Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Scents of Fall


I switch my light summer fragrances to those with warmer accords when the air turns cool in September. More often than not, the perfume I reach for on chilly mornings is Chanel No. 5.  When I drive over the misty bridge that spans the cove in my town, I often shiver into my scarf or turtleneck and catch a whiff of the blanketed dusty rose that makes up part of the composition of the world's most famous perfume.

Searching for vintage Chanel No. 5 ads is so much fun that I may do a series of them here.  The copy on the ads is very sweet too.  But this one, speaks to my schoolgirl days when I too, walked to school on leaf-strewn streets.  The scents of those days are so embedded into my psyche that as soon as the calendar turns to September, I go into overdrive with nostalgia and memories, helped along by No. 5.

Also underneath the crunching sidewalks that led to school, were acorns and tiny decomposing apples that mixed with the wafting smoke from rusty barrels of burning leaves and branches.  These marvelous things blended together to create an olfactory soundtrack to fall.

Too, there were high school football games held in the old cement stadium known as Kelliher Field.  The seats were gravestone-cold but the cocoa, in perilously thin paper cups, was so searing hot that we could barely sip it for fear we would scorch our tongues.  But it smelled wonderful and deeply chocolate-y.  And somehow it went better with the fragrant buttery popcorn that assaulted us from the moment we stepped though the field's gates which compelled us to buy small red and white cardboard boxes of it.  Oh and didn't our mothers pull out the meatloaf recipes torn from Ladies Home Journal's and stuffed pork chops with sage again that filled our homes with such rich savory smells?  And cinnamon apple pie, anyone?  Back to perfume...

One golden fall, a friend's mother began to sell Avon.  That was the year I wore Sweet Honesty, Avon's answer to the 70's back-to-nature mania.  I fell for the all-natural look of the packaging which appealed to my personal style at the time:   bell-bottomed jeans and long straight hair shampooed with Herbal Essence.  Sweet Honesty came with me to school in a little roller bottle which I'm sure replaced my summer Strawberry Fields scent that year.  I liked Sweet Honesty for its peppery note that was perfect with fall's burnished colors of smokey gold and magenta.  Like autumn, it was both strong and gentle.

The following year I was away at college.  Still in New England, but housed with young women from all over the country.   And since I wanted to fit in, I wore their uniform fragrance - Revlon's Charlie.  Who can forget Shelley Hack's leggy strut across our Seventeen's centerfold in a chic plaid pantsuit?  Charlie was known as the sexy-young fragrance and "sexy" was not an adjective that graced Seventeen much before then.  It was so new and wearing it, we all felt new - and free and young.  And sexy.

I began wearing Chanel No. 5 when I was gifted a bottle from a woman who knew my father.  She thought as a young working woman, I might like a sophisticated perfume.  But I wasn't quite ready - it smelled cloyingly sweet to me.  I preferred to find my own fragrances and so for many years, I experimented with Cinnabar, Fracas, and that harlot of a perfume - Opium.  But I never did find one to settle on until I tried No. 5 again.  By then, I had read about Chanel and the origins of her iconic perfume.  At last, I was ready for it.  And it has stayed that way for over 20 years.  I always want a small bottle of  Chanel No. 5 on my dresser top come fall.  It's comforting and oddly reassuring and smells of autumn.  As when I kicked my way through fallen leaves on the way to school...

~

What are your favorite fall scents? Please share in comments...

And in keeping with back-to-school style, please read my essay on Rebecca Tuite's marvelous book, Seven Sisters Style:  
http://www.fashionstudiesjournal.org/4-reviews-3b/2017/7/28/seven-sisters-style


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Summer's Final Bow



My town has the most charming ice cream shop.  It's painted in sherbet colors and has a rick-rack of gingerbread trim.  I don't indulge every day but enough to know the owners who winter in Florida each year.  But our conversations are all too brief during the height of summer when a line snakes out past their picnic tables into a grove of trees.  Still, the ice cream is rich and wonderful and worth the wait.

Have you noticed how some things are most beautiful just before they disappear?  Falling stars, brides who depart for exciting new lives, flowers, and of course, tender seasons that cannot last.  Right now I am enjoying summer's swan song - the air is warm and balmy and the sun is throwing stirring shadows and light;  total eclipses notwithstanding. 

Knowing that summer must soon end, I find myself holding on to it for dear life.  I love the plump native tomatoes in overflowing bins at the market.  As my mother taught me, I eat them like apples as I sit on the front stoop watching juices flow down my arm.  It's ok because the garden hose is still unraveled in the side yard just as it always is until September - I'm a lazy hose-mistress to be sure.  Every Friday, I buy a farm-style bouquet filled with sunflowers and violet asters along with spikes of golden rod and dried beach fronds.  My rustic bouquets don't last as long as the prim blush roses I bought in early summer, but the colors are as warm and bright as October sunshine.

As well, I am getting the most from my liberating wardrobe.  Making sure each morning I select knee-skimming skirts with sleeveless tops or pretty dresses with billowing potential should I still find myself still wearing it when I fetch the recycling bin at the bottom of the driveway every Wednesday night.

As for perfume, I can't stop spritzing my eau fraiche blend that I keep cool in the refrigerator.  It's light and airy and not yet too weak for summer's final bow.  My coral lipsticks, a watercolor silk scarf, and other accouterments still call out to me.  I won't rush the goodbye because the hello takes so long.  

I'm sure I will surrender when summer turns back just long enough to take a final bow.  By then, I'll be longing to light some candles against a dark sky and chilly wind.  And it will seem odd to see the dried leaves flitting and falling on my garden hose.  I'll put that to bed along with the rattan furniture and the clay pots that are holding my spectacular geraniums and begonias which have never looked more gorgeous as they do right now in their vivid hues of reds and pink.  They seem to bloom over and over and over, like the last dazzling firework on July 4th.  

I'll miss the crickets and frogs which lull me to sleep and the dove that coos from a distance late in the morning.  I'll miss the cold gazpacho I finally mastered and the watermelon and corn.  But summer will really be over when the little pastel ice cream shop finally shutters its windows and closes its doors.  They'll put out the scratchy homemade sign that reminds us they will be back next summer.  And each year...I try to believe them.



