Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To Polish, Or Not to Polish

To polish, or not to polish, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The bareness of the naked toes,
Or to take action against the chipped and ragged nails,
And by polishing, camouflage them. To paint—to polish,
No more; and by the natural nails to declare an end
To artifice and the damage to the environment
That chemicals cause so surely: 'tis a consummation
To be both wished and feared. To groom, to moisturize;
To sandals wear, perchance to show the feet—ay, there's the rub:
For in those open shoes how vanity may suffer,
When we have gone to dance or walk the beach,
Must give us pause—there's the factor
That makes the healthy choice so difficult to make.
For who would bear the scornful glances down,
The comparisons, with feet both print and present,
Forego the single thing from Vogue that one can do,
The knowledge that the sacrifice is scorned
As eco-snobbery, and self-promotion,
When she herself would just as soon take up
The polish brush? But who would paint those toes,
Knowing, as we do, that formaldehyde and toluene,
And dibutyl phthalate, not to mention acetone, must be disposed,
As toxic waste with other petrochemicals?
We do not feel the cost, beyond the smell,
But bear the consequence of odor, and unaware
Bear bits of polish in lungs and blood, all unfelt.
Thus vanity does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native lack of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the lack of need for thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

With apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet for pre-empting a great speech for the relatively trivial purpose of opening a discussion on the merits and dangers of nail polish.  For perhaps less cryptic information about the impact of nail polish on our bodies and our world, see Green Living Tips and The

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

When I was in eighth grade, my family moved from a very small town in Michigan to Orange County, California.  We arrived in California in October.  The sweaters and jeans I had brought on the road trip were not the most appropriate wardrobe choices for sunny Southern California.  My new short haircut and perm fit in poorly with the free-flowing blond heads of my middle school, and the first person who would talk to me had stories about some encounter with a boy that I did not understand at all.  I felt like a total rube.

Megan looking a lot as she did when we were 13.

Then I met Megan McClung.  She talked a mile a minute, with incredible enthusiasm about just about everything, but especially about gymnastics.  My last experience of gymnastics had been at the YMCA when I was five, but her enthusiasm and cheerfulness was irresistible.  And she was friendly, and I understood her.  She became my first friend.  

She was my first friend in California, and I will always, always be so grateful for that.  But gratitude only goes so far in teenage friendship, and we drifted apart by the beginning of ninth grade because I am, most emphatically, not an athlete and Megan, most emphatically, was.

On December 6, 2006, Major Megan McClung of the U.S. Marine Corps, was killed in combat in Iraq.   Today, her brother shared the U.S. Marine Corps prayer:
Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones, and Thee without shame or fear. Protect my family. 
Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm. Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance. 
Keep me loyal and faithful to my superiors and to the duties my Country and the Marine Corps have entrusted to me. Help me to wear my uniform with dignity, and let it remind me daily of the traditions which I must uphold. 
If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again. 
Guide me with the light of truth and grant me wisdom by which I may understand the answer to my prayer. 
Thank you all that serve, have served and will serve. It is in your service I always will be indebted.
The world is a poorer place without Megan McClung in it.  I hadn't spoken to her in a lot of years, but it makes me sad to know she's gone.  I am grateful for her commitment, and for her sacrifice, but most of all I am grateful for the generosity that made her a person who could give an awkward newbie the confidence to find like-minded friends.  

How many stories are there like this?

Be Bold
Be Brief
Be Gone
  Megan's family has founded a memorial run in her honor.  Details can be found at:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Adeline Virginia Stephen Woolf (Virginia Woolf) with her mother, Julia Stephen, 1884

In "A Sketch of the Past," Virginia Woolf describes her mother, who died when Woolf was thirteen; this memory is written forty-four years after her death, when Woolf was herself fifty-seven:

