Monday, October 17, 2016
"I miss the apples", a grade-school friend said to me recently. He lives in Florida now and was referring to the apples that practically paved the roads and sidewalks, the fields and hills in my hometown each fall. Having been a pastoral place of farms and orchards, only the trees remained but they filled the autumn air with the honeyed scent of apples. One needed only to bend over and grope beneath the dusty leaves to pluck a fallen specimen to munch on during the walk home from school. Tart though the fruit was, the atmosphere was sweet with the apples, burning leaves, and wood smoke.
This ad is for Yardley's Pot-o-Gloss lipgloss. The model, Evelyn Kuhn's cheeks are fever-bright and I bet she's wearing the McIntosh Red gloss or perhaps Winesap. Her features are strong enough to carry off the orange sweater along with the Buffalo plaid jacket in red and although the stylist may have created a mild cliche with the look, I love it and as a teenager I embraced it entirely.
Our little drugstore carried Pot-o-Gloss and buying a new color was the first rite of passage in fall. Even if it was still too warm to wear woolens, a new apple-inspired lip color would promise things to come - late afternoon soccer games and Friday night lights, crisp Saturdays at the movies with friends, and sunshiny times outside and when we would not even think about diving into that chemistry homework or covering our text books with brown paper bags.
So now that we are all grown-up, how can we bring apple-richness to lives drawn by responsibilities? What do we do when our heartstrings draw us back to blue skies, home fires, and long-ago friends? We can start with an apple-red lip gloss...
My apple-polisher suggestion:
Mac's Fresh Moroccan, a deep apple red softened with gold glints- perfect for crisp days as well as warm Indian Summer ones. Your fall orchard, re-imagined.
Monday, October 3, 2016
Tomorrow is a big birthday for me. I know. I can't believe it either. I am not 17 as I am in the picture below (follow the blue eyeshadow trail). That girl had no idea what she was doing. If I thought she would have stopped long enough, I would have written her a letter:
Don't be in such a rush. Enjoy just being you for a while. The big things like love and marriage will take care of themselves. If you can't go out for a night because of studying, don't worry. You will have plenty of nights to go out. And after the studying, just be...or read a book. There won't be much time later for reading books and many other things for that matter. Life, work, and family will encroach. It may be years before you can read a book in one sitting again. Do it now.
Call Nana more. Someday you will lull yourself to sleep with remembrances of her. You will reach beyond your memory to search for the very things you can see right now by spending more time with her. Really look at the way she lives, decorates, dresses, cares for Gramps. Study the things that will be gone one day. Ask her about what life was like during the 1920's. And ask her to show you how to make her pie crust. Her stuffed peppers too. You'll never be able to do it if you don't ask her soon.
Have more confidence in yourself. See the things that others see in you and nurture them. Your smile, your tenderheartedness. Embrace those things. Embrace who you are. Don't be like the others. Don't be afraid to stand out. And while you're at it, defend yourself - speak up when someone steps on your toes.
Don't marry the first person who asks you. Step back and think about it first. Would he make a good husband? Would he be committed? Will you mind eating on a TV table next to him one day? What kind of father would he make? I know he thrills you now but when the baby has croup and dinner isn't made, will he step up to the plate? If not, wait for the next bus. And remember, buses come along every few minutes. Choose the one that's going in the direction of YOUR dreams.
And when you do marry, don't do or be everything. Keep a part of yourself for yourself. You'll be a better wife in the long run. And a better mother.
When you have your babies, sleep when they sleep. That's a hard one. But try. Let the housework go because babies don't keep. They grow up faster than you know. You will miss the way the nape of their necks smell and the way they fold into your arms. Don't worry about the dirty clothes hamper so much.
Have more fun. Let loose. Don't take things so seriously. Dance more. Laugh. Be silly. Be ridiculous.
Ask your mother for advice. She wants to tell you what she knows and someday, you will be glad of it. All your life, you will think back and hear the things she said. Know that she really is wiser than you. You will need her strength on playback until the end. Get it while you can.
Buy the boots you love. Yes, they're expensive but you'll be glad you did. The cheaper ones will never leave your closet floor.
Trust your gut. It won't fail you. But be still enough to hear what it is trying to say.
Bloom where you're planted. Sometimes life takes you in a new direction. Don't fight it. Instead, lay the tablecloth and light the candles. While you are there, you might as well be happy. And remember that living well is always the very best revenge.
Make a friend of Change and you will make a friend for life. Nothing is stagnant. Life is ever-flowing in ways that will soon amaze you. Be open to the possibilities that come with change.
