Frugal Fashion (Part One)

I have had numerous discussions with women and men regarding fashion and the fashion industry. Because it has become a hot topic for me and I really enjoy talking about it, I have even considered writing a fashion blog to express my thoughts on the matter. Nevertheless, at the moment, I wish to write a few blog entries on the subject and see how it goes.

When I mention fashion, many people assume that I read the latest fashion magazines and pay attention to supposed popular fashion experts and media personnel’s articles found there. Far from it. I find many of those magazines to be almost useless. You will rarely find, if ever, those same outfits in the average mall store. Moreover, the price tag on most are simply outrageous. Thus, those who design and produce clothes for the public have to make the outfits less bizarre-looking and find means to make them practical, sensible, and attractive to the general public, while still dictating to the “masses” what they should and should not wear.

Obviously so, there is fashion considered to be trendy, the latest styles, what those who are “in the know” wear: the people you would find in such fashion-forward cities as Toronto, the one where I currently reside. Then there is fashion that isn’t quite up-to-date, that is often appealing to the majority of the public. As the trend-setters prance, strut, saunter around in the latest outfits, the rest of us are left uncomfortably behind, and hence don’t flaunt the latest colours, patterns, and pieces that are “in.” Eventually we do catch on but suddenly discover that fashion has moved forward, while we yet flounder awkwardly and painfully a few steps behind.

Hence, some of us dislike the subject of fashion altogether and wish to remain where we are in our baggy pair of jogging pants; the shirt that doesn’t really fit, but we like it anyway; that ratty sweater that desperately needs to be retired; our daily outfit of the same type of jeans and T-shirt; or God forbid, that same wardrobe consisting of one “colour”–black. Yikes! We’d rather continue wearing that then have to drag ourselves to the mall or shopping plaza to look for a new outfit.

On the other hand, there are those of us who enthusiastically embrace fashion and enjoy clothes shopping. We could wear the T-shirt that says, “I got an A+ in Shopping,” and shop until we drop. However, we just can’t quite seem to keep up with all the fashion changes, and if we’re honest with ourselves, don’t quite have enough money to do it. Thus, we too are dissatisfied and discontent with attempting to be fashion-forward.

Hence, my first piece of advice is that no matter what the fashion industry demands that we wear, we can recognise that what it offers are options for what can make us look and feel good. We don’t have to be into the latest trends, but nor do we have to remain stuck in frumpy clothes or colourless outfits because we don’t like the latest fashions. And if we do embrace the latest trends, we don’t have to have them all nor immediately either. Thus, my goal in the next entries on fashion are to offer tips on how to dress fashionably, prettily, handsomely, and frugally. Yes, I said frugally. We don’t need to spend as much as we often do on new outfits. It requires a bit of creativity and work, but it is well-worth the time and effort for feeling good.    

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Open Door Policy

I’ll never forget the day that my brother announced to me that we might have a homeless person sleeping in our apartment that night. Earlier on his way home from work, he had seen a homeless woman sitting on the side of the road asking for money. He had stopped and asked if she was okay and then hurried home to prepare a meal for the woman. We quickly packed up some stir fry I had made and homemade cookies and then grabbed a Bible as we headed out the door. That was a night I’ll never forget. As evening Edmonton traffic flowed steadily past us, there on the side of the road, we crouched down by the woman, sharing our food, giving her a Bible, and then praying for her. She clutched the Bible to her chest, telling us in her broken voice that she had lost hers and was so happy to have this one. Later, my brother found a shelter for her to stay in for the night, but when we went back to get her, sadly she had disappeared.

Two concepts made tangible through action, that I hold near and dear, are hospitality and generosity. My parents both come from a Newfoundland culture where the welcome mat lay outside the front door, and the porch lights twinkled in the evening darkness, inviting any who needed or wanted to drop by and come on in. This was Newfoundland and dare I say, Canadian culture at its finest. However, somehow along the way, we have lost that hospitality, warmth, generosity to produce an individualistic, private, and thus isolated culture. “My life is my own and if I don’t want to let you in, then so be it.” We separate the private from the public sphere. We deem only those who we like as having a place in our homes, our hearts, our lives–those who aren’t an inconvenience, bothersome, can readily take care of themselves, and leave when we want them to. However, even then, we can struggle to let even those people in.

I have vowed for a long time that if I have my own place, I will maintain an open door policy. This means that I carefully place the welcome mat in front of my door, turn on the lights, and swing the door wide open, just in case someone wants to stop by. My couch is available, and whatever I have in my fridge could be made into someone’s supper or snack. I don’t believe in living a secluded, private lifestyle but rather relate more readily to a culture where community is of greatest importance. In fact, this, I believe, is the biblical culture. I have studied some of both ancient and current Middle Eastern hospitality, and very few cultures can brag of such outstanding generosity and care of their guests. This hospitality is revealed throughout Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. Just off the top of my head, I think of Abraham entertaining a form of the Divine and His angelic messengers; Lot ushering in the angelic messengers to his home; the Shunammite woman building a room for Elijah the prophet; Boaz supplying Ruth with enough grain for her and Naomi to survive comfortably; Lazarus, Mary, and Martha preparing food for Jesus and the disciples; Lydia providing a place for the early believers; and the Philippians repeatedly caring for Paul’s needs.

My family’s closest neighbours and friends were our neighbours who lived across the street from us, there in Manitoba. They were a wonderful Christian family who exemplified what it means to live out their faith through hospitality and generosity. We always were welcome over to their house, and Mom often sent us over to get a cup of flour or an egg for baking. When we first moved in, they had us over for supper nearly every night of that first week. We, along with many others, enjoyed their warm hospitality. Despite it being many years ago, I’ve always remembered them and their generosity. I have also taken note of my own parents’ generosity and friendliness. I hope to continue the family tradition, these old-time Canadian values, and my own living faith. Thus I’m already searching online for just the right welcome mat, looking for the brightest and cheeriest one I can find.

