Monday, May 30, 2016

More than Just Murder: Mystery Novels with a Social Conscience

This morning on our walk Hubby and I discussed climate change, the controversy over a new "doctor assisted dying" bill being debated here in Canada, the health of honey bees worldwide, and the potential banning of neonicotinoid pesticides. Phew. Heady conversation for so early in the morning, especially while negotiating the stepping stones over the creek and trying not to fall on my butt. 

We don't always talk about such serious issues on our walk, although it's not unheard of, but this morning's conversation was precipitated by a couple of murder mystery novels I've recently read. Two mysteries which are definitely about more than just murder. In fact the backstory/ subject matter for each is at least as gripping as the murder plot. I love a good book that has what I call value-added. You know, those books which teach you interesting facts about places or subjects new to you, or give context to social issues. And although I love a great mystery novel, I'll admit that "value added" in the form of intelligent background on cutting edge social issues is not necessarily what I expect them to deliver. But the books I'm talking about delivered exactly that. 

walking trail between Manotick and Barrhaven along the Jock River
The stepping stones, last year. I was too busy talking and stepping for photos this morning.
The first is The Order of Things, the latest book by British writer Graham Hurley. I loved all twelve of Hurley's Joe Faraday series set in Portsmouth. And this new series set in and around Exeter, in Devon, and featuring detective Jimmy Suttle, who was a secondary character in the earlier series, does not disappoint. Especially this latest one which focuses on the grisly murder of Dr. Harriet Reilly who before her death, it transpires, had been illegally assisting some of her terminally ill patients to die. The issue of physician-assisted death is at the moment being hotly debated here in Canada. In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the old law banning physician-assisted dying on the grounds that it violated Canadians' charter rights. The court then gave the government a year to craft and pass a new law. But throw in an election, and a change of government, and even with the four month extension granted by the court, the government will probably not be meeting that deadline. Here's a pretty comprehensive article about the debate, the bill, and the unhappy stakeholders. So given all the recent kerfuffle, I was interested to read Hurley's sensitive handling of this particular issue. 


And that ain't all folks. The prime suspect for Harriet's murder is her lover Dr. Alois Bentner, a radical academic and expert climatologist, whose cottage in historic Lympstone is named "Two Degrees."  Two degrees Celsius was identified at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2009 as the maximum limit of warming before we risk global "climate catastrophes." Interestingly enough, Hurley's fictional character, Bentner, works at the very real Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. You can read all about the Hadley Centre and their work here. Hurley always tells a good tale, with well-rounded characters whom we come to care about, and a plot that hangs together well. But his examination of such timely social issues through the eyes of his characters makes this latest book a wonderful read. Reviewer Bruce Lawson on Goodreads says that in a genre where there sometimes seems to be a "race to the bottom" with "ever more ludicrous plots, a cranking up of the body count, and weirder and nastier psychopaths," Hurley's book is a "beacon of excellence." He adds that, "if you love literature and have an interest in our complicated screwed up world," you need to read Hurley's latest book. My sentiments exactly, Bruce.

Historic Lympstone, setting for Hurley's latest novel  
The second book which precipitated such heady conversation for a May morning, is by one of my favourite writers. In fact, I think that Peter May is one of the best mystery writers out there today. I devoured his Lewis trilogy. 

Peter May with his final installment in the Lewis trilogy

May's latest offering, Coffin Road, is set on the Isle of Harris where a man is washed up on Luskentyre beach in the opening paragraphs. Battered, dazed, wearing an orange life jacket, and without a shred of memory of who he is or what he has done, May's character attempts to piece his life back together. To discover why it seems he's been so interested in the Flannan Isles from where three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappeared decades ago, and how, despite the fact that he doesn't know his own identity, he appears to know so much about bees. 

Peter May makes the Isle of Harris setting come alive for the reader. He captures the harshness of the weather, and the beautiful starkness of the landscape. Like the real coffin road below, along which the character, known on Harris as Neal MacDonald, walks trying to retrace his steps, and discover himself-- literally. Now a route for hikers, the coffin road is the ancient path islanders walked carrying the coffins of their dead loved ones to the burial ground on the west side of the island. You can read a bit more about the coffin road, as well as about other ancient Scottish pathways, here

Coffin Road...from the site "Heritage Paths" of Scotland
Hidden behind stones on the coffin road, Neal stumbles upon several bee hives, and discovers that he appears to know much about bees. In an article in The Scotsman, May tells David Robinson that he "wanted to write about bees for a long time." Ever since a "Canadian geneticist friend...alerted him to the problem" of bees and pesticides. May handles the environmental issues and the science behind the study of neonicotinoid insecticides really well, in my view. Piquing my interest in a problem that I had heard about, but of which I knew little. 

taken from the site : The Bees House
"Neonics," as this class of pesticides is also called, are globally the most commonly used insecticides. And their reputed effect on bees has been widely reported. According to May's Canadian scientist friend, it's not that "the pesticides kill bees directly, but that they destroy the insect's memory-- and without memory the bees are lost and the colony dies." And without bees as pollinators one third of the world's food is in jeopardy. But also in jeopardy are the livelihoods of farmers the world over, the profits of big agro-pharma companies like Bayer, and the economies of lots of countries. So one might say that this issue is a teensy bit contentious what with all the economic arguments, the political arguments, and the scientific arguments. You can read about the EU argument over banning the use of neonics here, and about some of the scientific debate here. Those are just two of the many articles I read in my research. Phew. My head is definitely buzzing like a bee now. And I haven't even finished the book yet. 

