November 17, 2015

The Humanity of Change

It's hard to believe I took a nine day break without posting, but I guess the great irony of life is that sometimes when the most important things are happening to you, you have the least time to reflect on them

If there's one thing I've always felt self-conscious about, it's my relationship to change. I've explored it over and over again in my writing, and new material is constantly regenerating itself, so it's something I keep coming back to.

It's the nature of the world to change -- this very principle explains why we have daily newspapers, Facebook, and fashion magazines. We're always hungry for novelty, but when life throws real alternations at us, many of us feel the instinct to reject it -- or run from it.

A couple I've known for a long time welcomed a baby into the world this week. (Talk about a life-changing event!) Obviously this occurrence has nothing to do with me, but of course when you witness something like this in another person's life, you momentarily imagine life through their eyes. For these two, immediate changes will obviously center around sleep schedules, baby-proof architectural choices, and new general anxieties about protecting their loved one. But deeper changes -- like discovering how to live their lives for a third soul -- are of course in store as well, and they will require continual adjustments, albeit for a happy cause.

Comparing changes in my own life to something this monumental will likely sound trivial, but we all know life is relative. Whether we're planning a wedding, applying to college, or gearing up to go to space, this circumstance will take top priority in our own brain and become THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for the time being.

This week I received some difficult news, which I won't get any more specific about for the purpose of protecting those involved. It came in the midst of a frustrating day in at the end of an already trying week, and it reduced me to a fetal-bound, mascara-streaked, blanket-covered ball for the better half a Christmas playlist. (Really, there was no remedy at the end of a week like this but some fluffy, premature holiday music.) Worse, the uncertainty this news brought on spider-webbed itself into every other area of my life: Was I really cut out for the job I'd just started? Were J and I in a good place? Was I fooling myself with this acting thing? Would I ever learn to cook a balanced meal?

Up until then, I thought the grand changes of my new life in New York were settled -- jobs found, rent paid, subway learned, friends met -- but of course no finale (hell, no scene change) is ever quite so predictable. As Lena Dunham accurately summarizes, "The end never comes when you think it will. It's always ten steps past the worst moment, then a weird turn to the left." Even something as seemingly simple as being an adult requires constant reevaluation and fine-tuning.

And then of course the saddest and greatest change of all last week came across the news: 129 people killed across Paris at the madness of another terrorist agenda. As of today, the world is still in shock, and we're only just turning our attention to the other victims involved. There is no telling how the world is supposed to recover from something like this, because it is simply not how our world is supposed to function.

But here is what I've come to realize about change, as good as bringing babies into the world, as bad as bad news, or as globally tragic Friday's attacks: it is change that makes us human. Or, perhaps, it is change that reveals our humanity. If our world remained as predictable as we all sometimes wish it would, there would be no reason to look beyond ourselves and our day-to-day concerns. The homeless plea that interrupts our daily commute and causes us to question how much money we might actually spare, the new coworker who impels us to defend our ideas, the child who suddenly asks us "why"... these shifts give us permission to live outside our heads, to interact, to evolve, and to bring our hearts to the surface.

Welcome or not, change creates us.

November 8, 2015

Recipe: Gimmie-the-Green Smoothie

When you're unemployed, sometimes it's the little things in life that matter -- i.e. the free stuff. Since this is the only "green" I'm going to have at my disposal for a while, I decided to make the most of it. Focusing on my heart, health, and taste buds keeps life affordably interesting  until cash flows freely again.

Want to make your own Green Smoothie? If you're wary of putting veggies in anything that's supposed to taste sweet, this is a great place to start! Adding just a cup of kale or spinach to a breakfast smoothie will satisfy your daily Vitamin A (good for skin and vision) needs and more Vitamin K (blood and bone health) than you could possibly need -- and that's only the beginning!

-1 heaping handful of kale (or spinach, if you prefer)
-1 large frozen banana
-1/2 c. soy milk (or other milk of choice)
-1-2 tbs. peanut butter
-1 tsp. honey
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-1 tbs. coffee grounds (optional, if you like texture or need a little kick!)

