Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Closet Basics: Outfit #2

The other basic outfit I wear a lot is a simple skirt + sweater or blouse + jacket. There are a lot of women who tell me they don't wear skirts any more, or dresses either, but I always have. I like them, perhaps because I'm short and buying trousers that fit me is tough (answer: find a good tailor or learn to hem/fit them yourself!), but skirts are easier.

Shirts can be professional and feminine without being flirty, and no matter your height, weight, age, or shape, there is a skirt shape or length that is good for you.

A few rules for the over-35 crowd:
  • Skip mini-minis. No matter how good your legs, a short skirt on a woman over 35 just looks like a frill on a turkey in a skirt higher than 3" above her knees.
  • Keep the size real: don't wear skin-tight skirts, again no matter how good your figure is.
  • A few"cute" skirts are good, but unless your style is truly Boho Original don't embrace the Forever 21 aesthetic of your teenage daughter. Or granddaughter.
  • Wear some kind of hose or tights, or get a really good, even, "natural" tan if you are Caucasian; I prefer black or dark gray hose or tights in winter, and I try to get a "natural" tan in summer. The way your legs look does matter: believe me.
I like skirts in a few basic shapes.

Pencil skirts. This is a great shape if you're short, because hemmed at just above the knee or mid-knee, it elongates your leg. Idon't like mine over-fussy, so I avoid extra seaming, slits (one in back is fine), or buttons. Just draws attention to places you might not want it, like your hips. And no stuff across the hem creating horizontal lines, if you're curvy.

A-line skirts, above the knee and long. I include gored skirts here. Again, these work for me. I have a mid-calf version that I wear with lace-up boots in a wool that is a very simple A-line shape, and a couple of different colored short A-lines that come in at just about the knee--not as short as this. The weight of the fabric--and there is more of it than in a pencil skirt--means you need a little bit extra length, even if you're short, to balance the proportions. Again, the simpler, the better in my book.

Pleated skirts--where the object is to look neither like Brittney Spears nor escapee from St. Ignatius' girls academy. Or a Pussycat Doll. You KNOW what I mean.

Yes, pleated skirt

No, Pussycat Doll--Yikes!
These are the three shapes I wear consistently.

With them, I can wear any combination of blouse + sweater, blouse + jacket, sweater alone, sweater + jacket... add accesories and go. Shoes/boots, scarves, belts, jewelry.

To be honest, I consider skirts to be just another element of an ensemble, like jeans or trousers. I don't wear suits any more, but I do bank on having separates that can rotate around--among my 20 closet pieces--and earn their way by matching with multiple tops in my closet. Most of my skirts are solid colors (black, gray, navy, chocolate, and red) so that pattern comes from the accessories or blouses. In summer I do break out into patterned skirts more, but still try to keep it leaning toward neutral patterns rather than boho explosions (been there, done that, regretted it).

One of the benefits about skirts for me is wearing boots with them. I find knee-high boots or lace-up boots plus jeans or trousers to be too bulky a look for me and too constricting on a comfort level. But I do wear boots with skirts and dresses, constantly. It gives a nice, long line to my overall look, which as a short, curvy person, I long for. (Hello, Charlize!)
In fact, I am wearing a skirt and blouse today--must run and get ready for class.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Friends to Dinner?

Friday I am having friends to dinner... meaning some of this must get done by then! I am also meeting friends for dinner or going to the theatre each night before that... so time has to be used cleverly and with focus.

Great: challenge for me!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Downstairs & the William Morris Experiment, Week #7

Today is vacuum day -- everywhere in the apartment! -- and clean the floors day... and then I tackle the downstairs closet.

This closet is deceptively large and yet, caboodled right now. I don't need more space, but I need to reconsider how I am using the space, with an eye to decluttering some things currently stored here.
Behind the coats are my suitcases, one cat carrier (for Jack's flights) and boxes I might need again.
The coat rack holds outerwear for all seasons and weathers, my doctoral robe (worn once a year at graduation), and items headed for eBay. Why aren't they currently on eBay, making me money? Yeeesssss....
  • Pictures taken and ready for posting on eBay
  • Reorganized the coats, wrapping one matching scarf over the hanger with it
  • Brought extra hangers upstairs to clothes closet, where I need them
The small shelf belongs to the landlord and used to live outside. Better here, although it is currently storing things I won't use, like two bottles of chlorine bleach. Gotta go.
  • Actually found three different-sized bottles of chlorine bleach, one of non-chlorine bleach, one of chlorine bleach cleaner; tossed the non-chlorine stuff and am contemplating how to didpose of the others without pouring them down the drain
  • Disposed of the cleaners that were barely full or others I never use; threw out several old sponges, too
  • Now I have space here for storing something--but nothing to put there right now
The built-in shelves store all sorts of things. My sewing kit, fabrics, and sewing machine. The downstairs cleaning kit. The other cat carrier. More boxes. Serious weeding out needs to be done here, and reorganizing things.
  • Found small framed picture which I took upstairs to store with the others not hanging up right now
  • Cleared out and refilled materials/bottles in downstairs cleaning caddy
  • Shifted boxes around to create more storage space on these shelves, too--that remains open
Then, I store the microfiber mop (one of my best cleaning purchases, ever!) and broom/dustpan here. It makes the carpet dirty, but I have no broom closet in the kitchen, so they live here. Maybe a nice rubber floor mat?
  • Or the cat's ex-placement, same difference until I get something better

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Duo Boots

This week I took delivery of my new (first) pair of Duo Boots. I had first read about Duo, a British company that makes gorgeous boots that fit women with wide calves (hello!) here: Wardrobe Oxygen.

And the good news? When I checked in (as I do everyonce in a while since I read about Duo), they were having a sale. So I bought the style Panaro at $140 instead of $315, plus $20 shipping fee. So totally cool!

