Monday, 29 December 2008

Fashionista Merry-Go-Round

In the wake of my festive and merry previous postings, I'm going to change gear today and air a slight grievance with what I call the "Fashionista Merry-Go-Round."

Big cities live and breath fashion...and fashion, as a form of self expression, is something that I love. Ladies (though guys may want to listen up too), the operative words here are self expression. Not cloning! I can't be the only person who gets tired of seeing women en mass jump on the trend bandwagon in an effort to "roll with the fashionistas." I'm not saying it's a crime to buy into the latest fad....but do pick and chooses the clothes, makeup, etc. that suit your personality, and your body type. Not everyone will look good in Kate Moss's Topshop range and it's boring when all of a sudden everyone starts sporting a poncho. Why are you wearing layers of foundation? Is it for you or is it more in name of fashion?

I think that it's a sad day when women hide their spirit behind a facade that's not of their own true choosing. It's fake. Or if one passes up better made, probably pricier items so that they can snap up the newest lines out in Primark (whose manufacturing means I seriously question). That's foolish. I'm not saying buy Escada if that's not in your budget; I'm suggesting you consider mid range quality in lieu of quantity for the sake of a trendy wardrobe. Alternatively, look off the high street. Go to a market and find the unique. And if you are one for couture, don't buy and drop items like flies in an effort to keep pace with the likes of the runway. That's wasteful. Make full use what you have!

What happened to fashion as a form of expression if we all want to look the same?
What happened to individuality, enhanced through fashion?

There are days when I look around me and get lost in the whirlwind of the Fashionista Merry-Go-Round. I want to hold my own with all those beautiful London people. But then I remind myself to work with what I've got. So here's a little poem I wrote for all of you out there that may also occasionally struggle with this dilemma:


She had it goin' on
Dressed to the nines
Matching bag
Painted face
How's a girl to emulate?
That rosy lipped vixen

I'll try it on for size
Bat my lashes
Color my lips
Pucker up cherries
And make your entrance
Watch heads turn...

Lips painted red
But is the facade wise
Would you rather just
Look a bit deeper into my eyes
And see me for who I am

Not yet a desperate housewife
But off the market still
I want to be sexy
But I want to be real
What's the point otherwise?

So I'll pass on the
"Squeeze into the latest trend game,
Who cares if it fits?"
Kick off reason with the shoe I bought yesterday?
I'll wear my soles through, thank you

Lips painted red
But is the facade wise
Would you rather just
Look a bit deeper into my eyes
And see me for who I am

I hope so

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas!....from the beach in Bournemouth

Ho, ho, ho....Merry Christmas!

To all my family and friends in the USA, I'm thinking of you and missing you!

Chris and I are with his parents in Bournemouth this Christmas. It's not a white one, but it's cool, crisp and sunny. In Stevens tradition, we took a walk along the beach around noon. Come cold, rain, snow....the English love their walk "along the front."

I felt kind of glamorous in my new red coat, whipped by salt and wind and buoyed by the festivities around me.....children frantically speeding along on new bikes, couples sporting santa hats, teenage boys playing ball Frisbee on the beach (Chris would have happily joined in), families walking their dogs... Spirits were running high.

Then they ran even higher when we were tipped off to free mulled wine being served by one of the cafes further along the beach. Got to love the mulled wine! And for free! Since when do you get anything for free? Talk about mixing the spirit of giving with savvy business acumen.....give and you will get in return.

I like that everyone has their Christmas traditions. We always go to my aunt or cousin's house in New York. In Australia BBQ's on the beach are rife. And in the UK, we have our winter beach walks. I wonder how Obama's family is celebrating with their new Secret Service additions? I wonder how Chris and I will forge our own traditions with time?

We all spend this day in our own special way, but there is a solidarity at large in the mutual celebration that is Christmas that I find very satisfying.

