We all mark time in ways that are both universal and deeply personal. Birthdays, anniversaries, changing seasons. The passage of time has felt especially significant since the start of the pandemic. At first, I was marking time by how many days in a row I wore yoga pants. Or the last time I ventured out to the grocery store. Or how many inches of gray was showing at the roots of my hair. Now, I'm marking time by the grooming appointments for my dog.
Every five weeks, Gravy transforms from a Wilford-Brimley doggelganger (dog version of a doppelganger, of course) into a little tiny baby Gravy thanks to the careful snips and fluffs and trims made by his groomer. And every time one of those appointments comes around, I'm struck by how slowly the days seem to drift and how quickly the weeks seem to stack up.
For all intents and purposes, quarantine started in my household on March 16th. The day before, Dan and I were at one of our favorite local spots - Cream and Amber, a bookstore on Main Street in downtown Hopkins, MN. Our Sunday morning ritual was to get there early and snag one of the tables in the back where we could sip tea (me) and iced coffee (Dan), while journaling (me) and working on lesson plans (Dan). Every 20 minutes or so one of us would get up to stretch and languidly browse the shelves, bringing a new book back to the table and adding it to the growing stack that would come home with us.
On this particular Sunday morning, we were killing time while Gravy endured his every-5-week grooming appointment at Zoom Groom nearby, and I posted this shot on Instagram. It was taken moments before Dan found out that in-person learning would cease the very next day at the school where he teaches.
I've scrolled back to this post frequently over the past week or so. It took me a while to realize why: This was the last moment before everything changed in my little world.
The photo and the caption convey an innocence that I didn't even realize was in me at the time. Right then, I had no idea what lay ahead. In that sweet, mundane moment, my mind was on tea, that stack of books, and my bright yellow nail polish. The tone of that caption and of my very next post, put up a few hours later, is noticeably different.
I'm not sure who exactly I was trying to reassure when I wrote that we were careful to observe social distancing while out and about. I think I was questioning whether we should have been out and about. We'd thought it was fine, but then everything we thought we knew changed in the blink of an eye. Maybe it wasn't fine. I didn't know.
I still don't know. I've grown accustomed to supporting my local businesses through online ordering and curbside pick-up. I worry that I've lost the ability to navigate what used to be second nature, like a crowded aisle at Ulta or merging onto the highway. A mindless scroll through Instagram or a walk through my neighborhood readily show me what some folks are comfortable doing, and I wonder if I'm being overly cautious. Then I wonder if being overly cautious in a pandemic is actually possible. I honestly don't know. Ask again in another five grooming appointments.
I did find myself this past Sunday sitting at a table at Cream and Amber for the first time since March, journaling and sipping tea while waiting for Gravy to finish up at his most recent grooming appointment. This time, our seating option was outdoors and had been reserved in advance. Dan and I sat on the otherwise empty patio, red and yellow leaves skittering across our feet and a chilly breeze ruffling the napkins under our drinks. I was wrapped up in a blanket that Dan had teased me about grabbing from home but which I think he secretly wanted to steal off my lap. I drank tea and journaled. Dan sipped iced coffee before putting on his mask to browse the books inside.
Alone, I glanced around at what was familiar, yet very different, and told myself, "Hold on to this moment. There might be something coming that you don't know about. But you do know that it's a beautiful, fall morning. The tea is good. You are OK. And it will be another five weeks before Gravy has to be groomed."
I fell into a rabbit hole a couple weeks ago on YouTube, caught up in watching videos about things people no longer buy (this one, that one, and this one in particular). Isn't it interesting to find out what products people either find really useful or not, and how shifting needs or taste impact spending habits? This, of course, got me thinking about what I used to be very into but no longer purchase, as well as a few things that seem to be generally out of favor but I'm still spending my money on.
3 Things I No Longer Buy
Seasonal Decor for My Home
I struggled with this for years because I grew up in a magical home where my mom swapped out the decorations almost monthly to fit the season or an upcoming holiday. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, 4th of July - you name it, we had an on-theme wreath for the front door. I loved how festive and fresh our house always felt. And to be honest, I thought that was the norm - doesn't everyone have a Nebraska Cornhuskers theme for the month of September? (If you live in Nebraska, chances are you do)
But when I moved out on my own, I struggled to remember to put my seasonal decor out. And in my late 30's, I had to accept that I couldn't force the magic my mom had made - because it wasn't my magic. My seasonal decor is paired down to only what I really love and am excited to put out - Halloween (Dan's favorite holiday), Christmas (because, obviously) and Valentine's Day (one of my favorites).
Free Gifts with Purchase
As someone who works in marketing, I appreciate the genius that is the tactic known as "Free Gift with Purchase." When I was in high school, Clinique was IT and that was my first introduction to the idea of spending more money than I'd intended to earn a makeup bag full of product samples that rarely suited my skin tone or needs. I can't even tell you how many small bottles of Dramatically Different Moisturizer were stacked up under the bathroom sink when I was 17. It was just so hard to not to fall into the trap..."If I spend another $10, I get this FREE thing!" Nevermind the fact that instead of spending $15 on the one item I really wanted, I was now spending $27 on an item I really wanted, and an item I kind of wanted, in order to get a gift that contained one or two things I might want.
