Month: June 2015

Organizing the KonMari Way

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Marie Kondo’s the life changing magic of tidying up has been all over the all the design blogs for months.  The book, written by a 30-year old organization expert, promised not only a definitive way to clear your house of clutter FOREVER but also that your entire life would get better after you did it.  She reports that her clients, found their purpose in life, became richer, happier, lost weight, and even got better skin after tidying up their homes. The book was translated from Japanese in 2014 and took the English-speaking world by storm this year.

Kondo’s method centres around the philosophy that you should only keep things that “spark joy” and that most of the stuff that you have probably doesn’t.  It struck my interest because it acknowledged the emotional connection that we have to our stuff.  A lot of the philosophies around getting rid of your stuff focus on the idea of use, but there is much more to the value of an object than how useful is it.

after a few months of thinking about the basic idea, I decided to buy a copy of her book (on my e-reader of course).  It was an interesting mix of instruction and personal memoir written in a similar way to The Happiness Project.  We learn a lot about Marie, who has been obsessed with tidying since she was a child, and tried almost all of the most common organization methods before settling on her own, which she calls the KonMari method (a shortened version of her name).

What I like the most about this method is the idea that all of your possessions, even the ones that you are going to get rid of, have a purpose.  Something that you received as a gift but never used came into your life to show you that someone cared about you enough to buy you a gift or to let you feel the excitement of opening a present, but it has now fulfilled its purpose so you can thank it for its service to you and let it have a new life somewhere else.

This idea of re-framing an object’s purpose and thanking it for its service was super helpful to me. I once bought a dress online on an impulse, but I didn’t read enough reviews and when it arrived I discovered that it was too tight in the chest.  It would have cost too much money to return it and so it hung in my closet for almost three years.  The thought of getting rid of it made me feel extremely guilty and so I tried to find ways to make it work; maybe I could lose weight? These darts in the front could be let out, maybe I’ll take it to a tailor? After I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I realized having a dress that made me feel guilty hanging in my closet was a terrible idea, and that the purpose of the dress was to give me joy when I bought it and teach me not to buy something online without reading other people’s reviews.  I thanked the dress for the joy and the lesson and I was able to let it go without feeling guilty.  Now when I get rid of stuff, doesn’t feel like I am abandoning it or throwing away money, because I am honouring the role each thing played in my life.

I’m not a total convert to her method however, because it requires a marathon tidy session.  In order for it to work, Kondo says, you have to go through all of your possessions all in a pile, all in one day. This is supposed to get all of the things that don’t bring you joy all at once, but it just sounds like a recipe for exhaustion to me. The book is also written in such a way that implies that if you don’t follow her methods exactly, then you won’t ever be tidy or happy.

Also she tells you to fold your socks. Who has time to fold socks?

Overall, I think that the KonMari method is an interesting way of looking at your things, and why you own them, and it is definitely worth a look if you’ve had a hard time getting all of your stuff under control.

(But maybe borrow it from the library, so you have one less thing to get rid of)

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Starting From Scratch: An Introduction

wpid-wp-1434998908027.jpegLike most young artists, I have a complicated relationship with money. During my Undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to be able to rely on my parents for financial support.  But since then I’ve been relying on my own income or student loans to cover my costs.  It was pretty daunting at first, because I had I had very little financial knowledge, no credit history, no savings, no investments, and now a pretty considerable amount of debt to pay off soon.

I decided to start this series because although there is a lot of information about personal finance out there, it’s mostly geared towards people who are more financially established, and teaches them how to get better at it. But when I started my personal finance journey, I found that a lot of the information out there just didn’t apply to me. I needed something that told me how to start from scratch (hey! That’s the title!).

First, I tried to gather as much information as possible.  The first thing I did was read It’s Your Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade.  My Mum gave it to me a while ago, and it sat gathering dust for a while, but it became a lifesaver! It’s a great book geared towards women who want to take control of their finances.

Armed with this knowledge, I came up with a plan for what I thought I needed and then I went into the bank and spoke to a financial advisor.  This made everything so much easier and way faster.

The advisor broke down everything into four financial needs

1: Money Management Need

2: Credit Need

3: Savings Need

4: Investment Need

Throughout this series, I’m going to tackle them more or less chronologically.  Next time, I’m going to look at the different resources out there for money management and how to figure out which is right for you.

