Jill ponders her year without shopping in a fun, fresh, engaging and occasionally informed way

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Diva darling

It's a steamy Sunday here on Ozzieland, the last day of January 2010 (zing! did you hear that?? The month just went zipping by!) and we're up to blog posting #14. I saw my friend Judy, aka the Diva of international proportions yesterday. We went to see the movie It's Complicated together (and I must report that the most complicated thing I found about the film was trying to ascertain what emotional state Alec Baldwin was attempting to convey based on the facial expression in use at any particular moment. If I were to be so bold, I would venture the words "miscast". But I digress). Amongst discussing the merits of casting the gravel-voiced Alec as Meryl Streeps roguish ex-husband, we also discussed The Challenge. The Diva has also been on the quest to abstain from clothing, and associated items, shopping for 12 months and to Shop Her Closet. So far, so good! Unlike Julie (see blog post # 11), The Diva is only partially surrounded by Temptation and her struggle is of quite a different nature. I asked her to ponder the last month and here is what she has to say. You may need a comfortable chair, as the Diva had much to say and I have included her comments in entirety for your reading pleasure.
Rehab anyone? "I have never had occasion to be in rehab but I imagine what I am feeling now could equate. I feel as though I am recovering from something but must still be very vigilant least I fall by the wayside as the result of an ill-considered glance at a 50% off sale sign or, indeed, any sign with red letters. My last receipt is dated 11th December 2009 and was for a coral, freshwater pearl and quartz necklace for $180, a gift to myself for completing without mishap or incident of any kind 10 'Climb Every Mountains' for the Lord Mayor of Brisbane's Series at City Hall.
Ok, then what about a Reward? "I have made a habit of rewarding myself with something worthwhile at the conclusion of a season or a big concert. Whilst in Rodeo Drive after a concert in Orange County, California, I purchased a navy leather handbag, now hopelessly out of date, at Fred Hamers. An establishment so exclusive that a blood sample was taken before entering and a tracking device was placed on my husband, who had to sit at the cocktail bar with the complete attention of a magnificent bartender who did a fully choreographed show whilst producing a Brandy Alexander, so he didn't distract Madam from the task at hand. Imagine their disappointment with Madam headed straight for the deleted stock aisle!
Evasion. It works! "Thus far, evasion has been my main tactic. I have found drugs very helpful in this regard and also for my other New Year's res, losing weight. Anti-histamine is very helpful as it knocks you out for days at a time and one can neither shop nor eat whilst unconscious. Thus the thrilling result is no purchases and 2kg less. This, however, will be problematic when I rejoin the world as a fully participating adult when I have to recommence my position as an interviewer for voluntary positions at Centrelink. This is mainly in consideration for my fellow workers so they can tell me from the clients. I will then be exposed to the main street of Caloundra which bears the unfortunate name of Bulcock Street (not nice for the kiddies, really, is it, or for a jolly holiday experience. Couldn't they rename it Cavill Mall or something?). I have bought some particularly eccentric items there, a fur-trimmed poncho in brown astrakhan springs to mind which was recently jettisoned in New Zealand after several years' wonderful service in the Shakey Isles. When one thinks about it, who but an aging Diva would ever buy a fur-trimmed brown astrakhan poncho in Queensland, Australia, anyway?
A state called desire. "The fact is, after 47 days of complete shopping abstinence (apart from petrol, groceries, phone, power and selected personal hygiene items), I can't really claim any lessened desire. This remarkable feat has been achieved by the use of drugs and the facts that the shops were occasionally closed between Christmas and New Year. Please, please, don't feel sorry for me and start sending money -- I deserve this! I shall tell you why on another occasion as I have become overcome at this point and need to bathe my temples in au de cologne and lie down for a while.
Submitted - The Diva, Judy Glen"
Donations can be sent to the Diva, care of me. You trust me to pass them on. Right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tomatoe, Tomato - let's call the whole thing Thong

