Ye Olde House Wifee – #1

Dearest husband,
I have braved the ice fields and winds to return to Harper House. Oh, how it howled and the cold unforgiving, but I persevered! I have cocooned myself in the bedroom with several blankets to recover. I call to the servants to make dinner, but they do not answer! I fear there is no hope for me. I shan’t thaw. I shan’t relax; my neck and back a tangle of nerves. Send for the priest. Tell him to bring pizza.
Your beloved,
Lauren Mildred Flenderson

An ode to Real Simple magazine.

I canceled my subscription to Real Simple magazine today. I started my subscription to this embodiment of domesticity sometime in 2007. To explain why I canceled, I should explain why I subscribed in the first place.

I had ordered Real Simple as a gift for a friend. She loved quirky home decor and had an eye for fashion and, not having much knowledge of magazines in my early 20s, I confused Domino Magazine with Real Simple. I corrected my error with my friend, but decided to switch the magazine subscription to my name after reading an issue.

The magazine was a reference for all the skills I lacked: Homemaking. Cooking. Fashion. Shopping. Socializing. I had launched into my adult life with a minimal skill set for these activities, a reflection of my life growing up. My home ec classes only taught us how to cook breakfast, how to sew a pillow, and that sometimes store brands were quality food choices. My childhood meals often consisted of what we affectionately termed “Box + meat = food”. My family never had guests over. My parents really didn’t have friends or family. Our decor was limited to family photos and white walls. I also didn’t know about how to “dress up”. My mother never wore make up. Never went out. Shoes were tennis shoes and our uniform was a shirt and jeans/sweats. As I would meet others and learn of their experiences growing up I would feel these were fortunate circumstances, comparatively, but I could not deny that I was deficient in some essential skills.

Real Simple became my manual. I diligently snipped out recipes. I saved articles that would teach me how to interact with coworkers and navigate social situations with friends. I slowly began to add accessories to my outfits. We bought art. We had lovely holiday decor. I became a gift giving queen. I still really minimally wear makeup, but when I do I’m happy with it. I was so eager to learn these things. It filled in the gaps I had. It did it with a kind, neutral tone. Sage advice that some people would have had passed along to them from family or a grandparent… I had the pages of my magazine.

Today, I follow several blogs that cover my favorite topics and pinterest is full of ideas. I’m sure Real Simple may attribute some of their decreased sales to these facts. I’m sure my circumstances are not uncommon. But for me… The real reason I unsubscribed is that I’m grown. I’m 29. I think I’ve graduated from Real Simple University. When flipping through my latest issue, I realized that the magazine didn’t grab me like they used to. It was time.

So thank you, Real Simple. You taught me a lot. You equipped me with skills I have found so useful in my adult life. But it’s time to leave the nest. I’m keeping you friended on Pinterest. I’ll recommend you to young people I meet that, like me, need a nice neutral place to learn about life without fear of judgment from the inquiry. Thanks for the assistance with my wedding, which was so helpful since we were one the first of our friends to do it and my family was not involved in that day. Thanks for the meals. The Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons. The stories of other families. Thanks for everything. I might have left, but there are many more readers where I came from who have much to learn.

Things I will miss about Houston #3

Another thing about Houston I will miss: Houston Free Share, a Freecycle group. It’s been a terrific resource for getting rid of things before our move, but just in general, it’s nice giving things you don’t need to people who want them. I’ve probably given out ten things for every item I got… but I never minded it. Helps me get rid of the clutter. Detroit has a similar group, I hope it’s as well run.

Things I will miss about Houston #2

Things I will miss in Houston: House of Pies. The only pie I’ll eat here is strawberry, but the greasy spoon fare has been a staple since I first moved here 8 years ago. We made a point of taking out-of-towners here, usually before heading to the airport. My husband made a habit of checking to see what silverware was magnetized. The Club Breakfast comforted me after late night work evenings. I’ll miss it.

I promised gift/holiday shopping ideas. Here are some websites.

Before we get into the sites, just three things I want to note first.

1. Shop early. Especially if you’re shopping online. We live in the future. Do not procrastinate.

2. Consider small businesses first. Surely there are independent stores where you live that sell the same items as big box stores. For an example, in Rice Village in Houston there’s a nice man who runs a kitchen supply shop called ChefMarket with the same exact gadgets and accessories Bed, Bath, and Beyond does. Support small, local business!

