Monday, July 28, 2008

The First Step of Good Décor

If you don’t clean regularly and thoroughly (or have someone else do so), décor won’t make your place look a whole lot better. No matter how high the quality or expense of your stuff may be, if your place is dirty, it loses a lot of panache.

It’s obvious that you never really see something until you have to clean it. Most people just keep buying things and stuffing them into available spaces, or, at best, putting some thought into placement and then just leaving them there for years. Every so often they’ll wipe said object off, and perhaps dust it once a month, but it’s important that the area around it not be forgotten-and not just as a matter of clearing out dust bunnies and other allergens. Believe it or not, the vibrancy of every item of décor, as well as walls, draperies, blinds and carpeting diminishes when left unattended for too long. Cleaning is an excellent time to take stock of the condition of your possessions, the practicality of their placement, and the way they interact with their surrounding space.

This week, I did my every-nine-month wall, door and molding cleaning-and as usual, was surprised that it actually gleams (it’s all white). I probably should do it more frequently, but the idea of it is always more overwhelming than the actual work. What’s funny is that if this type of cleaning is separated into 3 or 4 activity periods of about an hour each, it’s not difficult at all, and a quick wipe with a simple wet cloth dampened with diluted liquid soap can extinguish almost every mark except paint scratches or splashed hair coloring. At the same time, you’ll get an overview of just what repair work may need done, and chances are, you’ll also have a few brainstorms along the way regarding décor changes.

Small rugs can be washed outside and rinsed with the hose, then left to dry in the shade while hanging over a chair; you would be wise to vacuum first to remove pet hairs and ground-in dirt. If your drapes can be machine washed, try to do so at least annually-you will be able to notice a distinct difference, and will feel good knowing that you’re no longer breathing in the trapped dust. Blinds should be wiped fairly often, but, if you’re like most people, this chore falls way down on a priority list, if it’s even there at all. But try to give them a decent cleaning to get off the top layer of grime, especially if you’ve gone to the trouble to wash the other window treatments.

Now how do you retain that level of almost-perfection? Keeping on a cleaning maintenance will also keep the attention on your lovely items and décor choices instead of your guests being distracted by clutter or dirt. That means making a schedule and sticking to it-or forcing your kids and spouse to abide by some parameters. Try to get your weekly cleaning routine down to a science in a way that works for you. For example, clean each room at a time or, even one floor per day…whatever you can manage. See if there’s a convenient socket so that you don’t have to keep moving your vacuum connection; it’s much easier to do an entire level in one swoop. Keep a supply of cleaning products and utensils in each powder or bathroom so you don’t have to keep toting them around.

Who wants to come home to a dirty house and be more stressed? Your abode should welcome you with organization, beauty, with favorite items out arranged to your satisfaction. When people (especially kids) clean their own mess, they will hopefully realize humility and understand accountability. When one aspect of your life is under control, you may feel empowered to take even more control in other areas; feeling like the house has the upper hand is not the best feeling to experience. Finally, think about it-when’s the last time you saw a messy, dirty room advertised in a décor magazine or showroom? No one wants to live in a museum, but the most harmonious surroundings are clean and neat as well.

What Do the “Popular” Teen Girls Wear These Days?

First of all, we first must identify what makes a girl popular. In my daughter’s elementary school years ago, many so-called popular girls were cheerleaders…not because they passed an audition but because they parents paid for summer camp and the uniforms. Anyone could be a cheerleader; apparently it brought instant status to every 10 year old that could shake a pompom. The “super popular” girls were those who wore the most revealing clothes allowed by the school board, such as skimpy skirts and tank tops in the middle of winter. My daughter asked one once, “Aren’t you cold?” to which the other fifth grader replied, “Of course I am-but this looks good.” Sad, isn’t it? The stakes are raised in Junior High. It’s still not about looks or personality as much as power and sexuality- a “really popular” girl posted pictures of herself on Myspace, wearing a shirt with a drawing of hands over her breasts, as well as a suggestion with an arrow pointing downward. Is this what the popular girls are now wearing to make themselves popular?

I have spent a lot of time lecturing (yes, I believe there’s a time and place for it) on the concept of self-respect, standards and other stuff teens don’t wish to hear. But if I didn’t, I’d be remiss in my duty. Meanwhile, dozens of teen flicks abound with mean “popular girls” who contradict our words that their actions are not the way to behave. But, unfortunately, kids are vulnerable, naïve and insecure, and being around others who seem to have no fears of being able to get away with anything is liberating. Even when they badmouth others and connive, popular girls can give off an aura of having a special magic. (Often, it’s just misplaced confidence, super-ego, and bad attitude, but no one will admit it.)

