Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Very Thrifty Christmas

Ohhhh, Ahhhhh

This is my first Christmas in my own place. Of course, my family lives just up the road so it isn't too different. We get a tree every year (not too fat, flat back to put against the wall) and set it up in the parlor. It's become a tradition for the three sisters to decorate the tree together (I will not do the garland...nor the lights-I am only in it for the glory of the ornaments). I will be back one evening this December to grab the boxes from the attic, fight with my sisters, and hang my favorite ornaments.

But this year, I am not home every night to sit in the parlor by the tree. My sister has a little tinsel one she offered to me for my apartment, but I decided against it. In a rush of post-Pinterest adrenaline this weekend, I decided that I wanted my own, real Christmas tree.

My requirements for a tree were that it had to be small (my apartment is teeny-tiny) and inexpensive. *Shakes fist at Sallie Mae*

Like any adult in her very own place, I did the independent thing I drove right back home and had my dad help me with this project. We live in the country and have some fields and forests in our graaaand domain. I figured we could pick out a pine in the woods.

 Let me tell you, we were very well equipped for this adventure. A lot of blogs have DIY projects with the message that "anyone can do it!" Well, you can't get a tree the exact same way I did without the following items:

1. A golf cart (because tramping in the woods is sooo last year)
2. A crazy cool chain saw thing that looks like a big set of scissors
3. A cordless Honda generator to run said set of jacked up scissors
4. Powertools
5. Rubber washers, a long screw, a tuna can, and a piece of plywood about 10" x 10"
6. A dad to do all the work

We set off and found a good little hemlock tree (don't drink the sap, Socrates), cut it down with aforementioned awesome scissors, trimmed it up, and brought it back to my dad's shop in the golf cart. He took a tuna can and drilled a hole in it. Then, he put a washer on either side of the drilled hole, placed a piece of plywood below, and the tree above. One zip with the power drill up through the plywood, past the tin can, and into the tree trunk and a big screw held the whole thing together. Voila!

I tossed the tree in the car, gave my dad a hug, and head down to a local thrift store where I scored some old glass ornaments, retro big-bulb Christmas lights, a piece of fabric to cover the base, and 2 stockings to hang with care (I also found a Christmas apron, a chunky red scarf, some unused bows for gifts, and the kitchen sink)-all for $17. For the crowning glory, I cut out two star shapes from a cereal box, painted them with Mod Podge glue, sprinkled glitter, and adhered them to either side of a clothes pin with a hot glue gun.

Like a Martha Stewart project...done by 3rd graders

 I also painted two temporary hooks with glue and glitter for the stockings.

One for me, one for me

All in all, this Christmas tree and assorted sundries cost me $17. But I had the advantage of a handy dad, a personal tree lot, and a really awesome thrift store. You might be able to emulate this somewhat by shopping at a thrift store for your decorations. However, I would not suggest poaching a tree if you don't have some country space of your own. Also, you can't have my dad and his cool power tools.

Oh my goodness, it's adorable.

I am so excited about my first Christmas tree. No matter how you come by it-whether you pick it out in a lot, cut it down yourself, or dig it out of the ground a la Clark Griswold- finding and decorating a tree is such a special way to herald in the season.

Where do you find your Christmas tree?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Songbook

Music has the ability to evoke emotions and memories. Play me some Dashboard Confessional or Jack Johnson and I am transported back to the summer of 2005, the summer after I graduated from high school. Give me The Cranberries and I am thirteen year old again. Simon and Garfunkel "The 59th Street Bridge Song" harkens back to my early childhood; it was my favorite on a mixed tape of kid's music.

Christmas music has a very important memory association for most people, especially since we revisit our favorite holiday songs every year. I know that without some songs, Christmas just doesn't seem like Christmas. Here I am presenting you with my Christmas playlist developed over my 24 (soon to be 25) years of anticipating and celebrating the holiday. Of course, this list is not to supplant your own traditional playlist and there are sure to be many you have heard before. However, check them out. Finding new music you like is always a treat.

*There will be no "Little Drummer Boy" in this list. I hate this song with a burning passion. It turns me into an almost violent Grinch when it blasts over the mall sound system.*

This list is presented in no particular order. I love them all.

"A Cradle in Bethlehem" by Nat King Cole
"O Tannenbaum" by Nat King Cole

This whole album, The Christmas Song, is wonderful. Someone (me) lost this in our house and nearly got sent to spend Christmas in the barn. I had to get another copy, but I don't think I have been entirely forgiven.

"Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle"
"The Seeds of Love"
all by Lorenna McKennitt

This album, Midwinter Night's Dream, is also a gem. I love Lorenna McKennitt's music in general and this Christmas album feels fresh yet very old world.

"Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" by Bing Crosby

Well, duh to adding Bing Crosby. A Christmas mix without him is sorely lacking. White Christmas is one of my ALL TIME favorite Christmas movies. I love it. I love it. My sister and I used to "be" female characters when we watched movies when we were little. This didn't really entail anything. In fact, I'm not sure why we claimed a character. I always got Judy, the dancer. Judy's body proportions are so absurd that I have never seen their equal. My sister was always Rosemary Clooney's character. Now that I am all grown up, I totally would choose Betty over Judy...but I would still rather kiss Danny Kaye than Bing Crosby. Danny Kaye was adorable, kind of like an old fashioned Jason Segel. Kaye may have cuteness, but Bing can sing. The obvious choice for a Christmas track from this movie is "White Christmas," but I like to throw in "Count Your Blessings" instead. It is overlooked but a truly sweet song about being thankful. Don't even think of adding "Snow." This song is deeply stupid. "I wanna wash my hands, my face, my hair in snow"? Really? The songwriters must have been drunk. And "Sisters," insane-but my sister and I used to sing it all the time, so I can't totally throw this one under the bus.

"Come Thou Font of Every Blessing"
"The Friendly Beasts"
both by Sufjan Stevens

If you can tell me how to pronounce Sufjan correctly, please let me know. In 2006, this indie band put out a five disc set titled Songs for Christmas. I downloaded them all last year and introduced them to my family. They weren't a fan. They are strict traditionalists with Christmas music, however, so I don't give a Christmas figgy pudding. I like the set, and these two aforementioned tunes are so, so wonderful.  So take that, family. Take that.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland

This song was originally featured in the film musical Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland. I really liked this movie as a kid, though I would fast-forward some of the dull sections. Our VHS version had a little documentary section that I would sometimes watch. If my memory is correct, when the writer was developing this song, he had much darker lyrics written (this song happens during a sad section of the movie when the family thinks they have to leave their beloved St. Louis for NYC and the little sister just enacted her grief through a mass snowman massacre). Garland, however, asked that the lyrics be rewritten. She was afraid that America would think she was a "monster" for singing this dark song to calm the snowman killing child. It is still a bittersweet tune, but one I want to hear every Christmas. And only the Garland version, please. Let's keep it classic here.

"Christmas Vacation" by Katie Campbell

This is a weird picture, but the only one I could find for this song on amazon. Christmas Vacation the movie is standard fare in our household. We often quote the movie throughout the year. "It's a beaut, Clark." "That there's an RV." "Shitter was full." All these quotes can be frequently heard. Upon reflection, it seems like we are more obsessed with Cousin Eddie than the movie, in general, but I digress. This song is from the movie and doesn't seem to have much connection from the film. It is featured in the opening credits, but I don't think it is included in the movie itself. I'm not sure how it came about. Maybe someone's cousin needed a music plug. However it came to be used, I am grateful. It is actually a fun song. Check it out if you don't recall.

"Jingle Bell Rock" by Brenda Lee

If you have known me more than a couple hours, you will be able to guess why I like this song. It's all because of Mean Girls. Oh Lindsay, how you have fallen from grace. This movie is awesome. In this classic teen flick, the group of popular girls or "plastics" do a "sexy dance" to this at the talent show. They wear knee high boots and have some provocative, awkward grooves. Gretchen Weiners is falling from Regina George's favor and accidentally kicks the boom box playing this song off the stage. In a moment of brilliance, Kady cements her popularity by continuing the dance and finishing the tune by singing. Tina Fey joins in on the piano. The rest of the audience starts singing too. It's fabulous. If you don't like this song, fine. If you don't like this movie, you can't sit with us.

There are many more Christmas songs I love, except you Little Drummer Boy-you suck. I enjoy adding to the list every year. This coming December, I will be jamming to A Very She & Him Christmas by She & Him. This album came out last year, but I missed it somehow. I can't wait to hear Zooey Deschanel croon.

What do you listen to every year? What tunes should I add to my playlist?

*Amendment: The "Little Drummer Boy" mash up by David Bowie and Bing Crosby is acceptable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Bird

Does anyone else find chicken frightening? I'm talking here about the plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam plates of chicken in your grocery store. I find them somewhat terrifying. While I can admire a slab of beef, check out a chop of lamb, and adore cuts of fresh fish (truly fresh fish smells wonderful, in my opinion), raw chicken looks repulsive. 

The sad fact of the matter is that it looks gross because it kind of is gross. Almost all the chicken found at typical grocery stores comes from factory farms. The farms are truly horrific. I know that most people don't want to think of where their meat comes from. We like to maintain that cognitive disconnect. I understand. I struggle with it too.  I am not going to preach against factory farming chicken (or that lovely lamb and beef I once complimented) here. You can go check out the documentary Food Inc. streaming on Netflix or Amazon (it's scary-there is your warning). Let's just leave it at this statement: grocery store chicken is a travesty.

