Friday, April 24, 2015

#WhoMadeMyClothes

I just found out yesterday that today is "fashion revolution day" or something along those lines. Normally I'm not one for #trending #hashtags or joining in on these silly internet holidays--or even joining in on cyber activism. I live my life as I live it, acting based on the values I hold; I don't need a hashtag to somehow publicise or justify what I'm doing. That being said, here I am, apparently, joining the #movement.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have been raised with the skills and values that allow me to make my own clothes. I have learned to question the source of everything, had my eyes trained to see pipelines gashing through the countryside when I look at the neat little bottles of water lined up in the bodega shelves, see the underpaid, uninsured, manipulated, abused employees when I look at a pound of butter that's $1 cheaper at Wal-Mart than the co-op, see the hundreds of gallons of polluting dye dumped into rivers across the world when I walk into Forever21 and see a $3 neon tank top. This way of viewing the world is exactly the opposite of commodity fetishism--yay! And it means I don't buy a lot of things.
As a kid, I don't think I bought new clothes until the first grade. I distinctly remember going to Old Navy or somewhere and getting these floral-embroidered bell bottoms that matched my friend's. But more than that I remember helping my mother pick out fabrics and patterns to sew my dresses, opening up the big boxes of hand-me-downs that came in the mail, finding scores at the consignment shop in the wealthy beach town we visited. I still get handknits every Christmas, still arrive at my parents' house greeted by a nice sweater or skirt my mother found for me at the goodwill (dang that woman can thrift. Cashmere sweaters, Eileen Fisher... it's a skill). All this, I hope, provides some background for why I make the decisions I do today.
However. I am privileged. I am lucky, I am blessed, I am thankful that this is my life. That I have the resources to spend valuable time and money sewing or buying hand/locally/ethically made things. Not everyone does. And yes, if the people who make your t-shirt are paid a living wage, if the fiber is sustainably gown, if natural dyes are used, if it is made nearby to cut down on shipping pollution... it will cost more. The first time I made a shirt I just sat there in awe at how any piece of clothing could cost $3. This is a decision that we, as a society, have to make. That we value other things more than the $3 t-shirt. That we are willing to have five shirts that cost $30 rather than thirty that cost $5. We have lived like this before. A whole new wardrobe every season, shopping regularly, not repeating outfits: these things have not historically been affordable for all but the most wealthy classes. And they still are not. We have just changed the way pricing works to hide the true costs of these clothes: to the people who make them, to the earth.
I don't know why I'm writing all of this. I hope you're aware of it. There are more researched sources than my personal rantings to get your information form. But this is something that I'm working through, in a flawed way, in a flawed world. Trying to live your values is work. I still buy jeans at Madewell because they make my butt look nice and I have no idea how to make jeans. I have underwear-buying paralysis because there seem to be no good options and I can't just wear the same underwear three times a week like I do with most of my clothes. But today, just reflect. Reflect on where your clothes come from and how that makes you feel. And then try to remember that the next time you walk into a store.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Country Mouse: Unplugging


Unplugging isn't a good word. It makes it sound like I've been superglued to my laptop and suddenly broke free to live in technicolor. Which isn't how life works. But two weekends ago, I did go to visit my parents in rural Massachusetts.* I left my laptop in Brooklyn and my phone was very much on its last legs: completely out of storage, down to the bare minimum of apps, unupdated since 2012. This is really the only decent photo I took the whole time, which is a bummer because it was so picturesque. Well, as picturesque as early April in a New England farm town can be. 
My cousins (two adults and one "big kid" three year old) and I took the train up together, zooming out of the grey city as rain drizzled along the windows, watching spring bloom in reverse as the swollen buds turned back to bare branches, the new tufts of grass to mud then snow. Over a foot of snow in the forest when we got there, drifts so high in the old stone foundation you could slide right down into it, reasonable-size snowstorms every day we were there. But also mud, and sunshine, and new baby goats, and new baby kittens, and adorable Easter baskets with hand-knit vegetables and pocket sized Floris books and Annie's gummy bunnies. And even without pictures, I remember all of it. I remember the strong spring sun streaming down through the bare branches, so-far undeterred by the leaves that will form a tight, green-tinted shade in a few weeks. Streaming down, still cold, but bright, pushing its best--steadily, slowly--to melt the snow into mud, the mud into fields and ferns and moss. 
And those memories feel better in my mind than they would look on the screen. The image is all dull brown and grey, old chicken poop and broken snow. All you could see was stale winter. To know the spring you had to feel it. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Apartment Tour Part I

 The mudroom/living room/butler's pantry/guest room:

