Thursday, December 31, 2015
Two weeks ago, a friend and I went to a popular local establishment for Sunday brunch. The dining room was filled with casual dressers as one would expect. But halfway through our meal three women in their forties were ushered in and seated nearby, all attired in matching pajamas. The hour was after noon. At first, I was shocked until I realized their clothing choices were not so different than that of the other casual diners: baggy pants and long shirts with the tails hanging out. I was left with only the question of why women of that age would want to be seen in public wearing pajamas.
I also thought about my mother in her mid-forties and how she dressed at that time. She was busy taking care of 3 teenagers but when she went out during the day shopping or on errands, she always dressed in nice skirts or pants and a coordinating top or matching jacket. She didn't have much time for brunching but if she did, I'm certain she would never have worn pajamas.
They say one of the most common dreams is to be caught in public in one's undergarments. I once had a recurring dream where I was on the busy Main Street of my hometown, wearing only a full slip - a piece of lingerie that is far more covered up than the things some women are wearing to the office these days. The dream always left me traumatized with embarrassement.
When I was in the fifth grade, our school put on a fashion show to raise money. The clothes were donated from a sweet little children's clothing shop in town. For some reason, the sponsors chose my sister and I to wear matching nightgowns, robes, slippers, and carry teddy bears down the runway. I thought I would die but my mother saw nothing wrong with this - we were children. The gowns and robes were Victorian in style in a chaste rosebud print. Looking back, I'm sure we were adorable and I recall the "oooh's and ahhhh's" that elicited forth from the mothers in the small audience. Today, ten year old's regularly wear pajama bottoms to school.
The beautiful woman toasting us with her champagne glass must surely be dressed beautifully and appropriately. She's sporting red nails and pearl earrings. She lives in a world where women knew how to dress for maximum impact and charm. Actor Glenn Ford, once described his deceased wife by saying, "She stood at the top of the stairs each night looking as pretty as something plucked from the top of a cake". I'm sure her pajamas never saw the light of day.
I toast you!
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Our lovely model is wearing a beautiful and simple silk nightgown. The fire is keeping her feet warm and so, she isn't wearing slippers or a robe for that matter. A quilt has been tossed to the side in case that changes. Her tea is at the ready, stacked on some ancient books. It's Christmas Eve.
The picture was a vignette of images called "Portrait of a Lady" which shows the same model decorating her tree and performing other rituals leading up to the holiday. But what I see here is a woman at peace, contemplating the season and all it means to her. This may actually be the first time she has had time to stop, slow down and spend time in front of a tree that twinkles like the infinite night sky outside. Perhaps she is missing loved ones who come to back to life at Christmas as thoughts trail back to the past.
I recently read an article written by a young mother who said she is so exhausted when Christmas day finally comes that it is just one big relief. But she coined a phrase called "Twixtmas", the meaning of which I have now embraced fully. Twixtmas represents the period of time between Christmas and New Year's when most of the world slows down if only for a bit. Without realizing it, I have been honoring Twixtmas for several years.
I make it a point to save vacation days between the holidays for sleeping late, recovering from holiday stress, and to have long stretches of reading and resting. It is my way of balancing the giving with the receiving. I give myself a present of uninterrupted time at home. I rarely go anywhere except to take a walk if it isn't snowing or to pick up grocery items at the market. I say no to most invitations until at least New Year's Eve. I find Twixtmas to be a magical optimistic fragment of time that I protect and treasure. Life suspends in midair and becomes otherworldly.
Twixtmas is also a time of sensory delights - the frost, the darkness, the flicker of candles, flowers and music. I find my soul speaks louder when the world quiets and my intuition and instincts begin communicating with me. I don't seem to connect as readily with old grief and worry because I hear my resourceful inner voice again. My friends have told me that Twixtmas has helped some of their family members who have been scattered, dissipated or struggling with illness and sadness.
If you crave more down time after the holiday rush, I recommend the practice of Twixtmas. Set aside time to cultivate a part of your busy life that inspires stillness and peace and together we will wait out the darkness with tea, firelight, quietude, and silk nightgowns.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
I may have looked a bit like our tree carrier yesterday, as I drove to my sister's in my little red car, packed with food and gifts. There were new guests at her house too, and it really added some seasoning to our day. I was happy to spend time in her beautiful home with my lovely niece and nephew - two young adults I don't see nearly enough of.
There was no need for a fire, but Debbie's mantel was filled with glowing lights and candles. The roast was delectable, the wine flowed, and as always, we reminisced about those loved ones who live in our Christmas hearts.
In light of my last post on the feminine gifts of the holiday, I thought I would share mine:
~A small basket handbag for summer with leather straps
~An icy-pink cashmere sweater
~Notecards from Orchard House
~A hook for my powder room door made of crystals
~The newest Downton Abbey coffee table book
~A book on practicing yoga at home
~Three sets of earrings!
~French white bakeware
There were other gifts too and one that touched me deeply. Three weeks ago, I dropped my phone in the toilet at Marshall's while Christmas shopping and was not able to resurrect it. My new son-in-law bought me a new one with all the bells and whistles I need along with a plan I no longer have to pay for. The money I save is spearheaded for my 401K. Despite some hardships this year (attacking woodpeckers to name one) and some life changes (my daughter getting married and leaving home, ending an old job of 20 years and reinventing myself in a new one), I am truly blessed.
Share your feminine gifts with me if you like. I'ld like to know!
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Jewelite was a type of plastic that was used for vanity items. My grandmother had a lovely pink translucent Jewelite dresser set composed of a mirror, brush and comb. The pretty trio was a Christmas gift from my grandfather sometime during the war years when silver was unobtainable. My grandmother cherished her set and it remained intact (even the comb) for the rest of her life. I don't think she ever cared that it was not sterling.
