Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Lunching Ladies

I love to meet friends for lunch. In big groups, or small groups, or when it's just two of us. We catch up with each other's lives, trade travel stories, or family stories, swap books... whatever. I guess you could say, I'm a lady who lunches. An unrepentant lady who lunches. 

I say unrepentant because apparently the term "ladies who lunch" is a pejorative one. Often accompanied by a sneer, and a smirk, and the implication that doing lunch is, as Preston Davis said in a recent post on her blog Keep It Chic, "a signifier of an idle life."  Preston says that she too loves to lunch with friends. Because keeping up with friends is important. Meeting for breakfast just isn't on since she does most of her work in the morning, and dinner is family time. So lunch it must be.

In her post Preston refers to a 2012 Vanity Fair article called Here's to the Ladies Who Lunched! by Bob Colacello. In writing his piece on the idea of ladies who lunch, Colacello was gobsmacked that practically every rich socialite he interviewed "swore they were not now and had never really been ladies who lunched." Huh. Even though they'd socialized with the famous ladies who did do lunch (Babe Paley, C.Z. Guest, The Duchess of Windsor et al), and of course they ate lunch themselves, they weren't ladies who lunched. Uh, ok-ay. 

I guess these very rich women were aghast at the thought they might be pigeonholed as having nothing better to do than lunch. And I can't blame them, really. The 1970 Stephen Sondheim song "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch," from the Broadway hit Company, depicts ladies who lunch as lounging about in caftans, "planning brunch on their own behalf," and drinking too much scotch. Oxford dictionary says the term "ladies who lunch" is a "derogatory" one, And Urban Dictionary pulls no punches at all, saying the phrase refers to "rich middle-aged" women who have "no jobs or other meaningful way to occupy their time." Ouch. 

You should read Colacello's article. It's pretty interesting, if you can keep all the names straight. He gives the whole history of the "ladies who lunch" phenomena. Or you could read the novel Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, same idea. 

title page for  Vanity Fair article "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunched!"
From Bob Collacello's 2012 Vanity Fair article

Me, well, I love to go for lunch, as I said. 

I was a teacher for many years, and for teachers lunching in a restaurant in the middle of the week is a treat. A luxury. Something that we do only on the weekend, or during summer break. Most days during the school semester, teachers don't have time to leave the building at lunch. Or the school grounds.

Our lunch time is spent wolfing down a sandwich as we rush off to a department meeting, or an extra-curricular event like a staff-student ball game, or our Multicultural Festival, or we might have to help the kids who are putting the finishing touches on the school newspaper. Or we're grabbing our sandwich to eat while on hall duty, or yard duty, or worse... cafeteria duty. All the while cursing that we're wearing our new Max Mara suit because we forgot it was our cafe duty day, and hoping against hope that there won't be a food fight. Ha. I know some of my former colleagues are laughing at that last example, and thinking, "Oh, Sue, only you were worried about your new suit." 

And if we do sit down to eat with colleagues for twenty minutes, we then use the rest of the lunch hour to finish up some marking. Or maybe print off and photocopy a test, rearrange the desks and tables in our classroom for a group activity, chase up the pad of chart paper and boxes of markers that have disappeared from the supply cupboard, and get the AV equipment set up for our first afternoon class. Let's just say that teachers are busy at lunch, with no time for lunching in a restaurant. 

So when we do eat out... in a restaurant... in the middle of the week... we're thrilled. I remember marvelling when I first retired, at being out in the "real world" at lunch time... during the week. 

table of women at lunch
My first "ladies who lunch" lunch as a retired person , May 2013
Of course, now I'm used to it. Being retired for five years, I'm an old hand at doing real world stuff during the week. And I'm most assuredly a lady who lunches. A lunching lady, if I can be called a lady. I think I curse a bit too much for that label, but never mind. Besides, since I don't own a caftan, hate scotch, and am not rich, I'm not afraid of being pigeonholed as one of those ladies who lunch. 

I think that the only people who are afraid to admit that they are a lady who lunches are the people who've always been able to do lunch whenever they chose, who could afford to be idle if they wished. And are maybe just a little defensive over that fact. Sigh. Best get over that, ladies. 

