Monthly Archives: February 2012

Frugality!

Happy Friday! In the past, Friday has always meant that the weekend was close. Really close. And when I was younger, the weekend meant lots of ‘quality family time’ at home. That was pretty challenging during my teenage years. No, I wasn’t the typical rebellious teen, but looking back I’m not sure how my parents managed being in close quarters with the hormones, mood swings and attitude that teenage girls all seem to have to some degree. It’s moments like these that make me stop and thank God that I have boys.

But in the midst of teen angst and attitude, there was one thing my mom and I could do where we bonded. Actually bonded. Shopping. For some reason, then and now, when we go shopping we can just hang out – no issues, grudges, petty disagreements. Just hang out. And most of the time have fun. So you can imagine why my thoughts naturally turn to shopping on the weekends today.

In my currently unemployed state, I’ve pretty much declared a moratorium on shopping. Well, except for the occasional (necessary) find. Necessary being an extremely subjective term. But I have toned it down and in the process have found some sites I’d like to share with all of you frugally-minded folks (or at least the five of you that may read this.) Here goes…

Coquette:
Admittedly, her idea of frugal and mine are on different levels. Living in New York, she has access to all of the shows, shops and buffet of fashion-consciousness that I’m lacking in suburban H-town. But it’s fun to window shop – and most of the ideas she posts are easily doable with my resources and some help from Tarjay, Kohls and Old Navy.

Houston on the Cheap:
For you locals, this is a gold mine! Links to Groupon deals and other similar online discount deals appear pretty much every day. On the weekends she posts links to cheap restaurants and other activities in and around H-town. And – my personal favorite – there’s a Family Fun tab that gives tons of (cheap0 ideas for the fam on weekends out and about town. There’s even a Cheap Gas tab!

Penny Pincher Fashion:
This is my kind of girl. Able to put together outfits that rival anything Stacey London could put together, she posts lots of pictures of herself in said ensembles – to prove they actually work on a real person. I’ve also found really cool (and easy) basic sewing and crafting projects for reworking wardrobe staples or worn-out pieces into completely new (and cute) items.

Haute Mommy:
This is my college friend’s blog. She posts beauty tips and links to some of her favorite designer-on-the-cheap sites. Now, don’t get too excited – a pair of Louboutins on the cheap are still going to be too expensive for the likes of me, but there are really affordable, good quality pieces out there too. Ideeli, especially, has home accessories and kids’ clothes on occasion.

So there you have it – my top frugal faves! What are yours? Please share!!

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Filed under Budget, Coquette, Fashion, Houston, Ideeli, Moms

Pretty Girls

This is me:

Just kidding. I found her at the Museum of Fine Art and just fell in love with her. Maybe it’s my recent fascination with Downton Abbey, but if I could put myself in any place and time this would be me.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not, nor have I ever been, a Pretty Girl. Ugly Duckling would be a kind description of me as a child. Seriously. There’s a reason that my seventh-grade English teacher, upon hearing my name on the announcements for a musical accomplishment, felt it necessary to inform her class that ‘Sometimes the girls who are really unattractive now turn out to be beautiful later. Trust me, in high school lots of you guys will probably want to date her.’ Yes, I still remember that over twenty years later. Yes, I found that teacher on Facebook. No, I will not be friending her any time soon.

A dear friend recently blogged about the lovability of being a dork. Growing up as a dork, I was the one usually described as ‘smart, with an interesting personality.’ I was a dork. Indeed. And not a quirky-artsy-cool dork of the kind that is actually sought after and admired nowadays. Serious, intense, shy, etc. In fact, after graduation I found out that some people thought that I was stuck-up and conceited. Not true. I was just so shy that the idea of initiating a conversation made me break out in a cold sweat – especially with the Pretty Girls.