Certainly there she was, in the very centre of that great Cathedral space which was childhood; there she was from the very first.  My first memory is of her lap; the scratch of some beads on her dress comes back to me as I pressed my cheek against it.  Then I see her in her white dressing gown on the balcony; and the passion flower with the purple star on its petals.  Her voice is still faintly in my ears -- decided, quick; and in particular the little drops with which her laugh ended -- three diminshing ahs... "Ah -- ah -- ah..."  I sometimes end a laugh that way myself.  And I see her hands, like Adrian's [Woolf's brother], with the very individual square-tipped fingers, each finger with a waist to it, and the nail broadening out. (My own are the same size all the way, so that I can slip a ring over my thumb.)  She had three rings; a diamond ring, an emerald ring, and an opal ring.  My eyes used to fix themselves upon the lights in the opal as it moved across the page of the lesson book when she taught us, and I was glad that she left it to me (I gave it to Leonard [Woolf's husband]).  Also I hear the tinkle of her bracelets, made of twisted silver, given her by Mr Lowell, as she went about the house; especially as she came up at night to see if we were asleep, holding a candle shaded; this is a distinct memory, for, like all children, I lay awake sometimes and longed for her to come.  Then she told me to think of all the lovely things I could imagine.  Rainbows and bells...
But apart from her beauty, if the two can be separated, what was she herself like? Very quick; very direct; practical; and amusing, I say at once offhand.  She could be sharp, she disliked affectation.  "If you put your head on one side like that you shan't come to the party," I remember she said to me as we drew up in a carriage in front of some house.  Severe; with a background knowledge that made her sad.
But can I get any closer to her without drawing upon all those descriptions and anecdotes which after she was dead imposed themselves upon my view of her?  Very quick; very definite; very upright; and behind the active, the sad, the silent.  And of course she was central.  I suspect the word "central" gets closest to the general feeling I had of living so completely in her atmosphere that one never got far enough away from her to see her as a person.... She was the whole thing; Talland House was full of her; Hyde Park Gate [the homes where Woolf's family lived during her childhood] was full of her.  I see now, though the sentence is hasty, feeble and inexpressive, why it was that it was impossible for her to leave a very private and particular impression upon a child.  She was keeping what I call in my shorthand the panoply of life -- that which we all lived in common -- in being.  I see now that she was living on such an extended surface that she had not time, nor strength, to concentrate, except for a moment if one were ill or in some child's crisis, up on me, or upon anyone -- unless it were Adrian.  Him she cherished separately; she called him 'My Joy'.  The later view, the understanding that I now have of her position must have its say; and it shows me that a woman of forty with seven children, some of them needing grown-up attention, and four still in the nursery; and an eighth, Laura, an idiot, yet living with us; and a husband fifteen years her elder, difficult, exacting, dependent on her; I see now that a woman who had to keep all this in being and under control must have been a general presence rather than a particular person to a child of seven or eight.
Virginia Woolf, "A Sketch of the Past"
Moments of Being, pp. 81-83 

Julia Stephen (rear) with six of her seven children, plus a friend.
Front row: Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia, and Adrian Stephen
photos from Dust on the Shelves

This meditation by a daughter on her soul-deep longing for her mother was beautiful and reassuring to me.  The things that Julia Stephen did for her daughters (Woolf and her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, were both home schooled, with mixed results -- both women counted on their fingers to the end of their days, but could follow Cambridge and Oxford educated scholars with confidence), were less important to her than the fact of her presence.  Woolf doesn't remember the lessons so much as watching the opal ring during the lessons.  She knows she was loved, and though she may have resented all the distractions from her mother's attention, she remembers her lovingly, not resentfully.  She misses those individual attentions, but recognizes that her mother created and sustained the entire shape of her life, a life which she remembers with laughter, and nostalgia, and as a time of the greatest confidence.

In an era when mothers are bombarded with often-conflicting information about the "right" way to parent, when we're constantly told we're not doing enough or when Time magazine can demand "Are you MOM enough?" it's nice to be reminded that it's not so much each individual choice that adds up to "Mom enough" but the simple fact of our loving presence, the "natural quality that a mother -- she seemed typical, universal, yet our own in particular -- had by virtue of being our mother."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wardrobe Remix #1: The Blue Skirt

Last fall in Las Vegas I bought this skirt at Ann Taylor:

Similar from:

This is how I wore it that evening -- totally appropriate for dinner & a show.
Especially in November, when it is surprisingly cold in Las Vegas.


I had this ruffled, tiered top from White House Black Market with me, and could have worn that, but I didn't think the goosebumps would have made the top any sexier.  At home, I put this black blazer over it, which is a great look, especially for the office.  Unfortunately, I don't work in an office.

