Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Tartans & Tidings"

I love a good plaid. I do.

Especially in the wintertime.

List of (a few of the ) woolen plaid things I own:

- pea coat
- scarves (from Ireland, no less!)
- headbands
- my favorite: a strapless wool tartan dress

Here's me (on the right) - with lovely friend K - last year at the Kansas City Ballet's production of the Nutcracker, wearing my tartan dress (with yellow tights!).

And a close-up of the tartan:

Just after this, I changed into my homemade ugly Christmas sweatshirt with clashing plaid ribbons of a large variety (and an obscene amount of glitter).

Did I mention I love plaid?

Which is why I'm posting this in entry for Sky Blue Events' "Preppy Plaid Photo Contest", in the off-chance that I may be able to attend their "Tartans and Tidings event and see some local friends at the same time!

A few more plaid findings, for your own tartan tidings:

From Land's End Canvas, the Woman's Plaid Wool Overcoat - $180.00

Also from Land's End Canvas, the Tartan Shirtdress - $79.50
(This one's officially Christmas-listed)
And don't miss their Plaid Wool Skirt either - $49.50

Brooks Brothers has some festive tartan offerings:

Such as these Tartan Santa Pants - $198.00

Or this bow-tie - $59.50 - by Social Primer for Brooks Brothers:

Lest we forget (my dog) Peyton Manning, see also this line of tartan collars and leads from The Heelan' Hound.

Well, you get the point. Tartan's always a good thing, but it's an especially good Christmas thing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...If You Give a Child a Story...

As we enter the season of Christianity's favorite story, it's no wonder that - like so many things this time of year - storytelling enters an otherworldly realm of magic. In my household, a much-worn copy of The Night Before Christmas was lifted by my father's hands out of the Christmas box every Christmas eve after church, as he settled his reading glasses on his nose, and my sister and I snuggled into the warmth of his arms, drinking in his patient words and breathing in the cinnamon scented pages (somehow, in another type of Christmas magic, everything that came up out of the cardboard boxes full of decorations, advent candles and calendars, books and Wise Men, hiding in the depths of the basement all year, smelt of cinnamon, and other holiday smells, without fail, every year).

Would you be surprised that at 24 and 20, we still clamber for a reading of that tale (or at least, I do) on Christmas Eve each year? And my father - as he ages gently into a white beard, still with the glasses upon his nose (he was recently invited to join the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santa Clauses, and yes, Virginia, there is such a thing) - is no less patient, perhaps even more so, as a father must be with wistful adult daughters who still wish to hear nursery tales.

Be no less surprised that when gathering around our Advent Wreath each Sunday in December, the two of us fought and bickered predictably over who would get to read the words in the Christmas story that day.

In my adult years, I've begun the tradition of each year at Christmastime reading Charles Dickens' famed, A Christmas Carol, lest I forget it's lessons.

N and I (already!) read Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas every day before nap - and she sounds in resoundingly ("Giddap!") at the parts she's already memorized in the past week or so - and her father reads it to her every night before bedtime.

But what if you were a child whose household never read you a story, not at Christmas, not ever? And what if you couldn't even find a book at your school?

As a recent tutor-in-training with Literacy KC, a local non-profit dedicated to improving the literacy skills of area adults through one-on-one tutoring, I've spent the last several weeks learning all the gory details of the state of literacy in this, our first-world country. And as a nanny, I see a fair amount of Nick Jr, whose campaign and partnership with First Book has enlightened me with some scary statistics. While Literacy KC is working towards helping adults with, for what is for many students a lifetime struggle with reading, First Book is focused on children's access to books, another key to solving the literacy issue.

A few facts:

"A recent study shows that while in middle income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children."

"80% of preschools and after-school programs serving low-income populations have no age-appropriate books for their children."

My own journey with Literacy KC has been an emotional one; during training, I've heard testimonies from students who had sudden realizations that, when reading to their preschooler, they would never be able to read a book to their child again, to students who wanted to work, but couldn't fill out a job application. It's something I took for granted all of my life: parents who loved to read to me, and love to read themselves, access to all the books my book-crazy heart could desire, a quality education, and even a natural ability to read and write. So many of the students at Literacy KC struggle with poor phonemic awareness and learning disabilities, and because of their socioeconomic circumstances, were passed through as "stupid," by teachers, schools, and parents who didn't care, or grew up in households where nobody they knew could read either. Some of these people graduate their high schools reading at an 8th grade level, or far worse. And they will tell you themselves just how far you can't get at a 5th grade reading level, diploma, or not.

And this is just America.

Nick Jr has teamed up with First Book and We Give Books as part of their Big Help initiative- a "commitment to engage kids to take action and make a difference by connecting them to issues and current events they are passionate about. The campaign focuses on four key concerns that affect the current generation of kids: the sustainability of the environment, the need to improve on health and wellness, the right to a quality education and becoming more active in their community." They've put together on-line book drive campaigns in order to provide books to children of the low-income neighborhoods, families, and schools.

Not only that, but they encourage you to encourage your own little reader (should you know one); We Give Books' campaign functions on the premise that you select a book from their digital library to read online, and they donate a book.

And then there's Anthropologie, who's teamed up with Penguin Books to create holiday story time sessions in their stores that coincide with local book drives. Your child can listen to a story while you shop this holiday season (which makes a happier shopping experience for everyone), and when you check out, you can pick a book or toy from their selection to donate.

Check out their Facebook page for more info; in Kansas City, our drive takes place at the Country Club Plaza store, on December 15, from 10-12 am (this time slot seems as though it might be wrong - I'm going to investigate, and changes will be posted if need be).

Also, locally, Churchill - located in the Fairway shops - will be donating a percentage of their November and December sales to Literacy KC.

