Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year's Eve Lesson (with pink suede and a baked potato)

The Christmas I was ten, my mother gave my sister and I our first handbags.  They were cotton candy pink suede clutches that folded in half.  All handbags given in those days contained a coin and inside these were new shiny dimes.  The theory is that if money is placed in the purse it will bring prosperity to the recipient and as it was, we did receive a windfall by way of a happy life-long memory and I, a lesson.

That was also the year that my grandmother, the arbiter of all things ladylike, decided that it was about time my sister and I had a grown-up evening out on the town with she and my grandfather as hosts.  The day of New Year's Eve we were driven to Nana and Puppy's marvelous city apartment where another surprise awaited us.  Nana had made us navy wool coats with delightful pink satin linings to match our new purses!  At the appointed hour, my grandfather was instructed to pull the car around which meant he was to take it out of the small wooden garage that was part of their lease, park it at the curb and return to gather us out into the icy crystalline night and the warmed car. 

People who live just outside the city proper of Boston, refer to a trip to Boston as "going in town" and so our little club headed in town, to the Parker House Restaurant, a place my grandmother thought worthy of our introduction to sophisticated city dining.  The Parker House is known for it's delicious small puffy Parker House Rolls and we were so excited to experience them in the very restaurant where they were created. 

The tables were laid with snowy cloths, the water glasses were sturdy rustic goblets.  The rolls were brought to the table at last and they were far better than the packaged variety we bought from the market at home.  I recall the lovely little pats of butter shaped like wee maple leaves and the heavy silverplate cutlery in the style of Paul Revere.  Everything was just so, including our new pink purses which my grandmother had advised us to tuck beside our Captain's chairs on the floor.  We felt so grown-up and it all was delightful.  That is until, Nana took a nibble of my baked potato.  "Mac, it's cold!" she wailed to my grandfather.  I also knew the potato was a bit cold but I didn't want to spoil the night knowing how intent Nana was to make everything perfect.  She and my grandfather rarely dined out because Nana had a long-standing prejudice against the quality of restaurant food.  Suddenly, she turned to me and I knew what she was thinking:  "Why didn't you say something?"  My eyes implored her not to tell our waiter.  At ten, I was shy and awkward and didn't like to draw attention to myself if I could help it.  Besides, I had put plenty of butter and salt on that potato and I was anxious to devour it.  But alas, the waiter was summoned and arrived at our table to whisk the potato away.  A new one was brought, this time wrapped in foil and steaming.  I opened it and gingerly slit it to apply one of the lovely maple leaf butter pats.  All eyes watched carefully as I salted it and dipped my fork into it and eased it up to my mouth.  I could barely manage the bite when my tongue burned so painfully that I had to grasp for my goblet of water and pour a large gulp of it into my mouth to ease the fire.  But as I put the goblet back down - my eyes watering, the glass stem hit my plate and then toppled all the remaining water onto my lap and the pink suede bag beside my chair. All was silenced for a moment until the waiter was alerted yet again and returned to mop up our table.  I wanted to melt into the floor or run from the restaurant into the cold dark night.  My grandfather picked up my purse and began to wipe it with his napkin while my grandmother fussed about me with hers. 

I don't recall the rest of the meal which is just as well.  I do remember getting into bed that night under the eaves of my grandmother's spare bedroom.  When Nana came to tuck us in, she had my pink suede bag with her and it looked new again thanks to my grandfather's wire shoe brush which she employed at the kitchen table as we were changing into our nightgowns.  As always, our bed was firm and warm, our pillows soft and comforting.  Nana laid the purse on the nightstand and drew the old rocker close to the bed.  She sat down and asked us if we enjoyed our night on the town.  I mutely nodded and then Nana reached out and gently untangled my long braid.  "You know dear, you shouldn't eat cold food", she said, "you'll get a stomach ache".  I took what she said to mean that I should try to be less shy and speak up more.  Even then, I believed that is what she wanted most for me.  To be able to ask for what I need and not be so timid all the time. 

It took me many decades to learn to speak up for myself and truth be told, I still struggle with it.  I simply don't like hurting peoples' feelings.  It took a few more years to feel comfortable dining in fancy places but now it is a true pleasure of my very grown-up life.  Recently, I sent back a dish that tasted funny.  I didn't hesitate at all and nary a goblet was overturned.  Perhaps a seed WAS planted on that long-ago New Year's Eve when, on an illuminated night, I learned a small lesson.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Woman's Christmas

Victoria Magazine's A Woman's Christmas is a lovely book that feeds the feminine soul at Christmas.  With the annual hustle and bustle, noise and confusion, A Woman’s Christmas is an oasis in a sea of tinsel.  When the world is too much with me, I retire to my chair with this simple book of glad tidings.  Victoria knew how to soothe the Madison Avenue-ravaged womanly soul.
And isn’t it true that Christmas is a feminine holiday?  After all it is the women who plan, purchase, cook, and orchestrate the Christmas we all enjoy – even those otherworldly childhood ones that now live just beyond our waking dreams.  Is Christmas a lot of work for women?  Yes!  But it is worth it.
My little book reminds me why I create Christmas for my loved ones and friends.  It is the holiest of days and the only one the world really stops for and I want to help make it singular and special.  I don’t believe in spending a lot of money but I do believe in having a lot of spirit.  Christmas holds time together like an ever-expanding pearl necklace;  each year we add another creamy ochre to attach to the last. 
One Christmas Eve, I took a private moment and glanced out onto the snow covered backyard.  I saw my loved ones reflected from behind me crowded together like magpies on my too small couch.  As I leaned against the cool glass, the scene changed to my childhood home where both my grandmothers were exchanging presents, dresses for each other.  Back further still, I saw my little girl mother climb lovingly onto her Nonie’s aproned knee to unwrap a new dolly.  If I had stayed a bit longer, I would have seen Nonie’s mother, and her mother, and hers…It is women who make Christmas and it always will be. 
Merry Christmas!  And thank you so much for visiting this year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Emily's Party

My library hosts a birthday party for Emily Dickinson each year on her December 10th birthday.  These are quaint little affairs which include that corrupt pleasure, white frosted sheet cake, along with heaps of hot tea.  We sit with floral china tea cups and our snowy slices at a large rectangular table and recite our favorite poems and chat a bit about what we imagine or know about Emily and her quiet life.  We even sing Happy Birthday at the close!

Ordinarily, our party attracts just a few regulars and our librarian, who is an infectious aficionado of all things Emily.  I’m a rather minor participant because I don’t like to speak in public and I only have a few favorite “Emily’s”.  I find some of Dickinson sobering in her focus on mourning and death.  But I like her buoyant lines that have lingered in my head since first discovering her in high school English Lit.  One of my favorite stanzas graces this blog:  “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door”.  Some of her poetry is filled with clever lightheartedness and it’s those I love. 
I think Dickinson was a genius.  Her twist of words bewitches and bewilders and often her meaning isn’t truly realized until several seconds after the poem is read.  It is then, when the words have a chance to hang in the air like an echo, that the implication washes over one.  And so it was at Emily's party when surprisingly, a crowd of 21 souls showed up in the bitter cold, including 8 men!

