Monday, June 23, 2008

Company Picnics-What to Wear?

It’s getting to be that time of year for company picnics.

Now, even if you don’t work for an actual “company”, you know what I mean…the event where all gather in an outdoor area and get the chance to visit with other co-worker’s families. Is it just me, or is does this situation feel peculiar to others as well? Perhaps the strange feeling only occurs every so many years, or perhaps even for only a few minutes each year. But there are moments where I look around and it feels definitely odd to be around work colleagues in a place other than work.

During my corporate career, there was no regular “company” picnic, except for a day at a local amusement park, and once a year my immediate group met at someone’s house. However, such events often have a schedule and order of their own. Folks usually contribute the same foods year after year and sit with the same friends year after year. Without fail, there is always twice as much dessert choices as side dishes, and everyone always complains there is “too much”, just like at family picnics. But at company picnics, the difference is seeing spouses, significant others, and children of people with whom you spend a good deal of waking hours. Although we have heard all about their dear ones (having seen pictures and heard stories), witnessing the dynamics of others’ personal lives can take a few seconds of mental adjustment.

So, since a company picnic is a fairly important social event, either for the first time or twentieth time, the majority of us want to make a good impression, or at least not a bad one. A big question for most people is what to wear. On one hand, comfort is the name of the game, since it will likely be hot and last from the afternoon into the night. If you like to take part in physical activities (like the inevitable volleyball or softball) you’ll have special requirements, just like you do if you opt to go swimming. It makes figuring out what to wear and what to take seem like more work than an overnight trip, since you shouldn’t be quite as casual as you might be with friends or family.

I’m not saying that you should plunk down big bucks for designer duds that will just get dirty from park benches, dusty from bleachers, or sweaty from cheering associates on in friendly competition. But aim for clothes just a bit more upscale than what you wear around the house or to wash your car. These folks, after all, may be in the position to someday be giving you ratings or references; you want their image of you to remain as professional as possible-and that means no skimpy attire for girls or offensive shirts or caps for guys. Most importantly, think about the fact that you don’t want as much familiarity with colleagues as you may have with strangers, as odd as that may sound. As a guy, do you really want your employees to get a close look at your bare chest while you’re grilling hot dogs? As a gal, do you want other women who are in the position of concurring with your pay raise see you braless? Does anyone really want to meet the families of associates wearing anything that’s dirty, ripped, or decidedly ratty?

All of this may not seem like it’s not the least bit relevant to a young person just starting out, but believe me, it is. Whether you like it or not, how you look when away from the work environment and clients says a lot about your overall work image. It’s always better to be a bit more conservative than to be daring and regret it. Save the outrageous stuff for your own time, and down the road, you’ll be glad you did.

What makes company picnics what they are is that they are for those who have bonded from situations during the recent past. As much as you may think you won’t miss anything if you skip this year’s annual picnic, go anyway. You’ll be glad you did. As much as we may grumble about possibly needing to make another trip to the store or juggle our personal schedules, it’s good to do so once a year. Camaraderie can go a long way in making you feel better overall!

Black and White Fashion Photography-Do You Like It?

There is something about black and white photography that beckons me. I equate it to being a baby boomer, and often wonder if others also feel nostalgic about it. After all, in our infancy, perhaps the only pictures of us were in black and white, and our parents’ lives were, for the most part, captured primarily in this media. Perhaps it’s just association, but when I see black and white photos, I’m taken to a time when life seemed easier, simpler, and more positive overall-and a part of me wishes I could delve right into those photos.

There is a view that photography has the miraculous ability to capture and hold a moment for all eternity, and it’s even more of an enigma when the photo is in black and white. Perhaps it’s the suspension of reality in removing color, or maybe it’s that the visual impact is more pronounced and stark. In any event, I think that those of you who grew up before camcorders and digital cameras know the intrigue I’m talking about. Is it any wonder that school photographers now charge more for black and white?

What got me to thinking about this was that I recently visited a building undergoing renovation. It’s been part of my life forever. Well, they retrieved dozens of archived photos, then enlarged and hung them, to reflect their historical path. That path wove through 30 years of the building’s existence, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the children in the photos were making their living today, and what I was doing at the time those pictures were snapped. Then I did a double-take. In one, there was a gal who looked just like me! It was hard to tell for sure, but I’d bet it was me on one of my weekly visits. I once owned clothes like that, the general build resembled mine, and I occasionally wore my hair in that particular style. What an odd feeling that, unknowingly, I’d been frozen on film until years later, for all the public to see during a remodeling project!

Apparently it’s now becoming “in” again to turn to black and white for fashion and personal portrait photography, and little wonder; it has an essence that’s hard to replicate. Sure, color is realistic-but is it sometimes too realistic? Can it portray a mood as well as the subtle nuances of black and white? Do any of you choose to change your digitalized photos into black and white?

A quick glance at a fashion magazine tells me I’m not alone in thinking it’s attention-getting, especially if used with one focal point in bright color. This has been done for years, in print ads, television commercials, and even movies. Some documentaries seem even grittier in black and white, and no one can argue that the abrupt change from black and white to full screen color when Dorothy opened the door to Munchkin Land wasn’t stunning. (My mother told me, when I was quite young, that they did that on purpose to show the drudgery of life on a Kansas farm compared to the magic of Oz. I have often wondered which point was supposed to be more emphasized.)

Even when color photography had been around for some time, it was still common practice to take graduation pictures in black and white; how far they’ve come from the formal studio settings! Yet, kids still utilize this effect on My Space, and some brilliant photographers utilize it with great commercial success as well.

Black and white photography can be mesmerizing, especially in photos of one’s home town. Bygone days hold a fascination in displaying streets known so well, but filled with old vehicles, or even carts. Is it because of the dreamlike, old-fashioned quality, or because it’s just easier on the eyes? Would our favorite old television shows be unsettling if they color-ized them?

Today’s column contains a lot of questions, and I hope they started you thinking. We have more choices than we realize when it comes to photography, so take a hint from famous shutterbugs, and consider black and white occasionally; you may just fall in love with it.

Old Concert Videos-and Fashion Reminiscing

It was only a little over a year ago that I finally got on the bandwagon concerning You Tube…better late than never. Up to then, my only awareness of this it was when I’d look over my daughter’s shoulder to watch some fairly silly-although often laughable-amateur take-off or farce. Every so often, I knew she was downloading some recent performance, but it was only last May that I realized what was in the archives. This was right around the time I started listening to Queen once again, and my daughter had to see what Freddie Mercury looked like, so she searched, and voila!

It was the coolest thing to see what were only memories and images from the past; some of the footage takes me clearly back to being at concerts during my high school days. I can feel the almost feel the palpable energy of the crowds and smell the…well, never mind. I stared at the long-haired rockers and pointed out to my kid that we weren’t so dorky back then after all-although the idea that they’re probably now grandfathers is a little unnerving. I found a video made by my all time favorite, David Bowie, back in 1968. (I didn’t know they were even making videos then, but he was always ahead of his time…) He appeared to be about 18, and for that time, did a fairly good job of it, in my opinion. Regarding some other old videos, some uncharitable folks thought they were low budget and cheesy, but hey-nothing starts out being great. If it weren’t for those 1980 attempts, technology wouldn’t be where it is today, would it?

Anyway, I spent a pleasurable hour watching videos made in the 1970’s and 1980's, and had every intention of catching those that I’d somehow missed on MTV. Not surprisingly, life intervened and I never got “around to it”, as they say. But I remember how fun it was to take a walk down memory lane, and nothing does it quite like seeing an audience and performers of years ago. It’s also a little funny to look back on the styles as well. Now, real people did not walk the streets dressed as Liberace, Elton John, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury did-and even Prince was not exactly a wallflower-but performers today still can’t hold a candle to them in terms of attire. Perhaps it was because they were, after all, men who came across as outrageously bedecked, but even at that, you have to give the designers credit. Moving to other lesser known or back up performers, think matching jumpsuits, platform shoes, and wide, wide afro’s. Yet, it’s the audience that can give the real picture of what was being worn back then.

