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.