Monday, December 29, 2014
I have a love/hate relationship with New Year's Eve. In New England the weather is almost always seasonably frigid and it just seems cozier to stay tucked indoors. But tradition calls for a convivial and festive party like our "cover girl" is enjoying. In her hands is a statuette of Father Time carrying a scythe which implies the death of the old year.
It's actually this passage of time which keeps me betwixt and between staying in or going out on the year's last night. Whether New Year's is a cliché or a holiday steeped in the mystical, I think everyone should have the chance to "do" New Year's Eve, at least a few times, with a big glamorous and raucous party. There's nothing more fun than bewitching finery and a boisterous crowd to send your cares a-packing until after midnight's countdown. But the draw to stay close to the hearth has been far more compelling these last few years. I often have many new gifted books to read, plenty of left-overs, and not to mention - the weather outside is so frightful.
Mom says "New Year's Eve is for amateurs." But I think she is talking about those who party too much or those who party infrequently and thus, overdo it on this one night. I think Mom is at an age and stage where she can do whatever she pleases and these days, she's happy to watch the revelers on her television set rather than have a drink with them.
For me this year, I think I will follow Jane Austen's logic, a women who also knew a thing or two about joyous partying: "Ah! For real comfort, there is nothing like staying at home". Ah! indeed.
This concludes my Twelve Days of a Feminine Christmas and although it was not on the true calendar, I hope you enjoyed it.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
I was captivated with a similar image last Christmas - a beautiful blond wearing a teal green headband with crystals. The band both contrasted and matched her just-as-lovely teal cashmere turtleneck. Sometimes all it takes is one image to capture a certain look you know you must claim as yours. But it often isn't the garment or the accessory, but the feel of the picture. It says something that only we know about ourselves.
I found a greeting card in a shop long ago of a serene woman with her hair piled upon her head with a certain dishabille about it. I was also entranced by her embroidered cloak and the delicate flower she held under her chin with a pale hand. Believe me, she looks nothing like me but I felt a strong simpatico with her. Perhaps, it was her softness, her femininity, the embellished coat. When I took her to the framers I said "She is me inside". The framer who looked a lot more like the lady on my card than I, jerked her head up and peered at my face in puzzlement. Then a knowing smile crossed over her face and she said, "Ah...I see that!". She did a beautiful job encapsulating the muse that will always grace the wall beside my nightstand, reminding me of who I really am.
Take a look at my two pictures below - you may see a thread running between the two. Contemplative, serene femininity with a little bit of fantasy. Now who are you?
I had a wonderful boss once who allowed us to leave the office to finish Christmas shopping or do last minute errands. She understood. With a quick wink, she would whisper, "Go, go! Get outta here, Kid". She was rough around the edges but oh so kind. She seemed to know that Christmas is a one-woman magic show and the women who worked for her were mothers and magicians.
She was also the boss that asked me one devastatingly hot summer if I had an air conditioner for my small daughter and I. When I told her no, the next Saturday a unnamed pick-up truck delivered a brand new air conditioner to my cloistered city apartment. That's the kind of boss she was...that's the kind of human being she was.
Last year, I happened upon her obituary in the newspaper and felt a swift stab of sadness and sent a note to her next of kin, a niece with her name. She wrote back and told me I had described her aunt perfectly, an old salt who in an undercover way loved and helped all her underlings. I've had all kinds of bosses through the years - the good, the bad and the ugly. She was most definitely in the best camp with that marvelous dichotomy of mettle and benevolence. She was a tough cookie with Christmas heart of gold.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
First I asked him if I could help. He too, had too much overhang and as I trimmed the excess he told me the present was for a sick friend he was on his way to see. He was so grateful that I was able to hand a somewhat neat package back to him in just a few minutes. We worked extremely well together too, for being strangers - I put some tape on the back of his hand while I pulled the paper closer then I whisked it off him and closed the ends of the wrapping as best I could. He was so appreciative as he smiled and nodded his thanks. I didn't think much about the incident until I sat down just now to write this post. The lovely shopkeeper in the picture for this post is ready and at your service to help anyway she can. I bet she does corners really well.
Monday, December 22, 2014
I've taken a gimlet eye to my at-home wear this year. It's so great in the summer when one can come home from work and throw on shorts and a t-shirt. But winter wear is more challenging because I like to be warm and cozy too. It's easy to throw on some old faded sweatpants and call it a day. But I find when I do that, I'm less inclined to cook dinner and eat healthy and more inclined to order out.
So I bought some very nice velour pants in teal and in oatmeal. They match any number of long sleeve shirts and sweaters I already have. I'm not opposed to comfy slippers and wouldn't wear my ballet flats like the subject of today's picture unless I were having company. But a funny thing happened on the way to the kitchen: I grabbed my apron and not my phone. I began cooking. Something savory and satisfying. And good for me.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Velvet is one of those luxurious fabrics with a lovely "hand". Like silk, it feels good to the touch. My memorable blue dress was a soft velvet and not the least bit stiff. Black velvet too, is an elegant choice for Christmas attire and fortunately it is back in style in skirts, shoes, pants.
One of my favorite black velvet dresses is one that Marlo Thomas wore during her That Girl years. She looks so sweet and charming in it and if lengthened just a few inches, it would be perfect for today. Not surprisingly, I read that she said it "itched like mad" because of the multiple lace petticoats underneath but I adore her in it just the same.
When I think of red velvet, I see Judy Garland as Esther Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis. Last night, I was able to see a local production of a play of the film. Esther didn't wear red velvet but she looked festive and pretty in a black velvet trimmed white dress. I never tire of the scene where she dances behind a candlelit Christmas tree with her grandfather, only to emerge a moment later swirling in the arms of her true love, John Truitt. Tears always well up in my eyes for the grandfather, Esther, the sudden appearance of John, and the magnificent red velvet dress.