So wherever you are....with family, at the beach, in the snow, continuing tradition, trying something new.....if you are celebrating Christmas today (or even if you are not), sit back and enjoy being merry.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Feeling Festive (& Beating the Credit Crunch)

I've been feeling festive in the run up to Christmas, so was excited when Chris took me to see 'Four Christmases' tonight. Aside from the fact that it stars Reese Witherpoon, one of my all time favorite actresses, the movie hits home the idea that Christmas is about connecting with those you love and giving a little, in whatever bizarre way that may be. I think that this simple connection is sometimes lost in the whirlwind that is the December run up to the holidays.

So if the holiday season leaves you dizzied by flashing lights and rich food, office parties and charity collections, credit crunch warnings collided with materialistic trends, remember these tips for bringing Christmas back to the basics: festive, giving, and not breaking your bank:

  1. Bake some cookies - it's traditional, tasty, fulfilling and cheaper than all the crap they're trying to see you in the stores
  2. Mull wine -Why spend lots of money out at bars/pubs when you can cozy up indoors with warm glass of home mulled wine. A basic recipe.
  3. Decorate a your home - Cheer up your home and cheer up your mind -decorate a tree, cut some greens and make a wreath, put out a few candles.....create the ambiance to enjoy that glass of mulled wine and those Christmas cookies
  4. Think small and thoughtful - Gift giving can get out of hand, and particularly credit crunch times such as these, what is meant to be a thoughtful gesture can cause undue pressure. So if you are struggling with last minute shopping, get back to the basics. Think about something small but special to the person you are buying for.....something a little more obscure that you know they would enjoy but wouldn't expect.
  5. Send e-cards - Haven't sent out Christmas cards? Let people know you are thinking of them but save on postage.
  6. Invite friends over for dinner - Why brave restaurants full of pre-Christmas revellers and rushed service. Plan a simple menu and bring the festivities to your door.
  7. Identify reserves - Tempted by that cute wrapping paper and ribbon set? First look in your closet to see what was left over from last year before you buy....and if you were smart, you purchased extra wrapping paper etc in all the post-Christmas sales and you'll be all set!
  8. Check the TV guide for 'Miracle on 34th Street', 'It's a Wonderful Life', 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas', etc. etc! They're usually on in abundance, and you might realize you haven't slowed down in the last few holiday seasons to enjoy these Christmas classics!
  9. Take a walk - Whether in the city, suburbs or country, get out in the fresh air and take in the Christmas spirit around you, be it Christmas lights, floral displays, carolers, etc.
  10. Pick up the phone, or sit and write that email - Connect with those that you care about that you can't be with at the holiday or that you don't see/talk to so much. Reconnect.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Urban Pick-n-Mix

Woolworths is going down. A feature of high streets across the country, this British retail giant is the most recent victim of the ubiquitous credit crunch.

I first visited Woolworths on my second trip to England. I was 18, and visiting my boyfriend at Plymouth University. Knowing my penchant for candy, he took me in for a pick-n-mix. I was sold and my dentist was delighted. Since that day, Woolworths held a special place in my heart.

It wasn't a classy or upmarket shop, but it wasn't a dump either. It was a basic but reliable department store, readily available and reasonably priced. I recently read Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a Small Island', in which he discusses feeling some comfort in the consistency of certain British institutions found far and wide across the country. Woolworths fit this bill of broadened comfort zones. Sadly, it's soon to be a mere memory.

The papers report scenes of vultures ravaging a haggard carcass as a cross-country movement of shoppers descend to reap the rewards of discounted goods. One shopper, clearly one of my kindred spirits, bemoaned the loss of the pick-n-mix. Some people cried outrage. Others sought a good deal, and didn't care beyond that. I took a trip down to my local Woolworths to check out the damage....and my reaction was one of solidarity with Bill.

What's to come of this large building on my high street? Is another Tesco or cheap outlet shop on the way? Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions here, and they'll turn the whole two story building into a beautiful book store, or toy shop. I keep my fingers crossed that a contemporary urban blemish is not around the corner, but my faith is not too high after seeing a fantastic old cinema on the South Circular with Roman pillars and tall doors converted to Weatherspoons pub. I mean, really? I'm not for the Urban Pick-n-Mix. Keep it traditional, or get a decent urban planner!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Realizing Tomorrow

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from the 32nd President of the United States: Franklin D. Roosevelt: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."

