Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Morning at 10:44am

It's Hallowe'en. This means goblins, monsters, ghosts, witches, to many. Here, it's a sentimental holiday. You know how every mom has a mothering skill they put in their pocket and touch like a lucky rabbit's foot? Thinking, "Yes, I did a good job. Or at least meant well." In our house, that's Hallowe'en. Apostrophe and all.

Take costumes, for example. I insisted that they be homemade. For years.

Let me just say that my daughter was a strong-willed girl. Brought me to my knees, as a mother of young children, but somehow I had sense enough not to try to break her. Or perhaps I am convincing myself that what I could not do was in fact intentional. In any case, my daughter, for the first many years of trick or treating, would dress as heroic creatures of one sort or another. The first Hallowe'en, Tin Woodman.

As you can no doubt tell, I made that. The Scotch Tape is magic. Really.

The next year, she was Peter Pan. I can't sew. A friend made it. I believe in team efforts.

My son was, well, himself. One year he wanted to be a potato. OK. I got a sheet and made it into a huge bag. Doesn't really count as sewing, does it? I dyed it brown in the washing machine and gathered areas into little potato "eyes." Then we filled it with foam rubber pieces. By the middle of the evening all the foam rubber had fallen to the bottom of the bag, making it impossible for him to walk. Luckily he bounced when he fell over. I had to carry his costume from then on, pointing and explaining to skeptics at the doors.

The next year I told him he couldn't be anything globular. "But Mom," he said, "I want to be a doorknob." I drew the line. He went as an origami display. And that was the end of homemade costumes. The next year, a Ninja. No photos of his costumes because any extant are somewhere in an envelope, in a shoe box, in a pile of piles. Second child syndrome.

Take trick or treating. A ritual.

We cruised the streets with my best friend and her pack. Dinner at my house first. Hallow Weenies. Hot dogs cut into pieces and stood on end. Rice, shaped like little ghosts. Haunted broccoli forests. Yeah. Just what you imagine. Stopped short of saying the ketchup was blood. The kids weren't big enough to be sure it was actually made of tomatoes.

The night was charged enough that we had to set rules to keep peace. My son in the front. Otherwise my friend's daughter would have run so fast from door to door we would have been watching her in the distance. Almost in tears. She runs track now, in college.

Returning from the foray, our kids would lay their candy out on my living room rug. Sort. Count. Categorize. Trade. Gloat. There was enough. More than enough. Hallowe'en was one of those times when we could know we had done it right. Motherhood doesn't come with flashing lights or electronic voices crying, "Winner! Winner! Winner!" So you take those moments where you find them and bow down before the massed troops of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. In awe.

Whether it mattered or not, I don't know. But it was true. It was a true reflection of who we all were. I see that now. I couldn't know then. We just had to try our best in the dark.

Posted with full permission of the subject. I may be foolhardy but I am not insane.

And I may have told the story of my son's potato costume before. That happens, at this age. My apologies in advance but it's one of my favorites. I mean, come on, a potato?


Friday, October 30, 2009

Welcome Guests, Or, How To Host A Work Party

Today I am at The Blushing Hostess, writing about how to host a dinner for your team.
(Your work team, that is, not QBS's rowerboys, or my son's high school soccer team. Sports teams require different dinners. Probably more blushing, less hostess.) To say nothing of two great dipping sauce recipes.

If you've come over from the Hostess, I would like to extend a very warm welcome. I wrote about hosting a workgroup because, while the prospect can be daunting and anxiety-producing, it's also one of the best things you can do as a manager building a team. And, I have found, the occasionally exhausting focus on protocol, common to High WASPs, can be useful in navigating the dynamics of a career. To say nothing of working for some very smart people over the years. That helps too.

When Catherine asked me if I would write a guest post, I didn't think twice about accepting. I was very excited. My favorite part of The Blushing Hostess is the actual menus she posts from historical dinners. Including the last dinner on the Titanic. But I'm also fond of china, silver, giveaways, and personal memoirs about the rebellion of tattoos. Yes. It turns out that one can, in fact, use the words china, memoirs, and tattoos in the same sentence. Who knew?

Please join me there and take a look around. Have a wonderful weekend.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Guest Post: A place of one's own

I would like to introduce you all to Maria, from vintage simple. Quite simply, her vision of house style is the closest to mine of anyone I've found on the web to date. Almost every time I read one of her posts I find myself sighing with happiness. Somehow her posts create a sense of peace - and I can't put my finger on how or why. She writes from South Carolina, where, along with lovely curating of the Internet house style world, she shows us the process of restoring her family's 1920's bungalow.

Hello, my dears, Maria here from vintage simple, visiting LPC's lovely corner of the world with a little gift for her that I think will suit her spirit and calm her mind, as she looks back at her life in search of meaning and wisdom.

When Lisa asked me to do a guest post here, I must confess that I was a little bit nervous. Okay, I lie - I was terrified. We all know that she is the embodiment of good taste, blending (I think) a little bit of Grande Dame, Sturdy Gal and Artsy Cousin, plus a little something else all her own into the mix. And although she writes freely about these archetypes, she does not reveal herself completely....

And so it was that I was a little bit stumped. What kind of gift could I give her in exchange for this kind invitation? What gift, I wondered, would honor all these archetypes that Lisa has been exploring and that, to some degree or another, exist within her own self..?