The top picture is an ad for Gay Gibson apparel. They were known for feminine colorful dresses and separates during the 60's and 70's. I am enchanted by their ads because they always used three alluring models in each photograph. I especially love the velvet and lace sleeve on model Colleen Corby's dress on the left.
Until I dress the little granddaughter that only meets me in my dreams, I will continue to look for images of velvet dresses at Christmastime.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Most likely you've read The Gift of the Magi. The first time I read it I found it completely endearing - its twist ending is known as comic irony and the story is a splendid example. O. Henry was said to have written the Edwardian-era story in a pub one night. Sometimes writing is like that...it flows freely to perfection but it really doesn't happen all that often.
What's really perfect though, is the young love between Jim and Della and the lengths they go to find each other's heart's desire in the form of Christmas presents. It's also about sacrifice because Jim and Della both sacrifice things they each hold very dear to make the other happy.
I enjoy a re-read of this enchanting classic every Christmas...for the reminder of an Edwardian couple's true holiday spirit as well as another peek at a 1966 Della.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
I love the ice maiden look to this picture. It makes me think she could be inside an igloo with the silvery tree and the frosted windows. Her fur is strewn close by in case she gets cold in her silk charmeuse dressing gown. Everything about this photograph says that Christmas is about luxuriousness and indeed, some of the best Christmas presents are those we can pamper ourselves with.
There is a time in every pre-teen's life when she begins to receive more womanly gifts. Gone are the dolls and toys, replaced by perfumes, lipsticks, and lotions. I distinctly remember receiving soap-on-a-rope, toilet water, and handkerchiefs in the sixth grade. Later, my mother filled my Christmas stockings with Yardley Pot-o-Gloss, false eyelashes and newly-invented pantyhose. Under the tree were electric rollers, a lighted makeup mirror and white go-go boots. The mirror eventually got stuck on "Office" and the boots faded from the scene but I never got tired of sets of lipsticks and fragrant bubble baths.
Today's beauty sets are available at any price and in any combination. I especially like the ones that have Christmas motifs on the packaging such as snowmen or snowflakes. It makes such a cute and festive gift for a girlfriend or niece. A dear friend just sent me a pre-Christmas gift of two pretty spring nail colors with a lavish rose-infused handcream. It came in a tartan tin and is sitting patiently under the tree right now.
I highly recommend buying a pampering set for yourself before Christmas. Look for a selection of small shampoos and each morning, test drive a new one. Or try a combination talcum powder with body splash. Spoil yourself during this busy season while you are busy spoiling others.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
My grandmother lived all her life in a city apartment, never having owned a house. And yet, her apartment was a happy sanctuary that she made for herself and my grandfather. For me, her apartment was a box of curiosities and enchantment, never more so than during the holidays. She was especially adept at creating lovely Christmases: always a fresh tree decorated with colorful baubles and lights, a crisp cloth printed with crimson poinsettias on the dining table, and charmingly wrapped packages with red paper ribbons. There was a crystal pedestal bowl brimming with cashews and raisins sprinkled with sugar. A smaller crystal dish was home to cascading ribbon candy for small hands to reach at will. I am so lucky to have quite a few photographs of my grandmother's home at Christmas. I study them for holiday-inspired domestic details and yet, no matter how hard I try, I can never imitate her nonchalant and naturally airy ambience. She had a magic wand all her own.
I believe there is redemptive power in adorning a home for the holidays. The world outside our doors can be abjectly cruel and unpredictable. So what is better than creating a place of gladness and delight for those we cherish? I say decorate with abandon if that's your style...if you want a pink aluminum tree like the department store ones of your youth, then have it. More is as more as you want it to be at Christmastime. And if you need to clutch a Santa to your heart, so be it...
My grandmother's city dining room, Christmas circa 1960
Sunday, December 14, 2014
I first became captivated with this image when I discovered it on a collection of Christmas cards at the Metropolitan Art Museum, and as I often do, I saved one last card for myself. Fortunately, I recently found the image on eBay for just a dollar as it had been ripped from a copy of La Gazette du Bon Ton.
The illustration is called La Biche Apprivoisée, which means The Tame Doe. I love the sense of movement which shows an elegant women in fashionable heels trotting naturally beside a small deer. To me, there is clearly a Christmas theme in her exquisite black, white, and red frock and the deer, although not a reindeer. The dress in La Gazette du Bon Ton was described as a "scarf print dress by Paul Poiret...of georgette sleeves and a collar and cuffs of organdy, fluted". Poiret's legacy as a fashion designer is that he freed women from restrictive corsets, although ironically, he was later known for the hobble skirt!
What I take away from images like La Biche Apprivoisée, is a sense of refined yet subdued Christmas style - a far cry from Christmas themed sweaters or tree ornament earrings. Although I do think that type of fashion has a place today, I prefer my Christmas finery straight up - pretty skirts with simple luxurious sweaters, silk blouses, a touch of tartan. Polished, quiet, graceful...reflective of the woman I want to be and considerate of the true Christmas message of faith, hope, charity, and love.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
We bought our tree last weekend and installed it in the usual corner in the living room. It's a happy seasonal ritual as we buy from a gentle man who brings trees from his Vermont farm to his sister's antique shop and sells them for $20 each. He remembers my daughter and I each year and we always have a cordial chat as we scour his small selection for just the right tree. The last word is always my daughter's who seems to intuitively know which one will fit our small house. Our Vermont tree grower ties it onto the car for us after he neatly trims the bottom. This year, I suddenly heard myself tell him that when I see him next, my daughter may not be with me as she'll be married and leaving home in the new year. He offered his congratulations with a kind eye towards me. "Oh Mom, you're gonna miss her", said with a knowing and wistful shake of the head.
