Gang, I’m so excited about this girl. Sarah Lemon, a longtime reader – and the writer of one of my favorite pieces we’ve ever published – just came out with a new book, Done Dirt Cheap.
I read it – no, devoured it – in a weekend. It’s good. It’s good in a very girl-power way. It’s good in a universal truth kind of way. It’s good in a tears and laughter and – and this is my fav part – a dark sort of snorting amusement that can only come from the experience of being a girl, of being underestimated, of having to just find your own way in a world that often feels like it was made for someone else. It reminded me of a modern, girl-centered Huckleberry Finn.
Obviously, I loved it. But then, I’ve always loved Sarah’s writing. Ever since she sent in her essay on personal style (three years ago!!) – the essay that brought us all to our knees, tears streaming down our faces…..I’ve had Sarah on my radar. My husband’s, too. Ever so often he’d ask me, “Babe? Remember that one reader who wrote–” Yes. Of course I do.
Keep reading for a fun little interview with Sarah, as well as her latest essay, written just for you.
Sarah, I’m just so glad you exist in this world, Chick. Your words are gifts.
“Smell this!” I ordered my husband, offering up my wrist. I’d just rubbed a little card sample over my skin and had spent five minutes inhaling my own scent. His fingers touched the back of my hand as he lifted my wrist.
“It doesn’t smell like old lady,” he said, oh-so-helpfully. I pouted and leaned against the mustard laminate bathroom countertop.
“Doesn’t it smell like something you know?” I closed my eyes. The smell didn’t bring an image, but it felt like night and magic. “It smells like something I can’t remember words for, but I know it. Somewhere, I know this. Like night flowers and wet pine needles. Maybe the botanic gardens?” I open my eyes. “In town?” I’d been there at night before.
“I don’t know.” He shook his head and moved around me. “Now, why are you always in the bathroom when I need to get ready for work?”
Moving out of his way, into the dim hall, I put my wrist back to my nose. I didn’t know it—not with words—but I knew it was part of me. I wished I knew what it was. I wished I could remember.
Looking back at the piece I wrote for The Mom Edit (here), it feels like reading the cry of a newly pruned rose bush. I am less than I was and how will I ever be again? I was raised wild and without care, and now that I’d been pruned back and tied upright, it felt like torture. My muscles screamed with constraint and my limbs wept from being shorn. I was twenty-eight, the mother of three, and on the cusp of gaining the hard-earned rewards of age and experience and living. I had been pruned and lashed to support, in order to grow high and into the sunshine. I just didn’t know it.
In practical terms, honing a personal style was one thing I had complete control over, with direct implications for my career. In mourning a childhood home that I would never belong to again, and trying to find a place in a world in which I had never belonged—I used clothes and talismans to bring my old world with me, while creating life in a new one.
One of the biggest ways my old self crossed into this new world was the practice of buying secondhand. As a child, the only way I got “new” clothes was by shopping with my grandmother at thrift stores. She taught me we don’t buy underwear or bathing suits at the thrift store (to clarify, hand me down underwear was okay, stranger underwear was not). She taught me to look for straight seams and to rub the material between your thumb and forefinger to feel the quality. Because classic clothing is easy to find at thrift stores—wearable dresses, blazers, and skirts are often in styles that transcend trends—I gravitated towards a classic look. When coming back to making style personal and intentional, it seemed an obvious genuine extension of my history to go back to classic clothing. Just in a bigger way. I still visit the thrift store, as well as buying from friend’s closet’s, but when we’re talking secondhand these days, sites like ThredUp, The RealReal, and everyone’s favorite (Ebay) require the same skills thrift stores do—patience, lots of browsing, careful risk, and potential for great rewards.
Using tools like Pinterest boards (to collect ideas, see overarching themes, breakdown outfits, and try new things), stylists (often stylists have a reasonable rate for consultations), and trying on endless amounts of things (free shipping for the win!), I searched for home, but not the one I had left behind. I would never be that girl again. And if I was honest, even in my tears, I didn’t want to be that girl again. With what felt like endless refining and occasional mistakes, I found the place I could exist as both the girl I was and the woman I wanted to be. In many ways, clothes were a symbol for the other skills I was acquiring in a new and demanding world of publishing, parenting, and personal growth. Which is a nice way of saying I was hot mess running around like a shaky-legged Bambi for a good long time.
“Good Lord, child. Calm. Down,” I said, gripping tighter to the boney hand of my eldest who was trying to do jumping jacks, walk straight, and plan an “evil invention”—all while holding his mother’s hand. In my other hand, my second baby hugged his blankie and looked with his wide, puppy-dog eyes at the dark water oaks bent overhead, dripping with moss. It was night, on our annual vacation to Georgia’s Golden Isles. These barrier islands were the first places in the south that felt like home to me after I moved out of the mountains when I got married at nineteen. The air smells like salt and sun, something I’ve been smelling for years at home on the Chesapeake Bay.