I promise this isn't just me up on my soapbox; 'tis always the season to give and be thankful, but here's to helping children everywhere start fresh in the new year with a book to read.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Every other inch a gentleman

I'd venture to say that I of the men I know, see, and meet, but a few are true gentlemen, despite the fact that so many fraternities proclaim themselves houses of "True Gentlemen." Has the gentleman - and his aesthetic - become a thing of endangerment, or worse, headed towards extinction? No, I think not, but instead like to muse that perhaps the creation of casual Friday, and casual Monday, and casual Sunday, has instead made the true gentleman stand out from his previously disguised counterparts.


It's a fine line of judging a book by it's cover to say that, because of course, a gentleman can be found in any clothes, and his enemy, found in tie and coat. The men of Mad Men come to mind... But in my perfect world, a gentleman possesses style in its truest essence: not an imitation, or a uniform, but a true personal style that only a confident man can carry, dandy or not.

This is, coincidentally, the case in Lesley M. M. Blume's new book, Let's Bring Back, a collection of writings from her column of the same name on Huffington Post. Of course, her wish list includes everything from "Hats on Men" (yes, please!) to "Crudite platters," but in general it reflects items, behaviors, manners, and ways of living that should be forever classically stylish, and universally held. Style, after all, both transforms and transcends trends.

[Mother, Father - I know you're reading (you're my biggest fans) - this book is definitely on my Christmas / Birthday wish list].

What is it that makes a gentleman, though? A man of style? It seems that everywhere I look lately, somebody is offering their professional opinion (an excellent sign of optimism for this breed), so I thought I'd put together a summary of my recent readings on the subject.

If anyone can help us out, surely it's 192-year-old outfitter of gentlemen, Brooks Brothers. What's their latest take on the modern man of style? If their foray into Twitter this week is any indication, it's one who is social. I became an official follower yesterday, and thus received a DM, with instructions to follow a link this this image, which describes, in succinct style, what tweets to expect from the Brooks Brothers aesthetic:

Take this tweet, as exemplary of their expertise:
Theodore Roosevelt wore a Brooks Brothers military uniform in his famous march up San Juan
Hill. http://bit.ly/d5PWJy.
Brooks Brothers is also on Facebook, where they hold polls meant for sparking "sartorial debate," pose customer style questions to their followers, and of course, share style tips for the gentleman and gentlewoman. They're in good company too; brands such as Southern Proper and Southern Tide regularly tweet and share "American Gentleman Lessons" and the like:

Southern Tide: American Gentleman Lesson No. 69:
Lesson No. 69: A Gentleman Always Dresses to Impress - “The clothes don’t make the man, but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.” - Henry Ward Beecher, US Congressional Minister

Let's revisit the Mad Men topic; as I wrote about a year ago, Brooks Brothers is hip with the Mad Men, recruiting costume designer Janie Bryant to create a limited-edition Mad Men suit. And as we return full circle, one, Lesley M. M. Blume, possesses in her arsenal a Mad-Men edition column, a list which includes hats for men, hats for women, and of course, the three martini lunch - noting, that in those golden days, if you worked in advertising or journalism, a four martini lunch was the minimum.

Perhaps my affinity for men of this nature can be tied back to Cary Grant in the classic newspaper film, His Girl Friday.

The newspaper man was the hard-working, hard-drinking, man's man of the intelligentsia (re-call also Brad Pitt's character in A River Runs Through It, the hardened Montana counterpart to his "softer" Dartmouth educated brother, nicknamed "the Professor"). This behavior always brings to mind male friends of mine from college - "Gentleman and Scholars," they called themselves - who used to have evenings in which they indulged in suits, Scotch, cigars, and philosophical debate. As I tend to romanticize a lot, film's such as His Girl Friday both resonate with me and develop in me a nostalgia for an age of journalism I never knew, and never will (as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has developed a certain yearning for more filibusters). But, as my own father, and a true Southern gentleman of style raised me on the classics, it's my personal opinion that the modern gentleman will have studied style icons the likes of Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and other such classic film stars.

But with shows such as Mad Men, and recent developments such as Janie Bryant being commissioned to design her own vintage-inspired line, will the growing affinity for the look - a major trend in Fall 2010 runway, as evidenced most clearly by Louis Vuitton's collection - and the nostalgia for the past bring back the behavior as well? Certainly as a culture we've moved forward in many, many positive ways, but if Blume's column and book - and their popularity - are evidence, we miss certain trappings of the lifestyle, even if - like myself - we were too young to have ever lived in such an era.

The Wall Street Journal referenced both Grant, Bogart, Clark Gable and the men of Mad Men in their article the other week on the return of the three-piece suit to menswear:

"The three-piece, a suit with a matching waistcoat (aka vest), is the most formal type of suit, long the provenance of dandies, 1930s film stars like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Clark Gable, and later, bankers in London and on Wall Street. It's a fussy suit, one with an extra unit, which is why it disappeared for nearly 20 years after World War II as the result of fabric rationing.
[mens suits] 
Ralph Lauren: Ralph Lauren Purple Label pinstripe three-piece suit.

It vanished again in the '90s, suffering the dual blows of minimalism and casual Friday (which spread into casual Everyday). But some men are dressing up again, thank goodness, and not necessarily just for the office; they're even adding flourishes like pocket squares and tie bars. The three-piece suit makes a statement, literally, of one-upmanship in the dressing-up arms race."
And in case you're looking for a more casual three piece look - and in further evidence that style encompasses more than one set look and is not, absolutely not, a uniform - have no fear, because corduroy's been making the waves again, also, often in the case of a three-piece ensemble: http://on.wsj.com/dhyLOV.

Also, Ralph Lauren

To quote the former article, "men are dressing up again, thank goodness," but why? What's going on in our culture that's prompting this resurgence, and is it occurring in Midwestern cities such as mine? And why are we, in a recessionista's economy, less concerned about fabric rationing than our World War II counterparts? As I believe that style encompasses so much more than fashion - involving an invested interest in culture, the arts, the happenings of the world, in exploring all facets of life, and an inner beauty (or in this case, perhaps handsomeness) that is reflected confidently through a personal style and aesthetic - I'll be searching for the answers to all of today's raised questions and more this winter. 

