Living like Gwyneth — on a budget.

Poop – Cheer

February Blues

When I moved to Los Angeles five years ago, I arrived two years earlier than I had initially expected when I started college. Part of that was because I struggled with a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder my freshmen year that put me down for a week. The year I left Illinois, I also left behind a wind chill of -20 Fahrenheit. I cannot imagine having to endure what the rest of the country has this year, when negative temperatures have been the norm, and I say this without an ounce of smugness. You are all definitely stronger than I am.

That said, I do have some suggestions for those days when you think that the cold might just last forever this time, and the clouds and grey seem to have infected your brain. Here’s hoping they help.

Peace and pennies, Sam

Make Plans

It is really easy to lose sight of the sunshine when your whole world is gray and white. Spring is an ephemeral time that, in the Midwest, could come anytime from March to April, and could leave a few times before it finally settled, and usually, especially in my hometown along the Mississippi, came with massive floods. The easiest way to keep from getting down – to remember that there WILL be an end to winter – is to set a firm date. Plan a day trip. Get tickets for a baseball game – minor league games, especially early in the season, are super affordable. Plan to go to the zoo when it is open again. Make sure your plans involve sunshine or being outdoors in some way, and that they’re not too far into the future. Much like the fictional Miss Rhode Island said, the perfect date is usually around April 25th – not too hot, not too cold, and all you need is a light jacket. Make future plans, and when you get down, just look at the countdown. It’s always shrinking, just like the amount of days until the cold is gone.


Seasonal depression, like actual depression, is a chemical imbalance in your brain. Luckily, unlike actual depression, SAD is easier to manage. Laughter, even forced laughter, can change your brain chemistry. And now, more than ever, it is easier to find sources of humor even when you’re stuck in your house because of six feet snow drifts.

Right now, on Netflix, for only $7.99/month, you can watch Parks and Recreation, The IT Crowd, Portlandia, Archer, The Office, Robot Chicken, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Futurama, Louie, Venture Bros., Frasier, Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23 and any number of comedy movies if you don’t feel like sitting through an entire sitcom marathon.

Don’t have Netflix? You can watch loads of current shows on Hulu for free.

There are also books galore on Project Gutenberg, and loads of free options on Amazon for the Kindle. Libraries are still open, and because they are public buildings, will generally get power back more quickly than many neighborhoods. Go charge your phone, warm your buns, and grab a comic if you find yourself without power. I just finished the Scott Pilgrim series, and it totally made me laugh out loud.

If the roads are safe enough, get out for a bit and see The Lego Movie (it’s awesome, seriously) or go to a comedy show. It can be miserable to get outside, I know, but venturing out and interacting with others, especially in a lighthearted context, can really help your mood. Which brings me to…

Get out when you can

If it is safe, and if you have a vehicle or a means of getting places without your boogers freezing in your nose, leave your house. While it can be easy to give up and stay in bed or sit on the couch all day, doing something outside of the work-home routine can change your outlook. During freshmen year in Chicago, I stayed in my room for a week, not even going to classes. It definitely did not help anything. It wasn’t until I started rejoining my friends in the cafeteria at meal times and getting out, no matter how many layers I had to wear, that I started to feel better again.

And if none of this helps…

Move to Southern California.

Just kidding – we don’t have enough water to share.

Good luck out there, Poopers!


Poop – Re-Group

The past few months have been a wild ride. Since November, my life has changed pretty substantially in some ways, and in others, feels frustratingly similar. Through it, I’ve learned some very helpful lessons and seen areas where I really need to improve. My brain has felt constipated, and it’s time to start pooping again.

Currently, the biggest thing I am working on is feeling less intimidated. In December, I started at a new company, working in close proximity with one of the most well-known and successful executives in Hollywood, surrounded by 2000 talented people. Although I felt confident enough to give a good interview, between the job itself being a lateral move, difficulty settling into a new routine, and the frustrations of being new someplace for the first time in four years, I’ve lost a bit of my proverbial mojo.

So over the next week, I’m going to try to release the confidence blockage and feel like myself again.

Peace and pennies, Sam

Follow the Leaders

When I was taking my Financial Peace classes, one thing Dave Ramsey’s lessons stressed modelling behaviors of financially successful people. While I think that it wasn’t the soundest advice in finance class (privilege being what it is), it does work wonders in a professional environment.

Currently, I am working on cultivating the admiration that I have for people in various creative and professional fields into a learning experience. This week, I paid attention to a couple key behaviors that my boss and other executives at work use that are highly effective.