I ordered them a week ago, and they arrived on Thursday. Hello!
They are gorgeous! Fit perfectly in the foot, around the calf, and are just tall enough to fit under my knee. Smooth black leather with a pink interior and a 3inch heel. Ooh la la!

I am in love! (Oh, and my boots look a lot like Nancy's!)

Friday, February 24, 2012

If I were in Paris... Friday, February 24, 2012

The temperatures hover in the 50s and the sky is overcast... it's still officially wintery in Paris.

Les Arts Decoratifs--one of my favorite museums, for obvious reasons, is holding an exhibit on Jean-Pul Goude, called "Goudelamion." I don't know Goude, but any exhibition that includes images, television, film, photography, and pop culture (to put it crudely) sounds promising. Goude is apparently a stylemaker, a stylist of images in advertising, music, and culture. Cool, man. The exhibition inclues material from 40 years of his work (check out the Diaporama).

The same museum just opened an exhibition on "Trompe-l'oeil" which I would definitely find fascinating. "Trompe-l'oeil" refers to images or illusions meant to fool the eye in one way or another: to create a 3-D image in a 2-D space, for example. I love it from the Baroque, especially, when the art of illusion was meant to fool the eye and please the mind, in paintings, murals, architecture, etc. The Diaporama shows the pieces of the exhibition, plus a little about them.

Trompe-l'oeil in action

After that, stroll up the Avenue de l'Opera to the Opera Garnier and see their exhibit on Massenet, the great 19th-century composer. 2012 is the centennial of his death, and through mid-May, the exhibit celebrates the composer's life and work, which were extremely popular in Belle Epoque France.

Then, because you should, go across to the Galeries Lafayette and have a light snack or lunch in their cafe, overlooking the rear of the Opera Garnier (I know I've mentioned this eatery before!). The food is relatively inexpensive, the food is well-cooked and the choice is staggering (even for fussy teens), and the view is breathtaking. Go upstairs to the outside viewing deck before you eat and photograph the city--then come back downstairs and relax for a little bit. I eat here consistently because of the food, the prices, the view, and--afterwards--the chance to buy souvenirs in the G-L couveinir stores. They sell Kumi tea, excellent t-shirts, jewelry, and all sorts of trinkets for friends, family, and loved ones who don't need the regular souvenir fare, but something that won't break the bank, is fun, and discreetly screams "Paris." I've bought myself and others inexpensive charm bracelets with the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and other little silvery charms; the bracelets are cute and classy but obviously not Tiffany's. Perfect!

Over the weekend, there is something that might be quite delightful. On Sunday, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees is performing Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette, a "dramatic symphony" with 3 actors singing the roles of the play to Berlioz's composition. With the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the Schuola Cantorum of Oxford.

No Spending Thursday: Accomplished!

Yesterday, I had a successful "no spend Thursday": carried my own water and coffee, brought snacks with me to my two lectures, resisted stopping anywhere on the way back home. Good start!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No Spending Day of the Week: Thursday

I decided to have a "no spending" day of the week. The hardest decision: which one it would be.
  • Monday: I am always tempted by the start of the week, and usually have something forgotten from the grocery shopping of Sunday.
  • Tuesday: My weekly "dinner out" ritual, that I want to return to
  • Wednesday: Coffee cart?
  • Thursday: Coffee cart?
  • Friday: Coffee cart?
  • Saturday: Coffee in the a.m. with friends, errands
  • Sunday: Breakfast out, groceries and household necessaries.
Yeah, so why Thursday?

Better question for me: why not? I became conscious a few years ago that I was consistently buying myself "something pretty" on Mondays, on my way home. Like a bottle of wine, ice cream, shampoo, whatever -- anything to "treat" myself.

Little drips...

Bad practice. It is, after all, the little drips and drops of cashflow that really undo us. I know I won't drop $150 in one afternoon... but over 2 semesters... I will drop that much JUST on coffee. Or a muffin. Or lip balm. Or a magazine. Or... see what I mean? And that's $150 on top of groceries, rent, bills, gas, necessary expenses, entertainment, etc. That is just the frosting on the cupcake: not quite essential, but filled with calories, nonetheless.

...become huge sinking drains of cash

In essence, I need to resist impulsive/thoughtless shopping. I need to resist the coffee cart, period. The money goes directly to the athletic program, which I protest, since the cart is in the arts school and we have 1/10 the budget of the sports programs, so boo! hiss! Also, that's $2/cup... which is ridiculous on an $8/week basis. (The personal is political!)
But Thursday is the day my "working" day out doesn't start until 3:30--certainly time enough to drink and brew enough coffee at home that I can be done with it or bring a thermos for my 80-minute class. Y'think? Thursday I am usually in a good mood, feel I have accomplished a lot by the end of day, and rarely feel the need to reward myself with a "pretty, shiny" to boost my spirits. Or I'll have to be conscious not to schedule a haircut or doctor's apppointment on Thursday, thereby giving me a free day from appointments, as well (double bonus!)
Setting Thursday as "The Day" means I'll be conscious about it, too, and after succeeding with one day, I can move on to a second day. Like a "no spending" Monday.

So, for 2012 Thursday becomes "No Spend Thursday." Let's see how it goes.

The Universe, Frugality, and Me

This week:
  • I got the payments from selling my Senseo coffeemaker and my Nook First Touch in my checking account
  • I found the shampoo I love on sale in the large bottles, for 50% off (only worry: are they discontinuing this choice? Well, if they do, I have 5 LARGE bottles, about 2.5 years' worth of shampoo before I have to panic)
  • I confirmed two student-based projects, one allowing young African-American actors to perform the work of an African playwright who will be on campus for a literary festival (they'll do brief readings from her two plays for the festival and for her!), and a second for my young writers to get their "Joan of Arc" plays up and in front of a group
  • I'm giving two guest lectures for a colleague in screenwriting
  • I'll have a surprise guest lecturer at my own class for playwrights on Friday
  • and, although I'll be sorry later (think May!) the warm, sunny weather now is a delight

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sorry to interrupt, but...