Be less afraid. You are resourceful and will land on your feet. Pink-slips come to all of us. The landlord that wants your apartment for his son and new wife. The young boss who cleans house at the office. It's what you turn the pink-slips into that matters.
Wait three days. If you're heartbroken or just broken down, three days will make all the difference. Don't panic. Draw on what you know. I swear it's magic. Just 72 hours and suddenly, it won't matter about the new haircut that was too short or too weird. Or the haircut the kids gave each other. Or the dishwasher that leaked on the new hardwoods. Perspective takes only three days.
Appreciate your youth, your endless energy and stamina. But don't be afraid to get older. Every decade has its joys. I know that's hard to believe but its true. Each age brings new jewels. You will get smarter. Keener. More savvy. You'll choose better friends. You'll discover companionship can be just as wonderful as love. Sometimes better.
And know that someday, you will be very glad you are not 17 any longer.
(You'll just have to trust me on that one.)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
I got a lucky break one early fall morning when a working mother from a nearby town called to see if I was available to watch her two little girls everyday. It was a referral from a referral that somehow panned out and yes, I was available to be a "nanny" to her girls as long as I could bring my own daughter along with me.
It was perfect because her eldest, a four year old moppet with red hair would be big sister to my child and her youngest, a sweet toddler, could be baby sissy. Mom was a nurse who fled out the door each morning for the early shift. Dad was around renovating their beautiful old home and I was to be cook, chief bottle washer, and babysitter.
It's amazing how quickly I fell in love with my new charges even though the oldest could be a handful. But it's not hard to become fond of small children whose fingernails you clip and baths you oversee. I ushered the three girls outdoors as much as possible and fortunately the big old house was located on the expansive and ancient town green. We spent hours upon hours that fall in the public gazebo playing games, having picnics and putting on plays. I taught the girls my favorite rhymes and songs and read them hundreds of nap-time stories. The hardest thing about the job was getting up early and putting my own sleepy child in the car to drive the long country road to their place. It's probably the reason why one of my daughter's first words was "silo" given all the farms we passed on those quiet misty dawns.
When colder weather settled in, Mom filled a trunk with old clothes, hats, and endless strings of beads for dress-up. The girls played so many imaginary characters that I once thought other children had come into the house. One day, the oldest was sporting a very pretty black onyx ring set in rose gold filigree on her finger. "Where did you get that?", I asked. Apparently, it had been left on top of the toothbrush holder in the bathroom. She balked loudly when I asked her to place it in my hand and when she finally did, I couldn't help but notice how lovely and unusual it was. I gave it to the mother later that day and was told that it had belonged to the deceased Edwardian lady whose son the house was purchased from. He didn't care to have the ring and so somehow, little hands pilfered it and then set it to rest on the holder in the upstairs bath. During the year I cared for the girls, the ring would periodically show up on small fingers only to be handed back to Mother again.
As a new fall approached, our days together became numbered - the eldest was to begin school and the work on the house was finished which meant Dad was free to take over the girls' care. The timing was perfect because my house had finally sold and I was ready to move with my daughter to a distant place so I could work in the city.
On my last day, the girls and their mother had a party for me. They made Wacky Cake from one of their favorite stories and gave me a small present wrapped fussily with bright yarn and stickers of shiny blue stars. Inside was the onyx and rose gold ring. But you knew that.
What you may not know is that I don't have to wear the ring to think of them. In my heart's eye, where time stands forever still, I see them playing in the blinding sunshine that comes only with fall's most splendid days.
They are with me still...
Friday, September 9, 2016
I love discovering sweet things that wind up capturing my imagination if only for a few weeks. And it was thus, when I happened across the image above in a cookbook I found at my favorite rare book shop on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. Yes, I bought the $3 book which isn't really that old or rare and then discovered to my delight that it is actually quite marvelous and inspiring. But I initially bought it for the image which I later thought would be perfect for this end-of-summer post.
I didn't net much information about the portrait online - only that it was painted by Armenian artist Charles Atamian who is also responsible for some of my favorite seaside art. I believe this picture is just an unframed canvas that was probably owned by the author of the cookbook and may have been gifted to him (a picture of the book is below). It perfectly captures a beautiful moment by the sea just before summer slips away. I love the colorful summery dress on the model and the bright turquoise ring on her left hand. And I can almost smell the ocean tide and feel the sand under those waves stinging at my legs.
As for the book, I only ask myself, "Where has Roger Verge been all my life?" Apparently in France, where he operated a few beloved restaurants which serve to this day, lovely Provencal cuisine. There is much for me to learn about Verge, although I was sad to read that he died last year at age 85. Still, he left behind heirs to manage his restaurants with the same passion he had and he left behind some terrific French cookbooks I have yet to explore at my library. I have been cooking from the book all week and the menus are loaded with farm-fresh foods - perfect for end-of-summer.
