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  1. My six-month shopping ban

    Saturday, January 10, 2015

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a few weeks now, and I suppose with a new year getting underway it’s the perfect time to do it.

    As of January 1, I've undergone a six-month shopping ban.

    My shopping ban is inspired by one of my favourite Canadian personal finance bloggers, Cait of Blonde on a Budget, who started her year-long shopping ban in July.

    My mantra for this challenge is: Do I want/need this more than I want a house, or to be out of debt? as those are my two main goals coming out of this. I doubt I will reach either of those goals after six months of a shopping ban, but I know I will be much closer than I would be without the ban.

    When I say ban, I don’t mean I can’t buy anything. But I did take a hard look at my needs versus wants, my shopping habits as well as some gaps in my wardrobe, and I’ve decided that there are a lot of things I can go without buying until July 1 (or longer).

    There’s a few reasons why 2015 is the perfect year for me to do this.

    1) I accomplished a lot of my wardrobe goals in 2014
    Last year at this time, I posted my wardrobe goals for 2014. Luckily I’ve hit on most of them, particularly in the shoe department. I bought a pair of sandals, everyday Oxfords, warm winter boots, and shoes I had been lusting over for more than a year (which I wore to our wedding). I didn’t do as good on the sewing front, except that I did sew up that green blouse. I do have plenty of fabric in my stash to make a few Smooth Sailing blouses, and work-appropriate blouses are in my allowed list.

    2) I want 2016 to be the year Ian and I become homeowners
    I am so so so so so sick of living in a rental. I know a lot of people wax poetic about how great it is to rent, how you don’t have to do anything, etc etc but it just doesn’t work for us. For one thing, there are several issues, both cosmetic and structural, with the house that we rent that the landlord has yet to fix in the 2+ years we’ve both been here. Unfortunately, it’s also not easy for us to find another place to rent that will allow two cats and a big German Shepherd dog. So we’ve set our eyes on buying a house - and a real house, not a condo (No offense to those who do own condos, but I’m not keen on being a slave to a condo board and paying condo fees). Now that the wedding is done with, buying a house is the next leap we want/need to do before kidlets come along.

    Anyway, on to my ban rules (which are heavily inspired by Cait’s rules):

    Banned items (not inclusive):
    Books, magazines, etc
    Vinyl albums/online music
    Clothing (except allowed items, listed below)
    Household items
    Take-out coffee, when I have access to a coffee maker.
    Take-out/restaurants, when I have access to a kitchen
    Electronics or appliances

    Allowed items:
    Needs: Housing, groceries, etc
    Toiletry/cosmetic basics
    Transportation expenses (bus pass, insurance, car payments, maintenance, parking up to $270/six months)
    Gifts for others
    Date night out once a month (all the rest have to be $0)

    Approved items - Home:
    New hampers
    Hat organization system
    Weekly flowers
    New Otterbox case for my phone

    Approved items - Clothing:
    Knitting and fabric supplies up to $200, BUT
    I cannot buy anymore yarn until I use up my stash (except gifts for others)
    I cannot buy supplies for new sewing projects until I finish current projects and finish make-do and mend items (except gifts for others)
    3 classic, work appropriate button-up blouses (me-made or ready-made)
    Cardigan (me-made, in progress)
    fleece-lined mittens (me-made)
    2 pairs fleece-lined tights/knee-high socks (ready made)
    1 pair of wool stockings (ready made)

    Approved Items - Beauty:
    Sleeping cap
    Glass nail file
    Sea salt scrub
    Gel nail polish foils

    If I had started this ban 6 months ago, I would have saved $1,196, or 10% of my overall spending* (although some of that was probably allowed spending). I also would have cut down on the $944* I spent on restaurants, fast-food and coffee shops, for a total of $2,140.
    It’s interesting to note that when I look at the year as a whole, I spent $1,810* on shopping and $1,433* on restaurants/coffee/fast food, meaning I did much better in the first half of the year on curbing my shopping habits than in the latter part (and I already took wedding- and gift-related spending out of the equation).
    *as calculated by Mint

    The main reason behind this ban is to lower my credit card debt and try to speed up paying it off. Besides doing the ban, I am also planning on lowering the payment I’m putting on my card each month. That sounds counter-intuitive, but after I make my $500 monthly payment, I have no money left over for other purchases, like a bus pass, groceries, etc, so I have to put all that on my credit card, which is pretty pointless and also racks up what I pay on interest.