(If you're a male friend or acquaintance of mine - be ready for some questions!)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Continuing the Case for Naps

Last week in my post, What if Real Life was just like Preschool, I touched on the topic of continuing naps into adulthood. I think this a very good thing, especially given the number of hours we're all working these days, our filled-to-the-brim schedules, and our experience-everything attitudes. I'm a fan of experiencing everything and following all of my passions - including working - but what if there's just not enough hours in the day for that? The reality is, most of us aren't getting enough sleep these days, which was the topic of U.S. New's article, "Why Power Naps at Work are Finally Catching On."

Business are setting up nap rooms, using tents, and lofted beds, or are, at Worman Publishing in New York, and as seen in Nick Jr's ads, simply sleeping on mats under their desks:
 " 'You can close your eyes for 10 or 15 minutes and wake up feeling completely refreshed,' says Susan Bolotin, Workman's editor in chief, which has been nap-friendly since 2007. 'We've seen very positive effects...'We have one guy who works here who likes to nap, and you'll walk by and he'll be lying down on a mat like a kid in nursery school,' she says."
 Why are naps finally catching on? Moodiness has something to do with it, as does productivity, but there's also the issue of employees' health and well-being. More sleep means a more efficient immune system, which means fewer sick days, certainly. But take this statistic: "People who take daily 30-minute naps are 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those who don't nap, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007."

Short naps - meaning 20 to 30 minute refresher naps - are the key, however, to preventing slow-wake-ups and grogginess.

Whatever the length - I'm in favor!

For more nap reading, check out this 2008 post from Huffington Post on how napping boosts "sophisticated memory."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Now Ain't That Some Shhhhh

Glee cast with Gwyneth Paltrow - Umbrella/Singin' In the Rain

I've been kind of wearing myself out the past few weeks, so naptime around here has been quiet time for me as well, but I've also done my fair share of zoning out to Glee. Because the one sure thing that lifts me - besides watching runway - is a good Glee performance. I'm dead serious. The best high is a Glee high.

So I thought I'd end the week on a gleeful note (punny!), and do a post with links to all my favorite Glee videos / the ones I've been watching recently. This is a selfish post, I admit, because now it means they're all conveniently collected in one neat place, but, come'on, fellow Gleeks. You know you wanna see these too.

Also, the video above ties in nicely with a fashion article I read recently (courtesy of my dad). See, here are a few of the number of things I love about that number:

1) the water choreography. genius. so fun to watch.
2) the marvelous mashup! I love Singin' in the Rain and I love this mashup.
3) the clothes. the trenches, the wellies, the umbrellas - I love raingear! and then there's the men. I'm looking at you, Mr. Shuester. men in vests. yes.
4) which brings me to this: http://on.wsj.com/8YUd2d - a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the return of three-piece suits to mens' fashion. I certainly hope this is courtesy of Chuck Bass, but I'll take a little 1920's Gene Kelly nostalgia too. (and if you love Singin' - or really just regardless - you should really watch the full episode, "The Substitute" in which Mr. Shue and Mike Chang perform "Make 'em Laugh," and with that rolled cuff 20's pants leg I love too, I might add.

  • Also in this episode, Gwyneth and the Glee kids do Cee Lo's "Forget You" - and it's pretty awesome. Just sayin'. Now ain't that some shhhh.
  • Now, if you watch the show, you'll know that as the only openly gay kid at McKinley, Kurt has been dealing with bullying, even more so than usually lately. This leads him to seek out all-boys school Dalton, home of The Warblers, a mens' a cappella group. I suspect he feels at home not only because everyone is nattily attired in sportscoats and ties, but also because Dalton has a no-tolerance policy on, well, intolerance. Here, the Warblers perform a rockin' version of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream."
  • And now, from the "Duets" episode, because I love me some soul, and I love me some Santana, and I'm diggin' on the choreography: Santana and Mercedes performing Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." This is defiitely the number that gets belted he most in my car, shower, anywhere, really.
  • I've left the Britney for last. Because, I love the Britney (both Spears, and the Glee character - easily my favorite for all of her deadpan comments). Because, all my workouts recently are done to the Best of Britney (I wanna wanna get in zone). And because when "Me Against the Music" was an answer in the mashup category at trivia last night, I very nearly wrote, "It's Britney, B****" on our answer board. Here's Glee Brittany and Santana's "Me Against the Music."
    • Side note: If you notice Glee Brittany's phenomenal dance moves (see also: I'm a Slave 4U), well, it's because she's a pro. She's an original "Single Ladies" dancer, and when the show brought her in to teach the cast the moves for their "Single Ladies," well, she was just so awesome, they asked her to stick around.
  • Oh. And lest we forget my favorite non-musical cast member (well, with the exception of some Olivia Newton John, that is), here's how Sue C's It. Halloween, that is. Jane Lynch, thank you. Just, thank you.

Of course, there's no way I could share all of my favorite Glee moments and performances at once (Madonna episode, anyone?!). But, there you have a few, from this season, anyways.

Wow. Did I just reveal myself as a Gleek? Yes. Yes, I did.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What if Real Life was just like Preschool?

Then we'd all be a lot happier. I mean, I'm just sayin'.

Nick Jr runs these ads centered around this idea. I searched and searched for a video, but alas, came up empty-handed so unfortunately you'll have to rely on my word-smithing to catch the idea.

Scenario 1: A mail clerk is attempting to make his rounds in your typical office, but as he calls out name after name, there's no responses. Nobody's sitting at their desk, cubicles are all empty, lights are off. Finally, a snore draws his gaze downwards, to the hard-working, suit-clad workers snoozing under their desks, teddy bears, blankies, thumb-sucking and all.

Wouldn't it be great if life was like preschool? There'd be naptime.

Scenario 2: A bustling surgery, doctors calling for scalpels, etc. For their tinkertoy creation, that is.