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The Way to My Heart

It has often been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, although I can’t say that I necessarily agree with the above statement, it may be true to a certain extent for some men. However, I’m not a man and I don’t have the stomach of a man, but I have joked more than once that if a man truly wants to win my affections, then what he needs to do is have a long conversation about food with me. I may just fall for him. Of course, the conversation doesn’t have to result in his making a gourmet meal for me. Far from it! But to discuss anything related to food, my ears will perk up, and I will become very attentive and alert. It can be about restaurants, un/healthy eating, weight gain or loss, favourite foods, preparing foods, cooking shows, etc. It really doesn’t matter, as long as the topic revolves around food.

My family has grown accustomed to my near-photographic memory for remembering what we ate in various restaurants and how I would rate said restaurants. They also know that if they go out anywhere and there is food present, the first question I will ask when they return home is “What did you have to eat?” As a child, because I had sleeping problems, I would often occupy my mind with imagining I was eating certain foods, and sometimes, I’d nearly start drooling just thinking about eating a chocolate bar, a bag of popcorn, or my favourite, toffee. I would sometimes feel terribly disappointed that the only food I would be permitted to eat was some soda crackers. (However, I did savour every bite.)

I’ve always had a tremendous love for this topic; I can’t say exactly why. However, I once read how this woman would read cookbooks like others read novels and I totally related to her. Every so often, I would pull out all of my Mom’s cookbooks, stack them beside me on the couch, and proceed to flip through their pages for a few hours. I rather enjoyed this pastime. I also was taught to cook and bake at a young age. I would’ve made my first batch of cookies at probably age eight. My Mom strongly believed that her children should help her in the kitchen, so we did, my brother and I. We both know how to cook and bake and are totally at home baking bread by hand, whipping up a batch of cookies, barbecuing steak, carving a turkey, or making mashed potatoes.

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So what was the point of this blog entry? To talk about food. Maybe. To let men out there know what I would be interested in discussing. Maybe. You will likely never know.

Bus Culture

If psychologists wish to understand human nature to a greater degree, I would suggest they need only ride the city bus for six months, to get a better idea of just what human nature looks and acts like. As the girl who grew up in small towns, I’d never ridden the bus until I was 19, with the first time being in Moncton, which has only 3 bus lines. I still remember asking the only other passenger on the bus how I was to let the bus driver know I needed to get off. She kindly pointed out the bus cord that I could pull!

I took the bus on and off at various points while living in Edmonton and then again here in Toronto, but it wasn’t until I moved to Hamilton this past September that I began to take the bus almost every day, immersing myself in specifically Hamilton bus culture. When some well-meaning people heard about my long trek to McMaster, transferring between two buses, that required my travelling one hour one way nearly every day, they suggested that I move closer and not have to bump into some of Hamilton’s lower-income downtown residents. I refused since I loved where and with whom I was living. And I’m so thankful I didn’t because I learned so much from rubbing shoulders with Hamilton’s bus folk.

As someone who has loved watching and thus analysing people since, I think, the day I was born, and who doesn’t sit with cell phone in hand and ear phones stuck in her ears, the bus has given me ample opportunity to study people. I’ve overheard numerous conversations that have amused, shocked, annoyed, or entertained me. I’ve heard the intentionally loud conversations between university students who have attempted to impress each other and the rest of us with their intellectual knowledge. I’ve heard the 50 something “lower income” mother talking to her son on her cellphone, telling him repeatedly to be safe and stay out of trouble there in jail. I’ve heard the two teenage boys, sitting next to me, discussing how drunk they got at some party. I’ve heard the university girl telling her friend how this man she knows chopped off someone’s finger in a fit of rage. And I’ve heard the girl and guy laughing about the drunk guy friend who threw stuff all around the apartment and then tried to take a swing at the girl in his drunken stupor. (Some of the stories are a bit blurry now so not all the facts are quite right.)

I’ve sat on the bus with persons who likely hadn’t washed in at least a month, with the nauseating smell sometimes forcing me to turn away and breathe through my mouth. As I’ve waited for the bus downtown, I’ve had more than one person ask me for change. There often seemed to be some person shuffling along muttering to herself or sometimes outright yelling at the world, flailing his arms angrily. One time a guy was standing on the corner, rocking back and forth, fist clenched into a  “microphone,” belting out tunes in a rather harsh and rather garbled tone, not quite fit for singing. I also always rode the bus home with the international high school students, all sitting in their separate groups, rarely ever speaking to a classmate or dormmate who spoke a different language other than their own. Talk about the sometimes isolation and separation we as human beings create!

Being surrounded by such a diversity of persons, whether well-dressed and seemingly put together or disheveled and downtrodden, I learned to see each of them as valuable human beings full of potential and most importantly full of worth. I’ve learned a great about the plight, the hope, the depravity, the beauty, the diversity, the depth of human nature just by simply riding the bus. It has greatly enriched and expanded my mind. Thus I stand behind my decision to ride the bus at least two hours every day, even if it meant shivering in more than minus 30 degree weather, waiting for the darn bus to come. I’ve learned too much to regret it.    Image

(p.s. My one claim to fame riding the bus is that I did have a drunk teenager throw up on me. Not everyone can beat that, even those who have ridden the bus all their lives! Thankfully, I’m not usually bothered by such things. Plus he only threw up on part of my pant leg and runner.)