Sunday, December 18, 2016

Home for the Holidays

It's been party central around here lately, folks. Probably the same where you are. Festive pot-luck buffet dinner. Hockey gang party. Girls' dress-up night; we did a small sit down dinner for eight this year. Good friends, good food, wine, and much laughter. And singing. You might have seen my shaky video of the hockey gang singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram. Shaky because it's hard to hold the camera steady and laugh at the same time. 

Our singalong before supper at our friends' beautiful log home. Near North Gower, Ontario
Singing before supper. The annual hockey gang party at our friend's beautiful log home. 

Girls' dress up night. Dinner for eight. Barrhaven, Ontario
Les girls.... some of. Three more of us in the kitchen. 
So now that the partying is over, it's high time I buckled down and did some work. Aside from choosing party outfits and shopping, I've done nothing to get ready for Christmas. Yet. And Hubby and I hit the road on Wednesday. For the long drive home for the holidays.

Maritimers heading home for Christmas is a long-standing tradition. I wonder if that's because so many of us have, over the generations, left home and moved to Ontario or "out west" for jobs which have always been pretty scarce on the east coast. For years and years, the annual question Maritimers who live away are asked by family and friends is "Are you coming home for Christmas?"

One year back in the early eighties, long before I met Hubby and started teaching, when I worked in cosmetics at Simpson's on Sparks Street here in Ottawa, my roommate, me, my sister, and two boys we knew from home and who worked in the shoe store next door to Simpson's were all booked on the same flight home. On Christmas Eve. 

We all had to work Christmas Eve, but had permission from our bosses to leave early, in time to make our early evening flight. I remember Debbie, my roommate, and I packed and lugged our suitcases on the bus to work that morning. My sister would meet us at my work and drive us all to the airport. Then it started to snow. Really snow. And all day we worried. And called each other, and the airport. By noon the storm was so bad that our flight to Montreal had been cancelled. If we could get to Montreal (two hours away) we could still pick up our flight to Fredericton. Fat chance of that. Then while we fretted and dithered, the flight from Ottawa to Montreal was reinstated. Phew. 

By 4:00 pm Debbie and I waited impatiently at the back door of Simpson's for my sister. She was late. It was still snowing heavily. The roads were terrible. Downtown hadn't seen a plow for hours it seemed. Carolyn's tiny car bumped and slewed through the ruts made by other vehicles all the way to the airport. We worried we'd never make it. But we did. The flight to Montreal would be late leaving, but was still flying, so we were happy. And in Montreal our ongoing flight was delayed. Twice. I think we finally took off around ten o'clock. But, better late than not at all. Hopefully, we'd still be home by Christmas.

And as I'm sure you've guessed, we were. When we finally landed at the small airport in Fredericton it was close to midnight. There was much laughter and high spirits among the passengers. And our friend Mark who was a great joker and who had a window seat, looked out onto the runway and said to me: "Wow. Look Susan, Santa himself has come to meet us." Ha. Very funny Mark. 

But as it transpired, Mark was not joking. When we stumbled down the steps onto the tarmac, there was Santa. Red suit, white beard, chuckling and shaking everyone's hand. "Welcome home, folks. Merry Christmas." And inside the airport in the arrival lounge, my stepfather, who'd been there for god knows how long, patiently waiting for us

Ah. That's one of my favourite Christmas memories. 

I know, as a travel horror story, this one doesn't have much in the way of drama. I've been on much longer, more stressful flights many times since. In particular Hubby's and my convoluted and emotional journey home from a tiny island north of Broome, in Australia, when my stepfather died in 2008. But, back in 1981, as a recently transplanted Maritimer, newly trying my wings away from home, I don't think I could have imagined, at the time, a fate worse than NOT getting home for the holidays. For Christmas. 

And on that theme, have a look at this lovely, quirky video by Wes Anderson, starring Adrian Brody.  

Of course experience teaches us that there are many worse fates than not being home on Christmas. Obviously. There are those who are experiencing their first holiday season since losing a family member. Like my friend about whom I wrote a couple of posts ago. And of course there are those many, many people caught in tragic circumstances around the world, with no home at all... anymore. 

Hubby and I don't go home for the holidays every year. And I'm grateful that we can make the trip this year. Grateful for family that we'll spend it with. And grateful for all the years, and all the Christmases, spent with family and friends who are no longer with us. We'll be thinking of them. And no doubt swapping stories about them. And raising a glass to them, I imagine.

Now I really must go. I've baking to do. Tourtières do not make themselves, people. And I have to start packing. Depending on the weather we may leave a day early. Because...well... freezing rain... snow... you know, the usual. 

