Friday, May 29, 2009

Favorite Things

So, in preparation for the launch of Retro Summer, I thought I would take an informal survey, and ask my subscribers to name their favorite thing about summer.

Simple Things
And as the answers came in, I could see right away that they were varied. And simple. Conspicuously absent from the list of responses were expensive vacations, luxuries, and the like. Instead, the most common favorite things involved enjoying longer days, warm nights, and the company of friends.
Barbecuing was high on the list, probably more for the social enjoyment of it than the food, although one person is quite fond of burnt hot dogs (you know who you are...). And of course, school letting out was popular for both moms and teachers. (Remember those first weeks of no school as a kid? They were the greatest, don't you think?)

The list reinforced what I was suspecting, which is that the things we are fondest of when the days get warm don't involve lots of money or flashy gimmicks. Rather, summer days make us nostalgic for a time when things were really simpler. Like when we were kids.

And that is why, when I was planning out my summer calendar, I kept coming back to the activities that we appreciate from our youth--or maybe even before then. Hence the theme "Retro Summer." The "retro" doesn't necessarily apply to fashion or culture. Rather, it applies to our affection for community, friends, and low-tech fun (like swimming pools and nature and kick-the-can, for instance).

So, I thank all of the readers who responded to my quick survey, and for their confirmation of my "retro" hunch. And I hope to hear from all of you over the summer, as I indulge in some nostalgia, and invite you to join!

Previous Related Posts:
The Newest Gossip (on joining my newsletter)
A Peek into Retro Summer '09!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Indulging in Summer Mornings

My favorite part of summer--hands down--is the mornings. I love the early sun and the fuzzy glow it gives to everything. I love that the heat hasn't settled in yet, and the air still feels cool. I love it so much, in fact, that I pulled myself out of bed this morning at just before 6:30 to go for a jog and enjoy the scenery in my neighborhood. And I don't even like jogging.

Since I'm practicing my appreciation for simple summer joy as part of Retro Summer '09, I thought I'd round out my morning with a few more activities. Like dumping fistfuls of fresh blueberries onto my cereal. I bought 4 pounds of them yesterday on sale, because they're never cheaper or better than at this time of year! And after promptly freezing more than half of them, I saved some for breakfasts and smoothies for the week to come. Berries, after all, are a perfect way to ring in the season, in my opinion.

From the Balcony...
So, with cereal and hot tea in hand, I headed out to my balcony to appreciate the view. My corner of the neighborhood is still a baby--constru
cted about 5 years ago. And so you can imagine that after years of tiny stick trees and mini-shrubs, it is so nice to see things growing and filling out. Starkness is being replaced with lush greenness.

And speaking of green, I've been thrilled to see loads of little green cherries and strawberries and grapes in my modest backyard, just waiting to turn red and purple. But more on that another time.... For now I'm going to wander my way down to the patio, journal in hand, and enjoy the rest of this summer morning.

What is your favorite time of day in the summer? Share by posting your comments below! And make sure to come back next week for the official start of Retro Summer!

Previous Related Post:
A Peek at Retro Summer

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Creative Hour: Wool Socks in Summer

I know it seems strange to be knitting a pair of wool socks at the dawn of summer, but here are three reasons why I've been knitting them lately:

1. they are small and portable, making them an ideal summer craft. I can throw them in my pool bag (although I might get some
very strange looks knitting by the pool...) or picnic bag or long weekend bag. And because they're too small to drape across my lap, they won't make me hot (the biggest trouble of summer knitting...).

2. I'm getting ahead for the winter. I'd love to give away some handknit items for raffle gifts this fall and winter, and therefore need to start now! Because knitting, unlike sewing, isn't something you can just whip out in an afternoon. Or at least I sure can't!

3. Speaking of sewing,
after all the needle and thread I've been tackling lately (red dress, baby quilts, cocktail napkins, etc. etc.), it is nice to have some yarn in hand for a change. Or at least for some creative diversity.

Of course, I won't be wearing of these socks anytime soon. That would just be crazy.

Pssst---just a reminder: anyone can enter to win my weekly raffles by signing up for my newsletter. Just fill in your name and email address in the above right!

Previous Creative Hour Posts:
Cocktails and Dresses (but not cocktail dresses)
Montenegro, Here I Come!
Tote Bags


Looking back over the past 8 weeks of Recessionistas, I’m finding it difficult to sum it all up. Difficult, at least, without sounding repetitive. Because certain things you already know. Like my thoughts on the gift of creativity during hard times, and my passion for managing our household resources well, and my conviction about being prepared for the unexpected. And then there’s the point about our relationships being an unexpected source of currency, and all of the informal entrepreneurial opportunities around us.

And since we’re coming back to the topic in the fall, I don’t want to get too sentimental. But what I will say, as a bookend to this season, is that we, as women, have a special aptitude for times like these. A “natural ability,” as the Oxford Dictionary says, to thrive. Thrive in any era, but particularly during this one, when shrinking and cutting back seems to be the trend. We, however, will be growing and expanding (perhaps, ironically, by cutting back...), flourishing in a drought. Why? Because we are gifted at the things I mentioned above. Like relating to others. And thinking outside of the box.

