Tuesday, 17 April 2018

In Praise of Solitude

We're having a resurgence of winter here in eastern Ontario, indeed in most of Canada, it seems. Snow and sleet and freezing rain. And high winds. Yesterday, I ensconced myself by the gas stove in my sun room, and read. And napped. Most of the windows looking out onto the river were frosted from the freezing rain. I could just make out the ice covered tree tops lashing about, and hear the wind blowing the ice off the branches and up against the windows. It was a day good for nothing but lounging about with one's book. 

Painting of girl reading by Harold Knight
Girl Reading. Harold Knight. 1932    source
I need a day like that every once in a while. A few hours of solitude, of desultory reading, and thinking. When I worked I took my solitude where and when I could find it. During term time, on Saturday mornings, while the first load of laundry chugged away downstairs, I'd settle in with my tea and book for an hour. Sometimes Hubby would come out to the sun room and sit across from me with his own cup of tea, until I closed my book, and just looked at him. Balefully, no doubt. Not in the extreme sense of that word, not menacing or anything. Well, okay, maybe a little. Then, he'd sigh and go away. 

On the Christmas holidays, after the rush of shopping, and partying, and baking, and eating, and visiting was over, Boxing Day was my day of doing nothing. I remember one year the weather was perfect for skiing, so Hubby set off, and I settled beside the Christmas tree with a cup of tea and a book. The usual. I remember I read the whole of Richard Wright's Clara Callan that afternoon. I love that book. And in the summer, I'd spend a whole morning while Hubby was out golfing or gardening, just reading. I still do that actually. But back when I was teaching, I needed those solitary hours free from the clamour of students, and administrators, and colleagues, and the pile of marking that never seemed to go away. 

Painting of a woman reading by a window by Julius Garibaldi Melchers
Woman Reading by a Window. Julius Garibaldi (Gari) Melchers. 1905   source
I read a lovely article in The Paris Review the other day, I Have Wasted My Life, by Patricia Hampl, in which she explores the idea of being alone, and "being let alone." In our world of information overload and constant connectivity, even when we're alone, we're rarely "let alone." Hampl has had a lifelong fascination with the idea of solitude. She says: "When we are swept up by the demands of family or a job -- whatever it is that outlaws solitude -- perhaps it is especially then that we are most in love with what solitude seems to provide, what it promises. It promises freedom." 

In her article Hampl goes on to ponder the meaning of a favourite James Wright poem, in which the narrator of the poem lies in a hammock, describes his bucolic surroundings, and then ends with the somewhat surprising and enigmatic line: "I have wasted my life." Hampl says that she has pondered that line for years, changing several times her interpretation of Wright's meaning. 

In her closing she reflects on the wise words of her husband, who in the last week of his life unwittingly handed her the key to understanding the poem. Maybe the narrator regrets he has known too little solitude in his life, that "to be alone in this way is not to be insular but to open finally, fully to the inrushing reality of the world."  

It's a beautiful article, thoughtful, and poignant. And so refreshing to read in this world of cyber-silliness. Especially when I consider that my connection to The Paris Review is through Facebook. Ha. How ironic that Facebook, time-waster extraordinaire, and the very bane of the idea of privacy, delivers such jewels as Hampl's article to my screen. 

Painting of old woman reading a book by Rembrandt.
Old Woman Reading. Rembrandt. 1655  source
The idea of women who are alone, or who want to be alone, is a theme in literature that has fascinated me for years. Hence my interest in Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner whose characters are often spinsters. But it was three books which I read years ago which sparked my interest in the idea of women alone, of women needing to be alone. The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe, Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, and Abra by Joan Barfoot.  I've written about these books before on the blog, in a post on spinsters, and one on being alone, so this time I've just included the links if you're interested. What fascinates me about these books is the courage of the characters, or maybe the desperation, that moves these women to set aside their lives, and start again from scratch on their own. For the characters in these books solitude, as Hampl says, "promises freedom." 

My mum says she remembers when she was growing up her mother, my grandmother, used to retire to her upstairs bedroom with the door shut every once in a while. Sometimes for a day, sometimes longer. Mum says that Grammy never said if she were ill or not. She just closed her door. I imagine her in her room, lying on the bed, napping and reading, and maybe sighing a little at the luxury of a few hours of privacy. In her house the possibility of privacy was slight, what with three daughters, five sons, my grandfather, two hired men who worked with Grampy and boarded with my grandparents, plus the odd visiting relative from "up country," or maybe a cousin who came to Fredericton and needed a place to stay while they found work, or even one girl cousin of my Mum's who lived there while she attended school. I imagine my grandmother losing herself in her books, and maybe dreaming of escape, like the characters in the books I've read. But she settled for her few hours, the small portion of solitude she could manage in her busy life, and then she came downstairs again. 