On the drive home, as she has every year since she was a child, my daughter asked me to tell her a certain story yet again. One Christmas Eve long ago, when I was newly unemployed (there was another painful recession in the early 1990's that has since been eclipsed in most people's memory), I read in the newspaper that a tree farm near our apartment was offering free Christmas trees for anyone who had lost a job. Life had been hard for us so on a snowy afternoon, I drove to the farm with my daughter, who was three at the time. We trudged up to a wooden shack and opened a creaky door to find the tree farmer behind an old metal cash register. I told him I had lost my job and he silently reached behind him and took a large bow saw off the wall. He handed the saw to me! I had never cut anything with a saw in my life but moments later my daughter and I were stomping about outside in the now heavily falling snow, searching for a small tree to cut down.
Once I found the one I thought would be easy to carry up the flights of stairs to our flat, I crouched down in the wet snow at the base of the tree and began to saw. I never knew how hard sawing through a piece of wood was but somehow I felled the tree with a satisfying crack. Sadly, my only pair of gloves were in tatters from the effort but I managed to drag the tree to the car with my daughter plodding along behind by following my deep snowy footsteps. By the time the tree was tied inside the open trunk, we both looked like we had been dusted with powdered sugar. The air was bitingly cold and the sky quickly darkening and with my numb fingers I snapped my daughter into her car seat.
The driving was treacherous as I slowly made my way up the slick road to the top of a sloping hill. A short skid nearly stopped my heart and the wheels of my small car began spinning. I let the it roll back a bit to see if I could drive out of the icy patch and continue up the hill. Just as I succeeded, I heard my daughter speak in that odd matter-of-fact way children do when they think a parent can easily fix anything. "Mommy...the tree fell off". Peering through the nearly frozen-over back window I could see the green tree rolling down the hill, powdered snow bouncing off its limbs with every rotation until it hit a fence on the side of the road. Without my useless gloves, I put the emergency brake on, unhooked my daughter from the car seat and together we slid holding hands down to retrieve the tree which was now laying still beside the fence. Tears stung my eyes and I wanted to wail outloud. By the time we got home with the thing, we were wet and shaking from the cold and dampness. I left the tree outside leaning against our apartment house and put my small child in a warm bath. I made a call to a neighbor. His wife must have told him I was near tears because he came right away with a short saw to shave off the uneven bottom of the tree and then drag it up the stairs and install it in our tree stand. I thanked him and after he left, I tucked my daughter into her warmest pj's and drew her child's chair up to the low coffee table where she ate her dinner.
Soon the branches on the tree dropped enough so it could be trimmed. But I was tired, overwhelmed, and put out and if I didn't have a child high on anticipation, I would have turned off the lights and gone to bed. As I was agitatedly untangling the fairy lights, my eye suddenly caught something fluttering deep within the tree. It was a small brown rabbit, clinging to the trunk and shivering. I reached inside and gently cupped my hands around the tiny bunny. I could feel its tender heartbeat in my palm. My daughter rushed to my side with wide eyes and she and I stroked its fur with only our index fingers. I heard my daughter tell the bunny not to cry or worry. "My Mommy's here", she said. I realized that when we cut the tree we had disturbed this little creature's safe place and frightened, it had clung to a branch through all the dragging and rolling. And it had survived.
As luck would have it, our neighbor's sister kept rabbit dens and she dispatched her husband again who came and took the bunny. Oddly, my daughter never wondered about our little visitor again until she was older and I was implored to the tell the story of it each Christmas. I remember looking up the symbolic meaning of rabbits and came across words like "centering" and "balance in chaos". Finding a bunny in one's tree on Christmas Eve was too precious not to think about nuance. Soon after Epiphany, I was employed again and life took a happy turn.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Yesterday, I wore a very old black wool skirt to work - it was bought in 1989 and has suffered through many a let-out and take-in. It's long and just grazes the top of my ankle. I didn't think it very stylish anymore but I thought it may be warm. Paired with my boots, it was indeed. But I was surprised by the attention it garnered. One co-worker said I looked like I was about to enter the stage to play the violin. A friend told me I looked beautiful. Somehow, my skirt felt just right, old though it is.
As for chandelier earrings, they can be purchased at almost every fashion jewelry counter in almost every department store. I'm sure Myrna's wearing the real thing but who's to say yours are not?
Christmas is such a feminine holiday. Afterall it is women who create its perfect synthesis of magic and reality. Our connection to the Noel is not antiquated but ancient. A woman's Christmas dreams and schemes are born of centuries of reveries and lore, including its original truth.
Find some finery in your closet and dust it off. Buy some inexpensive bling for yourself. I may not be your true love, but I will give you Twelve Days of Feminine Christmas, starting here with Myrna's earrings and my long ancient skirt.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Some of my favorite things:
My Kindle which is the repository for all the books that would have stolen space on my already overcrowded bookshelves.
The set of Italian cookware I bought piecemeal over a period of ten years. They've served me well and were worth every penny.
Orchids. They are graceful, lovely, last months and are inexpensive.
The small basket hanging beside my front door. Many a pair of glasses have been dropped in them. The ones I lost in the couch at someone's house, and the ones that someone is coming to fetch because they lost them in my couch.
Tea. With milk and one sugar. Anyday. Anytime.
Leopard print. It's fun and it makes me smile. Especially with a swipe of red lipstick.
The Ballet. I plan on seeing more of it.