For me and my friends, I think that just because we while away a couple of hours, a couple of times a month, doesn't mean that we're idle the rest of the time. Or have nothing better to do. Or that we haven't earned our leisure time. 

Or that we're not very grateful to be able to be a lady who lunches. Once or twice a month.

In fact, I'd like to propose a toast to the real ladies who lunch, and who deserve to do so. Ha. So there. Take that Stephen Sondheim. 

Any thoughts, my friends, on lunch, or ladies who lunch? Or on anything, really. 

               Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things &  #SaturdayShareLink-up.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

What To Do When You Can't Muster a Half-Decent Outfit Post

It's official. I am declaring that I have been totally out of sorts for at least a week. In fact, I've been downright cranky. Not to mention pouty, crabby, grouchy, snappy, and cross. Sigh. I blame mother nature. I mean, snow and sleet and miserably cold weather in April will defeat anyone's Pollanna complex. 

Being cranky means I haven't felt even remotely inspired fashion-wise. I tried to muster a few outfits and some decent photos on a couple of days this week. Most of the shots I deleted. Outfit combinations were decidedly uninspired. And the pictures were worse. Both days were cold and blowy, with snow and no sun. So no outside shots, and not very well lit inside ones. I couldn't scrounge up a happy smile, no matter how much I played Pollanna's "glad game." 

three shots of woman in blue suit jacket, blue anorak, jeans, red shoes, and coral scarf
Uh, okay. How come these pieces, all of which I love, look "meh" together?
I salvaged these three shots from a myriad of photos. And several different outfits. Numerous combinations of tee shirts (red, striped, white) with three different pairs of jeans, my navy anorak, my red Earth brand loafers, and a couple of scarves, including this coral and cream Vince Camuto one I bought a while ago. Finally I added my Veronica Beard jacket. But when I tied the scarf, I felt as if I should be pushing the drinks trolley on an Air Canada flight. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Far from it. Those flight attendants know how to tie a scarf. But still, it wasn't a look I was going for. 

Eventually I settled for just wearing the scarf loose. Or tied loosely inside the coat. It looked okay. But as much as I think the scarf is pretty, it's just not what I need with my anorak. My friend Liz agreed with me when we met for coffee the other day. I should have a scarf that is more textured, less ladylike, and most assuredly a different red.  

This is the look I gave Hubby when he called to me from the kitchen as I was taking what was to be my last photo. "No I'm not going anywhere," I replied. "Yes, I know I'll be too cold in this outfit if I go outside. But I'm not going outside. No, I don't want another CUP OF TEA." See what I mean? Definitely cranky.

woman in blue coat, jeans and red shoes, with coral scarf
Poor Hubby, subjected to "the look."
So what does a blogger do when she can't muster a half-decent outfit post? Why... give up, of course. Throw on something comfy... and warm... and get out of Dodge. Or at least out of Manotick. So yesterday, I headed downtown, browsed a few shops for a new spring bag. Found a scarf for my coat, thanks to Liz. Had coffee and banana bread, and a good old natter with Liz, during which I may have whinged a bit. Then headed home refreshed. 

And this morning when I considered putting on some make-up and trying again to take outfit photos, I just couldn't summon up any enthusiasm. So Hubby and I pulled on our hiking boots and our jackets, and went walking instead. 

Much more restorative. Especially since today feels like spring, with double digit temperatures. Imagine. I even hung two loads of laundry to dry on the clothesline. Now that IS a harbinger of spring.  

So let's try that Pollyanna "glad game" again, shall we? I'm glad it's finally warm-ish outside. I'm glad my clean sheets will smell like spring sunshine when I make up our bed. I'm glad I found a lovely new scarf that I'll probably show you next week. I'm glad to have friends who don't mind hearing me whinge. And a long-suffering husband who pretends not to notice when I'm cranky and cross. 

And I'm glad to know that, when I can't muster a half-decent outfit post, you guys won't really mind if I give up. And get outside instead. 