Yes, mostly I love working in an arts school. Today, however, when there is a clarinet concert in our atrium right below my office window while I am meeting with students about their work... not so much. The clarinet is a fine instrument (I played one throughout elementary and junior high), but there is a limit to the brilliant music composed for it.

A finite limit reached quickly.

Closet Basics: Outfit #1

After complaining about my lack of "closet magic," I decided to get down to it, inspired by this post of Une femme d'un certain age.

The reality is, I do have basics, my "go to" pieces, that create three kinds of outfits.
Most popular: Pants/Jeans + Blouse + Sweater

I wear this at least twice weekly, sometimes three times. Comfortable, easy, and professional -- in my world. The basic part is the jeans or trousers.

Jeans. I prefer a slightly casual cut, with straight legs. I also prefer a dark wash/blue or a black jean, but the combination is hard to find. I am so petite and round that I usually have to take whatever to the tailor for adjustment. Right now, I am wearing Lee Jeans: they work for my female figure without having an overabundance of stretch (which annoys me) and wear well. They also don't come all tricked out with fancy pocket sequins or fading.

Trousers. I found a particular style a few years ago at Chadwick's that suits me; it is a slightly flared leg, sits slightly below the waist, with no front pleats, and an easy fabric. I currently have two pairs in black and just bought a third--I am terrified they will discontinue them! I also have a black pair chalk-striped with red and white, faint but stylish.

All my blouses, cotton or silk, are simple button-front collared blouses. Not a lot of variety in style, but in collor I range from white and pale blue, to wine and navy with white polka dots. I try to stay away from the jeans/cotton blouse combination for teaching, because it is too casual.

In terms of sweaters, I think of them mostly as an accessory/finishing touch. For the past couple of years I've been adding cashmere to my pile, which I see as an investment. Most often, Big D doesn't get cold enough for full-out winter clothing, but cashmere adds a nice layer. My go-tos here include:

The soft boyfriend cardigan. Cadet blue. This comes over the hips and functions as a jacket-sweater.

The V-neck sweater. Worn over a nice, peeping t-shirt, not a blouse. Black, soft brown, charcoal, light gray.

The turtleneck. Black (of course!) and looking for a nice cream soon. I have a very good multi-colored one, mostly green that I wear occasionally; it's about a 1,000 years old, but still looks good.

The coat sweater, more than a cardigan. Currently, gray and black in my closet. These are abit heavier than the boyfriend cardigan, a bit more structured and formal in appearance.

All, easy to layer, depending on the temperatures outside. Because these pieces offer neutral color and line, sometimes texture, I leave the prints and bright colors to my scarves and jewelry. I can get a good, solid line of color neck to toe, thereby offering a slimmer, longer line, while still adding variety.

Mostly, I wear heeled ankle boots with the pants. Something like this, in either brown or black.

With a scarf, earrings, pin, and bracelet, I'm good to go. Comfortable, professional, and not too conservative for my casual workplace.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Flowers around the house and other "French" touches

When I returned from my first research leave in Paris, I realized one of the habits I had picked up was that of buying flowers for my house, weekly. Cut flowers are a luxury that needs to be treated as a weekly habit.

I love having flowers in the house.

Most often, I buy star lilies or carnations: they last. Sadly, roses and tulips do not, usually, last even a week. Daffodils are also good, but so very seasonal. Paperwhites are seasonal, too, but so stylish and bright in a winter house.

I like color and scent in cut flowers: star lilies are good for both. A delightfully spicy scent and the prettiest shape and colors.

Other "touches" that make a rented apartment home:
  • candles, which offer bright light and scent; my favorite is jasmine
  • incense: my favorite is cedarwood, which gives a fresh, clean scent to my apartment
  • photographs: color and b&w photos of family, friends, and ancestors in striking frames, not matching ones
  • artwork: postcards, original prints, commemorative plates, and posters, again in striking frames
  • pillows: from all sorts of French and English tourist sites, most in medieval styles
  • tablecloths and matching cloth napkins: bought in Parisian markets, Amsterdam markets, and antique stores (1930s and 1940s prints)
  • trays: especially tole trays

The point is to add shape, color, texture, and detail that reflect your taste and style. My taste is eomwhere between minimal and Victorian (closer to minimal!). In the end, it also connects to the William Morris quote: the touches are just as important to making your house beautiful and practical -- in combination.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

William Morris Experiment and the Living Room

This week, I am finally moving away from the dining room (although it is not yet completed) and move to the living room and its coat closet.

Goals for this week:
  • a good clean and dust!
  • getting the rattan chair and footstool off to a good home
  • giving the bookshelves, CDs. DVDs, and tapes a final once-over before selling the castoffs
  • putting the dress and coat hanging in the closet on eBay
Future projects include:
  • re-organizing the closet's shelves
  • re-organzing the closet
  • emptying a bowl o' receipts/old tax sheets
  • finding a new storage method for the extra tapestry pillows (I have so many I love, that they don't completely fit on the chairs and sofa)
  • getting rid fo the cardboard boxes, bulletin boards, and posters lingering by the stairs
At the end of this two-week pick-up I should have a run for the bookstore, a run for Goodwill (one of the last!), and given away some furniture and electronics.

Of all the rooms in the house, the living room is the one in least problem of clutter, perhaps because I use it most often--like the bedroom. Thus, I should be able to fold in the continued work on the dining room with this new focus.

Friday, February 17, 2012

If I were in Paris... Friday, February 17, 2012

Okay, it is still COLD! So warm things indoors would be good.

