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we might be back to cold air here in new york, but i’ve got spring on the brain, and in particular, floaty dresses like the red and white michelle mason number above. there’s something about pairing an easy, slinky silk dress with sandals, adding some simple gold jewelry, and calling it a day. it’s dressing at its most simple. while i tend to despise summer humidity, and in general, don’t like summer clothing as much as i adore winter layers, i do love myself a good maxi skirt/dress situation. i’ve got my eye on this one, as well as this one (both from anthro). spring and summer are also about more natural hair, so i’m going to be splurging on a tiny little bottle of hairdresser’s invisible oil, which the beauty goddesses swear eliminates frizz and flyaways while hydrating the hair. SOLD.

also on my wishlist: a gorgeous mercury glass lamp that’s way out of my budget (i’ll be hunting for a properly priced twin at homegoods/tjmaxx, wish me luck!), glitter chargers (!!!!), cute little senegalese storage baskets from serena and lily, an easy t-shirt dress that i’m pretty sure i’ll wear every day of the week from the moment it arrives on my doorstep, plus a few other fun bits and baubles.

on the hunt: work totes

why is it so hard to find a good work tote? i know, champagne problem, first world problems, etc., but really, why is it so hard to find a good work tote?! tote bag gods, i want to know: can’t a girl get a sturdy, simple, chic bag that can easily fit laptop, lunch, and assorted kitchen sink-eries? oh, and also, have two cell phone slots? and be slouchy but not too slouchy? and have shoulder straps that are strong enough not to break when you also throw in spin shoes and maybe a sandwich for lunch? and a kindle and a wallet and a few lipsticks?

generally, i leave my apartment around 7am, and am not back until 7pm or later. since i work out before work, i’m consistently toting all of the above around with me, plus a change of clothes, my makeup, a comb, a brush, deodorant…the list goes on and on. add to that the days where i’m also lugging my laptop, and it ain’t pretty. i regularly carry an extra lululemon bag around with me for lunch and my other assorted things-that-don’t-fit-in-my-actual-bag, which means i’m the annoying girl who bumps into people accidentally on the subway/in the line at trader joes/on the street. if only i could find a bag that could fit it all.

what i need, when i think about it, is a mary poppins bag. one of those magical bottomless bags where you can store your entire life and never run out of room. why haven’t they invented that yet? sigh. until then, i’ll be eying the options above. i think this madewell tote might win.

magnoliaredvelvetcupcakesif you asked me to pick a dessert i couldn’t live without, it would be cookies. cakes i could throw by the wayside, i love ice cream but could 100% live without it, and brownies, well – love them, but overall, they rate MEH in my book. but cookies, i can’t live without. that is, until i think of cupcakes. see, cupcakes are the best of both worlds: batter AND frosting. there’s something about a perfect cupcake, the combination of fluffy cake and light, airy icing, that just makes for magic inside the mouth.

such is certainly the case with these red velvet cupcakes. they’re from allysa torey’s more from magnolia book, which i “borrowed” from my friend katie two years ago and never returned. torey’s red velvet recipe is my favorite, and though she generally serves hers with vanilla buttercream, i opted to go more traditional, and topped my cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, because, well, cream cheese and red velvet go together like peanut butter and jelly.

for the cupcakes, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising, that’s different! i buy swan’s down, it comes in a happy red box)
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons red food coloring (or, if you opt for gel, simply squirt ’til the dough is bright red – that’s how i roll)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

here’s what you’ll do: 

first things first. preheat your oven to 350, and prep your muffin tins. i like to use foil wrappers, but you could use pretty paper ones if your heart desires.

in a small bowl, sift your cake flour and set aside. {sidenote: i never sift anything. i don’t even own a sifter. but you should do this, because it’s what allysa torey does} next, combine the butter and sugar in a large stand mixer (or large bowl, if you don’t have a kitchenaid) until light and fluffy. that should be approximately 3-5 minutes on medium. add your eggs, one at a time, and beat in.

in an even smaller bowl than your small bowl, whisk (literally, use a whisk) together your red food coloring, cocoa powder, and vanilla. {sidenote: if you’re using gel food coloring, like i do, this won’t mix as nicely as you’d like since there’s less liquid in gel than there is in, well, liquid. feel free to add a tiny bit of water to move things along}

add your red chocolate mixture to the batter, and beat well. at this time, you can add more food coloring to your batter if it’s not red enough. gel’s a bit hard to measure, so you basically just need to keep adding color until you’ve got the shade of your dreams.

pour your buttermilk into a measuring cup, and stir the salt into it. add your buttermilk in three parts, alternating with the flour. every time you add something, beat until incorporated, but don’t over-beat!