After giving it some thought, I found the answer in one of my all-time favorite design teams: Atlanta Bartlett and husband Dave Coote. These two favor classic lines to suit the Grande Dame,

often use farmhouse settings (a choice the Sturdy Gal would have no complaints about),

and although they are rooted in tradition, they have a thoroughly modern approach and their interiors can sometimes take a more bohemian look, which I think would suit the Artsy Cousin perfectly.

Their homes are simple and sensible - never overly decorated or fussy and, I think, invariably beautiful. By far, the quality that attracts me to their designs the most is that no matter where your eyes rest, they are met with a certain sense of calm and serenity; Bartlett and Coote's interiors are sublimely relaxing. And so I thought, what better place to be than that when you are trying to take stock of your life and perhaps even redefine it as it where...?

So, I invite you and Lisa to take a little tour of what I think might be a lovely place for her to get away... won't you come and take a look with me?

This is a place with lots of soothing whites, beautifully aged mirrors, antique chandeliers and comfortable seating...

It is a place where soft sunlight bathes the floors in the most welcoming way,

and where Lisa can surround herself with beautiful things...

It's a place where she can dine indoors,

or outdoors if the mood strikes her, because - why not?

It is a place where she can place freshly-cut flowers from her garden in every room,

and take long baths in a most decadent of vintage cast iron tubs...

Perhaps, most importantly, it's a place where she can get away to write all the things that she needs to put down, now that she can...

It is, in essence, a place all of her own...because, really - who wouldn't want such a place after all...?

Thank you for spending some time with me today - I hope you have enjoyed yourselves... I know I certainly have. And thank you, Lisa, for this incredibly kind invitation - you have been very generous and encouraging, and I hope you know that I appreciate it deeply. I hope you like your imagined place of sorts and I sincerely hope that it will inspire you to follow your dream to write away... Your fans will all be here, waiting with bated breath, ready to read your first book and the many more that will come after that.

(images: via beach studios)

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

House Is Where The Heart Is

Little known fact. High WASPs don't say "Home," as in, "Oh, what a lovely home." Has to be "House." "Home" can only be used as in, "I'm going home." (I cringe at my own snobbery. I am in snob therapy every day.)

I believe, or at least I will invent, that this is because the concept of home is the closest we come to true love. To closeted passion. Clothes are for others, home is for us. Clothes enforce the social divide, at home the divide disappears. Because we are shy about strong feelings, this might not be immediately apparent, but we invite anyone who comes to our houses to join the family. At least for that night. Not, perhaps, a loud, warm, hugging kind of family. Not, certainly, a transparent and straightforward family. A family with a code of conduct and and a web of unspoken requirements. So, I suppose, a family like many others. More blue-eyed, perhaps, than usual.

I can't find High WASP house style archetypes to name. Probably because we are not trying to make so many statements at home. However, consistently, in any High WASP house you will find some things:
a) from a grandmother
b) purchased on a trip to Instanbul (or Finland, or Ethiopia)
c) which required consulting a designer, traipsing through the Design Center, reviewing fabric swatches, and spending a not inconsiderable amount of money
Of course, today being 2009, you might also find furniture from Pottery Barn. What use is a culture that cannot evolve? Or picture frames. From Pottery Barn. (What is it with Pottery Barn and picture frames? In any case they are quite good at frames.)

In my house you will find:
a) a Federalist mirror from my grandmother's Massachusetts house
b) a small wooden figure of Ganesh, brightly painted, from my trip to India
c) a Persian rug I bought in Brooklyn, sometime in the early 80's, before Brooklyn became the cool side of Manhattan
And, yes, a leather chair from Pottery Barn.

The thing is, we High WASPs are unlikely to tell the stories of our homes to others. Home is, as they say, where the heart is. Not our favorite topic, hearts. Home is where we held our small babies on our laps, their lips blistered just that little bit from nursing. Home is where we sit around the table, with linen, with silver, on Thanksgiving, and make toasts choked with emotion. Emotion is appropriate on Thanksgiving, no? Home is where we store old scooters, and ski clothes, and earthquake supplies, for far too long. Home is where the hurt is. I will invent a theory that when you lack for nothing material, you may feel, very strongly, the injury of inevitable human flaws in significant relationships. Simply because you can. Even if you aren't supposed to talk about it.

Home is where we wander out of the shower, soles of our feet still damp on slate tiles, where we lay our bills across the coffee table, where someone we love comes up behind us at the kitchen sink and holds our shoulders. Just for a minute. Until we shake them off because, in fact, dishes still need to be washed.

Good thing we have learned to put Lenox in the dishwasher. Gold rims be damned. The task of adulthood is to build a home you can inhabit. Inhabit fully.

Ganesh, me
Chair, Pottery Barn

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Living Beyond Archetypes, My Name Is.

You all are great commenters. I swear I wander through my day sometimes with your imaginary voices in my head. Embarrassing, yes. At least I don't talk to you out loud. Just to myself. Which is bad enough. I did that in the supermarket the other day, mentioning how hard it was to find the right beans, I believe, and from the surprised sideways glance of the woman behind me I could tell I was one step from scary. The fact that I had reverted to wearing my son's khakis might have contributed to the problem. What? It is hard to find the right beans.

