Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: THE WARDROBE WAKEUP by Lois Joy Johnson

Midlife Martinis: Thinking about style from the middle of your life, looking out.
My impulse is always be wary when someone touts a fashion book for women over 50. Over 40, in fact.


Because the 40+ version of fashion is usually eerily similar to the 18+ version of fashion, with slightly older models in the photos. There is still a tendency to show skinny jeans, miniskirts, bare arms and throats aimed at bodies under 120 lbs., fitting between sizes 2 and 6 and over 5'7" in height. And barely acknowledging the difference between a woman 18 and one two decades older.

Women who are over 40 have several different life, body and taste issues about fashion. Like:
  • teenagers and managing family time with big kids, including the variety of social and parental events.
  • careers moving toward high powered management or jobs used to bring in a second income
  • bodies that are in or moving toward menopause, gaining bulk in the middle, that need more maintenance to remain fit.
  • skin that's losing its luminous, taut quality or gaining brown spots or lines
  • more money (in some cases) due to higher salaries or less money due to college and aging parents. 
  • a closet full of clothes that need maintenance, don't fit (due to shifting body weights), and are enough out of style that one can feel dull, if not downright frumpy.
  • time spread across the house, the husband, the kids, the job and personal stuff.
Fashion editors in magazines for "older women" think we have lots more money... like LOTS more money as disposable income for beauty products and procedures, designer fashion and shoes and bags... as well as LOTS of dress-up opportunities.

News flash: we don't have more disposable income that is lying free, we don't have fashion-forward careers where we need $1200 purses, we shop at JCPenney and Chicos and Target but rarely in department-store designer boutiques, and most of us shouldn't be baring arms, legs, backs, chests and throats.

My advice: forget planning for the few and far-between CEOs and female lawyers/execs/fashion editors. This is the problem most ex-fashion editors have in writing these books. The only people they mingle with are other fashion editors, designers, models and the rich. Those of us who spend time at grocery stores, kids' theatre performances/baseball fields and car washes don't consider a "nude pump" as the most essential basic in our wardrobe.

And what about the women who wear scrubs, uniforms and other "business-ordered" wear? No need there for expensive designer work clothes, which is the primary focus of these books.

Instead, "real women" need advice on weekend wear that doesn't include mommy sweats, date night/special event wear that can hold up to at least a year's worth of use, and casual wear for brunch with girlfriends, running errands around town and PTA-meetings. And that can be fixed/bought/maintained for about $100/month or less.

THE WARDROBE WAKEUP by Lois Joy Johnson has some good ideas about the basic stuff of clearing out closets, using tailors to fix owned items (rather than buy new) and finding a new style as a "mature" woman. But the pictures found in this Huffington Post review prove my point: the images aren't bad, but the models here are all wealthy, slender, chic with puh-lenty of time for high maintenance styles in hair, skin, nails, and fashion. And thus they are as impractical for "real women" in their 40s or 50s as images in SEVENTEEN magazine would be.

Check out the review and the slide show:  You might feel differently.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Simple and delicious: Pantry Applesauce

I had leftover apples and I made applesauce.

Really delicious cranberry applesauce. Yum. Here's a similar recipe:

Again, this was all out of the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. This is a great recipe for leftover apples and/or cranberries, and will keep frozen (I put it in Ball jars) for a month. Made it for pennies, and it produces something like 10 servings. Great for a side dish or a dessert.

Thursday, February 21, 2013



Uh, oh. Somewhere in my travels around the web I picked up a spammer advert bug, one that hooks onto words and creates embedded ads. Cleaning out my laptop as well as my posts.

What a crazy week! First some kind of stomach bug that kept me home for two days this week, then a return to sinus/allergy troubles (one the active stomach bug was vanquished). The washing machine has been out of commission for over a week (waiting on a part) and just today got fixed.

Piles of dirty laundry await, about two days worth of catching up.

Other than all that, this week has been fine. Students are doing excellent work, house is in better-than-usual shape (despite laundry), and I am all over my own work.

And yet I have to ask myself why I feel "not great"? My first, probably right answer: mid-winter blues and a lack of exercise. I am conscientiously taking my hormones and vitamins, but have resisted all impulses to get out and walk, use my yoga videos or classes, or my in-house Gazelle. Or My U's state-of-the-art gym, which is unfortunately filled with students night and day.

