Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Midsummer Mysteries, and Other Books I'm Reading

It's midsummer already, and I haven't written a book post since the spring. Looking back at what I have written about, besides fashion, I notice a lot of angsting and ranting. Hmmm. What's with that, do you think? But even though I haven't been writing about reading, I have been reading, my friends. My mind may be all over the place this summer, but my butt is still firmly planted in my chair with my book in hand. 

Of course, I've been reading lots of mysteries. 

Paula Hawkins' new novel Into the Water

I recently finished Paula Hawkins' new book Into the Water. I read one review that enthused this second book was even better than Hawkins' hugely successful Girl on a Train. But I tend to agree with the somewhat less breathless praise in Alison Flood's Guardian review , or Tara Henley's review in The Toronto Star

aula Hawkins author of Into the Water
Paula Hawkins   source
In this latest novel, Hawkins deals with the mystery surrounding a series of deaths by drowning, all taking place at the infamous "drowning pool," a part of the river that flows through the fictional town of Beckford, in the north of England. The latest death is the possible suicide of a woman who was obsessed with all the previous deaths, who was writing a book about them, and who lived in the old mill which straddles the river that so fascinated her. Hawkins uses her considerable writing skills to paint a vivid picture of the setting and the characters. But the plot, told from multiple points of view, all eleven narrators as utterly unreliable as the three she used to such good effect in Girl on a Train, becomes too confusing. As Flood says in her review, "there are more unreliable narrators than you can shake a stick at." Yep. Too many. The technique of using a first-person, unreliable narrator can be really effective, and suspenseful, if used wisely, as Hawkins did in Girl on a Train, which I loved. But while I liked the ideas behind this new book, Hawkins' take on historic and not so historic misogyny, for instance, I didn't love the book. Still, it is worth reading, so don't dismiss it altogether.

Peter Robinson's new Inspector Banks novel When the Music's Over

I've also been catching up on some of the newer books by my favourite mystery writers. I love Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series. And When the Music's Over did not disappoint. If you're not familiar with Robinson, he's a Canadian writer, who sets his mysteries in Yorkshire where he was born. Actually, he didn't move to Canada until he had finished his undergrad degree at the University of Leeds... but he's Canadian now. And we're proud to claim him. 

I love this shot of him with singer Judi Collins below. Robinson's Inspector Banks character is a great music lover. You can read a review of this latest in the Banks series here. And if you've never read Robinson, and you love well written mysteries, well... you have a treat in store for you. Actually lots of treats. This one is number twenty-three in the series. Happy reading.

 Peter Robinson with Judi Collins
Peter Robinson with Judi Collins  source
I also finally got my hands on Ann Cleeves' newest Shetland mystery Cold Earth. I've really enjoyed all of Cleeves' novels, her Jimmy Perez stories set in Shetland, and the Vera Stanhope books set in Northumberland.  I don't think her novels are as brilliant as those of Peter May; his Lewis trilogy are among my favourites. But I'm still a huge Cleeves fan. You can read an interesting interview with Ann Cleeves here, where she talks about this latest book, both of her fictional detectives, her writing career, and why she is glad that her success "did not come early."

Anne Cleeves, and her newest Shetland novel Cold Earth

The other book that I want to tell you about is not a mystery. It's one I read a while ago. And one that I found deeply affecting. In fact, Indian Horse by Canadian Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese is one of the best books I've read. Ever. It's a difficult book, and not one I was sure I wanted to read. But I'm so glad that I did. I think it's an important book. And one that every Canadian should read. Wagamese tells the story of a young Ojibway man named Saul Indianhorse who begins life in the northern bush. Who suffers in the residential school system that we've been hearing so much about these last few years, but about which many of us know so little beyond the headlines. And who finds escape, at least for a time, through the game of hockey. Wagamese's descriptions of Saul on the ice are sheer poetry. Of course Saul's story does not end with his success on the ice. But you should read the book yourself to find out. Wagamese writes beautifully. Indian Horse is about suffering, alcoholism, and cruelty. And it's also about friendship, love, solace, indomitable spirit, and, ultimately, redemption. 

 Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese     

Richard Wagamese was a gifted storyteller who lived a difficult life. He battled homelessness, and alcoholism, among other things. He died this past March at age sixty-one. You can read about his life here. His books are not about politics, but they are political. Of course they are; everyone has an opinion on the situation surrounding indigenous people in our country. In his books, Wagamese makes the political personal, from a perspective that few of us non-indigenous people can understand. But we can learn at least something about that perspective if we read his books, or the books of other indigenous writers. 

Richard Wagamese, author of Indian Horse
Richard Wagamese   source
Countries like mine which were colonized by European settlers all have a dark past when it comes to the treatment of the indigenous peoples those settlers encountered. I think it behooves us all to know more about that distant past, and the not so distant past, the ramifications of which are very much with us today. I'm not an expert on any of this. I've toyed with the idea of writing this post for a month now. Trying to get my thoughts in order. I didn't want to get anything wrong. And if I've underplayed the tragedy in Wagamese's life, or in the lives of his characters, it's because I can't really do any of this justice. You simply have to read his words for yourself. Should read his words... for yourself. 

