Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Timely Tipple

There is something about All Hallow's Eve that just begs for a hot beverage that both warms and cheers. Every year on this day we have a tradition of brewing up a batch of hot buttered rum. It is the perfect potation to fortify one for the rigors of going door to door in unpleasant weather. Now, if you are anything like me, the idea of drinking something that contains straight butter may be off putting at first. My husband definitely led the charge on this one, but now I am a believer. I especially enjoy this drink if I am the one sitting on the porch dispensing the candy; its great to nurse on a cold night, as the heat gently transfers to hands and belly. Most of the hot buttered rum recipes out there in internet land are fairly similar; I like this site because it includes a single serving recipe and proportions for a crowd.

Let budget, taste, and tolerance be your guide.

Another good option, especially if you need a bit more energy, is a good ol' Irish coffee. In case you don't know how this works, it's very simple. Just brew some strong coffee, pour into a small glass (5-6 oz), add some Irish whiskey, a teaspoon of sugar, and a layer of fresh cream on the top. Don't stir it; just drink through the layer of cream for the best experience. If you want more visuals and detailed explanation, look here.

An Irish coffee is usually served in a mug like this, but feel free to improvise...

like this, for example. 

And one final option, caffe or espresso corretto, which literally means "correct" (as in "proper", though some say it means "corrected", how audacious. Let me know if you really know). This last one is super easy: one or two shots espresso with one shot of alcohol. The most commonly used liquor in Italy is grappa (an Italian grape based brandy), but you can also use sambuca (anise flavored), cognac, or any other type of brandy. Serve the espresso in a small cup, accompanied by a shot glass with the liquor of your choice. Tip the liquor into the espresso, and salute!

soon to be espresso corretto alla cognac

Monday, October 29, 2012

Manic Monday Giveaway

Sorry, I am not giving away the 1986 Bangles album. Or should I be apologizing?  I want to make your Monday a bit better than maybe it already is, so I have two things that never fail to cheer me: a little love story and a good book. The two are connected; just hang in there, you'll see.

Today's giveaway is a beautiful collectible 1973 copy of Graham Greene's book The Honorary Consul.  Some of my readers might recognize Greene as the author of Brighton Rock (hopefully you are familiar with the literary version, not the cinematic). This British playwright, author, and critic was very prolific, and at times, controversial. If you Google his name you will likely find a mix of praise and condemnation, articles hailing the Catholicity of his writing and articles blasting his promiscuous life. As with most extremes, there is some truth. Greene was a Catholic convert, he did include many Catholic themes and characters in his writing, and yes, parts of his life were dissolute and politically questionable. From my reading of his works, Greene seemed to know the truth about life, a truth which he struggled to live up to it in his personal life. It is this very tension between spirit and flesh that seems to give dynamism to much of his work. That being said, The Honorary Consul is one of his less "Catholic" novels and may be termed a tragic thriller.  Please check out any of his works if you enjoy literature, philosophy, theology, politics, or humanity. So, that should cover about, well, everyone.


Okay, I know you really are more interested in the love story. My first introduction to Graham Greene occurred six years ago. Let me set the stage. It was mid way through my senior year of college. I was single (hard to believe, I know).  I had just returned from Christmas break at home with my family in Indiana and a friend of mine invited me over. He said he had a little something for me since he had missed my birthday (Dec 21).

Now, this friend, who was a grad student, had been my friend for almost two years. We were friends, just friends, but I was starting to feel a little bit uncomfortable, starting to feel like maybe he was a little more interested in me than I was in him. Maybe a lot more interested. Throughout our (very casual) friendship we had dated others, and looking back on it now, our friendship mainly consisted of him being very helpful to me. Helping me move, helping me go to Florida for spring break to see a friend, even helping me by introducing me to someone I had a "crush from afar" on (but that's a much longer and slightly more embarrassing story, so, another time!). When home over break, I had resolved to tell him that we just couldn't hang out any longer, that it just wasn't fair to him. I cringed at the thought of this, because I did enjoy his company, and he was so helpful, and fun, and attractive, but I had to do what [I thought] was right.