hiya and we're up to blog #13. Lucky 13. Yesterday was Australia Day (January 26). This public holiday late in January often marks the end of the holiday period for many people - it's definitely a back-to-work feeling after it (even if you've been back to work for weeks already). The photo here is not one I've taken but was to be seen a lot in newspapers and magazines in the lead up to Australia Day. For those not acquainted with the name of this particular footwear (quite possibly my Northern Hemisphere friends), we call these thongs. In other parts of the world, they're called flip flops.
Dip thong? This difference in labelling can cause some interesting misunderstandings leading to much mirth and smirking. Thongs in other parts of the world refer to an item of clothing most commonly worn by women (although some men wear them thesadays -- in olden days, apparently men were the most frequent wearers, although they were called loincloths them.... nowadays, jockstraps may be the most masculine version of the thong?) as an undergarment. The word "thong" comes from the English thwong which, way back when Shakespeare was a lad, had something to do with flexible leather cords. Who knows what uses flexible leather cords were put to in those days, but one does wonder if it was used to separate either toes or, ahem, buttocks. It's not a pretty thing to imagine, really, is it? Imagining Blackadder or Lady Stuckington-Smythe calling for their thwong. Hmmmm.
Thong throwing. One favourite Australia Day activity, apart from vegging out in front of the TV or having a barbecue at home and drinking litres of alcohol, is to attend some sort of community event where thong throwing is included in the lists of fun sports. Along with playing two-up (another game I do not understand, involving coins and the throwing thereof ina display of higher than usual testosterone-fuelled idiocy, although I mean no disrespect to the "diggers" (war veterans) who typically are associated with this game on ANZAC day), thong throwing is a uniquely Australian thing to do, and has something to do with our convict heritage where there was nothing to do for years on end, so watching cockroaches race, throwing pennies in the air and throwing one's footwear was invented as a way of passing the time. I just made all of that up, but it may not be far from the truth. I mentioned this thong throwing thing to a colleague in the USA and she was most amused. She thought it was the other kind of thongs being thrown. Imagine that! Skimpy pairs of knickers made out of rubber bands and dential floss, being flung down a cricket pitch! Now, that'd take some skill and be worth watching. Right?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Shopping is my Life. Really?

Welcome to blog #12. It really is Friday January 22, 2010, so the date stamp and I seem to be back on friendly terms, at least for now. Not an awful lot to report although I have learned a new skill which I'll tell you about in an upcoming post + I'm sticking to the challenge. Still using the tried and tested method of Avoidance - but hey, it's working so I'll keep at it for a while. I do feel the true test for me on the challenge will be some unknown future point when I am standing in front of an item of clothing that I have fallen instantly in love with, that's my size, looks sensational on me, is something I'll wear a lot, and it's is 99% off. Keeping out of the shops (including the online ones) is working for me at the moment. It's not interrupting my life either -- I'm not walking an extra 10 blocks to avoid a particular shop, although I am averting my eyes just a little if I go past a shoe shop that usually draws me in (you know who you are - Zaras on the Esplanade in Mooloolaba).
This is "Reality"? You're kidding! In the meantime, in an attempt to keep my blogging average up, let me tell you about a show I stumbled across on Lifestyle YOU channel called Shopping is My Life. Reality television is reaching new levels of absurdity and I was all set to resist this show as being a load of rubbish. I'm not sure if the mission of the show is to transform the life of the person being spotlighted - shaming them certainly appears to be... Maybe the producers think that through intense public (and international, as the show is British and aired throughout the world) shaming, the person's life will be reformed.
Addicted you say? The premise of the show is that the guest/profiled one is addicted to shopping. After being introduced to the person ("Sally is an IT consultant who lives in Surrey and commutes into The City....she spends 12 hours a week on shopping....") the person is then invited to visit a "shop" where all their clothing purchases for the last 12 months are laid out on the Conveyor Belt of Shame. This is what it's called, I kid you not. The Conveyor Belt of Shame. In this case, Sally had purchased something like 27 dresses (mathematics is clearly a skill somewhere on the show because this fact is then translated suchlike: that's nearly 2 dresses per month!), over 100 pieces of costume jewellery, 40 pairs of shows, over 80 belts, ..... and so on goes the litany of items, all trundling along on the Conveyor Belt of Shame. Sometimes there's an absurd item like a pink parlour maid's outfit.
All this is going on whilst Sally is watching with the two hosts, Faye (a stylist) and Nick (a self help expert) who are commenting on the items, in the shop's window for passers by to see. Sally usually starts off strong (perhaps she feels good about her purchases? or happy that she owns them?) but by the end of the Conveyor Belt of Shame, her hands are usually covering her mouth and she's "O My God"ing like a teenager in the mall.
The purpose of this exercise is best explained by the name they give to the conveyor belt, right?
Little boxes, made of ticky tacky. Next thing that happens is the content's of the person's entire wardrobe are packed into large clear plastic boxes and labelled - tops, pants, jeans, jackets, belts, shoes, handbags, jewellery, perfume, and so on. Their cupboard becomes Mrs Hubbards and is literally bare. These packed boxes are then stacked in the person's lounge room. They are brought in and there's more hands over mouth, "oh my God"ing going on, but in some cases this is partly out of outrage than shame. After the person has stopped hyperventilating from seeing their entire wardrobe packed up like that, they are given 10 minutes (and Faye's "help") to pack for 10 days into a small suitcase - the kind you carry onto a domestic flight (not even an international one). This usually results in blind panic and recriminations and assertions that "this is ridiculous!". One guest even attacked the bag - "but it's ugly". No exceptions to the rules - if it aint in the small red bag, they don't get to wear it during the next 10 days. Then the killer blow comes in -- they are not allowed to go shopping for those 10 days either. Unbelieeevable. (don't the contestant's ever watch the show? Even I know what the challenge is and I'm just a viewer!). Tamper proof tape then seals the boxes and they are allowed to unpack their teensy winsy (and ugly, if that one person is to be believed) suitcase back into their now ravaged closet.
Ten Long Days. Then the meaty, sticky, crackly, cranky, gritty part of the show commences. The ten days of the challenge. During this time, Nick spends time with the person and tries to draw out of them why they are 'addicted' to shopping; this usually involves handling old family photographs and a trip to visit one or both of their parents. He tries to elicit from them what they would actually like to do with their lives - you know, if they could live it instead of spend it. I wasn't sure I'd find Nick all that appealing, but I confess to experiencing unexpected respect for his methods and his tenacity - he's a bit of a terrier (maybe a Jack Russell) and doesn't let go. Sooner or later he finds something they maaaaybe want to do and then he makes them pursue it. This could be either going to the local amateur dramatics society or writing a children's story.
They also get to spend time with Faye who tries to teach them something about shopping properly. Considering the guests could shop for England, this is no small task and I often wonder if the guest doesn't find Faye a little ineffectual. She did one blindfolded exercises with a guest who had to guess which dress was the most expensive by the cut, feel and shape of it. The guest got it - but then again, she had purchased over 20 dresses in the last 12 months so could be that she could indeed shop blindfolded. Poor Faye. She doesn't get the big A-Ha's that Nick seems to. And she doesn't even get to see the old family photos either!
Follow up, anyone? You know, I'd love to see follow ups to these shows, and other reality shows, especially the makeover ones (I mean, it's one thing to look gorgeous after a day spent with a hairdresser, makeup artist, stylist, dermatologist and cosmetic dentist -- it's quite another to duplicate that result all on your own and on a daily basis). We never get to see how effective the show is in changing the lives of the guests on it. Maybe the shopaholics are not cured. Maybe they fall off the bandwagon. Maybe they leave their lives and go run a cattle station in the outback and never look at a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes ever again. Who knows what happens to them? We don't. Now, that would make for a really good show - seeing the long term impact (if one exists) on the lives of the people who go on the show. Whether it's better, worse, no different as a result of being publicly shamed and self-helped by Nick. I'd watch that show. Right?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Torture