I like to imagine the beautiful box of Jewelite under my grandparents Christmas tree in 1942. Feminine Christmas gifts always interest me and when I find a grouping of presents in literature, a diary or a film, I am always thrilled. I mentioned in a recent post that Lee Leander in the marvelous Christmas movie, Remember the Night, received a crystal bottle of Hour of Ecstasy perfume but she also opened two other tissue-wrapped boxes which contained a sweet homemade pin cushion and a pair of dainty handknit bed slippers with delicate ribbon ties. Simple offerings that were few in number, exquisite in quality, and pleasing on so many levels.
The first collection of presents that I became enamored with were of course, Marmee's in Little Women. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy each gave up their one dollar bills to buy their mother an assortment of feminine luxuries that must have been scarce during the bleakness of the Civil War. I spent hours imagining Marmee's soft leather gloves, crimson slippers, bottle of cologne, and hemmed handkerchiefs and could see the items arrayed just so on the dining room table awaiting her wintry homecoming. Are they not the things that any hard-working mother would prize?
Recently, I came across this in Nancy Mitford's romantic novel, The Pursuit of Love:
My presents (from my mother) were the envy of the entire household. This year (she)...sent a fur hat and a gold and topaz bracelet, whose glamour was enhanced by the fact that Aunt Sadie considered it unsuitable for a child, and said so.
Beautiful and functional gifts...small luxuries to charm and inspire.
In the journal of Alice Stone Blackwell (1872-1874), Growing Up in Boston's Gilded Age, I discovered the following list on a December 25th entry:
~A beautiful necklace and bracelets of little pearly Venetian shells strung together with tiny beads
~A copy of Scott's poems
~A breast pin to match my sleeve buttons,
~A scrolled comb and some notepaper
Some of my favorite Christmas presents have been precious little things that don't necessarily cost a lot but invoke a sense of allure and grace. These are the kinds of presents I love to give, too.
My grandfather may have wanted his wife to have a fancy ornate sterling silver dresser set. Instead, he was able to give her something uncomplicated and elegant - decorous in simplicity, yet eminently useful. And very, very pretty.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Soon my reveries turned to my big brother Peter and his manic love of Christmas. He used to wake us at 5:00 am at Christmas' dawn and I well-remember the darkness and the excitement I felt in the pit of my belly. We were practically shivering with delight by the time we made it to the living room, and anytime I happen to wake at dawn, - even today, I experience that Christmas feeling.
My brother loved his toys and my sister and I were often the recipients of his new Creepy Crawler set or toy gun. We reciprocated by making him eat cake from our Easy Bake Oven. I've never known anyone who enjoyed Christmas as much as my brother. The run-up to the actual holiday was delightfully excruciating for him. When I was very small, I asked him why we had Easter and quick as a wink, he replied "To hold us over until Christmas!"
But the words to the song tell us how fleeting childhood Christmases are - there are but a few of them and then suddenly, we are Santa to our own babes. Mystic merry Toyland, childhood's Joyland...once you cross its border, you can never return again...
Find Doris Day's Toyland on youtube...you may see yourself and your siblings there, in between the words of its lilting refrain.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
I always put some thought into my nightclothes for Christmas. My mother taught me to do that because so many pictures are taken on Christmas morning while opening gifts. That's not the case in my house now...and I wouldn't allow it anyway. But still, I like having new pajamas at Christmas and since a brand new son-in-law will be here, I feel I can't just wear any old thing.
For winter, there is nothing so cozy as a proper robe but I usually wear a long cashmere cardigan over my pajamas. I love the feel against my shoulders and since I wear spaghetti-strapped pajama tops for comfortable cool sleeping, I need the warmth of a cozy sweater in the morning. I noticed that a lot of designers, including Eileen Fisher, offer cashmere alternatives to robes and they make great cover-ups when the house is cold. But mostly, I choose my nightwear just for me and it is still an important holiday consideration of mine. Call me old-fashioned.
My grandmother gave me a flannel nightgown every year at Christmas. I still remember some them: red tartan, printed gold abstracts on a feminine bodice...and I remember one beautiful flannel nightie I bought for myself. It was creamy white with a wide yoke filled with embroidered flowers. I remember what it cost too: $35 and that was a large sum for a new working girl. That gown is immortalized in my head because of some pictures I have of me wearing it on Christmas morning that year.
Those were the days when nightclothes still mattered. Lingerie departments were filled with luxe choices and saleswomen actually knew the merchandise and helped out. Sleepwear and lingerie was a serious business. Now the largest lingerie store is the local Victoria Secret which always looks to me like an adolescent boy is on the design staff. I do most of my lingerie shopping online. I know what I like and I know where to find it.
This year, I have selected a very pretty set of rose-colored flannel pants and matching sleeveless top. The print is charming with birds and pinecones on branches which contrasts beautifully with the soft color and lace neck trim. It didn't cost alot because I knew where to look and the exact moment to pounce. I'll wear my new set with a white crocheted cashmere sweater and pink wool slippers. I like to match on Christmas. My grandmother would be proud.
I keep my "robes" across the end of my bed at night. Someone told me I do that because I'm a lady and although it was a sweet compliment, it's just an old habit. It's done in almost every vintage film I've ever seen. I don't think I would take the time to put on robe and slippers if my house were on fire but I find it comforting to have these things close by.
PS: if you have any Christmas lingerie wishes, I would love to hear about them.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Love came down at Christmas,
Love was born at Christmas,
Love, all lovely, love divine,
Stars and angels gave the sign
...Love shall be our token
Love be yours, and love be mine ~ Christina Rossetti
The Christmas in the picture depicts a sweep down the stairs of festive boxed perfume sets, the kind of special combinations that perfume and cosmetic houses provide during the holiday season. I especially like them because one can find coordinating scented products such as body creams and talcs - items that are sold separately at other times of year. The collections are often boxed with beautiful Christmasy wrappings and sparkles. But even a lone bottle of scent provides a lovely Christmas gift experience, especially if it's a beloved fragrance.
