Friday, September 9, 2016

The things that matter

My mother is in hospital recovering from open-heart surgery. It's been a long, long week, most of it spent at the hospital.

I am grateful that my mother is doing well.

I am grateful to her fabulous surgeons.

I am grateful for the hospital cafe providing injections of tea and sugar.

I am grateful I have my sister with me, that neither of us has to walk this path alone.

I am grateful for the people I love who flood me with texts and calls.

I am grateful for home, a place to come back to and rest at the end of each day.

I am grateful to work for someone who urges me to work from home, take the day off, go to the hospital and don't worry about the deadlines.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Living well and with style without breaking the bank: "Orchids on your budget"

After an adventurous year with a new city, new career and many new challenges, I've been reflecting on what simple living means to me now.

The importance of living well on a budget, setting money aside to save for future goals and rainy days, is as important as ever. The career move I made last year meant moving to a more expensive city at the same time as taking a significant salary cut in order to 'start again' at entry level. Budgeting has become more challenging.

At the same time, the opportunities that this move has offered me in terms of building relationships and seeking new experiences - growing and developing as a person professionally, intellectually, creatively and emotionally - are immense. I want to take full advantage of them, of this moment in my life, but I have even less resources (time and money) at my disposal.

Many of the examples, blogs and books I have looked to in the last years demonstrate the importance and value of taking time out of the 'rat race', the value in reconnecting with the slower rhythms of the natural world rather than the rapid movements of popular culture. But much as I am drawn to many of these, and can often find elements to incorporate into my approach, it's hard to get away from the idea that they don't quite fit the moment I am in life. 

I know I'm oversimplifying, but it often feels that I am looking at a model of 'leaning out' of modern life - a move from urban to rural, from ambitious careerism to putting work second, an emphasis on time-intensive crafts and home-cooking. In a word, old-fashioned (and I don't mean that at all pejoratively, but as an approach which rediscovers and celebrates what sometimes forgotten or abandoned skills and tasks can offer us today.) 

What I am increasingly looking for is a model of simple living that enables me to 'lean in' - follow my professional ambitions, enjoy the best of city life without losing touch with country pleasures, and to live not just inexpensively but also with style. I want to be able to enjoy the high cultures of the city and the sports of the countryside, to present myself well at the office and enjoy feeling chic in my down-time, and to enjoy international travel today without making it impossible tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have found a book which exactly bridges this gap. Which reaffirms the importance of budgeting, living below your means in order to save, and of exploring inexpensive pleasures. And which also argues it is possible to do all of this, and still have 'orchids', or rather to incorporate some luxuries into your life. 

"Orchids on your budget; Live smartly on what you have" was written in 1937, advising the ladies of New York that a reduced income doesn't mean they have to give up all hopes of being well-dressed, of entertaining in style and having the occasional orchids. The author, Marjorie Hillis, was assistant editor of Vogue and seems to have been a fascinating woman.

In many ways the advice offered is not new, and will be very familiar to many of us. Focus on big expenditures like what you pay for your home, and prioritise either size or location, but not both. Down-size and declutter as much as you can. Decorate using second-hand items, homemade bits, finds from thrift stores, and make it chic using a simple colour scheme. Look after your clothes, make sure they are properly maintained, cleaned and mended. Learn to cook well using inexpensive, local or seasonal ingredients.

The difference is that she focuses on style, panache, glamour. On building a wardrobe that is easy to maintain and chic, for example. She advises reading fashion magazines as you would an exam textbook to distil the key trends and using that to add a few inexpensive touches (eg an accessory rather than a full suit) to a capsule wardrobe so you look up to date without spending much on clothes you won't get much wear out of. 

Most of all, I loved the tone of the book, the witty and acerbic voice of Marjorie Hillis advising me to make good use of what I have, rather than complaining that I can't have more. My favourite quote is on her advice that everyone should have a hobby, should seek interesting things rather than waiting for them to find you: "Be a Communist, a stamp collector, or a Ladies’ Aid worker if you must, but for heaven’s sake, be something." For another taste of her 'voice', there's a good article on her earlier book "Live alone and like it" here

I enjoyed the independent, forward-thinking approach to women in the workplace - Marjorie Hillis also wrote a guide to 'spare women' on how to 'Life alone and like it', and urges women to see how they can earn something to support themselves or help the household budget go further, whether by going out to work or making use of their skills and resources in the home. One chapter is entitled 'Can you afford a husband?' - her sense of humour is apparent throughout.

She argues a lot is in attitude - the importance of enthusiasm, of creating fun for yourself and others rather than dwelling on what you wish you had, comes back again and again throughout the book. It's a fantastic complement to what has been written about slowing down, budgeting and 'making do and mending', but with added glitz. For anyone worried that living on a budget means giving up too much, this is a great source of tips for living glamorously on a shoestring.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tea fixes everything

I'm back in the UK and staying with my mum for a while. I'm enjoying the endless tea and the long chats, and I am reminded that no matter how adult and independent you get, your mum will always give you cake and hugs and explain everything to you as if you're new round here, even through you've been visiting for years.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Assorted thoughts

::I've got the sound of silence ringing in my ears. It's very very loud, deafening even, but I realise I've been drowning it out with inane tv for the last days and it's probably time to get to know the sound again.::

::Meditation, cups of tea, reading, walks, roast butternut squash. These things are good. Alcohol and wallowing and not getting dressed. These things are bad.::

::Washing up is strangely therapeutic.::

::Postponing unpleasant tasks does not make them any easier, but under certain circumstances it can give you the time to build the emotional strength.::

::Loneliness is a rather bipolar companion, at times restful and at times violently painful.::

::And whatever is happening, the Earth rolls on, the clouds roll by and the minute hand rolls round. However much you want them to go in the opposite direction.::

Saturday, September 5, 2015


It's been awhile, internet-y-folks. There has been much change and drama.

There was the unexpected new job, with new challenges, new responsibilities, and much stress and joy.

This was followed by unexpectedly getting a place on the scheme of my dreams, which means four years of moving around learning all sorts of fabulous things and having the chance to make a difference in some small way and getting to spend much more time with my family and loved ones 'back home' and getting paid for it.

Underneath all this was the rumbling, painful, horrible tummy ache of I'm-not-sure-this-relationship-is-right-for-me. A tummy ache of now nearly two years' duration. And I realise that much of my life - my location, my hobbies - has been built up around my relationship, and I'm horrified to find that I'm not sure what I want in life. But I'm desperately afraid that this is precisely what I don't want.

I'm in the process of moving - moving backwards and forwards at the same time, going home while simultaneously stepping - leaping - into new adventures. But much remains unresolved.
When life is confusing, I start knitting jumpers. I guess you guys know the feeling.

Friday, February 20, 2015

{this moment}

{this moment} ~ A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.


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