Instructions: Add greens and milk to a strong blender. Mix on high speed until the greens are fully incorporated and no leafy bits remain (you might need to "pulse" the blender to achieve this.) Add the remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly until well combined. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

November 3, 2015

7 Savvy Tips for the On-Trend Shopper

While it's true in recent years that I've made an effort to focus on my own definitions of style, once in a while I like to sit down and review what's actually going on in the world of fashion. Sometimes that means window shopping or surveying the latest magazine spreads. Other times it's admiring Pantone's carefully selected palettes in their seasonal color reports. Here in the city, it's lately meant plopping my unemployed self down on a Washington Square or Upper East Side bench, drooling into a cheap cup of chai over outfits I can't currently (and may never) afford.

Maybe it's my empty wallet talking, or maybe I'm just a snob at heart, but overall I am of the opinion that too much trend-following is tasteless, wasteful, and a sure sign of an under-exercised imagination. I rarely see the point in renouncing one's own fashion impulses for the next fad item. Does that mean I never fall victim to advertisements and "must have" editorials myself? Of course not; I'm as human as the rest of you. But making a mindful effort to avoid these triggers has certainly made me less inclined to do so. In the past year I have shopped less, wanted less, and been more content with what I already own than ever before.

If you, like me, are striving to limit mindless spending and "stuff" accumulation, it's important to arm yourself with a few tactics before so much as eyeing a copy of Vogue.

Using this fall's current crazes in example, here are some approaches you can use to tune out the trends and tune in to you!

1) Board It Up 
Inspiration and "mood" boards used to seem ridiculous to me, but the more I've worked with them, the more readily I've been able to identify my own style preferences. This season, for example, it's reminded me that mini skirts have no place in my "blue collar bohemian" weekend wardrobe. So whether it's clipping magazine pics, snapping photos of mannequins, noting an outfit you saw on the street, or pinning your favorite blog posts, find a way to reference and define your personal style parameters -- then be sure to work within them.

2) Know Your Body
I've always been a proponent of dressing for your shape, but recently I've started wondering whether this kind of proscribed advice isn't just another symptom of our media's obsession with the male gaze. Rather than determining if you're a pear, hourglass, or what-not, decide for yourself what proportions (hemlines, cuts, and shapes) make you feel most comfortable. If dresses get in the way of the work you need to do, embrace pants. If heels make you want to scream, nix 'em! This self-love has given me liberty to send fall's over-the-knee boots my very best "talk to the hand."

3) Shop Your Closet
Few of us can name every item in our possession at any given moment. Chances are, you have a few of the latest trends lurking in the recesses of your wardrobe right now! Plaid is a trend that seems to resurface every autumn, and if you live in the PNW you're probably already in possession of some serious flannel. Give these items extra attention this season. By the time they're worn out, the trend will be over, and you can usher in something new, guilt-free.

4) Study Your Classics
"Classic" items are typically great pieces to invest in because they're less likely to go out of style before you wear them out. These pieces have been in circulation for centuries: The crisp white blouse. The black trouser. The tailored jacket. You can rest assured they're not going anywhere fast, even if they happen to be on-trend now. A gray suit, for example, is sure to serve you well for many years, making it one of the most lucrative 2015 trends.

5) Play The Memory Game
Trends are recycled and resuscitated all the time. (One visit to your local H&M right now will have you believing you walked into a Brady Brunch special.) This gives you good cause for looking back on your own history and asking yourself, "Have I tried this before?" and if so, "What came of it?" While researching trends for this post, I noticed the return of oversized, glitzy jewelry. Immediately I started thinking about purchasing one of those absurd, brightly-colored cocktail rings for dressing up my evening wear. Then it occurred to me: I just got rid of three similar rings last summer. Not because they were out of style, but because I never wore them! They snagged, they pinched, they made me feel on-display. Learn the difference between liking the way an item feels on you versus liking the way it looks on a model or in a magazine. Make note of what drives you crazy. It will serve as a valuable filter for seasons to come.

6) Eliminate The Stupid
I sometimes wonder whether magazines showcase these trends in an effort to make fools of us all when we follow them. Who, in the love of all that's holy, will be walking around this winter with sleeves too long for their arms? The sad answer is: probably many, after seeing it proscribed in Elle. Learn to ascend the bullshit here. Even fashion experts make bad calls.

7) When You Must, Go For Accessories
Maybe you've employed all the steps above and you still really want that present-on-your-Pinterest, perfect-on-your-body, totally-not-stupid, classic plaid print that's missing from your closet. For years I wanted to dress just like John Bender from The Breakfast Club -- everything from his plaid flannel, to his leather moto gloves, to his thermal undershirt. Almost five years after seeing the film (and many failed outfit-mimicry attempts later) I finally decided to spring for his wayfarer sunglasses. To this day, my Ray-Bans are one of my most cherished possessions. For you, it might be this season's driving gloves or funky tights. Accessories tend to be less expensive and easier to store, so you can be more experimental without sacrificing money or space.