There is a marvelous scene in the Fred MacMurry and Barbara Stanwyck Christmas film, Remember the Night. MacMurry's character, prosecutor John Sargent postpones the trial against Stanwyck's thieving Lee Leander because it's Christmas. Instead, John takes Lee to his family's farmstead where Lee experiences a different kind of holiday than she is used to. At gift opening time, John's kindly and intuitive mother, played lovingly by Beulah Bondi, gives Lee a bottle of the unopened perfume John had given her the Christmas before. It is a touching cinematic moment when Lee opens the unexpected gift to find a lovely crystal bottle of Hour of Ecstasy perfume. She inhales it deeply and gives no clue she knows the present is a re-gift. Hard-scrabble Lee has not had too many no-strings-attached gifts in her life so I immediately start rooting for her and the budding love that is growing between she and John. I pray John will be able to drop his lawyer stance and soften his heart for the beautiful kleptomaniac. But most of all, I hope that Lee will be able to receive honest love for the first time in her life and shrug off her tough and suspicious exterior.
A friend told me he still believes that love conquers all, even in today's world. I cheer for John and Lee every Christmas in the hopes that what my friend knows will be played out on the screen before me again. I sigh happily when the pretty bottle of Hour of Ecstasy breaks through Lee's icy pain and paves the way for love to come down at Christmas. Stars and angels gave a scented sign.
Friday, December 11, 2015
Fur was out of the question but I am not opposed to fur-trim or faux fur. I knew I wanted something cozy and comfortable but it also had to meet my requirement of workday chicness and versatility. It had to be wool and one that didn't show lint. I realized I might need to spend a bit more for this dream garment and I was willing to do it.
My hunt didn't take long once an alert saleswoman pointed out that I was trying on the wrong size. The reason why I never liked buying coats to begin with, is because the larger sizes give me way too much volume in the shoulders and chest even though the fit is perfect for the waist area. I often sprang for smaller sizes that pulled in the torso but fit perfectly at the collar. The saleswoman suggested I buy the larger size and consider spending extra money to have the shoulders, chest, and arms tailored. Brilliant.
The coat I chose is a beautifully saturated eggplant-color in a loden wool. It has an attached hood with dyed-to-match fox trim. It looks great but more importantly, it makes me feel secure and protected from dropping temperatures and whatever precipitation falls from the sky. It's comforting, and like Joan, I burrow down inside it on dark nights in the car as the fur trim gently brushes my cheeks. I plan on taking good care of my investment piece. As one gets older, special items like my coat seem to bestow enduring rewards. Despite the fickleness of changing fashions, I am more and more reluctant to give up the things I really love for the latest models. My sumptuous new winter coat will have its own legacy. Definitely to be worn again and again. Definitely forever.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
We laugh about it now and many other things too, but being a lone parent during the holidays seemed a daunting challenge in those early years. My first Christmas alone, when my daughter was just an infant, I wandered our big echoing house feeling very sorry for myself. I worried about my future, my daughter's, where I would find work, daycare...time, energy. I worried the gifts under the tree weren't enough even though my daughter was too young to care. I realize now it was all the future Christmases that preoccupied me. But hope came down the chimney that sad first year and I never forgot it.
While sitting before our little tree after having lit a fire by myself for the first time and while my daughter slumbered upstairs, I heard the garage door open. The only person who had the other automatic opener was my mother. I raced across the ice cold floors and yanked open the entry to the garage. Her borrowed car was filled with toys, food, and even a cord of firewood. When she stepped out into the cold garage she said, "Santa came to my house by mistake". I couldn't speak. I bowed my head and wept.
Together we propped an old-fashioned doll in a petite wooden high chair and tucked her under the tree. Nestled nearby was a new pull-sled for hauling baby and groceries which was a welcome gift in the snowy western-Massachusetts hill town where we lived. There were also muffins for breakfast, orange juice and the aforementioned wood for burning. Mom didn't stay long and we didn't talk much as we worked - she had to come back the next morning for the great Baby's First Christmas unveiling, which would not be an easy maneuver for her. I do remember she held me in her arms before she slipped back out to the garage. I recall she looked deep into my eyes with a smile that said, "You can do this". But it wasn't until I watched her snow-covered car disappear down the long driveway at nearly midnight that I realized her visit wasn't to deliver presents and goodies - she came because she didn't want me to feel alone. And now, years and years later, I have also realized that on that dark first Christmas Eve alone, she gave me a gift that has stood the test of time...courage for the future. And for a woman who excels at finding the perfect Christmas gift, it is still the best she ever gave.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
The Christmas issues are brimming with cheer and good times. It is simply expected that a Seventeen girl would enjoy her holidays immensely with family and friends. She could perhaps even handle a little spirituality. Editor Enid Haupt's editorial often included non-secular wishes for her readers and heartfelt reminders to honor the true meaning of the holiday - something that I could never imagine in a magazine for today's young women. Miss Haupt just naturally assumed that the Seventeen reader attended some sort of church and thus, cared deeply about her faith.
The Christmas layouts look like so much fun too, with groups of boys and girls dancing and laughing together. There is a group camaraderie and a feeling of dating within a circle - trying out members of the opposite sex in an easy-going no-pressure, platonic way. The ads are more romantic with couples paired off, and enjoying wholesome things such as getting caught in a rainstorm, picnicking together in a meadow, ice skating, or building a snowman. There was an expectation that youth was prime-time for sorting through feelings, setting goals, playfully learning to be oneself in new and different ways.