Once I got it home I didn't have anyplace swanky to wear it, so I tried a few things:

This was OK but nothing special

This was OK but also kind of boring (and also, the top is fairly sheer; I usually wear this under a sweater).  I like it a lot more with the red denim jacket, which is nice because before I actually put them together I would have been worried that the red & blue together would be a little too Fourth of July.

Charlotte created these two looks, mainly based on the baubles she found in my possessions that she wanted to play with.  The top is from Loft and has a bubble hem and flower appliques around the neckline that make it a much more interesting alternative than it appears in these pictures.  But what's inspired about putting a white t-shirt with a royal blue knit skirt?

Unless you do it this way... 
White denim topper, white tank, fine gold accessories 
(except the fancy rhinestone watch that my style advisor Charlotte couldn't resist), and choice of shoes.
Really, any shoes would have worked with this, it's so simple and accommodating.

(Similar white denim jacket at Piperlime; mine is from CAbi, not available this year)
And by the way, I should try this jacket over that tiered top that I can't wear to the office where I don't work.

But it was when I started getting a little more adventurous with putting things together that I began to really fall in love with how versatile the skirt could be.  Suddenly this bright blue color that seemed like such a statement by itself when I got it in Vegas becomes more of a neutral.


This is a top I got from the Anthropologie sale room maybe a year and a half ago (so it would have been current two years ago, I guess) I love the giant-size print and the range of colors that make it so multi-season.  There are several shoe options, of course (I showed a lot of restraint only accessorizing it with three pairs).  The Toms wedges (similar available at Nordstrom) in the center are actually striped, which looks kind of trendy with the big print, but it's so fine that it reads as a neutral.  I loved how it worked with the little stripes of light tan in the top.  

The varying options on the shoes & accessories shows how the look can be adjusted for the seasons, with the picture on the right showing a great early fall option -- toss a denim jacket or brown blazer over it to accommodate chilly mornings or evenings -- and the one on the left working well for spring or summer with the brighter colors.  I'm on the fence about the blue shoes with this skirt -- they are a much dimmer color than the picture shows, not exactly navy and definitely not a royal.  But I think they'd be a better evening option than the Toms, which I would wear for toodling around in the daytime because they're so comfortable.  (Brown Clarks sandals)

This black & white sweater from White House Black Market has a tighter waist on the black banded section with a looser, dolman fit on the striped portion.  Here I chose three different accessorizing options to show how one top can dress up and down.  To the left here, I use the same coral bead necklace and gold pendant from Stella & Dot to dress up the striped sweater & blue skirt.  The patent leather slingback sandals make it a little more restrained; the polka dot & floral wedges make it more playful.  Sitting at a restaurant the look would be basically the same, so I would probably make my choice based on the outing and the time of day, with the crazy wedges making a daytime look.

This would probably be my default, "I took very little effort" look.  The sandals are super comfy and the pendant stays pretty much out of the way.  (Thanks to my friend Jami for the adorable wine-cork pendant!)  Although it doesn't take a lot of imagination to put a black & white striped top with a colorful bottom, it's at least a little more interesting than two solids together, and the strappy sandals are sleek and just enough above flip-flops to still be casual without being too much.  This is a great coffee-at-the-playground outfit.

Tucked or untucked? Belt or no belt? 
(for the record, Charlotte prefers the belted version)

This is my personal favorite: bright pink cardigan, flowered top, bright pink shoes.  You can not put on an outfit like this and spend the day scowling.  This one I'll probably wear the very next time I get dressed.

The ideas that came together above pertained to my ordinary life here in the Bay Area, which generally includes school runs, grocery shopping, a little bit of volunteer work at our schools and the church, and my work with the Write On, Mamas!  For my usual rounds, I like to look put together, like I made an effort (I find it makes me more efficient when I feel nicely dressed), but I don't always have or make the time to put on make up or even very much in the way of accessories.

Once a year, though, we make our family pilgrimage to the East Coast, and besides the difference in climates, there is a difference in level of dress necessary for each location that we visit.

Hilton Head:
Striped tank top, hippy necklace & earrings,
thong sandals
North Georgia:
White tank top, black & white striped ruffle bolero,
vintage silver necklace and strappy sandals

Then of course there's something just fun just for kicking around the house.
John Lennon's is the yellow face.  