    Being the realist that I am, I know this won’t be easy. In particular, the take-out food and coffee will be a big challenge. On hectic mornings, I usually skip breakfast at home and grab a big, cheap breakfast at work that, combined with some snacking, will carry me until supper time. I’m definitely going to miss that, but I plan on buying healthy, easy to take meals to keep at work - like cans of lentil soup, oatmeal, granola bars and nuts to keep at my desk - for those hectic days where I can’t seem to remember my head, let alone pack a lunch. This will be even more challenging since there is a chance we could be thrown into an election.

    There are some things that (I think) will be easier than others. Like I said, I am fairly set with my current wardrobe, outside my list of allowable items, so I don’t think I will hear the siren song to Etsy any time soon. I am pretty frugal as it is and don’t like buying what I know I can get for free, and rarely buy books or magazines anymore - instead I often check them out from the library, or through one of the library’s e-reading services. Ditto for music, although our beautiful and fairly new record player makes this one a little bit harder.

    The 6-month mark is not a hard and fast rule, but merely meant to be a checking in point where I can reevaluate what I need and what I don’t need, and to see where I am in my progress. I hope I have the willpower to extend it all the way until December 2015!

  2. Wedding Recap! Part One

    Friday, December 19, 2014

    While I am still on hiatus from blogging, I thought a blog post showing off our wedding photos and doing a bit of a recap of the day was in order.

    One of the many reasons we went with November 8 for our wedding was because I really wanted a winter wedding, but didn’t want it to be too cold for photos outside. But I was starting to get pretty nervous because even up to Friday night when I went to bed there wasn’t a single snowflake on the ground - even in Edmonton where it’s pretty common to be dashing through the snow on Halloween.

    So I thought we would be resigned to having a brown, leafless, icky background for wedding photos until....
    A photo posted by Laurie Kucerak (@retroreporter) on

    We woke up to a winter wonderland! It probably wasn’t that welcome of a sight for those driving a long way for the wedding, or for those more accustomed to warmer climates like Vancouver and Toronto, but I was really happy.

    I’ll do a second post on outfits, hair & makeup and decor; there are several stories to tell that I don’t want to condense.

    Obviously, the day was wonderful. The worst things that happened was that we ordered way (way WAY) too much cake - which we donated to a local shelter - and that I danced so hard I broke my shoe.
    Our venue was the beautiful Freemasons’ Hall downtown. I would encourage EVERYONE, no matter the occasion, to consider booking the hall for their next Edmonton event. Ken and Angel are wonderful hosts who bent over backwards to make our special day possible.

    They hosted our ceremony and reception, catered, and did 99% of the set up and take down, outside of what we brought in ourselves. Also, everything was the fraction of the price of other halls in Edmonton and none of them offered the beauty of the 80 year old hall nor the service.

    We did our photos at the Alberta Legislature, where I now work and where Ian and I had our first date. Since we were trying to do the wedding as affordable as possible, it was easier for us to take the train (there was a station next to the hall directly to the Legislature).

    When we got to the Leg we were disappointed to see that the steps were being occupied by a rally - purely because of selfish, photographic reasons, of course - but after shooting in a different location, we came back around to find that the crowd had mostly dispersed, and all that were left were a few people, as well as LED tea lights in the shape of a heart. We couldn’t pass up that photo opportunity!

    All of our photos were by Jordan Verlage. Being a photographer himself, Ian was the one tasked with finding a photographer for our wedding and we loved having Jordan document our day. As an award winning photojournalist, he captured everything beautifully (and stealthily).

    Mine and my bridesmaids hair was done by the wonderful Krista Dee, who I was so happy to have drive up from Calgary to spend the day with us, along with her hubby and little one Solanah! She did a great job and my hair withstood wind, snow, dancing and more.

    Our DJs - who I give credit to when our guests say it was the best wedding they’ve been to - were Krista and Devin of Newley Sound. If you ever need DJs for anything, I highly recommend snapping these two up! They are an amazing duo, and the kind of folks where it took us 3 hours to do a consultation meeting because we were too busy chatting to get down to business. Special props to Krista, who was DJing at 35 weeks pregnant. They're also as weird as us, which is a nice bonus.