There is also a sense that real beauty comes from within but can be helped along by homegrown self-care and pampering. Seventeen advertised all the tools a Christmas beauty would need to get gorgeous on her own turf - hairdryers and facial steamers to be used right at the kitchen table, manicure kits and electric razors. There's plenty of perfume advertised for readers to give and to ask Santa for: Chanel 5, Ma Griffe, Ambush, Chantilly... The certainty that all girls liked these things is palpable. And whether it was really true or not, it makes me want to play Christmas Beauty Parlor right in the comfort of my own home this season. Why spend $150 for the latest craze in facials when I can give myself one by following the example set out by Seventeen's engaging and adorable illustrations and artistry?
And the clothes...bright, colorful, feminine and full of cheer. No little black dresses for our girls - they wear China red, blue velvet, gold, and bright Christmasy tartans. Long skirts or minis with tights, their clothes still leave something to the imagination too. But make no mistake: Seventeen is not all buttoned-up Edwardian frocks - these are dresses with movement and a certain finesse - just minus the grasping-at-you cleavage and poured-in tightness. The covers don't have celebrities in shivery bare-to-there evening dresses - clothes are refreshingly and gloriously season-appropriate. You just know it's December inside. The luminosity from a Seventeen Christmas doesn't come from scary over-blown makeup either (although skin and lips glow from Yardley Pot-O-Gloss and Revlon highlighting blush sticks) - but from the lifestyle the magazine promotes - respect for self, optimism for the future, and permission to revel all of the traditional ideals of the season.
Vintage Seventeen also presents Christmas as a time to give more than receive and there are many pieces about volunteerism and how to shop for special gifts for loved ones while preserving one's energy for the actual holiday. And when a Seventeen girl is stuck at home during a snowstorm, she plays cards, bakes goodies, reads by the fire, or wraps presents - and she uses her time to help Mother whenever she can. No idle hours texting or internet-surfing - Seventeen girls are fully-engaged members of the family.
While it's true that there is an orchestrated simplicity to the vintage Seventeen Christmas and the world today is far different and so depraved in many ways. But I think the Seventeen girl knew that the world would continue to go on being the world and she believed with all her joyous trembling Christmas heart, that despite war and upheaval, there was still a place in it for her. I believe too.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
I try to give gifts that have intimate meaning to the receiver whenever I can. I fall short sometimes and other times, I think I score. Some of the "best" gifts are not in a shop at all - precious presents can sometimes be objects in the house that have lost their luster but may turn out to give joyful pleasure to someone else. This Christmas, I plan on gifting a friend an object I no longer "see" but is something I think will delight her. I'll let you know how that goes.
My sister has had a lifelong fascination with the moon. I remembered her lunar love when I saw a leaded crystal vase at an antique shop recently. On the front, an ethereal lass in a flowing white gown, is etched finely on the glass but I couldn't help noticing that she sits slightly off-center. I didn't reject the vase because of this quirk because the upper left back of the vase has a charming sliver of a moon and a smattering of white stars. Only after I stared at it atop an old dresser, did I realize that the lady is not centered because she was carved to appear as though she were gazing up at the back of the vase, where the moon and constellation hangs. Suddenly I knew this work of art belonged in my sister's home and so it became a birthday present to her with along with a bouquet of coral roses. I think she likes it and I hope my gift conveyed that I see her tender heart.
I have been the recipient of some wonderful gifts that touchingly hit my bulls eye. I especially remember a pair of shoes a boyfriend gave me on my seventeenth birthday. He often played "Houdini", as my grandmother called it, when he would disappear and not call for days. It was agonizing at the time but blessedly, our tumultuous sweep-me-off-my-feet relationship was short-lived. He knew he wasn't good for me and looking back, I think he just couldn't help it. But my ardent heart would always take him back even under my grandmother's disapproving eyes.
The object of my affection and I were window shopping one night when I spotted a striking pair of peacock blue velvet shoes. They had just the right amount of Seventeen magazine bohemian romance that I adored and spoke to the hidden place inside where the girl I wanted to be resided. They were dainty and pretty and instead of a strap they were tied with small silk ribbons, each with a dangling charm - a silver dove on one and a gold heart on the other. They were charming. And expensive.
A few days before my birthday, my boyfriend staged his disappearing act again and I was bereft. When he finally resurfaced, just in time for cake and ice cream, he had an unwrapped box with him. Inside were the velvety shoes clearly bought on the fly. My mother and grandmother thought shoes were an absurd gift for a teenage girl but I knew what they meant. He saw the dreamy bohemian girl I was inside too and although he didn't stick around to see the shoes on my feet, they became a souvenir of our time together. They were a risky but tender gift. Our last parting was tender too...a tender mercy.
It has been said that the scent of the rose remains on the hands of the giver and I believe that. If someone has been thoughtful enough to choose something they believed would touch my soul, I am grateful for their love. I enjoy giving my family and friends small luxuries I know they won't buy for themselves and if my presents offer them comfort and a little bit of joy, I am happy. It doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate...just something that says I tried a little tenderness.
Friday, November 6, 2015
A magazine brought us together - Victoria. Our love of home and family found us both on a Victoria-related site, where we "met". Soon I realized by reading her posts, that we had very much in common. I reached out to her on the day I received a mean-spirited letter from my former mother-in-law who chose to contact me suddenly after nearly twenty years. I sent a personal email and lucky for me, my friend, who just happened to be at her office on a Saturday morning to retrieve eyeglasses, logged onto her work computer and read it right away. She called and together we determined that the unwelcome letter needed to be destroyed. But it was the balm of her solace and comfort that broke the spell that threatened to ruin my weekend. And thus began our daily emails and soon-to-be regular visits.
