Category Archives: On the Brain…

Going Green(er)

Bouge alert!  (Image from BrushWithBamboo.com.)

Bouge alert! (Image from BrushWithBamboo.com.)

I find myself frequently re-reading the blogs Zero Waste Home and Trash Is For Tossers, and I think the message is finally starting to sink in.

I’m not ready to make any big lifestyle changes right now, but I’m definitely interested in making some easy-but-effective modifications to my trashy life.

Here are the painless ways I’m going green(er):

– I’m trying to remember to refuse plastic bags whenever I can. It helps that I carry a big purse and can usually stow my purchases in there.

– I bought a set of reusable (and washable) cloth grocery bags and actually remembered to bring them to the store this past weekend! Woot!

– I brought my collected plastic bags to the store, too, and recycled them.

– I bought 100% recycled (60% post-consumer waste) toilet paper, and I’m on the lookout for a good paper towel option.

– I did the math and realized that I will use about 300 plastic toothbrushes in my lifetime (whoa). As recommended by multiple zero-wasters, I just ordered a set of biodegradable/compostable toothbrushes from the Brush With Bamboo company. The wooden handles and white bristles look so nice, too–very design-y and modern and Instagram-worthy.

– I plan to ask a seamstress to repair/tweak a couple of shirts that I already own (rather than replace them).

– And, as you know and are probably tired of hearing about, I launched my Junk Mail War (update 1 and update 2).

Huzzah! It feels good to make these small changes, especially because I create tons (literally) of other waste elsewhere in my life. I know these actions are only a drop in the bucket, but maybe one day I will be able to take things further.

– Angela

P.S. I’m also contemplating the purchase of a reusable silicone menstrual cup…TMI?

The World of Everyday Cosplay

That shirt wouldn't be my first choice, but everything else is on point!  Image from http://disneybound.tumblr.com/.

That dad shirt (crop top?!) wouldn’t be my first choice, but everything else is on point! Image from http://disneybound.tumblr.com/.

So I stumbled across this article on BuzzFeed about casual cosplay–or dressing like your favorite fictional characters in a way that works for everyday life (i.e., not the full-on, elaborate costumes you see in pictures from comic conventions). I had never heard of “closet cosplay” before but I’m intrigued–it’s like having a low-key Halloween every day!  (Brief aside: Is it just me or do the terms “casual cosplay” and “closet cosplay” sound kinda…unwholesome?)

Like writer Jada Young says in the BuzzFeed article, I can see how dressing like a favorite character might give you some extra confidence–especially when you have an interview, presentation, first date, or whatever. Depending on the items and details you choose, the character and inspiration can be as obvious or subtle as you want, too.

I spent a few minutes looking around some of the casual cosplay sites (like this one and this one, which Young recommends) for inspiration. I stopped myself before I got too far, though–I wanted to create outfits based on some of my own favorite characters before seeing anyone else’s ideas for them!

So can you guess the (female) characters who inspired my three outfits? I used the free tools and image library on Polyvore to make these collages:

Look #1.  Images from Polyvore.com.

Look #1. Images from Polyvore.com.

Look #1. This one is pretty easy, right?

 

Look #2.  Images from Polyvore.com.

Look #2. Images from Polyvore.com.

Look #2. Hint: This is inspired by a hot and kick-ass character in a live-action TV commercial that’s currently airing. I have a major crush on her.

 

Look #3.  Images from Polyvore.com.

Look #3. Images from Polyvore.com.

Look #3. This one’s the toughest. I took some creative liberties here. Hint: She has a long tail.  And that jacket is purple.

 

So, what do you think? The answers are below!

 

Look #1. Ariel from The Little Mermaid! And wouldn’t it be cute to find a big blue and yellow purse to represent Flounder?

Look #2. Kate Upton as Athena in the Game of War commercials! Me-yow! This ensemble is kinda a “Casual Cosplay Athena Goes Out for Margaritas With Aphrodite and Persephone” look.

Look #3. Gadget from The Rescue Rangers! If Gadget were a human, I’d like to think she’d wear this outfit when riding her motorcycle to the local dive bar. She would also need a cool analog watch.  (Brief aside: I wonder if Gadget would ever date Ralph from The Mouse and the Motorcycle?)