Your recent set of comments on the Little Black Dress got me thinking. a) These archetypes are only some of many. They are High WASP archetypes and do not aspire to world domination in any way. Actually they are very polite and hope they don't offend you even if you do have wallpaper they can't approve of. b) These archetypes overlap. Hence the diagram above. I believe I'm Sturdy Gal x Grande Dame. I do realize that this puts me in the Queen Elizabeth camp, but let's just pretend that one of the Queen's cousins liked to talk. I'll pay extra attention to my haircuts, just in case.

I love the way people identify themselves. Julia, from Ordinary Saturdays, said "Sturdy Gals can wear leopard? Sign me up." Darla and Jan chimed in as Sturdy Gals, known to Duchesse's ex as, "Jennifer Cleanjerseys." Jill says she's artsy. Surprising no one, since she's the Goddess of Caftans. Mrs. G and Amanda claim the Grande Dame, while Academic, Hopeful and DocP, anticipating the diagram above, raise Artsy Dame hands.

Slynnro, JMW, Maureen, The Preppy Princess, Queen Bee Swain, and the Queen of Cashmere weighed in, (no surprise to see Princesses and Queens) either professing love for LBDs, or pointing out real issues with the ones I had bought. Sometimes both. Jill, Duchesse, f8hasit, and Academic, Hopeful all suggested places to buy LBDs (or little plum dresses in f8's case), which Deja Pseu, Joyce Lau, Twenty Four at Heart, Maya, What A Splurge, Sharpiegirl, Cate Subrosa, the class factotum, Her Preppiness, and Turquoise Diaries might enjoy. Me too.

Sweet Tea
, Kristen, and Queen Bee want more stories. (Maria wants to know what the archetypes drink. A woman after my own heart.) OK. There are more stories. That's what happens when you like to talk. And are starting your 5th decade. Of course, by you I mean me. With any luck, by me, I also mean you.

Identifying ourselves, making meaning in the sheer fact that our eyes open most mornings, is what makes us human. It is also what makes some of us buy way too many cashmere cardigans in the wrong colors. And then, with a sigh, consigning ourselves to the world of pink and navy, give those sweaters to our sisters. Who look much better in seafoam green than we do. Without the crutch of pink lipstick.

BTW, my name is Lisa. Seemed like time. Names, like archetypes, like Little Black Dresses, are ways to know who we are or are not. There's a chart here that shows how prevalent your name was when you were born. And the Social Security Administration can tell you the top names from your year of birth. Yes, I was born in 1956. But it's OK, I have found, to have a popular name. Turns out they don't make us stay in the same classroom all our lives. If my mom had known what I knew at 16, clearly she would have named me Skye. Then all bets would have been off.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Morning at 8:33am

My sisters are coming for dinner tonight. And sleeping over. In my world, sisters are A Very Good Thing.

On the menu? Something that counts as comfort food for Northern Californians. Especially when one of them was a vegetarian for a rather long time. Oh, said vegetarian wasn't me. I'm very fond of meat. Even bacon. But I love braising. The smell is as nice as the taste. Especially when sisters are in the house.

Braised Cinnamon Tofu
From A Spoonful of Ginger, Nina Simonds
(all silly commentary is of course mine)

1 teaspoon safflower or corn oil (I always use more. Can't help myself.)

6 whole scallions, ends trimmed, smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife and cut into 1 1/2 inch sections (this recipe has no finicky chopping requirements. I like that.)
6 garlic cloves, smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife and sliced thinly
4 slices fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter, smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife
1 teaspoon hot chile paste (you can probably use crushed chile pepper instead. If you can find it.)
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon anise seed (I imagine you can also use a couple of star anise pods)

1/2 cup soy sauce
6 cups water
2 pounds firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound spinach, stems trimmed, rinsed, and drained
3 tablespoons minced scallion greens

1. Heat a large pot or casserole over medium-high heat, add the oil, heat until hot, about 30 seconds, and add the Seasonings. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds, then add the soy sauce and water. Heat until boiling, add the tofu, and boil again. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, skimming the surface to remove impurities and fat (although, how much fat is going to be present given that it's tofu?). Cook for 1 hour, until the tofu is drenched (don't you love the word drenched?) with the flavors of the braising mixture. Remove the ginger slices and cinnamon and discard.
2. Add the spinach clump by clump to the tofu (I am so going to use to pre-washed spinach, a great modern invention) and heat until boiling. Ladle the mixture into serving bowls, sprinkle scallion greens on top, and serve.

If this sounds good to you, go buy the cookbook. It's incredible. I promise. Also, have a wonderful weekend. For that, I can make no promises. But I will make wishes.

*And nobody gave me anything nor do I make any money from purchases. Not that I am against free enterprise, I just don't know how.


Friday, October 23, 2009

In Which I Am On A Surfboard Trying To Stand Up

I've been tagged. By Stephanie of even*cleveland. What, she asks, is the 10th photo in my 1st folder? Of course, wild confusion ensued, given my recent change to the Mac environment and my resultant lack of any idea how this operating system deals with trivial things like, um, folders, and um, applications, and um, the relationship between the two. Nonetheless, here is the 10th photo from my ONLY folder consisting solely of photos.

That's me. That's Hawaii. And that's a surfboard I'm trying to stand up on. It's Christmas, 2006.

My children are somewhere else, that day, on that same bay. They are standing up.

I tag Academic, Hopeful.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Good Little Black Dress. And The Bad One.