I appraised that I was the youngest by at least 10 years.  Some were retired English teachers, a retired physician and his wife, a retired accountant, among others.  The librarian thought it best to bring a microphone which we passed around at least 5 times.  Nearly everyone read outloud, including me.  Remarkably, the men were the most passionate and the grandfather beside me added charming inflections in his voice as he read his selections from a well-worn anthology.  His voice resonated inside my sleepy head like that of a favorite bedtime storyteller.   Another participant, a woman, declared her little poetry book “one of my most prized possessions”.  It was a slim abridged Hallmark book of Emily that she received from an uncle for her high school graduation in 1964.  When I inspected her treasure afterward, I saw that Hallmark used beautiful evocative watercolors depicting the Belle of Amherst with a delightful and intriguing 1960’s slant. 

One of my favorite recitations was the poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”  The reader prefaced it with a treatise on the propagation of reality shows in our culture.  The last line, “To tell your name the livelong day to (only) an admiring bog!” had us all chuckling.

Naturally, I wondered why so many people would turn up on cold dark winter night for such a humble library program. I decided it could not possibly be just because of the poet, however  wonderful. I believe it is because whatever is beautiful and true, knows no season or century.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Carrying Her Heart Away

During the war, it was considered un-Patriotic for a Homefront Honey not to care about her appearance.  Even Rosie the Riveter wore lipstick while she riveted.  Many of the red lipsticks at the time were called Victory Red.  The philosophy was that the soldier enjoyed thinking about his pretty woman back home waiting for his return.  It kept his spirits up.

Even while a vicious war raged, the Homefront Christmas was still romantic because of the wishes and imaginings of separated lovers who communicated only through letters that were filled with hope and longing.  I once came across a soldier's letter telling his new bride to buy a White Shoulders perfume gift set for herself and sign a card with his name.  He had tucked a five dollar note in along with his missive and instructions.

Gift sets have always been popular Christmas presents and perfume houses and cosmetic companies still create them today.  Growing up, our local Rexall carried many of them:  Chanel #5, Jean Naté, Coty.  They were always outfitted in foil boxes with clear plastic covers so that one might see the delightful offerings inside which nestled luxuriously on pastel felt or silky satin.  A bottle of scent and matching bath powder or scent with a matching fragrant soap were the gift sets I remember but today they may include matching shower gels, purse sized spritzers, or body lotions.

One of the loveliest sets I remember was Coty's Muguet de Bois with the beautiful watery fragrance of lily of the valley.  Packaged in pretty pink and green, it was the advertisement for the gift set that I loved so much.  Coty always illustrated Muguet de Bois with a lush illustration of a romantic couple and at Christmas, the pair were housed in a  snow capped gazebo holding hands.  The copy read, "Flowers for Christmas.  Wouldn't that be nice?"  Flowers in deep winter.  How very nice indeed.

Gift sets were not just for husbands and lovers to give;  they were also welcomed gifts from fathers to daughters.  My father gave me a box of Revlon's Moon Drops perfume with talcum powder and the moody scent carried away my heart during the second half of my senior year of high school.  My best friend's heart was stolen with a Charlie gift set that included a small deodorant.  And although they may be considered easy no-brainer gifts to give, they feel abundant to the receiver, especially if the perfume is a cherished signature one.

This Christmas, although still austere, seems to have some fresh bling in it.  And I love seeing all the  new shiny sets in the shops.  They can be found everywhere, even discount stores.  It's fun to check the aisles for sets of special nail colors, hand creams, and even collections of makeup brushes.  It's even more fun when the sets have touches of Christmas whimsy like frosty ribbons and bows or snowflakes and snowmen. 

I wonder if the young letter-writing soldier was able to carry his bride's heart away from such a great distance with a mere five dollar perfume gift set.  I like to imagine it was as welcome as fresh cut  flowers. In winter.


Friday, November 29, 2013

The Pillow Book

I'm known for frequent obsessions that often lead me down rabbit holes for weeks and weeks at a time.  Whereupon, I must then find books, photos, links, papers, etc. to feed a compulsive need to know and understand something.  In recent years, I've been drawn to Charles Lindbergh, Martha Washington, homefront films, little girls' 18th century samplers, among just a few.  Lately, my thoughts fly to Sei Shōnagon, authoress of The Pillow Book and the astonishing things she wrote during her 11th century life in Japan.

Sei Shōnagon can easily be described as a Rosalind Russell type, tell it like it is, tough little cookie.  You would want Shōnagon on your side.  Provided you were not doing one of the annoying things she describes in her book, such as sneezing.

The Pillow Book is a collection of lists, observations, complaints, and joys of a young aristocratic woman of the emperor's court.  The lists are simple, such as, "Things that make me nervous", "Things worth seeing", and "Things I particularly like".  Other prose is full of moonlit verandas and wistful lovers.  As I read through the book, I am never sure what Shōnagon will say next.  At once she expounds on the beauty of  a day that occurs after a "fierce wind" and her love of a "scented robe", and then disagreeably describes letters that arrive without gifts, or people who must cough. More often than not, however, she is distracted by lovely inconsequences, and I find her writing so poetic that I want to have my tea with her, listen with empathy to her pathos, perhaps nod in agreement, hush her...delight in her. 
Even though Sei Shōnagon is removed from me by many centuries, I can relate to her.  She is so clear and honest and yet so touching and endearing.

The Pillow Book has been translated and can be found easily online.  Below are some of my favorite musings.  See if they don't beguile you too:

Things that make one's heart beat faster:

Sparrows feeding their young
To pass a place where babies are playing
When one is suddenly startled by the sound of rain-drops against the shutters
To find a piece of deep violet material that has been pressed between the pages of a notebook and forgotten

On boredom:

It is a rainy day and one is feeling bored.  To pass the time, one starts looking through some old papers.  And then one comes across the letters of a man one use to love...

Things most elegant:

Duck eggs
Wisteria blossoms
A pretty child eating strawberries
A rosary of rock crystal
(Credit:  Catrin Welz-Stein)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jewel Box

My first jewelry cache was a cream box with handpainted flowers that opened up to a pirouetting ballerina in front of a tiny oval mirror.  I didn't have much jewelry - just some bits and bobs - a small locket from my grandparents, a traditional gift for a young miss.  They also gave me a turquoise ring and a silver charm bracelet which they added to every birthday.  I still have that bracelet and it is heavy with charms:  a mailbox which opens to reveal two hearts, a Christmas tree, a small caged box with the words "Mad Money" etched on it.  That charm came with a dollar bill crushed inside but a needy brother swiped it and the cage was never filled again.

