Life

HOW TO HANDLE FAMILY AT THE HOLIDAYS

By this point I suspect you have one of two worries surrounding Thanksgiving. What to wear and/or how to deal with family. For the former, it’s simple – this dress. I suggest no belt, so that it’s just a super soft, super swingy tunic that still feels dressy enough with a pair of heeled booties to look like you have your life together when your grandparents ask, but still comfy enough to eat seconds of pie and then inevitably nap later.

For the latter, its not going to be as simple. I am incredibly fortunate to be a member of a nuclear family that truly gets along and loves hanging out together. And for the first 20 something odd years of my life I thought this was actually normal. Turns out, its not. And once you add in extended family and in-laws (and god forbid politics) – I’m guessing there’s about 95% of you that feel at the very least a small amount of stress about seeing someone across the dinner table later this month.

Well meaning questions (like – how’s your job? when are you two finally going to get married? how long are you going to live in New York?) can range from mildly prying to downright triggering. Add in another family that’s only attached to you through a significant other and you’ve got a whole other set of tightropes to walk. All while just trying to get through dinner without spilling sweet potatoes on your new dress.

Here’s what I suggest. Set expectations for yourself before you ever step foot into the host’s house. You can control 0% of how other people behave or how they question your love life. You can control 100% of how you react to it. Give yourself a pep talk beforehand if need be. Find a sibling or partner that you’ll be there with and can be your life raft during Thanksgiving dinner. And have an escape plan. You may be obligated to attend but you’re not obligated to stay until midnight.

In general, I find that usually when people ask probing questions into your life its because they are genuinely interested or because something about your life triggers their own insecurities. When they ask a 32 year old woman when she’s thinking of starting a family, perhaps its because they’re jealous they didn’t get time when they were that age to focus on their career because they were already strapped with two kids. Or maybe it just popped into their head and so they thought why not ask. Who knows. It’s not your job to figure out their shit. It’s your job to remember what you’re grateful for and get through dessert.

Of course, if you’ve got a family that operates at a level that feels destructive, burdening or hurtful to be around – I suggest you gather up a good friend or two, book a ticket and head to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. They host a ‘Black Sheep Thanksgiving’ party each year where you can hide out in the desert by the pool and escape it all. There are some things that just aren’t healthy – and I hope you all can draw that line, however hard it would be to do so.

But for the majority of us that will grin and bear it this year when their mother in law critiques our stuffing or our grandfather makes a joke in poor taste… know that after the long weekend you can return to the great life you’ve been busy building. At least until Christmas…

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ON HAPPINESS: HOW I’M COMBATING THE WINTER BLUES

As I write this it hovers around 35 degrees in New York City and while it’s a clear sky day, it will be dark in a mere 8 hours. For some people this probably means next to nothing.. but if you, like me, feel the winter blues acutely in your bones – this is the first real scare. The first shift in the winds and the clocks that says “I’m coming for you”.

The tricky part is that I truly love November and December – they’re filled with joy – holidays, traditions, decorations everywhere you turn in the city. Which is often why I’m tricked into thinking maybe I won’t feel the winter blues this year. But every year, like clockwork, January rolls around and I want to crawl out of my (very dry) skin and move to Mexico just to avoid one more single short, cold day. So this year – I’m getting a jump start and putting some simple practices in place so that by that time we’re in the real depth of winter I’m not just surviving.. but actually enjoying it.

One of the things I’ve noticed in winter is that it can be easy to sort of let yourself go. You’re engulfed in a huge puffer coat 90% of the time after all – why not just wear sweatpants underneath and go home and order takeout? But when I put on a real outfit, do my hair (even though it will just be smashed beneath a knit hat), keep up my workout routine and cook healthy meals at home – I feel a huge boost in mood. Today I’m getting my hair colored, I’ve been slowing adding a few new winter pieces to my wardrobe (like this cozy tweed dress that will be great with tights and a turtleneck beneath it) and I’m already in a good routine with working out that I plan on ramping up throughout winter. So far, so good.

The next thing is relationships. Spending quality time with Adam and making a point to trek out in the snow/ice/cold to see friends is always worth the effort. To that end, Adam and I just reinstated our “weeknight date” routine. It can be easy to fall into the pattern of holing up at home and watching TV.. so we plan to mix things up by having one mid-week date night that we take turns each week planning. Mine was this week and I planned an at home date of scrabble, spiked cider and playing records. It was so fun! Now even if I’m having a tough week, I’ll have something to look forward to halfway through. On the friend front – I joined a new book club this past week with the hopes of meeting some like-minded ladies and it was lovely. We’re all planning to go see the new Little Women movie when it comes out next month (that was the book of choice this round) and we’ll meet on the next book in January. Again – things to look forward to with people you enjoy is key!

Lastly, I’ve found that when I dedicate time to things that keep my mind sharp (again – it can be tempting to just binge watch netflix all winter.. but that seems to only add to my blues in the end) make a world of difference. That means reading as much as possible, pushing myself to try new things even if that’s just a new recipe and dusting off old hobbies like drawing or playing the piano – all make me feel great and are perfect for when it’s dark and cold out. Adam recently declared that we should get rid of the desk in our bedroom and replace it with an upright piano for me and I think he may really be onto something. By which I mean, he too is scared of my winter mood. Ha.

And if all else fails – we’re planning a warm weather getaway come March.

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ON CAREER: DRESSING THE PART

Earlier this year I moved in to a management role at my company. And while we have a super flexible “creative casual” type dress code, suddenly I found myself looking down at my beat up converse sneakers and thinking that I didn’t look like I passed for anyone’s “boss”.