Well, I went over to his place and he presented me with my birthday gift: a sampler pack of Unibroue beer (all the way from Quebec City) and two books by Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, and The Heart of the Matter.  In one deft act he gave a nod of recognition to so many elements of my personality - my love for good drinks and foreign places, my desire for new things and experiences, my guilty pleasure of high ABV beers, my love of reading and learning, my thirst for cultivation and philosophical understanding, and my Catholicism, which stands at the very core of who I am... And I couldn't do it. I couldn't tell him.

{Simple Heart Photography}

The End.

Oh, yeah, don't forget to enter the giveaway. If you have any difficulties doing so, please leave me a comment and I'll see what I can do.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Feelin' Fabulous Friday

So last Friday I saw this post, via Camp Patton, and I was inspired to give it a go. The fabulous outfit you are about to lay eyes on is not so much a Friday day look (playing with three kids outside - can you say "boots beige no longer"?) but a "it's Friday date night" look. I actually wore this for the husband's birthday date last month. And without further ado...

Don't you love these awesome pointy toed leather boots?

Torso (What's that? If the caption is gratuitous I can keep it to myself?).

First documented instance of me wearing lipstick, ever. I'm not joking. And my hair isn't red. It must be the lighting. Just trying to keep it real.

I'm a sucker for a good black and brown mix, the beige that matches the boots is just a cherry on top.

I hope your Friday is fabulous, too!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

House Guest Hospitality 101

Cultures of the East and West, from time immemorial, have practiced hospitality as a divinely imposed duty. Yes, there is pretty much a worldwide consensus that it is that important. Furthermore, I think we all want to be hospitable. We all want our guests to feel welcome and comfortable in our homes. However, because of the nature of our present American culture - [for good and for ill] simultaneously a melting pot and a homogenization - we don't always have a clear, concrete idea regarding how to go about it.  Here are a few ideas that I have picked up from family and friends or discovered for myself along the way.

Ask your guest before they arrive if they have any allergies, food or otherwise, and do your best to avoid those substances. Also ask if there are any foods and drinks that they really enjoy or abhor.

Try this, if your guests arrive before or after the regular dinner hour.

Make food available between meals. Even if a host tells you to "help yourself", it can be a bit awkward to go rummaging in someone else's house! Some easy ways to make food available are... Fill a cake stand with cookies and place it on the table as a centerpiece. Load up a bowl with fresh fruit and place it on the counter. Fill glass canisters with easy to nosh foods such as pretzels, granola bars, and crackers and place them in a visible and accessible location.

Prepare the coffee pot and set out mugs and sugar before you go to bed. Make sure you let your guests know how to start the pot going, and encourage them to do so when they wake up. I love my coffee first thing, so I assume my guests do, too!

Most of us give the house a once over if we know guests are coming, but going that extra mile (if you go in the right direction) can really make a difference. Don't waste time dusting the tops of your window frames (you know that category of cleaning I'm talking about), but do make room on the shoe and coat rack for your guests. Pick up some scented candles for the kitchen and bathroom (hit up the Dollar Store if your budget is tight). Bring some greenery into the house: buy an inexpensive bouquet of flowers and parcel it throughout, or cut something fresh from outside.

Literally, those are shrubs from my non-exotic Western New York back yard.

Whether you have a proper guest room, or a futon in your four year old's room (you got me!), do your best to make it a comfortable space. In our particular situation, this means making up the futon as pleasingly (both visually and tactilely) as possible, and putting the unnecessary toys away. No matter your space or budget constraints, you can make sure that some comfort necessities are in place: a reading lamp, some bedside reading, either a bottle of water or a carafe and a glass, and a towel and washcloth for the shower. 

Carafe from Goodwill, $1. Glass from my kitchen, $0. Not having to get up to get a drink of water at night, priceless.

What are some things that you do to be hospitable when house guests come to visit? Please let me know in the comments below or email me at I would love to hear from you!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Post: A Mom's Midnight Musings

Once you see something, you can never unsee it, so be very careful with your mind and those in your care.