There are two exhibitions that interest me in Paris right now, one at the Musee Carnavalet, "The People of Paris in the 19th Century," and one on sport in the 20th century, espeically the impact of the Berlin Games at the Memorial de la Shoah. These are not too far from oneanother, and a brisk walk -- perhaps with a short stop for some coffee or hot chocolate! -- would be best.

The Musee Carnavalet, as I have said before, is an endlessly fascinating museum about "regular life" in Paris. Their permanent exhibits are well curated, and their special exhibitions always shed light on some wonderful aspect of Parisian life. Their bookstore, too, has a really excellent variety of books plus good children's materials.

This particular exhibition, running through 2.26, focuses on Honore Daumier, the great satiritc cartoonist of the 19th century.  The cost is 7 euros, full price. I saw a wonderful exhibit like this up in Saint-Denis, in 2008. Daumier continues to run as a bright thread through any discussion of 19th-century life and culture in Paris.

The exhibition on sport actually focuses on the Berlin Games of 1936 and the London Games of 1948 -- the bookends, as it were, of World War II. This exhibition closes in March, but would be worth visiting now.

B.H.V. dome... so French!

 In that particular area -- the 3rd and 4th arrondissements -- this would also be a great time to visit the B.H.V. Rivoli (Boutique de l'Hotel de Ville). This is absolutely my favorite of the grands magasins in Paris, in part because no matter what I am looking for... I can find it there. The lower level features hardware, including things like phone jacks or extension cords. Or... doorknobs or drawer handles for your bath or kitchen, a la Louis XIV. Why not? One floor is full of notebooks, paper goods, pens and craft supplies. You can buy calendars, sketch books, art books, etc. Again, why not?  The first floor has boutiques from some of the same elite outlets as Galeries Lafayettes and Printemps, but it is never as crowded. I have bought all my Longchamps bags here, because I get great service... no matter how many times I come stalking in, eyeballing the bags.

B.H.V. provides all kinds of services, and simply a delightful stroll through an average Parisian department store (which Bon Marche is not... and delightful for that reason!).

And if you want a quick meal or a glass of wine to warm you up...
  • Page 35, 4 rue du Parc Royal -- around the corner from Musee Carnavalet; solid and unpretentious 
  • Cafe des Musees, 49 rue de Turenne, kind of adventurous plac
  • Le Petit Marche, 9 rue de Bearn (eat or drink)
  • Le Potager du Marais, 22 rue Rambuteau -- vegetarian.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Speaking of the "Magic Closet"...

Today I realized at 3:02 that a/ it was 3:02 and b/ I was not ready to leave the house for my 3:30 class.

To be precise, I was in flannel pants and a t-shirt, finishing the prep on my lecture.

But because I had set out my clothes last night, I was in them, out of the house, and in class on time.

I even had mascara and red lipstick in place!

What did I wear?
  • a long black a-line skirt
  • a multi-color turtleneck sweater (mostly green)
  • a skinny black belt at the waist, over the sweater, which was over the skirt waistband
  • black knee-hi socks
  • black flat-soled motorcycle-style boots
  • two moonstone-and-silver rings
  • red silk oblong scarf, draped but not tied around neck
  • caramel suede jacket
Felt good, looked pulled together, and made it to class with nearly 10 minutes to spare! (That's right: I dressed in 7 minutes, got out of the house in 2, drove to class in 8, parked and bought a coffee in 3, and... class!)

Lesson learned.

Frugality for this week

This week, I did all right.
  • Spent only $25/$40 grocery budget (rest went into "housekeeping $$)
  • Picked up free Starbuck's coffee for my birthday (with postcard)
  • Sold Senseo coffeemaker for 2X what I paid for it (not a lot!)
  • Sold Nook for $25 over what I paid for both Nooks!
  • Made quinoa salad and chicken breasts from pantry/freezer items: no purchase!

Ridiculous things I'll never do again:
  • Go to new dry cleaner in neighborhood: over $15 for 2 items!
  • Walk out of house without wallet

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Express Checkout Experiment and Desire

Let's face it, my hope is that I will walk into my closet and a fabulous, flattering outfit will appear. Every day. Like magic...


Unfortunately, that doesn't happen.

Don't get me wrong: I am happier than a year ago, now that I've reduced my wardrobe to 20 workable pieces and rediscovered the power of my many accessories and shoes... but "fabulosity" is still out of sight on an everyday basis.

First, when a week has me stressed -- like this one -- I either forget to prepare tomorrow's outfit the night before or discover a key element is missing... like the dress I forgot to pick up from the dry cleaner, which was the basis of the day's outfit. Oops. Or little things like ironing my cotton shirts is pushed aside too many times to eliminate the wrinkles.

Second, the weather becomes unpredictable and the need for incresing or decreasing layers becomes paramount. The question of which coat/scarf/gloves adds another series of choices... too many for the rushed morning yesterday...

Where I left my wallet and campus i.d. home and couldn't get into the parking lot. Or buy lunch.

Third, summed up by two words: body issues. Yes, I want clothing that magically makes me look like Charlize Theron when I put it on. Long-legged, tall, curvy yet slim.


But in my fantasy brain where mermaids ride unicorns and pixies are best friends with dragons and I am married to Johnny Depp or Tom Brady, these things COULD happen. And at 7:30 am in the morning, my fantasy brain is in four-wheel drive mode.

Diversion: when I was in my 20s I had a friend who lost about 70 lbs. She'd been heavy all her life, and now she wasn't: certainly, things were going to happen differently, right? (Like marrying Johhny Depp or Tom Brady! Like a fabulous job offer out of the blue! Like people taking her seriously!) Wrong! She did radically change her physical appearance and her health by losing all that weight, but she didn't change the inner person, who still thought of herself as unattractive and uninteresting. After the first weeks of everyone commenting on the change and flattering her, life went on: more or less unchanged. No Depp, no new job, no long-term attitude shift from others. In turn, she fell back into comfortable, bad habits and regained 30 pounds, she went back to her old (now baggy) clothing, she stopped trying new things.