So happy closet-diving!  The outfits I made here depended on the shape and length of my particular skirt, but any of these would also look good with skinny jeans (or boot-cut, if you can find them) in cobalt, or a fuller-style skirt.  I could just as easily have pulled these same ensembles together using the similarly-shaped kelly green skirt in my closet, as well.  Some would look great with a cobalt maxi as well.  The point is to play with what you've got.  I learned a ton from actually hauling the clothes out of my closet and putting outfits together.  There were a few outfits that I thought I'd try that Charlotte & I just shuddered when we looked at them; a few that were just too boring to be worth going forward.  There was a lot more I could have done with this skirt, which I would not have believed before I started this project.  In fact, I had so much fun that the concept of "shopping my closet" has completely changed for me.  

Please note that I'm providing links to similar just in case... but what I'd love you to do is to actually apply this method to your own closet and see what speaks to you that never spoke before.

Is there a piece in your closet that you really like but can't seem to wear very often?  We can do something with that!  Post a description below and we'll make some time to play with it.

Wardrobe Remixing: An Overview

I have a lot of clothes.  Way more than I need, in fact, and it's the area of my household where I am least likely to minimize.  This picture shows a pretty stuffed closet, and only represents probably half of what I've got -- most of my shoes are in an organizer in my actual bedroom (this is a hall closet), my jackets and dresses are in one of the two closets in my sons' bedroom, and my folded clothes (t-shirts and unmentionables) are in an Elfa unit in the laundry room.

Not to mention Mount Washmore.  So we won't.

But I find myself in a bit of a rut.  The coral-colored plaid shirt always seems paired with the same pair of jeans and the same matching sweater.  Yawn.

My usual solution to the rut is to go shopping.  But that is problematic on a lot of levels, not least of which is clothing storage.  Stronger measures are required.  Hence, the wardrobe remix.

The purpose of this exercise is to develop a lot more creativity in my appearance and to make more use of the clothes I already own.  Most of this stuff I really like, which is how it has survived multiple purges following moves and pregnancies (when my sizes change) over the last few years.  There isn't much in my closet that is older than three years.

The process: take one item of clothing that I really like, that fits well, that doesn't see the light of day as often as it deserves. Then pull a lot of things from the closet that might work with it, and see what I come up with.  Hopefully I'll discover that I've been limiting myself in how I've been wearing that outfit, and that my "go-to" style is not as good as the new looks I come up with.

It may be that I discover a hole in my wardrobe -- that I don't have a great pair of black pants, for example, or that my white button-down shirt has a big stain on it (with three children and a serious coffee habit, that wouldn't be much of a surprise).  And in that case, great!!  When I do go shopping, I will be a lot more mindful in my purchases, which will add to the overall quality of my wardrobe, rather than its quantity.

And hopefully some of my friends out there will find this inspiring as well.  (If you don't, invite me over and we'll repeat this process in your closet -- it's fun, I promise!)

DISCLAIMER:  I know I have a lot of clothes.   I know I have a lot of shoes.  The point of the exercise is to make better use of what I have so that over time, as things wear out, I will make better use with less, rather than continue to carry this crazy load.

My guest blogger Charlotte was a great help to me in the first wardrobe remix in figuring out how to display the outfits, manage the lighting, and lay out the pictures.  I'm not totally satisfied with the process we came up with, but it will have to do till I have a good upright location and photography knowledge to actually model the outfits myself (yikes!!) so that everything shows better.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy exploring this kind of creativity with me!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Right-Sizing: Or, I Am Not a Minimalist

Well, the Big House has found a buyer.  Everything that's still in it either comes to the Little House, the storage unit, or out into the world.

In theory, everything except the art on the walls, some of the furniture, and the wedding china could leave my possession.  In theory.

A few years ago, I was participating in a local online-only moms club.  The online-only part is important; women said some of the most amazing, outrageous things under the mighty thin anonymity of a username like "MindyA" or "EllasMom."  Cris-de-coeur like "Am I ever going to get my waist back?" or "At what age did YOUR baby sleep at night?" were interspersed with outrageously personal details about their sex lives, their (or their husbands') DUIs, nanny problems, mother-in-law problems, and requests for gardeners.  And of course, repeated complaints about The Mess.

