Paying Myself First: On Beauty and Fashion

Why write about fashion and beauty in such a usually-serious blog? After two years of compulsive budgeting in order to pay off heavy debt, I began to feel a little bit depressed that all my paychecks were being used to pay lenders and debt collectors. It was my debt, and I was set on paying it rather than taking the easier way out through bankruptcy. I was lucky to have a stable job that allowed me to pay off my debt, but I also neglected myself a bit along the way. I finally decided to dedicate a bit of time, effort and money to something I enjoyed that wouldn’t be so time consuming or “heavy” in nature. I like art and beauty products.

Why did I decide to start rebuilding my closet? I am not usually into fashion, but I had to rebuild a wardrobe after getting on a dieting plan that helped me lose over 30lbs and go down 3 sizes. I also had two kids within a three-years span, was overweight, was experiencing some health concerns, and just was not feeling like myself overall. I also wanted a fun hobby that was light and fun. I am by no means a beauty and fashion expert, but I can honestly say that it did not cost me much to rebuild an entire closet of beautiful pieces of clothing for work and play. I spent some money, but it was a relatively small amount compared to what some friends may think. When I say I rebuilt my closet, I mean that I boxed up everything that no longer fit me and either sold or donated it. Over the months, I developed a few hacks on rebuilding a closet around a tight budget. I also would like to clarify that I am not a sponsor where companies will basically pay me to have their products. I have no time for a second job as a full-time couponer or fashion sponsor (or whatever!). The list below are personal tips, and based on services I have used / things I have done that worked well.

The tips I will share are good for someone with a workable budget that can be organized to explore brands, personal styles, beauty products, and make good purchasing decisions. Some money is expected to be spent, but these tips will help you cut big corners.