These outfits were really fun to imagine and cobble together–everyone should try it.  I wonder what characters I could create from the contents of my actual closet…Maybe I’ll pull something together for my next Target run.  🙂

– Angela

Remembering the Holocaust – Survivor Dana Cohen

Here's a photograph of Dana Cohen from yesterday's event.  She is about 8 to 10 years old here.

Here’s a photograph of Dana Cohen from the program at yesterday’s event. She is about 8 to 10 years old here.

I attended a Holocaust remembrance ceremony yesterday. The special guest was Mrs. Dana Cohen, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and local citizen. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a Holocaust survivor speak in person, so I’d been looking forward to this rare opportunity. The few Holocaust survivors still alive today were young children during the 1940’s, and they are aging and passing away. It’s important to hear their stories directly while we can.

At yesterday’s event, Mrs. Cohen was accompanied by two presenters. The presenters shared a video, narrated Mrs. Cohen’s Holocaust experience, and showed some illustrative (replica) artifacts from Mrs. Cohen’s past. Mrs. Cohen saved her energy for the end, when she answered questions from the audience and received a line of people who wished to speak with her and shake her hand.

In 1940, Russian soldiers shipped Dana and her mother from their hometown in Poland to Siberia. Dana was about 8 to 10 years old. In Siberia, they were made to perform slave labor and given very little food. Many people died slowly and painfully from the hunger and cold. Eerily, there were no walls or fences around the Siberian compound. The prisoners stayed because they knew there was no place to run away to. They were miles and miles away from civilization and surrounded only by frozen tundra. Running away would mean certain death.

After the Russians broke their alliance with Nazi Germany, the Russians released their prisoners. Dana’s mother was able to barter her last treasure and link to her previous life—her wedding ring—to slowly and miraculously leave Siberia with Dana and eventually settle peacefully in Africa. Dana’s father met a different fate.  He was a member of the Polish army, and he was captured and murdered by Russian forces in the Katyn Forest Massacre (which I had never heard of until yesterday).

See the short video about Mrs. Cohen’s story here.

Read a brief biography of Mrs. Cohen here.

Learn more about the Katyn Forest Massacre here.

I really wanted to hear Mrs. Cohen’s story, but I was just as interested in seeing her. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing to me that someone can survive pure horror and not somehow bear visible scars or other physical markings. It seems like all that sheer bad energy would have to “go” somewhere, would have to make a dent or bulge somehow, like bad bacteria in a soup can. Even if you managed to push it out of yourself, it seems like it would burn a hole through your skin.  So I was curious to see how Mrs. Cohen looked today, and in person.

So how did she look?

She looked freaking fantastic.

Mrs. Cohen’s hair is pure white and cut in a short, soft style. She wore a knee-length black pencil skirt (with pockets!) paired with a springy purple scarf and green zippered jacket. She wore low black heels and—get this—her legs were bare.  And they looked great.  Mrs. Cohen sometimes stood with her hands in her skirt pockets, too, which made her look very modern and cool. I hope I look half as good when I’m her age.

And here’s another thing—she’s tiny. Mrs. Cohen is short and thin—a very petite, delicate lady. It’s amazing to think that this small person was able to survive so much. As I looked at Mrs. Cohen, I kept thinking—in a complimentary way—that this lady is a tough bird. 🙂

Mrs. Cohen didn’t give a speech, but she answered audience questions after the presentation. We asked mostly about her family and relatives. Her 27 closest relatives from Poland perished in the Holocaust. Two great uncles (her grandmother’s brothers) had immigrated to the U.S. (before the war?), so she eventually moved to the U.S. at their encouragement. She was married to her husband for 40 years before he passed away.

I asked her if she had any children, and she answered that she has one son. I then asked her if she had any grandchildren and she simply said, “No.” Then she smiled and said “Not yet,” like her son better get his act together. 🙂 Mrs. Cohen has a Polish accent and a good sense of humor. She said her mother loved Africa and would always talk about how great life was there. Mrs. Cohen said that if it rained in the U.S., her mother would talk about how the rain in Africa was better. 🙂

The mood was fairly light in the room as Mrs. Cohen answered mostly logistical questions from the audience and showed her sense of humor, so it felt impolite to ask her the heavy questions that I really wanted to ask. Like…

– What does hunger feel like?