    Instead of a dance with my dad, he and I opted to sing and play Stand By Me, while Ian and his mom danced. My dad and I have always bonded over a love of music, and I loved being able to do this with him.

    Following the parental dance was our first dance as husband and wife to Chances by Jill Barber.... which then immediately went into Shake It Off by Taylor Swift.

    I was so grateful to have my best friends Bailey and Heather, as well as my little sister Maryanne, standing beside me as I said my vows. And it was great to see Ian’s best friends Tom and Nicola beside him; since they live in BC, we don’t get to see each other very often (I actually met Nicola for the first time the day before).

    All in all, it was the most amazing day. I can’t believe it’s already been a month and a half since we tied the knot!


  3. Burnt Out

    Wednesday, September 3, 2014

    I hate to admit it, but I think the time has come to declare what I’ve known in my heart for a long while: I am burnt out on blogging.

    This is definitely how I feel lately. But I don’t even drink beer. What the hell have I done?
    As I recently wrote in my ECAMP article Edmonton’s WWII Heroines, one parallel that I find between modern days and the 1940s is the expectation for women to do it all - housework, a steady job, volunteerism, social events - with a smile. (How’s that for a shameless plug that’s still relevant?)

    There’s no denying that I’ve taken a step back from this blog lately. But I think what I have been in denial about is that I want to blog, I just don’t have the time to do it.

    But I don’t want to blog. At least, not right now.

    Accurate representation of how I look whenever I think about blogging.

    I have a Google Drive folder filled with half-started blog posts that have gone nowhere. I used to see blogging as a release, another creative outlet, but now it’s this nagging thing in the back of my mind that I procrastinate doing. And I think that the moment you stop enjoying something - particularly something that’s a hobby - you should step back from it before you make yourself hate it.

    I honestly feel like I don’t have much to contribute to the blogging community anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I still love dressing vintage, reading other blogs, sewing, knitting and chatting with other vintage lovers online, but I no longer feel like Retro Reporter is the right outlet for expressing myself. 

    While there are still blog posts I’m interested in doing - particularly post-wedding - I just don’t have the energy for the daily, weekly, or even monthly posts when I frankly have other things I’d rather do. And as someone who spends all day on the computer, on social media, frankly it’s become the last thing I want to do when I get home, even if it’s a completely different topic.

    For the next little while, I am going to put Retro Reporter, and my blog Facebook page, on hiatus. I may come back after my wedding. I may not. I may be gone for a long time and then decide to pick things back up in a few months or years.

    I am still going to be on Instagram and may even get back into Twitter. If you’re interested in keeping touch, feel free to add me on Facebook (just let me know if you’re coming from my blog, because I won’t just add random strangers).

  4. I’m back with another sewing project! This time it’s my version of the 1936 Sports Halter.

    Outfit details:
    1936 Sports Halter playsuit - me made, pattern by Eva Dress
    Sandals -  Sears
    Pineapple Earrings: Estate Sale
    Engagement ring substitute - a piece from a ring sizing kit to quell my anxiety about not having my ring while it's getting its matching wedding band custom made

    I actually debated not posting these photos because I don't like how I look (too squinty! Not sucking in enough!) but c'est la vie. I neglected to do something that I've done with most other sewing projects - a trial run! After wearing this to Heritage festival I found that I didn't put the snaps on the top in the right place and didn't take in the shorts enough, so they fall well below my natural waist and just make it look like my pants are about to fall off. Blech.

    Anyway... I bought the pattern earlier this spring from EvaDress Patterns, and I am very impressed with the company! It was shipped quickly, was printed on heavy paper, and packed nicely in a ziplock bag (which I prefer over those fiddly paper envelopes that I can never fit the pattern back into).

    I had high ambitions of finishing it in early July, but since I sew at a sloth’s pace, I just finished it on the August Long weekend, just in time to take photos at Heritage Festival with my gal pal Heather.
    (For the uninitiated, Heritage Festival is like a cultural fair, with dancing, demonstrations, souvenirs and, most importantly, FOOD from hundreds of countries in the beautiful Hawrelak Park. It’s by far my favourite festival in Edmonton, because food.)

