How to dress for work when you’re broke

Not only are you broke, but if you’re a Reluctant Matron of one or several toddlers you also have to navigate a maze of yogurt-covered hands, spilled orange juice, and mysterious brown stains every morning when you get ready for work.

That’s right, I said “work”. I started working again almost a month ago, and two things occurred to me straight away.  First, unlike my previous experience reentering the workplace, this time I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from me. I practically skip off to work in the morning and reluctantly drag myself home in the afternoons. I love talking to people every day. Big, adult people with large vocabularies who are completely uninterested in potty training techniques.  Second, as I mentioned in a previous post, my entire wardrobe (the stuff that isn’t tattered yoga pants) is ill fitting and out of date. Having my own personal little money vacuum (baby) and my big money black hole (weird old house) means skipping off to the mall or spending hours online shopping with a glass of wine is no longer as gratifying as it used to be.  Here are some essentials for Matrons who head back to work on a skimpy budget.

Assess the situation

Ok, you still haven’t lost that last 7 pounds, and the last time you shopped for business clothes Barak Obama was in his first term…or perhaps Dubya was in his second term. It doesn’t matter – the point is, you just noticed that your closet is mostly full of grass-stained jeans and maternity clothes with a spattering of very dated trousers and sweater sets. Take a deep breath, put the kids in bed, pour a glass of wine and empty your entire closet. Pull out all of your jewelry and your shoes. Sort through the items that absolutely will never fit again or those that are extremely outdated. Set aside things that you cannot wear to work (tattered yoga pants). Now start trying on combinations of your clothing and rediscover what you own. Put together at least 3 outfits if you can. Don’t get rid of things that are slightly outdated – the key is to disguise them into you daily outfit for a while until you can afford to replace them one at a time.

The foundation

 

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Your foundation pieces need to be classic and solid colored. Yes, this means boring old black slacks, skirt, dress, and shoes. Choose items that fit and flatter you. If you have to spend a little more on these pieces in order to get a really good fit, then splurge. I have one pair of black trousers, a black pencil skirt, and a black button-down shirt dress, and black patent leather pumps and I have owned all of them for at least 7 years. Now that I can fit into them all again they hold up to the test of time. I also invested in a black blazer, which is perfect for disguising slightly out of date shirts underneath.

Add (cheap) accessories

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My favorite place to buy costume jewelry: World Market. I can find unique statement pieces in that store that add personality to an otherwise uninteresting outfit. I rarely pay more than $10 for any one piece of jewelry at WM.  Some other good places for accessories are thrift stores (you can find unique items that no one else will own), garage sales, your mother’s attic, or discount department stores (T.J Maxx, Marshalls, Winners, or if you’re feeling like a big spender, Nordstrom’s Rack). Experiment with scarves – tie them around you head, around your waist, around your neck.  My lovely friend Xiaoqi taught me to tie a little silk scarf onto my purse so I can coordinate my purse with my outfit, and have an emergency accessory if I need it. With the right accessories you can re-wear your classic items several times without drawing too much notice (actually, no one notices but you).

Trendy items

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Personally, I am not a trendy dresser. I like classic cuts and materials, and the only print I wear is stripes. Call me boring if you want, but I prefer to be called “cheap” because when I buy something classic I can wear it for a decade.  However, if you like to be wearing the latest trends, this is the time to swallow your pride and head to what my mom would call a “teeny-bob shop” like Forever 21 or the Jr.s department at Target. Pay as little as possible for these items because trust me, you’ll only wear that neon pink and gray-printed blouse with the sheer cutouts for two years at the most before you realize that fashion has moved on.

Listen to your body and your bank account

At the end of the day, we are all shaped differently, and the best thing we can do is find fit, colors, and pattern that work the best for our own unique body type and complexion. If an item really, truly fits you well but is a few years out of date chances are it still looks fantastic on you. This is something that gets lost in our fast-pasted and consumer-oriented culture. Wear what looks nice on your and wear what you like. If you accessorize with self-confidence you will always look fashionable. Your bank account agrees with me.

