Monthly Archives: March 2012

A tiger changes her stripes.

I like my closet the way I like my coffee—strong and simple for everyday, jazzed up for special occasions. I’ve embraced uniform dressing over the past nine months, and taking a more formulaic approach to fashion has made my morning routine worlds more efficient. For first dates/job interviews/anything that could possibly end up documented on Facebook, getting dressed should be a bit of a production. But for the daily grind? Let’s be sensible. I love a good peacocking, but there are ways I’d rather spend a Tuesday morning.

I recently wrote about how I’m tired of fashion. Tired of trends. Tired of buying things only to want more things a week later. I believe in establishing a personal style aesthetic—one that leaves room for experimentation, but keeps you grounded, financially and otherwise, in clothes that leave you looking and feeling your best. But the truth is, I do have a trendy side. And while I used to indulge it with cheap high street pieces from H&M and Zara, I realize nowadays that I usually don’t need to. I can create the same effect with things I already own, save money, and end up with an interpretation that looks more like me to boot.

So we’re doing this. One trend. Three ways. Using items I already have in my closet. Because plain old outfit posts feel kind of vain and played out for those of us with ghetto cameras/non-model proportions, but themed tutorials fall under the umbrella of educational (if only to convince you that you will never, ever put clothes remotely resembling mine on your body) and therefore excusable.

Let’s talk about print mixing.

Ladylike minimalism may be back, but the gaudy traces of the man repeller era still won’t quit when it comes to prints. Prints on prints (on prints on prints on prints). The bolder the better. The bigger the clash, the higher the fash(ion). But how does print mixing translate to the preppy tomboy aesthetic I’ve come to own by day? Can a self-proclaimed “classic peacock” carry off a visual smorgasbord without betraying her loafer-loving roots?

Two words: stripe mixing. If I’m wearing a print, I’m wearing stripes. Polka dots? Too cutesy. Leopard print? Eh, only on accessories. Stripes inhabit the holy intersection between straightforward and playful, embodying my love for all things classic with a sense of madness. Let’s see how they hold their own when paired with three not-so-subtle printed counterparts.

[J.Crew shirt, Elevenses pants, Keds shoes.]

Stripes on florals. You know, the staples: LBD, trench coat, pleated mum-print trousers. Who doesn’t own a pair? Good with a white tee, better with a striped sweater. A bro tuck and raggedy old sneaks keep the boatneck-and-pedal pusher combo from feeling too prissy. Bro tuck the shit out of that shit, bro.

[H&M shirt, vintage belt, vintage skirt, Topshop shoes, Michael Kors watch.]

Stripes on fruit. Stella McCartney was the first to produce produce for the masses last spring, but Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino ensured that the trend would be ripe for the picking in 2012 as well. Technically, this skirt is already stripe mixing all by itself, but I’ve gone bananas and added another layer. How do you like them apples. Orange you glad I didn’t wear my striped belt too? I think that would have been berry fetching. Okay, plum out of fruit puns.

[BDG shirt, Cooperative dress, Zara shoes, Michael Kors watch.]

Stripes on…stripes. (On stripes on stripes on stripes). This is probably my favorite combination. I do this a lot. Sometimes they face the same way, sometimes they don’t. The key is to keep your stripe types distinct enough that it’s clear you don’t believe they actually match. Matching is not the goal here. Matching is the enemy. MITE.

So there we have it. The Emma Aubry Roberts version of print mixing. By combining zanier prints with a mainstay of my wardrobe’s usual aesthetic, I’ve exercised the pursuit of trendiness without losing my style identity.

Are you a uniform dresser or a daily mixologist? What do you think of prints on prints (on prints on prints on prints)?

How to make time.

FACT: I finished college one week ago.

FACT: I last updated my blog two weeks ago.

ALLEGEDLY INSPIRATIONAL CLICHÉ: If something is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

PATHETIC SEGUE: Let’s discuss these facts and this cliché in conjunction with one another!

If there’s one sentiment the universe has taken to beating me over the head with lately, it’s #3 above. For whatever reason, the idea of being “too busy” – or rather, the passive-aggressive calling out of everyone who has ever claimed to be “too busy” – not by me, by the universe! That passive-aggressive cunt of a universe! – has been ubiquitous. When I sat down to write this post, I’ll admit that my angle was similarly trite. Embrace your agency, take stock of your priorities, free your mind, oh and you’re a firework or something. But as I got to thinking about what it means to be busy, both generally and contextually, I changed my tune. (I’ll never get over “Firework,” though.)