They are:

  1. Lead with the positive. Although I typically see this with interactions and on the phone, one thing I have noticed is that all of these powerful people start their day with something happy or energizing, whether it is easily accomplished work task or a cup of coffee with a coworker. This week, I am going to start my morning commute – the bane of my day – with either an audiobook or a happy piece of music. I am also going to interact with people coming from a place of commonality or positivity so I feel more confident in myself and my interactions with them.
  2. Ask questions at the outset. My band director used to tell us “Do it right the first time.” I’d like to amend that statement slightly and say “Make it right the first time.” Knowledge is a huge part of confidence. My friend, an experienced artist, talked with me this week at lunch about the importance of having the time and clarity to do good work on the first draft – how it creates a foundation that prevents problems and rushed mess further down the line. When beginning a new task, I am going to make sure I ask appropriate questions. Asking up front will make me seem more competent and help me to build confidence of myself and earn the confidence of others. Asking questions in social situations also helps. From “What’s appropriate dress?” to “Want to have lunch to discuss (questions, projects, whatever)?” it’s much easier to have positive responses from others if you express your own questions. The more questions I ask, the more I realize that other people want to ask them as well, and it becomes great source of confidence both intellectually and socially.

Treat My Body Better

My stomach has been a wreck. My back hurts. The new, much longer commute has caused my anxiety levels to spike. My workouts have been sporadic at best, and I feel, to be blunt, pretty gross. I have been living in my head, and it’s starting to really show. This week, I need to really commit to changing how I feel. When I feel happier in my body, it certainly contributes to a greater feeling of confidence. Lately, though, with my stomach betraying me and my body feeling so tired, everyone intimidates me by virtue of just existing.

Part of this is going to include re-committing to exercising every day. Since I no longer ride my bike to work, I have lost that bonus workout that came with my commute. I’ve let my earlier mornings and my beastly homeward commute at the end of the day get the best of me. When I exercise, especially in the mornings, it gives me a feeling of strength, both physical and mental.

Another thing I am going to do is return to my Poor Goop roots. Currently, I have been working my way through the Gwyneth-approved Clean Gut book. For Christmas, I received from my brother Cameron Diaz’s (noted friend of Gwynnie) Body Book. Although I try not to buy into the airbrushed celebrity image, both Gwyneth and Cameron have a confidence in their bodies that extends beyond beauty and into how they deal with critics (Goopy!) and aging (Cameron). Over the coming weeks, I’ll go into both books in more detail, but I am going to start using the simple advice and dietary ideas to try and improve my own health.

Hopefully, by Pooping again, I can reestablish my self-confidence and feel more in control of these new changes in my life.

Poop – Watch

Summer Movies

Oscar prognosticators have come out of the woodwork this week with early predictions, which means summer movie season is officially over. Most folks called this summer a disappointment – and two weeks ago I might have as well, but I saw four really solid films since my last post that changed my mind. You’re Next, Drinking Buddies, The Conjuring, and The Act of Killing all deviate from the Hollywood norm while still being emotionally moving in a way that’s accessible. Although they’re all completely different genres with completely different purposes, they were all a breath of fresh air in a year of movies that have felt pretty rote.

Below, I’ll get into each with a bit more detail. Although I have tried not to turn this into a movie blog, the homogenization of Hollywood has become painful enough recently that I’ve considered switching careers, so these all meant a little more to me than just a good movie. It’s a reason to keep doing what I want to do (and not lament all the money my parents and I spent on that degree).

Peace and pennies, Sam

You’re Next

Plot-wise, on a beat sheet this would look like a standard Hollywood home-invasion flick, not unlike The Strangers. But in actuality, it turns the genre on its head, shows the Bechdel test what’s what, and gets a laugh or two in the process.

When a family dinner is interrupted by an arrow through the window, Erin, the new girlfriend meeting her boyfriend Crispian’s family for the first time, surprises everyone with her incredible survival skills as she tries to save the family and herself. Not only is Erin competent, she avoids falling into the generic action female trope by displaying fear and vulnerability. She talks with Zee, another outsider to this family, sharing survival skills and only mentioning their respective boyfriends as they relate to her plans. The humor is largely character-oriented, not just the byproduct of gross-out kills (although it has those, too), and despite the movies quick pace, we feel invested in the characters so their deaths hurt us a little more.

Although it does not have movie stars or a big budget, You’re Next is polished enough in execution that anyone who enjoys a good horror film will definitely want this in their collection. It’s exciting to see an indie horror entry that doesn’t rely on handheld cameras, torture porn, or rape for a compelling story. I was absolutely surprised by this movie, and I would recommend it to anyone but my mom, who will cover her eyes through most of it.

