Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Plan, Pack, Unpack, Repeat

Only one week until Elizabeth and I fly off for our long hoped for, and finally happening, trip to England. I say "long hoped for" because we wanted to make this trip, hoped to make this trip, years and years ago, back in the nineties. But something always got in the way. And now, just when it finally is about to happen... I seem to be having difficulty getting psyched up. I'm having particular difficulty getting psyched up to plan my packing. You know, making lists of what outfits I might wear, and what pieces I might pack. And that, my friends is not like me at all.

Maybe it's the heat. We're having a steamy, humid, uncomfortably hot spell just now. Temperatures in the thirties, with humidex readings of 40° C. Maybe I'm feeling a bit drained after an emotional spring and summer. Or maybe I'm just suffering from planning, packing, and unpacking fatigue. 

misty sunrise, and a river
Steamy, foggy dawn on the Rideau yesterday
It seems as if it's been nothing but plan, pack, unpack, repeat for months. So far this year I've been on one extended trip to South America, three pretty emotionally fraught trips down east, one to Toronto, and two week-long camping trips. In the past few weeks Hubby and I travelled to Fredericton, then drove home to Ottawa two weeks later, only to turn around and go back down for my brother's funeral two weeks after that. Trust me, we won't be making that thousand kilometre drive again for a while. Then, not wanting to miss our fall camping trip, we had three days after we arrived home from our second New Brunswick trip to unpack, and then plan and pack for our camping trip. And now, back home from camping, I've spent two whole days doing laundry from the camping trip, and packing away for the winter all the clean camping things (bedding, towels, fishing clothes etc etc). And today was to be my planning, trying on outfits, making possible lists for what to pack to take to England day. But... this morning I opened my journal to a fresh page, duly inscribed the page with "Packing for England," underlined it nicely, and sat down. "Meh," I thought. 

mist covered bog
Steamy, misty morning in Algonquin Park last week.
I just could not muster any enthusiasm for concocting outfits. For imagining what I will wear to do which activity. For dreaming up the perfect jeans and sweater combination that will make me happy while we are walking about London, or touring Chatsworth, or scarfing back fish and chips and a pint. And I couldn't begin to think of trying on sweaters and tees and jeans and jackets in this heat. Of course I shouldn't be complaining. I know. All this travel is a privilege. And I still get to go to England. I know that after a couple of days, I'll come around. Rise out of my funk, out of the emotional trough I seem to be in. And in a day or two my capacity for getting excited about packing and outfit planning, will begin to flow instead of ebb. I'm pretty sure about that.

sun reflected in a river surrounded by trees
Steamy, hot day fishing on the Bonnechere River in Algonquin Park.
And although it was a rush to get there, our camping trip was good. Helpful. Fall camping time is the best time for thinking. Sitting on a bench beside the deserted beach with my cup of tea and a book. Or in the canoe, dipping my paddle in the water, listening to the lapping of water against the bow, and the thunk of Hubby's paddle on the gunnels. Or sitting around the campfire at night, watching the sparks disappear into the darkness, counting stars. All these things are conducive to wrapping one's head around life. Like a brain re-boot. And I was in serious need of a brain re-boot.

man portaging a canoe down a dirt road
"Mr. Canoe-Head," aka Hubby, portaging the canoe to the access point in Algonquin Park
So, all will be well in a day or two. I did make a start, even if it was a somewhat uninspired start, to my packing planning this morning. And I did some research on-line. I always find Sue's packing posts over at une femme d'un certain âge to be most helpful. A good place to begin. And this trip should be relatively easy to plan compared to some. Fairly short at two and a half weeks. Same climate throughout. No hiking or cycling or swimming or skiing gear required. And after I get my back and neck tweaked at physio tomorrow, and my hair cut on Thursday... well... I'll be raring to go.

All ready to start planning and packing in earnest. Again. But I'll get back to you on that later. 

And... and... I hear that the weather is about to change too. Sigh. Now, that would be wonderful. 

How about you folks? Do you ever suffer from a dearth of enthusiasm? Unable to muster energy to get ready for an event? Even a much anticipated one?