It is literally time to step up.
  • January's resolution was to fix my money issues (still in process!).
  • February's resolution was to de-clutter my house.
However, I think it is time to get cracking on March's notion to focus on exercise and movement. A couple weeks early, sure, but I have a pretty strong feeling that will make a huge difference in my attitude. Frankly, the biggest benefit I get from walking, for example, isn't in my bottom but in my brain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Holy self-denial, it's Lent in my closet!

How can Lent be used in your closet, even if you are not Catholic?

Lent is not just about denial about about re-evaluation. It is, in practice, a sober period without the distractions of, say, alcohol, chemicals, parties, chocolate, caffeine or electronic/technological applications whereby one can discover new purposes or chart new paths.

So in other words Lent as a practice is great for your closet/drawers re-evaluation. For 40 days/nights one could:
  1. Initiate a no-spend pledge for Lent: no clothes, accessories, cosmetics or appliances for 40 days and nights.
  2. Initiate a buy one/give one pledge: only bring a new item in if you donate/discard something of equal value (no throwing out a pair of sox when you buy a cashmere sweater, for example)... although you could go the other way.
  3. Initiate a decluttering practice of the closet, each drawer and the storage boxes where one keeps all one's clothes, shoes, and accessories; implement a keep/toss/repair/donate system for each site and vow to make a 50% reduction in gear based on that system... unless you're already wearing everything in your house completely and fully (sure, you are...). Spend 15-30 minutes every day on this, and you'll have a lean, mean wearable wardrobe in no time.
  4. Look over your summer clothing in preparation for keeping/repairing/donating/tossing, and plan a smart and cost-effective and flattering summer wardrobe... on the basis of a 1:2 ratio (keep one/toss and donate 2)
  5. Donate your unused/ill-fitting/never worn work clothing to Dress for Success (or the local equivalent), where women just moving back into the workforce can find affordable and decent office wear. Including shoes and purses.
  6. Instead of going to the mall and spending (or sitting on the computer and spending) -- take a walk, ride a bike, donate your time at church or a food kitchen. Figure out how many hours you spend weekly shopping, and transfer those into your health and well-being.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What a week! Stomach Flu and Simple Meals

Since Friday I have been battling with what feels like stomach flu, or a really, really strong case of nervous digestion -- which I often get during a tense or important project.

On and off since Friday afternoon I have been "ugh." With a lot of sleeping afterwards.

This morning I cancelled my classes for the day (My U does not take Prez's Day off) and slept late after sending a 6 am email/textmail broadside to students. Kind and sweet thoughts came back from them, but I was uninterested for a few hours. Then lay there bleary while Jack kept me warm and safe by lying on top of me.

Since I've been locked in the house since Friday -- except for a friend's b'day brunch Saturday -- I am bo-red with everything when awake. The house is clean, I've watched all of Season 1 of SCANDAL on Netflix and part of Season 2, and I am caught up on my email. The fridge is full of the week's meals. The dishwasher is empty and clean. The garbage and recycling are out, gone, taken care of. I am well enough to walk around just not well enough to feel 100% able to do usual things.

Now what? Bleah.

Maybe I should add what I cooked this weekend, despite everything:
  • Roasted red pepper and eggplant spicy spread -- which, with the addition of a couple of lean, cooked chicken breasts, becomes a delicious dinner casserole
    • roasted my own red peppers (on sale), bought eggplant (on sale) and everything else from the Pantry or Freezer (have 6 bags of roasted red peppers for future dishes, too)
  • Quinoa and black bean salad with lime-chili dressing, a very healthy carb and protein side dish/main dish that's good cold or slightly heated (all Pantry)
  • Cranberry-orange breakfast oat bars (all Pantry but orange)
  • Pink grapefruit-blood orange-navel orange fresh squeezed juice every morning, bought with bargains in the citrus area, 'cuz they're in season
  • Hard-boiled eggs, for quick protein
I also poached a salmon steak with Old Bay and lemon, which will be good for 2-3 dinners (all Freezer and Pantry). Still finishing off the chicken soup, too.

The up-side of this was last week I spent about $25 on groceries, since I only needed fresh fruit and vegetables. Not even dairy. This week, I'll need to replenish the dairy as well as the other stuff, so it should run me a little more. Plus cat supplies. Those tiny cans are crazy expensive, plus treats.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Making frugal changes for 2013

Making small changes can have a big impact in the bottom line.

