Thursday, August 11, 2016

With this ring...

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)

(The model as well as the photographer is my daughter).

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer Style Note - Wringing Summer Dry

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

Summer Style Note - Beach Cover-Ups

Living in a coastal town that becomes resort-like each summer, means that the beach cover-up is a standard wardrobe staple.  There are shops that carry nothing but clothing to wear over a swim suit and the local TJ Maxx dedicates prime retail real estate to such "toppers" from April to August.

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


When I was a teenager on Cape Cod, we simply pulled our brothers' football shirts over our swim suits. Cover-ups today are a whole new food group.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Style Note - Dresses

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!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Style Note - Straw Handbags

Every mother who dropped her child off at our town's lake for morning swim lessons had a straw or rattan handbag balancing on the passenger seat of the family station wagon.   Even if mom's summer consisted of nothing more than carpooling, making endless batches of potato salad, and refereeing fights over the pool floats, a neutral woven tote beckoned seaside adventures with whispering beach grasses and lapping waves on sandy shores.

Woven raffia and straw make a fairly durable summer purse especially if it includes leather straps and handles.  Many of yesterday's straw bags were embellished with cherry bunches for additional whimsy and charm.  Some straw handbags from the late 1960's were glazed and painted navy or white for nautical-esque appeal.  They were also made with brass or metal hardware and were as impervious as a good leather bag.

I don't pretend to be an expert on straw bags but I am certain there must be collectors and dealers who have written about the evolution of the basket to handbag.  I do know that at the height of summer, when I get out my straw handbag, I suddenly feel more relaxed and beachy.  Today there are a multitude of styles including designer versions.  A few years ago, I bought a Michael Kors rendition that included heavy gold-plated chain handles that made the bag so cumbersome, I called it "my appliance".  It felt like a toaster oven with a handle.  It was just simply too big a commitment for summer so I was lucky to find a rattan "Kelly Bag" style with a black patent leather strap.  Occasionally, a piece of the straw will come undone at the bottom but I reattach with glue and my bag goes merrily on its way, looking carefree and chic.  For dressing up, I tie a colorful chiffon kerchief around the handle to match my skirt or top.  

As your summer evolves, look for straw totes at farmer's markets and boutiques.  The bespoke Nantucket lightship basket purse is always an option for a few hundred dollars but there are many less costly adaptations if you want a petite basket bag for evening.  A black linen shift looks elegantly chic with a small woven bag.

Our mothers knew that straw handbags could certainly venture beyond the seashore.  They looked just right in the middle of a suburban backyard summer too!


My grandmother with my sister and I.  I believe those are cherries on her rattan tote.

Christmas gift (Nantucket lighthouse basket-inspired).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summer Style Note - Head Scarves

A pretty way to add summer elan to an outfit, is to don a head scarf.  For Saturday errands, I will often wear a tropical-colored head scarf to add pizzazz to an otherwise plain pair of khaki shorts and solid t-shirt. On humid days, the scarf keeps wispy hair out of my lip gloss and lends a polished look to cool casual clothes. Knowing my hair is tied down makes me feel less sticky and hot and scarves keep that frightful fried and frizzy, too-long-at-the-beach look at bay.

Trailing scarf ends picked up by soft summer breezes look so feminine especially if your head scarf is in an appealing pastel print in chiffon.  If hair is too short or the scarves too slippery, try one with an attached hidden headband.  Tuck the ends under before you whip them off to one side to tie in a floppy bow.  Some of the newer head scarves can be found in good accessories departments where you will see them with pieces of elastic to hold them down or pre-bowed for ease in slipping on.

Here's more inspiration for this quintessential summer look:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rosie's Choice

The little tree I sit under at lunch each day provides me with shade and a welcoming perch - my "spot" has has a wooden bench that is a cool summer oasis in my busy work day.  I often get lost in a few book chapters or some lilting music.  But I no longer feel safe under my tree and although there is no obvious threat, I just don't feel sure of anything anymore.

Even my most optimistic and cheery friends are feeling blue these days.  It seems that everyone is down an octave or two on the happiness scale.  How can they not be?  Our phones bleep nearly everyday with horrific things and despair knows no bounds.  Yet, the world only pauses a moment and is off and running again, yanking us right behind it.

I've been thinking about how I can continue to live with serenity in troubled times of fear.  I believe if I am serene and calm then I can be a beacon for others.  If I feel anxious I can still act as if I am composed because scientists have proven that once you get the body moving, the mind follows.  That's a fact.