Now that I'm retired, and the demands of a busy job are a thing of the past, I don't have to stake out any particular day as mine to do as I please. Because every day is mine. Pretty much. I have the luxury of solitude when I want it. So, I let the weather, or circumstances, dictate which days. It might be a day when I'm at home, and Hubby is busy elsewhere, running errands, or out skiing or golfing with friends, and I have the house to myself. Or a day like yesterday, when neither of us was going anywhere, snow and sleet were pelting the house, and out of frustration and boredom Hubby had two naps. 

And me? I sighed, and put the kettle on. And proceeded to occupy the couch in the sun room. I listened to the geese trying to land on the river in the wind, and to the ice pelting against the windows, and shushing off the roof... "open fully," as Hampl puts it, "to the inrushing reality of the world." 

Sometimes I even glanced at my book. 

What about you, my friends? Any thoughts on solitude? On women being alone? Or needing to be alone? On books? Snow in April??

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Making Ourselves Up

I saw this picture in Vogue magazine a while ago. It made a shiver run down my spine. And brought back memories of my teenage years. Of making myself up every morning before school. Because, of course, at sixteen, I felt strongly that a good coat of something, or numerous somethings, was needed to disguise my true, freckly, pimply self. Like Clearasil cream, green eye shadow, and peachy cream blush. And, the pièce de résistance, Mabelline Great Lash mascara, huge swaths of it, at least three sticky coats of the stuff. What followed were eyelashes which required some major de-clumping. Hence, the safety pin.

I've been making myself up, so to speak, ever since I hit puberty. Applying make-up to create a better version of myself. A stronger, more confident, better able to face the world version of me. 

shot of someone using a safety pin to separate eye lashes
DIY eyelash de-clumper in Vogue
In fact, it feels as if I've been using make-up, or watching someone else use it, my whole life. I remember as a kid watching Mum get ready for work in the morning. In her slip, and nylons and slippers, standing before the mirror in the bathroom, putting on her face, doing her eyebrows, and lipstick, and spritzing a last bit of hairspray. I imagine that, as a single mum raising four kids, she needed the extra armour, the little bit of added confidence that make-up and hairspray provided, before she marched out into the world. Because as difficult as being a single parent is today, it was a lot harder in a small, very conservative community on the east coast of Canada back in the sixties. 

I remember watching my two older sisters get ready for school, or for dates, applying blush and mascara and lip gloss. Sometimes they'd do my hair, but I wasn't allowed to wear make-up. Not until the Christmas I was fourteen, when my sister Connie bought me my first tube of mascara and a compact of powder blush as my Christmas gift. 

That was the beginning. By grade eleven, my best friend Debbie and I were lathering on the Great Lash mascara, and wielding the safety pins like professionals. 

Yeah. I know. In my teens I was no doubt hiding behind my Clearasil cream, green eye shadow, peach blush, and too much mascara. I should have been able to meet the world bare-faced, pimply, and proud. But I wasn't. I wasn't confident enough. Like most teenage girls I deplored my looks, downplayed my advantages, and magnified my imperfections. And make-up promised me a miracle: clear skin, peachy cheeks, and full eyelashes. 

I wouldn't always hide behind my face paint. Eventually I grew up and learned to enhance, instead of cover. Along the way I had my share of embarrassing make-up malfunctions. Embarrassing mascara moments, like I told you about here. Or embarrassing, "too much of a good thing" moments. Like when I worked in the cosmetic department at Simpson's on Sparks Street back in the early eighties. The first week, I applied my make-up at home in the morning not knowing how much the florescent lights in the store would wash colour out of my face. So that throughout the day, I'd catch sight of myself in a mirror, and thinking I looked terrible, I'd duly reapply my blush and lipstick. Until one night my roommate laughed when I arrived home. "Did you get on the bus like that? she asked. And I realized that I looked ridiculous, like a silent screen star, all dark lips and vivid slashes of blush. "Why did no one tell me I looked so silly?" I gasped. 

I have a much less fraught relationship with make-up these days. Probably because I have a much less combative relationship with my face. And indeed with myself. That's one of the compensations of growing older. 

