Monday, October 31, 2016

In Praise Of Nasty Women

There's been a lot of palaver in the last couple of weeks about "nasty" women. Well, actually, one so-called "nasty woman." I was in New York the night of the last Clinton-Trump debate. Elizabeth and I hived it back to our hotel room after dinner, changed into our jammies, and settled down with a glass of wine in front of the TV. We didn't want to miss any of the drama. Sorry if that sounds flippant. But to us Canadians, the election drama south of  the border is pure theatre. I do realize that it's serious business if you are American. Probably more serious for us than we realize, too. But I don't want to talk about that here. 

I do want to talk about "nasty" women. That word has been on my mind ever since I came home from New York. How it seems to have become a rallying cry for some women. How society has historically tended to demonize strong women or women with power. And I've been thinking about all the nasty women I know. And have known. 

And even about those nasty women who are characters in books and plays I've read. My favourite being Goneril and Regan, the two elder daughters from Shakespeare's King Lear

Cast of BBC film of King Lear: Ian Holm as King Lear. Victoria Hamilton, Amanda Redmond, and Barbara Flynn as Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril
Ian Holm as Lear. Victoria Hamilton, Amanda Redmond, and Barbara Flynn as Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. source
I'm sure you know the story, but in case you don't. Lear, the king of England, is an old man who, wanting to divest himself of his kingly responsibilities, decides to divide his kingdom, giving each of his three daughters a share, the size of which is based on how fulsomely they profess their love for him. The two eldest play along, lay the flattery on with a trowel, and each get a big share. The youngest is flabbergasted, and says the idea is silly, of course she loves her father, as a daughter should. He goes ballistic, and disinherits and banishes her, his previous favourite, and divides her share between the other two, who are of course gobsmacked that he'd kick out the baby sister. Then the two eldest play a lot of dirty tricks on Lear to make sure he stays weak, with no power. Because, for one thing, they feel that it's high time he let them have a go at power, but also because they don't trust him. He's always been erratic, one sister says. How do they know he won't turn on them like he did the baby sister? How indeed? I won't go into what happens in the end besides the fact that most of characters end up dead. It is a tragedy after all. 

The classic interpretation of King Lear depicts the older daughters (plus the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester) as the villains. But I've always felt sympathy for Goneril and Regan. And when I was still teaching, we used to have a lot of fun in my classes looking at the play from the point of view of family dynamics. Imagine growing up in the Lear household. I mean, those girls were nasty and manipulative because that's exactly the behaviour they learned from a self-centered, manipulative father. We used to have some rousing discussions about how daughters 'should' behave, about good parenting, about power and how to wield it judiciously. About strength and competency, and if society viewed strong, competent women differently from strong, competent men. 

I'd sometimes relate the story from my first year as a department head when an angry student told me that the work I had just assigned was "ridiculously hard" (his words) and he was going to have a word with my department head. "Go ahead," I said, "I am the department head." Afterward, his buddy told me confidentially that the boy thought a male colleague of mine was the head because "he always wears a suit." Hmmm. I wore suits. But even though the school had a female principal, I didn't match his idea of someone in a position of authority. 

I learned a lot about how to wield authority from that female principal whom I admired very much. She was smart, very smart. And not afraid to tell us when we had messed up, or when we had done something fabulous. I loved that about her. That plus the fact that we could have a giggle every now and then... about shoes. Unlike other bosses for whom I had worked, she could effortlessly draw a line between me the competent teacher and head, and me the shopper and shoe-lover. Like the time we interviewed K, a fabulous young teacher whom we really wanted to hire. And when K had left the interview room, and we both agreed that we'd be lucky to have her on "our team," I leaned closer to my principal and whispered, "And did you see her gorgeous shoes?" And my boss whispered back, "And the bag to match."  Ha. Love that moment. That's how the rumour began in my school that you had to have good shoes to work in the English department. Not sure I didn't start that myself, actually. 

I will say that this principal whom I admired was not universally liked. She really knew her stuff, followed board policy and expected her staff to do likewise. But she did not have the gift of bonhomie, was a bit reserved in large groups, generally in meetings got down to business instead of shooting the breeze. She was not a game player. And thus was not liked by those who saw these as admirable, even necessary, qualities in a boss. What a nasty, nasty woman! Ha. 

Yep. I've known a lot of nasty women in my life. And learned a lot from each of them. But the original nasty woman in my life was my grandmother Sullivan. Five feet tall, red-haired with the clich√© temper to go with it. She was smart, very smart in fact, sharp witted, and sharp tongued. We all loved her, but we also knew that you did not mess with Grammy. That's her below with my grandfather. He was a big man. But he didn't mess with Grammy either.

Pius Sullivan and his wife, my grandmother, Gwyneth Sullivan outside their home in Devon, New Brunswick
My grandparents outside their North Devon home
My grandmother Sullivan did not have an easy life. Her mother died when she was 15. And as the eldest daughter, she managed the home and her younger brothers and sisters who were 3, 5, 7,10 and 13 when their mother died. Later, she managed my grandfather Sullivan, too. I remember her telling me that she fended off Grampy's original proposal by telling him she wasn't prepared to marry a potato farmer; she'd grown up on a potato farm and knew what hard work it was. When he found something better to do, he could come back. So he did. He started his own successful well-drilling company, and handed it on, eventually, to their sons. That's their 1922 marriage certificate below. She was 23 when they married. And he was 30... and a "well digger" ... not a farmer.

