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?