Drinking Buddies

I haven’t seen a solid romantic comedy in a long time. Silver Linings didn’t do it for me because it felt so grossly contrived. I was definitely skeptical of Drinking Buddies, directed by mumblecore maven Joe Swanberg (who has a pretty great role in You’re Next, as well). Most of his other films meander, never quite reaching any sort of point, and they’re pretty exhausting. But in Drinking Buddies, he definitely found his stride. Olivia Wilde is Kate, the only female employee at a brewery. Although both she and her coworker and friend, Luke, both have significant others, they find themselves drawn to one-another as their relationships hit shaky ground. It’s a great story about bad timing. I watched it with two guy friends, and all of us were, somewhat uncomfortably, shocked at how we all had similar experiences in our own lives. The film didn’t have a script, but you wouldn’t know it based on the strength and confidence of each of the performances.

Romantic comedies, when they’re good, are some of my favorite films. I’d begun to think that they’d gone the way of the dodo, however, until I saw this. Romance does not have to be dumb – it doesn’t have to be the domain of shopaholic bridesmaids that don’t actually exist outside of studio marketing departments. Love stories should be awkward and funny and honest. Drinking Buddies restored my faith in my once and future favorite film genre. It’s available on VOD, and you should check it out. Make sure you have good beer on hand, though, because this movie will make you want to drink.

The Conjuring

Yes, it’s been out for over a month, and yes, it’s scary. But I regret putting it off as long as I did, because this movie is great. My barometer of quality horror is how well I’m able to sleep afterward. A movie can have scares, but if the plot is lame, I’ll be up all night, upset, for two weeks. However, if it’s truly great, like The Exorcist or The Shining, my joy at seeing something of quality will outweigh my sheer terror, and I’ll sleep like a baby (with a nightlight, don’t judge).

Whether you believe the famous demonologist Warrens are frauds or the real deal does not matter. James Wan constructs a spectacular thriller, using his well-developed characters to create organically fearful moments. There aren’t too many forced silly jump scares. Everything stems from our desire to see the terrorized Perron family safe in their home. And from the excellent score and sound design. Seriously, this is a brilliantly executed film, on both an emotional and technical level.

Not only is the story brilliant, but Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren and Lily Taylor’s Carolyn Perron are the epitome of actually strong female characters. They aren’t defined by their husbands and children – they’re capable characters whose lives you can clearly imagine outside of the context of the film. Even the five daughters had clear personalities and did not fall into precocious child movie stereotypes. If you’re not keen on horror films, still check this one out. I would bet you’ll be surprised.

The Act of Killing

Honestly, this devastating documentary could get a post all its own. It could get a whole month of posts, really. I haven’t seen a documentary so honest or effective in such a long time.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer spent several years in Indonesia interviewing men who killed thousands after the 1965 communist overthrow. He allows them to make their own films, telling their horrible stories from their perspective in any genre they like. His primary subject is Anwar Congo, a man who would probably be really likeable if we did not know immediately that he was a murderer. This is not to say that Oppenheimer gives these men any sympathy – he does not. They are forced to face their acts, for better or worse, in telling their stories so openly. However, as Oppenheimer said in his Q&A, these men are humans, not monsters, and it’s important to examine why humans commit such evil acts – to examine where evil comes from instead of writing it off.

Overall, the film reassures those who lost so much in 1965 that their stories are real. In a roundabout way, he’s given the victims a voice since they had none whatsoever before. He’s been carefully screening the film throughout Indonesia, which has dangerously strict censorship laws, and it is inciting change.

Because the humanity of these murderers is front and center, because we see and understand their motivation, it’s easy, and so uncomfortable, to see how easily we could fall into that trap ourselves. How we could convince ourselves that death is the answer and justify atrocities toward our fellow man. How in some ways, a society like ours dependent on globalization has helped to sustain men like Anwar Congo. The film does not present easy answers, but it beautifully plants the seeds for change – not just in Indonesia, but perhaps in our own lives as well.

This film, more than any other, is a beautiful reminder that movies can be so important. They can be subversive, unifying, affecting, convicting, uplifting and so much more, if we allow ourselves to reach outside the norm. The Act of Killing is quite literally creating social change in a country that hasn’t seen any since 1965. How fantastic is that?

And while not every movie needs to start a revolution, even silly movies like You’re Next can break the mold and prove to people that female characters can lead movies without being sorry victims or cold lone wolves.

See good movies, even if they don’t look like all the others. Allow yourself to be surprised. Who knows? If enough of us start changing our viewing habits, maybe movies themselves will change, sparing us a summer of $100 million disappointments.

Poop – Chic ‘N Shit

Solitary Stitch ‘N Bitch

Poopers! I’m back. In the past several months, I’ve taken a rather stupid – in retrospect – break from the blog, and also just about everything else. We could discuss the why and where of it all, but why bother when I’m trying to be better?

In that otherwise regrettable amount of time, I’ve obtained a grill, a sewing machine, plane tickets to Spain, and a new fascination with Doctor Who. I’m eating, learning, planning, and watching, and I finally feel worthy of being HPIC again.

Chic ‘n Shit, in case you were wondering, will be a semi-regular feature (whose regularity has yet to be determined) in which I cull my beginner sewing projects into some sort of list in which you can judge me, and I can link to free patterns and tips for those who are interested. Obviously, I’ll try to organize everything accordingly on my Pinterest Site.

Peace and pennies, Sam

A Brief Intro

A month ago, I purchase a Brother LS-590 Free Arm sewing machine. It’s really easy to use, and, according to my costume-designing neighbor, has a great button hole feature that I look forward to using in the future. I’ve sewn before, but it’s been ages, and I was tired of trying to find things that fit my ass and my style. The machine was on sale at Hancock Fabrics for around $90, which is a pretty fair price for something that has definitely helped me in my deep, albeit lame, struggle.

I’ve also found that once I had the start-up supplies covered, thread and fabric are relatively inexpensive for relatively decent quality. In my quest to avoid fast-fashion, I may have found a really happy solution, provided I can hone my skills to a functional level.

The First Skirt – Total cost: $16.00

This pattern is super easy, and a great confidence-builder for new sewers. At least, it was for me. You don’t need to cut, and you only need a vague grasp of measuring to make it work.

Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it looks on paper. I desperately wanted a seersucker skirt, but I’m cheap, so the fabric I figured I could afford was super sheer. I bought the end of the bolt, so I got $2.00 off at JoAnn Fabrics, but I’ll still never go there for fabric again. Their selection is only ample if you’re into quilting, which I suppose keeps their name from being false advertising. Point is, I had excess fabric, and excess visibility, so I folded the whole operation in half. This was a disaster in the making… until I remembered my iron.

For those of you who think too far ahead, make shortcuts, and wind up with creative projects filled with sadness like yours truly, remember this: if you ever take up sewing, make sure you have an iron and a full-sized ironing board.

I ironed the fabric as carefully as I could before beginning my project, essentially trying to create a single piece of half-sized fabric. From there, I followed the instructions. The only other place I needed to deviate was in pulling the elastic. I could not, for the life of me, find a safety pin, so I used a paperclip instead.

The results were poofy, but charming. I have a wearable, lovely seersucker skirt that I can wear with my Sperry Topsiders that I bought for $30 on clearance at Nordstrom Rack in true Pooper fashion.

Paul is out of town, so the photos lack their normal finesse. But this skirt certainly does not.

Paul is out of town, so the photos lack their normal finesse. But this skirt certainly does not.

The Second Skirt – Total cost: $22.00

Any confidence I earned from the first skirt has been shrunken and maimed with this falsely-named Five Minute Skirt. It took me a week. But in that week, I learned several valuable lessons.

The first is that, despite the instructions telling you otherwise, you should definitely draw out a pattern, cut it, and pin it to your skirt rather than drawing it on. Feel free to laugh at me now, but I’ve only recently completed a drawing class and a functional skirt, so my hubris wasn’t entirely without merit.

The second is that FOE (fold-over elastic for those of you who still buy your clothes like weirdos) is not that stretchy. Not stretchy enough for my back-end, anyway. I messed up the first go-round, leaving several holes in my waistband, but it was fine because I couldn’t get it over my bum up to my waist anyway. Cutting away the mistake and straightening the new waistline, I was able to use a wider zig-zag stitch so the elastic would have a bit more give. It still requires a lot of clenching and wiggling to get the skirt on, but it works.

The last lesson I learned is that stripes ruin everything. I bought an eye-catching zig-zag striped fabric, even though I’d practically memorized the pattern before going into Fabric Planet on Lincoln. If you read it, you’ll see that it requires you to place the pattern at a diagonal before cutting. Obviously, I couldn’t do that because I wanted my stripes to be horizontal. Not only did it create a lot of fabric waste, but it lead to me finishing the hem, only to have it fall apart from fraying in the wash. Luckily, I was able to fix it using hem tape, but that is why it took so much extra construction time. Beyond the fraying, using striped fabric for a first time cutting project requires that you cut very, very precisely to keep your stripes appropriately horizontal. Any hemming mistakes or crooked seems are exponentially more visible. Scattered polka dots are, without a doubt, my new favorite fabric print.

Despite the uneven (un-pictured) waistband, this skirt is really comfortable, and was a good learning project.

Despite the uneven (un-pictured) waistband, this skirt is really comfortable, and was a good learning project.

In the end, both are wearable pieces of clothing, so I’m happy. I hope to move onto shirts soon. Patterns were tricky, though, so I may try the Five Minute Skirt (of lies!) again before I move forward.

Friends, here’s to a new season of Poop!