(Top image by Trent Gudmundsen)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Paradise



"I can't stop thinking about Hawaii", I told my son-in-law a month ago.  "Oh you'll be thinking about it a lot more when you come back", he warned...

I've been missing a special place that I recently visited.  For more than two weeks I have been in Hawaii.  I never thought I would have the chance to visit this part of the world and yet, I never thought I would love it so much either.  Hawaii is very beautiful with a lovely aesthetic that is partially ancient lore and partially post-war beauty.  And unlike New England's crisp nautical sun, Hawaii's light is far-reaching and golden.

The picture above is one that I took on the Ke'anae Peninsula on the Road to Hana.  I almost wept at the breathtaking beauty and felt a deep connection to the inlet which I later read was the site of a devastating tsunami in 1946.  I sensed it was hallowed and snapped quite a number of pictures like this one with my cell phone.  There was an old church left standing and like all churches in Hawaii, the doors were wide open to anybody that happened to pass by.

In addition to the famous Road to Hana, we visited the Black Sand Beach where black-as-night lava rocks cover the shore.  We toured the volcanoes on The Big Island, careful not to take anything that wasn't ours so as not to anger Pele, the mythical Goddess of Volcanoes.  We ate fish and passion fruit, wore flowers in our hair, and shopped in small boutiques in Maui's Up Country.  And every afternoon, we raced to the shore to sit huddled in matching weathered chairs to let the Trade Winds wash over us and blow our cares out to sea.

My companions were my daughter and my son-in-law and the only mar on our adventure were the three days my daughter was ill.  On the plane to The Big Island, my only child became sick with a high fever and chills.  She also had an extreme headache that frightened me.  Upon landing, we took her to the hospital were she was admitted.  For three days, we sat by her side as fluids and antibiotics were drained into her.  And although the environs surrounding the hospital were gorgeous, the landscape lost its sparkle.  Thankfully, before too long, we were back to our vacation and all the gifts the islands had to offer.

Now I am home with a volcanic suitcase on the living room floor exploding with clothes to be washed, presents to distribute, and plenty of keepsakes, including the journal I kept on our trip.  I am missing paradise and reliving all the wonderful things we experienced and as my son-in-law predicted, I am thinking about Hawaii alot.   Of course, as I reminisce, my thoughts also race back to those three days I was frantic with worry for my daughter - those recollections are woven into the tapestry of my journey too.  When the memories come, I lean in and let them wash over me just as the winds did on the edge of Hawaii's magnificent shores.  And it is then that I realize...True Paradise is when loved ones are healthy...

~


PS:  If you have ever visited the magical isles of Hawaii, I would love to hear about it.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Find One Hundred Ways


I have always loved Quincy Jones' song (sung by James Ingram), One Hundred Ways.  The lyrics stole my heart years ago because, by God, they are true.  If it's violins she loves...well, let them play. Send her roses...just because.  And even better:  in your arms, she will reflect...she owes you the sweetest of debts...yes, let her repay.  Find one hundred ways!

But the lyrics go far beyond romance and reciprocity.  What about living a One Hundred Ways kind of life?

Recently, on a night I had a party to attend, the weather suddenly turned.  By late afternoon,  a sparkling summer day had become dark and chilly.  Rain was not in the forecast but I no longer felt like partying.  So I downplayed it by wearing a boring but comfortable dress, minimal makeup and I regrettably ate too much lunch, even though I knew it would spoil my appetite at the party.  "I'll just put in a appearance and head back home to my bed and watch Netflix", I said to myself.  And then wouldn't you know it -  the party was wonderful and festive and fun.  Our hosts moved the enchanting dinner table from the lawn to the covered porch which was decorated with pots of trailing ivy and bright begonias.  They pulled out all the stops - they found one hundred ways.

Some people naturally live this way.  One sees it in the nurse at the doctor's office who has complete pride in her job.  Her efficiency and manner offer a sense of order and reassurance.  It's the friend who makes your visits special by serving you a delectable warm treat from the oven to go with your mug of tea.  Even when she's dead tired from being sandwiched between needy children and elderly parents.  It's the co-worker with a serious illness, who shows up at the office every day with another new fetching scarf wrapped around her head.  It's the comforting lunch you pack for a loved one that's filled with nourishing food, all attractively wrapped.  It's the elderly woman who still wears lipstick and dresses with care as she sets out on her daily round.

So if flowers are what you love, buy that bouquet for heaven's sake.  If you crave tomatoes, fill the kitchen. Simmer sauce, make tomato tarts, sandwiches, salads.  Ditto watermelon, lemons - whatever it is you're passionate about.  Immerse yourself.  Roll around in it.  Let's stop saving our perfumes, the "good" dishes, and anything tucked away for "best".   "Best" is now.  Use your things. Show them off.  Share them.  Multiply them.

Quincy Jones reminds us that if it's one more star we want, go all the way.  Life is short - shorter than we sometimes realize while in the midst of it.  So, show up.  Be present.  Dress the part.  Go big. Begin today.  Begin again tomorrow.  Do it as long as you possibly can.  Find one hundred ways.


~

Find One Hundred Ways

Compliment what she does
Send her roses just because

If it's violins she loves let them play

Dedicate her fav'right song and hold

Her closer all night long

Love her today

Find one hundred ways

Don't forget there could be

An old lover in her memory

If you need her so much more

Why don't you say

Maybe she has it in her mind

That she's just wasting her time

Ask her to stay

Find one hundred ways

Bein' cool won't help you keep a love warm

You'll just blow your chance

Take the time to open up your heart

That's the secret of romance

Sacrifice if you care

Buy her some moonlight to wear

If there's one more star she wants

Go all the way

In your arms tonight

She'll reflect that she owes you

The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay

Find one hundred ways

In your arms tonight

She'll reflect that she owes you

The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay

Find one hundred ways

Ya gotta believe it whoa

Love her today

Find one hundred ways




Note:  I will be on a special vacation - a journey - for a few weeks.  I'll be finding one hundred ways and I'll share when I return.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Yellow House


I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after...they've gone through and through me, like wine through water and altered the color of my mind." ~ Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Given my blog-documented love of my hometown, would it surprise you to know that I created alerts on my computer when a house in my old neighborhood goes on the market?  I love to take "tours" into these homes, but alas, they are few and far between because my old hood is not a very transient place.  So I was delighted to find for sale, the petite yellow house that sat kitty-corner to my childhood home.