Always keep a book, some paper and a pen in your purse, backpack or car. You never know when you will be stuck waiting somewhere and if you can put that time to good use you won't be so aggravated.

Love has a lot to do with perspective. Does love mean gifts, candy, flowers? Actually, I did receive flowers once... 27 years ago... It was a miniature rose bush which my husband planted outside and then promptly ran over with a tractor, because he forgot it was there.  But my husband does get up every day at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for work to support our family. He checks my car's tires and adds oil, to make sure I'm safe. He even let my mom move in with us (his suggestion).  And as Phil from Duck Dynasty said (and I paraphrase), You know your woman loves you when she cooks the squirrels you bring home. I have cooked squirrel, deer, frog, turtle, and groundhog (twice!). There is a whole lot of love in this house!


If you want to read a book that will make you think, and touch your deepest emotions (and cause you to mail copies to your friends), read anything by Michael O'Brien. Check out his website here.

Mary's favorite Michael O'brien oeuvre

Some of you may know my oldest daughter, Mary Boctor, or my youngest, Virginia Ertel, or both. They do not have the same parents. It isn't because of death, divorce, or remarriage. Its just that no siblings have the same parent (except for twins... maybe)  My DNA stayed the same, but everything else changed in that ten year span between their births. I used to wonder how kids from the same family could be so different, and now I know - different parents!

Meet Virginia. You already know what Mary looks like.

Everyone needs a go to meal - something they can whip up in a minimum amount of time using items commonly found in their pantry. It is for those days when a doctor's visit ends up involving a side trip to the hospital for x-rays, or you pop in to see a friend and lose track of time, or college kids show up unexpectedly (and famished). Here is my go to meal: 

1 1/2 - 1 3/4 C instant rice (cooked, leftovers are even better)
1 jar salsa
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can corn (drained)

Mix all the above ingredients. Put in a baking dish and cover with your favorite grated cheese. Bake at 350* for 20 minutes. Serve with soft flour tortilla shells or corn chips with additional salsa and sour cream on the side.

Every kitchen needs a rocking chair. It is good for the soul and whatever else ails you.

Similar to the old fashioned rocker that has been in the kitchen for years.

Never, ever, ever pour cool liquid into a hot glass dish. It is amazing into how many pieces one dish can shatter, and how far those missiles can shoot. Not to mention that certain floor coverings will melt! Don't ask me how I know.


My mom, Andrea Ertel, writes from southeastern Indiana. Her educational background is in special education, but she gets her street cred from successfully rearing seven amazing children (okay, I'm a little biased...). She has influenced me more than any other woman, both by her words and her actions. Love you, Mom!

Friday, October 19, 2012

7 Quick Takes

I skipped out on 7 Quick Takes last week, but I'll be joining Jen again today...

I hope that everyone has had a great week. Maybe tonight would be a good night to enjoy one of these movies...

So lately I've had affogato on the mind. What is affogato? Affogato al caffe literally means "drowned in coffee" and refers to a simple Italian dessert. The how to for the basic version is... Pour one (or more) shot of espresso, or 1/4-1/2 cup of very strong coffee, over a scoop of ice cream. Mmm. That easy. I love this idea Martha has for serving it to guests. As quick and as chic as it comes.


Is it just me or has anybody else noticed the frequent usage of the word "achromatic" in fashion publications over the last few months? I had to look it up. According to, it means "possessing no hue : being or involving black, gray, or white." Just throwing that out there because I want an informed public.

It wouldn't be a with my sisters Quick Takes without a quote. Here we go, a shout out of sorts to the British readers, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”  - C.S. Lewis

the man himself.

Favorite smell of the week (don't worry, this isn't going to be a regular feature) - ripe quince fruit. I wish that there was some way I could insert a link and you could smell what I mean, but I can't so I will do my best with words. It smells heavy and sweet and fresh all at the same time; basically it smells how I imagine the garden of Eden. I didn't even know what quince was until four years ago when I was introduced to it by my in-laws. Originally from Asia, it now grows around the world but is fairly uncommon in North America. It belongs to the same plant family as pears and apples, but the fruit is hard when ripe and has a very astringent flavor, so it is often mixed in small amounts with apples or used for jams and jellies. Again, because I want an informed public.