Our first meeting took place at Penn Station in New York City on the day we had lunch with Victoria's founding editor. I recognized my friend immediately and while we trawled the subway that day, sitting shoulder to shoulder, I felt I had come home to something. We could not stop talking, sharing, nodding in understanding, and as she sat with me later, waiting for my train home, my mind raced ahead to other potential visits. I asked her to sign my new journal before we hugged goodbye.
So two weeks ago, I trekked to her neck of the woods again on a beautiful fall day filled with light and color. I was anxious to see the improvements she made on her home, hear her sing in her church's choir, and meet another friend of hers. We also did a little bit of shopping which was great fun. And although it was only to the local mall, I imagined we two with baskets on our arms strolling a charming outdoor Christmas market, just like I saw in Victoria magazine years ago.
Time together always include fashion talks and so topics like new winter coats, ways to make leggings chic, and finding good cashmere were all discussed at length. I also received a recommendation for an amazing shampoo that I would never have found on my own. We cooked together and banged around her house reading vintage Seventeen magazines and watching old movies like sisters. Tea figured prominently. And hopes for our children...our joys...our fears. A few fears.
This kindred visit gave me a present - a soul reboot. As I made my way home alone, driving through the paved hollows of endless red and gold burnished hills, I couldn't even listen to the radio - my mind, so filled with new things and plans, craved room to expand. I felt grateful to have someone in my life who cares equally about my past, my present, and my future. And in the long quiet miles, I came to see that a kindred friendship is a sheltering tree.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
I love when Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind holds a turnip to the sky and says she will never go hungry again. Ever. And I believe her. Her short proclamation - her manifesto - puts the universe on notice - you won't screw with me that way again. Forgive the vulgarity, but I think manifestos are extremely helpful. Once we say something out-loud or in a big way, we draw a line in the sand. We let the world know, I'm not going to let you treat me that way.
A good friend and I often tell each other in emails that we are going to change something about the way we are living life. We say it with such conviction that it leaves no doubt that changes will be made. It doesn't always have to be something big as in, "I'm going to lose 100 pounds and become a Master Pilates instructor by next month". It can be something small like, "I'm never going to pay full price for cashmere again". We do this so often, we now end our mini-manifestos with "Turnip!". I know just what she means.
But sometimes my manifestos are promises I make only to myself. They are the secret private pledges that no else needs to know. If I'm unhappy with the way I'm conducting myself, usually because of a goading provocateur, I will often feel a manifesto coming on. Here I write them as numbered lists, titled all the same: "MANIFESTO". I store them in a computer file and if I need to re-read my manifesto for a booster during times of weakness, I print my list and carry it in my bag for a few days. Inevitably, I align my behavior with my manifesto and life soon becomes better...more balanced...I am in control again.
Recently, I wrote a manifesto because of a nervous laugh I developed in response to someone's ongoing infantile behavior. I was tired of the off-color jokes that were making me feel less than, and I was afraid my laughing was giving the impression of collusion. I had forgotten who I was. A new manifesto came to the rescue (I will not smile when the joke is delivered...I will tell the jokester I am too busy to chat...I will keep myself doing the work at hand...).
Manifestos are also helpful when I am stressed and unfocused. This almost always happens when others' expectations of me are simply too high. By exhibiting the behavior outlined in my manifesto, I discover I have my own important priorities and I forgive myself for not taking on more than my peace of mind allows. I set the record straight and some boundaries along with it.
I highly recommend personal manifestos. Written out carefully and thoughtfully, you may discover that you are really doing ok and that someone else may have imposed their own personal agenda on you. I WILL stay true to my own beliefs... I WILL practice self-care no matter how much others want me to do...I WILL speak my truth quietly and with dignity...I WILL act in a way that is befitting Anne's granddaughter. And I WILL take as many bubble baths as humanly possible no matter what the drama-du-jour is. Turnip!
Monday, October 12, 2015
Like most of my girlfriends, an alarmingly significant part of my paycheck went to clothes. I was on my own for the first time and excited by the freedom I had to buy pretty new outfits for work and parties. I recall a tissue-wool mulberry skirt that gently skimmed my calves. I wore it with a romantic cream chiffon blouse with wide leg-o-mutton sleeves ending in cuffs with two pearl buttons apiece. I remember several novelty sweaters with feminine details such as embroidered yokes and knit waist ties...and a winter coat - a sweeping nutmeg balmacaan, lined with burnt orange satin as slippery as mercury.
The seven engineers were not impervious to my wardrobe and would often have something to say. But they were innocent casual remarks, such as "I like your shoes". For the most part, they talked boisterously among themselves and left me to order supplies and type reports for them in the background.
One lunch hour, I ducked into a small shop - an old iconic place in town. It was there that I spotted a beautiful silky green dress as fresh as a lawn of lush summer grass. The knowing and grandmotherly saleswoman insisted I try it on and when I did, I was a goner. Its chaste puffed sleeves belied a curvaceous line and beguiling teeny buttons ran from neckline to hem. The moire silk winked with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't allure and it made a faint but fetching swishing sound when I walked. It seemed a very rare garment and I bought it.
When I wore my new dress to the office the next morning, I noticed my engineers were uncharacteristically subdued. After removing the plastic cover from my typewriter, I glanced behind me to see if they were actually in the office. Startled, I saw seven pairs of eyes upon me. Just as my face registered growing confusion, one finally spoke with a voice uncharacteristically thick with uncertainty. "Are we in green today, Miss Macdonald?", he quietly asked.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
“The early morning light was over everything and summer had glanced back and waved a fleeting hand at the day with soft airs and the lingering warmth of sunshine.”