Also in that jewelry box were gum wrapper chains, buttons, bobby pins, a lone earring or two, and an unusual rectangular black mosaic brooch with a red rose.  That pin was given to me by my mother who had no use for it and I often wore it in my ponytail when I was playing dress up.  A few times in the 80's, I used it as a bar pin on the collar of a tailored shirt and it started a few conversations.  But then it was relegated to the depths of whatever jewelry box I was using at the time...something always there, but unworn and unheeded.

A while ago, I found a large wooden jewelry box with a garish multi-colored crystal butterfly with waving antennae glued to the top.  I didn't like the butterfly but I liked the roominess of the box and the helpful dividers it came with.  Since I had acquired a cacophony of tangled earrings over the years, I decided I would tolerate the butterfly to have the box's space and it worked out well at first.  The dividers kept earring mates safely together and the "first floor" was large enough for bracelets, necklaces, and pins. Then last summer, I inherited a small cherry jewelry box that was diminutive and just too darling. There was certainly less room, but its pretty petite ways charmed me into thinking I could downsize.  Plus the woman who had owned the box was a unique and kind peripheral relative who was moving to assisted living and whom I admired and liked very much for her love of life.  I associated the box with her and her graceful ways so I found myself purging, moving things around, and generally tidying up.  I bought a small dress form to hold my necklaces so I could fill the little box with only my favorite and smallest precious pieces.  I tried to be organized, neatly putting away my baubles every night.  But after a few weeks, I noticed I couldn't close the lid of the gifted box unless my bracelets were stacked a certain way and one of the narrow drawers always seemed to have a dangling whatsit when I tried to shut it.  I had to buy a small crystal bowl to hold my rings outside the box.  I never had this problem with the large but rather vulgar butterfly box and in frustration one day, I pulled it back down from the shelf, put away the ring holder and dress form, and filled the box to the brim again.  The lid shut tightly. The butterfly smirked.

Then my relative died. And in the month or two since, I often found myself thinking of her kindness and infectious joie de vivre.  Like her jewelry box, she too was dainty and elegant - not showy but pretty with an eye for lovely things. It was true, I thought, the little box was better made than the gargantuan butterfly box.  And its cherrywood had a rich patina that was unmatched by anything else in the house.  I also missed its curved style and unusual drawers with nooks and crannies.  Fortunately, I had not made it to Goodwill yet and the donation bag was still in the trunk of the car.  I raced outside like nobody's business and rifled through that bag until my hand touched upon the smooth rounded box.  I carried it back into the house like a crown on a pillow, placed it on the bed next to my scattered jewelry and began the task of organizing again.  But when I pulled open the bottom drawer to fill it, my eye caught something tucked in the corner.  It was the rectangular black mosaic brooch with the rose pattern; left behind, almost donated and lost to me forever.  Suddenly, I realized that some things are just meant to be lovely however impractical.  They are perfect nonetheless.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fairy Tales

One Christmas, I received a sweet little teddy bear.  Baby blue and soft, it had a wee golden turnkey on its back and when wound, elicited a charming tinkling version of Lara's Theme from the film Dr. Zhivago.  That bear sat with me while I wiled away that snowy and housebound Christmas vacation, devouring my other favorite present, The Golden Book of Fairy Tales.

First published in 1958, this oversized book of 28 fairy tales had the most mesmerizing illustrations unlike any others in my book collection.  All were astonishingly intricate, stirring, and sometimes bewildering - perfect fodder for my imagination.  When Bear and I weren't reading, I was dressing up with my mother's strands of costume pearls and beads, or making crowns from tin foil and adorning them with any bauble I could find in my small jewelry box.  But the images could also be described as haunting, some more than others.  The small boned delicate faces had large limpid eyes that were often sad or ghostly.  You won't get any arguments from me that some fairy tales are frightening, even gruesome.  Still, I was enchanted with my book, the stories of romance and danger, the detailed costumes encrusted with gems and jewels.

The book eventually disappeared with other childhood ephemera, including my little blue bear, but I began to think about it again when my daughter was born.  Before the internet, books had to be searched for by mail, phone, or browsing and I was no stranger to my local used bookseller, who called one day to say he had my fairy tale book in his shop. It wasn't quite as large as I recalled but it was just as delightfully intricate and vivid.  I waited until my daughter was old enough and I enjoyed it all over again with her in my lap instead of my bear. 

I discovered recently that the book was illustrated by a French/Greek woman named Adrienne Ségur.  Not much is known about her but I was surprised to see that she strikingly resembled the breathtaking faces in her illustrations.  Now, I doubt I will ever find a sweet little baby blue bear that plays Lara's Theme, but I'm happy to have my spellbinding fairy tales on the shelf in the hall.

(Do let me know if you enjoyed this this book too!)


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Shop Girls

Not too long ago, I admitted to myself that I dislike shopping very much these days.  Being in a mall imparts the same blue feeling that use to wash over me while visiting our town's annual carnival.  All the bright lights and noise jarred my quiet sensibility and I found I could not stop reflecting on the lives of the carnival workers who seemed to lead sad transient lives.  That, on top of the rapid exchange of cheap goods and money, left me waiting alone in the parking lot for Dad to come collect me while my friends were still screaming from the Tilt-A-Whirl.  It isn't really surprising to me that being in a mall today would feel the same. The grasping carnival gamers remind me a lot of some mall sales associates and now I shop online mostly.  It wasn't always this way and as I have been lost in a nostalgic aura since I wrote about winter coat shopping...I give you this:

What 22 year old doesn't want to look her best?  I was entranced with finding beautiful creams and unguents to protect my skin from future wrinkles.  I loved the ads in my Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines showing Calvin Klein's China red cosmetic cases - so chic and unusual.  I took Clinique's Dramatically Different Moisturizer dramatically seriously in its frosted clinical bottle.  I wanted Princess Marcella Borghese's rich brown swirling lipstick cases filled with 1978's lush rosewood shades.  I vividly recall my sister and I going to the mall for Christian Dior lip gloss in Raisin. More than anything, I wanted White Linen, the fresh new Estee Lauder fragrance and I really wanted the pretty white dress Estee's model Karen Graham wore on the billboard outside my apartment.  It was a heady time to be female, and educating and supplying me with all these lovely things were a group of well-trained salesgirls at the department store near where I worked.

These shopgirls always looked lovely in fetching blouses and full wool skirts, some with fitted jackets worn with thin belts on the outside.  Hair, shiny and bouncy...nails, glossy in colors to match their lipsticks - they weren't afraid to look pretty.  And they generously handed out small samples (one never had to ask - even if not making a purchase that day) and there were plenty of pamphlets and literature that was slipped into my bag so that I could "read up" and perhaps be enticed to make another purchase later. Their aim was to make sure I was happy and whether they knew it or not, they inspired me to smell nice and look as pretty as they did.  It was never a grasping hard sell but more like a gentle persuasion, girlfriend to girlfriend.  Afterall, they were working girls too and they knew what someone my age wanted and what would be an aid to all young women's birthright of beauty.  There was no mention of who would ring up the sale to receive "credit".  They constantly crossed party lines and cared not a whit. 