Ah, the Pretty Girls. You know who I mean. The smart, focused, socially adept girls with flawless skin and expertly-applied makeup – if they wore any at all. Some of the prettiest Pretty Girls were so confident that they wore none at all, nor did they need it. The girls who didn’t care what other people thought and didn’t try to fit in because they just knew that they did. (Granted, some of them may have been pretending to feel that way, but they at least exuded tons of confidence.) They weren’t necessarily the most popular or wealthy – but it didn’t matter. They were Pretty Girls.

And where are they now? Smart, successful, driven women? Why, in incredibly fascinating and challenging careers of course. Performance artist? Check. Musician? Check. Former CIA operative? Check. (Yes, I’m serious. I went to school with a real-life former spy.) Event planner? Check. The list goes on and on… Maybe it’s my current state of job-hunting that’s brought this out – or my still-developing self esteem. Or watching too many Lifetime movies and reality TV lately. But whenever I’ve tried to imagine my dream job it’s been in a challenging, unusual and creative field. A bright, contemporary office. A field that would require me to attend intellectual events as part of the job description. And I get bogged down with this fact that I don’t fit in there.

I’m still shy. Not as painfully as I was when I was younger, but striking up a conversation is still a major effort. Even without the cold sweat I still find my brain racing a mile a minute. I would love it if Stacey and Clinton showed up on my doorstep one of these days. Yes, I am working on these issues – which is probably I decided to blog about them today. Just throw it out in the open and see it for how ridiculous it is. Because confidence can be acquired – I’m sure of it. And until I acquire more of it, I’ll keep looking.

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Filed under Careers, Self Image, Women

Music!

I’ve been a music-lover/musician for most of my life. Admittedly the ‘musician’ part has slipped recently. I’ve channeled my energies into more of the ‘active listener’ role over the last few years. And as a musician I was mostly a performer. But my real love has always (secretly) been music history, analysis, research, etc. The composition and arranging part of it is my husband’s passion. I’m always amazed at his abilities – he can listen to anything and write it out, harmonize it and turn it into a performance piece. He should go into business full-time. Really. He dabbles at the moment, but he should really do more of it. He’s also been known to compose original stuff – which is something I thought I’d never do – until…

My recent obsession has been the Hunger Games books. I know, I know – I’m a bit late to the party. Seemingly everyone I know has already read them. But when I picked up the first one last week I couldn’t put it down. Literally. For a good 2-3 days that’s all I did. And I’ve almost finished the third book.

If you know the books, then you know the song ‘The Hanging Tree.’ The books only give the lyrics and hint at the harmonies sung by the birds in the woods. It’s a haunting song – and the other day I woke up with the first three notes of a melody stuck in my head. I can’t shake it. But my Type-A-ness wants to make any attempt I make at writing it out historically accurate.

How can I possibly be historically accurate in writing a melody for a fictional song that occurs in the context of a fictional future? Let me explain. In my music-teacher days I had the privilege of spending three summers in the most grueling, agonizing, musically and intellectually inspiring experiences of my life. From 8-5 every day I was stretched, molded, brainwashed and challenged in lesson planning, sight-singing, musical analysis, conducting (take that, Phil Clements!), folk music research and choral performance. The last was one of the more agonizing given that I am an oboe player, not a singer. Well, the requirement of playing three piano parts (yes, on piano) while singing a fourth was definitely the worst, given that my piano skills are abysmal on a good day. But I loved every minute of it! One of the long-term effects was a fascination with and interest in folk music research. And this leads back to ‘The Hanging Tree.’

See, one of the proponents of my training is that any musical performance must be not only musically, but historically accurate. The Hunger Games’ Katniss, who sings the song as learned from her father (in true folk tradition) has lived her whole life in District 12. We are told that ‘in old times’ District 12 was part of a region called Appalachia. And Appalachia has a rich folk song tradition going back to the original Anglo immigrants. So it makes sense to me that any version of the melody must have some of those characteristics. Of course.

