Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Welcome to the United States of America


I have lived in upstate NY for a little over a year now. I haven't travelled within the US all that much, so clearly there is a lot I still don't know about this country. One observation I have made, though, is that this is truly the country of many faces, odd parallels and contradictions.



1. You can quite easily get lost and confused in a supermarket, but the people at the farmers' market will tell you exactly what type of potato you are buying, where it was farmed and how you can get the best taste out of it. The same country that has allowed salmonella-infested egg farms to break the rules time after time, has also produced farmers that truly care.

2. People toss out an awful lot of garbage from their cars while driving, but the recycling system (at least in NY state, I have no idea how it is elsewhere) is incredibly efficient and easy.

3. The seats in a multiplex cinema are never fully occupied (a quarter of them at the most), but the same applies to a small art theatre.


4. One neighbour might leave his truck running in his driveway for an hour at a time, but another will feed you cherry tomatoes while you are wearing rubber gloves and cleaning your windows.

5. Speaking of windows, I know I have mentioned this before, but they have made window cleaning extremely difficult in this country. The windows don't open to the side, and you have to remove a huge chunk of the window to get to the inside surfaces. But they do have unbeatable cleaning products here, many of them environmentally friendly.

6. People have opinions like nowhere else, but many of them do not vote. People talk about community, but many tend to barricade themselves at home in their own space.

7. Concrete and four-lane highways are everywhere, but people seem to really miss and appreciate nature.


8. The same country that made James Patterson and his co-written factory of literature possible also inspires Jonathan Franzen.


9. Some spouses of American citizens are required to take part in a detailed interview about the validity of their marriage before receiving their permanent residence status, while others are not. The land of freedom is also a land of suspicion and fear, and the same rules do not apply on everyone.

In other words, human life occupies this country in the same manner as it does any other country. It seems that fundamentally people are the same everywhere. We don't care, we appreciate, we love and we hate, we take part and we withdraw. We look at ourselves and our neighbours, we make comparisons, we become afraid of the differences we see, we draw conclusions and often judge. We also aim to enjoy ourselves, be it with the help of a roof over our heads, music, nice weather, good food or television. A lot of us believe that good resides in every man, but many of us will rather be safe than sorry. We aim to leave a mark of our existence in our environment, but equally fear standing out. We try to make sense of our surroundings, and we live our lives to the best of our abilities.

Oh, and before I forget, I received my Green Card in the mail yesterday.



Top: Gsus, bought last year
Skirt: second hand, UFF, bought this summer
Sandals: Trippen, bought last summer
Pendant: Petrune Vintage, bought last year

Friday, 27 August 2010

Hair play

I noticed today that my hair is actually getting to the point where I can start to play around with it a little. I have no idea where I might take it next, but I do like having more length for a change. I am considering going curly - it's been a long time since I've been able to even dream about waves and curls.

The past week has been a little chilly, which has inspired me to wear darker colours. I confess that having a long summer (as opposed to a way shorter one in Finland) has its benefits, but I have missed cooler weather, and the option to layer. We'll go back to sun and higher temperatures tomorrow though.

Dress: Max&Co., bought two years ago
Leggings: Only, bought last summer
Shoes: DinSko, bought 3 years back

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Win some, lose the rest

The moment I started telling Doreen on Saturday how well my tomatoes were doing (hers have root rot), I should have known. Fast-forward a couple of days, and mine have blight. I contemplated on posting a couple of pictures of the plants, some of the leaves full of brown ugly spots, some of them already wilted, but it is painful as is. No photos, then. The two tomato plants in the front yard are still going strong, and there are no signs of blight yet. I am afraid to dispose of the dying ones in the back yard, in case I might transport the fungus to the healthy plants while handling the sick ones.

My cucumbers tried hard to fight powdery mildew with the help of baking soda, but since the fruit were bitter anyway, I eventually just yanked them out - hence the empty containers on the deck. It turns out that having a vegetable garden isn't all fun and games.