I doubt I need to explain The Mess.  But since I do need to vent, I will share what our Mess currently consists of:

  • Toy cars
  • Various jump ropes
  • Move debris (books, etc. that had been used for staging but can now come home to Mama)
  • Quentin's "Writing Office" where he is conducting his Write On Mamas writing class -- this is a big plastic tool chest thingy with paper & pencils on top.  The boys are numbering all the rooms in the house, except the living room, which has been designated the Write On Mamas Conference Room.  Quentin says he is On Writing Duty.
  • Various shoes and dirty socks
  • Backpacks
  • School work that they are returning for my inspection which I have not yet inspected
  • Folded laundry on the couch -- usually it's not folded, but I spiffed the place up for y'all
  • Miscelleneous detritis that I'm not willing to admit to
So, every happy family I know has a Mess.  And everybody complains about the Mess.  And it popped up regularly on the forum.  Complaining about the Mess was always a hot topic, with responses usually wordy and ranging from some variation of "don't worry about it, enjoy your kids while they're little" to "I make the kids clean up each type of toy or game before they move on to the next one" (which I personally object to, but probably that person doesn't have items on her Mess list that she won't admit).  

There was one exception, one time.  The response consisted of a single line:

Well, that's almost like God sending you a little text message cutting through all that wordy crap and saying "CHECK OUT THIS BLOG."

So of course I did.  

Now, if you are remotely interested in being green, or reducing your waste, you have probably encountered Bea Johnson and her family.  She's been all over the place in the last two years: the Today show, People magazine, the New York Times and Sunset magazine, to name her highest profile appearances (sorry, the link to the Sunset article was password protected; check your library for the December 2010 issue).  I went a little cross-eyed looking at the blog, at first, not understanding if I was seeing what I was really seeing, so then I clicked over to the New York Times article.

That entire article had an impact on me, and it all started with this paragraph:

It’s like some kind of amazing magic trick. Bea has a husband, two sons (ages 10 and 8) and a dog, and yet her household generates no empty containers, no food scraps, no dirty paper towels, no broken toys, no crumpled wrapping paper, no empty ketchup packets from fast-food restaurants, no orphan socks with holes in the toes. 

Doesn't that sound beautiful?  Amazing?  Magical, as the article says?

Yes.  Yes, it does.

Imagine a life without the mess.



Yes, back to reality.  Back to where Bea Johnson has led where I can't follow.

The thing is, in addition to being nearly zero waste, she's also a true minimalist.  There is a pretty detailed inventory of her house over the course of her blog entries, and it's impressive.

Her house is beautiful.  It's all white, with little pops of orange, which is one of my favorite colors.  And it is, as described, utterly uncluttered.  If you toodle around on her blog you'll find lots of places where she details all the things she got rid of and why she found them unnecessary.

But as I have been packing away many of my belongings, the ones that were used to stage the house and give it personality, I have realized that, although many of those things have little real value, I do find them beautiful.  I am sad to be packing them up with no sense of when I might see them again.

Can I live without the little Fiestaware vase & cherub arrangement that I seem to create in each of my homes?  For sure.  But somehow, seeing the green vase and the cherub holding the (fake) mistletoe ball, which I'm sure Bea Johnson would find too tacky for words, makes me feel... I don't know... at home.  I mean, I've occupied five dwellings in the twelve years that those items have been part of my life, so they certainly have more permanence to me than any building has had.

Can I live without my John Lennon calendar hanging over my desk?  Well, yes.  I have only had it since November (and couldn't even hang it till March, owing to the Big House being staged).  But it calls to mind a set of memories that wouldn't need to surface otherwise: looking at a big painting of John in New York City, priced at $14,000, at some ridiculous store at the Mirage in Las Vegas, laughing with my husband about "maybe someday" -- and then coming back to the hotel room later to find that he'd bought me the calendar, the cover of which is the photo that inspired the painting.  That weekend, when everything was smooth and easy and not distracted by children or house stuff.  It reminds me of how much my husband, who doesn't usually buy me flowers but got the John Lennon calendar and 82% cacao chocolate bars, knows and and loves me.  With all these children and projects, it can be easy to stop noticing that.

Could I  live without my wedding china?  The fruit dishes from Jeff's grandmother?  The brown linen chair with the broken leg?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes again.  Some of it I even want to release into the world.

But somehow, parting with the Big House, and the easy stuff (half our possessions, almost), is enough. I'm beginning to feel a sense of loss.  I don't want to lose momentum on this project, so I think I have done Enough.  I will keep my (number withheld) pairs of shoes, my (too many) skirts and dresses, the (not going to admit) books about Virginia Woolf and the Beatles and England, and each of my children's coming-home-from-the-hospital newborn outfits.