You may have noticed that I had a guest poster last week. I'm going to be having more guests in the upcoming weeks, starting with my mom on Monday. I'm very excited to introduce to you some of the women who have influenced and inspired me, and continue to do so!

That's all folks. Have a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not An Inspirational Quote

So my youngest sister has been having a pretty rough week of it. I won't go into too many details. It will suffice to say that the situation involves an indoor sprinkler system, 45 minutes worth of water, and a (warning: here comes a pun, or something like it) material portion of her earthly possessions, and those of the Ohio library system.  I was about to find some inspirational quote about perseverance or patience or how suffering can make you so awesome (which I do believe), and then relate some of my own hard times, etc, etc... But then I thought about what really cheers me up, and I'm going to write about that instead. This one's for you Gin!

Nothing can bring me out of the blues like a little comedy. Some of the most difficult and stressful times of my life have been made lighter by an episode (or five) of The Office. In the last couple of years I have also realized that when I am down, down, down, nothing quite does it like a bad comedy. A movie not so bad that it's unbearable, but those that err on the side of the ridiculous, plots that are a bit over the top, that may or may not have actors who are also singers... I've selected four such gems to suggest to you for your viewing pleasure.

The first is Barbershop. Rated a lean 6.1 out of 10 by the users of IMDB (internet movie data base), it is probably the least bad of the bad movies I am recommending. Hailing from the mean streets of 2002, this comedy features Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, and Eve. It centers around a Chicago barbershop and the people whose lives intersect there. Much of the free speaking dialogue is refreshingly void of political correctness and is both pointed and hilarious.


The second is My Life in Ruins. This 2009 comedy stars Nia Vardalos, who plays a Greek American woman working as a tour guide in Greece. A predictable and corny romance springs up between her and the heavily bearded tour bus driver, who, surprise, surprise, turns out to be a veritable "Greek god" under all that face fuzz.

Hmm... Too bad the bus driver is so homely.

The third is Madea's Big Happy Family. If you have seen any of Tyler Perry's Madea movies, I don't need to do too much explaining. In short, Tyler Perry (a man) plays a larger than life elderly woman named Madea. Madea is surrounded by family members in distress (with very real life problems); she dispenses her straight shooting advice and tough love with biting wit and many an uncouth jibe. Singer celebrity bonus - not so lil' anymore Bow Wow.


And the finale, Wild Hogs. The most star heavy of the movies to hit the list, this 2007 comedy follows characters played by John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, and Tim Allen as they defy midlife mediocrity via Harley road trip. Their trip climaxes in a biker style throw down with a tatted up Ray Liotta. Over the top situational comedy is the name of the game on this one.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Mama Got Her Groove Back - Part II

If you are joining us for the first time, you may want to check out Part I before diving in here.

To pick up where we left off... My sartorial identity crisis, catalyzed by a body in flux, a lack of options, and dramatic life changes gradually resolved itself by learning about the three elements of style and applying them to my wardrobe.  Learning how to dress for my body type (and relearning as "maternal" changes occur) and my coloring, and doing a little soul searching to uncover my tastes for my look, gave me a rational roadmap out of schizophrenic dressing. I'd like to devote Part II to some practical advice on "mom" dressing, which may be helpful to busy non-moms as well.

Piece of Advice #1: Have a uniform that blends the best of color, line and personal taste.
This piece of advice isn't new, the danger is in discounting it because of its simplicity. Choose what looks good, makes you feel good, and is functional. Each style personality category has a spectrum. Do the inspiration board exercise if you haven't already, and then choose elements from the most functional end of the spectrum. My uniform varies by season; right now it is a dark wash pair of straight jeans (the most flattering fit for my body) and a basic tee or tank that I layer over, flats, watch, and simple earrings. Engagement and wedding rings as well.