  1. Sell your things: This is a good place to start: by cleaning out and building a workable budget. You will be surprised at the things people buy. Trust me, there’s a buyer for almost anything. If you have not used it in 12 months, you probably will not use it. Make some money before it gets damaged or collects dust and odors. Some time around November, I grabbed all the things in my home that my kids and I hadn’t used in over a year and posted them online. I made a few hundred bucks doing this and it started a workable budget to start rebuilding my closet. Here are some suggestions where you can sell your goods:
    1. eBay: Great for independent vendors. I sold kids clothes, party decorations and other random things. Don’t post things that are heavy and expensive to ship.
    2. Amazon: Not great for independent vendors unless you have an established online presence. It is great for selling used books. I sold a few textbooks that were collecting dust and made a few hundred bucks.
    3. ThredUp*: This is a great quality used-clothing online store. You can both sell your clothes to them (though they pay very little) and purchase lightly used designer clothing. I purchased basic work pants and a few pairs of shoes. When you first sign up, they will send you coupon codes to use. Their online platform is also great, as you can search by style, size, category, colors, and so on.
    4. Craigslist: I use this site to sell things that are difficult to ship, such as strollers, furniture, bags of baby clothing, and so on. I sold over $100 in kids clothing using Craigslist–I literally just divided them by size, posted various pictures and had interested locals come and get them. This site is very public, so it’s important to use safety protocol (i.e., meet in public places, verify buyers by speaking to them by phone only, and have friends present if possible).
  2. Coupons: This is an obvious tip. Let me just say that I will never be one of those extreme couponers whose closets look like Walmart. I can’t do it, I won’t do it. I find it a bit compulsive, but to each their own. With that said, it’s still great to know exactly where to find the best coupons for additional discounts.
    1. Mail-in coupons: Those annoying coupons you get sent in the mail…just clip the ones you may use and clean them out every week.
    2. Phone applications: Most stores have free mobile apps with sections for coupons if you register your e-mail. Trust me, you can save quite a bit during your shopping trips. It all adds up.
  3. Monthly subscriptions: These subscription services are not “new,” but I don’t know many people who use them. Basically, you pay a monthly fee and receive a box of sample (and sometimes full size) goods to try out and keep. It’s awesome if you’re rediscovering your tastes and interests. Most of them allow you to cancel any time you need to take a break. I tried all the following, but only kept a few after testing them out.
    1. Birchbox*: A $10 a month subscription service that allows you to sample 5-6 beauty and lifestyle products. When you review the products, you earn points and cash to shop. My daily beauty ritual is low-key, so little samples here and there keep my stash full. I don’t normally commit to full-size products anyway, but there’s always that one “unicorn” product you are thankful you found.
    2. Stitchfix: I’m not a huge fan, but I tried it out for 4 months at $20 per box (1 box per month) because people rave about it and I wanted to give them an honest try. This styling service subscription sends you 5 pieces of clothing and accessories per month. You keep what you want and send the rest back in a pre-paid envelope. The $20 styling fee is deducted from any item(s) you purchase. I found the clothing to be very overpriced, but it was worth trying out because I got to test new styles that I normally wouldn’t. It helped me define my style from the comfort of my home. I only bought one necklace that I was classic and my style. This service won’t save you money (items are very overpriced), but it will be a fun experience to try out.
  4. Rent the fashion: This is my favorite hack. If you don’t want to commit to fashion pieces, think about renting them. The plus is that it is a way to “reuse” and share clothing– kind of like sharing a closet with a friend. Some people argue that you’re throwing the money away, because your’re not keeping the clothes. If you’re someone who sticks to classics always, then this may not be for you. However, if you like to keep a few short-lived fashion pieces in your closet, why not keep them on rotation?
    1. LeTote*: This company allows you to rent 5-6 pieces of clothing per month for a fixed monthly fee. They also have maternity. You can purchase the items you love for a discounted price and return what you are done using. When you’re tote is ready to be styled, you are notified via email, you enter your account and select the items you want to be sent to you from your virtual closet. Most totes ship out the same day and you’ll have your tote within 2 days. What I loved, I purchased.
    2. Rocksbox: This company allows you to rent designer jewelry for $19 per month and you receive a $10 credit towards any purchase you may make. You wear your set, keep/pay for what you love, and return what you don’t want to keep. The next box is ready within days again.
  5. Shopping Applications: These are different than store apps. Shopping apps advertise to you various products and usually give you some type of reward for being an active user of the app. Basically, they reward you to allow them to advertise products to you.
    1. Shopkick*: This shopping app gives you points (“kicks”) for entering selected stores, scanning items, making purchases and referring friends. You can convert points into gift cards of various amounts. You’ll need a smart phone to effectively use this app and it’s most appropriate for those who like to physically go to stores. I have received over $100 in Sephora giftcards.
    2. Ebates*: This app / website gives you cash back when you make online purchases. Many popular stores are available through this site and each store have different cash back % rates. You also get cash when a referral makes their first purchase. Every 3 months, they’ll disburse your money by mailing you a check or making a deposit to your Paypal account.
  6. Return eligible things: I hesitated to include this point, because I find compulsive returning to be in poor taste. However, there are times when we buy things on a whim, put them away and never use them. If you have such forgotten items that qualify for returns, get them back to the store and get some credit to use. The other day, I found a beauty product that I bought a few months back; I had never used it, and just stuck it in the drawer with its receipt. I took it back to the store and traded it in for something that I actually needed. It was still my money, but I put that money to better use.
  7. Buy Second Hand: I like buying second hand for the same reason that I like renting. I find it to be less wasteful than shopping new. Also, you save a ton on high quality brands.
    1. Thrift stores
    2. Vintage shops
    3. Craigslist
    5. Garage sales
  8. Trade with Friends: I have started to make conversations about fashion and beauty a part of my regular conversation with friends of similar interests. I always thought that swapping was just something nerds like myself did only with books, but just the other day my friend mentioned that she needed warm clothes for a trip to New Jersey. I told her I had a ton of winter clothes in her size. I actually offered to lend / give them to her, but she suggested to buy them from me or do a trade for one of the handbags she sells. I was like…sure! I think we both got a steal!
  9. Use Flex Dollars: If you’re employer offers flex dollars (WageWorks) for medical things, I cannot emphasize how useful they are to save money. Basically, a flex account allows an employee to request a certain amount of their wage to be available to them at the beginning of the year pre-tax. If you use glasses, this is a great way to save money on nice, fashionable eye glasses.
  10. Create your own fashion: If you have a crafty skill, put it to good use. I do not sew and truly wish I would so that I can cut corners with hemming my own pants and making some unique fashion pieces. I knit and crochet and make neckwarmers every year. I wear what I make and sometimes even sell them right off my neck. I make extra cash with my own fashionable creations.