The point of my story is this: just because I focused my wardrobe, just because I am paying attention to scarves and shoes and jewelry again, doesn't mean my clothing is going to solve my other, non-wardrobe problems. Doesn't mean that I will end up married to Johnny Depp or Tom Brady (neither of whom I know personally, by the way, just in case you're thinking of starting a rumor), or having a radiant love affair with anyone else, either.  Or make up for a late start in the morning, or being stressed, or just not planning. Those days, I am going to end up in boots, jeans, and a turtleneck from Old Navy. With my everyday rings and earrings, and nothing else. My wardrobe is important to me, but it is an external thing that is meant to enhance the total "me," not substitute for it.

If I want my clothes to make me "feel" like Charlize Theron, I need to exercise more and move my figure somewhat closer to hers (without the long legs). If I want to have my clothes make me feel more "fabulous" every day, I need to get rid of anything that doesn't, attend to those pieces that do, pick up my dry cleaning, iron the shirts, and define "fabulous" for me, not Charlize.

And by the way, there's nothing wrong with wearing jeans, boots, and an Old Navy turtleneck occasionally... thank goodness I work in a place where I can dress like that sometimes, but not everyday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is it wrong to admire good-looking men?

And by "wrong" I mean sexist, belittling, demeaning, or in poor taste?

In one of my classes, the students and I discussed the notion of how the patriarchal structure of American culture informs film, theatre, and other media with ideas about gender: masculinity and femininity. We read and discussed Mulvey's key article, "Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema," and the notion of how things have changed since 1975 emerged.

Like women now go to the movies to look at men as objects. Or, as one of my students put it, in the new Batman films, Batman has a six-pack. That's for me, right? If he's an action hero, why does his rubber suit need a six-pack?

I had to concede. Yes, in the time since 1975, women have gained increased economic power, and one sign of that in cinema is the increased importance of the looks/appearance of the hero, especially in terms of body fitness. Making him an object of desire... like heroines-actresses still are. We spend our money to see Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, and other hunks parade their abs, delts, pecs, and backsides.

Is this progress?

Yes, and no.

Yes: film studios, producers, directors, screenwriters, and audiences have conceded that a hero doesn't need simply to be smart, funny, confident, powerful, in control, and in control -- he also needs ripply muscles. Or women won't pay to play. Maybe.

No: the flow doesn't go the other way. Just because Hugh Jackman has to take off his shirt, doesn't mean that Halle Berry gets to keep hers on and become an unattractive but incredibly smart computer whiz who saves his poor little -- uh -- gorgeously shaped butt. She's still the girlfriend or wife or best friend or second banana. Men take off their shirts and still win/lead because they're smarter, stronger, quicker, gutsier, techier, feistier, and see the Big Picture better than the little lady.

For example. The recent H&M underwear commercial featuring David Beckham, world-class soccer player, husband to Victoria, dad, and benefactor to many soccer-playing kids. Shown for the first time during the Super Bowl... because media folks knew that the mainstream audience for the Super Bowl (imagined as predominantly straight men) would want to ogle and objectify Beckham?

Uh, no.

The ad was, rather obviously, eye candy for the female viewers and gay male viewers (that teeny-tiny %age of the imagined audience) who needed something pretty to look at... a reward, if you will, for participating in this ultimate celebration of straight masculinity (Grunt!).

Gorgeous man as object, right? Get your DVRs a-going, ladies!

But (and here's the catch) in the second shot, Beckham's eyes look directly at the camera. He acknowledges us -- the spectators -- and poses for us, showing off, flexing like an athlete. The soundtrack, rather stridently, is The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." His wedding ring is prominantly featured, as are his tattoos. What is Beckham worried we might "misunderstand"?

Like a good burlesque dancer, he shows a lot without revealing anything significant. He teases, he hides, the camera swirls away from "dangerous" ground. The tattoos, ring, and facial expressions are like a mask -- we focus on those and not the naked skin, the primary and secondary sex characteristics hidden or revaled by pristine white cotton underwear... which seems ridiculously puritanical, by contrast.

Really? David Beckham wears tightie-whities?

And behind the H&M trademark he smiles at us, not sexually, not kindly, but as if we're sharing a joke. The joke of his display, I guess. How differently would we read this video if "The Stripper" or "Whatever Lola Wants" played in the background? If Beckham never looked at us, if we were able to be voyeurs, instead of participants dictated to by the editing of Beckham and the camera? If he lay still on a sofa, let's say, like Manet's Olympia or Titian's Venus and we could look our fill... with or without his permission.

Okay, but this strikes me as... uh... somewhat aggressive. Am I wrong? I don't see the "reclining" part.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

W.M.E. and the Dining Room!

Slowly, this is working out.

Yesterday, I filtered through the two remaining bins with papers that should be in the study: amazing how many things I could toss!

Things I need to find storage for:
  • pictures rails I am not hanging right now
  • an oval mirror inherited from my aunt
  • a framed picture my sister made me, that I am not hanging right now
  • the stereo+tapedeck+speakers

Things I need to sell, donate, or throw away:
  • a brass chandelier
  • old panniers for the bike (planning to use them for a pattern, maybe?)
  • old tax receipts
  • an enamel lobster pot with lid (inherited)
  • an IKEA bathroom shelf unit
  • an electric standing fan
  • another, standing fan
Even as I write this, I know Goodwill will see the fans, the shelf unit, and the chandelier. The tax receipts will get shredded, and the lobster pot will be used somewhere, probably for a plant.

Once the dining room is decluttered, I don't really know what I'll do with it. Invite people over for dinner? What a notion!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cooking and the Pantry Frugal

Now that I have cleaned out my pantry and organized it so pretty, I am firmly committed to using it well. To that end, this week I ate salad twice daily (using the celery, peppers, and green oinions I chopped last weekend, as well as the greens mix and romaine hearts I have stocked up.