I bought a little black dress for my 40th birthday. My daughter was 10, my son, 7. When you have children that age, especially if you have been home full-time for a while, and gotten involved in your kids' school, you will probably find yourself in a large community. Who may want to have a party. Small children will do that to you.

We held mine in the backyard. My family paid to have it catered, and for a new lawn. As a present, not random extravagance. I bought pink lawn flamingos as decor. We set up a full bar in the French doors that led from bedroom to patio. All us parents had a wild time. 70 people's worth of a what counts as a wild time in the suburban world in which I live.

The dress, Blumarine. I bought it in the Stanford Shopping Center. Accompanied by Jennifer Montana. Wife of Joe Montana, fabled quarterback of the 49'ers. I am not kidding.

I didn't know Mrs. Montana. I still don't. But on the day I bought this dress, she and Joe had been shopping. She stood in the store as I modeled my potential purchase. She was remarkably beautiful, and completely unassuming. Amused. I worried the dress was too short. ""Oh," she said, "No. Shorter." "But it's my 40th birthday, " I said. "Then even shorter," said Jennifer. By this point Joe had joined her. He stood, tall, quiet, and shy, by the rack of dresses. I don't remember whether he agreed on the hemline. But the party was wild fun. And I loved this dress and its little pearl "B" until threads began to pop out of the little black boucle.

8 years later, my daughter was in the senior fashion show at her high school. This is the same high school where I did battle with trophy wives over my son's graduation. A secret battle that I am sure no one but me noticed. The fashion show was a similar situation. I had nothing to wear. Nothing appropriate.

The morning of the event I went shopping in a rush. That was the year I traveled to China 7 or 8 times and I had no time for shopping. Mistake #1. I went to Wilkes Bashford, a bastion of too-cool-for-school. Mistake #2. I listened to the fabulous salesman tell me I looked fabulous in a fabulous Monique Lhullier when I knew I didn't. Mistake #3. The most pernicious. Never let anyone convince you of something you know to be untrue.

Oh, I dressed up and wore a pair of excruciatingly painful, beautifully beaded, Rene Caovilla pumps, along with some inherited diamonds, but I had wasted my not-inconsequential amount of money. I was too uncomfortable to win that particular private battle. Battles, even when fought on foreign soil, have to be won on one's own terms.

I do better in structured clothing. I like darts. I'm sturdy that way. The dress didn't suit me. What a crime. To buy an expensive little black dress I rarely wear. And shoes that hurt so much I have given them to my 22-year old daughter.
If only Jennifer had been there. I'm sure she would have told me the truth. All I know now is that I do, in fact, need a new little black dress. Need being, of course, broadly defined. After all, navy blue has its appeal.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Is It About Little Black Dresses?

The High WASP woman loves nothing so dearly as her little black dress. Think about it. Although the industry tries, i.e. Boyfriend Jeans and White Shirts, only the little black dress is spoken of in code. The LBD. "What are you wearing?" we ask. "My LBD," we answer.

Little black dresses are, by the laws of physics, appropriate. That's the point. For whatever reason, I do not know the science behind it, black reads like absence of color. That's right. You can wear black without making any kind of color statement at all. Like buying IBM, back in the day. Can't go wrong. Little black dresses absolve us of the responsibility of figuring out dress code. Of understanding our color profile. An enormous relief.

With the social contract resolved, you are free to find a little black dress that looks good. On you. You can optimize for your self, and nothing else. Good upper arms? Broad shoulders? Long legs of pleasing shape? Whatever you smile about when you look into the mirror? Play it up.

Oh, I know some like to insist we must fret over the relative au courant-ness of our little black dresses. But I believe, and will stand behind my statement, if you find the right LBD, good fabric, good fit, good design, suited to your personal geometry, you can wear it nigh unto forever. Until threads pop out of the weave. Until what was shiny becomes dull, what dull, shiny. (How do I know? Guess. You are probably right.)

Little black dresses can also allow for self-expression. If you go for that sort of thing. If you don't spend your life trying simply not to make a mistake. If your greatest dream is not to avoid turning the corner of a hotel hallway, seeing into the ballroom from afar, and realizing instantly that they are feathered and you only gabardine.

For you, you lucky souls, self-expression is possible.

Let's look at High WASP archetypes as example. (For no good reason. You and your culture have your own icons. Or you share mine. Doesn't matter. This is for the sake of explication, deconstruction. The answer is not the answer; we are only modeling a process.)

The Sturdy Gal
She wears her LBD to the Garden Center Board dinner. Pulls out the family pearls. Vaguely annoyed by the frivolous supporting diamonds, but not enough to go shopping. She dreads shopping. If her sister doesn't call to check, she will wear her flats, even though, being leather, they are unsuitable. Caught, she will bow her head and wear satin pumps. No heels over 2 inches, however, no matter what gets said. Or by whom. Leopard cardigan, matching clutch. Who says sturdy limits our fun?

The Artsy Cousin
The perfect chance to untangle all her Indian jewelry and hang it from ears and neck. Even if the little black dress is something her mother gave her. And the jewels might have been affixed to her clutch in some non-righteous workshop. But it's all for a good cause. Many things are burning in this world.