*The services that I strongly enjoy and believe it include a referral link. The referral link takes you directly to the site, but most likely gives both of us some kind of credit, points, or other incentive. Nevertheless, this blog or post is not sponsored by any of these sites/ companies and all opinions here are my own.

If there is anything I have learned in the past 6 months of rebuilding a closet is that:

  1. Fashion changes very quickly. This is why I am particularly fond of investing in good rental companies that allow me to keep fashionable pieces on a rotational basis. I have found it more wasteful to buy fashionable pieces that I will not like in a few months.
  2. Investing in basics (jeans, work pants, basic tops,  and so on) can be done affordably through consignment stores and a high quality online store (I love* the most).
  3. Referrals pay off big time. In the same way I have shared with you guys my referral links of my favorite services, share them with your friends. Companies reward you with shopping credit every time you bring a successful referral. Don’t be compulsive in giving referrals to just anything; try out various services and only refer the ones you most believe in. If the services you share are of good value, most friends will be glad you shared it with them.
  4. Thifty does not have to be tacky. In the time I have spent rebuilding my closet, I have not turned to any bad habits or abusing shopping practices. I think I got a little obnoxious with my referrals to Shopkick, but I had a big goal (which I reach today, by the way, of getting my favorite perfume all on Sephora giftcards). Other than that, it’s been important to me to keep it smart and fun, but classy.

I am 6-months new to this, so I am sure there are a ton of other hacks and tips for rebuilding a closet and one’s beauty stash. I would love to learn more to anyone reading who may want to share.


Career and Motherhood

Today my alarm did not go off. I was supposed to be at the store at noon, and I woke up at 12:30 and knew I could not get there until another 2 hours.

While getting dressed, my daughter woke up crying. She had been sick for the past few days with a slight fever due to an ear infection. My husband had been taking care of her these days that I have been working at the store. I had to return to the store because we need the extra cash.

Walking out the door, I here my daughter calling out to me in-between coughs from her room. I stopped, turned around and walked back to my daughter to carry her for a bit. I changed her diaper and rocked her for a few minutes before I started to cry. I didn’t want to go to the store to work today. I wanted to play with my daughter who was suddenly well and happy when I came to her. 

I called the store manager and explained to her that I wouldn’t be coming in today. She understood and gave me the day off.

Going back to the workplace after 15 months, I am going through a lot of emotions. I miss my daughter every second that I am away from her. She goes to daycare for a few hours per day, but it’s not the same when I feel like I am leaving her. Friday night, I came home at 8:30pm and she wasn’t in her usual friendly mood. I blamed myself for being away for so many hours. 

I am currently seeking a full-time job within my own career field, the education industry. It may not be long before I need to start working full-time. I think it’s important for a woman to be independent and work, especially if she has invested so much time in building a career. I also think it’s important for mothers to be mothers. Finding the perfect balance without shredding your emotions apart is an art. This balance depends on women’s ability to act in superhuman ways and do a juggling act in perfect harmony. 

Right now, I am typing this and watching my daughter chasing our cat. Earlier, she was dancing to the tune of Garfield. She also stole my cell phone and ran around the house pretending she was talking to someone on it. It was all hilarious. 