I recently read a WSJ article that suggested replacing the words, “I don’t have time,” with, “It’s not a priority.” I gave it a whirl. I found it unexpectedly and perhaps unwarrantedly jarring in situations such as, “Dear sister, editing your paper is not a priority.” It may be true, but honestly? It’s not fair. Sometimes the amount of time you “have” is contingent on circumstance—say, the fact that you spent the early evening catching up with an old friend, thinking you would have all night to devote to writing your own paper, and now you’re working under a deadline and can no longer afford to spend half an hour editing someone else’s. Is that bad prioritizing? No. It’s circumstance. You didn’t know about your sister’s paper. The situation could have been avoided, but it doesn’t deserve the level of moral condemnation the article seems to imply. (I’m sorry, Maddie. Best sistaz 4-eva.)

I’m not proposing that we let ourselves entirely off the hook here, particularly when it comes to habits (like working out) or relationships (if anyone ever responds to an attempt to make plans with the old “I’m just really busy right now,” please save yourself some angst and internalize that). For general life evaluation and long-term task-setting, the priority question is an useful one. I’m just proposing that we let go of the guilt. We don’t need to feel like terrible people for not having time. We just need to think about why we don’t have time. We need to transform time from passive to active.

So here’s my version of the WSJ‘s mantra: Time is made, not had.

There are two ways to make time. One is preventative. When you have a moment, spend it wisely. Think of “free time” like a savings account—do what you gotta do at the first opportunity you get, and save your “free time” for a rainy day. Then when you get a call that your crew is rallying on a Tuesday night, you can grab your keys and go without hesitation. How often do we miss out because we’ve already frittered away our “free time” on something that, given the choice, we would have wanted to do less? How I Met Your Mother is not worth it. Facebook is definitely not worth it. I’m not saying we have to spend every free moment being social—believe me, I know the healing power of a trash TV marathon or a morning of aimless blog surfing. But at least do the important stuff first, so that if something more appealing comes along, you haven’t already made your choice.

The second way is training ourselves to bang out the everyday nitty-gritties with more efficiency. This is a big one for me. I’m a perfectionist, so the temptation to approach every task with the methodical precision of a neurosurgeon is a concern. I could spend 10 minutes making my bed in the morning—smoothing out every wrinkle, painstakingly folding back the top sheet to peek out from under my comforter just so. But in reality, I can get the same effect in 30 seconds. The room still looks tidy. It feels every bit as wonderful to pull back the covers and climb into a swiftly, even sloppily made bed after a long day. And that’s nine minutes and 30 seconds I can spend doing something I care about.

The lesson I’ve learned in my first week of postgrad existence is that the real world is just what happens when to-do lists go from concrete to fluid. I’ve felt a thousand times busier in this week of “freedom” than I did when I had more homework assignments than I could feasibly complete before their due dates. Granted, it hasn’t exactly been Spring Break in Jamaica City up in here—I’ve been running around like a ginger chicken with its head cut off trying to plan a move across the country, sell the majority of my belongings on Craigslist without getting ripped off and/or murdered by new friends like Bobby (“interested in your wardrobe shoes are very very nice please give me your phone number…i need to call you…now please thank you”), do annoying but necessary things like update my LinkedIn profile and take social media pictures that actually look like I do currently, say goodbye to the city I’ve lived in for five years, and, oh yeah, apply for a job or two while I’m at it. I’ve kept myself on a tight schedule. My days now start an hour later (at 6:45am. Girl gone rogue!), but they’re still planned out to the minute (I do try to leave a little wiggle room for the second hand).

What’s fundamentally changed is that I went from having a to-do list to making a to-do list. Time management feels active rather than passive, and that comes with a whole new set of pressures. Whereas I used to reward an hour’s productivity with an equal amount of StumbleUpon, I suddenly find an unharnessed ambition buzzing under my skin during every attempt at traditional relaxation. You should be doing something right now. Because right now, I get to choose what that something is. And I suddenly have no desire to fill my time with laughing babies on YouTube. When you have control of every moment, why would you want to waste even one? When all of your time is “free time,” are you ever really free?