Sometimes giving up is preferable to beating one's head against a wall. Much better for one's state of mind. And, in this case, for one's fitness too. And we did find a big bunch of pussy-willows along the trail today. So I'll be filling my earthenware jugs with them tomorrow. Now, I ask you, is there anything more cheerful in the early spring than a lovely bouquet of pussy-willows? 

poplar trees against a blue sky
Saw these beautiful poplar trees along the walking trail today.

So, that's it for me today, folks. I have to go bring the laundry in off the clothesline. After pussy-willows, laundry dried on the clothesline is the second best thing about spring. 

Okay... maybe third... right after being able to wear bare ankles with my new loafers. 

Now, how about you my friends? Has this late spring been getting on your nerves? What's your favourite thing about this time of year... when the weather finally, finally warms up? 

Linking up this week with: Visible MondayFake It Till You Make It#IwillwearwhatIlikeThursday Favourite ThingsFun Fashion FridayFabulous FridaySaturday Share Link-Up   

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

In Praise of Solitude

We're having a resurgence of winter here in eastern Ontario, indeed in most of Canada, it seems. Snow and sleet and freezing rain. And high winds. Yesterday, I ensconced myself by the gas stove in my sun room, and read. And napped. Most of the windows looking out onto the river were frosted from the freezing rain. I could just make out the ice covered tree tops lashing about, and hear the wind blowing the ice off the branches and up against the windows. It was a day good for nothing but lounging about with one's book. 

Painting of girl reading by Harold Knight
Girl Reading. Harold Knight. 1932    source
I need a day like that every once in a while. A few hours of solitude, of desultory reading, and thinking. When I worked I took my solitude where and when I could find it. During term time, on Saturday mornings, while the first load of laundry chugged away downstairs, I'd settle in with my tea and book for an hour. Sometimes Hubby would come out to the sun room and sit across from me with his own cup of tea, until I closed my book, and just looked at him. Balefully, no doubt. Not in the extreme sense of that word, not menacing or anything. Well, okay, maybe a little. Then, he'd sigh and go away. 

On the Christmas holidays, after the rush of shopping, and partying, and baking, and eating, and visiting was over, Boxing Day was my day of doing nothing. I remember one year the weather was perfect for skiing, so Hubby set off, and I settled beside the Christmas tree with a cup of tea and a book. The usual. I remember I read the whole of Richard Wright's Clara Callan that afternoon. I love that book. And in the summer, I'd spend a whole morning while Hubby was out golfing or gardening, just reading. I still do that actually. But back when I was teaching, I needed those solitary hours free from the clamour of students, and administrators, and colleagues, and the pile of marking that never seemed to go away. 

Painting of a woman reading by a window by Julius Garibaldi Melchers
Woman Reading by a Window. Julius Garibaldi (Gari) Melchers. 1905   source
I read a lovely article in The Paris Review the other day, I Have Wasted My Life, by Patricia Hampl, in which she explores the idea of being alone, and "being let alone." In our world of information overload and constant connectivity, even when we're alone, we're rarely "let alone." Hampl has had a lifelong fascination with the idea of solitude. She says: "When we are swept up by the demands of family or a job -- whatever it is that outlaws solitude -- perhaps it is especially then that we are most in love with what solitude seems to provide, what it promises. It promises freedom." 

In her article Hampl goes on to ponder the meaning of a favourite James Wright poem, in which the narrator of the poem lies in a hammock, describes his bucolic surroundings, and then ends with the somewhat surprising and enigmatic line: "I have wasted my life." Hampl says that she has pondered that line for years, changing several times her interpretation of Wright's meaning. 

In her closing she reflects on the wise words of her husband, who in the last week of his life unwittingly handed her the key to understanding the poem. Maybe the narrator regrets he has known too little solitude in his life, that "to be alone in this way is not to be insular but to open finally, fully to the inrushing reality of the world."  

It's a beautiful article, thoughtful, and poignant. And so refreshing to read in this world of cyber-silliness. Especially when I consider that my connection to The Paris Review is through Facebook. Ha. How ironic that Facebook, time-waster extraordinaire, and the very bane of the idea of privacy, delivers such jewels as Hampl's article to my screen. 

