Friday, 20 May 2011

To pack (or what to pack)

The weather has been horribly rainy this week. I've been reading Tina Fey's Bossypants (very, very funny) and trying to figure out what to pack. I am leaving for Finland tomorrow, and will spend the next three weeks there. For whatever reason, packing for three weeks seems to be particularly difficult. It's a long enough time to be left wondering if any selection of clothes will prove satisfactory, but short enough to make one feel silly to want to pack all contents of one's wardrobe.

I usually go along a rigid ten-step process when I pack. It goes as follows:

1) I write a list of clothes I think I need.
2) I lay out clothes on the bed and cross things off the list as I go along until the list is complete.
3) I look into my wardrobe and pick at least twenty more things I might want to take. Many of these are shoes.
4) I realise that I can't take everything, and start putting clothes back into the wardrobe.
5) I notice that after a lot of culling, I am left with a pair of jeans and two t-shirts. In a moment of intense glory I claim out loud: "I CAN PACK LIGHTLY!"
6) I feel silly, because of course I can't just pack a pair of jeans and two t-shirts.
7) I re-consult my list, and decide that the whole list thing is stupid. Then I repeat step 3.
8) I go back and forth between steps 5 and 3 for as long as possible.
9) I freak out.
10) I settle for whatever step I am stuck on when it's time to close the suitcase. Usually that's step 3.

The end result is almost always bad. I am never happy with the clothes I have packed. You know what I say to that? Oh well.

This is what I wore today. The tee is an old H&M animal print one, the jeans are from Gap, the cardigan is old, too, I think I bought it in Zara ages ago. The denim jacket is from a flea market, the vintage boots are from Etsy. Moth necklace is a present from Dana and Chuck, the earrings are from Rosie.

This is what I wore yesterday. The tunic is second hand (Plato's Closet), denim jacket is from a flea market, jeans are by Denimbirds, the Converse are from a yard sale. Second hand earrings are from Etsy. Scarf is a present from Chris.

And this is what I wore on Wednesday:

Silk top is from Salvation Army, cardigan is from Urban Outfitters, jeans are from Gap, vintage boots are from Etsy, the Mexican vintage necklace is from eBay.

Next time I'll see you, I'll be in Finland!

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Best of Saturday's Yard Sales

This is what I wore on Saturday. We went to a bunch of yard sales, which was a lot of fun. You just never know what you might find, you get to meet interesting people, and the prices are always more than reasonable. I got these vintage Tarot cards for $3...

...and a pair of bright red Converse for $1.

I also found some cool jewelry. At first I thought this huge enameled gold-tone necklace might be too much, but it has a great Egyptian-Revival-meets-Art-Deco feel to it and it looks surprisingly good on.

The same lady sold me the silver-tone hoop earrings, a cuff and a lonely brass earring... well as these two pairs of cowboy-themed earrings.

She only asked $2.50 for all of the jewelry, but we paid her $5. I figured that the necklace alone would be worth that much.

I am wearing a tank top from Target, a second hand silk wrap-blouse and Gap jeans. Lynn made the necklace, the earrings are from an art co-op in Owego, and the vintage cowboy boots are from Etsy.

Illusia and Masa enjoy a ray of sunlight.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Back to good ol' basics

So that's what it feels like to not be able to access your blog for 24 hours! I sincerely hope that Blogger retrieves all the lost posts soon (I lost only one).

There isn't all that much going on in my end. I'm really getting into larger earrings again (I used to wear huge hoops all the time), and I think a lot of it has to do with my hair getting longer. For some reason big earrings just look better to me when I have more hair.

I am also obsessed with flared jeans at the moment. I used to wear flares all the time, or if not flares, at least boot-cuts. Then came the whole skinny jeans craze. For a while I resisted, then my eye got used to them, and I bought some. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. For whatever reason I felt like I really wanted a new pair of flares last year, and I found a suitable pair at Gap. It immediately hit me that flares are so much more flattering than skinnies. Ever since I have kept wearing my skinnies occasionally, but I have to say that I am starting to really feel the change these days. Flares are just more fun, relaxed, comfortable, not-trying-too-hard. For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about my old flares, especially a great dark blue pair that had gold paint splattered all over. I bought them in Italy, back in 1999. I think I might have got rid of them some years back. Or perhaps they survived the purge for emotional reasons and are waiting for me somewhere in storage, in Finland.

I am wearing an old H&M men's t-shirt, a vest from Urban Outfitters, jeans from Gap, second hand clogs from Plato's Closet (I'll be wearing these all summer) and the earrings are from an art co-op in Owego. By the way, how wonderful is the colour of these tulips?