– What did it feel like to be stranded in Siberia, so far away from help? What does that kind of despair and lonesomeness feel like?

– How does your experience in Siberia affect you today? Do you have any persistent habits, behaviors, or thoughts that are related to your time in the camp?

– Is it ever hard to feel full, or warm, or safe?

– Do you bear any ill will towards Russia, Germany, or Japan?

These are such personal questions, but I think they are important questions, and yet I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable asking Mrs. Cohen these questions even if we weren’t in an auditorium full of people.

I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to hear Mrs. Cohen’s story, and I learned some new things about the Holocaust that I had never heard before. I encourage everyone to seek out similar opportunities before it’s too late.

One more thing:

When the young Mrs. Cohen and her mother were in the Siberian prison camp, they received care packages from their former nanny and housekeeper, a Polish lady named Magda. This boggles my mind. Imagine: You’ve been exiled to frozen Siberia, the end of the world, surrounded by nothing…worked and starved almost to death by your captors…yet they made sure you got your mail? In a world full of chaos and evil, somehow the mail system was open and working. That to me is evidence of the strangest and scariest element of World War II. In such a modern time among first-world countries–with vaccines! cars! Coca-Cola!–such horrible things happened so publically and on such a grand scale.

– Angela

Pink Sunday

She's laughing at your attempt to purchase something she's wearing.  (Image from Target.com.)

She’s laughing at your attempt to purchase something she’s wearing. (Image from Target.com.)

I like to think that I am fairly unaffected by marketing or consumerist “hype,” but I guess not. Read on…

If you didn’t know, Target announced a limited, one-time collaboration with designer Lilly Pulitzer months ago, and the female internet community has been abuzz ever since. The preppy, beachy line is very popular with Southern college girls, and it’s also the perfect stuff for adult women to wear for beach vacations, cruises, and resort stays. The original Lilly line is cute, colorful, and bold, but it’s also a bit pricey, so people were super-stoked about the afforable Target line.

Personally, I’m not a huge Lilly Pulitzer fan (the floral clothes aren’t really my style), but I’ve bought several small Lilly items over the years for myself and for gifts–stuff like drink cozies, pens, and agendas–so I was interested in the Target collection’s small accessories and home goods. Target released a comprehensive Lilly “lookbook” a few weeks ago and the items were cute, affordable, and fun. Everyone (including me) was getting their wish lists ready and saving their pennies in anticipation for the day of the big launch–Sunday, April 19th.

Well, the big day finally arrived, but…

The Target website crashed, store shelves were cleared out within 5 minutes (literally) of opening, and resale-minded shoppers filled carts with obscene amounts of Lilly merchandise–whole racks of dresses, whole stocks of pillows, etc. Scores of shoppers who had lined up outside in the early hours before the stores opened left empty-handed, crestfallen, and angry. People on social media called it “Pink Sunday”–a frenzy of excited young women–and it looked worse (but briefer) than Black Friday.

This entire scenario is fascinating to me. I spent a lot of time yesterday on news sites and social media, reading the (heated) shopper comments and looking at photos of the loooong lines, empty racks, and grabby resale folks. And I have a very complicated response to all of this:

It makes me wonder: Do companies have an ethical responsibility to match the intensity and breadth of their marketing campaign to the available supply of goods? And do companies have an ethical responsibility to limit the number of items a single person can purchase from a limited collection? Or is all fair in capitalism, especially when the items in question are luxury goods? Floral dresses and swizzle sticks are not needs, after all.

It boggles my mind: It’s amazing how a company can create such intense desires, and with so little–after all, this Target frenzy was sown only by a few pretty photographs online. People saw the photos and just “knew” they wanted this stuff, even though they hadn’t seen it in person, already have closets full of clothes, and Lilly Pulitzer items have been available for purchase since the 1960’s (literally). Sure, the official designer items are pricey, but if you really wanted a little bit of Lilly, you could have planned and saved for a special purchase long ago.

