Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to Live an Expensive Life

 There’s a lottery here in New Zealand that promises that if you win, you can live the life of a rich person.  You will win a house, a European car and a boat, and many other things.  Even though I am happy with the house and car I have, and don’t have any interest in owning a boat, it still appeals more than winning ‘just’ a big money prize.  I don’t know why this is, but it just does!

A L’Oréal competition I entered a few years ago had a roll-call of different prizes for the lucky winner that included:

Fresh flowers delivered every week
A cleaner
A fancy car lease
Regular facials and massage
Along with quite a few other services that you could have for the year.

I think it was the total package that appealed.  I could just step into a lifestyle of ease and beauty.  The visuals they chose were attractive too – a beautiful home and well-tended garden, a serene lady in the photos.

Even when I didn’t win, I kept the entry form just to drink in that feeling.  It’s silly I know, but I still enjoyed the dream.

So since I didn’t win (dangit), I thought I’d list down ways in which I can feel like I am living a wealthy life, on our moderate household income, in the medium-sized normal house that we live in, in the middle of suburbia.

Visit art galleries for an exhibition.  Even though I am a total philistine when it comes to culture (there are many other things I would choose to do instead), whenever I visit an art exhibition I come away feeling so uplifted and remember why it is that art is so important to us and has been for thousands of years.

Stay the night at a fancy hotel in your own town.  My husband and I do this once or twice a year.  We go for quality over quantity.  Our favourite five-star hotel is such a pleasure to stay at.  We take our nicest clothing and best fragrance and dress up for drinks.  We definitely get good value for money because apart from the experience of spending twenty-four hours there, I return home refreshed and re-inspired to live a beautiful life.

Remember chic mentors and think how would they act in certain situations.  This helps me out when deciding what to have for lunch or avoiding junky snacks at the supermarket.  It helps me drink plenty of water during the day and also to keep my speaking voice soft.  Remembering my chic mentors helps me take the non-lazy path when I am tempted to be a slob.  They help me sit up straight too.

Eat fruits, salads, and protein, drink unsweetened herbal tea or mineral water – rich ladies are often slim and this is what I imagine they would eat.  I read in a couple of different interviews with Joan Collins that she eats a whole avocado with her lunchtime salad every day.  Ms Collins is 82 now and looks pretty good, so I have started eating more avocado too. 

One of my loveliest and most elegant friends is of a certain age, very wealthy and very slim.  I have noted she eats small portions of food when we are out for lunch and drinks tea but never coffee, and never eats sweet things.  She told me if she cooks dinner for one when her husband is out she has a small piece of salmon and some steamed vegetables or a salad.  I have started doing this too.  It is much more chic and you feel a lot better than taking that same night at home by yourself to pig out on your ‘favourite’ junk foods.

Visit wealthy areas to window shop and absorb the atmosphere.  Take note of what others are wearing and how they hold themselves.  I often observe that they are quietly confident in doing their own thing and not looking around wondering if others are watching them or feeling self-conscious.

Declutter so that you only have your favourite and very best, be it crockery, blouses or craft supplies.  Donate the rest to charity.  I promise you will feel wealthier when you next open your wardrobe door, pantry or craft cupboard.

I did this with my knitting yarns a while back.  I have a small stash of wool, and then I was given my grandmother-in-law’s giant amount when she moved into a rest home.  I was the only knitter in the family so I got it all!  I donated all the colours I did not like to two different animal shelters to make toys to sell, plus to make blankets for the cat cages and jerseys for the small dogs. 

I did a few sifts and I suppose I must have done a big one and forgotten about it, because when I went looking for some yarn to knit a toy mouse recently (as you do), I had hardly anything left!  Just one small sized storage bin with all the nicest and best balls of wool yarn.