The veggie garden project has had its winners. I was surprised that the broccoli survived all the major caterpillar attacks, and is now beautiful, crisp and tasty. The peppers have done extremely well. Basil, rosemary, oregano and chives have thrived, as did the sunflowers. Until now, the tomatoes have been producing sweet fruit almost daily for the past two weeks. Considering that I planted the beans in the wrong place (too much shade, too much moisture), they have done reasonably well.

There have been losers, too. The earliest casualties were the leafy greens: the slugs devoured most of them, the rest bolted in the heat - major disappointment. The peas all died. The onions were a disaster. They quite literally drowned in their container after a couple of summer storms in June. The cucumber and zucchini plants looked wonderful, but even before the mildew hit them, the yield was rather disappointing. And now the tomatoes have blight.



For next year, I am going to try my luck with more root veggies. Since carrots seem to be doing okay, I'll try to grow turnips and radishes. I am tempted to try potatoes as well. I'm also going to add more herbs to the mix: dill, coriander, thyme and lavender. Beans will need a different spot, as do the peas and onions. I'll plant the leafy greens earlier on, and I'll be more prepared to fight the slugs.

All in all, having a veggie garden has been a win-some-lose-some deal. It has been fun, and to some extent, rewarding. I am sad that my tomatoes are dying though. I can only hope that the remaining two plants stay healthy for a little longer.

T-shirt: mom's old, from the 1980s, I've had it for at least 5 years
Jacket: second hand, Fida, bought last year
Jeans: Denimbirds, bought 2-3 years ago
Socks: H&M
Shoes: Vagabond, bought maybe 2 years ago
Pearls: Rosie's old, got them this summer
Earrings: Lynn's vintage stash, got them earlier this summer

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

TGAAD 3/52: Temptations in Magazines

Week 3 of my Great American Apparel Diet has coincided with the release of fashion magazines' September issues. I feel vulnerable. Since I am a bit of a style adventurer, new trends often appeal to me, not because I want to be trendy, but because of the keyword new. New, in my mind at least, equals exciting, fascinating, the unknown with potential. I suddenly find myself drawn to camel coats and Pierre Hardy for Gap booties. Knit skirts, anyone? A leopard print pencil skirt, perhaps? Cable-knit sweaters, belted, please! I'd try all, and probably love few.

During the past week, I have had two dreams about shopping. In the first one, I was walking around in a huge showroom, with my former boss, who explained to me that this store in question had found the new Burberry Prorsum shearling aviator jackets cheaper than anyone else, and that the store next door had had to spent 200 000 euros on them. I remember touching one of the jackets, feeling the soft leather, and wanting to try it on. In real life, the shearling aviator jacket is one of this fall's trends that I would personally avoid like the plague: they are all over every single fashion magazine. The jacket looks dated, fashion victim-y and out to me already, even if I haven't even seen one walk down the street yet. It's just been overexposed. In my dream, I still wanted one.


In the second dream, I was in a shoe store that was having a massive sale. I tried on a pair of bright red, pointy-toed high heels with a white leather weave detail. (I would never consider wearing pointy-toed shoes in real life - I hold that style responsible for ruining my feet back in the day.) The original price of the shoes was $380, and I could get them for $30. I told the shop assistant that I was on TGAAD, and could not buy them. She leaned over, and said: "Who's going to know?", and then answered her own question: "No one's going to know". I bought the shoes and felt horrible.

After I had woken up and realised what I had dreamt about, I felt guilty, knowing that dreams don't count. No, I haven't bought anything in real life, and yes, I feel just as strong as I did three weeks ago, but the temptation is there. I can feel it in my bones, and see it in fashion magazines.



Top: Kohl's, bought this spring
Skirt: JC, bought two years back
Ankle boots: Bronx, bought last year
Vintage necklace: America's Attic, bought this spring

Monday, 23 August 2010

Partywear

I wore this to Jim's 60th birthday party on Saturday.