Howdo and welcome to blog #11. Still gloriously, hair-kinkingly humid and hot here in Queensland Australia on this Tuesday, 19 January 2010 (not 100% sure what the automated date function is up to, as it seems to still be off by a day or two. Maybe it's too hot to keep up with the actual date?). Yesterday it was so still, murky and hot that I had to take off my earrings to gain extra ventillation. Now, that's what I call HOT - when the accessories go, you know you've reached a new level of hotness.
I have included a "cold" photo in this posting for my friends in the Northern Hemisphere (hallo up there!). These are photos of Julie and I on Mt Wellington, Hobart (Tasmania, Australia, The World) from a few years ago. Jules gets mentioned about every third blog posting and is Dan's daughter; she lovingly refers to me as her step-monster which I find endearing, and quite beautiful in its own way. Anyway, Jules is also doing the 12 month Shop My Closet challenge and her experiences are somewhat different to mine. One reason being because she has Temptation Everywhere. She works in Sydney's CBD you see. Uh-huh, you get it now, right?

This is a little 'diary entry' (of sorts) that Jules wrote to me and with her full permission and blessing (I have it in writing!), I'm going to include it in its totality. Even the punctuation (!) and formatting (such as CAPITALISING) is included as originally written. The pathos speaks for itself.

From the tortured one.

"OMG, working in the CBD is TORTURE.... a walk to the coffee shop is fraught with danger... my coffee shop is in the Strand Arcade and sales are everywhere... I even bought a jacket (!), took it home, looked at it for a day, and TOOK IT BACK! I try things on and say, "Thank you, I'll think about it" then go to the chemist and spend $100! I'm seriously going nuts here! January Sales really bite the big one for a month 1 challenge!

Even the expensive shops that I have avoided since becoming a mortgagee are suddenly visible again! I tried on a BOSS jacket, I haven't been near BOSS for 2 years but I was DRAWN in, a blue/grey silk 80%-off BOSS jacket, there was only one and it was MY SIZE... it was too gorgeous for words, my butt looked small... I had heart palpitations as I scampered out!

