REVIEW: April Stitch Fix

At the end of last year I met a lovely group of Minneapolis-based, vintage-loving ladies on Facebook. Many of these fabulous women are WAY MORE INTO VINTAGE than I am – they’ve got the hair, the makeup, the mid-century modern houses and stereos and record collections. While I have a pretty hefty collection of vintage clothing and am daily improving my vintage accessories game, I am a total fail at the vintage lifestyle. I still have all my music on two iPods and 2000 CDs in the basement. I have exactly one makeup look (“natural”) and one sort-of-fancy hairstyle (curly). I haven’t had my eyebrows waxed in years and usually forget to wear even lipbalm on a daily basis.

Now that I’m connected to these gorgeous creatures on all the social medias, I’ve definitely been considering my own style and trying to hone it in even tighter.

Through the vintage group I was invited to join a June outfit-a-day challenge. The group that “sponsors” it is a really fun mix of people, not all vintage wearers, and a good span of tastes/influences/body types/fashion priorities. I went into the challenge thinking I would try to bring out my favorite vintage every day, but today is day seven, and I’ve maybe managed 50/50. Each morning I go to my closet and pick out whatever makes me feel great, and that isn’t always vintage, which was a surprising revelation to me.

See, even if I could do the perfect 40s hairstyle, I probably wouldn’t do it on a daily basis. Ditto the perfect cat-eye eyeliner, though I do aspire to nail it this year. I don’t find vintage shoes to be very comfortable, and even though I have been buying a lot of vintage hats lately, I have no idea what to do with them. Sometimes I just want to wear jeans, or something from Banana Republic. Often, lately, I’ve been wearing Stitch Fix items.

I get a lot of attention and acknowledgement from the vintage I wear, which is fun. It also puts pressure on me to only wear vintage – that pressure is all in my head, btw, none of my vintage-loving friends have ever made me feel lame for wearing modern. As I unpacked my vintage summer dresses this year I realized I had collected a lot of things I wasn’t in love with, that I had just bought because they were cute, fit, and were from the 50s. I’ve decided this is the year I take a hard look, Marie Kondo style, and only keep the things that make me feel like a knockout.

The June outfit-a-day challenge is helping me figure that out! If you’re interested in seeing what makes the cut, I’m cross-posting most of my daily picture collages to Instagram. In the meantime, I’m still getting a monthly Stitch Fix shipment, but I’m being much harder on which items I keep. But don’t I always say that?

April was another month where I only kept a couple of pieces. My very favorite thing in the box fit right into my existing wardrobe, modern but vintage-inspired.

Eight Sixty Ariana skirt, April 2015 Stitch FixLooking at the Eight Sixty collection online, I cannot fathom where this adorable Ariana picnic-print skirt came from. Almost everything else is incredibly cheesy and kind of cheap looking, and nothing I would ever wear EVER.

Even though I am madly in love with the print and color on this skirt, I almost didn’t keep it. They sent a size large, which is about two inches too big in the waist, but likely an easy fix if I get around to learning to sew this summer. It also had a built-in slip that was: a) too tight in the hips, b) very short, and c) made out of the cheapest, creepiest, grossest fabric. The slip I cut out. The waist I belted. And look how cute! I’m so pleased with it.

Love Appella and Papermoon, April 2015 Stitch Fix

I specifically asked my stylist to send a pencil skirt and shirts I could tuck into skirts. Bless her, she delivered, but neither of these items worked for me.

Again, they sent a large in the Papermoon Taluca skirt. I think this is because I had stressed in some feedback that I’m curvy and had sent back a bunch of tunics that were too tight in the hips. The problem with a large is that it will never fit in the waist, especially if it’s straight up and down and fits in the hips. The jersey fabric here was also entirely too thin and, again, kind of cheap feeling. I couldn’t get it off fast enough.

I couldn’t really photograph what I didn’t like about this Loveapella Kellyton top. First off, it was really long, which created way too much bulk whenever it was tucked in. The fabric was so thin you could see every stitch in my bra. And see how it’s cut at the armpit? So low and wide and just…weird. I hated the way I looked in it.

Fun2Fun top, April 2015 Stitch FixWe should talk about the Fun2Fun Katniss (barf on the name) top in this picture first, since it’s the other thing I got (and kept) from Stitch Fix.

I would never have picked this up in a store, and was pretty sure I would hate it before I put it on. Turns out, I was wrong, and this in a nutshell is why I still get Stitch Fix – it pushes me to try things I wouldn’t have otherwise, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. This top fits great, loose but not baggy, and is made out of an incredibly soft poly rayon fabric that feels dreamy and never wrinkles. It’s perfect to wear under a cardigan. It can be tucked into a skirt. The print is “earthy” but not too “boho.” It’s a winner.

The stack of bangles on my wrist are all Bakelite. It’s very popular in the 50s-loving vintage world, and I am late to the party on it. Recently it’s gotten VERY POPULAR, which means the good stuff is harder to find and the prices have gone up. Normally I would walk the other way on something this trendy, but I can’t help myself with Bakelite. It’s like candy. I want it.

My jeans are the slim boyfriend jeans from J. Jill. Have I talked about these yet? I’m too lazy to go check. But, listen. I’m turning 40 in August and have spent my entire 30s NOT going into places like J. Jill because I didn’t want to dress like a middle-aged woman. I’ve walked by and admired certain things in the window, and haven’t gone in to try them on because I didn’t want to buy anything from J. Jill.

When I was home for my cousin’s funeral, my mom and I had some time to kill and went to the mall. She was looking for tunic-length tops to wear with leggings, and I suggested J. Jill because my mom is in her 60s and it’s okay for her to shop there. I saw these bright colored jeans at the front of the store. As it so happens, I had been looking for bright-colored jeans, but every pair I tried on (J. Crew, Gap, Ann Taylor/Loft, Target, etc) were too low cut and/or tight in the thighs. I asked the salesperson at J. Jill how theirs fit, and she said, “like they were made for actual women and not teenagers.” I loved her immediately. I tried them on. Her statement was true. I bought two pair.