A variation of Pennsylvania Dutch style, the yellow house is one of three "brides" that were built together in the early years of the 20th century.  They all have small rooms and beautiful wood-paneled walls and lots of charming details, such as inset cabinets and hardwood floors.  While growing up, the little yellow house was occupied by an unmarried and kindly woman named Flora Innes, who walked up our hill every night and past our house, after having been dropped off at the bottom of the street from her wearying factory job.  Flora knew all our names by heart and greeted each of us.  She was a sweet, lovely woman who had suffered childhood polio and walked with a marked limp.

After I took an online spin around the inside of Flora's old house, my daydreams began to ignite.  You see, I am in love with a boy I went to high school who lived not too far away from Flora and from me.  Since I "re-met" this boy many years after first laying eyes on him in 7th grade and long after Flora had been gone, I began to imagine all the what-if's that surprisingly bubbled to the surface since spying Flora's yellow house in my in-box.

What if my love and I had found our relationship back in high school?  What if we had actually married all those years ago?  What if we had bought the yellow house from Flora's relatives when it first hit the market 40 years ago and what if we had a family of our own in the yellow house and what if we had had a long life together?  I even went so far as to imagine myself taking family china out of one of those delightful built-ins and setting the dining room table for Tuesday night dinner with his now deceased parents!  In our house...our little yellow house???

I always believed that the dream of what might have been is the most painful dream to let go.  We watch our fervent wishes slip from outstretched hands like rocks dropped from a bridge that disappear into dark water.  But that is only a tragedy when one has to do an abrupt about face of no choice of their own.  I don't feel the dreams of what-if have a similar power over us.  After all, who's to say that the girl I was 40 years ago was ready for that boy I now love?  Who's to say I would have felt the spell of the little yellow house in the town I was so sure I wanted put in my rear view mirror as quickly as humanly possible?  Time changes us...it grinds us and then polishes us if we are open to its lessons.  Only then can we become whole or at least more of who we were meant to be in the first place.  And then there is love - what of love?  Well...love carries its own timepiece, doesn' it?

My fantasies about the little yellow house resulted in some magically entertaining reveries for driving to work last month but I have since discovered "my" house has been sold to a pair of young newlyweds.  I was told that they have already erected a matching shed in the postage stamp of a backyard, replete with matching shutters and window boxes.  I would have done that first too.  And their parents often come to help.  I just know they are enjoying that marvelous wood dining room with the built-ins, which no doubt are storing some family treasures.  I'm so happy for them and I believe that somewhere, dear Flora Innes is happy too.

As for me, I am now wearing the diamond ring that once belonged to the beloved mother and guest at my imaginary Tuesday night dinners.  And I've learned that any color home can be my yellow one - our view and our reflections are ever-changing.  Like wine poured through water...



Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Towels...



The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...~William Wordsworth


A friend came to visit last weekend and loved my blue beach towels.  They are now downstairs, washed and boxed and ready to mail to her doorstep.  I wish it had occurred to me to send them off with her on the day we said goodbye.  Still, I am pleased she will have them soon to cheer her as she wraps herself in one after her morning shower - she loved them so much.

My grandmother thought towels were a big deal.  She talked of Turkish towels and the January White Sales often and I think it was a source of pride for her to have a modest stack of quality towels on hand for loved ones.  My mother also waxed poetic about them but sadly, in our house, towels were often used and abused and left as wet tattered rags on the bathroom floor.  I'm pretty sure she gave up her dream of a neat and tidy linen closet with four active children.  Stacks of colorful fluffy towels would only have served to regularly break her heart.

Nice towels in a good price range are hard to find these days.  There are plenty in rich and famous linen boutiques for those who can manage the price tags that are as lofty as the towels themselves. For me, I scour Home Goods for occasional bounty.  I also suggest department stores when they have their seasonal bedding sales.  A plush affordable towel is a very fine thing.

When I philosophize about them, towels are often overlooked but are one of life's little luxuries.  Thick thirsty towels that are soft and at the ready makes one feel that life is abundant, normal - they are oddly reassuring.  An entire blog post about them does seems a bit silly but the latest world events have hit me hard and I, like many others are groping for the little things that seem unimportant but really do matter.  Like towels, favorite books, iced tea in a clinking tumbler with fresh lemon.  And boxing up a bit of comfort for a good friend.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Soda Fountain Stories


He is clearly smitten with her as she sips from his soda glass.  I love her tartan dress which I imagine to be blue and I'll bet the bow wrapped around her ponytail is black velvet. The moody glow from the lanterns, the tile floor, the leather seat covers make this a charming photo of a 1950's couple on what looks like an innocent first date.  Mom and Pop are most certainly at home in front of the picture window, waiting for their young miss to return by 11 o'clock.  I'm sure she will...

In spring, I like to revisit some of my favorite teenage novels - nearly all set in the 1950's.  I call them Soda Fountain Stories because soda fountains figure so prominently in them.  I can't say it's a trip down Memory Lane because I only know the 50's from pictures, my mother's anecdotes, and novels.  But the heroines' travails seem universal and somehow familiar to the struggles of every decade:  there's the fast crowd who refuses to welcome newcomers, the benevolent and understanding teacher, and of course, a shy bookish late bloomer who doesn't know someone in the wings thinks she's fine.

My books are a comforting trip back in time when good manners were valued and expectations for behavior were cut like glass.  Most important to me though, were the stories' emphasis on home and family.  Nearly every novel has a loving mother who volunteers at church and school, sees that her children and husband eat a good breakfast, and still bakes brownies from scratch...or gingerbread, as one of my favorites tells.  Dad works at the office in the city and comes home tired and put-out but shakes it all down with the help of Mother and her pineapple upside-down cake.  The family dog and kid brother help too.  Oh, if only...