Bettina Liano has just come out with Curvy jeans for large sizes, NOW, can you believe it... I covet her jeans and I haven't been able to fit into them for the last couple of years and now CURVY JEANS FOR LARGE SIZES and I went in AND THEY FIT and my BUTT looked frigging fantastic....

On the flip side I've worn more items from my wardrobe in more alternate ways than ever before and I even got out the unpicker and got ride of the flaps on the back pockets that were making my butt look big (reading this back, I am a little hung up on my butt) instead of selling/throwing them and getting something new... my existing clothes look less like "consumables" in my eyes and more "solid" if that makes sense. Things that usually would have been culled because they weren't quite right are being scrutinised for tailoring options!

AND I realised one of my tactics used to be to wear things I don't really like, see my reflection somewhere and be compelled to buy something/anything that would improve how I looked... one of my constant challenges used to be how did I wear it out of the change room so they could remove the security tag with me still in it! I even used to hand clothes I came in wearing to the assistant and ask them to throw them out for me! What a consumer! What an incredible waste! NOW I am trying to look nice before I leave in the morning and actually like what I see reflected!

I am getting a little creative too and am reminded of a time when I was young and so desperately wanted a Denim Jacket I began scavenging strips of jeans and hand sewing them onto one of Dad's old t-shirts... this challenge is really evolving my thought patterns! I had no idea it would be sooooo enlightening, interesting and insightful! THANK YOU JILL!"

Wow. I know I've got a bit of a Dorothy Parker smart mouth thing going on here, but - hand on heart - this was sensational; it made me laugh, gave me a lump in the throat, jolted my brain and warmed my soul. Right?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One month mark

G'day and welcome to blog posting #10. It being Friday, January 15 2010 and we are one month into the challenge... well, as the last thing I purchased was on December 4, it's really been longer than that but the official figures say it's one month in. I was reminded of the absurd tenuousness of human endeavour when I came across this quote yesterday: "I couldn't wait for success, so I went ahead without it". Ah, so true!
So, how am I doing with the Shop My Closet (no shopping) challenge on this red letter day?
Pretty good! Haven't broken the rules, tacit, implied, explicit or otherwise since starting the challenge. This may largely be due to Avoidance Therapy, but its true nevertheless. And emotionally, it's been OK too. Generally, it feels exciting -- it's an adventure, it is a challenge but in a good way, and I feel supported, like I can do this. Not like one of those Indiana Jones challenges where (apart from the fact that a sequel is in the works) you're almost certain that some grizzly demonic-inspired death awaits just around the corner. I feel a little more like the Little Engine That Could -- "I think I can"..... optimistic and persevering, that's what I am (today anyway). Ok, for those who wish to cause me grievous bodily harm for being so virtuous, it's also true that some days I feel a bit scratchy about it - like I've been put on bread & water rations. But that's a fleeting feeling. So far.

One thing I've noticed is how I feel when I'm in a shopping centre. Not a place I have consciously placed myself in very often in the last 4 - 6 weeks, true, being a person who likes to achieve their goals I'm trying to "set myself up to succeed". But when I have been surrounded by shops, I've found that my focus is sharper. I'm there to get what I came for (I know what that is because it's on the list, right?) and I'm not there to dawdle and wander and browse in stores with which I have no business. Like shoe stores. Or clothing stores with 50% off signs screaming from the rack out the front. I seem to have metaphorical blinkers on.

The Sunshine Plaza. Dan and I visited the Sunshine Plaza this week - note my fabulous photography (taken from the car, how very National Geographic of me) above. I'd gone there to get a few things: liquid soap for our ensuite; sunscreen; shakes from the Terry White Chemist (thrilling list, ain't it? don't you just wish you had come with us on this shopping expedition?? But you get to relive it all now, so it's not a complete loss). Anyways - what I noticed was how much more I put into buying those non-clothing/shoe/bead/fabric/handbag items... how much more I enjoyed checking out all the sunscreen brands (in Australia, the melanoma capital of the world, we are truly spoilt for choice in this department).... the whole experience felt relaxed rather than rushed, enjoyable rather than annoying. And all this during school holidays! When the shopping centres are crawling with stick insects in shorts & singlets disguised as teenagers! Meandering in front of you in clusters of three, or standing rock solid still in packs, all texting on their phones or tuned into their iPods! How did this come to be?? Have I had a personality transplant and am now chanelling Diann Fossey (see blog post #2)?