Having peace of mind when the news is horrible has been done before:  consider Rosie the Riveter and the women of the Homefront.  They too, lived with fear and after all, WWII was a global war.  They worked hard, creating Victory Gardens and going to work to make the goods and services they hoped would bring their men home sooner.  Rosie the Riveter really was rosy and also a little workhorse.  They dug in their heels and tarried in dirt and factories.  They painted bedrooms and fixed faucets.  They opened up their homes and fed friends and family.

I believe Rosie the Riveter had a choice - she didn't have to step up to the plate - she chose to.  Working hard, staying busy, helping others was more than the best she could do.  Rosie saw it as duty, to herself and others...come what may.

So let's make a choice just like Rosie did.  Let's choose to be compassionate and hard-working. Every day. Let's preserver despite the bleating phone messages.   And when we can, we'll break the day with a rest on a bench under a fearless tree.  Because we at least deserve that.


PS:  I bet our Rosie's above are wearing red lipstick too - Victory Red!

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Fourth of July .... and Carol

Summer brings many joys like ice cream and the Fourth of July.  This year more than ever, it seems that American women dressed very patriotically. The political and social reasons can be explored at more intellectual blogs than this one (although it could just be J. Crew) - I only know I was charmed by the stars and stripes and the red, white and blue in shorts, tops, and espadrilles.  And most of it was worn tastefully with touches of whimsy.

My pretty and chic friend Carol, a Deborah Kerr lookalike, reminds me of our model above.  Today she had on an attractive short-sleeved sweater, thickly striped in red and white that didn't hide the fact that it was our nation's birth (it also didn't hide her tiny waist).  I'm always interested to see what Carol is wearing because of all my friends, Carol's taste in clothing most closely aligns with mine.  

I love my sweet and soft-spoken friend very much.  She appears delicate but is strong...and I am in awe of her.  She recently obtained her college degree after eight grueling years of part-time school while holding down a full-time job.  She raised a son alone.  And she is a breast cancer survivor.  She is also the friend that does my taxes, makes me go to yoga class on Saturday morning when I'ld rather stay in bed, and visits any family members who happen to be in the hospital.  And two days ago, she told me she is moving.  To Florida.

Carol is leaving New England for a great new job and to be close to her now-grown son.  I understand (really, I do!) and I am happy for her because she is finally getting that fresh start she has been ripe for since losing her job.  But behind my smile, I am crying.  I will miss her terribly.  Beside the Fourth of July, Carol has long graced my Christmas tree, shown up for coffee and dessert every Easter, attended my daughter's graduations and wedding.  And it is Carol to whom I turn when I need a co-pilot to drive to the mall with to return something on a weeknight, need a friend to have a bite to eat with...or need a friend to just chat with about lipstick and eyebrow pencils.  She is a wonderful, wonderful caring pal.

So just for tonight, I beg you not to tell me the world is small...and that there is email, texting, and Skype. Pray don't say I will have a warm place to vacation in winter and please have a care and don't remind me that she will come home from time to time.  Saturday yoga won't be the same and neither will Christmas Eve around the tree or Easter Sunday for that matter.

And somehow, I just know that next Fourth of July will have a little less sis-boom-bah too.


(Carol...all my love and good wishes go with you dear friend!)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Me and Mine

Twelve years ago this summer, I was very sick.  Hospital sick.  Life was reduced to what is really important:  people.  Plain and simple.  I didn't give a hoot about clothes and makeup and I certainly didn't care what my hair was doing.  I only cared about the loved ones who came to be with me and hold my hand.  

I knew I was feeling better when a kind young x-ray tech leaned over me one morning and I smelled her perfume.  The real world had been so far out there, beyond the brick walls for so long, that just a whiff of her soft fragrance made me remember that I might need a comb.  And a lipstick.  Soon I longed to be sprung free and felt strong enough to handle life on the outside again.  A nutritionist was dispatched to explain my new diet - the one that would help keep me from getting sick again.

But once home, I felt sad and fragile.  There were so many medicines to take and follow-up appointments to keep.  And so many of my favorite foods were off-limits and I didn't really have the energy to cook the meals I was now supposed to eat.  My family had given up their own lives for 6 weeks and I didn't want to bother them after they had just breathed their collective sighs of relief.

