Month: November 2014

Quiet

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It seems strange to write this, but even stranger not to. My mother died on Wednesday. She had Multiple Sclerosis and was sick for almost 20 years, but her final, fatal illness was an infection which killed her within days. It is a shock — I spoke to her one day and she was as usual, and the very next day she was completely non-responsive.

I will be quieter than usual for a little while.

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Reject ‘Black Friday’ circus: why not Make Something instead?

I am overjoyed that Make Something Month is happening again for 2014! I am a wholehearted participant. I hope a reblog of this post turns you on to something that has the potential to make your holiday season full of love and creativity.

Make Something Month

As ‘Black Friday’ hits the UK encouraging us to rush out and spend to prop up retailers like Amazon, famous for aggressive tax avoidance, appalling working conditions and zero-hours contracts, why not do something different this year? Once you’ve boycotted Amazon, why not pledge to make something this month, too?

Evidence shows that making a difference makes us happy, but making things is good for us, too. The wellbeing benefits of making things are striking. Studies suggest that learning gardening and cookery raises self-esteem and a sense of autonomy, and leads to an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to what could be expected if someone’s income were to triple.

This doesn’t, of course, mean we shouldn’t fight for fair pay and better working conditions, but remembering how much we can do for ourselves has multiple benefits that could help us live better and play a more active role in shaping the world…

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Having Fun With It

Take a look at this photo:

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It looks like a nice bottle of whiskey, yes?

It once was — last summer. A number of mint juleps took care of that 😉 I thought it was a wonderfully handsome bottle, though, and saved it. When I purchased my latest bottle of Dr. Woods Black Soap, I was looking at the amber liquid, and remembered my bourbon bottle and — I had to.

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He hee 🙂

I think the bourbon bottle is very much at home with the little jar that formerly contained lemon curd that I use to put my apple cider vinegar and water mixture in for my hair with the old silver soup spoon. The jar measures a perfect cup. The small jug which held balsamic vinegar now holds the apple cider hair vinegar enhanced with lavender essential oil.

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I also can’t forget the ceramic bowl my coworker made, filled with my hand crocheted wash cloths:

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This is one of the extremely fun parts of my rationing project — taking a simple thing like soap beside your tub to a wonderful flight of fancy. In the buy, buy, buy mentality of our culture, too few pause to enhance the small details of their lives (except, perhaps, to throw more money at them). I believe that Green, creative solutions are contained in taking time, and exercising the imagination. I am so pleased that I was able to make this assemblage out of empty jars and bottles, a gift, a little making, and a mysterious silver spoon — no one in my family remembers how it got into our possession. It makes me smile (and giggle) every time I take a bath.

A thought — Make do and mend can also be seen as Make, Do, and Mend! Just a little doing (soaking off the label and sterilizing the bottle) added to making and preserving changes the “settling for” to a mantra with agency. I like.

After my latest purchase of Dr. Woods — thee coupon count:

COUPONS REMAINING

Clothing: 21 out of 66
Soap: 14 out of 36
Tea: NONE out of 10

Slow Travel

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Exciting news! I have plans to go to Chicago! My husband will be there mid-December for work, and his company’s Holiday Party is at the end of that week. I am going to join him there for the party and to experience Chicago for the weekend. How I was going to get there was never a question for me — I knew I wanted to take the train. I purchased my ticket the night I decided to go. I travel from Philadelphia to DC, which takes two hours, have one hour in DC, then I embark on a 17 hour train ride to the Windy City.

Call me a Neo-Luddite, or a Romantic — I’m ok with that. I can’t wait to sightsee out the window, stare into space, day (and night) dream, listen to podcasts and music (I get terrible motion sickness reading whilst moving and I don’t think I’ll be able to read on the train), dine on the dining car (I’m so excited about this especially!), and just… not be on a plane or in an airport. I find it so unpleasant and jarring. The train station in Philadelphia is utterly gorgeous, and Union Station in DC ain’t so shabby either 😉 I’ve heard Union Station in Chicago is something to see, too. It doesn’t hurt that the train is less expensive than the plane, easier for me to get to, and an experience in and of itself. It’s like a holiday in my holiday 🙂

Perhaps the best reason to take the train, though, is that it is a more energy-efficient form of transportation than flying. I read that taking the train is often 1/2 the carbon footprint of flying. Planes also mess with the clouds and ozone which impacts the climate beyond carbon emissions.

Sadly, I have to take the airplane home, because that Monday is Grade Day at the University I work at (only the second biggest most important day in the life of a Registrar’s office! The first is Graduation). At least I’ll be with my husband on the way home to mitigate The Horror.

I’m happy to not only have a slow wardrobe and eat slow food, but travel slow too. Turtle Snail Neo-Luddite Romantic Dreamer power! Yeah!