Wouldn't it be great if life was like preschool? There'd be arts and crafts.

You get the picture. There's a also a few in a mechanics shop involving story time and a class pet. These all make me smile, of course, but also give me pause, because in a lot of ways, my life is like preschool (even more so than when I worked in a preschool, actually):

1) There's naptime. Sweet, sweet naptime. Currently, M still takes a morning nap, and both M & N nap in the afternoon, giving me ample to time to recover, rest, take some quiet time of my own, and occasionally (okay, pretty much all the time) work on my other projects, of which there are many. But sometimes, if I really want to, I can close my eyes and enjoy the peace and quiet. Or watch endless Glee videos. Whichever.

I personally think America's working hours are too long - when I was in Dublin, I worked 10-4. And I gleefully walked to work everyday. Now, I loved my internship, but, I also never got burnt out, and neither did the editor. I love the Spanish idea of a siesta as well. There's been many a study about how productivity lags in the afternoons, and how Americans are putting in more and more hours, but getting less accomplished. Efficiency in shorter hours. When I have my pie shop / boutique, we just might have siesta time.

2) There's arts and crafts. Not just the kind N likes to do, which mean I come home and find dried playdough, beads, and hair elastics hiding inside my clothes, or marker on my nose. No, I've been lucky enough to find a group of artistically inclined girls and form a Craft Night - which makes us sound like a bunch of old biddies knitting and gossiping, but really, it's a bunch of wildly talented visual artists (and me) inspiring each other with the creative work they get up to when they're not doin' the daily grind. I love it.

3) There's storytime. Hellooo, blogging, writing, reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" a thousand times, memorizing "Goodnight Moon?" My parents nicknamed me "Belle" when I was little and this had entirely to do with the fact that I could be caught reading while brushing my teeth, walking, eating, watching tv, riding in the car, in the shower (I still do this, I read and re-read the back of all my bottles and what-not) - anywhere I could read, I would. My life is storytime because I am so caught up in language and literature. My imagination's vivid. And I'm always daydreaming.

4) There's a balance between worktime and playtime. Of course there's that old adage, "All work and no play makes Jack a dully boy," and then the European sentiment, "Work to live, don't live to work," but I saw this balance quite evident when I was working at a Montessori preschool. In Montessori, there is work, and while it may take on the appearance of toys, it is always exercises in counting, motor skills, letter learning, etc. but this is always balanced with playtime at other times of the day. Elementary school was like this, you had math, science, social studies, but you also had recess, music, art, P.E.

My life is exceptionally balanced in this way I find because taking care of the kids is both work and play, when they nap, I get a break for my own work and play time, and then I break up my evenings and weekends with work/writing time, gym time (which with my upcoming dance classes will be play time too), friend time, volunteer time, dating time, craft time, future planning time, music time, family time, cooking time, collapsing face first into my bed and turning off my phone time...

Okay, so sometimes, I add way too much onto my plate. I've always done this. I'm interested in doing too much. My life has become about finding a way to balance this, structure this, and to be able to do it all. Up next on my reading list is a book, "The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One," which, as you can read in the title, is all about figuring out how to accomplish all of these things. Recently, it's become about realizing different goals and projects should be tackled at different times in my life, not all at once.

5) There's always room for imagination. This goes back to everything I've mentioned above, the stories, the varied interests, the dreaming...fashion has a lot to do with this. It's dress up time, yes, and call me crazy, but I feel empowered when I love what I'm wearing (which tends to be always). And that's important for a nanny with a college degree. It's one of the reasons I go to the gym: I feel empowered when I feel strong, and I love feeling strong, always have.

Preschool is all about playing make-believe, which imitates real life. And what is the life of a twenty-something but that? We've just been thrusted out of a lifetime of school, into this "real world" thing, and I know but few people my age who really know what they want out of life. We're all trying new paths, new jobs, new hobbies, new people, and just trying to figure it all out. Some people know what they want and are figuring out how to get there. Others, have an inkling, or have no idea, but again, are figuring out how to figure that out and get there. We're all toddlers and pre-schoolers out here in the real world, learning how to walk, talk, and live. And with practice and play, we'll get it right.

What are your pre-life ambitions? Experiments? Hardships? I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Honor of Prince William's Engagement, a Journey through a few of Princess Diana's Best Looks

Today I was supposed to write tips for pattern mixing, I know. But then, Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged! And girls - and grown women - all around the world sigh in disappointment. I'm pretty sure, actually, it was my 14-year-old self's ambition to grow up to be that girl. Oh well, c'est la vie.

I don't know too much about Kate Middleton, but seeing as how she's now wearing the late Princess Diana's ring, I thought we'd trip through some fashion history briefly, starting, with that famous wedding gown:

 Talk about your big wedding gown. I vaguely remember having a Princess Diana paper doll with this dress. What I can't remember is if I liked it. I very much doubt the future Princess Kate will wear a similar fashion, and long sleeves and puff shoulders are very much out of style. But one thing is for certain: this is certainly a princess's dress, and it is iconic of the princess's style.

Ah. Classic. Fishtail gown, sweetheart neckline. In this, she could've been Grace Kelly decades before, although Princess Di is no less a fashion icon than Princess Grace.

Proper in pink, hat, and pearls, that's for sure, but that's quite a hemline for a princess to be sporting! Love it. The suit and the power shoulders was one of her signatures.

All mommy cas and cute in Laura Ashley. The sheer skirt over what I assume are leggings is quite interesting. In a good way.

I. Love. This. Victorian collar + buttons + shoulders and that very jaunty cap! It's very British Isles of her. Plaid's having quite a moment right now, I could almost see this on someone today. . . in fact, I have a similar shirt, though a different plaid, elbow-length sleeves, and different buttons, but with the same collar and shoulders. Plus isn't this just a fantastic photo of her?

Poppin' her collar, royalty style. It's undeniably a great sillhouette.