That's what I've been up to, my friends. Reading, reading, reading. I've read some other books which I won't recommend. Some of them I didn't finish. Gasp. I know! Heresy, one might even say hypocrisy, from someone who chided kids for so many years to finish the novels I'd assigned. 

But as I've grown older, I've come to the conclusion that I'm too old to read books I'm not enjoying. So. No guilt. No apologies. Back to the library they go. 

You might say that I remain untucked, sometimes unread, and unrepentant. Ha. 

Right now, I'm taking a break from murder and mayhem... and serious issues. I'm reading a book by Elizabeth Taylor... no, not that one. An English novelist, Taylor wrote back in the mid-twentieth century. She's kind of Barbara Pym-ish, and a bit Dorothy Whipple-ish. What's not to love? I discovered her on the Persephone Books website. You can read an article about Taylor here

Now it's your turn... as midsummer approaches, what are you reading, my friends? 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

And Shoppiness Ensued

Earlier this week, I visited my buddy Liz at Nordstrom for a preview of their Anniversary Sale. And let's just say that "shoppiness ensued." I love that line from Christopher Brookmyre's book When the Devil Drives. 

The fashion blogosphere has been buzzing about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale for the past week or so. So much buzzing that you're probably sick of hearing about it. I was a slow convert to the idea of shopping for fall in July. The first year after Nordstrom opened in Ottawa, I told Liz that I simply wasn't ready to shop for fall. I hadn't done my inventory, perused the new fall trends, or made my list. But the lure of big discounts on the new fall stock was too tempting. And I found a few really great pieces. Last year I was ready, I did all my homework, but sadly found nothing on my list which was on sale. Although I did buy my Veronica Beard suit which has become a staple in my closet. This year, I threw all my fashion caution aside, did no homework, other than looking at my list of what I already own in the way of fall and winter pieces. But, aside from that minimal preparation, I decided to wing it. Shocking, eh? 

woman smiling in white shirt with collar up
I'm tickled with the results of my shoppiness. See the little bit of bling on the neck of this shirt?
And I'm pretty pleased with the fruits of my labour this year. I stuck to basics, and focused on jeans and possible tops to wear with jeans. And maybe a light sweater to wear under the tweed Max Mara coat that I bought in New York last fall. 

pages of book with lists of clothes
My "inventory" from last year.
I bought this lovely white shirt from Lafayette 148. I don't usually shop in the Lafayette section of the store. I guess I've always considered the brand a bit stuffy, a bit too classic, and not fashion forward enough. Ha. That'll teach me. Liz says that their shirts are made of high quality Italian cotton shirting, and are similar in design (no one is using the term "knock-off") to some of the Fabiana Filippi designs. I love Fabiana Filippi, love her ads in Vogue, lust after her designs, but can't afford them. So this was music to my ears. I loved this shirt even before Liz showed me the similar design in FF. I like the small collar which stands up nicely, the sleeves which are of soft stretchy jersey, different in texture than the cuffs and the rest of the shirt. And the teensy bit of bling in the narrow silver chain detail around the neck. You can see this detail in the first shot above. 

If I'm going to don this shirt with jeans, I prefer my collar up slightly and my sleeves rolled. 

    woman in white shirt, jeans, black flats holding collar of shirt     woman in white shirt, jeans, black flats, rolling up shirt sleeves

The jeans I'm wearing I also picked up at the sale. They are Paige Hoxton Ankle, high-rise skinny. These jeans just slide on, and feel wonderful. The high waist smooths out the bumps and jiggly bits. Love that. They're quite light weight, and will be great for fall and for summer. I rolled the bottoms in the store, but prefer them unrolled, here, with my Paul Green flats. The rolled cuff with all those laces looks a bit too fussy to me. So I'm ready for lunch with a friend on a patio downtown. The new me, the retired me. Great shirt, great jeans, teensy bit of bling, some accessorizing, but mostly letting the shoes and bag handle that. Off I go. 

woman in jeans and white shirt

But before I do, here's the other two items I bought at the Anniversary Sale. Another pair of jeans. Paige high rise, full length skinny to replace the ones I bought two years ago and have worn out. And this black sweater/jacket from Lafayette 148. This zippered jacket is mostly knit, except for the quilted front. I love the cut; it falls straight from the shoulders. And will be a great fall jacket. Good for crisp days in Ottawa, or for travel. This is the shot I took in the dressing room at Nordstrom. I didn't have time to style it yesterday for this post. So we'll just have to imagine how it will look with a really casual tee underneath, my black leather trousers, and my black Stuart Weitzman boots as Hubby and I head out for dinner. Or with my boots, and these jeans... on a train, somewhere in England, in October. I'm excited about my fall trip. My friend Elizabeth and I, sans spouses, gadding about for two weeks. Shopping. Drinking tea. Enthusing about all things English. What could be better?

At Nordstrom wearing jeans and a black sweater
Looking like I have a crick in my neck in the dressing room at Nordstrom.
I did some research on Lafayette 148 this afternoon. I had a really good poke around their website, and listened to a few of the short videos about the company. I'm impressed. I like that the co-founder and CEO  Deirdre Quinn says that they "want to dress every woman." She says they make clothing in 58 sizes. Huh. I still think that some of their lines are a bit too "worky," too "drapey," or too conservative for me. But I may take a closer look next time I'm in Nordstrom. And not write off Lafayette 148 as I have in the past. 