now, for the fun, science-experiment part of the day. in yet another small bowl, stir together your cider vinegar and baking soda. watch as it fizzes up, just like those “volcanoes” you made in 6th grade. WHEEE! what fun, right?

using a rubber spatula, scrape down your batter into the bowl, and ensure that all ingredients have been evenly mixed in. you’ll often find a bit of stubborn, unmixed butter at the bottom of the bowl, so be sure to check for that.

fill your muffin cups 2/3s of the way full. bake for approximately 20-30 minutes (it really depends on your oven, but keep an eye on your ‘cakes after 20), until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

when they’re done, let the cupcakes cool in their tins for about 5 or so minutes, then remove and place on a cooling rack and let ‘em chill. go watch an episode of SVU, or house hunters.

then come back and make your frosting.

what you’ll need:

  • 2 8oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 stick of butter at room temperature
  • 1.5 cups of powdered sugar

what you’ll do:

basically, you’re just mixing all that goodness up in your kitchenaid. start with the cream cheese and the butter, add the vanilla, and then the sugar. beat until smooth. i usually beat mine at least 5 minutes, so that’s saying something. also, feel free to add more confectioner’s sugar if the frosting seems too watery. powdered sugar basically evaporates into the universe when you mix it into anything, so you really can never have too much of the stuff. i’ve added an entire box at times (SUGAR HIGH). just keep your eyes peeled, essentially, and don’t be afraid to taste test for consistency’s sake.

once your cupcakes are cooled, spread your frosting onto those babies, swirl your spoon around the top to make that little “magnolia dent” the bakery is so famous for, and eat! or dole out to coworkers, as i do. or, if you’re a person with a big heart and a big sweet tooth, do both (okay, that’s what i do).

 

 

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|click here to listen|

yesterday was one of those perfect spring sundays. the city came alive, the sun came out to play, and everywhere you looked, bare legs saluted the warm air in shorts and sandals. nothing compares to new york city in the spring, i tell you. the trees begin to bud, and the flowers spring up around us, and just like that, our bitter, cranky, winter-hating hearts are thawed and we’re all happy again. i get such a kick out of walking around the city in the 70 degree weather, earbuds in and music cranked up. this music, to be precise. above is my spring playlist – a mishmash of new to me music, and oldies but goodies that i can never get enough of once the weather warms up (dispatch, i’m looking at you). happy listening!

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if i had to choose one store from which to singlehandedly furnish and decorate my home (and if i had an unlimited budget, of course), i’d choose jayson home. i’ve never been to chicago, but you can bet that when i finally make my trip to the windy city, jayson home will be my first stop. i’ve ordered a few decorative accessories from the shop here and there, including this enormous gold wishbone (love it), and the ever-popular athena tray, but i’ve yet to splurge on a pillow or piece of furniture. pretty much all of the items on this wishlist are out of my budget, but hey, a girl can dream, right? above, a symphony of gold and navy, with some leather and horn thrown in for good measure.

 

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yesterday, i read this incredible, moving, maddening, saddening piece of work on xojane. it made me feel a giant complex ball o’ feelings, an amalgamation of hurt and shame and pride and anger that reminded me of my favorite quote from jeffrey eugenides. in particular, one section stood out:

Before I got on the plane, my best friend offered me a bag of potato chips to eat on the plane, but I denied myself that. I said, “People like me don’t get to eat food like that in public,” and it was one of the truest things I’ve ever said.

how often have i uttered that same exact sentence in my head? how often have i not eaten something i wanted because i was afraid of what people would think? or, on the contrary, how often have i tried to squelch my feelings of shame and eat exactly what i wanted, only to feel overwhelmed by thoughts of, am i being judged for eating this?

i’ve written on here before about my struggles with my weight. i’ve talked about my new year’s resolutions, which include learning to love my body. i’ve written about the f word. i’ve written about finding acceptance on a hike in nicaragua. i’ll probably continue to write about my struggles for the rest of my life, because lord knows i’m never going to be a size 2, or probably, even a size 6. but i’d like to someday get past the shame of that fact, to feel as though i can consume a bag of potato chips, or a bar of chocolate, or a plate of fries, without imagining that i’m being judged for doing so.

i know the feeling the author speaks of above. i understand what it’s like to not sit down on the subway because you’re worried you’ll take up too many seats. to not opt for certain outfits, or bright colors, or tight clothes, because you feel you haven’t earned the right to do so. i know what it’s like to want more than anything for your body to be invisible, to be whisper thin, to disappear inside itself, to just, for one single moment in your life, live without being conscious of how your body takes up space in the world.

