Happy Thanksgiving!

Friends, I finally made it to the Thanksgiving parade downtown. After living here all these years, it finally happened and I am so glad! My nephew and I got up early, took the train downtown and enjoyed every minute of parade goodness. We had a phenomenal spot, right on the curb with the train station behind us so no one could stand behind us. With a salted caramel mocha in hand, we watched as the balloons passed under the train tracks and popped back up in front of us. Easily my favorite Chicago Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Much love to all of you, friends, and of course to my family back home on the East Coast! Wish we could be there!

The Cultivated Life: Personal Style

I am not a fashion blogger and certainly don't intend to move in that direction, but I do love to talk about fashion from time to time. Again, as with my post on home decor, I am no expert but I do want to share what has worked well for me.

Over the years, I have really come into my own style. It has been a process that's taken quite a bit of time and effort, but I am proud of how I present myself day in and day out. I would say my clothing style varies little from my home decor style which varies little from my blog design style: Clean, classic and colorful.

For a couple years in there, I began to think that I could only dress stylishly if I had a lot of money. I'd see something on a show or on pinterest or on a blog and think, "If I had more money, I'd dress like that." Simultaneously, I was gaining weight. I've never been a thin girl, but I am at the heaviest now that I've ever been. This only compounded the issue. I then began thinking, "If I had more money and were thinner, I'd dress more stylishly." At some point, I just had to decide that I don't have more money and I'm not thinner, so I've got to be content with what I do have and how I look.

From there, I've made some changes to how I shop and how I approach my personal style. Here's what I've come up with:

1) I look at Pinterest as a way to gather ideas, not as a style book to copy looks from. I pin whole looks or individual pieces I like and then search for common elements. I look at colors, cuts, styles and see what these pins all have in common. I've come to see that I'm drawn to clean, pulled together looks and to pieces that have unique details and feminine touches. Pin a bunch and then look for  common elements that you're drawn to. Go shopping with those elements in mind.

2) I don't buy it unless I love it. I found I was settling for "I like it" and "It fits". This led me to start dressy like a preppy tomboy, which I'm not. I'm learning that just because I like a style doesn't mean I need to wear it. If I don't absolutely love the piece and it doesn't fit into my style, I don't buy it.

3) Being on a budget, I have to pick and choose what I buy. That said, I invest in key accessories. Accessories are wonderful because they always fit right and they can completely transform an outfit. Many of my tops and bottoms are quite inexpensive. I choose to spend my money on classic bags, shoes and accessories that can be mixed and matched and that will last over time. With the right accessories, your basic jeans and white tee can be a perfectly styled outfit.

4) I found my style icons. I love the styles of Audrey Hepburn and Blair Waldorf and I love the Kate Spade brand. While I'd love to just steal Blair Waldorf's wardrobe and buy all things Kate Spade, every piece doesn't necessarily work for me or fit my budget, so I find ways to make it my own. But having style icons gave me a place to start from and a way to easily verbalize my ideal style to others.

My cousin/twin Maddy and me
5) Lastly, I spent some time experimenting, trying different styles and colors and combinations of styles and colors until I found a style I was comfortable with and that made me feel good about myself. I heard somewhere (wish I remembered where!) that your style is whatever you put together without thinking. I agree, but it takes time to get there. My go-to look is a blazer, bright shirt, skinny jeans, flats and accessories (as pictured above). That's what I can put together without thinking and what makes me feel good about myself. Find your go-to.

With these changes, I've been able to find my own style. I think sometimes we (I?) start to feel that if an outfit (or body?) isn't Pinterest-perfect, it's not worth spending the time on. And that just simply isn't true. Each morning, you have the opportunity to feel good about yourself and how you present yourself. And you don't need more money or less weight to do it.

That said, I leave you with the words of my fashion hero, 
Iris Apfel, the queen of accessories:
"I say, dress to please yourself. Listen to your inner muse and take a chance. Wear something that says 'Here I am!' today."

In case you need more Iris wisdom, I've added some great videos of her on my Facebook page! And if you're interested in what I've been pinning lately, you can find me on Pinterest here.

What's your style? What have you done to feel good about how you look?

The Cultivated Life: Our home.

I'm kicking off this Cultivated Life series with a post on our home. We've been fortunate enough to have a landlord who trusts my sometimes unorthodox decorating style and I wholeheartedly appreciate that. With his trust, we've been able to turn this little rented apartment into a home.

After Adrian and I got married and moved into our first apartment together, I felt this urgency to make our apartment a home. And I decorated in just a matter of weeks. We painted, we shopped, we furnished.

If I could go back and do it again, I would do most everything differently.