(image: a snap from Betsy in Spite of Herself — iconic illustrations by Vera Neville. Remember when she takes the train to Milwaukee?!? I promise not to add an “e” to my name, start wearing loads of green, and douse myself with Jockey Club perfume after my trip 😉

Handy

I’ve carried a tiny hand creme in my purse since I started carrying a purse. The most simple reason is that if I’m out and about and wash my hands, I like to apply hand creme afterwards. I also use it to smooth my hair (usually when I look in the mirror after washing my hands, something is a bit crazy up there). Finally, I like it to be something very lightly scented — I find it uplifing and pretty!

As you can see, I’ve squeezed the usefulness out of the hand cremes I’ve had in my purse since last year:

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(when I take my bath tonight, I’ll also cut these open and use the last bit you can’t squeeze out)

I briefly contemplated putting some of my home made body butter in a tin and using that, but I know it’s not temperature stable — meaning it turns liquid if over 76 degrees or so. Clearly, that’s a disaster waiting to happen. A natural-ish, commercial option seemed like a better solution. Here’s what I found:

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This little set should keep me in purse hand cream for the rest of 2014 and all of 2015 (I’ll use the foot creme and cuticle salve as hand creme too), is 99% to 100% made of natural ingredients, made in the USA, and the best part to my eyes? Both of the small tins and the small glass jar can be reused for my own concoctions when I’m finished with them.

I’ve already put the hand salve into my purse and it’s pretty wonderful — my hands are very soft, the salve has a natural rosemary scent (how nice for the winter!), and it hardly takes up any room in the zip bag where I keep a handkerchief, a little powder, a lipstick, hair pins, and a pen. I see myself switching things out for each season — the honey hand creme for the spring, the coconut for the summer, etc. How nice!

I’m puzzled how many coupons to use for this. I’m thinking since there are 6 small items, how about 6 coupons?

Here is my updated accounting:

COUPON COUNT

Clothing: 21 out of 66
Soap: 18 out of 36
Tea: NONE out of 10

Pretty Nostalgic

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I recently ordered a magazine allllllllll the way from England. I couldn’t help myself — Meg and her Wardrobe Ration project was featured — the inspiration for this challenge! Meg’s article was beautifully illustrated with photos, chock-full of information, and really fun to read. But I knew it would be — Meg is amazing! Her voice translates to print beautifully.

What I didn’t know was how much I would enjoy a publication like Pretty Nostalgic. I am not a magazine subscriber — I’ve had a subscription to Piecework since forever, and added Saveur once Gourmet folded (and didn’t renew the Paris Review last year because I couldn’t keep up!) but that’s it. But Pretty Nostalgic! Oh! It is in another category. The paper is thick and delicious. It smells fantastic too! It’s full of colorful photography and illustrations, laid out so elegantly, and the articles! Click that link 🙂 Have you ever seen such a diverse yet thematic collection of wonderment? Speaking of rationing, I had to ration myself to only reading one article a day (Meg’s first, naturally) so I wouldn’t gobble it up all at one time. It’s that precious a resource.

What really got me was the Pretty Nostalgic Pledge. It’s everything I believe in and aspire to:

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(except for the British made goods part — whilst I’d love to buy British made goods and services as often as possible, I do not believe it sustainable as a Yank 😉

I’ve promised myself that I would join the Pretty Nostalgic Society as a holiday present to myself. I already have the little poster included with the magazine with the pledge on it up in my studio. ❤

Thank you Meg! Thank you Pretty Nostalgic! You guys are doing Great Things in the world and for the world. I hope you will consider me an honorary British person when I join.

My Cup of Tea

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Now for my last rationing category, tea. As I’ve said before, this was the hardest category to keep within coupons for, especially since I set them so low. The good news is that after this I must admit painful readjustment, and even though I don’t have any coupons left, I will have plenty of tea to see me through 2014. I’ve been pacing the drinking of my favorites with using up some of my older, not so favorites, and it’s been ok. I miss wanton tea buying! I do. It’s wasteful and I don’t have the funds or room for it but I miss it. I love my small, careful wardrobe and natural handmade toiletries, but I literally dream of placing a $100 order with Harney and Sons several times a month! I look at the web sites of tea companies longingly, more often than I care to admit. I even stare at the tea shelf in Whole Foods before sadly walking away with my head down. This must be what gamblers, smokers, and heroin addicts feel like. Hello, I’m Jacqueline Manni, and I’m a teaholic. It will get better with time!

