Friday, October 17, 2008

Teens - What Have They Done for You Lately?

My son, Nick, is 15 and I know firsthand that being the parent of a teenager can seem like a thankless job. Teens are moody and uncommunicative, dramatic and demanding. They think that they know everything while we parents are hopelessly uncool and out of touch. Teens resent all rules and responsibilities and yet expect to be driven around and fed hot meals at a moment's notice.

It's just give, give, give without getting anything in return. But lately, I've noticed some unexpected benefits from having a teen around. 

First, they're a great source for hi-tech entertainment. Teens have some really cool ways to amuse themselves. Nick has introduced me to Facebook (I originally signed up so I could keep track of him); Anaconda, an irresistible snaky game; and Shazam, an amazing application that listens to a few seconds of music and then tells you what song is playing. It's frivolous, it's fun, and I wouldn't know about any of it if I didn't have a teen.

Also, teens read good books.  Young adult fiction is heavy on plot, so these books are action packed. If your book club's pick is putting you to sleep,  steal from your teen's bookshelf.  For a really juicy read try Stephenie Meyer's Twilight - it has all the freshman girls' moms in a tizzy.

Nick doesn't drive yet, so we carpool to swim practice. A car packed with five high school boys makes for very interesting conversations. On our last drive we discussed Nostradamus, World War II, the Presidential election and, of course, hot girls. I'm telling you, those 20 minutes in the car were more thought-provoking and amusing than any North Shore cocktail party. 

Speaking of driving, I've discovered a great use for teens once they get their licence - as designated drivers. For their parents.  Last weekend, Liam and I went out to dinner with our good friends, Tricia and Chuck. Everyone wanted to have a drink or two so I suggested we taxi to the restaurant. Not necessary. "Kyle will drive us," offered Tricia. So their 16-year-old son, Kyle, chauffeured us to and from our dinner. He didn't mind, because it allowed him to stay out past his curfew, and we adults were able to safely enjoy ourselves. That's what I call win-win.

You know, I'm actually getting quite a bit of value out of my teenager. If I could only get him to pick up his shoes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall Shopping in a Falling Market

Ah, Fall! My favorite time of year. I welcome the cool nights, crisp days and changing colors. The sun rises lower in the sky and apples ripen in the orchards,  yet the scent of a fresh start wafts through the air. Squirrels scurry to hoard acorns and Canadian geese take honking practice flights as they prepare for migration. In tune with the eternal rhythm of the Earth's rotation, a deep autumnal instinct stirs within me as well. To go shopping.

I know you feel it too. Fall is the best time to shop. The cooler temperatures mean an abundance of colors, layers, and textures. Our light-weight summer cottons seem flimsy and drab compared to the gorgeous knits, rich hues, and leather boots on display right now.

But who can enjoy a Fall shopping spree when our economy is in a free-fall? While big spending  isn't an option for me right now, I can't completely deny my seasonal urges. These tough times require new shopping strategies, so I asked noted Chicago fashion stylist Kate Shifrin for help.

Kate, always up on current trends, has already been helping her clients deal with the bail-out blues. She has some great advice for punching up your fall wardrobe without spending a lot of cash.
1. Go shopping in your own closet.
We all get into habits, and that extends to how we dress.  This is the season to mix it up in different ways and take some risks with the clothes we already own. Kate recommends we mix complementary patterns - like a print blouse with a tweed jacket - and forget about black as the only neutral color. She suggests trying fresh color combinations like brown & blue and gray & brown for an updated, modern look. So spread all your clothes out around your bedroom and get creative. Be brave, urges Kate. "The rules are that there are no rules. It should be what you like."

And while you're in that closet, get rid of anything you don't absolutely love. Your closet should only contain your favorites.  "And I don't care if that's five pieces," says Kate, "Just don't have a closet full of stuff."

2. Less is More
When the budget is limited, a few key accessories can boost an entire wardrobe. Purple is this Fall's hot color, says Kate, and the easiest way to include it in your wardrobe is to buy a purple purse, belt or pair of shoes. "It's actually a neutral" she explains - since it goes well with black, blue, brown or gray - so you'll get a lot of wear from a single piece. 

Kate also likes scarves as a way to introduce color and texture to a fall outfit. She especially loves the versatile scarf pictured above, from Anthropologie . "It can be worn with a t-shirt, outside a coat, or in your hair."

If you have to choose one area to invest, make it a pair of great fitting wide-leg trousers or trouser-style dark jeans. The fuller cut is basic but very stylish and can take you from work to evening.

3. Bargain hunt
Since times are tough, Kate anticipates that many retailers will be marking down prices, perhaps sooner than usual. Don't pay full price. If you see something you've got to have, ask the salesperson to give you a call when it goes on sale. In the meantime, explore discount stores, thrift stores, and maybe even your friend's closet.
One of Kate's overriding principles, regardless of the economy, is that we should focus on quality, not quantity. So while a thinner stock portfolio is definitely not a good thing, a thinner wardrobe just might be.