Vintage dress: bought in Finland this summer, 5 euros at UFF
Belt: mom's old, from the 1980s
Sandals: Max&Co., bought them last summer

In Search of Chic

There was a girl in my class in high school. She wasn't the prettiest or the most popular girl ever, but she was one of those girls whose make-up (nicely plucked eyebrows, mascara, a hint of rosy blush, nude lipstick) was always in place, whose hair looked smooth and sophisticated even in gym class, and whose argyle sweaters and knee-lenght skirts always looked appropriate. In one word, she was chic. I got to thinking about chic this past weekend when Chris and I went to see Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. It's not the best of movies, but it looks beautiful. Anna Mouglalis' wardrobe is to die for. She wears mostly black and white, and looks incredibly elegant in every single frame. I could try to argue that it is only a movie. I could try to argue that Audrey Hepburn probably looked really sloppy in real life, or that Marion Cotillard looks chic on the red carpet and only on the red carpet.

There are women who seem cool and effortless in their "I just got out of bed and threw this on" look: Kate Moss, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Then there are women who always look sophisticated and elegant: Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett. Their styles range from edgy to girly and classic, but they are all chic, and it would be too easy to claim their elegance as a by-product of their stardom. We all know that chic women do exist in real life.

Apart from that one girl from high school, I think of my brother's wife, whom I have seen look a bit rough only after she had just given birth. I have seen her in her pyjamas, without a hint of make-up, and there is just something about her that conveys ease and elegance, no matter what she is wearing or whether she is made up or not. A girl I used to work with looked like she had walked straight off a Ralph Lauren photoshoot every single day. There have been times when I have taken the train to the city to go to work in the morning and sat opposite a woman whose sophistication has been so palpable compared to my lack of elegance that I have felt like hiding underground.


It is clearly not about the clothes or the make-up. Lily Allen could be wearing head-to-toe Chanel and she couldn't look chic to save her life. I could be wearing a YSL tuxedo suit and just look like I was dressed like a man. I don't think chic is anything you can adopt. You either have it or you don't. Needless to say, I am one of those who doesn't, and for the most part, I am perfectly okay with it.

I have got to the habit of not wearing much make-up at all, mostly because after an hour of having put some on, I find my eyeshadow creased up, my face shiny, my mascara tainting my lower eyelids. I don't use hair products either, because there is nothing on this planet that could make my hair stay in place. I opt for carefree partly because I don't want to look like I am trying too hard and failing.

As for clothes, it is more or less the same deal. I tend to layer not just because I like layered looks, but also because layering is a good way to hide my inability to pick and choose clothes that work without added effort. I combine prints not just because I like print looks, but partly because I can't do solids in an elegant manner. I am not saying that I don't like my style - I do - but there is something else I could be wearing if I knew how to make it look chic. See, for as long as I can remember, I have dreamt of a capsule wardrobe where everything matches, and I love the idea of simple, clean, elegant menswear-inspired clothing. After seeing the Chanel movie, my gut tells me to get rid of all of my clothes and buy, say, ten pieces that I would wear for the rest of my life.

Maybe it is the fall issues of fashion magazines showing images of restraint and clean lines that have got me thinking about all of this now, or maybe it is the past year of having worn prints, layers and lots of colour. Maybe my inner chic is screaming to get out, but with the lack of confidence, she is forced to hide. I really don't know what makes someone look chic. If it is not the clothes, maybe it is the attitude. Maybe it is just confidence. Maybe it is the desire to strip down to essentials rather than to pile on. Maybe it is all about enough, rather than more.


Long-sleeved tee and trousers: second hand from Fida, bought a year or two ago
Shoes: vintage Pertti Palmroth, bought at a flea market at least 15 (!) years ago
Necklaces: vintage, Lynn's stash

Thursday, 19 August 2010

When in Doubt...



... wear a white t-shirt. Sorry for the lack of posts and comments! I've been busy painting our kitchen and getting my biometrics taken for the green card (I had to drive up to Syracuse for that). And I've also been lazy. I still have one wall to paint, and also tons of weeds to get rid of - the garden is all over the place. It has got to the point where I am having trouble figuring out where to start, and instead of starting at all, I have watched all episodes of the new season of Project Runway, and investigated Goya's portrayal of madhouses.

