Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cheap Riches

Savvy Chic by Anna Johnson came in the mail a few days ago after I devoured the whole thing on one of our Barnes & Nobles dates. It was definitely worth picking up, and I'd recommend it to anyone; just don't pay full price. Anna Johnson is a flamboyant, romantic spendthrift who has (mostly) mended her ways and put forth a manifesto on how to enjoy luxury without paying much, or anything for it. It was definitely a book I needed to read, since, as my mother has famously said, I have caviar taste on a hamburger budget. One could theorize that it was an inevitable backlash against years of missionary (and Dutch) thrift, but I prefer to think of my expensive yearnings as a love of beauty frequently butting up against the fact that quality and originality are rarely cheap.

With my job in jeopardy and our house undergoing an expensive, though involuntary remodel, I've never needed to reign in my spending more. Yet, I've never been more tempted. Some people are stress eaters. I'm a stress shopper. In the last six weeks, I've bought Savvy Chic, a new frying pan to match my set, Stila powder foundation, an Anthropologie sweater (a steal from eBay) and a camisole to match it, two clearance cocktail dresses and a blouse fromPepperberry, a pair of Crocs ballet flats (Too small, returned 'em), and I tried to buy some shoes at Naturalizer (had a coupon, nothing fit). I also bought six yards of Waverly outdoor fabric (30% off!)for curtain panels in my kitchen and seven tension rods on which to hang them. And that's not even counting a $385 binge at Ikea Atlanta two weeks ago that yielded a china cabinet, duvet cover, down pillows, towels, a candle and a flower pot. I'm exhausted and ashamed just looking at that inventory.

Granted, circumstances have been extenuating with the house torn up, but only five or six of the things I bought relate directly to the house. The blouse that hasn't arrived yet from England and Anthropologie sweater are meant to be worn to a job I may not have in a few weeks. Two cocktail dresses? Well, I need one that must do double duty for an August formal wedding and my company's December party...if I'm still employed. Both were on clearance and I couldn't decide. Will liked one better; my mom liked the other. I've stiffened my spine, though. When I try them on, the one that is less flattering is getting returned, along with a linen dress from Pepperberry that was too big, and I haven't returned yet because the kitchen flood happened. I wasn't out of powder foundation; it was just a great deal on an expensive item. I tell myself that I use Stila because it's the only brand I've found that exactly matches my skintone, and it would be a waste to try and discard drugstore brands when I've found something that works perfectly. That is true, but I wore drugstore brands in high school and college. Though the color matches weren't ideal, I didn't look ghoulish. No, I looked bad in high school and college for a whole host of reasons that had nothing to do with cheap makeup.

Now that I feel thoroughly broke, I need to think about things that make me feel rich.

1. Buying organic veggies at the farmer's market. Cost: $10/week if I don't buy a watermelon.
2. Richly scented soaps that come in pretty packaging. Cost: Doesn't matter to me. $3.99 at Marshall's is average, though I like to buy soaps from places we go, like Colonial WIlliamsburg. No lavender or anything powdery or sugary-sweet, please, if you're planning to give me a gift. I like crisp, clean scents, especially citrus, mint and bayberry.
3. Playing Messiah at a volume just short of "bleeds ears" and singing along. Cost: free. It reminds me of many road trips to and from college, and that magical night when I took Will (not yet my boyfriend) to a spring Messiah concert at Lookout Presbyterian. I still get shivery thinking about sitting in the back of that glorious cathedral and being borne away by the polyphony.
4. Good coffee. Good coffee is harder for me to find now that I'm allergic to caffeine. (It makes me itch horribly) A nice, rich decaf is a treasure. Cost: $5 for a medium Snickers latte at Wholly Cow, or $10-15 a pound. Ground coffee lasts a long time at my house because I only drink it on the weekends. I'd be perfectly happy to buy Folgers Gourmet Selects decaf, if only I could find it! I keep checking the grocery stores I frequent, but nobody stocks the decaf! Dunkin' decaf isn't bad, but it isn't special, either.
5. Dried mangoes from Saigon Oriental Market. Cost: $1.98/bag. They're imported from the Philipines. That satisfies my love for exotica. The fact that they're the most blissfully delicious thing ever doesn't hurt either. Sure, I eat the whole (small) bag in one sitting, but that's what makes it a treat, and it's a cheap treat at that.
6. A spotless bedroom. Cost: time and laundry. I've decorated our bedroom so that it looks like an expensive hotel room. I spent less than $300 on it, but it radiates luxury. It's extremely soothing to open the door and see a crisply made bed, scented candles and a gently running ceiling fan. As a matter of fact, that's making me sleepy, so if you'll *yawn* excuse me....

