Sunday, March 27, 2011

Skirts: Swingy, Pleated, Sheer

Everywhere I keep seeing variations on the springy-est skirt ever, and it looks like the perfect thing to wear every day (if only it were a little bit warmer!)

 Ha, I can't believe I got all those images to stack up. 1 - Alejandra Alonso in lookbook for Mango spring 2011 via fashion gone rogue via {this is glamorous}*; 2 - Mariechen W. from Berlin on in American Apparel's skirt**; 3 & 4 - The Sartorialist; 5 - E. from Academichic; 6 - Valentino Paris Fall 2011 Ready to Wear via via {this is glamorous}

*I love Mango. I think the first time I went in one of their stores (they're a Spanish brand) was in Aruba on a trip in high school, and I was smitten by their cool clean look and carried around their lookbook with me for way longer than was necessary.
**We all know how I feel about AA, but they're really into chiffon recently and I do like this skirt.

I actually have a knee-length gored (it's words like this that I've noticed are totally lost on boys or people who are not into clothes) swishy pleated chiffon skirt, though it's black. I wore it a lot last fall but its been awfully light-weight for the depths of winter. Maybe I'll break it out again in an attempt to force spring on Chicago.

Mindfulness and Creativity

Happy Sunday, y'all. I'm eating leftover diner omelette from last night's adventures and cleaning all the things. And blogging. Holy crap, there's nothing like being freed temporarily from the worries and stress of work and school to remind you of long-forgotten creative plans. I took a class last quarter where we had to use different mediums to produce our reading responses each week, things like taking a picture, drawing with oil pastels (maybe that was just me and my love for oil pastels), writing poetry, cooking, singing, doing yoga. It was a touchy-feely class, and I gave the assignments a fair share of eye-rolling, but one comment by a classmate on the last day stuck out. She said that it was game-changing to think of creativity as part of normal work and life, not the "reward" we leave for ourselves when nothing else is really going on. For those of us who aren't artists and don't work in a creative field, how can we make the pursuit of creativity and beauty a part of our busy lives, not just something to add on?

I think a lot of us (bloggers, women, friends of mine, people who appreciate aesthetics, I dunno how I'm defining "us" here) seek to add beauty and creativity in to our everyday life in little ways, but those often strike me as something to add on when we've got money and time. I'm thinking of things like buying flowers, sewing and drawing and knitting during our free time. These things are valuable, but sometimes I literally don't have time or money for them (soon, hopefully, my life won't be so damn intense but you can't just wait around living in a future time). I've been thinking of ways to do the shit I have to do in a more mindful, creative way. I read (in Martha Stewart, referencing an unnamed "recent Harvard study") that people spend 50% of their time thinking about something other than what they're doing, and that this makes them unhappy. Let's totally ignore my nagging need to read the whole study and criticize it, and assume that mindful presence in as much of daily life as possible is a positive goal. There's a lot of boring shit I have to do that I don't want to be mindfully present for, though, I just want to get through, like commuting and paperwork and eating old food because I hate for food to go to waste and school assignments I can't get into. Sometimes, though, if I try or just pay attention, these can become enjoyable too. I kind of love commuting sometimes, watching the buildings flash past and the birds and the light sparkle through falling snow and the faces of my fellow metropolis-dwellers. I write little observations on receipts and shove them in my purse and find them later, a little slice of mid-January. My coworker play music while she does paperwork.

I think sometimes what it takes to introduce creativity to ordinary tasks, paradoxically, is ritual and routine. You know, you decide, ok, it's tax time, motherf*ers, time to dress up like my weirdly romanticized version of an attorney, get absurdly into knowing the workings of the IRS website, and pump myself up with a fancy coffee. I know those are kindof add-ons, but if you're going to dress and have a coffee anyway, why not specialize them for taxes? This is an odd example. Maybe like my coworker, when you have an unpleasant task at work, set it up so you're happy and comfortable and then get into it as much as possible. I kind of relish the stress of exam week because I'm so single-mindedly focused on one thing.

I'm going to think about this some more. After I do my taxes.
Took this crazy double-exposure picture in New Orleans on the hotel balcony in the morning, and of my friend's dog in the back of the truck, with my old-school Sabre 620 camera, which I finally got it together to use.

