Friday, May 26, 2017
“But afterwards, is there nothing more for me in life - no true home - nothing to be dearer to me than myself?”
Thanks to a good friend, I found out this week that the North Star, Polaris, has not always been our North Star. In fact, for a very, very long time, that distinction was held by another star that positioned itself high above the North Pole, called Thuban. And because of the earth’s gyrations as it twirls around the sun, Thuban will once again be our North Star someday far in the future. This new-to-me-information had my head twirling with thoughts of my own personal North Stars and how they too, have changed seats throughout my life.
As children, I suppose our North Stars are our mothers – after all, they are our first loves and upon whom our very existence depends. Thus, I recall how my infant daughter’s eyes followed me whenever I moved about in her room, even before she could sit up by herself or speak. I was not only the person responsible for her very life; I was her North Star, the beacon she sought for guidance and safety in her brave new world.
I thought about other North Stars I’ve aligned myself with –those that helped me try out different roles when I was younger and those that gave me parameters for living as I experimented with new ways of being me. Sometimes our North Star is our beliefs and concepts and sometimes our North Star represents just one person. I think it is rare to have only one North Star for all of life because we change so often and adopt so many roles, especially as women.
For a while, my friends at school were the star I wished to follow. There were years, my guiding principles came from organizations I embraced such as the Girl Scouts or my church. Other times, I found a mentor or a friend who had already traversed the road I was on and I looked to them to ground me and keep me on course. But lately, my North Star is harder to spot. I wondered if it's because I have finally grown into the woman I was meant to be. Mostly, I prefer to take my own counsel, set my own path…listen to my own heart...
That kind of trust comes only from years of living and experiencing. It comes from an innate knowledge that “Yes, I have seen this before”. And my reactions stay true to those core beliefs I didn’t know I was honing - through childhood when my mother and grandmothers guided me, through motherhood when I looked to seasoned mothers to show me how, and now to beyond, when my skills for soothing and advising myself seem sharper than ever. And happily, I find in myself the ability to be North Star to others. Or at least that’s what I hope.
So the bottom line is that the pinnacle of growing older is that we may get to be, not only the cosmic light for others, but also the beam of sparkle and glimmer that we used to seek outside ourselves. Looking back, I realize that my constellation has changed many times over. Perhaps now...and at last...I am my own North Star.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
In my twenties, when I was young and carefree, I rented a house with four other women. We all worked, dated, and fret about the number of pizza slices we ate in front of the blinking black and white TV on Friday nights. We were obsessed with clothes, the number on the scale, and finding Mr. Right. Maybe not so carefree...
Our lone bathroom quickly became overflowing with lotions and potions, hair "painting" kits, pink shaving foams, and bottles of nail polish. Although we each had our own personal needs, we gradually came to see how much fun it could be to unite and conquer our challenges collectively. Thus, Beauty Parlor Night was born.
We had lots of giggles and laughs running in and out of each others' rooms trying on lipsticks and giving each other manicures. We shared dating horror stories as well as gave advice to the poor roommate who happened to be lovelorn that week. We spent a lot of time cross-legged on each others' beds with Mint Julep Mask on our faces and towels wrapped around our heads.
For me, Beauty Parlor Night is still sacrosanct even though my routine has become much simpler. - I'm less concerned with trying new makeup colors and much more passionate about good skincare and smooth and lovely feet. And it's imperative that my beauty regime eases me into a good nights sleep which is by far the best beauty aid of all for someone my age.
Like penguins tossing themselves to the sea, my roommates and I disbanded and plunged one-by-one into marriages. I miss the young women I lived and "played" with long ago and was thrilled to chat with one recently. "What are you doing at home tonight?", she asked. "I just stepped out of a lavender honey bath. You"? "I stole my daughter's blue nail polish and it's drying on my toes", she replied.
Note: Next post up, "What I Did For
Sunday, April 23, 2017
I used to think my modest house took on its beauty only by candlelight. But that was before I had a new front door installed with a half-moon transom built into the top. Every morning this past week, as I descended the stairs, I noticed a brief pastoral scene framed in that window, as pretty as if it had been stolen from a colorful illustrated bible. The window is also responsible for shedding a tender shaft of light on my living room floor that greets me each day as I pad across it to reach my coffee cup.
I've lived in my home almost twenty years now, so it is too steeped in memories to be seen in a detached way. But I do take it for granted sometimes. And since I've only just begun to appreciate spring as the lovely season it is, I always thought my house made its grand entrance on Christmas Eve when my tree shines bright along with the white votives I scatter across the bookshelves. Not anymore...
As well as the new light in the morning, I realize I am truly indebted to the frieze of trees that shelter the front of my house and help keep things quiet around here. Those elms are not yet in leaf but a coppery aura tell me that they will be green soon. I learned about that from an old farmer once. The birches are still blurred with a hazy pistachio-green foliage along with a lot of unnamed plants and bushes. I don't have a green thumb but I have admire what gardeners choose to plant for maximum spring color.