Thank you all, for your great comments regarding the Stieg Larsson post! With the help of your comments I figured that a great deal of my disliking of the book has to do with my ambivalence toward crime fiction, which in turn comes down to something as simple as personal taste. All in all, I guess there is not much point in reading books one is not naturally drawn to, but I have to say that sometimes reading an unsatisfactory book makes one think as much as an excellent reading experience, especially when so many of you had something to say on the topic. So a big thank you goes to those of you who always faithfully comment, to those of you who hadn't commented before, as well as to the new readers who were kind of enough to let their presence be known.


Asymmetrical t-shirt: JC, bought a couple of years back, I think
Shorts: second hand Sportmax - I have had these for at least four years
Sandals: Trippen - bought them last summer, they are without a doubt the most comfortable pair of shoes I own
Handbag: MaxMara Weekend - bought this with a massive discount two years ago
Sunglasses: Gucci - bought them in London, sheesh, six years ago, perhaps?
Elephant pendant: Aino flea market, bought this summer

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Girl Who Read Stieg Larsson

Back in 2004, when pretty much everyone on the planet was reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, I made a conscious decision to not read the book. I didn't care that I would be left out of countless conversations surrounding the book, and I didn't mind that I was not a part of a universe-wide literary experience. I had no doubt in my mind: the novel couldn't possible be worth reading. My conviction was based on a very random selection of personal prejudice, pride and book-snobbery. I have made similar decisions regarding the Harry Potter series, as well as anything written by Paulo Coelho. If I hadn't already read Milan Kundera, I would have added him to the list as well. I know that these authors don't have all that much in common - some are critical as well as popular success stories, others not. To me, they are all suspicious because they have a cult following.

With The Da Vinci Code, I received confirmation regarding my doubts. My then-neighbour, a professor of Russian literature (whose opinion I would blindly trust any day), told me that he had had similar reservations, but he had read the book anyway. It was horrible, he said, and we went on to discuss the sad state of popular literature. Ever since, I have wondered what makes certain books popular, and if popularity can be a bad thing. Clearly, in my head at least, it is.


A week ago I got to talking about Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy with Chris's sister and her husband. I had read a couple of articles about Larsson, and of course, I knew that his books occupied number-one-spots in the Bestseller lists everywhere. I had also read positive reviews, but because of the intense, universal fan base, I had almost already decided not to read anything he had written. It hit me, in the midst of the conversation, that I hadn't had a chance to talk about a shared literary experience with anyone for a while. I realised that my dedication to reading obscure authors, graphic novels and Russian classics was hindering me from staying on the bandwagon of what other people read, and what they have to say about the world of literature today. Who was I to question the positive opinions of others? Why on earth would I let my prejudice run wild when people all over the world were falling in love with authors I, in my persistant snobbery, would avoid like the plague? All of a sudden, reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seemed like a great idea, and I was going to love it. I grabbed a copy on Wednesday, and finished reading the book last night. Now more than ever, I am left wondering what makes a book popular. I haven't got an answer.

Reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reminded me of drinking a cup of tea at a gas station: luke-warm water and a Lipton tea bag served in a coffee cup. I read the book quickly, partly because it is an easy book to read, partly because I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Everything in the book seemed awfully hollow. I didn't feel anything, apart from disgust toward the crimes that the plot dealt with. I left the book with very little interest toward the main characters and what might happen to them in the future. I have no idea why the book has been such a success. I can't help but wonder if I am the only one who just doesn't get it. The years I have spent considering myself a bit of a book snob never left me feeling quite as alienated as I feel now. I almost feel I would have been better off not reading the book.

I don't really have a conclusion for this post. I feel bad because I really wanted to like the book and prove my instincts wrong. Can 27 million sold copies of the Millennium Trilogy mean that I have just got this all wrong? Did I miss something? Could my lack of experience with crime fiction be an issue here? Or maybe I hadn't managed to get rid of my prejudice after all. Am I just a pretentious ass? And haven't I heard somewhere that the sequels are better than the first book, anyway?