Still, as far removed as 2017 is from the Atomic Age (and all those bomb shelters that were never used), we have it pretty good now too.  Medical care is at nearly science fiction-level, we have the internet and cell phones, movies and books on-demand, and many other magnificent things.  I'm not completely idealizing the purity of the 1950's - I'm just saying that it's some kind of wonderful to escape to a simpler time every now and then when the biggest problem in life is whether the prom dress you made will be as pretty as the illustration on the pattern cover.

Come with me to the suburban 1950's.  Your reboot is ensured.

~

Some favorites:

Wait for Marcy by Rosamund du Jardin -  (Marcy is known as "Squirt", a nickname she detests.)

Sister of the Bride by Beverly Clearly - (Oh how you'll cry!)

Almost April by Zoa Sherburne - (A sudden tragedy which surprisingly aligns with the 21st century too.)

~

And, there is one elusive novel that I have never been able to locate after reading it once in the 8th grade.  It must have been dear to me as the story line has never left me.  A girl's mother is institutionalized and while she is gone from home a beneficent housekeeper takes her place.  But when Mother is well enough to return, our heroine is torn between the warm replacement and the mother she all but forgot.  Does this outline ring a bell with anyone?

Finally, do you have a tender 1950's teenage novel that has remained steadfast in your heart?

Friday, May 26, 2017

True North



“But afterwards, is there nothing more for me in life - no true home - nothing to be dearer to me than myself?” 



Thanks to a good friend, I found out this week that the North Star, Polaris, has not always been our North Star.  In fact, for a very, very long time, that distinction was held by another star that positioned itself high above the North Pole, called Thuban.  And because of the earth’s gyrations as it twirls around the sun, Thuban will once again be our North Star someday far in the future.  This new-to-me-information had my head twirling with thoughts of my own personal North Stars and how they too, have changed seats throughout my life.

As children, I suppose our North Stars are our mothers – after all, they are our first loves and upon whom our very existence depends.   Thus, I recall how my infant daughter’s eyes followed me whenever I moved about in her room, even before she could sit up by herself or speak.  I was not only the person responsible for her very life; I was her North Star, the beacon she sought for guidance and safety in her brave new world.

I thought about other North Stars I’ve aligned myself with –those that helped me try out different roles when I was younger and those that gave me parameters for living as I experimented with new ways of being me.  Sometimes our North Star is our beliefs and concepts and sometimes our North Star represents just one person.  I think it is rare to have only one North Star for all of life because we change so often and adopt so many roles, especially as women.

For a while, my friends at school were the star I wished to follow. There were years, my guiding principles came from organizations I embraced such as the Girl Scouts or my church.  Other times, I found a mentor or a friend who had already traversed the road I was on and I looked to them to ground me and keep me on course. But lately, my North Star is harder to spot.  I wondered if it's because I have finally grown into the woman I was meant to be.  Mostly, I prefer to take my own counsel, set my own path…listen to my own heart...

That kind of trust comes only from years of living and experiencing.  It comes from an innate knowledge that “Yes, I have seen this before”.   And my reactions stay true to those core beliefs I didn’t know I was honing  -  through childhood when my mother and grandmothers guided me, through motherhood  when I looked to seasoned mothers to show me how, and now to beyond, when my skills for soothing and advising myself seem sharper than ever.  And happily, I find in myself the ability to be North Star to others.  Or at least that’s what I hope.

So the bottom line is that the pinnacle of growing older is that we may get to be, not only the cosmic light for others, but also the beam of sparkle that we once sought outside ourselves.  Looking back, I realize that my constellation has changed many times over.  Perhaps now...and at last...I am my own North Star.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Beauty Parlor Night


In my twenties, when I was young and carefree, I rented a house with four other women.  We all worked, dated, and fret about the number of pizza slices we ate in front of the blinking black and white TV on Friday nights.  We were obsessed with clothes, the number on the scale, and finding Mr. Right.  Maybe not so carefree...

Our lone bathroom quickly became overflowing with lotions and potions, hair "painting" kits, pink shaving foams, and bottles of nail polish.  Although we each had our own personal needs, we gradually came to see how much fun it could be to unite and conquer our challenges collectively. Thus, Beauty Parlor Night was born.

We had lots of giggles and laughs running in and out of each others' rooms trying on lipsticks and giving each other manicures.  We shared dating horror stories as well as gave advice to the poor roommate who happened to be lovelorn that week.  We spent a lot of time cross-legged on each others' beds with Mint Julep Mask on our faces and towels wrapped around our heads.

For me, Beauty Parlor Night is still sacrosanct even though my routine has become much simpler. - I'm less concerned with trying new makeup colors and much more passionate about good skincare and smooth and lovely feet.  And it's imperative that my beauty regime eases me into a good nights sleep which is by far the best beauty aid of all for someone my age.

Like penguins tossing themselves to the sea, my roommates and I disbanded and plunged one-by-one into marriages.  I miss the young women I lived and "played" with long ago and was thrilled to chat with one recently.  "What are you doing at home tonight?", she asked.  "I just stepped out of a lavender honey bath. You"?  "I stole my daughter's blue nail polish and it's drying on my toes", she replied.


Note:  Next post up, "What I Did For Love Infatuation".  Soon, I hope.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring Charms


I used to think my modest house took on its beauty only by candlelight.  But that was before I had a new front door installed with a half-moon transom built into the top.  Every morning this past week, as I descended the stairs, I noticed a brief pastoral scene framed in that window, as pretty as if it had been stolen from a colorful illustrated bible.  The window is also responsible for shedding a tender shaft of light on my living room floor that greets me each day as I pad across it to reach my coffee cup.

I've lived in my home almost twenty years now, so it is too steeped in memories to be seen in a detached way.  But I do take it for granted sometimes.  And since I've only just begun to appreciate spring as the lovely season it is, I always thought my house made its grand entrance on Christmas Eve when my tree shines bright along with the white votives I scatter across the bookshelves.  Not anymore...