It's yet to see if the world will watch Kate as closely as we did the late Diana. Perhaps if she's lucky, we won't. I believe the tiara gets heavy after awhile. But no matter, best wishes to her, and congratulations to Prince William. May their future be filled with the sort of light it's said Princess Diana brought into the world.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mastering Pattern Play and Hosiery: Part 1

my own recent adventure with hosiery and pattern mixing
Well, ladies and gents, I've failed. I went shopping this weekend. It's a sad, sad truth.

While I seem to have kicked my Groupon habit for the time being, it was about time for me to start using the things. Beginning with my Groupon to the Gap, which expires this week. The gateway drug, if you will.

No, I made it out of there alive, with but three things: the skirt pictured above, a cream knit sweater, and the biggest, softest scarf I've ever seen or felt, which I just want to be around all the time. I spent more than my Groupon was worth, but I feel these items were all good decisions. 

In a related miracle, I made it out of Forever 21 with naught but two basic stretchy pencil skirts (which I went in for, looking for a black one to pair with a certain Fair Isle sweater of mine) at $6.50 each and five pairs of socks (including the grey polka dot pair pictured above) for about $4. Who says I haven't tamed my ways?

Plus the additions to my wardrobe have given me renewed energy and creativity when it comes to cold weather dressing, two very important things when it's difficult to drag yourself out of the warmth of your bed on a November morning at 6:00 am. Especially when dressing is so often one of my favorite parts of my day.

This is made easier when hosiery is such a huge trend right now. Warm legs + toes and the ability to wear skirts, dresses, and shorts throughout the winter without freezing? Huge bonus. The Fall 2010 RTW runways ran the gambit when it came to hosiery, too, from socks with sandals to legwarmers and thigh highs.

On Friday, I made the (cold, very cold) decision to wear calf-length charcoal gray socks with a pair of sky-high black heeled sandals, with my little black dress for the evening. While that evening cemented with me the fact that it is past the time to wear bare legs, my sartorial choice struck up a conversation amongst friends.

Remember this?

1995, Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless." This is the last time I really remember knee socks being on trend. Shortly after, in middle school and all throughout high school, we suffered through winters with bare legs because hosiery was "just so not cool, mom." On Friday, when my friends and I were standing around talking socks at this event we were at - grown women now with strong holds on personal style - we were remembering when socks with shoes were just so gross. And then all of a sudden, when a year or so ago, I saw them paired together again, it seemed fresh and modern. And it clicked for me, so much so that I couldn't wait to wear it. Fashion is cyclical when it comes to so many trends out of necessity, I think.

And then a few years back, thankfully, opaque tights cycled through again and we all were warm again. And then a few seasons ago, sheer hosiery re-appeared with the "ladylike" trend. Followed by ankle and calf-length socks with shoes, and then finally, the explosion of all things hosiery with Fall 2010. Shall we walk through it?

In a collection that was mostly knitwear, sloutchy socks ground two very girly looks at Dolce & Gabbana:

Alexander Wang takes legwarmers to new heights (and lows), and deconstructs suiting, with thick thigh highs that are actually pulled down over shoes:

With Peter Som on hand as consultant, Tommy Hilfiger turned out polished prep as never before. This of course had to include hosiery:

Over-the-Knee boots are notoriously hard to pull off. Especially duck boots, and they must be done with sass, as reviewer Meenal Mistry notes. And trickery. Note the dark tights and the polished buttoned-up-ness of the rest of the look.

An easy and budget-friendly way to simulate the OTK look would be with knee-high socks or leg-warmers. A key to remember though is to keep the colors on bottom all in the same color family, in order to avoid chopping up the leg. In the photo at the top, the reason I risked white + large print is precisely because they were ankle socks, small, and visually at the bottom of my look. They were also diluted by the shoe.

Previous to my shopping excursion this weekend, I had mostly updated my wardrobe with hosiery, as they're fresh, add variety, extend the life of summer and fall dresses, skirts and shorts, and can be found at any price point. And did I mention, they're fun? 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nanny's Tired

It's Friday. It's raining out. N had an epic meltdown a few hours ago involving broccoli throwing, and I'm conserving all my energy for an event I'm attending (hint: it involves 30 varieties of gourmet chili for me to eat). And since brevity, my dears, is the soul of wit, I'm sharing but two things.

Please find above in all of its glory the song, "I Eat Doughnuts," by artist Sibley, which I tracked down after enjoying so much in Stella McCartney's ad for her Kids line, as posted earlier this week (Pour les Enfants).

Updates to come on what N has to say about the song, and "what it make her booty do."

And lastly, because Fridays are supposed to be en Francais, I thought I would share my favorite French term of endearment:

mon petit chou chou - "my little cabbage"

As in, "Awwww, je t'adore, mon petit chou chou!"

Je l'adore.

Voila! C'est bien. Bonne Vendredi.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's Baking Season! (A Favorite Apple Pie Recipe)

Okay, as I previously indulged in an "I Love Fall" post, September begins my favorite time of year (not that I don't love summer!). The following is a list of reasons why (recipe at the end!):

1) I've designated Halloween through my Birthday (in January) as the Official Season of Glitter. My friend B once said she wouldn't be surprised to find glitter in any place I had been (and then there was the campus-wide scrubbing for at least the week after I was Tinkerbell for Halloween and carried out a bag of glitter as pixie dust one evening). It's true I love the stuff. And Halloween, Christmas, New Year's, my birthday - everyone's automatically given leave to wear as much glitter, shine, sparkle, and sequins as possible, all in the name of festivity. Gotta love it.

2) Boot season.

3) Sweater season.

4) Light jacket season.

5) The lilting combination of leaves crunching underfoot, and campfire crackling. The smell of a campfire. And later, the hanging of the greens and the spicy-sweet smell of evergreen.

6) Apple cider and hot cocoa. I'd say hot toddies, but anyone who attended my Ugly Christmas Sweater Party a few years ago can attest to my less-than-perfect hot buttered rum. I'm working on that...in the meantime, I make a mean (and simple) warm spiced apple cider + rum.