  1. Auto-payments. Checking my accounts to see the auto-payments and decide whether they are useful or not. If not, stop paying. This is actually a great practice to take up every six months or so, because I forget about those automatic payments I signed up for and then... under-used or never used.
  2. Mondays. For whatever reason, I always get the urge on Monday to stop and spend. So either not having cards or cash with me on Mondays or having one or two small things I need, works for me.
  3. Taxes. Someone like me who always gets a refund should not wait to turn in a tax return... because the payback is definitely bankable. A thorough and early return means the same for a refund, rather than delayed gratification.
  4. Resale. Keeping a bin of books ready. Ditto tapes, records, magazines. When it fills up, go to the store. Or take everything in once a month as a treat.
  5. Emptying the credit cards out of my wallet. Simple, yes.
  6. Gift cards. I have cards for coffee, for movies, for resale clothes and accessories. Have I used them? No. Go for it, because unused gift cards are basically like money sitting on your dresser.
  7. Bank/credit card reward points. Trade them for free gift cards. Another simple, no-brainer. They accrue and I've been using them for Christmas gifts but I am awash in points. Use or lose: gift cards, that then can be used... etc.
  8. Cash. Pay cash for groceries, gas, fancy coffee -- anything that you might normally use a debit card for.
  9. Re-discover what you own. CDs, DVDs, books, clothes.
  10. Barter. Trade your skills or stuff for something you need. Craigslist, for example.

Oh, so trying to make these work.

The point is not denial but minimalism: focusing and streamlining to make things work better. It is also about thoughtful application of money, which is after all simply a measure of where I have put my time and energy. That's all money is, in the end. It is not the work, but the measure of the work, the value to yourself and others of how you spend your time and how well you do what you spend your time on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Style and a touch of drag

This week, I had two drag queens and a drag king come to my class to talk to my seminar students. It was a great class and discussion. Wonderful interaction... with cake!

Made me happy about my own 20-Item Style.

Week 2 is going well. I must admit that I had a slight rebellion Monday and decided to dress down. Jeans and a sweater instead of the carefully planned trousers/wrap cardigan/turtleneck/jewelry outfit I had scripted. The good news is that since the closet is so straightforward and everything is visible, i had no trouble finding clean, comfy clothes to substitute. Clean jeans, the same turtleneck and a different sweater over it all. And since the weather's been gray here in the Big D (!) black and gray as an overall choice are a little dark right now.

This week I'm wearing:
  • Jeans and a gray turtleneck, lighter gray cardi and brown boots
  • Black ponte dress, black sweater coat, black knee-hi boots and a long red/yellow/blue/black silk scarf
  • Black trousers, cream silk shirt, and black ankle boots
  • Black pencil skirt, black jersey top, gray cardigan, gray/white/gold scarf, black boots
  • Jeans, black cable turtleneck, black ankle boots, red/blue scarf
I'm really trying to work the bright accessories and white shirts! Next week I plan to try to use more gray than black, just to lighten it all up a bit.

I've realized that every week I need to add one scarf or pair of shoes to the mix. Not only to see if I should be giving them away (no wear, no have) but to mix up a limited number of pieces. I am unlimited in terms of accessories, after all.

Over at a couple of my favorite blogs, things are following my general scheme, but these authors have some good twists:

Miss Minimalist talks about the evolution of her capsule wardrobe:
The Vivenne Files is working the 33 wardrobe, week by week:
Already Pretty offers an interview with a woman committed to the capsule style:
Wardrobe Oxygen answers a reader's question about "basics":

The point is, ladies, more is not more when it comes to clothes and dressing ourselves. The excess celebrated by the "Real Housewives," rockstars and actresses in magazines like Vogue and In Style are pretty to look at but, just like a pantry full of cans, boxes, bags and bins that you never empty or need to re-stock, it is money wasted.

Well, money, energy and time wasted in truth.

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Chicken Soup

Chicken soup is one of the easiest and most satisfying soups to cook at home. It is also great for frugal cooks, because you don't need fancy stuff to make a delicious pot of family delight. Even better if you have a familiar family recipe, handed down from Grandma or Great-Grandma.

