Friday, January 23, 2009

Self-Love: Best Gifts I've Given Myself

Although I advocate saving money whenever possible and curbing spending in these economic times, some items are worth much more than their price tag. Maybe they make your life easier, bring a smile to your face or raise your personal hotness quotient. Here are my top gifts to myself (bought with my own hard-earned cash, none of these were promo-ed by PR peeps or freebies.) I'd also love to hear your own favorite gifts to yourself in the comments!

Body Butters by The Body Shop $10-20, some are currently buy 1 get 1 50% off
Slathering myself in luxurious butter is one of the ways I get through the winter skin doldrums and keep from looking pasty and scaly. Sure, it would be cheaper to simply pick up some discount lotion at the grocery store (and I do love the Jergens Glow stuff with self-tanner), but the body self-esteem benefits of rubbing on a yummy-smelling, fancy-feeling butter are worth the extra bucks to me. I stock up on the flavors on sale.

Dyson DC25 Ball All-Floors Vacuum Cleaner $474.99: This vacuum is super light and perfect for lugging up the three floors of my Cape Cod. I first balked at the price, but after hauling a heavy vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs for years with only a quarter of the suction of this light, lithe lifesaver, I attest that it was worth every single penny.There's no separate settings for bare hardwoods or shag carpets, the vacuum just sucks up every speck of dirt, dust, crumb, cobweb, crud. The rollerball head gets in around all the nooks and crannies around baseboards, under doors, weird little crevices found in old houses. My house has never looked so clean for such little effort.

Le Creuset 2 3/4 qt. round dutch oven $109.95
Actually, I didn't buy this one - my mom got it for me - thanks Mom! This pot looks so chic and performs even better, garnering it a permanent place on my range. It can heat up anything in a flash, can be transferred to oven for baking or tabletop for a pretty serving dish and no burned-on greasy messes stick to it. It washes up three times as quickly as a metal or Pyrex baking dish and the side handles never slip out of my hot pads. I use it every day, whether I'm heating up refried beans for the kids or baking a fancy casseolet for company. I love red accents in the kitchen, but there are lots of different colors too.

One pair of good high-end jeans to wear with heels and without the kids $100-200
If you've never treated yourself to a really nice pair of "good" jeans, please do it. It will save you all those costume changes and mirror freak outs when getting ready for a date or girls night or day that you need self-confidence. Save the Old Navy pairs for running around with the kids and cleaning up the Play-Doh.

To find your size in the fancy jeans, pull a tape measure around your bare waist super tight at the belly button and try on jeans in that number and one above it and one below it. (E.g. say your number on the tape measure is a 29. Try on jeans in a 28, 29 and 30.) Typically if you've had a couple kids, you'll look best in jeans that have a bit of stretch (like 98% cotton, 2% lycra) and a rise that comes right at your belly button, usually an 8 inch rise. This holds in the little pooch below the navel in a mini-tummy tuck that is fabulous. If you're short-waisted/long legged or slender, a lower rise or trendy high waist will also look great. If the pants are too long, just have them hemmed at your local drycleaners but keep them long to wear with heels; alterations are totally worth the $$. You are officially allowed by my friends that are super into fashion to cuff your jeans when wearing with flat shoes.

I also like going to the Savvy department at Nordstrom and having a helpful sales woman look me up and down and pull all the styles and sizes she thinks will work on me. When my first baby was 10 months old and I'd finally dropped some weight and was ready to re-enter the world of looking fashionable, I called ahead to a salesperson in the Savvy section and she pulled all the jeans in my approximate sizes. I zipped in with my baby in the stroller, she had all the jeans hanging in the handicapped dressing room, I flew through them and found one blessed pair that worked before baby finished his Cheerios. I also love Luna in Bethesda on Woodmont - the young women who work there are also jean-iuses at finding the styles and cuts that will work best. I just tell them "I want to look fit and hot and I only have the cash to buy one pair of jeans." And they find it for me. Awesome.

Hot mama pair of heels, like these Steve by Steve Madden $58.47 (they're a knock-off of a Marc Jacobs style)
Very much like the jeans, I save a few pair of great shoes for special occasions in the boxes at the top of my closet (to prevent my children's shank-shattering impromptu dress-up session casualties) and wear tennis shoes and Target ballet flats when running around with the kids. When I want look fancy, I go for the highest heel I can safely walk in, neutral colors or a clashing bright I don't even try to match to things. I try to have a small variety of sandal, open-toe and closed toe styles, all found at great sales. Unlike when I was working full-time and dress shoes had a short shelf life, I've had some of my 5 pairs of heels for the last six or so years, and they still look new.

Frou-frou magazine subscriptions, $10 per year. My faves are Real Simple, Domino and Bazaar
I truly believe that spending money on a few cool, fun magazine subscriptions keeps me from spending money throughout the year. I find great ideas of how to make the house and my appearance look cool and up to date using items I already own. Sure, I can't afford 99% of the items shown, but I find inspiration and learn how to resurrect things I already have or what knock-offs are hip at the budget shops I frequent.

This year Bazaar showed me how to pair a floral dress I've had since 2002, an over-sized black blazer I've had since my working days of 2000, black opaque hose bought at DSW, black suede shoes bought in 2006 and a necklace my mom gave me ages ago to equal a completely new outfit to wear to my brother's rehearsal dinner. The ensemble got tons of compliments, cost $6 for the stockings, I felt cute and hip, and was saved the time and expense of running to the mall for a new dress. Instead of purchasing an expensive bedroom suite I can't afford, Domino showed me how to stack my favorite big coffee table books to create a groovy bedside table and pick up some big euro shams and six cool frames to create a "headboard" for my bed. Total cost for the few items it cost to transform my bedroom: $50.

And mainly, I find the relaxation of sipping a glass of wine and leafing through colorful consumerist pages after the kids go down at night better than therapy. Seriously.

Siamese kitten from Paradise Cattery, a wonderful breeder in Baltimore $400
I know, I know. There are so many wonderful, loveable, needy adult animals in shelters and foster families that need to be adopted. But Charlene of Paradise Cattery is the most loving, reputable woman that produces the kindest, smartest, most family-friendly cats that I have ever seen.

My husband and I love the intelligence and affectionate nature of Siamese cats. Since we have two young children, we wanted to adopt a single kitten that would grow up used to children and be psychologically up to the challenge of having two rowdy human siblings. Peter Pan, the cat we adopted from Charlene two years ago, is everything we could have wanted and more. He has endless patience for the kids, no behavior problems and is almost-dog like in his affection and attachment to our family. He also retrieves a rubber band ponytail holder, meows hello to guests and greets them at the door, and at 10:30pm every night tugs on my pant leg urging me to come to bed with him. Yup, Petey sleeps with us and isn't content until everyone, including him, is happily tucked in.

Flame me, go ahead, but at this point in my life with little ones I just didn't have the time for rehabilitating an animal or worrying that my children would stress out an already-stressed kitty. The fee for purchasing this wonderful animal was worth it, in my opinion, for finding the perfect new addition to our family.

Canon PowerShot SD800 10 MegaPixel Digital Elph with 8GB memory card & accessories $314
This is the camera I (and my husband, the better photographer in the family) use for all personal photos that I post to APISS and APISS reviews. We've been buying the newest generation of this camera every two-three years, and each time Canon improves the camera's usability and quality but lowers the price. It is a fabulous, reasonable point-and-shoot for us and takes great photos until we're able to afford a more professional-level camera.

The camera lives in my handbag so that I can capture the kids as we frolic and play all over the DC area, and takes much better pics than those I could take on my phone. It uploads very quickly to our old home PC. Having an extensive archive of photos from all the places we've visited throughout the area, and an opinion on them too, is what started this whole bloggy business in the first place!

What are your favorite, make-your-life-easier, make your day brighter items? Please leave a comment with your recommendations!

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