Piece of Advice #2: Own what you need (and a few extras). 
You can have the most awesome wardrobe in the world, but if you don't wear it because it is uncomfortable, doesn't fit, or is too delicate for your lifestyle, then you don't have the most awesome wardrobe in the world! Also, your body needs to be clothed no matter what size it is now, or what size it is headed toward. Confession: I actually own (in addition to maternity jeans) a bin of "other" jeans - a pair in pretty much every size between my regular size and full on maternity. I find that nothing (ok, few things) sap my morale like pants that are too tight. Too saggy seems to suggest you are headed in the right direction, but who likes their butt to look bigger than it actually is?  I purchased each pair at the thrift store (for a few bucks) in various moments of crisis. So getting what you need doesn't need to be as expensive as it may sound at first. See Advice #5. 

Piece of Advice #3: Some clothes just function better  than others for the mom lifestyle, blending style, comfort, and durability. The key pieces for me are [WARM WEATHER]: 
  • Tees, and tanks in neutrals or patterns that blend well and are in your best colors. I usually avoid anything with logos, and anything that could be mistaken for workout gear.
  • Neutral colored shorts.
  • Flats, sandals, and low wedges. I usually avoid basic flip flops (think Old Navy style); they are not that good for your feet, and such an overdone trend that they don't really add style to an outfit or express individuality. 
  • A pair of shoes that you can throw on that can get wet, muddy, whatever, with no lasting damage. I have some mary jane crocs that I wear around the house all the time.
  • Inexpensive rayon linen blend pants. They usually have a drawstring and are forgiving if your weight fluctuates. These are very cool and wear well (blend equals less wrinkling). Think Club Med vibe, with "stretchy pants" comfort! 
  • A couple inexpensive sundresses or maxi dresses, depending on your preference and body type. I usually wear these on the days that are just so HOT that I don't want to do anything (including getting dressed).
  • A classy bag that coordinates well with your summer wardrobe and is big enough to carry what your crew needs. This summer I wore camel colored sandals ("vegan" leather, aka not leather, aka they wore out super fast and I need to find a new pair before next year) and carried a camel leather tote. I'm not into matchy matchy, but the camel color went with everything (from black to pink to navy),  and that bit of intentionality and luxury (the leather bag) elevated every outfit.
  • Headbands. Hold that hair back and still look great!

  • Jeans in your best cut. Dark washes are the most flattering (less light reflected equals less attention drawn to flaws) , and usually provide the best foundation to build an outfit. Some ladies out there can really rock lighter washes because of their style personality and their locale, so do what works for you.
  • Basic tees and tanks for layering. 
  • Other long sleeve shirts. I'm a sucker for button downs and turtlenecks.
  • Pullovers and partial zip fleeces. I usually try to avoid full zip fronts because they aren't that flattering when zipped and sitting, and again, anything with logos and writing. Old Navy's quality can be really hit and miss, but I purchased a micro performance fleece there last year that is great - warm, flattering, impervious to fading and staining, durable, everything a girl could hope for (for $15, at least!).
  • A wrap sweater or two. This style is great at accommodating (and minimizing) a belly as it expands and contracts, and defining the waist. The trick is finding a durable fabric that doesn't require special maintenance.
  • A roomy shift dress or two. This style is super forgiving to an expanding and contracting belly. To add definition when you have a waist to define, throw on...
  • A stretchy belt. If you don't have a waist because you are pregnant, put the belt above the belly and add a little definition to the same dress. 
  • A blazer. Throw it over anything - instant class.
  • Loafers or flats. Leather is best. Anything else will break your heart as it wears out quickly and dies an early death, or blisters your feet.
  • Boots.
  • A classy bag. See above.

My favorite pullover.
My well worn crocs. Dirty? Just hose them down.

Piece of Advice #4: Choose fabrics that wear well, and take care of what you have.
  • I have given up on hand wash only and dry clean only clothing, for this period of my life, at least. 
  • Wash dark jeans in cold water. They look better for so much longer.
  • Have you ever put a clean shirt on and looked in the mirror only to see a mysterious grease spot? This started happening all the time once I had [sticky, greasy fingered] toddlers. Keep stain remover by the laundry hamper and check your clothes for stains in natural light before throwing them in the washer.