One night I sat at the kitchen table contemplating the food choices on the take-away sheets from the hospital.  As I was trying to decide what would be easiest to make, I glanced up and saw my daughter's prom dress hanging on the door of the laundry closet.  It had been placed there awaiting a good ironing.  Instead of cooking dinner, I found myself setting up the ironing board and then lovingly pressing out the wrinkles on the lovely dress.  I ironed each pleat from hem to the edge of the waist, twirling the skirt around the ironing board while trying not to re-wrinkle the fabric.  Then I worked the bodice, gently stretching the delicate fabric and attaching it to the board with dressmaker pins, until every edge and crevice was smooth and perfect.  Next I flattened the dress's straps with the hot iron until crisp and identically even.  When I was finished, I hung it back on its silky padded hanger where it now appeared suspended in floating layered pleats of rosy pink organdy.

The simple act of ironing that dress put me right back in the present - just where I needed to be.  A sense of peace and calm washed over me as I let go of future concerns and mindfully stayed in the moment.  Soon my woe-is-me blues walked out the door and my psyche recovered a sense of order.  I felt proud and so glad to at last be doing something for someone else.  I was taking care of "me and mine" in the best way I knew how at that moment.

Call it zen, being in the zone or just mindfulness, but it was only when I finished ironing the dress and returned the board and iron back to their rightful places, that I was finally able to make an uncomplicated and healthy meal to begin nourishing myself back to wholeness.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Vesper's Handbag

I did something I have never done before - I watched a Bond film.  I caught Casino Royale on a recent rainy Sunday.  Violent, bloody and for me, hard to completely follow, I was still able to enjoy the luxurious locations, gorgeous sets and wardrobes.  I was especially taken with Bond Girl Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green.  And as I read after watching the movie, this was the only film where James Bond (Daniel Craig) actually falls in love with his leading lady.

I was struck by a poignant scene when Bond's large masculine hand plucked a tiny seashell among a tumble of belongings from Vesper's handbag.  By this time, Vesper had been killed and Bond had been unable to save her.  The items in her purse formed a lovely and wistful composition on top of her black embroidered purse. The shell represented the untroubled but fleeting days of their love affair when they tarried on sandy Italian beaches embracing and kissing.  Along with the shell was Vesper's sleek camera and chic white cell phone, a linen handkerchief, a book of poetry, a fine black wallet, and a rather large bottle of scent.  A quick internet search netted the name of Vesper's perfume:   Santa Maria Novella's Melograno, which by all accounts is a worldly fragrance with a trailing feminine heart - much like the way I would describe her strong yet fragile nature which was endlessly fascinating.  It's no wonder that she stole and then softened the heart of the cruel and callous Bond.

I am certain the contents of Vesper's handbag were selected very carefully by filmmakers to represent her unique personality and to trigger Bond's grief -  his sad face as he examines the lone shell says it all.  The scene is very brief but Vesper's belongings are a delightful allegory into her psyche and a clever visual haiku for romantic types like me.

The innards of a female handbag remain a secret garden - it's quite rare to be privy to what women carry, even the handbags of close friends.  Certainly most men seem immune or at the least, confused by what's in them.  A hungry boyfriend once asked me hopefully, "Do you have any food in there?"  But to see what a woman carries is to gain a most private perspective.  I remember how I felt when I saw a strange man holding my open handbag and rifling through it looking for my ID after he found it in the parking lot of a hotel. I had foolishly left it on top of my car after I loaded my suitcase and blithely drove away.  When I returned a few minutes later, the kind man was holding it with one hand while his other hand groped inside for my license.  I remember noticing how small my bag seemed in his possession.  And it was strangely intimate.

French artist Nathalie LeCroc has made a career creating watercolors of the items found in women's handbags.  She prefers an un-edited handbag - no removing gum wrappers or baby pacifiers in the taxi on the way to her studio.  Her works of art will one day be a book of 1,001 handbags and their secrets.  The prints are as charming and varied as the women they belong too.

I have a friend who stores her deceased mother's handbag wrapped in layers of plastic.  She says that when opened, it still retains the smell of her mother and she wants to preserve that sacred imprint as long as she can.  Could it not be said that a piece of our very souls are found within the jumble of our handbags?

Below, is mine.  Unedited.  Like Vesper, I too, carry a large bottle of scent.

And Vesper's:

If you carry a talisman that is special or want to disclose what your handbag holds, I'ld love to hear.