Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Meaning of May

We're only a few days away from the end of May so I wanted to pop in with this month's Styling the Seasons post and link up with Katy and Charlotte. Around here, May has been about biting off more than you can chew. On the blog, of course, that translates into a whole lot of blank space. Here's what it looks like in our house:

The truth -- and probably not a secret one at this point -- is that I kind of love biting off more than I can chew. Yes! Let's grow all the tomatoes! I love the feeling of possibility this time of year represents, when the world seems to go from barely laced with new leaf all the way to lush life in scarcely a weekend. Sober is for September. Let me have my May.

My man got into the spirit too and one weekend he bit off more than he could chew by rebuilding our raised garden beds. They were nine years old and starting to fall apart, so if we really wanted to grow all the tomatoes it was now or never for fixing them.

The old beds were built of softwood painted red, and the new ones are cedar. Hey, we are moving up in the world! The other day my man remarked to me that he thinks the geraniums I planted in little terra-cotta pots next to the raised beds look better against the new beds than they had against the old ones. That was a nice thing to hear. Sometimes I struggle with my interest in domestic things, because domesticity is largely seen as a feminine pursuit and of course feminine pursuits are devalued. And I find myself thinking: why am I spending time worrying about what the house looks like? Shouldn't I be focusing on something Worthier? (I do in my heart believe that domesticity is worthy of care and consideration, by both sexes, but I'm talking about my moments of self-doubt here.) So it was nice to find out that the geraniums I planted didn't just matter to me.

And, sappy as it sounds, it's nice to look out our back door and see the geraniums, and know that I'm seeing something that pleases his eye -- along the same lines as seeing a Northern flicker or a birch tree.

Before I close, one more picture, this one taken by my girl of the garden she planted in a metal tub. She got to choose all the plants and she's responsible for watering and taking care of it. We have a penstemon in the center, carrot seedlings coming up around the edges, a strawberry plant, two colors of basil, a pansy, and some marigolds. We had to talk her out of putting a cherry tomato plant in there too -- whether you call it biting off more than you can chew, or having eyes bigger than your garden tub, I guess the condition is hereditary.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring Essentials

I hope the change in tone here isn't too incoherent after yesterday's serious post, but I wanted to connect with the spring style linkup that Anne and Shea are hosting, which is about "spring essentials" this week.

Last week I shared the clothing items that I've carried over from my winter capsule to my spring one. So this week I'll show some of the elements that make my outfits these days feel quintessentially spring. My spring essentials are --

Breton stripes

navy/white tee | light blue/white tee with eyelet trim

Floral prints, of course

tulip-print skirt | gray floral skirt
navy cardi with embroidered flowers | voile infinity scarf

Lots of navy

gingham button-up | cabled v-neck
dark-wash jeans | argyle cardi

Contrasted with coral

ombre scarf | ladybug socks

Green footwear, for wet or dry days

wellies | green suede flats

And my beloved red peep-toe clogs!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On symmetry, yet again

I've written a couple of times before about symmetry at this time of year, so I guess it's clear by now that's what April means to me. In any case, symmetry was definitely on my mind as I worked out my April contribution to "Styling the Seasons," a monthly project hosted by Katy of Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte of Lotts and Lots.

Every year around Easter time I display these wooden pysanky eggs that belonged to my husband's grandmother in this glass bowl that belonged to my grandmother. For me there's a kind of comfort in having a few things that I arrange in the same way year after year: symmetry across time and, in this case, a connection across generations, too.

This year I realized that the designs on the pysanky eggs, a traditional craft from Eastern Europe and the Ukraine, echo the motifs on this Mexican bird-shaped planter (birds themselves also being a design often found on pysanky eggs), and on a couple of other Mexican vases I've picked up at thrift stores. I love these sorts of connections between folk art motifs from different parts of the world: symmetry across space, here.

Then, there's a more abstract kind of symmetry to April. I grew up in a strongly Christian household, and while I'm not a practicing Christian now I find that the faith's stories and archetypes, like the bittersweet symmetry of death-and-rebirth, are still deeply rooted in my psyche.

