What I Read This Summer

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton

Having already read The Secret Keeper, I knew I would love this book which unravels the mystery of a little girl who travels alone by boat from England to Australia. The story line has us bouncing back and forth between present and past — 1900, 1913, 1975 and 2005. It is reminiscent of The Secret Garden, which I read and loved when I was little, but goes much deeper into complex family dynamics and history. I was so incredibly hooked. My favorite read all summer. (Note: I found this book in a little free library in Carversville, PA so double win!)

 

 

Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah

I grabbed this book one day at the library because I was heading to do one of these really-fun-for-the-kids-really-boring-for-the-moms thing and needed a book to read while they played. I’m trying to not be that person on their phone who’s ignoring everyone. I feel way cooler reading a book and ignoring people and this somewhat controversial title seemed like the perfect way to do that, so extra points for me.

I was somewhat unprepared for how heavy it would get. I should have known. But what an amazing story. So worth reading.

 

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

I get a lot of recommendations from my aunt Cindy and she thought this one was so good and thought I would love it so much  that she ordered it on Amazon for me. We were talking about it at the Memorial Day picnic and the next thing I knew it was in my mailbox.

An epic page turner, told from the point of view of two french women living through WWII. I mean, I knew the war was bad but this made me feel like I personally lived it. And I gotta tell you, I was so mad at the Germans. The author really drives home the indignities endured, like having their priceless paintings taken and not having any coffee. Brutal.

But seriously, everyone should read this. It felt so significant to me at this time in our country’s history.

 

The Painted Drum
by Louise Erdrich

This book. It didn’t look that interesting at first. I couldn’t remember where I got it. Then I remembered: I read a review about it (probably in Marie Claire or Elle), put it on my Amazon wish list and then my lovely sister Missy bought it for me for my birthday. I finally go around to reading it. The initial plot is rich and dark and draws you in, but then it’s like a story within a story. It was so interesting, so unlike anything I’ve ever read. I won’t tell you anything else. Just read it.

 

 

 

 

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The Art Museum

The first time I took my kids to the Michener Museum, I think they were about 3 years old, the woman at the front desk asked me, “Are their hands sticky?” What? Are you asking me if they just got finished climbing a tree, raiding an unattended beehive, scooping large handfuls of delicious honey and licking theirs paws clean…but not entirely clean? And then as soon as they finished their snack, decided they would very much like to explore some local art?

Whenever I return to this local cultural gem, I think of that woman. And I wonder, why do people think art isn’t for kids? Not only do I believe it’s a great experience for them, but I think they “get it” in a pure, simple, true way that many adults don’t or can’t or forgot how to. I pay for an annual membership and we only go a few times a year, but it’s worth it. I believe in supporting the arts. They say only 5% of Americans have ever been to an art museum.

I grew up in DC where the museums are amazing and free. My parents took me to them a lot when I was young. I still remember being around 5 or 6 and saying that the Mary Cassatt paintings were my favorites. Then, a few years later, explaining that I liked them when I was little but had outgrown them. I moved on to new faves—Surrealists, Pop Artists, Abstract Expressionists.

So I take my “little ones” to art museums, and ask them which are their favorites, and why. They get it.

 

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Let’s Get Fit: I’m Working Out Again

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I am so happy to report that I can workout again! You have no idea how freaked out I was when my back went out at the beginning of the year, and then again, and then again. So, I want to share with you what I did to heal my back and what I learned from it.

Chiropractic — I have an amazing chiropractor (that takes walk-ins.) The morning my back “gave out,” I was suddenly unable to stand up, walk, go up or down stairs, bend over, lift anything, dress myself, drive…basically anything…without excruciating pain, I ended up driving myself to his office to get adjusted. This time wasn’t a quick fix. I went a few times before I was better. Lesson: go early, go often. 

Massage — Two weeks after the original “issue” I went to see Michelle. And then again 6 weeks later. She is amazing. More like a Doula than a masseuse. She said my back was really in bad shape, but not even in the place I was hurting. Everything was out of whack. And she was the one who started me thinking about what I realized was the root of the problem: my abs. More about that in a bit. Lesson: have a standing appointment.