I was a bit shocked at first but then I realised I would have to make a toy mouse from something nice, not the unattractive colours and acrylic yarn.  I’d forced myself to take my own advice.  I sometimes think I declutter in my sleep.  I might think to myself ‘I’ll donate that item, I haven’t used it in ages’.  When I go to look for it I realise I’ve already donated it…

I’d love to know, what does your expensive life contain?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Japanese elegance in Los Angeles

One of my lovely readers ‘C’ in Los Angeles left a comment on Janice’s fabulous blog The Vivienne Files when she won a bracelet giveaway recently.  C and I converse via email from time to time so I told her how much I loved what she’d said in the Vivienne Files comment (below) the next time we communicated:

'I thank my late mother for instilling in me colors that are "still" and "unobtrusive" ---"shibui" in Japanese.'

I thought these words so beautiful and almost shimmering with calm, that I asked if C would mind sharing a few thoughts about her Japanese mother.  She graciously wrote a sweet piece which I am so happy to share with you.

‘When I was about four years old, my older sister, a whopping two years older than me, one day looked at me and pronounced “your clothes aren’t ‘kordinated’.” Stymied, I asked what she meant. “Your clothes don’t match!” she laughed. Defensively, I replied “they are my very best favorite clothes and I don’t care if they don’t match!”

I was wearing pink elastic waist shorts with white polka dots, with my absolute favorite horizontally striped tee shirt—white, turquoise, black and maroon.  Since then, I have been the recipient of advice and good-natured criticism of three older sisters. To no avail. But, by example, I hope I have, through some kind of fashion osmosis picked up some fashion sense from my mother, born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan.

My mother’s family lived atop a hill in a bamboo grove, reached by a dirt path in those days, unlit of course. In the fall, the dense foliage was broken by the brilliant beacon of persimmons shining through the foliage of the hill. In the spring, cherry blossoms peeked cheerily here and there.

Surrounded as she was by nature, it was no wonder her entire lifestyle was imbued with a sense of serenity and nature.  The word she used was “shizen” which connotes so much more than “nature” – more like “naturally occurring.” 

Even when she moved (permanently, to her chagrin) to Southern California, she retained that sense of serenity in her clothing and surroundings. Not for her the bright and garishly happy colors of her adopted country. Perhaps by clinging to her innate sense of solemnity and subdued colors, she was, however tenuously, clinging also to her homeland, which she would visit more often in her mind than in reality.’

‘The Interview’

I also asked C a few questions about her late mother and she was kind enough to answer them.  I think Japanese women are so different from other cultures.  They seem very soft and feminine yet strong in their way of being, and I love the elegant simplicity of the Japanese way of life.

What colours do you consider to be ‘still’ and ‘unobtrusive’?
Colors I consider still/unobtrusive are muted and "non-flashy".  I don't mean to imply "dull," but more of an understated presence, like gray, navy and earth tones including the more substantial shades of brown and green.

What colours did your mother favour?
Colors my mother favored include deep, rich purple ("murasaki"); subdued yet cheery pink; and her favorite lucky color for Las Vegas: sunny yellow!

What percentage do you think you are US versus Japanese in the way you live and dress?
My sister claims I have through the years become more Americanized, but have still retained the "Japanese-isms" instilled in me by both parents.

Have you carried any Japanese traditions forward into your daily life from your mother?
Japanese traditions I still retain: taking my shoes off upon entering a home; saying "itadakimasu" before partaking of a meal.  This is not really a prayer, more of a "thank you for the food" but literally meaning "I will eat"; listening more than speaking, but I am not sure if this is a Japanese thing, or more that my mother did not speak English, so was of course limited in that way. I could go on and on - how I still eat "ozoni"  (rice cake in broth traditionally eaten on New Year's morning for good luck). I still complain to my sister that I am waiting in vain for that good luck, and she replies with her usual "Yes, but just think how your luck might be if you DIDN"T eat it!"  Ever sensible.

I can imagine your mother being very elegant, soft and feminine in the way she moved.  Was this true?  Do you think this has influenced how you carry yourself?
Not sure if I would have described my mother as soft and feminine. On her mother's side she was of samurai descent, so she was, I would say, elegant and refined but with a spine made of steel and a will made of iron. Always reserved, always quiet and subdued, she taught by action rather than word. She was of a rare and disappearing breed. The poor remnants of which I carry on, but not nearly in the understated magnificence that was her essence.