As well as the new light in the morning, I realize I am truly indebted to the frieze of trees that shelter the front of my house and help keep things quiet around here.  Those elms are not yet in leaf but a coppery aura tell me that they will be green soon.  I learned about that from an old farmer once.  The birches are still blurred with a hazy pistachio-green foliage along with a lot of unnamed plants and bushes.  I don't have a green thumb but I have admire what gardeners choose to plant for maximum spring color.

Something as simple as a newly installed window has caught me off guard and made me want to head outdoors for walks.  But not for exercise - I want to scavenge for presents for the house. I clipped a communal bush for forsythia branches but now they have passed.  Next will be my mother's lilac which I will pilfer for both us.

There's always one moment in the house, when I sense that summer has arrived.  Sometimes it's the heat I feel from the second floor when I open the front door from work -or the unmistakable earth smell from the open bedroom windows.  But I've always ignored spring's visit - it's just been too painful.  Lucky for me, a friend has been showering me with love and holding my hand for the last few springs.  This year, with my new "view" from a simple built-in window that was really just an afterthought, I may be able to manage on my own.  Every season has its gifts.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Finery


When I was too young to understand anything spoken in church, I asked my big brother why we had Easter.  His wise, all-knowing answer was, "Easter holds us over 'til Christmas".  And it made perfect sense.

My mother created Easter baskets for us but what I remember most fondly was the finery she outfitted my sister and I in.  There were winsome cotton dresses with smocking and sashes or colorful prints of flowers or birds, cotton ankle socks with lace trim, straw hats with excruciatingly tight chin straps, snow-white cotton gloves, and brand new shoes.  How I loved the shoes!  So much so, that one Easter Eve, a pair slept in their cardboard shrine right next to me in bed.  I remember peeking into the box just before sleep, peeling apart the crinkly tissue paper and inhaling the leathery goodness. Our shoes were often shiny black patent with petal cut-outs or dainty t-straps replete with pearl buttons. But sometimes we found the same version in milky white or pale pink.

The most heralded Easter garment however,  was the spring coat.  Each year on a special Saturday in March, when winter was still biting our toes, my mother would take my sister and I to the big city department store to search for new coats - coats that would have their debut only on Easter Sunday.  Formal and lightweight outerwear was not hard to find in those days because everyone had a spring coat back then.  They were as ubiquitous as ski jackets in December.  The quintessential go-to color was navy and if all else failed, it was the one hue that could be counted on to coordinate with any dress.  But more often than not, my mother found pretty pastels for us in nubby weightless wools or sturdy pique cotton with large tone-on-tone buttons.

Along with the coats, we would buy rustling slips and tiny structured grown-up-looking purses to match our shoes.

We gave Easter special honors by dressing as beautifully as could be afforded.  Our ensembles were thoughtfully planned, purchased and executed with an excited anticipation that belied a holiday my brother said just came around to hold us over.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

In Memoriam


I've introduced you to this handsome chap before.  He was the grandfather of a good friend of mine and I was delighted to see this newly-found photograph of him.  Known mostly as the favored dentist in our hometown, he is still remembered well by some of the parents of my high school friends - nearly 75 years after his death.  Imagine that...

Even with a torture chamber for an office, you may wonder why he is still talked about with such warmth and respect among local elders.  His striking good looks and untimely death are certainly mentioned but mostly he is remembered for kindness and generosity of spirit.  When he died suddenly at 49, nearly the entire town owed him money for the mercury-filled holes in their teeth. There are other stories too - but that's for another time.

More than a few years ago, a co-worker brought a newspaper into work that contained the obituary of the woman who used to run our department.  The first reaction was from another co-worker, who under her breath, simply muttered, "Ding Dong".  Everyone knew that was a reference to The Wizard of Oz when the bad witch had a house fall on her head.  There were a few snickers and a few shrugs too.  But I was left quietly stunned.  This woman - our former supervisor - was a mother and a grandmother of five.  Yes, she was punitive, even mean at times, taking the letter of the company's law to ridiculous and borderline inhumane degrees.  But she was a grandmother, presumably with small children who loved her.  Somehow, the in-congruence of that unnerved me. Even with an assumed loving family, there were still a not insignificant number of people who saw her as the Wicked Witch of the West and would remember her so.  It gave me pause -  I thought about legacies and the impressions that follow bosses and others in authority long after they are gone.

I've seen a lot of behaviors from bosses in my lengthy career.  I've worked for those willing to do anything to get ahead including walking over friends, colleagues, and underlings and then kicking the remains to the curb.  But there have been others who were principled enough to go the extra mile to do the right thing.  I suppose success can be had on either path...

Recently I left a job I liked a lot.  What I didn't like were the behaviors of the person in charge.  His actions were abusive to the degree that gave me no choice.  I guess in our careers, it comes down to what we choose to do at the fork in the road.  And at the end of our lives, how do we want to be remembered by those we served or by those who served us?  I'd prefer to be remembered like the beloved young dentist above and not by a reference to an evil player in a child's fairy tale.


Special note:  there will be happy springtime topics to cover here soon.  And this, in case you need help:  https://www.facebook.com/thatsharassment/




Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vanity Fair

In Chapter Nine of Little Women, the March sisters prepare Meg for a journey to Boston for the long-awaited Sally Moffat coming-out party.  Meg Goes to Vanity Fair is one of my favorite chapters in the Louisa May Alcott book.  As Meg packs her trunk with her finest clothes and accessories, her sisters gather 'round and contribute their own best things as well.  I love the helpful and fluttery way the girls anticipate Meg's opportunity to finally rub elbows with a proper society and their excited chatter about all the wonderful things they imagine will happen to Meg at the wealthy Moffat's.

I am about to venture to my own Vanity Fair and although I have no sisters nearby to help pack my trunk, I do feel the love and support of those who care.  My destination is not Boston Society but an exciting new job with more money, exceptionally wonderful benefits and hopefully, more respect than in my last position.  To prepare for Vanity Fair, I have scripted a checklist for my "trunk" based on all the loving advice I have received about this sudden and perfectly Providential chance.  The new position practically fell from the sky and into my outstretched arms (although I was ready the day my heart whispered to my soul, "Where's your pride?").