The Grande Dame
She may mutter under her breath about the demise of long dresses on the West Coast for anything except Opening Night at the Opera. Or Hollywood rigamarole. "These awards," she might say. "Good lord, when will they stop with all these awards? The next thing you know we will be awarding people for taking out the garbage." I digress. The Grande Dame wears bling. She finds it appalling, that term, bling. But, in the language of the day, it's bling. And the Grande Dame, who likes to shop, who has a personal shopper at Saks, and another one at that boutique (you know the one), she wears au courant shoes. Nude shoes. Take that Vanessa Williams, Chloe Sevigne, Sienna Miller. Ha! For the Grande Dame, the little black dress is only a starting place. But, fortunately or unfortunately, her deeply ingrained culture will constrain her to the world of the appropriate. Nude shoes, diamonds, outre jackets, and all.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Awards, Prizes, And Other Surprises

A recent spell of good luck has left me walking around happy. Rather like when you get out of bed in the morning and the warmth of your sleep stays with you in a cold kitchen.

First, I won a giveaway. Winning things reminds me that you don't have to work hard for everything nice.

Kate, at love you big, makes these vintage map notebooks and sells them via her Etsy shop. I won 3. I love them. My intent is to give as Christmas stocking-stuffers. However, I may be unable to resist taking one for myself. I'm a list-maker. Without a notebook list-making becomes a self-flagellating act, a neurological twitch leading to bad driving. Probably higher car insurance payments. With a notebook, list-making is almost as good as meditating. Can be done in public. Thank you, Kate.

Second, Buckeroomama at Mamahood, Among Other Things gave me the Blog de Ouro award. It has no requirements. Again, something nice, no hard work.

You may remember Buckeroomama. Or at least her kids. Zoe. Josh. Any time I need a dose of cute kids they're always there to help out. Thank you, Buckeroomama.

Third, many of you made very supportive comments on this week's Saturday post. Out of the generosity of your hearts, it appears. I feel I am a lucky person. My suspicion is that feeling lucky isn't too far from grace.

Thank you very much.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Morning at 9:51am

An Ode To Slippers

I love my slippers. They keep my feet warm. More than that, they make me feel loved. Something about the meeting of sheepskin and foot skin.

My father loves slippers too. So much so, that for his 75th birthday each of his 4 children gave him slippers. He had an actual party, meaning non-family, and entertainment. A shindig. Public present opening. (High WASPs don't say gift. We say present. I don't know why. Maybe because there is a gift industry.) But we wanted to give him slippers, so we did. He opened 4 boxes, one at a time, while we 4 adult kids doubled over in less-than-silent laughter around the room. The joke was not so obvious to everyone else, maybe, but we thought we were hilarious.

To the point where, the other night, when we were gathered to celebrate my brother's and my birthdays, my father was telling a story. It involved a friend of his, who had a son-in-law with financial resources. "Guess what (my friend) got for Christmas," said my father, gleefully. "Slippers?" we chorused. "A driver," said my father. He was not referring to golf clubs.

For High WASPs at a certain point on the family fortune slope, slippers are the new drivers. Without all that human folderol either.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Summer Of Love?

I, for all my inner yearnings, have not an iota of Artsy Cousin in my personal style. Oh, occasionally I think about it. I consider what it must be like to throw together a creative outfit, possessed of je ne sais quoi, dripping panache. But therein do not lie my talents. I'm better at the appropriate. The luxurious. And comfortable shoes.

(Audi? At Fashion For Nerds? Yeah, absolutely. She has Latvian socks. Jill has Global just about everything...)

The closest I ever came involved a cultural imperative. Otherwise known as the teen years. It was 1972ish. We were post-hippies. We had been too young to March on Washington, too young for any Summer of Love unless it was the Monkees we were loving. That didn't stop us from buying Mexican maxi-dresses. We had long hair. And worried about boys. What else is new?

I'm not sure I ever wore mine. I think it I put it on once. Maybe twice. But I do not believe that I ever left the house. My acts of bravery reserved for other areas. Making today the first time this dress has ever seen the light of, well, virtual day. I don't know if I kept it because I love the periwinkle blue color, or because I love the idea of myself with a wreath of flowers in my hair, muddy feet, arms outstretched. Never happened, of course.

Have a wonderful weekend. With flowers in all the appropriate spots. Appropriate, of course, broadly defined.

*This dress resembles Slynnro's header, no?

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do You Have An Artsy &/Or Intellectual Cousin?

You may have an artsy or intellectual cousin. Might even be artsy or intellectual yourself. All to the good. Art and Intellect are cornerstones of the Renaissance, NPR, Burning Man, and other valuable human endeavors. However, this is not quite the same as choosing the Artsy And/Or Intellectual Cousin style in which to dress yourself. Taking up the Artsy Cousin mantle requires commitment, enthusiasm, imagination. And a closet full of clothes with stories.

While there are a few sub-species, (for example, the all-my-clothes-are-black birds of some large cities, or the Pacific Northwestern wood sprites), I do believe this style is, at a high level, universal. Cross-cultural. Not reserved for High WASPs. After all, there is no mall for the Artsy Cousin. The kabbal does not assemble in Tibet and decide that in 2010 there will be ruffles. No Fashion Week for the global aesthetic. Instead, Artsy Cousins of all cultures dress following common principles.

The Artsy Cousin wears clothes that reflect her beliefs. Her travels. It's possible that the High WASP version is particularly prone to the international style; the cachet of travel and adventure silence the voice of her mother, "Dear, is that really what you want to wear?" Of course she has been mocked, imitated, affectionately teased. She doesn't mind. Her vision, and her ideas, trump any cultural obligations. Go ahead. Point a finger at the orange harem pants. She will tell you that belly dancing is good for the 2nd and 3rd chakras.