For the most part, pretty girls in the past would still be considered pretty by today’s standards. Forget the flowers painted on cheeks, headbands, and hair parted in the middle on almost everyone. Even girl’s clothes didn’t look to be all that different, in the quick glimpses of the audience screaming in adulation. It’s the guys where changes are most often noticeable, most evident in the 1970’s, when a good majority had much longer hair than seen today, and a lot of facial hair. Seeing some guys with flared jeans and puffy or flowered shirts looked just plain funny. Shirts open to the waist with a lot of gold chains, is almost as bad. Yet, I’m thrilled that the younger generation can have a sense of how we’ve arrived at where we are today. (By the way, my kid cannot believe I actually like some of that old stuff, yet I complain about the screaming she listens to. I told her that “back then”, screaming was used to make a point and didn’t constitute the lyrics. Good answer, huh?!)

So, if by some chance you find yourself with a few extra minutes someday, check out one of your favorite groups from years ago on You Tube. You’ll probably enjoy the trip back in time. What’s funny is that some days our kids will be doing the same thing with today’s entertainment in the next 25 yars and asking how anyone could have left their house looking like that!

Why Do Some Fashion Accessories Seem To Disappear Into Thin Air?

In my closet at this very moment, there are at least 4 socks whose mates have disappeared, and I have searched everywhere to no avail. Two friends have sworn that they are living in the limbo between my washing machine’s main tub and the outer shell. Out of curiosity, I called Maytag to see if it was possible for clothes to slip through that small crack that opens up while the load is agitating without causing any other problem, and the rep had no idea. (I love helpful service folks.) Hope springs eternal, though-I’ll hold onto them a bit longer, because if I don’t, their partners will show up next week. (Of course they’re not the generic socks of which we all have several pairs-those are around forever. I’m missing a fancy massaging-type of bootie, a cute, fuzzy penguin sock, and other decorative ones that I probably will never find again.)

And then there are gloves. Where do these things go? It seems quite simple; you take them off and put them in pockets. How can one stay and one disappear? It’s another mystery of life. There’s a pile of those in my closet, as well.

If I wasn’t continuously picking up abandoned jewelry of my daughter’s and putting it where it belonged, we’d have a lot of that missing as well, but even with my conscientiousness, that small stuff has a way of making itself scarce just as you’re in a hurry trying to leave the house on time. Last night I slept with a bracelet on that fell off as I was getting dressed. I know I picked it up, but darned if I remember what I did with it. Of course, 15 minutes later, it was nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere and lifted up every bedspread and couch skirt, thinking the cats may have batted it around. I had no luck in finding it. What stumps me is that it’s a bracelet, and therefore, kind of hard to miss. It’s not a contact lens, after all. So where do these things go?

My kid must have lost at least $20 worth of costume jewelry at school during this last year. (At about a buck per bracelet and a few more per ring or necklace, that’s a lot of misplaced items). I myself have had one good gemstone pendant and earrings simply not be there at the end of the day, and years ago, while vacuuming, heard the machine suck up something that jangled loudly; it was a lovely, dangling, gold chain earring. I can understand how an elastic beaded bracelet can break, but at least then you hear the beads clicking onto the floor. What I can’t understand is how a person can lose such a bracelet and never realize it until well after the fact. But I’m living proof that it can happen.

Hair ornaments are notorious for their disappearing acts. I’m not just talking covered rubber bands and bobby pins here; I mean, where could a wide headband go that it wouldn’t be noticed? A really funny thing is that I’ve never lost a scrunchie, and you’d think those would slip right off; I guess that hasn’t happened because I usually pin them into place. But if I didn’t, they’d be gone in a heartbeat as well.

Have you ever lost a scarf, or a large hat? I haven’t-probably by sheer virtue of the fact that if it’s cold enough to wear either, it’s probably too cold to take them off and leave them lying around. The one thing I can say I’ve never lost is a belt, but I daresay it has happened to many.

It’s usually the woman of the house who supposedly knows where everything is. Others can be staring into the refrigerator for five minutes and still not see what’s right in front of their eyes. A lot of the time, I’m good at discovering what’s invisible to others. But more than I’d like to admit, I’ve no idea where something is, and just hope that it turns up more sooner than later. If this is supposed to teach us patience and organized thinking, apparently we all must need a lot more practice!

Flower Arranging Using Common Sense

Most people have seen enough flower arrangements to know what looks good and what they like. Although every florist boasts a designer to create masterpieces that can take your breath away, don’t be intimidated. You, too, can achieve decent results and a fairly professional artificial flower arrangement using common sense and following a few steps. Furthermore, silk flowers are quite forgiving-if you don’t like the way they look, simply take them out of the vase or basket and try again.

First, consider the season; you’ll have the best results if you focus on the flowers that are growing at that particular time. If you plan to have the arrangement displayed throughout the year, choose those that are almost always available, such as roses or carnations. This will go a long way with color as well; you won’t see too many blues or yellows in the northeast during winter, but oranges and rusts replicate autumn perfectly. The goal is to take nature’s lead, since she usually knows best. Think about what grows when, and with what, and you’ll have some idea of where to start. (For example, holly berries and pine are partners in December, but lilacs don’t bloom at the same time as pussy willows.)

Second, consider the size of your chosen sprigs and hold them up to your available containers. Using the analogy of a lady wearing a hat, a very large woman with big hair probably wouldn’t look good with a teeny cap, just as a petite gal would be overwhelmed with a monster-sized ten gallon cowboy hat. Your vase is the person and the flowers are the cap; they should be comfortable with each other. The range of the flowers' height and width should be somewhat close to that of their containers for the most harmonious effect.

Third, you may wish to use florist’s foam or Styrofoam to anchor your stems so that they stay put for several weeks-even if they'll be in a vase. Styrofoam blocks can be cut using a kitchen knife, and they can withstand many uses. Once they’re filled with holes from flower stems, however, it’s time to throw them away, as they’ll be of little use. If you’re using a basket, set the Styrofoam inside to see how high up it goes. If it’s too low, place something underneath, such as a small empty plastic container, an unused book, or anything else that provides the desired height. If the foam is too high, you can cut its depth.

Fourth, secure the foam in your container so that it’s not movable-if you must use two pieces, secure by connecting with a few toothpicks. Start with one type or one color of flower, placing those around the parameter and inside that parameter in a fairly symmetrical pattern. Followed up with another color or type in the same way, until you no longer see the foam. Remember two things: You don’t need tons of flowers to do this; the first tip is to bend wire stems and fluff out petals to fill up space. The second tip is to add bits of greenery here and there to eliminate empty patches. Voila!

There are a few other considerations that may make this more user-friendly. Keep in mind that stores such as Michaels or Joanne Fabrics often have wonderful sales and coupons when you can purchase large bouquets of silk leaves and flowers. If you’re on a budget, stock up and then snip apart the bouquets. You’ll be left with a lot flowers and leaves at your disposal to mix and match in different arrangements, and it’s much cheaper than buying single stems of silk posies. (Some may be a little difficult to separate, but using pliers, bend the stems back and forth repeatedly, and you’ll have success.)

When you think your arrangement is getting dusty, a spray of water from a spritzer used for real plants will allow the blooms to sparkle again. Finally, once a silken flower begins to fall apart, pull it off its stem and throw it away, but save the stem. You’ll find use for it in the future, for those flowers whose stems may have broken or separated from the wire, or for extra flowers on existing stems that you wish to have their own stems.

Hopefully, these tips will help you create a flower arrangement that is truly one of a kind, yet looks like it is a professional work of art!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Considerations When Rearranging a Room

Some folks rarely, if ever, move furniture around. Others, like me, seem to have to do it every three or four months, in accordance with the seasons. After so many years, I’ve come up with a few parameters that seem to apply in every case, which just may help some of you who don’t normally rearrange, but are considering it. These tips may save you aggravation in terms of wasted time or energy.

First, consider the season if you don’t live in an area that’s the same all year. Those who must bear cold winters should try to keep beds and couches away from windows during that time unless you’ve covered windows with dressings of blinds, then sheers, then insulated drapes. Equally important is not covering up the heating vents, which always seem to be exactly where you’d like a heavy piece of furniture to be placed. You may luck out if the furniture doesn’t sit directly on the floor, but still, be careful that the heat won’t get blocked by floor-length drapes. In the summer, the same reasoning applies if you’re a big fan of air conditioning. If not, and you know that you’ll often be opening and closing windows, make sure that you can easily reach the windows without having to bend over, or squeeze behind, something else to get to them. You also don’t want to place anything that may easily be bleached by sunlight directly under a window. (Even some flooring and rugs are somewhat susceptible.)