I’m excited. I have a project!! I’ve dug out all of my materials and resources to research music in the Appalachian tradition, analyze common elements, etc. Because my goal here is to compose (yes, me! compose!) an authentic ‘futuristic’ Appalachian folk melody. I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed and driven I am at the idea! Especially since YouTube has a few arrangements that other people have written for the song – and they are so ignorant of the region’s rich musical tradition it’s embarrassing. Plus they’re bad.

So that’s my goal for the week. And if I’m really lucky, my extremely-gifted spouse will agree to harmonize and arrange it for me. I’ll keep you posted!

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Filed under Arranging, Composition, Folk Music, Hunger Games, Music

Downward Facing Dog

Yoga on a beach always looks so peaceful and idyllic. It’s something on my bucket list. All of the people in travel brochures always look so stress-free, happy and refreshed during their practice. Yes, I know that’s all staged and those people are just models, but it’s still perfect-looking enough to make me want to try it someday. In the meantime…

I’ve dabbled in yoga here and there for a few years. But the fact is, I’m just not that flexible. I get discouraged when my body just won’t do what the perfectly-color-coordinated-in-their-yoga-gear people can easily do on TV. Number one – my yoga gear usually consists of a ratty t-shirt and shorts. Number two – most of my yoga attempts have been with a DVD or rarely-found TV program (complete with commercial breaks.) Number three – my Type-A-ness wants to do everything right. And when my stiff muscles just won’t stretch as far as they’re supposed to, I get discouraged and feel anything but relaxed and refreshed.

I thought I’d found a good workout. Some show on the Green Network – before our cable provider generously decided not to carry it anymore. So I turned to DVD’s. Well, one DVD. Rodney Yee and Power Yoga. It’s doable. But after a couple of years of the same practice – I’m bored. Plus, something about a man in a Speedo talking me through yoga poses just bothers me. It does. Rodney has me interested in exploring other options but I’m at a standstill.

I tried a yoga class at the gym once. It felt good at the time but I was basically unable to move the next day. Something told me that you’re not supposed to feel that way after a good practice, so I didn’t go back there. I have friends who do Bikram, but stories of having to leave the studio and be sick have me pretty intimidated about trying it myself. So here’s my question – how do I get started on a good daily practice that will let me progress at my own speed, but still see results? Classes or DVDs?

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Filed under Exercise, Rodney Yee, Stress Relief, Yoga

Looking for Passion – What’s that?

Gotcha, didn’t I? With a catchy title, no less! Not to disappoint you, but I’m thinking along a different line than you probably are – life’s work. See, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about sliding doors and life’s crossroads because that’s where I’m currently at. Pondering what I do, how I do it and whether or not to continue it. My. Life’s Work. See, I’m currently unemployed and seriously thinking about a change.

Now what?

A very wise, dear friend who knows me very well had this piece of advice: Do what you love and work will become play.

Sure. OK. No problem, except…

I’m not sure what I love. I envy those of you who have truly found your passion in life. But I’m not sure if I am capable of feeling that deeply, or if I will ever find a true passion. I know people that do. They are the ones who leap out of bed at 5:30 AM and hit the ground running with joy and expectation of what each new day will bring. I’m not one of those. I was more the ‘stay in bed until the last possible moment, then trudge resentfully out the door to get the day finished’ type. Small problem.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been times in my life where I’ve thought I found my true passion. Music was my first. That was my obsession for years. I was simply born to make music. Or so I thought, until I realized two things. First – a well-meaning individual sat me down my last year of college and ever-so-nicely informed me that I would never make as a pro due to my lack of reed making ability (and sweetly suggested that I look for a backup option.) It was a bit late for that. Second – I wanted some measure of stability in my life at that point and simply didn’t have the courage to take the risk of leaping out into the unknown (armed with the well-meant knowledge that I would never make it.) So I quit. Quit playing and tried my hardest to distance myself from everything musical.