Share with Me
Therefore, over the summer, in the midst of time at the pool and nights at the local drive-in, I’ll also be interviewing the women I know, asking them to share about their “aptitude” for thriving. And come fall, we’ll pick up Recesionistas again, starting with their stories (and maybe yours as well!).
So while you, too, are sunbathing and taking vacations and gardening, be thinking about your aptitude for thriving. And keep your eyes open here for ways to share your thoughts, and to be a part of the fall’s Real Recessionistas series. I’d love to hear from you, and to learn from you!

Until then--

Previous Recessionista Posts:
Servin' Up Solutions
Creative Salvation!
Homegrown Resilience
A Wallet Full of Friends
Your Inner Entrepreneur
Now is Our Time

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Temporary Goodbye

Even though summer doesn’t officially start until the latter part of June, Memorial Day always seems to kick-start the season. The pool in my neighborhood, for instance, opened on Saturday, with a gaggle of blue-lipped kids splashing contentedly (blue because 64 degrees isn’t exactly warm for swimming). And I saw more than one neighbor haul out their bicycles or their lawnmowers (one ambitious neighbor did both) to inaugurate the date.

And even I have to admit that although the weather isn’t exactly cooperating (it’s still a cool 65), and the kids haven’t finished school yet (only 4 more days, moms!), I’m ready for summer, too. Ready to kick off Retro Summer ’09 (starting Monday! yay!), and reacquaint myself with my dusty golf clubs, and even dustier bathing suit.... Ready for outdoor living and sleeping with my french doors open. Ready for my tomato plants to grow out of their spindly state, and my basil to run wild. And my strawberries and cherries to ripen from green to red.

A Temporary Goodbye
Of course, saying hello to summer means saying goodbye to Recessionistas. But it will only be a temporary goodbye, because I’m formulating a plan even now to bring it back this fall. Not in the same way, of course, because that would be boring. And repetitive. No--it will return in a new way, building on the ideas we’ve been talking about since March (can you believe it’s been that long!). And truth be told--I’m almost as excited for the fall as I am for summer nights spent star-gazing on my balcony.

Where We've Been...
So, the rest of this week will bring a quick Recessionista review--giving me a chance to remember where we’ve been and plan for where we’re going. And then let the summer fun begin!

Previous Related Posts:
On Finishing
Recessionista Recap
Recessionista Trivia

Friday, May 22, 2009

In My Weekend Bag...

Have I ever mentioned that one of the perks of living a the life of a "domestic entrepreneur" is that the term "flex time" is an understatement?

So, with the holiday weekend ahead, I'm packing up my duffel bag, grabbing my books and crafts, and heading out of town. Here's what I'll be bringing:

The Packing List:

* my copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm in love with this book, and find it a perfect read for spring. I've already learned an incredible amount about the habits of asparagus (seriously--who knew they could be so fascinating!), and keep bugging my husband with "hey, did you know that seeds are patented and therefore illegal to keep from year to year?" types of facts. Needless to say, he's not nearly so interested in those tidbits as I am...

* my New copy of Twilight, given to me by some friends just yesterday (thank you!). I am now ready to officially join (albeit rather late) the cult.

* a few skeins of yarn, including one that already bears the start of a pair of winter wool socks I'm knitting. Yes, I realize it's almost June, but I really am going to get a head start on holiday gifts this year. Really.

* some fabric, so that I can plan out new Creative Hour projects for the weeks to come. Since I can't very well haul my sewing machine up to the mountains and thus endure the inquiring stares of my family who
don't include sewing projects among their ideas of relaxing leisure, I have to find fabric tasks that don't need stitching...

* my laptop, in case I'm suddenly struck by a brilliant posting idea, or a webpage design (for the record--I'm a Mac. I know you were dying to know.). I will, of course, have to officially ignore the irritated glances by my husband, who believes that the mountains are no place for modern technology, except, of course, for DVD players and cable television. At least I won't have internet...

Too Much to Do?

By now perhaps you are wondering if one person can actually do all of the things implied within this list of belongings. The answer is No. Of course not. I Never actually work on all of the projects I bring. I just like having them there. Just in case.

You understand.

Hope yours is a great long weekend, too!

Previous Recessionista Posts about Projects:

Creative Hour: Cocktails and Dresses (but not cocktail dresses)
Thinking Outside the Box
A Long Time Coming (my dining room makeover)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Barter Bonanza

I thought that it was coincidental when I opened up last month’s Real Simple and saw their article on swap meets. Of course I had to write a post about how the meets were a great example of relational currency in action.

And then, when this month’s issue (June) came in the mail featuring an article about bartering, I started getting suspicious. Were people from the Real Simple staff secretly hiding in my office, peeking over my shoulder as I brainstormed and wrote? I mean, had I not mentioned in this very series how bartering was a good example of relational currency as well?

The New Popular Trend
Of course I know that Real Simple writer’s aren’t stealing from me. Given the necessary lead time in printed publications, I’m sure their articles were written long before mine. So, since I’ve ruled out stealing, I’ve instead come to the conclusion that relational currency is the new popular thing. At least for us ladies.

The article in Real Simple mentioned that bartering has increased exponentially since the recession started, as evidenced by higher volume on online sites like And just like I’ve written about in previous posts, people are offering up their skills, talents and belongings for trade.

Two Things I Like
I specifically like two things about this trend. The first, of course, is that it places emphasis on community relationships rather than merely cash. I may sound like a broken record, but I can’t resist saying again that sometimes the best resources we have are among our friends, family and neighbors. And also within our own homes and personal talents. Real currency may fluctuate depending on the daily moods of speculators and hedge fund managers. But relational currency is far less susceptible to those shifts because it is based on more than just money.

The second thing I like is, naturally, the informal entrepreneurial opportunities afforded by bartering. It gives us a chance to share our creative talents with others in a way that is mutually beneficial. And because bartering is informal, it is also a less intimidating way to dip your toes into the market. No need for a business license to trade piano lessons for laundry service. No need to deduct or pay taxes on swapping garden grown basil for free advertising in a friend’s social newsletter.

Endless Possibilities
The possibilities for bartering are endless. And yes--setting up a bartering arrangement is far less convenient than the tidy aisles of Target. But the benefits far outweigh convenience.

Are you currently bartering anything? Or have you in the past? Or maybe would like to now? Share your thoughts on relational currency by posting your comments here!

Previous Related Posts:
A Wallet Full of Friends
Swap Meet Style
The Recessionista Brand

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

But I'm not Creative...

I was having coffee with a friend this weekend, and we were casually talking about my previous week’s events (which, truth be told, included A Lot of sewing), and she mentioned that she didn’t have any creative activities.

No Creativity?
No creative activities? I asked. What do you mean? What about all the photos you have taken throughout the past several years? And the slide shows set to music that you’ve created out of them? Those are certainly creative.

She offhandedly agreed, but mentioned that she hasn’t taken many pictures lately.
Ah Hah! I thought. Therein lies the tricky thing about creativity--it takes time to cultivate.

We All Have It
Because let me say first off that everyone is creative. Seriously--I mean it. Everyone. You can’t live among the vibrancy of human culture, and the beauty of nature, and survive the wonders of childhood without a little creativity working its way into your bones. And though it is true that we commonly associate creativity with the arts (and with crafts), it flourishes in other places, too. Like creative problem solving, business development, and cooking. There are a lot of “creative intellectuals” out there who are very crafty with their ideas. And civil engineers who are creative with their urban landscapes. And even creative policy makers who conjure up out-of-the-box ways to generate municipal income.

So clearly creativity abounds. But it also takes some tending. My friend probably had overlooked her genuine skills with a camera (she is who I always recruit to take photos at my events) because she hadn’t used them in awhile. And she probably hadn’t used them in awhile because the demands of adult life (full time work, social activities, chores, etc. etc.) had dominated her schedule.

Full Circle
And this point brings me full circle--back to the first Recessionista post I wrote about creativity. Which is that utility can tyrannize our lives. Give it an inch, and it will take a mile, no questions asked. Clothed in a sense of urgency (some of it real, like “I need to pay my bills NOW!,” and some false, like “I better organize my pantry before my mother-in-law comes and sees it!”), we get sucked into believing that all of our time must be spent on very important things like work and chores and extra-curricular activities. And our creativity goes by the wayside. And though others may consider this a permissible casualty of real life, particularly during a recession, I find it unacceptable.

Unacceptable because it is the creative things that fill up our tanks so that we have enough energy to do all those other unpleasant utilitarian tasks. This recession, in case you haven’t heard, isn’t expected to disappear by autumn. Or next year. Or perhaps even the year after that. We are probably in it for a marathon rather than a sprint. And personally I don’t want to run out of gas halfway through.

Get (Back) To It
And so I’m encouraging my friend to dust off her camera for the summer, and I know that she will. And I’ll keep sewing and knitting and writing. And you can keep doing whatever it is that you like to do. Or perhaps start doing it again.

And even though Recessionistas will wrap up for a time, I'm keeping the Creative Hour in place throughout the summer.
So you can continue to expect to see photos of projects on a weekly basis, and I will continue to invite you to share about your creative efforts.

Previous Related Posts:
Express Yourself: Entrepreneurism as an Accessory
The Creative Hour

Creative Hour: cocktails and dresses (but not cocktail dresses)

Perhaps it was my fling with the red dress, but lately I've been hankering for a bygone era. An era of party dresses and the cocktail hour. Nevermind that I don't actually like cocktails (I'm more of a beer and wine kinda gal--).

So in lieu of cocktails, I thought I would whip up some cocktail napkins just in case someone else wanted to entertain with them. Someone, for instance, who might win this week's raffle...

And while I was at the sewing machine, I figured I would put on my "alterations" hat and try to amend a very cute summer dress I picked up this spring while I was in L.A.

This dress is nothing more than a cotton tank sewn into a navy blue linen skirt. And while both my friend and I agreed that it would be a great summer addition to my wardrobe, the top was a bit annoying. Annoying as in it draped too low in the neck and under the arms. And while I thought I could fix it with a camisole worn underneath, eventually I decided that adding layers in the summer wasn't such a hot idea.

So I picked up a better-fitting tank at the store for $5, cut the bottom off, cut the original out, and swapped 'em. The only tricky part was making sure I sewed the shirt to the elastic instead of the linen. Ten minutes later, I had my cute summer dress minus the necessarily cami.

Cherry Pie
And finally, I made it down to the kitchen where a frozen bag of pie cherries had been calling my name for months
. Purchased from the farmer's market last year, I was long overdue for baking them into a pie.

So I dumped some flour, butter and water into the food processor, dunked the cherries in a sugar syrup...rolled, poured, covered and pricked...and Presto! dessert for the week!

Tell Me!
Tell me what you've been up to! Any projects you're working on? Any pictures you want to send me? (you can, to Share about them by commenting below!