My red flats are Tieks. I thoughts for years about splurging on them, and when I got a very substantial discount at a conference a couple of years ago, I bit the bullet. I have a love-hate relationship with them. Red flats are a must-have in any woman’s wardrobe, and the teal soles on these are super fun. But they’re a little too small, despite my following the brand’s directions for sizing. I’m an 8 or 8.5, and they said to size down because the leather would stretch. The 8’s, especially at the end of the day HURT, even after two years. I will say that, when the stitching came undone on one of the shoes after wearing them only a handful of times, Tieks paid for shipping both ways and repaired my shoes at no cost, no questions asked. And they sent a giftcard when they returned them. That’s customer service! My advice to you, though, especially if you have wider feet, is to size UP not DOWN.

Phew. That’s much ado about this one outfit, yeah?

41Hawthorne Breyson blouse, April 2015 Stitch Fix

It’s a good thing I don’t have much to say about this 41Hawthorn Breyson blouse. Like pretty much everything from that line, the fit was all wrong here – slightly tight in the shoulders, super baggy in the middle, fitted over the hips. Plus, the color was a little too Grape Ape for my taste.

My May Stitch Fix was really good, but I’ve only gotten around to photographing part of it. I was so excited about the pieces that I just wanted to wear them in the wild and not style a photoshoot, which has…not exactly worked out. I need to get on that!

 

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REVIEW: March Stitch Fix

I seriously thought about skipping the last three Stitch Fix shipments, or at the very least lumping them all into one entry.

Then I reminded myself that I get quite a bit of traffic from Stitch Fix searches. (Hey, if that’s you, leave a note will ya? Are you trying to find other people who got the same stuff you did, are you just randomly curious about what other people got, or are you trying to figure out whether or not to sign up for the service?)

Also, Stitch Fix has been pretty good to me lately, and after my epic rant about them at the end of last year, I feel the need to be honest about how they’ve improved. Also also – as my friend Lisa would say – I figure fashion is as far away from Familial Feels as you can get, which makes it safe. So instead of breezing past the last three months, I’m going to give them each their own entry, just as I would if I hadn’t been off going to funerals. Sound good?

My March Fix was all about transitioning from winter to spring, which I didn’t even realize I wanted to think about until it arrived. While winter this year was not nearly as soul-crushing as last winter, I was still sick to death of my winter clothes and not yet ready to dig in the basement for springtime reinforcements.

Tangent: My first winter here, AKA The Polar Vortex, was so excruciating that I impulse-bought any sweater that looked comfortable and warm. I made some bad decisions, mostly in the guise of boxy, unflattering wools. I also got a lot of things from Stitch Fix that would count as “layering” sweaters in San Francisco, but didn’t cut it in Minneapolis. When I got all that stuff out this winter, I realized how much money I had wasted buying clothing that either didn’t work for the climate or didn’t work for me. I have already slowly started weeding those out, but feel kind of stupid for my rookie mistakes. I expect even more purging to happen this-coming winter, as I further hone my winter style.

But it’s June now, and who wants to talk about winter? Let’s talk about fun things from Stitch Fix instead.

Brixon Ivy sweater, March 2015 Stitch Fix

This Brixon Ivy Melita cable knit sweater became one of my go-to transitional pieces. I have always had a bias against cotton sweaters – they pill, they fade, they stretch out – but the shape, color and texture of this one just works and it wore really well over several weeks of sneaking it in days/nights/weekends.

Pixley tulip blouse, March 2015 Stitch Fix

Geez. I wish I would have put on some mascara or something!

I have a love-hate relationship with Stitch Fix tunics. Sometimes they are too tight in the hips. Sometimes they are way to boxy and blousy. Sometimes they’re too tight in the shoulders, or too low cut. (And, I must confess, sometimes the print is so good that I buy them even though they don’t fit great, and have sent more than one to a new home at a clothing swap or via Goodwill.)

This Pixley Ivy tulip-print tunic is, admittedly, lower cut in the front than I would like. I have to wear a cami with it, which as you all know is something I hate. However. I love the drape, the feel of the fabric, the color and the subtlety of the print. I’ve worn it three times, and have no regrets about keeping it.

Daniel Rainn blouse, March 2015 Stitch Fix

Let us pause to consider a trapeze-cut blouse. For someone with a large bust, it just shouldn’t work. And, maybe, it doesn’t actually work. When I first put on this Daniel Rainn Toni blouse with teeny, tiny pleats, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t keep it. I mean, you can see in the picture that the stripes bend sort of awkwardly around my chest! In fact, you should look at my handsome Huck instead.

There’s something about it that just spoke to me. I’m guessing it was the pleats, of which I am nearly always a fan, or maybe the length, which is darn near perfect. So I kept it, and always wear it under a cropped black cardi, and it looks pretty cute. I would not be surprised to see it land in the swap/donate bag at some future date, though.

Renee C sweater, March 2015 Stitch Fix

This picture doesn’t even do justice to how weird this Renee C Dion sweater fit me. The black part of the sleeves were SKIN TIGHT, like hard-to-get-over-my-forearms tight. The batwing part went halfway down to my waist, and made me feel like I could jump off a building and have a 50/50 chance of flying. Batwings, ya’ll. So not for me.

It goes without saying that I sent it back.

Not pictured here is a pair of Mavi Freida tall skinny jeans that were real bad. Way too short in the lady business and then about a mile too long in the legs. Apparently, they are made for 16-year-old supermodels. Definitely not almost-40 stepmoms.

Two out of five items isn’t bad for government work (or a monthly Fix). Up next: April, in which I received a new favorite summer skirt and a blouse I wore yesterday.

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Getting back on the horse

My grandmother died one month ago, and I think I used up all my words being sad about it.

I must have sat down at my computer to write a dozen times, only to realize that my perspective on everything was sad. Claire? Sad. Fashion? Sad. Dogs? Sad. One morning in the shower I composed the entire first paragraph of a post and realized that it was super depressing for absolutely no reason. One Saturday I sat down and processed three months of Stitch Fix pictures and four months of Birchbox pictures, and I could not bring myself to have the follow-up post to my grandma dying being about anything so frivolous. (Why so backed up? Because the month before my cousin died out of the blue and then other family drama-llama-ding-dong, and so far 2015 has not been a banner year for people related to me.)