She spends her grandest evenings at home, although can be found in cafes on occasion. No ballgowns. No charity events; she celebrates life. Exotic cooking is probable. Last year it was Moroccan. This year, well, we don't know. Perhaps Peruvian. Stock up on aji amarillo now. There may be a run on the market.

Of course, along with sandals from the market in Chennai, and skivvies from a vintage store, the High WASP Artsy Cousin may wear Grandmama's diamond ring. May have donated enough of her trust to charity over time that she feels more sentiment for Gran than guilt for blood money. If she's been lucky in the equity markets, that is. It's also true that if her commitment to independence, to global sourcing, to the non-commercial, is real, we'll all be lucky. A culture is strengthened by the well-loved voyages of its eccentrics.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

My (Blank) Bag Snagged My (Blank) Jacket

Home. With a story. From the last leg of my travels.

I was wearing my old Chanel jacket, a pair of dark wash Seven jeans, black Aerosole flats, and a generic black v-neck cashmere sweater my mother gave me. Carrying my Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis bag. In Amarante. Confession. I did have Manolo quilted ballet flats on earlier but after walking all over Princeton they hurt my feet. I changed. I did not want to slog my way through Newark Airport with a blister. Even a glamorous blister.

Now, as I carried my lovely bag, the buckle of the lovely belting leather straps kept catching the underside of my Chanel jacket sleeve. The jacket is tweed, nubbly, loosely woven. This means strands of black and white wool were torn free. Repeatedly. No matter what I did, how I held the bag, how I pulled the suitcase. See?

But wait. Did you hear what I just said? "My Vuitton bag is snagging my Chanel jacket." I can't even say that with a straight face. Those words could maybe come out of someone else's mouth, but not mine. Let me try again. My Vuitton bag is...nope. Can't do it. Sorry guys. For all I love style and I love sparkly purple things the whole thing struck me as really funny.

I mean, we're talking luxury. Donned precisely so that I could feel invincible, impeccable, unassailable in the airport and on the airplane. So that I would be wholly free from envy or style anxiety. And we have tweed snaggage. I called my best friend in Belgium and told her. These moments cry out for sharing.

Luckily I am almost as fond of irony as I am of Amarante. And really glad to be home.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

5 Things To Love (Unreservedly) About Your Body Before You Turn 50

Friendly Italian Women from Flickr. Since they can't speak English, I will tell you what they want to say. You can see by their smiles. They wish you the best. They wish you the joy of your youth. We all do.

What To Love, If You Need A Suggestion Today.

1. Your upper lip.

It's plump. Smooth. Comparatively hairless. Touch it. Appreciate its resilience. Run your finger across that dandelion fluff you pretend is problem hair. Trust me. It isn't.

2. Your eyebrows.
Do you have any hairs growing out of your eyebrows that make you look like an old courtroom lawyers? You know, long enough to have at least two degrees of curl? I thought not. Take a moment to cherish your perfect eyebrows. If you think body hair is a theme, you are right.

3. The backs of your hands.
Do they look like a topographical map? Do your veins want to leave you and join their cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Network Cable, in the ceiling? Does the slightest movement cause creases in your skin to ripple with the history of 600 months of life? No? So sit down. Hold your hands out in front of you. Open all your fingers wide. Close them. Turn your hands sideways. Pretend you are a hand model. Admire.

4. Overall health.
And if you aren't doing right by your body's enormous capacity right now for health, apologize. Not to me, to your body. In the next 12 hours do something in honor of your youth. Eat a piece of fruit. Or a carrot. Those bags of peeled baby organic carrots from Whole Foods are good. Drink a glass of water. Walk or move at some point when you customarily ride or sit. Thank you. Thank you so much.

5. Your neck.
Any resemblance to sandpaper? Any? Any at all? Case closed.

Image from supermuch's photostream on Flickr


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Morning at 4:48am

It's 4:48am in California. But I'm in New Jersey. Where it's 7:48am. None of the usual tea and toast. In my daughter's first apartment. Listening to the sounds of a New Jersey morning. It's louder here. And I don't mean manmade noise. There are crickets and cicadas creaking away. At least I'm going to say that's what they are. We don't have loud bugs in Northern California so I have no expertise in bug acoustics.

I also hear thunder. One never forgets the sound of thunder.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Vintage Caroline Charles, Beloved of Princess Diana...

Or, When I Was A Grande Dame. Except I Was Too Young. And Too Intoxicated.

When I graduated from Princeton, in June of 1978, I had no job. I was without training for a job. I had majored in Comparative Literature, Italian, French, Latin. Epic poetry. I knew a lot about metaphor. And metonymy. I sent in an application to American Express to become a travel agent, since I had enjoyed traveling with my family to Jamaica and Mexico, and to France for Princeton. Evidently American Express was not staffed by a bunch of complete idiots because I was not hired.

I could have lain around my mother's house for months with migraines. But a few weeks was really enough. One of my Texas roommates was in London, on a Sotheby's course. She had a flat. Aha. I could join her. But to do what?

So my father called his old Harvard roommate, who was living in England. A theatrical agent, responsible for people like Anthony Quinn. He said he could probably find me something. I had no idea that this was an artifact of privilege. I was very naive. But I filled out the forms for a visa. I flew to London. And got a job with Cameron Mackintosh. He's Sir Cameron Mackintosh now, having single-handedly reinvigorated the British musical industry. CATS. Phantom. Etc. At the time he ran his 4-person shop up in an attic office above Covent Garden. Narrow, worn, wooden stairs, noisy to climb.