Okay, okay, I know I sound dramatic and I will admit that I have eaten grocery store chicken with the rest of them. I just have this visceral reaction to it now. I seem to have encountered some kind of mental barrier now that I am doing my own shopping and cooking. I know where grocery chicken comes from (it's bad-Alicia Silverstone would pass out) and I hate how that is represented by the sterile looking plastic packaging. Food shouldn't come in so much non biodegradable wrapping. There is absolutely no connection between the animal on the farm and the meat on the foam. My attitude towards farm vs. factory has been well-entrenched since childhood (check out my mother's awesome farm blog here) and is only refreshed when I dabble in Michael Pollan or watch episodes of Escape to River Cottage (seriously, go check it out-you will become ADDICTED!).

Besides the moral value of factory chicken, don't even get me started on the taste! Grocery store chicken is like tofu, a bland protein base. On my parents' farm, my mother has kept chickens for over 15 years now. It started off with just four Rhode Island Reds living in a converted farm outhouse and pecking around the yard. Now we have many different breeds. Some are for eggs, and some are for meat.

The roosting coop at my parents' farm. Picture from my mother's blog

My dad notoriously disliked chicken. He thought it was tasteless, boring, and dry. Then! He tried some farm raised chicken. It's amazing what a little nutritional variety and sunshine will do for a meat. He was amazed. You see, really good chicken doesn't need tons of buffalo sauce, taco seasoning, or ranch. It can stand on its own with some butter, herbs, and vegetables.

The chicks in their rotational grazing pen. It gets moved every day so they have fresh grass and new bugs. The pipe across is actually a waterer that is cleaner and easier than a bowl/bucket. This picture is also from my mother's blog.
I recently threw out a boneless, skinless Perdue chicken breast that had been sitting in my refrigerator. I was so upset about it. I didn't want to cook it because it grossed me out, but I hated to waste it. It felt like such a failed endeavor to finally toss it when it went bad, stewed in my ambivalence. I realized then, however, that I have a choice about what I eat and where it is from. Some people may like the distance of a plastic package, but I know I'm eating meat and that it was once a live animal. I want to make sure that animal didn't have a terrible life.

This rooster slightly frightens me in real life. I think he know this. Picture from my mother's blog. 
 It is time to reduce the guilt here. I'm not going to become a vegetarian. I eat meat a couple times a week. I still love beans and tofu and nut butters so I have my proteins covered. But I'm not interested in cutting meat out entirely. I want to eat meat, but I want to eat it conscientiously. I want my meat to have been raised well with lots of nutritional variety, movement, freedom of space, and sunlight.

This means giving up grocery store chicken. This means putting in more effort when it comes to shopping and sometimes a little more money. Do you know that in many European countries, it is normal that people spend over 50% of their income on food. Tally that in your head quickly. Do you spend that much? I know my weekly grocery budget is a lot lower than 50%. Americans want cheap food, but it comes at a hidden high price of poor quality, poorly produced meat. I'm not going all the way up to 50% for my food budget (Sallie Mae would probably wonder where their loan repayments went). However, I am resolved to focus more on the quality of what I am eating.

Not everything, of course, is going to be tutti-frutti, hot-patotti organic, free-range fancy pants around here. I love Jiffy cornbread and I'm not going to go find some Annie's version of it. I'm also not some dummy consumer that thinks that just because it says "all natural" on the packaging that it is somehow good. An organic pop-tart is still a pop-tart.

When it comes to some of the essentials, however, I am fixin' on making some changes. Turkey and chicken from a local farm that is about 15 minutes from my apartment (Landis Poultry Farm). My parent's food when I can get it (wink). Eggs from the same local farm (I could write an entire post why I despise grocery store eggs [Have you seen the color of a free-range egg yolk? Once you go there, you can't go back]). I am still throwing around the thought of raw milk as well. Whoa. Raw milk? You crazy, girl?

Probably, but that's a post for another day.

(Now she get's political? When it was election time she wrote an ode to undies, but a Perdue chicken makes her protest? Where are this girl's values?  In my kitchen.)

*Post Note: A mom recently explained why she buys organic pop-tarts. She knows that they aren't a health food. However, her kids really love pop-tarts and so she provides them in the most healthy way possible, without any artificial flavorings or colors. This makes sense. I get it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Find Your Foundation

As election day draws near (very in, now), it is time to do some reflection. We must consider our essential beliefs, our foundations.