The Power of Now. Maybe this is part of what Eckhart Tolle had in mind in his book The Power of Now - that focus on the present moment to the exclusion of all else? (I'm sure he'd be thrilled to know his spiritual classic has been translated into the world of shopping). Instead of having my attention pulled in every which way directions -- something that shopping centres excel at --- my focus was singular and my inner state was calm. My girlfriend Tara sent me a card with this eastern wisdom on it, which seems relevant here: "not in stillness is stillness. but the stillness in movement is the real stillness". Apart from using the word stillness just a few too many times, I just love this quote -- it's easy to be calm in a darkened, silent room with no distractions or other people around. To be calm in a stimulation-rich environment is another matter entirely. Right?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Print me silly

Hello from paradise and welcome to blog #9. It's a glorious Sunday, January 10, and if the humidity would only drop a notch or two, I may be able to get some makeup on my face before it all liquifies and get some of the kinks out of my hair. (I said hair). It's good for the skin, apparently, humidity - opens up the pores and all that - but you need to remember to sandpaper often so that the dead skin cells are sloughed (pronouced sloffed, rhyming as it does with scoffed) off. Hmm, lovely - nothing like a little bit of sloughing to start the day off right.

Anyway, speaking of skin.... I have a thing for animal skins - well, more accurately, animal prints (it's fake all the way with me, baby!) My fetish really began as a small bias in 2000. We were living in Sydney and had just renovated a 3-bedroom apartment in an inner city suburb, with a big balcony looking out at the twinkling lights of the Emerald city. How I loved sitting out there, looking at Sydney! There was no animal print in the apartment, and from memory, none in my wardrobe either. How things have changed!
Zebra rug. The first animal print thing I remember buying was a zebra throw rug which I still have today. It was quite expensive, over $500, and I bought it at some swanky interiors store in Sydney. If you want true swank, go to Sydney. Sydney is too rushed for true snobbery, Melbourne is much better at that. Brisbane can't be bothered being swanky or snobby, although its amusing to see it try from time to time. Anyway. I had no idea why I loved that rug so much, or why it appealed to me so much. Not a lot of analysis went into it - it was pure impulse.
That same year, I became a CIP, Certified Image Professional. This process requires extensive documentation proving that you're doing a whole swag of things in the image profession - seeing clients, making money, being part of the professional association (www.aici.org), staying educated. The woman who assessed me, Karen Snow, was based in Palo Alto, California and we happened to be visiting San Francisco later in the year. Karen took me to lunch in Marin and it was really Karen who sparked the small flame that was to flicker into the bonfire that is my full blown love affair with animal print today. I recall making some passing comment about "liking leopard print" or something of that nature, and Karen said something along the lines of "well, with your freckles, animal print really works for you"... she probably used words like "skin tone" and "complementary" and "harmony". Whatever words she used, the message stuck. Within a couple of years, my wardrobe had expanded to include many animal print items (including the lining of suits and jackets). And now? I wear animal print every day. Almost always you can see it, but even if you can't, I'm wearing it.
Daytime dramas. One of the upsides (or downsides - I can never quite determine which one it is) of working from home is that I can structure my day any way I like. I can take mornings off and work late into the evening, I can take whole days off and work a Sunday like I am today. I can watch a bit of daytime television, if I am feeling truly decadent. I usually don't like The View -- too many people talking over the top of one another -- but I caught an end of 2009 episode where they were talking about upcoming trends. The three fashion trends they spotted were (in order) for 2010 are:
1. animal print. Whilst this made me smile (goodie- I wont be out of fashion in 2010), I did wonder: Is this really a "fashion trend"? See, I see animal print as being perennial. It's a constant on the fashion landscape - it never goes out, so how can it come in?
2. studs - that's on clothing and accessories that we're talking about, right.... studded belts, studded handbags, studded sandshoes, studded jeans.... it's a studly year comin' up folks....
3. bright "pops" of colour mainly in accessories. This is for the panther-print wearing people, it seems, who could spark up their monochromatic gear with a bright yellow belt, or fire engine red pumps or a papal purple bag or... well, you get the idea.
If you do a Google search on "fashion trend" and "animal print", over 100,000 sites come up. One states that "leopard prints are classy and sassy without being trashy". Oh, yeah, baby - you got it. There's also a host of "fashion police" sites that tell us who's getting it wrong (Christina Aguilera apparently) and getting it right (Jessica Alba apparently).
So I haven't really analysed my love for animal print beyond the fact that I own up to it completely and don't mind who knows. Friends tell me that buying me gifts is easy - anything animal print will do it for me (animal print tissues being one of my favourites). Some say there is a "dark side" to this penchant for prints, which I'm not convinced about. When a guest saw our animal print broom, there was a moment of "is this too much?" Nevvah!
How many you got? The photo above shows you the animal print jackets hanging in my closet. I have 18 animal print jackets in total and this includes 3 trench coats and 3 more overcoat-style coats. The other 12 range from tailoured/lined jackets through to more casual styles. I love and wear them all, weather permitting - many get worn when I'm travelling as our Sunshine Coast weather is warm even in winter.
Since about 2003, I have been wearing animal print jackets when I work with clients. Doing this was about claiming and expressing an essential part of me which was not being claimed or expressed in black, navy, or tan suits (or any other coloured suit). I wondered if my more conservative clients - like law firms, banks and accounting/advisory firms - would have an issue (spoken or unspoken) about me not wearing a plain tailoured suit when running workshops with their staff. Never once came up as a negative. I've had plenty of comments over the years, but no criticisms. (well, none in my earshot!)
Oh Peg! My biggest fear is that I would come off "Peg Bundy" (from the TV show Married With Children) - all trash, no sass and certainly no class. What I've discovered is that the style of clothing makes a huge difference in how sassy and classy you look, as does the fabric and type of print. Taking my cue from how designers do it helps -- my Escada silk shirt is pure class and offers inspiration for other items. I had made a beautiful animal print shirt made out of quality silk, tailoured to fit me perfectly in a flattering cross-over jacket style that makes me feel a million bucks. Nothing too tight or bulge-revealing (even the "good" bulges).
How animal print is worn is also important. I knew a flambuoyant dressmaker who used to mix his animal prints up all the time -- a zebra scarf with a leopard jacket with another printed belt. It did look sensational on him -- all bohemian and devil-may-care. You've gotta have a certain j'en e ce quois to pull that multi-print look off and I've found a safer way, one where I don't have to be wondering at multiple points throughout the day do I look like I fell into a rag box and this is what stuck to me when I crawled out? I mean, there are so many other things to be thinking about such as does my bum look big in this? And that little tip is to limit the animal print items worn to one clothing item and one accessory item. Some folks would limit it to one total -- I'm wearing zebra print earrings - I'm done, everything else must be plain - clothes, shoes, bag, jewellery. Or I've got a leopard print jacket on, everything else must be panther - black pants, black top, black bag, black shoes. This is the super-safe way to wear prints -- you probably wont stuff it up if you limit your animal print to one item only.
For me, I'll do the animal print silk shirt and wear the animal print shoes, too (I have a gaggle of animal print shoes, too). Call me a crazy risk taker if you must.
Whatever else it's about, animal print feels like "me" - it's become a signature style for me and it resonates for me in how I feel. I've been told it looks good on me and even by people who have style themselves. In the oh-so-subjective, excruciatingly agonising way that many women view themselves when they look in the mirror - I like what I see when I'm wearing animal print. That's gotta be a good thing. Right?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Rick Rack