Fast, fresh, healthy: Cucumber, mint, and yogurt salad

Summertiiiime, and the cooking is easy...

Summertiiiime, and the cooking is easy…

Summer. Warmth and BBQ smells envelop my neighborhood in muggy, mesquite hug. The tomatoes in the grocery stores go from mealy and bland to red savory fruits of the gods. Søren gets to run around free and diaperless, furtively stealing peas and beans from the vegetable garden and tinkling in the flower beds.  Summer is also the season when I can look like a good cook with almost no effort because I have a few tricks up my (short) sleeve: want your salad to look artisan? Go find a few nasturtiums in your yard (the cheapest and easiest flower to grow) and throw them into the salad bowl. Artisan.  Want your hamburgers to look and smell like they were made by hipster foodies who wear wool caps and beards in the summertime? Chop up a red onion and soak it in some apple cider vinegar for a few hours. Dump in the remnants of your sugar bowl and tell everyone that you used small batch turbinado (or whatever). Bam! Hipster burger condiment.

I’m feeling a little weary of hipsters these days.

This is the time of year when I make Cucumber, Mint, and Yogurt salad, because it must only be made when tomatoes and cucumbers are in season and at their peak flavor. I grew up eating this refreshing snack, and while I know that it is inexpensive and easy, to the uninitiated the flavors can be impressive.

Cucumber, Mint, and Yogurt Salad

Ingredients:
1 medium cucumber, chopped into large pieces
2 roma tomatoes, diced and seeds removed
1 clove garlic, diced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
pinch kosher sea salt
1/2 cup plain, whole greek yogurt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

Method:
Put the yogurt in a medium mixing bowl and add the salt, cumin, mint, and garlic. Mix until everything is incorporated, then add the cucumber and tomato. Stir gently and serve immediately.  This salad doesn’t like to sit for long in the refrigerator, so it needs to be eaten within the hour. It can also be jazzed up with some chopped italian parsley or some finely diced preserved lemon.

Watermelon gazpacho: the antidote to my terrible week

A visual feast after all of that hospital white…

In the past three days we’ve been to the emergency room twice – on Tuesday at 4 a.m. for my son’s alarmingly high fever, and then this morning at 4 a.m. for my husband’s kidney stones. I haven’t slept more than a few hours this week and I’m feeling a little weepy, so naturally I made watermelon gazpacho (it’s the only thing to do in this situation). There really is nothing extraordinary about my recipe, but I thought I would share because it is so hard to be sad when you are slurping this charming combination of sweet, salty, flavor and bright pink hue.

I am so exhausted that I feel as if I may go blind, or my whole body will collapse into my shoes and all that the police will find are my empty clothes, so please forgive spelling and grammar laziness.

Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho

Ingredients:
1 lb watermelon, diced into small cubes
1/2 cup very ripe cherry tomatoes, preferably just pulled off of your tomato vine that is crawling up the side of your house and blocking the light from the windows (doesn’t everyone have one of those?)
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and chopped small
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves (no dried basil!)
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

Borage flowers have a slight cucumber taste and are an excellent addition for this soup

Method:
Toss everything into a blender and puree until you reach a desired texture (I like mine to have a few chunks in it, but it is up to you).  Chill and serve. Consider adding a few other herbs to the mix if you want. I think that mint or Italian parsley would be delicious, but it was three extra steps for me to shuffle from the basil plant to the mint plant in the herb garden and I just don’t have the energy.

10 challenges that at-home moms face during job interviews

High-heeled shoes. Remember those?

High-heeled shoes. Remember those?