Rest — This was the hardest part. I did absolutely no exercise for two weeks, then some easy yoga, then some online bootcamp-type workouts, then Jazzercise. I felt my back start to go out again and cooled it. Just walking and yoga. Then Jazzercise again and back pain again. All this time my weight was creeping up. So just yoga and walking for two weeks. Lesson: um, rest?

Yoga — I swear by yoga. I especially love the place I go and the instructors there. It’s incredibly humbling to not be able to do a class you once did. At first all I could do was the stretches my chiropractor suggested: child’s pose, cobra, and then really gentle stuff at home. When I went back to class, I had to really modify. But let me emphasis the absolute necessity of yoga. It’s where I learn about body alignment, protecting myself from injury and committing to caring for my body longterm. Lesson: make a lifetime commitment to some kind of yoga/stretching everyday.

Walking — I love walking. I love that I can walk. When you are in a lot of pain for a lot of days, walking is no longer the poor cousin to running. Walking is glorious! I recommend walking outside on a long flat trail in the sunshine. Fast or slow doesn’t matter. Talk to yourself or to The Big Guy. It heals the body, the mind and the spirit. Lesson: walking is a privilege denied to many.

Abs — If you have ever felt the muscles in the base of your spine quit on you, you may wonder what you did to cause it. People always ask, “How did you hurt your back, what did you do?” Nothing. It just happened. I’ve come to realize why. I neglected the muscles on the opposite side. The lower abs. My massage person suggested that I may still be feeling the effects of having a C-section. That area can’t be ignored. I’m working on building them back up and I try to always think about them, i.e. engage them, especially when loading the dishwasher and other tipping over movements. And coincidentally, my yoga class this week was all about awareness of those muscles. Lesson: if you make your back do all the work, it will eventually quit.

On March 5th I tried running (on the treadmill) for the first time in forever. Well, in two months. I did it for 10 minutes. I know, I’m impressed too. The next week I went back to Spin class and the following week, Jazzercise. And finally I was able to go back to my favorite level 2-3 yoga class. I have never been happier. Everyday I’m getting just a little bit fitter… and it feels amazing.

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Never Tacky in Khaki

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When I chose the pieces for my Spring capsule wardrobe I knew I wanted to include my new khaki pants. Why do I love khaki’s so much? It’s not just because I went to Prep School and literally read the Preppy Handbook as a kid. Something about this time of year makes me crave them so much. I woke up one day in March and realized I had no khakis. Past pairs were long gone and not replaced. The hunt began. Pins were pinned. I tried these, these and these. Finally I tried on these from The Gap and fell in love. They have a sort of slim cut but feel roomy, soft, comfy. Also they have a sort of casual, broken in look to them rather than that very crisp/country club vibe. And they have a nice, subtle stripe detail on the sides. I originally thought I wanted them in “iconic khaki” but “mission tan” turned out to be a much better color on me. Note: Definitely size down since they stretch out.


Oh, but that’s not the end of the story. The plot takes a tragic turn. My precious new pants got a few tiny stains, which I scrubbed with a little detergent like I usually do and ended up with bleached out blotches. I took a chance and took them back to The Gap and a lovely woman said I could return them and in the end I went home a replacement pair and some valuable advice on stain-treating khakis. Don’t use detergent, use Amodex.

I’m so happy now.

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Capsule Wardrobe

I take a lot of selfies. It’s pretty ridiculous. I do it to figure out what outfits work for me and it’s really helpful. You will see below, how taking tons of shots helped me come up with a “Spring Capsule Wardrobe” (a la Un-Fancy) My goal: get dressed quickly, feel comfortable and confident and stop buying clothes I don’t need.

I started by picking out:

5 DRESSES.

7 BOTTOMS.

14 TOPS.

5 OUTER LAYERS.

8 PAIR SHOES.

Then I mixed and matched. That help me finalize my picks. I won’t show you all the photos. We’d be here forever. I’ll just drop in a few favorites for now.

 

I picked the most comfy dresses, a combo of long sleeve and sleeveless, sort of casual but work-appropriate for me. I chose one denim skirt and one black pencil skirt and one pair of black shorts. Plus pants in cream-khaki, tan-khaki, black cropped trousers, skinny jeans. For tops I went with a black cami, a super colorful shell, a blush tank, a striped tank, an off the shoulder striped tee, a white tee, a grey tee, a black tee, a three quarter length navy tee, a long sleeve white button down, a floral blouse, a long sleeve striped top, a lightweight navy sweater and a grey cardigan. Whew! Outer layers are an oilve bomber jacket, a jean jacket, an army jacket, a faux leather jacket and a soon to arrive “coatigan.” I managed to narrow the shoe wear down to black stripy sandals, black open-toe booties, brown thong sandals, brown ankle boots, blush ballet flats, black block heel ankle strap heels, adidas sneakers and platform sandals.