Reflected Light

 These pictures of mirrored ceilings and walls really snagged my imagination. The first is from The Corinthian Club in Glasgow, via Lace & Tea.
Then the Michelberger Hotel in Berlin (which as we all know is the coolest city in the world) (ok, check out their website, I was just going to cite to be thorough but it's pretty awesome and there's a button that says "it's all too much" that you can push to turn off all the music and animation. every website should have that easily accessible! I think I'm in love) via {this is glamorous} via Design Shimmer. When I was in New Orleans, I stayed a night in the guest room of some friends. They said the room was the only one not yet remodelled in the century-old house, which I only saw in the bathroom, a bit worn around the edges, but completely walled in with mirrors. You have to be pretty vain to like that kind of thing, but I was fascinated with seeing reflections show up in unexpected angles, plus it looks totally glamorous in Hollywood dressing room kind of way.
It all reminds me a bit of this "Swimming Pool" installation by Leandro Erlich. This photo is from the original at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan. Wouldn't it be cool to sleep or eat below that shimmering watery reflective light?

I love light reflected off water, bouncing back on the side of houses from pools, the underside of bridges, the sides of boats. It looks like summer, and it makes me excited and happy and eager to jump in, but it's also so soothing and dependable, even in its sparkling. I would like a house where I can sit and eat breakfast or go to sleep wrapped in that light. Anyone got one?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Fever, New Orleans Edition

"It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
-Mark Twain
So.. all that I was saying about accepting what I'm given and being ok with winter? Well, I went to New Orleans for a visit last week and it shot all those high-minded plans all to hell. New Orleans was warm and beautiful, and I was less than pleased to come back to a chilly, rainy, gray Chicago. I still love Chicago, really, I do, but am starting to think that it might not be so bad to live in a place that makes me happy.
We biked around the Crescent City, and I was continually just overwhelmed by how gorgeous everything was. Azaleas blooming really gratuitously, beautiful old homes, flowers and sunshine, morning coffee on balconies and a glass of wine outside in the evenings. The plants are familiar to me, but even more tropical and gorgeous, so it has the relaxing quality of going home, but it's also a city with a lot of cool things going on, indie shows, coffee shops, things I thought I would give up if I left the big city. I have some big decisions to make coming up, so any input would be welcome, especially if you know New Orleans!

Wish List for Spring

I know I talk about having everything I need, and not shopping, and so on, but sometimes there are a few (hopefully versatile) items that I really want! Most of these things would have been practical this winter but probably would get a lot of use in a Chicago spring too.
1. a solid-color maxi skirt
E., from Academichic, wears them really well, and she's the main reason I want one so bad. I actually have like 5 maxi skirts which is WAY too many,  but they're all spangled and patterned and asymmetrical and insane. I hold on to them, honestly, because they garnered compliments in Egypt (they love over-the-top, just like I do) and I refuse to admit that I'll never go back and don't need to hold on to a wardrobe that is perfect for a completely different continent than the one I live on.

Here's a super-blurry picture of one of them. I got this from my cousin who got it in a hippie store in Madison, and I wore the shit out of it in Egypt, tied it as a dress in Dahab, and sometimes wear it and the others in the summer here when I go dancing or just want to be a hippie.

Lauren Moffatt gets it right, even though these aren't solid colors, the high waist looks great and the patterns are subtle. I love her.

2. knit pencil skirts in dark colors like navy and burgundy
American Apparel was my original vision of what this should be, but I hate them and can't afford them anyway. Etsy is, suprisingly, disappointing, as what I've found so far have low waists and look not that well made. I might have to make this myself at grandmas.
First, American Apparel, and then a cute version from Pretty Birdie by Stephanie Teague on etsy, who is from North Carolina and makes (I think) really chic clothes with natural fabrics and dyes, like hemp, linen, and organic cotton. Unfortunately her pencil skirts are not stretch, though they are really cute, and they're really expensive. One day when I have money, she's exactly the kind of seller I'd give it to.

3. leggings or tights to go with navy skirts
I have a navy dress and a navy skirt, and I think navy looks great with my red hair, but I haven't worn them all winter because of my distaste for black with navy. I have brown tights but I live in Chicago and need something much thicker if I'm going to wear them all day.

