The Conscious Closet Challenge: An Update

Just to get new readers up to speed: I began the Conscious Closet Challenge sponsored by grechenscloset.com midweek last week. I pared down to what I would’ve once called a minimalist closet last year but I’m ready to edit down even more. You can read more about it in my initial article here.

As I write, I have a huge stack of clothes to donate. I feel like this is a really great time to be working through my thoughts and feelings about clothing–and possessions–in general. This challenge didn’t exactly start this process but it was my incentive to actually sit down and create a list of Dos and Don’ts to follow. I think this topic will spin off in a number of directions but I wanted to just create a simple update of some things I’ve learned.

1. Stop Shopping Clearance
I pride myself on never paying full price but there’s a difference between shopping clearance and being financially smart when shopping. Between last year’s purge and this year’s edit, I found that almost everything unworn in my closet was a clearance acquisition. We itemize and deduct our donations on our taxes each year, which means I keep meticulous notes on donated items (their purchase price, brand, style, year, etc). Pages upon pages of my 2014 donations included clothing and accessories from Loft and J. Crew. Those $4.99 steals add up to several hundred dollars over the course of a few years (and I’m not even kidding about that number) fast. I will always look for coupon codes or wait for percentage off sales but the clearance rack is NOT my friend.

2. Just Buy Coveted Items
So let me explain. I have a solid track record of trying to buy cheap to quench a desire for something expensive. A case in point: I fell in love with the Helmut Lang Villous Jacket. It retails for $230 but can often be found off-season for $150. I wanted it. I loved it. I tried it on when I saw it in a store. I never bought it but instead went everywhere buying up cheap inspired-by styles. I have two versions of it from Modcloth; I bought one from JC Penney; I bought another from some other off-price place. In total, I spent about $300 on jackets inspired by the Villous. They just never did it for me. I wore them sometimes but just not very often. I finally bit the bullet and ordered the Villous during the late winter of 2014. That did it. I wear it constantly. I love it. It doesn’t just hang in my closet like the knockoffs. Had I just bought the damn thing when I decided it was a must-have, I literally would’ve saved $300. I do this much too often and it’s time to stop.

3. Purge/Buy For My Current Lifestyle
I have a habit of hanging on to clothing items because I once wore them non-stop. When I worked at Brown Shoe, tailored cardigans were a staple. Our dress code was business but the D2C department was creative. This meant that I could get away with denim trousers and a cardigan. On Friday, destructed denim and platform wedges worked with a cardigan. I had a million and wore a million. In the last three years or so, I haven’t worn a single cardigan (well, maybe an oversize Grandpa style occasionally). As of today…GONE. They served their purpose but they don’t fit into my life now. At the risk of going all KonMari (I wonder if she knows she’s a verb now…hmmm), they needed to go on to help others who could love them more.

Another example: the Mansur Gavriel Bucket Bag. I very briefly thought about getting on a waitlist for one. They’re so sleek and gorgeous. But…BUT…I live in Italy. Pickpockets are not just a possibility, they are life. I am constantly balancing a 2-year-old, a diaper bag and goodness knows what else. I can’t be bothered to watch my cinch-top handbag every second as we travel. $400 saved…period. If I have to worry about it (whatever “it” is, it isn’t worth my attention).

I know, I know. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much–3 realizations–while contemplating my whole adult wardrobe. I have to say, though, that these three areas have cost me more than I would even like to consider. Hey, it’s a place to start. I feel like this challenge has been really good for me. Maybe it can help others. Either way, I’m glad I took this next step.

A Minimalist Wardrobe: The Conscious Closet Challenge

conscious closet challenge

One year ago, a major move from Texas to Italy forced me to create a minimalist wardrobe. The final tally included donating and/or selling nearly 60 pairs of shoes and about 90% of my clothing. Since moving into our Italian home (no closets…gasp), I’ve come to the realization that I needed to get rid of much more. The makeshift wardrobes and racks are full. Earlier in the week, Grechen from grechenscloset.com–one of my longtime favorite blogs–announced a Conscious Wardrobe Challenge. Grechen is very focused upon building a minimalist wardrobe with U.S.-made pieces. Living in the land of Italian fashion, buying American is nice but not a goal for the next couple of years. That being said, I would like to be a little more informed about where my clothing, shoes, and accessories originate. One thing I learned quickly while living here, a “made in Italy” label like we find so often on high-dollar goods in the U.S. doesn’t always mean you are getting a product sourced 100% from Italy. It has been very eye-opening.