I've seen those symmetries echoed in my own life as well; for example, a few years ago my husband's father passed away while I was traveling to Arizona for my grandfather's memorial service. This was over Easter weekend, even.

I thought about this history, and I thought about how cut flowers, for all their beauty, are also incredibly evanescent -- especially the sorts of tulips and daffodils that I brought home throughout March. (This is particularly so in my home: I'm pressed for time and probably a little lazy to boot, so my vases tend to spend more time displaying wilting flowers than fresh ones.)

And so in addition to those ephemeral flowers, this month my dining room sideboard gets a hardy succulent as a kind of bulwark against impermanence. Maybe it's these layers of meaning, maybe it's the crazy zebra stripes on the plant, or maybe it's the funny skeptical expression on the bird's face, but this little scene makes me smile every time I pass by it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Spring Transitions

Anne and Shea are running a spring style linkup every Tuesday this month so I thought this week's iteration would be a good opportunity to start to share a little bit about my spring capsule wardrobe.

This week's prompt is about spring transitions -- that is, how we're wearing items from our winter wardrobes in new ways for spring.

My spring capsule contains 17 items carried over from my winter capsule. Here they are:

black skirt leggings | gray skinny jeans | mid-wash skinny jeans
mid-wash bootcut jeans | black merino knit straight skirt | black jersey dress
gray tunic sweater | gray scoopneck layering sweater | ivory scoopneck layering sweater
ivory Aran cardi | gray shawl-collar cardi | ballet-pink cardi
camel shawl-collar cardi | gray tall boots | black ballet flats
black ankle boots | tan clogs

Here in Seattle, we tend to have mild, rainy winters followed by cool, wet springs. Or to put it another way, the really pretty much the same in spring as it is in winter. Okay, yes, I'm exaggerating a little bit (and this past winter was an unusually warm one, which is probably obscuring the seasonal difference in my mind). But in general, because of my lizard-bloodedness I'm likely to be wearing layers and warm sweaters on most days until...oh, the end of May or so.

In fact, that's one of the reasons the capsule wardrobe approach appeals to me. By varying my color palette during the cooler seasons, winking items in and out of my active wardrobe, I can create a sense of seasonal transition and variety even though I'm wearing pretty much the same outfit formulas for 9 or 10 months straight. So right now, rather than figuring out how to transition items from my winter wardrobe for warmer weather, I'm experimenting with putting items in a different context to make them feel new.

That's the theory anyway, and I have to say that so far I'm having fun playing with this. Here are a few examples:

First, my goes-with-just-about-everything Aran cardigan. In winter:

gray tall boots | gray skinny jeans | lavender cashmere tee | ivory Aran cardi
Russian silver earrings | abalone ring | photo-print scarf
And in spring, an almost identical formula, but feels like a different season to me:

gray tall boots | gray skinny jeans | eyelet-trim Breton tee
ivory Aran Cardi | voile infinity scarf
Here's another common Aran cardigan formula, this time with blue jeans and clogs. Winter version:

tan clogs | medium-wash skinny jeans | fuchsia layering sweater | ivory Aran cardi
agate ring | abalone ring | garnet earrings | teacup-print scarf
And the spring iteration:

red peep-toe clogs | medium-wash skinny jeans | Breton tee
ivory Aran cardi | ladybug socks :-) | coral ombre scarf

My black skirted leggings are a go-to weekend piece for me almost year-round. Here's how I wore them in winter:

black casual tall boots | black skirted leggings | fuchsia layering tee | burgundy long cardi
wedding rings necklace | pink pearl drop earrings | abalone ring
And here's how I'm wearing them in spring:

black ankle boots | black skirted leggings | gray scoopneck layering tee | navy argyle cardi
gray pearl earrings | green stone ring | silver salmon ring | coral ombre scarf
Finally, my black jersey dress remains a comfortable but presentable standby that I often turn to when I have work meetings outside the house. Here's how I wore it to meet with some editors back in January:

black dressy tall boots | black tights | black jersey dress | fair isle cardi
black/silver bangle | agate ring | blue stone earrings
And here's how I wore it to a conference just yesterday:

black ankle boots | black tights | black jersey dress
lavender cardi | butterfly hoop earrings | braided metal bracelet

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Winter capsule wrap-up

It's the end of March, and time to join with In Residence and Just Jacq for the final linkup in their winter capsule wardrobe series. Full disclosure: I switched over to my spring wardrobe a couple weeks ago -- more on that later, but for now, here's a recap of how things went this winter.