It embarrasses me: I have nothing against fun clothes and disposable income and the occasional impulse buy. We are so fortunate to live in the U.S. where our needs are met and we are free to play. But I’m still embarrassed that I found myself buying into the Lilly + Target hype. I pored over the lookbooks, too, made a list of the few pieces I might be interested in, and even visited a Target on late Sunday morning (everything was gone). And I’m embarrassed by the frantic, emotional portrayal of Pink Sunday on social media. Sure, it’s honest and real, but it’s also embarrassing to young women. It plays into all our bad stereotypes and distracts attention from all the good things we do on Regular Monday through Regular Saturday.

It angers me: Legions of smart, talented people are tasked by companies to research markets, study psychology, and design ads to part us from our money (and our logical reasoning?). These professionals are very good at what they do, and they make it hard to resist their companies’ wares. But what if we used all that talent and power for something else? Like enticing people to make better environmental choices, or to volunteer more, or to travel more?

It confuses me: Why was I so interested in the Lilly + Target stuff, even though I’ve never been interested in buying big Lilly pieces before? Was it the affordability mixed with the scarcity mixed with the hype? I suppose that’s FOMO at its finest–making me really want something I didn’t even imagine wanting before just to be part of the fun!

Sigh. So what can we do to “fight back,” or at least better control our emotional response to these kinds of highly orchestrated temptations? Maybe:

  1. Seek out simple living and non-consumerist inspiration and guidance. See my Blogroll for some of my favorite folks.
  2. Unsubscribe from junk mail and unsubscribe from junk email. Fewer temptations!
  3. Unsubscribe from all but my favorite fashion and lifestyle bloggers on social media. Or follow only one or two at a time. After all, they get tons of merchandise for free, present a highly-edited view of their lives, and it’s their business to create desire for their stuff!
  4. Have a bigger and better financial goal. It’s easier to bypass the small purchases when you remind yourself that you’re saving for an awesome vacation or paying off a nagging debt.
  5. Don’t shop for entertainment, or when highly emotional (sad/angry), or when hungry/bored.

Sigh. I already do most of these things, but I STILL would have liked to see the Lilly + Target pieces in person, and maybe buy one or two items depending on the quality. The next time I buy cat food at Target, I’ll keep my eyes open for any returned items.  🙂

In what clever marketing ploys have you found yourself ensnared? Please tell me I’m not the only one…

– Angela

P.S. Target says that there are no plans to restock and that they are learning from this experience.

P.P.S. Interestingly, my favorite bracelet is actually a heavy (fake) gold bangle from Lilly that I received as a FREE gift with a small online purchase. I’ve worn it so much that the finish is wearing off!

P.P.P.S. Why am I so basic?! 🙂

Monday Musings

Everything I eat is crap.

Everything I eat is crap.

— I finally did my taxes and cannot wait to get my returns. I plan to use the money towards some bills, but still…It will feel so great to make a big lump payment!

— The limited edition Lilly Pulitzer for Target collection hits the website and stores on Sunday. It’s all very cute but I’m going to try to limit myself to buying only one piece. I’m debating between the Upstream espadrilles, the Upstream scarf, or the tall drinking glasses. (The Upstream pattern is a crisp navy and white fish print.)

— Hmm. I bought a chocolate croissant from a non-oven Starbucks yesterday and received it in its original plastic wrapper…which says the croissant is good (refrigeratered? unrefrigerated?) until the end of AUGUST. That totally bums me out–all the pastry marketing from Starbucks talks about how fresh everything is supposed to be! I suppose I imagined near-daily shipments of bakery boxes filled with fresh goodies–not from Seattle, of course, but from some regional hub. Sigh.

— After reading and re-reading Marie Kondo’s tidying book and studying pictures of Bea Johnson’s sleek house, I have the decluttering bug something fierce. I keep my clothes pared down, but I now want to edit ALL THE OTHER THINGS–my files, makeup, hobby stuff, etc. Nothing is safe!

— I read all about Masters golf champion Jordan Spieth this morning, and he might be my new Tim Tebow–a cute, sweet, athletic college guy to ogle from afar.

