Friday, January 27, 2012

Hat Lady

I am a hat lady. I wear them. A lot. I love straw hats in the summer but I especially love winter hats. I would not have been caught dead in a hat nearly all my life. Then I went to a funeral and met a woman in a simple lilac jacket, a nice pair of black trousers, stilettos, and a straw hat. She looked like a little china doll and she was of a certain age too. I was enchanted by the hat and asked her about it. "It was my mother's from the 1930's", she said. She looked great. With a fussier outfit, she would have morphed from a chic woman in a hat to a blowsy hippie-type. The key is keeping the clothes simple - the streamlined jacket, the silk camisole underneath, and the shiny black stilettos allowed for the small straw hat with the slightest bit of netting and a silk flower. I was sold on hats at that funeral.
I began buying any hat that reminded me of hers. But when summer was over and winter came, I looked for warm stylish hats. In Newport, I found a terrific hat shop and there, I learned about felted fur hats, which are the ultimate in a structured winter hat. The hats are usually rabbit fur which are felted and blocked on wooden molds. It takes quite a long time to felt and shape a fur hat. The shop had hundreds of them, all in lively colors like teal, magenta, and purple. By the time the shop closed five years after I first found it, I had amassed a cranberry cloche with a thick self tie around the brim, a black bowler with a thin grossgrain ribbon, and a warm chocolate brown with a silk flower.
I try to wear a hat on the bitter cold days we have here in New England. This year I'm wearing a lot of knit hats with matching scarves and I cannot believe the warmth they afford me. Now I feel cold and exposed without one of my hats on. To keep it chic, I remember the simplicity of the woman at the funeral - too many colors, patterns, and fabric and a woman risks being thought of as a pagan or cat person (nothing wrong with either but that's not me).
Meg Ryan says in "You've Got Mail" that she saw a butterfly get off the subway where she imagined it was "going to Bloomingdale's to buy a hat which will be a mistake as all hats are". Well, I don't believe that...not all hats are mistakes and I'm sure that butterfly is wearing a chic fedora right now. Instead, I offer you this sweet and romantic hat quote that suits better:
" A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over, and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat." (Martha Sliter)
........Dear Readers, my blog seems to get a lot of traffic but few comments. Is anyone enjoying my corner or are you all just flying by?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Time and Place

I put my homecity in the rearview mirror right after college and until recently, I never looked back. It wasn't a town but a mini-city and one with a identity crisis, small town in feel but metropolitan enough to be classified as a city. I discovered the reason it seemed like Mayberry when I went back recently. My tour consisted of the street where I grew up and a few other parallel and perpendicular ones that must look like tossed pickup sticks from the air. All life took place in these congested and crossed streets and alleys.

An artist friend once told me that there are always people who create art and bliss for others and there are always those who enjoy the art and bliss others create. And so it was in our little city, where each year the Chamber of Commerce made Santa Claus drive down Main St. in a fire truck the week before Christmas and the ancient Miss Elderkin held free ballroom dance lessons for children every winter on Friday nights at the Congregational Church. I marvel at the sentimental memories I've read on my homecity’s Facebook page since my visit home.

Many from the group mention the quirky old water tank on stilts that sits high above the city like a huge alien from another world. We talk about Miss Elderkin and her piano player, the agony of waiting to be asked to dance or the agony of asking only to be turned down. The discussions are about whose parent worked at which shoe factory, what happened to so and so, and when did Starbucks go in near where the A&P use to be. It's banal and boring and I love it.

Living within a stone's throw of the sea now, I don't think I could ever go back to being landlocked.  I use to pity my homecity, although only an hour from salt water, and cannot now imagine being deprived of the ocean every day.  But I've learned it has a place in my heart because of all the dear things it did for me when I lived there. The fact that people looked out for each other, that there was no shortage of adults to tell me what to do, the natural beauty that was kept unspoiled for our pleasure. This meant skating ponds in winter, hills for sledding and for rolling down with pocketful’s of milk pods waiting to be opened and spread like germs on crisp fall days. We talk about the shoe outlets in the factories where the smell of leather enticed us as we put our feet in practically free shoes. One classmate on Facebook lamented how much he missed the crabapples which fell to the ground in nearly every yard and park, a reminder of the city's pastoral past when it was mostly a place of orchards and farms.