Next, think about your electrical connections and have extension cords available; in all likelihood, especially if you don’t have an overhead light fixture and the main table light is controlled by a switch. The same goes for the complex computer station and cable television connections-it may be a serious undertaking to relocate that equipment. An alternative could be to switch the desk or TV to face another direction, or buy longer cables. Nothing is impossible, but dealing with wiring is rarely easy.

Are there items that no longer fit in your space after rearranging, in terms aesthetic or practical? Well, that happens. Of course, the answer is to put them in another room, but if that’s not feasible, don’t lose hope. Stash smaller things under a table that may be covered with a long cloth, or stack them; use vertical-instead of horizontal-space. Don’t forget unused spaces such as closet floors, high shelves, or even under-bed areas for small and flat accessories.

You will probably find that you may need to re-hang some wall art, or change it completely; it’s not as hard as you think, and you’ll be glad you made the effort. If you are changing colors, you could go all out with a new paint job, or you can just change bed linens, furniture covers, window treatments, accessories, and the like.

You probably already have 99.9% of what you might need; the trick is to dig through your stuff to find what can clearly convey your idea of what your new space should convey. For example, if you like music, you can clear out a lot of miscellaneous things from a room, and focus of those things musical: framed sheet music, wall hangings of music notes, displays of instruments, and pictures of famous musicians. (If you’re a pianist, you may even want to pepper your space with items that are predominantly white and black.) Almost any hobby can be emphasized by displaying your accoutrements. Using the main color theme of your focal point, plan your other colors…the simplest example could be displaying a little girl’s pink and white tutu and pink ballet shoes, then removing items in other colors, save for those which are pink and white (stuffed animals, dolls, boxes, etc) or dance-related.

Changing window coverings gives a lift to a room, and it’s smart to use lighter curtains up in the summer and heavier ones in the winter. Keep in mind which direction you will now be facing upon awakening; you may just room darkening window treatments if you’ll be facing east and sleeping past sunrise.

Rearranging may take a few hours until you’re satisfied, but the hours of pleasure you’ll have for the next few months will definitely be worth the time investment. You may just feel like you’re living in a new-and better-place!

What Real Women-Not Models or Celebs-Are Wearing

Last night I had the privilege of attending a function sponsored by one of my city’s largest banks, in celebration of a newly renovated exhibition space in our major art/history museum. It gave me the chance to see what real women-not models or celebrities-are wearing, and so I will share my findings with you.

These events are sometimes annoying in terms of what to wear, because they tend to take place in elegant surroundings, with lovely entertainment and wonderful food-yet invitations almost always state “business casual,” which throw me for a loop. Now, business, I understand, and casual is by no means an issue, but putting them together seems to stump a lot of other people as well. A couple folks showed up in what looked like picnic attire, while many went all out fancy. (Men have it so easy when it comes to things like this; the most noticeable male outfit consisted of a gent wearing white pants, royal blue jacket, and a flowered shirt. He had to have a great sense of humor, don’t you think?)

Anyway, while one of the curators gave an impassioned presentation, my mind drifted to those around me; people-watching can offer some of the more interesting facets of a night out. The crowd was comprised mostly of older individuals who were clients of the banks, and as such, had reached their current professional levels through years of work. So, it was naturally a more sedate and conservative array than one might find at one of a city’s new hotspots, where checking ID’s for age is still a major function. Although some 20-somethings looked fashionable, the older women weren’t slouches, either.

One gal had on a strapless purple dress; its looseness removed any hint of formality, as did her hair, which was in a simple bun. What caused a double take was that she had paired it with bright orange, closed toe, high heels. I gazed at those shoes for more than a few seconds, asking myself if any other color than black would have worked with that particular purple, and came up blank. So-first lesson: if you can’t find a color that is a complementary one, and you don’t want black, go for the color that’s in direct opposition on the color spectrum. It just may work.

Another gal had a short, tight skirt that took center stage, being made of hot pink silk. She may have been in her 40’s, and was able to pull it off, but I think it’d be hard to find something to go with a hot pink mini under any situation.

The outfit I thought most put-together was seen on a lady with a white, A-line, knee length dress with ¾ length sleeves-which boasted black appliqués up the middle front, and around the neck and cuffs. She paired it with shoes that were basically black, with a band of white across the toes, with a black bow or ornament smack center-all in patent leather-and totally trimmed in gold strips. Her light hair was up and she had a black band in it. Perhaps a younger girl may find it not bare or sexy enough, but it was still very attractive and sophisticated, yet perfect for this occasion in client socializing.

Perhaps what I liked least was an outfit whose pieces seemed to jar, alhough they were similar. A lady wore a jacket/top with a wild animal motif. Her capri’s were trimmed with the same material as the jacket. Those two would have been busy enough, but she added leopard-skin socks, and shoes that were detailed as well. In my opinion, it’s appropriate to wear animal prints to a natural history museum event, but either jacket or pants, not both. And I am still wondering about those socks…

(Just in case you're wondering, I wore a skirt and top set, rather Indian in design, in light gold, with a lot of beading and lace. The top is sleeveless and tight across the waist, and the skirt is almost floor length. I chose sandals of the same gold color, with a smattering of colored stones across the bands. It’s not something I can wear to many places, but for such an event, it worked. This is what real women are wearing, not models or celebs.)

Which Fashion Appliance Would Be The Most Difficult To Remove From Your Life?

It’s becoming more frequent that I find myself wondering how women managed years ago. Thinking about how many gadgets we now have reinforces how spoiled we are and how easy we have it. With so many doo-hickeys to choose from, and so many products on store shelves, we really have it easy.

We use our Cuisinarts to chop stuff for stuffing. We vacuum with the vacuum and wash clothes and dishes in their respective washers. It’s nice to have a big stove and oven, and fridge storage. And that microwave! I’d have a good deal of difficulty without it.

Which household appliance would be the most difficult to remove from your life? Even a more difficult question to answer, what fashion appliance would be the most difficult to remove from your life?

My daughter answered, with no hesitation, “My flatiron” and some of you men may say either your electric shaver or electric toothbrush. But there are many more items available to help us in our quest for beauty. Actually, with all that’s out there, we should all be walking around looking like a million bucks.

Take, for example, the lowly hair dryer. Now, it’s commonplace for hotels to offer the use of one in every room. But, I still occasionally take mine along if my current style demands the use of a round brush. Like many of you, I get used to my own hair dryer and know exactly what to expect at different heat levels, unlike the somewhat unreliable results I’ve gotten from a “stranger” that the hotel provides. Some folks use the light device that whitens their teeth, so that could be another appliance they may become addicted to, while others clean their contact lenses in a special gizmo that does a better job enzyming the little buggers than an overnight soak ever could. There are still ladies out there who occasionally use hot rollers, but I myself never got into having to wait until they warm doesn't seem like the set has enough curlers, anyway. In my opinion, a curling iron isn’t much better, either-although I have worked with women who would plug theirs into the company bathroom to heat up for a special date after work. Have you ever used one of those nail dryers? I haven’t, but I guess they serve their purpose, since they’re still around. You can’t forget sun beds or sunlamps, either.

Appliances don’t necessarily refer just to those operating on a household current; we have loads of other thingamajigs that help us put our best foot forward, in terms of overall appearance. Think tweezers, clippers, emery boards, bobby pins, even combs and brushes and special hair picks, not to mention rollers, hair pieces, false fingernails and waxing kits. What did women do before this stuff was readily available?

It’s rather interesting to ask yourself what you could most easily eliminate to see where you current addiction falls; as you probably have guessed, it changes with time. Right now, in terms of fashion appliances, I’d choose a hair dryer. But when you come right down to it, we really don’t need those things with plugs. Manual shavers and toothbrushes do a perfectly adequate job, and the results from flatirons and curling irons last less than a day, at the most. It would probably be much more difficult to remove a domestic appliance than a beauty/fashion appliance.