Anyway, for those girls whose goals are to simply look good and fit in, without drawing unnecessary negative attention to themselves, I have the word straight from the horse’s mouth. It will probably differ by the time school resumes in four weeks, but the basics should be the same:

1. Knit shorts of all colors, hitting mid-thigh, with the waistband flipped over to expose the white elastic. (I don’t get it, either, but it’s big with those under the age of 16.)

2. Short skirts with patterns, not flowers…flowers just aren’t cool, apparently.

3. Jeans and capri’s-but not sweatpants or culottes, and definitely not gauchos-ever.

4. Differently patterned tops and bottoms are OK, as long as there’s a color connection.

5. Too much co-ordination is a no-no, like wearing a top that’s basically green with a hoodie in the same shade of green.

6. On that same note, hoodies are in, but cardigans and pullover sweaters are not.

7. Slip on, printed canvas shoes (like Vans) are the thing to wear-it appears that white designer tennis shoes or even simple Ked-like shoes are only for us older folks.

8. Black and white-checked items are really popular. (My daughter has this pattern in a purse, backpack, belt, earrings, and shoes.)

9. Tank tops are considered “hot”. (If your kid has significant cleavage, re-stitch the seam at the tank’s shoulder, bringing the neckline up an inch or so. She may not appreciate it, but there will be less of her for males to appreciate.)

10. Short, barely-there ankle sox are now more desirable than regular crew sox or slouchy socks of the past.

Let me end by saying that not every “popular” kid is badly behaved or spoiled, and they’re not the only ones who end up being successful. In fact, some of the "mean" popular kids’ success in high school is pretty much the high point of their lives; the real world takes a whole lot of acquiescing and humility that never had to be acquired. They may or may not learn that life is not a popularity contest, and it’s a darned good thing that it isn’t. If the people who didn’t win would allow it to affect their lives, there would be millions crying in their beer while the few winners would be trying to run the world. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Clothes of The Future

If you lived in the States during the late 60’s/early 70’s, you may have watched a weekly series for a few years called “Lost in Space”. A family-the Robinsons-was sent into space for a short jaunt; the father was a space engineer, the mother was a doctor, and they had 3 children. Accompanying them was a co-pilot, and, unbeknownst to them, the resident bad guy, Dr. Smith, who snuck on before takeoff for his own devious reasons. Due to his intruding, plans were foiled and they found themselves…ah…lost in space. The galaxies offered grit for many sagas, even though today’s kids would scoff at the makeup and costumes of the aliens. Even the story lines were tame by today’s sci-fi standards, such as the alien who traveled across the universe, collecting beings for his zoo. People hadn’t yet experienced high tech special effects, so what the show offered was the height of coolness, even in the early black and white episodes. My personal favorite was when a female alien became enamored of the never-trustworthy, always lazy, Dr. Smith. His memorable character acting was never as funny as in that particular story line. The sexy femme fatale would appear outside of the spaceship window cooing “Dr. Smith” as she floated back and forth. Dr. Smith would run screaming and crying in his cowardly way, giving viewers a big laugh-or at least a smile. But none of this tops Robot. I loved Robot. Robot was the genius, the pet, the comic foil, and most importantly, the thorn in the side of Dr. Smith. He’d wave his stretchy-pipe arms and intone, “Danger Will Robinson, Danger”, and you knew something horrible was coming. He and Dr. Smith would trade insults until Dr. Smith would pull out Robot’s power pack and Robot would collapse with a sound that defies description. But by the end of every show, the family would escape the clutches of whatever evil alien being was intending to harm them, and be on their way to the next adventure. The movie version failed to do it justice, and I don’t recollect any board games, dolls or merchandise connected to it-true class.

Thinking about this earlier today again made me wonder if we, as a human society of the future, will ever wear the clothing that science fiction writers and designers portray. In this show, as in many other television and movie productions, the future means unisex attire, usually as a jumpsuit, and most often with long sleeves. It’s rather understood that we will have the joy of miracle fiber in the future, material that will keep us cool in summer, warm in winter, never need special laundering or any ironing, will come in flattering colors-or metallics-while still able to conform to our body-with the supreme advantage of not allowing any bulges, rolls, or other drawbacks to be apparent. This is a bit different than the clothes presented on the future world cartoon “The Jetsons” because in that, everyone did have unique styles, albeit quite geometric looking. (Of course, there is always the realm of future depicted by the entertainment industry in which everyone walks around in rags because the world has been practically destroyed, but we won’t go there today.)