At which point I decided to teach. Those who can’t, teach – right? I went to the extreme and for a while thought I was destined to lead multitudes of wide-eyed children down the path to a lifelong love of reading, then elementary music. Such noble aspirations – until met with the realities of TAAS, TAKS, STAAR and No Child Left Behind. Thanks, George W and Rick Perry. OK, I’ll be honest – I can’t blame them (totally) for turning my job into drudgery. But earlier last fall, circumstances (or sliding doors) caused me to take a leave of absence from teaching the masses – and I’ve found that I don’t miss it. At all.

So I am back to square one. What do I love? I love intelligent conversation. I’ve found that my true love is experiencing live music, not necessarily playing it. I love museums, dance, and most of the performing arts (except for outdated musicals. I can’t stand those.) I love being in control. I love feeling like I make a difference to someone, somewhere, each day. I love to write. I love to read. I love research – really, I do. It’s like discovering some unknown artifact to me! But where does this leave me? With a list of things I love and absolutely no idea how to turn them into a satisfying career that fills me with satisfaction and has me bounding out of bed eagerly each day. I really want that.

Part of me looks at the above list and screams ‘Arts Management!’ But I’ve absolutely no idea how to even go about seriously breaking into that field. Another (small) voice in the back of my head weakly suggests ‘Start your own business!’ That sounds great, until the very small logical segment of my brain reminds me that any business starts with a product or service – which I am currently lacking. And the small problem with writing is that people actually have to want to read what you have to say.

Hmmmm…..

So here I am, on this cold rainy day, pondering – what exactly? Life’s passion. What’s yours? How did you find it? What advice do you have for someone like me who is still on the quest for it?

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Filed under Careers, Jobs, Life Changes, Moms

It’s A Date!

Saturday was Date Night at our house. It had been a while – and the last Date Night was to the movies to see Sherlock Holmes. Sorry, Robert Downey, Jr. – I love you but you were boring in this film. It wasn’t your fault that the writing was lackluster and the plot was slow. You just didn’t get the chance to embrace your inner Tony Stark and add some action. I feel sorry for you. And I felt sorry for us, sitting through that on a (rare) night out sans minions.

So on to Saturday. Dinner Out. A real Dinner Out, without crayons, plastic cups and French fries. I was stoked. I was so stoked that I decided to splurge and have someone else do my hair. Good thing, since the H-town humidity was in full force and if I had tried to do it myself I would have looked like a used Q-tip by 5 PM. The minions had money saved for new video games, so off we went to the mall. Guys headed to Game Stop and I went on to Toni and Guy.

Aside – let me make this perfectly clear – I LOVE it when someone else washes my hair. Love it. As in, my perfect day would entail at least an hour getting my hair shampooed. Something about the combination of yummy smelling fancy salon shampoo, warm water and a scalp massage puts me nearly to sleep every time. So I had an ulterior motive here. The shiny hairstyle was just an added bonus – I really just wanted someone to scrub on my head for a while. Maybe it’s because it washes the excess thoughts away, I don’t know. Anyway, it feels really good.

OK, so back to reality. Imagine my surprise when my stylist, Bree – a lovely woman with the most gorgeous streaky-blonde highlights – turned out to be Barry, the guy who used to do my hair across town. Small world, big city. After asking Bree if she used to work at the other location and getting an affirmative answer, the only question I could think of was, “Didn’t you used to be brunette?” Yes, my social skills are embarrassingly lacking at the most unfortunate times. But hey, it was a good sign that Date Night was going to be much more interesting than Sherlock Holmes snorefest! And Bree did a fabulous job on my hair, even giving me a trim for free!

Fast forward to dinner. Actually put on makeup – something that has been sorely lacking in my daily routine recently. I admint, I did have to check my latest In Style for some guidelines. Apparently it’s OK now to do smoky eyes with a bold lip – who knew? Put on an LBD and my tall boots and I was ready to rock the world!

