Shopping: Boden, Everlane and MM LaFleur Reviews

Ah, the beauty of backorder. You order something one day, pay for it, and months later, it’s like Christmas when suddenly a bunch of packages show up at your front door. And so, I have Boden, Everlane and MM LaFleur reviews for you today. A couple of them are odds and ends from orders placed a while ago, another was a bit of an impulse buy of more recent vintage. Here we go:

Everlane pima tee black

Everlane Pima Stretch Mid-Sleeve Tee

I have a few boatneck, 3/4 sleeve vintage cotton t-shirts from J.Crew that I love. The only problem? They are from J.Crew, which means the seams fell out and they developed holes sooner, rather than later.

So when Everlane introduced a mid-sleeve tee in Pima cotton, I jumped at the chance to order it. Except, I guess I jumped too slowly, as the T-shirt was on backorder from early March until mid-May. They don’t really tell you that when ordering, which is kind of annoying. I was originally under the impression that the shirt would ship at the end of March, but no. I ended up writing to them, after waiting two months, and it just so happened that my order shipped within a few hours of my writing to them. Coincidence? Probably, right? They gave me free shipping on my next order as an apology, so I’m fine with it.

Anyway, this shirt was worth the wait. It’s a soft, stretchy cotton that doesn’t feel as though it’s about to fall about or develop a hole. The fit is good – I’m in a small and my only gripe is that the sleeves were a touch snug.  I don’t have particularly large arms, either.

I’ve machine washed and line dried it once so far and it seems to have handled that pretty well.

boden ballet wrap dress

Boden Tie Waist Ballet Dress

The tie waist ballet dress from Boden was my slightly impulsive buy. It’s available in three colors – green, blue, and a black “brushstrokes” pattern. Since I’ve got enough blue and green dresses, I went for the black.

The beauty of this dress is that it’s a jersey viscose with just the right amount of drape. The skirt isn’t too full as to add weight and the fabric isn’t so flimsy as to cling or make me feel self-conscious. I’m wondering how the fabric will hold up to washing and wearing, but only time will tell. I’ve had good luck with ponte fabric (which can pill quickly) from Boden in the past, so we shall see.

The fun feature of the dress is the ties at the waist. Two long sashes are attached to the waist on either side. You can wrap the ties around your waist in the front and tie in the back, wrap around the back and tie in the front, or just tie in the back. I also experimented with tying over my shoulders and my neck, but that just looked weird.

A note on sizing, though. Usually, I look like a little girl playing dress up in some of Boden’s tops and dresses, ie, there’s lots of room up there. Not so with the tie waist dress. It wasn’t too tight, but it was actually fitted/snug in the bodice. So, if you’re usually between sizes in Boden’s tops or dresses, I’d recommend going up a size.

mm lafleur reviews emily dress

MM LaFleur Emily Dress

One of my new favorite brands, MM LaFleur, brought their pop up shop to Philly in April. I booked an appointment with a stylist and spent about an hour trying on their dresses, skirts, and pants at a swanky hotel on Rittenhouse Square. It was really fun to see their collection up close and to try on styles I wouldn’t usually pick for myself.

Although I did get to take home one dress, the Annie in Aubergine, that day (I got the last one!), I had to wait for the Emily dress in Deep Indigo to ship. It took about a month, but I was anticipating that.

The Emily is made of a smooth, somewhat stretchy, woven polyester. It’s not lined, which makes it light enough to wear on very warm days. It also washes well and didn’t need an iron after being hung up to dry.

I like that it’s a simple dress that has interesting touches, such as the 3/4 sleeves and the square neckline. It has pockets, which is always a nice touch. So far, I’ve worn it on its own and with a scarf around my waist as a belt.

mm lafleur reviews emily dress

 

All in all, I’m very happy with the two dress and t-shirt, proof that the best things are worth waiting (and waiting) for.

Books: What I Read in April

It’s time again for another book reviews round-up. I only read three books last month, two of which I really enjoyed, one of which was a bit of a trashy read. Can you guess which was which?
The book reviews:

book reviews animals emma jane unsworth

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals was everything I wanted the Amy Schumer film Trainwreck to be, but wasn’t. Oh man, when Amy’s character did that stupid cheerleading thing to “get the guy,” I wanted to claw my eyes out. Seriously. Can’t we have a movie or piece of media where a woman doesn’t have to completely transform or deny herself to find love and/or happiness?