This is next to you when you first walk in. By which I mean, the door barely clears it when opening. I built these shaker-style peg rails myself last summer, after a thoroughly disheartening weeks-long search of the city's Home Depots to find the pegs. My parents have them in their mudroom as well, they're super handy. In the Shaker spirit I try to keep them as bare as possible--I hang extra coats and purses in my closet. The hanging basket holds in-rotation woolens (hats, mittens, scarves) in the winter and general miscellany (sunscreen, sunglasses, measuring tape) the rest of the time. That Farrow and Ball bag is there to hide my light switch! I haven't replaced the overhead light in here yet, so it's currently a headache-inducing fluorescent tube that I try to prevent guests from turning on. The close quarters here really help prevent a buildup of stuff: more than two jackets or purses and the door won't open.
[removed from this picture: my backpack (I was in the middle of packing it), my weekly landlord-delivered grocery bag of mail, a book to return to the library.]
Next up, this is my landing station/butler's pantry (I'm obsessed with this concept, Martha had one at her Turkey Hill house. They're like an extra staging kitchen in between your regular kitchen and your dining space. Normally much larger than this). It is where I put mail, stash notebooks (there's a drawer), do overflow cooking, keep wine, store pens... it's a very useful little table. I actually used to have it going the other way, with the leaves out, but it made the mudroom space feel cramped. Now I can still pull it out and put them up when I need to, but they're not in the way all the time. Plus, I've found that the lack out horizontal space means fewer things gather there. Above is a little shelf that I keep "treasures" on and hang some of my prettier kitchen things from. (see it here) 
[removed from this picture: a can of WD40 from the floor of my kitchen. via poor photoshop. what the heck was that doing there??]
To your right when you walk through the front door is the sofa/guest room. Just to give you an idea of how tight the space is, I had to sit in the middle of this sofa to take the first picture. I keep two old wooden produce boxes (snagged for free from the co-op because they were moldy!!) underneath on the door side to stash my shoes in. The other boxes hold felting supplies and Christmas decorations. The floor cushion is from this amazing store in the East Village, I think it was like $40. I carried it on the train in a garbage bag. Nice extra seating when people come over. The apple crate is my roving side table, I think it was like $10 at a tag sale. Definitely overpriced but really nice. Pitcher was from the seconds shelf at a pottery place near my parents' house-- the glaze is all messed up and I love it. The sofa itself is actually a twin bed from Ikea that I assembled sortof sideways. The mattress is a futon. It's exactly the same setup I have in my bedroom, just a twin instead of a full. When I was looking for a sofa everything was some combination of too expensive, full of flame retardants and made in questionable factories from a human rights standpoint. This whole set-up cost around $270, consists of wool, cotton, pine, and metal bolts, the mattress was made in America (and I think Ikea is pretty solid on that front too, although I really ought to research it more), and I get to be a very good hostess! I want to get a real cover for it, but now I just have a wool blanket. Pillows are a combination of Ikea and homemade. 
[removed from this picture: me, my laptop, a bottle of kombucha, some crumbs]
Across from that I have my fireplace! It's original and faux finished super weirdly. I honestly have no idea what's going on. I painted out the wood bits to brighten it up (they were just black originally) and left the rest of it to mull over. That cast iron grate actually has this gorgeous design, but you can't see it because it's black on black and there's not a lot of light back here. After Christmas I scaled way back on my mantle styleing: just candles, flowers, and some sage. It obviously needs a much bigger mirror, but 4'x3' mirrors are expensive and hard to find so I'm just making do with this one (found it in the closet) for now. That chair is Ikea and I feel pretty eh about it. But I own it and it's comfy as heck so I threw a sheepskin (from a sheep and wool fair, it's super weird and soft and way better than the ones you get at mainstream stores. Plus, less depressing) on it and made it feel more unique. The rug is West Elm that I got during this crazy sale and carried home on the subway. In the 85 degree humid New York summer. It's a 8' x 10' wool rug. That was one of the less pleasant things I've done. But I got it for $300 which was insanely cheap and it's so nice and cushy I just lie on it sometimes. Sheds like a cat, but that incentivises me to vacuum more. 
[removed from this picture: a bowl of clementines (I'm aesthetically opposed to orange), my tea light oil burned thing, a beeswax votive, some kid art I found in my pocket last week and his behind the flowers because I didn't know what to do with it, some very big grown-up (my) drawings of naked men that I also don't know what to do with (from class, dad).] 

And thats how you fit four different functions into a 11' X 10' space with plenty of dancing room in the middle and no weird space-age furniture. I've had five adults, a preschooler and a dog hang out here all at once with no problem. 


Friday, March 27, 2015

Play Clothes

Last week I found out there's a chance I'll get to work at an amazing outdoor parent-child class here in Brooklyn. I've wanted to work there for a long time and I'm crazy excited! But recently, the reality set in. Because yes, dream job, etc, but what in the heck am I supposed to wear? Playing in the mud is a huge part of the curriculum. They meet in all weather, all year long. And it turns out adult rain suits are way less cute than children's rain suits. So I've had to explore options for serious all-weather dressing. In the winter, I'm sure I'd trek my ski clothes down from my parents' house and wear multiple long johns. Patagonia's Torrenshell (good pun!) Rain Pants seem like a good option for very rainy/splashy days. But mostly, heavy-duty outdoorsy clothes options for women stink. I was hoping L.L.Bean's hunting department would be helpful (never thought I'd say those words...) but it's almost entirely men's clothing, which I can rarely pull off due to my rather womanly proportions. Plus, all that stuff is far too expensive to justify buying a whole new wardrobe just for a part-time job. So I thought I'd work with what I have, things that I can wear outside of the mud pit.  