As a stay-at-home mom who spends a lot of time with other stay-at-home moms there is one topic that we often roll back and forth with each other and that is the question of going back to work: when, where, should we, and would someone actually hire us if we tried. I went back to work when my son was under 2-months old and the experience was a disaster. Staying up on cross-time zone conference calls until midnight or beyond, only to have my baby wake up crying at 1 a.m. and then again at 4 a.m. for feedings, then dragging my exhausted carcass out of bed at 8 a.m. to start on-site meetings was beyond exhausting and excruciatingly lonely. Huzzybee and I agreed that I should try something that I previously viewed as unthinkable: becoming at stay-at-home mom (SAHM). Now, after a year and a half of being home with my son I have decided to hoist myself up on a thin shell of confidence and try to go back to work. At the moment I am knee deep in job interviews, and I have noticed a few things.

When you are a stay at home mom who is starting the process of job interviews and reentry into the working world…

1. You will get blisters on your feet from wearing high heels again. You will also teeter like a barfly in your blister-inducing high heels because you’re used to wearing something something more practical…like slipper socks.

2. You will be assailed by attacks of self doubt that result in counter-productive activities, like showing up for your interview an hour early, immediately stuttering out all of your inadequacies to the interviewer, or eating an entire carton of chocolate chunk ice cream the night before and getting an upset stomach.

3. You will encounter minivan driving SAHMs when you are out and about in your interview clothes and you want to yell at them “I’m one of you! This is just a disguise!”

4. You will listen without comprehension as the interviewer uses and bunch of newly-minted corporate words and trade terms that make no sense to you.

5. You will realize that interviewers don’t care about the time gaps in your resume, but they do care about your skills gaps, and instead of studying the latest trends in marketing data analysis you were on the floor playing puzzles with your two-year-old, or teaching him to kick a soccer ball for the last year and a half.

6. You will be passed over for a position because you “don’t have enough social media experience” even though you have a blog, several Pinterest accounts, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed and seriously, what American under the age of 50 doesn’t have social media experience these days?! No one, that’s who.

7. When someone actually does think that your skills and experience are still valid you question their judgment.

8. You have to refrain from referring to yourself in the third person, or as “momma”. For example, “momma worked closely with executive leadership to help restructure a struggling team and lead it back to financial solvency.”

9. Your business clothes don’t fit. Oh, and they are out of style…really, really out of style.

10. You talk about your kid too much in your interview, because your kid has basically been your boss for the last year. A very demanding, ill-tempered boss with poor social skills and a draconian view of work/life balance.

The thing about staying home from work with a small child for longer than a year is that you forget what you are capable of. Oh, you know that you are capable of changing a diaper by the dim glow of a night light at 4 a.m., and you know that you can keep a tiny person from managing to kill themselves, despite their best efforts by various methods (running into the street, falling off of chairs, eating cat food), but you don’t know if you can still make a pivot table in Excel or remember the vocabulary of business which sounds like one big inside joke to you now. It’s very hard to feel relevant when the only skills you have really managed to advance in a year and a half are patience and finger-painting.

Pre-children, my morning looked like a cup of coffee and a whole bunch of kickass. Now it's coffee and banana chips.

Before I had a kid my morning looked like a cup of coffee and a whole bunch of kickass. Now it’s coffee and banana chips.

Then again, those skills could be useful in a conference room. Finger-painting as a team building exercise. Hmm. That is one that I’ll have to mention in my next interview this afternoon…

 

Reluctant style – find your beauty minimum and perfect it

VintageBeauty

What is your beauty minimum?
If you can’t seem to think of it now just stay up until 4 a.m. with a sick child, and then crawl into bed and listen to your partner snore for another 2 hours.  Catch an hour of sleep and then drag your carcass out of bed at 7 a.m., realize that you have an appointment that morning which requires you to take your aching body and undereye circles out in public and you will quickly discover your beauty minimum: the barest essentials to make yourself feel like you can face the world after a long night. (PS – childless readers, you can also achieve this moment of realization after a long night of drinking, socializing, and doing fun things that parents used to do before they had kids).

Childless or with child, almost every woman has an inkling of what her beauty minimum is. Even if you don’t wear makeup, there is some sort of ritual that you perform or something that you put on before you leave the house. Hopefully, at the very least, it’s a pair of pants. Your reasons are your own – we’re not here to discuss whether and why women wear make up or jewelry. We are here to discuss those little cues we give ourselves to remind us that we are human, that we like ourselves, that feel beautiful (or handsome*).