But I will, directly after I finish this post. And after I water the garden. Hubby has 'gone fishing.' Literally. He left early this morning for Algonquin Park, hardly able to contain his anticipation to be on the road, and then on the water in his canoe. And for the next few days, I am "main man" on the old homestead, as my step father used to say. Looking after the vegetable garden and the flowers, and hoping I don't have any "battles" with mice like Hubby had when I was away last winter. 

But that's okay. The rest of my time alone will not be misspent. I'm meeting a  friend for coffee one day, another for lunch the next day, and a third for dinner and a movie on the last day. And in between, well, there's that Peter May book to finish. 

Aren't we lucky as readers to have access to the work of such talented writers as Peter May and Graham Hurley? Writers who can spin a great yarn and also have a social conscience. And who can teach us stuff about, as that reviewer on Goodreads said, "our complicated screwed up world." I swear I think every interesting fact I ever learned came from a book. Hmmm. Now that's an interesting idea for a blog post. 

How about you, dear readers? Any thoughts on mystery writers with a social conscience? Any other murder mysteries that are about more than murder to suggest? I'll soon be done my Peter May book, and I'll be trolling for something new to read. 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner and All About You at Mama and More

Friday, May 27, 2016

Getting Out More: The Secret to Healthy Aging for You and Your Wardrobe

I have a friend who is currently participating in a longitudinal study on aging. Conducted by McMaster University, the study looks at various factors in our lives which affect how well we cope with aging. She's mentioned the study to me a few times, and how it seems, among other things, to focus on the positive effects of social activity. Certainly, the experts seem to agree that social isolation has negative effects on our health. That maintaining a strong social network seems to be a factor in maintaining good health as we age. So... I guess we all need to get out more. 

And not to trivialize the issue of healthy aging. But it seems to me that "getting out more" is the secret to curating my closet too. I'm talking about the "aging" clothing items that I identified last week in a post called My Curated Closet, items which need to earn their place in my closet. A couple of skirts, a jacket or two and a few tops that are no longer new... and which need to get out more, if they are to remain on the "keepers" list. 

Like this tan Elie Tahari safari jacket. I love this jacket, the huge pockets, the silk panels in the front, the fact that the buttons are snaps... but I don't wear it enough. Last Friday, I wore it with these black Vince leggings, my black, silk Rag and Bone tank that I bought to take to France last spring, and my Stuart Weitzman loafers. I was checking out the half yearly sale at Nordstrom. I didn't find anything that inspired me at the sale... but I felt like a million bucks in my old jacket.

Getting Out More: The Secret to Healthy Aging for You and Your Wardrobe   

This pleated silk and cotton skirt from Holt Renfrew Collection was a staple in my spring work-wear closet for years. But if I'm going to keep it, I need an outfit that changes up its look. Makes it a little less lady-like, a bit more edgy. I like my old skirt with this Theory white cotton shirt and my Stan Smith Adidas. 

Getting Out More: The Secret to Healthy Aging for You and Your Wardrobe

Back in late February I included this shot from Matches in a post about the images that were inspiring me for spring. Sheesh... I wonder if I ever had a waistline that slim... but nevermind. 

That image made me think I might like my yellow, cotton sweater from Brooks Brothers with my old Burberry denim skirt. This denim skirt is one of my "investment pieces" from 2011. The stretch fabric never bags or wrinkles. And I love the details, especially the row of pewter buttons along the slit in the back. I wore this outfit to run errands on my birthday the other day. And I felt fierce. 

Getting Out More: The Secret to Healthy Aging for You and Your Wardrobe

  So these four pieces, a jacket, a sweater and a couple of skirts, that were in danger of falling off the "keeper" list, can now be placed into my regular rotation. They none of them are new... but they're aging well because I take good care of their physical condition and I'm now making sure that they get out and about more. 

And speaking of aging. I had a major birthday the other day. I'm now officially in my sixties. Akkk. How the heck did that happen? Still, it's just a number isn't it? Mustn't get too caught up in the number. Must think positive. 

And remember, according to the experts, the secret to healthy aging for us all, besides taking good physical care of ourselves, is maintaining strong social ties. Getting out more. I hear that wine helps as well. Although my friend who participates in the aging study says they're finding out it's the social contact that goes along with the wine that is most important. 

I'm good with that. Meeting the girls for a glass of wine and lots of laughs always makes me feel great. Younger. Not a day over...say... fifty-five.

If you're so inclined, have a look at this article on about the so-called "Blue Zones," areas in the world where people have much greater longevity than us. Experts are studying why that might be so. It's pretty interesting.

When I talked to my friend this afternoon about the study she participates in, I told her I was writing a post on the idea of healthy aging. "Really?" she said, sounding impressed. "And I'm linking it to how I should get more wear of out of my 'investment pieces,'" I continued. And she laughed. Not surprised. And she didn't say.... shallowness thy name is Sue.... but I know she was thinking it. Albeit fondly. 