Painting of old woman reading a book by Rembrandt.
Old Woman Reading. Rembrandt. 1655  source
The idea of women who are alone, or who want to be alone, is a theme in literature that has fascinated me for years. Hence my interest in Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner whose characters are often spinsters. But it was three books which I read years ago which sparked my interest in the idea of women alone, of women needing to be alone. The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe, Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, and Abra by Joan Barfoot.  I've written about these books before on the blog, in a post on spinsters, and one on being alone, so this time I've just included the links if you're interested. What fascinates me about these books is the courage of the characters, or maybe the desperation, that moves these women to set aside their lives, and start again from scratch on their own. For the characters in these books solitude, as Hampl says, "promises freedom." 

My mum says she remembers when she was growing up her mother, my grandmother, used to retire to her upstairs bedroom with the door shut every once in a while. Sometimes for a day, sometimes longer. Mum says that Grammy never said if she were ill or not. She just closed her door. I imagine her in her room, lying on the bed, napping and reading, and maybe sighing a little at the luxury of a few hours of privacy. In her house the possibility of privacy was slight, what with three daughters, five sons, my grandfather, two hired men who worked with Grampy and boarded with my grandparents, plus the odd visiting relative from "up country," or maybe a cousin who came to Fredericton and needed a place to stay while they found work, or even one girl cousin of my Mum's who lived there while she attended school. I imagine my grandmother losing herself in her books, and maybe dreaming of escape, like the characters in the books I've read. But she settled for her few hours, the small portion of solitude she could manage in her busy life, and then she came downstairs again. 

Now that I'm retired, and the demands of a busy job are a thing of the past, I don't have to stake out any particular day as mine to do as I please. Because every day is mine. Pretty much. I have the luxury of solitude when I want it. So, I let the weather, or circumstances, dictate which days. It might be a day when I'm at home, and Hubby is busy elsewhere, running errands, or out skiing or golfing with friends, and I have the house to myself. Or a day like yesterday, when neither of us was going anywhere, snow and sleet were pelting the house, and out of frustration and boredom Hubby had two naps. 

And me? I sighed, and put the kettle on. And proceeded to occupy the couch in the sun room. I listened to the geese trying to land on the river in the wind, and to the ice pelting against the windows, and shushing off the roof... "open fully," as Hampl puts it, "to the inrushing reality of the world." 

Sometimes I even glanced at my book. 

What about you, my friends? Any thoughts on solitude? On women being alone? Or needing to be alone? On books? Snow in April??

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Making Ourselves Up

I saw this picture in Vogue magazine a while ago. It made a shiver run down my spine. And brought back memories of my teenage years. Of making myself up every morning before school. Because, of course, at sixteen, I felt strongly that a good coat of something, or numerous somethings, was needed to disguise my true, freckly, pimply self. Like Clearasil cream, green eye shadow, and peachy cream blush. And, the pièce de résistance, Mabelline Great Lash mascara, huge swaths of it, at least three sticky coats of the stuff. What followed were eyelashes which required some major de-clumping. Hence, the safety pin.

I've been making myself up, so to speak, ever since I hit puberty. Applying make-up to create a better version of myself. A stronger, more confident, better able to face the world version of me. 

shot of someone using a safety pin to separate eye lashes
DIY eyelash de-clumper in Vogue
In fact, it feels as if I've been using make-up, or watching someone else use it, my whole life. I remember as a kid watching Mum get ready for work in the morning. In her slip, and nylons and slippers, standing before the mirror in the bathroom, putting on her face, doing her eyebrows, and lipstick, and spritzing a last bit of hairspray. I imagine that, as a single mum raising four kids, she needed the extra armour, the little bit of added confidence that make-up and hairspray provided, before she marched out into the world. Because as difficult as being a single parent is today, it was a lot harder in a small, very conservative community on the east coast of Canada back in the sixties. 