Tank top: H&M (I've had it for probably five years)
Skirt: second hand, bought at UFF this summer
Shoes: Fly London, bought at Aleksi 13 two summers ago
Necklaces: JBL
Tulip pendant: present from Chris
Earrings: present from Tuuli
Belt: Salvation Army, bought this spring

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A

When I was little, I'd run my fingers across the strange combinations of letters at the back of the spines of my stepfather's heavy, leather-bound, ten-volume encyclopedia: KUUS-MONS, MONT-PYRA. I had just enough strength to lift one off the bookshelf and place it neatly on the living room floor. Each of the volumes seemed like a treasure chest to me, and I took great care to show the books the appreciation they deserved. You see, I used to imagine that the makers of the encyclopedia knew everything; that they had written the information off the top of their heads. They possessed the knowledge, and the knowledge was absolute. I had no idea who the people behind these magnificient books were, and I never even thought that it was all that relevant. All the world's information gathered in one place, now that was relevant.

I'd sit in front of these books for hours on end, reading bits here and there. I'd learn about Greek gods, the countries I hadn't visited, composers, technological innovations, plants and animals. My favourites were the entries with detailed maps, and ones with small black-and-white pictures. I'd study them carefully, and by the time I was about 10 or 11, I'd know that the last name of one of my fellow class-mates meant a type of mammal that shared a common ancestry with swines. I remember feeling bored in biology class because we were taught to recognise common, household birds, and I knew their names in Latin already. I recall astounding my geography teacher by drawing the outlines of the world map, free hand, of course, in about five minutes.


I guess you could say that I was your typical annoying smart kid. I learned to read when I was four years old, without anyone teaching me. I wanted to know about the world, I was greedy for knowledge, and performed extremely well in school. I went around telling people I was going to be an ornitologist when I grew up. My affair with encyclopedias deepened when world history was added to my curriculum. My head was bursting with information, and I felt like I was on the fast lane to become as smart as the makers of the encyclopedias.

Unfortunately, I encountered people in my early teens who thought I was just a major nerd, and that all the knowledge I possessed was embarrasing. A new friend told me that no boy was ever going to be interested in me if I paid more attention to books than my skin. When that friendship went sour, I was bullied at school for almost a year, for nothing else than my desire to be an ornitologist. A group of mean girls would hunt me down in recess: "so, you want to tell us about the birds?" "Come on, nerd, tell us about the birds!" I stopped studying the encyclopedias and decided that I knew enough for the time being. I spent my time behind locked doors in my room, writing about how pissed off I was. I taught myself to navigate the vast oceans of information to get on with things rather than to please myself. I went on to do well in school and in my further studies. I didn't become an ornitologist, though. I don't think I ever quite got over the teenage drama and my tearful break-up with encyclopedias.


I hadn't thought of all this in a long, long time, not before I came across Pictorial Webster's - A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities in a store in Princeton. The book consists of 400 pages of old engravings used in Webster's 19th century dictionaries. I took one glimpse at the book, and in seconds I was transported to the essential feeling I cherished while I was still deeply engaged in my love affair with encyclopedias: Look at all of this information! There is so much information out there! I want it all!

There was no force on this planet that would have stopped me from buying the book. For the past couple of days I have picked up the book dozens of times, and every time it has hit me how much I used to love learning new things. I still do, and knowing that information isn't absolute, and that it is always tied in time, place, language and people, only makes it more interesting now. Having come to terms with the relativity of information and knowledge, my greed for knowing more isn't quite as passionate as it used to be. Children possess such a unique ability to absorb information quickly, and the faith in absolute knowledge sure comes in handy. I doubt I will ever get back to the same level of intensity with learning. I also realise that I have, against my own wishes, acquired quite a bit of the modern wikipedia-d attitude to information - that it is a necessary evil, easily available, and that it doesn't require all that much remembering. I am going to try to educate myself away from that from now on, and enjoy learning and knowing as much as I used to.