I also cooked one of my favorite quick/frugal meals: Chicken breasts with goat cheese, capers, and roasted red peppers. So simple!

1. thaw 2-4 boneless chicken breasts (depending on # of guests)
2. pound them flat (fun time!)
3. using approximately 1-2 oz. of goat cheese* per chicken breast (more if the breast is big, less if it is small), spread the goat cheese across the center width of the breast.
4. lay 3-4 slices of roasted red pepper on top of the cheese, lengthwise
5. roll up the breast and stick closed with toothpicks
6. set in Pyrex or earthenware rectangular dish sprayed with olive oil cooking spray
7. sprinkle 1 Tbsp. of capers, 1 tsp. each of basil, oregano, and thyme across breasts; grind black pepper to taste on top
8. pour 1/4-1/2 cup dry white wine (or chicken broth) over breasts and cover with aluminum
9. put in over and cook 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees; remove from oven, remove foil, and let cool slightly. Serve with vegetable, salad, and a spoonful of sauce poured over top.


*Use any kind of cheese: I like goat cheese because the soft texture works well with the red peppers, but you can use slices of any kind of Swiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack (excellent!). Just don't use too much cheese in a single breast roll-up, because it raises the fat content immediately.

With nothing more than a jar of roasted red peppers, capers, and some cheese, you're good to go with a protein-rich, low-fat meal. If the breasts are big enough, you can actually cut them in half and find that a filling choice with side dishes.

I am also making a quinoa and black bean salad, found on Epicurious (originally from Gourmet) because, hey, I have 1.5 pints of quinoa and a jr of dried back beans... pick up some coriander and I'm good to go.

I also have a few older apples that need to be used rather than thrown out. I'm thinking applesauce or an apple cake. We'll see what happens this afternoon between me and my slow cooker.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Week 5, W.M.E.

This week was revelatory!

1. I sold the Senseo coffeemaker I bought only a short time ago on Amazon, including 2 bags of coffee pods. I am truly relying on my IKEA espresso pot and my remaining Senseo coffeemaker (a gift from a friend who moved out of town).
2. I bought a new Nook Touch and am selling the old Nook on Amazon, complete with case, USB cord, and 15 e-books (mostly romances).
3. With the last batch of clothes, kitchen goods, and "stuff" gone to Goodwill, it feels truly like the "last" batch... for a while. Everything that's left is an eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon sale.

This is HUGE. While there is definitely decluttering and shifting to be done, the notion that all the excess books, all the excess clothing, all the excess kitchenware, all the excess office goods, all the excess furniture is gone is... breathtaking.
It only took from October 2010 to now: 17 months.

And yes, I still am hanging on to things I should purge... but now that about 10% of my household rather than 40%. Huge difference.

Now it truly is about decluttering, shifting, relocating. And... the dining room saga continues.
This weekend, I intend to attack the remaining 2 bins of paper, the break cradle full of "stuff", the shopping bag full of paper (mostly for shredding, I sense), and the stereo issue. Decisions must be made, papers sorted/shredded/filed, and things tossed. I am ready to be done (D.O.N.E.) with the dining room, so I can move on to the living room and the endless series of bookshelves, CDs, DVDs, and tapes.

If I were in Paris... Friday, February 10, 2012

Damn! It's cold but clear in Paris... great indoor weather? La Boheme kind of weather.
I would certainly phone the ticket office of The Last Baguette Theatre Company to reserve tickets for SHAKE!!!! WILLIAM SPEARE, a new bilingual play presented in French and English, a love story about Shakespeare? I don't know, but the temptation to see what an Oxford professor presents to the French about Shakespeare in the form of a love story... can't ignore it.
There's not a lot going on now, except the everyday life of the city. Tourists are thin on the ground.

Today would be a good day to stay home and read, or cook after a trip to the market for fresh vegetables for soup. A good hearty, winter soup. A beefy soup!

It would also be a great day to be at the Tolbiac--not outside on the windy deck, but inside, hunkered down over 19th-century books, reading and imagining that life.

This is the kind of day to sit inside a cafe and eat a butter-and-sugar crepe, or a chicken crepe, something thick and warm and buttery with flavor. And calories, because you're shivering them off.

This actually reminds me of a week I was in Paris as a poor grad student, when I was staying at a very, very cheap hotel. On the top floor. So cheap I had to go outside, down a flight of stairs, and outside again to use the w.c. Or the shower. I could hang cheese, milk, and fruit outside my room from the window in a string bag to keep them chilly, and I had a narrow iron bedstead. Nights got dark at 4 pm. I ate crepes in a little cafe down the street because they were cheap and filling and hot. The German couple in the next room fought in German all night. I was in heaven.

It all sounds very La Boheme and romantic, which is more so because I wasn't freezing my little hands off in my attic room. Alas, I had no Rodolfo, but I also didn't die from t.b. ("cough cough").

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Financial triumph!

Last week I got a very polite email from My U letting me know that they were ready with a monthly payback plan for my built-up costs... huh? I contacted the bursar's office and let them know (politely) that I wasn't a student, hadn't gotten any parking tickets and had no books checked from library. How could I owe nearly $600? "Costs accrue," she said and re-emailed me the total, detailed bill.

All library fines. Ouch.

So I went in to the library and asked to see my record. Lo and behold: all books returned, before being overdue, and at libraries in question. The library had no record of said fines. The librarian who helped me credited everything to my account, and I am now left with the accrued monies--which cannot be erased... although the costs have been... don't ask me. It's like banks, easier to pay.

BUT I went from $600 to owing less than $100, with only one book outstanding that I certainly returned... so I am now going to the shelves to find it, and prove my innocence! And then I'll owe only about $15. Good for me! And thanks to the libarian who helped me!

