, when I have to donate/sell/trash the item. 
  • I shop catalogs of stores I like, then go in and try on only the pieces I've picked out as possiblities--with the rock-hard knowledge that I probably won't buy anything. I take the catalogs with me and use the salespeople as resources. If they don't have the item in my size or color, which is the closest outlet that does?
  • I go to the mall to look for one specific item. I did this last year for a "white button-up blouse": before I went I wrote down what I wanted from the blouse (basic design details about cut, collar, needs), and which stores I would visit. I blocked out an entire morning (not a weekend one!), parked close to the most likely store, and looked at nothing but white blouses. Tried them all on, went back and bought two from the same chain--one a kind of boyfriend style, one shaped--and was happy that I had spent my money well. Bonus: I now know which stores fit my shape and size best--no need to waste time with the ones really tremendously wrong for me. Cancelled their catalogs, too.
  • Basically, a store is a last resort--once I know what I want to buy, or at least have a very good idea.
  • If you want help, do not go on a weekend between 11 am and 330 pm.
  • If you do not want help, go on a weekend between 11 am and 330 pm.
That's it, for now. Just a starter smaple of some pretty simple ideas about how to avoid debt, impulse buying, and to give an end-run to consumer addiction. We all have to buy things every day, but I find that the more conscious I am about how I buy something, the better.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of the Semester

At My U, today is the first day of fall 2011.

Not a bad first day: met with both writing classes. Beginning playwriting seemed fierce and surprised at how much fn we had. Advanced playwriting seemed truly interested in the challenges ahead.

Of course, I have some nice perks for the advanced writers, which are just starting to emerge...

Tomorrow is the big, lecture-oriented class... so we'll see what happens then.

So far... so good.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Travelling question: suitcases

Martha asks, "Could you please mention what sort of luggage you used, and whether you would recommend it? I'm off for a 12 day trip to London, Paris and Munich in late October, early November, almost all work, but dressy casual work. I need to replace old and heavy luggage. I've been thinking about Eagle Creek Tarmac 28", but am now wondering if a Red Oxx Sky Train would be better, provided I cut down what I take. I'm strong, but am leery of hauling a non-wheeled suitcase from train station to train station. Any thoughts? Thanks!"

I bring three items: a 21" or 24" roller bag, a backpack or full-size tote bag (carry-on), and a purse (pack or carry-on). This will cover me for 5 days to 5 weeks (using the larger suitcase).

I have an inexpensive fabric roller suitcase, 21", with no exterior storage space and an interior-lid net/zip compartment. It also expands 2". This is perfect for travel for 3-10 days, in my opinion. Something like this.

For longer trips, I have a 24" roller, also expandable, with an exterior compartment and an interior-lid compartment. I've used this American Tourister suitcase for anything from 10 days to 6 weeks. It is indestructable.

Personally, I highly recommend a roller suitcase for so many reasons. Europe is filled with hotels & B&Bs without elevators, train stations, bad pavement, busses and subways. I also recommend that you bring nothing more than a 20-24" for 12 days--which will limit your packing--and plan to buy a small suitcase in one of these cities and fill it with souvenirs and memorabilia. Or bring a folding tote in your suitcase. I've done both with great results. Easier and smarter than leaving space in the suitcase you bring: you'll never leave enough space for what you buy. Get the best roller wheels you can buy: meaning smooth and durable. I don't worry about them being all-direction swivel, but simply not cheap.

The fact is that you don't want a heavy, clumsy suitcase and you don't want too many clothes. For instance, you won't need more than one all-weather jacket this time of year. It should be waterproof in case of rain, fold small for your daily carry-bag, and keep out wind.

And on that note: do bring something to use everyday while you are out and about. Like a tote that zips across the top. I sometimes use a backpack, but that doesn't translate well to shopping. A cross-body bag is best, one with zippers and several pockets to stash the wallet, the map, the subway tickets, etc., that won't bother you while you walk.

Thursday's morsels

Yesterday I was out all day at My U doing pre-semester meets/n/greets thinly disguised as faculty seminars.

Our "orientation" period has shrunk from a 2-day retreat and 5 days of student meet/n/greets to 1 day of university/school faculty meets and 90 minutes of student meets/n/greets. Not completely certain this is better...


My spanking new printer came yesterday! The UPS Man is my new BFF, and my vacuum, which was formerly my Favorite Appliance, is now second to the fabulous wireless printer... Hooray!

