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fellas: your gift guide

If I have one beef with this time of year, it’s the gift guides that are printed in every magazine or newspaper. I assume editors love gift guides because they take up a lot of pages, don’t require a lot of writing, and are very visual. As for me, I’d rather have the hard-hitting news coverage, especially if Ryan Gosling and his bare chest are involved.

Most gift guides are harmless, but others are so out of touch with reality that they actually spark within me a deep, burning rage. For example, the gift guide in this month’s Vanity Fair (generally the most odious magazine around on many levels) includes a Valextra suitcase for $5,900. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? It’s like those Lexus ads that suggest that you buy your significant other a car this Christmas. These ads are so tone-deaf that I’m going to give Lexus the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are meant to be ironic.

I posted recently about gifts that guys should try to avoid when shopping for their women. This post you are reading is hardly comprehensive, but it includes a few suggestions for stuff that I would gladly purchase for myself, in several price categories. All road tested, and no one’s paying me to say I like them, although I wish that would happen, and soon. But be smart: nod yes when the salesperson asks if you want a gift receipt, and remember to tuck it into the bottom of that box.

Last note: I say “fellas” because I have a fella and he needs gift help.  Of course these gifts would go well from girl to girl, even girl to guy in some cases.

Under $50

Cocktail rings

My hands are not my favorite thing. I’ve never liked them much but their fate was sealed the day my husband fondly referred to them as “pudgy.” I also bite my fingernails. Because I don’t like to call attention to my hands, I’m not a big ring person. But for the last year or so, I have been wearing these chunky rings on my right ring finger, and I love them. They add a fun touch to any outfit, and balance out the more traditional wedding rings I wear on my left hand. I’ve given them to girlfriends and they are always a hit. The best part is that some are adjustable, so you don’t even need to guess at ring size. Full disclosure: lemontree is my Mom’s store. Tell her I sent you! Her selection of stocking stuffers is equal to none.

Hand cream

About those hands…they be seriously dry. If your lady is like me, her hands are constantly chapped from washing dishes and changing diapers, exposure to winter weather, or circulated air at the office. I have tubes of hand cream everywhere–my purse, my kitchen sink, my car. Here are my two favorites: they’re thick, stay on through a hand washing, and do not leave a greasy residue. Also a great stocking stuffer in their smaller sizes.

Totes

I don’t recommend that you buy your wife a handbag, unless she’s hinted at the exact make and model–too many variables. But I don’t really know anyone, male or female, who couldn’t use an LL Bean tote bag. My family has three, and they get used a lot, which is why they look dirty in my photo (apologies). Tom uses his to collect and transport his dry cleaning; Finn uses his for toy storage. I use mine for travel. You can personalize it, which always implies a measure of thoughtfulness that you may or may not possess in reality. Since you’re doing so well, avoid the temptation to monogram it with “Mom” or any variation of that word.

If your lady appreciates a more masculine style, I also love my Filson tote, because it is sturdy, stands upright on its own, and has straps long enough to wear around your shoulder. I have even used it as a litigation bag, because the canvas is strong enough to hold full binders.

Under $100

Timex watch

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, but I love watches. They’re a good way to personalize what you are wearing, and are functional besides. Most of mine cost less than $50 and are from Timex. I have a special-edition Timex that I bought through J.Crew for like $150, but you can get essentially the same watch (the Weekender, below) for about $55 on the Timex website. I also dig the Camper, a classic style that looks like something a boy scout would wear. Don’t count out Timex for fake gold or stainless steel, either. You think I’m psyching you out, because you have been trained to think that fake gold is cheesy. But a big fake gold watch on a girl, worn loosely, is quite the thing. You could pay $300 for a fake gold Michael Kors, but why? It’s the same fake gold. Go with a Timex.

Stationery

When I was growing up, my best friend lived in Vancouver B.C. We wrote long, angsty letters to one another, and when I got married, she bound the letters into a book, which I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to read. Anyway, I love having a stash of lovely personalized stationery handy so that I can write thank you notes and hellos to friends and family. People think of personalized stationery as an anachronism, but that’s what makes it so charming. The options online on minted and tinyprints are nice, but since you’ve come this far, you might as well spring for letterpress. The heft of the paper and the indentations from the press add a handmade quality that is impossible to find in the cards you can get online. Gravy points for pre-stamping her envelopes.

On a related note, letterpress children’s stationery seems like a true luxury, but not if that stationery happens to freeze time. My friend Suzanne Hallerman at Jigsaw Graphics makes insanely cool cards out of your kid’s handwriting and drawings. She has gifted them to my kid Finn for the last couple birthdays, and they are amazing. The awesome thing about these cards is that they capture what’s on your kid’s mind during a moment in time. For example, the ones below show that my kid went from scary robot faces (age 4) to warfare (age 5) in the space of a year. Next year I’m hoping for a guillotine. Why am I including stuff for your kid in a post about gifts for your wife? Because when you throw them into a simple Ikea picture frame, they make some pretty bitchin’ art for mom’s office or bedroom.