I don't know if I'll have time to post again before Christmas. So let's just say our seasons greetings now, okay? From our home to yours. Wherever that is. Whatever holiday you celebrate... I hope it's wonderful.

Linking up today with Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb  and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Resisting the Siren Call of the Couch... Staying Fit After Fifty

It's winter. And it's snowing, or raining, or freezing raining depending on where you live. And cold. So, what should you do when, like the song says, "the weather outside is frightful... and the fire is so delightful?" You may not want to hear this... but... resist, my friends. Resist the temptation to hunker down and stay indoors. Resist the urge to curl up on the couch by the fire with some shortbread and a good book. Resist the temptation to NOT go outside... until April. 

Cross country skiing on the Osgoode Trail, Osgoode Ontario. Gortex jacket, and fleece from Mountain Equipment Co-op. Turtleneck by Columbia. RayBan sunglasses.
Last winter on the Osgoode Trail near our house. That's Hubby in the background.
Because not resisting, giving in to the temptation to sit inside, can be really bad for us. And for our health. I know it's hard. Winter can be off-putting. The cold. The snow. The early darkness. The time it takes to get bundled up enough to brave the elements. It's all sooo much effort. I get that.

But there's just too much information out there to ignore the fact that inactivity is hard on us. You probably already know that sitting can be hazardous to our health. Our bodies get used to the reduced "physical demands" and our metabolism slows down. Contributing to increased weight and impaired blood circulation. Too much sitting makes us more susceptible to heart disease and other conditions. I've read a number of articles on this in the past couple of years since I retired. Since I found that I sit way more then I used to when I was still teaching. Way more than I know is good for me. Have a look at this article from Good Housekeeping for instance.  It's pretty interesting, and the author provides numerous links to her sources. 

Until I retired I didn't realize how much I moved around all day at school without even thinking about it. Up and down stairs, up and down long hallways, moving around the classroom, standing at the the front of a classroom waving my arms as I talked to the class. And when I retired I had to replace all that movement... somehow. And it hasn't been easy. Not when I love to read, write this blog, and have started drawing again. All activities which have me seated in one spot or another. 

And winter adds another wrinkle to the problem. In spring, summer, or fall... when the weather is warm and fine... it's much easier to get up from my chair. Go outside. Go for a walk. Or a bike ride. Meet my friends for coffee after an hour of walking. But winter makes that harder. There's the cold, as I mentioned. And snow. And all that bundling up. And then there's the siren call of the book, the couch, and the crackling fire. Some days resisting that is a Herculean task... I kid you not.

But I have a secret weapon in my house. A nagging husband. My own personal coach, trainer, motivator. This is particularly helpful in the winter, when, even if it's sunny, I could easily fall prey to my desire to read the whole day long. "Come on, Suz. It's beautiful outside," Hubby intones. I groan. And then start getting dressed. "You know you'll feel great when you get going." Yeah. Yeah. I know. So I do get going. And I always feel better for it. 

Cross-country skiing in Marlboro Forest, near North Gower, Ontario.
Head to toes in borrowed clothes in 1985.
Hubby has been cajoling and persuading me out onto the trails since before he was my hubby. We went cross-country skiing on our second date. I had skied exactly once before. I had no equipment or appropriate clothing. Except a turtleneck. That's why in the shot above, from 1985, I'm wearing Hubby's toque, hoodie, jacket, pants, socks, and gloves. And ski boots that he borrowed from the equipment room at school. The sunglasses are my own. 

Cross-country skiing in Marlboro Forest, near North Gower, Ontario
Marlboro Forest, around 1987 or 88.
I learned to cross-country ski on the golf course across from our house, except it was only Hubby's house then. And on the snowmobile trails in nearby Marlboro Forest. That's where the picture above was taken. Probably somewhere around 1987 or 88. I'm wearing the Gortex jacket and pants that Hubby bought me for Christmas that year. You might say that we had a trail-side romance. 

Cross-country skiing on Leaf Lake Trails in Algonquin Park, Ontario.
Skiing in Algonquin Park, 1990's.
For years we've tried to get away for at least a weekend to ski in Algonquin Park. The trails are beautiful, well groomed, and virtually empty most days. In the shot above, taken sometime in the 1990's, we'd stopped for lunch at this cabin on the trail. The men who groom the trails usually build a fire in the wood stove, so by the time we got there the cabin was toasty warm. 

And the one below was taken on the Leaf Lake Trail in Algonquin Park in 2006. I'm chuckling to myself as I write this because the only way I can tell the vintage of these photographs is from what I'm wearing. Scientists use carbon dating... I use clothing dating. 