Piece of Advice #5: Buy smart.
  • Don't overspend for basic pieces, such as t-shirts and tank tops. Quality doesn't vary enough on such pieces to merit the jump in cost that you find with certain brands. I have seen tee's for as low as $5 at Target (all styles on sale) in the past two months.
  • Don't be afraid to hit up the thrift stores. If you are a regular reader, you already know how I feel about them. Even better, hit them up on half price day. Yes, thrift stores have those.
  • Keep your eyes open for pieces that can serve you at various stages, depending on how they are styled (e.g. shift dresses, wrap dresses, etc).
  • Have an item or two that will really "class up" an outfit by its quality. Choose these items in timeless designs because you will want them to blend with your wardrobe as trends come and go.

Now for some illustrations. A special thank you to little H for all her help with the living room Iphone pics!

Basic v-neck, straight dark jeans, flats - my uniform.

And with the basic black blazer, brings it up a notch. Ignore that strange face I'm making...

My favorite wrap sweater, or should I say sweatshirt?

My favorite [non-fleece] pullover.

Love this shift dress. Couldn't be more simple/comfortable/forgiving/classy.

And another view... P.S. One can nurse in this dress because of the neckline and stretch of fabric.

Another example of the basic shift, but dressier for that special event. Also nursing friendly. The wedge heel is the perfect blend of height and comfort!

And blazered and belted.

The end.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Post: Sarah on Spain's National Day

Today we have a dear, dear friend of mine joining us for a guest post. Sarah Metts writes from Denver, Colorado where she currently resides with her husband Patrick, and their son Jack. Her educational background includes history and counseling, and she spent a portion of her childhood in Spain. Sarah has taught me so much about living well and living beautifully. Please welcome Sarah.

Sarah and her beautiful family.

And I couldn't resist. School days.
Mary, thank you so much for asking me to write a guest post for your amazing blog! I have enjoyed reading your posts so much over the last few weeks, and I always find myself wondering--what took you so long to start doing this??? You are such a beautiful person on the inside and on the outside, and your sense of style is impeccable. . . I have so much to learn from you!

Now, since Mary is the expert on all things fashionable, I will leave that to her. I just want to take this opportunity to share with all of you a little about one of my favorite countries, since today, October 12, just so happens to be the national day of Spain. This is their Fourth of July, their day to celebrate all things Spanish. It also happens to be the date that Christopher Columbus discovered the new world, but to find out the real reason that today is Spain’s national holiday, you would have to go back even further than that, all the way back to around the year 40 A.D.

A few years before St. James was martyred in Jerusalem (44 A.D.) he travelled to Spain to preach the good news. He and his disciples were not meeting with much success, so as they were walking along the banks of the River Ebro one starry night, near present day Zaragoza, he prayed for help. Our Lady, who was still living in Jerusalem at that time, appeared to him, seated on a throne surrounded by angels, and she told St. James she had come to help. She asked that a church be built on the spot in her honor, where the faithful would receive all the graces they asked of her Son through the invocation of her name. She said that he would be successful in converting Spain and she gave him a small wooden statue of herself holding the baby Jesus in her arms, on a pillar of Jasper. She promised him that this pillar would endure, with the holy faith, until the end of time.

"La Pilarica"--the statue given to St. James by Our Lady, almost 2,000 years ago.

As she promised, this statue is still venerated in the beautiful basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain. It is affectionately known by the Spanish people as La Pilarica (“the little pillar”—it is only about 6 inches tall), and it has survived wars with the Romans, Goths, and Moors. Miraculously, although it is over 1,900 years old, it shows no sign of decay. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) three bombs were dropped on the Basilica, but none of them exploded. These bombs are on display in the Basilica, and they are a vivid testament to the power of Our Lady’s promise. She is the patroness of Spain, and her feast day is celebrated on October 12, which is why this is their national holiday.

More than 30 priests celebrate Mass with the Archbishop of Zaragoza.

While all of this is an incredible story, it is not the most amazing part of the devotion to Our Lady of the Pillar to me. The best part, the very best part, is to see the way the Spanish people, particularly the Zaragozans, are devoted to her. This devotion is really not something that we can understand as Americans, we Americans who are not even supposed to wish each other a “Merry Christmas” anymore.