Four shots of a woman at four different ages.
Making myself up through the years.
I don't expect miracles anymore. Ha. I grew out of that long ago. But I still love make-up. I  learned sometime in the eighties that less is more, especially less blush. I learned that I shouldn't wear warm peachy blush or lipstick; they make me look ill. And that every few years we all need to reassess how we do what we do to our faces. Like eye brows. I did nothing to my eyebrows for years. Then in my forties, they started to disappear, and I realized that they needed attention, more colour and better shaping. For years I applied contouring blush under my cheekbones, to make my very fat face look a little less round. Now I cherish the roundness, and apply blush only on the apples of my cheeks. And then last year, I learned how (and where) to use highlighter powder. That trick was a revelation to me. The trick itself, plus the fact that, after so many years of wearing make-up, I still had things to learn. 

I mentioned to someone a few weeks ago that in retirement I'm making myself up as I go along. Finding my post-teaching identity, after so many years of standing in front of innumerable classes of teenagers. 

And I think that's what I was doing with make-up as a teenager, trying to decide who I was. I wish I had had a bit more confidence, back then, confidence in who I was under the make-up. But that came later. And in the meantime, that goopy mascara gave me a much needed ego boost. 

And I was lucky to have older sisters who guided me. Or tried to. Whose example I followed and thus avoided some of the worst beginner make-up mistakes. 

And we were all three of us lucky to have a mum who, despite her occasional eye-roll, understood our need for a little extra armour to help us face the world.

I don't need so much armour these days. And not nearly as much confidence boosting as when I was in high school. Ha. Thank goodness. But I am still exploring who I am, and trying to enhance that with a little blush and eye-shadow. And much, much less mascara, I'm happy to say. So no need for safety pins. 

I'm a work in progress. As we all are, I guess. 

And even if we don't all wear make-up, we are all still making ourselves up as we go along. So to speak. 

Don't you think?

How about you, my friends? Have you had an evolving relationship with make-up? Have you, like me, learned that a light touch is best? Or have you tossed your blusher in the garbage, and sworn off the paint and mascara altogether? Or maybe you never used the stuff in the first place? 

Do tell us your story about making up. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Looking for Sunshine in My Closet

Yesterday, I read a post on my friend Frances' blog, Materfamilias Writes. She talks in the post about wanting a little colour in her outfits while she waits for spring. "Spring," I sighed. 

I am pining for spring too. Or at least for weather that encourages me to think that spring might just possibly be possible this year. We've had cold, grey weather this week. And I'm pining for warmth and sunshine. And oddly, as a result, pining for yellow. If I can't have warmth or sunshine, then I'll settle for the colour of sunshine. 

While I've been on my exercise bike, lately, I've been scrolling through Pinterest, and pinning pictures of everything yellow. Flowers, old farmhouses, lemon yellow quilts. And some fashion, of course. If I can't have sunshine in real life, I'll have it on my i-pad. You might say all that pining has lead to a lot of pinning.  

painting of woman and yellow jonquil flowers
The Jonquils by Childe Hussan 1904    source
And then I read this article by Katy Kelleher in The Paris Review. It's a lovely article; you should read it. All about jonquil, the buttery yellow, early spring colour of a by-gone era making a come back in fashion. And about the significance of yellow in mythology and literature and art. I am clearly not the only one with yellow on my mind.

And so inspired by Kelleher's article in The Paris Review and my friend Frances' post, I went digging for some sunshine in my closet. 

I don't own a lot of yellow, as it happens. This Brooks Brothers cotton sweater, below, bought in 2014. And my old Michael Kors tote. That's pretty much the sum total of everything yellow in my closet. That's odd when I think of all the yellow I've owned over the years. I remember a bright yellow ski jacket in high school, and a yellow spring rain coat in university. A beautiful, buttery yellow sweater and matching knit skirt in the eighties. Plus innumerable yellow turtlenecks over the years, tees, tanks, and striped rugby shirts. I wonder where all that yellow went, or why my desire to own yellow went away. 

woman in yellow sweater and blue denim skirt
Summery in yellow, but too cold for this look today.
So this morning, out came my one and only yellow sweater. And since it's way too cold for bare legs and a skirt, I pulled it on with my highrise Paige jeans, my Montcler anorak, an old scarf in blues and browns, and my new Earth brand loafers
woman on a deck in blue coat, yellow sweater, jeans, and red shoes
Wearing sunshine under my coat... and snowflakes on my face. 
I love my new red shoes. They are soft and really comfortable. And they fit my very narrow foot. I haven't owned red shoes since I was a kid. Red, T-strap Mary Janes purchased at G.E. George in Fredericton when I was nine, and in which I danced on our doorstep in the sunshine on Easter morning that year... way back in the day. Ha. No sunshine for doing the two-step on the doorstep today, Missy. 