I am glad I stayed home and I thank God for the wisdom and strength to make that decision today. I know that I will not always be able to make this decision and I know there may be moments i will miss. There are many sacrifices that women have to make today in order to pursue careers, achieve independence and be good mothers. These sacrifices causes us to second guess ourselves, blame ourselves and peel at our psychological wellness. 

I pray for my daughter’s growth and that a smile will always be spread across her face. I pray that the bond that holds my husband and I together continues to strengthen. I pray that the efforts that my husband and I have put into our education and into building our careers will foster happiness and reward and never division. I pray that I find my balance and that I never forget that every moment is an important moment.

Two Women in my Family

My Grandmother and her sister. They were like la virgencita and la malinche. I know my analogy may not be completely accurate, but let me explain.

Two sisters.

The day my grandmother died, my dad reminded me that she was a “tough” woman. By tough, he meant that she had the reputation of a prude. She had only experienced two men in her life: her first husband and my grandfather who was her second and final husband. My father told me she had been a “tough lady” with a “tough character”. She was always “straight”. By tough and straight, he meant virgin-like. Or, the closest thing that a married lady can come to being a virgin.

When my grandmother was alive, I liked to make her feel embarrassed. So I would ask her about sex. It made my mom laugh a lot. Once, I asked my grandmother how many husband she had had. She said “two”. And I said, “so you slept with two men!? You indecent woman!” My mom and I started laughing because my grandmother would turn red. She was such a prude, I thought, and would laugh out-loud.

Her sister, however, was a different story. Her sister had been married 5 times and had always refused to wear white. She said white wedding dresses were for performers and she wasn’t an actress. She had had “many men,” and often bragged. When I was little, she would count her husband with her left hand and would announce the color of her wedding dresses for each ceremony: pink, red, teal, yellow, beige. In that order. When it was just my grandmother, her sister and I, they’d argue. My grandmother didn’t want her sister to “pollute” my ears, but I loved to listen because she was really funny and had many stories about things we never talked about at home. My grandmother’s sister never gave a damn and my grandmother was so shy.

My grandmother’s sister’s husbands all died. Except this last one who is a nice guy. She also lost her baby prematurely. She has worked hard all her life as a nurse. She would clean old men and women’s butts for a living and would never complain about it. When I was little, my aunt would make a lot of predictions, and I had thought she was a witch. She said she just felt things. I still think she knows a lot of things.

My grandmother was a devout Catholic–the virgencita-y-rosario kind. She always said I didn’t call her enough and when I did, she would say that she had just finished praying for me.

After my grandmother passed away, I began having so many questions about her life before she moved to the United States. About her first husband and why she divorced him. My father said she was a “tough lady,” so I know her first husband must have done something real bad. Once, she told me he drank too much (but I know there was more). My grandfather also drank too much, but he did it in secret and nobody ever knew until after his death. I began to understand why he often cried.

My grandmother’s sister is still alive. And she always visits us on Thanksgiving and Christmas and brings a giant bowl of black beans (when I was little, I had thought that same bowl was her cauldron, but it was only beans after all). I also wonder about all her husbands. And about how she felt after her baby died. I think she must have been a “tough lady” too.

My grandmother and her sister have secrets. Like all women do. My grandmother hid them behind piety and her sister behind impudence. Both were performances, I suppose. Yet, there is still so many scenes and dialogues left out…

The Long Christmas Ride Home

When I first saw the title, “The Long Christmas Ride Home,” I thought to myself “why the heck is OSU having a holiday play in May!” I didn’t read much about the play, I just got up from bed, got dressed, and went to the theatre at the Drake center.

The scene of the play is “crisp”. There should be as few props as possible with the exception of some seats and an opaque backdrop for the occasional puppet show scenes. 