For example, as far as domestic appliances, I could do without the radio, and would use a library computer if mine crashed. But a microwave is an island unto itself, providing me with homey leftovers or cup of tea in 60 seconds. I can warm a sandwich, soup or any other snack in less than a minute, and it never fails to soften icing, fudge sauce, and even frozen Cool Whip. It lets me whiz through the drudgery and get right to the heart of eating, saving me time for more important things. Nothing else offers such immediate gratification. I could never go back to a pioneer existence without a microwave, just like my daughter could never face the world with curls. We all have our own ideas about what’s important.

Why Are Colors Priced Differently?

Were any of you aware of some stores’ new policy of charging extra for certain colors, or not putting other colored items on sale as quickly as those considered unattractive?

This was something I found out some time back, but it’s only been recently that I’ve been noticing it more in the stores found in most malls. What do you think about the practice? I’m still on the fence about it. I think that it’s probably good business sense to want the grays and beiges to move out once spring is on its way, so if it takes marking them down more, why not? On the other hand, as a consumer, if in June I see that a navy top costs more than a green one, when both are summer colors, I tend to feel a little annoyed that the shop owner wants to profit from the fact that more women prefer navy over green.

The phenomenon is often seen in inexpensive establishments; places like Kmart and Target are notorious for ordering the exact same style of top throughout the year, but in seasonal hues. About a month before a season officially ends, the old colors get drastically marked down. If your daughter doesn’t mind wearing baby blue in June (and most kids don’t) you can score a fairly good deal. It makes me wonder just how programmed we are in terms of what colors are supposed to be used and worn at what times.

It obviously all goes back to nature. In the fall, the oranges, browns, and gold of the leaves and autumn harvests dictate those warm color choices, and the burgeoning spring blossoms set the tone for Easter pastels. The bright and vivid summer blooms are reflected in the strong palette of summer fashion, while subdued and dark colors seem more appropriate for the long days and artificial lighting of winter. Looking at it that way, we’ll probably always be slaves to certain colors of clothing throughout the year.

Knowing this public penchant to prefer certain colors is now a ploy of other salesmen, and I have a real problem there. Take a cell phone company that offer free, fairly fancy phones with a new contract. The ad states the phone can be in “the color of your choice”. Well, that’s true if your choice is blue, pink or black. Some guys don’t like pink or blue, and want something different than black. How about a nice, sporty red? That will be another $100… even though it has exactly the same inner workings as the pink and blue and black ones. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a bit smarmy?

This can make consumers crazy because it clearly seems that we are being manipulated. If a store buyer may have purchased too many colors that proved to be unpopular and now want to unload them, why not go about it in a less obvious way? I knew of one store that tried to be a bit less apparent. They had their various tops folded in miscellaneous piles on a display table, with a sign indicating they were all marked down, clearance items-but with no mention of price. Glancing through them, I noticed that the original prices were lined out and the new ones written in, but fairly unobtrusively. Since there didn’t appear to be rhyme or reason with their sizing or colors, a shopper just had to muddle through the heaps. I found a colored top (I don’t remember what color it was) and a black one, both the same style and size, but the colored one was discounted much more than the black one. Thinking there had been a mistake by whoever had done the re-pricing, I asked the sales girl which cost was correct, and she answered that they were both right. In a secretive tone, she said that “they” were going to price clothes differently, depending on what color was going fastest. In this case, since the owner figured black would be more in demand since it’s more on a year-round color, he was going to price it higher. It’s smart; it’s savvy, but it still rubs me just a bit the wrong way-how about you?

Summer Newbies and Their Downsides

Yep, once the pools are open here in the northeast, we can be sure that summer has again arrived. Life will be much easier overall now that we won’t have to put on socks and sweaters. However, there are downsides to summer, and just to be a cynical provocateur today, I’m going to list some of them-just to keep the giddiness about summer living and summer fashion in check.

Living-The sun is bright as all get-out before 6:30 AM and the birds awaken an hour before. Don’t they realize that a large part of the population stays up late since they don’t have school to attend or teach? You’d think nature would be a little more considerate, wouldn’t you?
Fashion- The new flowered, woven linen scarves look pretty, but why would anyone put them on when it’s already 75 degrees as they walk out the door at 8 AM?

Living-There are ongoing battles over air conditioning between those that sweat profusely when the temperature rises over 75 degrees and those that love to wallow in the warmth that has been denied to them for the last 8 months. (Guess which category I fall into and which includes those I live with?)
Fashion- Silky, draping camisoles are indeed feminine, but with the new trend of anchoring them with the skinniest straps that crisscross far down one’s back, clearly the inability to wear them with lingerie limits their use. Plus, their fullness isn’t that conducive to wear under clingy summer tops.

Living-Cats demand an open door policy. When they realize that summer is here, they either meow incessantly to go out or come in, scratching the screen to shreds, or paw at the door until they open it by themselves.
Fashion-Rompers are now supposedly “in”, but I think that most gals will shun them. Hitting mid-thigh, they’re a bit short for a lot of physical activity, the dropped waist makes them rather shapeless, and the positioning of big pockets will surely add the appearance of 5 more inches to every girl’s hips.

Living-There’s the inevitable mosquito bites, sunburn and disagreements over whre to go on summer vacation.
Fashion-Another new trend is to wear two different floral patterns at the same time. According to professional advice, one of them should be bright and the other more faded, with both slightly covered by an overlapping sheer cover-up. Does this seem like a bit too much work to you? Sure, I have florals in my closet, just like the rest of you. Would I dare wearing a flowered skirt with a different flowered top? Probably not. There’s no chance the two pieces would ever look as good as it does in the fashion magazines, where an assistant scoured the city and spent over $300 to to achieve a thrown together look.

Living-With backyards furniture and grills ready and waiting, there’s no longer a reason to put off having more company than one may actually want.
Fashion-A few months ago, I wrote here about my personal distaste of the fad whereby a dressy dress is worn over a t-shirt. The saga continues. However, in deference to summer, fancy dresses such as those with frilled or balloon hems, or those decked with sequins, are now paired with tank tops, summer vests and fancy flip-flops for a “dress down” effect. I’ve yet to see a soul in such a getup; have you?

Living-Kids are bored within 2 weeks of school ending, regardless of camp or other activities.
Fashion-Intuition and Mayle have come out with purses aimed as evening bags-and they’re made of denim. With patchwork, faux leather insets, and gold chain detail, they’re supposed to look “remarkably elegant”, but can you see your mother buying one for a relative’s wedding?

Some landscaping and gardening really does warrant compliments, and you can’t beat the smells wafting from flower beds or the chirping of crickets and cicadas every night. Summer probably lasts as long as it should. After the dog days of August, it is nice to look forward to the crispness of fall… by then most of us are ready for different clothes anyway. Here’s hoping that this summer brings you fun, rest and several happy memories.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Baby Fashion

Let’s face it, every parent wants their kid to look good and unique. By unique, I mean not like all the other kids. Choosing the right baby clothes can be bewildering since there are so many cute choices out there. Many factors come into play when deciding on baby apparel as well. Parents will want a little bit of everything, from practical to lavish. On some levels, a baby wardrobe can be similar in range to your own, just at a smaller scale. New parents also need to think about further down the road. Are you going to have more babies? “Hand me down” clothing is a wonderful thing. You might as well get some good well made clothes for your first baby that will last through a progression of infants.

The most frustrating part about picking baby apparel is that the transition from infant to toddler happens so fast, it’s as if it occurs overnight. You need to think about the coming months and prepare that closet for the first year. Most infant clothes are sized by months. In their first year of life, babies will go through three sets of everything: 0 to 3 months,
3 to 6 months, and 6 to 12 months.

The three “S” factors to consider when choosing baby clothes are Sensible, Sleep wear, and Showing off. You will want your baby to have some sensible clothes in his wardrobe, things that you will be able to tolerate getting a few mashed carrots on. Some simple onesies and a few funny baby t shirts fit this category. Black onesies are a good choice for their uniqueness, gender neutrality, and stain stealthiness. Black rock and roll onesies fit nicely into the showing off category as well. If you want your baby to be a rock star, that is.

Sleep wear is important because infants spend a lot of time sleeping (if you’re lucky). Putting her in some comfortable baby pajamas could be the key to success when dealing with a fussy baby that won’t sleep. Also consider the ease of changing the diaper. It’s a lot easier to just unsnap a onesie or pajama bottom to get at that stinky diaper than it is to fully disrobe the baby.

Showing off your beautiful baby is one of the best aspects of being a baby’s parent. When you go out into the world, you’ll definitely want some unique clothes for baby. Your baby has his own personality, and it’s your job as a parent to let that personality shine! If you have some of those unique baby gifts from the baby shower, this is the time to use them! Dressing your infant to the nines can be the most difficult facet of baby fashion, simply because the baby will always soon need a fresh diaper, whether you’re at the mall or a cocktail party, the child will poop at the least convenient time and place. Choose apparel that makes a diaper change easy.

One final thought on baby clothes is photography. Your baby will grow so fast, some of those cute baby shower gifts may not even get used! When you have your child dressed up, take some pictures! You’ve got to think about the future, when he’s a teenager and wearing punk rock t shirts and the days of cute baby soft onesies are a distant memory. You’ll want to pull out some of those old pictures and reminisce. Also, consider where your child might be headed. What if he landed on the set of Saturday Night Live in 20 years? Wouldn’t it be great if you had pictures of him as an infant in a funny Boob Man onesie, making a face for the camera? What if your baby girl ends up on American Idol in years to come? Wouldn’t it be brilliant if you could pull out a baby picture of her in a Rock Star onesie?
Think about the possibilities…

Owner of - - Cool baby onesies, baby gifts & accessories serves up gourmet onesies, lap tees, baby clothes, baby shower gifts and accessories for preemies, newborns, infants, babies and toddlers.

This article was submitted via our Submit An Article page.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Centerpiece Ideas

When it comes to centerpieces, don’t let yourself be boxed in by any preconceived notion of how it fit into certain parameters. In fact, placing something in the middle of your table is one area where you can allow your imagination to take issue with rules, expectations, and even the rest of your décor!

At this point in my life, thinking back over some of my centerpieces, I wish I would have taken pictures; there were some I truly enjoyed. But one of the greatest things about centerpieces is that they can be timeless and displayed for as short or as long as you’d like. They can also be given as gifts, copied for others, and taken apart and the components used elsewhere-just like they can be created in the same way. There’s no big amount of time or money commitment with a centerpiece; in fact, some holiday ones can even be kept in storage and used year after year. Centerpieces are one of those decorating dreams that give a lot and rarely take much.

If you’re lucky enough to have both a kitchen table and a dining room table, you may want to use a larger, more elaborate centerpiece in the dining room, even if it won’t be seen by as many casual guests. You’ll see it every time you walk past the room, and it will bring you a jolt of pride. Plus, it won’t get damaged from being jostled three times a day and will make eating there even more special. In the less formal surroundings of the kitchen, your centerpiece may need to be smaller to coincide with the size of the table, but try to have one that can be easily moved for those times that your meal takes more room. (It’s quite annoying to hear someone complaining to “move that thing out of the way” after you’ve spent your creative energies to produce it.) If your regular dining companions don’t like to have anything but their meal on the table, you can still make the table look festive with an attractive covering, runners or placemats, and a decorative napkin holder and salt/pepper shakers grouped with a pair of candles. Make a larger arrangement to keep on the table between meals, or place it on a kitchen center island or the center of anything, such as coffee table, end table, shelving, mantel, etc.-after all, who says a centerpiece has to be on the center of an eating surface?

It’s probably easier to jumpstart creative juices on the holidays, when there is an abundance of novelty items. One of the simplest ways to define a centerpiece base is with a large placemat or folded cloth, preferably in a seasonal color or design. On top of that, a good start is either one large central item, or two large items on either end. This tends to offer a sense of the arrangement having stability. These can be surrounded by smaller items which support the theme-but stop before it looks like a sidewalk sale. An example may be a red basket filled with pine boughs in the center of a white base, with a pair of red candles in tall brass candlesticks slightly behind on one side, a small holiday figurine slightly in front on the other side, and the entire display asymmetrically encircled with garland, in which small red, white and gold bows or ornaments are placed. It’s simple, elegant, and somewhat whimsical, while cohesively conveying the nature of the season.

Think of the defining aspects of the holiday or season for item ideas…New Year’s Eve can use champagne glasses with spirals of curled ribbon falling out of them, surrounded by confetti and noise makers. In summer, think small flags, brightly-wrapped sparklers, and pinwheels protruding from clever containers. Birthday centerpieces can include weighted balloons, novelty artificial cakes, or even large “number” candles stuck in a pot of greenery, flowers or sand. Try to have a consistent color pattern between the base and the items, and everything should connect.

For special occasions, use something representational for the celebration, such as a small trophy, a graduation cap set on an elevated base, or a large photo of the happy couple-you get the idea. Flowers make do make nice centerpieces, but there’s so much more that can make your table one that will be remembered. Have fun with your centerpieces, and a hum-drum meal just might seem a bit more festive!

If You Have a Straw Hat, Do You Wear It?

Well, it is that time of year again. The magazines and papers are full of lovely young ladies showing off bathing suits, cover-ups, sandals, beach bags, and yes-straw hats. It never ceases to amaze me how many flattering hat styles there are in the world of advertising, but how rarely I see them in real life. It’s also surprising how few look good on me.

It is hard to deny that there is a good hat can give a woman an allure that’s different from anything else. If it suits the person wearing it, a hat can add more charm and charisma than the newest or most envied outfit, and can enhance one’s face even better than makeup or a hairstyle. When you think about it, it’s rather an enigma, isn’t it?

Women years ago knew this; I wonder why women of today don’t make more use of this resource. Right now I’m looking at a model that is holding one side of a floppy-brimmed straw hat that has flipped down over one eye before if flips back up on the other side. Without this prop, the model would have been attractive enough, but it’s the hat that causes a viewer to look twice. The peek-a-boo eye, the framed face, and the enhanced cheekbones make the most of this particular gal’s assets, which is not to say it wouldn’t do the same for millions of others as well. So why don’t we see more of these hats being worn?

Another ad involves a hat that does not touch the nape of the model's neck; it is simply wider in the brim and meant to be worn without any flip. Yet, the brim itself gently curves from high on one side of the model’s head, to low on the other, sort of like a larger, more summery version of the famous one worn in the movie Casablanca. The cap area isn’t too large or too small, and the attached side bow is perfectly positioned so that the overall appearance is total synchronicity, regardless of the swooping line. Why can’t I ever find a hat like that?

Perhaps if I had the time to travel to a slew of haberdasheries (are they still out there?) and have professional stylists helping me, I could claim success. Or, maybe if I had long hair like the models, a hat would work better. The other issue is, where would I wear it? Since the majority of my time is not spent in resorts, I think it would be relegated to the position that many of my past straw hats held, and that is on my closet’s top shelf. I’d drag it out a few times a year when I visited a beach, but I’d have to struggle to keep it in place. As much as I hate to admit it, a sporty cap that allowed a ponytail to stick through are much more practical on a windy beach; not only do they stay put, I have better eye protection and don't have to worry if it gets wet by errant waves splashing up as I stroll along the ocean’s edge. I guess I could wear a perfectly lovely creation for a nice lunch or dinner outdoors. Too bad my husband and daughter think those places aren’t conducive to eating even under the best of circumstances, let alone on hot, sunny days when a hat would be appropriate.

Now, I do notice that this year there seems to be a compromise of sorts-there are visor-like brimmed caps constructed of straw, with designs stitched around the cap area. They seem to be a dressy step up from the regular material kind of brimmed caps or visors, but as cute as they are, they don’t have the same panache as a wide brimmed, floppy straw hat. On the plus side, though, they seem to be partnered with similar beach bags, and may get more wear than their flashier cousins. They may also be easier to pack.

So, depending on your lifestyle, your hairstyle, and your bravery, you may just want to try on a few straw hats within the next few weeks before fashionistas snatch them up for the upcoming summer events. Perhaps wearing one for an hour can help us all feel glamorous-for a change.

Are High Heels Addictive?

Today as I skimmed through the online news articles as I do every morning, I came across a story about Jamie Spears being stalked by paparazzi. The accompanying picture at a gas station (a great place to catch celebs because they’re pretty much stuck there for 3 minutes) showed Ms. Spears, in all her 9 month pregnant glory, wearing bright yellow, 4 inch high heels. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit too an unsafe (not to mention uncomfortable) attention-getting accessory when almost ready to deliver?