But just because I keep those things today doesn't mean I have to make that same decision tomorrow.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jane Austen Wrote Pride and Prejudice

A watercolour and pencil sketch of Austen, believed to have been drawn from life by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)
from Wikipedia

Yes, duh, right?

But think about the simplicity of that sentence: Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice; focus on that verb, wrote.  How long do you think she spent on it?  When you think of Jane Austen in the act of writing, do you imagine her just sitting, steadily composing from "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" to "And they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them" as though she were reading it off the back of her skull into the pen hand?

Photo from The Heroine's Bookshelf
That kind of seamless composition is sort of what's implied in a short little verb like write.  After all, we write grocery lists, emails, notes, and messages all the time, right?  What is Twitter?  Writing (sort of).  And a work like Pride and Prejudice is so normal, 200 years after publication, that it's impossible to imagine it any other way.  (Short plug for one of my favorite authors, Jasper Fforde, who in The Eyre Affair imagines Jane Eyre radically differently, and then, in an insane and creative course of events, returns it to its familiar composition).  So of course she just sat down and wrote it.

Except that she didn't.

According to Wikipedia, Austen began the novel that eventually became Pride and Prejudice in October 1796, at the age of 20.  She completed the inital draft, called First Impressions, in August 1797, having read it to her family along the way.  The Austens were a very literate family, and although I don't have documentation to hand, I know from having read several biographies of Jane Austen that they did not refrain from sharing their opinions about what worked and what didn't as she wrote.  

In November 1797, Austen's father attempted to have First Impressions published, without success.  Jane Austen then set the work aside and continued on other projects, including the epistolary novel Elinor and Marianne into the third-person work that became Sense and Sensibility.  She is not documented as having returned to Pride and Prejudice until about 1811 (although quite a lot about her life is very poorly documented owing to family censorship), and it was published in the form in which we read it today in 1813.  

So what does this have to do with Simply Richer Living?

It has to do with expectations.  

Six words: Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice.  Represents approximately three years of effort.  We don't have any documentation for how long Austen expected to take to write her story.  We don't know if she expected to rank among the great English novelists, or if she wanted to, or what she would have thought of such an achievement -- although we do have enough general indication of her character, and of her attitude towards the Prince Regent, the future George IV, to be able to guess at what she would have thought of that specific ambition.  We don't even really know if she was satisfied with her work, and if not, what she found wanting.  

But I can tell you, I feel very strongly about Pride and Prejudice and especially about my favorite of Austen's novels, Persuasion, which almost moves me to tears at the thought of what we missed at having such a sharp, observant woman die at 41, just when her vision would have been liberated from so many of the trivia things that obsess us in our youth.  

So... not that writing a great (or seven) works of literature is comparable to reducing one's personal footprint in the world and creating a more efficient life, but is it not true that we should expect that any worthwhile work should take some effort, a lot of time, a fair amount of self-doubt and uncertainty, and a lot of iterations before we get all the way to where we want to be.  Or as far as we can reasonably get under the circumstances?  The sentence I need to clean out my house is only seven words.  It includes a phrase, clean out, that implies a one-time endeavor requiring no particular thought (aren't we all engaged in cleaning activities on a daily basis?), and, if we decide on some arbitrary deadline based on a move or a party or houseguests, should be readily achievable in the time allotted.

Think deeper.  Imagine Jane Austen fretting over just how to get Elizabeth to change her mind about Darcy, how miserable she should permit Jane to be, how to balance Bingley between being sweet and easy-going and a complete imbecile.  Imagine her trying to figure out how to make the time between balls pass.  Imagine the uproar in her family when she married Charlotte Lucas to Mr. Collins.  And then, just as Jane Austen did, reach out your hand, and start the process.  Move one step further, and then one more step, acknowledging that it might take multiple iterations to make it what you want, until you have completed the product that is the best you can do with the resources available.  And present it to the world, and be at peace.