How do you avoid or embrace trends? Share below!

October 30, 2015

Halloween Costume Prophecies

The first time I went trick-or-treating, I was dressed as a dalmatian puppy. In what can only be described as ironic, just a few years after that my neighbors' newly-adopted actual dalmatian would lunge straight for my face when I tried to introduce myself to it, sending me into immediate panic and explosive tears. The nip it gave my ear (which quite possibly drew no blood) ultimately led to the expulsion of that dog from my neighbors' family. Their son (my friend until this incident) would remind me of that fact for years to come. The whole experience left me with a pronounced sense of guilt and shame in my own anxious sensitivities... and confirmed a long held suspicion on my part that I was a cat person.

Reflecting on this, I began to wonder: How many other Halloween costumes would prove weirdly premonitory upon retrospective review? The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot of them. If you look the right way....

The Fairy That Was Not Thumbelina
Ah, the great costume debacle of '94. I had a humble request: I was 4 years old and I wanted to be a tiny person. Specifically, I wanted to be the tiny person from this film. My poor mother, unassuming and obliging as ever, ordered the "Thumbelina" piece from whatever costume catalog we had lying around that year. Two days before Halloween, what should arrive at our doorstep but a generic tulle-covered monstrosity that bore no resemblance to the blue-gown / flower-crown ensemble of my dreams and every resemblance to the most boring fairy princess ever.

The prophecy? This was clearly a precursor to every other fashion let-down in my future: from my annual school-picture-day dreams of bouncy curls (which always devolved into shapeless poodle-poofs by photo time) to the day I discovered my legs were too short for off-the-rack jeans. Sigh.

Woody (from Toy Story)
By the time I hit first grade, I was in firm denial that I wanted anything to do with fairies and princesses and was instead pursuing bugs, baseballs, and all things boy. Since I grew up with brothers and on a block full of boys, I quickly fell victim to the stinging dismissal of "You can't, cause you're a girl." So I bought sports cards with my allowance and I stopped wearing dresses outdoors and I developed a talent for eating insects. As my best friend at the time was soaring on a sparkly wave of princesses and pink, I wound up living a kind of double life between dolls and dirt. And the outcome was that people stopped taking me seriously.

To circumnavigate a potentially serious investigation of gender bias and identity, let's just say that my Woody costume, which involved a not very well-concealed ponytail, borrowed cowboy boots, and a jumpsuit sized for someone four inches shorter than me, predicted an ongoing obsession with reinventing myself  -- and an inability to convince anyone of its permanence.

Hermione Granger
Let it be here stated that I did Hermione right. This was the year before the first Harry Potter film came out. We were miles from accepting the gorgeousness of Emma Watson into our collective image of Hogwarts' greatest brain. The Hermione of Rowling's books possessed two defining characteristics: "bushy brown hair" and "rather large front teeth." So I crimped my hair and got a buck toothed half-face mask. Well-meaning candy distributors spent most of the night trying to comprehend who I was between my mask-muffled voice and doubtlessly mispronounced first name.

Besides an obvious prognosis of my destiny as a book-obsessed, rule-abiding nerd, I think this costume accurately forecasted a fast-approaching tumble into puberty. That mask's chipmunk cheeks were all the suggestion my body needed to bring on three straight years of baby fat.

Punky Kitten
I was particularly proud of this costume, because it was one of the first years I worked with face paint. My mom took a bunch of pictures before I headed off to a party with some high school friends, and she later told me that the employees at Costco Photo Center (God bless 'em) wanted to know who did the makeup for "that amazing cat face!" At the party, a friend of mine, for no reason I can remember, told me I was freaking him out and to take off the paint and my wig and to "stop being a crazy cat lady."

I am no longer on speaking terms with that friend, and I've since repeated this costume three times.

I'll leave that one to you.

Almost two years to the date I shared this costume on Inspirsession, I would be living in New York, watching the glamorous women of Park Avenue clutching their fancy designer purses and teetering on expensive heels toward the call of various midday appointments.

I -- humbled and unemployed, my brain sore from drafting too many cover letters and probing too many sides of my personality toward people-pleasing interview speak, scarred and stitched over as I reconstruct my own sense of being -- feel green. Green: inexperienced, simple, slightly ill... but also: fresh, budding, full of life.