3. If you can’t shop local, at least save yourself some money. Coupon codes and deals are so easy to find. …you need two sites: for deals, for coupon codes. Also, do not be afraid to google. Type in the item name and brand, shop around. See where you can get a good coupon and maybe buy it there! Okay, on to the good stuff.

Small gifts (coworkers, friend of friend) and stocking stuffers.

Yes, Target does have many small convenient items, but year after year I always find myself looking at two places: The Container Store and Restoration Hardware. Not places you think of when you think gifts, but every year they provide a diverse amount of reasonably priced goods that are unique. It’s nice to give people something that is memorable. …maybe it’s useful, maybe it’s not.

Container Store tends to be more handy like this Tea Bag Buddy (holds in heat, manages the stringy bit, gives you something to squeeze the extra water out when you’re done!) or this re-usable cutlery set.

The holidays are the only time I approach Restoration Hardware for anything. The rest of the year they sell distressed bedroom sets and arctic fox fur BEAN BAGS. Not even kidding a little. But during the holidays they have great gifts. There’s a fair amount of items for ourdoory types like this swedish firesteel and a lot of items for kids like this prank kit or this voice changer. And the packaging is this wonderful retro style I adore.

General gift giving.

Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, based in New York, can only be described as every fun thing you could imagine. It is awesome. (If you live there, check it out, they say the website is just a fraction of what they offer. If you live in Houston, check out Candylicious for similar fun times. I used to work there and the owners are good guys.) From Glow In The Dark Stars to this classy metal flask to this beautiful foosball table they seem to have something for everyone. 

Fishs Eddy is a charming shop out of New York City that does dishes and serveware. Their stoneware has fantastic personality and vibrant colors. And, having purchased their wares before, I can assure you they pack items very well for shipping.

-Ohh, if I could, I would just shop at Crate and Barrel. Everything is just fantastic… and while there are some pricey things, a lot of their stock is affordable while not sacrificing design. Their holiday season collection is great (food/decorating/etc.), and they offer just a really solid selection of general home goods. The kitchen section is nice, but it isn’t unique by any stretch. (See my note about shopping local and price hunting!) If you’re looking for something a little younger feeling, check out their trendy sibling shop CB2. I love these tree bookends!

Uncommon Goods is somewhere between lovely airport gift shop and rampant silliness. There’s jewelry, home decor, books, toys, gifts for new parents, art, and more. Their gift guides are usually pretty spot on, so use them to look around the site. I got this whiskey stone set for my father-in-law last year. This bonsai forest is pretty neat and the idea of an emergency clown nose just makes me laugh.

Etsy, etsy, etsy.

Etsy is this wonderful marketplace of fun and diverse goods. There’s art and jewelry, yes, but there’s a lot of functional items here too… crafted by hand (for the most part) by an independent artist. If you have time, consider looking around etsy to give a truly unique gift. Here’s a round up of shops and items I’m a fan of.

Kim Westad makes beautiful porcelain pottery. Her pieces often have incredibly detailed dots forming patterns and texture. Her whirl bowl is one of my favorites.

Lulu Bug Jewelry does silver pendants with colored concrete (!). It makes a neat visual effect. This little leaf necklace is small but cute. Jewelry doesn’t need to be huge to be interesting.

-There’s something very northern about Western Art Glass. It’s fish and leaves and just nice stained glass art. I like these leaf earrings and this fish seems like something my dad would hang up in his office.

Gnome Sweet Gnome pretty much just makes these kleenex box whales. I mean there’s a couple other things, but… whale!

Standard Design does quirky prints. I’m a fan of ‘Hello Darkness My Old Friend’. Also a bumper sticker.

Avril Loreti has modern home goods and accessories. Like these paint chip table runners!

-The Dichroic Fused Glass Jewelry by ccvalenzo is truly art. Mostly nature scenes, they look painted in shadow on top of glass tiles, like little scenes dangling around your neck. There’s a lot of gifty stuff in this shop.