~As I enter the door of my new firm, I will tell myself "I am about to meet some life-long friends".  (From my sister)

~I will pack a book as well as a healthy salad for lunch in case my initial lunchtime appears to be a lone one (i.e., lonely).  (From my daughter)

~I will remind myself that this job was a gift from Heaven above and I will be mindful of the Divine's hand.  (From my good friend, Karen, who prayed)

~My look will straddle the more casual dress code of my new company with my natural tendency toward trust-fund-librarian style.  I will strike an appropriate balance until I know more about how the natives dress.  (Also from Karen)

~I will remember that new ventures even at my age, mean a "younger" brain and learning new things will be ever-so-good for me.  (Also from my sister)

~I will carry a small tote bag with a few "comforts" for just-in-case, including an extra set of contact lenses, some tea bags, tissues, and a new notebook for jotting down notes in a pretty way. (My friend Patty, an inveterate self-starter who is a wee bit older than I)

~I will become acquainted with my new commute route well before my start date so I arrive with time enough to compose myself and check my lipstick.  (The Complete Secretary's Handbook - 1962 edition)

Unlike Meg March, no one can pack my trunk for me...but my loved ones have certainly helped me fill it.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Help from the Shelf


Long ago, I clipped a quote from an article about Joan Didion.  She told the journalist that when she was small and upset by something that happened in school, her parents would tell her to "go to literature" for help.  They believed she would find answers in the classics.  When I am unsettled, I also go to my shelves looking for, if not answers, comfort.  My books remind me who I am, where I've been, and where I need to go.

Like old friends, my library is familiar and friendly.  Sometimes just gazing at an image in one of my books takes me back to a version of myself that I may have forgotten.  I am reminded that the person who looked upon that image, sometimes many years ago, still exists within.  And if I can tap into her, I can tap into renewed strength.

I have favorite literature that offers me all kinds of inspiration but I thought I would give you some of the non-fiction books that I reach for in times of trouble.  So, straight from my shelf:

Linda Dannenberg's The Paris Way of Beauty will always be my favorite beauty book.  I purchased my copy in 1979 and as a young single working women, I learned how to care for myself and organize my beauty routine using its tried-and-true French methods.  I still employ the Recipe for a Basic Makeup outlined in the book and the diet advice has stood the test of time. I still get a thrill when I crack it open and a shy but chic young woman meets me between the pages.

Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach is not unlike her blockbuster Simple Abundance but it is more concrete in its approach.  I love both of Sarah's books but Romancing the Ordinary speaks to my soul.  Reading a few chapters before bed is like a beloved great aunt tucking me in as she murmurs, "There, there dear".  In times of stress or pain, Romancing the Ordinary provides the quiet comfort I crave.

When I need a good cry about life's heartbreaking tenderness, I reach for Nancy Lindemeyer's Jenny Walton's Packing for a Woman's Journey.  Nancy's stories, drawn from her childhood to young womanhood are so poignantly written that it is one of the only books that can make me sob out loud.  Her stirring essays about the grandmother who adopted her as a small child, tug at my heartstrings like a plaintive violin.  I had the pleasure of having lunch with Nancy once and she told me that the only way to write the stories was to relive each one.  It shows.

My Father by Judy Collins is illustrated by my favorite children's book artist, Jane Dyer.  The story is about a daughter of a coal miner whose life is made radiant by her father's dreams for her.  Dyer's colorful and gently realistic interpretations of what should have been a stark childhood come alive off the page.  This book is perfect for a weary grown-up's lullaby.

I love the art of the Impressionists and so another book I turn to regularly aligns fashion with my favorite art movement.  Dior Impressions:  the Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior is a beautiful volume that explores the relationship between Dior's designs and 19th century artists use of light, nature and color.  Many of Dior's dresses appear to step right from the gilded frame.  The text is engaging and the book is so spring-like, I can almost smell verdant grasses when I open it.  Mesmerizing.











Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Big Tease


Lace is a big tease - it both provokes and conceals.  The women above are all "laced up" but they're not telling any secrets...except to each other.  Today's lace is different - it's quintessentially feminine and very alluring.  If you want to look girly - wear lace.

Most lace is made by machine these days, the design of which sometimes begins on a computer because lace artistry and other needle arts are not being handed down as much anymore.  If I had more time, lace is definitely a subject I would explore - there are hundreds of books, mostly vintage, to help me along.  Handmade lace requires painstaking work and a nimbleness to create. The bobbins and threads that artisans use to make this ancient textile are mind-boggling.  A lace-maker is no klutz.

My grandmother made me a white eyelet lace dress when I was 13 and I loved it.  I thought it made me look sexy and grown-up but I probably just looked chaste and virginal - my grandmother's creations were far more conservative than my mod 1968, Seventeen-Magazine-as-Bible self wanted.  The only color in the shift was the tender green velvet ribbon that Nana wove through the waist and the embellishment of a lone golden daisy stitched where the ribbon joined. That dress stayed in my heart and the memory of it still has me trawling spring catalogs every year for eyelet blouses.

I do wonder how appropriate lace is for a woman of a certain age though.  I wore an orchid-colored lace dress for my daughter's wedding almost two years ago but I'm not sure I would feel comfortable anymore in a pure white lace dress.  I would however, embrace a crisp shell or bell-sleeved blouse, especially in eyelet.

So what is it about this textile that appeals?  Is it the association with brides and matrimony? Babies in Christening dresses?  Mostly, I think it's like the freshness you feel on the day you suddenly discover that spring came to stay.  Lace is as unexpected and delightful as a breath of fresh air - accompanied by a jolt of sex-appeal.  Or not.





  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lyrical March



I came home yesterday with 4 petite rose-colored calla lilies and some long stalks of irises.  They look so pretty in my etched crystal pitcher.  I want to think that they are harbingers of spring but our local weather source states we could have up to 50 inches of snow by the time this month is over.  March is funny that way.

So instead of going outside to collect the strange twig formations stuck in my soggy lawn, I am comforting myself with poetic March things.  Aside from enjoying spring flowers, here are some of them:

~Re-watching Masterpiece Theater's Victoria on my laptop in bed while knitting a spring sweater.

~Cooking with French mustards - chicken, vegetables, vinaigrette's...so many delicious varieties and recipes to try.

~Dipping in and out of a Maeve Binchy book of short stories.  Just one or two...whenever I get a few minutes to reset my brain and connect me with tales of other women's lives.

~Enjoying my tea with honey "spoons" - they add just the right amount of sweetness.

~Listening to background music especially youtube clips of one of my favorite songs, "Once Upon A Time"...a sweet song of love and loss with beautiful orchestral strings that stir the heart.  (Kevin Spacey and Perry Como have the bestest renditions).

The landscape may become restless again but I will already be tucked inside enjoying slow and lyrical March.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

There Be Dragons


Dear Readers, you may know that I do not write for a living.  At least not all my living.  My style writing and other contributions, paid writing, etc. have never filled the coffers completely and so I must have a full-time job at all times.  That job is in the financial sector - a roly-poly mess of a world with changing regulations and ever-squeezing and strident edicts.  This isn't really a pretty post - I'm talking about work reviews - you know, when your boss rates you and determines your very worth as a human being and your right to exist on the planet.

If you have been visiting my blog for a long time then you might remember my sad post from two years ago when I left a job I held for 20 years.  It was an arm wrench and just as painful.  What drove me from that position were, for lack of better words, viperous women.  It is said that the art of the deal is the art of war and I would go so far as to say that work is a battleground.  And if all is fair in love and war then all is fair in the modern workplace too.  I had my annual review yesterday.

Despite my passion for my job, my boss snared me on some very petty things.  And in 12 months, this was the first I had heard about them.  Among some of the infractions, apparently I should have attended the company's Christmas party which I would have had to buy tickets for, accompanied my boss home from a meeting instead of driving home with lovely co-workers so we could have a rare dinner together, and provided a set of birthday cards each Monday for clients.  Initially I was told the required company cards were gauche and calls would be made instead.  Not so, I discovered in my review.  When did reading your boss' mind become a core value to be rated on?

So this weekend, this precious three day weekend, I am allowing myself to grieve a position I believed to be perfect as my final act.  My consolation is that I will wake to a kind friend waiting for me in "his" leather chair in the den I decorated after my daughter left home and married last year. I'm sure he will silently get up and trod downstairs to fetch my daily joy - a mug of creamy and delicious coffee.  Then he will then sit back with a Twinkie (a favorite weekend Breakfast of Champions) where he will stare at me kindly and blink until my tears flow and re-flow with yet another rendering of hurt and sting until I am spent and have no words left to say.

It will be then that we dress and drive to the beach where in only a few short months the sand will be warm and covered with summer umbrellas that will stretch as far as the eye beholds.  They will be as bright and colorful as massive children's beach balls magically suspended in air.

And not one dragon shall be near.

~


THE INNER VOICE
Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. This voice distrusts the status quo. It sounds out the falsity in things and encourages dissent from the images things tend to assume. It underlines the secret crevices where the surface has become strained. It advises distance and opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge. The inner voice makes any complicity uneasy. Its intention is to keep the heart clean and clear. This voice is an inner whisper not obvious or known to others outside. It receives little attention and is not usually highlighted among a person's qualities. Yet so much depends on that small voice. The truth of its whisper marks the line between honor and egoism, kindness and chaos. In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty and love.
John O'Donohue

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Three Graces



Recently, I received a text from my first childhood friend which accompanied the picture above.  "I saw this at the Smithsonian today and thought of us", was all she wrote.  The mystical soft green painting of three women strolling at dusk is by Thomas Wilmer Dewing who was known for painting ethereal images of women.  Given the friendship between Paula, my sister, and I, it is no surprise that my friend was drawn to the painting.  I too, have a fondness for threes.

Our enduring friendship is probably why I also love the Three Graces - the classical goddesses that have inspired artists for centuries.  Talk about sisterhood - always linked, always entwined - they represent the female ideals of Grace, Charm, and Beauty.  And they represent something else too  - solidarity...something I didn't see too much of in my years in the corporate world.

For me, the Three Graces' message isn't just of femininity although my little cameo of their likeness reminds me so.  I believe the Graces, who are daughters of Zeus and therefore, sisters, also speak for friendship.  The deep abiding, "I've got your back" kind that comes around just a few times in life.  I still have it with my childhood friend, my sister, and a small handful of others.  These are the pals that keep you company on the phone late at night when you're in the hospital.  They remember not just your birthday but the secret anniversaries of your heart too.  They never forget the slights that hurt and the perpetrators who caused them - they remember all the slings and arrows, sometimes long after you've forgotten them yourself.  Like when you mistakenly got put in the corner at 3rd grade recess.  They pick you up when your car breaks down with curlers in their hair and just a half hour before their Big Date.  They would never leave you stranded.  No. Matter. What.

To say that we three, Paula, my sister, and I spent a lot of time together is a gross understatement - our days were braided like the plaits in our hair.  Today, I can still name their every doll and every boyfriend.  And although decades separate us from those childhood days, whenever I happen to run across a variation of the Three Graces, I think of us too.

~

Do "Graces" grace your life?


And other "Graces":





The three of us (I'm on left).

(My cameo)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Mute and Elegant Testimony


My pretty mother wore a grey vertical striped shirtwaist dress the day she brought my little brother home from the hospital.  As she knelt in front of us with her tender white bundle, the skirt of her dress ballooned over her knees like an upside down tulip.  I know this partly because I have a picture of that moment in time. It is no surprise that the dress became the most-requested for our birthdays when we each got to choose her outfit for one day.  It's also not hard to understand the special memory that plain and serviceable grey dress held.

But it also conveyed something about my mother and who she was at that time - a practical yet devoted young mother.  I would love to have that everyday dress and some other favorites that my mother wore and for that matter, some of my own dresses, long disappeared.

Augusta Roddis (that is her picture above) certainly understood that clothes have the power to speak to us about the past and that is perhaps why she saved, in her large Wisconsin home, more than a hundred years of family clothes.  The story of Augusta's extraordinary collection, American Style and Spirit - Fashions and Lives of the Roddis Family, 1850-1995, has captivated me and absorbed most of my winter reading time.