i’ve been going to bar method for over three years now; this summer, i’ll mark a year of thrice-weekly soulcycle classes. i know, somewhere in my heart, that the bar method soho community loves me for who i am and doesn’t think, “fat girl” when i walk through the door. but i do. deep down, i still think it almost every class i take. i look at my legs and my waist and my chest in the mirror, and i look at my arms when we raise them above for balance, and i survey those body parts next to the rest of the pin thin women in class and i judge myself, and the little voice in my head tells me that all those women around me are doing just the same. they’re looking at me, up on my tiptoes, and thinking, what is she doing here? she’s been coming for 3 years and she still looks like this? she must eat like a pig. she clearly has no self-control. you’d think she’d have lost more weight given that she’s here 5 days a week.

you would think that, wouldn’t you? i would. i wish i had. but i haven’t, mostly because i refuse to deny myself the things i truly love. contrary to popular belief, most overweight people DON’T sit on their couches stuffing their faces 24/7. many of us actually eat quite a healthy diet, one filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and peppered with quite a bit of exercise. some of us are genetically pre-disposed to have a larger ribcage. some of us won’t ever have a thigh gap, no matter how much we want it.

when i was younger, i used to wish i had the self control to starve myself. i would scold myself for my lack of discipline, my inability to do what it took to be thin.

i’ve done enough work on myself (the inside, at least) to know that’s not a healthy attitude. but i’d be lying if i told you i don’t feel shame every time i step into a soulcycle studio. i’d be kidding myself if i said i haven’t tried many of the fitness classes i’d like to try for fear that i’m too fat to try them.

most of the women (and men) who ride at soulcycle have bodies that amaze me. they have not an ounce of fat on them, their muscles are carved into their skin like ancient stone statues. their sweat trickles down the cuts in their abs, the rock solid dips in their shoulders practically vibrate with strength. they appear to be the sorts of people who’ve never once had to worry about their weight. they flaunt their thinness in sports bras and tight yoga pants (not that i blame them; i’d do the same if i could). and i look at them, and all i can think is, are they looking at me and wondering what the hell i’m doing here? when i check in at the front desk, i wonder if they think i won’t make it through class. when i clip into my bike, i wonder if the person behind me sighs and thinks, ugh, great, the fat girl is in front of me.

i try hard, so hard, not to think like this. but it’s been ingrained in my mind that because i am greater than, i am lesser than. my weight isn’t just the ball and chain i wear around my ankles, dragging behind me with every step i take, it’s a scarlet letter on my ample chest, telling the world i’m no good. i’m lazy. i eat too much. i don’t exercise. i don’t deserve that bag of potato chips. i don’t deserve to ride in a class of athletes when i’m not one myself.

when i catch myself feeling pretty, feeling good, that feeling is often quickly squashed by my inner hatred, my inner shame. i can’t possibly look pretty, can’t possibly feel good – not if i’m still fat.

the only thing greater than my shame over my weight is my shame that i AM so ashamed of myself. i don’t want to live like this. i don’t want to think like this. i don’t want to be like this. i am far from perfect, but i am also far from a failure, inside and out. sometimes, when my favorite soulcycle instructor isabel says things like, “be proud of where you are right now, how strong you are,” i have a brief moment where i truly feel strong, and truly feel proud of my body and what it can do. but all too quickly, i let myself get bogged down by my insecurities, and my shame, and that feeling of pride dissipates before i can catch it and bottle it up for future use.

i want, so badly, to accept myself for who i am. i know, deep down, that no one will accept me until i can accept myself. i’m making progress, showing up to class each day even though i feel so decidedly out of place, and working through my feelings by writing about them. i’m making progress by buying clothes at lululemon even though their founder says fat women shouldn’t shop there. i’m making progress by trying new things, and meeting new people, and for the most part, wearing the things i want. i’m making progress by having small moments where i allow myself to feel pretty, to feel wanted, to feel worthy of someone’s attention.

because at the end of the day, i won’t be young forever, and even if i’m pretty now, lord knows i won’t be when i’m old and crotchety and bitching at my cats on my front porch at the ripe old age of 85. it’s not just my body that counts. it’s that i can love with all of my heart, and take care of the people who mean the world to me; that i can bake a mean chocolate chip cookie and can sing karaoke with the best of ‘em.

and you know what? when i let that side of myself take center stage, and i push that judgmental little voice out of my head, things are okay. and if i want the potato chips, i’m going to eat the damn potato chips. IN PUBLIC.

closetcleanout

 

when i first moved to new york, i shopped at goodwill and salvation army quite a bit. i was on budget, and there was many a vintage gem to be found within those racks. i was happy to find blazers for $7, an insane sequin minidress for $14. i shopped there for the thrill of the hunt, for the fun of it.