If you are really too tired and bewildered to know what your beauty minimum is then spend a minute in front of the mirror and find 1 or 2 things about yourself that you really admire. Matrons, don’t be hard on yourselves. It is easy to succumb to negative thoughts and decide that there is nothing that we like about ourselves, but every woman is made up of many parts – some lovely, some less lovely. Don’t focus on what you don’t like, just really focus on what you love. Maybe you have shiny, long hair – then take the time to braid it! Perhaps you have a smile that could light up a whole city – then find a pretty lipgloss and floss every night. Perhaps you have swoony curves – then find that killer pair of pants that show them off to their best advantage. Maybe you have nice cheekbones, or cute feet, or beautiful eye color. You are beautiful – I know you are. 

Wow, this post is…shallow
No, it isn’t. Moms and dads are usually pretty unappreciated. We rarely have the time to stop and notice, but every day we put the needs of our children and family above our own, and after months and years of this, well, it’s easy to forget that you are beautiful and it is easy to stop caring. Beauty doesn’t mean looking flawless, it means feeling flawlessly flawed. Accepting the less attractive parts of yourself and embracing the parts that you love is beauty. Knowing that you are more than just someone who changes diapers, makes lunches, and drives the neighbor kids to soccer practice is beauty.

My beauty minimum:
I rarely feel like wearing makeup…or pants. Glowing skin and polished nails are my beauty minimum because I am essentially very lazy. I don’t have time or energy to apply makeup in the morning so I take extra care of my skin and nails so that, at the very least, I know that I can leave the house and hold my head high. I can take care of these two things in the evening, thus I avoid adding to the morning chaos.

Moisturizer, sunscreen, AND foundation in one? I'm too lazy to raise my hand...

Moisturizer, sunscreen, AND foundation in one? I’m too lazy to raise my hand…


Skin
: I inherited a few things from my father – stubborn pessimism, a fascination with completely useless facts, and good skin. After examining the things that I like about myself, I decided that my skin was worth a little time investment. Every night I wash my face with coconut oil, then I splash on some rosewater, add a thin layer of vitamin C serum to my wrinkle-prone areas (for me that is my forehead and around my mouth and décolletage), then I have a tall glass of water before bed and when I wake up. In the morning, if I am lucky enough to find the time to do more than brush my teeth, I add another layer of coconut oil to my skin and a bit of tinted sunscreen from Laura Mercier. Total time: 7 minutes evening, 3 minutes morning. Total cost: 1 giant tub of coconut oil cost $5 at the hippie store. Rosewater is about $10 for a 8oz bottle, but it lasts for a long time. The DeVita Vitamin C serum I bought was $30 at a high-end grocery store. Tinted moisturizer is the most expensive item coming in at $45. I run out of these items only about once a year, once every 2 years for the vitamin C serum, so it’s a time and money bargain. Also, although I am aging, my skin is starting to look younger than me (don’t worry, the rest of me still looks right on target).  Matrons, it is important to moisturize!

This bright teal looks both classy and trashy no matter what your skin tone.

This bright teal looks both classy and trashy no matter what your skin tone.


Nails
: Why nails? I never used to paint them until I had a kid, but colorful claws is an easy way to add an accessory that lasts for days. Sometimes when I haven’t had the time to take a shower in 2 days and I’m aching from exhaustion I can look at my pretty fingernails and tell myself that everything is going to be ok. When I started taking an interest in keeping them groomed and painted I also started purchasing higher quality polish. The better quality polish not only lasts longer, but I find they have much better color quality and some, (like my favorite brand Butter London) are also 3-free. Once a season I splurge and spend $20 on a bottle of nail polish at Nordstroms instead of spending $5 on a drugstore bottle every month or so. I have only a few colors, but they were all carefully chosen and I wear all of them still. This has also reduced the medicine cabinet clutter problem in our house. The best bets for a busy mom who wants fuss-free painted nails is to own at least 3 nice neutrals (when your neutral color starts to chip it is less noticeable), a good quality base and top coat, and a few pops of color. Keep your nails short – no one likes to accidentally scratch their baby with their fingernails – and well-shaped. For eczema-sufferers there will be times when the thought of using polish remover sounds like slow torture. At those times I would use a 4-way buffing block for nice nails without all of the searing pain. More info on mommy-manis here. My current neutral favorite is Particulére by Chanel, and Artful Dodger or Bit Faker by butter London.