Instead, the first post back will be not really much of a post at all, about not having any posts. I guess that’s okay, but it’s not my preference.

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The things my Grandma’s obituary should have said

I have written a time or two about how, when I became a full-time co-parent, I would sometimes open my mouth and my mother would come out. Having never expected to be a parent of any kind, I always assumed this particular truism would never apply to me. I experienced it the first couple of times with trepidation, and then accepted it as an inevitability.

About a month ago, I was flying home to Missouri for a funeral and trying to figure out if I would write about it. The deceased and I had been close as children but hadn’t seen each other in a decade. Our stories were old ones and involved being corralled in our grandparents’ basement and Star Wars versus Indiana Jones. I found, instead, that my mind turned to my Grandma Shirley, who had just been moved to a nursing facility where they could better care for her in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s.

Shirley Mae Meyer, aged 4

I wasn’t sure whether or not I would see my Grandmother on the whirlwind trip. As it turns out, she ended up getting an eye infection that required my mother and I to sit for an afternoon in an eye doctor’s office, where the woman next to me in a wheel chair was recognizable as my Grandmother in only the most remote ways. The rings on her fingers. The shape of her mouth. The sound of her voice when she managed to get words out.

Grandma liked it when I scratched her back and told me I was pretty, and tall. The fact that I am tall, like her, is what she fixated on last time I saw her, two Thanksgivings ago. “Same,” she said, pointing from herself to me. As a younger woman she was 5’11, a height I missed by about three inches. When I saw her that Thanksgiving though, we were, indeed, the same.

That afternoon in the eye doctor’s office she told me I was pretty, and tall, and that she was scared. So I went into the parking lot and called Joel and cried and cried.  Because what I had realized on the plane was that, when I parent, I am not channeling my mother so much as my Grandmother. Or who my Grandmother used to be.

Shirley Mae Meyer, aged 18

My Grandma taught me to make pies with store-bought crust, but that’s about the only solid home-making advice I got from her. Mostly, she was grooming me to be confident and self-sufficient and to pick myself up when things didn’t go my way. She did not put up with my pouting, and allowed me to feel sorry for myself only momentarily before encouraging me to get back at whatever it is that needed getting.

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you about that,” she would say, when I would explain some injustice that had befallen me.

“And that’s probably the last time you’ll do that, isn’t it?” she would ask, when I’d tell her about some boneheaded move I’d made that didn’t go my way.

“What do you expect me to do about it?”

“Why would you be friends with someone like that?”

“I love you, but you should have known better/thought harder before you [insert stupid thing I did]/known that wasn’t going to work out.”

Grandma Shirley bought me my first interview suit – hilarious, because my first job was at an ad agency where I wore Tretorns and Gap overalls to work most days, and was made fun of later for even owning a suit. She also bought me my first wedding dress, which was more expensive than we were planning on, but was so perfect at the time that Grandma took it without another word and just took care of it. She praised my smart fashion choices and mocked my terrible ones, but with love.

Note to Joel: When I am horrified at some of Claire’s more…interesting sartorial choices and have a hard time keeping my mouth shut, this is probably why.

I have always admired how, when my Grandpa died way too young, my Grandma put on her big girl pants and got a great job and became a bit of a clotheshorse and traveled to other countries and made more than one man fall totally in love with her to the point of showering her with jewels. When I got out of college and realized I could be really good at my job and pushed and pushed, I was emulating her.

Grandma paid for my books throughout college and, along with my mother, used to take me shopping most weekends for groceries or random odds and ends. The three of us were quite the team, going out to lunch and shopping the sales at the mall. People always, always asked us if we were family, the cheeky ones joking that my mother and I were sisters.

(To be fair to my mom, she has always been totally hot and looks much younger than her age. That is no lie, and no suck-up. Ask anyone.)

My Grandmother would point to the rings on her fingers and joke that we were so close that we had already divided her jewelry for after she died, which horrified some and amused others. “Screw ‘em,” Grandma would say to the ones who grimaced instead of smiled.

Shirley Mae Meyer, aged 65

And then I moved away, first to North Carolina and then to California.

I seldom made it home. Mom, Grandma and I went to Vegas once and I had to stay in our room to work more than I wanted. Mom and Grandma came to visit me in California and taught themselves to ride the train, again while I worked. I took them to my favorite Napa Valley spa and my Grandmother talked through the entire massage. I know, because her room was next to mine, and I was mildly annoyed. I would totally do that again and again if only we could.

While I stubbornly stayed in California, my Grandmother got older. All at once, she was too frail to come visit again and never got to see the house my ex and I bought or to meet Huck and Cooper. Her Alzheimer’s was so bad by the time I was divorced that we never told her. She met Joel, but by that time had forgotten I was related to her – or that my mother had ever had a child. We didn’t even try to explain that I now had a Claire. Alzheimer’s Grandma would never understand what a big deal that was, not like pre-Alzheimer’s Grandma.

Yesterday I flew home from Minneapolis and sat in a nursing home room stroking my Grandmother’s hair. She died about 20 minutes after we left for the evening. The nurses told us that some people want an audience, and some people just want to be alone. I guess Grandma claimed her independence, even at the end.

I am sad. Relieved that Alzheimer’s can’t take anymore from her. Glad I had so many awesome years with her as my best friend. Mad at myself for hiding in California while she was in decline. Devastated that she didn’t get to be a super-cool great-grandma to Claire. She would have LOVED that kid, and loved Joel for helping me learn the potential of myself as a parent.

Claire has struggled to understand Alzheimer’s, how someone can be sick but not in ill health. She will get it eventually. I will save all the good Grandma stories for when she is older, like how I stayed with her on my wedding night and she snored so loud I had to move to the couch and still couldn’t sleep or how she had to take me to kindergarten because I cried so much when my mom did it. Other examples of her no-nonsense approach to raising me up.

Next time when I open my mouth and my Grandma Shirley tries to come out, I’m going to let her, unchecked. There are far worse things than being raised by her, like kissing her forehead and saying goodbye. Like trying on her rings – now my rings – after she is gone.