Mom bling

Personalized jewelry for moms is big right now. It can also get really loud and scary. I like small, subtle pieces, because I think the point of wearing jewelry that reminds you of your kids, is to remind YOU of your kids, not to advertise to passerby that you are blessed with progeny. My friend Linds just had her first baby, and she loves this necklace by tiffinsblu, because, as she says, it’s a tiny way to keep her baby close. It is hard to tell from the photo, but these pendants are about one-third of an inch across. I love the rustic feel to them, which comes from the oxidation. The best part is, I cannot imagine anyone better for a guy to work with than this particular jewelry artist, Tiffin Kreger-Bryant–she is awesomely approachable and will work with you (over email!) to come up with something perfect.

Under $200

Shoes for bad weather

I’ve posted before about why you shouldn’t gift clothes. But shoes can be a great gift, because she loves shoes, and you can figure out her size by peeking inside her current favorite pair. I’m going to cut down on the guesswork for you, and recommend these two options below, which look super unsexy, but are actually very cool. Sorel has had a renaissance of sorts since being bought by Columbia. They make boots in all sorts of fun colors, but stick with the Caribou, which has been around for ages. They are warm and will make her feel like a snow bunny. I would take a pass on these if you are rarely in cold weather, as these are serious boots with real tread. If you live in Oregon, Hunter rain boots are also a great idea. Skip the short versions, which are not universally flattering, and go with the knee boot, which are.

$200 and above

Cheese by the month

Sometimes I muse that I was destined to meet my husband, a Michigander, solely so I could learn about Zingerman’s. Visiting the actual Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor is unpleasant because it is overcrowded and stuffy, but luckily for you, they have a well-oiled mail order service. My sisters-in-law sent me Zingerman’s gift boxes after I had my boys, and those boxes were like beacons of light in that confused, dark, and scary time after childbirth. This year, I can think of no gift I’d rather receive than entry into Zingerman’s cheese-of-the-month club. Who doesn’t love having cheese in the fridge to nibble on? Zingerman’s will mail you out a selection of cheeses, beautifully packed and accompanied by a loaf of their bread, which is alone worth the price of admission. More fun and a lot less fussy than Dean & Deluca.

LV her up

Louis Vuitton is a brand that has withstood a lot, including Kanye West and much recent vulgarity in the hands of Marc Jacobs. But the brand powers on, undiminished. I was thinking of recommending their basic Monogram Keepall 55 duffle, which I received about 8 years ago immediately following the gravy boat debacle, because I use it regularly for 2-3 day trips. But frankly, the bags were more affordable then, and I don’t know if I’d recommend that anyone spend $1200 to buy a bag made out of coated canvas today.

Instead, I’d recommend that you buy this pashmina. LV sells lots of shawls, many subtler than this, but let me be blunt: if you are going to drop $500 on a scarf, you should probably get one that says LV all over it. I am not rich enough to believe in private luxury. If I am buying something costly, I want it to look costly, because otherwise, what is the point? So, I don’t buy Missoni unless it’s zigzag, and I don’t buy Burberry unless there’s plaid on it. If I can afford a Chanel bag one day, it is going to be quilted like a mofo and covered one end to the other in interlocking Cs.

I promise that this shawl will fix a few fashion problems for your lady, including, first and foremost, what to wear as a wrap to a wedding or evening party. I have worn it to every wedding I have been to in the last seven years. EVERY WEDDING. There is nothing worse than showing up to a wedding in a smokin’ dress and then having to put your husband’s size 42L suit jacket over it when it gets nippy.

If you have follow up questions or need to know where to find things, please leave me a comment and I promise to respond. And women, if you have other ideas or suggestions, please share. My husband can use the help!

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the kids are alright

I haven’t yet written much on this blog about my kids.  Mostly it’s because I feel weird talking about them in a public space.  But a lot of it is because I already spend 90% of my energy worrying about how I failed them on any given day, and it feels like overkill to think about them some more during my down time.

A lot of you are like me.  Parents of young kids, working stressful jobs (including at home) and trying to tread fast enough to keep your head above water.  Modern life makes it hard to leave work at work, so we often leave our jobs feeling harried, and arrive to pick up our children without having had the time to decompress.  On days like that, when I pick them up, my kids get some lesser version of me.  She looks like me, and says all the things I say, but inside, there’s the real Yoona, and her mind is racing with all the things that are on the immediate horizon, like: “do the kids have clean socks for tomorrow?” and “why does Tate keep calling me Daddy?”

Occasionally some behavior issue will come to the fore, but most of the inadequacy I feel as a parent is related to food.  To my mind, my kids don’t eat enough, or often enough, or healthy enough.  I am Korean, and like many other Asians, I equate food with comfort, nurturing, and love.  Tate, my little one, is built like a rail, and every time I look at him, I can’t help blaming myself for how skinny he is, even though his dad was underweight for most of his childhood.  So needless to say, it is very difficult for me that currently, my kids’ week of dinners looks a lot like this:

M: Spaghetti

T:  Rice

W: Spaghetti

Th: Rice

F: Spaghetti

I’ve fought many a battle with my kids over food.  I have sat at the dining table for an hour and a half waiting for my five year old to try a piece of the pork tenderloin that I had meticulously baked in apricot glaze, hoping he would equate the glaze with jam.  I have continued to eat my dinner unfazed while my kid disgorged onto his plate the cooked carrot that I insisted he try.  I have lovingly roasted sweet potatoes for my baby that he used solely to finger-paint the table.  I have steamed and ground up cauliflower and other veggies to hide in pasta sauce that has been rejected at first taste.  The amount of energy that I have spent thinking about my kids’ food is really depressing.