I loved hearing your answers C, and reading the piece on your mother too.  It was a treat to get to know your mother and your Japanese heritage.  Thank you very, very much for being so obliging.

To my dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this post too!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Make your own gourmet ready-meals

In the winter I love to spend a bit of time in the kitchen making bigger quantities of food than normal, then at mealtimes I have a ready-made meal.  There are boutique cafes and food stores that offer fresh, chilled gourmet ready-meals and the prices can be quite high for a single or double serving.  So why not make your own?

With a few Gladware or Tupperware containers you can easily replicate these gourmet ready-meals at a much lower cost and with ingredients to suit your taste and any preferences or health issues.

I chopped and prepped vegetables for an hour yesterday afternoon, and the beautiful result is a huge pot of soup which will be lunch for the next week, and a pasta bake which will do at least two or three evening meals for us both (and my husband is a big eater!).

Since I was in the kitchen by myself, I happily had my iPod earphones in and listened to Oprah interviewing JK Rowling.  It was very interesting and I could chop away without getting bored.

Vegetable soup

1 kumara (sweet potato)
¼ pumpkin
½ onion
1 clove of garlic
1 carrot
1 courgette (zucchini)
1 leek
1 stalk of celery

Peel/wash/chop where applicable.  Fill a soup/stock pot to half way with vegetables and fill the pot to three quarters with hot water.  Add the appropriate amount of stock seasoning (I use four Massel stock cubes for the size of my pot) and anything else you’d like.  For example, sometimes I add a heaped teaspoon of yellow curry powder for a mellow warming taste and other times it might be mixed dried herbs.

Once everything is soft, use an immersion blender to puree.  Top up with some more hot water to adjust the thickness to your preference.  If you want to sautee the onions and celery first in olive oil and/or butter you can, but I haven’t been doing this lately and the soup is just as delicious.

Serve with a decent-sized dollop of greek yoghurt or sour cream (yum, this is the most important step).

Soup simmering last night, and 'pasta' bake about to go into the oven.  I realise uncooked meat is never that appetising to look at so sorry about that.

Pasta Bake

Now the funny thing about the pasta bake I made last night is that I realised I didn’t have a single piece, not even one, of pasta in the house when I went to use it.  I wasn’t about to go out just for that (even though it’s quite a main ingredient in pasta bake…), so I substituted rice and it was a success.  My husband was dubious at best but raved about it afterwards.  I reminded him that risotto is Italian and it has rice in rather than pasta.  But calling it rice bake sounds a bit weird doesn’t it?

500g (1 pound) lean beef mince
1 400g (14 oz) can chopped tomatoes and juice.  Rinse the can out with a small amount of water - less than 1/4 can) and mix this in too.
Seasoning.  Sometimes I get fancy and make it up myself and sometimes, I use packets.  Last night I used:
1 large 500g (18 oz) tub of full-fat cottage cheese
1 cup of rice, rinsed in a sieve
If you actually do have short pasta in the house, add 2 cups instead of the rice
½ onion chopped
Small amounts of kumara and pumpkin in tiny dice
10 mushrooms chopped

Usually I would mix everything together and put in a rectangular oven dish which I’ve wiped over with olive oil and a paper towel.  But the ingredients added up to so much bulk that I couldn’t fit the cottage cheese in at the end so I did a lasagne style arrangement where I put half of the mixture on the bottom of the dish, spread the cottage cheese over, then put the other half of the mixture on the top.

Cover with foil and bake at 180 deg C (350 deg F) for an hour.  Then take the foil off, grate some cheese over the top and return to the oven for half an hour.  I love meals like this where all the prep is at the beginning and then you can relax while it cooks.

Both the Massel stock cubes and the Simply Organic products I tried because they are gluten-free (I am celiac) but they are actually an upgrade, both in taste and ingredients compared with the stocks and gravy mixes I used to buy.  What a bonus!  And the funny thing is that even the beef and chicken flavoured stock cubes from Massel are vegan.  My sister has been vegetarian/vegan/vegetarian since she was thirteen so I could happily serve up my vegetable soup to her even with a beef or chicken stock base from this brand.  I feel like I would want to check with her first that that was okay though!