In those days, I spent way more than I would ever dare admit.  Now, I know exactly what works for me and I do a pretty good job of making online selections.  But recently, I did visit a trendy makeup counter to look at a product for my style column.  The throbbing music wreaked havoc with my peace of mind and the salesgirl was miffed she had to leave another counter to look for the brow pencil I inquired about.  Her garish outfit bordered on vulgar and I wouldn't have dreamed of asking what lipstick she was wearing for it was deeper than the purplest purple. I sure do miss the shopgirls who conspiratorially leaned in and told me which line had what I wanted and then generously led me there. And how their gentle ways, helpfulness, and thoroughly feminine style inspired me. 

(Credit: The Shop Girl, James Tissot)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Coats and Nostalgia

Coat shopping isn't what it use to be.  Coats were once so plentiful, affordable, and beautifully made.  Even the most expensive coats today are only blends.  Where is the soft melton wool with the velvet hand?  Or the cat's tongue-scratchy tweed with just enough flecks of color to know what hue your hat will be?  Don't even get me started on linings.  Where are the satins that make getting into your coat as smooth as skating?  Didn't we actually buy some coats just because of their linings?  The chocolate brown balmacaan with the coral satin lining I bought with my first real paycheck use to look so pretty draped on the hall bench, coral showing and waiting to be put into service for me. I wore it over my chiffon blouses with bows and tailored wool skirts to my working girl job in the city.  At night, I tossed it over my soft Qiana disco dresses.  A glimpse of that lining and I could tell the coatcheck girl which of the 150 coats she was in charge of was mine, all mine.  And what about warmth?  For some reason the wool coats of yore seemed cozier.

Coat shopping was an event at our house.  Mom took us to Jordan Marsh or Filenes on fall Saturdays that always seemed to have newly crisp and clean air, a hint of what was to come.  We tried on eons of coats;  some plain, some fancy, some with large leather buttons or brass military ones.  If Mom got confused, there always seemed to be a nice attractive mature saleslady with glasses on a chain around her neck, pencil in her chignon and thick charge book nearby.  She helped our arms get in and out of all kinds of sleeves, buttoned us, and led us to the illuminated three way mirror.  We could get just one coat each so it had to have room to grow and be sturdy enough to last into the next year.  Salesladies understood that coat shopping was serious business too.

In first grade, Mom found our winter coats at a boutique in a quaint nearby village.  Fortunately, there were two as my sister and I always had to match. They were green tweed coats with plain rounded crew necks.  But that was ok because each had an attached scarf with fringe.  How much fun we had tossing those scarves over our shoulders.  The saleslady really enjoyed seeing how delighted Mom was to have found TWO identical coats in the same size with charming attached scarves.  They both cocked their heads, arms casually akimbo, and smiled as they watched my sister and I in the three-way posing and twirling, scarves flying. To extend Mom's pride (she still talks about those coats), my sister and I did them justice:  we wore the hats that my grandmother knit to go with them.

I've concluded that unless I want to spend over $1,000 or possible up to $2,000, I may not find my high quality, warm, detailed, lined 100% wool coat.  But ...there just has to be something, somewhere. Perhaps I WILL keep searching and peeking under hems for that great silky lining.  I'm not sure I'll find one with a whimsical attached scarf to toss though.  I would however, settle for a  helpful sales clerk.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Come October

October tugs at my heart more than any other month.  It calls to mind school days, plaid skirts, football games, sunshine and comfort foods.  Its atmospheric ways stir the soul and put extra meaning into everything.  Who can forget a cobalt blue sky, biting air, a cozy sweater...a first love that was, as October - fleeting and never meant to last?  Whispers of the past waft through every October like an oft-remembered childhood poem of hushed stanzas filled with dreams and memories.  Life is just more lived in October.

Now is the time make jams, savor the last of the garden blooms, or just read a book in the sweet sunshine.  Here is my October mood board to, well...get you in the mood.

October is made for honey (can't you hear the bees buzzing around that distant hive?).  Try a sweet honey soap or bath product.  Or pour a dollop of honey in a cup of decaffeinated tea after a long day at work.

Choose an amber scent that reminds you of the passing summer.  A warm fragrance with a woodsy base.  Email me for my personal recommendations.

Put away your cool silvers and choose a golden locket or cuff bracelet.  Capture summer sun on your wrist.

Retro Silhouette
Look for school girl tartans in mustards and lodens.  Match luggage toned shoes with handbags.

Sweater Days
Don that fisherman sweater or cashmere turtleneck.  Revel in the warmth on chilly nights.

Come October, create something lovely - a wreath or even a delicious meal.  Make amends, kiss someone, keep faith...recall a childhood poem from so long ago. 
(Fav fall films:  You've Got Mail, Practical Magic, Desk Set, Mona Lisa Smile, Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, and oh so many more!) 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Birthdays, Slippers, and Serendipity

Yesterday was my birthday and although I cannot say why here, I cried all day.  The reason for the tears doesn't exist any longer but 24 hours ago, I didn't think that would be possible.  Today was a far better day.

I never work on my birthday so, like every year, my expectations for the day are always high.  I did see my family and a friend but my sorrow over an event that never ended up occurring, crowded out the joys of the day.  I did, however, cheerlessly open my gifts, one of which was a new pair of plush and pretty bedroom slippers. At the end of the day, I cleared away the tangle of ribbons and wraps and thoughtlessly put my new slippers on the closet floor, shut the door on them, and went to bed.

Today had a dreary start but I collected my mother and we went to a small favorite restaurant for lunch.  First we had to stop at a beauty apothecary to pick up an item I am to review for an upcoming writing gig.  When I arrived at the shop, there was a beautiful and generously put together gift bag for me with my name on it.  Colored tissue paper peeked out and it was tied with streamers in frosty pastels.  Somehow, it cheered me.  My mother and I had chicken salad sandwiches at the lunch place and imagined or not, our lovely young Russian waitress seemed to be particularly attentive to us, making eye contact with me, fetching extra lemon slices for my iced tea, and hovering close by.  Mom and I enjoyed our simple repast very much.

We made a stop at the stationers for greeting cards and it was there that I was complimented unexpectedly about, of all things, my skin.  Explaining that I had just had a birthday and an extended crying jag to go with it, the proprietress gifted me a pink etching pen "as a belated birthday present".  She presented it with a kiss on my cheek.

Our last stop was the craft store.  The young woman that rang up the sale of my forest green ink pad asked me what it was to be used for.  I told her I collect books and stamp them with a heart shaped trellis with my name in the center.  She told me her mother collects books by a female author she could not recall the name of.  Uncharacteristically, I heard myself advising her to find out the author's name and learn those special things about her mother now.  The young woman's eyes misted over as she told me that her mother is very ill.  We chatted quietly for a few more moments.  Then, when I was backing the car out of our parking space, I heard a tap at my window.  It was the young woman, "My mother collects Gladys Tabor.  I just remembered!", she said brightly.  I told her that if her mother read and collected Gladys Tabor, then she must be a very gentle person.  I told her about a Gladys Tabor fan club online site I once happened upon and she hurriedly wrote her email address on a scrap of paper so that I could send her the link. My mother and I smiled at her happy face and the sweet brief connection.