So what are my goals? First and foremost, I want to assess what I still love in my current minimalist wardrobe, then donate the rest. From there, I can make some decisions on where holes exist and what needs to be replaced. Do I still need 10 jeans? How many tees will it take to make my life complete? Secondarily, I have been trying to buy quality over quantity. Instead of buying three pairs of boots this past winter, I bought one pair of Prada moto boots. It was the best idea ever. It was a chunk of change up front but wound up costing less than buying boots in volume. I would like to strategize to build a nicer, smaller wardrobe with the rest of my clothing.

I started the challenge a bit late but will update as things progress. If you would like to join Grechen’s challenge, click the Conscious Wardrobe Challenge link above. All the instructions are there.

Travel tips: Cahergal Farmhouse, County Clare Ireland

Sometimes travel can be a series of crapshoots. As we found out during our trip to Skerries, all the great reviews in the world can still net you some cruddy experiences. County Clare Ireland was nothing but fabulous from start to finish, I am happy to say. Through a series of Google searches, I found that many Irish venues offered Easter weekend events for families. The two-day Craggaunowen and Bunratty Folk Park ticket sounded perfect, so we searched for nearby lodging. Another search brought me to Cahergal Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast. The reviews were great, Google Maps showed me it was close to both venues, and their website mentioned that they offered horseback riding (a major draw for my 6-year-old).

To fully appreciate how good this part of the trip was, you have to know that (1) I typically hate bed & breakfast lodgings and (2) high-end department stores are my thing, not working farms. We landed in Dublin early on a Saturday morning, moved our suitcases into a Citroen Berlingo (the horror at first), then shot off west to the farm.

cahergal farmhouse county clare ireland

Cahergal Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast

Owned by Michael and Noreen McInerney, Cahergal is a 100-acre working horse, sheep, and cattle farm located in the heart of Newmarket-on-Fergus. They literally don’t have an address. We used Google Maps to get close, then followed signs to the tree-lined drive. Noreen greeted us with brown scones coated with creamy butter and jam, as well as a pot of hot tea. Our room was roomy and comfortable; the bathroom shower was consistently hot with decent pressure. When showing us the room, Noreen mentioned that the master bed was a queen. Honestly, it was closer to the size of our king at home. Little Harper co-sleeps with us most of the time, so we had plenty of room for 2 1/2 in the big bed. Zoey’s twin bed was termed a cot but it was also extremely comfortable. Honestly, though, the farm itself was the star of the show. Even in early April, the grass was emerald green and dotted with beds of yellow daffodils. Just driving onto the property, we heard cows moo-ing. It was just quintessentially Ireland.

Being spring, baby animals were a fixture at Cahergal. Michael was so kind to let us bring both girls out to the barns. It was almost comical how unprepared I was. I literally walked into a barn stall with over-the-knee boots and a leopard coat. I promise that I’m not usually that…I know there’s some derogatory term to describe that.  I was timid; we brought two boisterous girls into a stall with five delicate newborn sheep. Michael, on the other hand, took one look at Zoey and started filling her arms with warm, wooly lamb. As I watched her fumble, I went into total panic mode. Not Michael. He started folding that baby up into her arms and told me loudly “No worrying. Take pictures.” Next up was the side of the barn with pregnant cows moo-ing for their breakfast. Michael handed Zoey a pitchfork (inciting fear in my heart) and showed her how to rake silage toward the eager mouths of five hungry post-partum cows, two pregnant cows, and one really eager new bull. Even when she nearly poked the pitchfork into a soft nose, Michael was totally cool.

On another day, one of Noreen and Michael’s adult sons took all the guests on a trek though the fields. The sheep and cows wanted to keep their space…especially from the eager 6-year-old, yet this was so much fun. Noreen took pity on me and gave me her boots to wear through the field so I wouldn’t sully my poor choice of packed footwear. It was just such a great experience. None of us were ready to go on a real horseback ride but Zoey was allowed to take a short escorted ride on one of the farm’s horses. Again, Noreen’s son kindly took her on this “ride,” which absolutely thrilled her.