For a while, I hounded my mom friends for tips and recipes–thinking that surely, if their kid will eat it, mine might too.  But the thing about kids and food that I’ve noticed is that there are no patterns, and no way to predict what your kid will eat and what he won’t.  So, while I continue to envy the parents with kids who will eat cheese, lunch meats, and vegetables, I try to be thankful that mine will at least eat beans, olives, and tomato sauce with gusto.

And bottom line, you know what?  They are ok.  They aren’t getting many vegetables, but I tell myself we’ll get there.  Today we went to Boke Bowl, my friend Patrick’s awesome new ramen shop.  And as I watched them slurp noodles and happily crackle seaweed sheets into their mouths, I took a moment to feel happy that we were enjoying our food together, instead of fighting over it.

the gravy boat

This Thanksgiving and every other, I’m grateful for my husband, who makes me laugh every day.

Three months after I met my husband, he gave me a diamond necklace. When Tom wants something, he wants it bad, and at that particular moment in time, he wanted me. I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this at the outset to give you some background, and also because Tom demanded that I write something to mitigate the implication that runs throughout the remainder of this post, which is 1) that he is cheap, and 2) that he has terrible taste. Neither of these is true, but you’d never know it from some of the gifts he’s gotten me over the years.

Guys, I humbly suggest that you at least skim the rest of this post before you hit the mall for your lady’s gift this holiday season. Ladies, please consider this post a PSA on your behalf.

1. Clothing

My husband once walked by a Talbots window and suggested, helpfully, that I shop there. I know Talbots has recently sort of re-branded itself as Ann Taylor, but back then, they sold clothing that you might see on Hillary Clinton during a speech to delegates at the United Nations. Pantsuits, navy blazers with non-ironic gold buttons, sweater sets, the occasional tartan.

My suspicion that Tom wanted me to start dressing more like a genteel sixty-year old was confirmed when he gifted me a shirt from his favorite store, Thomas Pink. Thomas Pink is a UK clothier that is best known for its dress shirts for men. Anyway, I don’t have the shirt anymore, but it looked almost identical to this:

It’s a nice shirt. It’s got stripes, which I like. It’s got the spiffy cuffs, which you can personalize with the pair of ladies’ cufflinks that you don’t own. The problem is, it’s just not me. If there’s anything that you want to express with your gift, it’s the sense that you know your lady, that you understand her, that you get her essence.

In this instance, I actually was quite touched because I was starting out as a brand new lawyer and I think Tom thought this shirt looked lawyerly. But generally, I skew a little less Fox & Friends in my work wear. Good intentions aside, unless you know her favorite store AND that store only sells one item, it’s best to steer clear of clothing.

2. Kitchen stuff

If your wife ever mentions that she could use a gravy boat, try to tuck that info away in your brain and remember it the next time you are out and happen to see a gravy boat. And then, buy the gravy boat, and present it to her in an offhand fashion that underscores your casual thoughtfulness, like so: “Oh hey babes, while I was out for some milk I picked up this gravy boat…you said you wanted one, right?”

What you don’t want to do is what my husband did–buy the gravy boat one year as her sole Christmas gift.

my gravy boat

This is the gravy boat I got for Christmas in 2002. It’s a simple, classic Fiestaware number, and also happens to retail for about $24.99 during a sale. Did I mention that this was all I got for Christmas in 2002? To add insult to injury, he wrapped it himself, without a box, so that when he presented it to me, it looked approximately like this:

classy

Lest you think I am exaggerating, let me assure you that my memory never fails me when it comes to traumatic events.

Besides being spectacularly unromantic, the inherent problem with gifting a woman with a kitchen item is that it is difficult to do so without the implication that she should be using the item to cook you something. For the woman who cooks, kitchen items can be great stocking stuffers (try wooden spoons, cookie cutters, or spatulas). And there is the rare situation where the lady has long desired a big ticket item like a stand mixer or a Vitamix, in which case, the sheer expense of the item creates its own measure of goodwill. But by and large, a kitchen item is not going to be her favorite gift this Christmas. You can do better.

3. Lingerie

I realize lingerie is technically clothing, but lingerie is deserving of special mention in this post, because things can go very bad very quickly, when we’re talking about gifting underwear. You may have a wife or girlfriend who has said that she would love to receive lingerie from you, but the odds are really good that she’s lying, misguided, or both. From a theoretical standpoint, buying lingerie for a woman implies that you find her existing underwear choices deficient, and who needs that? Imagine if your wife gifted you a bottle of Rogaine, or a book titled “How to Fix Things Around the House Like a Real Man.” That doesn’t feel sexy, now does it?

don't these look fun

From a practical standpoint, the lingerie that appeals to you in the store is undoubtedly not fit for human wear. Don’t believe me? Let’s examine this sassy little number above, which Tom got me approximately six years ago. I only keep these around because they make me laugh. Be assured that I have never worn them, because they 1) are made of polyester, 2) have a butt ruffle, and 3) are not my size. Polyester is scratchy and doesn’t breathe. Enough said. As for the butt ruffle, the average woman needs a butt ruffle like you need an extra testicle. Every time I see these, I wonder, why would I want to make my butt look bigger? Why would HE want to make my butt look bigger? I am totally mystified.