    I used this blue novelty print Hawaiian cotton, which has Hawaiian “stickers” on it depicting beach girls and Hawaiian scenes from the 30s to the 60s. It’s slightly anachronistic for a 1930s playsuit, but how could you NOT make a playsuit from this fabric? I got this fabric from my parents last August for my birthday, and I’m so excited that I finally have something to wear made from it!

    There’s two reasons it took me so long to make this playsuit. One is that I was making some seriously derpy sewing mistakes. The fabric loops confused me, despite doing them in previous projects, I failed hard on the zipper pocket (despite doing it perfectly on my skirt) and sewed the snaps on the wrong side. Like I said, just silly little mistakes. Clearly I need to do more than 1 project every season.

    The other thing that slowed me down, but in a good way, was the lining of the halter top. Once I decided that I would make this playsuit, I realized that I didn’t have a bra to wear with it, as my only strapless bra is a longline. Rather than buy another strapless bra (I seriously just bought that longline one, and I just bought my wedding bra, and I need to buy another everyday bra, so I’m kind of sick of bras) I decided to make a sew in one, and I’m glad I did.  This top shows A LOT of skin, so much that I’m not sure I could hide a strapless bra in there.

    So I followed this tutorial to make a built-in bra. I cut another halter piece that ended at my bra band line, then sewed on some elastic. The elastic is only attached to the front of the lining, and hangs free from from the halter waistband in the back. I kind of just eyeballed everything, and it worked! I’m so pleased with myself, and it is great support. I may be tempted to do this in a few other tops.

    My other favourite thing about this top, which kind of gets lost due to the busy print, is those giant collars. Strangely enough, I had no issues with adding the collars, despite my wide range of other silly problems with this top, and confusion last time I made something with collars.

    I did a bit of creative troubleshooting with this make. While I love rompers, playsuits etc etc, I hate having to get all the way naked to go to the washroom, especially since the top requires three different closures. So, instead of following the pattern instructions to sew the top and the shorts together, I added snaps instead. Sneaky sneaky.

    The shorts are really weird because there’s no real waistband; the instructions actually call for you to use bias tape to finish the shorts waist and hem. Since I didn’t feel like mucking around making my own tape, I just turned them in. If I ever make this playsuit again, or even just the shorts, I think I would add an actual waistband with interfacing. It's just doesn’t feel like enough support to keep it up (especially considering this is called a “sports halter”) on it's own, so in the future I'm going to wear it with a matching elastic belt.

    This is definitely going to become a summer favourite, and I plan on wearing it every day when I get home from work and have to sit in my un-air conditioned house.

    Photos by Heather McIntyre / Laurie Callsen


  5. Musings on a self-made wardrobe

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my wardrobe: what I want in it, what I want out of it, and how I use clothing to express myself. But I also find myself thinking a lot more about where I want my clothes to be coming from.

    So I decided to take a bit of a different take on the Me-Made May Pledge. Instead of pledging to wear X amount of me-made clothing in May, I’ve used last month to seriously assess my wardrobe, and here are some of my personal epiphanies from this retrospective.

    Use expensive vintage and reproduction for inspiration

    I’ve been lusting after pretty much every dress in the Trashy Diva collection, but particularly the Daisy Mae one. Sadly, no matter how much I love it, I know that $163 for a summer dress that I will likely only wear once or twice a year is not the best idea for my budget.

    When I was looking for good project for the black broadcloth I bought for a circle skirt that I don’t feel like making anymore, I came across the Butterick 5209 pattern, which has a close-enough silhouette to the Daisy Mae. And since I am not an all-black dress kind of person, I am going to make it my own with poppies embroidered on the waistband.

    Make what I can, buy what I can’t

    I recognize that I am not the most amazing seamstress (yet) and will probably never have a wardrobe that is even 50% handmade. I also recognize that there are some pieces I enjoy doing more than others. So I’ve decided that I will splurge on making pieces that I wouldn’t be able to make myself yet - like blazers, jackets, trousers - or anything where it is more cost effective to buy it rather than make it (like socks and skivvies).

    That means I’m going to focus on blouses, dresses and skirts for the time being, and hope to start making my own lounge and sleepwear soon. This doesn’t mean I’ll never ever ever make my own pants or jackets, but I know that they require a much higher skill level than what I have right now.