One of my dearest friends passed along that quote to me and I think it perfectly matches the poignant days of September when summer blows its farewell kiss. We are having beautiful September days in New England. It is too soon for the leaves to change colors but signs of autumn are everywhere - the sea is steel grey from a distance and mornings are refreshingly cool. Although I'm not yet up to unpacking sweaters, I do believe I will be wearing them soon. Sweater Days are on our doorstep and the muse is perched upon my shoulder again.
Golden days inspire me with nostalgia. Memories are so much more heartrending because September's backdrop is postcard blue skies and whispering breezes. It's as if everything that happens in September is something lovely to be kept beside your pillow.
~I ran into a sweet high school boyfriend at our town's annual parade one September long ago - the day before we were both due back on college campuses. More than a year had passed since our tender teenage parting but we spent a happy hour sitting together on the parade sidelines with warm rays of sun bathing us in a lemon glow. When the parade ended, the crowd snapped shut folding chairs and meandered away leaving us alone on the sidewalk. We knew the time had come to say goodbye. I stood and shyly looked into his surprisingly misty eyes and felt a tightening lump in my throat which made it impossible to speak. He reached out and softly ran his knuckle up my bare arm as he looked back into my eyes. Just before he turned and disappeared behind a grove of trees in the park, he mouthed a soundless sad "goodbye". On my way home, on streets and alleys so familiar I can name them today, I knew my friend and I had grown up. And then, just then... I felt a shiver in the breeze that told me summer was gone.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
This handsome chap is a friend's grandfather. His picture received a lot of attention on my Instagram account. Knowing how much I love old photographs, even those of people I don't know, my friend regularly drops vintage pictures into my greedy hands. His grandfather reminds me of the Arrow Shirt and Collar man, although he doesn't have the angular planes to his face that the traditional Arrow illustrations do (see below). Instead, his allure, although masculine, has the softness of a hero in a Grace Livingston Hill novel. Hill's champions are always strong men with gentle cores that never drift from right decision in everything they do. They are usually wealthy but conduct themselves with uncompromising integrity in business as well as - and especially in, love. Often, the hero in a Grace Livingston Hill novel spots a woman who is lovely in being but downtrodden in life. He becomes her sympathizer first, quietly on the sidelines, and then her protector and defender. Usually a marriage takes place at the end.
Hill's stories are of course, fiction. Jane Austen subscribed to the same formula and once wrote, "My ladies shall have all they desire, but only after a bit of trouble". Austen's novels end with voluptuously satisfying weddings. I love happy endings and I love the good strong men who make all my literary happy endings possible. They keep me searching for goodness, chivalry and kindness in our upside-down world. And they give me hope.
Our good-looking fellow became the town dentist who often took no money for his services. I also have a picture of him in his dental office about 1940, and although the place looks like a truly fearsome torture chamber, he is still remembered and kindly so, 70 years later. Astonishing. Handsome benevolence - a winning combination for heroes, in novels and in life.
The dentist...far left.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
At home and out of the public eye, a society matron must have taken great pleasure in slipping into her dressing grown after a day of corsetry. I know I enjoy putting on mine after a long day at the salt mines. And this summer, I particularly love sweet cooling cotton robes with matching nighties. I pulled out an old set after our long heat wave began and feel so much more ladylike than if I were padding around in just a skimpy nightgown or worn sweatpants. Wearing a dressing gown also gives an extra layer of protection should someone come to the door unexpectedly as happened to me recently or if you are an overnight guest at a friend's house. Somehow, it just seems polite to wear a wrapper - afterall, informality should not be an excuse to be a floozy in someone else's home and in my book, there is still something to be said for modesty.
But what of the feminine dressing gown? Why has it disappeared from the lexicon of so many women's wardrobes? I can only imagine it is because life as well as clothing has become so casual these days. I've always loved lingerie mainly because it is the one remaining bastion in a woman's life where she can still exercise her love of lace, rustles, ribbons, and other purely female vestments that were once also worn on clothing's more formal, public side. The dressing gown has an enduring intimate glamour.
Many years ago, a pal and I came across quite authentic-looking kimonos. We were overcome by the vivid prints and silky tactile material. I only wore mine a few times because the extra-wide sleeves threatened to ignite from my gas stove burners while preparing breakfast and so it hung prettily on the back of my bathroom door. My friend wore hers to shreds as she traveled often with her pilot husband. He eventually bought her a real Japanese kimono that was somehow too precious to wear. But we marveled at it and wrapped ourselves in it by turns - it was just so lovely. Even today, many robes still exhibit an affinity towards exotic "Eastern" influences.
This summer while researching dressing gowns, I chanced upon a robe so dear that tears almost sprang to my eyes. It fostered so many romantic notions about what a feminine and elegant woman would wear at home in the part of her life that is special and hidden. It would be a splurge to be sure. But night after night, my fingers flew to the website that housed this beautiful garment until I realized it had to be mine. It was harebrained and frivolous but in the end, the cost didn't really break the bank too much and the joy of wearing my dressing gown has paid dividends into my metaphysical pleasure bank. I love the way the fabric trails behind me brushing my ankles as I turn the corner into the kitchen for evening tea. It elevates my ordinary even when it's laying in repose at the foot of my bed waiting serenely for the in-house heroine to give it shape.
(My dressing gown.)
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
A strange phenomenon occurs when the summer is just about to depart. Like an expectant mother who, although weighted and unwieldy, suddenly throws herself into frenetic nesting, I try to fit in every last bit of the season despite the obvious shortening days and slanting shadows. Right now, I am pool swimming each night after work, eating ice cream cones every chance I get, patio lounging with potentially ruinous abandon, and chasing the scent of lobster rolls to every shack and hole-in-the-wall around. Next weekend will be my last under-the-stars outdoor theater night until next summer. I don't even want to talk about fall.