The worst thing, however, is that this underwear is too large for me by half. And therein lies the biggest problem with buying lingerie as a gift: sizing. If you buy too big, you are screwed. If you buy too small (especially a bra), you are screwed. Save yourself the aggravation. Don’t buy her lingerie.

Guys, if I’ve written this post correctly, you are now frustrated and feeling hopeless about your gift-giving prospects this year. Don’t despair. I have a few ideas, and I’ll soon be posting about them. Ladies, do I have it wrong? Do you love getting kitchen stuff and lingerie? And what’s the worst gift you’ve ever gotten?

ways to wear: boots

Everyone has a fashion blind spot.  Mine, generally, is shoes (and bags, but I’ll save that for another post).  The problem is that, like some Amish farmer, I believe that any shoes that I buy should go with everything in my closet, and they inevitably never do.  So I don’t often buy them.   I have friends that buy different shoes for almost every outfit.  I admire that kind of commitment and attention to detail.  But I don’t have the space, and I need that money for jeans.  So I always try to find shoes that will work in lots of different contexts.

In the summer I wear one pair of shoes: my Birkenstock Gizehs (in Golden Brown).  Go ahead and mock them, but understand this: this shoe goes with everything you could possibly wear when the weather is warm, with the exception of bridesmaid dresses.  I buy a new pair every couple summers and call it a day.  But during boot season, it’s a lot harder to get away with one pair, especially because boots come in so many tempting variations.  I think I’ve worked it out, and have found four pairs of boots that I have been wearing with everything this season.  Best part?  The styles are relatively timeless, so I imagine I will be wearing them through this March, and the next.

The Clog Boot

The clog boot has been going strong for a few years, and given the monetary investment involved, it’s a good thing they’ve stuck around.  The thing I like about them is that the wooden platform lengthens your leg but is way more comfortable than a traditional heel, which raises the back of your foot and puts all the pressure on your toes.  That’s not to say that they are comfortable.  If you want to approximate the sensation of walking in clog boots, I suggest tying your feet to a couple bricks.  They also come with ridiculous instructions, including the suggestion that you not walk in them in the rain, and that you re-adhere (using superglue) any wood chips that you inadvertently knock out of the wooden soles.  In other words, they are a stealthily high maintenance shoe.  But I like wearing them a lot, especially with flowy skirts, for the contrast.

The Chukka Boot

My friend Jack does something related to basketball at Adidas–I’m still not sure what–but I know that whenever I see him, I like what he’s wearing, and even better, he looks like he hasn’t put too much thought into any of it.  Most of that, I attribute to his shoes, because he, like me, lives in his Clarks desert boots.

I have two pairs of these, and they are beyond beat up because I wear one color or the other almost every day.  They have single-handedly ruined my feet because they have zero arch support, but my feet are a small price to pay for a shoe that goes with every pair of jeans and cords that I own.  If you believe that you only look good in heeled shoes, nothing I say here is going to change your mind.  But I would urge you to give these a try.  The cut of them is extremely flattering because they stop right below the skinniest part of your ankle.  For some reason, these boots seem especially flattering if you wear your pants short, like me.

The Riding Boot

I am finicky about knee boots in two regards: I don’t like a lot of metal, and the shaft height has to be exactly right.  The gold buckles on the pair here are not my favorite, but they do make it easier for me to dress them up for work.  If you have any muscle in your calves, as I do, be careful that the shaft of the boot covers up the widest part of your calf.  Otherwise, the boots may give the illusion that your legs are thicker than they are.  The pair here have an 18″ shaft, which is about 4 inches taller than most knee boots.  The red zipper is totally a bonus.  I love them.  I wear them with sweater dresses and minis, like the buffalo plaid one here.

The Shearling Boot

My impression about the Gap these days is that the less interesting their clothes become, the more interesting their shoes get.  For years, the Gap produced ballet flats and other seasonal shoes that you wouldn’t expect to last more than a year.  Recently, though, they’ve been coming out with cool boots in real leather.  They are also priced like real leather, but I also feel like I’ve never been to the Gap when all their merchandise isn’t marked down 30%.  My feet get cold in the winter, but I have resisted Uggs this long and have no intention of caving now.  These are a good concession–they have the shearling but the silhouette is refined enough that I can wear them with my skinnies and skirts.

Take care of your boots and they will last you a long time.  I cover mine in all-weather spray, and am religious about sticking boot shapers in my knee boots, to prevent folding of the leather.  My favorite pair of Fryes are four years old and look pretty new, thanks to those boot shapers.

lululemon’ed

It is one of the great annoyances in my life when a store I can’t stand sells a product that I can’t do without.  A good example of this is Penzeys Spices, which sells dried spices for low prices.  Years ago, when Penzeys had a campaign that asked its mail order customers to choose the location of their new store, I sent in three postcards for Portland.  That is about as actively as I have campaigned for anything in my life.  Turns out, I needn’t have bothered, because shopping in a brick-and-mortar Penzeys is no fun at all.