Something as simple as a newly installed window has caught me off guard and made me want to head outdoors for walks. But not for exercise - I want to scavenge for presents for the house. I clipped a communal bush for forsythia branches but now they have passed. Next will be my mother's lilac which I will pilfer for both us.
There's always one moment in the house, when I sense that summer has arrived. Sometimes it's the heat I feel from the second floor when I open the front door from work -or the unmistakable earth smell from the open bedroom windows. But I've always ignored spring's visit - it's just been too painful. Lucky for me, a friend has been showering me with love and holding my hand for the last few springs. This year, with my new "view" from a simple built-in window that was really just an afterthought, I may be able to manage on my own. Every season has its gifts.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
When I was too young to understand anything spoken in church, I asked my big brother why we had Easter. His wise, all-knowing answer was, "Easter holds us over 'til Christmas". And it made perfect sense.
My mother created Easter baskets for us but what I remember most fondly was the finery she outfitted my sister and I in. There were winsome cotton dresses with smocking and sashes or colorful prints of flowers or birds, cotton ankle socks with lace trim, straw hats with excruciatingly tight chin straps, snow-white cotton gloves, and brand new shoes. How I loved the shoes! So much so, that one Easter Eve, a pair slept in their cardboard shrine right next to me in bed. I remember peeking into the box just before sleep, peeling apart the crinkly tissue paper and inhaling the leathery goodness. Our shoes were often shiny black patent with petal cut-outs or dainty t-straps replete with pearl buttons. But sometimes we found the same version in milky white or pale pink.
The most heralded Easter garment however, was the spring coat. Each year on a special Saturday in March, when winter was still biting our toes, my mother would take my sister and I to the big city department store to search for new coats - coats that would have their debut only on Easter Sunday. Formal and lightweight outerwear was not hard to find in those days because everyone had a spring coat back then. They were as ubiquitous as ski jackets in December. The quintessential go-to color was navy and if all else failed, it was the one hue that could be counted on to coordinate with any dress. But more often than not, my mother found pretty pastels for us in nubby weightless wools or sturdy pique cotton with large tone-on-tone buttons.
Along with the coats, we would buy rustling slips and tiny structured grown-up-looking purses to match our shoes.
We gave Easter special honors by dressing as beautifully as could be afforded. Our ensembles were thoughtfully planned, purchased and executed with an excited anticipation that belied a holiday my brother said just came around to hold us over.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
I've introduced you to this handsome chap before. He was the grandfather of a good friend of mine and I was delighted to see this newly-found photograph of him. Known mostly as the favored dentist in our hometown, he is still remembered well by some of the parents of my high school friends - nearly 75 years after his death. Imagine that...
Even with a torture chamber for an office, you may wonder why he is still talked about with such warmth and respect among local elders. His striking good looks and untimely death are certainly mentioned but mostly he is remembered for kindness and generosity of spirit. When he died suddenly at 49, nearly the entire town owed him money for the mercury-filled holes in their teeth. There are other stories too - but that's for another time.
More than a few years ago, a co-worker brought a newspaper into work that contained the obituary of the woman who used to run our department. The first reaction was from another co-worker, who under her breath, simply muttered, "Ding Dong". Everyone knew that was a reference to The Wizard of Oz when the bad witch had a house fall on her head. There were a few snickers and a few shrugs too. But I was left quietly stunned. This woman - our former supervisor - was a mother and a grandmother of five. Yes, she was punitive, even mean at times, taking the letter of the company's law to ridiculous and borderline inhumane degrees. But she was a grandmother, presumably with small children who loved her. Somehow, the in-congruence of that unnerved me. Even with an assumed loving family, there were still a not insignificant number of people who saw her as the Wicked Witch of the West and would remember her so. It gave me pause - I thought about legacies and the impressions that follow bosses and others in authority long after they are gone.
I've seen a lot of behaviors from bosses in my lengthy career. I've worked for those willing to do anything to get ahead including walking over friends, colleagues, and underlings and then kicking the remains to the curb. But there have been others who were principled enough to go the extra mile to do the right thing. I suppose success can be had on either path...
Recently I left a job I liked a lot. What I didn't like were the behaviors of the person in charge. His actions were abusive to the degree that gave me no choice. I guess in our careers, it comes down to what we choose to do at the fork in the road. And at the end of our lives, how do we want to be remembered by those we served or by those who served us? I'd prefer to be remembered like the beloved young dentist above and not by a reference to an evil player in a child's fairy tale.