What can I say? I gotta be me.  

Any thoughts on aging, folks? Aging clothes, or aging bloggers, or aging blogger readers... or whatever?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Back in the Saddle Again

Yep. It's spring in Ottawa. Finally, finally it's warm here, and Hubby and I are back in the saddle again. The bike saddle that is. We ventured out for a couple of rides in mid-April after we came home from North Carolina. But not since. That's because the beginning of May saw really cool temperatures with snow, even, in some places. Akkk. I am so not into riding my bike in the wind and the cold. 

But that unpleasantness seems to be behind us, thank goodness. And since yesterday we are, as I said, back in the saddle again. We tried a new twist on one of our favourite routes. Parked the truck near Kemptville (about 20 minutes from our house) and pedaled this woods trail until we hooked up with River Road. 

High Heels in the Wilderness: Back in the Saddle Again

We love riding River Road. At least this section of it, which is not busy and meanders along the Rideau River to Burritts Rapids and eventually Merrickville. Both historic towns on the Rideau Canal system.

High Heels in the Wilderness: Back in the Saddle Again

The view from my saddle, above. Jeeze, my handle bars are getting a bit rusty. You can see just a thin blue line of the Rideau in between the farmer's field, and the trees on the far side. The shot below shows one of several man-made platforms for ospreys to build their nests. The resident osprey, is at home. But what the picture doesn't show is her mate perched nearby. Last year we cycled past several times over the season, and were pleased to see several tiny heads in the nest later in the summer. 

High Heels in the Wilderness: Back in the Saddle Again

Yesterday, we stopped for a snack at the Burritts Rapids lock on the Rideau.

High Heels in the Wilderness: Back in the Saddle Again

It was pretty quiet. Only one boat tied up, the owners unloading their picnic lunch onto a nearby table. It's lovely, isn't it? A couple of picnic spots were occupied by people who had driven here for lunch and were relaxing in their lawn chairs enjoying a quiet read. 

High Heels in the Wilderness: Back in the Saddle Again

While I sat at a picnic table eating, and Hubby chatted with the lockmaster, I thought about how many times in the past few years we were afraid that our biking days might be over. What with Hubby's totally unexpected heart problem in 2013, my recurring back issues, and then Hubby's shoulder injury and subsequent surgery last year. Besides Hubby's heart surgery, none of our health issues has been life threatening. But as I mentioned in a post about all of this last fall... they were definitely life-style threatening. And stressful. 

But sitting there on that picnic bench, eating my almonds, and watching the river slide by, I felt pretty lucky. Make that very lucky. Lucky that unlike the problems of some of our family and friends, our problems have been fixable with surgery and rehabilitation. Or if not totally fixable, then "manageable" with the help of physiotherapy, massage, and a good exercise regimen. Hubby and I both do our physio exercises religiously. And those exercises and stretches are the key, for me at least, to staying active. 

And speaking about rehabilitation... the shot below is of the flowering crab apple tree in our back yard. That's Hubby's Kevlar canoe resting in the notch between the branches. He's been practicing portaging. He straps on his canoe-pack, hoists the canoe over his head and walks up and down our road. Just making sure he's in tip top shape for his upcoming canoe trip. I swear, the look on his face when he came into the house a couple of weeks ago, after his first attempt to lift the canoe...well... he looked just like a kid. So excited. And isn't he lucky to have been able to make such an amazing come-back? Of course it's been hard work. But still. Lucky. 

High Heels in the Wilderness: Back in the Saddle Again

And you know, when I think about it, every day like yesterday is a gift.  A perfect, sunny, warm, spring day. Perfect for biking. And for contemplating our life and its challenges and its many advantages. We didn't stop for long at the Burritts Rapids lock. Just ate our snack, soaked up some of the peace and sunshine, and hopped on our bikes again. 

So grateful to be back in the saddle. 

The historic Rideau Canal and lock system has been designated as a world heritage site. If you're interested, here is a great link with everything from the history of the Rideau Canal, and great photos of all of the locks, to an explanation of how a canal lock works.  

Now have a listen to Gene Autrey singing my song. There's a bit of a pause before the music kicks in... but it's worth waiting for... if only for the sound of that old slide guitar. Love that. 

What are you up to these days folks? In the saddle or otherwise?

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner and All about You at Mama and More

Friday, May 20, 2016

My "Curated" Closet: Crunching the Numbers

Last week, I wrote a post about my spring closet cleanse and the benefits therein. Usually I "turn my closet," as my friend Margaret says, make my lists, send some stuff to the consignment store or to a charity shop, go shopping... and then sit back. Satisfied that I'm organized, and ready for the new season, sartorially speaking. But when Chris asked, in a comment on that post, how I thought a "curated closet" might look. And then Patricia recommended a book by the same name. I started thinking. About what the term "curated closet" might mean. 

According to the Oxford on-line dictionary the act of curating includes "selecting, organizing, and looking after" whatever is in question... like art, books, or even clothes, I guess. And it can also include "presenting" that collection using "professional or expert knowledge." 

