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August 11, 2009

A little email Q&A day


I've gotten a lot of email about one apparently hot and inflamed topic spurred on by the close-up picture of my baby sweater on this page:

I think your stitches look the way they do because you are twisting your stitches...

Ah, the dreaded twisted knitter! To set your mind at ease: No, I am not twisting my stitches. But I was curious about the case of the not-so-perfect Vs, too. Thanks to all the great folks who wrote in and educated me about the ply of the yarn making the difference in the way the stitches look on the fabric. I had never seen my stockinette look like that (and I have knitted MILES of stockinette in the past four and a half years, it's my go-to stitch, yo yo) and I was happily enlightened by all the people who sent me this link to the article about yarn ply. It even has visual aids, hooray!

When I read the article it was sigh of relief. Blame the yarn! Blame is so good, so healing, so cleansing. It was also nice to hear from other knitters working with this Baby Cashmerino who had the exact same results. I don't mind the look of the finished fabric, I just wasn't sure why it was looking that way, and now I know. Knowledge is power. Word.

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Laurie, I want to know how you did it. The no spending for 3 months. Did you start with a plan, how did you decide what was a necessity, what did you do when you caught yourself starting to fall off the wagon. I admire you (ok, I'm really jealous)of what you have accomplished from that endeavor and I want to do the same. If you could give me any advice, what would that be? I need to simplify my life so that I can enjoy it.
Thanks, Linda

Hi Linda!
Well, the first time I did a no-spend it was for three months (and it was hard!) But in 2008, I vowed to go from Memorial Day to Christmas without spending on non-essentials, and it was revolutionary in my way of thinking, living, shopping.

Essentials vary from person to person. If this is all new for you, I would start with just a month. Try to buy only what is absolutely necessary: food, toiletries as they run out, gas, etc. Every time you see something you want that is not a dire need just write it on a list (I kept a little notebook for this) and tell yourself at the end of the month you can buy it if you absolutely still must have it. I kept a list and told myself I could buy all of it when my no-spend was over, but by the time a month or two had passed I found I didn't still want most of what was on the list!

That's how I got started. It took a while to get good at it, and I didn't beat myself up when I had minor slip-ups. I found that simply not being at the stores or at the mall every weekend helped enormously. I filled my time with other things besides shopping. I knit from my stash, made food from my pantry, and decided I could live without a new outfit for a month or two. And I could. I did. I do.

I have found over and over again the number one way to increase the amount of money you have in the bank is to just stop spending it. Even small periods of time used for a shopping moratorium -- a month here and there -- help boost your bank account. But really committing to it for at least a three-month period is where you can see the most benefit and where the payoff really starts. I found it takes about that long to kick the consumer habit.

It's also an excellent way to see how much of our time is spent buying and shopping and returning stuff and more buying. When I stopped shopping it amazed me how much instant free time I had every weekend. I made one trip to the grocery store per week and if needed a trip to Target for household stuff like toilet paper or shampoo or whatever. I found I really only needed to go to Target about once every month, not once a week. Funny how that works.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with shopping and buying things you love and make you happy and comfortable when you have the means to do so. Nothing. I'm not advocating that everyone turn all minimalist and live in an empty room with a single mattress on the floor.

But I personally had confused buying/shopping with happiness. There was a time in my life when I shopped to fill up something empty. And I did it to excess, and I had credit card debt because of it. Plus I had a clutter problem that was insane. So I needed to stop bringing new things into the house, stop spending money, and start figuring out what I was trying to fill up with stuff. It has taken me a long time and I'm still not perfect at this. I still take spending breaks every few months. Sometimes I go nuts shopping (last month I spent all my discretionary money on yarn!) and then I dial it back for a while. After four years of working on this personal issue, I can tell you my house is less cluttered than it's ever been, I still have plenty of stuff that I love and enjoy but now I can see it. It no longer takes me eleventeen days to clean the house, moving piles of clutter from here to there. And after all this time, I'm not one single cent in debt. So for me it has been worth it.

I hope this has helped, I know it's a long answer! Money and spending are so personal, and what is essential for one person may not be for another. I took a pretty dramatic approach and it worked for me, but I think you could do a modified approach and still see some great results.

Good luck to you on your quest to spend less!

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Hey Laurie, I am thinking about getting one of those DKNY wrap sweaters you blogged about. Two questions if you don't mind asking. I wear a size 16. Do you think the L/XL will fit? (I think I recall you saying you were about my size at one point.) Second, most of my upcoming travel will be to LA. Do you think the merino blend is thin enough to wear in Sept/Oct in LA?

Hi there! The L/XL will fit you perfectly. I have varied in size from a 14 up to a 20 (yeah, yeah, I know) and still that sweater has fit me. It's extremely flattering to any body type. Of course I can't wear it all wrapped and tied behind me like the stick skinny gals in the brochure pictures, but I prefer one long end draped over and across one shoulder, it feels very glamorous to me!

About our L.A. weather -- unless we have a freak cold spell, that sweater will be more than enough for September and October, which are traditionally our hottest months. It's not unusual for it to be 100+ out here in October. It does get quite chilly at night sometimes -- well, if you consider 60 chilly, which we do -- and a wrap sweater would be perfect.

Hope this helps and have a great trip!

That's me illustrating how glamorous book tours are. But anyway, I'm wearing my DKNY wrap and rolling with my Samsonite bag which now appears to be sold out.