I recorded this quote in my book of quotations and personal poetry on February 23, 1998. At the time, I saw it as a reminder to overcome insecurity, stand up in the face of adversity and take control of my own destiny. I was, after all, 16 years old and was accustomed to getting tangled in a web of my own issues. FDR's wisdom may have been applicable to the country, but it was also relevant to me!

I'm sure that this frequently quoted statement has struck a chord with many over the last half century. I thus wasn't surprised to find others online herald it as a mantra for President-elect Obama and his promise of change for the United States, or that Time Magazine included a cover shot of Obama under the title "The New New Deal." When Obama enters the White House in January he inherits a mess; a mess that requires brains, strong spirit and difficult decisions to clean up.

There is no doubt in my mind that Obama is committed to realizing tomorrow....the question for me, is what exactly that tomorrow will bring in the face of challenges like curbing the looming recession, reforming education and eventually withdrawing from Iraq. Though untested in an executive role, I believe that Obama, like FDR, embraces the American "can do" spirit that when fuelled by smart, lateral thinking is a recipe for progress.

Here in the UK and Europe I've talked to many sceptics, often friends, who challenge this "can do attitude." Some feel it's overly jolly, others that it's insincere or maybe just unrealistic....but I'd never regret being born and bred with the mindset that I could achieve to the best of my ability whatever I put my mind to. To me, it's not about entitlement, or unfathomable illusions of's about staying confident, working hard to achieve goals, and ultimately achieving good, whether it's on a personal or global scale.

Now obviously you could take this quote, twist it around and tout it as a mad fascist or plain wacko because sadly, there are some of those nutters at large who act before they think. In fact this is a common trait among some of the world’s most powerful politicians. But for the average Joe and for a promising President alike, sound judgement coupled with the strength to consult and plan, and decide and implement in order to realize tomorrow is an exercise for the greater good. I think Obama has that in him. But time will tell...

In the immediate, I'm happy to say that British and European opinion toward the United States is already shifting towards a more positive light, much to my joy, and of I'm sure that of my fellow expats. It sometimes gets tiring reminding people that many Americans are not exports of the George W. Bush administration! Let's hope the future fuels this new perspective.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Remembering the Little Things...

Yup, I fell right off that blogging bandwagon again! I'm clawing my way back on....

During my recent trip home (home #1: New York, as opposed to home #2: London) for Thanksigiving I couldn't help noting the parallels of this historic day of thanks and my own life situation. Let me explain...

One of the first recognized Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in 1621, when English colonists in Plymouth shared an autumn harvest feast with the Wampanoag Indians. Alongside solidifying the long term Native American tradition of celebrating the harvest in American history books, this meal has since become a symbol of cooperation between the English colonists and Native Americans.

How ironic, that there I sat, now a UK resident, home for my first Thanksgiving in New York since moving to England six years ago. Across the table, sat Chris, my own symbol of transatlantic cooperation, proof that this vibrant and strong bond has survived the complications of history and is again at large almost 400 years later. In that moment I felt thankful for how far we've come since the days of New England colonialism....thankful for planes and travel, email and skype, all of which have enabled me to forge a life abroad with easy access to my family and friends still in the United States. These necesseties of the 21st century are a new form of sustenance, often taken for granted. At the table in our room off the kitchen, surrounded by family and feast, I shut my eyes and gave a wholehearted shout out of thanks for them.

With a great deal to be thankful for, I shouldn't really have been complaining, but I found myself sitting in the Union Square Starbucks with my dear friend Nathalie, and lamenting my unfulfilled promise as a writer. Nat is always a great sounding board, and besides, she works in publishing, so maybe she'll take pity on me and hook me up with a sweet publishing deal! The problem? I haven't written anything to start with and my sweet publishing scenario is totally unrealistic. But Nat helped me resurface from the mire of my woes, and brought me back to some the little things I can do to get back on track writing....take a writing class or join an aspiring writer group, nurture my ability to rhyme, make time for something I truly enjoy, revisit my blog....

So little blog, here I am. This is another start, but hopefully one of a long, interesting journey.