Our crab apple is in bloom, too.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

All Second Hand

Everything I am wearing is second hand. The navy silk tank is an old flea market find, the skirt (which is actually solid tomato red without strange orange patches - the sun and the shadows played on it a little in the pictures) is from Ansa, a vintage store in Helsinki. The earrings are from a yard sale, the clogs are from Plato's Closet and Chris got me the modernist pendant from eBay.

Monday, 9 May 2011

On Container Gardening

Donna sent a comment my way last week asking about gardening in raised beds. Last year when we decided to try out our own veggie garden for the first time, it became obvious early on that if we wanted to grow anything at all, containers and/or raised beds would be our best bet. The reasons for this are pretty simple: 1) our soil is mostly clay, and 2) we don't have much space. Year 2 of our container gardening has had a slow start due to the weather. (We are currently in the first 5-days-in-a-row cycle of dry weather since November.) Little by little, things have started looking up though.

We have four larger raised beds in our garden; two 4 ft x 4ft ones (like the one above) and two 4ft x 8 ft ones (below). In addition, I have a couple of small tubs for herbs and lettuce - small containers are easy to cover in case the weather is colder than expected - as well as deeper but pretty small containers for plants that bear fruit, like tomatoes and peppers.

Containers and raised beds keep gardening simple: there is less weeding, less overall hassle, and you learn to use your imagination to fit everything in. I have to say that I have nothing but love for container gardening. There are certain veggies you can't fit into containers, like pumpkins, but even potatoes are doable, although I haven't tried them yet. Raised beds, however, will host just about anything. Depending on the vegetable, you might have to be prepared to put in a lot of work to make sure that the soil in the raised beds and/or containers has enough nutrition, but apart from that, gardening this way is very straight-forward and easy. Even if you don't have a yard, balconies, decks, porches or even driveways fit containers of different shapes and sizes. All you really need is any outlet, no matter how small that gets enough sun, to have a container garden.

I am no expert on books on gardening, but I have found The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey very helpful. It is a good, concice, no-nonsense guidebook that helps you get through the entire process of having a container garden without losing sleep over it. I say this because gardening can get intense at times: the weather doesn't co-operate, there are pests and blights (although container gardens are not as often hit compared to traditional ones), and sometimes you just make mistakes. And then you learn. You can always try again next year.

Apart from our raised beds and containers, we have some herbs growing on our front yard as well, without containers, but in a contained area nevertheless. Because our soil is mostly clay, we edged off a little section, and piled on mulch and topsoil. Last year this section housed an awful lot: zucchinis, tomato containers, broccoli, herbs, peppers... it got a little crazy, and the end result was not particularly pretty. This year we are keeping things simpler. We are reserving some space for the tomato containers, because the amount of sunlight here is unbeatable, but we have other plans for broccoli and zucchinis this year. (They'll be placed in our last year's sunflower container. And sunflowers will go elsewhere.)

So there it is, our veggie garden, waiting for more sun and more warm weather. My tomato and pepper seedlings are very tiny still, and it will take a while before I can take them outdoors. (I guess that's what you get for months and months of rainy weather with no sunlit window sills.) All in good time, I guess. In the meantime I'm focusing on culling my turnips, lettuce, kale, radishes and what have you. I'm enjoying every minute of it, too.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

On personal style, blogging, and our narratives, part 2

I have a confession to make. Both before and after my last week's post on style blogging and style narratives I have spent a good amount of time browsing through blogs and style websites that I don't normally follow. I do that every once in a while, to get a feel of what type of world exists beyond my own blog and the blogs that I read actively. I do it to reaffirm my own commitment to spending less, thrifting, and writing about clothes in a way that makes me feel good about my own style and spending. In a sense, I look at "the other side" of style blogging to recognize what my own blogging is about. There are times when the end result is a harmonious sigh of relief, an awareness that I am in a good place, and then there are times, like last week, when the whole concept of style blogging feels overwhelming and meaningless. I think this is a good thing. As you all know by now, I have the tendency to complicate simple things by engaging in excessive thinking and over-analysis, and in order to shake that system that inhabits my brain, it is good for me to tap into my gut feelings at times, even if the end results look a little ugly. With your help, my dear readers, I always reach at-least-momentary clarity and enlightenment about why I have a blog in the first place. Milla's comment last week echoed the reasons behind my blogging beautifully: that at the heart of my style blogging is the need to belong, to meet people who understand why I make the types of style choices I do, the need to share my love for beautiful things that make me happy with like-minded people.