Special note: there will be happy springtime topics to cover here soon. And this, in case you need help: https://www.facebook.com/thatsharassment/
Thursday, March 30, 2017
I am about to venture to my own Vanity Fair and although I have no sisters nearby to help pack my trunk, I do feel the love and support of those who care. My destination is not Boston Society but an exciting new job with more money, exceptionally wonderful benefits and hopefully, more respect than in my last position. To prepare for Vanity Fair, I have scripted a checklist for my "trunk" based on all the loving advice I have received about this sudden and perfectly Providential chance. The new position practically fell from the sky and into my outstretched arms (although I was ready the day my heart whispered to my soul, "Where's your pride?").
~As I enter the door of my new firm, I will tell myself "I am about to meet some life-long friends". (From my sister)
~I will pack a book as well as a healthy salad for lunch in case my initial lunchtime appears to be a lone one (i.e., lonely). (From my daughter)
~I will remind myself that this job was a gift from Heaven above and I will be mindful of the Divine's hand. (From my good friend, Karen, who prayed)
~My look will straddle the more casual dress code of my new company with my natural tendency toward trust-fund-librarian style. I will strike an appropriate balance until I know more about how the natives dress. (Also from Karen)
~I will remember that new ventures even at my age, mean a "younger" brain and learning new things will be ever-so-good for me. (Also from my sister)
~I will carry a small tote bag with a few "comforts" for just-in-case, including an extra set of contact lenses, some tea bags, tissues, and a new notebook for jotting down notes in a pretty way. (My friend Patty, an inveterate self-starter who is a wee bit older than I)
~I will become acquainted with my new commute route well before my start date so I arrive with time enough to compose myself and check my lipstick. (The Complete Secretary's Handbook - 1962 edition)
Unlike Meg March, no one can pack my trunk for me...but my loved ones have certainly helped me fill it.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Long ago, I clipped a quote from an article about Joan Didion. She told the journalist that when she was small and upset by something that happened in school, her parents would tell her to "go to literature" for help. They believed she would find answers in the classics. When I am unsettled, I also go to my shelves looking for, if not answers, comfort. My books remind me who I am, where I've been, and where I need to go.
Like old friends, my library is familiar and friendly. Sometimes just gazing at an image in one of my books takes me back to a version of myself that I may have forgotten. I am reminded that the person who looked upon that image, sometimes many years ago, still exists within. And if I can tap into her, I can tap into renewed strength.
I have favorite literature that offers me all kinds of inspiration but I thought I would give you some of the non-fiction books that I reach for in times of trouble. So, straight from my shelf:
Linda Dannenberg's The Paris Way of Beauty will always be my favorite beauty book. I purchased my copy in 1979 and as a young single working women, I learned how to care for myself and organize my beauty routine using its tried-and-true French methods. I still employ the Recipe for a Basic Makeup outlined in the book and the diet advice has stood the test of time. I still get a thrill when I crack it open and a shy but chic young woman meets me between the pages.
Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach is not unlike her blockbuster Simple Abundance but it is more concrete in its approach. I love both of Sarah's books but Romancing the Ordinary speaks to my soul. Reading a few chapters before bed is like a beloved great aunt tucking me in as she murmurs, "There, there dear". In times of stress or pain, Romancing the Ordinary provides the quiet comfort I crave.
When I need a good cry about life's heartbreaking tenderness, I reach for Nancy Lindemeyer's Jenny Walton's Packing for a Woman's Journey. Nancy's stories, drawn from her childhood to young womanhood are so poignantly written that it is one of the only books that can make me sob out loud. Her stirring essays about the grandmother who adopted her as a small child, tug at my heartstrings like a plaintive violin. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Nancy once and she told me that the only way to write the stories was to relive each one. It shows.
My Father by Judy Collins is illustrated by my favorite children's book artist, Jane Dyer. The story is about a daughter of a coal miner whose life is made radiant by her father's dreams for her. Dyer's colorful and gently realistic interpretations of what should have been a stark childhood come alive off the page. This book is perfect for a weary grown-up's lullaby.
I love the art of the Impressionists and so another book I turn to regularly aligns fashion with my favorite art movement. Dior Impressions: the Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior is a beautiful volume that explores the relationship between Dior's designs and 19th century artists use of light, nature and color. Many of Dior's dresses appear to step right from the gilded frame. The text is engaging and the book is so spring-like, I can almost smell verdant grasses when I open it. Mesmerizing.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Lace is a big tease - it both provokes and conceals. The women above are all "laced up" but they're not telling any secrets...except to each other. Today's lace is different - it's quintessentially feminine and very alluring. If you want to look girly - wear lace.
Most lace is made by machine these days, the design of which sometimes begins on a computer because lace artistry and other needle arts are not being handed down as much anymore. If I had more time, lace is definitely a subject I would explore - there are hundreds of books, mostly vintage, to help me along. Handmade lace requires painstaking work and a nimbleness to create. The bobbins and threads that artisans use to make this ancient textile are mind-boggling. A lace-maker is no klutz.