The text of the book engagingly gives evocative descriptions of dresses, hats, shoes and other accessories worn by the Roddis family for much of the 20th century.  The rich variety of items are complemented by photographs and letters indicating where the garments were worn and by receipts which indicate where the garments were bought.  It's a fascinating account of an interesting middle-class family that grew in wealth but somehow maintained humble middle class roots.

But this is not to say that the Roddis women were boring - the family often traveled and there was always a charity ball, wedding or party to attend.  The lovely part is that there are so many frocks and fripperies to commemorate each of these events.  The book is filled with photos of not only the clothes, but dress patterns (the Roddis women also sewed!), artifacts and supporting ephemera like ads from periodicals.  It is a spellbinding picture book with an engrossing true story to savor.

Sometime in her seventies, Augusta wrote a letter about what it was like to open trunks in the attic filled with a treasure trove of dresses amply adorned with embroidery and laces that once belonged to her grandmother. "There were her clothes, bearing mute but eloquent testimony...to her very discriminating, fastidious, elegant and feminine taste".  And isn't that exactly what our clothes do for us, whether we are in a ball gown or a plain shirtwaist - silently saying the things we cannot express?

If I were to find my mother's simple grey dress in a trunk today, I suspect it would transmit a wordless message from the past too - just as Augusta Roddis' collection does.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

In January - The Things I Didn't Write


There are so many things I wanted to write about in January.  I really wanted to tell you about the quintessential snowy New England weekend I spent many years ago at a old and lovely brick manor house in the middle of a Western Massachusetts forest and how each room was decorated with a dash of woodland magic.  I would have described the china bowls of wild berries and moss, the baskets of pinecones, and I would have written that every room had a hissing fire in the grate.  But then we had an extended January thaw and I lost passion for the story and so I almost wrote a story about a commonplace book I kept for a season long ago and forgot about until recently, and how in its pages I found a girl I wished I cherished more because I think she was pretty neat.  And then, I had a blog post nearly written in my head about my hero, Col. John Glenn and his honorable life and for-the-ages love story with his beloved wife Annie, and how, although I mourned in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the story evaporated in the holiday rush.

I also wanted to write about a dear yellow house that is for sale in the neighborhood I grew up in and how my reveries turned rapturously fantastical one morning as I drove to work and imagined myself buying the place, decorating it and actually living there even though it would mean I would have to move out of state and leave my family and job.  I would have also told you that as long as I could remember, the house was yellow and that if I were to ever be its mistress, it always would be...

And I wanted to tell you about all the new books I am reading these days especially the one about a woman who saved a century of family clothing including everyday dresses from the 1940's and enchanting ballgowns with the dance cards to match.  And speaking of books, I almost wrote about the oldie-but-goody cookbook my grandmother gave me long ago and how I have been revisiting it for comfort food cooked from scratch and how I have come to realize that sometimes the old ways of cooking are the best ways.

And I thought you might like to read that my very favorite junk shop was closing and I had special permission to shop the "attic" and all the treasures I found there for practically nothing including a beautiful etched crystal pitcher and how I brought it home and filled it with white lilies that cheered me with the scent of hothouse days to come.  And I would have written that I also found a brand new Ralph Lauren white ruffled flat sheet for pennies which now graces my bed (seen in the picture above).

I also meant to write about music and how I re-discovered the lilting and ardent voice of Susan Boyle and how I now believe she is the archetypal woman's songstress whose personal compositions will positively possess you on dark January nights.  I wanted to say something too, about my new bottle of the indie Chanel fragrance, Chanel 1932, and how it compares to my other winter favorite, Chanel No. 5 (it has a lovely jasmine "bite").

Yes...these are the things I wanted to write for you in January.  I am so sorry.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bird On A Wire



Ever since I visited the Warner House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few years back and saw the evocative portrait of Polly Warner, I've been intrigued with 18th and 19th century paintings of women with birds.  And there are plenty of them.

In art, women are popular subjects especially attractive women in elaborate dress.  But I was unprepared for the number of paintings of women holding birds - even exotic and dangerous birds.  I wish I could say I discovered a reason for this but there seems to be very little said about the phenomena except to mention the deep connection between women and nature.  I never pretend to be an art expert but I believe I could imagine a few reasons why - one being that birds represent the freedom that often eludes women in life.  I would also say that it is in women's nature to protect small things, especially things that are vulnerable and frail.

The portrait of Polly directly below, appears both wistful and melancholy to me.  There is but a half-smile on her lips and the landscape behind her seems changeable and moody.  Yet a delicate thing rests upon her graceful upraised hand - unencumbered except for a long loose thread - where it seems quite content to be in her presence.







The Color Inside My World


Yesterday the color was snow.  White and pristine, missing at Christmas but present for my daughter's birthday on Epiphany, another holy day.  We took the train to Boston along with my sister in icy cold air and soft flurries to celebrate my daughter.

And oh the things we did ...a companionable lunch high above the city streets, a little bit of shopping, people-watching and then home to join husbands and family for cake and iced cream.  A full day of bumping shoulders with my daughter and sister and taking inspiration and energy from the city.

This is an annual trek which signals my personal end of the holidays - once January 6th passes, I finally store the ribbons and paper that clutter my wrapping corner.  We do indulge in some of the sales - I found an irresistible ballet-pink wool muffler, two small lacy gold picture frames, and a box of snowy candles that will look lovely in the crystal candlesticks on my mantel which have been vacant since the red ones burned to stubs on Christmas Eve.

My joy was watching my daughter's blond head hovered above the crowd in her attractive chalk-white down coat -  she was the picture of winter.  And as all of her birthdays do, they make me feel a little nostalgic with a stark reminder that time is passing really fast now.  Last year marked the "crossover" birthday which means she has been a presence in my life longer than the years I lived before her.  That says something, doesn't it?

Daughters are a fine thing - sons too, I am assured by my sister.  But may I just say that my daughter's chroma is from vivid kaleidoscope hues that transform in ever-changing sequences?  Her chic look yesterday may have mirrored the day's fairy-scape, but she is the color in my world.


~


I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she's just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I've done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I'm starting to see
Maybe It's got nothing to do with me
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too ~ Daughters, John Mayer




Photo Credit: Volk Clarke Galleries