And after all this, I’ve neglected to talk about the “breakfast” part of bed and breakfast. I’m by no means a vegetarian but bacon and sausage and ham and eggs…not my speed. I figured “when in Ireland…” and just decided to eat what Noreen cooked. (She did provide a wide array of cereals and breads, too.) My traditional Irish breakfast included a fried egg, two slices of bacon (what we called country ham back in Missouri), two sausage links, white and black pudding, and toast. I tried it all. That Noreen…she’s a great cook. Admittedly, I was most drawn to her pumpkin seed brown soda bread but…BUT…I actually liked all of it. The black pudding (made of congealed blood) was a little too much for me to wrap my head around. I did taste it but left it at that. The white pudding was awesome. I wound up eating an Irish breakfast each morning that we were there, then found that no one’s breakfast compared to Noreen’s after we left.

Cahergal was such a great experience, I felt it was worthy of an entire post. Check back for more on our trip to County Clare Ireland. And if you want to make reservations with Noreen and Michael, make sure you visit their site: cahergal.com.

 

Travel tips: Skerries Ireland

So…Skerries Ireland. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I. We were looking for one more place to visit before flying back to Italy, read about the Skerries Windmills, and decided that was as good a place as any. Skerries is a seaside village just outside of Dublin. We had a rental car and drove it in about half an hour, but I have heard it’s quite easy to get public transportation from Dublin to the Skerries station.

Things to do in Skerries Ireland

Skerries Mills.
After a week in Ireland, this was one of our favorite attractions. Traveling with two very small kids, we were constantly in search of spots that were appealing to adults but kid-friendly. I thought this was an iffy pick; turns out it was perfect. Although I didn’t see any signs of active flour milling, the self-guided tour (€12 for a family) allows you to see the fully-functional mill. Once we made it through the various rooms in the millhouse, the reception person came through and turned on the wheel, allowing us to re-visit the mill’s rooms to see everything in action. Once exiting the mill, visitors are allowed to walk the fields to see the small and large windmills.

After freezing outdoors, it was a real treat to come back to the millhouse for warm drinks at the Watermill Cafe. Although we only chose a pot of tea for ourselves and hot cocoa for our 6-year-old, the cafe served really delicious-looking scones, pastries, and sandwiches. And they do have a liquor license, so Irish coffees are ready to go in seconds.

Especially with a small market outside, there were plenty of opportunities to shop at Skerries Mills. The gift shop had oodles of made-in-Ireland items like pottery, woolens, jewelry, and flour (duh…it’s a flour mill). The market in the courtyard seems to be new. There were very few vendors that Saturday morning but I have a feeling it’s growing based upon the fact that their ramping up their social media efforts.

mills collage

Ardgillan Castle

I love a good castle in ruins. My kids, however, prefer the fully-restored variety. For this reason, we figured Ardgillan Castle was a good bet. As it turned out, they weren’t giving tours of the actual castle that day. We still managed to make the best out of the visit. The tea room is the spot where the tours begin. Since it was lunchtime and tours were out, we decided to grab lunch there. The sitting-rooms-turned-dining-rooms were pretty. The period decor was busy enough to keep the kids entertained–nothing was drab or boring. They had highchairs, too, which was a major bonus. Sans tour, we headed back out to see the grounds. Early spring is probably not the best time to view the walled gardens. There were plenty of blooming flowerbeds but the gardens appeared to be geared toward mid-summer-bloomers. The view of the sea was breathtaking. Perhaps the real winner here, though, was the huge play area. The playground was divided into an area for little ones and an area for big kids. It was perfect for letting the kids run out some energy.

ardgillan castle

The biggest “bust” of the day was our Bed & Breakfast. Despite its great reviews, it was terrible. The bedroom looked clean enough but the rest of the house was nasty. It was so bad, we paid half a night’s stay to get out of there and booked a room at Maldron Dublin Airport. Maldron was a little overpriced but it’s a 5 minute shuttle to Terminal 2 at the airport. Most importantly, the Maldron was clean.

As a whole, I wouldn’t skip someplace like the Cliffs of Moher or Rock of Cashel for Skerries, but if time permits and you have little ones, Skerries might be worth your time. Especially in the summer months when sea breezes don’t lead to frigid windchills, you could easily spend the day beachcombing.

If you’re traveling to Ireland–especially if you are traveling with kids–check back in the coming days. I will have some other can’t-miss attractions, places, and pubs to discuss. Visit me over on my Facebook page if you have questions or just feel like discussing Skerries Ireland.

 

Project 365 Photo Challenge

I came over to Italy with every intention of documenting our time living in Europe. So far we’ve extensively traveled and have settled into life here, but I haven’t taken any time to document anything. Well, I have obnoxiously photo spammed my Facebook friends with travel shots. The funny thing is that in picking and choosing the “good” photos, I inadvertently led everyone to believe that life as an expat is easy, sophisticated, and perfect. I’m laughing out loud as I type that. You should see my house right now…perfect. Yeah. That’s it. (No, I won’t post a picture of that right now.)