My grandmother made me a white eyelet lace dress when I was 13 and I loved it. I thought it made me look sexy and grown-up but I probably just looked chaste and virginal - my grandmother's creations were far more conservative than my mod 1968, Seventeen-Magazine-as-Bible self wanted. The only color in the shift was the tender green velvet ribbon that Nana wove through the waist and the embellishment of a lone golden daisy stitched where the ribbon joined. That dress stayed in my heart and the memory of it still has me trawling spring catalogs every year for eyelet blouses.
I do wonder how appropriate lace is for a woman of a certain age though. I wore an orchid-colored lace dress for my daughter's wedding almost two years ago but I'm not sure I would feel comfortable anymore in a pure white lace dress. I would however, embrace a crisp shell or bell-sleeved blouse, especially in eyelet.
So what is it about this textile that appeals? Is it the association with brides and matrimony? Babies in Christening dresses? Mostly, I think it's like the freshness you feel on the day you suddenly discover that spring came to stay. Lace is as unexpected and delightful as a breath of fresh air - accompanied by a jolt of sex-appeal. Or not.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
I came home yesterday with 4 petite rose-colored calla lilies and some long stalks of irises. They look so pretty in my etched crystal pitcher. I want to think that they are harbingers of spring but our local weather source states we could have up to 50 inches of snow by the time this month is over. March is funny that way.
So instead of going outside to collect the strange twig formations stuck in my soggy lawn, I am comforting myself with poetic March things. Aside from enjoying spring flowers, here are some of them:
~Re-watching Masterpiece Theater's Victoria on my laptop in bed while knitting a spring sweater.
~Cooking with French mustards - chicken, vegetables, vinaigrette's...so many delicious varieties and recipes to try.
~Dipping in and out of a Maeve Binchy book of short stories. Just one or two...whenever I get a few minutes to reset my brain and connect me with tales of other women's lives.
~Enjoying my tea with honey "spoons" - they add just the right amount of sweetness.
~Listening to background music especially youtube clips of one of my favorite songs, "Once Upon A Time"...a sweet song of love and loss with beautiful orchestral strings that stir the heart. (Kevin Spacey and Perry Como have the bestest renditions).
The landscape may become restless again but I will already be tucked inside enjoying slow and lyrical March.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Dear Readers, you may know that I do not write for a living. At least not all my living. My style writing and other contributions, paid writing, etc. have never filled the coffers completely and so I must have a full-time job at all times. That job is in the financial sector - a roly-poly mess of a world with changing regulations and ever-squeezing and strident edicts. This isn't really a pretty post - I'm talking about work reviews - you know, when your boss rates you and determines your very worth as a human being and your right to exist on the planet.
If you have been visiting my blog for a long time then you might remember my sad post from two years ago when I left a job I held for 20 years. It was an arm wrench and just as painful. What drove me from that position were, for lack of better words, viperous women. It is said that the art of the deal is the art of war and I would go so far as to say that work is a battleground. And if all is fair in love and war then all is fair in the modern workplace too. I had my annual review yesterday.
Despite my passion for my job, my boss snared me on some very petty things. And in 12 months, this was the first I had heard about them. Among some of the infractions, apparently I should have attended the company's Christmas party which I would have had to buy tickets for, accompanied my boss home from a meeting instead of driving home with lovely co-workers so we could have a rare dinner together, and provided a set of birthday cards each Monday for clients. Initially I was told the required company cards were gauche and calls would be made instead. Not so, I discovered in my review. When did reading your boss' mind become a core value to be rated on?
So this weekend, this precious three day weekend, I am allowing myself to grieve a position I believed to be perfect as my final act. My consolation is that I will wake to a kind friend waiting for me in "his" leather chair in the den I decorated after my daughter left home and married last year. I'm sure he will silently get up and trod downstairs to fetch my daily joy - a mug of creamy and delicious coffee. Then he will then sit back with a Twinkie (a favorite weekend Breakfast of Champions) where he will stare at me kindly and blink until my tears flow and re-flow with yet another rendering of hurt and sting until I am spent and have no words left to say.
It will be then that we dress and drive to the beach where in only a few short months the sand will be warm and covered with summer umbrellas that will stretch as far as the eye beholds. They will be as bright and colorful as massive children's beach balls magically suspended in air.
And not one dragon shall be near.
THE INNER VOICE
Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. This voice distrusts the status quo. It sounds out the falsity in things and encourages dissent from the images things tend to assume. It underlines the secret crevices where the surface has become strained. It advises distance and opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge. The inner voice makes any complicity uneasy. Its intention is to keep the heart clean and clear. This voice is an inner whisper not obvious or known to others outside. It receives little attention and is not usually highlighted among a person's qualities. Yet so much depends on that small voice. The truth of its whisper marks the line between honor and egoism, kindness and chaos. In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty and love.