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The life and times of Cooper J. Pants

Me and Cooper

Cooper and I just got back from our first Spring run and I’m feeling even more woobie-ish about him than usual, so thought I would finally sit down and write this post.

Back in January, I had the fabulous and uber-talented Leslie Plesser come over to take some official portraits of Cooper. (Don’t worry, Huck fans, he’ll have his moment once the fields turn green.) Throughout his life Cooper has had many excellent pictures taken by many excellent photographers, but as he’s getting older and starting to slow down, I was suddenly desperate to capture him before he was TOO old. He will be nine in June and though he can still pull like an ox on a walk or flail around like a maniac during backyard time, he is definitely sleeping a lot more than usual.

We have always called him Cooperpants because, of course, he wears furry pants. At some point we added the more formal “J” in the middle – Cooper J. Pants – for no good reason that I can remember. He is the first dog of my adulthood, adopted so soon after my ex and I bought our house in Berkeley that his father used to joke that we had bought the most expensive dog house of all time.

Cooper's Big Yawn

We did not set out to adopt a pitbull. In fact, we specifically said we would NOT adopt a pitbull, but when you’re searching for rescue dogs in the Bay Area you come across a lot of them. At the time, the Milo Foundation had a storefront on Solano Avenue in Albany, and we went there to “check it out.” Anyone who has ever been desperate to adopt a dog knows that it’s almost impossible to “check out” a room full of adoptable dogs. Cooper was in a cage all by himself, and he was the only one that was alert and looking for attention. We walked the entire perimeter of the shop trying to engage with other animals while he watched us, and when we got to him he chose us.

Woobie Cooper

As a puppy, he was all white with just his brown splotches. His piggy spots did not come in until later, or maybe they were hiding under all the extra wrinkly skin. When we first brought him home he was very docile, and we thought we were the luckiest pitbull parents in the world! He loved everybody and all dogs and slept all the time and never destroyed anything. Turns out, he had kennel cough and was pretty sick. As soon as he got through his meds, he was much, much feistier.

Cooper's Piggy Spots

For the first year or so of his life, we thought we had avoided the dog-reactive part of Cooper’s pitbull personality. He went to the dog park almost every day, first by himself and then with Huck, and had a bunch of best dog friends for chasing and wrestling. He wasn’t crazy about other dogs while walking on leash – in fact, he was TERRIBLE on a leash, period – but off-leash in a park he was awesome. The people at the park loved him and would seek him out for playtime with their dogs.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when that changed. There was the time he got into a tussle with an aggressive boxer who bit through his lip, and after that he was more cagey. There was the time someone brought their dog to the park wearing a cone of shame, and Cooper thought it was a toy, grabbing the poor dog by the cone and dragging him around. And then suddenly he got very angry with any barking dog, or any dog who got in his face to posture. Suddenly people were picking up their tiny dogs and carrying them away from him and giving us dirty looks and walking across the street to avoid us. We had to stop going to the dog park.

Sneezing Cooper

My heart sort of squeezes in my chest thinking about this change in him, and I’ve always wondered if there was something we could have done at that time to make him different. He went to puppy class – where he was so adorable in a sweater that the teacher had to ask that he stop wearing it, as the other people in class were having too much trouble focusing on their own dogs. We had a private trainer come to our house once to give us some tips. We had another private trainer teach us how to use a prong collar and correct him on walks, which worked for about three months before he decided the prong collar wasn’t very annoying.

For a couple of years, Cooper got infrequent walks and spent most of his life in the backyard. This was a terrible mistake on our part, and if you know someone will a pitbull who has been driven to this, please encourage him/her to figure it out. We basically made him a hermit, because taking him out was too hard.

This all turned around when we found a couple of dog walkers in Oakland who specialize in troublemakers like Cooper. (That particular business doesn’t exist anymore, but one half of the duo is still walking as Très Chien.) Suddenly, Cooper was walking eight miles a day with a giant pack of dogs. They would share Instagram pics of him smiling exhaustedly, surrounded by, like, chihuahuas. They put in the time to deal with his dog aggression and fears, and they basically gave him his life back. When we moved away, they both cried to see him go, and I cried to have to take him.

All the vet techs cried at his last appointment, too. Cooper inspires love everywhere he goes.

Sleepy Cooper

Four  months after we moved to Minneapolis, Cooper had to have knee surgery on his back left leg. He’s now got a metal plate and some pins in there, and though he’s still able to run like the wind next to his dog walker’s bike, he has a lopsided sit and sometimes in the evening struggles to stand.

He hates the cold winters here. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind wearing sweaters, which make him even more adorable than usual. Sometimes he refuses to go outside to pee, and will hold it for as long as possible. When he’s done his business he runs to the back door and barks to be let back in, the exact opposite from the summer when he barks to get you to play with him. He loves the snow, though, and spins and spins and rolls in it.

Licky Cooper

Cooper is my social butterfly. He loves having visitors and generously doles out kisses to anyone who is willing to receive them. I cannot tell you how many times people come over assuming Huck will be their favorite – after all, he’s a cuddly breed people are familiar with – but within moments they have fallen head over heels for Cooper. Huck, who couldn’t care less about any people who aren’t his people, typically goes and sleeps upstairs while Cooper soaks up all the attention.

Claire is more attached to Huck now, I think because she had to work to get him to like her. She feels proud that she overcame his craziness, and goes out of her way to show how much he likes and trusts her now. It’s totally awesome that they have such a good relationship, but poor Cooper has loved her since the beginning and gets left in the dust sometimes. He’s the one who will let her put him in clothes or sunglasses. He’s the one who wanted to get into her old bed at reading time. He’s the one who kissed her face and let her know it would be okay to have us in her life.

Smiling Cooper

My little nugget is getting old. You would never tell him by watching him run or play chase or look up at you with this smile. Huck is getting white in his muzzle, but Cooper doesn’t have that telltale sign, so it’s easy to pretend he’s still just a puppy.

Except he’s stopped sleeping upstairs with us most nights, preferring to stay in his spot in the living room. He only braves the stairs when there’s a storm (he hates thunder), he wants to make sure we get out of bed and let him out, or he wants to watch us get dressed to see if we’re putting on running clothes.