This is adapted from a previous Starving Soubrette post

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Crafts for People who are Bad at Crafts: Program Keepsake Book


Like any musician or music lover, I often find myself overwhelmed by the number of concert programs I accumulate.  I know that most people just think of them as clutter, but to me, they are full of memories.  I was trying to find a way to save all my old programs in way that they are easily accessible and protected, and I am quite pleased with the results.

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Old Programs

8 ½” x 11 Artist Portfolio


Scissors, exacto knife or paper trimmer


Sort your programs in whatever way that you want them displayed.  I went for chronological order, but I know that won’t last too long.

annotated program

If you’d like, annotate them with notes about the performance.  If they had to change the order, if something memorable happened, your friend was in it, or if there was a piece that you particularly loved

Put them in the sleeves of the portfolio! These are great for double sided programs.  I go to a lot of concerts that use sheets of paper as programs, but the 8 ½” x 11 fits booklet programs on the side as well.

Program Book

There are a few different ways to store booklet style programs.  I like to open them up to the page with the performance information, but if it has a pretty cover, or no one page with the order of performance, you can slip them in closed.  This portfolio came with black backing paper that I removed most times, but I kept in for programs like this.


Here’s a program that had a lovely cover and a page with the program order, so I cut it out with my paper trimmer and slipped it in beside the cover.  Cutting out the pages you need is also great for the programs that come from the bigger companies that are thick, generic for the whole season and only have a few pages of information about the performance that you went to.

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This portfolio had a pocket for a spine label, I simply took one of the extra black papers and used the original label as a guide to make my own.

Now I have my programs organized in a way that is easily accessible and easy to store!

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If you look at my About Me page, you’ll see that I’ve listed Lecsó as my favourite food.  For those of you wondering what the heck Lecsó is, it’s a Hungarian vegetable stew that is easy to make and super delicious.  The recipe that my family uses is from an old cookbook that my great grandmother’s (Nagymama) church sold as a fundraiser.  It is an incredibly useful book, but is written with that old Eastern European lady charm which means that sometimes measurements are missing, instructions are vague, and everything calls for lard! I’ve adapted the recipe to be a little friendlier to the uninitiated.



  • Cooking oil or bacon fat ( or butter, or margarine, or lard, if you’re feeling really traditional)
  • 1 large Onion, diced
  • 3 Bell Peppers cut into ½ inch strips (any colour, but it’s tastier with sweet peppers rather than green)
  • 3 large Tomatoes, cubed or quartered
  • 4-5 Hungarian or Spicy Italian Sausages (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Hungarian Paprika,* sweet or hot (optional)

Makes about 4 servings

*Any kind of Paprika will do, but do yourself a favour and get some of the real stuff.  You can find it in most European groceries, and Sweet Paprika is pretty common in bulk stores, but then you don’t have the awesome tin afterward



Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with your chosen cooking fat.  (The original recipe calls for 3 tbsp, but that seems like a ton to me)

Add the Onion and Paprika and fry for 10 minutes, or until the onions are clear.  The Paprika isn’t in the original recipe, and you don’t need it, but I think it adds a nice flavour, especially if you aren’t using Hungarian sausage.  You can use the sweet or hot kind, depending how spicy you like it (hot paprika is very hot) and how spicy the sausages are.

Add the Tomato and Peppers.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.  Cover and cook on medium heat for another 10 minutes.

Cut the Sausages into ⅛ inch pieces and add to the pot.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the sausage is cooked through, stirring occasionally.

You can use this as a side dish or a main.  When I was a vegetarian, I often subbed veggie sausages and even tofu (coated in Paprika) in for protein.  I bet TVP or Seitan would work well too. It also makes your house smell delicious!

If you decide to make it, let me know how it works out in the comments!

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Summer Reading Challenge Reviews: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

So I was going to count this book as the first book in my reading challenge, but I had such a great response and so many people wanted to join in, I had to start over on Saturday. But I thought I would share my thoughts about it anyway, because it really is an interesting book.

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I was trying to familiarize myself with the new Halifax library layout, and stumbled across the self-help section. This section gets a bad rep; people (myself included) often think that self-help books are full of self-righteous, obvious advice that is easier said than done. I don’t know what convinced me to give the section a second chance that day, but I decided to turn down the aisle and take a look at what it had to offer. The bright blue spine immediately caught my eye. I remember that this book had been pretty popular a few years ago and decided to give it a read.