woman on a deck in blue coat, yellow sweater, jeans, and red shoes
Feeling springy in my yellow sweater and new red shoes.
I love the yellow sweater with the navy coat and dark-washed jeans. I even like this old scarf with the coat. I wish I owned a brighter scarf in sunny yellow and red, but I don't. Besides, I like this outfit. It's fine. 

woman on a deck in blue coat, yellow sweater, jeans, and red shoes
Now if only it would stop bleeping snowing?
If I can't have warm spring temperatures and sunshine just yet, I'll wear my sunshine. In fact maybe I'll wear it tomorrow, and go shopping for a new scarf to go with my anorak and my yellow sweater. Something a bit brighter, but not over-the-top with colour. After all, when have I ever gone over-the-top with colour?

Well, okay. 

There was that one time. 

Clearly I take much bigger risks with my fishing ensembles that I do with my normal outfits. Ha.

woman in a canoe wearing orange and yellow fishing outfit and  holding a fish
No sunshine that day. But the fish were biting.
That's me catching my first fish in years, on my very first trip to Algonquin Park, on the May 24th weekend in 1985. I'm wearing Hubby's yellow rain slicker, and his orange rain pants. Notice how they co-ordinate with my life-jacket? 

It was snowing that day too. Yep. Snowing on the May 24th weekend. 

Sigh. I hope this doesn't bode ill for the weather this spring. Maybe my new red and yellow scarf should be wool. 

What do you think? Just in case. 

What about you, my friends? Are you pining for spring? Are you like me, looking for sunshine in your closet?

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Tales from My Travel Journal: Adventures Downunder

"Stop!" I shrieked as we hurtled along the Bass Highway, south of Melbourne, Australia, "Stu-u-u... sto-o-o-op. It's the giant worm!" 

Ha. Writing that makes me laugh. When I shouted at Hubby to stop, we were on our way from Melbourne to Victoria's Ninety Mile Beach, and from there heading up the Great Alpine Road to our motel in Bright, in the last month of what we called our "Great Adventure Downunder." Aptly named because everything in Australia seemed to be great. Or Giant. The "Great Ocean Road," the "Great Alpine Road," the "Giant Orange," the "Giant Pineapple." I could go on. So before we headed up the Great Alpine Road, we had to stop at the famous "Giant Worm." I mean, we had to, didn't we? 

woman on second floor balcony of an Australian pub
Our pub accommodation, somewhere in Australia, 2003. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Should I Elevate My Off Duty Wardrobe?

Last weekend I opened an e-mail from MatchesFashion.com which outlined the "essentials" for great weekend style, and offered advice on how to "elevate" my "off-duty wardrobe." That gave me pause. "Off-duty wardrobe. I don't have an off-duty wardrobe anymore," I thought. Simply by virtue of the fact that I don't have an on-duty wardrobe. When I was still working, my closet was filled with clothes I wore to work, and clothes I wore on the weekends. Now it's all weekend wear, all the time.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Of Boots, and Bonnets, and Baby Sisters.

I've been rhapsodizing over Easter bonnets quite a bit lately, it seems. On this blog and over on Brenda Ray Coffee's blog 1010 Park Place. Waxing nostalgic over Easter bonnets, new shoes, and other spring finery. It's a perfect year to be sighing over Easter bonnets, since puffed sleeves, frills, and furbellows of all sorts are on trend this spring. 

But I fear my days of frills and fluffiness are long gone. And, as much as I love to remember them fondly, my Easter bonnet years have come and gone too. These days I'm more into jeans, and raincoats, and rubber boots. 

Like today. Hubby and I went for a long walk on the bush trails where we've been skiing all winter. It was beautiful and sunny, and the trails were just muddy and squashy enough to require rubber boots.

woman in rubber boots, sitting on a log in the bush, holding a stick
Our Easter ramble in the bush today in my brother's hat.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

How to Have a Frugal Spring

It's grey out today. The skies are grey, the river is grey, the melting snow is grey. The wind is raw, and seems to cut right through you. It might be spring, but it's not the kind of spring day we imagine when we long for spring in the middle of winter. Not one of those blue-sky, sunshine-y, warm breezy days that make us think of tulips and daffodils, and getting our bikes out of the shed. 