During one of the presidential debates, President Obama got salty and accused Romney of promoting social policies that belong in the '50s. This was an insult to be sure. Times were not too kind to anyone outside the white male sphere. Don't believe me? Watch an episode of Mad Men. Actually, if you don't want to commit to an entire episode, about 10 minutes should be enough to show you that things were pretty unequal during this time, especially for the ladies.

I'm not sure if this is the best use of my intellectual power.

Now, I'm not debating the veracity of Obama's comment here. Ma blog isn't going to be cluttered up with all that. I can safely say, without taking political sides, that I certainly don't want to return to prefeminism. It sucked and it wasn't fair. This time, however, was not all bad.

The '50s were part of the foundation upon which we built our modern time. The inequalities of the '50s inspired the revolution of the '60s. Thanks to those counter-culture social protesters  I don't have to pretend to be inspired by this shiz anymore:

Is that Kelly Ripa with the Electrolux oven?
This cake is coming for you.

But, I'm not hating on all aspects of the '50s here. You all know my love of kitsch, so the '50s aren't a total wash for me (new vintage Pyrex obsession currently getting out of control).

In fact, there is something about the '50s that I think ladies should really miss. The foundations. No, I don't mean the foundation of racism and sexism, no, no, no! I'm talking about the foundation you wear under their clothes. While Victoria seems hell-bent on sharing her secret with the entire world through ever shrinking under options, I have a hankering for something a little more substantial. The slip.

The 50's had something on us when it came to foundation wear. Sara Blakely may have cornered the market on the revolution of the girdle. But Spanx are for special occasions. I'm not going to haul myself into sausage casing everyday. Spanx are a one-in-a-year type deal (did you know that Gwyneth wears two pairs on the red carpet?! We should all just give up now). Stores today seem to think that shape-wear is the only type of foundation wear a girl needs. Not so, stores! Hear my protest!

The slip is a highly underrated, almost extinct animal. But unlike the Dodo bird, this is an extinction I actually care about (sorry, Dodo, but you understand). My grandmother was a lunch lady for a while. She had a yellow uniform and a pink uniform. Under those uniforms? She had a pink slip and a yellow slip. Slips weren't for fancy occasions! My grandmother wore them to dole out milk and tater-tots. But nowadays, no one seems to care about slips.

Don't you forget about me.

I want to end this slip ignorance and bring it back! I never regret wearing a slip. It creates a smooth line with skirts and dresses. Sara of the Spanx dynasty would like to convince you that a smooth line can only be achieved through squishing and squashing every offending piece of body behind a scary flesh colored tube. I beg to differ. Yes, I'm not going to look like I lost a million pounds, or whatever. However, you shouldn't underestimate the slimming, chic-ifying power of a slip.

I don't leave the house in a skirt or dress without one-especially in winter when I wear tights. With a slip, the worst thing that can happen is that it peeks out from under your hem. Without one, we are dealing with odd static cling, weird bumps, and sometimes the dreaded butt-bunching action. Not. Pretty.

A slip will elevate your entire outfit. Clothes these days aren't high on quality. We live a more clothing disposable lifestyle and don't expect much from our garments. A lot of my skirts are from Target, but I try to keep them from looking cheap. Target skirts certainly don't come well-lined, so I add a slip and everything stays in its place.

There is one really important item you should always wear a slip with. If you learn only one thing from this blog post, if you pay half-attention, please give your half to this tidbit: Always, always wear a slip with a sweater dress. Sweater dresses are an odd apparel item. They look super comfy, but aren't all that flattering on 99% of people. Why? They don't fall correctly. The construction of a sweater is too chunky or too thin to make a well-fitted dress. And don't even get me started on how much these babies ride up! Do yourself a major favor if you are a sweater dress fan, wear a full slip underneath. It makes a huge difference.

So-we now know Maggie's entire rant about the slip. Where do you find one? Short slips are easy. Target has some nice, simple selections.

Mid-length slips are a simple find, as well.

I don't wear these as often as my short slips.
I don't mind when this one peeks out. Anthropologie.

This light pink one was a vintage store find.
The trouble, I have found, is sussing out a full slip. There are a lot of shape-wear options out there, but no one seems to be selling a nice, pretty, non-spandex full slip. I have found that my only option has been the thrift store here. I dug up some really lovely ones.

Hello, beautiful!

Such lovely details.
It still had its original tags when I bought it.

Oh, you're pretty too.

Of course, since this is something worn close to the skin, you have to be more careful when shopping for slips. Look for signs of wear under the arms and rips in the seams around the rear. Don't buy anything that has stains or smelly funky. Also, be careful of the fabric. Both mine are nylon and light, but don't bother with heavy polyester which is notorious for keeping any smells it acquires.

Politics can be divisive, but when it comes to our foundations, I think there is something we can all agree upon.

Happy voting!