growing a minimalist wardrobe: bags.


growing a minimalist wardrobe | handbags
Full disclosure: I'm not what you—or a fashion magazine—might call a "bag girl." Give me some waxed canvas in the shape of a tote, add an interior pocket or two and a sturdy handle and I'm good to go. My current canvas tote (made of vintage canvas by Forestbound) has been with me for going on three years now. With very few exceptions, it's been the bag that I've used every day. It's big enough to fit a laptop and a wallet and a deliquent library book or two. When I need it to, it can fit my camera (tucked safely into an insert). But in the past six months, the things in my bag belonging to me were slowly being taken over by the things in it belonging to Faye. And when I returned to work a few months ago and began to leave Faye with a sitter, I finally admitted that my bag had become a de facto diaper bag. So I fished out the last of my chapstick and replaced it with an extra teether among other things better suited to an infant. (The poor bag is a little worse for wear at this stage, but it's still kicking, so we're still using it.)

Then I took stock of what remained in my bag collection. Besides the aforementioned trusty tote, there was a vintage clutch in a curious faded brown color, a second clutch in cream with embroidered blue flowers, a canvas computer bag which I adore (but which is really only big enough to carry a laptop alone), and many assorted canvas bags of the free variety. In sum, a modest but motley crew.

A few months out, I haven't perfectly remedied my bag situation, but I have a better idea of what would be helpful to trade in, what has been helpful to add to the mix, and what I should opt out of from here on out.
growing a minimalist wardrobe | handbags
The particulars of your own bag collection will depend on personal preference. If you're really hoping to pare down, the four bags I've written about below could easily become two with some careful consideration. A leather tote, for instance, can be dressed up more easily than a canvas one and might omit the need for a handbag. And a handbag that turns into a clutch can do double-duty.

1. A large, sturdy tote for everyday....toting. Giving up my tote hasn't been quite as tricky as I expected, but I sometimes miss having a large(ish) dedicated bag of my own. Another heavy-duty canvas bag (like this or this) might do the trick, but lately I've been tempted by the idea of an all-leather bag that I can dress up a bit. This one and this one and this one all look lovely and would be big enough for me to slip my camera insert into when I need to carry that around, too. (The addition of a small zipped pouch or two keep a cavernous bag neat and clean.)

2. A handbag for the in-between days. Handbag is terrible word, but I think it's mildly better than purse, so let's agree to use it. I was recently given my very first adult handbag and it's been a kind of revelation for me. For me, a handbag isn't an everyday bag exactly, but it is an out-about-town bag. If I'm lucky, it's a bag that can serve me when ducking into a museum and a bag that's just as at home at an interview as it is at dinner out. The bag I've been using is a crossbody big enough to carry a book, but sleek enough that the strap can be removed and it can work as an oversized clutch.

3. A simple clutch. The two clutches that I had were put to use practically never. On the occassions when a clutch might have been helpful, the ones I had rarely offered quite the right look. I've since kicked both clutches to the curb. For now I've been doing just fine without one, but if I did invest, I like the idea of owning one basic clutch that can be dressed up or down. This one is a nice option. It's affordable and it pairs as well with jeans and a t-shirt as it does with a dress.

4. An assortment of smaller thin canvas or otherwise foldable bags: If you're like me, you probably have more of these bags than you know what to do with. I've vowed to refuse any additional freebie bags whenever I can this year. The thought is very much appreciated, but I was starting to drown. Still: a few are essential for groceries and errands, etc.

Here's one more thing to be mindful of:

Less means less: It might go without saying, but deciding not to have a lot of something means getting comfortable with making a few concessions. It might mean, for instance, that you opt not to have a satin clutch if you'll only use it once a year. Or that your clutch doesn't always perfectly match your shoes. Or that your husband occassionally carries lipstick in his suit jacket. Stranger things have happened.
growing a minimalist wardrobe | handbags
More disclosure: The handbag that I've been using and loving and that I photographed for this post is the Petra Crossbody. It was a gift from Everlane, but they did not sponsor this post. Happy hunting, whatever your bag—or bags—of choice might be.

And now I'm curious: how many bags are lurking in your closets?

More minimalist wardrobe posts, HERE.

giving: experiences.


minimalist gift guide: giving experiences | reading my tea leavesAt long last, the most minimalist of the gift guides: a little guide for giving the gift of an experience. An experience is a lovely thing to give whether the recipient is a minimalist or no and it's a gift that you can make work for just about any budget. Yes, you can go all out and give the gift of a week-long trip to Paris (no complaints, here), or you can give the gift of a much more commonplace experience that you know someone might not otherwise treat themselves to (why, yes, I would love a pedicure).

Bonus for anyone who's something of a procrastinator (or just terribly busy), the gift of an experience is one that you can pull together fairly quickly. Print out tickets, send a gift card in the mail, draw up your own voucher and tuck it into a pretty envelope with all of the necessary details, and you're off.
minimalist gift guide: giving experiences | reading my tea leaves
Here are a few ideas:

A dinner out.
Hands-down one of my favorite gifts to receive. There are so many delicious restaurants within walking distance of our apartment, I'd be equally overjoyed to try something new or head to an old favorite. This spring James and I received a belated wedding present to a restaurant we'd been wanting to try but hadn't been to yet. In the weeks before Faye was born we took a long walk to the restaurant and had a totally indulgent dinner out. It was just what we needed. NOTE: If paying for an entire dinner isn't in your budget, you can choose a restaurant with a nice cocktail list and consider yours the gifts of drinks out. Ever since watching this, I've had a hankering for a drink at The Clover Club. Cocktails for two ~$30. A fairly affordable way to knock two gifts off your list.

A babysitting voucher.
If you're thinking of giving new parents an experience, it's especially generous to consider the babysitting component of the evening. You could offer to babysit yourself, or slip a little bit of cash into an envelope to help defray the cost of childcare. NOTE: This might depend a bit on the recipient, but if paying for the sitter or sitting yourself isn't in the cards...I'd say don't let that stop you. I think most parents would happily pay for a sitter in exchange for an evening out.

A class.
This might be a class at a cheese shop, a wine tasting, an evening of throwing pots. Whatever the activity is, it's so lovely to have the treat of trying something new (and even better if it's something that falls a little out of someone's comfort zone). James and I were given the gift of going to a sourdough class last spring. It wasn't something we likely would have thought to purchase ourselves, but we had such a blast and it spawned James's bread baking habit. Win, win, win. NOTE: Depending on the context, consider buying two tickets so that no one has to go it alone!

A treat.
A massage, a manicure, a pedicure; I really love treats like these ones, but they're something that I don't often indulge in. This could be a gift card to someone's local salon (or a new one nearby that they haven't tried yet), or a voucher to go somewhere with the person (on you of course).

A ticket.
Tickets to a play, tickets to a concert, tickets to a museum exhibit. Take a little time to see what's happening locally and take the plunge. NOTE: Try your best to find open-ended tickets that someone can redeem themselves. If the only way tickets are available are for a specific date, check in with the recipient (or recipient's confidant?) ahead of time.

A day out and about.
A bit more extravagant, but a fun treat to give a husband/wife/anyone-you-got-now is to plan a whole day of activities. Ice skating in Central Park, hot cocoa at Dean & Deluca, a tour around the newly opened Cooper-Hewitt. (You know, for instance.) You could draw up a voucher listing all of the treats planned for the day and present in lieu of actual tickets or a gift card. NOTE: This is easiest to pull off (and most fun) if you plan to do it alongside someone. (Easier to simply pay than pre-arrange lots of payments.) Either way: just make sure to schedule the day so that it actually happens.

A note on receiving the gift of an experience: Cash in. Don't save the treat for sometime down the road. Use it now!

PS. My merry little stamp, HERE.

PPS. All of the other gift guides, HERE.

shake the wintertime blues: warming sugar scrub.


brown sugar scrub | brook there
We've still got a few days left before it's officially winter, but in advance of the season, and in acknowledgement that we're closing in on the darkest day of the year, here's a little antidote for dark days. This is the first post in a much-requested series I'm calling shake the wintertime blues, but which might also be called treat yourself. Just in case anyone else out there needs a little lifter-upper in the face of freezing temps and broody skies, I'll be offering my own best rituals for keeping the spirits up all winter long.

First up? A warming sugar scrub (and some dancing in your underwear).

I'll be first to admit that I can let myself go a little bit in the wintertime. My legs go unshaven. The state of my armpits sometimes shocks me. It can feel like summer's hardly gone before I feel prickly and dry and, would miserable be too strong a word? Personal preferences around personal hygiene aside, I think it's safe to say that all of the layering up and hunkering down that we do in the winter means we can forget a bit about nourishing the skin that felt so fresh and vibrant just a few months ago.

Enter the warming sugar scrub. And the time you give yourself to use it.
brown sugar scrub | brook there

Warming Sugar Scrub

What you need:

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
3 tablespoons coconut oil
10 drops cinnamon essential oil
5 drops vanilla extract (yes the kind you bake with)

What you need to do with it:

Melt your coconut oil if it's hardened at room temp (you can do this in a double boiler, or do what I did and put the jar on top of the steam radiator for 10 minutes or until liquid).

In a small bowl, mix sugar, coconut oil, essential oil and vanilla extract. Transfer the mixture to a small, sterile jar (which would last for months if it weren't guaranteed to be used up before that).
brown sugar scrub | brook there
While it might sound like I just gave you the start to a christmas cookie dough recipe, belive me when I say that this scrub won't make you smell like a sugar cookie. It'll make you smell so much better than a sugar cookie. Warming, spicy, and—yes, I'm going there—sexy. The combination of cinnamon and vanilla in this scrub is less baked good and more hot mama. In a word: it's amazing.
brown sugar scrub | brook there
I like to use a small glass weck jar to store mine, but you can use anything old or new. (If you're afraid of the glass breaking in the shower, you could reuse a small plastic jar with a lid, or do what I do, and let it rest on the bathroom sink.)
brown sugar scrub | brook there
For me, getting through winter is all about creating tiny rituals of self care like this one. So, forgive me being pushy, but this is what I think you should do next. Light a candle. Turn off the bathroom light. Make the shower just a little steamier than usual. Open a cold beer (or ginger beer, if that's more your speed). When you've got all that in place, hop in the shower and scoop a small handful of scrub into the palm of our hand, and massage it into your skin. Rub it over your shoulders, down your rib cage, into your belly. Reach what you can of your back. Scrub at your neck and in circular motions on your chest. It's a literal sloughing off of the old, dead skin, to reveal something bright and fresh and renewed underneath. And it should feel refreshing in the best way. When you have scrubbed every last inch, climb out of the shower. Wrap yourself in your towel and drink up the last of the steam (and beer). Now slip on your underwear, turn on a favorite tune, and have yourself a little dance before needing to get all buttoned up again. It's basically guaranteed to make you feel better.
brown sugar scrub | brook there
And if you want to share your newfound ritual with someone else (and you will), I think that a little jar of the scrub plus a pair or two of special underwear might just make the perfect present for a sister, mother, friend, on your list. (Sisters, pay no attention to this post.)
brown sugar scrub | brook thereThis post was sponsored by Brook There, a sustainable lingerie company based in Portland, Maine. Made with organic cotton, super soft bamboo rayon, and silk, their simple and beautiful designs are all designed, cut, and sewn in the United States. This post featured the black organic cotton bra and underwear set and black striped set, which I can personally vouch for being precisely the brand of comfortable and sexy that I love best. I hope you give them a try.

Thank you so much for supporting the inspiring, creative brands that keep Reading My Tea Leaves afloat.

my week in objects (mostly).


five little things that made my week.

1. these branches.
{for smelling so good.}

2. this bear.
{for eliciting the best squeals.}

3. this afternoon sun spot.
{because after a gloomy week, we needed every bit we could get.}

4. this bergamot cleaning spray.
{because sometimes afternoon sunlight brings the dust into stark relief. and a five minute clean makes everything feel right again. thanks for the treat, common good.}

5. this  beach wrap-turned-makeshift-black-out-shade.
{because, new priorities.}

other things:
baby weight.
wrinkles away.
can practically smell it from here.
ring dishes.
considering buckwheat.

me in other places:
(fewer) gifts for babies.

psst: it's almost that time again.

giving: baby gifts.


I've said before, and I'll no doubt say again, that babies need so very little. But giving a baby a tiny gift is seemingly as irresistable as squeezing their chubby cheeks. And it's nice to have a few ideas up your sleeve to nudge potential gift-givers in the right direction or to keep in mind for shopping of your own. We've been the very lucky recipients of some very beautiful toys for our sweet girl, and I get asked often about where to find something similar. Here are a few ideas for places to find simple baby gifts, just in case you've been on the hunt.

1. Wooden tops, while a little too little for a truly tiny baby are the kind of heirloom-style toy that looks as sweet on the shelf as put to use. James and I gave our nephew a set of tops last spring, and I have my eyes on these ones for Faye.

2. A silver spoon is an extravagant gift for a new baby, but I've got my eyes on a humbler wooden one (especially since Faye ate her first bites of solid food this past week. eeep.)

3. Faye had a borrowed version of this clacker rattle from my sister and was recently given one of her own. She's hardly let it out of her grasp since. Loud and heavy enough to satisfy her curiosity and test those baby muscles.

4. A truly special lovey like this sweet bunny might be something that a child cherishes long past the baby years.*

5. There's snow on tree branches outside our window right now, which feels like the perfect reason to invest in a pair of woolly bunny slippers.

6. These knitted veggies would make a colorful addition to a toy chest.

7. A soft-bristle hair brush isn't a necessity for a new baby, but when the fuzz really starts to come in, it's a nice thing to have on hand.

8. And for baby fuzz that can't be tamed, a fuzzy tassel hat.

9. I'm a sucker for all things house-shaped. This neighborhood block set is the sweetest.

10. We've been given several really beautiful wooden rattles and Faye has been loving them lately, but when she was tinier, she'd bonk herself in the head with them. I like the idea of a super soft rattle; fun to wave around, minus the noggin clonking.

PS. If you want to hear more about my personal baby gifts strategy this holiday, head HERE.

life in a tiny apartment.


storing holiday decorations

December in New York practically begs for more light. When it gets dark by 4:00 in the afternoon and when the sky's still pitch black when you wake up in the morning, it doesn't matter if you're Christian, Jewish, pagan, or utterly agnostic, adding a little bit of light to a dark apartment is a thing to try. And the good news is, a string of twinkle lights takes up hardly any room at all.

But if you want to add something even more festive to these dark days? If you want to jolly up the room with trimmings that verily shout the tidings of the season—or welcome in the woodland sprites? I think the best route is to add things that can be tossed guilt-free, come January: oranges, pomegranates, pine boughs, juniper branches, tiny trees, pinecones, and garlands of popcorn and cranberries.

All of the holiday decorations that I store fit into a single shoe box. Inside there are a few strings of lights, a set of antique German candle clips, and a few favorite ornaments tucked in for safe keeping. Everything else that I use to decorate are things that I'll use up over the course of the season (bayberry tapers!) or things I can throw away at the end of the season without worrying that they'll end up in a landfill.

Over the weekend, we bought our first Christmas tree since moving to Brooklyn and decked the windowsills with foraged greenery I'd collected the woods and beach paths near my mom and dad's house at Thanksgiving. Everything's merry and bright, just simply so.
storing holiday decorations
PS. I've found I could fit more into my box by keeping everything loose and throwing away the original packaging. I wind my string of lights carefully around a piece of folded cardboard and attach a luggage tag to remind me where to start unravelling. And these smaller lights on copper string, fold up to be truly teeny, tiny. (You can get your own, here.)

PPS. We decided to go ornament-free on the tree this year. Instead we added one string of lights with tiny bulbs and one string with larger ones. I love how the two sizes make it look all twinkly.

mulled wine.


mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
If you're able, the best way to drink a glass of mulled wine is out of a paper cup at an outdoor Christmas market. Preferably there's a chill in the air enough that you need something warming and there's a hot pretzel stand nearby to help soak up some of the spiced spirits. If you do everything right you manage to dribble only a little bit of the wine onto your winter gloves and you avoid sloshing a merry-making neighbor with the entirety of your cup. But if more than that is spilled in the process, you'll be forgiven because 'tis the season.

I had my first cup of mulled wine on this day, eight years ago. I was in Lyon for the Fête des Lumières, wandering around the streets of that crowded city, looking up at people's windows where long tapers and petites bougies were left burning for passersby to see. (We'll be burning candles in our windows tonight too.)

If you don't find yourself in Lyon, or if wandering the streets ever so slightly buzzed is not your cup of tea, you can make a pot to enjoy at home (or swap apple cider for the wine, minus the honey).

Recipes for mulled wine abound. You can cut the alcohol with apple cider or orange juice, or add to it with hearty glug of brandy. You can add any of your favorite winter spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, even black pepper, if you're feeling extra spicy. Depending on your wine, you might decide to sweeten it up a bit. I used honey, but regular old sugar works as well. The result is a drink that sweet and fragrant, and admittedly something of an acquired taste. (Worth the acquiring.)
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
If making the wine for a large group, consider buying an oversized bottle of run-of-the-mill table wine—nothing fancy.
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
Add spices to a small muslin spice sack and pop the whole thing into your pot for easy removal.
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
Use a vegetable peeler to help you remove the rind from the orange (you can also put dried peel inside your spice sack instead.)
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
Add an extra citrus note by adding the juice of one orange.
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
Mulled Wine

1 bottle of red wine (I used an extra-large bottle of drinkable, but not expensive Spanish wine)
1 teaspoon cardamom pods, crushed slightly
1 teaspoon cloves
1-2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 vanilla bean, split down the center
1 orange, juiced and rind removed
honey, to taste

Garnish (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 orange wheel

1. Into a small muslin spice sack put cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla bean.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the rind from one orange, trying not to remove too much of the white pith. Slice the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a heavy bottomed pot.
3. Add spice sack and orange peel to the pot and cover with wine.
4. Simmer over a low flame for 20 minutes or until fragrant. Add honey or sugar to taste and stir until combined.
5. Serve warm, with a garnish of cinnamon stick, anise seed, and orange.
mulled wine | reading my tea leaves
The wine won't keep jarred longterm, but I brought a mason jar of it over to my sister's house to rewarm for Sunday dinner. If you'd like to give the gift of mulled wine for someone to use at their leisure, package up the spices.

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