Anyway, Animals is the story of two girl friends, Laura and Tyler, in their late 20s/early 30s who are struggling with the whole “time to grow up” thing. Laura’s engaged to a guy who, let’s face it, sounds like an absolute bore. She lives with Tyler, her best buddy, a privileged American living in the UK. Tyler’s your classic direction-less, privileged young woman — overly educated, yet not doing much with her life. She drinks a lot (A LOT) and does (too many) drugs. Yet, no matter how messed up her behavior, she’s still charismatic and draws people towards her.

Laura’s feeling a pull between her friend and her fiancé. She goes out and gets wild with Tyler, only to have Jim, the fiancé, disappointed with her decisions.

In your typical rom-com, you’d have Laura giving up some part of herself for one or the other. Not so with Animals. It’s a coming of age tale, it’s bittersweet, but it’s a story that says you don’t have to compromise or be untrue to yourself to figure out who you are.

 

book reviews

The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich

Who doesn’t love a trashy thriller every now and then? I guess I can really take or leave The Hand That Feeds You, a novel that is very loosely based on Les Liasons Dangereuses (or, for those of us who grew up in the 1990s, Cruel Intentions). It was one of those books that was hard to put down, but also one of those books that make you wonder why on earth you are reading it. Morgan Preager is studying victim psychology at John Jay College of Criminology in NY. She comes home one day to find her fiancé dead in her room, apparently mauled to death by her usually friendly dogs.

So, as it turns out her beloved was a fake, a guy with multiple girlfriends and identities along the East Coast. Morgan starts to feel more like the victims she studies for her graduate thesis and also starts to try to figure out who her fiancé really was. She’s also sure that her dogs couldn’t possibly be the ones to have killed him, despite all the evidence, and sets out to prove their innocence.

What makes a good thriller? It needs to be a page turner. It needs to be somewhat implausible, but not so implausible that you don’t buy it or its characters (this one teetered on the edge of that. So many bad things happen to Morgan that you’re kind of like, “really? REALLY?”).

And, I think most importantly, a decent thriller needs to keep you guessing until the end. I came up with a lot of hypotheses about  Morgan’s affianced during the book, most of which turned out to be wrong. But, I did figure out the ending well before the end, so that was a bit of a let down. Also, the structure of the ending was a big letdown. Not just in terms of the big reveal, the big “who did it,” but in terms of how quickly it all resolved. If you like this type of book usually, you’ll probably love The Hand That Feeds You. If not, I wouldn’t recommend reading it.

 

book reviews brief candle in the dark

Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins

Hm. For someone who’s all like, “I don’t really read memoirs,” I read a lot of memoirs. Case in point, Brief Candle in the Dark, by the biologist Richard Dawkins (I guess some might know him better as an atheist).  The sequel to his first memoir, Appetite for Wonder (which I didn’t read), Brief Candle traces his life as a scientist, from his early days as tutor at Oxford through all of the books and films he’s worked on.

Although it does touch on personal bits of his life (he’s married to Romana II from Doctor Who!), the memoir focuses mostly on his work, which I prefer. I’ve only read two of his other books (the Selfish Gene and the God Delusion, both of which I’d recommend), so it was nice to get an introduction to the rest of his oeuvre from the man himself. (I’ve put the the Extended Phenotype and The Magic of Reality on my to-read list).

One of the things I like about Dawkins is that he’s really passionate about science. When he’s talking about religion, that passion might come across as a bit pompous or a bit offensive, but when it’s directed towards biology and evolutionary theory, it really makes the subjects come alive. Admittedly, some parts of the book were a bit dense, but it never felt like a slog to read through.

Another think I like about Dawkins is that he shows that one can be scientifically minded and creative at the same time. Growing up, I feel there was a big emphasis on the division between the arts and the sciences, and I think that limited some of the choices I made about school and career, but really there’s no reason the two can’t get along just fine in one person.

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Check In: A Few Outfits

Oh, hey, it’s already the middle of May, which means just a few more weeks for my spring capsule wardrobe. I haven’t done an outfit roundup for this season’s capsule just yet, maybe because the dreary cold and then hot and then cold again weather hasn’t been particularly inspiring, from a sartorial standpoint. At any rate, here’s few examples of what I did with my spring capsule wardrobe:

spring capsule wardrobe outfit

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfit 1: Casual

So, funny story about this outfit, which is made up of the circle mini skirt from J.Crew and the silk tuxedo blouse from J.Crew. I was walking down the street, to the post office, when I walked by two kids. I guess they were around 12 or so. One of them said to me, “I like your shirt.” So I said thanks, because I am a polite person. Then he said, “psyche” because he is not a polite person.