For now, I'm content with my book which has gorgeous photographs, easy recipes, and a charming text which I am finding enormously engrossing as I laze about on the patio with the last batch of frozen lemonade. I may not be taking my new cookbook to bed with me and when not in my lap, it sits opened on the cookbook stand in the kitchen. There, the beautiful image reminds me that some of the best simple pleasures are found when one is not looking. And it reminds me to enjoy the warm waning days of summer.
Friday, September 2, 2016
Jo hired me based on a reference from a former male boss. I wasn't a bit surprised that she and Bob hit it off but that's for another blog post. It only took me a few days to see that Jo could be tough. Exacting in her standards, she required exemplary performance and held each member of her staff accountable. At first, I was petrified. But over time, I came to see that Jo was soft inside the tough cookie exterior.
Willowy and blond, she was a throw-back to 60's prim cool, although her hair was loose and natural and often threatened to fall across one blue eye. But with an alluring head toss, the fetching errant wave would land back into place. Her clothes could be a touch old-fashioned but were trim and tailored and fit her small waist and athletic form perfectly. Her favorite pieces included nubby wool pencil skirts with coordinating silk blouses, and wool jumpers that were fully-fashioned and with real pockets. She wore beautiful hosiery with kitten heels and in winter, black tights with ballet flats or boots. A few times, a personal shopper would show up at the office with nylon zippered wardrobe bags from Brooks Brothers filled with lovely clothes such as crisp white shirts with ruffled jabots or neat French cuffs, a peacock-blue boucle wool pantsuit, colorful cashmere cardigans, and full bespoke skirts cut on the bias. She had trust-fund style and a mysterious but tragic romantic past.
We knew Jo once had a husband who was killed in a car crash early in the marriage. He worked for a certain presidential candidate who was killed too. That was all we knew but of course, we also knew that she never married again. She lived in the heart of the city and after I stopped quaking in her presence and perhaps after she trusted me, she invited me to her apartment for lunch one day where we discussed whether or not she should have her bedroom walls painted yellow. I remember that we also discussed how late in the month of September she could comfortably host a cocktail party outside on her cobblestone patio. I was so busy trying not to show that I was hanging onto her every word that I could barely eat the wonderful little lunch she prepared for us.
I felt important to be allowed into my boss' inner sanctum but I never took it for granted. Jo was the superior who authorized my paycheck so the line of demarcation was never blurred and I never tested it. If the others tried, she cannily showed them their places. But this didn't make her an unkind boss - on the contrary, she was very kind. One extremely hot summer she suddenly interrupted my work to ask if I had an air conditioner at home for my small child and when I said no, an unmarked pick-up truck showed up at my place the next Saturday morning bearing a brand new window air conditioner for my 2nd floor walk-up. The driver revealed nothing stating only that my boss had asked him to deliver and install it. She called in favors a lot because she did so much for others. If an extra mile needed to be taken for a child whose care we oversaw at our non-profit, she took two. She simply cared.
Since Jo was senior to me by nearly 20 years, I was able to learn about life from her. Like an exotic aunt, she advised me to read a newspaper every day and I often saw the Boston Globe spread out on her office floor in the morning. She told me to always have a bottle of Champagne in the refrigerator as well as a bottle of perfume in the summer. When I complimented her on the scent she wore - an inexpensive Elizabeth Arden spray that had to be asked for specifically at the counter because only a few hold-outs still wore it - a wrapped bottle appeared on my desk the next day. Jo also taught me to buy good underwear, stating "Never make friends with cotton panties" - an axiom I still live by. Jo also believed that the first day back to work after a long Labor Day weekend was the perfect time to wear something autumnal. Our line of business ran parallel to the school calendar and to keep the back-to-serious-work blues at bay, she believed in wearing a chic fall-forward outfit no matter how balmy the early September breeze was. I practice this by replacing my summer bag for my cognac one and my sandals for pumps. Jo once wore a navy printed two-piece silk dress on a first Tuesday back to work and I often choose navy for that day too. It has just the right amount of change-of-season essence for one of the busiest work days of the year.
Another trait that Jo was known for was her natural ability to make us feel truly special and not just a cog in a never-ending bureaucratic wheel. When her sharp blue eyes were fixed upon me, I felt she cared very much about my ability to do my job well enough to advance on to better things. She gave me confidence and modeled good office behavior that I still draw on today. Looking back, I realize it was actually she who was special.