Pica Pica Press is just quirky nerd jewelry. Weeeell, for the most part. I like these Pacman earrings and these triforce earrings really could pass as cute, normal jewelry to those not-in-the-know.

-Finally TippyThai Bags. I’m not normal one to squee over purses, but I like these bags A LOT. Like this one. And this one

I hope all these links give you a starting point. And if all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask someone what they want. They’ll appreciate it!

I can’t believe it’s November.

I feel like it was just the middle of summer. I know, time flies and all that, but the holidays are right before us and it’ll be 2012 before you know it. Crazy.

I love the holidays. I always have. The decorating, special meals, friends and family… but the favorite part for me is the gift giving. Say what you will about commerce and consumerism, etc. etc. I love getting people gifts. I feel like it’s a celebration of who they are, what they mean to me, and a small token of my appreciation for their friendship. Warm fuzzies – who doesn’t like warm fuzzies?

I’m also really good at gift giving. A lot of this does relate back to my enjoyment, but I don’t have a hard time figuring out what to give people. My husband does struggle with it, but I’ve just taken to telling him what I want (or skipping gifts all together) or shopping for him. I get the warm fuzzies, he gets to not feel awkward at the gift giving, everyone wins. (I’m the emotional, creative one. He’s the precise, engineery one. We balance each other out.)

So what is my gift giving POA? How do I get a gift I’m satisfied with that I know the gift-ee will enjoy?

1. I pay attention. Little comments here and there get stored away in my brain. People talk about what they want or enjoy all the time. If I see or hear something I think might make a good gift, I rush over to amazon and toss it on my gift giving wishlist with a little note. Or I email myself. Or make a google calendar reminder about this time of year that says, “Hey, dad really liked that chair from Ikea. Buy it for him?”

2. I try to keep things practical. If someone doesn’t like stuff – don’t buy them stuff! Or just ask them what they’d like. I know, I’m a fan of the surprise ‘look at me, I nailed it’ gift, but for those hard to shop for people… it’s better to get them what they want or would use. A couple blog posts ago I talked about how I cook using blogs. Most of my cookbooks are collecting dust and I’m slowly getting rid of them. For me… a cookbook probably isn’t the best choice for a gift.

3. I use the internet. You can find just about anything online. It’s the future! Blogs do some of the work for you by creating tremendous gift guides that allow you to find unique gifts for pretty much anyone on your list. (I think I’m going to make one after this post.) Use them!

4. I’m thoughtful. Don’t wait til the last minute. This doesn’t allow time for thoughtfulness. You can really think about a person and what they might enjoy/use if you’re rushing to the last minute. Shopping online will force you to shop early. Just think about the person. Think about what makes them happy. And extrapolate… What’s related to that thing? What would complement that thing? What would people who like that thing also like? Maybe that thing is a physical object. Maybe it is just a visa gift card. Maybe it’s a donation to a local non-profit they would support. As long as there’s a thought process behind your gift, you have a better chance of getting something they’ll really like.

Surgery was yesterday and I’m fine.

So far it doesn’t hurt so much as ache, but we’re early yet.

I keep getting tackled by surprise naps. I’ll be doing/reading/interneting something and all of a sudden it’s… “I’ll just close my eyes for a secon- zzzz.”

In between the naps I’ve been listening to Left As Rain is a music blog/player I’ve been following for years. It’s just mellow indie stuff, nice background music. It’s just perfect. Simple layout, true to it’s musical “voice”, and I’ve found out about a bunch of new bands. I just kicked $20 their way to help cover bandwidth fees.

The other thing I’ve been doing is designing outfits using Polyvore lets you clip outfit items from websites and then lay them out. For example, I might have a slight thing for flappers right now. I’ve been grabbing 1928 Jewelry and some lacy Banana Republic tops and putting them together to see what I like. No money spent, all the fun of shopping, surprise naps friendly.

And a quick shout-out to Sally blogs what she wears everyday. It’s not some kind of vanity project, it’s more of a discussion of different components of fashion. How to plan what you wear, how to take risks, really how to know what you’re doing. She’s really enabled me to feel comfortable finding a personal voice in what I wear. It’s not this shameful and awkward experience now to pick out an outfit.

I feel like I should end all these posts with ‘god bless the internet’.