Snarky commentary from neighborhood kids aside, I like this outfit. Navy and black is a combination I find myself wearing more and more these days, as it’s an easy way to look pulled together, and the navy makes the black just a bit more interesting.

spring capsule wardrobe outfit 2

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfit 2: Work

Here’s we’ve got the Holland dress from Boden (spring 2015), worn with the St. Ambroeus jardigan from MM LaFleur. It’s a simple look that is pulled together and professional. I’m not super sure about the gray tights with the green and indigo, but they seem like a better option than opaque black.

spring capsule wardrobe outfit 3

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfit: Work 2

Here’s a double dose of MM LaFleur for you. It’s the Toi Dress worn with the Graham kimono. The Toi Dress is up there on my list of favorites, as is the kimono, so I thought, why not wear them together. I was a bit concerned about the greens clashing, but I think they work well together. What do you think?

spring capsule wardrobe

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfit: Work 3

I wrote about this outfit already, in my post about how capsules don’t have to be boring. But, here it is again in case you  missed that post or just wanted to see it again. It’s a pencil skirt from Banana Republic and a button front, printed shirt from J.Crew Factory. I’m usually disappointed by the quality of Factory, compared to regular J.Crew, but the fit of their button front shirts tends to be spot on. While I’m usually drowning in a 4 from standard J.Crew, an XS from Factory is pretty much a perfect fit.

spring capsule wardrobe

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfit: Work/Class

I wore this outfit to my first day of French class, back at the beginning of March when it was something like 75 degrees. Hence the bare legs. It’s a silk sleeveless top from Everlane, a skirt from Kate Spade and the jardigan again. It looks maybe a little too pulled together for my taste, and I really don’t know what is going on with that pose.

To be honest, I ended up pulling the Kate Spade skirt from the capsule. I still have it, and plan on bringing it out for the summer. But, it’s been too chilly really not to wear tights (the one day aside), and the skirt is too flippy and lightweight to work well with a pair of opaques.

 

2016 Goal Check In: Paying Off Student Loans

So, some good news about my goals for 2016, now that we’re four months into the year. I’ve done pretty well about shopping less (despite what the last few review posts would have you believe), I’m on track to reach my reading goal, and I’ve paid off one of my student loans and put another $3,947 and change towards my grad school loan (nearly $2,600 of which was in capitalized interest alone. Yikes).

Now that I’ve started to make headway on my student loans, I’m actually considering back tracking. I won’t go back to making the minimum payment under the Income Based Repayment plan (which, as you can see with that $2,600 in accrued interest, wasn’t even paying all of the interest each month), but I don’t think I’m going to necessarily try and beat the clock when it comes to paying off the loan. There are a few things behind my decision to ease up a bit on payments.

student loans

My Savings Are Low

I’m a freelancer, and for the past few years, have enjoyed a fairly steady monthly income – the holy grail of freelance. This year is shaping up to be a bit different, so I’m feeling a bit more unsteady financially. I didn’t really foresee that when I decided to transfer $2,700 from savings to my loan a few months ago, dropping my savings account a bit lower than I’d like it to be. So, for the next few months or so, I’m going to focus on beefing it back up, just to have more of a cushion and to help me feel more secure. Once it’s back up to a level I feel comfortable with, I’ll refocus on bringing down my student loans.

Paying off Students Loans Dropped My Credit Score

OK, this next one isn’t that big of a deal, but paying off my undergrad loan made my credit score drop a few points. Not that much of a biggie (it’s still in the high 700s, but it was once over 800), but kind of a disappointing thing to see. I know it will go back up in a few months, but having it drop still makes me cranky.

Obsessing About My Student Loans Was Stressing Me Out

We all hate thinking about money, right? Well, focusing on paying down my loans more quickly and reading lots of stories of others who paid theirs down in just two years or whatever was just stressing me out. For one thing, many of those stories are just unrealistic for the average person. It’s great that someone was able to pay down $8,000 in debt in just three months or that someone was able to pay off a $40,000 student loan in three years. But, if you actually look at what people do to make those big loan payments, it’s usually something along the lines of they got a big windfall, they had a high income and could afford to pay $2,600 twice a month, or they just lived really really frugally, going to extremes.

After reading those stories, I found myself staring at a budgeting  spreadsheet pretty  much daily, wondering what I could cut to make bigger payments or just generally feeling unhappy about my financial situation.

And that’s no way to be. My student loans, in the long run, aren’t that big of a burden. They’re all federal loans and are all eligible for the income based repayment programs, should I really fall on hard times. Even if that program goes away over the next few years, the most I’d be required to pay each month would be $300, which really isn’t all that much.