I sense jealousy, however, when the spanking new laser pointer gets delivered...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tagged by Tish

Tish at A Femme d'Un Certain Age today included my 6.15 post on packing as well as my comment in her lovely blog.

I must admit: packing and thinking about packing has gotten easier since I purged my closet. It took moving and eight months of hemming and hawing, but in May when I came to pack for a 10-day trip that included a conference in Boston, a very casual visit to my family in New York, and a visit to old friends in D.C. with a day of museum-hopping, I had a well-pruned summer wardrobe that could be fitted down for each event. I'll be reliving this process for an upcoming weekend conference in Savannah this September, a four-day trip that will combine giving a paper and mingling with other academics with touring Savannah's historic and gastronomic sites.

I look forward to holding the same kind of purge for my winter-fall wardrobe, but since "fall" begins somewhere around October 20 here in the Big D, there's no rush.

It has made a huge difference not to have excess or--better word!--superfluous clothing in my closet. It also makes a difference to have everything in there ready to go in terms of fit, repairs, and cleanliness. Small, consistent progress and, in some cases, simple attention to detail make it so easy without stealing time and energy from me.

Should I say now that I am returning two pairs of sandals I ordered on-line because once I got them I realized they were both impulsive buys and superfluous? Why not? Pretty but unnecessary additions to my working wardrobe.

What did I add to my summer wardrobe in 2011?
  • a vintage scarf bought on Etsy that depicts Greek tourist spots (turquoise, orange, and white)
  • a brown skirt with white trim from Coldwater Creek, on sale
  • a green skirt, same source, same sale
  • a white Tignanello purse, bought on Ebay
  • an orange canvas/brown leather tote bag, found & free 
That's it. Surprises me to say that, as usually I feel some huge gap that needs to be plugged. Not so this summer, apparently.

Midnight Margaritas

Courtesy of Practical Magic (1998)

Fab-u-lous Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest, as well as Sandy and Nicole.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Frugal Groceries

This long hot summer I have improved my eating habits by focusing on fresh produce. Everyday I start by making myself a smoothie with range juice and fresh berries, drinking 8 oz. of hot water with lemon, and having a half-caff coffee. I often follow up about an hour later with quick oatmeal.

Lunch has become a green salad with organic greens, tomatoes, snap peas, and whatever else I've got: red peppers, green peppers, cukes, celery. I add a sliced hard-boiled egg, 1/2can tuna, or leftover chicken breast strips (again, whatever is lingering in the fridge that is all protein/no carbs). Red wine vinegar and olive oil drizzled on top, salt 'n' peppa.

Dinner is usually a combination of another, smaller green salad, steamed vegetable, and protein, whether eggs, salmon, chicken, beef (in moderate doses), turkey, or pork.

Snacks include fruit, or homemade yogurt, cheese, or dark chocolate.

And no, I haven't completely given up temptation: wine, G&Ts, and regular chocolate drops in to visit quite often.

Benefits: I am waking up every morning with a ridiculous amount of energy, which lasts through the morning. My skin looks great, especially since I am also working to drink 48-72 oz. of water daily--which is a lot. I am usually full, and when I am not it's just about time for a snack, which I have on hand. Easy clean-up and maintenance, too, as dirty dishes are limited and slide right into washer, which gets run about every two-three days, thereby saving water and energy. I am starting to lose weight without a lot of added exercise; more walking, standing, and movement during the school year will increase that, I hope.

Big upside: I eat and drink out less often. Doing my accounts recently, I realized how much money I was spending monthly for meals, coffee, drinks... that savings should be increasingly be apparent.

Downside: This eating plan is definitely costing me more money for groceries, even when I shop sale items, use coupons, and don't overstock. This week I spent $100 for groceries, including vitamins, flowers, and pantry items. If I subtract the long-term bits, that still leaves me with $55 for produce and dairy. That seems high.

First, there are simply fewer coupons for fresh produce. The grocery store where I do the bulk of my weekly shopping has great prices, and shopping specials still leaves lots of variety. I am going to spend more money--for a while--on good fruit and vegetables buys until I understand the weekly amounts necessary.

I could go to the French practice and shop daily or every other day, but given that I am driving to and from the grocery store, rather than stopping somewhere (like a market) directly between office and house... that doesn't appeal. Plus, unlike most French cooks I am working with frozen meat rather than fresh-bought. I'd rather plan a week's menu and see what gets left over... then refine my scale.