My car starter. It came with the car and I couldn't say no.
My patchwork cut-off shorts. I'll never wear them again. But they tell me about the girl I used to be. She looked great in them but she wasn't as smart as I am.
My pearl earrings. Even though they're from my ex, I'll never forget that he pierced them through the ears of a little teddy bear as part of the gift. It's ok. The bear forgives him.
A sparkly Christmas card my grandparents gave me. It had $50 in it and read, "Now you can start your dishes".
My mother's pink and yellow enamel bracelet. It slid off her wrist and right onto mine one warm afternoon. Summer doesn't begin until I dig it out.
My day job. It pays the bills. Grateful for but not a true favorite. Enough said.
Bobbi Brown lip gloss in Kir Shimmer. Without it, I'm nothing.
Ah friends, dear friends, as years go by and heads grow gray, how fast the guests do go.
Touch hands, touch hands with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak, old hands to young, around the Christmas board...touch hands.
The false forget, the foe forgive. For every guest will go...
Forget! Forgive! For who may say that Christmas Day may ever come to host or guest again?
Touch hands! Touch hands!
~ James Patrick Erdman
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Like Christmas, one of my favorite days of the year comes but once in twelve months. Yesterday was the day I made my annual trek to my favorite Boston book fair. This exhibit is small and highly curated with only the most intriguing books and paper, including old letters and journals. I especially love the children's books. I saw a full collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne series - the same books my grandparents brought me from Prince Edward Island when I was a girl. I would have saved them had I known my set would become so valuable one day. I pawed my way through first editions of Nancy Drew with their colorful 1930's dust jackets. Nancy was so chic as she, George, and Bess strolled into the Lilac Inn to solve that mystery. My fingers brushed across the spines of Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Trixie Beldon...all pre-teen favorites. I read a few ancient letters and poked through some marvelous old photographs.
A lot of commerce transpires at this book fair and I've been lucky enough to go home with some lovely things over the years - but not this time. Prices have risen and I am being cautious. After our early dinner, my friend and I strolled through one of the most upscale and elite malls in the country - The Copley Place Mall. I know this mall intimately as I once had a job with offices ensconced on the third floor above the shops. The only thing that has changed since I left that job is that the mall has become even more expansive and decadent. Only the most exclusive shops have real estate at The Copley Place Mall - dark and delicious chocolate emporiums, Italian leather handbag stores, and be still my heart, a gorgeous French lingerie shop. It was almost too "too" and after peeking into a few stores and watching enormous amounts of credit and cash exchanges, I noticed I was beginning to feel a little sorry for myself. I WANTED that cozy oatmeal cashmere lounging outfit for $750. I NEEDED that butter-soft red Italian handbag with the petite brass acorn-shaped clasp that cost what my parent's paid for their first house.
Usually I find browsing delightfully inspiring. I love looking at the way stylists put together ensembles for store's windows. I will often take pictures discreetly with my cell phone to remember the unique way colors and patterns are mixed. I get ideas for writing my style column with these images: it keeps me relevant and helps with trend-spotting even if I cannot afford to buy. But this time, a cloud fell over me with the excess and exorbitance. It was all too much and I was overcome with a stifling and urgent need to escape. As my friend and I headed for the escalators and back to the train station, I suddenly noticed an Asian family huddled close on a small marble bench in the center of the mall near a three-story waterfall. I saw the father figure bent down on one knee before the bench where I presumed his two small children, wife and mother-in-law were sitting. All heads were bowed. All hands were touching. Their eyes were squeezed shut. They were praying. I certainly don't know why - it may have been a benediction before having a meal or perhaps they were taking a break from someone's bedside in one of the numerous city hospitals nearby. I wondered about them even as the crowd pushed us ever forward towards the overstuffed escalators filled with people carrying enormous crinkling shopping bags. But so moved was I to see that tender private family moment in the middle of all the handbags, trinkets and clothes of my dreams. As we glided slowly down the escalator, elbow to elbow, I lifted my head above the throng to see if I could get a last glimpse the small family but they had disappeared.
Now I'm not going to tell you I had a big epiphany or that I am banning beautiful exclusive shopping meccas in the future. But being touched to the core by the poignant image of the praying family, I started to examine areas of my life where I need to slow down and connect in more meaningful ways. On the long train ride home, I began to make a mental list for some casual suppers I will host for loved ones soon, and other ways I can be kind, generous. Available. I made a promise to myself to read more inspiring things and not just the free fashion tomes I receive from publishers. And I will remember that it is not always the dress I am wearing but the woman inside the dress that I should be most concerned with.
When I arrived home, I quickly scribbled down some of the things I had seen in Boston: the books, the love letters, the trees at dusk that flank Copley Square's beautiful old Trinity Church. And yes, the supple leather handbags and silk scarves. And I wrote about that dear family with heads bowed in a hushed evocation all their own. After I put out the downstairs lights, I reached for my grandmother's afghan to wrap about me as I stepped onto the porch for a last moment at the end of a long day. Outside, the night was still and quiet...as if in prayer itself.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
I was also particularly interested in the ethereal portrait of Polly Warner, above, age 11. Many family members have occupied the Warner House from the 1700's to the 1930's, and it was difficult to keep track of the many ladies of the house so I am not quite sure who Polly was in the Warner lineage. But she certainly captured my heart with her pet bird on a ribbon and her serene face. The painting was wall-sized and Polly peered deeply into my eyes as I stared back into hers. She was painted by Joseph Blackburn, a famous English portraitist who excelled in painting women's lace sleeves and elaborate dress textiles. He is especially well-known for capturing the beauty of shimmering silks, and was therefore, a favorite artist of fashionable women everywhere. I was quite dismayed to learn that sweet Polly died at age 20 in childbirth.