He’s been diagnosed with arthritis and is in a supplement trial at the University of Minnesota. As part of the trial he’s wearing an activity monitor, which shows he has INTENSE bursts of energy with his dog walker, after which he barely moves for hours. We joke about him being the laziest dog ever, but he’s a worn out little Gus after his morning run, and he sleeps the entire time we’re at work. Sometimes, when we get home, he’s so stiff that we have to lift his back end up and walk him outside to pee. I’ve already started investigating doggy wheels for him, in case his backend gives out completely.

Sleeping Cooper

I have always felt like Cooper is my spirit animal. We’re both short-tempered and prone to outbursts, but willing to give anyone a shot at becoming our friend. We’re both good for short sprints and struggle with long distances. We both get our feelings hurt easily. He is scared of loud noises and strange noises and…any noises…and I get jumpy when I’m home alone.

When he stopped sleeping in our room it broke my heart. For weeks I tried to coax him up the stairs, and once or twice made Joel carry him. I have started getting in his bed with him for a bit each night to scratch his ears and rub his belly and kiss his face while he licks my hands and grunts like a little gorilla. He grunts a lot more now, sitting, standing, rolling over, getting pets. Sometimes I call him Grunterson.

I know you’re not supposed to have favorite children, but I’ve always been closer to him than Huck, who withholds his affection and then demands it, who pouts and acts out. Cooper has always loved me unconditionally – even when I cut his nails too short and make them bleed, or drop him at the vet to have his leg cut open, or give him baths that he hates. When Joel isn’t home he comes upstairs a bit more often, and I’ll let him get in bed and snuggle like the old days. (Before we came here, both dogs slept with me every night.) He turns around three times and curls against the back of my knees and snores so loud that sometimes it’s hard to sleep.

I don’t mind, though. I starting to realize I won’t get to have him forever, and so like these beautiful portraits I’m trying to save every grunt and snore and sigh from my amazing best canine friend, Cooper J. Pants.

[Leslie has posted additional pictures of Cooper on her blog here and here, in case you didn’t get enough cuteness above.]

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REVIEW: February Stitch Fix

The Internet says it is 47 degrees outside. Claire and her best friend are running around the yard in t-shirts, claiming they’re hot. For the first time in months I’m sitting on the couch with no socks and no blanket, the cats are chasing the sun all over the house and the dogs never want to come in from the backyard.

Spring has come to Minneapolis! (Or is coming. Joel is convinced it will snow at least one more time, and the Farmer’s Almanac would probably agree.)

I wish it had been more spring-like when my February Stitch Fix arrived. Instead, we were having another cold snap. Everyone was annoyed that it was still winter. Cooper, I am convinced, started regulating his water intake so he didn’t have to go outside at night. Huck stopped asking to play ball in the backyard when we got home from work. It was too dark in the house to get decent pictures.

I feel particularly crummy about the quality of this month’s pictures and my lollygagging about posting them, because my very kind Stitch Fix stylist Reese – who I hypothesized last month might not even be an actual person – took a moment to send me an email very sweetly confirming her existence. I am sorry, Reese, for believing you might be a robot. Thank you for putting up with my lack of Pinterest board, constant complaining about baggy shirts and failure to provide any direction to you each month. I will try to do better! Please don’t leave me!

So. February.

Octavia scarf and Andrew Mark jacket

Both of these pieces stayed with me. I wore them home to Missouri for my cousin’s funeral, then to Florida for our vacation, and have since worn the scarf at least a dozen times. The Sandra infinity scarf from Octavia is some sort of miracle fabric, somewhere between flannel and fleece. The neutral colorway isn’t one I would normally choose, but as it turns out, it goes with everything. (Of course it does. Everyone knows this. I just love wacky patterns and color so much that I have a closet full of things that never, under any circumstances, go together.)

The Andrew Marc Reeda puffer was a bit of a wildcard. I might have mentioned this before, but Joel and I both have a jacket problem. And by problem I mean addiction. We have two closets full of them. What I didn’t have was this jacket, which is big enough to wear over a light sweater, long enough to not ride up when I sit down, and thin enough to be rolled up and stuffed in my laptop bag. It’s casual enough for jeans, but the slim fit and color made it okay to wear over a dress. Now that’s it’s warming up outside, I predict it will get a lot more use.

Moon Collection topYou can tell how I feel about a top by what I’m doing with my hands while being photographed in it. When something hits me at a funky spot or is too baggy or drapes weird, I tend to clutch at the hem in an attempt to make it more presentable. That nervous tick is in full view here.

I dig the print and silky fabric of this Moon Collection Kira blouse, but the cut just doesn’t work. If it had been more tunic-y, or had a high-low hem I probably would have kept it. Instead, it hit right at the widest part of my hip and bloused straight out from my chest. I felt like a balloon in it.

RD Style sweaterI went around and around about this RD Style sweater. On the one hand, its open knit breaks my rule about having to wear a shirt under a shirt. On the other hand, it’s a color I probably wouldn’t have chosen but like. On my non-existent third hand, it hangs sort of funky in the front. And on my non-existent fourth hand it’s nice and long in the back which is sort of slimming.

At the end of the day, I sent it back. I have officially reached a saturation point on sweaters! I never thought this day would come, but this winter I had so many to choose from that a lot went unworn. I find that I don’t much wear these thin, “layering” sweaters I often get from Stitch Fix. I like them, but they’re not very practical here in the winter. Once the weather starts to warm up, I don’t want to wear sweaters at all.

Not pictured here was a pay of Level 99 Giovanni straight-leg jeans. I’m wearing a different pair of Level 99 jeans right now, and I have a gray pair that I love so much I wore them twice last week. The Giovanni was too narrow in the hips by far – only a miracle could have gotten them pulled up – and even if they had fit, I’m having a crisis of space in my jeans drawer at present. Thanks to the good Fixes of months past, I’m all full up.

As I press “publish,” another Fix is on its way. Much to Reese’s chagrin, I have no earthly idea what I hope is inside! I need to do some very careful inventory of my closet as I transition from winter to spring, and figure out what’s missing. But what if there isn’t anything missing? What then?

 

 

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February can suck it

February has not been kind, and I am glad to see the end of it.