Previous Related posts:

Lime Green Shimmer
Dining in Style
Sewing in Good Company
The Creative Hour

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

the Recesionista Brand

Yesterday I asked you all to think about your “introduction” speeches--the ones you make when you introduce yourself to strangers for the first time. Like, “hi, I’m Sally and I twirl batons in my spare time, and work in plumbing during the day." Or, "I'm Patty and I take care of my three small children all day while secretly dreaming about a career in the circus."

The Labels Don't Fit
Introduction speeches became very relevant to me last year as I transitioned into my new life of “domestic entrepreneurialism.” Because for a long time I didn’t really know what to say about myself when I met new people. There weren’t any good labels for what I was doing. I was too entrepreneurial to be called a housewife. But my entrepreneurialism was too informal for me to be a “small business owner.” And since I wasn’t a mom, I couldn’t apply the stay-at-home-mom sticker. And obviously the 9-5 label no longer fit.

This was perhaps when I decided that what I needed was a label-less brand. Like the look of couture without the designer’s initials stitched into the seam. I wanted people to be able to identify the qualities of my “brand” without subjecting myself to the oversimplification of a label.

Unsurprisingly, over a year later, many of the qualities I settled on have trickled their way into my writing. Certainly they've been running like threads throughout this Recessionista series: entrepreneurialism, creativity, being leaders from our homes.... And though I haven’t exactly figured out how to package that neatly into an introduction speech, I’m working on it.

Three Things...
Because what I want for myself and for you readers--whether you work full time or stay home or balance some combination of both--is a brand that communicates three essential things: creativity, resourcefulness and leadership. When people meet me, I want them to know that I practice thinking outside of the box, that I am smart about the resources I have (whether they are tangible, like my money or my supplies, or intangible, like my skills and talents), and that I am a leader. And I wouldn’t mind shattering their preconceived notions about the vital nature of work done from and for the home while I’m at it.

New Speeches
Certainly I don’t expect all of us to start adding “hello, I’m a Recessionista,” to our introductory speeches. Because frankly that would be weird. And also because “Recessionista” is more like a label than a brand. But I would love to have some introductions that stretch beyond convention by sparking hints of creativity, resourcefulness and leadership. Like, "hi, I'm Sandy and I spend my time raising my two young children and growing my scrapbook network. I'm always looking for new members to join me in scrapbook therapy, to swap supplies, and share ideas. Would you be interested?" Or, "I'm Kathy and I work as an accountant by day, helping people navigate their finances. And since I love dogs, I also volunteer weekly at the pet shelter where I connect animals with new families. It's my way of helping our community."

As for me, "I'm Stephanie and I'm a blogger who passionately writes about domestic life all day. And yes--I did make this red dress. What did you say your name was again? James, was it?"

Previous Recessionista Posts:
Brand It!
Thinking Outside the Box
Homegrown Resilience
Servin' Up Solutions

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Peek at Retro Summer...

A Peek...
1950's soda fountains.
Evenings playing kick the can with the neighbors. Movies at the drive-in. Afternoons laying by the pool wearing big sunglasses and floppy hats. And mornings in the garden pulling weeds and picking strawberries.

These are just a few of the images that came to my mind while I was envisioning this coming summer.

Coming Soon!
I'm calling it a Retro Summer. And naturally you're invited.

P.S. Don't forget to bring your sunscreen.

Brand It!

I was putting on my white cotton sundress today for the first time this spring, and couldn’t help but think about last week’s post on “accessorizing” my life with creative ventures. And as I was looking at my dress, with it’s slightly vintage style, I wondered what type of “brand” would fit me. Fit me not so much in the fashion sense, but in the “whole person” sense (seriously--I do think about these things when I’m getting ready in the morning. I’ll have a doctor look into it momentarily.)

So Popular
Let me explain. Branding, of course, has gotten oh so popular these days, what with our flashy marketing tricks and clever sales hooks. And naturally with all of this marketing going on, it was bound to trickle down into our personal lives in a motivational, self-help kind of way eventually. And while I normally try to avoid all that proactive self-awareness, in the case of branding I have to confess that I’m intrigued.

My Own Personal Brand?
Intrigued because after leaving my 9-5 job, I found that I had to give myself a little branding makeover. I went from “career girl responsibly pursuing a future in finance” to...well...I wasn’t sure. Housewife? Small business owner? Writer? Perhaps a little bit of all of the above?

In essence, I needed to know Who exactly was I, and How was I going to share myself with others?

Our Public Selves
And so I bring up this subject of branding (which, since I haven’t said it already, is basically the process of figuring out how to present yourself to the public) because I’ve spent a lot of time during this Recessionista series writing about entrepreneurialism and resumes and leadership. And all of these activities involve us as women expressing our personalities and ambitions to the outside world. And frankly this task can get tricky.

For instance, how many of you readers are stay-at-home moms, and have struggled to articulate what you do to strangers in small talk? “I stay home,” isn’t a very satisfying "brand," but it often becomes the label anyway.
Or how about those of you who work full time, but don’t feel that your jobs fully express (or express at all!) your interests and personality? The “what do you do?” question bugs you because what you do from 9-5 isn’t who you are. Not even close.

So how do we, as women, find a way to communicate who we are in a way that is more accurate and satisfying than “I stay home,” or “My job is...”? The answers, perhaps, can be found with a little time spent branding.