Biographies of Jane Austen*:
Jane Austen Her Life and Letters a Family Record by William Austen Leigh (a relative)
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin (my personal favorite)
Jane Austen's Letters by Deirdre LeFaye
Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen Leigh (by her eldest great nephew within the lifetime of nieces and nephews who knew Austen personally)
Jane Austen: Her Life: The Definitive Portrait of Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Art, Her Family, Her World by Park Honan (not one of my favorites, but if you click this Amazon link one of the Amazon reviewers mentions a number of author Austen biographies with which I am not familiar)
Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes
The Life of Jane Austen by John Halperin

Other Informative Non-Fiction Works:**
The World of Jane Austen by Nigel Nicolson

And if you think you don't like Jane Austen:
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon (a personal favorite)

*Note that I am not monetized or reimbursed by Amazon in any way; links are provided solely for the convenience of the reader.  These are, for the most part, either biographies with which I am personally familiar or those (Honan, Nokes, and Halperin; I can't remember which of the three I've read already) which are widely acknowledged as having some quality.  As Virginia Woolf observed, "We have lives enough of Jane Austen...", so there are many, many more to choose from, of varying degrees of quality, but this is a good starting list.  For a much shorter, more subjective but very loving memoir of Jane Austen, read the preface to the combined edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which was written by her favorite brother, Henry Austen, shortly after her death.  

**Although these works are not meant to be strictly biographical, they do generally follow many of the events of Austen's life and therefore have biographical qualities.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Post: Charlotte's Wardrobe Remix

Cindy's Note:  My first guest blogger! Charlotte is my 9 year old daughter.  She has been my go-to wardrobe consultant since she could talk, so for about 8 years.  For our first wardrobe remix, she chose a gray & white striped ruffled t-shirt dress from Old Navy, and then... just dove into her wardrobe.  Here is what she came up with.

The reason that I chose that dress was because I hardly ever wear it and it would be fair to pick clothes that are not from Justice. I picked it because even in the spring and summer it is usually very chilly in Northern California.

This is the dress:

By itself I do not think it looks very cute.  So I put things with it.

I started with...

I took this dress and added a miniskirt and leggings and called it an outfit.  I thought this looked pretty cool, so I kept experimenting.

Another outfit I did is:

This one is my favorite one.  It has a mixture of teenagerish clothes and regular clothes.  I was really surprised to find out that it looked good together.  For school I'll have to wear leggings with it for PE but I'll like it anyways.

I picked this outfit because I like how the dress, the jeans, the sweater, and the shoes go together.  I think mixing prints with stripes looks really cute together.  My Gran gave me this sweater as a Christmas present.

I like this outfit because it feels kind of earthy because of the scarf and the boots.  I think I would probably wear this outfit in the fall and spring because those are the coldest seasons in Northern California.

I like these two outfits because I like how the plaid goes with the stripes, and I like how the shoes go with the entire outfit. I would probably wear this outfit if I were going to the park or a birthday party and doing messy things because it kind of looks like it was meant to get dirty.

I would probably wear this outfit on a typical Northern California day because sometimes it is warm and sometimes it is cold,  and this outfit is perfect for warm and cold weather.  The poncho is good for cold, but then I can take it off and the dress is good for warm.

I hope you liked this blog post! I had fun doing it, and I hope you take some of these ideas and use them in your own closet.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pinterest and My New Dream Kitchen

My sister-in-law introduced me to Pinterest last Thanksgiving, and I have to admit, at the time I didn't get it.  It was amusing, for sure, but I couldn't understand what anyone would ever use it for.

That was then.  This is now.

Seeing as how we're in the middle of the big transition, downsizing and working out just what we really value in our lifestyle rather than going quite so easily with the flow, it will be many a moon before I'm ready to commit to a kitchen of my own, dream, nightmare, or cookie cutter.  But that doesn't stop me from looking.  Looking at other people's idea of the dream kitchen, that is to say, because at the moment I'm still trying to decide if my rented kitchen should include an automatic breadmaker, and just how bad the oven has to operate to be worth contacting the maintenance people.

Other people's dreams are pretty interesting.

A couple of cousins, for example, who are in their twenties and either living at home or sharing college apartments with friends, are dreaming of something rather grand, like this:

or this:

These are gorgeous kitchens, and if my whole life revolved around gracious entertaining, I'd be all over  kitchens like these.  Especially if I had the money to pay someone else to keep it looking just like the picture.