What have I learned this year? The most valuable lesson I learned is that I placed too great an emphasis on variety in the past years. When it boils (ha! tea humor) down to it, I like to drink Earl Grey and a good Chinese black or two at work, with two or three “extras” depending on the time of year (such as a dark oolong in the winter, or Tie Guan Yin in spring) and my mood (when I’m feeling especially old-fashioned I love a rose tea!). At home I love a Lady Grey, a Vanilla tea, a light black (like Ceylon) and a strong black (like English breakfast), all which I drink with milk and sugar. I also love a rooibos chai for late nights, and an herbal or two for caffeine free warmth or when I’m sick. Throw in a “gotta try it!” (oh how  I want to try the Harney and Sons Capri blend — lemon and fig. Cry.) or “best of the season” (Darjeeling, I’m looking at you. Holiday blend, I’m looking at you too!) or two and I rest at 15 tins of tea in work and home cupboards at one time as an ideal. I could never figure this number out to my satisfaction when I was actively buying loads of tea, but finally, finally, I feel like I have a handle on it. Thank you, rationing project! You are hard, but you are just.

BUT

I’m not near that magical 15 tins of tea yet.

Consequently, another year of tighter than WWII level rationing is necessary.  I am going to give myself 30 coupons — 1 coupon = 2 oz tea — in 2015. This is tripled from last year, but a little more than half of the wartime ration of 52 coupons a year. This coupon plan will help me drink through my stash yet keep me in my core tea loves and some extras with planning (and discipline!)! I am so not strong enough yet to keep on the wagon without help!

One other important thing that I learned this year is that there is plastic in most tea bags! Yes, even the ones that look like they are just paper (as opposed to the silken sachets which are way, way plastic). I don’t have many tea bags, but I did buy two boxes of bags this year to tide me over with vanilla tea and herbal tea. No. No more. It infuriates me that they even put plastic in TEA BAGS! It’s bad enough  that half the time they cover innocent boxes in it, and then there is another plastic bag inside sometimes, but egads — it’s even in part of the bag that you submerge in hot water and ingest. Wrong, on so many levels. Not participating in the tea bag buying anymore. Loose leaf tastes better anyway 🙂

 

Soap Opera

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I thought I’d do a little where I am/where I’m going for my soap coupons, too!

In this past year, I think that my toiletry/soap buying habits have changed the most out of all of my consuming behaviors! I put this category in my ration project because I get weak at the knees when I see what looks like the perfect reddish burgundy lipstick, a rose or violet scented lotion, or a luxurious bath soap. Even my modest by other people’s rate of purchases were piling up faster than I could use them. Many of these items contained loads of strange chemicals and preservatives that I rather keep away from on a daily basis. Plus, there is so much you can make yourself.  I thought that rationing these items would help me simplify, simplify, simplify.

…and it did!

You can see that I have 24 out of 36 soap coupons left. Unlike my clothing coupons, I feel no need to use my remaining coupons in a way to maximize what I have. I’ve made things very easy — I use Dr. Woods Black Soap for my face, in the bath, and at all sinks in the house. I use soap berries and vinegar to clean my laundry. I use argan oil as a facial moisturizer and as a hair conditioner. I use a rinse of apple cider vinegar to clean my hair. If it needs additional smoothing, my handmade shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil and almond oil body butter works really well for hair as well as skin! A mix of french green clay and cornstarch gives my face some anti-shine help. I’ve even made deodorant, and it works for the most part 3 out of 4 of the seasons!

I still use lipstick and blush, but had so much left over from 2013 that I didn’t need to buy any this year! I have some fancy lotions from 2013 that I still use from time to time when I want to feel froofy. I have a bottle of perfume — still mostly full — that I got around the holidays last year. My husband brings home those tiny shampoos and conditioners when he travels for work, so if I ever get a wild urge to wash and condition my hair like most people, I have some. If it’s summer, or I know I’m going to have a stressful, rush, rush, rush day, I’ll pull out the conventional deodorant. Trust me — it’s for the best.

For 2015 I plan to revise my soap coupon system to something that doesn’t resemble the WWII system in the least, but works perfectly for my goals (more handmade, more natural, but not 100% restrictive).  The rules will be as such:

  • I will get 12 coupons.
  • A commercially made product (whether all natural or a chemical concoction) = 1 coupon. Examples: A bottle of Dr. Woods Soap, a bottle of perfume, a container of commercial deodorant, a lipstick, an all natural tinted moisturizer made from angels and jojoba oil 😉 If it contains more than one ingredient and someone else made it, it costs a coupon.
  • A natural ingredient I can use on its own or with others to make a toiletry product (i.e. almond or argan oil, cocoa butter, rose water) will be coupon free but needs to be reported on the blog.

Yay! Easy to follow, and gets to the heart of what I’m trying to do with soap coupons.

I’m so pleased with the transformation  of my habits in 2014, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings with my new, streamlined soap coupon rationing system!

 

 

Wardrobe Inventory

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I decided that it would be a good idea to inventory my fall/winter wardrobe since there are two more months left in the challenge, and I have 21 more clothing coupons. I plan to be on the ration next year too, so using every last coupon for 2014 in a smart way is important, and seeing where my weak spots are will be great for planning 2015. It feels … indulgent? …silly? …superficial? to list my clothing, but I know that writing about things helps me think about them and understand them. This list will be a great resource to look to before I use any further coupons. I wish I did this in the beginning of the ration, actually!