When you walk into a Penzeys, you’ll find shelves stocked with two hundred spices–none of which are organized alphabetically–all of which wear labels of the exact same color and are otherwise indistinguishable from one another.  Your increasing anxiety that the cumin is not located roughly between the caraway and dill is only heightened by the surly middle-aged male Penzeys employee who has been eyeing you, from the moment you entered the store, as if you have a sign on your back that says “I’M HERE TO STEAL YOUR SAFFRON.”  I guess you can’t really blame him for staring, because, as the only customer in the store, you are all he has to stare at.  Don’t try to avoid this man, because he works every shift in the store.  He is literally always there.

When it comes to stores I patronize but loathe, however, Penzeys has nothing on lululemon.  This quote, emblazoned on the hideously ugly and preachy bags that your overpriced lycra will be thrown into at checkout, sums up everything I hate about that retailer:

spare me

First off, not to put too fine a point on it, but clearly the person who wrote this does not have children.  I have kids.  My kids are awesome.  But they are assuredly not the orgasm of my life, which is bacon.  This quote is condescending, precious, and vaguely new age-y.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s the holy trifecta of offensive marketing.

The quotes on the bags, though very terrible, are not the worst part of the lululemon shopping experience.  I’m not even going to talk about the insanity of paying $110 for workout pants and $50 for a sports bra, because that’s been done.  Instead, I’m going to talk about Biff.  Biff is not his real name.  But he is a real person.  He is a tall blonde guy who works at the lululemon in the Pearl.  So far as I can tell, Biff’s sole function is to humiliate me when I buy sports bras that require the insertion of padding in the boob cups.  For those who have not had the pleasure–when you buy a sports bra or tank at lululemon, they come with boob cutlets, but you have to ask for them, and a salesperson has to insert them into the garment while you stand there like a flat-chested idiot, watching.  For some inexplicable reason, Biff is usually the one on boob cutlet detail at my particular store.  He will literally jump out from behind a post if I even reach for a sports bra.

It is embarrassing enough having to admit that I pad my workout clothes.  Why does the person who puts the pads in my workout clothes have to be a guy?  Last I checked, there were lots of employers willing to hire white men.  Why does Biff have to work at my lululemon?

So I can read your mind: “Yoona, the aggravation–how do you deal?!?  And why do you shop there?”  First, I hate the store, but my butt loves the pants.  As my friend’s college-aged brother once opined, “No one looks bad in yoga pants.”  And he’s right, assuming you’re talking about the lululemon groove pant.  There is something otherwordly in that luon, the stupidly named fabric that lifts and separates your butt cheeks in a manner pleasing to all.  I zumba (check out a related post from my guru and friend, Monica), and my class is filled with 80 women of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and most of them are wearing this pant, or some variation of it.  These pants look good on everyone.  Second, lululemon understands how to construct a waistband that will hold your stomach in without simultaneously giving you muffin top.  If you think that’s an easy feat, think again.  Third, I want to throw my credit card at the cashier’s face every time I pay for a pair of their pants, but I don’t really have to pay that often, because their products last forever.  They don’t stretch out.  They don’t shrink.  They don’t pill, unless you wash them with towels.  You can even ignore the care instructions and dry them on high heat.

So I’ll probably be shopping at lululemon until someone comes up with a better option.

What stores do you love to hate?

black september

Two months ago, my husband opened a couple bills and saw evidence of what I spend on clothes.  A black day for all involved.  Before that day, when we got bills, I paid them, and he was none the wiser.  Under that system, I had managed to successfully conceal my spending habits for the better part of our ten-year marriage.

Overnight, I was placed on a “suggested monthly budget” of $150.  As a bonus, the budget came with a lot of blame and acrimony from Tom, plus annoying and irrelevant commentary like “Yoona, the kids will need money someday for college.”  Don’t get me wrong, $150 is not an insignificant sum, but it’s downright insane when you have to buy shoes, workout clothing, socks, and underwear from the same pot.  Tom even had the balls to suggest with a straight face that the $150 should also cover my LUNCHES.  I remember pausing in the midst of my sobbing to feel genuine alarm that my husband was stuck, price-wise, in 1983.

I successfully kept to Tom’s suggested budget for exactly one pious month: September.  For the record, I’d like to note that the worst month of the year to be placed on a mandated clothing budget is September.  September is the beginning of sweater and boot season.  In today’s currency, $150 will buy you approximately one-half of a pair of boots.  Which is why, since October 1, I’ve been reduced to stealing from our joint checking account to make my fashion ends meet.  But, for better or worse, thanks to Tom’s intervention, I have become more mindful of overspending.

The benefits of my newfound enlightenment are many.  For starters, I don’t wake up in a cold sweat worrying about how to intercept my Amex bill in the mail before Tom makes it home.  I don’t spend as much time at the mall returning things.  Well, okay, in September I did a lot of returning, but only because Tom said any money I made on returns, I could add to my monthly budget.  But since October 1, I have spent far less time at the mall.

Pre-mindfulness, I could afford a shopping mistake or two.  Now, I get one shot.  Which means I only get one try to land that perfect pair of red pants that will take me through to the spring.  Red is a great color for fall.  It adds vibrancy and interest to the browns, greens, and denim we often wrap ourselves in when the weather gets cold.  But red is tricky too, because the wrong red will torture you like nothing else.  Too blue, and it won’t go with neutrals.  Too orange, and it can seem jokey.  Both pairs of red pants in the photo at top are red.  But I wish I’d saved my money and taken a pass on the pair on the left.  That shade of red, it turns out, doesn’t go with anything.  The pants on the right, on the other hand, go with all sorts of stuff, as evidenced below.  So, when shopping for reds, try taking the item home and pairing with different colors under different lights before you cut off the tags.