Alas, real life is not like this.  Small children want to pour their own milk or juice; they want to help make muffins.  They want to fling their lunchboxes on the counter as fast as they can so they can get down to the good part of the day.  A more realistic kitchen (at least, I suppose, for the 99%) looks something like this:
It's a nice kitchen!  No, really!  Can you tell?  It has a pretty up-to-date color scheme with the apple green paint and the printed valance over the window.  It's got some love going with the plants on the windowsill.  They have some very nice pots in hip colors there stacked on the stovetop (those look clean to me, and the stuff that was used seems to be stacked around the sink).  There doesn't appear to be any significant amounts of dried goo stuck to the white cabinets, all the doors of which are closed and appear to be hung properly.  This is a kitchen where people live.

So the question is, when you're using Pinterest, and you actually have a home which needs to be cared for, and you're fortunate enough that the care includes planning for a custom (or mostly custom) remodel, how far do you go to get that 20-something dream so that if or when you're in your 40's you feel like life hasn't totally let you down, and how far do you embrace the practical, throw in the towel, and just build something the kids can't destroy too easily?

I happen to have a very artistic friend who just turned 40 who is in exactly that position.  And the interesting thing about perusing her Pinterest boards, is that she still has very fancy kitchens pinned, but her comments don't say "I want this entire thing."  They say "Love the chalkboard pantry doors." or "trash and recycling chutes to the garage! out of site trash? awesome. want to do this in my mud room when we build it." or my personal favorite for a kitchen from Better Homes & Gardens, "I love the tiles and love the shelves on top of the cabinets instead of the bulkhead."

Which is to say, while it would be lovely to make cookies with the kids in a space like this:

the truth is, the kids always run off as soon as they've eaten all the cookie dough, and there's no staff around to clean up 1500 square feet of splatter.  Except you.  Which is not nearly as much fun as enjoying warm cookies with the grateful masses.

BUT... you don't have to settle for the kitchen from your old college apartment.  Simple and richer work together, no army required.  Jen Jones at demonstrated this with her own house, as when she took her kitchen from:

(one reasonable article for determining how to make your kitchen perfect for you is at

It's a good thing I don't own my home at the moment, because I am still learning the lessons of my rented kitchen to figure out what I want from my dream kitchen.  The one thing I know for sure is I'd like a bar to park my three wee ones while we make the cookies, eat the cookies, and negotiate how many cookies they can have.  

But please don't ask what I've pinned for my dream laundry room...

HGTV 2011 Dream Home

Friday, May 4, 2012

Turned the Page

Turned the page on my John Lennon calendar today and found that for the month of May I will be treated to this picture every time I sit at my desk.  He makes my day simply richer by being able to feast my eyes on Beatles-era sweet-tart quality (which I know to be completely posed, but that's OK with me).

The beginning of the month, even a couple of days in, is a nice time to set some new goals for moving forward with my bigger goal of fitting more better stuff into the day.  I've seen several potentially helpful ways to set this up, including:

I especially like the idea of setting up goals for the week -- taking half an hour over the weekend to plan what I have to do and what I can fit in the small spaces between wife-and-mother obligations.  This is especially important since I'm trying to prepare a piece for my writing group anthology, manage our group membership & accounting tasks, and work on my novel (more on that another time) while ALSO purging and moving the remainder of our belongings out of the 3400 square foot house into the 1470 square foot house without measurably increasing the chaos in our household.

As we're approaching the end of the school year and managing a big move at the same time, I'd like to have a clear eye on my obligations for a bigger chunk of time, to make it easier to break them down week by week.  So here are my goals for May:

  • Stay on top of the laundry by doing a load a day, including folding & putting away
  • Plan meals for the week, using my calendar, every Sunday
  • Do a Flylady-style "home blessing" (much nicer term than clean the house!) once a week
  • Pack all the closets and move the surviving decorative items out of the big house before the furniture is moved
  • Arrange a playdate for my daughter with a friend she's been trying to connect with all year
  • Make sure I spend at least 20 minutes of fun time each day with my kids in addition to herding them through all their daily obligations
  • Start a new Junie B. Jones book with my six year old
  • Write at least two blog posts per week, including two wardrobe remixes in the month of May
  • Spend at least an hour every other day on my novel
  • Draft and revise my contribution to the Write On, Mamas! anthology
  • Send all invitations to people interested in participating in Write On, Mamas! before May 10th
Stay tuned for the first week of June when I recap my successes and failures for May!  What are your goals and projects for May?