The dresses worn for the feast day range from the typical flamenco dresses worn by these to women. . .

to the more traditional regional dress shown on this adorable little girl.

Today, in the city of Zaragoza, 400,000 people (that’s 5 ½ football stadiums full of people) will travel from all over Spain to bring Our Lady flowers. First of all, the celebration starts on the 3rd of October, and lasts for nine days. But today, they will get dressed up in traditional suits and dresses (or they will be dressed to the nines), they will bring their babies, they will send groups from tiny villages, they will stand in line all day, starting at dawn, and they will sing the traditional regional songs of Aragon (called “jotas”) to her, all day long. The sheer joy and love for her that you can see on this day on the faces of the people there is incredible. This devotion is not just part of their religion. It is intricately woven into their patriotism, their family life, their work, their culture, their history, and their identity. My family and I were lucky enough to go to Zaragoza last year for the festival, and here is a short video my husband took of the celebration (the mountain of flowers you see is in front of a larger replica of “La Pilarica” that is placed outside of the Church, where pilgrims place the flowers they have brought for her):

Happy feast day, and Our Lady of the Pillar, pray for us!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How Mama Got Her Groove Back - Part I

Recently a friend and fellow mom suggested that I write a post about day to day fashion for moms. So I've been thinking it over... First, a little bit about me so you know where I'm coming from. I have three kids, ages 4, 2, and 8 months (it's been a busy four years, and yes, i'm being cheeky). Now, I've had lots of amazing, crazy, and thrilling experiences in my life, but nothing compares to the exhilaration of having a child (and another, and then another...). Pregnancy and motherhood have been a great blessing, but like any dramatic life change there have been phases of difficulty, and even a sartorial identity crisis or two. The best way to describe it is that I would lose my "groove," that sweet spot of being where I am confident in my appearance and feel really "me" in my outward expression. I want to share with you [Part I] some of the reasons this occurred (they are probably common to many woman), what helped me get my groove back, and [Part II] some very practical day to day fashion advice. 

One year before our wedding (the date stamp isn't correct). I still had my groove then.

the first born.

the boy.

the youngest.

With progeny like that, who wouldn't want more?

WEIGHT GAIN AND LOSS: The first challenge to my personal style was a body in flux. Getting pregnant, gaining weight, having a baby, losing weight, getting pregnant, gaining weight... You get the picture. And its not just a matter of pounds. Proportions change. When I wasn't looking, go - to's that used to be oh so flattering became enemies. That flat stomach I had taken for granted gave way to a (temporary, thank goodness) post partem pooch. Even when back to my pre-pregnancy weight, there was a span of time when my jeans wouldn't button over my [literally] birthing hips.

LACK OF OPTIONS: The second challenge was that my sense of style identity was obscured by lack of choice, real and perceived.  For maternity wear, my shopping options were limited to one pregnancy consignment shop, a teeny section in the Old Navy thirty minutes from my house, and specialty boutiques that were mostly beyond my budgetary constraints. Online sources were an option, but a good fit is elusive if you can't try things on. There was also, I think, a subconscious refusal to devote overmuch resources to dressing, because each stage/size of pregnancy and post-partem come and go so quickly. I think we've all been in that place where we cringe at the idea of buying jeans 3 sizes bigger than what we think they should be. Discouraged by limited options, I eventually just settled for things that were ok and not completely contrary to my sense of aesthetics. 

CHANGE IN LIFESTYLE: The third challenge was meeting the needs of a new lifestyle. I have always been very active, but pre-children, you wouldn't find me playing in the leaves on a Wednesday afternoon. I'm on my feet a lot, and I'm busy with kids who tend to be a hot mess. And I need to be comfortable. At first, this hands on approach to the messiness of life seemed to clash with my pulled together sense of style that tends towards a minimalist take on the classics, with a dash of glamour (for any of you who knew me in my faux-hawk days, keep your comments to yourself). Throw in the clothing limitations caused by nursing, and I was feeling downright thwarted. To add insult to injury (isn't that always the way?) the amount of time that I was now able to devote to dressing and shopping was drastically reduced (we all think we are so busy in college, we have no idea...).