There was a death in the family (a cousin not much older than me), a trip to Missouri for the funeral where I saw a big chunk of family for the first time in more than a decade, a very emotional visit with my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, a truly tragic accident involving another family member (he is okay, someone else is not), an at-times comically over-committed schedule at work (the kind where if you don’t laugh you will cry), and an ancient cat who is destroying our sleep patterns with her cries for food at 5AM even though we have proven with $$$ medical tests that her insides are totally normal.

For about a month I have had a stabbing, pinching pain right in the center of my left shoulder blade. I had another 11-day long period (albeit a very light one) in January, after which I went 39 days before my next period – my usual is about 23 days – which raised our hopes of a pregnancy that wasn’t. I’ve been exhausted and bloated and headachy and very, very crabby. I have cried a lot, and sometimes I don’t even know why.

So, screw you, February.

Earlier this week at the office, a colleague and I were on-boarding a freelancer. I was trying to keep it real and tell her the ins and outs of this particular client, and my colleague kept saying, “it’s not THAT bad.” It was in that moment that I realized how Glass Half Empty I have become. I see annoying things everywhere! (Like Claire trying, again, to wear clothes that are too small for her to school. RAWR!) This just will not do, Pig.

In the spirit of finding the good things to focus on, here’s what didn’t suck in February:

My best friend in San Francisco interviewed for a job at my company, was offered and accepted said job, and will be moving to Minneapolis next month. There is a chance she and her main squeeze will even be living in a house about six doors down from ours. Someone asked me earlier this week how excited I am, and the answer is REALLY EXCITED. Despite making a couple of lovely friends in the last 16 months, I’ve still been pretty lonely. I am trying to temper my excitement until her plans are settled, because I certainly know how stressful it is to pick up and move out here, but once she’s settled there are so many things I want to share with her and vintage we have to shop. I still can’t even believe it’s happening. I mean, it’s CRAZY. How likely is it that something like this would ever work out?

Joel, Amanda and Claire at the beach

Joel and Claire and I escaped Minneapolis to visit Joel’s parents in Florida for a long weekend. Anyone who lives in a place as cold as this will tell you that a mid-winter trip somewhere warm is required to preserve your sanity. Last year, we didn’t get out until our trip to Japan, and it was too late. The winter doldrums had already set in. This year we got out at the exact right time, as the temps were plunging back below zero just as we were leaving. Win!

I will say, though, that I was a pretty crappy parent for the entire trip. I was so rung out from my trip home that I spent as much time as possible sitting in the sun reading a book and not talking to anyone. I rebuffed all of Claire’s pleas for me to get in the swimming pool. I begged off playing paddle ball and Battleship. I loitered away from the kitchen at meal times so Joel would take care of feeding her. I got up every morning except one to go on a long walk in the sunshine, once with Joel’s dad and twice with Joel (who was kind enough to humor me when I asked him to give up running to hold my hand and walk).

Claire on the beach

At times I felt like a terrible, unfeeling stepmonster. Claire experienced a lot of “only child” pains on this trip – no other kids to play with, very few toys/games, adults who were pre-occupied with other things, and iPad time that was still being monitored to some degree – and my being sort of inaccessible definitely didn’t help things. But I was feeling so fragile and weepy that I had to, just HAD TO, take advantage of the down time and grandparents to let myself get over it.

I am confident enough to declare my plantar fasciitis is well and truly gone (for now at least). For the last three months I’ve been hitting the treadmill hard at least four days a week, and often five. I walk briskly for 30-45 minutes on an incline and then run exactly one mile, increasing the speed a little every couple of days. I could probably run for quite a bit longer at a slower speed, but I absolutely will not risk that pesky foot injury coming back. It was torture to not be able to run or even walk significant distances for more than six months. Six months! Plantar fasciitis is no joke, people. If you suspect you have it, STOP RUNNING IMMEDIATELY or risk long-term injury. Let my mistake be your gain. If all goes well I’ll be back to running 5Ks this summer.

With all the emotional blah blah blah, I haven’t felt awesome, physically, but things are looking up. On top of being tired and bloaty, my tummy spent a lot of time each day being very angry with me, sometimes loud enough for others to hear. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been more careful about my food choices, more fruits and veg, fewer meats and sweets. But Joel started waffling on his gluten-free-ness – don’t get me started on that, because it will send me on a rage spiral – and so I declared I would no longer go out of my way to be GF at home if he was going to eat whatever he wanted outside of it. I started making lots of bread in the bread machine, made a lot of scones and homemade baked donuts for breakfast, and baked a lot of snacks. I was eating everything in moderation and exercising like crazy, but my weight was super slow to come down and I still felt crappy. A friend recommended Prescribe Nutrition to me and I jumped on board. I love having a plan to follow. LOVE. PN is one of those programs that cuts out things like processed sugar, gluten, dairy and most commercial, non-organic meats. They gradually cut more things out over three weeks, so that by the end it’s pretty stark – no grains, no beans, no dairy, no gluten, no soy, no peanuts or peanut butter, no sweeteners of any kind (including honey, stevia, etc), no chocolate, among other things.

I decided pretty early on that I was only going to do the first protocol, which still allows for grains like quinoa/brown rice and also beans. With the exception of one pre-packaged grapefruit cup with a bunch of sugar and a couple of bourbon old-fashioneds – alcohol is also verboten – I’ve been following the plan very closely. I’ve definitely craved cake and pizza and a rare steak, but for the most part I don’t feel overly restricted at all.

In two weeks my skin looks great and my stomach has quieted down considerably. My insides are working much better, if you know what I’m saying. I think the full-on return to gluten wasn’t a wise thing, and even though no one has a serious gluten allergy we’re definitely going to go back to GF as much as possible. The real change here has been the sugar thing. There are all those studies about how sugar lights up your brain just like cocaine, and after being off it for two weeks I believe it. I had serious headaches for a couple of days at the start of the program, and when I ate that grapefruit with 11g of sugar it made my brain start to hum. It was like I could literally hear it jacking me up. Despite the fact that I’m eating normal portions and don’t feel hungry, I’ve also lost three pounds, which is the total I lost in two months before. Most importantly, I just FEEL BETTER, so will definitely be carrying some of these habits past the program.