Once fall comes, as well, I'll change to use more beans and the heavier root vegetables of fall and winter, like onions, turnips, parsnips, beets, and carrots--all of which (except onions) are loaded with natural sugars, and so need to be limited. More ginger, shallots, peppers with them. More apples and citrus.

Of course, it sensibly strikes me that saving money weekly is perhaps less important than spending a little more and getting a better variety and quality of diet... and avoiding those avocado-bacon-Swiss cheeseburgers I love so much.

Monday, August 15, 2011


This weekend I had two different spirited conversations about some of the physical changes that have overtaken friends and myself because we have gracefully gained wisdom, perspective, and life experience. These are not changes as simple as lines or gray hair--which we knew were coming--this is about the part of aging physically that no one mentions, what I have come to call The Crone Factor.

Yes, "crone" has been a terrible perjorative used since medieval times to designate an old woman, which suggests in more than one definition not just "old" but "withered," "toothless," "cantakerous," and is synonymous with "hag" and "witch," both also transformed into perjorative words.

Some contemporary feminists are trying to redefine the word, give it a positive spin. Not working thus far, frankly, outside that small, hopeful community.

Here's the problem, as I see it. While 50 is the new 40 and all that, mostly we acknowledge that this is so because plastic surgeons and women in the media spotlight have used a combination of exercise, diet, airbrushing, and plastic surgery to make it all seem possible. Or in the case of some women, simply good genetic material.
Dame Mirren says it is all genes...
Make what possible? The denial of physical or outward aging. The suggestion that a woman can/should combine her depth of wisdom, life experience, and increased intellectual scope on producing a youthful exterior to package that aging intellect... to remain sexy, glamourous, and "vital" in a young-looking manner.

Here's what my friends and I--again, in two separate conversations--got talking about: support underwear, facial waxing, brown spots and warts and keratosis pilaris, and the changing quality of our hair (mine has suddenly decided to comes wavy, after four decades, and the few silver hairs are wiry, curly, and strong) and nails (thinner, thicker, ridges???). Decidely not glamourous... but real.

It feels at times as if the only alternative is the peeling, injections, dying, scraping, and sucking out and off the marks life leaves on us.

And then there's this:
I like this picture better: Dame Mirren

Dame Judi Densch

Maggie Smith

Maya Angelou

Meryl Streep: always smiling!

Shirley Chisholm

Isabel Allende
Madeleine Albright
The life in the eyes translates to life in the face, albeit not so pretty-pretty. Mature faces, mature bodies, mature minds. All of them sitting on bodies of work that amaze, delight, and impress.

Now I should tell you that Demi Moore and I are the same age. In my younger days I would have loved to have been able to rock this look so well --

But I am not a fan of her apparently relentless denial of the aging process.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday: Cooking from the Pantry Challenge

I am hip-deep in the Pantry Challenge. I am soooo tired of having a pantry full of stuff I am not using. This month, it is use it or donate it to a food bank.

With that in mind, I finally used up the last of the whole-grain pasta I had. I bought an eggplant last weekend--which emant I had to find something to make. Usually it is ratatouille, but I wanted something new. So I  finally settled on a similar dish (isn't everything sort of like ratatouille with eggplant?): eggplant, tomatoes, capers sauteed together with garlic, pregano, and thyme over rotini... or rive, or chicken strips, or pork tenderloin, I suppose. Easy and delicious.

I also cooked up the two last pieces of skirt steak in my freezer, with frozen/crockpot white onions in butter and bacon. The cholesterol banquet was off-set with broccoli and green salad. Simple sautee'ing in butter and olive oil of pieces 4 oz. or less--satisfies my desire for real beef without being a bacon-avocado-Swiss cheese-burger.... oh, yeah.

Actually, having a fridge full of ready-to-go salad and cut-up vegetables, favorite fruits, and yogurt is a cblessing! Simple dark chocolate, cold water, and cut-up lime and lemon wedges are bonus.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday: If I were in Paris... Friday, August 12, 2011

Since it is a beautiful 77 degrees in Paris I might just go for one of the Paris Walks guided tours. I am not someone who usually does this, but it might be a great way to see parts of the city or elements of the city I usually rush past. And at 12 euros, this is a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.

Every Friday they hold Hemingway's Paris and Village of Montmartre. On Saturdays, they give the Marais Circuit 1 plus two "irregular" tours -- this week, The French Revolution: Palais Royal to Place de la Concorde and The Two Islands. Yum. Tours run everyday and last two hours. Get out and enjoy the Paris sights.