Here is everything —

Clothing:

6 cardigans: 1 black cotton, 2 black wool, one teal wool, 1 grey wool with black trim. 1 sheer black material with cream lace.

1 pullover sweater: dark olive green wool, 3/4 sleeved

1 suit: very dark navy with pinstripes

2 leggings, 1 black, one that imitates the look of black jeans (!)

3 skirts: handmade black cotton w multicolored print, 1 handmade black silk with red hem, 1 brownish pumpkin and black ponte knit v shaped stripe skirt.

6 tops: 1 black silk short sleeved with ruffle in middle, 1 cotton black long sleeved top, 1 blue and multicolored floral tunic, 1 cowl neck black long sleeved top, 1 black tunic sweatshirt thing, 1 black and white short sleeved tunic.

8 dresses: 1 red and purple floral 3/4 sleeve wrap dress, 1 purple beige, black, olive elbow length sleeved sheath dress, 1 black and white silky material short sleeved dress, 1 blue, black and cream print short sleeved wrap dress, 1 cream, beige, grey, and black cap sleeved sheath dress, 1 cream and navy stripe ponte knit sheath dress, 1 beige, black, and coral print dress, 1 brown, grey, white, teal cotton short sleeved dress that ties in the back.

Footwear:

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5 boots: 1 pair hiking boots, 1 pair snow/rain boots, 1 pair black with brown accent leather lace up boot, 1 pair olive green leather pull on boots (come to upper calf) , 1 pair black ankle boots with little heel. (you may notice new rain/snow boots — my husband bought them for me after he saw the holes in my old ones. He also bought me a handbag after I noticed a hole in the one I was carrying around for the past few years. Aww. I was so surprised and touched.)

1 pair of sneakers, black

3 every day shoes: 1 pair of black clogs, 1 pair of black mary jane clogs, 1 pair of black/grey/cream wool mary jane clogs.

2 semi-dress shoes: 1 dark red mary jane wedge, 1 black mary jane heel

2 dress shoes: 1 black fabric heel with a tiny bow, 1 black leather heel with a nice sized silky black with tiny grey print bow.

1 pair of flat suede “men’s slipper” looking shoes that I bring to work to wear whenever I wear my rain/snow boots — I can’t stand wearing rain/snow boots all day at work.

Outerwear:

1 sweater/jacket, black

1 wool coat, black

(loads and loads of scarves, shawls, and hats — which make my minimal wardrobe not boring at all 🙂 I swear)

Some thoughts about how I should spend my last 21 coupons, and ponderings regarding 2015:

  • I have so many print dresses! I need a solid black dress, and I think it would be smart to purchase one with some of my remaining coupons. I’ve been looking at the thrifts and the only solid black dresses are too dressy for every day. I could also do with another solid colored dress or two in 2015. I have fabric in my stash for 3 dresses, and they are all print! If I buy any fabric in 2015, it should be solid. And I should get to sewing those dresses, even if they are all print. This happened because I charged myself with the task of not wearing 100% unrelieved  black all the time about 7 or 8 years ago. See what happens when you don’t check in with yourself regularly? 😉
  • I could use more pullover sweaters and/or tops. I’ve been looking at the thrifts but everything looks too worn —  these may need to be purchased first hand.  I can get at least 2 with my remaining coupons. These will be good things to make in 2015, too. I have a few patterns for short sleeved sweaters and some linen/cotton to knit them with. I’d like to try my hand at sewing a basic woven top, too. I hesitate to knit long sleeved pullover sweaters because my workplace is so hot all of the time, but I do have a wool vest on my knitting needles which I think will be perfect!
  • I would like to knit a very warm cardigan I can use as a fall/spring jacket. The one I have now (which was $1 at a yard sale!) has 3/4 sleeves, and if I don’t have long sleeves (or long gloves!) on with it I’m cold. I think I have enough yarn for something nice.
  • I’d like to get brown, or blue, or burgundy clogs in 2015.
  • I also should get one bra.
  • I need to save half-ish of my 2015 coupons for summer clothes. I hardly have any and the majority of the ones I have are on their last legs!
  • I hope my winter coat lasts forever. It’s the perfect cut and length and warmth.
  • You may notice the absence of jeans, pants, and button down shirts in my wardrobe. These items just don’t work with me! I find pants and jeans horribly uncomfortable and I think I look terrible in them, and button down shirts are either too tight in the chest or too big in the body if they fit in the chest. I don’t even go near these sections of stores.

This should be more than enough information to keep me focused for the remainder of 2014, and start me off on the right foot for 2015! I can’t believe I’m in the last two months of the challenge with so many coupons to use — yay!