I remember watching my two older sisters get ready for school, or for dates, applying blush and mascara and lip gloss. Sometimes they'd do my hair, but I wasn't allowed to wear make-up. Not until the Christmas I was fourteen, when my sister Connie bought me my first tube of mascara and a compact of powder blush as my Christmas gift. 

That was the beginning. By grade eleven, my best friend Debbie and I were lathering on the Great Lash mascara, and wielding the safety pins like professionals. 

Yeah. I know. In my teens I was no doubt hiding behind my Clearasil cream, green eye shadow, peach blush, and too much mascara. I should have been able to meet the world bare-faced, pimply, and proud. But I wasn't. I wasn't confident enough. Like most teenage girls I deplored my looks, downplayed my advantages, and magnified my imperfections. And make-up promised me a miracle: clear skin, peachy cheeks, and full eyelashes. 

I wouldn't always hide behind my face paint. Eventually I grew up and learned to enhance, instead of cover. Along the way I had my share of embarrassing make-up malfunctions. Embarrassing mascara moments, like I told you about here. Or embarrassing, "too much of a good thing" moments. Like when I worked in the cosmetic department at Simpson's on Sparks Street back in the early eighties. The first week, I applied my make-up at home in the morning not knowing how much the florescent lights in the store would wash colour out of my face. So that throughout the day, I'd catch sight of myself in a mirror, and thinking I looked terrible, I'd duly reapply my blush and lipstick. Until one night my roommate laughed when I arrived home. "Did you get on the bus like that? she asked. And I realized that I looked ridiculous, like a silent screen star, all dark lips and vivid slashes of blush. "Why did no one tell me I looked so silly?" I gasped. 

I have a much less fraught relationship with make-up these days. Probably because I have a much less combative relationship with my face. And indeed with myself. That's one of the compensations of growing older. 

Four shots of a woman at four different ages.
Making myself up through the years.
I don't expect miracles anymore. Ha. I grew out of that long ago. But I still love make-up. I  learned sometime in the eighties that less is more, especially less blush. I learned that I shouldn't wear warm peachy blush or lipstick; they make me look ill. And that every few years we all need to reassess how we do what we do to our faces. Like eye brows. I did nothing to my eyebrows for years. Then in my forties, they started to disappear, and I realized that they needed attention, more colour and better shaping. For years I applied contouring blush under my cheekbones, to make my very fat face look a little less round. Now I cherish the roundness, and apply blush only on the apples of my cheeks. And then last year, I learned how (and where) to use highlighter powder. That trick was a revelation to me. The trick itself, plus the fact that, after so many years of wearing make-up, I still had things to learn. 

I mentioned to someone a few weeks ago that in retirement I'm making myself up as I go along. Finding my post-teaching identity, after so many years of standing in front of innumerable classes of teenagers. 

And I think that's what I was doing with make-up as a teenager, trying to decide who I was. I wish I had had a bit more confidence, back then, confidence in who I was under the make-up. But that came later. And in the meantime, that goopy mascara gave me a much needed ego boost. 

And I was lucky to have older sisters who guided me. Or tried to. Whose example I followed and thus avoided some of the worst beginner make-up mistakes. 

And we were all three of us lucky to have a mum who, despite her occasional eye-roll, understood our need for a little extra armour to help us face the world.

I don't need so much armour these days. And not nearly as much confidence boosting as when I was in high school. Ha. Thank goodness. But I am still exploring who I am, and trying to enhance that with a little blush and eye-shadow. And much, much less mascara, I'm happy to say. So no need for safety pins. 

I'm a work in progress. As we all are, I guess. 

And even if we don't all wear make-up, we are all still making ourselves up as we go along. So to speak. 

Don't you think?

How about you, my friends? Have you had an evolving relationship with make-up? Have you, like me, learned that a light touch is best? Or have you tossed your blusher in the garbage, and sworn off the paint and mascara altogether? Or maybe you never used the stuff in the first place? 

Do tell us your story about making up. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Looking for Sunshine in My Closet

Yesterday, I read a post on my friend Frances' blog, Materfamilias Writes. She talks in the post about wanting a little colour in her outfits while she waits for spring. "Spring," I sighed. 