Okay, here is something crazy that I might just go to. L'Art de l'automobile, sponsored by Ralph Lauren, ends on 8.28, at Les Arts Decoratifs, on Rue de Rivoli. Not just sponsored apparnetly this is all stuff drawn from Lauren's personal collection, which is one of the major car collections of the world. 17 of Lauren's cars from 1930 to the present are on display. All European models, of course. Here's the website Lauren made that accompanies the exhibition. Ohhhhhh, the cars! Yes, they are beau-ti-ful.

My question: can I test drive one of them? (And I know which one!)

The same museum has the exhibit, La Publicite Recycle L'Histoire, also closng 8.28, which shows the ways in which posters and films recycle history. Fascinating! And the French do a lot of this, having even mroe history than we do.

Super Friday! And yes, I'd follow or mix that with a lovely lunch in the Tuileries.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Continuing Tuesday's thoughts

Looking back over yesterday's post made me even more aware of what's shaken down this summer for me, simply because I am paying more attention to where the money goes...

Books: I really like having the choice of "reading" a book, an e-book, or an audiobook, since I can suit the action to fit my time and location needs. When I am traveling, for example, e-books are great because I am no longer filling a suitcase with books for the trip. The downside is that most e-books cost too much (take note, publishers!) and readers like me are becoming more and more aware of that. Which sends me straight to the second-hand bookstores for any new titles.
I also like DailyLit, which delivers a chapter a day of whatever book you choose to your email--free!
And I subscribe monthly to Audible, which has great deals for membership.

I do use bookstores, however: this month I am planning two trips, one in September for a conference to Savannah and one in October for a vacation to the Texas Hill Country. I'll go into Barnes and Noble or Borders and browse their travel section for titles, then sit in the cafe and makes notes about B&Bs, historical sites, and wine tours. This will actually be more productive than doing the same online. Then I can call the hotels or B&Bs directly and wangle deals, or schedule a wineries tour or go solo, depending on recommendations.

But I am also conscious of going back through my own books and re-reading them, culling them, enjoying them more.

TV, music, movies: As I said, I use Netflix for this, with a healthy side-helping of Hulu, Crackle, and on-line outlets. I wish I had bought stock in Netflix seven years ago when I joined. Now I use the streaming feature as well as the 3-at-a-time DVDs. I don't watch sports or reality TV, and I get my news on-line, so why would I want cable?
The Guardian: free
The New York Times: I share a subscription with my folks, who read it every day
BBC: free
CNN: free

But I've also become more selective about what I watch--which is the original reason I cancelled my cable. With 50 (or 500+) channels on, something was always "on" that I could watch--or be distracted by. Some of that was, for me, the mental and creative equivalent of clutter: home shopping, reality, TV reruns, movie reruns, cooking shows. It was a huge commitment of my time, and a huge waste of my time simultaneously. Mostly because I was--and am--addicted to TV, or video, or whatever--but the notion of something playing on the tube.

Now I don't watch commercials, I choose what I watch and when, and I have access to things like Sherlock any time I want. Love it! 

As for music, I have an iPod straining at the seams with my CD collection. Once I can transform my records and tapes into CDs or iPod downloads, well.

A Clutter-free House: Since October I have donated, sold, or trashed about 1/3 of what I used to own. This includes clothing and accessories, office supplies and machines, kitchen appliances and goods, furniture, books, DVDs, tapes, CDs, and videos. I still moved too much, and I still have "stuff" to get out of my house.

But by setting a goal of one thing in/one thing out, cutting stored things by half, and asking myself, "Do I need this? and "Do I need this now?" I have stopped a lot of impulse buying that cost me money and space. For example: before my big party in May I almost bought new wine glasses at IKEA. Not expensive ones, but their basic 6-for-$5 deal. But no: a/ I knew I had wine glasses packed somewhere (I was in the middle of moving), b/ it was just a simple party and didn't need to be "perfect" and c/ my friends could drink from plastic and still love me. The party was great (b and c turned out to be true) and yes, I found the damn glasses I had:
  • nine fairly standard red wine glasses, probably from Crate & Barrel
  • four cobalt red wine glasses I think I bought myself to match a tablecloth
  • three flute-like wine glasses (plus one broken one)
  • one differently shaped white wine glass, again probably from C&B
Thank God I didn't buy the IKEA ones! All but the first nine, by the way, are going to Goodwill. And don't get me started on the candlesticks! And the tableclothes and placements! I bought very nice things, but my goodness gracious!

The bottom line is that I am more conscious of my own weaknesses and impulses, and able to curb them. Good for me! The result is a home that is more peaceful, more welcoming, and less stressful. The result is that I can really enjoy the things I have to the fullest. A side result is that I am not wasting money on duplicating things I already have, whatever the justification. Which also makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday and the New Frugality

Okay, we're back on The New Frugality.

This summer, I've been paying extra attention to money coming/going out, because I am finally figuring out my own spending patterns, as well as my general household expenses in this New Apartment. I wasn't teaching this summer (no extra income coming in, in other words) but I did travel twice--once to Boston and once to Utah (income definitely going out!).

I also moved without planning for it, simply because my old situation became untenable. The upside was my wonderful new apartment (and I've been really enjoying it this summer), but the downside was 2.5 months of double rent. While I eventually got my security deposit back from my old landlord (intact), that still meant 1.5 month's of double rent--which was not in my financial plan.

In August, then, where am I?
  • in an apartment with electric costs lower than a year ago, despite the heat and my being on-site (surprise!);
  • with a pantry full of food given me by a friend that I am gradually winnowing down or giving away;
  • with a rejuvenated savings account, because the security deposit went there;
  • with increased credit card balances because that's where the travel monies and "extras" have come from.
Sadly, I have increased my card balances by about $1.5K, given flights, hotels, rental cars, meals on both trips.  This isn't terrible, but I'll be paying for it longer than I wanted to and, if I teach a night class this fall, more of it will end up in these balances than in the savings account, which was not my hope.

Eventually the Boston trip will become a tax deduction (flights, cabs, hotels, meals, and conference registration, at least). And I still have to complete my 2010 tax filing, which should net me a return.

Here's what I've noticed overall, this summer:
  • While I read all the time, I no longer buy "new" books. I buy used books on Amazon, second-hand books here in town, and audio book & e-books on line, getting them either for free or discounts.
  • While I watch TV and movies, I use Netflix and Hulu, and the combined cost is less than monthly cable service (and I am probably going to end my Hulu membership).
  • I no longer buy iTunes anything.
  • I pay full-price for hair care (cut and color) from a very good but reasonable salon, and use monthly membership discount for massage... which is great, by the way.
  • I do my own manicures and pedicures, and I actually find doing them relaxing.
  • Getting more/deeper sleep and drinking more water and green tea have done more for my stress level and skin than any expensive skin care. Now I've got to add regular exercise and vitamins to that!
  • I am eating in, and finding cleaning out my own pantry and gorging on seasonal fruits and vegetables makes me feel better and more energetic and look better than eating out. Little sugar or processed foods, plus cooking, make me happy.
  • I am spending less on green cleaners and making my own, and reducing chemicals all around me.
  • I am finding my old mindset of buying extras or sale items because "what if" is disappearing: now I ask, "Do I already have this or something like this?" and "Do I need this?" and "Do I need this now?"
  • I have cleared out a lot of sentimental clutter, and plan to follow that up with one more big ol' Goodwill donation run this week, before the semester starts. After that, I am done.
  • Goodwill, consignment stores, and second-hand bookstores are where my discards are going; now that I've gotten rid of a lot of my clutter, I am being more mindful about how I might use these sites as barter or repayment sites, rather than simply donating.
  • My apartment is cleaner, clearer, and the clutter has been substantially reduced throughout my household. 
My goal through September: reduce weekly grocery bills. Which means being more about quantity than anything: I buy too much. I'm going to plan menus ahead of time, incorporating sales brochures and the protein/fruit/vegetable mix I've been using with such good results. And finish with my own Pantry Challenge! By October, I want an empty pantry--to match my empty fridge.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Utah, again

My trip to Utah was amazing, just in terms of landscapes.

One day, to Cedar Breaks (previous pictures), one day to Bryce Canyon, and one day to Zion National Park. Unfortunately, we couldn't spend a lot of time in any of them, because my friend was performing most every day at the Utah Shakespeare Festival... and possibly because I am not a big hiker.

But here are some more pictures, from Bryce Canyon (looking down) and Zion (looking up). I cna see why Brigham Young might just have thought he'd found the perfect place to stop.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Indian Paintbrush

Lightning strike tree, tattooed by...

Sunset at Zion--no touch-ups!
We hit both parks close to sunset, especially Zion, where you can take a free bus through the park getting on and off at various stops. I have more pictures of this place, but it was simply nice to look up (and up and up!) and see people hiking on the top of the peaks.

Oh, and then to go eat dinner in the nearby town with friends.