Cross-country skiing on Leaf Lake Trails in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Jacket, fleece, toque all from Mountain Equipment Co-op
Leaf Lake Trail in Algonquin Park. 2006.
I always feel amazing after a good ski. Tired, and for the first few outings every year, a bit stiff, legs a bit wobbly, arms a little floppy. But I'm always glad that I've gone. Cross country skiing is wonderful exercise. Apparently it is unique among other forms of "endurance exercise," like running, because it provides a "full body workout." It uses all the big muscles, arms and legs, and builds cardio capacity as well. In his article in the Globe and Mail Alex Hutchinson makes reference to studies done in Sweden and the United States that look at how cross-country skiing can benefit us as we age. According to Hutchinson: "Good genes can help you live a long life, but if you want to enjoy those later years go skiing." 

Friendly chickadees in Algonquin Park.
Hubby sharing his trail lunch in Algonquin Park.

Now, I know it's not easy to get out there. To brave the elements when mother nature is not being friendly.  Even harder for those of you whose winter does not include our gorgeous, crisp, sunny days. But the effort is worth it. Science tells us that it's worth it. Our improved mood and feeling of well being after we've exercised tells us that it's worth it. 

And besides, there is really nothing better than a well deserved loll on the couch in front of the fire, with a cup of tea, and a good book... after a day on the ski trails. Just remember that it's important to get the order of events correct... first the resistance, then the skiing, then the lolling. 

Now, I'm thinking of setting up a little business venture. I might farm Hubby out as a nagger-for-hire. His encouragement over the years to just get out there and exercise has no doubt benefited me. Maybe his nagging could help others? What do you think? 

How about you folks? What are you doing these days to resist the siren call of the couch? To try to stay fit and healthy?

Linking up today with Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb  and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Wrap It Up... The Season for Layering

Now that it's December I'm thinking of layers of all sorts. Sometimes I dream of the chocolatey, fudgey, mocha, whipped creamy layers in concoctions like this one. A small 'sliver' wouldn't upset the fitness regimen too much. Would it? Of course when you pile that 'sliver' on top of tourtière, roast turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, mincemeat tarts, and other seasonal fare... I might have to crank up the exercise bike a notch or two. Or ski a couple of extra hours a week... or a day. Ha. 

Chocolate truffle layer cake from Food and
All those pastry and gooey layers tend to add up to an extra layer of... well... me. Sigh. Which makes me really glad that it's beginning to look a lot like this around here. For two reasons. The first is that we can ski now. And cross-country skiing is just about the most perfect form of exercise. And the second is that it's cold. And when it's cold I start thinking in terms of layers of another sort. The kind that keep me warm. And which also conveniently hide any accumulated evidence of Christmas baking debauchery.

View of the Rideau River near Manotick, Ontario in winter
Our view of the river, now that winter is here.
For a few weeks now, I've been collecting shots of layered outfits on my Pinterest board. Outfits that appeal to me and which I think are chic and sensible. I love the look, below, from which I found here on the blog Closet Full of Clothes. The soft brown coat, camel blazer, and dark brown fur actually makes me think of chocolate mousse cake. Yum. And it's one of the few outfits in the myriad of "how to layer" posts I found that involve honest to goodness cold weather conditions. 

Layering for winter outfit from
You'd be surprised how many articles, and posts, and Instagram photos there are that purport to show the reader or viewer how to dress in layers for winter. Some of them are silly, and involve models in open-toed shoes, gauzy skirts, bare ankles, no gloves, sleeves as gloves... you name it. But some of them are lovely, chic, and sensible. And give me ideas for pairing pieces I already own. Like this cozy outfit from Le White tunic, comfy loose-fitting mock turtleneck, leather trousers, and boots. I love the beige sweater with black and crisp white. I could totally do this look.

Layered outfit from Le
So I hauled out my black leather trousers, and paired them with my white silky Vince turtleneck, this camel cashmere and wool turtleneck that I bought at Aritzia last year, and my new Stuart Weitzman boots. The Vince t-neck hangs an inch or so below the sweater in front (except not in this shot, I notice) and a couple of inches longer in the back. 

White Vince turtleneck, camel wool and cashmere Babaton sweater from Aritzia, black Holt Renfrew brand leather trousers, black Stuart Weitzman Brogan ankle boots.
My version of the Le look.
I chose to use a silky turtleneck as my base layer instead of a shirt, like in the photo. Mostly because the t-neck fits closer to the body and thus will be warmer. And also because it's easy to slip a heavy sweater over the silky fabric. That's basic layering theory folks. Base layer close to the skin + insulating or mid-layer that is a bit looser and traps air. I really love this Aritzia sweater. The shape is boxy enough to hide any evidence of Christmas over-indulgence, and loose enough to serve as a great mid-layer. 