Two Traveling Texans

Linking up with: Saturday Share and Thursday Favourite Things.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Protecting Your Fashion Investment

One of my long-time fashion philosophies is that I buy what I love. I don't mind spending extra for something perfect, something that makes me sigh when I put it on, as I said about this burgundy sweater in a post recently. But spending more on a special item means that I don't buy many pieces, and when I do find something I love, I love it for a very long time. And that philosophy, my friends, requires that I take good care of my clothes. I think of it as protecting my investment. 

Triptych of woman in burgundy sweater, sitting on a bench
My new Akris sweater is definitely an investment piece
I don't want to waste my money on pieces that I don't love, or that I won't wear. And I also don't want to waste my money, or my time searching for just the right thing, by not properly caring for my clothes. 

I learned early the importance of taking care of my good clothes. Growing up we always had school clothes, and play clothes. And we never played in our school clothes, or went to school in our play clothes. After school finished this idea continued; I always took off my good clothes when I came home from work. I still do now that I'm retired, even though the outfit might be a good pair of jeans and a sweater, instead of a suit or dress. I take off my nice things and hang them in my closet or fold them into drawers. Then I change into sweat pants or shorts and a tee shirt before I do anything else. I never sit around with my book, or cook dinner in my "good" clothes. Good thing, too. Most of my sweat shirts and casual tees have stains on them from cooking. Aprons don't cover everything and, as Hubby always says, I'm a very messy cook.

I thought that this was standard practice for everyone until a conversation around the lunch table at work one day a few years ago. Several of my younger colleagues were astonished that I did not wash everything I wore each time I wore it. And I was equally astonished that many of these girls had no clue how to make their clothing budget go further by properly caring for their clothes. 

shot of title "Protecting Your Fashion Investment."

I mean it's not rocket science, is it? Good sweaters and blouses should be hand washed in cold water and laid flat or hung on the line to dry, or dry cleaned depending on the fabric. And they don't need to be washed every single time they are worn. Jackets and suits should be dry cleaned. Usually once a season. Jeans with spandex should be line dried, not thrown in the dryer. These are things I've always known, and done. You'll not catch me throwing my new Akris sweater or my beloved Tory Burch blouse in the washer.  

woman in navy suit with burgundy scarf and bag
Last year's investment: my Veronica Beard suit
Another thing I've done, which I highly  recommend, is to find a good, independent dry cleaner. One you can trust. Like my buddy Hassan at Quality Cleaners in Manotick. Years ago he gave me a great brochure explaining all the clothing care symbols. This was before the internet, folks, when I was often stumped by the meaning of those tiny pictures on clothing tags, especially if they were not accompanied by an explanation. Over the years Hassan has sent items back home with me, uncleaned, explaining that they'd do better if I washed them by hand, or he's held onto a dress while I raced home to get the matching belt so that if the dress faded slightly the belt would be the same colour. He is a true gem. I honestly think he cares as much about my clothes as I do. 

After a recent question from a reader about how I care for my clothes, I thought I'd do some research. I know that things have changed over the years. Washing machines have come a long way; I now trust some of my good pieces to the delicate cycle instead of hand washing. Maybe there'd be all kinds of stuff to learn about keeping my good clothes, well, good. In fact, there are some wonderfully helpful websites about how to care for clothes. 

This article on the site Wonder How To explains that while clothing manufacturers are required to provide clear care instructions, if an item can be cleaned more than one way, they are only required to list one method. Huh. I never knew that, did you? So maybe some of those "dry clean only" items can be hand-washed, after all? I guess that's what Hassan was telling me when he sent me home with that cashmere sweater a few years ago. The article goes on to explain how to decipher care symbols, and which fabrics can be hand washed, and which should be professionally cleaned. I learned that coloured cotton, and white nylon, should always be washed in cold water. Really? Who knew all this stuff? And here I was being pompous with my young colleague who washed a cashmere sweater in the washing machine. Okay, maybe that was pretty silly, especially when it clearly said on the label not to do that. But it turns out that I was not the expert I thought I was. 

woman in tie blouse, jacket, jeans, and burgundy flats         woman in jeans, long cardigan and tie blouse, and loafers 
Investment pieces from years past: Tory Burch tie blouse, Helmut Lang jacket, and Vince cardigan

Since my new burgundy turtleneck has camel hair in it, I found this article on the website The Laundress interesting. Although the site is mostly about selling their specialized cleaning products they have a whole section of "how to," that has tons of information.