My question is, do you think that the day will come when everyone will dress alike in unisex clothing? If it happened upon us in the next year-however absurd that may seem, would you go for it?

On one hand, I can see where a far-off future society-say thousands of years away-may be much more enlightened than we are, and will be at an intellectual and emotional place where attire isn’t important. In that case, unisex clothing would be much, much simpler in terms of decisions, packing, washing…not to mention what we could do with all the time and energy we now spend shopping, trying on, sewing, and accessorizing. It actually would be quite nice to be at such a place. But as far as things look to me, I can’t see that ever happening in our lifetime; we’re a far way from being that enlightened. We still want diversity, interest, fun and uniqueness. Our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren may never understand, but right now, fashion is fun, isn’t it?

A Stay At Home Mom’s Wardrobe

For me, the decision to be a stay-at-home mom was clear. Knowing that working a minimum of 45 hours per week without job sharing or part time options would be difficult, I sadly resigned from an enjoyable job. This choice enabled me to share many precious moments that I would have missed, as it would for any mother. However, I’ll never forget how hard it was for me to live with my choice on a day to day basis. There were countless days that I would have jumped at the chance to have gotten dressed, left her with a sitter, and resumed my life as I knew it. I’d even dream about doing so-at those times when I could actually sleep. I missed the camaraderie and having someplace to go every day. I missed having business goals, results, and my own paycheck. And I really missed going out to lunch with other adults. All of my friends were at work, and with mostly elderly neighbors, I had no neighborhood connections, on top of not having siblings, cousins or in-laws nearby. My days consisted of feeding, changing and quieting a very fussy infant; motherhood wasn’t as I imagined. Had I disliked working to begin with, it would have been different, but my work was my life. However, fate arranged it for me to start a whole different direction. That said, today’s column is going to focus on a stay-at-home-mom’s wardrobe, or, better yet, the mindset transition from a working wardrobe.

Since I had the luxury on not needing to leave the house to attend to other children, I became used to wearing loose pants and t-shirts until the baby fat came off. Even back to my pre-maternity size, I still strived for comfort, so hubby’s old shirts fit the bill-and made nursing easier. As much as I feared becoming a household drudge, I also saw no need to wear nice clothes when staying inside all day. A walk down the street or to the park relied heavily on comfy running/tennis shoes-especially because foot size tends to increase with pregnancy-and regular shorts. I started saving t-shirts for home and used occasions of going out, such as grocery shopping, to wear tops that were a bit more attractive while still informal. When my daughter started preschool, I was encouraged to see that other stay at home moms didn’t let motherhood get the best of their fashion style. Now, they weren’t decked out in dry-clean-needing silks, but no one was frumpy, either. For the most part, moms used preschool time to run chores or keep appointments, so their classic clothes were not only getting some wear, they served as an ego-booster. It’s good for woman to feel like she looks good, even if the only ones who sees her are strangers.

As time went on, I altered some of my former work attire for casual wear, and it became quite pleasant to not be concerned about shopping, feeling like I could travel to the beat of my own drummer. All stay-at-home-moms can. Don’t like jeans? Wear casual pants. Like skirts? Wear them to the drug store, the vets, or church. Do you like to live in tailored blouses? Go ahead; why not? And as for sweat suits, sweat pants and oversized sweaters are concerned, yes I have them, but I don’t live in them-just like with our working sisters, there’s at-home and going-out choices. It's great to not be cemented into any particular look or wardrobe style.

The primary requirements for a stay at home mom’s wardrobe are: ability to be easily laundered (kids make a lot of messes), practicality (will you be able to wear it to a casual dinner as easily as to Gymboreee?), comfort (when you’re sleep deprived and cranky, anything uncomfortable will make your day even more miserable), and whether you feel attractive in it. When you spend much of your life at home, you need your morale boosted in as many ways as possible. So go for whatever calls out to you; no one is judging you and there’s no such thing as a dress code!

And remember that Supermoms can do almost anything, but not all at the same time!

Adapting Fashion for Neighborhoods

Perhaps it’s just my impression, but I swear that different neighborhoods have distinct personalities. Revisiting them at least once a year allows me to feel that those old pals are still doing just fine. And just like getting reacquainted with someone after a long absence, I take pleasure in enjoying their unique gifts once again. They may not remember me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t missed them! They are so diverse, in fact, that I can indulge myself in dressing for the locale-sort of like saving eccentric fashion looks for Soho or Greenwich Village, and designer looks for the Upper East Side.