White Vince turtleneck, camel wool and cashmere Babaton sweater from Aritzia, black Holt Renfrew brand leather trousers, black Stuart Weitzman Brogan ankle boots
See? Silky base layer, looser mid-layer.
And it's also slim enough to slip under a light winter coat, like my brown Max Mara coat which I bought way back in the fall of 2010. In Canadian Winter Layering Techniques 101, one's outer layer is usually for wind and rain protection. But since I'm not going skiing or winter camping in this get-up, I'm not too bothered about wind protection. Or worried about getting wet. So I donned my chocolate brown, vintage beret with my Max Mara coat and brown gloves. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get out of the house with the outfit intact this time. And not chicken out and leave the hat behind.
White Vince turtleneck, camel Babaton sweater from Aritzia, brown Max Mara coat, black leather Holt Renfrew brand trousers, black Stuart Weitzman brogan ankle boots, vintage brown beret with Bakelite brooch, gold earrings from Magpie Jewellry
All layered up, and ready to go.
I do love this vintage beret. The Bakelite brooch that came in the hat is the exact shade of the coat. But sadly, as you know.... I'm mostly all hat talk... and little hat action.

Brown Max Mara coat, camel Babaton sweater from Aritzia, white Vince turtleneck, vintage brown beret with Bakelite brooch, gold earrings from Magpie jewelers
Hoping to make it out the door with my hat still part of the outfit.
If you think that my camel sweater looks familiar... you'd be right. I actually featured it on the blog last year, in this post. And I just checked. The sweater is still available on the Aritzia website, if you're at all interested. Now, speaking of outer layers that protect against getting wet. I should have had an outer layer on my bottom when I attempted to take this shot on our deck. The little pile of snow on the bench which had melted in the sun was a bit cold on the butt when I sat down. Amazing how leather pants are not, in fact, waterproof.

Black leather trousers from Holt Renfrew, white silky Vince turtleneck, camel Babaton sweater from Artizia
Ah ah ah... that's cold.
So 'tis the season for layers of all sorts. Edible layers. Wearable layers. And unwelcome, but hopefully cover-up-able, layers. Which will be dispatched forthwith by hours and hours of skiing. Hopefully. 

Now, I'm going to wrap up this post... wrap up in my layered outfit... and go finish my Christmas shopping. Meanwhile I leave you with this delightful little video. About wrapping up. 

How about you, folks? Do you have to wrap up this time of year where you live? Are you fond of layering? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Just sayin'. Thoughts About Grief.

You know, normally I'm not at a loss for words. On the blog or otherwise. But this week. Meh. Not so chatty. You see, the young son of a good friend just died. He was fourteen. And we're all kind of gobsmacked. 

His mum is a good friend of mine. She's much younger than me. In fact we met when she was hired as a new teacher and I was a fifteen year veteran. Her desk was next to mine. That year we bonded over grade nine English lesson plans and moaning about our wardrobes. I left the next September to take a headship in another school, and we have met every few months for lunch or dinner since then. We've sipped wine or coffee, and yakked, mostly about work and clothes, for almost twenty years. Since then she's married, become a department head herself, then a vice-principal, and now a principal. And she's had three lovely sons. She calls me her "mentor" and I'm flattered to be thus characterized. Flattered because she's smart and kind and funny and a seriously hard worker. She didn't need me to get where she is. But it's nice to be thought of that way. 

So what exactly does one say to a much younger friend when one has no idea how they must be feeling? How it is to be so devastated by loss. How it is to even have a child, let alone lose one. What to say, or do, when one frankly has no clue how to be helpful. No clue at all.

Late fall on the trail
I've been doing a bit of reading. Seeing what psychologists and people who should know this stuff say about what friends can do for friends who are grieving. Of course, they all say the main thing is to be there. Not to disappear when the first weeks have passed and the crowds of relatives and friends have gone home, for the most part. I found this article by clinical counselor Megan Devine to be most helpful. She doesn't pull any punches, says to remember that the situation is "not about you." Warns friends not to try to "fix the unfixable." And admonishes them to make sure they "show up, say something, do something." Sounds simple doesn't it? 

I had a long chat with my mum today. Funny, isn't it, to be sixty years old and still asking your mum for advice? Mum was widowed at age 23 when her first husband was killed. My older brother and sisters were 4 years, 2 years and 5 weeks old respectively. Mum says she doesn't remember much about the aftermath of that tragedy. But today she spoke of one friend whom she remembers as being of particular comfort to her. And that's because the friend was content to just sit quietly, sometimes "do" my mum's hair, and never seemed to feel compelled to fill the silence with chatter. Mum said she remembers hating all the chatter. I guess the chatterers with their kindly meant aphorisms were doing what Megan Devine would call trying to "fix the unfixable."