The house is extremely livable in that it doesn't have the small low ceilings and narrow hallways one sees in early 18th century homes. There was an airiness and expanse to the rooms and foyers and often I would glance down at the wooden floor boards and imagine the long sweep of a woman's skirt hem in flickering candlelight as she turned a corner from one of the many bedroom doorways that emptied into the large upstairs hall.
Eventually I spotted the lovely cream bedspread and viewed up close and personal the level of craftsmanship that goes into making such a beautiful thing. The knitting needles used must have been the very tiniest, the stitches so intricate and so abrupt in the turning and twisting pattern. As a knitter, I cannot imagine the time it must have taken to create such perfection and loveliness.
We moved onto the third floor where suddenly, my thoughts turned to Sara Crewe from The Little Princess and the cold attic existence she had to live when Miss Minchin banished her after Mr. Crewe was lost in the war. The only interest in the blunt rooms were the string of brass and iron bells flanking the top of one wall, very much like the ones in Downton Abbey's opening credits. It was clear, these frigid echoing rooms belonged to the servants.
I passed on climbing the curved and narrow stairs to the cupola, especially when I spied a bat's trap on the third step. Two of our party climbed the claustrophobic passage and were rewarded with a stunning view of Portsmouth Harbor and environs.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
The year's 11th month is the most atmospheric. In the Northeast, early darkness is forced upon us with the return to standard time. A peek outside a sunny window at 4:00 pm turns stark and foreboding fifteen minutes later, when bare branches turn the sky into a cover of an English Lit paperback of Edgar Allen Poe stories. Time stands still for a week or two, even as the holidays bear down. We are gifted a reprieve with nothing much to do except make holiday lists and dreamy plans. Before Thanksgiving, it is time to slow down, surrender and let the darkness have its way.
The storied birds may be seen as an icon of time's fragility but I welcome them as a reminder of my favorite holidays and my ever-increasing desire to make each moment count, especially now when the world is so brittle and tenuous. The starlings won't stay much beyond November - but the fancies borne of my overarching lists may bring long-remembered comfort and joy to those I love so deeply. As I plan and quietly watch, I keep this in mind.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I loved paperdolls as a child. I thought they were the most precious things. My mother tore out Betsy McCall's page from her monthly McCall’s magazine for me and I spent many afternoons on the braided rug in the living room, legs folded under, painstakingly clipping Betsy's dainty dresses with the fastening tabs. Later, I graduated to Barbie paperdolls and then bride paperdolls that were so romantic and pretty, the dresses so exquisite and lacey - all the stuff of little girls' dreams.
I kept my dolls in a dented and chipped round metal cookie tin - a big cheery jumble of paper dresses, sweaters and skirts, coats, knee sox and patent leather shoes. After I dressed my dolls, I made up conversations between them and trotted them off to make-believe parties and weddings where they would live happily ever after...forevermore...amen. My plans for my dolls were as expansive as my fantasies. I never had a friend who loved paperdolls with the same fervor until I met Kay, 40 years later. Not that Kay and I actually played with paperdolls as grown single mothers - but we rejoiced the day we discovered we were both mad for them as girls.
Not only did Kay play with paperdolls but she drew her own. She vividly remembers drawing a bride paper doll and a groom. She was playing with them on a dock at her aunt and uncle’s cottage on Chesapeake Bay when a wind blew them into the water. Her uncle saved the day by fishing them out with a crab net, so beloved were they to her.
I read recently that empty nesters should ask themselves who they were when they were ten years old. The theory is to recapture childhood passions and use them as a launch pad to discover what one should do when intense parenting is over. I won't be clipping paperdolls from magazines anytime soon but I have been thinking a lot about what things will sustain me and feed my soul in the future. Lately, I've been re-reading some classic childhood storybooks such as The Little Princess and Little Women. I already know that books will always have a place in my life and after revisiting old favorites as an grown-up, I've observed that the very best children's books can be appreciated at any age. But reading will not be enough.
Kay is a gifted image consultant and states that her clients are like grown-up paperdolls to her - she loves dressing and accessorizing them. Perhaps her gift was born of all those happy hours spent on a braided rug at her house - or on a wooden dock. As for me, I would love to have a peek inside that old beat-up cookie tin again. Even better, find some new passions...but only ones that are as engrossing and thrilling as a paperdoll world.
Come back when you grow up, girl
You've still got a lotta time left in the world
You'll some day be a woman ready to love
Come back, baby, when you grow up
Come back when you grow up, girl
You're still livin' in a paper-doll world
Livin' ain't easy, lovin's twice as tough
So come back, baby, when you grow up
Monday, October 6, 2014
On the way home, I brainstormed ways to add more romantic balletic touches to my own wardrobe with surplice tops, wrap sweaters and black leggings. I also thought it would be a good time to re-read my old favorite childhood book on ballet called To Dance To Dream.
Monday, September 29, 2014
I've simplified my home filing system at last. The floral letter basket on my desk only holds a few folders now: Ideas for Blogging, Ideas for Content Writing, Money Articles, Spirituality, Literary Notes, and my favorite, Pursuits. In here, I've collected quite a lot of paper, just as it should be. Sifting through it I discovered there was not one item I could toss - each is the stuff of daydreams.
It all began several years ago with a piece from Selvedge Magazine about the sewing life of Fanny Brawne as depicted in Jane Campion's "Bright Star", a haunting film about Fanny and the poet John Keats' doomed love affair. I was delighted to find this article highlighting the remarkable ingenuity of an early 19th century home-grown seamstress and fashionista. I knew that I would want to revisit Fanny over and over when searching for creative inspiration in the 21st century.