Part of me still feels like a girl who should be running around the city in mini skirts. Part of me doesn’t feel qualified to be the boss. But the reality is that I’m a 32 year old woman who has 5 people that report to her. And while I don’t think anyone in the office probably gave it a second thought, my split ends and old sneakers weren’t exactly helping me build confidence in my new role.

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So last week I made a conscious shift. I chopped off the ends of my hair and dug through my closet for all of the nice clothes I actually own. I started planning my outfits the night before so in the morning’s I don’t fall back on grabbing a pair of jeans and running for the door. And I feel so much better already. Instead of feeling like I was giving up the old me… I feel like a slightly new and improved version of myself. Still feminine and a little bit playful but sleeker, more “grown-up”.

Dress for the job you want right? Or at the very least, for the one you have. And don’t worry, I’ll still be running around the city in miniskirts and converse… I’ll just save it for the weekends now.

Anthropologie Sweater via Nuuly Subscription | Franco Sarto Loafers | French Connection Slip Skirt c/o | Dagne Dover Bag c/o – similar here

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LET’S CATCH UP 10.18.19

We just got back from a quick little escape upstate (I still can’t get over the colors of those trees!) and jumped into a very short/very hectic two day work week before we head off again to the lake house this weekend. This month is turning in to a blur. Before you head out on your own adventures this weekend, here’s a few things on my mind:

  1. We basically repeated our same trip upstate from last year (travel guide here), except we added in a “sky ride” at Hunter Mountain – where the photos here were taken. I love this feeling of discovering a new place, but this was budget-friendly and didn’t require a lot of planning or stress which was what we needed right now. Do you go back to the same places year after year or always visit new ones?
  2. On of my goals is to build a better wardrobe of “basics” – like finding the perfect crewneck white t-shirt, fitted cotton layering turtlenecks with a neck that actually stays up and a versatile black sweater – they’re the things I’d reach for everyday and yet never bother to seek out to buy. I’m starting with these turtlenecks.
  3. All too often I hear women downplaying their success, or just never acknowledging it at all. I loved this article on how 25 famous women felt about winning.
  4. I kind of love how this once “dated” color is making a comeback in interiors. Put your hand up if you grew up knowing someone who had carpet this color…
  5. This weather always makes me want to curl up with a big cup of tea and a good book. My favorite mugs are on sale right now and while we’re at it – I’d love to own this copper tea kettle.
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ON MONEY: HOW TO LIVE ON A BUDGET IN AN EXPENSIVE CITY

I once read that New York City charges a $20 tax just to leave your apartment… and it’s pretty much true. This town just seems to eat money for breakfast. And every other meal after that. When I first introduced the topic of money here, one of the most requested posts was how to save money/live on a budget if you’re in an expensive city. And as someone who has managed to stay afloat in New York for a decade, I’d like to think I’ve got some insight to share here.

I believe that if you’re lucky enough to call an expensive city home (or an expensive suburban town – really this is relevant no matter where you call home), you should be enjoying it. What’s the point of living in Manhattan if you stay holed up in your apartment and never get out and see or do anything? But that being said, unless you’re a wall street mogul (which I’m pretty much guaranteeing no one reading my blog is), you’re going to need to learn how to strike a balance and cut some corners.

My number one advice? Make a list (you guys know I love a list) of the things that are absolutely non-negotiable to you. Is it living alone? Getting to see broadway shows? This list will look different for everyone and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. Maybe going out to eat with friends every week is what brings you joy. Maybe it’s designer shoes. I could care less. But for the rest? You’re going to need to learn to live cheap. Like way below your budget. Live like you’re broke.

In my early twenties I was under the impression that as long as I wasn’t crazy extravagant, I could kind of have it all. I lived alone in a studio apartment (which was always my #1 non negotiable), still went out to bars with friends, shopped for new clothes and ate pretty well. An overpriced latte here, a new book there, a cab ride downtown. You get the picture. I was working two jobs and had zero money at the end of each month. And I never had money to travel like I wanted. I wasn’t necessarily being extravagant in any one area, but I wasn’t living below my budget anywhere either. And I certainly wasn’t getting ahead.

Now all of that has changed. I have a true list of non-negotiables: as nice of an apartment as we can afford (home is super important to me), an emergency fund in the bank, money to travel and money to enjoy the perks of living in New York (whether that be a fun night out with Adam for drinks and live music or going to the ballet with a friend). The rest? You’d think I was flat broke.

I walk everywhere (I take the subway maybe 1-2 times a week if I really need to get far uptown) and don’t even have the Uber app on my phone. I pack my lunch every single day and eat cheap weeknight dinners at home like a big batch of chili, simple stir fry or pasta. You’ll almost never catch me at brunch on the weekends. I make use of the office snacks. We use my sister’s HBO subscription. I give myself at home pedicures. I go to a $20 a month gym. I take books out from the library. My shopping has halted to just a handful of well considered purchases each season. If it’s not on my list of true priorities, I’m hard-pressed to spend money on it. And it’s made all the difference.

In cities it can be easy to just let money slip away in every category. But I swear if you commit to say – making coffee at home every workday or starting a wine club with friends instead of hitting the bar – and watch where every penny is going, you’ll be able to indulge in the things that really matter to you. Even better? If you’re open about your budget, there’s a good chance most of your city living friends will admit that they’re in the same boat and together you guys can find fun things to do that are within your means.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.