Working my closet

I am continuing to work my closet in the spring version of the Express Checkout Experiment: 20 pieces of clothing, excluding coats, accessories, and things like white t-shirts (such a basic, how can you have only one?).

Now that I am teaching five days weekly, I look on this as a real challenge to be professional in appearance for classes and being in and around the building 5 days weekly. I am working skirts and dresses as well as trousers: not a jean day in sight, which is good. Weekends, I can rock out with jeans. part of my challenge for this semester is in fact to dress comfortably, professionally, and stylishly without wearing jeans to classes.

I am also planning two weeks of daily wardrobe, instead of one: this means I am already ahead, since the list is posted in my closet and covers even details like shoes and jewelry. No impulse dressing, no grabbing jeans because it's easier. I hang the next day's clothes on the closet door before going to bed each night, and voila! there they are, ready to go whenever. That also means I don't discover 1 hour before class that the blouse I thought I would wear has mustard all over it... I can make that work the night before.

Like last night, when I discovered the dress I had planned to wear was still at the dry cleaners... oops!

Next week, I plan to rock my scarves: the deal is to wear a different scarf, one that usually gets no play, with every outfit. I have squares, oblongs, shawls, throws, and so forth. I'll make them the center of my outfits next week.

After that, I may focus on necklaces, especially the ones I've made myself. I've got great amethyst, garnet, carnelian, and moonstone necklaces that I don't wear enough that I made specifically to go with things in my closet.

Outside right now it is sunny and 42 degrees: that means a cashmere sweater over the blouse and skirt I had picked out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lana Turner--Aquarian

Lana Turner (1921-1995) was one of the most successful actresses of the 1940s and 1950s, bracketed by the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the 1959 Imitation of Life. She continued to act in films into the 1960s, but with fewer and fewer roles.

Discovered as a teenager (age 16!), Turner was actually spotted in a Hollywood drug store buying a Coke by the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, who contacted Zeppo Marx about her. Marx was not only the fourth famous Marx Brother and an actor, but an agent. Turner was quickly signed to a contract and cast in a film, They Won't Forget.

She made a series of films with MGM, and became a pin-up girl during WWII. After the war, she made the film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the novel by James M. Cain, with co-star John Garfield.

Turner was brilliant in The Bad and The Beautiful, with Kirk Douglas. It's one of my favorite "industry" films, a film about film, like All About Eve is a film about theatre. Turner is actually a better actress than most people give her credit for: mostly, people consider her a pretty, sexy blonde, but she really shines in a handful of films.

One of her biggest pictures is Imitation of Life, a remake of a 1930s film with Claudette Colbert. It is a melodrama, a pot-boiler, but an important film about race, nonetheless. She made a lot of money from this picture--in fact, Turner was consistently one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood.

Her private life was a source of interest for her fans and underscored her films, as well. She was married seven times: to bandleader Artie Shaw at 19; twice to Joseph Crane, father of her daughter Cheryl; millionaire Henry Topping; actor Lex Barker; Fred May; producer Robert Eaton; nightclub performer Ronald Pellar. The biggest scandal of her career was the killing of her lover Johnnie Stompanato by her 14-year-old daughter Cheryl--this nearly killed Turner's career. Stompanato was a low-level gangster with Mickey Cohen's organization, and Turner and he had a violent and abusive relationship. Cheryl claimed she killed Stompanato because he threatened her mother.

Turner made 55 movies between 1937 and 1991, plus roles in television series and movies.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Angela Davis -- Aquarian

I remember Davis, now 67, as a fiercely outspoken black woman with a gorgeous Afro long before I understood the issues of civil rights (I think I was about 7 or 8 the first time I saw her on the news in our house, around 1969).

Davis's mother was active in the civil rights movement in Birmingham during the 1950s, which was Davis's first taste of community involvement, political philosophy, and communist theory in action. Later, she attended high school in Greenwich Village, which extended her knowledge of and taste for political activism and intellectual pursuits.

She attended Brandeis University, one of only three black students accepted her freshman year, and met Herbert Marcuse, who she credits with even more intellectual stimulus. She majored in French and went abroad during her junior year to France, studying at the Sorbonne for part of it. The news of the 1963 bombing of the church in Birmngham and the death of the four young girls inside personally affected her. Davis continued to study philosophy with Marcuse at Brandeis, and went to study in Frankfurt for a master's degree. After two years, she returned to the US to study with Marcuse in California, at UCSD.

She became known as a "radical feminist," activist, communist, and associate of Black Panthers. The result was she was fired from UCSD--twice.

Shortly after, Davis was connected by authorities to the kidnapping and murder of Judge Harold Haley and others during a courtroom riot. She became a fugitive, and was captured some months later by the FBI. At trial, Davis was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges.

Since that time, Davis has continued to be a scholar, activist, and leader in feminism and prison reform, although that is not how she describes her work. She is a writer, thinker, speaker, and teacher, working against racism, sexism, and the prison system in America as it now stands. Unsurprisingly, she is also against the war on terror as Homeland Security has held suspected terrorists without rights.

Davis is an intellectual activist: someone who not only thinks and writes about causes but champions them in public through word and act. She is also credited with being an extraordinary teacher who attempts to get her students to think critically about the social, philosophical, and practical questions of American culture and our relationship to human rights.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Weekend Plans, W.M.E. Week 4

How did it go?

I got the table top cleared off, one part of the pile of class/student bins cleaned off, one large bin cleared out and repurposed for Goodwill use, a pile of magazines culled/recycled, the cardboard boxes emptied and flattened ready for recycling, and two bags prepared for returning to other people.

That's good progress in a surprisingly busy weekend.

Now that I have a class on Friday afternoons, my Fridays are too often shaped around that--like this past week, with two meetings on either end of that classtime, as well. Oops.

The good news is that a good deal of the non-house time this weekend was devoted to "community": lunch and dinner with friends, watching the SuperBowl with friends, a meeting with colleagues, a reception with different colleagues. All of that was incredibly positive and good for me.

What I am figuring out: multitasking is not my friend, simply distracting. Prioritizing will help me get what I think is important done, although not everything will get done, which has to become okay. I have to think long-term as well as short-term.

Oh, and I need to post pictures before and after! Much more interesting overall.

Intentional Frugality

Lately--given the whole laptop and car thing--I've been thinking about how I'm saving, spending, and consuming, which is a large part of the journey I've been on since October 2010 when I decided to de-clutter my life, apartment, and closet.

For the most part, that work is done. I have successfully donated, sold, thrown out, or given away almost all of the household items, books, DVDs, CDs, tapes, and clothing I selected for those ends. I still have some pieces left, but by summer 2012 the house will be empty of everything save paper clutter, and then I can take that on.

The next phase of this project is going to be tougher, because what is left is still too much, but I am emotionally connected to it, even though some of it is clutter.

But... money. I am embarking now on a three-month journey to change my eating/shopping/cooking habits, for the better. I love to cook, love to eat, and even enjoy grocery shopping, but I waste money and food along the way. Rather ridiculously, for one fairly small woman.

This week I am starting by creating a shopping/cooking menu for next week, built on the things I already have on hand, using the cookbooks & recipes I already love. I am putting myself on a budget:
  • $50/month for the cat's needs (food, treats, & litter)
  • $160/month for my groceries (excluding eating out and liquor)
  • $50/month for health & beauty stuff (shampoo, vitamins, etc.)
  • In May, I'll revisit these numbers and adjust, based on buying/eating/wasting records I'll keep
  • I'll be closely shopping sales, coupons, and using my 3 regular grocery stores, pharmacy chains, pet chains, and big box stores for comparison
These are still big numbers for one person. My goal is to become a better shopper and a better user of bought goods.

Here's how I shop:
  • of my 3 grocery stores, I buy produce, cheese, and organic meat at one, because the quality is higher; the price is usually comparable, if not lower... but not always
  • I prefer name brands in some items, but buy store-brand in most (milk, dairy, beans, frozen goods)
  • I would prefer organic, but the two foodie organic stores in town are quite a bit more expensive, and more for the cachet than the quality, from what I've seen
  • bulk is great and enables me to buy smaller amounts (pints sized jars, remember), and keep them fresher
  • I go to the store once a week for groceries
  • I go to the store once a month for wine, health/beauty, some pet stuff (canned food I buy 2x monthly, because of storage)
  • I am not a Costco shopper any more: the only thing I miss is the salmon, and I can get that elsewhere for nearly the same price, so bye-bye, Costco
  • Two of my grocery stores and one chain offer the best incentives: I'll be figuring out how to use them more, and the others less
A lot of saving money and being frugal is thinking consciously and long-term about your money. Do I spend a little today--and every day--for a Starbuck's coffee? Or spend a lot later for a used car? Sometimes, in my head, the two don't seem related, the $2 today vs. the $10K next September. But $2 five days a week (at the coffee bar at My U) = $10/week = $150/semester, or $300/year. Ok, not a huge drop in the 10K bucket... but something. And if I can save that $2, where else can I save?

Right now I've got $140/month under review: three monthly costs I could cut. That's $1.4K by next September. Nearly $2K with the coffee savings added. See?

This week: groceries were $37, with an additional $18 for flowers, tissues, and a magazine. I'l be finishing up the pork loin, then cooking chicken with goat cheese, red peppers, and capers, scrambled eggs/omelet, and beef with shallots.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nell Gwyn--Aquarian

Nell Gwyn is  best known as the scandalous mistress of King Charles II of England, a symbol of the bawdy world of the Restoration, the king's own form of flipping the bird at the Puritans, but taking a mistress who was also a working actress -- in comedy!

Gwyn was, in fact, in intelligent, humorous, outspoken woman who had, by any standards, a very tough life before she met Charles.

Born February 2, 1650 -- during the Interregnum -- information about the where is sketchy. Possibly London, possibly Oxford, she and her mother and sister were deserted by her father (some speculation about who) shortly after her birth, in dismal circumstances. Nell's mother became the manager of a brothel in London, where Nell worked as a child, possibly running errands, possibly as a child prostitute. By 1662, she had a lover; their relationship lasted two years.

Most details of Nell's early life as mythical: meaning fictional, true, or something in between.

When the theatres re-opened in 1660 -- with the "restoration" of Charles II to the throne, Nell and her sister Mary were hired by "Orange Moll," a former prostitute, to sell oranges and other snacks to the patrons of the theatres during performances. She carried messages between male courtiers in the audience and the actresses, It is also possible she worked as a prostitute during this time.

Nell and Charles II began their relationship in 1668. Between that time and 1671, when Nell definitely left the stage, she bore the king two sons -- who he declared openly were his -- and went back and forth on and off stage. By 1671, she had definitely retired, and Charles gave her a house (or had the state lease it to her...). During their long relationship (1668-1685, when he died) Charles continued to have other mistresses, as well as his wife. But he not only looked after Nell and claimed her sons as his, but made certain his brother James who succeeded him to the throne, would continue to care for Nell.

During her life, she became friends with many of the leading literary and theatre figures of the time, including Aphra Behn and Samuel Pepys. She has been a character, central or tiny, in books, plays, films, operas, and mini-dramas.

At the very least, Gwyn appears to have been a courageous, practical, witty, charismatic woman, who succeeded in doing more than surviving her low birth -- she also continued to support her sister, mother, two sons, and friends, no matter what. She was a gutsy intelligent dame who made lemonade out of the rather crummy lemons handed to women in the Restoration period, like her pal Behn.