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Archive for September, 2006

Coffee Kick

September 27th, 2006 at 01:57 pm

I'm fortunate to not be the only coffee drinker in my small office; someone always makes a pot in the mornings for all of us to share. One way I've found to enjoy my morning cup even more was to add instant hot cocca (with calcium! smart) to sweeten my java. Usually half a pack would do, and voila, "gourmet" coffee that costs pennies.

Morning Inspiration-2

September 26th, 2006 at 01:20 pm

Brush your teeth before dressing.

It is not worth it to wear a nice suit or your favorite dress and then get a glob of toothpaste on it. Also, you'll avoid the -ahem- "wet nurse" look (ie: leaning against damp counter).

Shower Power

September 25th, 2006 at 04:02 pm

Let gravity work for you to help get the most out of your shampoo and conditioner bottles. Stand those suckers upside down on their heads. That's easy if the caps are flat, but if not, many of those shower organizers not only have space for your soaps or razors, but also unintentionally have nicely spaced bars between which you can balance your bottles and create a makeshift dispensing unit. Once your bottle is finally empty, don't throw them out just yet; unscrew the cap and look inside, there's usually a pool of shampoo or conditioner hiding inside. And if you're really frugal (like I am) then once you've attacked the cap, use your conveniently bendable finger to scrape up the amount that has gotten lodged around the actual bottle neck.

And even after that to suck out all the life out of that poor shampoo bottle, add some water, shake it up (surprise, watch it foam right up again) and use that for your hand wash laundry items.

TJ Maxx

September 25th, 2006 at 03:13 am

Yay or nay?

I went with a friend because she wanted to check out the "Designer Runway Event." I've been to this alleged fashion savings mecca before but have honestly never been too impressed, though I will say that it is worth visiting stores in different locations as the merchandise quality seems to be better in some places than others.

But you really do have to search. At TJ Maxx, it wasn't too hard to locate certain brand name items - Anne Klein, Tommy Hilfiger (yuck), Max Studio - as they were displayed right at the entrance. A careful, thorough search of the racks at this particular store actually turned up some great bargains; an Armani suit, Armani gown, Eileen Fisher sweater, some funky BCBG shirts - all of which, unfortunately, were out of my price range.

The "designer event" turned out to be a couple of racks tucked away in some corner containing true odds and ends. Some teenage girls were salivating over the Antik denim (there were about five pairs) but then there would be random pieces, mostly Anne Klein again. It was rather meager and I'm sure that is why the "event" is not too well advertised.

All in all, the store seems to push people towards becoming Brand Whores if you pardon my language. Though the pieces are lower than retail value (who pays retail value anyway these days?) I personally feel the prices are still inflated solely because of the inherent "prestige" that comes with owning that designer item. But what are you really paying for? IN the clearance racks, I noticed a flimsy, wispy, oddly colored Anne Klein tank top was still selling for $25, whereas a well-made tank top with reinforced stitching, stretchy spandex material that would hold up well (and look nicer because it is fitted) by some no-name brand was $7.

In the end, you are paying for a piece of fabric to cover your body; unless that fabric is gilded silk from the world's Most Ancient silkworm located in remote monastary in Tibet, then why pay so much for it? . If the cheaper item fits me, looks good, and is well made, then I'd rather buy that than to go for the mediocre item with the big logo on the chest that I'd be scared to throw in the washer. Just my two cents.

My Savings Theory

September 23rd, 2006 at 10:31 pm

I love shopping but friends always make fun of how I never buy things when shopping in groups. And the main reason I prefer shopping alone is because I like being frugal and analyzing the intrinsic worth of my potential purchases with my weird algorithms (nerd!). I love being told I "look like a million bucks" when I only spent about $20 for the entire outfit.

Whenever I go shopping, one thing I do is use the "TALK" test when contemplating purchases. Not the most creative of names, but I've found this applies to almost all those past purchases where I've regretted spending so much for an awful item. TALK is an acronym where I ask myself if I'm feeling any of the following emotions as I shop:

Tired - Contrary to what some may think, when I am tired I tend to want to grab those items I've been hedging about and just pay and leave. Many times at the end of a long day of shopping, if I haven't made any purchases, I want to just go ahead and buy something, to justify this long, fruitless day at the mall/thrift store/garage sales. But don't give in to lax judgement! If you're tired, put everything down and GO HOME AND SLEEP!

Angry - I have coworkers who call this "retail therapy." Me, I don't tend to buy clothes when I am angry, but I do end up making other wasteful purchases of the food variety. Best cure is to go home and go running instead.

Lonely - This is my biggest downfall emotion. It does sometimes strike me that here I am, in New York City, surrounded by millions of people, yet I still feel alone. So, clothes become my dearest friends; they flatter me, they make me look good, and they always hang around (Ha ha!) with me. It has taken me years to curb this impulsive buying, which included forcing myself to take different routes while walking in the city (to avoid certain stores), to leave my credit cards and cash at home so I would have no money on me, but I have a long ways to go in fighting this.

"Keeping up with the Joneses" - From having once lived in a rather affluent area, I've noticed people who are particularly "brand name" happy. And no offense, but many times the logo is there, but the design and style is- whew! But people have to have it. Especially with handbags, I have heard women just go up to a salesperson and say, "I HAVE to buy a handbag today. I don't care how much it is, what is your most recent style?" Seeing people throw their money away on expensive items has made me even more aware of my own spending. I've learned, just from going through the broke grad student phase, that I shouldn't live above my means- especially when I can't afford it! Spending money for "image" is just wrong in my book.

So there's one of my shopping theories. If it sounds odd to you that I have such a system, well, yes I tend to be a nerd, but in the end, I'm saving money =)

Coming out of the Closet

September 21st, 2006 at 01:40 pm

HA HA No this isn't what you're thinking! I'm talking about those articles of clothing that never see the light of day- those pieces that you wonder "why did I buy that?"

So for kicks, lately I've been taking some of my casual clothes purchased during my days in grad school and seeing if I can breathe some new life into them as business/office outfits. Today's experiment: folded and pinned the back up of one of my sort of worn-down white buttondown shirts and wore that as a cardigan over a black top that is more suitable for clubbing but in combination is now toned down. Wore one of my tan slacks and tied one of my ubiquitous scarves around the waist- office outfit!

As an extra quirk, I jazzed up one pendant necklace by attaching a hoop earring that ended up encircling the pendant- very similar to this picture from a designer website. Funny, people thought I was wearing an entirely different necklace (though I wear the pendant pretty often). Got nice comments about my overall outfit from coworkers.

I am wondering what to call it- outfit re-inventions? recycled fashion?

Morning Inspiration- Reinventing Jewelry

September 19th, 2006 at 02:19 pm

While searching for one particular necklace to match my shirts (yes, I was layering summer clothes so they would be suited for fall) I grabbed one necklace which I never particularly liked since it was too wide and too long for my tastes when suddenly- *ding*! I had the crazy idea to try it out as a belt. It didn't quite make it around my waist but I bridged the gap by linking on another bracelet. Instant belt!

I ended up not wearing my "belt" because it didn't match, but wow, what a discovery. It got me thinking of many ideas for "new" jewelry from combining my pre-existing pieces. For example, linking several bracelets or chains together to get that multichain dangling look; hooking earrings onto chains as pendants or charms; using earrings as pins or shirt buttons; using those chunky, solid round bracelets that I hate in that sort of 80's look where you had excess shirt material tied up with some round thingy at the bottom corner....

Can't wait to play around and see what sorts of interesting combinations I can come up with.

Talking with Strangers with Scissors

September 18th, 2006 at 11:52 pm

Do ALL Asian people necessarily know how to cut Asian hair? Hell, no. About the only advantages I've found were they are generally cheaper, and you aren't as embarassed to go in with a picture of some Hong Kong popstar and demand they make you look like him/her. If you're lucky, they might be playing KTV, Korean soap operas or wacky Japanese gameshows on the television, so at least you'll be amused instead of bored or forced to talk to your hairdresser.

I think a salon is a salon. You have to search for that one awesome hairdresser, and the only way to find him/her is through trial and error.

So in conclusion- home vs. salon?
Home:
Pros- CHEAPPPPP, 24/7, don't have to chitchat with strangers, no weird chemical salon smell
Cons- Um, you can't see the back of your own head? Hard to cut "style" unless you are well-practiced in haircutting

Salon:
Pros- Name brand stuff that smells good that you probably wouldn't ordinarily buy, it is sooooo nice to have someone else wash and massage your head/scalp
Cons- It's a gamble- kaching- you don't know if you're paying for a good or bad haircut; you are at the mercy of someone else; you have to make appointments

DIY haircuts- Bring out your bowls!