What I wore

Most-worn items: medium-wash skinny jeans (10), black skirt leggings (10), black merino straight skirt (5), fuchsia layering sweater (10), gray/white striped popover (8), burgundy long cardi (10), light blue long cardi (9), gray boots (20).

Least-worn items*: medium-wash bootcut jeans (4), crimson/black/gray flowered dress (1), dark pink long-sleeve tee (2), ballet-pink cardi (1), blue hand knit cape (1), navy rose-print shawl (1), black ballet flats (6). *(List does not include items that were only worn once or twice because I ended up getting rid of them.)

Above are collages of some of my most-worn and least-worn items from my winter capsule. What I'm really interested in, though, are not the outliers but the averages. There's this idea floating around out there that women wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time. I'm not sure there's much rigor behind this statement, but I'd bet the general idea rings true for many of us.

I hoped that one of the benefits of a capsule wardrobe approach might be to help me wear my clothes more evenly, both by spurring me to remove the clothes I don't really want to wear from my wardrobe, and by providing a smaller number of clothes that are easier to mentally keep track of and keep in regular rotation.

Of course, just robotically rotating through my wardrobe from one shirt to the next wouldn't be much fun, but I would like to feel like the majority of my clothes are really pulling their weight by, you know, actually clothing my body, rather than just sitting in my closet.

And the capsule approach worked pretty well, I'd say. For example, I wore most of my pants 5 to 7 times each. Skirts and dresses generally got 3 or 4 wears each, and I wore most of my tops and sweaters between 3 and 6 times each. What I don't see is a big split between a lot of items worn once or twice and a few items worn a ton, and I'm happy about that.

How my capsule evolved

Winter capsule additions

As I mentioned at the outset of this experiment, I structured my capsule wardrobe challenge a bit differently from the norm. Instead of shopping to finalize my capsule before the season started, I opted to begin with what was already in my closet -- gathering together all of the items I owned that were appropriate for the weather and fit my color palette -- then added and subtracted items over the course of the challenge.

This strategy worked really well for me. Actually wearing my capsule for a while gave me a sense of how to edit it (in both directions) that I wouldn't have had up front. I'm really interested in what this experiment can teach me about the structure of a well functioning wardrobe, and I think keeping that question at the forefront helped me avoid mindless shopping.

I started my winter capsule with 56 items of clothing (13 bottoms, 16 tops, 21 sweaters, 6 shoes). Over the course of the season I got rid of 13 items and added 5. This meant I ended with 48 items of clothing (13 bottoms, 13 tops, 15 sweaters, 7 shoes).

I added a pair of medium-wash bootcut jeans, two layering sweaters (gray and ivory) that replaced similar items I had passed along, a light blue cardigan, and a pair of long-sought black ankle boots (on that last item, see below).

I won't go through the items I got rid of in detail here (you can read back to previous posts if you're curious) but I did notice a couple of patterns: I passed along several layering sweaters because I didn't like the cut, a couple of short sleeve sweaters/vests that didn't add much to my wardrobe, and all but one of my pullover sweaters. Team cardigan!

Speaking of adding and subtracting...

March Additions

Black ankle boots: La Canadienne via Ebay. I've wanted a pair of black ankle boots for the last two winters but couldn't find exactly the look I had in mind from a brand I trust at a price I was willing to pay. So I was very happy when my patience was rewarded and these turned up! I'm looking forward to wearing them in spring, too.

Silver bead necklace: belonged to my husband's grandmother. My mother-in-law was in town a couple of weeks ago and brought some of her mother's jewelry for us to look through. I'm not sure I would have gone hunting for a piece like this on my own, but I like the nice touch of polish it adds to dressier outfits (my other silver necklaces have a more casual feel).