1922 marriage certificate for Gwyneth Almeida Everett and Pius Sullivan
Copy of my grandparents' 1922 marriage certificate
Yep. I think very highly of nasty women. The nasty women I've known have taught me a lot. How to be strong. Competent. Organized and efficient. Unapologetic for doing a good job, my own way. Somehow, I absorbed, from the nasty women I've known, when to hold my ground, and when to give way. In particular, I learned from my grandmother and from her daughter, my mum, to value books, and education, and all kinds of learning. And although I was a long time feeling comfortable about doing it... how not to back down in a fight. Actually... if I'm truthful... I learned from my mum how to fight to begin with... literally. Ha. But, I'll save that story for another day. 

How about you, dear readers? Have you been influenced by so-called nasty women in your life? You know mothers, teachers, colleagues, or bosses who were unapologetically smart and strong and helped you learn to be strong too?

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How to Dress Like a Canadian Visiting New York

Last year when Hubby and I were planning our trip to France, I stressed over what to pack. What to wear in Paris? How to be chic, or at least pulled together, and yet comfortable? I read way too many articles on how to dress "like a Parisian." And then I fussed, and fumed, and shopped. And then I decided to stop sweating it and keep it simple. Good jeans. Good tees. A good jacket. A raincoat. Comfortable, but not ugly, shoes for walking. One pair of dressier shoes. And a scarf. I'd dress like me, a middle-aged Canadian women, visiting Paris. C'est tout. Turns out that's how women in Paris dress anyway. 

So a few weeks ago when I began to plan my outfits to take to New York, I thought it would be a doddle. Fall, cool, but not cold = jeans, a coat sweater, long sleeved tees, a jacket. You know. Paris but a bit cooler... and by cool I mean temperature. I kept thinking about a line I read on the blog Une Femme d'un Certain Age. Sue said that the measure of an outfit for her is the question: "Would I wear this in Paris?" I loved that. And as I was trying on outfits that I actually had worn in Paris, I kept thinking "Well, if it was good enough to wear in Paris..." And so I planned and pre-packed happily. Until I read the New York weather forecast, and although it was wonderfully fall-ish in Ottawa, New York would be back in summer temperatures by the time we arrived. As hot as 28° Celsius. Crap. 

Times Square during the October heat wave October 2016.
Sleeveless in NYC. Elizabeth's shot of Times Square our first day in New York. 
Back to the drawing board. And back to the closet for me. I spent an afternoon trying on possible outfits. Making sure everything went with everything else. Trying desperately NOT to have to dig out my really summery clothes. Here's what I came up with. On the left... what I packed. Two blouses, two long-sleeved striped tees, my light summer Helmut Lang blazer. Cropped jeans, my new khaki jeans, my Veronica Beard navy cropped pants. Loafers. And my raincoat, not shown. I threw in a black, light weight, v-neck sweater at the last minute. On the right... what I wore on the plane. Veronica Beard navy jacket with a white tee underneath, high rise skinny jeans, sneakers. I had my navy scarf handy because my neck always gets cold on planes. 

what I packed, and what I wore on the plane to New York.

For day. I wore the blue Equipment shirt, my light cropped Veronica Beard pants, and my sneakers on the hottest day when we walked in midtown. The next day, also hot, I wore my ALC striped tee, and my Citizens of Humanity jeans, and sneakers. I wore this all over Paris, so figured it was good for walking all over downtown New York, Greenwich Village, Soho. And it was. The next day was a bit cooler, so I opted for my jeans and my Veronica Beard jacket with a light tee underneath. This looks warmer than it is because the hoodie is not a hoodie, just that narrow front part and a hood which zips out. I was glad that I brought an extra tee because, after two long sweaty days of walking, both the blouse and the striped tee were a little worse for wear.

Blue shirt by Equipment, navy Veronica Beard cropped pants. Stan Smith Adidas, bag by Holt Renfrew  ALC striped tee, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Stan Smith Adidas, bag by Holt Renfrew   Veronica Beard jacket, Theory tee, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Stan Smith Adidas

For eveningOn our first evening, I wore my white Massimo Dutti blouse and navy Veronica Beard pants with my Stuart Weitzman loafers. The Korean restaurant where we ate that night was quite hot... and very loud. Elizabeth and I were both glad that I asked if we could move tables... against a wall (quieter than in the middle of the floor) and right in front of the door (ah... those breezes.)

Massimo Dutti white shirt, Veronica Beard cropped pants, Stuart Weitzman loafers, bag by Holt Renfrew

On another evening I wore the Veronica Beard pants again, with the matching jacket, minus the hoodie insert, and this striped Alexander Wang tee. Mostly the jacket resided on the back of my chair... but I hate to be without a "completer piece." Thanks to Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear for the term.

Veronica Beard jacket and cropped pants, Alexander Wang tee, Stuart Weitzman loafers      Veronica Beard jacket and cropped pants, Alexander Wang tee, Stuart Weitzman loafer

I wore this outfit to dinner one night and to the theatre on our last night. My new khaki Massimo Dutti jeans, the black Helmut Lang jacket and, ironically, the black v-neck sweater that I threw in at the last minute. And my loafers, of course. These shoes have been real work horses in my closet. As you can probably tell by the number of times they appear on the blog. 