Later I attended a dear exhibit of little girls' samplers from 1728 to 1835. These small works of art with distinct regional styles cast a spell on me - more so upon learning that the young creators often led arduous lives. But some of the needlework motifs depict true joyfulness through Biblical verses and poetry. The small keepsake pamphlet reminds me how much I want to learn more about this touching art form.
Also included in Pursuits is an article about the beautiful and tragic Empress Sisi who lived a monarch's life filled with transcendent fashion. Although her ending was never going to be ordinary, I find her sadly compelling like a dazzling butterfly destined to die too soon. I'm certain there are lessons from her life and one day I hope to pursue her further to see if she earned her prominent spot in my file afterall.
Two articles came to me synchronistically in a rare book dealer's catalog. One, on collecting vintage fashion plates for the very latest in haute home décor and then two, on the delicate art of fashion illustration. Since I dream of owning a lovely piece of feminine art for above my bed and knowing I could never afford the real deal, the articles have spawned a quest to find a pretty but affordable fashion sketch in just the right colors. According to the authors however, I'd better hurry - both genres are fast becoming the collectibles-du-jour. No matter, the articles have captured my imagination for color and style and have found me spending many happy hours at the local junk shops.
I sure wish I was able to visit Winterthur, Henry Francis du Pont's estate in Delaware for "Uncommon Threads" the travelling costume exhibit of Downton Abbey's most beautiful dresses. I see it also included other noteworthy garments such as Carson's tailcoat. But for my money, the focus would have been on Lady Mary's tiered garnet gown which she wore on the winter evening Matthew proposed on bended knee outdoors in the snow. I will smile wistfully whenever my hand lights upon this enchanting flyer.
Pursuits are vital because they give us something to think about beyond ourselves. They keep us engaged in the world and give us hope. They teach us there are other ways to live...they inspire us. Pursuits are our future.
The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. ~ Albert Einstein
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
That possibly innocent observation by Henry had an instant and cruel effect on Lavinia: it took her back vividly to Soldiers' Field at Harvard. Oh! twenty years ago or more. She had to close her eyes against the vision: a dazzling New England fall day, a Saturday, the Princeton game. The sky a cold, electric blue, and the stadium packed with milling crowds, the Crimson band. And Lavinia: she could see herself in her wonderful dark red coat, lined in gray kid; she could see her own lovely pink skin in the marvelous air, could feel the perfection of her skin - and she was with Gordon, so handsome in his ROTC uniform. Oh, she had loved him so much, so innocently, so happily - as they watched the game, and thought about being together later on, after all the parties, a little drunk and kissing, hours of kisses. Lavinia inwardly cried out, even then, even twenty years later. Tears came to her eyes. "I think North Carolina is a terribly tacky state," she burst out, passionately to Henry.
~The passage above is from Superior Women, a novel by Alice Adams about the interwoven lives of five college friends. Years ago, I dog-eared the page that carried this text because I felt it truly captured a fleeting fall day when one is young and very happily in love. I also liked the fashion reference and I imagined the red coat perfectly in a 1943 wartime style, the year the novel began.
Once upon a time, I didn't hate football and if my seventh grade diary is to be believed, I attended a number of games. This entry from November of 1968 is rather spare but amusing: "Went to a football game and John Cole threw peanuts at me." I doubt I was amused at the time but I do recall the thrill of football games in high school, especially when my love was playing in them.
The Friday night games under the lights were my favorites, especially if the atmosphere was newly crisp and fall-like. I remember taking time to curl my long hair, don a pretty but warm jacket, spritz a little fragrance. I clustered with my girlfriends in the bleachers, the smell of popcorn and candied apples filling the air. And above us beyond the bright lights, stars pricked at the velvety sky. It was magic. As the game progressed, the crowd became more boisterous as the fans rose from their stone cold seats in unison, shouting and cheering. It was easy to be caught up in the furor and self-consciousness fell away as I found myself cheering too, all the while scanning the field for my favorite numbered jersey. And although I was pretty certain HE wasn't searching the stands for ME, I nonetheless felt an electrifying connection filled with anticipation, pride...longing.
When the game was over, the bleachers instantly emptied onto the field and it was then that I would see my love - his eyes seeking until they landed on mine. My walk to him was slow and deliberate as my view was hampered by the constant masses shooting across our path to each other. My pace belied the delicious unseen tension I felt knowing I would be in his arms in mere moments, and would get to feel his cold rough cheek brush mine just before he buried his face in my hair. Whether the team won or lost, his smile was the same and despite the hordes, we were alone under those lights. My love and I. And football.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
When I read Lantern Hill, I hear Mr. Stuart's words spoken by the gravelly voiced Sam Waterston, the actor who played him in the 1990 film of the book. His voice has a deep resonating element that cheers me, comforts me. But what I really need is Mr. Stuart's between-the-words wisdom and guidance for good plain living. And because L.M. Montgomery's stories are so rooted in nature, his advice is spiritual as well as tranquilizing. Let's see if he can make you feel better too.
"It is the essence of adventure to see the break of a new day, Jane. What may it not be ushering in? An empire may fall today...a baby may be born who will discover a cure for cancer...a wonderful poem may be written".
"When the little moments torture you, Jane, think of the truth and the truth shall make you free...that is the most tremendous saying in the world Jane...because we are all afraid of the truth...and afraid of freedom that the truth will bring you".
"Be sure to have a patch of excitement most every week".
"The most awful and the most beautiful things in the world can be said in three words or less...he is gone...he is come...I love you...it's too late. Life is illuminated or ruined in words Jane. And yet, when a poet praises a woman, she becomes immortal".
"Don't let others blow your candles out".
"Watch the stars whenever you are worried Jane. They will steady you...comfort you...balance you".
"Jane, always remember that death can never fence out love".
Father does know best sometimes.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Currently, I am reading a Rebecca C. Tuite's book "Seven Sisters Style", about America's seven "sister" colleges and their influence on preppy fashion. Some would argue that true American prep owes everything to the seven sisters - Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard. It seems that the capable, brainy women who attended these elite institutions challenged fashion's strict status-quo with a casual élan that was often borrowed from the boys. They wore plaid kilts and pearls to classes but added sneakers and ankle socks which lent a playful air. Their campus style certainly influenced the way women dressed and may have "birthed" the visions of some of today's designers; namely, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Tuites' book is really fun to look at especially if you make the parallels to today's American look.
Last year, I attended the John Meyer of Norwich exhibit in Connecticut where preppiness was laid out thickly with pastel Shetland sweaters, cotton Peter Pan blouses and tartan pant suits. These were the clothes of my beloved Jr. High teachers, one of whom did not attend a seven sisters school but was a very spirited Perdue alum. As for me, I went to a private Catholic college that was barely co-ed, having been all-men until the year I entered. The first day of classes I couldn't help but notice a pretty brunette in a baby blue Fair Isle sweater over a crisp button-down white shirt. A slim gold bar pin which looked like it was snatched from Granny's jewel box, kept the collar pinched closed. The rest of us looked insincere and a little less vivid in our bell-bottom Landlubbers, clogs, and muted t-shirts.
I am not saying that seven sister style is not my cup of tea - I just may be a bit too girlie for its sometimes tomboy flavor. I do think a wonderful mingling of my personal style and seven sisters' occurred in the film Mona Lisa Smile. Set at 1950's Wellesley, I found the fashions evocative of my mother's school style and so I was drawn into it easily. But I adored the full skirted silk dresses and matching gloves in the wedding scenes. In her book, Truite emphasizes that the seven sisters never neglected their lush ballgowns and evening wear, even when wearing wool Bermuda shorts and knee socks to class. They just wore Daddy's fur coats over their party dresses!
Below is the cover of the Seven Sisters Style book and below that is a picture of my mother on campus. I think she made a great preppie in her seven sisters style.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
"I can get to sleep but I cannot stay asleep", I told my doctor last spring. We talked about all the reasons why sleep is so important. But I already knew. And I still couldn't sleep. My internal clock woke me in the darkest hours before dawn and there I would toss and turn for two or more hours only to fall into a blessed deep sleep just moments before my alarm sounded.
Lunchtime car naps became de rigueur and helped me survive my daytime grogginess. I equipped my car with blankets, a pillow, and earplugs. While my brief nap revived me for a while, I found myself dead on my feet later at home. And then...lather...rinse...repeat - the same pattern all over again.
So I was grateful when my doctor prescribed me a sleep aid. A small dose, but a central nervous system depressant nonetheless. It worked right away and my sleep began to last until the alarm went off. The mild hangover headache was worth it. But after a few weeks, on the nights I was truly exhausted, I tried to sleep without my med only to discover I couldn't even get to sleep which was never my problem. Was I addicted? Probably. I didn't increase my dose but a trickle of panic would set in as I saw the number of pills in the bottle dwindling. I tried to order the refill early only to discover that because it was a controlled substance, the pharmacy wouldn't replenish until 30 days had passed. One night I found myself driving to my 24 hour pharmacy after midnight on the 30th day, knowing I wouldn't get to sleep without my pill. I had to ask myself what I was doing.
Distress really set in when my doctor's office merged with a larger practice and it began to take days for the pharmacy to reach my doctor for another prescription. I was tormented on those pill-less nights and thought about going to my other doctor for a new script. It was all just too much. My work was suffering - I couldn't remember certain words when I typed; I couldn't find things. I was cranky in a "don't even..." way. I wasn't me.
And then recently, a groups of friends and I had a lovely summer day together. Naturally sleep or the lack of, came up in our discussions. A friend who sleeps well suggested that since I am such a creature of my rituals, I should incorporate warm milk in my nighttime routine - the hope being that the tryptophan in milk would help me sleep. When I balked at drinking milk, my friend told me to buy a frother and some honey, perhaps a little nutmeg or allspice. "Turn it into a self-care ceremony", she said. It seemed so simple. I tried it. And it worked. Just before bed, I heat up a cup of skim milk in the microwave. Swirl in a dollop of honey and then froth it carefully. I dust fragrant allspice on the top, place the mug on a small pretty tray and take it to bed. As I read a few pages of my bedside book, I sip my nocturnal potion. The spell of my pill was broken at last.
I don't know if it's the loving ceremony or if it's actually the tryptophan. But it doesn't really matter. I threw my pills out last week. All thirty of them.
Monday, August 18, 2014
I've always admired the work of photographer Lillian Bassman. The women depicted in her ethereal photographs seem to be inspired by Old Masters' paintings but with the forms of modern dancers. I especially enjoy her lingerie ads from the 1950's which evoke a gentle intimacy - a stark contrast to today's brash sexual ones. These days, it is rare to see lingerie images in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, except in the September issues which usually bring one or two. Still, they are flagrant and lack the tender femininity found in a photograph by Bassman, whose fascination rested in long flowing arms and graceful necks. And surprisingly, most of her photographs are of lone women.
Some portraits show these women in their boudoirs, dreamily slipping hosiery over willowy legs, delicately painting toenails, or simply gazing through blinds onto imaginary scenes below. The images are beautiful, yet haunting. Bright, yet dark. Often there is a moody light casting shadows through gossamer curtains which makes one ultimately wonder what the woman in the photograph is thinking, so alone is she.
Lillian Bassman created secret, feminine worlds where women took pleasure in their own company and lingered with their own thoughts. These are photographs of quiet solitude and luxurious privacy. And from this blusterous world, it seems like the height of bliss.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
"It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."
-- Virginia Woolf
Never is this quote more apt than when on vacation. The long languid days of being "on holiday" gives one great stretches of time to think. Before long, we find "our heads are on straighter" and cares and worries seem to loosen and unravel. We can finally see clearly.
We spend so much time running around like bunnies...working, marketing, hunting, gathering. We take care of others more than ourselves. What does a parent need today? Will my gown child's flight land safely and on time? Where are my keys? Vacations give us time to sort through the jetsam until the tipping point when we finally realize "I need to take better care of myself". Only then do we reassess our priorities, find places where we can delegate, or ask for help. The pattern of life, once compact, expands again.
I love this photo of a lovely Edwardian woman walking the boardwalk by the sea. It reminds me of one of my favorite novels, "High Wages" by Dorothy Whipple. The protagonist is invited on a sea holiday with her benefactress where she "ate caramels without pause" and "sniffed the sea air" and realized "that when one only has a holiday once in a while, each golden minute must be held and perfected before it is let go again".
But how can we keep that fresh-from-vacation feeling as we re-enter everyday life? Here are my suggestions:
~ Keep flowers in the house to greet you when you turn the lock after your first day back to work
~ Keep reading. Make time to explore the books you have. I had forgotten how stress reducing it is to get lost in a well-written novel
~ Keep enjoying seasonal pleasures (native tomatoes, farmers' markets, mai-tai's on the porch in the evening, cooling baths with rose-infused bath aids
~ Keep making time for languishing in the backyard or on the front stoop after work
These sound so obvious...but let's try, shall we?
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Nowhere in a women's wardrobe can she be so completely feminine as with lingerie. It is the last bastion of lace, flounces, rustles, and truly luxurious fabrics. This summer, our soft cool New England nights has me reaching for my nightgowns again.
Pajamas certainly have their place but nothing is as comfortable as a loose cotton gown skimming the body just before retiring to bed. A touch of eyelet or a fetching row of petite buttons and a woman has the makings for romance. Nightgowns are the penultimate female garment so why not go all the way - as in feminine styling? Even a tailored gown, simply because it IS a gown, is womanly.
My grandmother wore Barbizon nighties with matching robes which were made of an unusually soft cotton lawn that somehow never wrinkled. The small ribbon closures and pintucks around the yoke added an extra measure of pretty that I remember well. Silk chemises with lace hems and the thinnest straps are raging in every lingerie catalog I've seen lately. They brush across the body in the loveliest sherbet colors. The long cotton nightgowns worn by Emily Blunt in the film The Young Victoria inspired me to buy a pretty good Eileen West facsimile. Costumer Sandy Powell seems to get lingerie just so in all her films. Which is why it's fun to imagine oneself in an imaginary literary land when wearing a long sweeping gown.
One of my favorite things to do when I am online shopping is to read the previous reviews. They reveal sizing problems which is helpful, but also ring out with stars and enthusiastic endorsements. Surprisingly, I find them to be articulate and thoughtful reflections, even the negative ones. I especially loved this charming assessment for a nightgown I was contemplating: "My husband said he loves waking up next to me in this gown". That affirmation almost had me reaching for my credit card. The reviewer's age group? 60-65!
Vintage nighties are fairly inexpensive on eBay. I bought a gorgeous one last summer in a luscious hot pink for pennies on the dollar. But beware as chiffon can be stifling on a hot summer night. Still, eBay is a terrific place to look at styles from the 1960's when gowns were adorably chaste and pretty. Below is my favorite nightie from that era. It's from a 1969 Seventeen (why there is a fold in the picture). This was an ad for using Noxema on sunburns but I just love the celery green according pleats and the lace.
Lest you think wearing a nightgown is only meant for sleeping with a man, remember the restorative delights of a nightie after a long hot and tiring day. And so...more to that point, this:
Where's the man who could ease a heart like the satin gown? ~ Dorothy Parker
Thursday, July 17, 2014
One doesn't need a petite cottage in the backyard to host a guest. Just a comfy bed and a little space for some personal things. My friend Karen is here for her yearly visit and I am over the moon.
We began exactly where we left off in conversation, we are so in sync. But this year we also started with a bang and drove to Newport in fog as thick as mashed potatoes to hear a lecture on, what else? Fashion. Caroline Reynolds Milbank, author of "Resort Fashion" gave a marvelous talk about leisure fashion. It was way too brief and although I loved the photographs on the screen, Karen and I both agreed Milbank's love of clothes was infectious and was worth the price of admission.
Later, we eschewed dinner out because of rain gusts and resumed our spots on the couch with tea and toast. Naturally, the conversation turned to children who have left or are leaving, dreams and hopes for them and ourselves, and of course, what else? Fashion.
I shyly told Karen that I've been admiring the style of Tricia Nixon Cox, who just saw her son off in marriage. I described a pretty mother-of-the-bride dress based on Mrs. Cox's. Within minutes Karen had it sketched out for me and I'm in awe - it's exactly what I was envisioning. Right there. On paper.
Today, Karen shyly asked me if she could stay another day. We're just having so much fun, plotting, planning, dreaming and talking. About what else? Fashion!
Credit where credit is due: This is a painting by the lovely Janet Hill...Janet, I love your artwork and if you want me to take it down, I will! (http://janethillstudio.com/blog)