September 16th, 2006 at 09:21 pm

Mention "home haircut" to a group of people and someone is bound to make some crack about getting a Bowl Cut. The Bowl Cut is ubiquitous; my Chinese friends and I figured some witty fool added "rice" in front of the phrase and suddenly it took on the Asian meaning- but, seriously, Bowl Haircuts can cross all cultural and ethnic boundaries. The Beatles had something akin to it. That creepy kid in The Shining (redrum....) looked like he had a bowl cut. Some of my coworkers call it the Peter Pan haircut. It's even on friggin wikipedia.org.

The simple theory is that you slap a bowl onto some poor victim's head, then use the edges as guide for your scissors/trimmers. This is assuming you have blurry vision, have really trembling hands, or are perpetually drunk and/or otherwise incapable of judging whether you took off one inch of hair from one side of the head vs three from the other.

My sister and I thankfully never had to wear bowls on our head. Our mom did cut our hair for us, shaped it into the standard "bob" style. Sometimes it looked fine; other times, one portion of our hair ended up curling in, another curled out. My sister and I have discussed this thoroughly and concluded that the inconsistent results were not due to the fact our mom was a horrible hairstylist, but that a) she cut our hair when it was DRY, not even slightly wet, and b) she used the same shears, it turns out, as those she used to cut fabric, yarn, paper bags (the utility scissors).

The bottom line is, home hair cuts are not "bad." I started cutting my own hair back during my starving student period when I was pursuing my graduate degree and world domination and all those idealistic dreams (heh). I haven't stepped into a salon in four years and thank you, my hair looks fine, nobody has laughed at me-yet- and my coworkers say my hair looks healthy and ask where I get it done (surprise!).

Here's my advice. If all you need is a maintenance trim, then there's no reason why you can't do the 1/4-1/2 inch trim yourself. DO buy haircutting scissors and use them ONLY for haircuts. DO wash your hair first, squeeze out the excess, then cut the damp hair. DO work in front of a mirror (duh). DO frequently comb hair out straight to catch any hair you may have missed. Also in the case of DIY haircuts, less is more. You can always decide to cut off more, but you can't repaste hair back onto your head.

If, however, you have short hair, I'd advise you go to a salon, as mistakes are MUCH more noticeable in short hair. In my words, you don't have much "starting material" to work with, so why risk any messups? If you want professional work done- highlights, coloring, perms, or a fresh, new style- then a visit to the salon is in order. In a future episode, I'll write about ethnic salons: yay or nay?

Have you eaten yet?

September 15th, 2006 at 06:48 pm

Translated into Pinyin (that's Anglosized Mandarin): Ni chi fan le mei yo?

In my not-so-fluent Cantonese, too: Nay sik jo fan mei ah?

I don't know why the question of eating is so prevalant in the Asian culture. Growing up and spending summers in Taiwan, it seemed that everyone was always asking the other person if they'd eaten already. And why not? Eating/sharing drinks is both nurturing and a way to bring groups of friends together to socialize.

Thus, it seems this is an appropriate "first entry" opening discussion- how to answer the eating question when you're on a budget. In Taiwan, you can get a ginormous bowl of delicious noodle soup for about 50 yuan (or less!) which is less than $3. That's the price of a cup of coffee in the good ole US of A.

Interestingly, answers that may seem "okay" or acceptable in the US would be considered rude in Asia. For example, consider the following:

(older person) "Have you eaten yet?"
(you) "No thanks, I'm on a diet."
(older person thinks: What a snob, and what a conversation-killer)

Another scenario:
(friend) "have you eaten yet?"
(you) "No thanks, I just ate."
(friend thinks: she ate without me? or she doesn't want to spend time with me? oh how rejected I feel....)

So what is a good, yet financially sound, solution that will please everyone in every country? Consider the following:

"Not yet, it's only 3PM; why don't we go somewhere first to talk/shop/study?"

"Not yet, why don't you come over and I'll cook for both of us?"

"Not yet; there's a new (re: cheap) place I've been meaning to try, let's go there."

"Not yet; why don't we call up the gang and let's all go out to eat." (the strategy here being, more people to split the cost and/or share dishes)

A little diplomacy goes a long way...for your wallet, too.