7) Ice skating at Crown Center (+ sweaters + hot cocoa).

8) A Christmas Carol at the Rep and the Nutcracker at the Kansas City Ballet. This is the time of year my imagination really takes flight (reaching very lofty heights) and I get lost in the Nutcracker, my memories of being taken to the Midland as little girls, it's grandeur, the magic of the music, the dance, and of course, the never-lost dream of being a ballerina.

9) Shopping on the Plaza in the dark of evening, with the glow of the lights. No, really. I prefer to do my Christmas shopping in the black of dusk - it all just seems more mystical, and festive.

10) The food. I don't eat much in the summer; the heat keeps me from it, and I generally just snack on a lot of fruit, cold veggies, salsas and salads. This is good for me. Fall begins my love affair with the savory. I adore chilis, soups, and stews, crusty breads, green beans and sweet potatoes. But this is also the baking season.

I kicked off the week with a pumpkin pie (using the recipe from my post Pumpkin Pie with a Twist, and in two weeks, my mother, my sister, my grandpa and I will be spending two days creating our family's Christmas lebkuchen (Christmas cookies), but what to make in between? I haven't been to a farmer's market since I-don't-know-when and I'm all over that this weekend, because...I've decided it's the perfect time to make an apple pie.

Apple pie is one of the labor intensive pies there is, but one of my favorites. I tend to shy away from cheddar crusts (I like mine sweet) and caramel apple pies, and often gravitate towards recipes with crumb toppings versus lattice. I haven't decided what to try this year - the cinnamon crumble-bottom turned out well in my pumpkin pie, perhaps an adaptation for apple? The following is a recipe I used last fall that turned out exceptionally well:

Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie from Epicurious.com
(If you're on Epicurious, you can find me and my recipe box under simrl, though I still have yet to update it with all the recipes on my mobile app).

1 1/3 Cup all-purpose flour (I'm going to try this using wheat flour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 Cup butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 Cup shortening, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Ice water (I usually keep a cup of ice water handy, adding a little bit at a time. It always seems to vary how much you'll need).
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (Note: any more and your crust will taste strongly of vinegar).

3 1/4 lbs. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used organic sweet red apples bought for a pittance at a road-side stand by my mom's garden. Granny Smith's are generally considered the best baking apples, but if you don't mind a sweet pie, use whatever you like. The red apples turned out a fantastic pie).
2/3 Cup sugar
2 TB all-purpose flour (again, and also in the topping below, I will try wheat flour)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I'm always a little heavy-handed with the spices and don't measure this precisely)
2 TB butter, melted

1 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
6 TB chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes


For crust:
Mix flour, salt, and sugar in large bowl. Add butter and shortening; rub in with fingertips until coarse meal forms(I'm so glad this is in here! I always use my hands for all parts of the crust-making process. Messy, but works best). Mix 3 tablespoons ice water and vinegar in small bowl to blend. Drizzle over flour mixture; stir with fork until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch; turn edge under and crimp decoratively. Refrigerate while preparing filling and topping.

For filling:
Mix all ingredients in large bowl to coat apples.

For topping:
Blend first 5 ingredients in processor. Add chilled butter cubes; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles wet sand.

Toss filling to redistribute juices; transfer to crust, mounding in center. Pack topping over and around apples.

Bake pie on baking sheet until topping is golden, about 40 minutes (cover top with foil if browning too quickly). Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until apples in center are tender when pierced and filling is bubbling thickly at edges, about 45 minutes longer. Cool until warm, about 1 hour. Serve with ice cream.

Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cinnamon-Crumble-Apple-Pie-108650#ixzz14zJMD3kS

Bon appetit! Stay posted for my apple pie adventures this weekend.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

N Says

As I go off tonight to embark on training to become a literacy tutor (after an embarrassing snafu last night, as I apparently, the would-be tutor, can't read an e-mail, and showed up a night early...) my mind is on language. My assignment for tonight centered around phonemes, blended consonants, and all of that good stuff. I vaguely remember this from a History of the English Language class I took in college, but what this really calls to mind is my poetry professor's waxing (ha) on the sounds of language. The sounds of words. Poetry was a crash course in a love affair with speaking slowly and taking the time to listen, to let the syllables melt and drip over your tongue, your teeth, feeling their weight, or their airiness. It's true that one of the reasons I love to write is because I love to play: with word order, with juxtaposition of sounds, with meanings. And all of a sudden, I find myself surrounded by people - both toddlers and adults - who are just learning to listen to those sounds.

M, at 15 months, is extremely vocal, though non-verbal. But he loves to make certain sounds and hear himself do this. We had a play-date at the park with my friend, J, and her adorable son, C, who is just 11 months. And as we pushed the two side by side in swings, it struck me, how each baby seems to have his or her own unique non-verbalisation. M is extremely fond of making these glottal noises in the back of his throat, for example.

And then there's N, who's very vocal about nearly everything, but still very much learning the language. A typical sentence of hers might be: "Her not have pink." She hasn't yet learned to recognize the difference in pronouns, so it's something we work on, but, she is 2, after all. She adopts particular phrases that she loves to use in any situation, or words - "poop" is a favorite for just about everything, as is, "Whoa, dude!" Yet she still converses with M in his little language, or, at least, imitates it (I still have no idea if they have some sort of understanding of what he's saying or not) and frequently uses onomatopoeia. "Sook sook," is a recent one that is used with such variety that I haven't quite figured out it's true meaning, if it has one.

Where am I going with this? When it comes to writing, to anything in life, really, I find that children inspire me. They have an uncanny way of revealing truths, and have not yet learned to shield, or control, their emotions. I think this is very good. So much so that I've found a focus for a collection of short stories centering around revealing childhood stories that friends, acquaintances, and so forth have told me (you can read one, Sweet Baby James, published here, as it were.