Below, a few ideas on what to pair with a good red.

Silk shirt, J. Crew ($58); skinny corduroy pant, J Brand Mid-Rise Skinny Style 811 (black cherry, $171) (same pair throughout post); faux suede wedge boots, ASOS ($48)

Red and magenta: a killer combo, unless you are a redhead. When the colors are this bright, balance things with a neutral, like olive.

Sometimes stores push a trend that seems generally ill-advised and flattering to no one, but refuses to die.  I’d put capes, leggings, and mid-calf boots in this category.  I fought fake fur for a couple years but finally gave into this number below a couple weeks ago, because it was on sale.  I’m now a believer.  It is soft, warm, and totally a blast to wear.  I’ve tried on a lot of fake fur vests, and the most flattering and seemingly versatile are the longer ones.  The volume and length of this particular vest also pairs well with maxi skirts, but keep the skirt tight on the hips so people can tell that there is indeed a body under your clothing.

Faux fur vest, Sanctuary (Nordstrom, $64.90, on sale); cotton burnout top with thumbholes, Juicy Couture ($60); leather clog boots, Hasbeens ($400, but mine were $149 on sale)

I have a soft spot for ugly sweaters that fit right.  I couldn’t resist the cheesy ladder sleeve on this cotton space-dyed number below.  I think of it as my Alexander Wang, except I got it on clearance last year from ASOS for $19.  Its price per wear at this point is probably something like six cents, a price that even Tom could probably live with.

I’d love to hear about 1) your favorite ways to wear red, and 2) how to conceal your spending habits from your husband.  Discuss.

chicken soup for lazy people

sorry, not even the lazy can avoid the mirepoix

It’s November.  It’s cold.  Chances are, you or someone in your family has hand, foot, and mouth disease.  Times like these call for chicken soup.

I’m not a big soup person.  I grew up on yummy Korean soups made by my mom or dad, but Koreans generally eat their soup alongside their main meal, or with a bowl of rice and lots of banchan (side dishes).  Thus, the concept of soup as a meal is totally foreign to me, and smells a lot like deprivation.  Whenever I try soup for dinner, it usually backfires, and I end up inhaling two half-frozen Hot Pockets and four squares of baking chocolate at 9:30 PM.

But when it’s cold, and I’m sick, I do predictably get a craving for homemade chicken soup.  The problem is, when it’s cold and I’m sick, the last thing I want to do is make a bouquet garni and boil a chicken for two hours to make stock.  I want the payoff without the hassle.  The recipe below perfectly suits these requirements.  It starts with a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, and ends with a couple handfuls of fresh dill and parsley, because I love the vibrant green and I like my fresh herbs in non-ornamental quantities.  The rotisserie chicken is the cheat here–it gives you some of that “I cooked this for hours, now how about a back rub” depth of flavor, without the actual labor.

The recipe is also easy to modify to suit your preferences.  Don’t like noodles?  Leave ’em out.  Prefer a less predictable chicken soup?  Throw in a parsnip in lieu of a carrot, or a knob of fresh ginger.  If you want a creamy chicken soup, finish the whole thing by swirling in a cup of whole milk or cashew cream.  Or stick with the basic recipe and improve your chances that your kids might actually eat some too.  By that, I do not mean to suggest that my kids will eat this, because they are ungrateful wretches, and won’t.

The best part of the recipe is that you might already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen.  I love it when recipes say that, in reference to ingredients that only reside in your pantry if you are, say, Thomas Keller.  Like pine nuts.  If you have pine nuts in your pantry, you probably also haven’t made it this far in my post, because you are busy chasing down the chicken in your backyard or tying a love knot on that bouquet garni.  For the rest of us, be assured that besides the rotisserie bird, you probably either have these ingredients, or can get them on the way home from work, for relatively cheap.

Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup

2 T olive oil

1 pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, torn into large shreds, skin and bones removed

3 medium carrots, diced

1 large onion, or 2 medium, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

8 cups chicken broth or stock

1-2 cups dried egg noodles

1 cup fresh chopped dill, flat-leaf parsley, or combination

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Heat a large soup pot, casserole, or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Saute the carrots, onion, and celery in the olive oil until reasonably soft, about 5-7 minutes.

2. Add broth, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add noodles and chicken, cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until noodles are cooked to your liking.

4. Taste, and add salt and pepper to your liking.

5. Take off heat, stir in the herbs.  Enjoy!

Notes:  This is a very forgiving recipe.  I realize my ingredient quantities are not very specific, but I’ve made this with whatever I have on hand, and it works, so don’t sweat it if you are a carrot short.  For the chicken, depending on your affinity for dark meat and your bone-picking abilities, you should yield anywhere from 2-4 cups of chicken.  I like plenty of chicken in my soup, but if you don’t, reserve what you don’t use for any number of uses.  For the broth, I prefer Swanson Natural Goodness chicken broth, which has less sodium.  I have tried many organic brands and don’t like them, because, ironically, they taste too much like chicken.  If you have leftovers, you may need to top them off with a little more broth or water when reheating, because the noodles will suck up broth in the fridge.  Enjoy!

are you wearing dad jeans?