The play is a fusion of Eastern and Western aesthetics. Or rather, it is a Western misunderstanding of Bunraku puppet theatre techniques. The misunderstanding of this Japanese art form is important for audience members to know before watching the performance. Otherwise, you will be like me and wonder why the puppeteers lack grace on stage. The puppeteers are not meant to be graceful as the art itself and should appear amateurish. I didn’t understand it right away, but after the show, the clumsiness and absurdity of Westerners who romanticize “oriental” art and spirituality was clear. I wouldn’t say Vogul was ridiculing Westerners, but was criticizing our often inadequate interpretations of “Eastern” practices.

The narrative form of the play was what really captivated (and confused) me. The playwright, Paula Vogel, describes the narrative form of her play as follows:

“The man and woman narrators start the play as omniscient narrators, able to read each other’s thoughts and the thoughts of everyone in the car. As the play goes on, they dwindle into parents, frozen in time in the front seat of the car.” S0urce

The play begins with the husband and wife as narrators, often finishing one other’s sentences and correcting one another’s account of that Christmas. Then, the husband and wife narrator slide into the memory they are retelling, where they become active characters in their recollection. Thus, the “story” begins with the drive to grandma’s  house. As the husband and wife retell the story of that Christmas, puppeteers bring in three life-like (even a bit spooky) puppets on stage: Stephen, Rebecca and Claire. Stephen, Rebecca and Claire are the narrators’ three children who do not speak at first (only act out the actions that the husband and wife narrate), but eventually gain control of their own memory:

“The adult actors who play the adult children begin as mute puppeteers in the backseat of the car, but grow into narrators of their own, able to narrate and manipulate their memories.” Source

I am not sure if this is the fault of the actors, playwright or myself, but I was confused with the lapses between narrators’ memories. Now, it is clear (I think) that the play begins with analepsis, or a flashback, where the narrators retell the story about a moment in time (a Christmas) that reflects family problems (rejection, infidelity and violence) that come to haunt them psychologically as adults.

The narration then leaps into prolepsis, or flash-forward, and we get a glimpse at the adult lives of Stephen, Claire, and Rebecca’s. The problems within their own relationships reflect the trauma of their childhood. Stephen was rejected and abused by his father as a child. He grows into a man who deeply seeks the effection of men. He is also in homosexual relationships that, as we later learn, consume his life. Claire, the Golden Girl (or Daddy’s Girl), is a lesbian who is attracted to blond, blue-eyed tall girls. She takes pride in bedding attractive women, whom she also calls her “Golden Girls”. She, however, cannot keep their love for long. And Rebecca, who lingers in the shadow of her sister Claire, has a self-destructive neediness that causes her cheat on her boyfriend.

It is clear that this story is not about Christmas at all, which explains why it was held in May. It is about the before and after effects of a Christmas day. That Christmas just happened to be the moment in time on which the narrators draw on. What is most important is how each moment affects the lives of the individuals. What is central in the narrative is the effects that trauma has on relationships and on memory.

Now, one thing really threw me off. The husband, a Jewish man and the wife, a Catholic, were performed by two black actors. Now, I imagine this may seem like a prejudice remark, but my problem is with the visual effect this had on me as a viewer. Just as I cannot imagine a white man playing the role of Martin Luther King in a play, I cannot imagine a black actor playing the part of a white Jewish dude.  The actors performed fabulously and had strong voices that captured the characters, but I was thrown off with the race thing. Oh, and the puppet children were of mixed races. Stephen was a Caucasian puppet, Claire was a Latina-looking puppet, and Rebecca was a mulatto puppet. It  just appeared messy and incoherent. Quite frankly, it didn’t make sense. Perhaps if they were represented as a black couple who had black children (rather than latino ones, lol) I would have been more forgiving on the directors. As far as we know, Stephen, Rebecca and Claire are their biological children. This was not an Angelina-Jolie’s-United-Nations family.

I digress.