Now, although my heart does involuntarily start racing a bit when I see a GWP offer and I instinctively start scrolling to find something else to buy in order to earn it, I usually stop. I don't need another makeup bag, and if I do I'd rather it be one of my own choosing.
There was a time in my twenties and early thirties when I was trying very hard to be the independent, career-driven, fashion-forward, unrepressed woman that Sex in the City told me I should be. Except my career was more like one job after another that I didn't like, my closet was full of business-casual clothes to fit those jobs, and the relationships I was in were the definition of repressed. So I filled my closet with fabulous high heels, hoping at least my feet would fit the image I had in my head of who I should be by then.
Fast forward 10 years and I own one pair of 2 inch black heels that I have worn outside the house exactly never. I came to grips with the fact that heels are just not for me. I'm 6' tall so don't "need" the height. And my plantar fasciitis really acts up if I don't wear a supportive flat. And flats are cute! I can walk a lot more quickly toward the life of my dreams in flats than I ever could in heels.
3 Things I Still Do
I was so sad to hear over and over in many of those YouTube videos that magazines are something people aren't buying any more. I mean, this isn't news. But still. I love a physical copy of a magazine. I have a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens because Grandma Ruth gifted it to me one year. She included a note with the magazine that said her mother always had a subscription, and she did too. Magazine subscriptions are a family legacy! I get a thrill every month when the latest issue shows up in my mailbox - something other than bills and junk mail. I enjoy sitting down with a mug of tea on a Sunday morning and reading the whole issue, from cover to cover, snapping pictures of articles that inspire me and filing them away digitally for future reference.
Look - once a paper person, always a paper person. That's just how it is. A paper planner, paper calendars, notebooks for taking notes, all of it. One element of my stationery buying that has really ramped up during the pandemic is cards. I've placed more Hallmark orders since March than ever before. Writing out cards and sending them to friends and family makes me feel like I'm doing something - to let them know I'm thinking of them, cheering for them, connecting with them from afar.
Paper Hand Towels
This practice is a throw-back to my Grandma Kappy. Her bathroom always had two things: shell-shaped bars of hand soap, and a sterling silver paper hand towel holder filled with thick, disposable hand towels. That always seemed so fancy to me. I'm well aware that disposable hand towels are not eco-friendly, which is why I only bust them out when entertaining a lot of people in my home. There's nothing quite like being the 10th person to use the restroom at a party and discovering the cloth hand towels are sopping wet after being repeatedly used. In that instance, paper hand towels are a luxury I will continue to get behind.
That's my list - what's on yours? What did you used to buy that no longer fits into your lifestyle? And what are you still buying, after all this time?
A lot of people are surprised to learn that my makeup collection is comprised of mainly drugstore products. And to be honest, it surprises me sometimes too. Over the past 13 years of writing about and reviewing makeup and skincare, I've tested a lot of products across various price points but what I use every day falls toward the lower end of luxury.
In my teens and twenties, I lived for a department store makeup counter. As a 90's teen, Clinique was certainly the entry point: the sketchy 3-step skincare regimen, Almost Lipstick in Black Honey, and an iconic green-swirled powder compact were IT for me. By college, Clinique was shoved in the back of my makeup drawer in favor of Bobbi Brown, Benefit and Origins. I worked at the mall throughout college and spent all of my breaks and most of my paycheck from Lane Bryant at those counters.
It will probably come as no surprise to anyone with a few years and a 401K under their belts that as a 20-something woman working an entry-level job, I couldn't actually afford the $25 Bobbi Brown bronzer or $30 Origins body lotion. Every time I swiped my credit card to make one of those purchases, the pit in my stomach grew along with the outstanding balance and I would defiantly vow to myself that, "Once I'm a real grown up, I'll only buy high end." Don't worry - the stupidity of all that is not lost on me.
I am now a real grown up and guess what? I don't want to regularly spend my money on $49 eyeshadow palettes and $35 highlighters. I want to spend it on lots of things: books, and my home, squeaky toys my dog will play with once and then ignore, dinners out with friends, trips with my husband, and new plants to fill that bare spot in my garden.
Even more so, I no longer reach for my credit card to buy self-esteem. Because that's absolutely what I was doing as a younger woman. I wanted to fit in with the other girls in the locker room during high school, and brandishing a Clinique compact was one way to do that. I felt insignificant at my first job out of college, where I pulled paper off a fax machine and delivered it to someone who literally sat less than one foot from the damn machine, so I'd drive over to the mall during lunch and buy a new lipstick or eyeshadow or literally anything that would give me enough of a lift to face an afternoon of faxes back at the office.
I appreciate the democratization of makeup, these days. There's something for everyone, at almost every price point and in a variety of store types. If high-end makeup is something that you love, you have a lot of wonderful products to get excited about. I love that for you. I'm able to look the way I want to with products from the drugstore, and I love that for me.
Note: Yes, that is my actual makeup collection pictured above.
Also: You might like this and this.
There's something I'd love to know: What kind of clothes are you wearing right now, and are they different from what you regularly wore pre-pandemic? I've worked from home for the past 2 and a half years, and my uniform has long been a dress of some kind. Dresses are essentially public pajamas from a comfort standpoint, and they always make people think you're really put together (even though you know you're wearing public pajamas). My closet is comprised of 80% dresses of various lengths, fabrics and fits.
Once we got the Stay at Home orders here in Minnesota, my day-to-day really wasn't all that different, aside from becoming smaller and more contained. But as the days inched through March, into April and May, my fear, anxiety and depression levels sky-rocketed (along with those of the rest of the world). And suddenly, I began wearing a lot of lounge wear (along with the rest of the world). The radical shift in what I was wearing struck me one week while doing laundry, when I realized that I was folding 6 pair of yoga pants and assorted tee shirts. Not a single dress or item of clothing that could pass for anything but "comfort" wear. That's what I needed, then. I told myself I'd start wearing real clothes again once we got back to normal.
We're obviously nowhere near back to "normal" at this point in the pandemic. However, I'm really tired of lounge-wear yet not ready to fully embrace my pre-COVID wardrobe. My wardrobe, like life, seems to be stuck in a weird, in-between-place. Which brings me to: shorts suits.
Over the past few weeks, I've seen a few of my favorite fashion bloggers - like Allison at Curvy Girl Chic - styling a shorts-suit combo, and I'm very into it. There's something really appealing about the casual/dressed up vibe of a shorts suit. So I peered into my closet to see if I could come up with separates I already own, and what do you know? I did!
The shorts are Lane Bryant and the jacket is Charter club. Something new, created out of something old. How delightful. Tell me: What kind of clothes are you wearing right now, and are they different from what you regularly wore pre-pandemic? Bonus points: What's a current trend you're looking at with new interest?
I'm a white woman who has called the Midwest home for most of my life. That life of mine is what it is because I was born white. I didn't always know this, but I certainly do now. And I know it's my responsibility to continually educate myself on my blind spots.
I needed to learn the language and the history of race in America so I can confidently articulate what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, in my day-to-day life. Maybe you do, too. The work of Ijeoma Oluo and Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson were foundational components of my education.
It's not the job of any black person to educate me - it's my job to get educated - so I'm especially grateful for these books.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
"In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to "model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life."
"Generous and empathetic, yet usefully blunt . . . it's for anyone who wants to be smarter and more empathetic about matters of race and engage in more productive anti-racist action."--Salon
White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue And Other Thoughts On Cultural Appropriation, by Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson
"American culture loves blackness. From music and fashion to activism and language, black culture constantly achieves worldwide influence. Yet, when it comes to who is allowed to thrive from black hipness, the pioneers are usually left behind as black aesthetics are converted into mainstream success—and white profit. Weaving together narrative, scholarship, and critique, Lauren Michele Jackson reveals why cultural appropriation—something that’s become embedded in our daily lives—deserves serious attention. It is a blueprint for taking wealth and power, and ultimately exacerbates the economic, political, and social inequity that persists in America."
What books are you reading or have you read that have helped shape your understanding of and participation in conversations about race? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
First and foremost, I hope you are doing OK. That's such an inadequate statement, but it comes from the heart and is meant to encompass every aspect of your well-being. I hope this space can be an uplifting outlet of entertainment outside of the news cycle for you. In that spirit...
For a little over a month, I've been thinking about hosting a tea party. I could use something to look forward to: a reason to pull out Aunt Min's set of "nice dishes" which includes a tea service for 12 and make tiny food that looks cute; to set a table with Grandma Ruth's linens and a vase of hot pink carnations. But here's the thing: there's no one in my friend circle who would really love to attend a tea party.
Don't get me wrong: my friends would show up, for sure. But not because they're excited to sit around and drink tea and have that particular experience with me. And in much the same way that I avoid watching Hallmark movies with my husband Dan, even when he offers, because I know I'll feel self-conscious the whole time - and like I need to reassure him repeatedly that yes, I know this is the exact same plot from that other one we watched - I know that having a tea party with wonderful people who just aren't into tea parties would not be satisfying. I didn't want to force it, for the sake of making someone else experience something that I - and I alone - wanted.
In my twenties and thirties, this would have turned out one of two ways:
This tea party happened on March 12th, when COVID-19 was just beginning to become more real here in Minnesota. As I write this post on March 22nd, when it's now very real, I keep thinking: Use the nice dishes now. Make the cute tiny food with what's in the fridge now. Light the candles now. Sit and look out the window and breath now. Don't wait for a gathering, or the right time, or a better moment.
Make the moment.
My moment is not your moment, so I'd love to know what that looks like for you. I've heard a few people use the term "romancing the ordinary," which really lands with me. I mean, I'm certainly living my most ordinary life at the moment, at home with Dan and Gravy and a week's worth of yoga pants. So I'm very into finding ways to add a little romance and whimsy to my everyday. So let's hear it in the comments - how are you romancing the ordinary in your home these days?
This is a place to celebrate all the parts of yourself that come with age and experience. I'm here to share with you what I know and to explore with you the many (many) things I don't.