It’s easy for those who may have not yet been pregnant to look at this topic and wonder what the big deal is-after all, a gal has to wear shoes of some sort, and even if she’s pregnant, she still wants to look good, right? My response would be, yes, absolutely. However, shoes like that are trying for sexy, which, at nine months along, is a little late in the game. At nine months along, sexy takes a back seat to counting down the days until the feeling of being a miserable, awkward whale will cease to exist. (Granted, it will be replaced with a whole other set of discomforts, but that’s another story.)

It’s bad enough to have to balance the additional 25 pounds-mostly at your center-but to push yourself up another 4 inches to walk around literally on tippy toes, when you don’t have to, is rather dumb. Just who is anyone trying to impress doing that? Other women don’t care and most men don’t look at a gal who’s preggers the same way that they do other girls. So what’s the point? Why take the chance of falling due to the imbalance of that extra forward weight, and hurting the innocent fetus because you want to look sexy? (I guess it kind of connects with her reported smoking and drinking during pregnancy anyway, but, like before, that’s another story…)

The article generated other memories of pregnant women I’ve seen wearing outrageous shoes, and not all of them were in the public’s eye. I’ve even asked some of them how they can do it, and they’ve just shrugged and said they were used to it. One woman who wasn’t pregnant even chirped up that she wore high heels for so long, her feet hurt when she didn’t wear them, and she’d continue doing so if and when she’d become pregnant. Well, if her feet hurt without wearing high heels, it sounds like she’s already damaged not only the arch and insteps, but overall body alignment as well. She’d be smart to correct things now or otherwise she’ll face a very debilitating future. This is an addiction that isn’t just emotional or mental, it’s physical-people are not meant to totter around on little sticks; they’re meant to walk barefoot. Any study into orthopedics, podiatry or even kinetics will verify that.

Unfortunately, many decisions take place when a girl is really too young to care about future consequences, and there’s still so much they have to learn for themselves. Not only was I guilty of wearing three inch high heels every day to work, I traipsed about 8 blocks each way in them. (Then I got married and my husband and I wore our Reeboks to work, but that was in the 80’s and everyone was doing that. I realized then how I had been unnecessarily torturing myself.) Fate arranged for me to become a mother when I finally acquired more sense, not only about shoes but in many other areas of life, and I must say that I’m grateful of that.

Wearing potentially dangerous shoes due to an addicting need to look sexy isn’t the same as child abuse, but more than one pregnant woman has suffered serious complications due to a fall. In the sense that the chance of a fall can be easily avoided or at least minimized by simply wearing another style, the choice of high heels during late pregnancy can’t be considered smart by any thinking person. Even a 16 year old should know better, and a 36 year old has no excuse. Sooner or later, a woman will realize that motherhood is all about thinking of the child before herself, which is never as easy as she may have expected.

What’s The Deal with Black Nail Polish?

OK everyone, as you have already surmised, I’m not a big fan of black nail polish, and for the life of me, I can’t see what the attraction is.

My 14 year old daughter started bugging me for it about a year ago, and I told her flat out “No”, hoping that it would be enough to move her into the other non-traditional arenas of blue, purple or green. But did that happen? Of course not. With about one zillion nail polishes on the market, she still longed for the one she couldn’t have. Isn’t that always the way? In any event, before school started last year, she came back from the mall with a black glittery version from Hot Topic. (I may just devote one entire article to that quaint little abode of lightness and whimsy some day as well. But I digress.)

So, I say to her something to the effect of, "You spent over $3 of your own money on this, something that you know I think is abominable-but-but-at least it has glitter in it. That’s one positive. Anything with glitter can’t be taken too seriously. I myself was addicted to red glitter polish in 10th grade." And so I blessed her use of the ugly stuff.

Before you jump on me as having utterly terrible and prejudicial judgment, I’ll say three things in my defense…first, as someone who has lived a relatively long time, I’m entitled to my views, even more than younger folks, for the simple fact I’ve had decades more to justify them. Second, after suffering the fate of having my toenails turn black after a rather bad dance experience-and having other girls think I was wearing black polish when I was wasn’t wearing any at all-I’m a little sensitive to the bad memories. And third regards an incident I heard of about 13 years ago that I never have forgotten. It goes like this: A friend had a 5 or 6 year old daughter at the time, and was looking for a babysitter. A neighborhood girl came, and she was wearing black nail polish. The mother crossed her off the list of potential employees without a moment’s hesitation. Now, as this lady is relaying this, there I am, a brand new mother, wondering what was so bad about it. This woman continued to say that it wasn’t that the black nail polish itself was cause for concern, it was the reason why the girl wanted to wear it that bothered her, as a parent. I honestly am not sure if I got it at that point. About 12 years later, I did.

When a woman goes through pregnancy and labor, her one hope is that her baby is healthy, and if it’s a girl and beautiful, she considers herself even more blessed. Probably 99.9% of women want their little girls to be the ideal, and for many that translates into pretty, feminine and sweet. This normally does not include anything along the lines of gothic, punk, or heavy metal, hard-core looks. Ergo, when my daughter’s male friend showed up with black polish on his 8th grade hands, it made me see it as even more abnormal. Why would anyone want to look down and see that on their fingers, let alone a boy? The only reason would be to impress others, and therein is where I see the problem-with black, blue, green, purple, red or any color-when it becomes an addictive obsession to focus one’s persona around, it’s moved into the area of an unhealthy attachment.

Now, some gals use it with as much judgment as other colors, especially if wearing black. I even heard that guests to Ashlee Simpson’s wedding last week were wearing black nail polish. Now, why was that important enough to even be mentioned in the press? But no one can convince me that wearing it constantly is uplifting; every time I see it, I recollect many months of pain...

I keep telling myself that someday this too shall pass. Then we can get back to what nature intended-bronze, shiny pinks, and pale gloss on the tips of our fingers, right? And don't forget the glitter and decals.

Undergarment Correctness through the Years

Does it seem to any of you ladies over 40, that girls today don’t view undergarments the same way we did? I know that my generation certainly didn’t see the same way as my mother’s. There is one distinct memory of being with my aunt-who at the time wasn’t even 28 yet-and seeing her girdle. I asked why she was wearing that on such a hot summer day, and she said something to the effect that no lady would be seen in public with a “wiggling” fanny. Hmm, thought I…why not just do whatever it takes to not have one that wiggles? But even I, at the ripe old age of 5, knew better than to say that to her. I also have vague memories of seeing garter belts in department stores. It never occurred to me that they could be difficult, uncomfortable, and allow bumps to show through thin material; young girls thought they were sexy long before knowing why. As an older teen of about 19, I remember reading in Cosmo that gals should ditch the pantyhose and replace them with a garter belt and hose to really impress, and of course I bought into that. (Now it seems rather silly, but I think you all know how that goes.) The only thing good I can give this arrangement is that you can adjust the belt so that it’s a lot more comfortable around your waist than panty hose, and if one stocking gets a run, you just pair it with another.

Remember slips? I actually have a half slip in case I need to wear something fancy, silky, or transparent, but I don’t think it’s been taken out of my dresser for years. In my relatives’ day, a lady had “full slips” and “half slips”. The first were the originals, but as time went on, they became useful only with thin blouses. When I started working, dresses with slits were in vogue, and I remember actually cutting my half slips to get slits wide enough so they didn’t show. However, invariably the slip would twist anyway and I’d still be walking around with a swath of beige going up my leg. (One of the cardinal rules was that beige was the best underwear color of all because it didn’t show up, even under white.)

The idea of having underwear that could be seen was an unthinkable embarrassment. Therefore, I remember girls actually pinning their bra straps so they wouldn’t slip. In my high school days, thongs weren’t around, so panty lines weren’t even an issue; they were simply accepted as being there. But, during the whole Brook Shields era of saying that nothing came between her and her Calvin Klines, girls would scrunch up the backs of their undies so that it looked like they weren’t wearing underwear…and we think this younger generation is vain! If my mother could see these kids wearing colored bras through thin white tops, and thinking nothing of exposed straps, she’d be shocked beyond words.

With the advent of going bare legged (see my article, “Are Bare Legs the New Fashion Accessory?” from late January) and lined dresses and skirts, we’ve managed to eliminate a good bit of the lower half of our lingerie needs. In one way, it’s kind of sad, as I do remember those pretty lacy garments making me feel very feminine. But I doubt we’ll ever rid ourselves of the top half. Has anyone noticed the unbelievable array of bras and camisoles? The former selection seems in competition to see how much padding and uplifting can be built in, while the latter gets sportier every year. Does anyone remember the lines outside of stores at the introduction of the Miracle Bra? I guess it’s as understandable as the lines inside any Victoria’s Secret during the month of December. Namely, it’s because women want their underwear to make them feel good and look better. Too bad the majority doesn’t ever seem to fit well, moves, pinches, rides up, and is not made of the user-friendliest materials. But it could be worse; we could still be wearing bustles and layers of petticoats over long bloomers. We’ve come a long way, baby. There’s not much more to eliminate.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Few Novel Decorating Ideas

Thanks to my favorite designer, Dorothy Draper, I’d like to share a few tips on some innovative decorating ideas. Now mind you, these are contained in one of her books published in the 1960’s, which goes to show you that cleverness and creativity never go out of style as the years pass.

1. If you have a young son, daughter, niece, nephew, or grandchild, you just may be the recipient of some lovely original artwork. One way to display it is to frame some of the smaller ones, or crop, cut and mat them (if the artist won’t mind) and hang them on a large piece of driftwood. If the child has a lot of certificates from school or clubs, or even pins from scouts, you can mount those as well on backing and attach those as well. When guests admire it, you can inform them it’s your “family tree” of accomplishments.

2. Should a beach chair, patio bench or chaise lounge find itself sitting unused in the basement, try throwing a colorful cover over it, and/or pads and pillows, before adding it to a game room. If the rest of the décor is fun, this un-thought of piece will add a bit of whimsy.

3. Instead of always looking for vases for fresh cut or silk flowers, try placing them in earthenware pitchers, small flower pots painted white, or even large, empty cans (with labeling removed and a pretty cloth going half way up, secured with a rubber band that’s hidden by the top of the material hanging down.)

4. Should you be tiring on an old, plain headboard, try placing a high row of narrow, open shelves behind the bed. (If they can be adjusted to different heights, it’s even better.) You can thus place your radio, tissues, etc. immediately behind you and a lamp to the side, then use the upper areas to display knickknacks, photos, or other lightweight items. Move your headboard and night stands to another room for a short change of pace. Remember that if you like to read in bed, it’s wise to invest in one of those support pillows to be comfortable, especially with this arrangement.

5. Some inexpensive ways to add cheer to a room could include buying new knobs for your cabinets, dresser, or armoire, filling apothecary jars with colored candies or brightly wrapped snacks, adding bright white kitchen curtains, hanging a flowered, extra large towel wide upon a towel rack, or even painting an old item an uplifting color.

6. You may have a piece of glass on top of a coffee table or end table, or other surface. If so, you can make the base underneath serve a purpose by laying special items under the glass in an attractive display. Some suggestions may follow themes such as family (photos, art work, family tree diagrams, etc.) vacation (photos, pictures from brochures, maps, etc.) achievements (recital programs, certificates, etc.), and anything else that may hold sentimental importance to you. As long as you arrange the items with thought for an interesting layout, it will be a striking conversation piece for family and friends for as long as you’d like.

7. While you may enjoy your current kitchen window treatment, for a change you can try a roll-down bamboo covering for a fresh and tropical look that keeps out light and heat.

8. For a sizeable amount of pictures in a room with a distinct color scheme, you can gain cohesiveness by either using frames of the same neutral color, or mats of the same, neutral color. If, instead, the room is neutral, you can jazz it up by adding mats or frames in the same bright color (chose one that’s most appealing to you, and stick with it) or, if you’re creative, buy white mats and added dabs of colored paint to all of them in a consistent manner, or cover them with brightly patterned contact paper.

9. For a sophisticated change, make identical book covers for all displayed books, either out of wallpaper, contact paper, or even sturdy material.

Let me know if you try any of these suggestions, and how they worked for you!

2008 Summer Trends, Continued

First let me apologize for the delay in the posting of last week’s fashion articles; this site experienced technical difficulties. But all seems well, so let’s continue with our look into some of the newest items…

Now, I have not yet seen these in our stores, but off-the-shoulder mini dresses may be there soon. These, according to at least one fashion magazine, are full-cut to counter balance their shortness. Some have very wide elastic gathering bands at the top; some have very narrow strips, and others don’t go all the way around, but stop at the sleeves. Speaking of which, I rather like the assortment of sleeves: one dress has ¾ length sleeves and one has cap sleeves, while another has puffy, baby-doll dress sleeves which are gathered with tight cuffs. I even see a version with full, flouncy short sleeves that land midway down the upper arm-a good length for anyone. It appears that all of the can be worn on the shoulders as well. But, the question is, how many could wear it? In my opinion, I think an off-the-shoulder top or evening gown can be alluring on a gal with an attractive neck and shoulder area, but the fact remains, not everyone is thus blessed. If a lady feels that her shoulders are already broad, this may not make her feel any more comfortable. Or, if someone is so thin that their shoulder blades protrude, again, this wouldn’t be a good choice. When one has incurred a very obvious case of tan lines from bathing suit straps, this style would easily place the focus on them. So, this neckline has its limitations. That said, if a girl has no such issues, it’s a nice change from the norm, and provides attention without the need to go too bare. Wearing such a dress as it is would offer the ultimate summer cool chic; donning it over shorts or capris would probably not work and take away from the carefree, breezy look such a style attempts to create.

The other look in a recent summer magazine seems like it should have waited for the fall; it’s focused on trapeze blouses and wide-leg pants. Again, in the humble opinion of yours truly, summer should be the time of less material instead of more, but I guess that someone, somewhere, just couldn’t wait. A trapeze blouse is a top that falls below a woman’s hips and is very full throughout the body-but hugs the shoulders. (In other words, it doesn’t fit like an oversized garment or your guy’s extra large t-shirt.) The material, cut with so much draping, falls in overlapping, soft layers, striving for a look of casual comfort with a touch of elegant femininity. Hmmm…I guess I’m not too sure about this right now. I think it’s perfect for many figure flaws, since the bust can be either accented or minimized, and no indentation is visible in the waist/hip areas, but I can’t help but think of maternity wear. If you have been religiously working out and are proud of the results, you probably would not think that this does you much justice, although we all have days when this would be just perfect.

The pants are a different story. Made to be tight throughout the thighs to emphasize their lower width, they seem to give an illusion of long, lean limbs, but the model I see is probably already six feet tall and wearing three inch heels. By the looks of them, the longer the pants are, the more definition between narrow thighs and wider bottoms, but that could mean they end up being longer than you’re comfortable wearing. You need to consider your own proportions; if you don’t have long legs and don’t want to always wear high heels, this style may not flatter-especially if you have no desire to relive the 70’s. However, pairing this style of pant with top does seem to correlate, with so much extra material. If you’re considering a different look for late summer/early fall, you may want to at least try these choice on to see what they offer.

As always, our bodies should be considered before we buy. If we’re objective in front of the store mirror, we’ll probably get a lot more wear from our purchases.

Considerations of your Summer Feet

Before you start wondering about the title of this piece, consider the thought you give your feet during the year. If you’re honest, you probably think more about them in the summer months for the sheer fact that they’re more exposed, and thus noticed. (Those of you who are lucky enough to live in warm climates all year around obviously don’t fall into this category, but with the chance to go barefoot all year, you may not get as excited about it as we northerners do!)

Anyway, I’ve heard from several women who say that they never polish their toenails during the cold months, since doing so, to them, is a waste, as no one sees them. Then there are others who give themselves pedicures as routinely as manicures without a moment’s hesitation because they like to look down and see their feet looking as good as possible. Where in this range do you fall?

My mother used to comment that she wished she had “pretty feet” like me. Since I was a teen at the time, I had no idea what she meant; after all, weren’t all feet basically the same? As I got older I realized they weren’t. As I saw more summers and talked to more gals, I found out that keeping feet looking nice wasn’t easy, and it often takes more time than we have at our disposal. I’ve heard about women who need to shave their toe hair, women who have to abrade their calluses with pumice stones, and problems with bunions and corns-not to mention irregular shaped toes, long second toes, and feet that look like barges from almost six feet up. No wonder a lot of gals don’t both with toenail polish; it seems like it won’t do much in the struggle against foot issues.

At this point in my life, I have almost all of the problems listed above-except for corns, and that’s because, with “D” width feet, I don’t even attempt to wear pointy toed shoes. Wearing pointe shoes for years of ballet cause huge bumps that seem to be oblivious to pumice-and necessitate padding the tips of my big toes so they’re even with the second ones. Plus, in view of the fact that feet get larger after childbirth, and bear the marks of many years of abuse, it’s little wonder that I sometimes find closed-in shoes easier overall. But most of us like the feeling of runing around shoeless, in flip-flops or even sandals because it's comfortable. Heck, even allowing the breeze to hit our tootsies for a short while each day is a treat after keeping them cooped up for seven months.

So what are the options? Well, there are choices to make in shoes that make our feet appear smaller. (I take an 8 ½ which isn’t that bad, but needing a wide width is often difficult, and the ones I find can make easily my foot look larger.) But I found some guidelines: First, look for open-toed sling-back styles. They have the advantage reducing the appearance of a long foot by not extending the shoe body over the heel, and the sight of one inch worth of toes somehow reduces the look of length as well. Supposedly, short wedges can cause the foot to appear narrower and textured material, side-cut outs and decorations like stitching or studs also keep foot from looking their true size. (This is probably due to placing attention on the stylishness, instead of the expanse of the shoe itself, as might be seen with a plain, closed toe flat.)

So, if you have a shoe with open toes, consider it as a chance to show your attention to detail-paint those toenails and no one may even notice your other foot flaws. You don’t need to get an expensive French pedicure, glue decals on your toenails or buy toe rings to look glamorous-one coat of simple color will show that you don’t ignore a feature that some consider quite sexy! Plus, don’t forget to use body lotion to eliminate any dry skin on the toes' knuckles or heel areas, and you’ll be surprised at the improvement in your feet, no matter their size, width, or shape!

Buttons Aren’t Just Practical

You probably already know that the “plain people”-Amish, Mennonite, and Pennsylvania Dutch-eschew modern conveniences such as electricity and cars-but did you know that buttons are also an extravagance that certain sects avoid? I never give buttons a second thought, but I guess they are pretty…uh…easy to do business with. Why anyone would think they’d be indulgent or extravagant, I couldn’t guess, but perhaps after my summer excursion to Pa. Dutch country, I’ll find out and let you know. In the meantime, I’ll give you some suggestions on how you can make these lowly objects work for you in decorative manner-and you don’t even have to know how to use the button-holer on your sewing machine.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve been fascinated by buttons. My mother used to keep two tins of them. I remember dumping them all out on her bed, sorting them by color or size or type, and wondering what could be made prettier with them. I have distinct memories of big, rectangular, black ones with rhinestone interiors, and fancy red ones that resembled roses. You don’t see buttons like that anymore. In any event, I think as a teen I changed out buttons on some of my clothes, and received a few compliments. I thus realized, early on, that one should never throw anything away without first cutting off the buttons, as you never know when you might just need a turquoise, round, flat one with four holes.

So, I began my own collection, and eventually merged it with that of my mother’s. Throughout the years they served me well. One year, as I decorated home grown pumpkins for a local farm, I got tired of painting ghosts, witches and monsters. So, I used buttons for funny faces inside circles of paint, and they all sold, which amazed me because that was so simple a second grader could do it. Sure, each one required eight or so white shirt buttons, but since I had dozens in my collection, I never missed ‘em.

Another time, I noticed a sweatshirt in a rather fancy boutique, with a swirl of button designs, sweeping down onto the upper chest area. It was stunning, but not worth the price. I got out my little beauties and went to work. It took some time (most creative processes do), but came up with a nice design of my own. I believe it was an asymmetrical pattern of gold, silver and pearl buttons on a black sweatshirt. If I recollect, I used perhaps eight to ten, but they were small and the composition was flowing. With any artistic creation, there are no rules, but I found it more aesthetically pleasing if a few things were kept in mind as I worked with buttons:
1. Variance in sizes is usually jolting when it comes to using buttons as decorations.
2. Colors should complement the background and that of other buttons so that it looks like thought went into it.
3. All of the buttons should be the same type; in this case, I used buttons that did not have holes. I thought they were more appealing, although this kind does cause the button to protrude from the garment.
4. Apply restraint-a little goes a long way when it comes to buttons being the focal point on a plain shirt. Don’t spread them out too much; keep it minimal so that it’s a touch of whimsy instead of an overwhelming hodgepodge.

On another occasion, I made a big flower out of buttons on the front of another shirt. It didn’t work well because with a stretchy shirt, you run the risk of the design losing impact when the buttons shift from movement. You can also use decorative buttons around the neckline of a top (plan it out first for spacing), or to create a simple image on a straw or material tote. (Think purple buttons as a bunch of grapes, with a few green ones for leaves, or heart shaped buttons creating the outline of a large heart.) You might need to remove a few to reposition them, but the few minutes that takes is worth the effort to have design that’s unique and attention-getting.

Decorating with buttons is a fun thing to try that may just give a plain top, sweater or purse the oomph it needs!

Is There Perfect Sleep Attire?

Now, this isn’t something I think about too much during the winter, but it seems that if you like to sleep without air conditioning in the summer, it becomes an issue.

But, first, let me ask you-could you model your sleepware for a Sunday circular without being embarrassed? That could be just one more way to categorize women: as either Sleeping Beauty, or Little Orphan Annie. In other words, do you wear an expensive negligee with matching wrap, or someone else’s old castoffs? Is your view that a lady should look good at all times, since by doing so she’ll feel better, or that it doesn't matter since you’ll be asleep, anyway?

I remember watching a soap opera while in high school with my girlfriends, and it seemed that the lead characters would constantly waltz around in their fancy condos in boudoir attire until at hours, just waiting for their men to show up and be stunned. Seeing those kinds of images sort of warped the reality of marriage-or living together-is really like. I think I had one of those lovely sets for my honeymoon, and perhaps one for the first year of marriage, then practicality set in. They were a pain to deal with (since we gals aren’t use to wearing floor length items); they needed extra care when washing, and they really were just ornamental, since they weren’t that warm in the winter and the material was usually too sticky in the summer. I even have a vague memory of my husband once asking me why I was all dressed up to watch TV-as if I could wear the ensemble anywhere else. So then I graduated to shortie nightgowns, up from the long T-Shirts or baby doll PJ’s I wore when young and single. Well, they had their issues as well, again proving themselves as purely decorative-after all, you couldn’t very easily walk around like that if your kid had overnight guests, even though it probably covered more than a typical bathing suit. For a very short while, I tried long legged cotton pajamas with matching tops, but didn’t like them at all. They made me feel even frumpier than I did when wearing a winter flannel nightgown. That led me to where I am right now-sleeping in big cotton PJ pants and long T-shirts, just like I did years ago. I’ve come full circle. Yet, this seems to work for me. Surprisingly, the pants don’t get all twisted the way long nightgowns do; the cotton keeps me at a comfortable temperature, and I feel rather sporty advertising slogans or resort areas. Plus, if I have to let the cat out or watch TV with overnight guests, I’m perfectly comfortable.

It’s funny about night wear…I once read that a famous television reporter was invited to a soiree when out of town and did not have time to go shopping; she thus wore one of her negligees and no one even noticed. (That must have been some nightgown, huh?) In conjunction with that, check out a store’s sleepware department some time…some of the items you could wear in public, probably for less than if you purchased them elsewhere in the store. Years ago, I bought a striped short nightie for practically nothing, and was able to wear it all summer as a lightweight tunic over shorts. Some long nightgowns can be cut down to be shorter ones or even summer mini-dresses, and like the famous anchorwoman, no one will be the wiser. On the other hand, you can sleep in pretty camisoles and tap pants, any kind of shorts, and even some beach cover-ups if packing space is at a premium.

So, the point of today’s article is to not be constrained by having to buy your nightwear in the sleep section of department stores, or to be influenced by the lovely and smiling models in the ads. I doubt they get up three times a night for their kids, or rise at 6 AM to get the family out the door wearing one of those filmy, lacy, delicate gowns costing $500. Be comfortable-by wearing something that doesn’t cause stress, you’ll be much more apt to sleep better.