My son strained against my hand, until I let him go, and he ran, laughing into the dark to drape himself with moss. “Get out of there before you get eaten up by chiggers,” I said as we passed a garden walled with brick and draped in Confederate Jasmine. The breeze shifts and lifts my hair. I took a breath. And stopped.
Jasmine at night. Wet cedar. The sea.
A Few Questions With Sarah Lemon…
Let’s get the basics out of the way: where you live, how many kids, etc.
I live in Southern Maryland, with my husband, our three kids 8, 5 and 4, a pitbull named Maggie.
Your book, Done Dirt Cheap, has 27 glowing 5-star reviews on Amazon. Can you tell us a little about where this story came from?
Done Dirt Cheap is a young adult Sons of Anarchy meets Thelma and Louise and comes from my time in southern Virginia as an eighteen-year-old, plus my first loves of writing about bikes and hot boys. I rode dirt-bikes as a teenager and have a Honda Magna now.
What does your typical day look like?/How do you manage time with the kids vs writing vs your day job?
It’s changed so much over the years! I’ve been writing seriously since staying home with my first baby eight years ago. When they were babies I just wrote whenever I found time. I wrote with them wrapped and napping on my back. I wrote with them playing under the desk with toys. I was exhausted physically but writing was a place I could regain my sense of self and identity.
After they got older and stopped napping (the worst), it got harder to balance. I homeschooled for a few years, which was even harder, but just this January the two oldest started school. It’s given me a lot more time to work.
These days, my husband works an evening shift, so he does school drop-off while I try to take a long walk at the beach. Around 8:30am, I start in on the emails and social media. I have a big desk my husband made, so my daughter is often on one side doing art projects and watching Daniel Tiger. I try to start writing before lunch, but stop to eat and put her down for a nap. Pick up the kids at 3, and do evening routine with them. I write again from bedtime until 12:30am. I am very lucky to be able to stay at home and write.
Three words to describe your personal style. Go.
What’s your most-worn piece?
I’m going to list a few:
–These Boden pants that pack easily in my carry-on, and wash and wear so great. They do double duty with mom life and work life.
-My grandmother’s high school class ring. There are a lot of antique class rings on etsy, like this similar one.
-My mother’s gold chain link necklace. Similar here.
-For mom life I find jeans/cut-offs and these Uniqlo shirts are an easy, no-brainer.
What’s your favorite mom bag?
My husband hates this about me, but I never packed for babies. I kept diapers and wipes and clothes in my van, but never carried a bag. It just felt more overwhelming to manage kids and a giant bag. These days if I’m going somewhere and need stuff for the kids, I bring a canvas bag like this. But mostly I’m a keys, phone, and wallet person.
For work, I’m deeply coveting a Lanvin bag, like this one. (Secondhand of course). I LOVE YSL bags, but they hold their value secondhand so it never really falls into my price range. I often try to find brands that are well made and comparable, but not as visible as a brand, so they are much cheaper to buy secondhand.
Your favorite pair of walkable shoes?
Soludos—I have a pair that I always wear for travel as well as everyday mom life. I love that the natural foot bed keeps them from smelling weird. For people who might need more arch support I’d suggest Sperry’s. So comfortable! My dog ate mine.
For high heels, I have a pair of Halston Heritage stilettos that honestly go all day. I just did a 12 hour day in them at a conference. I got them at a Nordstrom Rack, but all I could find online are full-price.
Three beauty products you can’t live without:
Raw Shea Butter– It’s the best moisturizer for my face—from long days with the kids to long days on a plane.
Cover FX Drops – I mix them with my foundation (Armani Luminous Silk) and a thin lotion like Clinique Dramatically Different, and apply the mixture with a beauty blender as my foundation. It makes the perfect youthful, sheer finish that still looks polished enough for max makeup. I only wear full makeup for work, but I still mix these with lotion for everyday mascara and lip balm look.
YSL RPC Lipstick—my absolute favorite lipstick. It feels amazing and wears so beautifully. The color fades into a stain as I eat and talk. I hate lipstick that leaves a ring, and this never does. My color is 9- Rose Stiletto.
Dinner with three people dead or alive: who and why?
Flannery O’Connor, her journals make her feel like a kindred spirit.
Diane Von Furstenburg, I feel like she’s got amazing advice for women who want to succeed.
I’d also want to drink with Lewis and Tolkien and their club, the Inklings.
If you could give only one piece of advice to a timid, new mom, what would it be?
This too shall pass.