I'm home now and I have since written to the young lady.  I have also peered a few times into the mirror and although I see a face that turned a year older yesterday and had been wet with a plethora of tears, I liked what I saw.  It was during one of these self examinations that I remembered the slippers and rushed to rifle through the closet floor until I found the slim cardboard box.  I sat on the edge of my bed, tired but at last becalmed, and slid my feet into the soft slippers.  I heard myself sigh about birthdays and expectations, lovely inconsequences  and serendipitous everyday gifts that don't necessarily come in cardboard boxes.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Laura Quinn, Working Girl Style


Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) is a fascinating style icon for the working girl.  Her controlled 1960's look mirrors her contained deameanor.  Always being overlooked for promotions over the Mad Men dressed males in her company, she retaliates by working harder and harder.

"Flawless" is a heist movie also starring Michael Caine.  It's not a caper or a fun romp though.  Laura Quinn, Oxford graduate, works at the London Diamond Company as a "manager".  But her business acumen outplays the men yet she silently watches as her ideas are acted upon and then promptly credited to her co-workers.  It's 1960's afterall, and working life is hard for brilliant women. 

Laura's dark grey and black tweed suits are fitted tightly to her body. She uses her accessories to soften the blow:  pearls, crystals, and yes, diamonds.  She is never not wearing her shiny black pumps and they clickety clack satisfactorily throughout the film.  Her long full coats contain her lithe body and show off her glossy flip hair style.  I loved her bright red fingernails and lipstick. 

Laura doesn't smile much - she is always the first one to the office and the last to leave.  We see many scenes of her coming and going carrying her fine black attaché case and her beautiful small framed handbags in snakeskin and shiny leathers.  My heart went out to her as she silently strategized her next move alone in her 1950's style apartment, quietly laying on an antique setee in her silk damask pajamas and cozy oversized brown mohair cardigan.  A tossed pashmina covering her feet.  Elegant quietude, even in brain-storming repose.

This is a stylistic movie that is beautifully filmed with shades of dove grey and pearl.  I loved Laura's hardworking stance, her fine mind.  Perhaps the diamonds are the third character in the film but they do not outshine the sparkling facets of the lonely, ladylike and beautifully feminine working girl, Laura Quinn.

Here is my pick for a modern day Laura Quinn working girl style icon:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

When the music stopped


My mother and father were high school sweethearts who married and had children young.  One benefit to having parents ten years younger than my friends' parents was that music always played at our house.  The large maple stereo cabinet was never closed, its mellow green light illuminating  the  bold numbers with the red needle pointed at the top forty station.  When the radio wasn’t on, my parents played albums that filled the bottom of the cabinet and overflowed to another one across the living room.  They loved show tunes from Camelot, Whistle Down the Wind and later, Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music.  They adored Motown and the Supremes "Stop in the Name of Love" played whenever they entertained friends on Saturday nights.  I remember when we all huddled in front of the small TV to watch The Beatles invade the Ed Sullivan Show, and a few days later, Dad came home with a 45 of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand".  In the mornings before school, my mother had the local AM radio station on and we heard easy listening singles such as "Moon River", "Strangers in the Night", and other 60’s tunes as we ate our cereal at the kitchen table. I knew Percy Faith, Herb Albert, and Henry Mancini.  It was the soundtrack of our family.

On an unforgettable Friday afternoon, a perfect crisp fall day, my second grade class was interrupted by Mrs. McCarthy, a teacher from across the hall.  I watched as Mrs. McCarthy motioned to my teacher, Mrs. Gadbeiso to come to the back of the classroom.  Behind a manila folder I saw Mrs. Gadbeiso's eyes fly wide open and then we were suddenly dismissed from school.  Mrs. Gadbeiso told us our president, John F. Kennedy, had been shot by a gunman and that we were to go home to be with our parents.  I don't know if we left in quiet orderliness or not but I do know my sister and I were accompanied by my older brother on the long walk home, a rare occurrence.  When we reached the top of our hill, we were met by my younger brother on his bicycle.  "Mommy's crying", he said solemnly. Together, we four, raced down the hill to our house where we found my mother sitting on the living room floor in front of the TV, dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex.  She told us the president died and hugged us to her.   I remember that weekend was long and sad and instead of music from the stereo, the TV played on and on. We stayed in the living room for three days, visited occasionally by neighbors, our uncle, my grandparents.  Mom kept coffee percolating on the stove all weekend and Dad ran out for sandwiches and pizza.  We waited and waited for a sight of Mrs. Kennedy and her children to appear on the TV and when they did, my mother dabbed her eyes again and again.

There was no school on Monday and we watched the funeral procession and were awed by the sheer majesty of the ceremonies.  We were mesmerized by the symbolic rider-less horse, the back facing boot, and the  haunting and plaintive trumpeting of Taps. More friends and neighbors stopped by to drink coffee and talk.  I am not sure if my parents were so affected because JFK was a native son to our Boston, or if they liked him because he was young.  I never asked them if they were Democrats or if they approved of the way JFK ran our country.  I think perhaps, they simply felt that something horrific and inconceivable had happened - that such a shocking act of violence could infiltrate the wondrous, innocent, and hopeful world we lived in at that time.

The next week was Thanksgiving and I'm sure we had turkey and fixings, linen napkins and candles.  My grandmother brought pies and the percolator tapped tapped all day again.  But even now, none of us who remain, have forgotten that rapturously beautiful and tragic Friday and the unutterably sad weekend that followed.  And in our house, it was the one time the music stopped. 

 (N.B.  There have been many JFK films but a brief scene in Mermaids (Cher, Winona Rider), captures 11/22/1963 perfectly.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pretty Found

A few years ago I stopped reading most of the glossy fashion magazines.  I became bored to tears with celebrity covers as well as endless mini photos from the runway.  Also, it seemed as though the editorial content began to resemble advertisements.  One holdout, until now, has been Vogue.  When I bought my first copy 30 years ago, many women said "The clothing in Vogue can't be worn by real women".  But I quickly learned to read Vogue the way it was meant to be read:  for the "essence" of clothes, for trend spotting, and for the articles written by fashion editors who usually stay on point and write about clothes and style.  Some Vogue issues still bore me although Grace Coddington's layouts are interesting if she doesn't go too over the top. 

But recently I've discovered something nice.  Something pretty.  The British Harper's Bazaar is marvelous.  First,  it's printed in a small version which makes it tote-able and easy to hold - its diminutive size makes it a cozy read.  Also, Bazaar has Justine Picardie as editor-in-chief.  She is Coco Chanel's most premiere biographer and that makes her understand that women want pretty more than they want shock.  Also, Harper's Bazaar has always had literary ambitions which at one time was considered indispensable to a cultivated readership.  This month, the magazine delivered with a long-forgotten short story by Virginia Woolf, "Lapin and Lapinova".  It held my interest one entire lunch hour as I sat eating on a stonewall in the sun.  No joy-less lunch eating for me.