I am amazed at how tender my feelings are for this seemingly ordinary little place, how I wish I could go back for just one day and walk "upstreet" to the bookstore and the Rexall. I want to get dust on my shoes at the grammar school where we trudged outside every Flag Day to sing God Bless America as loud and proud as we could. I want to hear Miss Reilly from her front porch tell me not to walk near her boxwood hedges on my way to school. I want to open one of those milk pods and watch the fluffy white stars sail down an untouched hill until they can't be seen anymore.

For now, I will be at rapt attention online when my old neighbors and friends start waxing poetic about the long departed dentist who gave out colorful animal shaped erasers, the kind yet firm school principal we adored, and especially, when the subject turns to an outlandish looking water tank on skeletal legs that I know will stand in silent greeting whenever I can make it home again. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Winter Becomes Us

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible
summer. ~Albert Camus
I have no quarrel with winter and I love that January's promise is to begin anew. Winter is a time of thoughtful reflection to prepare for the renewal that occurs in spring. Thus, I have created the following list which may help in appreciating the beauty of the season.
  • Spend some time outdoors even if its just a bracing moment or two before bed on the front porch, taking in the special star show that can only be seen on clear crisp winter nights.
  • Stay cozy with warm woolen throws at the ready: on the bed to pull up for an extra layer at night, and near your favorite reading nook for quick naps. Having throws can help still a housebound household as everyone settles in under their favorite blanket.
  • Drink tea and make it a winter ritual by laying out a lovely tray with fruit and one perfect cookie each afternoon.
  • Practice at-home yoga with a DVD. The gentle stretches and poses will help keep you warm and will aid in weight control through the cold winter months.
  • Make healthy suppers after work by planning ahead with shopping menus. Eating well is so much easier when one knows ahead what is to be made and that the ingredients are on hand. Use a crockpot so that meals cook during the day and are ready at homecoming. Cook healthful soups and take leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Set the table at night using the beauty of candles for illumination and atmosphere. Have your homecooked meals at the dinner table and make it a daily pleasure and ritual to lay out your china and glassware.
  • Have a "caring hour" each evening before bed. Indulge yourself with warming baths and luxurious body creams. Spray a little scent on your pillows. Try a new eye or throat cream.
  • Make an effort to wear soft and warm nightclothes, matching pajamas sets, and pretty woolen socks. Have a favorite robe to slip into as you relax before a fire, quietly making your list of weekly menus. If you do not have a favorite robe, wear a soft pretty cardigan over your pajamas. Winter is not a time to give up on beauty.
  • Have an attractive pair of foul weather boots that are also waterproof and cozy. Having the right "equipment" for dealing with challenging weather can make a big difference in how we perceive the season. Keep your snow brushes and scrapers in the same place for quick access on icy mornings too.
  • Wear hats. It's been said that most body heat is lost from the top of the head and not being afraid to wear hats will make for a much more comfortable winter. Keep hat hair at bay with some hair care items in your "candybox" at work.
  • In winter's depth, let your wardrobe reflect the outdoor landscape by wearing icy pastels in merino wools and cashmeres. Garnish your sweaters with favorite silver jewelry or the incandescense of pearls. Put away your browns and moss greens and opt for illuminating blues, greys, creams, and lilacs.
  • Cherish the nights when the weather is too stormy to go out. Watch a parade of films that feature lovely feminine fashion and style such as Love in a Cold Climate, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Being Julia, Tea with Musssolini. Rent series of movies from the library that you've missed out on because of warm weather activies.
  • Drink lots of water. I dry out much quicker in the winter and having a glass of water with lime or lemon nearby replenishes and restores me. I also keep bottles of mineral water in the ice box and pour myself a glass to sip while I am making dinner after work.
  • Indulge in books. Winter is a perfect time to borrow those large decorating books from the library. Pour over them on Saturday afternoons looking for inspiration and ideas for spring projects.
  • Believe in the power of hibernation to reflect on what's really important in your life. These quiet frozen days will lead to your spring ressurection when the earth again wakes and blossoms. So, too, can you, if you have laid the groundwork through these thoughtful, quiet winter months and used them not only to plan but also to indulge and pamper yourself with thoughtful care, healthy homecooking, and a contemplative lifestyle. When it is crystalline without, yet serene within, you will see that winter becomes you!

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