Maybe it was because this year's winter was so cold and cruel and I'm not anxious for a repeat. Or maybe it's because this New England summer has been so lovely. Or perhaps it's because I no longer have such a soul-crushing job and therefore, have the time to, well...smell the roses. And the lemon-scented geraniums. And the tomatoes...and fried clams...
But that doesn't explain this activity of mine at the end of every summer. There is just something about the feeling that one is going to have to say goodbye soon that really makes me want to savor every last drop...of peach iced tea, that is. Like the couple that visits New York City just before they are to be parted...running about experiencing everything "New York" just in the nick of time. Making memories to sustain them until they meet again.
I can't imagine what it will be like when I don't reach for my favorite khaki shorts and sleeveless t-shirts anymore. There is something so magical about a light breeze tickling the hair on one's bare arms. This is the real fashion ease that we style editors are always extolling. I dread thinking about layers and frozen toes and flannel nightgowns. And yet, I feel the vibrations of those days - those sweater days - just over the pink and gold sunset.
Oh I'm sure they will arrive. And once they do, I will adapt and even embrace them. But for now...for today...you can find me lollygagging at dusk on a chaise in my backyard, or sitting at the town dock, ice cream dripping down my naked arm.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
I especially love the character of Miss Blossom, the ever-present dress form that resides in Cassandra's ramshackle room and to whom she throws her voice when she and her sister, motherless, are in need of consolation and advice. (I used to do a Miss Blossom bit for my niece Hillary and she still addresses her letters to me with "Dear Miss Blossom"). These days, Miss Blossom is speaking to me as I begin to fall in love with my house all over again...warts and all. Her voice is soothing and comforting as she says over and over, "all will be well" and "in due time, my dear". The feelings of being overwhelmed are slowly dissipating.
Of all things, a simple shower curtain has helped too. I saw it in a window at a local curtain shop. It has all the botanical beauty I can stand with trailing vines, wandering wisteria and roses - always roses. I walked by it three times before ducking in to finger it and then order it. Lucky me to find an old "Miss Blossom friend" working there, from my favorite once-was Laura Ashley shop. When Judy told me I should have it, my mind pictured my bathroom and I asked if there was a valance for the window too? And fabric to make a cafe curtain for my vanity? Oh yes, yes, and yes, I was told. And a sale price. I thought of the dresses the Mortimer girls crafted for the dinner party they were invited to that promised to elevate their status with a marriage proposal.
I left the shop with a fabric swatch large enough to hang over the rod. But the funny thing is, this scrap of fabric had me taking my floral plates off the wall and cleaning them, rearranging my potions and lotions and generally tidying up while I wait for my new things. When I was done there, I finally opened the door and took a gimlet eye to the bedroom my daughter recently vacated. What will this space actually be? With (floral) notebook and pen in hand, I set to work scribbling a list of furnishings and belongings I would move into the room: style books, my desk, a sleeper love seat, television and cabinet, baskets for files. The closet will hold off-season clothing and hats. I had a plan after flailing about for a few weeks and nearly purchasing another place to begin all over with.
But this house has tender memories, creature comforts, and a certain charm I wasn't able to find in the other one. I have a comfortable and beautiful terrace that abuts a wooded grove with hidden ferny grottoes. The property lines are encircled by an ancient stone wall most like built by the Native Americans who lived in this spot centuries ago. The sea is over the tree tops from my second story windows. Yes, there is work to be done including painting which I hate. But little by little, twig by twig, I will tend to it all. I am a one-woman show but I will ask for help, hire when necessary, and stick to my plan. I WILL capture this place. A wise woman once told me that intention becomes reality. Now it wasn't Miss Blossom who said that - but it sure could have been.
"I can't dance or sing but I can turn a house into a living, breathing thing".
(Paraphrased quote that I cannot recall the source of, but I love it!)
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
I watched a poignant documentary a few weeks ago on public television called Tea Time. It followed five Chilean women who have been gathering together once a year for tea since graduating from high school over 60 years ago! They take turns hosting the teas which include a delectable number of pastries and sandwiches. In between takes, the camera captures flowery tea leaves gently unfurling in hot water as we hear the ever-present sound of a ticking clock. When we first meet the women, they are already quite elderly but very lively with great affection for one another. At the end of each tea, all the women perform a charming ritual as familiar as the ticking clock: they take from their handbags small round compacts of powder and tubes of lipstick and freshen up. It is here that the camera hones in on each lined face for this final act of feminine primping before the women face the world at large again for another year.
Many of my favorite vintage films include scenes where the heroine carefully powders her nose in public. Even Meg Ryan's character Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail, pulls out her compact to pat at her face only to violently snap it shut when she catches sight of her bête noir Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in its mirror.
Just before bed the other night, I was paging through an old 1972 Seventeen magazine when I saw an ad for a familiar petite tortoiseshell compact. It was divided into two sections, containing a cream blush and a lip gloss in best-friend hues of soft pink and vibrant rose. I realized I had once owned the same pretty compact in high school.
I remember how clever I thought the idea of having two products in one place was and this beauty aid was especially nice and small enough to carry in the palm of my hand or tuck in the pocket of my jeans. I never had a need for pressed powder or nose-powdering but I loved the idea of an old-fashioned compact which appealed to my girly sensibility, especially with its mirror, satin smooth shell, and satisfying click upon closing.
A quick internet search did not reveal anything quite like my high school compact but I discovered lots of cream blushers in small artful compacts and I bought a beautiful polished black one with a gorgeous flush-pink rouge inside. It is just the right size to be reminiscent of my old blush-and-lipstick combo. I had forgotten how lovely it is to take out a nice compact to freshen up my face and check for spinach.
Soon I will gather with my own high school girlfriends at our annual summer picnic. After lunch, I'll remember to use my glossy new compact which is deft and discreet enough not cause much attention. But if someone should notice, they will be told that I am performing a feminine ceremonial that crisscrosses time and place.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
I love this beautiful photograph of a father and son. The dad's arms are strong and handsome as they tenderly encircle his small child. The picture is dated July 4, 1957, so I know it is Independence Day and I am willing to bet that's a hotdog in the boy's hands. This loving kiss wasn't done just for the camera. How do I know? Because of the way it's being received. The child's nonchalant, easy-going receptiveness says, "Yeah, Dad's kissing me. He does that alot".
I also know that this is true because I happen to know this little boy as a grown man. And by all accounts, his father was a loving and kind figure in his life. They spent many happy hours in salvage yards, piecing together old cars. His father was a great provider, going to college on the GI Bill and eventually working for the Federal Government in charge of nursing home standards. He was an active church member and took care of extended family members. Most importantly, he modeled excellent husband behavior and treated his wife with respect and admiration. He once told his son that everything he and his brother were, was owed to their mother's influence. My friend's father was modest too.
But sometimes the end-of-life is very difficult and painful, and so it was for this man. I asked my friend how he was able to reconcile the last wretched years of his father's life with his wonderful childhood memories of him. He swiftly shot back, "His life was worth more than that"! I believe he learned that from his father too - that a life is worth so much more than its ending - it is worth the whole damn beautiful sum total. And how do I know this about a man I only "met" through anecdotes and stories? You can see it in the picture. It's in his kiss. That's where it is...
Saturday, July 25, 2015
As we await the delivery of wedding photographs, we are reminiscing about our happy day. Sunday morning dawned with smokey fog but by noon, the skies peeled back to reveal a lovely Wedgewood blue - the color that transforms objects into something heavenly, as if one has put on rose-colored glasses. More than once, I felt a catch in my throat - and a longing for something ...more time...more lullabies...a little girl and her dolly...and for other lives no longer overlap ours. I also had the sensation of being carried around on a cushioned bed of serenity and happiness. It was my daughter's wedding day!
I remember the rows of white chairs as we strolled down the aisle of our cloistered grotto. The hydrangeas bowed their heavy heads and the hibiscus danced a shimmy at the whispering sea breezes. My daughter's ivory dress suddenly seemed so bright and fresh in the sunlight, the meaning of it so clear...her perfection, her youth, her joy...and all her hopes for the future represented in the chiffon flower, the encrusted pearls, the simple net veil. Her golden locks were smoothed out and shiny, skin perfect. At the simple altar, rosebud lips - the same ones I fretted over so worriedly in a hospital isolate so many years ago - whispered "I love you forever, Mom". She released my arm with a squeeze and I took my place.
The ceremony was simple and hushed and over way too fast - a promise, a ring, a kiss...no drama or hype - no fuss - so very like her. I watched them pass by to "Here Comes the Sun" but at the end of the aisle, they stopped and waited for me. Together we three wrapped our arms about each other and smiled into sets of brimming eyes. And then, my new son murmured something only I heard: "She's safe... you don't have to worry anymore". Oh young man, if you but only knew...
The flashbacks have stopped at last. I am clearing out her room and spreading out my life. When I went to bed that first night there was a card nestled beside my pillow. On one side was her love letter and on the other, the instructions for changing the time on my clock radio - something I never got the hang of.
More beauty, fashion, books, art, and life posts coming up...back to my usual musings soon!
Thursday, July 9, 2015
I like to take a little something home with me each time I go to the beach. Sometimes I find a pretty piece of sea glass or a perfect creamy white shell. These little tokens stay on my desk for a time or the windowsill in the kitchen. But eventually, they seem out of place, especially when the light changes in September.
Wearing summer perfumes is another way of pocketing souvenirs. When I summered on Cape Cod as a teen, Houbigant's Chantilly was never beyond my reach in the envelope compartment of my small floral suitcase. Later, I swapped fragrances with my best friend and wore her Emeraude for my strawberry oil roll-on. Our scents made their way into our long windswept hair and the collars of the open jackets we wore at night. Most perfume back then could be bought very inexpensively at local drugstores and we tried everything from Chanel 5 to Jean Nate. Later, I discovered Love's Baby Soft which was catnip for not only my boyfriend at the time, but also for me. It was like a heady drug and I could have rolled around in it - I craved its innocent scent so much. It was the soft powdery element that I wanted - so childlike and tender.
As a young mother, I was given Elizabeth Arden's Eau Fraiche, a light cult classic that's meant to be sprayed all over the body. As it dries down, it smells like fresh-cut lilies that are just about to burst forth in a sparkling crystal vase. It's delicious but alas...the fragrance is ephemeral and vanishes quickly, much like the season.
My point is that special perfumes worn only in summer, are like bright picture postcards sent home to be cherished and read and then re-read. They are unexpected keepsakes of our warm-weather days. And when we suddenly happen upon them later in winter - clinging lightly to a scarf or sweater, or dabbed behind our ears after finding a bottle tucked away in a drawer - we are transported back to our golden fleeting summers. As for the messages in those bottles? It is but the same - wish you were here.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
As my daughter's wedding day approaches, I find myself nostalgic and easy to persuade with pictures, music, and scents. Flash backs and memories infuse my days and I am taking many voyages to yesterday. But now, in addition to the nuptials, I may be moving from the home I've known for 18 years to a beautiful cozy new place. The challenge is not to be blown away by every wind in the process. It may have been folly to begin this right at this time, but it's as though I am being led by something unseen yet strongly felt. Whether it comes to pass, is still unknown but I am pleased to discover that even though I am a weakling in many ways, I can venture into uncharted waters alone and hold my own. I've learned things that I've never known - how to ask for what I need, negotiate when necessary, and stand down change and fear even when the other shore is not yet on the horizon. I find I can indeed row a boat....(can you?).