I'm also a sucker for any reference to a romantic painting that appears with modern lipsticks and shoes.  Just thumbing through the Brit Bazaar is a mini art or history lesson.  At the very least, one can soak in a little beauty.  Their almost monthly spin-off of Diana Vreeland's "Why Don't You..." columns inspire me even more than the book of Vreeland's actual columns. 

The magazine is a bit more expensive than the American version, and celebs still grace the covers but I'm loving it because, simply put, Pretty makes me happy.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I had a recent memory of being at my grandmother’s on a cold winter day.  I was about 11.  She was in the kitchen doing her thing:  preparing vegetables, polishing a brass candlestick, making tea, whatever was required.  I wandered in and out of her realm doing my thing:  sewing, coloring, reading, knitting, whatever.  The snow was piled up outside from a storm the day before, music wafted from the hi-fi, my grandfather was in the city working and wouldn't be home for hours.  Still, we knew we belonged right there; we didn't need to step out anywhere.  There were no cheap goods to buy.  If Nana needed something new whether it was a simple dishtowel or a new dress, she would wait to buy the best she could or make one.  There was no frantic foraging for things.  We knew we had enough, and most of the time we used what was in the house.  If we needed to wrap a gift, we found the perfect thing, an old map and a scrap of ribbon from last year’s Easter basket, or a piece of colored tissue paper we found in a bottom drawer.  We were both neatly dressed even though we were indoors all day:  Nana in a pretty winter dress and an apron she made herself.  Me, in cute slacks and matching top my mother probably bought at Arthur's , the first local designer outlet where they had free popcorn for kids while moms sifted through Pierre Cardin dresses, Villager poorboys, or real leather shoes. We didn't have noisy tinny sounding video games and never watched TV until after dinner.  Most likely I was crafting something such as scrapbook made of felt pages Nana bought, using her discarded sparkly Christmas cards to fill the book.  The glue came from a small glass bottle with a rubber applicator you pushed down on, no fancy super stuff.  Her pinking shears created all the embellishment those cards needed.  No fancy stickers, do-dads, printed matting, etc.  For we were very discerning back then.   In whom we spent time with, what we wore, what we didn’t buy, and how we lived our days.

I use to be a personal assistant to a psychologist who worked at home, a very nice woman.  One day, she had a friend over.  I thought they would leave the house, go shopping or to see a movie and I would be alone to work.  Instead my boss and her friend picked flowers from the garden and together made a spring bouquet, baked bread and made soup from scratch (and shared), and then played the piano together.  They hung out.  Goofed off.  I was flummoxed:  why weren't they doing something?  But they were.  They were just being.

A friend recently told me about her joy in crocheting again.  She’s making an afghan for her second daughter who lives away.  It’s creamy white with a rose in each square, symbolic of a rose in winter for the snowy December day her girl was born.  It is amazing to my friend that the spell of her computer has been broken while she becomes reacquainted with her crochet hook.  For now, she's making a forever gift for a loved one instead of being “plugged in”.  It’s discernment with a loving purpose.
(credit: Jesse Wilcox Smith) 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Halcyon Days

In Greek mythology, Halcyon Days were the seven temperate winter days without storms that occurred when a lovely young wife transformed into a bird to reunite with her beloved husband who died.  Here in New England, we are in the midst of seven Halcyon days of lovely early fall weather.  I am sleeping “deep in the mattress” with cool breezes and deep dark nights to envelope me. 
In my reveries, I recounted some Halcyon Days from this summer which is now almost passed:  the party I hosted for my daughter’s engagement stands out, as does a long languid afternoon or two spent with my sister and mother.  We had two trips to The Ocean House for iced tea on the veranda, and last Friday night I had dinner with my best friends from high school.  Also, my first best friend and her mother visited for a day of laughter and memories.  These summer days didn’t pass in rows of seven but they are bright spots on summer’s tapestry.  There were some sad spots too:  another friend from high school who lives far away, lost her beautiful daughter Haley in a boating accident and my beau has been ill and hospitalized. 
No one can deny that the world is on the brink and so I dreamed about it a few weeks ago and had a calming vision.  Not one to put stock in such things, I did take with me the message “All will be well”.  And so in the spirit of that dispatch, I’ve come up with some Halcyon moments I experienced in the past and also some things I just like very much: 
  • My child running toward a gaggle of ducks and watching her glee as they take off in flight
  • The I-just-want-to-cry feeling when I see beautiful textiles, embroideries, or dresses
  • The happy feeling of nourishing someone with a delicious meal when I know they’ve had a rough time
  • Finding out I love honey and honey baths especially, which make me think of bees swarming a nest in the distance on a warm September afternoon
  • A once favorite perfume, rediscovered
  • Seeing a loved one’s face suddenly in an unexpected place, like my sister’s when she showed up at my office one day to take me to lunch
  • The lone female soprano whose voice sails high above the others during a choral performance
What are your Halcyon moments?  Have you got seven? 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Thoughtful Dresser

Are clothes an ally to human dignity?  So says Linda Grant in her thoughtful book, "The Thoughtful Dresser".  We all like to be covered up most of the time but do clothes really have that much importance?

They do once we realize that our clothes and accessories tell a story about ourselves.  Each tiny detail sends out a coded message about our identity.  Those who write about the language of clothes, like Linda Grant, believe that clothes are always talking to us, and we are always answering back.  What we like in dress is often visceral and we immediately know if it's "us". 

But is it shallow to care so much about clothes?  I don't think so.  I believe style and clothing have the power to soothe us and can cast us a lifeline on those days when we're uncertain of who we are.  A spin in our closet reminds us, and dressing well and embellishing on one of those blues days can help us along until we are on higher ground.  There's a reason why lipstick sales go way up when the economy takes a free fall.

This summer I became obsessed with wearing a scarf in my hair.  You know the look:  cheery patterned scarf holding hair back with long ties down one side.  So feminine, but alas, I'm wearing my hair shorter and it's so silky itself, no scarf would stay on.  After searching online, I discovered firm headbands wrapped in fabric with ends left loose and hanging long enough to get the look I was after.  I bought a Pucci facsimile.  Then I saw that Anthropology had a version in a petrol blue Liberty print.  In a  campy boutique by the shore, I found a white one with handpainted violets strewn all over it.  Suddenly, they were everywhere.  All different. All me. And they made me happy.

Dressing well or thoughtfully tells the world you won't be kept down.  That each morning, no matter what anybody says, you and only you know what your place will be.  To love clothes is to embrace life and its kaleidoscope of variety.  Just think of my headband scarves.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lit from Within

The change in light tells me fall is on its way. I plan on wringing summer dry and just bought a pretty new beach towel so I know I have a few more summer days left. But the light change reminds me that September is near and it is perfect for Tom Peeper-ing. It’s legal so don’t worry but when night comes sooner in September, I love going for one of those last ice cream cone drives or walks just after dusk when the opportunity is nigh to glimpse into people’s houses for images of peaceful domesticity.