I know it’s summer where a lot of you are, so please do stash this post for the winter months when you will be looking for something warming (hard to imagine when it's hot I know).

These are just two examples of meals you can create ahead for your own 'gourmet ready-meal' menu.  I'd love to hear your ideas so I can add to my list!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Decorating luxe on a tiny budget

Nate Berkus' apartment in NYC.  I love his style.

I’ve been thinking about how our home can look ultra-luxe on not much money.  I’m not about to go out and spend up large on new items, besides, the types of interiors I admire most are the ones where a lot of creativity, imagination and effort has gone into the design, rather than just oodles of cash.

Here are a few things I thought of that create an aura of luxury and old-world glamour.  Some are my décor preferences so may not suit you and some are more general.

Neutral tones and a muted colour palette - black/charcoal, cream/white, beige, ochre, gilt, oiled wood, maybe a dash of rich red.  Different textures in similar colours.  Mirrored surfaces/glossy paint.

Small amounts of expensive fabrics (otherwise known as remnants and end of rolls) made into cushion covers, foot-stool covers, fabric coasters, and place-mats and cloth napkins for the dinner table

Group together candles and pretty candle holders.  Also group pictures, cushions/pillows, books for an interior designer touch.

Have large scale pieces of furniture – better one big sofa than little bitty bits.

Be clean and tidy. Even a home that’s had a lot of money spent on it can look terrible if it’s messy and dirty.  You will notice that the most luxurious looking homes are clutter-free, that’s why they look so good.  In our own  homes, and I’m definitely guilty of this, things get put into all sorts of spaces.  You stop noticing them after a while but they are still there, looking non-designery.  Take a photo of each room, those items stand out then.

Place a premium on ‘spareness’, don’t take up every single space with something (Nate’s apartment in the picture on this post is a good example).  Don’t overfill rooms, let the items that you do have in there shine.  This is what home stagers do when they want to make a house more appealing for sale.  They literally remove half the items in each room. I love browsing staged homes, they are so inspiring!

Decorate with things you love and that are ‘you’.   If you love, love, love everything in your home, then no matter how disparate the items may seem, they all meld together and create your style.

Have lamps as well as overhead lighting.  They don’t need to be expensive.  I found a one I love at the Salvation Army for less than $20 (see photo below).  And the cabinet it sits on was $35 at a Hospice shop.  It’s solid timber and old, and has pen marks on the shelves inside like it held art or workshop supplies.  It has our DVDs inside now.

Do the classic high-low mix.  Our sofas we saved up and paid a fortune for and they were made for us from French fabric by a local furniture manufacturer.  We will have these for decades if not longer.  And I love having them next to the $35 cabinet!  Now I know ‘a fortune’ is not ‘a tiny budget’ but we saved for over ten years for our sofas and before that we had old sofas that were well past their use-by date but we kept them nice, rotated the cushions, spot-cleaned when necessary and vacuumed with the upholstery attachment regularly.  We do this with our fancy sofas now too.  It will keep them looking newer longer plus it helped us be happy with our old sofas as we saved up.

White feels very luxurious to me.  I have white plates and bowls, white sheets and always buy white toilet paper (just say no to 'fun prints'!).

Have something growing or fresh inside.  Many of you love cut flowers, you can buy or pick them from your garden.  For me I love an orchid plant to look luxe, and I especially love the look and feel of a lush fern inside.  Unfortunately mine don’t last long but maybe it’s time to try again.  Maidenhair ferns are my absolute favourite.  Terrariums are attractive, although expensive to buy.  A bowl of fruit looks great too.  I don’t personally do this but I’ve seen tables in magazines with a bowl or tall glass receptacle filled with lemons or oranges.

So that’s my ‘designer décor on a pauper’s budget’.  Are you as fascinated by this topic as I am?  What are your favourite tips?
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