Earlier in the week, I read an article on mpix.com’s blog about Jill Marzion and her Project 365 photo challenge. (Read more about it via the links.) Anyway, I thought it might be fun to participate in the challenge, making my focus something related to the life of an expat in Italy. Some days may feature a jealousy-inducing shot of a day trip to Venice, but I expect most days will offer a glimpse into something that’s mundane here but new and different for the average American. I’ll predominantly post over on my Instagram page. I thought I would kick off my Project 365 with a dedicated blog entry.

So for today, I introduce you to the abomination that is plugging in a dual current electrical device. For the uninitiated, what you’re seeing is a 220v wall plug/light switch combo, a dual-current Chi flat iron in Bubbly Blue (it’s very snazzy), and two converters to make it all work. The whole of Europe operates on 220v, yet nearly every country has a different plug configuration. It’s So. Much. Fun. (Sarcasm)

project 365

The ’90s are back; or, OMG! I’m vintage

People and things have a pesky way of reminding me that I just turned 40. I don’t really look 40. I don’t really feel 40. I have a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old, both of which make me feel 20 or 85 depending upon the day. And then I visited Forever21.com this morning. As the kids say these days (or maybe it was last decade?): oh em gee. At least F21 had the class to make me feel vintage and not just old. Tupac, Tupac Everywhere. Snoop Dog. Oh, and Notorious B.I.G. And Rugrats–RUGRATS. I didn’t even watch Rugrats and I got all nostalgic. My 18-month post-partum body is going to keep me out of crop tops for now (and probably for always). Docs may or may not cycle back into my wardrobe. Floral babydolls and chokers…no way. One of these may make its way into my sweats drawer…ahem, my loungewear drawer.

I’m stuck at home sick with a sick baby. Amuse me. What clothing would you secretly (or openly) wear from your youth?

90s are backAll items from Forever21.com. Shop them here.

Checking back in

What’s the point of having a blog if you never add content? There really isn’t one, so I have vowed to get a little more content up. I’m honestly not sure how those other bloggers with kids and jobs and lives get copy up regularly. Anyway…I wanted to just add a quick post to get back in the swing.

We spent Christmas up around Ramstein Germany. We stopped off in Garmisch the first night, then stayed in Grainau on our way back. Our hotel in Grainau was a quaint little mom-and-pop place. The minute we checked in, I realized it was not the best choice for a family with boisterous kids but there was a snowstorm. We weren’t going to be driving around looking for a new place. I had to eat dinner in the room since little Harper was too excited for the formal dining room. It was dark outside and I was a little ticked that I was eating a fine dinner while chasing a toddler. Well, the next morning I woke up and opened the curtains. What you see below was my view. Clearly I had the better view during dinner. It’s too bad I couldn’t see it.

Hope you had an amazing holiday season! Catch you in 2015.

GermanyGrainau Germany Dec 2014 013

An Ode to National Breastfeeding Month

So, if you know anything about me at all, you know that I’m a very solid SEO marketing writer. I rock a business suit like nobody’s business. And if you really know me, you also know that I’m a total fruit loop. (You’ll see that in a second.) Now here’s something that you may not know: I’ve become a total and complete nursing proponent in the past year. When Zoey was born, I dried up the same week I brought her home. With Harper, I had a ton of support and a totally different experience. At 13 months old, Harper is an exclusively breastfed baby. I do not and will never judge moms who feed babies formula. That’s the only reason Zoey exists today. This time, however, nursing has been such a good experience. I bought a nursing poncho from Busy Spinning Thread early on, and I have taken that thing all over the world…literally. Florida, the Adriatic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, Ljubljana Slovenia. The cover, the baby and me…we’re tight. Because I am a fruit loop, I decided to pen a completely silly poem about my experience nursing. I don’t pretend to be a great mom, but I do know that I’m very proud of myself this time around. If you need any breastfeeding support, let me know. I may not know the answer, but I’ll find it for you.

Without further ado…the silly poem:

I have nursed in a car
I have nursed in a bar

I have nursed in a plane
I have nursed on an Italian train

It’s the perfect nourishment, always within baby’s reach
I’ve proudly nursed on a sandy Mediterranean beach.