Today’s post is dedicated to new dad Ethan Samson. Welcome to the world, Ford Oliver!

I care about my clothes. But frankly, I probably care even more about my husband’s clothes, because I have to look at him every day. I also work in an office filled with men, where crimes against fashion are committed on a regular, unremitting basis. In my mind, that makes me as qualified as any to post about men’s fashion. Let’s get right to it. Herewith, in what is likely to be a continuing series, two of my top “don’ts” for men, and some suggestions.

The redundant undershirt

Is he working, or clubbing? I bet even he couldn’t tell you

Unless you are 19 and rushing a fraternity, or your chest hair starts at your chin, there is no excuse for wearing a visible undershirt under a collared shirt. No excuse whatsoever. This look drives me particularly insane when combined with a sport coat. I know a lot of men who can put a suit together and have no trouble with at-home casual, but go completely AWOL when asked to do anything in between. And this is where many guys, in desperation, attempt the collared shirt with the sport coat, sans tie. If you are going for that look, first off, it helps to be George Clooney. If you are not George Clooney, you either need a button down shirt, or you need magnetic collar stays to keep your collar from spreading on you. Once your collar spreads on you, you’re toast. You might as well throw the gold chains on at the outset. And if, underneath the open spread collar, you are rocking your best Hanes crewneck undershirt–well, good luck to you, sir. If you need the coverage or sweat protection, try a v-neck undershirt instead.

No undershirt, plus collar stays. So much better.

Daddy denim

I have strong opinions about men’s jeans. On the spectrum of men and jeans, at one end are the guys who don’t try at all. Those jeans you love because you wore them to your first Widespread Panic concert, the ones that are super soft because you’ve had them for 15 years? While you were rocking out, they became dad jeans. Burn them immediately.

Once in a while, dad jeans can be so bad that they spill over into sheer awesomeness. My friend Andy once showed up at a party in Kirkland Signature jeans. I knew they were Kirkland Signature jeans because the jeans said that, on a huge label above the back pocket. For those not in the know, Kirkland Signature is the house brand for Costco. Now, I’m no label snob, but when your label can also be found on car batteries and spiral-cut ham, even I take pause. That said, Andy is probably one of the most charismatic people I know. I’ve also seen him get away with a mock turtleneck, and no one in the history of time–with the possible exception of Vladimir Putin–has pulled off one of those. In fashion, as elsewhere, force of personality counts for a lot.

Way worse than those who try not at all, are the guys who try too hard. I feel bad that men have fewer fashion options than women, and thus have fewer ways to express their sartorial individuality. But wearing jeans with highly decorated pockets is no place to start. Again, there are men who can pull these types of jeans off, but in my experience, they are super rare. I’ve met like one, and he was a deejay. You’re not a deejay, are you?

stop the madness

So, where to go? Levis is a good place to start. So is the Gap, with their 1969 line. At the spendier end, Earnest Sewn, A.P.C., and Rag & Bone make simple denim in simple cuts (with plain pockets) that you will not tire of. I cannot vouch for their comfort. My husband bought a pair of A.P.C.s in raw denim three years ago and is still waiting for them to “mold to his body” as promised by the proselytizing salesperson. They are so stiff that they are currently standing upright in a corner of our closet.

In the end, your safest bet might be Diesel. Avoid the crazier cuts and washes and ask for the Viker–a straight leg, medium-rise style–in a medium gray or blue. The salesperson will advise you not to dry them in a machine, which will alarm you. Ignore them. You can wash and dry them however you want and they will be fine. My husband has washed his with our toddler’s training underpants and they are none the worse for wear, but for the slight lingering odor of urine. Remember, they are, in the end, just blue jeans. And you will wear them enough to justify the cost, because they will go with everything. You’ll look like you sort of care about your jeans, but not like you care too much. Easy, right?

ways to wear: stripes

There are days when the family wakes up late and we have exactly 17 minutes to get out the door.  There’s a lot of pain in that kind of morning, and it can be summed up by one image: that of my two year old, shrieking and banging on my shower door while I try to keep it closed with my foot long enough to wash the conditioner out of my hair.  I highly recommend this kind of morning to ensure a super zen day.  On such mornings, I have zero time to think out an outfit.  So I usually reach for some stripes.

Stripes almost always look right.  To me, they are shorthand for a bunch of things: ease, insouciance, pep.  Some opine that horizontal stripes can be unflattering, especially for those who aren’t stick-thin.  I tend to disagree.  I see lots of stripes on friends of different sizes and shapes, and whenever I see them, I’m charmed.  Actually, I can think of one exception: I’m not charmed by vertically striped dress shirts on my 6’4″ husband, because they make his torso look approximately five feet tall, and as if he should be walking on stilts at a circus.  But I digress.

Try playing with stripes of different thicknesses, from pinstripes to awning stripes to everything in between.  Stripes are a no-brainer with casual wear, but where they really prove their versatility is when you dress them up.  I particularly love them under suits.  Nothing says “believe me, I’m cooler than this lame job” like stripes under a suit with a bright belt and some killer shoes.