Living Room circa 2011

A number of months ago, I realized that our apartment looked as if a single woman lived here. It looked far too feminine and too "I saw this on a blog and now I have try it". Though I had asked Adrian to okay each of my ideas, I hadn't spent much time asking him what he wanted.
Same living room circa 2012

So we started again. We repainted and added a bar in the living room. We bought a new/used couch that I'm in love with and spray painted a Mexican ceramic mask (see below), a lamp and a little tray. We decided on some colors for the bathroom and painted stripes on the walls. Then we replaced the floors in both the kitchen and the living room.

I feel proud of our home and I feel at home in our home. It's a reflection of the unique combination of both of our styles. It's bright and colorful and eclectic. And we love it.

If I could go back and talk to just-married-Emily, I'd tell her to relax. And then I'd tell her the following tips:

1) Take the time to sit and listen because your spouse/roommate/best friend has lots of ideas and opinions. And most of them are awesome.

2) Wait to find the absolute perfect pieces. Because if there is one thing I've learned from that classic show "Hoarders," it's this: There is an actual physical limit to the amount of stuff one can have in their home. And saying yes to an okay item is an automatic no to the perfect item.

3) Don't paint until you're sure. And then wait another couple months.

4) Take pictures of things that excite you. Find what they have in common. Have your spouse/roommate/best friend do the same. See how you can tie them together to create something new and unique. For Adrian and I, we've been able to bring mid century pieces and Mexican pieces and modern pieces together by sticking to a color scheme (white with blue and green accents).

5) New does not necessarily equal better. Older pieces often have so much character, but just need a bit of love and spray paint. Spray paint is a gift from the home decor gods. (Little secret: our "bar" pictured above was a $25 craigslist find. In it's old life, it was a faux-wood laminate in an awful shade of gray. Spray painted white, it's a bar. True story.)

Through this, I've learned that the cultivated home takes time. When we move again and finally settle into a house, I plan to carry these lessons with me. To give myself time to discover our style again (in case it's changed) and to find or create those perfect pieces. And we will slowly make that house a home. Just like we did with this little apartment.

How has your decorating style changed over time? Any tips you would add on how to cultivate your unique home?

Apathy is a privilege.

I have always endeavored on this blog to be about love. And for me, this election was never about politics. It was about love and the people I love and care deeply about.

On the day of the election, I read over and over again that everyone should calm down because no matter who became president, life would go on and the world wouldn't fall apart. I am sure this is true for many people in this country.

But apathy is a privilege.

I invited my nephew over to watch the election results with me. He stayed for a few hours and then had to go home to get to bed. It was a school night after all. On the way home, in the way of an 11-year-old on the brink of becoming his own person, he asked me, "Tia (Aunt), why do we care so much about this election?" And I told him we care because it greatly effects people we care about. People we pass on the street every day. People in our schools and our churches. People who are neighbors, but in the old "Can I borrow a cup of sugar?" sort of way. People who are dear friends. We care because we know how life would change for them and, in turn, would change for us.

As you all know, immigration reform is an issue that is very near and dear to me. Romney's policies, in my very humble opinion, encapsulated a way of thinking that I believe is harmful both to us as American citizens as well as to the undocumented. His policies perpetuate this notion of "every man is an island." The old "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps" and "No one ever helped me". In fact, no man is an island. Each is a product of a parent who read to him at night. A community that offered safety. A school that provided inspiration and opportunity. A last name that ensured legacy. There are so many factors that contribute to the success of any one person and to say that any one of us became successful on our own is, in the strong majority of cases, absolutely ridiculous. In each of our histories, is some person, some circumstance, some something that shaped us into the people we are. Romney's policies failed to recognize this interdependence which is truly at the heart of the immigration issue. If all undocumented immigrants were to self-deport today, this nation would collapse because we depend on their taxes (which they do pay with a tax id number provided by the IRS), we depend on their cheap labor, we depend on the money they spend and we depend on them doing the kinds of jobs we would never do.

Truth be told, Obama's policies aren't much better. He has deported more undocumented immigrants in the last four years than any other administration. While the claim is that the majority are criminals, the statistics reveal something very different. That said, he has made small changes that, while certainly not permanent solutions, have offered a bit of relief to people in my community.

He approved a change in process in which undocumented immigrants eligible for residency because of marriage (this is not amnesty. They were already eligible.) no longer have to leave the country to process their visa until their waiver is approved. The waiver waives the ten year ban they triggered upon exiting the US. They exited the country to apply for the waiver. See the catch-22 there? In the past, waiver processing times have varied from country to country, but often took years. This left mixed-status (one parent is a US citizen while the other is undocumented) families broken and separated between countries for years at a time. For a family eligible for this new change in process, this election meant staying together as the change, though approved, has yet to be implemented. While it is a far cry from comprehensive immigration reform, for the small group of families this does effect, it is a sigh of relief.

I think that bears repeating. This election means two people who love each other, regardless of status, would be permitted to live in the same country during the visa process.