March is going to bring some more hectic days at work, but it’s also going to bring my friend from San Francisco! It’s potentially going to bring some big school decisions for us about Claire (more on that as things evolve), but it’s also going to bring warmer weather. Whatever occurs, I am resolved to try to find the brighter side more often! A sunny disposition has to be better than my usual crabbypants, right?

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REVIEW: January 2015/December 2014 Stitch Fix

Right up front, I have to say something nice about Stitch Fix. Since my rant back in September, I have been getting really nice personal notes from my stylist each month, with many referrals to this-here blog, showing that they’ve actually been taking the time to figure out the right things to send me. Does it mean everything is perfect? Not at all, as you’ll see from the last two month’s worth of clothes. Does it make me feel better about them as a company? You betcha.

(Although, I’m a bit of a cynic and also experienced in the ways of tech companies, and I would not be surprised if this “Reese” person was actually a bit of software scanning my blog for nice things to say. Just kidding, Reese! Maybe.)

My December Stitch Fix was glorious, and my January Stitch Fix was a total bust. Although, to be fair, I declared January a no-buy month for clothing, so unless the pieces had been THE BEST PIECES EVER I would have been morally obligated to send them back. Alas, they were not the best pieces ever.

But let’s start with December.

December 2014 Stitch Fix: Olive & Oak Abby sweater

I wore this Olive & Oak Abby cut-out detail sweater right out of the box to get my hair styled and it was a huge hit at the salon. Since then I have worn it half a dozen times. The fit is great, lose without being baggy, and the high-in-front-low-in-back ratio is perfect. The lattice cut-outs across the back and down the arms make this so much more than a grey sweater. I wish I could have it in another color.

December 2014 Stitch Fix: Octavia horseshoe scarfLook at this cute Octavia Blaze horseshoe infinity scarf! Love the color, love the print, love how soft it is. It’s heavy enough for winter and light enough for any time. I’ve worn it a lot, and would wear it even more if I had more things it went with. (Sometimes being a girl who wears All The Prints bites you in the ass.)

December 2014 Stitch Fix: Dee Elle cardigan

Okay. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have kept this Dee Elle Olivia cardigan if it weren’t for the 25% discount for buying the whole shipment. Just days before this arrived I bought a Cynthia Rowley black and white cardigan that I like better, and how many black and white cardigans does one girl need? I like this one fine, but haven’t found myself wanting to wear it. It’ll probably end up in the bag for my next clothing swap. Which isn’t to say it isn’t a fine cardigan! It totally is. Just not needed by me.

December 2014 Stitch Fix: Olive & Oak Malia, Kut From The Kloth Parcey

This picture is a two-for-one, and admittedly, it’s hard to see the details of either item. When we took these pictures I was having a day of self-loathing, and this was the only pic of these things I didn’t hate. But I LOVE both of the items. These Kut From The Kloth Parcey polka-dot jeans are officially my new favorite jeans. I wear them at least once a week, and would wear them more if I wasn’t worried about the flocked polka dots rubbing off. They are perfect.

The sweater is another Olive & Oak, the Malia, and it’s so cool. You can see a little bit of the knit detail on the sleeve above, as well as one of the side zippers. I love how it looks like it’s been washed a hundred times, and it’s crazy comfortable. Olive & Oak really know how to take a standard sweater and make it feel fun/special.

See? December was so good. But let’s move on to January.

January 2015 Stitch Fix: Just Black Jake jeansI could tell by looking at these Just Black Jake bootcut jeans that they were going to be too short in the rise, and I was right. I’m not showing them to you on because that would be indecent! They were also too narrow in the thighs and too long overall. Just Black jeans, not for me! At least not these.

January 2015 Stitch Fix: Skies are Blue Everette blouseHow miserable do I look in this picture? I’m feeling so self-conscious about my weight, and along comes this Skies Are Blue Everette top that just hangs off my chest and makes me look like a whale. These pictures were also taken in the dead of winter when daylight was in short supply, and we could not get away from unflattering shadows. UGH. The color is nice, I guess, and the cut-out is interesting. But I think we can all see why I would send this back.

January 2015 Stitch Fix: Market and Spruce Yuna sweater

I actually like the fit and style of this Market and Spruce Yuna sweater. (Sorry, cannot find a link to Market and Spruce.) It’s worth noting that the sweater is also really soft, and would undoubtedly be comfy. However, as I’ve mentioned here before, oatmeal is not the best color for me. I’m hiding my face from the camera because oatmeal makes me look both splotchy and washed out.

January 2015 Stitch Fix: Market and Spruce foldover sweater

This time I’m looking away from the camera because I felt like I had a double chin in every pic. Poor, poor Joel. This sweater is also from Market and Spruce, and it has a weird, fussy foldover neckline. The overall fit was terrible – tight in the upper arms, tight in the hips, baggy in the body. And this colorway is also not doing me any favors.

January 2015 Stitch Fix: RD Style Maven cardigan

There is nothing intrinsically bad about this RD Style Maven cardigan.  Like the black and white cardigan above, I liked it just fine, but didn’t feel like I needed another black and white cardigan. I will say that the sleeves were a little fitted and short, and I kept feeling like I needed to hold it closed.

Last month my friend Kelly wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle about a major, Marie Kondo-led purge. (If you click through the images, I have a cameo near the end!) Her steadfastness in the face of letting go of beloved things has been inspiring to me, and I am trying to be tougher about the things I let into my life and the things I let go. There is a huge pile of clothes upstairs that I need to sort. One pile of Claire stuff for my friend Erin’s twins, one pile of vintage stuff to try to sell/get store credit somewhere, one pile to keep for the next clothing swap and one pile to go to Goodwill. I have four dozen pairs of shoes in the closet to sort, and a bunch of vintage in the basement that deserves another look.

I’m going to try – TRY – to make sure I’m better about buying/not buying from Stitch Fix. Sometimes, if the box comes on a bad day, I’ll buy it all just to make myself feel better. Many things upstair are from past Fixes that I liked initially, but rarely wore. For now I’m vowing to only keep the things I know will get multiple wears. Wish me luck!