Setting the Stage
Naturally there are a Ton of ways I can speak about this process, but frankly this post is already getting too long. So, rather than talk your ear off all morning, I will set the stage for a continuation of this subject in the days to come. Consider it my way to begin wrapping up Recessionistas, and tying everything together under a “Recessionista brand." Because before the summer is upon us, and we're too relaxed to give much care to our public presentation (outside of how we look in a bathing suit, of course), I thought we could spend a little time thinking about what it means to share our vibrant, multi-dimensional selves with others.

So, to get the ball rolling, I have some homework for you. Don't worry--nothing too serious. Just a small exerice, which is to:
think about your "introduction speech"? (You know--the one that you give to people when you are introducing yourself.) What do you say? More importantly, what do you omit? Are you pleased, or discontent, with it? Why?

I'll bring my answer, plus more, to tomorrow's post. Hope to see you then!

Previous Related Posts:
Express Yourself: entreprenuerialism as an accessory
Recessionista Resume
But I'm Not Crafty (and other misconceptions about being an entrepreneur)
Now is Our Time

Friday, May 15, 2009

And the Winner Is...

The winner of this week's raffle, and recipient of this red & salmon beaded pendant, is: Annie D.!

Enter to Win!
Wondering how you can enter to win next week's raffle? It's simple! Just sign up for my newsletter and check your email inbox on Tuesday. You'll receive a weekly update from me, as well as instructions for entering to win!

In Case You Missed It...

...Here are links to this week's Recessionista posts:
On Finishing...
Express Yourself: Entrepreneurialism as an Accessory
Setting a "Depressing" Example
Creative Hour: Lime Green Shimmer
Going Green (and I'm not talking about the environment)
Montenegro Here I Come!

Hope you all enjoy your weekend! See you on Monday!

Montengro Here I Come!

Other than a few loose threads to tie up, my red dress is finished. I must have had a teeny bit of sewing overkill this week, because I think I used my seam ripper more than my sewing machine to add the final touches to this garment. But after days of baby quilts and pillow covers, it is nice to have something...well...nice to wear.

Adventure in Resourcefulness
This project has also been a very good adventure in resourcefulness for me. As I mentioned last week, the pattern for it came from a dress I bought second hand and then cut to pieces. Certainly it is no accident that this is the first clothing item I've ever sewn that actually fits well! I'm not sure why I've never done this before!

Even better, I now have a pattern that I can apply for more projects to come.
In fact, I already have a couple yards in pink for another dress. And with a few modifications (like long sleeves), I think this would make a great blueprint for some winter dresses in heavier fabric.

Midas Multiplication
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the
new Midas touch. In it, I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to multiply my resources. Well, this Montenegro dress is my first shot at taking one dress and turning it into many more. Maybe I'll even make one of them in gold....

But no more sewing for me today. Instead I'll have to traipse around town pretending that I'm in Europe, and keeping my eye out for 007.

Previous Related Posts:

Montenegro or Bust
the New Midas Touch

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Your Best Birth Simulcast Event: Photos from my Booth

Some photos from my table at last night's "Your Best Birth" Simulcast Event:

The display, which is the first one I've ever set up. My husband laughed at me when I "practiced" at home on the dining table. I couldn't help it. I'm WAY too obsessed with design and aesthetics to not have a plan!

Some items from my Hillberry Home store, including pillow covers and a small lap quilt.

The new Lime Shimmer series that I plan to list for sale early next week. I like them so much I just might have to make some baby items from the design/fabrics too!

And my stash of baby quilts. So far I have six styles in my "Spunky Baby" line, and counting.

I'll post more soon about creativity, "domestic entrepreneurialism," and e-commerce later, but I wanted to give you a peek while the photos were still hot on my camera!

Previous Related Posts:
Creative Hour: Lime Green Shimmer
Express Yourself: Entrepreneurialism as an Accessory
Creative Hour: Baby Quilts
Upcoming Event: "Your Best Birth" Simulcast

Going Green (and I'm not talking about the environment)

After clearing away the tornado wreckage that was the state of my office this morning after a serious sewing binge, I thought I would direct my thoughts for the first time in days on something other than zig zag stitches and business cards.

Naturally money came to mind first.

You see, I was talking briefly with a friend this week about budgeting, and she mentioned that one of her friends had moved to an all cash system for their household finances. Apparently it was working out really well for them, and they were making progress on their financial goals.

All Cash?
But all cash? I had to ask. Could it really help? Was it even possible? There are all kinds of debates going on in the world about the best way to save and spend money. In fact, I was just reading the latest issue of Time magazine where they compared budgeting to dieting, and recommended all the familiar do’s and don’ts (don’t forbid certain purchases, do schedule rewards, etc. etc.). And certainly I have heard that going “all cash” is a clever little psychological trick to keep money in your wallet. Because the rumor is that those handy plastic cards don’t feel like money the way that the green paper and silver coins do. I can see how that would be the case.

A Plastic Convenience...
I can also see, however, how impractical it would be for me to pay everything with the green stuff. Like me counting out change at the gas station. Or sending my nickels in the mail for my gas bill. (I’m being facetious--I’m sure the “cash” system affords for practical deviations.) I’m just so fond of the convenience of plastic.

Worth Trying!
Nevertheless, both my friend and I agreed that using cash for things like groceries, and anything involving me stepping my foot into Target, might be beneficial. So I thought perhaps I would try it. After all, I mentioned on Monday that there were still some budgeting goals that I wanted to tackle before the sun (temporarily) sets on Recessionistas, and this could be a good exercise along that vein.