I am pining for spring too. Or at least for weather that encourages me to think that spring might just possibly be possible this year. We've had cold, grey weather this week. And I'm pining for warmth and sunshine. And oddly, as a result, pining for yellow. If I can't have warmth or sunshine, then I'll settle for the colour of sunshine. 

While I've been on my exercise bike, lately, I've been scrolling through Pinterest, and pinning pictures of everything yellow. Flowers, old farmhouses, lemon yellow quilts. And some fashion, of course. If I can't have sunshine in real life, I'll have it on my i-pad. You might say all that pining has lead to a lot of pinning.  

painting of woman and yellow jonquil flowers
The Jonquils by Childe Hussan 1904    source
And then I read this article by Katy Kelleher in The Paris Review. It's a lovely article; you should read it. All about jonquil, the buttery yellow, early spring colour of a by-gone era making a come back in fashion. And about the significance of yellow in mythology and literature and art. I am clearly not the only one with yellow on my mind.

And so inspired by Kelleher's article in The Paris Review and my friend Frances' post, I went digging for some sunshine in my closet. 

I don't own a lot of yellow, as it happens. This Brooks Brothers cotton sweater, below, bought in 2014. And my old Michael Kors tote. That's pretty much the sum total of everything yellow in my closet. That's odd when I think of all the yellow I've owned over the years. I remember a bright yellow ski jacket in high school, and a yellow spring rain coat in university. A beautiful, buttery yellow sweater and matching knit skirt in the eighties. Plus innumerable yellow turtlenecks over the years, tees, tanks, and striped rugby shirts. I wonder where all that yellow went, or why my desire to own yellow went away. 

woman in yellow sweater and blue denim skirt
Summery in yellow, but too cold for this look today.
So this morning, out came my one and only yellow sweater. And since it's way too cold for bare legs and a skirt, I pulled it on with my highrise Paige jeans, my Montcler anorak, an old scarf in blues and browns, and my new Earth brand loafers
woman on a deck in blue coat, yellow sweater, jeans, and red shoes
Wearing sunshine under my coat... and snowflakes on my face. 
I love my new red shoes. They are soft and really comfortable. And they fit my very narrow foot. I haven't owned red shoes since I was a kid. Red, T-strap Mary Janes purchased at G.E. George in Fredericton when I was nine, and in which I danced on our doorstep in the sunshine on Easter morning that year... way back in the day. Ha. No sunshine for doing the two-step on the doorstep today, Missy. 

woman on a deck in blue coat, yellow sweater, jeans, and red shoes
Feeling springy in my yellow sweater and new red shoes.
I love the yellow sweater with the navy coat and dark-washed jeans. I even like this old scarf with the coat. I wish I owned a brighter scarf in sunny yellow and red, but I don't. Besides, I like this outfit. It's fine. 

woman on a deck in blue coat, yellow sweater, jeans, and red shoes
Now if only it would stop bleeping snowing?
If I can't have warm spring temperatures and sunshine just yet, I'll wear my sunshine. In fact maybe I'll wear it tomorrow, and go shopping for a new scarf to go with my anorak and my yellow sweater. Something a bit brighter, but not over-the-top with colour. After all, when have I ever gone over-the-top with colour?

Well, okay. 

There was that one time. 

Clearly I take much bigger risks with my fishing ensembles that I do with my normal outfits. Ha.

woman in a canoe wearing orange and yellow fishing outfit and  holding a fish
No sunshine that day. But the fish were biting.
That's me catching my first fish in years, on my very first trip to Algonquin Park, on the May 24th weekend in 1985. I'm wearing Hubby's yellow rain slicker, and his orange rain pants. Notice how they co-ordinate with my life-jacket? 

It was snowing that day too. Yep. Snowing on the May 24th weekend. 

Sigh. I hope this doesn't bode ill for the weather this spring. Maybe my new red and yellow scarf should be wool. 

What do you think? Just in case. 

What about you, my friends? Are you pining for spring? Are you like me, looking for sunshine in your closet?