Over the years I have had many bosses: the good, the bad, the ugly...and the indifferent. But never have I had a boss as fair, kind and intriguing as Jo. She was a bit strict and precise but tempered it with an acerbic self-deprecating wit along with a big heart of gold. She was by far the best boss I ever had.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Back before the proliferation of fast food restaurants, families carried their lunches in picnic hampers and baskets and merely stopped on the side of the road for a mid-day feast without long lines, spilled milkshakes, and assembly line food. And picnic fare was much healthier and cheaper because it was Mom-made.
Several years ago on a lunch hour from work, I happened across a gorgeous coffee-table book about picnics. Page after glossy page showed the many ways one could craft an enchanting picnic. The woven baskets were overflowing with delectable foodstuffs as well as bottles of wine and lush flowers. Some of the pages showed Sharper Image-level technical picnic props such as pop-up tables and chairs, and some more fanciful spreads had real crystal, china tea cups and silver cutlery. I was enchanted by a blanket-strewn picnic that included a candelabra replete with dangling prisms!
As I poured over the recipes, I had a revelation: instead of spending $35 on a book about picnics, I should just have them. So I returned the book to the store rack, speculating that I already had the recipes for a nice picnic right at home in my grandmother's recipe box. One needn't have fancy pretentious food - just thoughtfully prepared provisions that are fresh and in season. Soon I found out how much fun it is to creative outdoor repasts for friends and family. Adding a requisite plaid blanket for sitting upon and a book makes for a delightful day that can begin in the morning and with enough refreshments, end only when shadows cast.
The picnic book did teach me one good lesson - sometimes instead of reading about how to do something, we should just do it. And while picnics may be old-fashioned, they hearken back to simpler times when life was slow...and humble tables beckoned from every roadside.
Favorite picnic fare:
Chicken salad sandwiches with spinach leaves
Cherry tomatoes mixed with olive oil and chopped basil with ricotta cheese as a dip
Celery stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with paprika
Homemade chocolate chip cookies
Grapes, apples, and pears (fall)
Watermelon, peaches (summer)
G. Dunning, S. Allen
Do you have picnics?
Thursday, August 11, 2016
A pretty diamond ring was placed on my finger on a cold November day too many years ago to count. We spent the afternoon rolling out grass sod in our backyard. The house wasn't really mine - he bought it with his parent's help, but the ring held promises of a life to come...and I loved him.
I discovered I also loved diamonds and began studying other women's fingers. But no matter how large, none compared to the spitfire on my finger. Although smallish, its sparkle made up for its stature. I was so proud to wear the ring of his great-grandmother's - a European hand-cut stone in a simple platinum Tiffany setting, about 70 years old and nearly flawless. It was all mine after his grandmother excitedly took it off her finger for him to give to me. That tender story enriched my ring and like a gently waving ribbon, encircled itself around that brisk November afternoon as we stood inside the broken glass of a decrepit greenhouse freezing, with mud on our hands but tender smiles in our eyes. With this ring...
Unfortunately, one of the lasting memories of our union was the day his father casually remarked, "If you ever get divorced, you had better give that ring back". In the end, there were other lasting memories too...missing beach towels from the linen closet of our home - the very space we built together to hold our new baby's diapers and bath toys. And the horrible memory of the weekend he disappeared to be with her, leaving me frantic and alone - an infant in my arms. With this ring...
Fast-forward and I decided to alter the ring to appear less marital and more single-mother. I had it reset and added two identical birthstones on each side but the diamond seemed to lose more than its luster - it's spark was dulled too. Perhaps it was altered as much as I was...from joy to the difficult task at hand - raising a child to wholeness on my own, a serious business I took seriously. And so the ring silently sat, all its fires out for nearly 29 years. Until last week...
I brought my diamond to a surprisingly boyish and kind man who runs a small jewelry business near where I work. He examined the stone and exclaimed that it is indeed special and advised it should be set in gold to enhance its glimmer and glint. Together we played with designs until I selected a perfect platinum setting in a hefty gold band. We added two smaller diamonds to nestle alongside the stone which made the end result look far different than the ring that was first placed on my finger so long ago. It still retained the traditional look I wanted to keep yet, it could stand all on its own too - a splendid ring for a still-single woman.