Whoa, Bradshawing out with the hypothetical questions. My point is that if I don’t learn to make time for things like blogging now, I never will. So this is me committing. To making time. Because I refuse to say, “I’m just really busy right now,” to my life.

What do you want to make time for this week? Where are you going to take it from?

Just do something.

I spend a decent amount of time at the gym.

Not hours a day decent. But every day decent. For the first time in my life, I can honestly call myself a daily gym-goer. This startling development has been in force since December, so I think I can officially call it a habit. I no longer have to think about it. It just is. I wake up every morning, make my bed, and before I get back into it, I work out. And you know what?

I feel awesome.

Having dealt with both a major weight loss and an eating disorder, I’ve been every level of lazy and crazy. It’s taken me a long time to figure out an activity level that feels comfortable, but not punishing. I’ve done a lot of experimentation over the past year – long but sporadic workouts and binge eating, no workouts and restrictive eating, unpredictable workouts and unpredictable eating – and I’ve finally arrived at what feels like the beginning of a beautiful life-activity balance. I eat a lot of food. I eat a lot of healthy food. I eat a little bit of unhealthy food. And I do something physical every day.

Here’s the thing—you have to exercise. You just do. If you want to be a healthy person, moving your body on a regular basis is non-negotiable. For some people, everyday activity such as walking and doing household chores and walking and taking the stairs whenever possible and walking and stretching before bed and walking (oh, and maybe some walking) is enough. Honestly, for physical well-being, that is enough. Exercise has a million definitions, and approaching activity with a black-and-white mindset  is completely unproductive. Walking. Is. Enough.

That being said, I genuinely like to sweat and feel sore and kick my own ass. It clears my head and energizes me, and it keeps me from freaking out about the fact that my diet isn’t perfect. My diet will never be perfect. I would be miserable in a world without dessert. I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables and pretentious superfoods, but I need to be able to go out for a few whiskey sours and a drunk taco every once in a while without being gripped by a sense of panic. Ideally, the panic and the workout would be unrelated, but right now, exercise helps me manage my anxiety. There are worse ways I could manage my anxiety. There are worse ways I have managed my anxiety.

Here’s another thing—the type of exercise you choose will affect your appetite. You can’t suddenly start running 15 miles a week and not compensate by fueling your body differently (assuming your goal is fitness and not weight loss, as it should be if you’re in a healthy weight range). It’s not realistic, and it’s not sustainable. Every women’s magazine wants to tell you that exercise isn’t an excuse to eat more, but I disagree. Exercise is totally an excuse to eat more. It’s just not an excuse to eat junk.

For me, the trick of upping both my calorie expenditure and my calorie intake has been paying attention to the percentage of my diet that comes from healthy food. Not numerically – I don’t count calories or weigh myself or mess with numbers at all, for that matter – but generally speaking. Move more, eat more. But eat more good stuff. Bigger portions of healthy meals. A high-protein Greek yogurt on the side of a sandwich. Brownies after broccoli, when you’re full of fiber and won’t be tempted to take down half the pan. And honestly, I find that the more active I am, the more I want to fuel myself properly for efficient, challenging workouts. Fine, and ensure that my hard-earned muscle tone gets to show.

I used to work out on a quota system. I’d set a minimum number of times a week I had to make it to the gym – say, three or four (again, totally sufficient for general health) – and let my schedule determine when those would take place. But that system was problematic for a number of reasons. First, it became really easy to postpone a workout. I’d find myself thinking, I can still meet my goal if I do it tomorrow. And often times, I still would! But in setting a lower limit on my workouts, I also set an upper limit. I cheated myself out of doing more activity when in reality, I probably could have managed it, and I probably would have felt better if I had. I gave myself a built-in cushion to not make fitness a priority, and because of that, I never pushed myself to a point of maximum returns.

Second, I found that it was much more of an ordeal to actually get to the gym when it wasn’t automatic. I wasted so much time going back and forth and feeling guilty that I probably spent more time agonizing over workouts than I would have spent just doing the damn things. And if for some reason I didn’t make my weekly quota? I felt horrible. I wrote off the whole week as a failure, even if I had still worked out several times. The quota system kept me trapped in a prison of my own making. It was much more about being able to check an item off some disordered  mental to-do list than really experiencing the benefits of being active.