Okay. I select, I definitely organize, and I've always "looked after," my clothes. My sisters and I learned early from our mum, no playing in our good clothes (including school clothes.) So now I still change out of good sweaters, suits, and even jeans whenever I come home. Like making the bed, it's just one of those learned-early habits that stick. "Looking after" also includes proper hand-washing or dry cleaning, if necessary. And if you take off your good clothes and don't cook or sit around in them, you don't have to wash your nice blouses, sweaters, or pants every time you wear them. I remember a heated discussion about this one day at work before I retired. Some of the younger members of staff were aghast that I didn't throw everything I wore every day in the wash. And I was aghast that they didn't wash wool sweaters by hand in cold water, or dry clean good jackets once a season. Generation gap, do you think? But, I'm digressing, as usual. Last week I decided that I would write about, i.e. "present," my "curated" wardrobe, with which I am eminently familiar, hence an "expert." 

After I read Chris' comment, I started looking at "curated closets" in various articles and blogs. I checked out the book and the blog that Patricia mentioned. As she says, The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees won't be published until this fall. So in the meantime, I visited the writer's blog Into Mind. There is a ton of info there... a ton. Maybe a bit too much. I think that Anuschka over complicates things. And that's saying a lot coming from someone who keeps lists like I do. I also read about "capsule wardrobes." I like Rachel the Hat's approach; you can read about Rachel's "capsule wardrobe" here. Rachel was inspired by Caroline's blog Unfancy, which is all about creating a capsule wardrobe. Lots of good stuff here, I think. Caroline has great ideas, even if I don't agree with them all. 

So how, I asked myself, do I turn my very tiny, fairly minimal, pretty well organized closet into a "curated closet?" Or even a "capsule wardrobe?" And what's the difference between the two?

I already have a plan for each season. I try everything on. I weed out things that don't fit, or which I know I'll never wear again. Like my lovely corduroy Laura Ashley dress which I owned years ago and which still fit, but suddenly... kind of didn't go with my face anymore. I had, as Lisa said in a post about shorts, "aged out" of my Laura Ashley dress. I sort into three piles: wear (love, still fits, in good condition), store (won't wear this season but may sometime in the future), and jettison (hate, doesn't fit, not in good condition.) Then I re-sort the jettison pile into consign, give away, or toss sub-piles. Then I put away the keepers and make a shopping list. So does that make my closet "curated" or "capsulized?" 

First off... I store things I know I won't wear this season. That doesn't  fit with my understanding of a capsule wardrobe, but I think it is an important part of what a "curated closet" should be. I don't box them and put them in the garage, then get rid of them if I haven't worn them by the the end of the season, as recommended on Caroline's blog. If I buy a good jacket or a suit, I do so because it's timeless, and well made, an "investment piece." And I know if it goes out of style one year, it will be back in the not too distant future. Like a green tweed Max Mara jacket that I bought in 1998 and which I started wearing again last fall. Or my blue Max Mara spring suit which I hauled out of the closet in April for the first time in years. I'm particular about what I store, and I store them carefully. No way I'm cramming a good jacket into a box in the garage. Even if we had a garage, which we don't. And I'm not going to limit myself to an arbitrary number of items, like most definitions of a "capsule wardrobe." That just seems silly to me. And since it's my closet, I get to make the rules. 

So here's what I'm doing to turn my closet from pretty organized, into my definition of "curated." 

Before I made my trips to the consignment shop, and the charity shop, I had another, rather more severe, look at the items in my closet that had made the first cut. If I was going to keep them then I had darned well better start wearing them. I identified the pieces that hadn't been worn as much as they should. Two skirts, two long-sleeved tops, two summery tops, a sweater, and two jackets. I love them all. But if they were going to take up space in my tiny closet, they needed to get out more.

My Curated Closet: items I don't wear often enough

And I thought that writing this blog post would give me the perfect opportunity to see how, and if, I wanted to wear them anytime soon. I bought this light, long-sleeved Alexander Wang tee last winter and have hardly worn it. Maybe spring is more suited to its weight. So I paired it with my white, cropped NYDJ jeans, and my sneakers and I really like this combination.

Alexander Wang tee, NYDJ jeans, Stan Smith Adidas

Then I added my Paige jean jacket, and even a light scarf, since we've had some pretty cool spring days lately. I love this look; I'm a sucker for navy and white. 

Alexander Wang tee, NYDJ jeans, Paige jean jacket, Stan Smith Adidas    

Next up was this cream silk blouse from Rag and Bone. It's really light, so works best on a hot summer day or evening. I thought it might work with these black, crepe joggers from Aritzia. I love these pants. But most days I find myself reaching for my leggings instead. No more.

          Aritzia joggers, Rag and Bone silk blouse, Stuart Weitzman loafers

And, I thought... if I have another ready-made outfit with these joggers and two of my very favourite pieces. This breton striped tee that I took to France last year. Guess it was a bit like coals to Newcastle, wearing this on our France trip, eh? And my Twiggy jacket, which has had no problem getting out of the closet... at all. Then, maybe I'll get more wear out of my joggers. So I have a spring and a summer plan to wear these pants. No excuses, now. 

Aritzia joggers, ALC tee, Stan Smith Adidas


I'm not finished playing around with my "keepers." I'll be figuring out how I can get more wear out of the other pieces in the next few weeks. But there were a couple of items that made the initial cut, which didn't make the second cut. I tried various combinations and had to admit that they really belonged in the consignment pile. And that's where they are now. At Fiona's store. Where I hope they find a new home. 

I made one last revision before I was finished. I had a few items, like this Elie Tahari dress and pencil skirt, that still fit, I still loved, but which I couldn't see myself wearing on an everyday basis. At least not in my current, very casual, everyday life. 

Elie Taharii dress and skirt.

But what if I needed a day dress or a skirt that was a bit more business-y, a bit less casual than, say, my denim skirt? I thought about my Lida Baday party dress which I haven't worn in two years, but I keep because you never know when you might need a black party dress. Might it be better to store this dress and skirt, just in case? So I did. I decided that a well "curated" wardrobe should include a few "just in case" pieces. And I added to that category a pair of black Theory summer dress pants, and a short Burberry wrap-around skirt that is good for beach holidays. These pieces are together in a garment bag in my storage closet (aka Hubby's closet.) Now that I've designated them as "just in case," I don't feel guilty that I'm not wearing them on a day to day basis. They're doing what they've been designated to do, for the moment, anyway. Clothes also serve which only hang and wait... for the right occasion. Right?

Sometimes, though, the upside of buying "investment pieces" (they're timeless and they never wear out) can also be the downside. A couple of my tops or jackets that don't get out much may, in the end, be because I'm just right royally sick to death of them. And if that's the case, after a while, I'll stick them in my storage closet and reassess them next spring. 

So to sum up, I divided my already edited closet into a few new categories. I've identified a few pieces that need to earn their keep. And I'm making an effort to wear them more. I've also stored a few of my "keeper" items in case of a specific need, pieces that I would probably not wear on an everyday basis. I'll let you know how I get on with the rest of my "keeper" outfits. And whether those pieces I've identified as being at risk fall off the list. Or not. 

Here's my final break down. I didn't set out to have an arbitrary numerical goal, but I do love to crunch the numbers:

7 pairs jeans, incl 3 blue+ 2 white +2 coloured  
3 pairs of black pants of differing styles 
2 skirts
1 dress and 1 pant suit
6 jackets and/or blazers
1 coat
12 tops incl blouses, tunics, tanks, and good tees
3 sweaters
4 assorted short sleeved, super casual tees
Total of 40 day to day pieces which hang in my closet + 4 "in case" pieces which are stored. 

That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But some of these items I wear year round. My denim jacket for one. Or my white and blue cotton shirts. Or jeans. 

What's important, I think, is that I know what's in my closet. And I know what works with what. And that's the beauty of a "curated" closet. 

So what's in your "curated" closet? Have you ever crunched the numbers? Care to share your final break-down with the rest of us?

Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, All About You at Mama and More, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Friday Finds at Forage Fashion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Between the Lines: Celebrating Bloggers Over 50.

My birthday is in a couple of weeks. I turn the big 6-0. Akkk. Can't quite believe that. Maybe that's why I've been thinking and writing a lot lately about the changes that come with age. Both physical and emotional. If you read my blog regularly you'll know what I'm talking about. If not...well... it appears that I've been obsessing about grey hair and wrinkles. And what to do about them. Or not do about them.  And I've been thinking about identity, and how the major life changes that go along with age, like retirement, make us rethink who we are. And maybe even give us the luxury of crafting a whole new identityBut change, even welcome anticipated change, ain't easy, people. It can be a bit of a bumpy ride. Better have your seatbelt fastened. 

I love Bette Davis. And her off the shoulder dress in this scene in All About Eve. Davis' character Margo realizes in the film that getting older has its compensations. It seems funny now to think that Davis was only forty-two when she played the role of "aging star" Margo Channing. 

But aging does have its compensations. And retirement is one of them. And the new paths that we forge when we retire. Which for me included starting this blog, and then "meeting" all kinds of new virtual friends, readers who comment on my blog, and other bloggers. Like Katie who writes the blog Katherine's Corner

For the last few weeks Katie has been running a series called Between the Lines which celebrates bloggers who are over fifty. Like moi. 

I knew when I retired that I wanted to write a blog. And so I researched blogs, and made lists of possible post ideas, and hemmed and hawed about what to name  my blog... ad nauseam. And finally I just jumped in. Pressed "publish"... and gritted my teeth. And sweated with fear. And embarrassment. What was I thinking?  Okay, I was pretty confident about writing my book posts, since I had spent almost thirty years teaching English, and had been an avid reader for a lot longer than that. But, why would anybody care what I had to say about anything else... let alone fashion, or travel? Or life growing up in New Brunswick? But these were the things I wanted to write about. And since I had been teaching kids for years that they should write about what interests them, what makes them mad or glad, I seriously wanted to take my own advice. And if I wasn't going to write about my passions, why bother writing at all?  So, as you can see, there was a lot of hand wringing those first weeks. 

shots from High Heels in the Wilderness
A taste of my blog: me & new hair, in vintage, or with Hubby,  my step-dad and his buddy, Paris, dawn on the Rideau
And then I just settled into the blog groove. And it's become one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. Right up there with that first grade nine Shakespearean Drama Festival: "The Faces of Love" that my friend Susan and I ran back in 1995. And which was perhaps the most satisfying moment for me in my professional life. When a reader comments on my blog that they enjoyed a post, or laughs at a silly story I've told. Or says that a fashion post has given them ideas for their own wardrobe. Or when someone says they really, really get the essence of a person I'm trying to describe, like my stepfather, who I've written about often. When readers come back to check replies I've made, and to read other comments by other readers, and then even begin a conversation among themselves, like with some book posts. That feels amazing. And really, really gratifying.

So a few weeks ago when Katherine asked for bloggers who are over fifty to be part of her series "Between the Lines," I thought, "What a great idea." The point of the series is to introduce "over 50" bloggers to each other and to the readers of their respective blogs. Hence the discussion of why I blog. Which I know is probably old news for those who visit here regularly. Sorry about that folks. 

But if you click on any of the links below, they will take you to the posts of other "over 50" bloggers, who might be new to you. Or if you click on the title of the series Between the Lines, you can peruse all of the blogs featured in the series. And for those who are new to High Heels in the Wilderness, I popped a bunch of links into this post that will take you to other posts on my blog, about fashion, or books, or just about life. Hope you find something interesting to read.

I must say... turning sixty... does have its compensations. My friend Elizabeth and I are planning a girl's trip for the fall to celebrate my entrance into a new decade. We did this back when I turned forty... ah... twenty years ago...gad! ... hard to believe. We plan to eat, drink, soak up some culture... there may be shopping. Ha. "May" is perhaps the wrong word to use here. Okay, I confess, "may" is definitely the wrong word. Let's just call it "aging compensatory shopping" shall we?

How about you, folks? Any significant birthdays coming up? What are the compensations of age as far as you're concerned? 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New And Improved: Fashioning My New Self in Retirement

Last week I wrote a post about aging, and where I fit on what I dubbed the "beauty intervention continuum." In a nutshell, I'm pro-hair dye and make-up, but anti-Botox. And I said, at the time, that I am not comfortable having "a little work done," on the outside. I'm busy enough trying to refashion myself on the inside. Because retirement will do that to you. Or at least it has done to me. 

That's what is so intimidating about the prospect of retirement. The idea that you won't be the same person as you were when you were gainfully employed. And if not, then who will you be? At least that's how it was for me. So much of my identity was wrapped up in being a teacher, a department head, a mentor to young teachers, in standing in front of a class, chairing meetings, running the school paper, sitting on committees, giving out diplomas at commencement or all the other myriad roles big and small that had been part of my life for thirty years. And if I wasn't going to be Ms. Burpee anymore... then who would I be? 

New and Improved: Fashioning My New Self in Retirement

And, you know, once I got over being sad about the loss of my old self, that lack of identity is what became so exciting about the prospect of retirement. Who would I be? And how would I tackle making myself into who I wanted to become. It was like being twenty and choosing a career all over again, except I was a lot smarter than I was at twenty. And much more financially stable. 

So that's what I've been doing for the past three and a half years. Deciding who and what I wanted to be when I was no longer a teacher. I've been having a little work done... on the inside. Doing a little .... self-renovation, so to speak.

Hubby and I have faced some challenging life situations since I retired. I've written about a few of those challenges here and here. I think they've made me a stronger, more patient, and more empathetic person. You'd think that teaching large classes of teenagers would teach you all you need to know about patience, wouldn't you? Ha. Living in the Castle of Grumpy Grouch for a few months made teaching grade nines seem like a doddle. But never mind. Things have worked out well for all concerned. Hubby is back golfing, and planning a canoe trip for later this month. 

New and Improved: Fashioning My New Self in Retirement

But aside from the personal growth that comes with weathering whatever life decides to throw at us... the exciting part of retirement for me is being able to choose which path to growth I want to take. In choosing which of my interests, on the back burner for most of my teaching career, I can now pursue. 

Take reading for instance. I love to read. It seems I've spent my whole life with my nose in a book. But when I was teaching English, it was often books I needed to read for my classes that I had my nose in. Now, in retirement I have the time to read whatever I want, as widely as I want, in whatever direction I choose, and I have time to take a detour down those reading rabbit holes that present themselves when you're reading an engrossing book. Like researching an author I enjoy, or reading all their previous works. Or whatever. 

I have more time to pursue my interests in fashion and fitness. I've read all kinds of non-fiction books on fashion in the past couple of years. I follow several fashion blogs. I have more time to shop around. See what's out there. And I have more time to stay fit. I work out in one form or other every day, now. I don't have to squeeze it in when I get home from school, or go to the gym at the end of a long day. Because let's face it, early morning work-outs were never going to happen for this mid-morning person. So Hubby and I walk, or bike, or ski together. Or I pedal my exercise bike and do a weight work-out while listening to a mystery novel on my i-pod. And I walk (or skate) once a week with two friends. All this when regular people are at work. How cool is that?

And then there's art. Last winter I decided to renew my old passion for drawing. With some classes taught by my friend Margaret, and a strong determination to make time for art in my life. And an equally strong determination to not get discouraged, or throw in the towel. Or the charcoal. Phew. That has been tough. Especially for a perfectionist with a very raucous inner critic. But I'm learning to have patience with myself, as well as with others. 

New and Improved: Fashioning My New Self in Retirement

And, you see, this is where the growth comes in. Where I'm learning to fashion a new "me." I'm resurrecting old passions and relearning old and rusty skills. And I'm trying entirely new things too. And learning new skills. 

Take blogging, for instance. Writing this blog gives me an outlet through which to explore all my other interests, like fashion, and books, and travel. Not to mention old-fashioned story-telling. And writing. And it has allowed me to develop my interest in technology which was just beginning as my career in teaching was ending. I sometimes can't believe how many new things I've learned to do on my computer since I started blogging. And writing a blog has also spirited me into a wonderful new on-line world, a community really, of readers and other bloggers. And that's important, since in retirement I no longer have that daily social contact with classes and colleagues. Blogging and writing have become an important part of my new identity in retirement. A very rewarding part. 

So where is all this self-analysis going?  Well, you might remember that I read Kate Bolick's book Spinster last month and wrote about it in a post here. Now, I'm not big on self-help books, those books which purport to show you how to live your life, how to be happy, or how to be successful. But I often find that books whose main intent is not to help you navigate your life, can do just that. And Bolick's book helped me to understand a bit more about myself. And how I see myself in retirement.  

In one chapter of her book Kate Bolick discusses a study by American social psychologists Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius which examined thirty subjects who had recently experienced a significant loss in their lives. Markus and Nurius explored how the subjects' self-knowledge or "understandings of themselves" could be related to how well they were recovering from their traumatic experiences. They found that all the subjects had negative views of their "current selves," understandable when you consider that their lives had all been recently thrown off kilter. But what the researchers found most interesting was that the subjects who were best able to cope with their loss and make a good recovery were those who saw their future selves in positive terms. Markus and Nurius use the term "possible selves" to describe how we view the "self" we might become in the future. And the subjects who were able to envision themselves as somehow better, more confident, more successful in the future were more able to remain hopeful that their miserable present was "transitory." Huh. You can read about the theory of "possible selves" in this article if you're interested. 

Dawn on the Rideau River
Five-thirty... A.M. on the river.
So as I read Bolick's book, it began to dawn on me.... if as retirement approaches, we see ourselves facing a future where we will be somehow less than when we were working. If we see our future "possible self" as unproductive, unemployed, not as worthy as our employed "present self"... then no wonder it scares the bejesus out of some people. And it strikes me that it's not just those who are "busy" who weather retirement best, but those who see their "possible retired self" as better, more confident, healthier maybe, more active, more able to help others now that they have time... whatever. And as someone who needs to be optimistic, I mean really, really needs to be a "Pollyanna"... this theory appeals to me. And kind of helps me understand how I've been approaching retirement. As one big self-improvement project. 

So, I may not be "getting a little work done" on my wrinkles any time soon. But it seems that I'm working away on everything else. 

Not nose to the grindstone working. I am retired after all. But working nevertheless. Albeit with frequent tea breaks. And a good book. On the deck. In the sunshine. Hopefully. 

How about you dear readers? How do you see your future retired self? Your "possible self" after work is done for good?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Closet Cleanse... Who Benefits When We Tidy Up?

Twice a year (spring and fall) I survey my closet. I haul everything out, pile it on the bed in our spare room, and give it the once-over. If I will wear it this season, it goes on my list as "still wearable", and then back in my closet. If I think I won't wear it this season, but it still fits, and is a classic that I might wear down the road, I store it.  If it doesn't fit into either category, I then decide if I will consign the piece to earn a little cash, or give it away. I've been doing this for years. Then I make a list of what I need, or want, to buy for that season.

Closet Cleanse...Who Benefits When We Tidy Up?
My "little book," wherein I keep my lists: what I already own, what I own but won't be wearing this season, and what I need/want to buy new. 
I'm sure you've heard about Marie Kondo and her book on how to declutter your closet and your life. Some of my friends have read Kondo's book and swear by it. I saved this article back when I was still subscribing to Chloe Malle, who is a cutie, decides what items in her closet do and do not "spark joy," and does some serious tidying up with Marie Kondo herself.  Decluttering is big these days. Really big. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Having a Little Work Done... Or Not

How far will you go to look good?  Are you able to venture into the world bare-faced with only a little lip balm, your hair proudly untouched by dyes, straightening gels, or hairspray?  Or maybe you colour your hair? Wear make-up? Invest in expensive skin care products, serums, night creams, and maybe a monthly facial? Or maybe you've had a little work done, as they say? A shot or two of "dermal fillers" or Botox every few months? A little laser work, some "resurfacing?" If we lined up all the women over the age of fifty according to how much effort they make to look good, where would you fit on the "beauty intervention continuum?" 

I started thinking about this a week or so ago after reading a post on Alyson Walsh's blog That's Not My Age. Back to Base: The Best Foundations for Older Skin  features a shot of older model Tanya Drouginska, followed by beauty journalist Vicci Bentley's discussion of favourite foundations, concealers, and the brushes to apply them. Good information, I thought. And just as interesting were the reader comments. They ran the gamut from criticism of Ms. Drouginska for looking overly made-up, to praise for her beauty. From comments that older women should wear less foundation or none at all, to one offer to recommend a good botox "gal" to other interested readers. Huh. We over-50s sure run the gamut when it comes to opinions on "beauty intervention" don't we? 

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench
Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, both lovely at almost 81.    source
Just to be perfectly clear, I think I'm somewhere in the middle of the continuum. I say "yes" to hair dye, not to mention highlights and low lights, and smoothing, de-frizzing product. Although I am trying to go a bit more natural these days, in that I'm swearing off the blow dryer (somewhat) and the straightening iron and letting my curls have a bit more freedom

Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren feeling good about being 70.   source
I say "hell, yes" to make-up.  Although, I have abandoned foundation in favour of a light tinted moisturiser with SPF. In fact I just visited my buddy Katie at the Laura Mercier counter at Nordstrom the other day, for some ideas to freshen up my make-up for spring. I may share some of her ideas in a post at a later date. Once I've mastered the techniques, that is. 

Charlotte Rampling
Charlotte Rampling comfortable in her own skin at 70. source
I also say, "oui, bien sûr" to investing in good skin care. Quality moisturisers  (although not necessarily the most expensive) for my dry and sensitive skin, good sunscreens, as well as an exfoliating and a hydrating masque that I can use at home. And I generally get a facial twice a year. So, maybe I'm a little more than in the middle of the beauty intervention continuum, a bit more on the pro-intervention side. I've been doing all of these "interventions" for years, and I'm pretty happy with the state of my skin as I approach my sixtieth birthday. But I do draw the line at anything more invasive than some great creams and a good massage from my esthetician. 

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep rocking the red carpet at 66   source
I don't think that drawing the line where I choose to draw it means I'm any less vain than a woman my age who does step over that line. Into the world of dermal fillers, Botox, and surgery. Maybe it just means I'm less pressured to look young. With less riding on staving off the wrinkles and folds that come with age. Or maybe it just means I'm more fearful of the consequences of stepping over that line. Fearful of what would follow if I decided to "have a little work done."

 Ines de La Fressange
My personal fashion inspiration Ines de La Fressange, stunning at 58. source
When I was researching this post a few days ago, I approached Hubby where he was working in the garden. "I have a question for you, " I said. "What would you say if I came to you and said that I was unhappy with the way I looked and I intended to have some minor plastic surgery done?" He looked surprised. Really surprised. "Strictly hypothetical," I assured him. "Well," he stalled. "I think I'd say, 'Why would you?' followed by 'Why would you take the risk?'" Hmmm. I might have preferred his saying "Why would you, you fabulously beautiful creature?" ... but this is my Hubby we're talking about. 

Later, we talked about what he meant by "risk." Physical complications, risk of infection, of course. But also emotional and psychological complications. And it's funny because his thoughts pretty much mirrored my own, what I had already decided. We talked about slippery slope. The idea that once started on the snipping and tweaking, would you not be hard-pressed to stop? We talked about the risk of procedures gone awry. I mean, we've all seen the post-surgical photos of people who don't look at all like their former lovely (and a little bit lined) selves anymore. 

Then my research lead me to the website Skin Tour written by cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin which gives you the lowdown on all kinds of cosmetic products and procedures for all kinds of aging issues. I took the "Anti-Aging Tour"... where you click on a part of your face and see a chart with possible procedures, risks, and approximate costs. For those lines over the lips, the site suggests that "there is no one method that is effective" and recommends "a little filler, a little Botox, and some laser work" to "reduce and improve them." Risks are low for many treatments, if the provider is "experienced." But, for instance, with Botox treatments, a "poor injector" can result in skin "bumpiness," "facial asymmetries or chewing problems." Lasers, peels and other "resurfacing" treatments can result in "scarring and white areas that do not match your skin tone." Not to mention the cost, and the fact that these procedures have to be done every few months. And even if you avoid the possible complications, and after the pain and swelling and bruising abates... might it be like that ad for Lays potato chips: "Bet you can't eat just one?" What scientists call "hedonic hyperphagia," except you become obsessed with looking young instead of eating snack foods, and you find you can't stop? Slippery slope indeed.

So. I'm not tempted to go there... not tempted to have a little work done. Even though according to this article in the Washington Post it's become as "routine as 'eating kale and going to spin class'" Really? Okay. But I'm not in the public eye. I'm not even in front of a class anymore, now that I'm retired. I don't have to apply for a job at age (almost) sixty. I'm not judged daily by the media according to how young, or old, I look. And I don't know what it's like to be in the position of someone who feels that pressure to look younger than they are. Okay, okay... I concede it could be argued that I do try to look younger than I am by colouring my hair. But when it comes to my face, as many older women are increasingly saying, I feel that I've earned my crow's feet and laugh lines. I kind of like them. I think it makes me look more interesting. Like I know stuff. And have been places, and seen things. I aspire to be like the women in the photos above. Who look as if they've lived a life. And still look wonderful.

So, I guess we all have our own version of how much is too much intervention when it comes to looking good. Me. Well, I've spilled the beans about where I stand. I'm not comfortable with "having a little work done"... on the outside at least. I'm busy enough trying to refashion myself on the inside. Retirement will do that to you. 

Maybe I'll write about that. But later... though.

Right now I want to hear what you have to say about this issue. Where do you fit on the "beauty intervention continuum?" How do you feel about a little filler, a little Botox?