I made a big pot this past weekend, using what I had on hand after looking at about ten different recipes on Epicurious, my favorite cooking site. Here's what I got by scanning the recipes:
  • First choice, cook on stovetop or in slow cooker.
  • Second choice, basic chicken soup, Asian-inspired chicken soup, Latin-inspired soup, gumbo-like soup, or broth. This is about seasonings and thickness.
  • Third choice, noodles or rice or pasta or nothing.
  • Fourth choice, beans or nothing.
That's it.

Your chicken can come from rotisserie-chickens, leftovers, frozen breasts or thighs, raw or cooked. It's all in the timing and convenience for you.

Most recipes add lots of vegetables, but I prefer to limit myself to celery and carrots. No beans, pasta, rice or noodles. I add heat: fresh ginger, red pepper flakes, lemongrass (if I've got it), and sometimes jalapeno peppers. I also add 1/4 to 1/2cup of white wine and sometimes 1 cup of chicken broth, mixed with about 5 cups of water.

You can increase the nutritional value by adding a can of chickpeas or a half-cup of white beans; you'll also increase the number of servings. You are automatically lowering the sodium count (compared to Campbell's or Progresso) by making your own and adding only a pinch of salt while cooking. You're also eliminating fat by using either only white meat or mixing it up dark and white while removing all the skin. And for anyone with wheat or dairy or corn allergies, this is exclusive of all those ingredients -- although you can add them.

This time of year, too, with flu and colds everywhere, chicken soup is a great choice for people well and not so well.

Friday, February 8, 2013

If I were in Paris... Friday, February 8, 2013

Two of my favorite "heights" in Paris are the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame's belltowers. Both give a great view of the complete city, giving spectators a broad awareness of the city's geography and narrative.

And each one gives a different view of the city in terms of history and location, as well.


The Cathedral of Notre Dame, of course, is a Gothic masterpiece found in the earliest part of the city, the Ile de la Cite, one of the two islands in the Seine where the original city was founded/grounded. Built between 1163 and 1267 (yes, over the course of a century), the towers complete the west-facing facade.

A visit to the towers is separate from a visit to the cathedral: prepare to stand in line. Get there early and you'll still stand in line, but the wait will be significantly shorter. It opens at 10 am: get there at least thirty minutes prior (make it 45!). And it costs 7.50 euros. The stairs are narrow and well-used (monks have been running up and down for eight centuries), so beware. It's all foot-power, baby, so have some coffee and a croissant to get you fueled up.

The view is phenomenal. You'll see gargoyles up close (just like "The Hunchback" stuff), and a brilliant, north-towest-to-south sweep of The City. Plus a close-up of the eight bells in the towers.

Winter might seem an odd time to suggest climbing these towers and stand outside, but the last rise of the sun and the crispness of the air? Perfect compliments to this adventure. (Plus smaller crowds.)


The Eiffel Tower is one great salute to late nineteenth-century building, architecture and the arrival of the modern age. It has become synonymous not only with Paris but with France itself, the soignee culture of an entire country.

I absolutely love going up in the tower, all the way to the top. Again, the view of the city is amazing. Get to the Tower early--again, lines are long on any reular day, even in winter. You can walk up or take the elevator, on either stage. I recommend walking down.

Again, simply stunning views of the city from the top, in 360 degrees.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Closet Challenge, Week 1

Overall report: last week was fine.

Of course, that was partly the weather and partly simply being the first week.How could I be bored yet?

This week I cleared out the clothes not on my list of 20 items (all shoved into my second closet, more about that later). Now my primary closet looks lean and mean.

And dark.

Wow! The closet is all about black and gray right now, with a minimum of blue, red and white. I've switched out last-year's brown, purple and turquoise for gray and more black. It's, um, dark in there. we'll see how that plays out toward week three & four.

This week's clothing plan:
  • Monday: Black jersey skirt, tights and knee-high boots with a cobalt cable sweater and gold jewelry.
  • Tuesday: Black pencil skirt, tights and patent leather heeled oxfords with a black cable turtleneck.
  • Wednesday: Black pinstriped trousers with black boots & belt, black jersey V-neck and black long cardigan.
  • Thursday: Black ponte dress with black sweater-coat, tights, knee-high books and silver jewelry.
  • Friday: Jeans, blue jersey V-neck, blue cashmere cardigan, brown boots & belt.
Thursday is pretty dressy, but I have an after-work meet'n'greet that I need to step up to. Friday this week has no meetings, but will be all about errands all over town.

Okay, the second closet... is jammed. Really hard to get everything in there, which is a Great Big Signal that I need to de-clutter that closet immediately and donate to Goodwill, sell on eBay, sell at consignment stores, something. Another task for February: get clothing donations/consignments set for March.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New frugality and the Pantry Challenge, February 2013

Having realized that the Congressional delay on solving the budget issue (a.k.a. "Fiscal Cliff") has resulted in a reduction of my monthly paycheck of $400 (#*%@!), I am definitely working this  month as a Pantry Challenge.

Good pantry:

The good news is that I have a ridiculously stocked pantry and freezer, due to my greed and fear of waking up in a world with no more grocery stores. Or something like that.

Bad pantry:

Thus far, I've been able to make the following without adding anything but on-sale produce last week and for this coming week:
  • lentil soup, using lentils & canned tomatoes from the pantry, bacon from the freezer, and seasonings (including red wine) from the herbs/spices cabinet;
  • chicken-artichoke lasagna, without the lasagna noodles, so really a kind of chicken-artichoke casserole, using chicken breasts from the freezer and a can of artichoke hearts from the pantry;
  • poached pears, using same red wine, spices, and three on-sale pears;

  • chicken-eggplant-tomato stew, a variation of Mediterranean cuisine incorporating on-sale eggplant and freezer chicken (whole chicken cooked in crockpot and used in this dish, plus lunch salads, omelets, and more to come all this week);
  • blueberry-oatmeal breakfast bars, using frozen berries, bulk oatmeal,  milk and an egg (all on-hand);
  • soup from boxes, based on sale I mashed up a month ago, where my favorite organic box soups were discounted; potato-leek, carrot-ginger, butternut, potato-garlic.  
Since each of these dishes (including the boxes) produced 3+ meals, the cost is minimal (especially if everything is on-hand) and life becomes simple, even on nights when I come home exhausted from battling for the life of the mind (harder than it sounds!).

My goal is to spend less than $40/week on my groceries: that doesn't sound unreasonable, but in fact thanks to impulse shopping and the greed-fear combo, I usually end up spending $15-$20 more per week.

I'd rather not.

So now I'm on the prowl, so to speak, with my groceries. This week, I spent $30, which is great, but partly because I put back everything I already had -- even if it isn't abso-poso fresh -- and determined to man up about what is already in the pantry-fridge-counter.

I'll keep you in the loop.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

If I was in Paris... February 1, 2013

Virtual Tour of Paris -- Free!

Get thee to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, because they have several exhibitions (you know they're one of my favorite places to see beautiful and fascinating things!):

Van Cleef & Arpels: L'art de la haute joiallerie is an exhibition featuring over 500 pieces from the company's 107-year history. Fab-u-lous, n'est-ce pas? And here's the store's website -- even prettier! A slideshow of pieces connected to the history of the house.

This is the pieces I want. Gold, diamonds, turquoise. Wow.

This show runs only until next Sunday, so go now.

There is also a fashion exhibition, two centuries of fashion from 1700-1915, which focuses on European design/fashion in terms of the fabrics and tailoring of men's and women's clothing (aristocratic women's clothing, bien sur!) during this time because of the acquisition of two major private collections by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hands across the pond, so to speak.

Here's a slideshow of the event, with representative costumes.

At the BnF-Richelieu, there is an exhibition on the influence of the Rothschild family during the 19th century. James Rothschild arrives in France in 1811 at the age of 19. He rapidly became one of the most influential leaders in the word of banking -- and we all know banking runs the world! Quickly amassing a fortune, he and his children, his rivals, their incursions into philanthropy and art, their influence on the urbanization and modernisation of Paris, left a profound influence on the city, nation and globe. The exhibition includes paintings, portraits, books, photographs, documents, and objets d'arts from the archives and collections of the family, left to the state. Also free.

On the other end of the influential spectrum, the Pompidou center is holding an amazing exhibition focusing on Salvador Dali. Buy tickets online, and this exhibition runs through March, but go see it. We all know about the dripping clocks, but Dali was influential on art, performance and philosophy. He touched others working in Surrealism, he made a movie with Hitchcock, he illustrated the Bible. GO!

If you're a lover of ballet, go see Kaguyahime, the new ballet from Jiri Kylian. Looks amazing! It opens tonight at teh Opera Garnier.