I wouldn’t describe The Happiness Project as a typical “self-help” book. It is more of a memoir. The author, Gretchen Rubin, spends a year researching happiness and trying to find simple ways of becoming happier without a complete overhaul of her lifestyle. She methodically spends each month working on a new aspect of happiness (marriage, parenting, money, friendship, energy, etc) and tries to complete a set of resolutions each day that she keeps track of with a chart. (for January: Exercise better, go to sleep earlier, toss, restore, organize, Tackle a nagging task, and act more energetic) throughout the process follows twelve “commandments” the first of which is “Be Gretchen,” reminding her not to do what she thinks should make her happy, but to do what does make her happy, even it if doesn’t “sound right.”

I think I was drawn to the book because I’ve unconsciously started my own this summer. So many of the resolutions that she set out for herself were resolutions that I am also trying to keep, from “Exercise Better” to “Start a Blog.” I don’t think that Rubin’s meticulous method with spreadsheets and laundry lists of resolutions is for me, but reading the book did give me new goals and new things to think about.
I think that the most important lesson I learned from The Happiness Project is that you can find happiness “in your own kitchen” as she says. You don’t need to change your life completely, you just have to be yourself and be mindful of the people around you and the things that make you happy. She emphasizes that each person’s happiness project is their own, and completely different from anyone else’s. There is no one path to happiness, there are many and they are all right.

The book and accompanying blog (one of her March goals) became a worldwide sensation and she’s since written two other books on the subject, and has an accompanying podcast. She offers a ton of resources for people looking to start their own happiness projects. You can find all of it at

Challenge Update:
Pages: 0
Total Books Read: 0
Currently Reading: They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy

Because this book doesn’t count, I’m back to square one. The book that I’m currently reading is super long. I might have to take a break and read some poetry in between. Remember to comment or tweet me @jl_nicegirl with #SoubretteReads2015 and let me know your page count and what you’ve been reading!

Want to know more about my Summer Reading Challenge? Find more information here

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The Starving Soubrette’s Summer Reading Challenge


Remember those Summer Reading Challenges for children at the Library? You’d read a bunch of books every week and get a sticker or something? I was never really great at them as a kid, but I was also a voracious reader and didn’t really need any extra motivation.

It wasn’t until my undergrad that I rediscovered reading challenges. My program was pretty book intensive and I never really had time for pleasure reading, so my friends and I would try to get as much reading done in the summer as we could. A group of us started our own summer reading challenge, we’d tweet our progress to each other, and try to read more than anyone else. The first year we counted books, but my friend Ben decided to read War and Peace that summer, so he technically lost even though he had probably read the most out of all of us. The following years we counted pages.

It’s been a few years since we’ve done a reading challenge, but I started thinking about it again after I was packing up my residence at the end of the school year and realized that I couldn’t fit all my books in the box that I brought them in. I hadn’t finished reading any new books, but I had accumulated at least 10 more! I decided that I wasn’t going to buy any new books until I had finished reading the ones on my shelves, and so the summer reading challenge was born again.

1. I can’t purchase or pick up any new books for myself.
2. Library Books are O.K. (I know it doesn’t help me read the books on my shelf, but Halifax just got a new beautiful library and it’s too tempting not to go)
3. Progress is counted in number of pages, not number of books.
4. I will donate books that I don’t love
5. The only exception is if George R. R. Martin finishes Winds of Winter sometime in duration of the challenge (I mean, it won’t happen, but still)

I’m going to try and keep you updated about the books that I’ve been reading by posting a review of the last book I finished every other Monday. This Monday, I’m going to talk about The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

If you want to join me in my reading challenge, let me know in the comments or tweet me @jl_nicegirl with #SoubretteReads2015. I’d love to know how far along you are, and what you’re currently reading!

Photo by Lauren Bryant-Monk.  Edited with A Beautiful Mess phone app

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The Soubrette Speaks

Hello everybody!

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My name is Lauren, I’m an opera singer, and this is my blog.

Last year, I had a crazy revelation. I was sitting around, feeling unhappy about my life and slow (to me) artistic development when I came across a picture of myself in high school.


I thought about what she would think about my life. I realized that she would think my life is pretty cool, and that I had accomplished a ton of things that she wanted for her future.  Even if I am not quite where I want to be right now, where I am is still pretty cool.

After another unsatisfying year, I’ve had to remind myself of that truth again. And I’m going to use this blog to celebrate the fact and share it with all of you.

After all, my life sounds pretty cool on paper, so it must actually be pretty cool. Right?

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