Below, a few ideas.

Starter stripes

Black/white and navy/white stripes are a basic everyone should have.  But try stripes in other colors.  Below, a button-back t-shirt I bought for $14.99 on sale at J. Crew has gotten heavy rotation in my wardrobe.  The mustard color has paired well under black or charcoal suits.  But where the mustard really comes to life is when paired with cobalt, a color that was big this summer, that I’m wearing into the fall.  By the way, as evidenced by the photos in this post, J. Crew is ground zero for stripes.  The downside to J. Crew (that their clothes look the same year after year) is an upside when you need a reliable source for the stuff you wear so regularly that it wears out.  Like stripes.

Striped button-back t-shirt, J. Crew ($14.99 on sale); twill skinny pants, J Brand ($176, bright royal); fleece blazer, Gibson (Nordstrom, $88, last season); suede desert boot, Clarks ($120)

Plays well with patterns

Stripes pair well with prints, like the batik-type skirt shown below.  When mixing with patterns, it helps to keep the stripe neutral, and to pair with a pattern that repeats in roughly the same proportion as the width of your stripe.  This barely makes sense to me, and I wrote it, but basically–if you have a medium-width stripe, stick with a medium-size print.  But there’s no science to it.  Just trust that you will know if it’s wrong.  It’s a good sign if your significant other takes issue with your outfit, because that, at least in my case, means you’re probably doing it right.  On the other hand, if you have small children who love your outfit, you may have inadvertently fallen prey to some bad mixing.  It’s never good when I come downstairs and my boys freeze, mid-play, to stare gape-mouthed at my outfit.  Also bad when I get the dreaded “Mom, are you going to a party today?” from my five-year old.  He wears his pants backwards on a regular basis.  It stresses me out when we’re seeing eye-to-eye on my clothes.

Cotton striped shirt, J. Crew ($48); cotton batik skirt, Gap ($44); leather mary janes, Chanel ($480, gift from hubby). Awesome letterpress print behind me by my friend Suzanne Hallerman at jigsaw graphics

Stripes on stripes

For those who have been wearing stripes for years and want to kick it up a notch, try pairing stripes with stripes.  A few considerations: 1) make sure your stripes are going in different directions; 2) it helps to have a visual break between the stripes, like a belt; and 3) stripe-on-stripe works best with stripes of different widths.   I wore the outfit below to my firm’s party a couple weeks ago, where it paired beautifully with my nametag and the jumbo shrimp.

Silk shirt, J. Crew ($110); wool pants, J. Crew ($108, five years ago); leather belt, J. Crew ($48); watch, Timex ($50)

How do you wear your stripes?

ogling cartoons

I could start this post with a self-conscious introduction about how bad TV is for children. But I won’t. Instead, I will start by saying that I need my kids to watch TV, for at least 3o minutes on a Saturday or Sunday, so that I can make it through the weekend to Monday.

I read somewhere that it’s less bad for your kids if they watch TV while you watch it with them, which in my opinion, sort of misses the point of TV altogether, but parental guilt is a powerful thing. To occupy my mind while watching cartoons with my boys, I’ve started ranking cartoon characters in terms of hotness.

Let’s start with Super Why. I thought that was just the name of the show, but apparently it is also the name of the dude at left. Pros: can rock the spandex, and hangs out with a princess. Cons: wears a mask and what I suspect may be Skechers. Appears to have yarn for hair. He is also a bit preachy about spelling.

Next, below, we have Izzy, Cubby, and Jake from “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” For the record, my husband thinks Izzy is a stone cold fox. Cubby is a bit short for my tastes, but Jake…oh, Jake. That shock of black hair, the bandana, the skinny jeans tucked into the knee boots–he’s working a look, it’s talking to me, and what it’s saying is “thar be good.”

i want on that island

Oso the bear, below, is a spy in the vein of James Bond. Like 007, Oso has all sorts of gadgets and fancy vehicles at his disposal. Also like 007, he is usually pantless. Who needs pants, when you have a neoprene vest full of pockets, plus gloves? But I find his constant expression of surprise a bit off-putting. I like my spies a little more blase.

special agent oso, with jazz hands

The show Yo Gabba Gabba is an exercise in studied irony. For example, there is a regular segment on the show in which Biz Markie demonstrates the “beat of the day.” And the show features all sorts of hipster bands and break-dancing (sometimes, together). The creators also clearly don’t care that you suspect that they are on drugs. Below is Muno, who is very clearly the most phallic children’s character ever created. It’s as if they knew that bored moms would be watching. The only way he could be more phallic is if he didn’t have arms and legs, and was flesh colored. His resemblance to a penis notwithstanding, I don’t find him particularly attractive, but that’s probably mostly because he only has the one eye, and fangs.

This brings us to my boyfriend, Handy Manny, the stud at the top of this post. It really doesn’t get much hotter in cartoon land than Manny, who is bilingual, good with tools, and can pull off a trucker cap like no one’s business. He also appears to fix broken appliances for free, and is good with renewable energy sources, like the solar panels he installed that one time for the town baker. My friend Erik says Manny has a hot flirtation going with Kelly at the hardware store, but I feel that if Manny knew me, he’d want to be with me, not her.

Who has your vote for hottest cartoon?