As I’ve put my wardrobe to the test, some items seem destined to be swapped out. I also have become obsessed with the “perfect” long, cosy, sweater/coat.

That’s it. Let me know if you’d like to know where any of the pieces are from.

Happy Spring!

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Beauty and the Beast

I saw the new Beauty and the Beast this past weekend with my 8-year-old daughter, her aunt and her grandmother. A girl’s day out to indulge in a girlish fairytale. Then my son tagged along even though his sister explained repeatedly that it was a girl’s thing. You see, there is a lot of separation in my world based on if you’re a boy or a girl. Boys go to monster truck shows and hockey games. Girls go shopping and to get their nails done. Many birthday parties are girls only. I’m always questioning it but that’s kind of how it’s always been and I don’t see it changing, although I did end up going to a monster truck show last year. A “girl” driver won.

So, Beauty and the Beast, 2017. They just released this live-action remake and if you’ve seen the 1991 Disney animated version, it won’t feel much different. The plot and dialogue is almost identical. There were a few new things peppered in and some funny jokes. The best and most unexpected part was casting of Josh Gad as Le Feu. Thank you! If you missed him as the unforgettable “Bearclaw” in The New Girl you need to go watch it immediately.

Here’s my take away from the movie: what exactly are we supposed to learn from B & the B?

It’s the Beauty on the inside that matters? You could say that Gaston was pretty on the outside but ugly on the inside and the beast was the reverse. But the beast started out like Gaston, then was cursed for it, then he was ugly outside as well as inside. It’s only at the end when he falls for Belle that he becomes selfless and good. The beast never seemed to be aware of what a jerk he was. He only seemed concerned with his own eternal damnation.

Women should not have to get married. They can be perfectly happy being independent? Belle makes such an argument for not getting tied down and living a provincial life. But she ends up marrying the beast/prince and settling down in the castle—even more remote than the small town she grew up in. Why couldn’t she have a career as an inventor like her dad? Or move to Paris and open a bookstore? Disappointing.

Poor townsfolk: bad. Rich monarchy: good? The other thing that I thought was bothersome was how we keep glorifying elitism. Can’t we move away from all this archaic classism? Didn’t we learn anything from Downton Abbey?

Also, was anyone else concerned that after the household objects/servants succeeded in getting Belle to fall in love with the Beast and getting the curse lifted, they all went back to being human servants? How is that a win?

I really wanted to like this movie and was willing to accept that it would be fairly fluffy, but it just left me wanting to go back an watch the version my mother took me to when I was little: Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et La Bête. Trailer. Online rental.

If you’re interested, you can read a plot synopsis of the original story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve here. It is much more interesting than either Disney version.

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My Free Leggings

I’ve been meaning to tell you about the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Well, after meeting my husband. And having my twins. And, like, Paris. But after that.

I heard about these free leggings through Girlfriend Collective from the blog Un-Fancy.com and paid $20 to ship a pair of leggings, which I actually needed and thought, why not? I especially liked that they claimed to be not-see-thru. That’s kind of important. So, I ordered them and then I waited.

73 days.

That’s a long time to wait. Everyday that went by, I thought, I am so dumb.

But they are amazing! The fabric is so soft, like it’s made out of kittens. (Which I hope it’s not.) But, like really strong kittens. The texture is unlike any spandex-type product I’ve ever experienced. Thick and study but with enough stretch. They are very opaque and a beautiful finish, not too shiny, not too matte. They are high waisted and flattering as hell.

And to top it all off these leggings are fair-trade, made from recycled materials. Learn more here.

So, even though the “free” leggings promo is over, check them out and just know that there are good quality products out there that you can feel good about.

Okay, I’ve got to go workout now. Bye!

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Let’s Get Fit: Recovering from Injury and Setting Reachable Goals

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I love to work out.