Nope, mother nature is being rather frugal with her spring weather this week. A little miserly, a tad stingy, economizing on the sunshine, and even when she deigns to bring us some sunshine it's often paired with a crisp breeze. She doesn't want us to get soft. Ha. 

So I'm looking for something to wear today that will be a nod to spring even when it doesn't altogether feel like spring yet. And I'm going to dig into my closet and find some stuff I haven't worn in a while. Stuff I haven't worn since last fall, or last spring, or even ten springs ago. 

two shots of woman in navy blazer, white shirt, jeans, white sneakers, pink and green scarf
My frugal spring outfit

Friday, 23 March 2018

Just One of Those Weeks

You know, people, this week has been "just one of those weeks." Not in the way we usually mean that phrase, not "one of those weeks" where everything that can go wrong does. 

Instead, it's been a week which cannot be faulted. Not really. I haven't won the lottery or had anything big happen to me. It's just that thinking about this week makes me feel grateful. And I don't think I say that often enough. 

afternoon sun. melting ice on a river
A late afternoon on the river. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Shopping Diary: Spring Coat Quest

I've been on a major quest to find a new spring coat this year. This year, and last year, and the year before that. I've done my research. Pinned lots of images. And over three springs, tried on what seems like a million coats. Three years ago foiled by the yawning chasm between what I wanted and what I found in the stores, I bought a light spring jacket from Theory instead. Last year I gave up, entirely. Everything was too long, too short, too lightweight, too cheaply made, or too expensive. 

This year, as usual, I sought inspiration first. Vogue predicted that trench coats would be a big trend this season. Maybe I'll be lucky in 2018, I thought. As it happens trench coats are a big trend; emphasis on big. Over-sized has become the new black, it seems. 

woman in an over-sized trench coat
Trench coats are a big trend this season.  source

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Have Books; Will Survive Winter. Maybe

I am so sick of winter. Tired of being cold. Tired of wind. And snow. Of trying to convince myself that spring is just around the corner. Tired of pretending that I'll be wearing spring jackets and sneakers any day now. I give up, people. I'm waving the white flag. I'm retiring to my couch to whimper by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book. Or five. 

This is what I've been reading lately. Mostly mysteries and crime fiction. I haven't had the patience for anything more literary. And as I've always contended, there are many fine and literary mystery writers out there from which to choose.

Three books on a table
Recently finished and currently reading.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Thinking Aloud About Clothes

I've been re-reading this week, in fits and starts, my absolute favourite book about fashion, The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant. I love that book. I've written about it here on the blog before. About how, when I read it the first time, I felt as if I had found a kindred spirit in Linda Grant, so much so that I speculated maybe Ms. Grant awoke one morning and thought, "I think I'll write a book for Sue B." In fact, back when I was still teaching, I used to bring the book to school and read passages aloud to my lunch companions. Some of whom were even interested. Ha. 

two books. Diana Athill's A Florence Diary and Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser
My non-fiction reading this week.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Spring Rite of Passage: Wardrobe Inventory

I don't know about you, but when the end of winter is in sight I regress. I become the small girl who couldn't wait patiently for the seasons to change, who longed for fall when it was summer, and for winter when it was fall. But I think the season I always longed for the most was spring. 

I longed for the snow to melt and trickle across the fields and into the ditches, so we could pretend to be engineers and build dams. For the ground to become soft enough, so we could make potholes with the heels of our boots and play marbles. For the playground to dry up enough, so we could bring out the skipping ropes. Skipping was my most favourite thing in the world for a few years, second only to Mum's seasonal unveiling of the treasures in the cedar chest.

fields, melted snow, tree and a fallen wooden fence
Snow melting in the fields back home in 2016.
Sigh. That was a yearly rite of passage. When the temperatures climbed, and we shed our winter coats, and mittens, Mum levered the top off the big old cedar chest and we dug out our spring and summer clothes. Oh, the anticipation. What would fit me this year? Which of my sisters' dresses might I finally be grown up enough to wear? Would I need a new spring coat, or a new pair of white sneakers? New white sneakers being as coveted by me as a new skipping rope. 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Travels with a Ninety Year Old