In my home state of Maine, voters came out and voted in favor of same-sex marriage. And I couldn't be more proud of my home state. In our not so distant American past, interracial couples like Adrian and I wouldn't have been allowed to marry. When I think about the idea that in the past, others would have been voting on my marriage, I am overwhelmed with love, sympathy and support for couples who find themselves in a similar position today.

So, for anyone who has had to wait for voting results to find out whether or not they could marry the one they truly loved and whether or not that marriage would be recognized, congratulations. I think we are on the road to equality and acceptance.

For anyone who has stayed awake late into the night in a bed far too big for one person, wondering when their husband or wife would be permitted to return to this country, congratulations. I think we are on the road to family reunification.

For anyone who has left this country to be with the one they loved because a vote or a law or a change in process didn't pass, I hope we will see the day when you're welcomed back with open arms.

And for all who voted regardless of who you voted for, thank you. For your time. Your research. Your passion. Your voice. And your dedication.

In the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr:
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of individuals.

Ashleigh Hill: Uncontainable Words

Before we start, I want to let you know that this post contains language that some (myself included) are quite sensitive to. I would not use this particular language in a blog post in other circumstances, but in order to discuss a problem, one must address the problem.

Over the past few months, I noticed quite a few instances of women (in particular, bloggers) using the word "bitch" to refer to other women. I've seen it in comments on posts and on twitter. Generally, the intention has been to dismiss an argument made by another woman.

I've been surprised to see this and so I asked my friend Ashleigh Hill (of The Continuously Fractured Life fame) if she would write some thoughts on the subject and the use of language as means of dismissal.

She sent me the following:

Uncontainable Words
When Isaac Newton first started explaining gravity, he would talk about cannonballs, how they were shot from mountains. He said no matter how fast a cannonball shot into the air, gravity would eventually pull it down to earth. Later, Geoffrey Canada argued that if the cannonball shot fast and high enough, it could escape gravity and reach orbit, and achieve what’s called escape velocity. He used this to describe his views on inner-city youth and education –if you pack students with enough support and hope of a foreseeable future; it provides the possibility for them to break free of the foggy atmospheres of poverty and interfamilial violence.

I think the same theory is true for language. If a word gets enough support it can break away from the power connected to it. It can also break away from the person using it. The context in which a word is used and the person using the word is always what matters most. Reclaiming language is the act of taking a word that has been misused and choosing to use it in your own way. And it sure is a tricky thing. You can reclaim a word for yourself and still have no control over how it is heard by another person. If the history behind a word is negative, it will always, in some place, be negative. I know it’s easy to suggest someone be less sensitive to language. It’s also easy to not understand violence perpetuated by language, if you’ve never experienced it before. 

This idea comes up when people ask for my opinion on using the word “bitch” on social media. It’s apparently a huge issue. That is, women calling other women "bitch," and the promotion of sexism that goes along with it. There are several valid arguments about this.

- It has been used by men in power to blatantly reduce women to unhinged or angry stereotypes; that history is now attached to it.
- In recent history, bitch has been reclaimed by some women and people in LGBTQ communities as an empowering, or even joyous and laughable, label.
- In part of my circle of friends, bitch is used in a joking, communal manner; in another part, it’s not used at all.

Knowing the relationship a person has with a word is important, especially if that word has been used to harm them. Using certain, gendered language in a joking manner signals that a word like “bitch” has broken away from the power it might have had over you. It may also suggest you’re utilizing it for the power it might have over someone else. The problem isn’t in the word itself. The problem lies in the intent behind its use – to cut women off. When women use “bitch” in this way – to dismiss other women – they participate in, and further promote, sexist power plays. 

This is evident in the language used when debating other people via social media. I know. Social media. It’s my favorite and least favorite thing and it’s here to stay forever. The culture of being right has always been more important than understanding another person's argument and this is especially present in online forums. In fact, the fight to be taken seriously has been at the base of women’s movements all over the world. When someone asks my opinion on this topic, they’re helping to bolster a movement. When someone calls me a “bitch” in order to end a conversation, they’re working against it. I don’t have a brilliant answer for how to deal with words that have sexist undertones. But I do know this – in the same way that hiring more women won’t end sexism in the work place (addressing the reasons women weren’t qualified or hired in the first place might), and Affirmative Action hasn’t ousted racism in professional settings, (but addressing why it needed to be implemented in the first place might), rerouting your language won’t allow all women the chance to share their opinions. But it might help those who can.

Thank you so much to Ashleigh for taking the time to write her thoughts on the subject! I think she was absolutely spot on with the idea that "if the history behind a word is negative, in some place, it will always be negative. I know it's easy to suggest that someone be less sensitive to language. It's also easy to not understand violence perpetuated by language, if you've never experienced it before." So very true. We have got to take responsibility for the power of our words.

(Just as I was set to publish this, I came across this fantastically heartfelt article about the use of the word "retarded". If you have a moment, it is certainly worth the read.)

Thoughts? As always, share your thoughts respectfully!

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