The job consisted of, well, making tea. Answering phones. Cameron's life, however, was very glamorous. And he was very good at what he did. Which meant that, in 1979, he was appointed to produce the Society of West End Theatre Awards. The British equivalent of the Tony Awards. Now known as the Olivier Awards.

I was not supposed to attend. But, at the last minute, i.e. the morning of the event, an extra ticket was available. And they offered it to me, their young American intern.

Cue wailing and tearing of hair. I didn't have a dress. I was going to the British Tony Awards and I didn't have a dress. As you can imagine, anxiety nearly knocked me to my knees. High WASPs don't go to formal events without the right dress. Cinderella and all that. I explained my situation, and they let me run out of the office. I had 4 hours to shop.

I wound up at Harvey Nichols. Slightly more manageable than Harrods. And in a frenzy, spent something like $600 (a lot of money in 1979) on a dress by Caroline Charles. Who would one day clothe a princess. But that day, she dressed a little American in this.

Yes. I still have it. Black silk chiffon, hand-dyed, metallic flecks. I have never known why I kept these things. Clearly it was to show you all.

And off I went.

I was remarkably stupid back then. Overwhelmed by the glitter around me. Liza Minnelli sang. She came by our table to say "Hi," to Cameron. I drank too much. My colleagues thought it was funny. They kept filling up my glass. I did not object.

Dinner ended. Awards were given out. An after-party ensued. Albert Finney was there. Handsome. Younger. I was young too. And completely drunk. Which explains, I hope, why, when introduced, I proceeded to tell him that I thought he was fabulous and should he be looking for a companion that evening I was available.

Ever the well-behaved proper British gent, when necessary, Mr. Finney replied, "That's very sweet of you dear. I am most appreciative of the offer. However, I believe my girlfriend might object." His girlfriend. Right over there. Diana Quick, the It girl of London.

Or so I was told. As is common with that degree of intoxication, I don't remember much. I do not, however, believe that a Grande Dame would have behaved that way. Dress or no dress. Sixty-two rum and tonics facilitated by amused colleagues or no sixty-two rum and tonics. What do you think?

I am not sure that Grandes Dames have as good stories as the rest of us. But if they do, I bet they wouldn't be embarrassed to tell. Impunity.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Grande Dame Style Archetype

You know her. You do. If only by her strands of pearls. If only by the look on her face. Who knows what she really feels, what she might suffer, what she fears. We know her by her furs, her shoes, her bags. And the haircut.

The Grande Dame. There are those oblivious to her power. I know that. She strikes fear, and sometimes envy, into the rest of our hearts. Oh, sure, we're evolved. We have confidence now. We have great jobs, loving families, a history and a life we chose. But probably something we are wearing is make do. The Grande Dame Does. Not. Make. Do.

At night, she attends the charity event of choice. She does good in the world. She believes in doing good. But wouldn't miss Opening Night at the Opera. That would be a statement of failings she does not care to share with the world. She understands she needs to provide drama, but she will not be vulgar. She abhors vulgarity, all the while not minding furs. At all. Her grandmother wore furs, after all, what could be wrong?

By day, she's at a museum. Probably. Certainly she's on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Or in Pacific Heights, in San Francisco. She might have a job, or not. She doesn't need one. Her Belgian loafers are practical, but stylish, and she buys them in as many colors as she feels she needs this year. Speaking of color, she has nothing against it. She has color impunity. She owns purple, if she wants to. The rest of her High WASP family quails in the face of purple.

In real life, does the High WASP Grande Dame exist any more? Under the age of 65, that is? Family fortunes, made in the late 19th century, have dispersed through the generations. The Ivy Leagues are, thank heavens, attended by Chinese students, and Indian, and Latin American, and African-American, and Catholic, and Jewish students. By people with more money than us. By people who made money only last year. By people with no money. But I know what she would look like if she were 30-ish, that Grande Dame.

This is Julie Macklowe. Her clothes? Exactly what the Grande Dame would wear. For a special occasion. Unashamedly speaking to pomp and circumstance. No particular nod to fashion beyond the color of the bag.

Except Julie Macklowe went to the University of Virginia. I might be guessing, but since a rabbi officiated at her wedding, I'm going to imagine she's Jewish. That the Grande Dame archetype has passed from the halls of High WASPdom and is out there, available, as a style, for anyone with the resources and desire. Thank heavens. That's how it should be. The American way.

Should I attend the Opening of the Opera, I might dress like this too. In case you wondered.

I love the way she has no visible jewels. Grandes Dames know the measure of enough.

Guest of a Guest
Park Avenue Peerage

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Style, Or, Alternatively, The Roman Empire.

Style is the image of character."

via the impossible cool.

Go look at these iconic photos of cool famous people. If you're wondering what style is. Or isn't. Or could be. Or not.

*This is for my father, who, as it happens, wrote a book on Edward Gibbon. But not on style.

What Is The Point Of Style?

There's that moment when you stop what you are doing, and think, "Wait. What's the point?" When you need a corner to come back to in the face of questions. This isn't always simple. I can't find satisfaction in situational answers. I want what my software friends call, "the root cause." I want the answer that doesn't pose more questions.