— OMG.  I saw this John Frieda shampoo and conditioner when I was shopping yesterday and it TOOK ME BACK.  I used this stuff over 15 years ago and it made me feel so fancy.  It was my first “expensive” shampoo and conditioner and I loved the mint smell.  It’s been off the market for at least 10 years and now it’s back!  I kinda want to buy it for another roll in the hay.  I mean, roll in the tub.

A blast from the past!

A blast from the past!

I Can’t Stop Watching This

Marlon Brando's screen test in "Rebel Without A Cause" (1955).  GIF file from Distractify.com.

Marlon Brando’s screen test in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). GIF file from Distractify.com.

Click on the photo and enjoy.  Whew.  That cheekiness!  That smolder!

The Carry On Cocktail Kit

Image from PunchDrink.com

Image from PunchDrink.com

Starting an unintentional (but wonderful) theme of kits and travel, look what I stumbled across on Instagram:  the Carry On Cocktail Kit!

How cute is this? The metal tin is about the size of a deck of cards, and it includes everything you need to make two Old Fashioned cocktails–except the alcohol!  You take this (TSA-approved) little kit on the plane, buy a mini bottle of bourbon from the flight attendant, and then mix up your drinks per the instructions!

The Carry On Cocktail company only makes an Old Fashioned kit right now, but they’ve hinted that more kits are coming.  I’ve never drank an Old Fashioned, but I’d like to try one. It sounds strong but good–and very Mad Men.  I would love to see kits for dirty martinis and margaritas, too!

Here’s what’s inside the kit:

  • Aromatic bitters
  • Cane sugar
  • Spoon/muddler
  • Linen coaster
  • Recipe card

These little kits would be a great stocking stuffer or “bon voyage” gift for a friend flying out for vacation.  The only downside: The kits are pricey–$24 a pop!–but I guess you’re paying for the cool idea and presentation.

This also gives me another idea–wouldn’t it be fun to make (or receive!) a DIY basket of little kits like this for several different cocktails?  You could buy mini bottles of liquor, pair them with the appropriate mixers and garnishes, and then include instructions on how to make each kind of drink.  You could also throw in swizzle sticks, cocktail napkins, etc.  This gift could work for so many occasions (providing the recipient drinks alcohol, of course!).

Bottoms up!

P.S. – Speaking of cocktails, check out this book–Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.  Wouldn’t it be fun to make these drinks for a book club meeting, writer’s group, or an English major’s graduation party?

Happy Valentine’s Day! <3

ValentineBentoLunch

My sister makes me the cutest lunches.  It’s hard to tell in the photo, but the carrots and granola bites are heart-shaped, too.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Pass the BVLGARI Butter, Please

Fruit by Nike, by artist Peddy Mergui

Fruit by Nike, by artist Peddy Mergui

Would you buy Nike-branded fruit? What about Tiffany & Co. yogurt?

Um, actually…I totally would.

So I read an article this week on NPR.org about artist Peddy Mergui, whose current exhibit features (faux) grocery store staples like eggs and milk packaged in designer-inspired boxes and bags. I highly recommend that you read the article and check out the photos.

Yogurt by Tiffany, by artist Peddy Mergui

Yogurt by Tiffany, by artist Peddy Mergui

This artwork really hits home for me. I definitely see how expensive designer groceries would entice shoppers looking to project a certain image or participate in a certain lifestyle, but I think there’s something else at play here, too: Well-designed items are a pleasure to use. They’re nice to look at, they work well, and they usually last longer than other products.

Still, I know that I (literally) buy into the allure of fancy packaging for common items, and I will often choose “fancy” products over more inexpensive—or even FREE—versions of the same thing. I greatly dislike drinking plain water, for example, but if I buy Fiji or Evian bottled water I’m more likely to actually drink it and enjoy it…even though there are multiple sinks and fountains around me supplying endless amounts of clean, free water. The fancy bottled water seems to taste better to me (I know, I know…but I swear it does) and the bottles are pretty. In fact, I bought some SmartWater earlier this week. Look at this little dolphin hidden behind one of the labels!

My fancy bottled water comes complete with a surprise pet dolphin...