How About You?
But I’m curious to hear from you. Have any of you readers tried a cash system for spending? Do you think that it would make a difference? Or more generally, do you currently use any clever tricks to keep you financially on track? Please share by commenting below!

And yes, I know that I have lots of sewing updates for you all. Like pictures from my red dress (still have to finish those sleeves!), and a follow-up from last night’s Best Birth Event, and the latest about my efforts in online commerce... I promise it’s all coming!

Previous Recessionista Posts on Budgeting:
Smarty Pants: Fraud Protection
28 Days Makes a Habit (or so they say)
The New Midas Touch
Can I Get a Pulse?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Creative Hour: Lime Green Shimmer

Even though I have been spending most of my time this week sewing up baby quilts and nursery items for my soon-to-open online store, I couldn't resist making a few non-baby home accessories.

These pillows (and an accompanying throw that I haven't assembled yet) make me think of spring in the woods. Fresh green, dark brown and a knotty tweed remind me of budding leaves, bark and mulch (can you tell I have gardening on th
e mind?).

The green scheme doesn't exactly fit well in my living room, so I'll happily be offering these for sale at Hillberry Home. Just as soon as I finish up that baby stuff!

Oh--and no, I haven't forgotten about that red dress. Still workin' on it. Montenegro will have to wait a few more days I guess...

Previous Creative Hour Posts:

Baby Quilts
Tote Bags
Dining in Style

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Setting a Depressing Example

When I was in college, I spent one summer working at a dude ranch (yes--that’s right--a dude ranch, complete with cowboys, horses, and a bubbling brook running through the property) as a waitress for ranch guests. The family that owned and operated the ranch had lived there for multiple generations, and the oldest member--an elderly woman in her nineties named Tillie--still came down to the kitchen from time to time to visit. And to make sure that none of the food was going to waste. I would watch her collect the leftover bread and recommend to the cooks how they could reuse it for another meal. Or see her scrape the unused ranch dressing out of the serving bowls to put back into the storage container (much to the cook’s--and the FDA’s--chagrin). She couldn’t help herself. After growing up during the Depression, she was used to making every ingredient and household item stretch to the last inch.

Although admittedly a bit sketchy when it came to operating a commercial kitchen, I had to admire her resourcefulness and ingenuity. And naturally I reflected on how far we had come since her days managing the ranch, with our disposable paper cups and plates, ketchup packets, and soda cans.

No Nostalgia Needed
No one wants to wax poetically about the Depression, or seriously propose a return to those hard times. Instead, we much rather prefer to climb out of this recession as quickly as possible before it does any permanent damage and we, ourselves, start licking the plates clean and saving the leftover salad dressing. But one thing worth noting is the example set by the generation that knew all to well what it was to have the bottom fall out of the economy. The ladies of that time were the first Recessionistas, and they were clever indeed. They remind us that:

Good Reminders
* disposable living is not something to esteem if it translates to meaningless consumerism and waste. “Waste not, want not” could stand a revival, minus possible compromises to health and safety, of course, and sluggish economies are good opportunities to practice the mantra.

* resourcefulness leads to resilience. There are few from that generation that are not revered for their persevering spirit. Their steady discipline of artfully appreciating and utilizing the resources around them helped sustain their ability to stay hopeful, productive, and even prosperous during hard times.

* and the best defense to calamity begins at home. We joke now about their quirky habits of saving things like newspapers and cardboard for “just in case,” but they know that when difficulty arises, it is good to have supplies on hand and to not trust absolutely in the back-up plans of commerce or government. We are fortunate to have a few safety nets that they did not, like FDIC insurance and credit cards. But we would do well to remember that even well meaning systems can fail to fill in the gaps that only a home can fill.

I, of course, want nothing more than to avoid walking in the shoes they walked in during the Depression. But I also want to acknowledge the important example they set, and the lessons we can learn from them as we walk through our own economic turmoil.

I might even reuse the heels of my bread to add some crisp to tonight’s chicken. Tillie would be proud.

Previous Recessionista Posts:
Thinking Outside the Box
Three Contingency Plans
Homegrown Resilience

Monday, May 11, 2009

Express Yourself: entrepreneurialism as an accessory

ahem...An analogy for entrepreneurial expression:

Picture, if you will, your different roles as a woman as the various pieces of your wardrobe. Marriage, motherhood and career are like your staples--the hard working items that provide the foundation for your look. They are your favorite jeans that go with everything, or the classic white dress shirt, or the pair of black heels. They define the most important work and relationships in your life.

Adding a Personal Touch
But a wardrobe isn’t usually great if we stop there. Though very stable and solid, it lacks a certain punch. Sure, we’ve probably expressed our own style to a certain extent in these roles, adding our personal touch as a wife or bringing our own character to mothering. Just like choosing a boot cut over a slim leg, or peep toes over square. But those choices still don’t adequately express the fullness of who we are, and what our style is.

Because in order to that, you need accessories. Handbags, fun shoes, skirts and scarves. Prints, stripes, colors and texture. For me, these final touches that we add on top of our roles as wives and moms and worker bees are where some of the best opportunities lay for personal expression.