That’s why I am really struggling right now. My back went out at the beginning of the year and I had to take a lot of time off from exercise. Each time I start again my back says, “No.”  But I’m not giving up.

So what can you do when you’re injured? In the past, I went to the chiropractor, got adjusted and didn’t go back until I was in severe pain again. And took some motrin. But this time was different. One adjustment wasn’t enough. I went back two more times. Then I had to admit that I obviously wasn’t taking care of myself and I hadn’t for a while. In fact I had been running with this nagging glute… sprain? tear? tumor? for over a year. It was time I faced facts and found someone, anyone (other than myself) who could tell me a solution. That’s the biggest challenge. Who do I ask? Who do I trust? I had no idea where to go.

I rested for 15 days.

I got a really intense massage during that time which helped. I asked my massage person what I should do because she’s really good and my husband swears by consistent visits which have rehabbed his hip problem and got him running again. She didn’t have a magic answer though. On day 16 I did an easy yoga class. The following week I did a few PopSugar workouts which was probably not smart. Don’t do this one if you have a back injury. After that I added Jazzercise back in. I had gotten so used to not working out that work and life any all that started to come first and it was hard to motivate. I could take it or leave it. After a few weeks I got back in the groove and was doing something everyday (walking, yoga, Jazzercise) and then my back sort of went out, not all the way, just some of the way, so I tried to chill.

I waited five days then I started again.

My back sort of went out again and so I went back to the chiropractor. He warned me again of the evils of sitting with legs up or crossed. I’m limited to sitting with my knees bent and feet flat on the floor (which is ridiculous) or lying completely flat. Sleeping on my side requires I have a pillow between my knees. (Or sew pads to the insides of my knees) And he told me to do the stretches that he told me to do last time which I told him I did everyday which might have been sort of a lie. He asked me if I had a lot of stairs in my house which made me think, “Just the usually amount. I mean, I don’t live in a lighthouse…” I asked him, “How will I know that I can workout again?” He said, “I don’t know. Try it and see how it feels.” He also said, “Maybe, try acupuncture.”

I’m walking and doing yoga only.

I did a yoga class this morning entitled “slow gentle flow” which was as awful as it sounds. I drove home afterwards and thought, “I just spent $16 to lie on the floor. I can do that at home. For free.” But the walking feels good. I feel very accomplished when I manage to get out of the house even when it’s freezing and walk. It’s really good for my crazy head.

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I realized I’m going to have to find another way to keep the weight off.

Up until January I kind of ate whatever I wanted. I mean, I don’t go crazy. Over the years I have found what works and I maintain good habits. For the most part I “Just Eat Real Food.” Since this injury I have gained 5 pounds, on top of the 5 I gained since it got cold and dark. This week I decided to start my get-ready-for-summer diet early. I cut out sugar and cut back on bread. I eat only when I’m hungry. I drink more water. I don’t eat the food off my kids’ plates. I’m actually glad to get back to better eating. After just one day I feel so much happier and more energetic. I made this salad, which was the best salad I ever ate:

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[romaine, chick peas, albacore, goat cheese, almonds, olives, dried cranberries, olive oil-lemon-dijon dressing]

I hope you are healthy and happy these days. And if you’re not, start again. Don’t give up!

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No Regrets

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How often have you bought clothing and ended up asking yourself, “What was I thinking?”

Last week I wrote about how I realized I needed to stop buying clothes … compulsively, irresponsibly. But just how does one do that? I stopped buying clothes for the whole month of January while I worked on defining my personal style using The Curated Closet.

Should I have been concerned when February 1st rolled around, that I went straight to the mall? Was it bad that I joked with the saleswoman at LOFT that having items shipped to my house might get me in trouble with my husband and her response was, “Well, you need to have a good relationship with your…UPS man. Mine hides the packages behind the bushes.”

Hahaha. he. um…

I thought I was ready to shop again, this time the “right” way. But it seemed like I fell right back into my old habits: buying things because they are pretty and new instead of buying them because they meet all my criteria and I actually need them. I thought about how many articles of clothing I have bought and then returned (or sold or donated.) I’ve had some success with eBay but mostly I send things to Thredup or donate to the local thrift store. But, ideally I wouldn’t have such high turnover in my closet.