I remember the first winter after I retired, when Hubby had his heart operation, how at a loss I was afterward when he seemed to want to only look at the negative. How my Pollanna-ish comments, and constant looking for the bright side, only seemed to annoy him. And a counselor I know told me to stop trying to make him be positive. That I should simply be acknowledging his pain and anger. Not trying to make it go away. I was trying to fix him, and his depression, I guess. 

One thing I found really helpful during that rather stressful time was something a psychologist friend posted on Facebook. That "no empathetic statement ever started with at least." Oh my. That's exactly what all his friends had been doing. At least you're alive. At least you didn't have a heart attack. At least Susan is retired now and can be home all the time. Something else that comes to mind about those first few months after I retired and Hubby was ill is that all my friends seemed to have disappeared. A couple of years later, I remember remarking that I found it lonely that first winter. And a friend said, "...well... you have lots of friends...they must have been around." Ah. Not so much. Most were still working. And the others, well, not sure what happened there, to tell you the truth. 

Now, don't get me wrong; I am not trying to equate my young friend's obviously heartbreaking loss with what I felt during Hubby's illness. Not at all. I'm just saying that maybe some of what I learned that winter can help me to be more helpful for her. 

Fresh snowfall today, on the Rideau.
So I guess where I'm going with all of this is that even if I have no clue how my friend is feeling, I do have a clue what I might do (and not do) to help. Because I do want to help. I know she has lots of loving family around her. And many old friends her own age, to whom she is closer than to me. But I do not want to assume that she has no need for an older, old friend. 

So I'll do my best just to be present for her. If and when I'm needed. I will not say "at least", and hopefully not try to "fix the unfixable." I will try not to chatter if chatter is not what she wants. We might go for a walk. I could bring muffins and tea, if she feels like muffins and tea. Whatever. Because of course as my mum wisely said, "everyone is different in their grief."  And I guess my first step is to find out what my grieving young friend needs. And doesn't need. 

It's a start anyway.   

Saturday, December 3, 2016

If Wishes Were Dresses ... Festive Dressing Decision Time

So... the other day, when it was still November, I was on my exercise bike pedaling my butt off (not to mention other body parts that have grown in girth lately.) And I was flipping through magazines and Pinterest, and dreaming of wearing something like this dress to the deluge of festive parties that I will be attending this year. Okay, maybe not a deluge, exactly, but more than two. 

Sigh. If wishes were dresses this would be in my closet right now. A lovely full-skirted, red, satin dress with high heels and an edgy leather jacket to keep it from looking too ladylike. But... wishes are just wishes, and there is no lovely, full-skirted, red dress hiding in my closet.

Red full-skirted dress, black leather jacket, black hose, red fur bag, from winter 2017 issue
I do however own a somewhat-full-skirted Lida Baday dress that I bought a few years ago, and still love. It has pockets, which I like, and a deep V in the back which is pretty swish. And it's supposed to be kind of crinkly like this. But, you know, I think I prefer it as a summer special occasion dress to wear with flats and bare legs. And besides, I'm not attending any parties where I'd need to be this dressed up.

Black Lida Baday dress with self belt, black Stuart Weitzman block-heeled pumps with silver buckle detail. Turquoise pasmnina, gift.
Still love my Lida Baday dress... just not for a Christmas party.
I might be more partial to a little velvet number like this one from Gap. I actually prefer it with the tee shirt under it. But any dress, even a fabulous one like the red satin, has limited appeal for me. One or two fancy dresses sitting unworn in my closet are enough. 

Black velvet dress from the Gap.
Gap dress
So maybe something in a suit. Like a snazzy top to dress up my navy Veronica Beard suit. Or a vest to wear with my purple Tory Burch tie blouse and my black pants. I love these two looks below from the Canadian publication Fashion Actually, the navy suit on the left is a bit severe even for me, but with a sparkly blouse under the jacket it would be lovely. Wouldn't it?

Blue velvet pants suit with white blouse and white boots. Tuxedo  trousres, burgundy print tie blouse, burgundy boots, and black vest. Both looks from Winter 2017 issue
So, off I went one morning this week. To see if I could find a little something sparkly, or velvet, to add some glitter and gleam to my navy and black minimalist pieces. I didn't want to spend much. Cheap and cheerful were the words in my head as I trawled the stores at a local mall. But.... mall trawling can be mind numbing. And futile. If I were twenty-two again, and planning to head off on a Saturday night to Disco Viva in Hull, I'd have been in heaven. But I'm not. And all I found were tops and jackets that were cheap... and looked it. I don't care how inexpensive something is, if it won't get worn, it's not a bargain. And besides, I think I swore off fast fashion last summer, didn't I? As it happened, I didn't come home totally empty handed. I caught the tail end of the Eddy Bauer Black Friday sale, and I picked up a new fleece and a turtleneck for skiing. But I was, however, back to square one when it came to festive party outfits. 

So it was time to put on my thinking cap, and trawl my closet, in particular the space in the hall cupboard where, in behind the winter coats, I keep a garment bag of things I rarely wear but can't let go of just yet. Like this velvet bolero, which I had uncharacteristically forgotten all about. I bought this red jacket at the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show for $10.00... oh... must be almost twenty years ago. I removed the shoulder pads, and I used to wear it with a little black lacy dress I'd had for years, for Christmas parties and the like. In fact the last time I wore it was to my niece's Christmas wedding in 2012. 

I tried it with my black Rag and Bone gauzy layered tank, and my Vince knit leggings. And these Stuart Weitzman block-heeled pumps from 2009. The layered tank does what it does best, drapes nicely, and covers what it should. I turned up the hem of the leggings so they hit me just above the ankle; they look better with the pumps that length. You know, I like this outfit. I'm covered, comfortable, a bit edgy, not frumpy, and I feel fabulous. Ha. I have an outfit I've never worn before...and I didn't spend a cent. 

Rag and Bone tank, vintage red bolero, Vince leggings, Stuart Weitzman pumps, earrings by Holt Renfrew, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet
Breathing new life into an old jacket
I've always loved how my velvet jacket dips in the back, as you can see in the shot on the right. And I have a pair of earrings and a bracelet which are the perfect colour. My Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet would be too heavy if I were wearing the jacket with my little black lacy dress... not that I can fit into that little black dress anymore... see comment in opening about recent girth growth... but with the pants and tank it works. 

Rag and Bone tank, vintage red bolero, Vince leggings, Stuart Weitzman pumps, earrings by Holt Renfrew, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet   Rag and Bone tank, vintage red bolero, Vince leggings, Stuart Weitzman pumps, earrings by Holt Renfrew, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet

You can see the earrings and bracelet a bit better, below. And you can tell that I had fun playing around with the lay-out ap on my i-pad. Now what colour would you call that jacket? Carmine? Maroon? Ruby? Wine? Maybe even pinot noir? Totally depends on which website you consult, and your computer screen. 

Rag and bone tank, red bolero vintage, Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet, earrings by Holt Renfrew

So that's me sorted. I'm up one new outfit and not out any money. Win, win. I'll still wear the outfit below, from last year, to the Christmas engagement party for our friend's son that Hubby and I will attend. My Rag and Bone tank (quelle surprise), my Helmut Lang jacket, and my old faithful leather trousers, with my Stuart Weitzman loafers. I still really like this look. But I am getting a bit tired of my leather pants. I might have to retire them for a rest.

Rag and Bone tank, Helmut Lang jacket, Holt Renfrew leather trousers, Stuart Weitzman loafers   Rag and Bone tank, Holt Renfrew leather trousers, Stuart Weitzman loafers.

And I'm pretty sure I'll try to do something fun with my Veronica Beard suit for the big house party for the hockey gang. I just haven't decided what yet. I'll let you know how that goes. 

Christmas party season is often problematic for me. I usually dream up an outfit that involves something I don't own, but wish I did. And I hate to spend money on something I will wear only occasionally. So I'll look, as I did this year, for something inexpensive to cheer up what is already in my closet. And I rarely find anything that suits me. I guess it's a good thing that when I do find something, like my red bolero, I stash it away and can haul it out for years to come. There is, of course, one tiny problem that can arise when one drags an item of apparel out of the closet so very rarely. And that is the girth issue. 

I'm thinking specifically of the evening of a work Christmas party about fifteen years ago. I had cobbled together an outfit from an old pair of black tuxedo-style pants, a fluffy cream silk blouse, and a beautiful black brocade vest that was new. But at the last minute when we were all ready to go, and Hubby was on his way out to start the car, I decided the outfit needed a really great belt. And I had just the thing in mind. Somewhere, stashed in a drawer, I knew I had a gorgeous, black patent-leather, cummerbund-style belt that buckled in the back. It had dressed up a jersey dress that I wore to a party way back when I'd worked in pharmaceutical sales. The dress was long gone, but I knew just where the belt was. Ah ha! As I hauled it out, I could see out the window, that Hubby was in the car with the motor running, headlights shining across the driveway. I whipped off my vest and wrapped the belt around me, grabbing each end to buckle it. What the...? No matter how much I wrestled with it, there was no frigging way the ends of that belt would meet. There was a three inch gap. Three inches! What the hell? 

Well. Let's just say the belt went back in the drawer. The vest back on. Then my coat. And when I finally climbed into the car and Hubby asked incredulously, "what the bleep, bleep" I had been doing, I thought longingly of that beautiful, patent-leather belt, that would never again be the line of demarcation between my creamy silk blouse and my black trousers, and I simply said I'd had a slight problem with my horizontal X axis. Math teacher joke, for girth increase problems. Ha. Never, never store a belt for twenty years and then haul it out to wear at the last minute. You might, like me, be in for a nasty surprise. 

If wishes were able to be translated into wardrobe reality that evening, I'm not sure if I would have wished for the belt to be longer or the area to be covered a bit smaller. Three inches smaller. Sigh. I can say that I would not have chosen to turn back time, to the era when the belt fit me. Not for a moment. Despite the fact that I must have been some jeezley skinny when I was in my twenties. But as age and experience has taught me... being skinny ain't everything. 

You know, "some jeezley" was perhaps the most commonly used expression of amazement when I was growing up in New Brunswick. Funny. I don't think I've used it for years. Must be because Hubby and I are planning to go home for Christmas this year. We have, as you know, been home at other times. But not for Christmas. Not for a few years. 

And we're some jeezley excited... as us New Brunswickers say.

Now, what about you folks? What festive dressing decisions have you made so far?  If wishes were dresses... or suits, or whatever.... what would you suddenly find in your closet? Or do you already have a closet full of party wear? Or are you adverse to party gear? I must say that after a couple of parties, I'm ready to go back to my jeans and turtlenecks. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Family Dynamics... Fictional or Otherwise

I come from a big family. Well, big enough. A brother, two sisters, and a step-brother, with whom I grew up. And a half brother with whom I didn't. Three sets of grandparents. Lots of uncles and aunts. And cousins. Numerous great aunts and uncles, in Mum's family, whose names I could never get straight, or whether they were Grammy's brother or sister, or Grampy's. Funnily enough, I seem to remember all the greats, not as individuals, but as pairs. Aunt Laversa and Uncle Sam. Aunt Ada and Uncle Ernest. Aunt Lenora and Uncle Ben. Then there were Grammy's two brothers who married sisters, making all their children what we called "double cousins." Yep. That's a pretty big family. And pretty complex, I'd say. So even though Hubby and I don't have kids, family, and family dynamics, has always been important to me. Important, enriching, infuriating, always fascinating, and the subject of endless analysis and story-telling. I could write a book. We all could. Which is where I'm going with all this. Books about family dynamics.

Hen's nesting box with three eggs.
Like Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeny's book The Nest about which so much has been said and written lately. You can't wade through a book store these days without tripping over piles of this book. In fact, we read it for my book club this month. "And what do I think of it?" you ask. Hmmm. I almost put it down after a few pages. The opulent wedding in the opening scene, the older guy seducing the young waitress, and whisking her off in his rented Porsche... ick. That's so not even close to anything I am interested in reading. But I persisted. I was pulled in. Sweeney's writing style is flawless. She can spin a good yarn. Make her settings come alive. But... still... this novel ultimately left me cold. 

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The premise of the book, you may or may not know, is that four middle-aged siblings are waiting to inherit their legacy, dubbed "the nest," which will come to them when the youngest turns forty. Their industrialist father did not want their inheritance to become the making of them. Instead he contrived to leave a reasonable sum, not a fortune, to be inherited when they were all middle-aged. Thus it would merely be something extra they could use to add to what they would have obviously made of their lives already. Ha. Thanks to the rising markets and careful investing by the trustee, the sum grew enormously. And then was depleted by their mother to help the eldest out of a jam. Depleted by a lot. Most of the book deals with the various messes, financial and otherwise, all the children have made of their lives. Why they really, really need their inheritance. And how pissed they are at the brother who was in the jam. Janet Mashin in the New York Times says the book is of the "squabbling sibling genre." Yep. And in a scathing review in the Globe and Mail, Marissa Stapley says: "never before have I read anything that so fully deserves to be tweeted about with the hashtag #firstworldproblems." Oh, thank-you for saying that, Marissa. Her advice to book clubs which she feels will ultimately be reading and discussing this book is priceless: "Do me a favour and let the discussion be about something other than the ways in which you identify with these characters, and more about the ways in which we can all be more, while consuming and wanting for less of what we already have." Damn, I wish I had read that before my book club meeting.  

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney source
I feel a bit guilty panning The Nest. I mean, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney looks like a really nice, pleasant person. And it is her first novel. Still, she's not some neophyte writer toiling away in an unheated garret, but a veteran of twenty years of non-fiction freelance writing, with lots of connections in the publishing and writing world, who pocketed a million dollar advance to write the book. So... maybe I don't feel that guilty. 

Anne Enright's novel The Green Road.
When we were discussing Sweeney's book at book club the other night, I couldn't help contrasting it with a very different novel about family dynamics which I read recently. Anne Enright's The Green Road is as gritty and punchy as Sweeney's is punch-pulling. I remarked on the coincidence of reading two books simultaneously about families with a widowed mother, four middle-aged children, one of whom is gay, one of whom works in the arts, and one of whom is a stay-at-home mother. But although the siblings in Enright's book also squabble, they are very different from the family in Sweeney's book. Enright creates complete characters. Lovely, and flawed, and totally sympathetic, even when they do abhorrent things. As Alex Preston says in his review in The Guardian: Enright's characters are "battered, beautiful, dancing to the music of Enright's exquisite style." 

Anne Enright. Picture from The Irish Times.
Anne Enright  source
I won't go into the plot of Enright's book, except to say that it is a novel about the need to escape, or move away, and then about the pain and solace of coming home. You can read more about it here in James Woods' beautifully written review in the New Yorker. I love how Woods thinks, and how he writes. He says that Anne Enright's book is "true and rueful." That she understands what it is to be an adult, to be middle-aged, to feel that an "impostor has grown up around oneself, choking off one's own youth." He says that Enright shows us how, even though children grow up, and parents grow old, "beneath the social achievements of adult life beat the wings of childhood." Now that's beautiful. 

A green road in the Republic of Ireland, picture from The Guardian.
A green road in the Republic of Ireland   source
I have one more book that I want to mention. One that I've yet to read, but which I read about in the December issue of Vogue, in an article entitled "Dad, Interrupted" by Jeanne Darst. Darst's 2011 memoir Fiction Ruined My Family, is the story of her growing up as the youngest child of an alcoholic mother and a journalist/novelist father, the publication of which destroyed her relationship with her father. And needn't have.

It seems to me that, as a writer, critic, and journalist, her father might have understood the need for his daughter to write her book. Might have been more generous and less critical. Apparently he told family friends who mentioned that they were enjoying Jeanne's book to "hold off on reading until he could send them his "notes." His notes on what [she] had gotten wrong came in at 140 pages. The book was 303."  As she says in the article, "I assumed [my father] would see the book as my book, not the book, about our family." 

Jeanne Darst's memoir, Fiction Ruined My Family
I really liked Jeanne Darst's article, and I hope I enjoy the memoir as much. I've ordered it from the library, so I'll let you know what I think after I've read it. I already know from this article and another one I read in Vogue a while ago, that Jeanne Darst is funny and wry, and a good writer who has her own demons to quell. She says she "inherited alcoholism from her mother and writing from her father," and she "doesn't know which one is worse." And I also know from her writing that she tells it like it is... or at least as she sees it. As she put it: "Drunk or sober, I have a lifelong case of what Dorothy Parker called "the frankies." 

This most recent article in Vogue is about her hoped for reconciliation with her father. How she dreams of giving her son the Christmas he wants. They'll fly from Los Angeles to New York for an east coast Christmas, with "massive amounts of snow, rambunctious cousins, the works." And maybe "at midnight Mass this Christmas Eve, [her] nine-year-old son will sit beside [her] 83-year-old father as he theatrically belts out 'Adeste Fideles."" Maybe. 

Stories of family angst, of the often flawed dynamic between parents and children, brother and sister, father and daughter are hard to read whether they're fictional or otherwise. Hard, but so worth reading. Worth reading, that is, if they are handled carefully, honestly, and with the intent to, not just entertain, but to illuminate the nature of family. Which is, according to James Woods, the most perfect "conduit for the transfer of misery and the source of all joy." 

Gad. That's heavy stuff for a Monday evening. 

And speaking of families. First families, to be precise. You may remember that I swore off Vogue last spring, but I broke my own rule and bought the December issue of Vogue because of the cover story on Michelle Obama. A wonderful article written by Jonathan Van Meter, and photographed by Annie Leibovitz. And I have to say that the whole issue is top notch. The articles, the fashion editorials, everything.  I was impressed. Guess they pulled out all the stops with this one. Good show, Anna et al.

Now. What are your favourite books, fictional or otherwise, about family dynamics?  We're waiting with pencils poised. 

Linking up today with Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb  and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner