The Elusive Throw Pillow Equation

Did I mention I’m addicted to decorating magazines?

I only subscribe to two, but every time I take the kids to Chapters, stock up at Costco, pop into the pharmacy or check out at the grocery store I inevitably find myself picking up, flipping through and buying another.

And the one piece of advice that they all repeatedly offer as the simplest way to update a room (besides a fresh coat of paint, which, seriously, decorating magazine people, is NOT AT ALL SIMPLE) is to change out your throw pillows.

I love their photos of accent chairs with a one-pillow pop of colour. But I especially adore the pictures of couches you just want to sink into, artfully piled with an assortment of throw pillows in various colours, patterns, shapes and styles that somehow works. This is the look I’d love to replicate on my own sofa.

Two problems:

  1. Luc has issued an official Throw Pillow Limit of two, deeming any more than that to be excessive, unnecessary and irritating.
  2. I totally suck at it.

You’d think that with my extensive informal design training (which has cost me as much in glossy mags as my university education) I could accessorize a simple chocolate brown microfiber couch, but I just can’t pull it off.

I started with the two throw pillows that came with it. Yes, I know. If they came with the couch they probably go with the couch. But the brown shot through with a subtle line of blue was just too, well, subtle.

So I tried the cream and brown floral cushions I’d saved from our last sofa. But they just looked dated.

A quick trip to Home Sense and I was back with a beautiful new pair of cream, blue, grey and mocha ikat cushions. We kept them on the couch for awhile, but I knew from the beginning that the scale was all wrong. And I quickly realized that no matter how popular that pattern currently was, I’m just not a boho-chic kinda girl.

The graphic lattice ones were too stark.

The watercolours too washed out.

The stripes too stripey.

Yes, this has been going on for a while.

I’m pretty close with the latest set: a soft cream, blue, grey and green abstract floral that perfectly matches the two framed prints behind the couch. But they’re stuffed with feathers and no matter how many times I fluff, reposition and karate chop the tops of them, they squash down into little lifeless floral clumps the minute you sit anywhere near them.

And what of my cast-offs, you ask? Well, they’ve all made their way into the basement playroom, where they usually languish all over the floor. But at least they get regular use for sleepovers and forts.

Except for a few weeks ago. After reaching my “It’s the basement and I don’t really care how messy it gets because nobody ever goes down there anyway” threshold, I yelled at the kids that if they didn’t do some serious tidying soon, I’d pick up every last toy myself and throw them in the garbage.

An hour later they called me downstairs. The basement floor was spotless. And our old sofa was artfully piled with all of my throw pillow rejects. What should have been a jumbled mess with their varying colours, patterns, shapes and styles, somehow worked.

It was a masterpiece, worthy of a two-page spread.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to Home Sense, Throw Pillow Limit be damned.

This time, I’m taking the kids with me.

And I’ll probably pick up a magazine on the way home…

Read what Luc has to say about throw pillows.

It’s My Gift Card and I’ll Spend If I Want To

The Boy is at a tricky age for gifts.

At 11 years old, all he wants to do is read, play video games, ride his bike, play Lego or watch TV (not necessarily in that order).

So in September, when friends and family were asking me for birthday gift ideas for him, I was at a loss. If I couldn’t come up with something fun and original to give him myself, what could I tell them?

Enter the gift card.

This year, he received several: Walmart, Chapters, EB Games…enough to go on a bit of a shopping spree. And that’s exactly what he wanted to do, the minute the party guests were out the door.

Time for a little background…Luc and I, overall, have similar values when it comes to money. We don’t live extravagantly and we try to live within our means. We never carry a balance on our credit cards. We hate debt and can’t wait until we’re mortgage-free. And while we may approach the purchase of big-ticket items differently, we usually both end up comfortable and satisfied with our spending and saving habits.

So why, then, did The Boy’s birthday gift cards become such an issue?

If I understand correctly (and Luc WILL correct me if I’m wrong!) Luc saw the gifts cards as:

  1. an opportunity to teach The Boy about managing his money
  2. a lesson in appreciating when you already have enough of a thing and
  3. an exercise in delayed gratification

While I saw the gift cards as:

  1. a chance to go SHOPPING!!!

OK, so when I see it written down, I concede that Luc does have a point (or three). Yes, The Boy needs to learn that just because you have money in your pocket (or on your plastic) doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend it all. And yes, The Boy has so many books, video games and Legos that honestly, he doesn’t need any more. And YES, if he held onto his gift cards, he could buy something he really wants later, as opposed to something he kinda wants right now just for the sake of spending.

But I also stand by my argument that had he not received gift cards for the things he wants most, he would have received the items themselves (because really, what else are you going to buy for an 11-year-old boy?). He’d be reading the books, building the Lego sets and playing the video games the minute he tore the wrapping paper off. So if the gift cards were given in the spirit of The Boy getting himself something he wants for his birthday, then he should be allowed to go out and get himself something he wants, parental misgivings be damned.