But back to Wednesday. After the shoppiness subsided, and I had chosen the pieces I wanted, I decamped to the restaurant where I was meeting my friend Krista for lunch. The restaurant was crowded, but Krista had a table, next to three very distinguished looking older ladies.

I sat down, and we launched into a rather breathless conversation: 
Me- I love that sleeveless, black dress with that scarf, Krista. You do scarves so well.
Krista- Really, do you think? I always feel with my hair this long it's too much. You know?
Me- It's perfect. The black linen dress, black and cream patterned scarf, and those white Birkenstocks... perfect.
Krista- I'm a bit disappointed with these sandals, though. See where the patent leather is peeling a bit? Holding up her foot a little under the table. 

And as we continued to discuss sandals and scarves, what I had just bought, what she bought at MAC cosmetics that morning, what she will be looking for when she meets with Liz next week, I noticed looks of bemusement on the faces of our neighbours. And I wondered what they were thinking. Maybe that we were a bit too mature to be gushing over clothes? That the girly chit chat was something we should have out grown long ago? Especially me, seeing as Krista is only in her forties. And I felt a bit defensive. After all, Krista and I are not flibbertigibbets; we're smart, accomplished women. I wanted to throw out a few Shakespeare quotes to tip the balance of the impression we seemed to be making on these women. You know, some erudite reference to the use of clothing imagery in King Lear. Or maybe a quip that, like Feste in Twelfth Night, I look in the mirror at myself in skinny jeans and notice the "whirligigs of time." Something relevant, and deep, that I could slip seamlessly into the conversation. 

And then I wondered if their looks might be ones of complicity, and not of criticism. Of recognition. Looks that said: Oh yes, we too know those lovely, easy conversations we women have with our girlfriends. Even our very smart and accomplished girlfriends. The girly chit chats we have despite the fact that we left girlhood behind years ago. Utterly unselfconscious, nonjudgmental conversations which sustain us, and give us so much pleasure.

And then the waitress delivered a gigantic piece of chocolate cake to their table, with three forks. One of them chuckled. And, Krista and I looked over and smiled back. 

Ah yes. Definitely complicity... not criticism. 

Because who doesn't love a long, chatty lunch with a like-minded friend, especially after a period of very fruitful shoppiness?

So what about you, my friends? Been shopping lately? Lunching with like-minded girlfriends? The ones who never ever assume that you're an airhead just because you gush over clothes.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Elephant in the Room: On Working Hard

I listened to an interesting podcast on CBC radio the other day. One that started me thinking about hard work, and about blogging, among other things. 

"Seat at the Table" is a new series hosted by Isabelle Racicot, a well known television and radio host in Quebec, and Martine St-Victor, a communications expert, specializing in pop culture and politics, who runs her own PR firm in Montreal. In the segment of their show called Elephant in the Room, Racicot and St-Victor explore the idea that very successful women can make the rest of us feel bad about ourselves. About our choice to work hard. That the exhortations of uber-successful women on how we should be successful, happy, and healthy, and at the same time live more balanced lives, sometimes make other women feel guilty, unworthy, or unhappy with their own choices. And that this is particularly frustrating when these "helpful" exhortations are patently unrealistic. Or sometimes even hypocritical. 

Racicot and St-Victor call out successful women like Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg who have both written and spoken on how to be successful and, at the same time, have more "balance" in our lives. Whether that means getting enough sleep like Huffington, or leaving the office every day at 5:30 like Sandberg. I chuckled as I listened to the clip from Arianna Huffington's Ted Talk on the importance of sleep because I used that same Ted Talk in a post I wrote about sleep a while ago. And, like Racicot and St-Victor, I noticed that, oddly enough, Huffington pitches sleep as a "feminist issue." As I said in my post, Huffington's Ted Talk was presented at a women's conference, so I guess she felt she had to spin the issue that way. Still, it seemed a bit like pandering to me. But never mind. 

Beaver dam in Algonquin Park
The beavers in Algonquin Park have been working hard.
Racicot and St-Victor question whether these very wealthy, very successful women would have taken their own advice back before they were successful. And if they had had more work-life balance back then, would they have achieved as much as they have. Huffington's Ted Talk answers at least one of those questions; she says that it was only when she was severely sleep deprived, and fell asleep at work a few years ago, injuring herself, that she began to question her work ethic. In an article I read about Sandberg, she says she's been leaving the office at 5:30 since she first had children, so I'm not sure that their criticism of her is fair. But I guess where Racicot and St-Victor are going with all this is that the well-meaning advice of successful women can make us feel guilty... for working hard. I should say that they both express admiration for Huffington and Sandberg. But they also express frustration with being told to "do as I say, and not as I did then." 

Finally, Racicot and St-Victor talk about Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo. In an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2014, Nooyi is refreshingly honest and witty in her discussion of how hard it is to work and raise a family. You can hear the whole interview with Indra Nooyi here if you're interested. After jokingly making reference to an interview in which self-help guru, actress, and super-mom Gwyneth Paltrow tells Conan O'Brien that she would "rather die than let [her] kid eat Cup-a-Soup," St-Victor and Racicot exhort their listeners: "don't be a Gwyneth, be an Indra." They stress that most working women do not have the luxury of being able to make the kinds of choices suggested by wealthy and privileged women like Arianna Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, and even Gwyneth Paltrow. But that's a whole issue in itself, isn't it? Still, despite all the celebrity advice out there Racicot and St-Vistor say they refuse to feel bad about loving their work, and working hard at their jobs. 

So what the heck is my point in all this? Well. Kind of the same as Racicot and St-Victor's... at least partly. And it constitutes only a small part of the whole issue of work. That maybe working hard is getting a bad rap these days. We're all busy telling each other not to be so busy, not to make work our whole lives, not to work so hard that we have nothing but work in our lives... all of which I agree with. I think that work-life balance is very important. But it also seems we've lost the idea that hard work has its own benefits. Beyond climbing the corporate ladder. Beyond getting a pay raise to allow for the bigger house, the new car each year, the fancier vacation, whatever. We seem to have lost the idea that there is inherent value in doing a job as well as you can. No matter what that job may be. 

a derelict mill, saw blade and old wood.
My step-father's old lumber mill, falling down now.
After all, hard work can have its own rewards, can't it? I think of how hard my step-father worked on the farm. The logs he cut, milled, sawed, and made into barns, or animal pens, or hay wagons, or even cupboards for our kitchen. The land he cleared for pasture, or the soil he tilled for the vegetable gardens, the acres and acres of potatoes, and strawberries, and vegetables he planted. So much food we ended up giving much of it away. He didn't make his living from farming; he always had another job. So what did he gain from all that extra work? Besides feeding his family or selling a few cattle or a couple of loads of pulp wood? Peace of mind, maybe. The satisfaction of carrying on a life he loved. Seriously, he didn't need to keep two old Clydesdales, hitch them to his sled each winter, and go to the woods to cut logs. But he was never as happy as when he was doing that. And nobody said he should worry about his work-life balance. Because it was work he loved and which sustained him.

And this week I started thinking about all of this with respect to blogging. Because now that I'm retired, and I'm no longer 'gainfully' employed, blogging has become my job. I mean, I don't make money from my blog. But it's more than just a "hobby" to me. And doing it as well as I can is important to me. How hypocritical would it be of me to spend all those years pushing kids to do their best, asking them to read, research, write, rewrite, and rewrite again, if I simply turned around and did the opposite? And what I gain from all my hard work is satisfaction. The opportunity to have a voice, have my say, so to speak. Plus, the chance to use my time and my abilities to do something I love. And if what I want to say is important to me, why would I not work hard to do it justice? 

Man on a bike on a country road.
Besides blogging I also work hard to keep up with Hubby.
The other day I read a post on one of those "big blogs," one with all kinds of advertising and tons of subscribers. And the post really missed an opportunity, I thought, to do something of value. Instead of being flippant, and not a little insulting to a whole segment of the female population, they could have chosen to show some empathy, to do some groundwork, and use their platform to inform or educate as well as to sell underwear, or jeans, or whatever. I thought that with a little more hard work, and a few more hours of effort they could have written something really interesting. And worthwhile. And still probably sold lots of underwear, or jeans. 

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that it's a bad thing for bloggers, or anybody doing any job, to be fairly remunerated for their hard work. That would be silly. I think people should be paid a living wage so young parents don't have to work three part-time jobs to make ends meet. And I regularly read and enjoy many excellent blogs which make money for the blogger. I look at a couple of these women bloggers as role models, and aspire to be as good as they are some day. 

I know that being paid for our work is society's preferred way of saying that our work has value. But I'm saying that money is not the only compensation that makes our work worthwhile. That's the "elephant in the room" for me. When I was still teaching, I didn't make more salary if I worked harder, designed more creative lessons, or stayed up later researching a new idea. But I sure felt more satisfaction if I knew that I had done my very best for the kids. 

So... should the blogger on the "big blog" I mentioned above have spent a few more hours, working harder to write a more worthwhile post which would probably not have garnered any more sales than the flippant one? I think so. Because if something is worth doing, isn't it worth doing well? 

Gad. What a Pollanna I am. 

Enough with all this serious stuff. I'm off to visit my buddy Liz at Nordstrom in a couple of days. Who wants to talk shopping? 

P.S. I'm adding these few thoughts after I read Ramona's comment below. I tossed and turned last night after I hit publish on this post. Knowing that some readers would think I was missing the point. But that's because there are so many points in this issue to explore. I really believe in a fair wage for quality work. I also understand that so many of us do not have the luxury of angsting about whether our work is satisfying enough. As a single parent of four kids my mum worked two jobs when we were kids, before she married my stepfather and we moved to the farm. She couldn't quibble about work-life balance. She didn't have time.

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

My Clothes Are Not the Boss of Me

Last fall I wrote a post about some crazy trends happening in fashion, about how unrealistic, unwearable, and downright silly some of them are. To me at least. Remember the "duvet coat?" Ha. 

And I loved the comment on that post from "Catbird Farm" that she didn't "want to wear clothes that [bossed her] around." Yep. Me neither. I hate bossy outfits. Demanding my attention all day or evening. Whiny outfits that need to be fussed over constantly. I mean, let's just all agree that our clothes are not the boss of us, okay? Or they shouldn't be, anyway. 

Which brings me to my point today. The half-tuck. You know, the trend that's been around for a few seasons, of tucking part of one's shirt or tee or sweater into one's pants or skirt. I like the look on others, mostly. Some of my favourite bloggers have worn it very successfully. But I have to say that I've struggled with this trend.

I tried it here with my white linen, 3/4 sleeve tee from Nordstrom Collection which I bought last spring when I was looking for tops to go with my striped Rag and Bone skirt. This is how Liz and I styled the top in the dressing room when I bought it. And this is how I wore it out to tea with a friend a few weeks ago. Except I wore my Paul Green black suede, lace-up flats instead of my sneakers. I like this outfit. In the picture, at least. Standing still, posing for my camera. 

Wearing a striped long skirt with a white linen tee, and white sneakers, the tee half tucked in
I like this outfit. It's just too darned bossy.
But in real life. Not so much. You know... real life... where I have to move around and stuff? Like driving in my car, twisting to fasten my seatbelt, or to see behind me when I'm parallel parking, even getting out of the car. Then sitting down in the restaurant, stretching my arms up to pull my cross-body bag over my head, reaching to put my bag on a nearby chair, or simply getting up from the table. All movements that result in the half-tuck moving around, becoming untucked. And requiring fussing. Because it's not a matter of just tucking in the front. No... it has to be positioned just so. Slightly off centre, the tee slightly bloused over the waist of my skirt. So it looks nonchalant, like I just tucked it in any old way, when of course I didn't. Akkkk. That half-tuck drove me crazy. 

And since I'm a slow learner, in many ways. I tried the half-tuck again the other day. With my new Frame navy and white striped tee and my old Burberry denim skirt. I even added a funky green belt. Sigh. It looked silly. Too contrived, I thought. And destroyed the shape of the Frame tee shirt. Plus the fact that I knew the tee would not stay tucked. Not once I sat in the car, and twisted to fasten my seatbelt and.... well... you get the point. So I untucked it again and felt much better. More like myself. 

trying to tuck my white tee into my striped skirt     trying to tuck my striped tee into my denim skirt
Fussing and fighting with my half-tuck.

And then, before I left the house, I tried my white linen tee untucked with my denim skirt, below. Now isn't that much better? Tucking this shirt spoils the lovely, schlubby, linen-knit shape. And when it's tucked you can't see how it hangs loose, but is still narrow. How the back is longer than the front, and the wide hem at the bottom is slit at the sides, so it floats freely and doesn't cling. Okay, so maybe this outfit isn't the latest of the latest in 2017 trends. And white and navy may be a bit boring. But I love it and feel perfectly comfortable. Not fussy.  And not bossed around by my clothes. Add a pair of colourful, funky earrings and a cute cross-body bag or a tote and this would be a great run-around outfit. 
woman in white tee, denim skirt and white sneakers
That's much better.
And now that I think of it. All my favourite looks this season are untucked. A narrow untucked sweater or tee is the most flattering on my apple shape... since I carry most of my weight above the hips. And a top worn out over my pants or skirt balances off my short upper body with my much longer lower half. Not to mention smoothing out bumps and protrusions that have developed over the years. And... and... this part is important... an untucked top is soooo easy. Unfussy. Doesn't demand adjustment every five minutes. And doesn't boss me around. 

Woman in pink sweater, striped skirt with hands in pockets.     Woman in striped tee, black pants and holding a straw tote
My two favourite outfits this season. Both untucked.

And, you see, here's my point. I expend a lot of time and effort choosing the pieces I will purchase to add to my wardrobe. As you know if you visit here regularly, I do my "research" every season. I edit out of my closet pieces that no longer work on my body, or that no longer suit my lifestyle. I make my lists and shop carefully. I make the occasional mistake; can you say Eileen Fisher tunic? But mostly I end up with pieces that I will wear for years, and which I am confident look good on me. 

Fashion has always been important to me. But it's not my whole life. And once I've invested my time and my money into a piece, I expect it to do the rest of the work, so to speak. I'll spend a bit more time putting together outfits, but afterward I want to be able to trust that my work is done. I don't want to fuss or fiddle with my clothes. I want them to look good on me. And do what they're told. 

Because, in the end, I am the only boss of me. Not my husband. Not my mum... at least not anymore. Not my former boss... now that I'm retired. And certainly not my clothes.

woman in striped tee, and denim skirt with hands held out to the sides, shrugging and smiling
I am the boss of me.
And really, why should I care that I'm not wearing every trend that rears its head every season? That doesn't reflect my fashion ethic at all. 

Okay, I'm done ranting. I guess that the half-tuck is one of those trends that I'll take a pass on. Now, don't get me started on the off the shoulder thing. 

How about you, my fashionable friends... are you a half-tuck person? Let's hear what trends you have taken a pass on. Or outfits that you abandoned because they became too darned bossy.

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlike, Style Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayFabulous FridaySaturday Share Link-Up

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On Camping and Marriage

Last week, Hubby and I set off on our annual early summer camping trip. We were feeling hopeful, praying for sun, but fully prepared for rain and bugs, with lots of sunscreen and a bucketful of DEET. This trip is not to be confused with our annual fall camping trip. Nor our semi-annual canoe camping trip, or Hubby's two or three other yearly canoe trips, all of which are wilderness trips into the interior of Algonquin Park. Yep. Over the years, we've had to schedule much of our lives around camping, canoeing, and fishing. Even our wedding. But I'll get to that later.

Relative to our wilderness canoe trips, this trip is luxurious. We camp at Bonnechere Provincial Park, where there are showers, picnic tables, and even electrical hook-ups. We sleep in our tent trailer with sheets and pillows, and not in a tent in a sleeping bag on an inch thick sleeping pad. We even have a small screened "room" that we attach to the awning of our trailer. See what I mean? Luxury. And we are minimalists compared to some other campers who have enormous travel trailers with televisions and air conditioning, outdoor lights strung around their campsite, carpets, and huge screened dining tents. This year, one camper even had a flag pole attached to their trailer. Might as well stay at home, I say. 

But never mind. The kids, whether they're sleeping in a tent or a luxury trailer, always have a fabulous time. Or so it seems. We love to watch the gaggle of little ones on bikes and tricycles swarm along the narrow dirt roads in the park, snaking through the campsites, and between huge pine trees and frog ponds, down to the beach. Seems they are always lead by a bossy nine or ten year old girl who organizes the games, shouts instructions over her shoulder, and reminds me of myself at that age. 

After setting up, Hubby and I also head out on our bikes. Our favourite ride is to wend through the park, then out onto the highway, and up Turner's Road. Turner's Road is named after Turner's Camp, since 1937 an enduring symbol of the hunting and fishing history of this area. We used to stop, on our return trip, for a soft drink at the camp store, located in the "front room" of the old house, and kitted out with a 1950's lunch counter, stools, and a pop cooler. Hubby would admire the fish mounted on the walls, and try to pick Mr. Turner's brain about possible fishing spots. He'd been a longtime hunting and fishing guide. We don't stop there anymore since the camp store, and now the camp itself, has closed. 

old log guest cabin at Turner's Camp, on the Bonnechere River
One of the old guest cabins at Turner's Camp
Just past Turner's Camp, we stopped for my seasonal shot of the old piers in the Bonnechere River. Then we pedaled on until the hardtop ran out, and the road turned to gravel. Given the number of days of rain we've had this summer, perfect for a bug population explosion, and the fact that deerflies and mooseflies seem to love gravel roads, we didn't pedal far on the gravel. Instead we turned quickly, and picked up speed to outrun the clouds we'd attracted about ten seconds after we left the pavement. But, despite the speed of my bike, and the pumping of my feet on the pedals, my rear end remained fairly motionless, and seemed to provide a sort of haven out of the wind for my pursuers. And since I was wearing cycling shorts which are tight and thin I...ah... paid the price. Ouch. It's summer in Canada, people.

sunny day on the Bonnechere River
View of the old piers on the Little Bonnechere River
Once we outran the deerflies, I dared to stop for another photo. I love this old farm, below, with its split rail fence, log barns, and pasture surrounded by bush. When Hubby was growing up, and spending his summers at his grandparents' cottage not too far from here, he knew a family who lived on a bush farm. He said that the farmer's wife used to move their herd of milk cows from the barn to the farthest pasture, along a trail in the woods, accompanied by ten or more dogs to keep the bears at bay. And that every summer his grandparents would stop in to visit this family, no doubt for a cup of tea and a few stories about the old days told around the kitchen table. 

split rail fence, log barns, and a pasture surrounded by bush
I love this old farm on Turner's Road
As is our habit each trip, we spent a day canoeing and fishing for brook trout on the Little Bonnechere River. 

my paddle across the bow of our canoe, and a view of Bonnechere River
I put my paddle down for this shot up the river as we set off
The Bonnechere meanders through a wide marshy area, and then narrows to a much swifter stream, flowing between grassy banks and tall trees. 

wild flowers and trees along the banks of the Bonnechere River

resting dragonfly, wild flowers and grasses along the banks of the Bonnechere River

grasses and wild purple irises
Wild iris along the banks of the Bonnechere
When the river gets very narrow, we squeeze through and under alder bushes, and back paddle around logs. Have to get to those trout pools, you know. Hubby says he wishes he had a picture of me, as I pushed bushes aside from the bow of the canoe, and, at one point, completely disappeared from sight, my head lost in the branches of a windfall tree. Ha. I'm just glad he doesn't have that part on audiotape. I may have uttered a few profanities just then.   

There's always evidence of beaver activity on the river. And we usually have to pull the canoe up and over small dams. Last year Hubby waded into the water and broke apart a portion of a large dam so we could squeeze through. This year the water was so high we hardly recognized the same spot on the river. Have a look at the video below. I sound a bit distracted at first since I'm trying to film and, at the same time, answer Hubby's questions about whether the dam is blocking the whole river. 

Thank goodness the day was sunny and warm, but not hot. I wore my long-sleeved bug shirt, long pants, and thick socks all day because, at times when the wind died, the black flies descended. Usually blackflies are long gone by July, preferring the cool and rainy late spring months. Not this year. Blackflies are the worst. Mostly because they are teeny-tiny, and travel in clouds, and once they land, they crawl up under your sleeves or down your socks. But... mustn't whine. The breeze blew most of the time, and we had a great day. And we caught enough brook trout for a fish supper that evening.

fishing from a canoe on the Bonnechere River
Someone has a fish on the line. 
You know, we've been making this early summer camping trip for many, many years. It started as a 'get out of town as soon as school was over' trip. The better for me to crash after the insanity that is June for high school teachers. Then it became our 'let's get summer started' trip. Now it's tradition. We plan the rest of the summer around it. And the autumn around our fall Thanksgiving camping trip. That's mostly why we don't travel to faraway places in the summer or early fall. And then Hubby also goes on a late May or early June, and an early September fishing trip with his longtime canoeing buddies. 

So, yeah, you might say that we schedule our lives around camping, canoeing, and fishing. You might even say that we started dating in a canoe... although that would be exaggerating slightly. But it's no exaggeration to say that camping and fishing has become an important part of who we are as a couple. Our relationship has been tested as a result, at times. Like years ago when we began to discuss wedding dates, and Hubby said: "But not during fishing season, Suz." Okay, okay... I'll admit I knew he was mostly joking. Then there was my very first canoe trip in May 1985... when it snowed. That was a test, for sure.

But mostly the wilderness and our time spent in a canoe, or a tent of some sort, has cemented our relationship. Healed wounds. Helped us get back who we are as a couple, and how we began our journey together. We spent part of our honeymoon on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. And for our tenth anniversary booked into Arowhon Pines Resort in Algonquin. 

Which brings me back to last week. And how after several days of sunshine and good weather, of cycling and swimming and fishing, it rained. And thundered. All night. We were tucked up nice and dry while we slept. But the next morning, everything outside was sopping. And we had to pack up to go home. And there is nothing more loathsome at the end of a camping trip than packing up wet. Unless it starts to rain again while you're doing it. Which it did, albeit only lightly. And as we were taking down the trailer, and I was unclipping clips, and unzipping velcro fasteners, and pushing the wet tent portion inside so Hubby could crank the roof down, it suddenly dawned on me. 

And I looked over at him, and grimaced, and said, "Hey.... Happy Anniversary." And he grinned. And then we laughed. We'd both forgotten. Packing up in the rain on our anniversary... how appropriate is that? Ah well. We'd stop for hot coffee at the camp store when we were ready to go, and it would be perfectly sunny by the time we arrived home. 

Marriage is like camping, you know. You have to take the bad with the good. To keep paddling through the rain, and hope that the sun comes back out, and the breeze clears off the blackflies. And learn to laugh when the bugs are biting, but the fish aren't.

Have a listen to this classic Canadian animated film produced by the National Film Board. It's short. And so appropriate. Be sure to watch until the very end for the little surprise during the credits.

What with unpacking, setting up the tent trailer so it could dry, hanging everything out in the sun, packing it up again, and doing loads and loads of laundry ... we still haven't celebrated our anniversary. We will this weekend, though. At a restaurant in a lovely old stone house in a small village near us. 

So... what have you been up to, my friends, since I've been camping, and fishing, swatting bugs, and forgetting my wedding anniversary? 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Passion for Books About Fashion ... 4 Still Fabulous Non-Fiction Books

Hubby and I are away camping this week. So this book post is an old one from way back when I first started the blog in 2014. Most of you had never heard of High Heels in the Wilderness back then And as I was re-reading it a few nights ago, I thought how I still feel exactly the same about these four books. Hope you enjoy reading about them. 

And by the way... if anyone knows who I lent The Thoughtful Dresser to...please let me know. I've been looking for that book for ages.


I love books and I love fashion so it's no surprise that I love books about fashion. Especially well written, beautifully illustrated books or books with beautiful photography... and most especially those books that are a bit quirky. 

I'm not talking about all books about fashion. I'm not really interested in buying or owning Trinny and Susanna's latest tome on how to dress your body, or books like Clinton Kelly's about the top style mistakes women make. I'm sure these books have good style advice, but advice is not really what I'm after. What I want is to be able to experience vicariously the fashion world, or the fashion of an era that I love, through these books. 

I bought this memoir by Grace Coddington last year when it was featured in Keep It Chic, a couple of years ago. I love Grace Coddington's sense of style and have been enjoying her work in Vogue for years. Her memoir of her long tenure in the fashion world is fascinating (she's over 70 now and she started as a teen-aged model.) The book is not great literature, for while Grace is an inspired fashion editor and a brilliant artist, she's not a writer.  Still, it's honestly written and fun to read. 

Grace Coddington's memoir Grace

Monday, July 3, 2017

Bounce Back

I'm convinced that the key to survival in life is the ability to bounce back. Back from whatever life, your job, your family, your health, mother nature, or even your own self-sabotaging tendency has thrown at you. Apparently psychologists and social scientists call this ability "resiliency."

That's what I'm working on this week.... the old bounce back. After last week when I let a few bumps in the road throw me off course. You know, bouncing back is usually my strong suit. I'm normally pretty resilient. Quite good at being optimistic and navigating through adversity, at least as much as I've encountered so far in my life. Although I must admit I've not had to face anything as catastrophic as other members of my family have faced. My brother, for instance, with his overwhelming and relentless health issues. Or my mum who was widowed at twenty-three with three young children. 

narrow gravel road with large overhanging cliff, near Salta Argentina
Navigating a narrow, winding, and bumpy road in Argentina
I wrote about the idea of adversity and optimism a while ago in a post on "refashioning my new self in retirement." Because as much as retirement is welcomed, it can also be stressful, and even traumatic for some. In that post I talk about Kate Bollick's book Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own, and her reference to a study by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius, social scientists who postulate that people who survive trauma well do so because they have positive views of their "possible selves." The subjects in the study were all dealing with some loss in their lives, all of them viewed their "current selves," and current situation, in negative terms. But the ones who eventually coped with loss best were the ones who viewed their "possible future selves" in a positive way, who saw their "miserable present as transient," and who were able to see themselves as better, more confident, or more successful in the future. 

This idea struck a chord with me. I thought it might be one reason why some people navigate retirement better than others. That maybe if we see retirement only as an end, and not a beginning, we sabotage ourselves. After all, the idea of a beginning would seem to suggest hope, and challenge us to plan for the future. 

But this week, I've not been thinking exclusively about retirement. But about some of the other situations which people of our age... somewhere between forty and a hundred ... have to navigate. Have to survive and then bounce back from, if we're able. Things like illness, financial insecurity, the loss of a spouse, or even getting back out there into the dating world. And I read a really interesting article in The New Yorker by Maria Konnikova, who writes about bouncing back in her piece How People Learn to Become Resilient. She says researchers think the difference between people who bounce back and those who struggle to do so is how we perceive "potentially traumatizing experiences." Whether we see them as "traumatic" or as "opportunities to learn and grow." And we can learn to be more resilient if we learn to "regulate emotion," and not to "create or exaggerate stressors"... like, ah,  at three in the morning when we convince ourselves that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. We can live through adversity more easily if we "frame adversity as a challenge." Apparently, framing adversity as a challenge means we "become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow." Huh. 

So this week I'm tackling some of the "stressors" that I identified last week. And I'm doing what I usually do when I stress about weight, or fitness, or middle age middle, or the fact that I have too many chins. I get moving. And moving more becomes a "project." And a "project" for me involves setting measurable goals, and then planning how to achieve them. We did this kind of goal setting all the time in the classroom. No sensible teacher ever set as a goal "to make kids love literature." Because how can you measure that, or even know if you're making progress? That would be like my saying that I want to get fit or healthy. How would I measure that? It's too vague, too abstract. But saying that I want to do 300 minutes of cardio a week, and two weight workouts...well, that I can measure. And when I achieve my goal I feel great... and even more motivated. And my fitness improves almost as a secondary result. 

For this project, I'm changing up my weight work-outs. I bought a couple of fitness magazines, and with Hubby's help, I'm going to design a new plan for muscle toning. I'll incorporate into my plan the stretching and strengthening exercises from my physiotherapist. I'll stick to my cardio routine of cycling, walking the trail, or riding my exercise bike when it's raining. And I may even give yoga a try again. Lisa over at Privilege wrote a post with some really good resources for beginner yoga. And she says it won't make me "feel dumb, or overly annoyed." That's a tall order for this avowed yoga hater... still... I can be open-minded. But no golf. I draw the line at golf. 

Cover of Self magazine

Pretty much everything you read about how or why some  people are more resilient than others in the face of adversity has something to say about strong support networks. Friendship, family, strong social connections, people who listen without judging. So my walking buddies and I are getting our Thursday walking group up and running again in the next week or so. We walk, at a pretty good clip I must say, for at least an hour, yakking the whole time, then we go for coffee and yak some more. Exercise, and fresh air, combined with the chance to vent and have friends listen without judging, is a healthy combination, I think. 

I've some other plans in the works for dealing with what's been getting me down. Some of them involve the blog. I'll fill you in on that in a week or so. I've been happily researching, and making lists, and checking them twice. Ah, list making, one of life's little joys. 

I don't believe that we can successfully tackle all of life's adversities simply by making plans and lists, and turning them into a "project." And being positive. That would be incredibly naive. And while I will admit to being a Pollyanna most of the time, when I'm not in a funk, that is, I can be realistic too. It's just that "framing" my "adversities" (as the psychologists say) so that I can turn at least some of the negatives into a possible positive is just how I roll. Annoying as that is to avowed skeptics, self-described realists, and cynics. Ha. Maybe they'd be a lot happier if they tried a bit of re-framing themselves. Eh?

Hubby and I are off camping tomorrow for a week. We're all ready. The bikes are in the truck, the canoe on top of it. The cooler is stuffed with food and wine. We've lots of sunscreen, and lots and lots insect repellent in our packs. Now we're just praying for sun.... and no rain. Or hail. No joke. This is the view out our sun room door the other day.

And speaking of bouncing back. Hubby is hoping against hope that his vegetable garden will bounce back. It took a severe beating in that rain, wind, and hail storm. All that work... poor Hubby. On the positive side. If we're away... fishing and swimming and reading and toasting hotdogs... it will take his mind off the garden. 

I've scheduled a reprise post for later in the week. One that I think most of you won't have read. Hope you enjoy it. 

And I won't be replying to comments until we get home. I won't have any WiFi where we're going... because... ah... wilderness. 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.