The reality gets to be a little bit more complicated though. When a bunch of people share their narratives, in the words of Katie (whose comment I am sort of butchering here a little), we "[let our] observations of style bloggers influence [our] interpretation of [ourselves], which in turn will influence others' observations of [us, and we] lock [ourselves] in a tension in which [we] are a conduit, not a result." This can be a problem, because like I wrote last week, the narratives start to feel repetitive and meaningless at times, and I, for one, occasionally feel completely lost in the framework of too much inspiration and too many surfaces to reflect upon.

Since I started blogging, my personal style narrative has gone from general frustration to a happier place and back to occasional moment of frustration, from pale pastels and girly vintage-y clothes to studs, faux-leather leggings and superficial fashion, to circle skirts, and now, to flared jeans and dreamcatcher earrings. It is not just that the clothes have changed. It is at the heart of all narratives to move forward, to hit highs and lows, to make some sense of (or simply portray) our choices, and to show those choices to others the best we can.

Just like with any written work, or any piece of art or imagery, some narratives are more successful or fascinating than others. The most interesting narratives are born when they flow effortlessly, when they seem organic to us, despite how much work might actually go into them. Personally I find it easier to tap into the type of written or pictorial narratives that don't actually seem to be saying anything at all; they truly appear to come from a place inhabited by a living soul. Those narratives are compelling because they appear honest and straight-off-the-brain-and-off-the-heart. I cringed at style narratives last week because the work that goes into them is sometimes too visible, and it doesn't always seem truthful, original or anyway natural. Let's face it; there are some god-awful blogs out there; the ones where mindless consumption trumps everything, where professionally shot pictures are sure pretty but lack any context, where writing is so poor that it makes the reader blush, where all heart is missing. But here's the important thing: I need those god-awful blogs too, to keep myself in check. It is not about gaining the higher ground compared to someone else's narrative; it is more about finding one's own way, and sometimes that comes with the help of the types of bloggers I in no way associate myself with. And it is not just about my personal need for those types of narratives; the narratives of those "others" are important in the grand scheme of things, too. Elly's comment was an eye-opener for me last week: "I don't feel that those "wanna-be" stories [Miu-Mius-in-the-woods-type blogs] are necessarily less true to ourselves or hinder our trying to understand our self-identity stories. [...] I see that the kind of art, the stories we choose to create, reveal powerful information about ourselves."

This means, then, that all narratives matter, despite how fictional they might be. Like Cynthia wrote in her comment, "any time a deliberately self-reflective person sits down to construct some kind of narrative about themselves, it becomes like art and not quite like reality." All narratives are fictional, to some extent, because fiction is in their nature. And there is nothing wrong with that. They still provide us a way to understand the human experience, or in the case of style blogging, the experience of being a woman in postmodern times attracted to beautiful things, and surrounded by a culture that encourages, to use Jesse.anne.o's brilliant term, "consumption unexamined".

In this sense, style blogs are very valuable. Whether we look at narratives of completely mindless spending and fashion-victim-ity, or narratives that portray our attempts to keep ourselves in check, the story is what matters. Whether we blog in order to simplify our cluttered lives, to parade our weekly fashion or thrift fix, to seek rational solutions to our wardrobe dilemmas, or to share our thoughts on clothes and style, I think we all do it to share our style narratives with each other. In the community that I actively engage in, we support each other when someone has decided to go on a shopping ban, we share our ideas about responsible consuming, and we help each other feel good about ourselves. We put our own faces out there because it is not just about the clothes; it is about real people coming together and sharing their narratives. For too long women's interest in clothing and style has been labeled superficial and frivolous, and too many times we've all heard the claim that style bloggers are only looking for admiration or approval.

Katya raised great points in her comment, by first announcing that there was no need to label style blogs as "just" style blogs, because: "A blog [...] is something in a way artistic. Not artistic in a sense that it's great and innovative, but artistic as creating something. Transforming yourself and the world near you into something else, something better. It's not self-deceiving but self-expression. And style blogs seem to be the epitome of such thinking." Style blogs are about giving voices and faces to a movement that allows women to be happy about who they are, about what they look like, about what they wear and how they consume. Our style narratives offer a small glimpse of what can be seen with the naked eye and the brain that guides that eye. At the end of the day, we long to relate to narratives that somehow touch us, and we long to make narratives that help us understand our own behavior. This is what I want to channel to everyone out there, both as a blogger as well as a part of the audience.