In the end, we reached a compromise. The Boy immediately spent his Chapters gift card on a new book (because, as book lovers ourselves, how could we deny him that?). And he was also allowed to spend his Walmart gift card in full with the caveat that it NOT be spent on a video game (he bought a Pokemon DVD and a Minecraft stuffy…still not what I would have chosen for him, but they are his gifts, after all). As for the EB Games cards (three of them) we instructed him to hang onto those until November, when the new Pokemon video game he really, totally, absolutely has to have is being released (instead of wasting them on a lessor game now and not having the money to afford the other later).

All in all, I think we worked this one out well.

But just for the record: If I get any gift cards for Christmas…I’m going SHOPPING!!!

Check out Luc’s thoughts on birthday gift cards.

How to Shop for Women’s Lingerie

Shopping for men’s clothes is a walk in the park compared to shopping for women’s lingerie (Is that redundant? Is there such a thing as men’s lingerie?)

While I don’t shop for lingerie on a regular basis (sorry about that, Luc) I have had two drastically different lingerie shopping experiences in recent years that I’d like to share. Not to name names, but both took place at a well-known lingerie store that starts with La and ends with Senza. And they illustrate how important the sales staff is when a woman embarks on such a nerve-wracking quest as buying some sexy lingerie.

Let’s start with How NOT to Shop for Women’s Lingerie

  1. Book a trip to Mexico for your 15th wedding anniversary with couple-friends who will be celebrating their 10th anniversary.
  2. Realize that you have not shopped for sexy lingerie since well before the birth of your first child, 8 years (and 30 pounds) previous.
  3. Head to La Senza with the female half of the above-mentioned couple-friends to find a little something to spice things up on the trip.
  4. Enter the store.
  5. Be completely ignored by the 16-year-old size zero salesgirls comparing manicures at the cash.
  6. Wander around the store with your friend, looking at and commenting on the least intimidating items (bras, panties, robes) while trying to casually check out the super-sexy bustiers, babydolls and merrywidows that you really want to try on.
  7. Be completely ignored by the 16-year-old size zero salesgirls fixing each other’s hair at the cash.
  8. Get up the nerve to grab several items to try on.
  9. Interrupt the 16-year-old size zero salesgirls talking about their boyfriends at the cash to ask to be let into a change room.
  10. Be led with a sigh and an eye-roll into the change rooms.
  11. Stuff yourself into the first item.
  12. Stuff yourself into the second item.
  13. Laugh hysterically at the third item.
  14. Losing all sense of embarrassment and/or modesty, fling open the change room door and show your friend the fourth item, which you both agree for the price should cover WAY more than it’s currently covering.
  15. Press the pretty little buzzer to get the 16-year-old size zero salesgirl’s attention.
  16. Press it again.
  17. And again.
  18. When she grudgingly appears, ask her if she could bring you the same item in a larger size.
  19. Listen, shocked, insulted and humiliated as she answers “We don’t make them that big.”
  20. Shoot icy daggers into the 16-year-old size zero salesgirl’s back as she walks away.
  21. End up buying a bra, some panties and a robe.
  22. Go home and obsess for days on end about the witty, cutting come-backs you should have spouted to put that snarky little 16-year-old size zero salesgirl’s skinny little ass in its place.

And now, How to Shop for Women’s Lingerie

  1. Gaze with horror into your dresser drawer as you realize that all of your once-white bras are now grey (as are all of your once-black bras) and that all of the elastic is shot on your comfy, faded, worn out 100% cotton Jockey undies.
  2. Decide that the time has come, as a mature, well-adjusted 40-something wife, mom and woman, to throw out everything in the drawer, start over and treat yourself to some sexy undergarments.
  3. Head, against your better judgment, to La Senza (not the same one as last time).
  4. Walk confidently up to the first salesgirl you see.
  5. Say a mental prayer of thanks that she appears to be over the age of majority and at least a size 6.
  6. Inform her that you are replenishing your supply of bras. Tell her that if she can find something that fits you and makes you feel good, you will buy one in every colour it comes in along with the matching panties in every style they come in, bikini, boy-cut, thong or otherwise. Let her know that you want her to wait on you hand and foot and in return you will spend extravagant amounts of money adding to both her commission and quotas.
  7. Nod approvingly as she gets on her little headset and rallies two other salesgirls, one of whom leads you to the change room and performs a quickie bra sizing while the other starts whipping an astonishing array of push-up, full coverage, demi-cup, lace, gel and microfiber bras over the door.
  8. Less than an hour later, leave the store with a bag full of new bras and panties in every colour of the rainbow, a shiny La Senza discount card in your wallet and a smile on your face.

Check out Luc’s thoughts on buying lingerie.

How to Shop for Men’s Clothes

Every five years or so I look at Luc and say, “Man, you gotta get some new clothes!”

It’s taken 20 years (what’s that, like four wardrobe changes?) but I’ve come up with three nearly fail-proof approaches to shopping for men’s clothes. None of which involves spending an entire day at the mall, visiting each and every store, scouring the racks for bargains, trying on anything and everything, not buying anything until you’ve covered the whole mall, then retracing your steps and buying your favourites, which is, of course, the classic way to shop for women’s clothes.

Each of these ways to shop for men’s clothes has its own pros and cons…maybe one of them will work for you!

The Passive-Aggressive Play

  1. Leave the man at home.
  2. Go shopping by yourself.
  3. Buy everything you’d like to see your man dressed in.
  4. Take it home and force him to try it on (during the commercials of the NHL Stanley Cup Play-offs is a particularly effective time, as his distraction quotient is at its max).
  5. Keep what he likes.
  6. Return what he doesn’t.

Pro: Your man becomes a life-size Ken doll that you can dress as you please.

Con: A return trip to the mall to take back and exchange anything that doesn’t fit. No wait. That’s a pro…

The Caged Animal Tactic

  1. Lure the man to the mall with the promise of a stop at Home Depot on the way home.
  2. Trick him into entering the menswear shop of your choice by saying something along the lines of, “They’ve got a really good sale on. It won’t take long. It can’t hurt to take a quick look.”
  3. Convince him to try on one non-threatening piece of clothing. A golf shirt, say. Or a pair of jeans.
  4. Trap him in the change room.
  5. Take his pants if you have to.
  6. With the help of a bored, eager-to-please, yet not-overly-pushy salesperson, continue to throw various items of clothing over the door into the change room until your options are exhausted and your man has tried on and agreed to purchase enough clothes to get him through the next five years.

Pros: a) You are still mostly in control of the wardrobe renewal process. b) Your man gets some say in what he’s going to wear. c) One-stop shopping. No wait, that’s a con…

Con: You may blow your entire clothing budget for the year in one shot. But since you only do this every five years, you’ve actually saved the equivalent of four year’s worth of cash for clothes. Which means more money left over for shopping for yourself! OK, hold on, are we talking about pros or cons again?

The Leave It to the Fates Manoeuver

  1. Send the man to the mall by himself.
  2. Stay home and drink wine.

Pros: a) You get to stay home and drink wine. b) You get to stay home and drink wine. c) You get to stay home and…OK, you get the point.

Cons: He may come home empty-handed. Then again, he may come home with three new suits, six new shirts, four new ties, socks, undies, shoes and a belt (yes, this has actually happened). In which case, you can celebrate with a glass of wine. Win-win!

Check out Luc’s thoughts on shopping for men’s clothes.

You Shop Your Way, I’ll Shop Mine

I love to shop. Actually, “love” doesn’t even begin to say it.

I shop when I’m happy, sad, bored, celebrating, ruminating or just plain escaping. I’ll shop alone, with a friend or with a busload of like-minded women. Across the street, across town or across the border, I’m there. My triathlon is window shopping, online shopping and store hopping. And in any given month I rack up two or three pages of purchases on the joint Visa bill for every one of Luc’s.

Now, keep in mind I do most of the grocery shopping, the Costco trips and the pharmacy runs. If we need anything for the house, I’m the one who runs out to buy it. Entertainment? I’m the one who books it. Kids’ activities? Me. Birthday gifts? Me again. Christmas spending? I’ve got a budget spreadsheet for that holiday alone.

Oh yeah, and there’s the small matter of keeping our children clothed and their feet clad through every possible weather variation through every season (we do have eight here, right?) when they refuse to stop growing for more than fifteen minutes at a time. (I think Luc might have bought the boy one cute little Harley Davidson t-shirt when he was about three months old. But that was ten years ago. And then again, that might have been me.)

I’m really good with everyday purchases. I read the flyers, I shop the sales, I always check if I’ve got a coupon or a Groupon I can use. I can drop $300 at the grocery store and not think twice about it (after all, it’s food we’re going to eat) or $200 on clothes for the kids and I’m OK with it (because chances are I got $400 worth from the 50% off rack).

But here’s where I freeze up: big-ticket items. And when I say “freeze up” I mean “break into a cold sweat and have heart palpitations at the very thought of spending an inordinate amount of our hard-earned cash on a single item that I don’t know the first thing about purchasing and I’m not even convinced we really need.”

New computer? Definitely in that category. Big-screen TV? That too.  Surround sound system with five speakers and accompanying sub-woofers, super-tweeters and I don’t know what-all else? Check. Our first car? I’m having chest pains just remembering that process. Our second car? The house? Dear god, someone call an ambulance!

Right now we’re considering getting a laptop. Do I know anything about them? No. Am I convinced we need one? Not yet. And the rational part of my brain knows that in the past week, I’ve likely spent more on Rubbermaid storage bins, feminine hygiene products and topping up my Starbucks card than we will on this one item. But I still find it stressful and I don’t want to do it.

My only comfort is that when we do finally buy one (cuz I know we will), it’ll show up on Luc’s half of the Visa bill!

Check out Luc’s thoughts on big-ticket items.