While I waited for my jeweler's call that the work was finished, I began to investigate diamond rings online. I was particularly enchanted with a series of ads that were commissioned by the large diamond mining company De Beers. Unable to sell directly to the US market because of antitrust laws, De Beers asked an ad agency to produce advertisements that made nearly every engagement end in a diamond ring. The woman behind the ads was Frances Gerety, a pioneering "mad (wo)men" who came up with the slogan, "Diamonds are Forever". The print advertisements included captivating artwork by Picasso, Dali and others. The copy that accompanied the art was filled with the bewitching sentiment that can make my money and I easily part ways and suddenly I wanted diamond earrings, diamond necklaces, and diamond bracelets. I couldn't help but note that the ads were portraits of lone women who were the recipients of diamond rings - no men. And they appeared positively biblical to me painted with landscape settings, beatific faces, swan-like necks, and swaths of robes. I was entranced and the research made me joyously anticipate the day I could finally see and wear my "new" ring.
That day came at last and naturally I examined the ring in the shop but it wasn't until I was alone in the car that I had a really good look. I would have known that diamond anywhere. The fire I had forgotten for so long flashed and flickered as I turned my finger towards the sun streaming through the car window. It winked back knowingly at the moment I finally realized that the ring was truly mine now and didn't have to be given back to anybody. And I could not have rebirthed it at a better time. Although the ring had lain in repose like a butterfly's chrysalis, it burst forth just in time to represent the life I grew into - the one I live right now. Small perhaps in the great scheme of things, but a life with meaning, hope, strength, and some bright and happy sparkle now and then. Yes, with this ring...
(De Beers Diamond ads, 1950's)
Sunday, August 7, 2016
As I drove home from work the other day, I noticed that one lone tree in the center of town has a smidgen of red on its top. Instead of making me sad, I decided to redouble my efforts to wring dry every drop of summer. Also in response, my August Seventeens went back to storage and I bought a stone-colored denim skirt to wear with my relaxed tee shirts on the weekend. It's unusual for me to buy something new this late in the season but I am determined to live this summer to the very end. In stone-cold January, I will thank myself.
I am guessing this image was taken in the 60's. I adore the crisp white pants, the bright print shirt, and especially, the whimsical bow hat. Our model pulled out all the stops to go painting on the beach. Making summer last means pulling out some stops too - making salads with native tomatoes and corn, eating ice cream, and drinking gallons of homemade iced tea. As much as my new skirt sounds rather dull, don't expect me to settle into pre-fall drab right now - I'm all about my colorful dresses, white jeans, jeweled sandals and my beribboned beach hats.
Last night at our summer theater, I spotted a fellow believer. She wore a delightful sleeveless vintage gown in creamy mint sherbet with a chiffon overlay that trailed behind her. Around her waist was a belt made of tiny seashells that matched the two bracelets on her left wrist. And tucked behind her ear was a huge tropical lily. Talk about embracing the season - she was not a day younger than 91. And although she needed help walking to her seat, a few glimpses her way told me she enjoyed the show very much - the smile never left her face.
In the winter of life, she is still wringing summer dry.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
My dream cover-up was at Nordstrom last year for only $189. It was merely an inverted table cloth with a hole at the top for one's head. I loved the feminine scrolled lace that connected to create the arms and the crisp batiste cotton. But in the end, not only would I not spend my hard-earned retirement money on a scrap of material, I couldn't stop thinking about my grandmother's lace tablecloth whenever I looked at it on my online wishlist.
Instead, I found a very nice light-weight and simple white tunic that doesn't require ironing (who irons beach cover-ups?). But if you want to find something really pretty and girly, there are plenty of cover-ups to choose from. Seen this season:
Drop-dead black lace sheath with bell sleeves
Mini-dress in watery turquoise print
White tunic with embroidered gold medallions
Maxi-dress in gyrating red stripes
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Summer sun dresses were staples in my wardrobe as a child. Many were made by my grandmother who was a skilled seamstress. Rick-rack, daisy chain trims, pretty buttons, and deep hems were some of the lovely features of those dresses. And because I am a twin, Nana made two of each!
I still remember some of my little-girl dresses: a white pique with a hem-full of bright flowers and verdant ferns, a soft sorbet seersucker in creamsicle. My mother had excellent taste. She knew that there is nothing prettier than a little girl in a sweet summer frock. I knew that too, when I ordered a pink and grey Liberty print sundress from the iconic London clothier for my daughter. It cost a pretty penny but it is lovingly and carefully stored in tissue paper and boxed alongside her Christening dress awaiting potential future inhabitants.
For years, I never wore summer dresses. I simply couldn't find many styles I liked. But the last few seasons there has been a plethora of selections and I have been able to amass a new little collection. One of my favorites is a periwinkle blue number with coral blooms in crisp cotton broadcloth. The ease of pulling on a perfect summer dress cannot be underestimated on a torrid summer day. Of course, I no longer wear the traditional sundress but there are dresses out there for women of a certain age too. And if one doesn't want to show off arms, a fitted coordinating cardigan over a sundress can be very '50's elegant and tres charmant!