Another day in paradise and it's blog #8. It's also Wednesday January 6 - the date stamp on the blog seems to be slightly off, or working on Fiji time, which is another fascinating aspect of working with this freebie blogger software. Oh, the challenges and the consequent joy they've brought to my life - I really can't tell you....
I intended to write this post yesterday but was feeling poorly. As my affliction was of my own creation, that only made things worse (who knew that 4 bottles of champagne, shared with 2 others over a 5 hour period could inflict such damage? Whatever else it created, sympathy The Day After was not one of them). So I wasn't much up to writing, although I did consider my last will & testament to be document I might be needing sooninsh, based on how I was feeling. So, enough of that. Onto today's glimmering post. You're gonna love it... let's start with the title: Rick Rack.
Rick who? So, what the *$%# is rick rack? You're probably sick of people asking that question -- if one more person asks me what rick rack is today...! -- I'll bet. It comes up a lot in conversation, I know. Happens to me, too. So you're probably relieved that I'm addressing this question in a blog posting. Rick rack is a haberdashery item, sold in fabric and craft stores the world over. The word haberdashery is also an interesting one. It's roots lie in ancient times when men selling buttons, ribbons and suchlike would dash about the country side in small carts called habers. I just made that up, but it could be true right? An extensive 3-minute search on Google tells us that it's actually a combination of an Icelandic and Scandanavian set of words, although what those two countries were doing with buttons and ribbons when this word came into being hundreds of years ago, I'm not sure (surely seal fur would've been more their stock in trade?). Rick rack is a kind of ribbon and is wavy. Like the demonstrator model draped over the denim shorts in the photo above - that's one I prepared earlier. That's also really big rick rack - the jumbo size.
Ok, so now we know what rick rack is. Why are we talking about it today? I hear you intone.... Well, let's circle around to that one, shall we?