A few years ago, I was in the hospital for an extended stay and the unhappy recipient of what I learned to call potassium bombs – IV’s containing the necessary mineral that stung like mad going into the needle in my wrist and nearly took my breath away. They were brought to me every evening for several nights and I dreaded them. To get me through, I dialed up my friend Katherine, who distracted me with stories from her household. Like what kind of seafood her fish broker husband brought home, how it was cooked, who ate it, and whether there was wine, flowers, or candles. I survived the Blitzkrieg with my friend’s verbal portrait of domesticity and descriptions of her delectable family fare.

It’s these little coup d'oeils of life that I try to catch in other people’s windows on my evening peregrinations and I’ve been fortunate to see some lovely ones: a hostess in a gold damask sheath lighting tapers for a dinner party, a man of the house rolling out blueprints at the dining room table in front of a brass lantern I imagined he moved from the sideboard, a young woman carrying a large folded antique quilt in her arms as she padded across shiny hardwood floors to drape it just-so on a bannister. Would she bring it up to bed because of the cooler September air? I’ve seen babies being rocked, two tots climbing onto their father’s lap before a flickering blue TV screen. Little sketches of homey domesticity which linger in my mind the way Mary Cassett's paintings do.

Some sitings involve the beauty of candlelight. How I long to find twisted candles described in my favorite Nancy Drew, The Sign of the Twisted Candles. I'm always searching for signs of them in the older houses I pass. They’re so elegant and old fashioned. Recently, a friend told me she sniffed a jar of Yankee Candles’ November Rain and declared it made for me. Is there anything more satisfying when the dishes are washed up and stored, than to light a jar candle with a delicious scent and place it on top of the stove in a clean darkened kitchen? Recently I bought three small pink candles in “Rose” and pulled out a small crystal holder that belonged to my grandmother. It will light AND scent my way to the powder room before bed.

At dusk one day last week, I was outdoors taking in sheets from the line, when I turned to go inside and was suddenly and pleasantly surprised to see my own home lit from within. The under-the-counter light threw a shadow of lace from my curtain across the bare kitchen wall, a little bloom softly floated down from the magenta orchid to the table where it rested forlornly beside the sugar bowl, and the electric penny candle I "light" each evening, illuminated the cat from behind and etched in silhouette her pointy ears and half-moon head onto the glass door, where she sat silently watching and blinking into to the falling darkness.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Taking Romance

I like Adam Levine. I really do.  He's handsome, kind and soulful,  and I like his songwriting and music.  Some of it anyway.  But I was shocked to find out that a work acquaintance in her 40's keeps a picture of Adam Levine on her refrigerator.  And surely you must know the one.  It has the hands of a woman strategically placed on Adam's naked body.  I cannot figure out why a woman of this age would want an image such as that in an open place.  I suspect it makes her feel cool.

I've never been big on being cool.  I am very uncool.  I find a man much more interesting in a button down shirt, rolled up a bit at the cuffs, with a tattoo-free body underneath.  I love a man in a dark suit or tuxedo.  I melt when a man is in a sweater.  A real sweater - wool, cabled, or plain Shetland.  Not a fan of men in sweatshirts especially at dinner.  See?  Decidedly uncool.

Last week my beau took me to a Rogers and Hammerstein review. There was the tuxedoed gent at the grand piano, and all the male singers wore dark suits and ties.  And they looked terrific!  Beards were trimmed, white cuffs were showing, and shoes were dark and polished.  I blush.  I loved it!  It didn't hurt that the music was stirring and lovely and every one a love song for the ages.  The first tenor up began with Some Enchanted Evening.  Have you really listened to the words?  It drips with romance...."when you hear her call you across a crowded room, then fly to her side and make her your own..."  Isn't that beautifully put?  I leaned over to my partner, "If this keeps up, I'll be in tears".  And to prove my point, another tenor took his place and sang Cinderella's "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" ....or are you beautiful because I love you?  The answer walked out onto the stage in elegant black chiffon palazzo pants and a delicate shimmering tunic.  Together, they left no doubt with their singing and simple lyrics that they are beautiful because they love one another.  More tears.  "We kiss in a Shadow" from the King and I....behold how my lover loves me, and "I have Dreamed".... that your arms are lovely....

That's right...plain old arms.  They're lovely.  Who needs naked?  Who needs excessive body ink? Who needs a vampy hand on a man's crotch?  I'll take romance instead.  And plenty of it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lemons into Limoncello

Many of you have written to me to ask about the book recommendation I gave one of my commenters.  I love comments and I know it is difficult to leave them and so I may move to another format soon.  I will let you know.  I love lemons too - my grandmother's hands always smelled of them.  She used them in her iced tea, for homemade lemonade, for cleaning, hair washing.  She was all about natural homecare and used lemons in a furniture polish she created too!  And when we were sick, she gave us honey with lemon juice to ease our scratchy throats.

I've mentioned that my daughter is leaving home.  She's going to be married sometime early next year.  I've raised her alone since she was a baby.  I was a single mother and was happily devoted to her.  I still looked after myself but motherhood was my greatest role.  Single parenting is so hard it's almost impossible.  It's lonely, grinding, exhausting.  But there are untold blessings too.  My daughter and I are close - she is a dear.  People will often tell me how wonderful she is.  I am especially proud when I hear this from her fellow teachers (she is a special education high school teacher and they adore her).  She is gifted.  And when  people tell me how wonderful she is, I have to admit - I had good raw material.  She was born good.  Except for age 4, when there were a few days I thought she might be possessed, she never gave me any trouble.  She is as golden as the hair on her head!  So you see, I will miss her terribly.  When she's home, she will be a guest. There will be dark nights I will return to this house and I am sure I will still see an image of a little girl at the window with a cat in her arms.  Sometimes, that girl (and the cat) would come right out to the car to greet me. I will miss not having her at the nightly dinner table and I know that will be especially hard.  Did I say already that I will miss her terribly???

Anyway, the book recommendation.  A few weeks ago, I happened upon "Lemons Into Limoncello" by Raeleen D'Agostina Mautner, PhD.  It is a quick delightful self-help book with CONCRETE suggestions and ideas for those suffering a loss based on Italian culture.  The author's beloved husband died suddenly, but the book is for any loss: job, health, home, and yes, even those of us who are or will be empty nesters (that will be me in spades).

Dr. Mautner has the education to back up her advice and I love her smooth soothing tone of voice.  I feel as though she is a friend.  She covers everything - what to cook for just yourself, who to call, what to do, etc., etc.  I will be turning to it over and over and over again.  I really like this author and I think she takes you by the hand with this book, and gently leads you on into your future.  Please let me know if you cannot find the book and I will help you. 