One of my favorite moments with N happened when she was playing with her brother in the living room, and I got up to go do something in the kitchen. As I turned the corner, she came flying up, huge grin, arms open, halfway in the air, yelling, "I need Rachel right now!" And as I turned to lift her up, she gave me the biggest, sweetest, tightest hug you ever saw. "I need you too, sweet pea," I said. I tear up at, well, a lot of things, but still, that moment brought tears to my eyes, and validation to my heart, as it does now as I write this.

So I've been steadily keeping track the past month or so of the funny, adorable, and sweet things N says, some of which ring with such resonance. I often tweet these things, but in case you've missed them, here they all are collected:

Me: "We all have little colds, don't we? But I think yours is getting better!"
N (crinkles her nose): "Um, sure."
Me: "Well perhaps not."

This remark happens nearly daily:
N: You have booty, Rachel? That's your booty! I touching your booty!
Me: Yes, I noticed.

N: "I just pink right now."

N: "Hey Rachel, you got messy hair right now."
Me (as I strive to fix it): "Oh do I? Is that better?"
N: "Hmm."

N: "The leaves are falling down. Where they going?"

Me: "I think you're being a little bossy today, N!"
N: "Noooo I not!"
Me: "Yes, I think you are!"
N: "Nooo I not being bossy! I being Mommy!"

Me: "Okay N, lunch is almost ready!"
N: "Haauuuumm oookaaaay."

Note: After I drove to work one day with bird poop on N's window, we spent a week discussing why it was there, what it was, why birdies poop on cars, why birdies live in trees, and so many more "why's." The following is one of the choicest quotes of the week, a running monologue from the back seat:

N: "I potty in the toilet, birdies poop on the car. Your car dirty? Birdy do that. M, no, we don't poop on the car! We go in the potty!"

N: "You not have a bow in your hair today? Why not?"
Me: "Well, I don't know!"
N: "I have a bow in my hair. You wear one again? Tomorrow? Hooray!"

Me: "Please don't chew on my button, N. It's really not very nice. Nor good for your teeth!"
N: "It is! I do it! I do it every morning!"

(At the park, from the top of the playground set) N: "HI RACHEL! LOOK AT ME RACHEL! WATCH THIS RACHEL! YOU A PRINCESS RACHEL!"

Me: "How's that thumb taste, N?"
N (as it's placed smackingly in her mouth to stay): "Icky!"

N: "I want a car!"
Me: "Can we say please? What kind of car?"
N: "A pink one!"
Me: "Oh? And where will you go in your pink car?"
N: "I go to the store! I go to the store to buy chocolate milk!"

N: "I want my lipstick."
Me: "You don't want your snack?"
N: "No, I just want my lipstick."

Note: We're big fans of Pandora (although it's been increasingly difficult to explain why I cannot force the Disney station to only play Cinderella, Belle, and Ariel) and one of N's favorite stations is the Gaelic Storm station, which plays largely traditional Irish music. She calls it "her" music. So we like to put "N's" music on and dance.

N (as she's crouching down, "booty" stuck in the air, and shaking it): "This music make my booty go like this."

Me (as N wipes her runny nose on my shoulder): "Do you need a tissue, N?"
N: "No."
Me (as she continues to wipe her nose on me): "I think you might. 'Cause I'm not a tissue."
N: "No. You a tissue!"
Me: "No, I'm really not. I don't want to be!"
N: Yes you do! You want to! You want to be tissue!"

N: "You nanny. Is Mommy nanny?"
Me: "No, Mommy's mommy."
N: "Whoa dude!"

N (surveying the aftermath of M's lunch, which was largely all over the floor): "Too icky."

N: "We teach M, Rachel."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pour les Enfants: Stella McCartney Kids!

"I eat doughnuts, man, I eat doughnuts."

Ah! File this under if I would, I could: buy M&N some Stella McCartney Kids. Besides watching this adorably fun video, oh, maybe ten times this morning (and there will be more viewings to come. perhaps even a downloading of the song. which we'll add to our afternoon dance sessions), I've scoped out the seriously awesome and adorable kidswear to be found at http://www.stellamccartneykids.com/.

There's also a handy-dandy "Creat a Look" feature on the website, so of course, while M sleeps peacefully, and N learns away at school, I've taken it upon myself to pick out what I would dress them in (totally in my job description. Both of them). Um, yeah. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll probably be seeing a lot of these tweets (promise: they're adorable!). There's also a "Playground" with downloadables, such as lullabies and videos. Well done, Miss McCartney. And now, here are a few of my picks for M & N:

Pour M (15 months, male):

Don't you try to tell me footies aren't the most adorable things on earth. Stella's versions are organic cotton.

Awww baby sweater

Pour N (will soon be 3, female):

I just love grown-up looking clothes on children. I'd wear this.

Another item I would wear! I really do love grown-up clothes cut for kids. I remember seeing once where now-designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson (obsession of my generation) used to have designer clothes cut down to their size. Grown-up clothes are fun too.
I love that the softness of the palette seems to coincide with the softness of the materials used: organic cotton and cotton blends, wool and cashmere... Everything just seems so cute and comfy and cozy.

Should you have both the children and the budget (or, if you, like me, have neither, but are infinitely curious) visit http://www.stellamccartneykids.com/ - shipping is free (on orders over $90 - not hard to do...) through November 15, so I'm advising to just complete your Christmas shopping in one fell swoop.

This Is Obsession: Part Deux

Lanvin for H&M Promo Video

The line hits stores November 20, fashion media has been saturated with this video, interviews with Alber Elbaz and his thoughts on the line, the decision to bring luxury to H&M, etc. I particularly love this snippet from an interview with the New York Times' Cut blog (as did they), on the subject of the type of women he wants to wear Lanvin:

"A friend of mine told me that everytime she wears a Lanvin dress, a man falls in love with her, and I thought, 'Wow, that's great.' And then the day after I told her, 'I wish actually the next time you wear a Lanvin dress you fall in love with a man.' And she said, 'What’s the difference?' And I said, 'Active and passive.' So I like those active women, women in charge. So in any case I hope now that we have so many more dresses of Lanvin many more women will be falling in love and many more women will be fallen in love with."
And I myself have been glamming out, trying to figure out how to get my hands on at least one frock. Live in a city with an H&M? Feel like being my personal shopper for a day? It's a matter of Lanvin and Death over here.