What are the rules, exactly? I'm commited to not buying any clothing items for 12 months. We're all agreed on that, and it's ten lashes with a wet noodle if I break the rules of the challenge (or some other socially acceptable, or unacceptable, punishment - a public shaming could do nicely). Does this mean I cannot change, alter or otherwise jazz up existing items, currently residing in my wardrobe, I wonder? Say, for instance - just a theoretical What If - I had a pair of denim knee-length shorts - nice, but fairly plain (kind of like a contestant on a makeover show). And let's just further suppose that I wanted to jazzy them up a bit by, say, how's this?, applying some large rick rack to them - a bit around the hem, perhaps on the side seam, something like that. Give them a bit of vavoom, jazz, zest and zing (so they're more like the 'after' on a makeover show). Now, if I were to do this - would this be ok, acceptable, perfectly fine, copacetic, ok dokey, hunky dory? And therefore, not a breach of the rules of the 12 month challenge?

Late last week, a traveller came calling Well, actually, Mum and I went shopping. Not shopping shopping, as in trawling the mall for hours - I'm not completely insane. But we went a bit here, and a bit there. Kind of like "butterfly" shopping. I'd worn said nice-but-plain denim shorts recently and felt they were a little too plain and toyed with the idea of doing a quick makeover on them. I wondered where the line in the sand with the rules of the challenge was. Exactly.
I pondered the rules of the challenge, being a believer (at least at times it suits me) in self responsibility and here's what I came up with: I didn't think it would contravene the statute or the spirit of the 12 month challenge if I jazzed them up using materials I already had. The only bit that seemed to "go gray" was the purchasing of the additional item (enter: jumbo size rick rack) with which jazzing up was to be accomplished. Total expenditure: $3. The spirit of the challenge can be broken whilst the rules remain intact, and vicey versi, and I was keen to answer in the positive to both.

Not the first time, I'll bet. I've been doing this stuff for as long as I can remember. I recall being at the movies with my high school friend Tina and exclaiming in the middle of a movie "what I'll do is paint the white shoes red!" - a solution to a problem that neither of us knew I was wrestling with (and let's not even start on what I was doing with white heels to start with.... it was the late '80s which may explain things). Fortunately Tina was all too familiar with these exclamations, knowing that the workings of my mind was a 24-hour operation and involved thoughts of altering items in my wardrobe so that the entire thing was like a game of chess.... "if I dye the sandshoes orange, and shorten the sleeves on that printed top.... I could then have a replica made of the yoked skirt, and I'll replace ....." - a conveyor belt of ideas that seemed never to stop. I've been working on the quieting of my mind in recent years, so the endless non stop flow - the torrent - of mind activity doesn't overwhelm my every waking moment. This is an undertaking of seemingly gargantuan proportions, but I have made some headway with it, I can happily report.

That said, I enjoy altering stuff I've got. It's fun. I love dreaming up the changes I want to make to things (wouldn't these pants be great with a cuff of animal print! How about removing those two beads from these earrings? ...if I added a button to this jacket and removed the shoulder pads....). I don't do a lot of the actual doing, (my sewing and beading skills being of say, a rudimentary level) but I'm great at finding people who can. And I've got lots of ideas.

It's a bit green. I also reckon doing stuff like this is a cheap and effective way of keeping your wardrobe fresh. Instead of throwing something out or giving it away - renovate it! Rejuvenate it, reconstruct it, refresh it! Alterations are often much cheaper than buying something new, and it's also a much more creative and resourceful thing to do. And there's less stuff going in the rubbish bin (whoever puts it there - you or the thrift stores) which means less stuff going into landfill. Renovating existing items keeps items in your wardrobe fresh and gives you options for new combinations: this - refashioned - now goes with that, that and that. Neat huh?

Sure, some things can't be salvaged and they're better off going to the wardrobe in the sky (or St Vinnies thift shop). But probably many more can be than not. Right?

Mafia Stew

G'day earthlings! It's blog #7. If you've missed an episode because you've been taking a holiday from your computer, whether it's been a a denomination-driven vacation or otherwise, then feel free to scroll downward to read the scintillating posts covering controversial topics such as elastically challenged swimsuits and stimulating 4 inch animal print wedge heels. It's edge of the seat stuff.

Not to be outdone by aforementioned topics, today's January 1 twenty-ten (a new year!) post should keep you poised in suspense, electrified by every word. This will most likely happen if you are still chemically enhanced from all those lunches-that-turn-into-dinners accompanied by an small lake's worth of intoxicating liquid that seem to happen around this time of year.

A couple of nights ago I made a dish that I'm now calling Mafia Stew. The recipe calls it Caponata, but I reckon Mafia Stew is a more descriptive term for this Sicilian dish. When planning my menus (yep, I plan about 4 meals in advance and go shopping just for the stuff I'll need. If that sounds so smug you just want to whack me one (keeping up with the Mafia/Sicilian theme of this paragraph), this is the "after" which follows on from a "before" where I used to wave my hands around like a windmill at around 5.30pm, looking blank-eyed in my pantry and fridge and wondering what on earth I could possibly make out of the stuff lurking in them. I mean, what can you do with an onion, some thin spaghetti and olive oil? I would inwardly wail, lost for ideas (as it turns out, there's lots you can do with said ingredients). That has all changed as you'll see.... let's get back to the Mafia Stew...).
The recipe called for red wine vinegar. An ingredient that up to that point I hadn't known existed and certainly didn't reside in my cupboard. Instead of ignoring the words "red" and "wine" and just slopping in whatever vinegar I happened to have lurking in the back of my pantry, possibly sealed shut from lack of use (name-brand plain ole vinegar, probably), I bought the proper red wine vinegar and used it in the making of Mafia Stew. I also used the correct measurements, too - instead of guessing at how much 3 tablespoons are (two wrists shakes, surely?), I did something crazy - I measured it. Long story short (or is it too late for that?), the dish was scrumptious. People who ate it even said so.

I've never been one much to cook a meal one might reasonably call scrumptious. You might call it quite nice, or a little bit tasty, or it-saved-me-from-starving. Nobody but anyone who had been gastronomically abused would have waxed lyrical about the meals I created. But of late, and by that I mean that last year or so, I've gotten into this whole cooking thing. It seems late to be starting, I know, and if this was a 1950s sitcom, I'd be the harmless but stare-inducing eccentric aunt from Out Of Town whose visit temporarily unsettles the household by gushing over the appearance of a nourishing meal involving more than 3 ingredients appearing on the table every night. I'd probably be named Boadecia or Dardinella and wear clothing that would normally be reserved for upholstering.
Back to the Present. I've always been interested in the eating end of the food spectrum, but the preparation end has never really called me. My sister in law Rosalee inspired me when they lived with us for a couple of months late 2007 - she'd plan the meals, make sure all ingredients were present and accounted for, and start preparing early enough so that the meal was ready when -- gasp! - people were hungry. Her table-laying was also lovely - simple but pleasing to the eye. In all, she put thought and care into the evening meals she created, and it helped make our house feel like a home (thank you Rosie!). Fast forward to now.....I find myself actually wanting to prepare interesting and mouthwatering dishes. I'm interested in the activity (we couldn't yet call it an art) of cooking. My day is book-ended by the time I spend chopping and stirring (most of the time, this happens in the kitchen too). It also has this unexpected calming effect on me. The long commute from my home office, where all kinds of stimulating if not agitating activities have occurred throughout the day, to the kitchen takes all of 15 seconds and from there I am lulled into a relaxed state through end-of-day meal composition.
What a difference a decade makes. When I lived on my own in Sydney, from 1994 to 1999, my usual evening meals consisted of these appetising and complicated dishes: 2 minute noodles with grated cheese; boiled eggs; toast; cereal. Sometimes I'd get fancy and have the boiled eggs with the toast. Cooking isn't the only thing that's changed in the last 10-15 years, but it's kind of like a marker on the journey, somehow indicating how my attention has shifted from this to that, where I am now spending my energy and time, and what now interests and animates me. 10 years ago, my life was completely different to how it is now. I had just finished working for Deloitte, an identity-shifting experience of seismic proportions. I'd just gotten married, an identity-shifting experience of seismic proportions (oh, I just used that expression, didn't I?). We'd just bought and renovated our first apartment together, a financial- and fingernail-shifting experience of nimbus proportions. I'd moved on from 2-minute noodles to more complex dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise.
And....??? what has this to do with the 12 month challenge to shop my closet?, I hear you ask. Excellent question.... The 1.5hrs its taken me to compose this post thus far, I've been pondering it myself (which originally was going to include something about rick rack, so you'll just have to wait for that one). What I think all this culinary cultivation has to do with the 12 month challenge is it's about the creative place I am finding myself in. I'm pulled by the desire, the call to make something - to design, to compose, to come up with, to build, to bring into being.... in short: to create. I never thought of myself as creative, but now I do. What I also know is that to deny creativity and the act of creating is to shut yourself off from something important and profound in life. When you create you move from surviving to thriving, from existing to living. Creation turns life from a black and white photograph into a technicolour movie. It's a life force. Creating meals is a part of the creative jigsaw for me. And so is shopping my closet and this challenge. They are both pieces of the puzzle, the overall shape of which is a life creatively lived.
We probably have a lot in common, I'll guess. One of them might be that you weren't confident that I'd be able to forge a cogent link between cooking and the 12 month challenge. Right?