So…what’s your beauty minimum?

 

 

*Men have a lot less pressure on them to make their face look pretty, but I think stay at home dads also need to have their own minimum too. Perhaps it just means a clean shave or scraping some styling gel through your hair – everyone needs a small ritual to help them remember how they managed to sire children in the first place. The Reluctant Matron is inclusive, so gentlemen-daddies, this post is for you too!

 

Don’t mind me, I’m just waiting in toddler purgatory

Oh hey, it’s been well over a month since I have blogged! Why? Thirty-two pounds of blonde-haired energetic toddler is why. That’s right, just one toddler. Some people have TWO toddlers, and those people have my deepest sympathy. My toddler keeps me so perpetually exhausted that it’s all I can do to brush my teeth before dropping into bed at night. Yesterday was particularly challenging, starting out with an hour long battle of wills over breakfast. He tearfully refused to eat his scrambled eggs for such a long time that they eventually became a salmonella hazard and I had to throw them away. I took him outside for a walk to the park. He dawdled and tore leaves from the hedges and flowers of every house we passed on our way. Thank God in this case that I live in a neighborhood full of career-oriented women who aren’t home during the day to see my son assault their shrubbery. We decided to stay and play in our yard. He concentrated his energy on chasing the young man pushing a lawn mower next door, and then pulled out chubby fistfuls of arugula, pea vines, and the last of my spring radishes and threw them all over the front porch, the whole time yelling “OUTSIDE, MOMMA, OUTSIDE!!!”. He really likes being outside.

Someone please confirm my suspicions that mommy bloggers with multiple children have actually cloned themselves. I’m pretty sure one clone makes all of the cute crafts and supervises the simple-yet-luscios food photography, another one writes the thoughtful and concise articles that inevitably go viral or get picked up by HuffPo, a third actually cleans the house and takes care of children, while the fourth one is sitting in the closet drinking the cooking sherry straight from the bottle.

Eventually, after innumerable household chores and banal arguments, I strapped my little human cyclone into his high chair with some color crayons, grabbed a half-eaten bowl of leftover chocolate pudding, and meandered into the living room. Sitting on top of the mountain of laundry that overtook our couch two days ago, I scraped the pudding out of the bowl with my finger, and let my mind go blank. Three minutes later Søren started yelling “ALL DONE!!!!!” Apparently when he says “all done” what he really means is “dearie me, I seem to be unable to reach any of my art and calligraphy supplies! Would you be kind enough to retrieve them for me?”

This is what "all done" looks like

This is what “all done” looks like

So I haven’t posted in well over a month because the contents of my day are simply too dull. It’s not like I sit around all day, in fact, I usually don’t sit at all until Huzzybee arrives home in the evening and we eat dinner, but looking back on the dishes, laundry, endless hours at the park, grocery store trips, diapers, and tantrums, everything I do and every day is starting to simply become a gray smudge of labor-intensive but mind-numbing tasks.

This is just a very roundabout way of saying, I’ll start blogging again when I can muster the energy to think about something interesting. More interesting than the antics of my two-year old, that is.

Spring checklist for eczema sufferers who also happen to be gardeners

Neutrogena Norwegian Formula was recommended by my dermatologist

Neutrogena Norwegian Formula was recommended by my dermatologist

Spring and fall are hard for chronic eczema sufferers. And so is winter. And summer…now that I think about it. The point is, each season has its challenges – dry, cold air in the winter, pollen in spring, sweaty skin in summer, and mildew in the fall.  All of these can exacerbate allergy-induced eczema, but for those of us who also love to garden, spring is an especially difficult time.