A Good Accessory
And it won’t surprise you to learn that I think one of the best ways to accessorize our lives is through entrepreneurialism. Not the formal go-out-and-get-a-business-license kind, but the creative, interest-and-talent-driven type. Nurturing your hobbies and skills, and daring to bring them out from the closet and wear them in public, can be very rewarding. Like turning your love for reading into a book-review blog. Or sharing your passion for children’s development by organizing a weekly educational field trip for your daughter’s friends and neighbors. Or cultivating your fancy for beads by designing your own special jewelry line. These things, like headbands and purses, are what make us stand out in a crowd and sparkle. They are what make us us.

Some Days...
It is true that sometimes we don’t have the energy to accessorize. Some days it is enough to throw on our tried-and-true denim and black flats and head out the door. Some days, marriage and kids and career are all that we can juggle. But for a Recessionista, not every day should be like that. Some days--hopefully most days--are meant for more style. Days for marriage and kids and work, and also a little extra flare.
A little creativity on the side.

My, don’t you look nice today in your polka dots and red shoes--

--Why, thank you. They’re my favorite. I try to wear them whenever I can.

Previous Related Posts:
Your Inner Entrepreneur
But I'm Not Crafty (and other misconceptions about being an entrepreneur)
Recessionista Resume

On Finishing

I had a dream last night recalling my former days as a track athlete in high school. There I was again, dressed in my ridiculously short running shorts, warming up my legs for my favorite race: the 300m hurdles. It was a race I both hated and loved. The beginning was full of strength and rhythm and adrenaline. Naturally I loved that part. The end, however--the last stretch--was a challenge. Burning legs and lungs--still trying to mount obstacles and get to the finish. Feeling just the slightest twinge of concern that I might not make it across the line, but determined to try. Of course I always made it.

The Final Stretch
I bring up this dream because I feel like the last few weeks before summer are very similar to the 300m hurdle race. I can see the finish line (I call it June) right around the corner, with its warm days and pool openings and long bike rides. I’m already buzzing with ideas for my new summer series, and they include lots of fun field trips and gardening and nights at the drive-in. And I can hardly wait to get started.

A Few Hurdles Still to Clear
But to get to summer I have to finish what I started, which is to say that as a Recessionista, there are still a few hurdles left to clear. Still a few things on my list (the one I made in March when all these talks began) to check off. Things like:

* budgeting. One of my Recessionista goals was to revisit my budget and get it into order before the summer sets in. As I wrote earlier this spring, I could use a financial check-up, and don’t want to be scheduling major “appointments” during the leisurely days of summer. And since I can’t afford to wait ‘til fall, I better get serious about clearing that hurdle!

* entrepreneurial progress. I’ve been nurturing my conviction that small, creative enterprise is vital in these times, and there are a still few more ways I want to encourage us to express ourselves in this area before this series ends.

* creativity. I have earnestly tried to make creativity a habit in my life over the past 6 weeks, and want just a little more practice at it before lazy afternoons at the pool vie for my time. Plus, I have a certain red dress to finish....

Finishing Well
Finishing is not, I confess, always my strong suit. With the end in sight, I often get impatient and ramble through the final details. I do not, however, want to follow that pattern for the end of Recessionistas. We still have a few weeks left, and I want to end them well.

So let’s get started on getting finished--

Previous Recessionista Posts:
Can I Get a Pulse?
In the Land of Small
Recessionista Recap

Friday, May 8, 2009

Montenegro or Bust: tales of a Red Dress

A Recessionista's tale of shopping thrift, and experiments in fashion design. Part 1.

I was at the used clothing store yesterday, browsing the aisles in search of a new dress or shirt to inaugurate the warming weather. Or at least that was the reason I was telling myself. Closer to the truth was that after recently watching the newest Casino Royale and seriously coveting every wardrobe piece that Eva Green's character wore (do you know what I'm talking about? the amethyst ball gown? the emerald green day dress? the red chiffon wrap dress?), I was looking to mimic her taste. Or perhaps mimic the lifestyle of Vesper and Bond, attending elegant evening affairs or traipsing around in coastal resorts. Alas, in lieu of said elegant living (have I mentioned that I reside in Colorado? One of the most casual places in all of the world?), I decided to keep my eye out for something red and swishy rather than satin and sparkle. And after searching the racks, I came across a red knit dress that might, perhaps, do the trick.

Carrying it into the fitting room, I quickly discovered that flattering it was, but swishy it was not. In fact, the fit was nearly perfect, but the fabric Clingy as in "I need to buy a pair of Spanx in order to wear this out in public." Now I'm all for snug, but this was too snug. Besides, how was I going to pretend I was swishing around in Venice with James at my side when my dress was creeping up my backside? So I sadly took it off and tried on some other things.

Too Good to Pass Up?
But while stepping into a polka dot vintage housewife number, and a magenta strapless dress, I couldn't help but think that maybe the red dress was too good to pass up. I mean, with a quarter of an inch added to the seams, and a different fabric, it could be perfect. Perfect as in bringing-a-piece-of-Montenegro-to-my-Colorado-life perfect. Besides, I had been to my usual shopping stops in search of a dress like this only to find the floor length beach bohemian types that are popular this year. I did not want to be a beach bohemian. I wanted to be Vesper--world traveller and companion of rugged spies.

In Pieces...
So, in Pretty in Pink fashion, I channeled Molly Ringwald's wrong-side-of-the-tracks sensibility and bought the dress for $12, brought it home, and promptly cut it apart with my fabric shears. Where it now lays, in pieces, on my floor. My plan, naturally, is to use the pieces as a pattern for a new dress. Red, of course.

Join me next week to see how my weekend sewing project turns out...