4. a fake-leather jacket
Leather is soooo cool but gives me the creeps. I'd like to have a jacket in canvas or something with all the swagger of motorcycle jacket--assymetrical zipper, short waist, big lapels. I'd even take studs.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Still Winter

I am trying hard to live in the moment and place where I am. All of my professional training leads me to believe this is a wise course, as well as Annie Dillard who says in Teaching a Stone to Talk that she wants to live by "choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will."
And what I'm given is more chilly gray days in Chicago, and loads of work to do. So ok, so be it, it is still winter. I make myself look at catalogues of winter clothes. I almost tripped when I saw three daffodils in an other-wise familiarly dead bed. I can still see my breath in huge humid clouds. I'm no longer fighting it. I've retreated to muted earthy colors for the most part, simple outfits and sensible, cold- and water-proof shoes. And it works-- I went to a party where I knew only one person and was complimented on "all those earth tones." This very complimentary person told me that I have beautiful skin that would be ruined if I moved to L.A. as I've been threatening to do. Perhaps they're right, maybe I do belong here, quietly hoping for spring and turning more and more translucent. Maybe redheads, even fake ones, really are better off in climates such as mine, and I should embrace my Scandinavian roots!
These beautiful wintery photos are by Swedish photographer Anna Ådén. Check out her blog, too! Unfortunately I can't remember exactly what blog led me to her, but I'm guessing it was Design is Mine.

Romantic Candlelight Dinner: the Aftermath

This is an old post but thought I'd put it up.

A good friend and old roommate is visiting, and on her first night here we had a romantic candlelit dinner. We made Mediterranean Fish Bake, from a recipe given to me by a friend who took a cooking class at Camaje, a restaurant in NYC, back in 2005. It was pretty delicious, and we had it with grits, which if that sounds weird to you, call it polenta, but we only cooked it for 5 minutes, and mixed in some feta and butter, I think.

Mediterranean Fish Bake
2 servings

1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only
10 leaves basil, sliced
2 Tbsp. capers
2 (6 oz.) fish fillets-- just about any fish works, except tuna, we used cod
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbed (ok we used a lot more)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (we just toasted the ends of a loaf of bread and tore them up)

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine onion, garlic, tomatoes, thyme, basil and capers in a small bowl and toss to combine. Lightly oil a small baking dish. Place fillets in dish and season with salt and pepper (do a little happy dance when you get to use your new mortar and pestle as you are out of ground pepper but have lots of whole peppercorns). Top with tomato mixture. Combine feta and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over fish. Bake for 20 minutes or until fish is just beginning to flake and a knife inserted into the fish is very hot to touch.

I baked it 20 minutes and hoped the fish was done, which it was, since I would have no idea when it was "just beginning to flake." This is the first animal protein I have ever successfully cooked "on my own," (my friend helped a lot, and her confidence helped even more, especially as I stood in front of the meat and fish case in the grocery store at a total loss). I am generally deeply afraid of cooking meat of any sort as I recall two failed attempts in college that practically burned down my apartment and were inedible, so I just stick to vegetables. This wasn't too hard though. I might try chicken next time.

We also mixed some feta and butter into the grits, and it was delicious.

You can see in our "aftermath" picture that we also had wine, whiskey (that was later), and Root, a Pennsylvania-made liquor based on old recipes for the pre-Prohibition root beer. It tastes like very-alcoholic root beer, and it has a charming label with drawings of all the ingredients.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Warmer Climes?

Recently I've been talking with friends and thinking a lot about why I live where I do. As winter stretches into March and I spend two hours a day in transit, why don't I live somewhere easier? Like Dahab, above, where I went snorkeling in February?

I have never been that attracted to "easy" places, because I feel a really Midwestern guilt about it. If it's too warm and comfortable and beautiful, I might get complacent, and forget that there are cold and inconvenient places, start to feel that I deserve to have an easy life, and lose the ability to appreciate littler pleasures. One friend thinks it is the folly of youth to think that we should make life harder than it is-- she suggests moving to L.A. Another says I really would be happier moving back to the South, if to a larger city. Others seem to advocate going abroad merely for it's own sake.

I really am not sure if there is anything better than spring after a long winter. But then I think about Hawaii and surfing every day, and surely that's better. Many people I know have no qualms about longing for a "better" place-- somewhere with mountains, the sea, a more cosmopolitan vibe. This always makes me first hotly defensive of Chicago's merits, and then uneasy about the valuation of natural and man-made beauty. I think this might be because I grew up in a pretty mediocre town in a state known for its natural beauty. Though I have a love-hate relationship with my hometown, I'm a staunch defender of the (moral?) superiority of "mediocre" places.