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I could swear that I have heard of a website, I THINK from you, where I can say "I want to leave Pittsburgh to anywhere, find me where I can go cheap!" and the website will do this. Am I crazy or does such a site exist? If it doesn't, don't you think it should?

Yes indeed! Try this one:


You can pick just U.S. cities or different regions of the world and once you get the display of results, it has all sorts of advanced search filters too, like if you want the results to be sorted by your preferred airline, or by price or date. The only caveat is that the prices displayed often don't figure in taxes and fares -- and that can add a lot of money to the final cost! But it certainly is a cool feature to see what's on sale in the world.

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Hey Laurie,
Since you are my "packing mentor" I have a question for you.I am getting ready for a long weekend (5 day) with family at Disneyworld and am hoping to go with just carry on...My biggest issue is my make-up/toiletries. How do you manage to pack them and be within the TSA guidelines??? I usually can get by in the summer limiting my clothes but ALWAYS have issues with bathroom accessories!!
Thanks moochly!

Hello, Beth!
Packing toiletries is not easy and the TSA made it even harder when they instituted the 3-1-1 rule. I usually check on the hotel's website or on traveler review forums like Trip Advisor to see what sort of amenities the hotel offers to begin with. Usually a good hotel offers soap and shampoo, maybe lotion, bodywash or conditioner. I bring travel-size portions of contact solution, conditioner, face cream and toothpaste and put them in a ziploc baggie that meets the TSA requirements. I also add in lip balm, lip gloss, mascara, a few other things. That plastic baggie goes in my shoulder bag so it's easy to remove when going through security.

In a separate cosmetic bag I bring the rest of my non-liquid stuff. Sometimes I bring my own soap, I bring a few Qtips, some wet wipes, kleenex, medications, makeup, a comb, toothbrush, stuff like that. I have found over time that I don't really need much and if I do forget something I can buy it while I'm there.

If this is your first time attempting the carry-on-only thing, you may want to make a list ahead of time of everything you packed and mark off what you use as you go. Then when you return home you can see what you really needed and what you could have left behind.

If you plan to travel a lot, you may want to keep a packed toiletries bag ready to go. I started doing that when I was on my book tour and I've kept it up. I have a little spot in my cupboard for my travel essentials and when it's vacation time I pull everything out and take what I need. It varies from time to time -- I needed extra sunscreen in Hawaii, for example, but not for London in November.

The most important thing is not to forget your ID or passport, everything else you can purchase or improvise.

Packing is fun. Maybe I am crazy.

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I love the fact that you travel by yourself. I haven't gotten up the guts to do that yet, and honestly you really did inspire me as Ireland is the #1 place I want to visit. I've been waiting and waiting to go with someone, but it never seems to work out, so I am beginning to think that next year I will just pick up and go by myself.

OK, I'm not sure this was a question but I emailed a book in response.

I felt the exact same way about wanting to go on vacation and none of my friends could make it when I wanted to go. So I went by myself and on the first trip I learned a whole lot about traveling solo. For one thing, I got a little lonely at night. So on all my following trips I knew I needed to bring a great book, a great knit (delicious yarn helps, I usually bring one or two skeins of something and make a hat or armwarmers) and now I bring my tiny netbook so I can skype my folks or Drew if I get lonely. I can also watch movies on it. A coworker loaded up a bunch of movies on a USB drive for me and honestly, that and a bottle of wine and some yarn and I love my vacations alone -- even at night! I like booking a luscious room and getting into a fluffy bed to read or have a glass of wine and knit or watch a movie after a long day of walking and sightseeing.

When I'm out, I always bring a book so I can look "busy" if I feel self-conscious at a restaurant. When I want help taking a picture, I look for a couple that seem like tourists and ask the woman to take my picture, then I offer to take a pic of the two of them in return, which works out well for everyone.

Aside from that, I honestly think it is easier to travel alone than with someone!

One of the things that is better about traveling alone is that fewer people bother you because you don't look like an average tourist. I think the street buskers and the scam artists at the main tourist sites seeking out gullible tourists look for pairs and groups. I noticed this in Rome. On the way to the Vatican the streets are full of people trying to give you a rose, a ring, ask for money, sell you something, ask you to sign something, it's all a racket. But they left me completely alone. I think they saw a woman walking alone with a handbag as someone who maybe lived there, was on her way to work, or lunch, or whatever. I had this same experience in Paris, in Madrid, in London, in Dublin. As long as you keep your wits about you I think in some ways you are less of a target, especially in western Europe.

Having said that, I don't do the nightclub and bar scene when I travel. I think it's too dangerous to drink alone late at night in bars without a buddy to keep track of you. This is just my opinion and what works for me. Safety is always my first priority and anyway, I hate clubs. We have the world of clubs right here in Los Angeles and I never go. When I'm on vacation I prefer to get up early and take pictures of the city or go to museums or browse in the local markets and spend the day walking, watching, searching, browsing. Doing it alone is not at all the lonely adventure I dreaded, it's the epitome of freedom. You set the schedule, you see what you want, you pick the restaurant.

I'm planning to take a trip next year with two of my friends but I still intend to keep seeing the world solo as often as I can.

Frankie wants to be my travel partner.

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Finally, three things I am grateful for today:
1) People who love emailing and writing and reading about travel as much as I do! I know I'm no expert and I learn as I go, but it is so much fun to swap tips, even when I am just armchair traveling from my desk.

2) Learning about yarn ply. I had no idea. I love knowing new stuff. Thank you to everyone who helped me with this.

3) My three little balls of fur.

Posted by laurie at August 11, 2009 10:31 AM