I also found a great section on how to care for suits on the website Black Lapel. It's predominantly a shopping site, too, but I learned lots. For instance, did you know that steaming is not just for releasing wrinkles? It also can help freshen up jackets and dress pants. I've always felt that an end of season wash or dry clean just made things easier when I pulled jackets and blouses out of storage the next year. But I read that storing items clean can help prevent insect damage. Huh. And I learned the value of brushing wool jackets after wearing, and before putting them back in the closet. It seems that hair, lint, and dust can be damaging to any organic fabric. Seriously, who knew? I guess I should have paid more attention to Bates, his lordship's valet, during all those jacket brushing scenes on Downton Abbey. Now, I wonder where one can purchase a good clothing brush. And if I'll have to re-watch all six seasons of Downton to learn how to use it properly. 

woman in coat, turtleneck, leather pants, boots and a vintage beret
 Aritzia camel sweater and my leather pants, two more investment pieces
Of course there are lots of other issues when it comes to caring for good clothes. Best ways to hand wash, proper storage for woolens and knits, etc etc. And as for the problem of pilling, which one reader mentioned a while ago, I don't have any answers. Since I don't carry piles of books, and file folders full of papers around in my arms all day at work anymore, I don't have a problem with sweaters pilling. And now that I've read this article on the website The Spruce, I know why. Have a look if you're interested. 

So that's my two cents worth about caring for my good clothes. With a few cents added in from other sources, of course. And speaking of cents... and sense. It just makes sense to me, that if I'm going to pay good money for my clothes, I should protect my investment by taking good care of my good clothes. 

It's a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say.

Or maybe Hemingway. As in... "The sweater was very beautiful in the fall. And she washed it carefully. And then laid it in a clean well-lighted place, where the sun also rises. And it would be good by the morning."  

Okay. So that's not really Hemingway. I know you weren't fooled. 

I'm not that good. 

And now, dear readers, it's your turn. Any good advice for us about how you care for your good clothes? Or how you protect your fashion investment?

By the time you read this Hubby and I will be away camping. There's nothing like a little semi-wilderness to sooth the soul, I always say. I've scheduled this post ahead of time, so I won't be answering comments in a timely fashion. I know you understand. 

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Family Ties

I've been absent from the blogosphere for over a week now, spending time with family, and old friends, back home. And I've been thinking a lot about family. About my family. About my brother Terry, of course, who died recently. About his wife and daughters. About my mum. And my sisters and step-brother, as we all gathered back in Fredericton for Terry's funeral. 

And I've been thinking what an odd phenomenon the whole concept of family is. And about what it means to me. What it literally means... as in how I would even begin to define that word.  

You see, I come from the original blended family. Back in the day, there were no other kids I knew whose mother had a different surname, who had a step-brother, and a grandmother who wasn't really their grandmother, or cousins who weren't actually cousins. I just knew who I knew, and loved who I loved. So what did blood or surname really matter, anyway?

I was reminded of this idea, of the meaning of family, at the reception following my brother's funeral. I came up behind two cousins, tall, handsome men in their fifties, sons of my mother's brothers. I squeezed between them, put my arms around their waists, and said, "How did I ever get two such handsome cousins?" And one looked at the other and chuckled, "We're adopted." And so they were. Both of them, by two of Mum's brothers, making them Sullivan cousins to me, and to each other. One of them, my cousin Mark, gave Terry's eulogy, pointing out that Terry was effectively his older brother, this eldest male cousin whom he'd always admired. So, cousin, brother... does the title really matter?

man and woman
My cousin Mark and me
You know, it makes me feel a little guilty to think of how much I enjoyed that reception. Seeing so many people from Terry's and my shared past. Family and old friends who hadn't seen him regularly for years and years were there. Men who were friends with him when they were boys together getting into mischief. One in particular, who I hadn't seen since I was a kid of nine or ten, introduced himself to me, and I yelped and hugged him, and said he must be sure to talk to Mum before he left. "Will she still be mad at me, do you think?" he asked with a grin, referring to a long-ago scrape which was legendary at our house. "Probably," I said. And one woman, my sister's friend, whose brother was Terry's best man at his wedding, and who I remember coming to our house with her boyfriend when I was about eleven. They'd heard that my cat had run away, and they brought me a kitten. I wish I'd thought to share that memory with her, but I didn't remember it until later. And another old friend of my sister, who dated Terry when I was little, and whom I always loved. I was so happy to see them all. These people who felt like family to me growing up, like extensions of my big brother and sisters. And really, who's to say they're not family? 

Three sisters
The Burpee girls together again.
As we gathered at my Mum's house later that day to eat sandwiches, we laughed and shared memories of the day. Of the three men who had stood in a row, grinning at my sister, asking if she remembered babysitting them. She laughed, and said that she looked at them and thought, "You're old. How could I babysit you?" I guess three or four years makes a big difference when you're fifteen... and no difference at all in your sixties. It was wonderful to be together with both of my sisters again. We haven't been home at the same time for many years. And my step-brother too, who flew in from Calgary. Because even though he only met Terry when he was twelve, when his father married our mother, they've been brothers ever since. 

Hubby and I laughed on the way home to Ottawa a few days later as I tried to explain to him who was who at the funeral. He said he'd tried to keep up with me for a while at the reception, but I leapt from one conversation to another, and he finally gave up and decamped to the porch to sit in a comfortable rocking chair and wait for me to wind down. When I said I wanted to write a blog post about family, he said I should tell you the story of my "cousin, but not really." 

You see, my mother was widowed very young when my brother Terry and my two sisters were small. Years later she married my father and they had me. But we always remained close to her first husband's family. And so I grew up with an extra grandmother, which didn't dawn on me until I was about eight or nine, and I asked my mum how come I was so lucky as to have three grandmothers. And all those extra cousins, who, it transpired, weren't actually my cousins by blood. One summer when I was in university, Mum and I went to stay for the weekend with Nana, and I went out for the evening with my "cousin" Robert who is the same age as me. He stopped to pick up a friend of his, and introduced me as his "cousin, but not really." We laughed as I explained. Then when I asked this other boy what his last name was, and he said Sullivan, well, the penny dropped. "Who's your father, and grandfather?" I asked. He told me, and then chortled, "I suppose you're going to tell me that I'm your cousin, but not really." "No-oo," I said, amazed, "I think you really are my cousin." Ha. And so he was. His father was my mother's first cousin, and growing up many miles apart we'd never met. I love that story. 

But that's probably way too many cousins for you. A cousin too far, you might say. So I'll stop. 

I'm not sure what I wanted to say in this post. I'm certainly not going to try to define what the word family means. But I do know that, to me, it doesn't have much of anything to do with birth certificates, and blood, and who was married to whom. Don't get me wrong, I love to research my family background, and see where my ancestors came from and when. I love family stories, which you'll already know if you've been reading my blog for a while. 

But how to explain family ties? Well, we know who we know, and we love who we love. I guess. I do know that seeing all these people I know, and knew, and love, and loved way back when has helped me deal with the loss of my brother. 

That's for sure. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

This Was My Brother

Terrence Malcolm Burpee  1953,  Age 6

This Was My Brother
        by Mona Gould

This was my brother
At Dieppe
Quietly a hero
Who gave his life
Like a gift,
Withholding nothing,
His youth...his love...
His enjoyment of being alive...
His future, like a book
With half the pages still uncut-

This was my brother
At Dieppe
The one who built me a doll house–
When I was seven,
Complete to the last small picture frame,
Nothing forgotten.

He was awfully good at fixing things,
At stepping into the breach when he was needed.
That's what he did at Dieppe;
He was needed.
And even Death must have been a little shamed
At his eagerness.

This poem first appeared in Tasting the Earth, Mona Gould, the MacMillan Company of Canada Ltd, 1943

I first read Mona Gould's lovely poem "This Was My Brother" when I was a young teacher. I came across it in an anthology, and discussed it with my class on Remembrance Day that year. I was teaching adults, and there were a couple of women in the group who were old enough to remember World War II. Seems funny now to think of my twenty-something self in my navy skirt suit and heels, standing in front of a class, teaching women some of whom were old enough to be my mother. We talked of the people the students knew who had been affected by the war. Family who had died in concentration camps, fathers and uncles killed in battle. One student explained how she had quit school to volunteer when the war started. I remember we discussed how moments of very personal loss seem to resonate more than pictures of devastation and horrifying statistics.

And so today, when the news is filled with pictures of the devastation wrought by hurricanes in the Caribbean, I can only focus on my own very personal loss. My big brother who fought his many illnesses and health challenges so bravely for so many years passed away this morning. His death was not unexpected. Not at all. We knew it was coming. In fact I've been waiting for the word for a couple of days now. Texting constantly to my nieces, and my sister Carolyn who drove down to New Brunswick on Tuesday. Talking on the phone to my Mum, and my step-brother. Alternately yearning for news, needing to know every detail of what was happening back home, and yet at the same time trying to distract myself from what was happening back home. 

So. My brother. He was not a war hero. He didn't give his life in battle. He wasn't even born when World War II started. But he certainly had battles of his own to fight. And that poem of Mona Gould's always, always makes me think of him.

This was my brother. Oldest child of four. Only boy. Manifestly adored by his mother and younger sisters. Smart aleck high school drop-out who never forgot the high school principal who told him he'd not amount to much. He says he remembered that every day as he built up his successful business. 

My brother. He loved fast cars, and motors of every kind. When he was a kid he took things apart. Mum says she stopped buying him watches because he always took them apart to see how they worked, and usually had a couple of extra parts left over when he put them back together. He loved fixing things. My niece says her son who as a child knew he wanted to fix cars when he grew up, learned that from my brother, his grandfather. 

My brother. Oldest child syndrome on steroids. Always looking after Mum and "the girls." Mum has letters he wrote home when he left Fredericton at age 18 to seek his fortune in the big city of Toronto. I read some of them last year, and laughed because a couple were half a page long with a big "Page One" written at the top. But they were filled with concern for what was going on at home. Was Mum okay? Did she need anything? Would she tell "the girls" that he'd send them money for their birthdays when he'd saved a little? He was always looking out for us.  

My brother. Husband, proud father, proud grandfather, successful businessman. Joker. King of the one-liners when we were kids. He loved drill-rigs, big steaks, and cold beer. He loved to fish although he hasn't been able to do it in years. He bought me my first fishing rod. 

This was my brother. Unfailingly kind and generous. He inherited his grandfather Sullivan's long skinny legs, and his mother's sarcastic humour. He was a heart-throb in his youth with his upturned collar and slicked-back hair. I remember in grade two being swarmed by junior high-school girls. "Oooh you're Terry Burpee's little sister aren't you?" Yep. That's me, proud to be known as Terry Burpee's little sister. As we all were. I remember when my sister Carolyn was in high school, a girl made friends with her, and inveigled herself an invitation to spend the weekend at our house, for the sole purpose, she later confessed, of a chance to see my brother Terry sleeping. 

And so dear brother, I hope you're sleeping well now. The long battle is done. We're all bereft. We will miss you every day. But as Mum said yesterday, there'll always be the memories. 

I debated about writing this post. Was it self-indulgent? Wallowing? Was speaking publicly of my brother's death somehow in poor taste? Maybe. But writing it has been calming. Helpful. Cathartic, even. I wrote it this morning and let it sit it all day to see if I changed my mind about posting it. Since you're reading this, I guess I didn't. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Shifting Into Fall

It's September and here in Ottawa we are shifting into fall. Big time. With dropping temperatures, cool nights, and rainy, windy days. And I have been shifting gears as well. Not like in the old days of lesson prepping and shopping for back to school outfits. More like shopping for not going back to school outfits. And that, my friends, is way more fun. 

I've always loved the shift into fall. The feeling of getting back to work, or back to school, or just back to real life. And back into boots and sweaters and jackets. These are some of the images that are inspiring me this fall. I didn't use them to help plan my shopping, but to help me rethink what I already own. Well, except for that Armani outfit in the middle. It's lovely isn't it? But would require purchasing three pieces and starting a whole new colour palate, so I'll restrain myself, and just admire and covet.

From my Fall Inspiration Pinterest board
Yep, today I have tweed coats and jackets, and mohair sweaters, and loafers and brogues on my mind. And lovely browns, and greens, and burgundies. I know that red is big this year. I love the Max Mara ad from Vogue, below. But the colour red is not kind to me; it plays up the ruddy patches in my complexion. Now, a cool burgundy, that's a whole other story. Burgundy I can do. And a burgundy sweater will perfectly fill a niche in my fall wardrobe.

woman posing in red coat, gloves and bag
From Vogue September 2017 issue
I must say that I've been looking for the perfect burgundy sweater ever since I borrowed my friend's hand-knit, burgundy mohair sweater back in the eighties. I wore it with jeans and low-heeled burgundy boots... and felt wonderful. And... man oh man, I hated to give that sweater back. But I did, and I've been looking for one like it ever since. I even toyed with the idea of knitting one last year, but could not find a pattern I liked. Besides, it takes me forever to finish a knitting project. And when I announced to Hubby that I was off to find a pattern and yarn to knit myself a new sweater, he suggested I might prefer a shawl, or something suitable to wear in "the home." Because that's where I'd be by the time I finished it. Har-dy-har-har. He thinks he's funny.

So off I went last week on the hunt for a burgundy turtleneck, or a loose burgundy sweater that I could wear under my Max Mara coat. With jeans and loafers, or with black pants and my Stuart Weitzman ankle boots. A sweater that would flatter my colouring, and which when I pulled it on would make me feel great. And sigh with fashion satisfaction. 

I tried three or four stores before I found this sweater at Nordstrom. It's by Akris and thus cost more than I had intended to pay. But when I slipped it on, I sighed. It was exactly what I was looking for. 

woman in burgundy sweater and jeans sitting on bench, river in background

The sweater is perfect with jeans and loafers. Slim cut, simple in style, it has a mock turtleneck, and cable stitch down the arms. And looks great with my Max Mara tweed coat, and my Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet.

woman in sweater, and jeans, holding tweed coat

burgundy sweater, bracelet and tweed coat, close-up

I like the sweater with my black Vince leggings, as well as my jeans. And with my black Stuart Weitzman ankle boots, as well as loafers. Later in the season, I'm sure that this sweater and coat combination will be on constant repeat. 

woman in tweed coat and slacks standing in front of water

I know that a tweed coat and a simple sweater, with jeans or leggings, and loafers or boots is not an adventurously fashion forward look. But it's a classic look that I have always loved for fall. So I'm well pleased with myself for snapping up this sweater when I found it.  

woman in tweed coat smiling
Don't I look pleased with myself?
As I said, this sweater fills an empty niche in my wardrobe. Most of my winter sweaters are camel, or grey, and none of them go with my Max Mara tweed coat. I love the coat with a crisp white shirt, and a scarf, but by November that combination will be too chilly. My new turtleneck will allow me to wear the coat in colder weather without adding layers. 

This shopping for one piece at a time is a change for me. In fact, being retired has gradually changed my wardrobe planning process over the years. Back when I still worked, I assiduously did my closet inventory, and made a list of what I owned and would still wear this season, and what I might consign or pack away for a few seasons. Then I looked at fashion mags and on-line for trends, and made a list of what I wanted to add to my wardrobe. Then I did a big shop. I'd often buy two whole outfits: pants with a matching jacket and top, maybe a suit, or a sweater and skirt outfit, possibly new boots or shoes. And a couple of filler pieces to pull the new stuff together with the old. If I were looking for a new winter coat and boots, the rest of the list would be pared down. I always called time-out during the shopping to sit and mull over my costs. When I shopped with Liz at Holt Renfrew she'd leave me alone with my choices to do what I called my "subtotal." I'd add up how much everything cost, and which pieces I should take out of the mix because I'd gone over my budget. My "budget" was never a hard and fast number, just a feel for how much was too much. I often left items behind in the dressing room when I went home. Sometimes reluctantly. 

Now I still do my inventory, although my closet is much more pared down and it's easier to remember what I own. I don't need to worry about five days a week of business wear, plus casual clothes. And I am increasingly finding myself niche shopping. Looking for one or two pieces that will work with something specific. Adding one, or sometimes two, major investment pieces a season. Last year my biggest investment piece for fall was my Veronica Beard suit. Although I bought it in July, and it is supposed to be a spring suit, I wore it long into the autumn. And then a couple of months later, in New York, I bought my Max Mara tweed coat. I bought a few other items but those two were the biggies. 

moody skies and fall colours.
Moody skies and fall colours last autumn
In a recent post a reader asked me how I could be so restrained about shopping. But I don't think of myself as restrained. Just careful. Maybe that comes from growing up in a single parent family with four kids and a tight budget. Mum always managed to buy us what we wanted... but we had to make choices. We couldn't have everything we wanted, and had to choose only one, or at most two, new back-to-school outfits when we went cross-border shopping while visiting my grandmother. Ha. Now that was a back-to-school tradition. Smuggling. To understand that, I think you had to have grown up near an international border where kids clothes "across the lines" (as we called it) were so very much cheaper. I always chuckle when I think of my grandmother smiling sweetly and calling the border guard by name... "How are things, Harold?"... and us kids sitting on our new clothes in the backseat. Looking like butter wouldn't melt in our mouths. 

Then there was the careful shopping in high school for that special sweater or pair of jeans. Once chosen, we'd put $5.00 down to "lay it away." Then pay $5.00 a week out of our part-time job money until we had paid off the bill and could take our precious item home. Did local stores have plans like that where you grew up? Better than charge cards, because we really, really wanted that sweater by the time we actually owned it. And took special care of it... since it was paid for by weeks of flipping burgers, or in my case, selling hot-dogs in the canteen at a local arena during international professional wrestling matches. Now, that job was an education. I'll tell you all about it one day.

So based on these early shopping experiences, I guess I am restrained when it comes to impulse buying. Or buying what I don't need. But I'm not terribly restrained when it comes to price. Especially since I feel that if I'm going to buy only one item, it should be good. And I don't mind paying for quality. And when something is a quality piece, I will take good care of it to protect my investment. Especially if, like my burgundy turtleneck, it's something I've been searching for. 

Like for decades. Ha. 

So what about you, folks? Are you ready for shifting into fall? How restrained are you when it comes to fall shopping? Do you make a list before you make your assault on the stores? Or maybe you find it easier to be restrained when shopping on-line? Do tell. 

P.S. Thinking of everyone affected by the climate (hurricanes, floods, or fires up here in Canada) and wishing them well. And hoping they can get back to worrying about less serious issues (like fall fashion) soon. 

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

For Serious Book Aversion Sufferers

This post is for serious book aversion sufferers. Like me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suffering from a serious aversion to books. But from an aversion to serious books, if you follow me. I simply can't settle into reading anything that mires me in apparently insoluble problems. Or awakens feelings and fears that I thought long buried. 

Take, for instance, this latest book we read for my book club. 

cover art for Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior
Barbara Kingsolver's 2012 book, Flight Behavior is by all accounts a wonderful book. A serious book. And beautifully written. Everyone at our book club agreed. And the reviews I read concurred. 

It's a book about climate change, about monarch butterflies, about scientific catastrophe reimagined as some sort of godly miracle, and about poverty. Not just financial poverty, but also about poverty of the mind, and of the imagination. 

Liz Jensen in The Guardian says it is a book for our time. For a world that seems to be "stumbling wilfully blind towards the abyss" brought on by catastrophic climate change. In her review Jensen talks about the themes which Kingsolver explores, not only in this book but in previous ones like Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible, themes of the struggle between faith and science, between "belief-versus-evidence," and the tragedy of willfully "deaf ears and blind eyes." Referring to a scene in the novel in which Dellarobia, the main character, saves a new born lamb in a violent and disturbing, but ultimately necessary, manner, Jensen extrapolates: "...only a shocking, harrowing solution - a paradigm shift of radical proportions -  will offer any solution," not just to the newborn lamb but also to our planet. You can read Liz Jensen's entire review here.

endangered monarch butterflies in Mexico
Endangered Monarch butterflies in Mexico   photo by Edgard Garrido- Reuters 
So given the devastating floods we witnessed when we were in Peru this past winter. Given the equally catastrophic flooding in South Asia happening right now. And the chaos wrought by Harvey in the United States. Given all this, it seems that Kingsolver's book has an even more urgent message than it did in 2012. But I could not get past chapter four. No matter that it was beautifully written. Despite Kingsolver's gritty, lean prose that evokes so clearly the time and place, I just couldn't force myself to read it. And maybe, now that I think of it, that's because Kingsolver's gritty lean prose evokes so clearly the main character's life at the beginning of the novel. Because, when I was young, Dellarobia's life is what I feared most might happen to me. 

Dellarobia is a young intelligent woman who has thrown her life away. Or so it seemed to me when I started reading. Pregnant, married young in a "shot-gun wedding," stuck in a loveless marriage, with two small children and no job, on a struggling family farm with unsympathetic in-laws, gossipy neighbours, and no hope of escape. And no conception of how to make her life better. Or richer. And I don't mean just financially. That, my friends, is the very stuff of my teenage nightmares. Being stuck. In a life circumscribed by obligation and poverty. Almost makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. 

I was a bit surprised by my visceral reaction to this novel. I thought all that was dead and buried. And maybe it was, just not that deeply. I was pleased and relieved when my friends at book club told me the book was ultimately hopeful. That Dellarobia does escape. That she has her own metamorphosis. Phew. Thank goodness. And yet even knowing that, I doubt I will go back and finish the book, although I probably should. Because, as I've said here on the blog before, when I turned sixty, I vowed to stop feeling guilty about so many "shoulds." Especially when it comes to finishing books that I don't want to finish. 

So, then what is the cure for my serious book aversion? Why, trot that serious book that I don't want to read right back to the library, my friends. And come home with a new book that I've been waiting to read for months. And a DVD of a quirky little mystery series filmed in New Zealand. 

Elly Griffiths novel The Chalk Pit, and The Brokenwood Mysteries DVD

My name has been on the "holds" list for Elly Griffiths' new Ruth Galloway novel for months. I'm looking forward to starting it. And Hubby and I have been enjoying binge watching The Brokenwood Mysteries. Set in small town New Zealand, the humor is wry, the plots not too gruesome or violent, and the country music soundtrack eminently satisfying. Especially since most of  the music in Season 1 is provided by Canadian ex-pat Tami Neilson, who, to me, is a cross between Patsy Cline and Roseanne Cash. Can't go wrong with that according to this New Brunswick girl. Have a listen.

And while you're doing that, I'm going to go and finish my closet inventory. I've some jeans and a couple of blouses that are not going to survive this season's cull. I'll be wrapping them up to take over to my friend Fiona's consignment store. And I need to finish my "needs/wants" list. I have one item on my to-buy list so far. An item that, if I can find it, will pull a number of disparate pieces in my wardrobe together. And give me that perfect, easy, pull on and feel fiercely fabulous every time outfit. Hopefully.  

Sigh. There's nothing like a little closet-culling and list-making to pull one out of serious book aversion syndrome. You know, where you understand that a book has merit, that the issues and themes are important. But which you just don't want to think about. At least not right now. You're not putting your head in the sand. Or willfully blinding yourself to the facts and the consequences. You're just saying, "Not today." 

And trying not to feel guilty about your ability to be able to say that. 

So, what about you, my friends? Any serious books that you've given up on lately? Or are you more persistent than me? Maybe you don't cull your closet as therapy. Or maybe you do. If so, what's on your list for fall? 

Linking up with: Saturday Share and Thursday Favourite Things.