Archive for March, 2008

Retail therapy

We had a hard winter, especially in its latter half. We got flu, dealt with more snowstorms than we could count, tried to entertain two very bored little boys. Despite my best intentions – I’d started Lent wanting to watch what I ate, finish my novella, and figure out whether I could freelance full-time – I pigged out, quit fiction, and struggled to stay afloat with my freelance assignments.

Turnabout came in March with a halfway decent tax refund and my discovery of the TLC show “What Not to Wear.” I have never cared about fashion, but the combination of women (often mothers) like me and the witty repartee of hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly hooked me. As I watched them tell these women that they deserved to look good because they deserved to feel good, I realized that I, too, needed a makeover.

Gah! Did I just write that?? Seriously?? Yes, I did. And yet I couldn’t figure out how to obtain one. I wasn’t about to try to get on the show (having no time to do so, and not sure all three of my boys could survive several days without me). In desperation, feeling frumpy and style-less in my sweats, I turned to the Internet. I researched skin tone and body types, learning what colors and styles would look good on me and why. (The latter bit of information is reinforced on WNTW: maximize the womanly assets!) Armed with this information, I hit the stores. Newport News has always been a favorite of mine, and I found some new spring-summer things at JC Penney and even on eBay.

I got my new clothes last week, and I must say: Damn, I look good. Even without the makeup piece (I’m hoping for a free makeover from RaisingMaine.com, but am considering going to a Macy’s counter), I’m really excited by the amount of color in my wardrobe and the ways I’ve learned to add life to old favorites. And there’s been another benefit: I’m back writing.

See, looking good does indeed have me feeling good. I feel like I’m developing my own style, which I’ve never really had before (having relied on others to buy clothes for me, which were often hit or miss in terms of flattery, and largely dependent on sales). And that amazing boost of confidence has made me believe more in myself as a writer. That I am capable of finding color and fit and style, and that I can translate it into words on the page.

Even though I made a potentially confidence-busting decision this past week – to shelve the novel I’d been marketing to agents, and start over with a different project – indulging my inner girly girl has overshadowed whatever crisis I may have felt, and I’m moving forward with the horror novella I started in February. It’s a different genre with a different theme, and I think it might actually go somewhere.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, the weather is warming up, and I’ve got girly clothes to wear.

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When I received my review copy of Healthy Child, Healthy World, I admit I was a bit put off by its cover. Not by the picture of the child on it, of course, but by the block that told me: “With contributions by Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Tom Hanks, Tobey Maguire, Kate Hudson, and Erin Brockovich.” Great, I thought. I’m supposed to go green just because the celebrities do? Even though I can’t afford a fraction of the things they can?

This first impression could not have been less accurate. Although a few mention buying things like bamboo floors and organic mattresses, most–startlingly–come across only like other mothers whose names you happen to recognize. “I could easily use organic shampoos and face products but I don’t, not yet,” writes Jenna Elfman. “For now I’m sticking with what’s worked for me all these years.” Brooke Shields agrees, “You do all you can, but there are particulars to your own life that you must respect.”

It’s a view espoused by author Christopher Gavigan, CEO and director of nonprofit organization Healthy Child Healthy World, who encourages readers to start small, prioritize goals, negotiate changes: “Just as nothing slams the brakes on progress more than a sense that you’ve failed right at the start, nothing spurs progress like having milestones, no matter how small, that you’ve reached.”

Indeed, the beauty of his book is that it contains solutions both large and small, and he remains ever mindful of the fact that most of his readers will be budget-constrained. Rather than beat you over the head with eco-guilt, Gavigan presents facts about manufacturers and chemicals, then provides alternatives. For instance, Chapter 2, “Cleanup Time,” provides a number of recipes for easily made, natural cleaners that use ingredients like vinegar and baking soda–which also happen to be much cheaper than most chemically based cleaning products.

In fact, Gavigan’s book is so chock full of useful information that it’s impossible to highlight any. He covers everything about normal life, from cleaning and cosmetics to gardening and pets. His features include:

  • “copy and carry” pages about plastics (good vs. bad), produce (the Dirty Dozen vs. the Cleanest 12), and others
  • “Healthy Bytes” of information, such as the Ecology Center’s website, which features a searchable database of 1200 popular lead-tested children’s toys (healthytoys.org)
  • Contributions not just from celebrities, but also from doctors and scientists
  • Names–of responsible manufacturers who have moved toward making greener, healthier products. In fact, an appendix in the back of the book contains a comprehensive list of responsible cosmetic, pesticide, textile goods, toy, food, and other manufacturers.

In short, although I walked into this book skeptical, I walked out with a desire to change. I won’t be able to implement many changes at first–despite the reminder that I will likely save long-term costs in catastrophic health events, my current tight budget is what it is–but there are far more changes that I can make that I would not have expected, and I don’t even have to embrace a “hippie” lifestyle to do so.

That, ultimately, may be the strongest message of Gavigan’s book: individuals can make the world a better place–without giving up so many of the comforts that savvy marketers have convinced us we need.

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I’ve been tagged!

I am awful at memes (I usually lack time), but I haven’t blogged here in so long that when Miranda over at Creative Construction tagged me, I thought this one would be a good way to get back into it. Also: I am all caught up on work.

The rules:

a) Go back through your archives and post the links to five of your favorite blog posts.

  1. Link one must be about family: Mom was (partly) right
  2. Link two must be about friends: A shout-out meme
  3. Link three must be about yourself: The 5 best mistakes I ever made
  4. Link four must be about something you love: Miles runs the baby down
  5. Link five can be about anything you choose: Day of the dead

b) Then tag five other bloggers. At least two of the people you tag must be newer acquaintances in the blogosphere, so that you get to know each other better. Tag, you’re it:

Have fun!

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Go ahead, laugh. But when you’re done, read his blog. You, too, may find your brain crushing on the former Labor Secretary.

Today’s offering:

Barack Obama has breathed life into the Democratic Party, and into American politics, for the first time in forty years. Not since Robert Kennedy ran for president has America been so starkly summoned to its ideals; not since then has America — including, especially, the nation’s youth — been so inspired…. HRC’s tactics are the old politics the nation is recoiling from — internal division and national fear. This only serves to deepen Americans’ cynicism about politics, and makes social change all the harder to achieve.

I first came in contact with Reich during my graduation from college. He was our commencement speaker, which made me roll my eyes until I actually heard him speak. I was riveted throughout the speech, and his blog carries the same spare, powerful way he uses language as much as the deep thoughts themselves. His is a common-sense approach to common sense, distilling political crap to make it understandable and to put into words what many of us intuit but cannot name.

He should probably be syndicated as an op-ed columnist, the better to reach a wider audience, but that would make sense.

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