Helmut Lang jacket, Banana Republic sweater, Massimo Dutti jeans, Stuart Weitzman loafers, Holt Renfrew bag     Helmut Lang jacket, Banana Republic sweater, Massimo Dutti jeans, Stuart Weitzman loafers, Holt Renfrew bag
I took my light raincoat on the last night because rain had been forecast. But thankfully it held off until we arrived back at the hotel. And the mist in the air made for a great shot of the Empire State building... or half of it anyway.

New York City at night, Empire State Building half hidden in the mist
Elizabeth's shot of the Empire State Building as we made our way back to our hotel. 

I did absolutely no fashion research before my trip to New York. Besides looking at the weather forecast. So this morning, for fun, I Googled "how to dress like a New Yorker." Ha. So glad I did not read any of these articles before I left. Not that I would have paid any attention anyway. I mean, I learned my lesson with Paris. But according to these writers all New Yorkers wear black, black and more black. Sky high heels. Lots of leather. And really, really cuttingly edgy everything. Really? Of course it was way too hot for leather. But I don't think I saw a single woman in high heels as we tramped all over New York. Black ballet flats, however, were simply everywhere. Lots of ankle boots, some with bare legs. And dresses. Lots of really lovely day dresses. Of course many of the people we would have seen on the streets were just like us... visitors. Still, in Greenwich Village and Soho, you'd think we'd have seen at last a few of these edgier than edgy people. Ah well, I'm sure they're there somewhere.

I apologize if you were looking for something a bit more interesting in this post. But as I've said before on the blog, I gotta be me. And edgy I ain't. Or wildly creative like some bloggers my age. Just me. Not trying to dress like a New Yorker. Just trying to dress like me... a Canadian visiting New York. Trying to be polished and pulled together, and comfortable at the same time. Trying to look current, and NOT have to pack a giant suitcase for a four day trip. By the way Elizabeth and I both travelled with carry-on only. My first time doing that. Worked out fine. I even had room to pack a couple of new purchases. And despite my companion's prediction on our last shopping day... "You are so going to be checking your bag on the way home"... crammed it was, but definitely NOT checked. Oh, ye of little faith. 

By the way. This is one of my new purchases. A wool sweater from Prada... in a lovely green that goes perfectly with my khaki jeans from Massimo Dutti. Love this sweater, and the coat I bought. But I haven't had time to play around with them yet, to see what goes with what. Stay tuned. Post coming soon.     

Prada sweater, Massimo Dutti jeans, Stuart Weitzman loafers.

How about you folks? Do you try to change your style when you travel? Are you influenced by those articles on how to dress like... whatever? Anything else you want to get off your chest? Like Kelsey Grammar used to say on Frasier, one of my all time favourite shows: "Go ahead. I'm listening."

Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Style Me Wednesday at Shopping My Closet, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Friday Finds at Forage Fashion, and Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

New York Stories. Well... Some of Them.

In a moment of beautiful serendipity, I sat down at my computer this morning, to start this post about my trip to New York. The shopping. The theatre. The art. And on CBC radio, Michael Enright began interviewing Ross King, discussing King's new book Mad Enchantment, about Claude Monet and his famous water lily paintings. Two of which I just saw... like... three days ago!  At Moma in New York. I love it when stuff like that happens, don't you? 

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's begin at the beginning. Elizabeth and Sue went to New York. On a plane. They stayed four nights, and saw and did many exciting things. These are their stories. And pictures, of course.

View from our plane as we approach New York
Glued to the window. Waiting for a view of the New York skyline.
Elizabeth and I have been planning this trip for a few months. Getting together to eat lunch and talk about what we wanted to see, and what we didn't give a toss about. Researching the best ways to travel and where to stay. Making lists of what we wanted to do. We decided to stay at the beautiful, historic Gregory Hotel on West 35th St. There was a bit of a glitch with our booking when we arrived on Monday. But that was solved, and the rate for our first night suitably reduced. I do admit to getting, ahem, a bit testy with the front desk clerk over that. But I calmed down and things were soon hunky dory. This is me, below, lounging on my bed in my Veronica Beard jacket.

Lounging in our room at the Gregory Hotel, NYC. Veronica Beard suit
Photo of me in our room at the Gregory courtesy of Elizabeth 
The Gregory is close to so much we wanted to see and do. So, for three and a half days we walked. And walked. The first afternoon and evening we found our bearings. Explored a few blocks in all directions from our hotel. Saw the first of many iconic landmarks. Ate Korean tapas at a nearby Korean Gastro Pub. Oh, yum. That was delicious. I even managed to use chopsticks without embarrassing myself. Thanks to my sister-in-law Yu Ling who taught me this skill many years ago.

View of the Empire State Building which was near the Gregory Hotel. NYC
The Empire State Building was quite near our hotel. 
The next two days we hoofed it all over midtown and downtown. Somewhat shell shocked, I will say, by the crowds and the sensory overload. As Elizabeth said, "Too much much-ness" Love that line. Times Square is definitely a far cry from Manotick on the Rideau, folks.

Times Square
Times Square ...  Photo courtesy of Elizabeth 
We spent a lovely afternoon at Moma, the Museum of Modern Art. Moma was on both our 'must do' lists. I love modern art, having been converted many years ago when I took my creative writing class on a field trip to the National Gallery here in Ottawa. I still smile at the memory of our "very cool" tour guide who kept me and 30+ initially bored and dismissive teenagers spellbound for over an hour. I don't pretend to always understand what I'm looking at. But I'm always willing to be enlightened. At Moma, the Matisse painting, below, began to unfold for me when I read the description. Ah, now I could see the flower pot on the balcony, the man in the round turban, seen from behind. Of course, we also saw lots of Picassos, stunning paintings by Andrew Wyeth, and those Monet water lilies that I mentioned above. And then after only two floors ... we were done. Arted out, so to speak. We'd leave the rest for another visit.

The Moroccans by Henri Matisse as seen at Moma in New York City

Text description of a Matisse painting at Moma in New York City

On our way back to the hotel from Moma we stopped for a quiet moment at Saint Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Beautiful. Then toured Uniqlo, a temple of a very different sort. So many sweaters; none of them suitable, as it turned out, for moi. We ended the afternoon at the New York Public Library. A gorgeous old building, and so wonderful that it belongs to the people of New York. The library... perfect end to a perfect day for an ex-English teacher and a retired editor, don't you think?

Saint Patrick's Cathedral and fast fashion retailer Uniqlo, both on Fifth Avenue, New York City
Two Fifth Ave temples: Saint Patrick's Cathedral and fast fashion giant Uniqlo
That night we were well able to handle a big meal, but not prepared to walk far to get it. So we dined in at Brendan's Bar and Grill attached to our hotel, part of the original "public rooms" of the Gregory back in its heyday. That's Elizabeth below. Hungry and footsore, but still smiling.

Dining at Brendan's Bar and Grill, West 35th St, New York City

Day two was largely dedicated to shopping. Now why doesn't that surprise you? Caffeinated and coiffed we left the hotel early, hoofed it down Broadway, and ate our breakfast in the square under the shadow of the iconic Flatiron building.

View of The Flatiron building, Broadway, New York City
New York's iconic Flatiron building erected in 1902
Then we pressed on, intent on shopping in Greenwich Village and Soho. We lost ourselves for a time among the "eighteen miles of books" in the Strand Bookstore. Experienced the strangely confusing decor at Prada on Broadway. Seriously, when we entered the store, the stairs looked as if they disappeared into thin air. We laughingly asked how to access the women's clothes, and a staff member chuckled and kindly explained. In fact everyone was lovely; which kind of surprised both of us. We had expected haughty indifference. I had a hard time choosing a sweater: burgundy or military green? I also had a hard time opening the sliding door of my dressing room. For a moment or two I was trapped inside four walls of mirrors with a video screen of Prada-clad models, their hair softly blowing in the breeze. Totally surreal, almost Ray Bradbury-esque. Then we lunched in Soho. And on our way back to our hotel, we detoured through Washington Square Park, Henry James country. Books and clothes and literary landmarks. Oh my. My Stan Smith sneakers were steaming from the miles of pavement we'd covered. 

Day three started with a visit to Macy's. I shopped, and tried on coats, and felt a little guilty as Elizabeth patiently held my purse. I found a fall coat that I loved, and which now resides in my closet. I'll tell you the tale about that in a fashion post soon. We stopped by Rockefeller Center to see the statue of Prometheus. And the ice skaters, of course. Not surprisingly the ice looked a little spongy after the recent heat wave. Then we purchased a take-out salad for supper and went back to the Gregory to put our feet up for a while. 

Shot of Prometheus and ice skaters at Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center, Prometheus and some skaters. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth 
We wanted to be fresh for our last night in New York. We had tickets for Beautiful:The Carole King Musical at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. It was marvelous. Especially for two people who were teenagers in the seventies. One of whom remembers her older sister buying King's Tapestry album back in the day. The songs from that record form part of the sound track of my early teen years. "So far away..." 

 In Times Square on our way to the Stephen Sondheim Theater, NYC
Elizabeth's photo of me in Times Square on our way to the theatre.
I grinned throughout the entire performance. And Elizabeth says I may have audibly "oh-ed" once or twice at the beginning of a particularly beloved song. It's hard to keep quiet when you hear the first strains of a song you've sung every word to, for so many years. During the encore number the entire audience got to their feet and sang along. Sigh. Brought a tear to my eye. 

Playbill for Beautiful: The Carole King Story, outside Stephen Sondheim Theatre, NYC

In another serendipitous moment, we discovered that the role of Carole King is now played by Canadian Chilina Kennedy, whom I saw in Evita at the Stratford Festival, and Elizabeth saw in Evangeline. Now how cool is that? 

New York at night
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth 
New York at night is beautiful. We wended our way back to the hotel, as a mist descended. That's the Empire State Building below. The top of it lost in the fog. Tomorrow the weather would change. And we'd head for home. 

The Empire State Building disappearing into the mist
Elizabeth's shot of the Empire State Building in the mist 
Our journey home was not without its drama. Extra long cab ride to the airport courtesy of construction and lots and lots of rain. Weather delay, as well as broken-down ground equipment and some guy who had to get off the plane minutes before we were to take off, all meant that our flight out of LaGuardia was delayed by almost two hours. This ate up (pun intended) the time between flights in Toronto when we should have been able to get supper. It also meant a mad and frantic dash for our flight to Ottawa. And I do mean mad. Leaping to the front of the loooong security line after clearing customs. This upon the advice of the West Jet operator whom Elizabeth phoned as we languished in the huge line ten minutes before our flight. Then the dash to the gate as our names were called. Red faced, hair no doubt standing on end (well, mine anyway), filing to the back of the plane (of course) under the baleful gaze of people who had been waiting in their seats, and were probably wondering who the two airheads were who couldn't get to their gate on time. Or at least that's what I imagined they were thinking. Then, starving, we were offered those disgusting granola bars... again. I hate those. But I inhaled it anyway, thinking that hopefully Hubby would have something good to eat at home. And, of course, he did. 

So. Elizabeth and Sue went to New York. These were their stories. Well, some of them. We've already started talking about next year. I hear that Sally Field will be playing Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Oh. I adore Tennessee Williams. I'd give anything to see that.

If you get a chance, you have to see Beautiful. I mean it. You'll love it. Have a listen.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

New York State of Mind

This post will be short and sweet. Short because I'm flying to New York City tomorrow with a girlfriend. And there are outfits to be tried on, ironed, packed... etc etc. And sweet because... well ... tomorrow I'm flying to New York City with a girlfriend. And I'm excited. It's my sixtieth birthday treat to myself. Albeit a few months late. But who cares? As my friend Elizabeth said when I asked her if she wanted to come along... "Autumn in New York. Sounds good to me."

New York City

We've had our flights and hotel booked for a while. What will we do when we get there? We've done our homework. We've lots of ideas, and recommendations, and we've narrowed down what we don't care about, and what we do. But as for making specific plans.... we've not made up our minds yet. We plan to walk a lot, and shop some. See a show, or maybe two. Visit some museums, we're not sure which ones yet. And other than that... eat, sip wine... and enjoy just being there. 

Just being there will be great. 

So, my friends. I'll be in touch in a few days. In the meantime. I am truly in a "New York State of Mind." 

Love this Billy Joel song.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What To Wear When You Don't Have Time To Wait for Inspiration.

What should I wear, today? What, what, what? Sigh. How many times have I stared blankly into my closet and asked myself that dreaded question? Ha. Many, many times, my friends. 

To be truthful, I haven't done it in years. But when I was younger... well... that was a whole other thing. Back then I might go through several outfit changes each morning, tossing aside unwanted items as I became more and more frustrated, and had less and less time before I had to be out the door. Then, when inspiration failed me, and time ran out, I'd root through the pile of clothes on my bed, haul out a favourite and too often relied upon outfit combination, and rush down to the basement to plug in the iron. Because, of course, the blouse or skirt was now hopelessly wrinkled, having been discarded early in the process, and lying under a growing pile of other discarded items. I'd press the wrinkles out, toss on whatever it was I'd chosen, and dash out the door, coat flying, twenty minutes late, knowing that if traffic was heavy my first morning class might be in danger of starting without me. And that would be bad because I was the teacher. Phew. So glad those days are over.

Wouldn't it be nice if we all just looked like this every morning? source
But, as I said, I haven't done that in years. Partly because I'm much more organized now. If there's one thing that teaching teaches teachers it's that being organized pays off in sooo many ways. Course timelines planned, units mapped out, target dates for tests and major assignments in place from day one of the semester. All of that frees you up to be more creative in planning day to day activities, more in the moment, and better able to have fun with the kids. And it reduces your stress. Big time. And after a few years, that technique of planning the big stuff in order to relax with the day to day bleeds into other aspects of your life. Like wardrobe planning.

Here's how it works for me. I know many of you have read this "philosophy" numerous times, so I'll be brief. Every season I do a wardrobe inventory of what I own that I will still wear this season, and what I will consign or give away. Then I look for gaps or needs. To help me decide what I might want to add to my wardrobe, I pull pictures from magazines and pin them on my bulletin board for inspiration. Or I start a Pinterest board. Then I make out a seasonal shopping list. And I write all this down in my little book. The writing down part is important.

 Fall 2016 fashion inspiration board
My inspiration board for Fall 2016.
I don't always follow my shopping list. Sometimes I can't find an item, or I change my mind about what I want. But I always know what I don't need. And I shop for items that fit with other things I own. Sometimes I find a jacket or a suit that I really love which takes my wardrobe off in a new direction. Like my navy Veronica Beard suit. But I am always aware that I may need to then find coordinating tops or shoes. So I don't do that often. And only if I love, love whatever I'm buying. And never if the only reason for buying it is because it's on sale. I mean, buying that brown midi-skirt at a fabulous price isn't smart shopping if you now need new brown boots, and maybe even a camel or brown coat, to go with it. Later in the season, I usually do a follow-up shop, to fill a specific niche that I've identified. Like yesterday I found a pair of khaki jeans at Massimo Dutti that work beautifully with my khaki suede Twiggy moto jacket. They will also work with a grey and sage green striped Vince tee, with my navy and white tees, or with my navy Veronica Beard jacket. So one new pair of jeans broadens the wearability of several other major pieces.

 My tiny clothes closet.
Most of my tiny closet. The pants and jeans are on the right out of sight of the camera.
Once my closet is organized. And I've shopped. I always spend a happy afternoon trying on all kinds of outfit combinations. To see what goes with what in reality, on my body, and not just on the hanger. When I worked, I'd do this on a Wednesday. Hubby always played hockey after school on Wednesday afternoon, and I knew I'd have the house all to myself for several uninterrupted hours. So I'd rush home from work, brew up a pot of tea, and get started trying to recreate the outfits that hitherto had existed only on my inspiration board and in my imagination. Sometimes the fantasy did not translate into reality. Sometimes I'd find new combinations that had never occurred to me. I used to keep a hastily scrawled list of these new ideas pinned on my cork board, where I could see it when I was working at my desk. That way I'd be more likely to remember to wear these new outfit combinations. 

These days, instead of taking notes, I just take pictures for my blog. Then when I'm getting dressed, I can quickly look up an outfit shot on my i-pad. If I weren't writing this blog, I think I'd still take pictures with an i-phone and keep outfit ideas stored there. Seems like a quick way of recording outfits that work, that you like, and that you want to be able to recall when you have to be somewhere, and you don't have time to wait for inspiration.

Earlier this week, I had what Hubby jokingly refers to as one of my "fashion shows." I tried on a whole mess of clothes. This time, I wanted to see how I might get more wear out of these old brown suede Prada ankle boots. Eventually I found I liked them with my flared Current Elliot jeans, my new Veronica Beard jacket, over a cream silk blouse. And with this double-faced, wool scarf which has teal green, blue, and brown animal print on one side, and which looks great with both chocolate brown and with navy. 

Veronica Beard navy jacket, Current Elliot jeans, cream silk Equipment blouse, brown suede Prada booties, Holt Renfrew animal print scarf
Trying to translate inspiration into reality the other day.

I should add that "fashion shows" are just for the purpose of identifying what I might wear. They are not generally for public consumption... especially given the fact that I had no make-up on, and my hair was sticking up in tufts. Hence my hiding behind an artfully placed book. See how beneficial reading can be? Ha. Totally appropriate camouflage for me. I always did have my nose stuck in a book

So you see, if you know what you own, and you know what goes with what because you've already tried on several different outfit combinations, you can avoid the dreaded question "What should I wear?" You can eliminate the distressing last minute dearth of inspiration. And totally do away with the towering pile of cast off outfits on the bed under which the one item you desire will now be languishing in severe need of a good ironing. I always hate when that happens. 

And let me add one caveat to this advice. Never, never presume to plan too far in advance exactly what you will wear for each day of the week. I did that one year when I started to become a bit obsessed with organization. In love with my newly learned skill of planning ahead, I thought: "If a bit of planning is good, then of course a whole lot of planning will be...well.. better. Won't it?" Ah. Not so much. Sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. I began to realize that it was much better to have a range of outfits from which to choose to suit my mood. Because there's nothing worse than planning to wear, say, a skirt suit with high heels on the one morning when you feel like crap and really, really want to wear cords and running shoes. Always have a plan B ... trust me on this one. 

Now, I know some of you are saying... "Gad, this woman takes dressing seriously." You're right. I do. I seem to be temperamentally unable to grab whatever jeans and top are handy, throw them on, and happily head off to start my day. I want to look good, or as good as I can. Be comfortable. And appropriately attired for my mood, and for whatever activity I'm embarking upon. Shallow it may be... I will admit... but I can't help it. That's just the way I am. A bad outfit makes me verrry cranky.

How about you my friends? How do you solve those last minute 'what to wear with what' dilemmas? Any secret tricks you use to pull together a polished look when you're pressed for time? Any funny wardrobe stories you want to share? 

Go ahead. We're listening.

Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Style Me Wednesday at Shopping My Closet, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Friday Finds at Forage Fashion, and Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Fall Wilderness Wanderings : Good for the Body and the Soul

A couple of weeks ago, when I returned home from New Brunswick... home from home, you might say... Hubby and I packed the truck and headed for the hills, and the valleys, of the Bonnechere River. We have been making this fall camping trip for many years. Getting away from the city... or near city... where we live. Getting out in the bush, or as close as we can get to the bush with our truck and tent trailer. Soaking up the fresh air and sunshine. And sometimes the rain. But let's not go there. 

Road to Bonnechere Provincial Park, near Alice, Ontario
On the road to Bonnechere
Fall camping is the very best of the best of wilderness experiences, as far as I'm concerned. Crisp mornings and warm sunshine-y afternoons. Dusk coming early. Sitting around the campfire after supper, cradling a glass of wine, and watching sparks disappear up into the night sky. Makes me all calm just thinking about it. 

This year we went in search of new places to hike and walk. We drove up Turner's Road so I could take my requisite shot of the old bridge pilings on the Little Bonnechere River. 

Fall colours on Little Bonnechere River, from bridge on Turner's Road. Near Bonnechere, Ontario
Little Bonnechere River
Then we hiked the trail up to beautiful Whispering Winds Lookout on the edge of Algonquin Park. Lovely views from here. And surprisingly none of the fall colour we saw everywhere else. 

View from Whispering Winds Lookout on the edge of Algonquin Park, Ontario
View from Whispering Winds Lookout
Well, except for a few bushes. And us. Fall is hunting season in these parts. Smart walkers and paddlers want to be easily seen. You can't miss that shirt I'm wearing. Visible from a half kilometre away I'd say, wouldn't you?

View from Whispering Winds Lookout on the edge of Algonquin Park, Ontario
Make sure you can see and be seen during hunting season
The next day we tossed the canoe on the truck. Ha. Hubby tossed. I stood by and offered moral support. Then we drove up into Algonquin Park, to catch the last day of the fishing season. No pun intended.

Fall colours on a dirt road into Algonquin Park near Round Lake, Ontario
The dirt road into Algonquin Park
Not too many people seem to fish this part of the Bonnechere River. Probably because once you put the canoe in the water and paddle for five minutes you reach a boggy area something like this. And it can be tricky to find, and then to follow, the main channel of the river. 

Bog seen from the highway. Between Round Lake and Alice, Ontario
View of a bog from the  highway
This year we encountered evidence that beavers have been very busy since we were last here. Quite often the dams are small enough that we can pull the canoe over them. But this time we had to make a sluiceway to be able to get through. Hubby loves this. A little adversity makes the fishing all the more satisfactory.

Breaking up a beaver dam on the Bonnechere River

Me. I'm just taking the pictures. And the video. And pulling off my socks in preparation for getting into the water. Unsurprisingly, I have no pictures of me balancing on the top of the dam, ankle deep in water, as Hubby pulls the canoe up and over the top. Ah. Ah. Ahhhh. I will say that it was a pinch chilly on the bare ankles. 

But the reward for our hard work was that there were brook trout to be had. We caught just enough fish for our evening meal, and after that we just paddled, and enjoyed the day. Two of these babies were caught by moi. As you can see, I like to catch 'em, and eat 'em... but I'm not fond of holding them close. They are a bit smelly. 

Four lovely brook trout caught on the Bonnechere River
Brook trout for supper tonight
On one of our camping days the sky was overcast, and it rained off and on all day. So we ventured into nearby Barry's Bay and were pleased to find that this was the weekend for the local Madawaska Valley Artist's Studio Tour. We picked up a map at the Visitor's Centre in the old railway station and plotted our route, wending our way along the back roads. 

The old wooden water tower in Barry's Bay

We visited several studios, but by far my favourite was Joyce Burkholders' studio, in the village of Wilno. I love Joyce's work. She's a "wilderness artist," and certainly the bold colours of her paintings brilliantly depict the Canadian bush, in particular Algonquin Park. You can check out her website here. Joyce is a lovely person to chat to, and I found out that she also gives painting workshops. Ah, wouldn't that be wonderful? But, as I explained to Joyce, I'm just re-learning to draw at the moment, a long ways from trying to paint. Still... maybe one day.

Paintings of Algonquin Park in Joyce Burkholder's studio

Looking at Joyce's work makes me feel like I'm in Algonquin Park. I'm sure I've driven down that dusty road, or paddled up that stream in the mist under those skeletal jack pines.

Paintings of Algonquin Park in Joyce Burkholder's studio

There's just something so restorative about being in the wilderness. Even if only for a few hours. And apparently science is just catching on to that fact. It's no surprise that being out in nature helps us emotionally. And physically. Lowers blood pressure, decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and even helps lower resting heart rates. But in the past few years studies have shown that being out in nature, among the trees, also helps increase the number of cells in our bodies which kill bacteria and viruses etc. "Forest bathing" they're calling it now in Japan. 

We call it wandering in the wilderness. Being able to breath deeply. And talk to each other without interruptions. We think of it as getting back bits of ourselves that we lose in the hustle and bustle of everyday urban living. Good for the body and for the soul. 

This is my view from the bow of our canoe as we make our way through the bog on the Bonnechere River. You can hear the splash of Hubby's paddle in the water and the sound of it knocking gently on the gunnel of the canoe. 

And nothing else. 

Now... tell me that you didn't find that relaxing. 

So what about you, friends? Do you like to get out in the wilderness? How do you recapture the balance in your life when urban living takes it toll? 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner and the Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Shoe Story

What's the story with women and shoes, do you think? Is it a truth universally acknowledged that every woman is "obsessed" with shoes? Nah. I'm not buying that. 

Despite what I discovered during my painstaking, and painful I might add, research. All the gushingly, hyperbolic blog posts about shoes, and the articles showing the supposedly 'enviable' fashionista closets, and the many hundreds of pairs of shoes certain celebrity fashionistas have in these closets. Apparently Celine Dion confided to Ellen Degeneres that she has over 3000 pairs. Or was that Imelda Marcos? I'm a bit confused. And no wonder... I've seen way too many pictures of pink closets today, with rows and rows of gold shoes... hmmm, whose closet was that? Oh yes, Mariah Carey... I think. But despite all this palaver over shoes, I don't believe every woman is obsessed with shoes. I know I'm not. 

But that doesn't mean that shoes aren't an important, even vital, part of a great outfit. In fact, quite the contrary. Shoes can make or break an outfit. The minute you put them on and look in the mirror, you know. They're either too chunky, too prim, too flat, too high in the heel, not high enough... or just right. And if they're just right, they make a good outfit look even better. Right?

Contrary to the opinion of some of my friends and acquaintances, I don't own a ton of shoes. I counted them when I read that Celine Dion statistic. I own 23 pairs of footwear. That includes sandals, flats, ankle boots, over-the-knee boots, heels, loafers, and my trusty Stan Smith Adidas. I didn't count my running shoes or my Hunter fishing boots in that total. And of those 23 pairs, I have my favourites. Well, you'll know that if you read my blog regularly. I repeat the same shoes and boots. Over and over.

I love my patent leather Stuart Weitzman loafers. I like them with skinny jeans, with leggings, and with my leather trousers.

Stuart Weitzman loafers with Paige high rise skinny jeans, Tory Burch tie blouse, Vince coat sweater; Vince leggings, Theory striped silk blouse, Paige jean jacket; Holt Renfrew leather trousers, Rag and Bone silk tank
My Stuart Weitzman loafers with jeans, leggings, and leather trousers.
I'm very happy with my brown Paul Green ankle boots that I bought last fall. I particularly love them with flares or with boot cut jeans, as you can see.

Current Elliot jeans, Theory white tee, Twiggy suede jacket by M&S, Alexander Wang striped tee, Max Mara coat, Elie Tahari animal print cardigan, Paul Green boots
Paul Green boots with jeans, jeans, and jeans.
These Stuart Weitzman low-heeled pumps are always in my current rotation. The low heel and the grey-edged bow make them very early sixties, I think. They can be a bit prissy, so I like to wear them with jeans and a nice jacket. Like this Helmut Lang blazer which I bought in the spring of 2015.

Citizens of Humanity jeans, black silk Rag and Bone tank, Paige high-rise skinny jeans, white long-sleeved Vince tee, Helmut Lang black blazer, Stuart Weitzman low-heeled pumps
Stuart Weitzman low-heeled pumps with jeans and a good jacket
And of course, I still adore my Stan Smith Adidas from last year. And which I wear with just about everything I own. 

Stan Smith Adidas with white Theory shirt and Holt Renfrew skirt, blue Veronica Beard pant suit, Paige high-rise skinny jeans, Equipment blouse, khaki suede Twiggy jacket by M&S
Stan Smith Adidas go with pretty much anything.
Below are some of the shoes in my closet that don't get out enough, but which I kept when I did my closet cull last spring. I love the silver hardware on the black, chunky-heel Stuart Weitzman pumps. And the caramel, platform T-strap heels look so great with a skirt. I bought the Tod's driving shoes with my retirement gift card from my work buddies in 2013; they never go out of style. I also have a pair of chocolate brown, suede Prada booties with a small heel that I don't wear nearly enough, but I'll probably never give away. Because...well... Prada. One day I'll wear them again. 

Black chunky heel pump with silver buckle, caramel platform t-strap heels both by Stuart Weitzman. Burgundy Tory Burch flats, Tod's driving shoes, black Stuart Weitzman flats with gold detail
Stuart Weitzman chunky-heeled pumps, platform T-strap, & black flats. Tod's driving shoes, burgundy Tory Burch flats
So if you look at the fact that of the 23 pairs of footwear I own, 6 are not worn regularly... and 2 pairs I didn't mention are probably on the way out very soon... I think I can be classified as a shoe minimalist. At least in my books. But that doesn't mean I don't love shoes. Just that I shop wisely, buy what I love, and then love them for a long time. 

And yet, minimalism is no excuse for wearing the wrong shoe or boot with an outfit. I still need enough variety in my closet to work with all of my pants and skirts and dresses. 

You know, I started thinking about all this shoe stuff a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting in airports, travelling to and from New Brunswick where I was visiting my mum. In the Montreal airport, in the Fredericton airport, in the Toronto airport... I began to notice how many women were wearing exactly the wrong shoe for the rest of their outfit. In particular the wrong shoe and pants combination. Trainers and mom jeans seemed to be a popular choice for women travellers, with the jeans pooling on top of their sneakers in a very unattractive way. A different shoe or maybe hemming or rolling the pants could have made all the difference. You don't need to be obsessed with shoes to do that, do you? I'm not talking about when you're out walking the dog or going for your morning run, but when you actually plan to be out in public. 

I mean, there has to be a middle ground between wearing trainers with totally inappropriate pants and feeling the need to own 3000 pairs of shoes. Don't you think?

Which brings me back to all that painstaking... and painful... research I did this morning. Painful does not begin to describe it, people. From pictures of closets bigger than my whole house and which we are all supposed to be dying to own, to the story of a woman from Houston who owned a three-storey, 3,000 sq. ft. closet and who was robbed after she showed her closet and its contents on Good Morning America and then went out to dinner without setting her alarm system. Really? And then there's cringe-worthy Imelda Marcos, who is reputed to have said: "They went into my closet looking for skeletons, but thank God all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes." 

Oh my. Shoe story overload, or what? I had to stop and go outside and help Hubby clean up the garden. Or something. I think I actually lost brain cells while I was reading all this stuff. 

Enough of that. I'm beginning to sound cranky. And what the heck am I driving at, anyway? Well, only that despite how it might appear in fashion-blogger-land, we're not all obsessed with shoes. Doesn't mean that we don't love shoes. Or that we think shoes are unimportant. They definitely are. They definitely can make or break an outfit. But how many pairs do we really need, anyway? I mean... really... need? 

So, that's my shoe story for today, folks. And I'm sticking to it. I could go on. About shoes and work, and the wild rumour when I was the English head at my school that you had to have good shoes to work in my department. Ha. Remembering that makes me laugh. 

Now it's your turn. What's your story? Are you a shoe minimalist? Or maximalist? Or somewhere in between... or maybe you don't care much one way or the other? Do tell. 

Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Style Me Wednesday at Shopping My Closet, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Friday Finds at Forage Fashion, and Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb.