Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm

I’m blogging from Bend, Oregon this morning, where it’s a refreshing 14 degrees outside. We’re here for the USA Climbing Regional Youth Bouldering Competition. My daughter wasn’t 5 minutes into the comp when I realized that while my ensemble was stylish, I was gonna freeze in that drafty rock gym.

Not wearing some approximation of the right thing is a huge pet peeve of mine.

But, this being Bend, home to stylish mountain ladies, I had ample time to admire how these moms keep warm and stylish. And this being a climbing competition that lasts all day, I had more than ample time to contemplate the best ways to keep warm.

What follows are my favorite “Cold Mom” ensembles from the day, and somewhat scientific* tips on keeping warm.

Busy Day Mom

At first glance, this woman had paired an expensive, long black puffer with skinny jeans and quality boots, which is a perfectly functional uniform. What I liked about her style was that the deep red jeans and denim shirt she wore under the coat could take her from the rock gym, out to a nice lunch or baby shower, or whatever else she had on her calendar. The coat looked good, but could easily be discarded as she moved on with her day.

Flexible, practical.

Fun Mom

This cheerful, spring green coat stood out among a sea of black, brown and olive. I loved her bold choice, along with athletic-shoe styling on her boots. Add a favorite t-shirt and a worn in pair of jeans, and she looked completely in her element.

I could just tell we were going to get along.

Minimalist Mom

Simple black puffer, cargo pants and great ankle boots. I know I’ve posted similar outfits before on this blog, but this mom just looked so perfect for the occasion. This ensemble works in a dusty, cold, crowded rock gym, it would also work in a school, in a casual work environment, out for a day of errands, just about anywhere.

I imagine this woman has five changes of clothes, and a fantastically busy life.

Elegant Mom

A masterful combination of wine and cognac, set against a backdrop of black, this woman looked amazing. She also looked as though spent more time on her hair and make up this morning than any reader of this blog is likely to spend all week long.

I could pull this off in the imaginary world where I’m never late and don’t spill coffee on myself.

Hip Grandma

There were A LOT of grandmas at this competition, and all of them looked fantastic. My favorite was an older woman with short silver hair peeking out of a beanie. She wore girlfriend jeans, a cozy sweater and a chic bomber jacket.

I have every intention of rocking a bomber jacket in my late 70s.

So they all looked fantastic, but exactly how is it they were keeping war? Keep reading…

The science of keeping warm

You exist with a heater on at all times, set to 98.6. Your job is to keep that heat in, and keep moisture and wind away from your skin. Here are the keys to doing so:

  1. Wear a wicking layer to pull moisture away: A base layer of silk or wool pulls moisture from the inside of the fabric to the outside of the fabric, and it stays there. You only really need this layer is you are going to be sweating. That said, silk long underwear is really cozy and I wear it even if all I’m going to be doing is lesson planning in front of the fire.
  2. Keep the heat in: Ideally, you want to trap the warmth your body produces and keep it near you. It’s the same concept as insulating your house. You do that with what’s called loft, or air space. Goose down is not warm in and of itself, but the feathers in a down coat create space where warm air can be trapped. The thicker your down coat, the thicker the layer of warm air you’ve trapped around you.
  3. Beware convection and evaporation: You know that awesome feeling of a soft breeze in the middle of a of summer day, evaporating the moisture from your skin and cooling you down? If you want to stay warm, avoid that. Keeping wind at bay with a “shell” or coat is essential, as is wicking all moisture away from your skin, be it sweat, rain or melted snow.

What about layers?

Layers don’t actually keep you warm. They can help trap heat, but piling on one layer after the other doesn’t create warmth. Conceivably, if you are just going to stand around, you could wear a long down jacket and boots with nothing on underneath and be just as warm as a lady with 12 layers on. **

The number of layers you choose to wear has to do with the activities you have planned. Planning on sweating? Wear a wicking layer. Planning on standing still in the cold? Wear a thick insulating layer. Planning on changes in your body temperature due to movement like hiking or snowshoeing? Wear several layers that you can peal off and on as you warm up and cool down.

Margaret was down to her last layers by the final problem.

So to sum up: Keeping warm us about trapping heat, repelling moisture, and stopping the wind from coming into contact with your skin.***

What about my ridiculously cold hands and feet?

When you begin to get cold your body limits blood flow to your extremities (hands and feet) so it can keep that warm blood in your vital organs. The saying “Cold hands warm heart” is quite literally true.

The trick to keeping your hands and feet warm is to start with warm hands and warm feet. Before putting on gloves, warm your hands. You can rub them together, hold them over a heater, whatever. Warming the gloves helps too. Sometimes I place mine on an air vent and let warm air blow into them. Whatever you do, don’t put cold hands into cold gloves. It’s like putting a cold cozy around a cold can of soda.

Mittens keep your fingers together, sharing the warmth.

The same goes for your feet. Start warm, add warm socks and shoes that won’t let any cold in, and you are good to go. Again, your goal is to trap warm air next to your skin.

Should I wear a hat?

Is it true that you lose 50% of your heat through your head? I have no idea. I don’t even know how someone could measure that. You do have a lot of blood flowing up to your brain, and most people don’t store fat along their skulls, so whether it’s 50% or 10 % or whatever, a hat or hood makes sense.

The easiest way to get comfortable pulling on and off a beanie and making sure it looks right is (and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done this) practice. Stand in front of a mirror, figure out the best angle for your hat and how your hair should look underneath, then just practice pulling it off, and putting it back on again. It will take 5- 10 minutes, then you will never hesitate to wear a beanie again.

We are living in a great age for cozy hats.

Putting it all together

Like so many lessons I’ve learned in this style blogging adventure, dressing to keep warm takes planning and intelligent investments. I casually threw an outfit that would work at our climbing gym into a bag without really thinking it through, or even checking the weather in Bend. I have a warm coat, good boots and perfectly flexible outfits to wear with them, I just didn’t take the time to plan in advance. Next time, I will remember the chill in my bones, and the inspiration of other women. Rather than being Cold Mom, I can just focus on being Mom, which is an art and science in and of itself.

Do you have a favorite cold-weather ensemble? Share it with us in the comments below!

*As scientific as I’m ever likely to get.

** You could do this, but I would judge you.

***Please memorize this for a pop quiz that will take place sometime in January.

 

Mud and Grace Gift Guide

The holidays get me a little overwhelmed. There is so much stuff in the world and so many people I love, and matching the stuff with the people while trying to keep to a budget seems impossible some days.

So over time I have developed have two basic rules for gifts. I try to find people something they would not buy for themselves, and attempt to buy the highest quality of whatever it is that I can afford.

This generally winds up looking like small luxuries for everyone, a high quality notebook, a whimsical tree ornament made by a local artist, really good chocolate. Most people don’t buy themselves top-of-the-line anything, and we have so much stuff already that a small indulgence is savored while an inexpensive larger gift is used and tossed quickly. $20 pair of wool socks will last for years, and $20 acrylic sweater will not.

With those guidelines in mind, here are a few ideas:

Gorgeous paper products: Handmade note cards, a quality notebook, unique paper decorations, embossed stationary, etc.

How many times a day do we rummage through the house for a birthday card, or a thank you card, or something to write a grocery list on? Imagine being the person to stop your friend from frenzied rummaging by gifting her a lovely stack of cards or a trim notebook she can keep in her purse.

Page Illustration makes the most beautiful cards. See below for a link…
Little Sloth Friend makes adorable custom banners. See below for a link…

Artisan soaps and lotions: Lavender-honey soap, real beeswax lip balm, creamy lotions, specialty salves.

Local farmers markets and specialty sores are full of wonderful, high quality items most people would not indulge in on their own. At the holidays, you can indulge for them. One year a friend brought me a little pot of salve to save my hands from the ravages of gym climbing. I use it regularly and think of her every time.

Handmade soaps are the best.

Cozy knits: excellent socks, a cashmere scarf, an alpaca knit hat, snuggly mittens.

These are all items for which you don’t need to know a person’s size, and one can always use multiples. Observe your friends, figure out which colors they are drawn to, and buy accordingly.

This Everlane hat would make a nice gift.

Kitchen linens: Dish towels, hot pads, oven mitts, aprons.

Any one who cooks burns through these essentials pretty quickly. You probably have no idea if a person on your list needs a spatula, but you can be relatively sure there is a ratty kitchen towel ready to retire in a drawer somewhere.

Ann gave me this oven mitt, I laugh out loud every time I use it.

Memories: framed pictures, photo albums, personalized calendars, a framed poster from a favorite concert or event

Framing one shot of a special memory from the year, or putting a few pictures together in a book from Snapfish or in and old-fashioned scrap book is always a thoughtful gift, particularly for far-away friends and family.

My husband ran in the Cactus Meeting in Luxembourg in 1984, then kept the poster rolled up in the closet for thirty years. A few years ago I pulled it out and framed it. Now we can all enjoy the bouncing cacti.

Not-in-your-home made foods: Endless options

The idea of lovingly baking for others at the holidays fills me with dread. I want to be the sort of woman who cozies in for the day cooking for others but… when? There is literally one free day between now and Christmas on which I could bake, and chances are I will fill up those hours pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are hand-made tortillas, tamales, beautiful breads, sausages, special cheeses, and who knows what other wonderful things to eat for sale in this town.

This bread is being sold at the Metropol Bakery right now!

Give an experience: A month’s membership to a climbing gym, a reservation at a summer camp, a trail ride, lunch at a favorite spot, a punch pass to Barre 3, concert tickets, theater tickets, a camping trip.

Large or small, these are our family’s favorite gifts to give and to get. For the last two years my children have given their grandparents a trip to the movies. We block out time, get popcorn and sodas, and all go together. My mother often gives each of her grandchildren a special lunch out, something their stingy parents never do.

This is what I really want for Christmas.

Have a go-to gift: Readers choice

Honestly it’s better to give someone something they love every year, rather than trying to come up with something new they will feel they have to keep or use out of obligation. In December, my husband and I pack up baskets of whatever we’ve canned, pickled or preserved, throw in a few homemade soaps from the farmers market and we have gifts for family. One friend of mine always receives a bottle of vodka. My mom and a good friend of hers have taken each other out for lunch and then to a book store for their birthdays for years.

I was thinking of you in August.

A note on presentation: Responsible wrapping

Let’s not pretend that we don’t love a gorgeously wrapped gift. Beautiful wrapping is like clothing for your presents. But I also don’t want to pretend that using paper and ribbons once for the purpose of clothing a gift isn’t a little wasteful and silly.

I’ve always saved quality ribbons. The day after Christmas I roll up left over ribbon, and put it back in the ribbon box to wait another year. A few years ago I bought a huge roll of recycled craft paper. Now we wrap our gifts in the brown paper, and reuse it for all our craft paper needs through out the year. I also pick up baskets at St. Vinnie’s and Goodwill throughout the year, so by the holidays I have a pile of them to pop pickled things into and send out the door to friends. If I’m feeling particularly crafty I’ll run outside and cut off a sprig of literally anything and attach it to the basket. It is easy and beautiful.

What’s in the box?

I hope this list is helpful and takes a little angst out of your shopping and sneaks in a little joy. Do you have great gift ideas? Please post them in the comments below!

Another gorgeous example of Page Illustration

Page Illustration – https://www.etsy.com/shop/PageIllustration?ref=l2-shopheader-name

Little Sloth Friend banners – https://www.etsy.com/shop/LittleSlothFriend?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

Boots 101

With winter upon us and the end of the 40-Day No-Buy* just days away, it’s a good time to talk about my favorite subject, boots.

Boot are a fantastic foot casing for a number of reasons. Practical, warm, hardworking, durable, fashionable, they’re a statement piece, with a statement worth making.

So I’ve put together a boot primer, what to wear different boots with, a few caveats and rated each type of boot on a “difficulty to style” scale of 1 to 5 If you have specific questions or ideas about how to wear boots, please leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any curiosity about boots and socks, please check out this article Sock Love.

Here are the boots –

Ankle Boots

Simple, warm and understated, ankle boots are an easy first step for most people into the glorious world of boots.

A simple Chelsea boot would be a great place to start.

Wear with: Cuffed jeans, ankle pants, casual trousers. If you are feeling adventurous, try them with tights and skirts

Teva boots are durable and easy to wear.

Be aware of: Channeling an elf. Skinny jeans and pointy toe ankle boots can bring you dangerously close to looking like you popped out of a Christmas special, particularly if you are given to striped shirts. Save pointy-toe versions to wear with more fluid pants.

Difficulty to style: 1

 

Lace-up Ankle Boots

These have a decidedly casual feel. They look great with a flannel or cozy sweater and jeans. They are a good choice for a weekend spent outdoors, spectating at a sporting event, or a casual event with friends.

Wear with: Jeans and casual pants are the easiest, but they also look good with a shorter fitted skirt, a knit dress, or cords. You can even try them with a flowing skirt for a 1980s look.

Be aware of: a military and/or Laura Ingalls Wilder vibe. These do well with fitted pants tucked in to them and a fuzzy sock peeking out the top, but a looser pair of pants tucked in to lace up boots will recall images of combat that you probably aren’t going for. And unless you long for a homesteader look, when you wear them with a dress or skirt, skip the calico.

Difficulty to style: 3

My favorite Timberland boots.

 

Mid-calf Boots

A mid-calf boot is more casual than a tall boot, and a little more edgy. Moto boots and harness boots fall into this category. A well-worn pair of favorites is absolutely effortless-cool.

Wear with: Dresses, skinny jeans and pants tucked in, chunky socks

Be aware of: The fact that you won’t ever want to take them off.

Difficulty to style: 2

 

Tall Boots

A great way to stay warm on a dress-up occasion, boots hitting just below the knee in suede, soft leather or some other buttery material are a great addition to your wardrobe.

This looks fun.

Wear them with: an above-the-knee knit dress or skirt, dark skinny jeans, leggings, or with a longer a-line skirt. When in doubt, feel go with tall black boots and black pants.

Be aware of: The hem of your skirt competing with the tops of your boots. Give yourself at least 5 inches on either side of your hem with tall boots. Knee-high boots with a knee-length skirt is just too much action around the middle of your legs.

Difficulty to style: 2

 

Riding Boots

Riding boots are so elegant… which is probably why I don’t wear them very often. Whenever I see a woman in tall, simple riding boots I always admire the look, but I’m just not in an elegant stage right now. If you are, invest in a great pair and enjoy endless classic looks with them.

Wear with: Long skirts or dresses, a sleek pair of jeans or pants, or substantial leggings and a sharp blazer. Keep the whole look long and lean with a streamline jacket or tunic.

Be aware of: Tight calves. Make sure your boots have some room in the calves so you can move, and even layer them with socks if you want to. Bjorn and other companies make wide calf widths for those of us with leg muscles.

Difficulty to style: 4

 

Mud Boots

It is hard for me to express how much I love mud boots. Warm, dry feet encased in a comfortable shoe are a beautiful thing.

My faithful mud boots.

Wear with: whatever you wear when walking through the mud

Every pair of Bogs is tempting

Be aware of: trying to make them into something they are not. Mud boots are pretty trendy right now, with Sperry and AE marketing their take on the duck boot, and everyone running around in her Hunter boots no matter what the weather. So long as there is mud on the ground, and you are going to be outside at some point, these are totally appropriate. If it’s 70 degrees and you are driving to the mall, I would skip the mud boots.

Difficulty to style: 0

LL Bean with the classic

Snow Boots

As with mud boots, when the weather calls for snow boots there is nothing more wonderful. Mine feel like I am wearing two fuzzy hugs on my feet.

Wear with: fun patterned leggings, regular leggings, jeans, knit skirts or dresses with cozy tights.

Be aware of: your intentions. Snow boots will keep you warm and look fantastically stylish. But like mud boots, if they are not worn for practical purposes they wind up looking a little off. It also goes without saying that you should never wear snow boots with bare legs, because that’s just silly.

Difficulty to style: 2

 

And finally, here are a few types of boots I don’t wear but you might want to

Over-the-knee Boots

For a night out, a pair of elegant, simple suede knee boots could be really fun.

This will never be my go-to on a Friday night, but they might be yours.

Wear with: something simple like a solid-color fitted dress, leggings and elegant top, or a short swing dress.

Be aware of: any busy detail. Over the knee boots are statement enough in themselves. Any flashy embellishments will look like you are trying too hard.

Difficulty to style: 5

 

High-heeled Booties

There are all sorts of heeled booties on the market right now, ranging from chic to sexy. They are a nice alternative to classic pumps.

Maybe for work?
Probably not for work.

Wear with: Slacks or an elegant skirt or dress for work, a party dress or trendy jeans for going out.

Be aware of: I hate to sound like a grandma here, but these can look a little cheap. Make sure yours are high quality, and remember the more the shoe has going on, the less your outfit should.

Difficulty to style: 4

 

Cowboy Boots

I love the look of a confident woman in a well-worn pair of cowboy boots. To pull them off, the boots need to be authentically you. I’ve always thought that when I turn 50, I’ll but myself a really great pair and wear them everywhere for the rest of my life.

Someday.

Wear with: Anything casual, jeans, pants, flowing dresses. Personally I think they would be tough to wear with a suit, but that didn’t stop George W Bush.

Be aware of: Inauthenticity. Cowboy boots can smell your fear and they just won’t work for you unless you are all in.

Difficulty to style: this all depends on you

 

Do you have a favorite pair of boots or way to wear them? Leave you ideas in the comments below.

* If you are new to Mud and Grace and don’t know about the 40-Day No-Buy, check it out – Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge

 

The Ultimate Cozy Wardrobe

Long nights and rainy days are finally here. The leaves have fallen in a great shudder of gold and red, and the northern hemisphere feels a deep longing to snuggle in with a good book by the fire.

And I’m cold.

I would suggest that while looking good and being cozy are not mutually exclusive, it’s still pretty tricky. Here are my thoughts on balancing the two. I’ve identified four categories of clothing and offered thoughts on how to cozy ’em up, then examined a few potential cozy pitfalls.

Work:

“Casual Fun” is the term I keep returning to when I think of my ideal work wardrobe. Like many people in creative careers, my work and weekend looks are fairly similar. I want to look stylish, but not like I’m trying too hard.

A mix of high quality sweaters, trendy flannels, great jeans, soft pants, easy dresses and as many boots as I feel I need, keeps me feeling warm and stylish. On particularly cold days, a silk undershirt feels amazing and fights the chill.

The trick to making these cozy favorites work-appropriate is fit and fabric. Overly long sleeves or too-wide shoulders are more sloppy than cozy. Sweatshirt fabric feels too casual for work.

Soft, high-quality sweaters, jeans and skirts feel and look fantastic.

Weekend:

The two elements I add to my work wardrobe for weekends, where a lot of the fun to be had is outdoors, are a great coat and a flattering scarf. Most of you have read about my coat theory before – if you have a great coat and boots, nothing else really matters. A few scarves in flattering colors will not only make your skin look fantastic, you also look instantly put together.

Just pick a favorite coat…
…and add a scarf in a flattering color. You honestly don’t need to think any further than this.

Under the coat and scarf I am most likely wearing my general uniform of jeans, boots, sweaters and flannels. Or maybe I’m wearing my pajamas.

Another option for casual fun would be leggings and a great tunic or long sweater. I don’t generally wear this look, but you might love it. Make sure the sweater fits in the shoulders so it hangs appropriately, and you’re good to go.

I don’t feel right in leggings/ jeggings and big sweaters or tunics, but they look fabulous on a lot of people.

Date night:

Just because I have a date with my husband, doesn’t mean I want to be cold. This is why tights were invented.* I have three go-to outfits for winter dates. 1. A knit dress, tights and boots. 2. A knit skirt, tights, a shrug and boots. 3. That same shrug, jeans and boots. And yes, I have one pair of date boots. My husband is in no way aware of the fact that I always wear the same shoes when we go out.

My stepmom Lynn and I are heading out for very different New Years Eves, but we still match!

Chores:

There are a lot of indoor/outdoor work days around our place. I like to wear something cozy that can hold up to the cold or drizzle outdoors, but requires minimal shedding of garments for when I run inside. And I don’t want to be so layered down I can’t move, or have excess fabric getting in my way as I’m chasing down a goat or chicken.

A cozy flannel and up-for-anything jeans are my work day favorites. I can pop outside by throwing on a pair of boots, a beanie and possibly a puffer vest if it’s really cold. Again, consider the fit and style. There is just as much pleasure in looking good around the house as there is in looking good anywhere else.

I get unreasonably proud about competent use of the leaf blower.

Avoiding cozy pitfalls

There’s a reason people wear un-cozy clothes. It’s hard to looks sharp when you put comfort first. I’ve identified three potential cozy pitfalls and offer solutions.

Pitfall # 1: Looking as though you have just stepped out of the 1990s

On Wednesday of this last week I was asked by Eugene School District 4J to show a video on bus evacuation safety. You may imagine how much my students enjoyed the film. It must have been shot right around 1994, because every single human wore severely oversized clothing. Pants and shirts and jumpers were all flopping around their human framework. It was amazing the children could evacuate the bus at all, with all that fabric getting in the way.**

To avoid – Be aware of proportion. If you have a big, cozy sweater, pair it with leggings or slim pants. If you are wearing a baggier “boyfriend” jean, or boot cut slacks, make sure your sweater has a trim fit.

This sweater hugs the ribcage, making it ideal for slouchy pants or joggers.

Pitfall # 2: Too casual to get anything done

A person can be too comfortable. As a high school teacher, I need to be ready for anything. I mean, literally anything.*** There are some outfits that aren’t ready for much more than a cup of cocoa.

To avoid – Blend your favorite cozy element (a big scarf or snow boots) with something a little more professional (a sharp skirt, sleek pants) Swap out any sweatshirt material for something more professional.

Nothing will be accomplished today.

Pitfall # 3: Stuck in an extremely narrow rut

Every winter I get to the point where I want to wear my favorite cozy outfit every single day. This is not a good look. It’s not a good smell, either. Often the outfit has become something of a security blanket in my world as I try to negotiate a frenetic winter pace that nature could not have possibly intended.****

To avoid – create a small, cozy capsule that can get you through these dark days. A few great sweaters, jeans or pants to mix and match, a couple of knit dresses, scarves that feel like a hug.

Please let it be black puffer day!

As I have said before, how we dress directly effects how we feel. A well-planned, warm and cozy winter wardrobe will help us make it through the darkest days of the year. Do you have a favorite cozy piece or outfit? Tell us about it in the comments below.

* That’s probably not true.

** For the record, I am pro-bus evacuation, a firm believer in the sit and scoot over the hop and squat.

*** This is not a misuse of the word literally. You wouldn’t believe the things a high school teacher needs to be ready to deal with on a daily basis. Unless you have teenagers at home, and then you totally get it.

**** Anyone else feeling this?

Winter all-stars and four practical ensembles

“Look good, feel good,” a friend’s husband often says. While I wouldn’t argue with the sentiment, looking like anything other than a walking pile of blankets is a challenge at this time of year. It’s taken me 4 decades of Oregon winters to finally hone in on practical, beautiful clothes that can carry me through the long, dark days.

Can’t I just let the barn look beautiful and go back to bed?

Today I have a list of winter all-star pieces for you, and four practical outfits to take your from work to play.

Winter All-Stars

Snow boots

Waterproof, cozy, stylish, these boots are good for any cold /wet day. Mine feel like my feet are wearing two warm hugs all day long. Wear them with jeans, leggings, or any casual pant. Add a sweater and puffer jacket and you are good to go.

My snow boots, taking a well-deserved break.

Silk long underwear

Every cold day, I wear a black or pink long sleeve silk top under my ensemble. Good silk long underwear is a grownup investment. Once you have decided that you don’t have to be cold, and are willing to spend money on something absolutely no one will ever see to keep yourself warm, you are an adult. I’m pretty sure car rental companies require a parent’s signature up until you can prove you own silk long underwear.

Mine is from Lands End, but it’s definitely not monogrammed.

Cute beanie

It keeps your head dry, your ears warm and looks adorable. The only problem with beanies is that you look silly if you keep wearing it all summer long.

This hat is made out of llama wool or some such.

Good slippers

My parents gave me these Ugg slippers last year, and I think I’ve worn them every day since. They get a mention as winter all-stars because as we sludge our way in and out of the house with muddy boots, these friends are waiting for me at the back door. We are not a no-shoe house, but having this comfy option at the back door makes it easy to peel off my boots and keep the mud in the mudroom.

Ahhhh….

A puffer vest

I’ve written about the style advantages of puffer vests in the past, but in addition to looking good they are probably the most practical layering piece you own. They keep your core warm while leaving your arms free for work, and are easy to layer over or under any number of things. I wear a cozy Patagonia down vest around the house all winter long

I love you, puffer vest.

Wool

Wool is warm, breathable, wicks away moisture, is a natural fiber, and can be found in nearly any thickness to suit your climate. Sadly, it’s also delicious, according to the moths who live around here.* Wool looks sharp and sophisticated, and it layers well. Just make sure it doesn’t pill, and that you are able to hide any moth holes with strategic scarf or puffer vest placement.

Please don’t get eaten!

Practical Ensembles

I put together the following four ensembles with the hope that you have most of this in your closet already. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, it to try to pull something similar together out of your closet, take a picture and send it to me.

Note: Please assume every ensemble has a silk base layer underneath. We’re all adults here.

Errands

Basic black will look elegant, even when the day is anything but. As you run all over town, picking up and dropping off children, groceries and tax information, you will look pulled together and weather-practical. And you can always shed that parka if you happen to squeeze in time for lunch with a girlfriend.

The reason you want to wear black all winter long is because it looks good.

Chores

Chore days around here tend to be inside/outside affairs. I am constantly running down to the barn, out to the woodpile, or upstairs to clean something. Jeans and a plaid flannel are my wintertime, at-home uniform. The beanie and puffer vest make the ensemble outside ready, while allowing me the freedom of movement to get a lot of work done.

No sense in not looking cute when you feed the chickens.

Work

Collared shirt/wool sweater/Frye boots will keep you warm and weather proof. Add a skirt or a pair of cords and you are set. This uniform can take you happily into March. Tights to wear with the skirts might be a nice cable knit, brown or grey will look good. Obviously, I work in a casual field. This wouldn’t fly in the corporate world. Of course, if you were smart enough to land yourself a job that requires a suit, I’m assuming you’re smart enough not to come to this particular blog for work style advice.

What more could you possibly need?

Snow day

Our town shuts down when it snows. We are currently in the middle of one of the worst storms in years and I just can’t stop staring at the snow. Waterproof pants, that wool sweater, a puffer jacket, good boots and a beanie are all you need, whether you are out sledding or are at home with no power trying to figure out how to save everything in the fridge.

Snow!!!!

Winter in Oregon can leave a lot of people feeling down. Starting the day looking good and ready for any foul weather that comes your way changes your approach to the challenge that is winter. Practical, beautiful winter clothes can get you up out of bed and outside to take on the world. They also look good with a cup of cocoa and a good book.

 

* Mothballs smell so bad they make my teeth hurt, and I don’t think there are enough cedar chips in the world to fend off the moths that live in the Oregon countryside. Any suggestions readers have for moth battling will be warmly received.

 

Mid-Winter Wardrobe Planning

We’ve got a long, long time until spring, yet already the fashion world is pressuring me to “refresh!” and suggesting that early January is the moment to break out a floral dress. There is mounting pressure to wear shoes without socks.

Right.

The next three months in Oregon will be cold. Rainy weeks might be broken with a few glorious days of sun, or we could get an inversion of fog that leaves us unable to see the sky for days. Family schedules will resume at a hectic pace. Work will spiral around me with deadlines and expectations. But I plan to enjoy each of these busy, bad weather days and look good while doing so.

Here is my winter wardrobe planning checklist. I’ll knock these out in early January to make getting dressed easy all winter long.

Hello, beautiful winter.

Be realistic about your winter

“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” my husband tells the students in his outdoor, environmental literature class. They are expected to go outside for class, everyday, no matter the weather. We should do the same ourselves. Warm, durable clothing that can withstand a little mud is a must. A stylish, well-fitting winter coat and good boots can make the worst winter storm a fun day for a hike.

No day is a bad day for a hike.

That said, don’t live in a fantasy winter. Recently I found a great pair of NorthFace ski pants at a quarter of the original price. As I headed up to the register a little voice in my head said, “But… you don’t ski.” I argued with the voice that I wanted to learn to ski and that maybe if I had these great pants I would. The little voice reminded me that I hadn’t bothered to learn to ski for the last 44 winters. I reminded the voice that these were great pants. The little voice in my head gave me a look (or whatever) I put the pants back.

There are a lot of fun winter clothes out there, but I only need the ones I will actually wear. In Oregon, a silk base layer, warm wool and flannel, and a well-crafted rain jacket suit me perfectly. Check to make sure you have the gear you need so you can get outside as much as possible, but don’t pretend you’re mounting an expedition to Denali, even if you find a gorgeous ice axe for half price.

Yes.
No.

Pack up the fall, pack in the winter

By January I am over the rich browns and warm oranges of my fall wardrobe. My winter tastes run to gray, navy, jewel tones and a few pastels in warm wool or cashmere. I like to take time to pack up a few fall pieces, and pull out the deep storage of gray wool sweaters.

Make sure everything hanging in your closet is something you want to wear now, and pack up the extras for a much deserved winter rest.

Welcome back, gray wool sweater with rainbow hearts!

This is also a good time to think about how your fall wardrobe worked as a whole. In your style notebook, make a few notes about what you loved and what didn’t quite work. Looking back, I had more choices than I needed this fall, and that slowed me down every morning as I got dressed. Next fall I’d like to tighten up my choices. Take a good, hard look. Are there any fall pieces that just didn’t get worn? Now if the perfect time to send them off to the resale shop, or hand them down to a friend who can get some use out of them.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

Check for comfort, watch for sloppy

It’s a steep decline into wintertime sloppy, isn’t it? The weather is miserable, you woke up late because it is still so dark out, and really, it would be fine if you wore that old sweatshirt just this once, right?

Three weeks later you are trapped in a rotation of two sweatshirts and a pair of jeans that haven’t looked good since 2012, and have no idea how to escape before spring.

I bought this on the way back to Oregon after Shayla and Eric’s wedding. I believe their oldest son is now in college.

Check your winter wardrobe to find plenty of comfy ensembles that look as good as they feel. You deserve to be warm and dry. By having an advance plan for those dark, dreary mornings, you will be less inclined to reach for the old sweatshirt.

Cozy and stylish

Take a break from buying

January is a great time to give your hunting and gathering skills a rest. I feel like I spend all fall finding gifts, tweaking my wardrobe, cozying up my house. By January I’m ready to leave the world of commerce for a while. Sometimes we get so into the habit of shopping that we forget how much we have. While there are crazy January sales happening all around me, I’m just going to opt out for a month or two.

Looking inside, rather than outside of my closet for the perfect outfit forces me to think more creatively, and helps me to appreciate the good choices I made in the past.

I could go shopping, or I could stay home and play with my goat!

The still, gray winter skies of Oregon inspire me to snuggle in, reflect and be grateful for the comforts of home. Winter has its challenges, to be sure. But a comfortable, weather-proof wardrobe frees me up to play in the rain, and the decision to keep it simple allows me the time to do so.

 

Sock Love

We humans love our socks, and with good reason. There are somewhere around 7000 nerve endings in your feet, and every one of them wants to be cushioned in soft, cozy warmth.

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Happy in my simple raglan socks.

But beyond the longing of our feet for climate control and happiness, socks can be the final word on a person’s style. Anyone can pull on a smart looking jacket, but the perfect pair of socks peaking over the edge of a boot? That’s one powerful inch of knitwear.

Today, I have a few tips on how to wear socks, and then a few socks you might want to try.

With tall boots

Socks and boots can be mastered easily if you keep proportion and weight in mind. Tall, heavy boots can handle several inches of chunky sock. Delicate boots require less sock. A moderately oversized top, or a big comfy scarf will help balance everything going on down below. Unless the boots and socks are really sleek, a tight top can look a little out of place.

Outfit ideas for socks and tall boots:

• Boots, chunky sock, leggings, plaid shirt

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Your blogger was having fun creating outfits on Polyvore this morning.

• Rain boots, two or three layers of sock, skirt, fitted fleece top

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Tights would not be amiss here on a cold day.

• Boots, chunky cable knit sock, jeans, cozy sweater

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This picture makes me want to justify another pair of brown boots.

When starting out, stick to neutral palettes in your comfort zone. Socks that are close in color to your leggings or jeans will look more natural.

Caveat: make sure your boots aren’t squishing your calves so the socks are spill out like ripped sausage casing. For some reason the fashion industry thinks women have really small calves right now. I look for boots with a wide shaft so there is plenty of room for my muscles and a fun pair of socks.

With ankle boots

When wearing ankle boots with jeans and socks you have two choices

One: Wear the sock on the outside of the jeans

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Simple and easy. Plus the rain doesn’t get into your boots

Two: Cuff the jean (one large cuff or several turns in a 1980s look are both fine right now) and let the sock peak out an inch or two.

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You probably have all this in your closet.

Caveat: When wearing chunky ankle boots (like Timberland) with socks be careful of a Europe-in-1937 look. Boots are cool, the rise of fascism is not. If your feet remind you of folks gunning for a rematch of World War One, switch it out.

Socks with Docs

I will never have the sort of urban cool it takes to pull off a pair of Doc Martins, but in my sock research I came across a fun trend of statement socks with Docs. Tall socks were worn with a skirt, shorter socks were paired with sharp cropped pants. It’s a cute look that I can admire without feeling the need to try.

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This look will never be me, but it might be you.

Socks with sandals

That’s fine. I won’t judge. Honestly, once you’ve crossed that sock/sandal line, anything goes.

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You do you, honey.

General sock caveat: A sock breaks up the line of your leg, that’s why you rarely see socks on a model in a catalog. Socks look warm, fun, creative and interesting, but they also put a glitch into the line of your leg. If you’re going for a long, lean look, the socks will mess that up. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind.

Socks Sampler:

Here are a few sock ideas to try. Also, this doubles as my list to Santa.

Simple

Start your sock quest with a few high quality pairs neutral colors.

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Cable knit socks are always lovely.

Wool

In a highly scientific Facebook study, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who felt passionately about wool socks. Smartwool socks are beautiful, comfortable and wick moisture away from your feet. Lynette (previously mentioned on this blog as my most-put-together friend) wears Smartwool socks nearly everyday in black, brown and navy.

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Smartwool makes people happy, except for those it makes itchy.

Bright and mismatched

Anyone in contact with humans under the age of 25 have seen the love these people have for mismatched socks. There are some gorgeous socks out there in this style. Of course you can just mismatch socks you already have, with also cuts out the family chore of matching socks out of the dryer…

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Free People socks are fun.

Bas de Laine

My friend Sandy, a native of Eastern Canada, swears by these socks, which you can find in wool or cotton. According to Sandy, “In French Canada if you are called a ‘bas de laine’ it means you are an earthy person …we would say a ‘granola’. I guess that defines me. My kids wear their warm socks in their Birkenstocks – true west coast ‘bas de laine’ kiddos!!”

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Sock monkey socks are apparently called Bas de Laine.
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Now I have a name for my favorite scarf, too!

Boot toppers and leg warmers

These are nice alternatives to socks for tall boots because they tend to be roomier and not smush your pants into your legs. They also don’t pull against your toes when you tug them up past your boots. I like leg warmers better because they serve function (warming your legs) as well as fashion. Boot toppers come in every imaginable color and style, and are ridiculously easy to get on and off.

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Boot toppers are fun and inexpensive. I never feel quite right in them, but I know any number of readers out there could rock a pair.

DYI leg warmers

In my extensive search for sock style I learned that you can make your own leg warmers by cutting the arms off old sweaters.

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The about-to-be-worn-again sweater.
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“Look ma! I have cashmere leg warmers!!! All my 1980s dreams are fulfilled!”

Now, before you start eyeing your sweater drawer like Lord Asriel looking at the connection between Roger and his daemon,* remember that this only applies to sweaters you really won’t wear anymore. Say a moth bit a chunk out of the front of your favorite cashmere sweater. You can’t hunt down that moth and make her serve her time, but you can enjoy some new legwarmers.

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Legit moth hole in sweater.

Statement socks

Fabulous, graphic socks aren’t just for 8-year-olds anymore. My friend Alli loves her Narwhal vs Unicorn socks. I know another young woman who wears wild Harry Potter-themed socks. The internet is awash with novelty footwear. Go find you favorites.

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Alli’s best socks.

Homemade socks

My mom makes the most beautiful socks. If you are a knitter, invest in beautiful wool and make yourself some cozy, beautiful socks.

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Thanks mom!

Do you need new socks?

A person can have too many socks. If your sock drawer resembles a mass of swarming, multicolored eels, you may need to go through your collection and get rid of unusable socks.

Recycle your socks if: they have holes in them, they fall down and scrunch up in your boots, they itch, or they in anyway impede your life.

Socks can be recycled into receptacles for loose chalk for your climbing chalk bag. They also make great sock puppets, which are always appropriate at work or in social situations.

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How much fun is it to teach about Einstein when he’s actually in the room?!

Socks, being practical, comfortable and stylish are a Mud and Grace must have. In stepping up our socks, we are showing much needed love to our feet. That said, don’t feel like you have to go sock-crazy. I will always love the simple line of jeans and Fryes, or an ankle boot quietly resolving a pair of slim cargos. And your socks can function just as well without your shoes, all you need is a lazy afternoon, nowhere to go and the nice, cozy pair of your choice. 7000 nerve endings will thank you.

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Contented feet.

*If you haven’t read the Golden Compass you really ought to.

Comfort and Joy: Your style guide for the holiday season

We have a really mellow holiday season planned. We’re just going to host Thanksgiving… and Christmas Eve…  Oh, and a birthday party and the staff party, then my sister’s coming up from California with her family, and my brother just called from Japan to confirm that we can host a dance party on New Year’s Eve.

No problem.

Our plans for visiting are just about as laid back as our home life. Fortunately, most of our events, like yours, are relatively casual. That said, I want to give a nod to the holiday season and dress up festively, if not elfishly.

Here’s my holiday wardrobe:*

Guest

This is my favorite dress. With a sparkly necklace it becomes fancy. Add simple accessories and it’s casual. There is no wintertime party to which I can’t wear this dress. Plus it’s soft and stretchy, so I can eat all the cheese and Carrs water crackers I want and not feel uncomfortable.

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Tip: Don’t wear boots if you’re going to a confirmed no-shoe household.

This top is just plain fun. I can pair it with black leggings for a grown-up, dress-up occasion, and jeans for everything else.

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This top could probably show up to the party without me and have a great time all on its own. Unfortunately, it can’t drive.

Hostess

I love these fluid joggers for hosting events in my home. This olive, silk top is open at the neck, balancing the weight of the pants, while still keeping up with the casual/elegant vibe. Plus the whole ensemble goes with my best apron.

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Flats? Check. Ponytail? Check. Drink?** Check. Let the guests arrive!

I like this for hostess as well. You can layer it over a little black dress, or leggings and a tank.

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What do we want to call this? Shawl? Kimono? All-purpose fringed party garment?

The non-ironic holiday sweater

If you want to go full-on reindeer, don’t let me stop you. I prefer something that gives a nod to the season without any flashing lights. These sweaters have a winter motif, but are in unexpected holiday colors.

Do you remember this Gap holiday sweater from the mid-1990s? I found it 2nd hand fifteen years ago and I’m still wearing it.

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It’s such a happy sweater. You can tell because it’s waving at you.
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I really stretch the season on this one. You can totally wear stars through February, right?

Off duty

Most of my holiday season will be spent with family and close friends. I love a cozy plaid shirt for hanging out and doing nothing, or doing everything, as is often the case at this time of year.

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Just one more cup of coffee before we head back out…

A little sparkle picks my mood up. I wear this t-shirt under a simple gray cardigan for a look that says, “Yes, I understand there are rules, and I totally plan on following them… for now.”

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Can you see the sparkles?
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Here’s an up-close of its sparkly loveliness.

Secret Weapon – The Holiday Coat

There is no better way to stay warm, cozy and appropriately festive than the holiday coat. You can wear absolutely anything under the coat and no one will ever know.

Headed out to a tree-lighting ceremony? Grab the coat. Volunteering to run your kids around as they gather cans for the school food drive? Put yer coat on. Running between three different Thanksgivings? Coat time!

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The September through November coat…

I have faced more holiday seasons without appropriate clothes than I care to remember. But now that I have the coat, no worries. I could wear my pajamas under it if I were so inclined.

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…and the November through February coat.

Jewelry

All over the world, there are celebrations of light at the darkest time of year. While I prefer very simple jewelry for everyday, this is the time to sparkle. Pull out your auntie’s broaches, your big pendant necklaces and that one piece of real jewelry you never wear because it’s not a special enough occasion. You, your friends, and your family? I can’t think of a better reason to break out the tiara.

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If there is ever a time to wear the cipher of Peter the Great, it’s at a dinner party.

Ultimately, this season is about coming together in love and friendship. You shouldn’t be worrying about a pilling sweater or a skirt that really doesn’t go with your top. Pick a few go-to hostess and party looks, and wear them every for every occasion from November through the middle of January. Then set yourself free to focus on peace of earth, and goodwill towards everybody.

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Pippin, ready to greet the guests in his winter coat.

*This post covers casual to moderately dressy events. For more formal events, see the next post, 38 Minute Fancy.

**The drink I’m holding is called The Slow Burn. I made it up. It’s a habanero / lime cocktail. Message me if you want the recipe.

**Drinking alcohol is for people of age, whose frontal lobes are fully formed and are not driving and/or are avoiding alcohol for any one of a number of good reasons. For you folks I have a sparkly version of the same beverage. It burns just a little bit hotter.