Meanwhile, as these three challenges played out, I became uncomfortable with myself. The more uncomfortable I became, the more I played the comparison game, and the more I played the comparison game (which never has winners, by the way, only casualties) the more confused I became about what my personal style was.

Now I know you are dying to know - just how did mama get her groove back? Well... I discovered the three elements of style. A friend lent me a copy of a book called It's So You by Mary Sheehan Warren, you may have heard me mention it before.  Sure, this book is packed with great, no-nonsense advice on how to discover your personal style and build your wardrobe and I recommend it to everyone, but why do I keep going on about it? Because I had always experienced fashion and style as purely intuitive, and it was an amazing revelation to discover that it could be divided and conquered in a rational way. Great style is based on dressing in a way that accentuates your (1) body type and your (2) coloring, and is expressive of your individual (3) style personality (i.e. personal tastes and preferences). Sure, I was confused, but there were principles to looking great, and I could use them to my benefit. Now you know my secret. Check out my [KNOW YOURSELF] series - the links are included in the previous sentence - and come see me next week for Part II!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fifty Shapes of Face [KNOW YOURSELF]

Early morning crazy hair.

I will be getting some new glasses soon, so I thought a post on face shape as part of the [KNOW YOURSELF] series would be timely. As I mentally planned this post, I was under the delusion that it would be simple, a cut and dry, "I am this and not that." I mean, we are only trying to determine the shape of a single component object, unlike body shape which gets complicated by long torsos and short legs and thin arms, etc, etc, etc. I underestimated the power (or should I say "anti-power"?) of subjectivity.

I thought to myself, "I will just pull my hair back and look into the mirror, and then I'll know." Well, at first glance all I came up with is the fact that I have a forehead that won't stop (not a revelation), and that my face is fairly wide. So I decided to draw the outline of my face on the mirror with lipstick (it cleans easily). This method resulted in a small abstract shape that wasn't easily identifiable as any of the of the basic face shapes, which, by the way, are: oval, square, round, and heart. Some websites and books break it down even further to include oblong, rectangular, diamond and triangle. So back to my face narrative... Several websites suggest to take a pic or two at a straight, no nonsense forward angle with hair pulled back. Which I did, as you can see (don't be distracted by my two-tone eyebrows - it's just the lighting).

Do you see how the slight angle alteration and the way the hair is pulled back changes the appearance of shape? At this point, face shape still undetermined, I knew I needed to get scientific and take some measurements. There are instructions all over the internet on how to take the measurements, but some are unclear regarding where to place the tape. I finally found one site that has good visuals and straightforward instructions on how to measure. The instructions on how to interpret the measurements left something (ok, everything) to be desired, so next I searched for more specific criteria on how to interpret the measurements. I eventually found one that did and, drumroll, please...  

My face is rectangular, because it is longer (thank you, forehead of champions) than it is wide, though not drastically. Because of this latter fact, it also has some of the characteristics of a square shaped face. So, my difficulty in defining my face shape may have had something to do with the fact that I am between two shapes, so to speak. At least now I know what shapes I'm not, and I have a reference point in what styles to avoid and what to short list.

So what does my experience mean for you? Not terribly much, probably, but I can give a little advice on how to get some useful info for the next time you buy glasses or get a haircut.

Unless you are able to be highly objective about your own face, or your face is an exemplar model of one of the types, skip the visual methods and go straight for the measurement method. 

Go to this site for clear, easy to follow instructions on how to take your face measurements. 

Take your measurements.

Go to this site, and see #6-11 in order to interpret your measurements; it also contains  suggestions regarding hairstyles, and links to other related articles (e.g. best glasses frames). Still not sure? This site (click and scroll down towards the bottom) gives descriptors of the shapes. These may help to further clarify what you find with your measurements, especially if you have characteristics of two different shapes. Bonus: Click on any of the face shapes for specific hairstyle and accessory suggestions and celebrity examples of each type.

Digest your results and don't forget that each shape is beautiful!