Although Pittsburgh is not New York, we still have opportunities to dress for outings. One of my favorite places is Squirrel Hill. As the Jewish center of our city, many Orthodox and Hassidic followers fill the streets, wearing yarmulkes, dreadlocks, traditional black attire, and women in long, dark skirts. Visiting ethnic stores and dairy eateries, a woman may feel just a bit out of place showing too much skin-or she might not. Since stepping into this world is escape into old world living, I prefer to err on the side of conservatism.

A neighborhood not far from there is Shadyside, consisting of older, expensive homes and an upscale shopping district is only about 4 blocks long. I go there to treat myself, as it’s a little too fancy for every day shopping. You could easily pull out those items that are one of kind or logo-labeled and fit right in, using this visit as the chance to finally use those long scarves or out-of-the-ordinary jewelry.

A slightly more bohemian neighborhood is found in older parts of our city’s South Side, where antique and specialty shops compete with tattoo parlors and biker bars. There is a newly recently section, but my verdict about that is still not in. The preppy folks gathered in the central rotunda outside of the Cheesecake Factory prove that it’s popular, but I’m still partial to the original blocks.

Oakland is the academic hub of town, home to two major universities, two colleges and an extensive health complex. Young adults abound everywhere, as do their band clubs and bars. Since people flock from all over the world for education and health care, there is a huge diversity of population. Seeing saris, turbans, and mid-eastern veils mingling with a sea of denim means wearing indulging your identity and youthful creativity-such as hand painted shirts, tie-dyed items, baseball caps, and university alumnae gear-especially if you studied in this ‘burg.

Then there’s the Strip District-quaint, comfortable, and exciting. Primarily known for wholesale provisions, it’s where restaurants obtain their wares at dawn. But anyone can enter a fish market and pick out dinner from huge tanks of eels and lobsters and enjoy the dozens of ethnic markets, restaurants, and shops. Walking here is like stepping into other countries; employees speak their native tongues, and the vacuum-sealed atmosphere we’re used to isn’t always evident. Neither are grocery carts. What you buy, you carry, and since parking is at a premium, it could be a long haul. Since this is the place where working folk go for good deals, one doesn’t want to look too conspicuously fancy. Think packing district décor, where comfy, closed shoes are a requirement. The old world charm of mesh shopping bags carried by the little old ladies and the brown wrapping paper of meats and cheeses echoes nicely with today’s Green movement. This is not a place to dress to impress, at least not during daylight hours. (There are some dance clubs on the outskirts for that.)

Going to any of these places is a great break chain stores. They show us what life is like outside of our own little circle. These towns are also close to my heart for their original and residential living not far from its business area, allowing residents to forgo cars. Energies are different from the suburbs, and I find the cultural mix stimulating-along with the wide variety of focus in fashion. I love neighborhoods with personality; just like individuals with personality, they’re hard to forget!

Consider your wardrobe before visiting unique parts of your city and your visit may be even better!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sounds Can Add to our Homes

This site is primarily about the visual aspect of our homes, yet we can’t forget the audio aspect. What good is it to have a stunningly lovely home, but have our nerves be grated upon by sounds that make us want to go elsewhere?

Noise pollution is just as bad as all other kinds of tangible pollution. Do some sounds really annoy you? The other day a perturbing sound started me thinking about the relevance of why certain sounds affect certain people, and the only reason I could figure was that they touch part of our historical psychology-in other words, they remind us of past unpleasant associations. Probably psychologists have a whole realm of more technical causes, but I don’t like reminders of times when I felt bad, and I’m sure most people don’t, either. The same could be said for sounds that elevate our mood; again they are quite variable and can cover a wide range. But, some sounds bother us to such a degree that they may even be a reason for not living in a specific locale.

Some of the sounds I particularly find disquieting would definitely affect my home atmosphere, just as those I love could add to it. For example, I find the sound of a train whistle quite sad, and would never live near a track that’s still in use. The forlornness of a train whistle conjures a despair of hard times from my parents’ generation that is unexplainable, but still very real to me. I would not wish to hear neighbors play music from the 40’s, especially polkas…My grandparents would listen to such music on an old radio every Sunday, and, although my childhood was happy, such songs have always inexplicably annoyed me.

I also can’t stand Instant Message notification…you know, that aggravating “blmmmp”. Even worse are those sounds that some people install in place of that blmmmp. (One time I was near the computer and didn’t realize it was on. My daughter had just turned off the monitor but left the audio volume on “high”. As I bent over to retrieve something from the desk drawer, a loud kissing smack reverberated out of the speaker and almost gave me a heart attack.) That, to me, is noise pollution.