October 28, 2015

Top 10 Autumn Munchies

Well, it's just about time to go grocery shopping again, so I'm cheating and turning my list into a post.

Likely due to evolutionary hibernation habits, every time autumn comes back around my appetite swings back into action. More often than not, I want carbs and more carbs, but I try to keep things in balance with some good fruit and veg too.

Here's what's at the top of my munching list this season:

1) Dark Chocolate
     Chocolate is pretty much a year-round thing for me, but there's something that makes me extra choco-cheery around fall. (Probably an anticipatory childhood holdover from the sugar-rush trick-or-treating brought each year...) I've started keeping a bar of 85% dark chocolate around the house to appease my seasonal sugar cravings, savoring just a square or two at a time. Looking forward to this little treat gives me a reason to avoid less satisfying sugar-bombs throughout the day -- though I can't say I always adhere to that reason!

2) Cider
    Yesterday I found a coffee shop here in New York which offers hot cider by the (plentiful) cup for about $3. As someone who's never quite developed a palette for straight coffee, this was a delightful alternative pick-me-up. If you really want to up your cider game, buy yourself some spices and get your wassail on. It sounds fancy, but it's easy to prepare, and it makes a classy addition to any holiday get-together.

3) Candy Corn
     Does this really need justification? I'll tell you one thing: I've learned not to let myself buy candy corn anytime beyond the month of October (and even then I usually limit myself to one bag.) Once those flood gates are open, it's a slippery slope toward year-round addiction. I'm also that person that loves candy corn in rice krispy treats or popcorn balls. Give me those tri-toned crack pockets in any form -- I can't resist 'em.

4) ABC Juice
    Apples, Beets, and Carrots are all at their best this season, and it's a great excuse to juice them for all they're worth. If you have your own juicer, combine 1 large apple with 1/4 beet and 1 large carrot. You might add a 1/2 inch of ginger if you want some extra kick! If you, like me, have precious little counter space and/or no money to put toward such a contraption, try sticking these items in the blender, then pushing them through a mesh strainer to bring out the juice. The extra pulpy bits might be a great addition to...

5) Quickbreads
     There's really nothing else I crave more this time of year than fresh-baked bread (of any kind!) J has been diligently baking a weekly whole wheat loaf for our sandwiches and toast, and it always surpasses the store-bought stuff to a laughable extent. I'm a dessert fanatic, so my baking exploits gravitate more toward quickbreads -- the stuff that basically tastes like cake. Pumpkin, carrot, and spice breads are fall classics, but I also like to mix things up with chocolate avocado-banana or zucchini walnut! For more texture, top your breads with roasted pumpkins or sunflower seeds. Mmmm....

6) Wild Rice and/or Lentils
     Stick these in a crockpot with lots of yummy veggies + stock and fuhgeddaboutit.

7) Sweet Potatoes
     You probably think your mom has the best Thanksgiving recipe for these bad boys, but the truth is, mine does.

8) Chai
    If you have not discovered the wonder that is the chai tea latte, I implore you to go to your local coffee shop right now, settle in with a book, and sip away. If you care anything for spice, I have no doubt you'll love it. Once you've attuned your palette, experiment at home to find the right blend of sugar and spice -- or make things cheap n' easy by purchasing a carton of Oregon Chai. Then -- when you're ready, young grasshopper -- find a restaurant like Taste of India in Seattle, order the bottomless cup, and prepare to shorten your life expectancy one whole-milky swig at a time.
9) Apples
     Another food that doesn't really need an introduction, autumn is obviously the best time to cook, can, or eat this fruit straight. A long-time subscriber to the PBnJ, I like to take slice extra-crispy apples up thin and put them directly into my sandwich in place of jam. It's a perfect complement to those days when you wish you were just back in 3rd grade, listening to your teacher read while you colored the afternoon away.

10) Pumpkin
    I couldn't very well end the list without addressing the squash that instigates sheer mania every September. While I've certainly fallen victim to the pumpkin love (Pumpkin Ravioli? Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels! Pumpkin Pop Tarts?! Trader Joes, what are you trying to do to me??!), this year a friend served me straight-up roasted sugar pumpkin with tahini, and I remembered why this vegetable is so incredible in the first place. I even spent the next day munching on the roasted seeds. Do yourself a favor this year and skip the processed stuff for the real thing!