I do nurse without apology
I once nursed in the clinic of urology

And, certainly I don’t mean to boast,
but I’ve often nursed on an Army post.

I’ve nursed in Venice, Slovenia, Tuscany and Rome
I nurse on the go and when at home.

I do not judge those who can’t or don’t
If you expect me to blame, I won’t.

The support I’ve received is something I’ll forever savor
In the future, I vow to return the favor.

national breasfeeding month

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2014 (AKA: the most wonderful time of the year)

So I’m conflicted. I live in arguably the most beautiful country in Europe but I’m pretty jealous of everyone who can shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Since times immemorial, I have religiously made a pilgrimage to my nearest Nordstrom store (sometimes a state or two away–not kidding one bit) to catch the start of pre-sale or sale. This year, international travel to physically step into a store just isn’t in the cards. Thankfully the pre-sale started online yesterday for Nordstrom card holders. As you may or may not know, we use a credit card and pay it off each month (debt is a no-no in our house) so as per my usual, I restrained myself more than I would’ve liked. Still, there is a level ton of cool stuff I could totally glut myself on. Because everyone likes a voyeuristic view of what others have bought or what they’d like to buy (right?), here are my top Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2014 picks.

What I bought (plus I had Nordstrom Notes on top of the sale!):
nordstrom anniversary sale 2014Longchamp Le Pilage Expandable Bag, sale price $127
The Bilbery purple that I bought appears to be sold out now. Navy and Slate are really pretty.

Barefoot Dreams Bamboo Chic Drape-Front Cardigan, sale price $60
Although it is sold as a robe, this cardigan is good to go as clothing. The reviews are phenomenal. I plan to wear it with leggings this winter since it’s long enough to cover my tush.

What I probably will order:
nike and zellaNike Free TR Connect 2 Training Shoe, sale price $73
So I’m a sucker for animal print, plus in-your-face sneakers are so in right now. The 10.5 is sold out already, so I may have to try the 10 and 11.

Zella Live In Leggings, sale price $34
Another item with glowing reviews. Zella is known for being opaque, comfortable, and durable. I need to see what the hype is all about.

Splurge-worthy styles:
collage one

Rag & Bone Newbury Bootie, sale price $360
I mean, really. I love Rag & Bone. I love booties (wow, that sounds funny). This are gorgeous. If I had my great pre-kids job, these would go in my cart without a second thought.

Rag & Bone Zip Detail Skinny Jeans, sale price $160
I won’t need skinny jeans until 2026 but these are pretty divine. The dark wash and the zippers are a fresh take on last season’s moto skinnies.

Kate Spade Lottie Pumps, sale price $220
Animal print again. Notice a pattern with me? Just wait until the leather picks start.

collage twoHalogen Zip-Detail Leather Mini Skirt, sale price $150
This is actually a great price for a leather mini. I’m thinking pulverized, slobbery animal crackers would look lovely on it…not.

Halogen Leather and Knit Mixed Media Top, sale price $98
Great price, great top. If this sticks around long enough to go on clearance, I may snatch it up later. It requires professional leather cleaning, which won’t happen around my house.

3.1 Philip Lim Pashli, sale price $599
I’ve wanted a Pashli for about a year. The medium is probably a better size for me, but the large looks so roomy and perfect for carrying the girls’ stuff around.

Have you shopped the pre-sale yet? What did you get? Stop by my Case of Consumption Facebook page and let’s chat.

Buy now, save later: The Stella and Dot promo Dot Dollars is back

stella and dot promo code

It’s a new month, which means it’s time for a new set of Stella and Dot promotions. While the monthly promos are always good, this month the deal is exceptional. Dot Dollars are back when you shop through my Stella and Dot stylist site or through a trunk show! Throughout the month, you’ll receive a $25 credit for use in July for every $50 you spend in June. This credit is delivered to your inbox around July 8th via a Stella and Dot promo code. It’s a great way to update your summer jewelry collection or to do some gift shopping.

If you’re interested in hosting or attending a trunk show, the June Trunk Show Exclusives are fantastic, too. I’m not living in the U.S. right now, but a book or social media show (think Facebook or Instagram) is easy. Just contact me for details.

stella and dot june trunk show exclusivesLastly, there are two new products launching this month. I’ve been a huge fan of the Elodie necklace in gold and I’m even more excited about its arrival in silver, blue and chartreuse. The super popular Cleopatra pyramid studs in gold are also launching in silver. If you are interested in either, let me know. I hope to have samples to show off soon.

new stella and dot