Now, I just try to do something physical every day. It can be an easy three-mile jog or a quick upper body weight circuit, but I can find 30 minutes each day (and usually more, once I’ve committed to that) to devote to doing something positive for my mind and body. If I truly need a day off, I take it, and I don’t freak out about it.  But I never take more than one day off in a row. I think that part is important. Letting myself go on a bender of inactivity would be the easiest way to destroy the habit. A body in motion stays in motion. That’s simple physics.

Just do something. Every day. It’s a small paradigm shift that has made a huge difference.

I don’t fancy myself a hardcore athlete by any means. But I do know that I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’ve never felt so consistently good about my body for such a prolonged period of time, and what’s more, I’ve barely changed in size. There’s a difference in shape – I’m firmer, more toned – but I’m realizing more and more that this – thin shoulders, underwhelming chest, flat stomach, curvy hips, muscular thighs – is just what my body looks like. And I’m becoming increasingly okay with that. No, increasingly proud of that.

Have you ever experienced a tiny tweak in mindset that helped motivate a major change? What does your ideal life-activity balance look like?

Snack therapy.

I don’t do snacks.

They just don’t work for me. Fifteen minutes after eating a snack, I’m hungrier than I was before I ate it, regardless of the nutritional value. I think I have a snack-specific tapeworm. Since it’s physically impossible for me to eat my way to satisfaction without sitting down to a full-blown square, I typically just resign myself to mild hunger in the hour or so leading up to my next meal (or eat a piece of fruit, if I’m starving and dying) and try to stick it out. Those diet plans that advise grazing on “mini-meals” every few hours? My worst nightmare. I would be the hangriest. It’s not that I end up eating less overall—I just prefer to feel decidedly full each time I do.

Unfortunately, I have a friend who’s constantly trying to peer pressure me into buying snacks. His name is Joe. Joe the Trader. You may have heard of him? He’s skilled at what he does, and he can be quite persuasive. If I trade with Joe, my snackless existence is frequently brought under siege.

See, I do this loony thing where I try to only shop the outer perimeter of the grocery store. With the exception of baking supplies and the odd canned good or condiment, I stick to the Real Food. The perishables. It requires a substantial degree of planning and tunnelvision, and it pays off at the checkout when I drop a measly $25 to feast on a week’s worth of energizing, home-cooked meals. More room in my cash and calorie budgets for foodie excursions, fancy cocktails, and that pesky baking habit, nawmsayin’? But Trader Joe’s has a way of convincing me that everything my life is missing lies between the trail mix and the pita chips. I walk in for Greek yogurt and chilled baby beets, and I walk out with chocolate-covered edamame (that’s a thing) and and three types of granola (this is a girl with a crunchy food aversion) that sit on my pantry shelf collecting dust.

I’m moving across the country in two weeks. It’s pantry clearing time. So I converted my unused snacks into new snacks! Logical, right? I still don’t know what to do with them, but at least I feel a vague, unfounded sense of accomplishment. And by further processing my own processed foods, I feel like something has to cancel out. That’s, like, math.

Or, like, science.

But I’m an English major, so what do I know?

Trader Joe’s Rehab Bars

The cereal used in the following recipe expired in November 2011. The box had not yet been opened. I took my chances. Like the Alldai Errdai Cookies, this is a very forgiving recipe that can be altered to suit your tastes and/or grocery shopping habits. Adapted from How Sweet It Is.

1 cup oats
1 cup Peanut Butter Puffins (or other puffed rice cereal)
1 cup crushed Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (or regular pretzels)
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
2/3 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a 9 x 13 baking pan.

2. Combine oats, flour, cereal, pretzels, brown sugar, peanuts, and flaxseed in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Add peanut butter, mixing until a crumbly “dough” forms. It’s a workout. Embrace it.

3. Combine butter and vanilla. Add to dough mixture. Mix until combined.

4. Add honey. Mix until moistened. Moistened. Moist. Yeah, I said it.

5. Add (or “fold in,” for you sticklers) chocolate chips.

6. Press into pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden brown (watch them closely, though. Burnt marshmallows? I swoon. Burnt pretzels? I weep).  Let cool completely before cutting. Sprinkle whatever crumbles to bits over yogurt. Or just shovel in fistfuls down your gullet. Your call.

Chocolate. Peanut butter. Pretzels. Portability. Okay, might have to rethink that “no snacks” policy.

At least now I can spring for a new box of cereal.