You know, I've learned a lesson this past week, folks, while I've been home with my mum. If you want great service everywhere you go, and for everyone you meet to smile at you and try to be helpful. If you want traffic to stop in all four directions when you attempt to cross a parking lot. If you want people to listen attentively, and laugh at your jokes, and give you a big hug when you leave. Then always, always travel with a ninety year old. Preferably one with a walker, who chats with all and sundry, and doesn't mind using the odd profanity. A smattering of profanity seems to go over really well. 

green and white farmhouse in winter
The old farmhouse looks a bit lonely against that grey sky.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Tales From My Travel Journal : Ireland

I've kept a travel journal for years. I started recording our canoeing adventures back in the eighties, mostly because pictures cannot capture the essence of a trip like words can. Pictures cannot convey the misery of a sleepless night in a leaking tent, or the utter contentment of relaxing by the fire watching sparks from the flames disappear into the night sky. When Hubby and I began to travel more widely, I kept a journal for each trip. I dig these journals out every now and again, and read them out loud to Hubby. Sometimes I do this to settle an argument about some point we're trying to recall, the name of a town, or a mountain pass. Sometimes when we're in the midst of planning a trip, we become nostalgic for a previous adventure. We'll sip our wine, read and remember, laugh, and agree that travel is totally worth all the bother.

It was Hubby's idea that I share with you some small parts of our adventures as documented in my journals. I thought that was a great idea. I miss writing travels posts when we're not travelling. So if you don't mind journeying back into the past with me, I think I'll give his idea a go. And since I'm back home in New Brunswick this week, I'd thought I'd start with our 2011 trip to Ireland. Home of my O'Sullivan ancestors.

woman walking with a collie dog, field overlooking the ocean
Me and "Buddy" the dog, hiking on the Ring of Beara

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Voices in Our Head

In a recent phone call, my mum told me that when she first wakes in the morning, and is wondering if she has the desire to start her day, or the strength to get out of bed, she hears my brother's voice in her head. And he says to her, "Come on old lady. Time to get the hell up, and out of that bed." And so she does. 

I think we all hear voices in our head, don't you? The voices of special people in our lives, whose real voice we no longer hear. 

Dawn on the river yesterday. 

Monday, 19 February 2018

Anticipation: Pining for Spring Fashion

Sigh. It's warm here in Ottawa, people. And has been for a few days. Maybe warm-ish would be more accurate, but above freezing, at any rate. With sunshine. And we're still in February. The past few days have felt like nature's balm to this winter weary soul. For those of us pining for spring, a bit of warmth and sunshine "knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care," and makes us feel new again. Okay, enough with the Macbeth hyperbole, what I'm saying is that I'm ready for spring fashions. 

So I've started my spring shopping research. Reading articles on spring trends. And looking at the runway shows for spring 2018. 

woman in all white, one in a pink coat, and one in a coral jacket and green oants
Trendy spring looks from Max Mara, Dries Van Noten, and Agona.   source

Thursday, 15 February 2018

New Horizons

Okay... so... I'm a little excited this week, folks. Brenda Ray Coffee has asked me to contribute a monthly post to her blog 1010 Park Place. And today my first post Women Who Have "It" is live. You can see it here

The post is a follow-up to my discussion last week about "it girls." About how "it women" are, as Dottorressa said last week, "bien dans sa peau." And about two "it women" friends of mine who have both embarked on new adventures in their lives, both expanding their horizons in their sixties.

words. plus the phrase "do one things a day that scares you."
Lululemon bag inspiration

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Hat Dreams

When the weather is frigid, and the snow just keeps on coming, and there's at least six more weeks of winter, if we're lucky. Well, a girl has to do something to survive. Psychologically speaking.

I'm sick to death of my sweaters, most of them anyway, and my ski wear. I'm in need of some major fashion diversion, but it would be too cruel to start dreaming of spring already.  Soas I pedal my exercise bike on days when it's too cold to ski, or it's freezing rain and entirely too miserable to go out, I've been dreaming of hats. 

And perusing my Pinterest board dedicated to hats. Vintage hats, high fashion hats straight from the catwalk, edgy urban hats, dressy ladylike hats, casual berets, lovely cloches, cool fedoras. Whatever. All headgear welcome. Except for toques. No toques allowed. I see enough of those already.

woman in a 1920s style cloche

Friday, 9 February 2018

Ski Lessons in Kindness

Downhill skiing and I have always had a fraught relationship. I wanted to love it when I was young. I did love it for a brief period. Then I hated it again. Then I met Hubby and learned to ski properly, took lessons, and began to love it again, for a time. I will say that downhill skiing taught me a few lessons, on the hill and off. 

But let's go back to the beginning. When I was a kid, my older sister Carolyn received a pair of blue skis with poles for Christmas. When she outgrew them, I inherited them. I used to love to carry them up to the top of the hill at home, strap them on to my winter boots, and push off, shushing straight to the bottom. That was skiing as far as I knew. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

Figuring Out "It Girl" Chic

Clearly I have no idea what chic "it girls" are wearing on the slopes these days. Based on the post I saw on Instagram recently, which actually made me chuckle... just a little... and compared to what I wore skiing on our recent trip to the Laurentians, I am way out of the loop. Not glam enough, with not enough fur trim or shine in my skiing ensemble. But, you know, I'm too old to care about that.

I'm not saying I'm too old to care about how I look. Perish the thought. Just that I've decided that I'm too old to worry about it all the time. Like when I'm skiing. Or doing anything when my appearance is the least of my concerns. Enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, getting fit, taking a break from wearing makeup or worrying about my hair, just having fun... these are my priorities when I'm skiing. Or cycling or camping. 

woman in purple ski hat and vest and sunglasses.
All layered up and make-up free

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Ici On Parle Français

Bonjour, mes amis. Hello from sunny Quebec. Hubby and I are spending a quiet week at a resort in the Laurentians. Not the glitzy, newer than new, kind of resort. L'Auberge du Lac Morency was originally built in the 1930s, and although the log lodge has been renovated, it still feels vintage. The condos retain that flavour as well, lots of wood beams, and floors. Kind of homey, and not too startlingly modern. We don't generally do "startlingly modern" at home or away. So, Lac Morency is our kind of place.  

An old "Ski the Laurentians" poster
Vintage "Ski the Laurentians" poster

Friday, 26 January 2018

Old Friends and New

Psychologists agree, the secret to healthy aging is maintaining strong social contacts. Making new friends, and keeping the old. Same with our wardrobe, don't you think?

A healthy, workable wardrobe means that we acquire a few new pieces each season and the rest is comprised of wearable, older pieces which we still love. And, I might add, which still fit, and are in good condition. We welcome the new, and take good care of the old. 

woman in black leggings, charcoal sweater, checkered tee and burgundy scarf
Smile, smile, big smile.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Our Curated Lives

I've been thinking about social media for the past day or so. About the carefully curated persona we present to the world through Facebook or Instagram. I mean "curated" like I curate my closet, in the sense that the images and details are "chosen, organized and presented" very deliberately, to achieve a certain end. Some social media users get slammed for over-curating their content, for presenting only those pictures which depict their lives as perfect when, of course, they aren't perfect at all. On the other hand social media users are often criticised for not being selective enough, for posting overly personal moments, and events, that should be kept private. Think of all the future fifty year-olds who are going to regret those high school party shots shared on Facebook. 

So where should we draw the line, do you think, on what we share and what we keep private? To answer my own question, I guess our own need for privacy and our own level of comfort in talking about ourselves will dictate where we draw that line. As well as our sense of good taste, and maybe even our knowledge that whatever we say on-line is very difficult to take back or erase. We are the curators of our own public image. Whether that image is shared with a few friends and family, or made public on the world wide web.

And I've been thinking that despite the fact that social media is relatively new, the idea of choosing what we share with the world is not. Haven't we always chosen what we share of ourselves and our lives with others? Haven't our lives always been "curated?" Whether it's the photos we have in our wedding album, the details on our work resumé, or the difference between what we tell our co-workers about our vacation versus what we tell our best friend. 

woman and man with their arms about each other, smiling.
My cousin Mark and me after my brother Terry's funeral in September. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

When Inspiration Gets Bossy

When I was younger, a lot younger, way back in high school, I used to lie in bed before it was time to get up in the morning and dream of a perfect outfit for the day. I'd close my eyes and conjure up what I felt like that morning, who I wanted to be that day, and what outfit I'd need to wear to achieve that persona. Of course, the problem was that I frequently didn't own the items I needed to become my perfect self that day. 

Still, I'd get as close as I could with what was on offer in my closet. Once conceived, the picture in my head of my best self drove me on; nothing else would do; even a pale imitation was better than abandoning the idea altogether. Sometimes, if I was very lucky, I'd make a successful foray into the closets of my older sisters. A few times I even absconded with items of my mother's. Inspiration can be downright bossy, you know. A bit of a control freak, even. 

three models in long coats
 On the left two Max Mara coats, Fall and Winter 2017 from Vogue.com. On the right Asos coat from Lolariostyle on IG.
Years later, at almost sixty-two, I'm still a bit like that. Still dreaming of outfits; still unable to get them out of my head once they've lodged there. Still sometimes unable to measure up to the often tyrannical dictates of inspiration. When I was a kid, I had only myself and my imagination to blame. Now... well... I blame Pinterest. At least partly. 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

When Do Two Become One?

I've been reading an amazing book this week. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Strout is a beautiful writer, so skilful with words and images. Her work puts me in mind of Alice Munro, and of another Canadian writer, David Adams Richards. I love how all three of these writers make me feel as if I'm crawling right inside the lives of their characters. Characters who are not obvious heroes, who are not necessarily beautiful or exciting, but who are living ordinary, often difficult, lives with dignity and honour. 

Yesterday, I plunked myself down amidst the muddle and mess of our renovations to have a cup of tea and a short read. I was struck by a scene in Olive Kitteridge where Olive's son, Christopher, gets married to a woman he's known for only six weeks. During the ceremony, Olive feels a sense of disquiet, of fear for her son. Of course she wants him to find happiness, to not be lonely, but still, she's wary of her new daughter-in-law, and worries "at the way the bride was smiling up at Christopher, as though she actually knew him. Because did she know what he looked like in first grade when he had a nosebleed in Miss Lampley's class? Did she see him when he was a pale, slightly pudgy child, his skin broken out in hives because he was afraid to take a spelling test? No...." 

This scene had me musing all afternoon. As Hubby and I worked to put our house to rights, I thought about marriage. About that old cliché of two becoming one. About the idea and the reality of matrimony, holy or otherwise. How two people who probably, as Olive points out, know little about each other commit to each other for life. Supposedly. And how the marriage ceremony itself does little to unify a couple, to make two people become one. 

Climb every mountain together? Yukon, 2006
That scene in Olive Kitteridge had me thinking the rest of the day about my own marriage. How well Hubby and I thought we knew each other when we got married, after having dated for a year, and lived together for another three. How much we've discovered about each other in the almost twenty-nine years since then. And what has made us more unified as a couple, what has helped us to become if not exactly "one," then certainly more "one" than we were on our wedding day. Ha. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

New Year; New Stuff

Ah, yes. Winter in Manotick. Everything is lovely and clean, pristine and peaceful. Bucolic, even. Especially after a snowfall. Especially in the bush. I love when it snows just after New Years. Making everything look, well... new year new. That's my theme today, actually. New stuff. 

chickadee on a snowy branch
We saw lots of chickadees today while we were skiing.

Monday, 8 January 2018

I Need a Good Book

I really, really need a good book. Not just a good book, but a great one. A big bitey, juicy, descriptive, character-driven book. One that will captivate me in the first chapter, transport me to wherever it is set, and make me forget all about the world... kind of book. 

Not necessarily a serious book, but a seriously interesting one. A book like The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, or A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, or The Children Act by Ian McEwen. A new Penelope Lively, maybe. Or the aptly named masterpiece, Euphoria, which Lily King wrote a few years ago. These books conjured up reader's euphoria, for me. The feeling you get after reading only a few pages when you know that you're going to be able to dive into the book, learn some really cool stuff, love and/or love to hate the characters, and feel as if you've been on a trip to a far away land. Yeah. That's what I need right now.

cover of Lily King's Euphoria cover of Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Is It Possible To Be An Ethical Shopper?

It's the dead of winter here in Ottawa, the dead time between New Year's and the return of normal life. Back in the day, I would fill this weirdly unreal time (between the craziness of Christmas, and the start of the school term) with marking. After Christmas, when boxing week sales made me not want to venture downtown, and Hubby was mesmerized by hockey on television (World Junior Hockey tournament, Spengler Cup, plus the regular NHL games) I'd allot a few hours a day to marking the major essays that my senior students had submitted on the last day before the break. And when school started again, I'd have that Herculean task all done and dusted instead of hanging over my head.  

So what do I do now, when the chaos of post Christmas traffic, crowded restaurants and stores, not to mention all that hockey on TV, keeps me in limbo? I do my closet inventory. Naturally. Nothing like a good stock-taking to start the year off right. This year, I'm asking myself if I'm any closer to being an ethical shopper. And, if I'm honest, if it's even possible to be an ethical shopper.

woman in sweater and jeans holding a pen and a small notebook
Consulting my little book of lists