So what's the point of style? Here's my personal answer. I can't know what the point of style is unless I ask myself, what's the point of life? Really. I mean, that's the source. Life is the root cause. And, as I am not religious, I come up with only two answers.

Life is short. Life is unbearably sweet. But it ends. I can only assume that life itself is the point. And those feelings that cause us to keep living. Joy. Joy and all its minions. The point of life must be to bring joy to yourself. Or to others. Both would be good.

Of course, in the living, not so simple. Style is not something you say to yourself alone. You say it to others. Which means it's part of the social contract. Which means you may not want to wear that pink boa every day, despite the joy of blush and rose and magenta and the branching patterns of feathers. Obligation may be involved. Social codes, sometimes complex, may be speaking loudly in the background. But it is possible, if social contracts prevent your style from bringing you joy, well, it is possible that it's time to reconsider. Change isn't the end of the world.

I write about a certain kind of style. But I want to be clear. High WASP? What I say is true. But it matters only inasmuch as you are amused. Or you enjoy a certain kind of persona, a certain kind of commitment to a certain social contract. This kind of look. And only if it makes you happy. I'm telling a story. No strings.

Right then. Carry on.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saturday Morning at 7:47am

Last week there was a thunderstorm in Princeton late at night. My son IM'd me about it.

Son: mom there's an amazing thunderstorm here.
Me: cool (it's always good not to use too many words)
Son: the thunder is almost on top of the lightening
Me: wow (see above)
Son: oh it almost sounds like something ripping
Me: can be scary (secretly pleased the kid has a way with words)
Son: uh, yeah, if I were outside
(Mom considers that it may be dorky to say anything about scary thunder to a 19-year old boy)
Me: what are you awake for (meaning, why are you awake at 1am and have you done your homework?)
Son: the storm
(Mom is silenced by the romantic vision of a boy awake in the middle of the night, listening to thunder)

Lesson: If you want your Mom to stop talking, say something especially beautiful.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

A Vintage Harris Tweed Jacket And The Possibility Of Moors

You might, one morning when the kitchen has turned cold, ask yourself, "What is tweed, anyway?" This has been known to happen. I realized the other day that I didn't know the answer. So I looked it up. Tweed means, simply,
"a rough, unfinished woolen fabric, of a soft, open, flexible texture resembling cheviot* or homespun, but more closely woven. It is made in either plain or twill weave and may have a check, twill, or herringbone pattern. Subdued, interesting color effects (heather mixtures) are obtained by twisting together differently colored woolen strands into a two- or three-ply yarn."
Tweed is a favorite of sturdy gals everywhere. Tweed is for walking across a marsh, a moor, or any land where neither stone nor tree will break the wind. It's for wearing with flushed cheeks. Something strong and warm on your feet. To be completely honest, for wearing with a turtleneck, because for all the poetry and warmth, tweed is itchy.

I know. They really ought to tell everyone this stuff. Would prevent unnecessary discomfort.

Harris Tweed is tweed fabric, woven on the Isle of Harris, or if we are feeling expansive, another of the islands in the Outer Hebrides. It's cold and windy and damp, apparently, in the Outer Hebrides. Requiring woven jackets to keep the peace. The fabric colors were originally created by dyes made of lichen, the source of the characteristic smell of early Harris Tweed clothing. Ever since 1993, in order to qualify as Harris, tweed has to display this symbol.

In the 1930's, this was not so. You could go to Lord and Taylor and buy a Harris Tweed jacket. As did my grandmother. Here is the evidence. No orb. Just a shiny, yellow, woven, label.

This jacket is the for the Sturdy Gal, not the Grande Dame, nor the Arty/Intellectual Cousin Twice Removed. It's not structured enough for the Grande Dame, and it's too structured for the Arty Cousin. Although she likes the part about the Outer Hebrides and wonders if there are any tribes indigenous to the area looking to house a woman who knows how to throw pots.

Me, I have worn this off and on over the last 35 years, depending on the tide. Depending on the spiritual peat smoke in the air. In college, during my preppy phase, with navy sailor pants, a striped sweater, and shoes I have long since forgotten. In Manhattan, in the 1980s, with a burnt orange turtleneck and high-waisted pants. I never put it on during the years of small children. Their skin was too soft. Back in corporate life, I would wear it with a black cashmere turtleneck, Armani pants, and Ferragamo slingbacks. Patent leather toes. Monochrome to put to rest any possible doubts raised by a lichen-colored jacket. Now with jeans. Long sleeves, because no memory or sentiment is worth the wear and tear of itchy tweed next to one's skin. The Sturdy Gal agrees with me. She has reason.

The Sturdy Gal laughs off sorrow. But will not endure unnecessary itchiness. She takes good enough care of her clothes that her granddaughter might wear them, 80 years later. She goes on walks, alone sometimes. Always buttoned up.

Here's the thing. Sturdy is an intent, as much as a trait. Like smiling. They say if you make yourself smile you will feel happy. March enthusiastically and with determination across a few moors and I will be surprised if you don't turn up sturdy when you're done.

Have a wonderful weekend.

*Don't you love it when someone explains something you didn't know by comparing it to something you know even less? Cheviot is apparently a twill made from wool of, yes, Cheviot sheep. Twill is apparently fabric woven so that parallel diagonal ribs appear. It's certainly not as though this is all self-evident.

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