These days printed encyclopedias are the toxic waste of books. They are pretty much considered the useless side product of the intellectual process that lead to Google. Next time I visit a second hand bookstore, I know what I'll be looking for.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

1/52: First thoughts on TGAAD

My first week of The Great American Apparel Diet has gone by quickly and without any real trouble. It certainly helped to be in the middle of all sorts of things-to-do and traveling. At an upper-scale consignment store in Princeton this past weekend, I was tempted by a beautiful pale-pink-and-green 1980s strapless chiffon gown ($40) and an embroided clutch ($30), but I did manage to leave the store empty-handed.

I have been wondering whether not being able to shop for clothes will make me spend more money on other things. I have treated myself to a new book already, a couple of cds, as well as two new pictures to be hung on our walls. My interest in interior design seems to be on the rise, but to my defense I can at least say that our house projects have been an on-going issue for quite a while. It does seem like I have suddenly found new energy to tackle the decision-making process regarding the paint colours for our kitchen.


As I was unpacking my suitcase (read: stuffing the contents into an already-full wardrobe) the other day I got to thinking that from the standpoint of figuring out what to wear, TGAAD really should be a walk in the park. I have so many clothes just sitting there, and the blinding appeal of buying new things has, for a while, steered me away from the clothes I already have. In other words, I don't really get much wear out of my clothes. I wonder how big of a portion of my shopping decisions has been based on my desire to buy, rather than the want to wear.

When I told my father about my decision to go on TGAAD, his first question was: "What is going to happen to the blog?" I haven't felt that I've paraded my purchases here all that much, but I guess it is true that a lot of style blogs, if not revolve around, certainly display buying an awful lot. Whether my clothes are old or new is almost irrelevant: the images that I share portray clothes that I have, at some point in my life, bought. I wonder whether promoting the culture of buying (even if we talk about buying second hand) is inescapable when one blogs about style.

Dress: flea market, bought about three years ago
Belt: MaxMara, bought last summer
Necklaces: flea markets, bought this summer
Shoes: Trippen, bought last year

Monday, 9 August 2010

I've created monsters!

For weeks Chris had been telling me over the phone that my vegetable garden project was expanding by the minute. At some point he asked me what to do about the beans (freeze them) and whether a foot-long zucchini was long enough (yes). Still, I couldn't believe my eyes when I actually saw what he had been talking about. It's a jungle out here!



Who says it isn't worth it to grow rosemary from seed?

And who says that if broccoli seedlings are devoured by caterpillars, they die?


Chris grew sunflowers. The prettiest ones are already sort of dead, but these ones are about 8 ft tall.


The cucumber plants behind me seem to be having some issues with mildew. There are online sources that say that mildew is a major trouble and that I need to destroy the plants immediately, but my gardening books just say that it is normal and I should just water them more. Sometimes I just hate the internet. Too much information, too much confusion! The plants are already bearing fruit, and they are blooming beautifully. There are just white patches on the leaves, and some of the lower leaves are dying and falling out. Any gardeners out there? What should I do?


Dress: Salvation Army

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Bye for now, Finland! Hello, USA!


Wow, the weeks have just flown by! I am traveling back to the US tomorrow, and should be posting from there in a few days. I can't wait to see Chris, the kitties and my garden! I have had a great time in Finland, and as always, I feel a little sad leaving. I'll be back here later in the autumn, so at least I will get to see my family and friends again very soon.



This elephant pendant was my last style-related purchase before I went on the Great American Apparel Diet. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and support regarding the shopping ban! My thoughts have kept going from "nah, it will be a piece of cake" to "oh my freaking god, am I insane?!" for the past couple of days.



Anyway, I'll see you all very soon, from the other side of the pond!


Top: Tuuli's old
Skirt: Forte_Forte / Nina's
Scarf: Tuuli's old
Elephant pendant: Aino flea market