    This also means I can save money (well maybe. Sewing and knitting are damn expensive hobbies) to buy stuff I really can’t make, like kick ass shoes and kitschy brooches.

    Skip the so-so items to splurge on the superb

    This could also be titled “curbing the impulse buys”. There have been so many things that I’ve bought on a whim because:
    1) it was cheap and it didn’t fit me but maybe I could modify it or sell it.
    2) it was cheap and it had some damage but maybe I could mend it.
    3) it was cheap and I wasn’t crazy about it but maybe I’d grow to love it.

    Aaaand all of those things have pretty much ended up in a Goodwill donation bin or some other form of being given away. I can only imagine what pricy items I could have bought instead of throwing my money on things I never wore!

    This is where something like Pinterest is really great. I have the opportunity to pin something to my Wishlist board, and if I keep coming on back to it, I know that it’s something I should invest in. If not, then I know it was only a momentary lust or heart palpitation. If I know there’s something I’m looking for specifically, like my pair of HeyDay trousers, I subscribe to all their social media outlets to make sure I get the word if something is going on sale. If you sign up for ModCloth an add to your wishlist, they notify you if something is going out of stock. I’ve also noticed that Pinterest will give you a heads up if something is on sale.

    My Pinterest wishlist, with very few things I have actually bought for myself.
    I also am slowly learning to invest in great staples. One night when I had a coffee date with a friend and it was -40*C, I learned that my bus home from work stops running at 6:30 pm, so I had the unbridled joy of walking nine blocks home in boots that were sorta functional but definitely not made for those temperatures. The next week I bought myself some nice knee-high faux fur boots that are good to -30 (also, this was February so they were 40% off).

    Lesson learned, and now I’m on the hunt to find great shoes for commuting to work that are 1) mildly comfortable (I take the bus, so transit-friendly is important) and 2) mildly vintage-appropriate. I’m looking for some chunky, low-heeled oxfords that fit the bill, if anyone has seen any!

    Wow, I didn’t intend this post to be as long as it came out to be. Thanks for sticking with me. If you were just scrolling through, here’s the TLDR version: Make what I can, pony up the big bucks for things I can’t and that are investment pieces, and stop buying clothes that I’m not 100% in love with.


  6. Sewing Redux: Spring has Sprung!

    Sunday, May 11, 2014

    Today’s post is showing off my latest sewing project, the Simplicity 3688 blouse. You may recall the skirt from this set that I made a while back, and now here’s the blouse to match!

    The blouse is made out of some mystery bargain-bin fabric from Fabricland that is likely some polyester blend, as it actually melted when I was ironing the bias tape for the neckline. Luckily I had accidently cut two of the bias tape, so it didn’t set me back at all. Still, it is a good reminder to always check what setting your iron is on before you go to town.

    It's also very billowy, as you can see in these photos. I didn't realize it was so windy when we were out for our little photoshoot. I also didn't realize that the blouse was so sheer.... eep.

    My biggest struggle with this blouse was that I looked at the body measurements to pick the size to sew instead of noting the finished garment measurements. This particular blouse had 5 inches of ease, so I ended up taking in the seams quite a bit. Thankfully that was the only faffy part of the blouse: there’s no interfacing (well, there’s supposed to be but I skipped that step because it didn’t make sense; I think you were supposed to make your own shoulder pads, but I found the shoulders to be quite strong without, thank you very much), no buttonholes to make and no zippers to insert. A quick and easy project!

    The only real variation I did on this blouse was making a binding loop for the button out of some leftover fabric instead of the recommended thread loop.

    I just found the thread loop way too finicky to make, but my bias loop turned out great. And I just love the vintage button I found in my stash - it matches perfectly.

    Another annoyance but not a big deal is that I neglected to ease the sleeves at the same time, and instead eased and sewed in one then the other, which caused one sleeve to be puffier than the other (or so I think). Next time I will definitely ease them both at the same time so they match.

    I love this blouse and will definitely be making it again. It was a great redemption blouse after the finicky red peplum blouse I made this winter that nearly did me in.

    Next on my sewing table? My version of the Trashy Diva Daisy dress, but one that’s fall/winter appropriate using Butterick 5209. Stay tuned!

    Photos by IK Creative

  7. Life Lately

    Sunday, April 27, 2014

    Oh goodness, what a hiatus I’ve been on. This blog has been embarrassingly neglected! Yikes. So I thought I would fill you guys in on what has kept me so busy lately. 

    The Alberta Legislature

    My new job
    First and foremost, I have really thrown myself into my new job as Communications Assistant for Alberta’s NDP Opposition Caucus, which I started in late February. I am part of a three-person comms team, and work with seven other awesome staffers to support four incredible MLAs stand up for what’s really important to Albertans.  In my day-to-day work, I do a lot of social media and website work, as well as coordinate some marketing efforts - so I’m very behind the scenes.

    I can’t and won’t promise this blog won’t get political from time to time, as politics is now my life. Will you see a lot more orange in my outfit posts? You betcha. Will I start writing long blog posts about pension legislation and curriculum rewrites? Unlikely, as I get enough of that at work. But I will never apologize for talking politics. I know a lot of other fashion blogs that even get the teensy bit political always seem to have some sort of disclaimer at the beginning apologizing in advance for getting a little deep on a fashion blog, which I think is ridiculous. As long as you’re expressing your opinion in a respectful way, I think there is a place for politics and fashion (I love to talk about why I love the 40s because it’s not just the styles but also the deeper socio-economic meaning behind the clothing... but that’s another story for another day).

    So that’s one big reason I haven’t been posting. I love my job, I can get very fired up at work and I am always happy to be there, which means I inadvertently am staying later than I did at my last job. When I first started with the NDP I was so hungry for real work that I was honestly starving all the time and just exhausted, and would fall asleep as soon as I got home. It didn’t help that the proverbial shit hit the fan in the Legislature right after I started (culminating in the Premier resigning). I honestly haven’t sewed, knit or done anything else blog worthy since we went to the Neon Sign Museum (which was the weekend before I started my new job).

    Now that I’ve been at the NDP for 2 months, and with session ending in a few weeks, I’ve fallen into a better routine and am trying to get the rest of my life in order. I went to the pool for the first time in two months on Friday. Ugh, remind me to never do that again! What a waste of $80 to have a gym membership and not go. Not to mention the pain my butt was in after. I’ve also been able to get back into baking, cooking, knitting and sewing.  And, of course, with my new job comes a little bit more money, so I’m able to buy a few more clothes - expect some outfit posts soon.

    Other things I’ve been busy attending to?

    Wedding planning
    Oh yes, that old hat. There are only 195 days (!!) until I am Mrs. Kucerak, and Ian and I have been chugging along quite well in checking things off the to-do list. Despite the fact that we’re not getting married until November, it seems like there are only 4 months until the wedding, since July and August are notoriously fast, people will be on holidays so it will be hard to coordinate things, et cetera.

    Luckily there really isn’t too much “big stuff” to do: the invites are ready to go to the printer, I had my second wedding dress appointment (I’m getting my dress custom-made, and plan on blogging about the experience), the hall, DJs, commissioner have been booked since last summer, and we have an amazing wedding photographer. I expect September and October will pick up again, when we start ordering flowers and cake, making seating charts and finalizing details, but it will be nice to have most things in place over the summer.

    What’s next?
    Well, firstly I have had a post that I’ve been meaning to write since DECEMBER, and am still as excited about it as I was then. How sad is that? I feel terribly, but I really, really hope I will have time to do it soon. It’s one of those things that I’ve been avoiding because I didn’t have the time to do it justice.... but now it’s just time to buckle down and DO IT, for crying out loud.

    Following that post, I will shortly be finishing up a new blouse. All I need to do is attach the second sleeve, hem the blouse and make a fabric loop; it should only take me a few hours (it’s a puffed sleeve blouse, otherwise it would be done already) but sewing is one of those things where I can’t dedicate a few hours to get lost in it, I just can’t do it. I *want* to sew, but can never find the time. Sigh.

    Other than that, who knows! Ian and I are heading to Toronto in 3 weeks (I will get that blouse done for our trip if it kills me!) so there will hopefully be something vintagey to come out of it. We’re going to meet a bunch of his family, hopefully go to the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge and hit up Niagara for a pre-wedding honeymoon.

    Ta-ta for now! Hopefully I will have some more interesting things to post in the weeks to come.