So we went to Benihana. No, it wasn’t prom or homecoming. Frankly, I never went there for prom or homecoming – but I did go to the restaurant on top of Reunion Tower in Dallas once. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, every teen thinks it’s the epitome of a date place. But we love hibachi (sushi is growing on us, but hibachi is better) and it’s the best place we have found in H-town to get it. Ironic that we went into town for a basically suburban date, but like I said, part of it was the lack of minion company that was really exciting for a change…

Benihana is always fun. Like I said, no homecoming or prom dresses, but the cast of characters was even more colorful without them. There’s something about sitting around a table with six strangers that brings out perfect people-watching. Like the sales executive who ordered the octopus and seaweed hand roll to impress his clients when he had obviously never eaten it before. That was entertaining to watch. This time, our companions were a heavily-tattooed couple out for a romantic evening – and halfway through their fishbowl-sized blue beverage from the bar. Moving down the table was another couple who clearly made it their objective to get the Tattooines further inebriated by ordering them yet another blue fishbowl. Let’s just say that our chef got the loudest cheers of any in the restaurant (from that end of the table) for salting the food. Finally (and luckily) there was a normal, quiet younger couple next to us – but they wanted mushrooms left out of everything, which was a bit tricky since the rest of us ordered them. In a nutshell – great food, impeccable people-watching and a minion-free dinner. Not the most exciting Date Night – but again, it’s not about where you go, it’s the fun you find while you’re there!

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Filed under Date Night, Moms, People Watching

Starbucks, How I Love Thee

What is it about this place that lures me in time after time? It’s not the coffee – I can get that any time I want at home for way less money. But that requires effort. Effort, and my home-brewed coffee doesn’t come in a swanky-looking cardboard cup with a lid and cardboard heat shield. Something about that cup just makes it taste better. Really. But I digress…

Starbucks always reminds me of that movie You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks telling his associate about the sale of ‘overpriced legally addictive stimulants’ in his bookstore. Maybe that’s why I always associate Starbucks with books (well, that and the fact that every Barnes and Noble has one…) Something about the ambiance – the smell of brewing coffee and warm bagels, the sounds of cool jazz softly drifting through the air, clicks of keyboarding businesspeople trying to close the latest deal, soft conversation and the hum of fancy-coffee machinery – just sucks me in. Makes me feel inspired. The latest copy of the New York Times doesn’t help either. I’ve always had a secret desire to live in a tiny Manhattan loft and write, so just reading the paper brings me closer to that imaginary life I covet.

I always feel like writing when I come here – even if I just sit on the patio and watch the traffic go by, watch the people and listen to fragments of conversation. It never fails – something pops into my head and I just have to write it down. And one thought leads to another. Fueled by caffeine, I end up composing pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. For my eyes only. That’s OK. Yes, I dream of being a writer and yes, I have spent time in these havens of java composing pieces for others’ eyes. In fact, this morning was one of those times. I had to stop because I felt a bit blocked – the lovely older man sharing my table wanted some conversation with his coffee, and I happen to share his daughter’s name, so I obliged. But had to stop on my ‘work.’ That ‘work’ that feels like fun. Isn’t that what a dream career is supposed to be – something you love so much that work feels like play? I’ve always thought so.

Unfortunately others have to find your work interesting and worthwhile in order to make writing lucrative and, with the exception of these posts, I’m way too insecure about my abilities to share any personal stuff – yet. One day I’ll get there. But if I’ve learned one thing from The Artist’s Way it is to give myself permission to be a beginner and write pieces that are bad. That has been a big step for my Type-A-ness to take. I like to do it right and do it well – the first time. So I’ve taken big steps there. Really.

So I will continue to consume my stimulants – of which caffeine is only one. To me, the music, smells, people and sounds are just as enriching as the java (which happens to be top-notch yummy warmth.)

Everyone needs inspiration – even us moms who are thankful that all the kids got out of the house fed and fully clothed this morning. Think about this today: What inspires you? People? Places? Things? Indulge yourself and find your inner Starbucks!

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Filed under coffee shop, inspiration, Moms, New York, Starbucks, writing