 

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REVIEW: January Birchbox

Oh my god, you guys. It’s JANUARY and I’m posting a JANUARY review. Granted, I’m getting it in just under the wire, but I feel pretty darn good about it.

It was easy to get through Birchbox this month because there were a couple of samples I’d had before and two items that were clearly no-go’s from the first try, leaving only one sample to really put to the test.

January 2015 BirchboxI couldn’t have possibly have known when I took this picture that the items are grouped exactly how I laid them out in the previous paragraph. SPOOKY.

  • Paula’s Choice Moisture Renewal Oil Booster. Last winter I got the Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster, and it was a great addition to my regular moisturizer as I fought the harsh, dry Minneapolis winter. Technically this Moisture Renewal booster is a different product, but it works the same way and has the same results. I add a single drop to my moisturizer – which is layered over Philosophy Time in a Bottle anti-aging serum – and applied to the dry spot between my eyes and on my chin/neck. This winter has been far less dry than last year, so I don’t need nearly enough product. It is good for me and bad for Paula’s Choice that the sample will last me all winter, and I won’t need it in the summer.
  • Whish body butter. As I recall, I was pretty ambivalent about this product last time. I could take it or leave it this time, for sure, and the sample was ridiculously small. The tube might look reasonably sized, but I got exactly one application out of it. I’ll stick with the Gold Bond moisturizing lotion I got at Target for now.
  • Karma Organic Spa soybean oil and tea tree oil nail polish remover. Because I get gel manicures so often I very rarely need nail polish remover, but this product arrived as I was in between gels, and it just so happened that I had some regular ol’ nail polish to take off. (In fact, it was the RUFFIAN nail polish I reviewed last time, which I finally applied and hated. It went on super streaky.) This polish remover is a joke. It might be better for your nails and better for nature, but I had two thin coats of a nude polish – nothing tough like a dark red or something with glitter – and it took forever for the remover to work. I used half the little sample bottle to remove the polish on one hand.
  • Manna Lip Locked lip stain. I am sorry to say that I threw the tube away immediately after the first application, so I’m not sure what color it was. (I also can’t find the handy little card to tell me what’s in the box.) All I know is that the color, on me, was a weird frosty pinkish-nudish-something that was horribly unflattering. Just awful. It also felt kind of clumpy on my mouth.
  • Curl Keeper Ultimate Hold with Frizz Control. I’ve been using this gel for two weeks and I think it’s a pretty good one for curly hair as long as you’re careful about how much you use. The weird cardboard pouch it came in makes it hard to regulate, and there were definitely days when I accidentally went overboard and my hair was weighed down. On some days, though, it works perfectly. I have a full bottle of Deva Curl, so I’m not in the market for something new, but I would definitely consider this.
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That time we remodeled the kitchen and dining room

Over the weekend I had a photographer over to take some pictures of Cooper – a sneak peek of which you can see here – and we got to talking about the kitchen renovation and how Joel and I ended up choosing the color palette for the entire house. That was the second time I have had that  conversation recently, and when I was looking at the blog to find the “before” pictures of the kitchen, I realized I had not ever posted true “after” pictures. The closest I ever got were these, which only show a glimpse of what the space would become.

At one time I had a sort of legit reason for delaying the “after” shots. Fireclay Tile, the place where we got our beautiful backsplash tile, had asked for pro-level shots to use on their blog. Cinematography doesn’t quite count as photography, but Joel is pretty useful with a camera, and we told Fireclay we’d do it ourselves. And then we had to wait on a bit more tile installation. And then we waffled about a couple of details. And then we waited to hang art. And then it was the holidays. And then it was really dark all the time. And then. And then. And then.

Having the photographer in the house this weekend saying such nice things about our new kitchen/dining space – and then not having any good pictures of it for her to share with a friend about to go through a similar process – was just the kick in the pants we needed. The next day we cleared the countertops and got to work. Et voila! Pictures!

We are madly, deeply in love with how it all turned out. Earlier this week Joel proclaimed that the remodel was life-changing and I mocked him, but he’s actually right. It makes a huge difference that we can all be together in the evenings, instead of being separated by the wall that used to be between the kitchen and dining room. We spend so much family time in the kitchen now, cooking, doing homework, drinking coffee, playing games. At the time we started the project it felt like too much too soon (given that I had only moved from California a few months earlier), but I wouldn’t take it back for anything.

Fireclay posted a complete set of images in their gallery this morning, but I’m just going to share a couple here for now.

Kitchen renovationThis shot was taken from the now-defunct corner where the old dining room used to meet the kitchen. Just out of frame to the left are a built-in bookshelf and a built-in window seat. I love those details, but my favorite parts of the new kitchen are all in this picture. First, the double ovens. Ohmygod. The double ovens. I don’t know how I ever lived without them. Second, the farmhouse sink. I didn’t know I could love a sink, but even the dreaded task of doing dishes in this one makes me happy. And third, the center island with bar seating. I personally don’t love sitting on a bar stool, but Joel and Claire sit there all the time while I’m cooking, which makes the task far less lonely.

Dining room remodel

This picture was taken standing just in front of the dishwasher. These pendant lights and the glass globe that hangs over the sink are both from this Etsy seller, and they definitely make the space feel more considered, more fancy. The framed art on the left is from this Etsy artist who does amazing layered papercut art using topographical maps. The one in the foreground is the San Francisco Bay and the farthest one is a Minneapolis chain of lakes, and I bought them for Joel when I first moved here. We had earmarked those spots for them all along, but I’m so pleased it worked out how we had imagined.

You’re also looking at the only wallpaper we replaced after tearing miles and miles of it down this fall. (There’s still the French nudie wallpaper in the basement.) While we hadn’t originally planned an accent wall, at some point in the remodel it just became apparent that we needed one. It only took one trip to dig through wallpaper books to find this one, and though we were nervous about how it would all come together, it was perfect.

To the very right of this second image you can also see the fun butterscotch we painted the downstairs bath and hallways throughout the house. We have one more room to get painted at the end of this week, and then we’ll be ready to show you what the rest of the now-wallpaperless house looks like! We’re quite smitten.

 

 

 

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