Friday, April 22, 2011

Narrowing to a Point

The past six weeks have been absolutely harrowing. First, our kitchen flooded. A dishwasher hose split and we came home to water an inch deep in some places. The day after that, I found out I might be getting laid off. Neither of those situations are resolved yet. I'm keeping a vigilant watch for gray hairs, because I'm sure all the stress has created some.

I will say that the kitchen is coming along nicely, though a big rainstorm put us behind schedule. It won't be finished for Easter, like we had originally hoped, but it should be done early next week. I've barely cooked in six weeks. I've mostly been living on peanut butter and jelly, sometimes eating it twice a day. Haven't lost any weight from it. There's no justice in this fallen world, I'm afraid.

So far, the kitchen has been painted (Valspar Belle Grove Moss) and the new cabinets are in. Mike the contractor finished the counters today. He said that it looked like an interior decorator had designed the kitchen. I was super pleased by the compliment, because I wanted to be an architect or an interior designer in high school, and spent a lot of time studying for the life path I didn't take. Most people might have chosen a cream or tan counter to go with the birch cabinets. That would have been the obvious course to take, but I think it would have ended up looking like the Gobi desert. I chose a mottled gray with blue and rust undertones. I was sweating bullets before it was installed, because I had only a tiny square of laminate sample and no cabinet to match it to when I chose the colors. It worked out, thank goodness. The vinyl flooring will be a sandy gray in a fake tile style. Unfortunately, real tile wasn't in the budget-not because of the materials-but because one guy can install linoleum, but it takes a team to do tile in a kitchen as big as mine.

The contractors took the paper shades down in the kitchen, and suddenly I'm confronted with another problem to solve. The paper shades were never meant to be permanent, and now that they're down, they're not going back up. I have 7 huge windows across the back of the house. Obviously, I don't want the thugs in the house behind us to be able to see in. Traditional blinds would be too expensive, and besides, I want something interesting. I was looking into getting a patterned bamboo or roman shade when I looked at World Market and saw exactly what I was looking for. All kinds of cute roman shades, on clearance. I mentioned it to my coworker and friend, Pretty Smile, and she found me a wonderful World Market coupon that I could print out multiple times. I rushed out and found that the one I wanted was too big for my windows, my second choice was sold out...and there was no third choice. Feeling discouraged and defeated, I got myself a Snickers latte from Wholly Cow, and barely enjoyed it I was so upset. Did I mention it poured all day? It's hard to keep upbeat when it's pouring, and one's cowardly dog shredded the bathroom door in which he was confined. Could not believe the mess. He owes us $60. Thinking of garnishing his kibble until he pays us back. Awful, awful dog!

We went home and took a nap, and upon rising I looked at the window problem with fresh eyes. Back we went to World Market to buy a different style of shade, which was also on sale. The Summerville store didn't have enough, so we drove back to West Ashley to pick up the three we lacked. In the time it took to have a nap, lose an eBay auction of an exquisite Anthropologie dress I really wanted, and return to the store, the style I wanted had sold out. I realize it's hard to find seven matching anything, anywhere, much less when it's on clearance, but I really thought events were in my favor. I can't spend much on this, because all our money is tied up in the involuntary kitchen remodel. They were cute. They were the right price. I had a coupon. I was so sure it was in the bag. GRRRR! So now I have to return four jute shades and figure out what I'm going to do instead. I could sew curtains, but at my current state of busy-ness, that's about as appealing as getting a cavity filled. I wish I could just buy shades, but I really can't pay more than $15 each. I do have the beginnings of an idea, though. My windows are 31 inches wide. There's no reason why I couldn't buy a runner like this, cut it in half, sew it together, and make a pocket at the top for a tension rod. So back to World Market I go tomorrow, to return the shades and see what my schemey little brain can come up with.

It's taking all my ingenuity to keep on top of everything that's going on. I have a distinct sensation that my world is narrowing to a point, and I'm being driven toward the narrow end, like icing in a cake decorator's bag. Hopefully, like the icing, something beautiful and useful will come of all of this. In the meantime, it's awfully frightening and uncomfortable.