3 EBAY AUCTIONS (click on images to buy):

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I decided that for me to make better choices when I shop in the future I should look at the past. It’s fun to go back through all the photos on your computer. My iPhoto goes back almost 10 years. There aren’t a lot of selfies from back then. Most of my photos are of other people, but almost all the photos of me have me wearing clothes I no longer own. When I found a shot of me in something I still wear, I think, “Nice choice. Well done.” I made a little collage of the “keepers.”

I can see the brands that work for me and the colors and silhouettes that I return to over and over. In addition to the above, I’ve gotten a lot of wear out of my white button down, jean jacket, navy crew neck sweater, black v-neck tee, black tank top, and black cropped skinny jeans. (I left off shoes and outerwear, I’ll save them for another time.)

Now the challenge will be to remember this when/if I go out shopping again. I need to try to avoid the usual pitfalls: Buying things because they’re new/on sale, because the salesperson said I should or because I tried on a bunch of stuff and don’t want to leave empty-handed. I also have to admit, and this is really humbling and embarrassing, that I have bought things because Pinterest, fashion blogs and fashion magazines said they were “must-haves.” Nothing is a must-have for everyone. I learned that only certain things look good on me and only I can decide that.

I think I’m making progress. To be continued…

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I’ve Hit Bottom

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I hope.

This post is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I haven’t decided the best way to present it. I haven’t figured it all out. But I need to START. So I’m starting.

This post is about clothes, mostly. But, more than that, it’s about self-expression and self-acceptance. It’s probably about a lot of other things. Let’s begin:

THE CURATED CLOSET

I read, no I am reading the Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. I’ve always been about refining my style and I thought this would help. What I didn’t realize was it would bring me face to face with the reality that I shop too much, I don’t buy quality and I don’t have any idea what I like. It pains me to admit how many mistakes I’ve made. All the items I never should have bought. Don’t get the wrong idea, the book has been really fun and helpful. I really enjoyed the various exercises: creating an inspiration file, two weeks of test outfits and then analysis, creating a mood board, then defining a style profile and color palette. I learned how to balance the types of clothes I have for the actual lifestyle that I have. (Apparently I think I go to a lot a fancy parties!) I did a lot of self-discovery and thinking. I thought I was ready to go out and start buying the right clothes for me, carefully chosen clothes that would be perfect. I had pretty much taken the month of January off from shopping. On February 1st I hit the stores. I bought five things and returned three. I felt anxious as well as empty. Something had changed. More thoughts about this to come.

UN-FANCY

My favorite blogger right now is Un-fancy. Caroline is a curated-closet, capsule-wardrobe prophet! I really respect bloggers like Caroline who post consistently. They show up daily. That is hard to do! I also love her photography. The ‘set’, the lighting, and her writing are so beautiful, clean and simple—reflecting the content and philosophy she embodies. Reading Un-fancy led me to The Curated Closet and the spiritual awakening I just spoke about. And then…

THE MINIMALISTS

…a few weeks ago I stumbled upon Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix. It features The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus who wrote the book on the subject Everything That Remains. It also features Courtney Carver of Project 333. I think I’ve always been a minimalist. It really shows in my home decor (or lack thereof). People who know me tease me about how empty my house is, about how much I hate clutter. (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was written specifically for me!) I’ve always been drawn to modernism and scandinavian style. But secretly I’ve felt like there was something weird about me. Watching this film made me feel so validated. Having a word for only keeping what you need and really love made it seem normal. It made me want to be more minimal. It feels really good to me. In my soul. But the reality is that I don’t always do what is good for my soul. A part of my soul is sick. A part of it feels scared and “not enough.”

I could tell you about my deprived childhood and my very frugal Dad who only let me get clothes from Sears and only if I really needed them. I could point to the popular girls in school who had the cool clothes that I didn’t. But that doesn’t have to define me. What I’m learning is that making a decision to acquire only what you need doesn’t need to feel like a punishment. I don’t have to feel deprived. I can make the decision that I’m enough no matter what I have or what I wear. I can also make mindful choices about having certain beautiful things. I think that’s okay.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’m committing to not buying clothes for the rest of February. I’m going to finish the Curated Closet and continue to remix my clothes in new ways.

I’m working on some new content — on my fitness regime and on recommitting myself to eating healthy. Not bootcamp style. This year I’m looking to get in shape mindfully.

Thanks for reading!

 

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