Would it be great to be debt free in four years? Sure. But it’s also great not to be super stressed about money now and in the future. And I’ll take that over obsessing about my loan any day.

What do you think? Is it better to pay off debt as quickly as you can or focus on building up more savings?

 

Thanks to Pixabay for the image.

Books: What I Read in March

Oops, sorry my round-up of what I read in March is so late! April really got away from me. In March, I read a few new-to-me books and revisited a couple by one of my favorite authors.
what I read

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

I read The Nightingale for one of my book clubs. It’s the story of two sisters living in occupied France during WWII. The sisters are different from each other in many ways. The older sister, Vianne, is married, lives in the countryside and has a daughter. The younger, Isabelle, is kicked out of school and sent back to her father in Paris. She’s impulsive and impetuous, traits some argue work against her. Both sisters end up helping the Allies, but in different ways. Isabelle leads fallen pilots back to safety across the Pyrenees while Vianne helps protect the children of Jewish families, who would otherwise be taken off to the camps.

At first, I found the book to be slow going, but things picked up and it became an engaging read around the time that Isabelle starts leading her rescue missions. The novel really shows what life was like during the occupation, depicting the challenging choices the sisters (particularly Vianne) need to make to survive.

 

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Numero Zero was the first book by Umberto Eco I’ve ever read. It was for my other book club, and was chosen because of Eco’s recent passing. A short novel, Numero Zero delves deep into (and pokes fun at) the political scandals plaguing Italy in the early 1990s. An erstwhile ghostwriter, Colonna, lands an assignment as an editor for a newspaper in development called  Domani (“tomorrow” in Italian). The mission of the paper is to focus on the stories of tomorrow and to blackmail certain people in power.

During his tenure as editor, Colonna meets a number of other losers, including Bragadaccio, who claims to have discovered a political scandal involving Mussolini, and a young woman who wants to do serious reporting but keeps getting stuck on the celebrity beat.

Although I really didn’t know anything about Italian politics (aside from those weird parties Berlusconi had a few years ago), the book was a fun read. I was expecting something dense and difficult to get into and instead found the opposite.

 

Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem

I was staring at my bookshelf one day in March when I glanced on Amnesia Moon, the second novel by Jonathan Lethem, who’s one of my favorite writers. “Did I even like this book?” I asked myself, “or am I just keeping it because it’s Lethem?” To figure that out, I decided to re-read it. Consensus: I didn’t really like it, but it’s not a bad novel.

Very clearly inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick, the novel is set in a post-apocolyptic world. No one really knows what happened, except that something clearly did. There’s a before and after in the characters’ lives, the tricky thing is figuring what the before was. The main character starts out being a person named Chaos, but as the story unfolds and he travels across the country, accompanied by a mutant child named Melinda, he realizes that his  name is actually Everett Moon.

Each of the towns Moon and Melinda visit have some weird thing going on. One town is covered in a green mist that keeps the residents from seeing clearly. Another is governed by a powerful elite and ruled by luck — residents are judged based on how lucky they are – the lower your luck, the worse off you are.
Amnesia Moon is very much an early work, and it shows a writer still developing his voice. I’m not a super fan of PKD (OK, I’m not a fan at all), and I’m pretty sure that’s why the novel didn’t resonate with me the first time I read it (there are so many parallels and similarities with PKD’s stories in the novel, it’s almost like an author learning to write by imitation), or the second time through, for that matter.

As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem

As She Climbed Across the Table was the first novel I ever read by Lethem, for my senior seminar class in Magic Realism back in college. Is it magic realism or science fiction? was one of the questions we focused on while reading the book. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, as the story is a compelling one.

Philip Engstrand is a professor of anthropology at a college in California.  His girlfriend is Alice Coombs, a particle physicist, also at the same college. At the start of the book, Alice’s department has a major breakthrough, creating a void that eventually becomes known as the Lack. Lack starts eating things, sending them who-knows-where. But, it (he?) only eats certain things, rejecting others. Alice and several other scientists (plus a resident Derrida stand-in) all try to make sense of Lack, to figure out what it (he?) wants.

Philip is left to try to pick up his life after the appearance of Lack. Alice is strangely drawn to the void, altering their relationship forever. In short, the novel is a story of a guy who gets the girl, then loses her, then tries to do what he can to win her back.

It’s a spoof on science and modern academia. But, it’s also your classic romantic comedy, with the guy being a bumbling fool who thinks he’s lost the girl, only to have a (sort of) happy ending.