March Subtractions


What I learned 

Three things, primarily:

1. Kali at the blog The Nife en l'Air has written about the importance of noticing the details of our favorite items of clothing, as these details can be the difference between a new purchase that becomes an immediate favorite, and an "almost-right" one that languishes in the closet.

My winter capsule wardrobe definitely helped in that regard. For example it's clear now that I DO NOT LIKE crewneck tops, but I love scoop necks. And I've worked out that I love cardigans, but not plain ones: they should have interesting details like a cable-knit or other texture, a shawl collar, pockets, or even all three. Figuring this out has helped me avoid several less-than-ideal purchases.

My formula for wardrobe variety: basic tops (scoop necks, please!); sweaters with subtle but interesting details.

2. As I mentioned above, what I really hoped to learn from this challenge was something about the structure of a well functioning wardrobe, and I think I've gained some insights there too. Many capsule wardrobe formulas advise having roughly twice as many tops as bottoms, plus a few "third pieces" or "toppers" (blazers, cardigans, sweaters) for variety. I have never been able to get these formulas to work for me, primarily because I wear a "third piece" (usually a cardi, of course!) almost every day.

This winter I noticed that I don't mind wearing the same relatively basic tops over and over, but I like more of a sense of variety from my outer layer. I think this means that my seasonal wardrobes will have roughly equal numbers of tops, bottoms, and sweaters. And my capsules will probably be bigger than those of many folks, primarily because of those extra sweaters. That's okay with me; again, my goal is functionality for me, not minimalism per se.

3. The other question about wardrobe structure is the balance between neutrals and colors. Many capsule wardrobe-ers use a mostly neutral palette with a few "pops of color" here and there, but again I march to the beat of a different -- more colorful -- drummer. And there's not much advice out there about how to build a more colorful capsule wardrobe.

My experience suggests that just because you like to wear a lot of color, doesn't mean you need All The Things in All The Colors. That's reassuring, isn't it? What I noticed was that the categories of my wardrobe that functioned the best contained at least one example of each of the following (and a pretty good balance of them overall): darker neutral - lighter neutral - darker color - lighter color.

Well balanced pants! Darker neutral: black (cords, skirt leggings, ponte pants); lighter neutral: gray (cords, skinny jeans); darker color: burgundy (cords); lighter color: medium blue (bootcut jeans, skinny jeans). (Blue denim is often -- with good reason -- considered a neutral, but in the context of this capsule wardrobe I think it also functioned as a color. I noticed that I often grabbed a pair of blue jeans to avoid creating a "grayscale" outfit for example.)

Note that this doesn't require that the darker neutral, lighter neutral, etc. be the same across clothing categories -- among pants, the darker neutral could be black and the lighter neutral could be gray, but for tops the darker neutral could be gray and the lighter neutral could be ivory. It's just a matter of making sure all the bases are covered in each category.

Let's consider this a rule of thumb, a provisional theory for now -- I'm looking forward to testing out how it works with my spring capsule.


Capsule wardrobe principles | My winter capsule wardrobe | January recap | February recap

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A simple spring pasta

Here is a dish that is a new favorite in our house, a simple spring pasta with marinated chickpeas and mozzarella, with wilted greens stirred in at the end. 

The recipe comes from Mollie Katzen via Serious Eats. I found it on my "Spring" Pinterest board, though honestly I'm not sure how it got there. (Yes, I do still use Pinterest quite a lot for menu planning.)

You really can't go wrong with Mollie Katzen, and this dish is a winning combination of very flavorful and dead easy -- accommodating of busy schedules, too. First you marinate a can of drained chickpeas and cubes of fresh mozzarella in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and some dried herbs. (This takes me no longer than 10 minutes to pull together, people!) The original recipe says to let it sit for an hour or two at room temperature, but I think you could also assemble this part of the dish in the morning and then stick it in the refrigerator until dinnertime.

In the evening, you just boil some pasta, then dump the whole marinade shebang into the drained noodles. Stir in some arugula (it will wilt a bit with the heat of the pasta) and grated Parmesan cheese, and dinner is served.