Paris will understand the delay in journey financing. C'est Lanvin!

Monday, November 8, 2010

This is Obsession (Fall Fashion edition)

It is the 8th of November, and the high for the day is expected to be 72 degrees. Fahrenheit. In Kansas City, Missouri.

No, I never expected to write those words. But today, it's the truth, and I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth, no sir. Ever one to rush fall and brisk weather, I'm going to step back and let winter unfold at a slower than normal pace because, well, winter lasts long enough. Snow, you were fun last winter and all, but it's alright if you don't want to make as many visits this year. I'll be alright. My down comforter might miss me, but I'll be just fine if I want to do other things than hide under its warmth all the time. And snow, we'll see each other - a sledding outing perhaps - but if you and the sub-zero temps don't want to see me as often, well, that may be for the best. We could all probably use some space.

Especially if it means a prolonged fall wardrobe. In an effort to make fun from Mondays, I've decided they'll be all fashion and style around here. Enter, my current fall fashion obsessions:

First of all, Ralph Lauren speaks autumnal Americana to me, with a collegiate touch. Tartan's having a serious moment right now (hoooooray!) and I'm obsessing over these sunglasses right now. It would not be liable to print that often I open up my copy of Elle or Vogue to the first few pages of ads just to sneak a look at these beauties. Sometimes, it's the last thing I do before bed. Clean. Classic. American.

Style.com reviewer Nicole Phelps called the Marc Jacobs 2010 Fall RTW show "a nostalgia trip, one so lovely it was quite easy to be seduced." It was "as dreamy and serene as any Jacobs show in recent memory - and how typical of him to intuit that the world is craving serenity right now." It's true, the palette never strayed from softly serene neutrals, in warm beiges, chocolates, greys, and ambers. But I saw too the high drama, albeit nostalgic, and not just for previous Jacobs collections, in silhouettes that echoed screen sirens of the 30's and 40's. High collars and shoulder accents. Leather elbow-length gloves. Fur, feathers, and fur. Here's a selection of my personal favorites from the collection, in color progression. For my own reasons, I see the progression from fall to winter being one from browns to greys and creams. Call it a pre-occupation with tweed and leather in fall, and winter white, if you must. November's warm weather is speaking of a serene winter to me.

I've particularly fallen for this look, I think, perhaps, due to the fact that I own a long grey jersey dress, which I've been planning on wearing to a benefit this coming weekend. Of course, now the plan is to do some Marc Jacobs styling of my own, by adding vintage elbow length gloves in cream (my great-grandmother's) and trying out my feather headband as a belt, for starters. I love the collar and the drape of this dress; there is nothing more comfortable to wear for a big night out than jersey, and the combination of the fabric with the length attains that perfect combination of dressed-up ease.

Jean Harlow, eat your heart out. This look hits the big fabric trends: velvet, fur, leather. Gorgeous drapery. Makes me actually want to wear velvet.


C'est fin! Look for some post-Gossip Girl posting tomorrow, along with two fashion videos I'm glamming out (and obsessing) over. Hint: Alber Ebaz.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fridays en Francais!

A brief note, before I begin: if you read my previous blog, KCFashionista, or, even if you didn't, it might be of interest to know that I have finally gotten around to importing those posts and incorporating them into this blog. So, many fashionable thoughts can now be found in the archives here.


If you will recall, I've written a few times about how once I turn 25, I supposedly am magically (and scientifically, I think) supposed to become clearer-thinking, and more able to find my focus. I can hear the weeks ticking away until my birthday (already have the party-idea all sorted out - how's that for focus and clear thinking?) and feel that I have finally landed upon some more focused ideas for this blog (have I used that word - focus - enough yet?). It's utterly ambitious, so we'll see how it goes.

But for the time being, Fridays will now play host to all my fun learnings in the French language. C'est marveilleux! They will also be brief. Hooray. Because everyone is ready for a break on Friday, especially tired nannies (though perhaps Monday would better serve as my break day. It's usually my least ambitious day. Or my most. Depends on the week. Did I mention I'm working on my focus?)

I've recently begun my experimentation with the methods and products I'm going to use in order to resuscitate my French-language skills.  This week's method comes in the form of Audio Cd's from On Lingo, seeing as how they were so kind to grant me a 14-Day Free Trial.

Now, I'm not exactly a beginner, so it's been hard to tell from the 3 Cd's I've already whipped through in the course of a day (and three half-hour drives), but so far I find it enjoyable, have brushed up on some basic vocabulary and phrases, picked up some tips on pronunciation, and well, learned a few new things. The Cd's include several chapters, with both a male and female speaker, and walk you threw repetition of vocabulary (Ecouter! Repeter une fois!), practicum, and quizzes in both English and French. I'm not buying the full method yet, but as my first product I've tried, it's seemingly set the bar fairly high.

Aside: M & N have unfortunately fallen victim to this particular experiment. I expect M's first word will be en francais, and his parents will praise their bi-lingual baby, though he fell asleep at two separate times in our drive. N met the lessons with a full-on fit at first, although enjoyed the section on colors, and then fell asleep for the remainder of our drive.

Et maintenaint...

Des nouvelles choses:

a) When pronouncing the French "l," the tip of your tongue should be touching your top teeth.
b) The French "r" is pronounced at the back of the throat.
c) English is spoken using the muscles of the jaw more, while French exercises the mouth muscles more. English speakers should feel as if they're puckering their mouths when speaking French.
d) The word "denim" originated as the fabric was created in a French town called Nim. "de" means "from," or "of," in French, therefore: de Nim becomes "denim." Fantastique!

Et voila! C'est fin.