Previous Recessionista Posts:
A Thrifty Success!
The New Midas Touch
Vintage Green

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Smarty Pants: Fraud Protection

This was not the Smarty Pants post I had planned for this week, but when I received not one, not two, but Four! phone calls yesterday from "my bank," I had to write about it. And so begins the first of what will undoubtedly be many posts written on fraud protection in the years to come.

I mean, considering that we're in a recession, and that we can all use every penny that we make.
And considering that no one wants to be stolen from, I thought my experience yesterday was worth discussing.

A Gentleman Caller?
As mentioned--I received four calls yesterday from a number that came up as "Toll Free" on my caller ID. Each time an automated robot voice left a message identifying themselves as my bank, and telling me that there had been some unusual activity on my debit card that they were concerned about. How nice of them, don't you think?

Except that it wasn't my bank at all.

Thankfully I did not end up getting burned by this scam.
And here's why: because in my former life as a banker, I learned a thing or two about how these fraudsters work. Knowledge I am more than willing to share with anyone who will listen. So here it goes:

When being phoned your bank:
Rule #1: know that their name should Definitely appear on your caller ID. I don't care if the bank is a mega-bailout-receiving-corporation, or a small, locally owned operation--they should pop up as exactly who they are. No "toll free" or "caller unknown" or "out of area." If someone leaves a message claiming to be your bank, lender, credit card company, etc. and the caller ID is questionable at all--don't call that number back! Call the numbers you have on file for your company and inquire there.

Rule #2: never--I repeat--Never--give sensitive information over the phone to a caller. This especially includes Social Security numbers and PIN numbers. Fraudsters often have you provide information to "verify" your identity, when really they just want enough to steal your identity. Always remember that when your financial institution contacts you, they already have your important information on record--they shouldn't need to ask for it.

Rule #3: when in doubt, double check Everything. After receiving yesterday's calls, my husband and I did two things. First, we checked our accounts to see if there was any unusual activity. Second, we found a link on our bank's webpage listing all of their valid phone numbers (because of fraud, many banks are providing this information right from their homepage). Needless to say, our toll free friends weren't on the list. Our hunch was confirmed--they were thieves.

Rule #4: if you do end up giving away information, and then later feel uncomfortable about it, contact your financial institution and have your accounts changed. Most banks/lenders have a simple process for assigning a new debit card to your account, or switching your credit card. And even if the process is a hassle, do it anyway. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Thank you?
Just for fun, my husband did end up calling the number and punched in some false account numbers to get to a live person. When he did, he was of course asked for more information. At which point he told the caller that he knew they were running a scam and had contacted the bank about them.

To which the caller replied, "Oh...Thank you." And hung up.

Thank you, indeed.

Other Recent Smarty Pants Posts:
Blame the Pigs
Avoiding Pitfalls in the News
Is Staying Home Foolish in a Recession?

Thinking Outside the Box

The Teva sandal made its debut right around the time I entered junior high. Of course everyone who was cool had a pair. And naturally my parents weren’t the type to buy a sandal just for the sake of my popularity. So I was out of luck. Of course there were some available knock-offs at the stores, mainly in solid black. Which was okay, I guess, but they lacked the tell-tale colorful stitching of the originals.

So what did I do? I bought a pair, and using some embroidery thread, I hand-stitched my own pattern onto my generic sandals. True, they weren’t exactly the real thing, and I doubt I was fooling anyone. But I wore them to school every day in the spring with a certain pride that is very difficult to find in junior high.

A Habit is Born
Why do I share this story? Because thinking outside of the box is a Recessionista habit I’ve come to love. A habit that I started practicing back in junior high just to fit in with the cool kids.

Thinking outside of the box (aka creative resourcefulness) is the ability to look at something old or generic in a new and fresh way. And it can be applied in almost infinite situations. Like turning a handful of leftover ingredients lingering in the fridge into a new entree that is surprisingly good. Or covering old cereal boxes in decorative paper to use for storage. Or re-imagining a pile of scrap wood as canvases for art.

Practice Makes Perfect
Probably the best opportunities for out-of-the-box brilliance come from repurposing what you already have, but seeing old things in a new light can be difficult at times. It is easier to glimpse the potential in something when it is packaged and labeled. Practice can go a long way to unveil hidden potential, though. For instance:

* taking an inventory of what you already own may reveal some pleasant surprises. I wrote about this recently during my spring cleaning bout. It is very easy for me to forget about the stuff I already own, but uncovering it from the backs of my closets or under the bed can give me a jolt of inspiration.

* getting into the habit of asking “what else can I use this for?” can go a long way. Can the decorative cup holding your toothbrush be used as a small vase? Would your old sweater make a nice pillow? Can you grow strawberries out of that rusted watering can? Even if you would never turn your CD’s into a shiny hanging mobile (please, please don’t!), it still helps get the creative juices flowing to think about it.

Why the Trouble?
Why go to all this trouble? Well, the benefits seem fairly obvious to me. You can continue to adorn your home and wardrobe without spending a ton of money. You are practicing one of the three R's of conservation: re-using. You are practicing innovative thinking, which leads to invention and breakthrough. And--last but certainly not least--you are giving yourself a chance to be friends with the cool kids.

What is your best thinking-outside-of-the-box story? Share by posting your comment below!

Previous Related Posts:
Vintage Green
Swap Meet Style
Creative Salvation
Modern Benefits from a Vintage Chore
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