As for me, I am going to be strong and smile and wave as my one true love walks out the door as a resident of this house for the last time.  I will consecrate and bless her and the fine young man whom I am growing to love too.  He understands and I have no fear he will come between us.  I am so lucky.  I do have one short story to tell you though.

My obstetrician, a father of 8 children, was pleased one day in the hospital to discover that I was breastfeeding. "It will give you your first lesson in letting go", he said.  I wasn't quite sure what he meant at the time until a few months later when my daughter graduated to a bottle.  Suddenly, I felt inexplicably sad and then remembered what my doctor had said.  Each "graduation" in my daughter's life has always been bittersweet for me.  I loved every moment of being a mother to this girl.  And I will miss her terribly.  (Did I already say that???)

So, limoncello it is!  Who will join me?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lessons from Anne

Did you read Anne of Green Gables as a girl?  Or did you make her acquaintance viewing the wonderful Sullivan Productions film on PBS in 1985?  I've read all the "Anne" books which were given to me by my grandfather, a native of Anne's beloved Nova Scotia. 

Anne's greatest message is that she never gave up hope for a better life, for herself and for others that she cared about.  She learned at a very young age that life is not always easy and sometimes through no fault of our own, tragic unforeseen things can turn lives upside down and inside out.  After Anne's parents died and she became an orphan, her future looked as though it would be a bleak existence of servitude.  But regardless of how it appeared, she found imaginative ways to keep her spirits up.  She befriended the girl in the glass, she made up stories to occupy her fine mind, and developed a deep love for nature that comforted and gave steadiness to her changing life.  Even the bitter disappointment of having to leave Green Gables could not keep her from placing Marilla and Matthew's home in her memory vault to call upon later.  (Fortunately, Anne's winsome attitude convinced Marilla to let her stay!)

Anne's lessons can be drawn upon even in today's unsettled world. And while Anne never played Pollyanna's Glad Game, she always imagined a better way.  If it's true that intention becomes reality, then perhaps we all have the goods inside to forge ahead through troubled waters.

My only child will be leaving home in the not too distant future, and I will have the emptiest of nests.  So I plan on looking to Anne for inspiration.  I will keep my eyes on the prize of what I want my future to be, lose myself in the wonderful vista that nature provides by taking walks, cultivating my garden, and I will find new kindred spirits who have the same internal optimism.  That's what Anne would do.  I just know it.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Clothes of Our Lives

I visited with my old Jr. High School teachers, Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Bleiweiss the other day.  Metaphorically speaking.  A friend and I drove to Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut for a charming exhibit of John Meyer of Norwich clothing.  Meyer is credited with advancing prep to American women, using tailored lines, natty fabrics, and other customary features of men's clothing.

I remember my mother’s 1960’s wool plaid Bermuda shorts, Peter Pan collars and Shetland cardigans which gave the decade just after the extremes of Dior’s New Look, a welcome change and a chic casual appeal.  But upon entering the exhibit, it was deja 1970 all over again as I beheld the clothes of my 7th and 8th grade teachers; the plaid skirts and matching sweaters, sprigged cotton dresses with tan leather belts, and trim navy dresses with white plackets and piping.  Apparently, some other women saw their Jr. High teachers too, or so they said on the video loop that was playing.  Even my dear friend was heard to murmur something about a beloved "Miss Brylawski".

I love that the clothes on our teachers’ backs were for grown-ups and that there was no mistaking the adults in our school.  If you were a male teacher, a daily coat and tie was required and if you were a female teacher, an outfit from John Meyer of Norwich fit the bill nicely and gave necessary authority in our unruly school. Like us, our teachers loved Tattersall, checks, tartans, pleats, wools, and crisp cottons.

We wanted John Meyer of Norwich because their clothes were in Seventeen and Ingenue.  The shorter skirts with vests and chiffon blouses, Fair Isle sweaters, tartan coats - it all fit our 1970’s aesthetic -   we wanted to look like Love Story's Jenny Cavalleri (Ali McGraw) to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal).  Mom liked the clothes because they made us look neat and uncorrupted.  Before long, bell bottoms, fringe, and hippie chic had their way with us. 

John Meyer of Norwich conveyed an Ivy League sensibility that still looks terrific if a bit chaste.  Afterall, there was no in-your-face cleavage; only alluring nipped waists and leggy looks.  The company evolved and tried to embrace a more bohemian expression but my fascination remains with the roots of Preppy.  It's where clothes took root for me too.

When my friend and I returned home, we pulled out my old Seventeens and scoured them looking for John Meyer of Norwich ads.  It didn't take us long to find several colorful ones.  These were the clothes of our lives.
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Country Cousin

If you were a girl who grew up in the late 60's and your school had a good library, chances are you read a Betty Cavanna.  Ms. Cavanna wrote charming little stories for pre-teens and teens, usually about one girl and her commonplace tribulations and her mini-adventures.  They are gentle well-written reads that are sweet and cheerful. 

A friend gave me Country Cousin as a present and I re-read it each July.  It's a summer story that makes me feel good and although it reminds me of how dignified and uncomplicated life was in 1967, there are lessons in the book and an unexpected muse to guide me even today.

Mindy is a slightly overweight girl who grew up on a farm but gets the chance to live with her older cousin Alix and help manage her well-run, efficient clothing store, called The Country Cousin.  Mindy is adorable and has a bit of a transformation similar to "Sabrina" including a trip to Paris, but it is Alix who has my focus throughout the book. 

Always an adult to her cousin Mindy, I find Alix to be someone to aspire to.  She is serious but can have fun; fashionable but understands the limits of a pretty wardrobe, and as a young widow, does not wallow in her tragedy but uses it as a springboard right into The Country Cousin and the life she wants to have. She is someone I trust when I need to be strong (Alix is turned down numerous times by the French Consulate when she tries to sell her clothing in Paris).  She fulfills her passion by never giving up on her dream.  I love the home she creates for herself after her husband is killed in Vietnam.  It's filled with tasteful décor and fresh touches such as lovely yellow walls and Priscilla curtains.  I admire the way Alix manages her weight and keeps herself slim (tomatoes and hard boiled eggs constitute her tried and true working woman lunch).  She explores the things that make her happy such as concerts and films.  She works hard everyday managing The Country Cousin and is a wonderful role model for Mindy and the sales girls she employs.  She expects all to work hard but lets them enjoy themselves too and offers them discounts and first selections on the clothing she purchases for the shop. And the love of clothes permeates throughout the story.

Of course, you may find Mindy's story more compelling, her coming of age, betwixt and between different loves.  But I turn to Alix for help in keeping myself in check, being a grown up, and not saying Amen! to what the world tells me I should have.  It's a soothing, comfy book that I dip into whenever I need someone to look up to during the lazy hazy days.

P.S.  Did you notice the Pucci inspired dress Mindy wears on the cover?  Italian designer Emilio Pucci was having his heyday in the 1960's, after he outfitted the Braniff Airline stewardesses.  Today, he's having another renaissance as Pucci-like dresses and tunics are everywhere this summer!  Have you bought a Pucci recently?  They are so happy and colorful!