Early prevention
Getting a jump on your allergies is a good idea by taking an allergy medicine (prescribed or recommended by your doctor) as soon as the season begins and you start to feel the slightest itch. I didn’t have many troubles between Christmas and March so I stopped taking my daily Zyrtec but I started taking it again as soon as the urge to dig in the soil began.

Also, stay vigilant about keeping your hands moisturized with an unscented moisturizing cream or ointment as often as possible ahead of time. Not only will this keep your hands from cracking, but the extra barrier between your skin and allergens and moisture in the soil is just one more layer of defense.

My most important gardening tools

My most important gardening tools

Equipment
- I have a handled tool basket that I use to keep all of my equipment in one place; hand trowels, seeds, scissors, twine, sharpie, seed markers, pruners, a hat, and most importantly, clean gloves and a tube of Vaseline. These items never leave the tool basket!
- Cotton liner gloves are a complete pain in the neck, but not as much of a nuisance as cracked and bleeding fingertips. I always wear a clean pair of cotton liners underneath my gardening gloves. I bought these on Amazon and they do the trick: they are cheap enough that I don’t get upset when I lose a pair, and thin enough to wear underneath another pair of gloves.
- A good pair of waterproof but breathable gardening gloves will save your hands’ life. I recommend a pair that is made of a breathable fabric with rubberized palms. Most gardening gloves sold in stores fit this description, but avoid using all leather gloves because they could cause your hands to sweat. Keep an extra pair of gloves handy in case the ones you are using become sweaty or wet.  Once they are wet inside, take them off immediately.
- I use Vaseline as my barrier because it has only one ingredient, it repels water and moisturizes. Some people swear by Aquaphor. This summer I am also going to try using Norwegian Formula Hand Cream by Neutrogena and my Theraseal, especially on days when I will be dealing with mud.

Remember…
- Wet gloves are your enemy!
- Never touch the soil with your bare hands, or any other affected part of your body.
- If the weather is hot and your find yourself sweating in eczema-prone areas (hands, elbow-pits, knee-pits, feet, etc) take a break to cool down and dry off.
- Stay very well hydrated. Moisturize from within by drinking water and other decaffeinated beverages throughout the day. I usually have one slimy glass of chia-seeds every day to keep the hydration going (recipe below).
- A little bit of sun on your eczema-prone areas is not the end of the world (as long as you don’t have photosensitive eczema). In fact, for severe sufferers many dermatologists will recommend light therapy to help the heeling process. I live in an overcast part of the world, fairly far north, where the sun’s rays are not overly strong except for a few months in the summer (so I am a little lax on my sunscreen routine), but a little sun is ok, just make sure that you don’t get too much and leave the sun immediately if any affected areas begin to perspire or show signs of sunburn or irritation!

If you transgress…
Like I did just an hour ago when I neurotically started pulling weeds with my bare hands while I was out playing with Søren, rinse the dirt from your hands in water and then immediately apply a moisture cream of your choice. It is especially important to keep your hands out of the soil when you have cracked skin to prevent infection.

Hydrating Chia Slime
Trying to be healthy and sugar free? I wouldn’t, if I were you. The only thing that helps me choke down this chia slime is the syrup.

Hydrating chia slime

Hydrating chia slime

 

Ingredients
1 tablespoon raw chia seeds
12 ounces of filtered water
2 tablespoons simple syrup of your choice (pictured is lingonberry syrup, but you could also use ginger-cinnamon simple syrup )
A strong constitution

Mmm...slimy layers

Mmm…slimy layers

Method
In a tall glass, pour water over the chia seeds and stir gently with a spoon. Place the glass in the refrigerator and chill for about an hour, stirring occasionally to keep the seeds from clumping. Mix in simple syrup and “enjoy”.