Beat up old jeans. So I don't care when they get more ripped and muddy.
The back of my closet (pictured, from j.crew)

Wellies. For mud puddle-splashing, of course.

Basic t-shirts. Nothing too precious to throw in the wash twice a week.

Rain Jacket. Fancy. Because I won't care how cute my normal one looks after two hours soaked to the bone. I've had this (less cute) one since high school and it works.

Smock. Explained more here
Toast. Good options on Etsy, too. 

Birkenstocks. For less muddy days, or times it's too warm to wear wellies.

Sunscreen. All day, every day. 

I'm visiting a class in a week and a half, wish me luck! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Window Box Planning

I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful brownstone with perfect space for window boxes. This little three square foot bit of dirt and life is just enough to keep me from going crazy. In my last apartment, I stuck flowers in the window bars. So this is a big improvement. (there might even be a garden in the works in the backyard, fingers crossed!!) I love the aesthetic of wild, tall meadows with lots of rich purples and yellows against a cool, grassy background. 
With this as my inspiration, last summer I chose lavender, black eyed susan, dill, echinacea, and meadow sage:
Unfortunately, north-facing windows on a shady city street are not the best place for most of these plants. They did surprisingly well, given the circumstances, but this year I want to plan a little better. Trying to find that meadow look without actually having a meadow is proving a bit challenging! I planted boxwoods on the outer edges of all the boxes in November, which should provide a nice base, and save me some money since I can just swap out the plants on the inside of the boxes as the seasons change and things die. 

I love what Erin Boyle did here, with dusty miller, forget-me-nots, and vinca. I hear echinacea can work in part shade, so I might try it again--I just love those flowers so much! 
Here is a weird mock-up of what I'm thinking: 
It's not quite as beautiful as this patch I found by the edge of the road out in the country, but I'll take what I can get. Planting starts in a few weeks! 




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Waking up the Earth

Last week was not awesome. I had stress insomnia, fell behind on a bunch of stuff, got sick, and things just sortof piled up, as they do, to turn me into a wreck. The best way I found to manage all this was to get the heck outside. Not just sitting on a bench soaking up the sun (although I did that too), but really filling all my senses with the warm, wet, new life that comes up this time of year. Thankfully, my profession encourages this. So last week found me, more often than not, filling up spare time with digging in the earth. Mud puddle splashing and stick poking and mud throwing, following the little rivers of snowmelt that form throughout the park, re-writing foot traffic patterns and forming makeshift pools around tree roots. Pulling out, until my hands were raw and chapped and bleeding, the old morning glory vines (an invasive species here) that had sneaked their ways around every plant in the garden and were now laid bare, unhidden by leaves or flowers. Chopping and digging and raking at the soil with all of my strength, singing it "good morning." Of course I had my ever-enthusiastic little helper at my side, singing and waking up the earth as well.

My mother and I have had this conversation so many times. What I would call dirt, she would call soil. To her, dirt is the stuff that covers the streets and the subways, the black stuff I blow out of my nose and wash off my hands. What I would call... grime? To me, "soil" is too specific, it sounds too well-managed and healthy to be what I find in the park; soil is something you buy or make, not something you just find beneath your feet. We have settled on "earth." Simple, non-judgmental, clear. And yet fraught with meaning. As we sing "good morning, earth" we are, on one level, waking up the ground we are working, giving the microorganisms inside the air and movement they need to prepare for the plants. On another level, we are waking up this whole part of the earth that shares our seasons: people, ground, animals, plants... everything that is crawling out from the deep sleep of winter to turn its face up to the sun. We are doing it for ourselves, too. Transitioning into a new mindset, a new season, a new rhythm.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pitch Perfect

Having a bad day? Just watch Pitch Perfect. Even just the end of it if you only have a little time because you accidentally went to work an hour early. It's just incredible. This moment, at the end, restores my love of life and will send me from grumbling to joy-crying and singing and dancing and heart soaring wherever I am. It's just beautiful. ALSO THEY'RE COMING OUT WITH A SECOND ONE. In May. I'll see you in line opening night. 
It's not deep, it's not layered, it's predictable, but who the fuck cares. It's like buying flowers for yourself. A simple, beautiful joy that puts all the big stuff into perspective. Because little stuff can make you feel all those feelings, tiny little "unimportant" nonsense can balance out everything else. Movies about a cappella competitions can restore your faith in your soul's ability to heal itself. Watch it. Watch it regularly. Realise, when you're on your way home after a long day and the train is crowded and your feet hurt and your hair is matted, that you can watch it and everything will feel better. Download the soundtrack to sing (and dance) along with when you're walking on an empty street. It will always be a good life choice.