that being said, every time i stepped foot into a salvation army or a goodwill shop, i did so with the knowledge that what was for me a “budget fashion” adventure was for others a necessity. shopping at a discount store was something i could choose to do. i had the means to shop elsewhere.

for many, there is no elsewhere. someone else’s used belongings are the only option, they’re all they can afford.

i’ve grown up fortunate; rarely in my life have i had to worry about money. of course, i budget, and i think about my finances, but i’ve never had to worry about whether i can eat, or afford a nice outfit for an upcoming interview, or pay my rent (okay, maybe i’ve worried about that last one a few times, dammit new york). i have a safety cushion, a family that will support me if i were to truly need the help, and a career that helps me afford not just the things i need, but the things i love and enjoy. i am damn lucky to be in that position, but i know quite well that many people are not that fortunate.

since i was young, my parents have instilled in me the importance of giving back to those less fortunate. i grew up volunteering at the local soup kitchen, working as a candy striper at the local hospital, and doing a family-wide closet cleanout multiple times a year (toys and all). we regularly donated our lightly used belongings to the local homeless shelters, our televisions and books went to the library, or to whatever school i attended at the time. for all of their bounty, my parents believe deeply in taking care of those around them, especially when those people have less than they do.

it’s not that i think donating my used clothes to goodwill is equivalent to doing some big mitzvah. it’s not like i believe my worn blazer will help someone afford their rent next month. but here’s what i do know: feeling good in your clothing is a luxury that should be available to ALL. feeling good in what you wear isn’t about how much you spend, or the name stitched into your sweater. it’s about putting something on and feeling like yourself. feeling like you can take on the world. it’s about feeling smart, feeling strong, feeling confident, feeling beautiful, or pretty, or badass, or whatever you want to feel on a given day. there is power in a good outfit.

and a good outfit is something everyone deserves – no matter what their budget.

perhaps its naive to think that my closet cleanout each season helps someone feel powerful, or strong, or beautiful. but why not give the clothes that once brought me joy a second chance at happiness? why not donate them to someone who might need them? who might love them? who might put them on and think, damn, i look good today?

even the smallest little acts of kindness matter. i’ve been raised to believe that when you have, you give. and so when i find that i have a surplus of anything – be it clothing, or shoes, or sheets, or food – i do my best to find a way to give it to someone who doesn’t. i don’t kid myself into thinking i’m changing the world, here, but i do like to think that maybe, just maybe, the things i do, and the items i donate, make someone, somewhere, smile. that has to count for something, right?

if you’re looking to donate your clothing, this list from elle should help.

MY TOP TIPS FOR CLEANING OUT YOUR CLOSET

1. if you haven’t worn it in 6 months, give it away. it’s a fact: no one wears everything in their closet. most of us wear about 1/3 of what we own. if you haven’t worn it in a while, it’s time to let someone else have a turn. it’s okay to hold on to pieces that have sentimental value, but if you don’t wear it often, chances are, that’s not going to change anytime soon. 

2. try things on, especially if you haven’t worn them in a while. weights fluctuate, trends change, things that used to look amazing no longer look so great. just because it no longer looks incredible on you doesn’t mean it won’t look amazing on someone else. try things on to ensure they still fit, and even more importantly, that you still like them. things that look good on the hanger can look positively ridiculous on.

3. if it’s disgusting, don’t give it to someone else. as stated above, i’m ALL for donating your lightly worn clothes/shoes/etc. but no one wants your raggedy gym t-shirt with pit stains. if it’s gross, don’t donate it. no one will want it, and it’ll just go to waste. instead, tear up your old tshirts/sweatshirts, and use them as cleaning rags. used towels and sheets can be donated to local animal shelters. here in new york, kittykind (where i volunteer every so often) repurposes old sheets and towels as padding for beds for the cats we rescue. 

4. you don’t need that many coats. new york cares does a coat drive each season, and i’m sure your city/town does as well. for those that live outside, especially on the east coast, winters are brutal, and a nice warm coat can help the homeless survive in the frigid temperatures. consider keeping a coat or two for your own purposes, and donating all the others (you know you’ve got a few old coats sitting in your closet) to those that need them.

5. be honest with yourself. that shirt you bought on sale that you’ve literally NEVER worn? you’re never going to wear it. that gift you never returned because maybe someday you’d like it? time to let it go. keep the items you truly love, wear often, and make you feel your best. donate the pieces that don’t make you feel like a million bucks (again, apply the “be honest” rule here). 

remember:

be sure to wash and fold all of your items for donation. when you can, donate to a local homeless shelter or, if applicable, animal shelter, instead of a giant like goodwill or salvation army. happy cleaning!

 

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