I made this twice with arugula, and then wondered how it would be with Tuscan kale instead. The answer, of course, is excellent. And equally easy: just throw some roughly chopped kale (be generous; I'd say at least 6 to 8 cups) into the pasta water for the last minute or two of cooking, to blanch it. Drain along with the pasta and proceed as usual.

In fact I think the kale version of the dish has an edge, as it makes better leftovers (reheated wilted arugula is not my favorite).

I recommend using Pipe Regate for the pasta, as pictured in the photo at the top of this post; the chickpeas nestle nicely in the hollows of the noodles. Sounds like an obscure pasta shape, but I found mine at Whole Foods, and organic to boot.

My husband is agitating for the addition of red pepper flakes, which I am confident is a good idea, and plan to try it next time I make the dish, which I am confident will be soon.

Linking up with Anne's Pin to Present feature today, a very worthwhile challenge to actually do something with all that inspiration I collect online.

Original source: Pasta Shells with Chickpeas and Arugula, Serious Eats

Saturday, March 14, 2015

On Exuberance and a Purpose for Every Place

Recently via the charming sewing/quilting blog Flossie Teacakes I discovered a new home decor blog called Apartment Apothecary that I've really been enjoying.

The writer, Katy Orme, has a winningly down-to-earth voice. And she certainly has mastered the decorating style I aspire to. (Which, after poring over photos of her apartment, I can now label as Scandinavian white minus the austere modernism, crossed with English car boot sale minus the cluttery kitsch. Halfway between London and Copenhagen, if you will -- hey come to think of it, that's Amsterdam.)

Katy also co-hosts (along with Charlotte of Lotts and Lots) "Styling the Seasons," a monthly invitation to "style any surface in your home to represent the change of month and what it means to you." This month I thought I would join in.

I've expressed some skepticism about the concept of "styling" in the past so I suppose I should explain myself. (First Instagram and now styling? What's going on here, has the world or at least Sarah gone mad? Don't worry -- I remain morally opposed to Twitter.)

I suppose what I'm not so keen on is styling for its own sake -- form without function or even form that interferes with function (that's a nice looking arrangement of objects on that bedside table, but where am I supposed to put my glass of water?).

But switching things up around the house to follow the changing seasons? I can get behind that. And the idea that the objects in our homes should reflect our hopes and intentions? Oh yes, count me in. (Meaning is function, in my world.)

I decided to work with a marble-topped sideboard that was given to me by my aunt. It's moved around a bit in the house but at the moment it resides on one side of our dining "nook." Since it's right near the dining table (meaning, about a foot and a half from the dining table, which is on the other side of the nook, which should give you some idea about the scale involved and why I can't call it anything other than a nook, cutesy as that may seem), the sideboard tends to become a dumping ground for items hurriedly cleared off the table before dinner-time.

If styling can save us from this fate, then I'm all for it.
Recently I had made a conscious decision not to "decorate" some of the surfaces in our house but instead to try to leave them clean and empty. Yet what I am noticing is that surfaces left completely blank tend to attract clutter. It's almost as if, when a surface doesn't have a specific purpose of its own, it is doomed to become a catchall. In my head I'm revising the oft-quoted "A place for everything and everything in its place" to read "A place for everything and a purpose for every place."

I can see now that's part of what's going on with the sideboard. We put it in this spot because that's where it fits, not to serve a particular purpose. No wonder it's become a clutter magnet.

So the first step was to clean up and take things back to a blank slate. Then I added tulips! I also hung a print of birch trees that I bought my husband for his birthday several years ago. (You guys, I am so good at buying prints by independent artists off Etsy and the like...and so bad at actually hanging them on the walls.) By happy accident, the yellow in the tulips matches the yellow in the birch forest print.

So for this week at least, the sideboard's purpose is to hold something beautiful. An indulgent purpose, but it counts for now. And I have resisted piling crap on that sideboard for a full four days -- success!

As for what this month means to me? You have probably guessed from my posting schedule of late, but February was quite a slog around these parts. From March, I'm hoping for a little exuberance. So, not one bunch of tulips but two; not one vase but half a dozen.

Exuberance justifies a liberal hand with the photos, don't you think? Here we go....