The play’s theme revolves around the juxtaposition of life and death. Vogul conveys this message by the breathes that the characters take. For instance, when the family is riding in the car, Stephen breathes in the icy cold air. The family 0ften breathe deeply after they argue. It gives the sense of exasperation, frustration, and even boredom with the mundanity of everyday life. Furthermore, the father repeats the phrase: ” I cannot breathe in this family,” which gives a sense that the characters are suffocated by violence, infidelity and lack of communication. Breathing, also, is the indication of life, or rather, a reminder of death. The ghost narrator, Stephen, breathes life into his sisters at a moments when they are close to death: when Claire contemplates suicide and when Rebecca sleeps outside in the snow while pregnant. This reminded me of scenes where you have the grim reaper coming to take one’s soul away. Like the grim reaper, Stephen’s ghost appears, but instead of taking life, he gives life. In this position, he serves as an angelic, or even God-like figure. He breathes life into his sisters at moments where they are standing “at the edge of the cliff,” so to speak. These nuances between life and death are really put in perspective for us when Stephen’s ghost breaks the narrative frame and speaks directly to the audience; asking the ideal audience if we could “see breathes”. Stephen’s ghost mentions that the living do not appreciate life because they cannot see the rainbow colors in their breath as the dead can. I found this particularly interesting, because his direct address gives a chilling effect of a ghost speaking to you, asking you to imagine death. But we have to keep in mind that Stephen’s ghost addresses the audience, but it is only an imaginary audience rather than the flesh and blood audience.

I wrote this post in order to sort out the confusion I originally had with the play’s narrative form. I didn’t not enjoy the play while at the theatre. This is partly due to the fact that I had no idea about the playwright’s intention to poorly imitate the Banraku and that the play itself has nothing to do with Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect jolly singing and dancing coupled with “ho, ho, ho’s”, but…well, something like Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. On the same token, this play has a lot to offer for those interested in narrative form and trauma narratives. Those who are interested in identity, sexuality and psychology may find this play probing. I would even add gender to these categories, because the father mistreats his wife and his “pansy” son. Moreover, the mother rarely has agency in this narrative. She is just a passive “wife” who only thinks about having more children in order to save her marriage.

That’s that.

An Intellectual Crush on Maria Irene Fornes

I found her!  I mean, I discovered her.

Maria Irene Fornes.

Who? I know! I thought the same thing when I read her name on the “Feminist Fatale” column in The New Yorker today.

I discovered Maria Irene Fornes by mere chance. A Cuban-American woman (born in Havana, Cuba in 1930) whose works “set the stage” for modern theatre in theatre in the United States. She established herself as a playwright, director and teacher. A Cuban American femme fatale!

“Despite her awards, long career, and continued success as playwright and director, Fornes is relatively unknown to mainstream theater audiences. Many in the off-Broadway theater world consider her the industry’s ‘best kept secret.’ Critic Bonnie Marranca has said, ‘Working for more than twenty years in off-Broadway’s unheralded spaces, Fornes is an exemplary artist who, through her writing and teaching, has created a life in the theater away from the crass hype that attends many lesser beings.’ ” (Quoted from an article on Davidson College website).

I may have been living in a bubble, but this is the first time I learn about a Cuban American feminist woman who has kicked ass in the arts. You bet I went straight to the internet read/watch some some of her plays. Obsessive, I know. But that’s how it goes with love at first sight.

You know how those (who still believe in love) will say that when you meet your soul mate you just know? Well, I didn’t find my soul mate, but I found my inspiration.

Watch a full video of a recent performance of her play “Mud” (this is part 1 of 5, you can find the whole recording on www.

Hijabi Monologues

To be quite honest, the Hijabi Monologues weekend left me without words. I directed and performed “I’m Tired.”

Really, I am tired.

I didn’t blog directly after the show, because I was too busy reading a set of completely opposite responses. I will write a response. Eventually. When I decide if it was a success or total failure. I don’t see it falling anywhere in between. It either woke up the community or scared them into silence.

Here are the responses.