So, what can you do to eliminate the bad noise and add good noise into your home to put you in a better mood? And, is there any way to add to your décor while doing so? Perhaps there is, if you think long and hard and use some creativity. One very common way to block out street noise is with a machine that generates another noise, such as humidifiers, air conditioning, heating, and the like. But few want to have to resort to machinery all the time, especially if it’s not really required. “White noise” devices for bedrooms are small but effective, and bubbling fountains may be considered for use in family or living rooms. They don’t need to be the type seen in pictures of mansions; less ostentatious models are now available for the “average” homeowner. Most folks wouldn’t want to keep a television on all day, but turned to cable music stations, or using a radio set on a non-commercial station may also work in offering a pleasant layer of music to blanket the neighbors’ lawnmowers, dogs, or kids.

Don’t forget chiming clocks; grandfather clocks have been long held in esteem for their reassuring bongs every hour, but only you can decide if they would be disruptive to your sleep. Wind chimes outside a door that’s open during warm weather can add a pleasant feeling to your home, but you can also hang one on the inside, above a window, for the same effect. (These have the added benefit of being made in metal, wood, shells and other natural materials, and can be a lovely accessory to any room.)

Look around and see if anything bothers you, and do something about it. Turn off speakers if they bother you; close windows if the kids are playing ball underneath it-or open windows to hear the wind and the birds.

There are good reasons why certain monks and nuns maintain periods of silence, and why cats run away from noise and commotion. Sounds do have a way of getting to us, for good and bad reasons.

Clothes with a Conscience

Recently, as I flipped through a new fashion magazine, an ad caught my eye. It was for Sketchers, and said, “Nothing Compares to Family”. It used a photograph of Tori Spelling and her son, Liam…assumingly both wearing Sketchers. The ad included the fact that Sketchers joins Ms. Spelling in support of the K.I.D.S. Foundation, and to visit

Now, I liked that. It is uplifting that not every company is only looking out for number one. When one considers how much money is being made on overpriced clothing that costs a fraction of its price tag in terms of material, it does seem almost sinful that our purchasing power is just making executives rich. It seems that, with so much emphasis on “going green” these days, we, as a society, would be much more conscious about how we make our choices. The last time I remember any strong emphasis on such considerations was a few years back, when we found out the abhorrent conditions under which many foreign workers slaved to give us the clothes we so nonchalantly toss in our closets. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sketchers take a step in the right direction.

My faith was even further renewed in mankind’s altruism when I found yet another page encouraging shoppers to “do good” with their purchasing power. On just this one page, six different organizations are inspiring to rise above petty greediness for their own bottom line and allow their sales to offer help where it is urgently needed. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more apt to part with my cash if I think it is providing assistance instead of just filling some corporate pocket. If you agree, here are a few starting points to get you going in the right direction:

Small Flower-30% of sales of L’Aromatheque Cassis Perfume Extract benefits the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The price is $9.50 at for .28 ounces.

Erica Weiner-30% of sales of a gold-toned, filigree ring at $20 will benefit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ring is wide, etched, and appears to be able to fit most fingers. It can be found at

Shop Daja-They are offering an origami dress for $363, 30% of which will benefit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Their website is The one advertised is a royal blue and A-line, with black tank top-like straps, a black belt, and black, lacy fringes around the neckline.

Figments-Figments Designs will donate 30% of sales from a $62 coin purse to Humane Society of the United States. Check out to see this beautifully gold and ivory embroidered bag with one central clasp.

Shop Intuition-Unique summer sandals can be found for $154; asymmetrical straps, crisscrossing below where the 3rd toe would lay and topped with a small band, have a very modern appeal. With the wider strap across the instep, the look becomes funky, as well. The ones pictured appear to be either white satin or white patent leather. The Humane Society of the United States will receive over $46 of each pair sold.

Violet.Com-Offers a magnolia and baby’s breath patterned platter, of which 30% of sales benefits the Humane Society of the United States. It is square, off white in color, with dark gray, pencil-like botanical designs stretching from diagonal corners and meeting in the center. It is truly lovely, for $75.

Clearly, these are Animal Welfare organizations, which need help just as much as all other charities. If you want to find out about other animal organizations that will profit from your purchases of tops, bags, jewelry, scarves and other items, check out animal and pet lover magazines. In the back there are many ads of items where your money not only gives you something a bit out of the ordinary to wear and/or use, you’ll be doing a wonderful thing to help “those who cannot help themselves.” (I once bought a pretty t-shirt with an outline of a cat, which benefited a group named Felines, and I felt wonderful every time I wore it.)

If you know of such an organization, please feel free to share it here so that we can all know about it. Thank you!