My fancy bottled water comes complete with a surprise pet dolphin…

I think, too, that giving inexpensive goods a designer gloss, as Mergui invites us to imagine, would provide the opportunity for us “commoners” to dip our toes into the pool of the wealthy. I can’t afford a Cartier watch, for example, but I could participate in some small way in the world of Cartier by buying a bag of Cartier coffee. Target does a version of this, too—the store often partners with designers like Philip Lim, Lilly Pulitzer, and Joseph Altuzarra to provide cheaper designer products to middle America. (Brands have to weigh the risk, though, of such democratization devaluing the cache of the brand among their wealthy core customers).

Eggs by Versace, by artist Peddy Mergui

Eggs by Versace, by artist Peddy Mergui

Mergui’s exhibit also makes me consider how we waste and throw away so much food in first-world countries. For many of us, food is cheap and plentiful. If our food was more expensive and exclusive, maybe we would respect it more—perhaps we would plan for it, buy it, and store it more carefully, and then use it more completely. And what if we could we could somehow apply the price markup of the fancy foods to provide assistance to the hungry and food-insecure? Or would all of this be trading one form of waste (food) into another (excess packaging)?

Lots of food for thought here (hah!).

P.S. – Some good counterpoints: Marie Kondo advises her readers to remove all tags, labels, and stickers from consumer goods as soon as you bring them into your house. The tags are an aesthetic distraction, she says, but they also give outside forces too much influence and presence inside your home, which is supposed to be a sanctuary and retreat from the world outside. Actress and super-organizer Jamie Lee Curtis advocates for something similar. She even decants all of her groceries and personal care products into plain containers to avoid looking at marketing and packaging in her home.

First Class Goodie Bags!

Airline amenity kits! (Image from CheapFlights.com)

Airline amenity kits! (Image from CheapFlights.com)

A friend of mine flies frequently for work and she gave me a United Airlines goodie bag…and I’m in heaven. I have never flown first class and I had no idea such little treats existed. They are called “amenity kits,” apparently, and they are my spirit object.

This isn’t my photo, but here’s a good shot of the case I got:

Image from www.hub.united.com.

Image from www.hub.united.com.

Look at all the fun goodies packed into that little case!

  1. Eye mask
  2. Socks
  3. Mints (in a packet)
  4. Hand sanitizer gel
  5. Ear plugs (in a packet)
  6. Philosophy lip balm
  7. Philosophy facial cleanser towelette
  8. Philosophy lotion
  9. Toothpaste
  10. Flosser
  11. Toothbrush with case
  12. Comb
  13. Tissues
  14. Pen (but my hand-me-down kit didn’t have one)

The case itself is really good, too—it has a mesh pocket side, an opaque pocket side, a smooth zipper, etc.

Squee! This little bag hits on all my tingly buttons:

  • I love miniature things (that toothpaste!).
  • I love kits—a set of things gathered, prepared, and ready to go to tackle a specific task.
  • I love feeling prepared.
  • I love bags, boxes, etc. with organizational nooks and crannies.
  • I love good free stuff (well, “free” with the price of an airline ticket).
  • I love it when everything coordinates in style and color.
  • I love good branding (stupid but true).
  • I love trying “fancy” brands of makeup and skincare products (I’m not a huge fan of Philosophy, though—their stuff is often full of random chemicals and a lot of perfume).

These amenity kits totally seem like the adult version of birthday party goodie bags!

Anyway, I Googled around and, as it turns out, I’m not the only one who is smitten with these little kits. There’s a market for them on eBay! Also, an article on CheapFlights.com gives an airline-by-airline breakdown and review of amenity kits. I might have spent way too long clicking on all the links and comparing kits. Some airlines use very high-end products and some airlines try to reflect their home country or culture in kit style, materials, or products. Also, there’s often a difference between first class kits and business class kits. (I didn’t even realize there was a difference between first class and business class…I thought it was the same thing…) Also, several airlines make their amenity bags in such a way as to do double duty as iPad cases, wallets, clutches, etc.

Sigh. Back in steerage, we don’t even get a snack anymore. I wonder what else I’m missing out on?

P.S. – In a similar vein, I just gave several of these as Christmas gifts.

P.P.S. – LightbyCoco, my girl crush, makes herself similar kits when she travels—an airplane kit and a toiletries kit.

P.P.P.S. – Here are some more good kit round-ups: