Holiday Break, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:43am

Time for the Privilege holiday break. For all of you celebrating Christmas and the Gregorian New Year, may all your festivities be glorious and bright. For those of you in other cultures, may your next couple of weeks be as full of peace, hope, and joy as humanly possible.

Thank you so much for reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and I will see you in January, 2015. My how time flies.

Mad Dogs And Englishwomen: How To Buy A Swimsuit In The Wintertime

My family has a tradition of winter trips to warm places. Usually warm places by the seaside, where, with any luck, we swim.

Here’s the thing. Have you ever noticed how swimsuits seem to age even when they’re just drawer-warming? How suits that looked great in August become unwearable by December? What’s up with that? And it’s hard to find warm weather gear in cold weather times.

Therefore, in preparation for this year’s trip, I thought I’d run to Nordstrom. I imagined myself emerging victorious, with one of the suits below clutched to my breast. Nordstrom is almost always my go-to store when I really need a functional piece of clothing. And I did like the look of that black strappy number.

Untitled #195

But no. Had I wanted to wear a cashmere scarf in the water, I’d have been all set, but turns out swimsuit stock is really, really low.  The closest I came was this, in an XS. Comes with wide straps, more sophisticated than it appears in the photo.

Floral Seamed Tank from Nordstrom

But, the photo is correct in that my bustline shot from the top of the suit like something about to pop. Never mind.

My daughter, who accompanied me on the expedition,  found this. She looked so cute I bought it for her, which was gratifying, but not the plan.

Long Line Bikini

So I have concluded, as I suggested here but ignored myself, online is the best place to find a mid-winter swimsuit. And here’s a new thought. What about Zappos? Why Zappos? They sell more than shoes. And their free shipping, free returns, and incredibly reliable and fast delivery might work perfectly in the last-minute, need-something, has-to-fit dance of swimsuit shopping.

How about this? Did you know Norma Kamali had a diffusion line? AKA lower cost? Me neither.

Kamalikulture tank

Or this, from Marc by Marc Jacobs? I rather like the scuba thing.

Marc by Marc Jacobs Scuba Suit

So next year, when warm waters call and leg elastics fray in a chorus of “No, no, no,” please remind me what I said here. I thank you kindly, in advance. And if you have any good tricks, I’m listening.

This post is not sponsored or published at the behest of Nordstrom or Zappos. Affiliate links may generate commissions.


Should I Give My Boss A Gift?


The worst holiday present I ever got came from someone I quite liked. It wasn’t an insult or lump of coal. Nor was it wrapped in glitter paper, to explode into the carpet and sparkle like a drunk party-crasher.

Nope, it was simply a present from a peer at work. Wine maybe. But it was all done up, with a card and an envelope. And I had nothing to give in return. “Hells bells!” as my father might say.

Workplace giving can be tricky.

Oh, at a Fortune 250 company,  it’s OK. HR makes sure you know who to give presents to, and when, and how. Or, at a startup with lots of cash in a time of limitless albeit eventually unfounded optimism. There you can give anybody anything. Whoopee, we’re going to be millionaires! Oh, wait, we’re not! Any gifts given or received are nothing compared to the mansions we will not be owning.

However, in an tense office, gift-giving sparks the the power and influence grid like mosquitoes in a summer bug zapper. At dusk. Bzzt! Bzzt!

So let’s review the Highest Principle And Do’s And Don’ts Of Workspace Gift-Giving, shall we?  (Here’s an aside for the grammar-particular on do’s and don’ts. I am aiming for more accuracy on the blog, but I confess precision’s not my strong point.)

The Highest Principle Of Workspace Gifts

  • Gifts cost, either money or time
  • As a result, they can create a transactional sense of obligation
  • The intensity and nature of the obligation will vary with the power differential between gifter and giftee.

If You Are A Manager Setting The Guidelines

  • Do use the season as a time to team-build.  The team lunch or team dinner can be a wonderful occasion.
  • Do make sure you understand the budget and alcohol policies.
  • Do reinforce team culture.
  • Do consider a team-specific Secret Santa program. Open the gifts at the dinner/lunch, especially if you have set the expectation gifts should be funny or endearing, not routine.
  • Don’t surprise anyone – even if you don’t want to set group norms, let your direct reports know your plans, and that you do not expect or want gifts from them.
  • Don’t mince words – Lesson #1 of becoming a manager is How To Speak Directly. Make your expectations and guidelines clear, in a supportive and leader-like way.

If You Are The Subordinate Giving To Your Boss

  • Do ask your manager. If asking would seem weak in your company culture, at least update him or her on all your gift plans, in passing.
  • Do consider giving homemade food, or nicely-made if you don’t cook. Food feels the coziest of all the gifts, and the least like a power play.
  • Don’t curry favor. But you wouldn’t, would you?

If You Are Giving To Your Peers

  • Do check with your manager. He or she can raise the topic at the staff meeting for the next level up, to see what other groups might be thinking.
  • Do be aware that if you give something to your peers when they don’t expect it, you may make them look and feel bad.
  • Don’t go overboard with fancy wrapping and cards, unless your workplace is design, marketing, or crafts-oriented.
  • Do give your gifts to colleagues-who-have-become-personal-friends outside the office

May all your Christmases be bright, may all your office parties celebrate a shared success, and may all your glitter stay where you dang well put it in the first place.


Photo credit: Gillian on Flickr, with my tongue-in-cheek-text-overlaid. BTW, Kim French of Girls of a Certain Age has a good story about her worst office Christmas present ever, here.

Let Us Remember That Presents Can Be Awesome, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:57am

My Aunt L., she of the recent 80th birthday and head prefect of Sturdy Gal Academy, gives all her adult nieces and nephews Christmas presents. I will point out, there are a lot of us. Win had 4 daughters, my mother 3 daughters and 1 son. But every year Aunt L. wraps and delivers to everybody.

The best present she ever gave, which, in retrospect, may be one of the best ever given or received in my family, was a net bag of chestnuts and a chestnut roaster.

Since we tend more, as a group, to irreverence than nut roasts, when the time came to go home one family hid the chestnuts in the car of another. And so a Christmas tradition developed. Every time we saw each other we’d strive for stealth transfers of ownership. My brother-in-law dominated play.

However, in the final round, I won. Damn that feels good to say. One year we gave their daughter a big stuffed dog for Christmas, and sewed, yes, sewed, the chestnuts into its belly. Afterwards, I refused restart the game, knowing to retire on a big score.

This year I gave my aunt her present early. Yes, I do reciprocate. Like a suburban elf, I left the box at her doorstep. But it’s just a small token, as there is no way I will ever be able to give her anything as wonderful as those storied nuts.

Anyway, I remembered the Nut Wars because I got an early present in the mail yesterday. Nope. No roasters. Remember the talismanic jewelry of Mark Defrates and his wife Pamela? Pam sent me an extra-small yellow gold pentagram.


I mean to wear it on my wrist with a leather string but right now it’s sharing neck chain space. I had to put it on right away, and I don’t really plan to take it off. Please feel free to scoff, I’m old enough not to mind, but I swear I feel some kind of energy emanating. Something about artistry, craftsmanship, and women who would be witches.

I imagine Sturdy Witches, dressed in navy, or a killer pair of cordovan loafers. Well-tailored robes, perhaps, to flatter broad shoulders. Sturdy Witches do something to ordinary things, we don’t know what. They roast chestnuts without fire. Now that I think about it, my aunt has a wonderful voice, perfect for the casting of spells. Perhaps Sturdy Gal Academy is Hogwarts’ State, practical in every sense.

The phrase, “holiday magic,” takes on new meaning.

Have a wonderful weekend. Pam, Mark, thank you so, so, so much for the pentagram. Seriously. I never want to take it off. Everyone deserves a symbol of their own special powers.

A Couple Of Dumb Lessons From My California Winter Garden


Gardens are such obvious teachers we might wave our hands in dismissal. “Oh,” with an additional shake of the head, “We knew that already!” But in these days of information and calculation, dumb lessons dog us.

Imagine a California garden in winter, for example. Palm trees, surfers and tropical flowers may come to mind. Nope. We’re north. Home to fallen leaves, red berries, and decaying camellias. That particular camellia is a sasanqua, if you wondered.




My part of California doesn’t go white in December. We’ll get gray skies with rain, or blue with still-warm sun. Both support growth.


So little new green things sprout just as our leaves fall. These below look like 4-leaf clovers, but they are actually oxalis. An acid yellow flower will follow, but disappear almost as quickly as it blooms. As I imagine prairie winds act on grasses, but would have to visit to know.


Here’s a bush called “mock orange.” When bruised, the shrubby foliage smells like a car crash of orange peel and gasoline, so hold your breath to prune.


And a teeny pink flower, whose species I don’t know. Barely the size of my little fingernail, pretending to be a carnation, and I for one will not wreck its dreams. I like to think my garden’s accidental and all the plants nameless.


While Conceptual California is vivid, large and maybe laughing, the earth version is subtle in its seasons, and minute in its blooms.

Pay attention. Unvalidated concepts can be risky.

We might also imagine, “A paradise! How wonderful to live in such growth!” And while for me that’s true, think of what we miss, back up a bit. I never experience the drama of a New England winter, as documented beautifully by Jeanne on Collage of Life. Her berries, vivid on a bare branch.

Ice Covered Winterberries by Collage of Life

Coastal Californians can’t grow tulips, unless we refrigerate the bulbs. Kind of destroys the romance, right? “‘Scuse me while I rummage ’round the mustard jars and find my flowers-to-be.”


Can’t grow overflowing lilacs.


Or peonies, glamorous in their youth. Even more so in decay.


Big flowers need winter rest. Nobody could keep up Full Peony without a little time off. They call it “vernalization.”

Now, back up so far in conceptual space that you can see Australia. Imagine we’re horticultural astronauts. In Australia Christmas means a day at the beach, and Faux Fuchsia, the doyenne of Vivid, Authentic, and Committed, protecting her garden from bush turkeys. Behold, as pink as her nails, green as Puccis.

Faux Fuchsia's Australian Winter Garden

Another dumb lesson. Lives are different. The world supports us all.

Sometimes the dumb lessons are the hardest to learn, even for smart people in the smartest of all possible worlds. We’re embedded in our surroundings. It’s as close as I get to rapture, looking closely, then flying backwards to see the wide horizon.

A dumb hope.

Peace on earth, the real earth, and good will towards all that live.


Photo credits:

Tulips on my Windowsill by Jill Clardy
Lilacs by Ann Althouse
The Last Of The Peonies by Smilla4
Winterberries by Jeanne at Collage of Life
Australian Winter Garden by FF at Faux Fuchsia
All others, me

Presents Anyone Can Give To Me (And By Extension To Their Friends) This Christmas, Ranging From Reasonably Priced To Totally Frugal


Christmas Card via Canva

*That song was in fact, Belinda tells us, written by Nick Lowe. Elvis got me through the rocky parts of my 20s, so gotta keep him on the card.

My friends, we have come to the final installment of the gift guides you requested for this Christmas season. I hope that if you celebrate the holiday your preparations are going smoothly, accompanied by humor and grace from your comrades in crime.

Here are some affordable presents I myself would like – now that we’re talking me we’ll use the High WASP term, “presents” – ranging from reasonable-ish, to full-on, can’t-do-much-better frugality. I hope you find some ideas for your dear ones.

Unless you’re finished shopping already, in which case you’ll find me in the corner, bowing deeply in your direction.

For Someone Who Wants To Spruce Up, Update, Or Otherwise “Up” Their House


We don’t often think to give foundational home furnishings, but if you know your recipient well, voilà use as well as delight.

A Few Simple Ways To Polish The Tomboy Wardrobe


(And don’t forget the joys of meaningful jewelry)

Books I Have Liked Or Expect I Will

(And, don’t forget, The Widening by my high school friend, Carol Moldaw)

I’ve read and enjoyed all of these, except the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook. That one is highly recommended for someone who wants to start learning Indian cooking. Which I do.

And, In Closing, Gifts Of Experiences

Gold Leaf Terracotta Pots

My first choice of experience presents would always be an airplane ticket. But those show up in the “budget” category once in a blue moon. So here are a couple of alternatives.

  • A joint project. For example, I’m fixated on finding a planter with gold embellishment for the purple Feng Shui garden in my back yard. Hard to come by, but easy to make. One terracotta pot plus some gold leaf from a craft store plus, let’s say, a fuchsia, along with an offer to spend an hour laughing over handyman incompetency together? Perfect.
  • New skills. If you want to give someone a present of experience, teach. If you have a skill, share, along with a few tools. Or, how about an online course? The field is booming. I’m trying to learn simple coding of HTML and CSS, and am enjoying courses at Udemy. They offer all kinds of subjects for extremely reasonable prices. I’m also trying to teach myself graphic design, over at the Canva site. That’s where I made the (navy blue) Christmas card up top, using one of their templates. Canva supports design-your-own from the ground up, and sells little graphic components for $1.00 apiece. I bet you could set up an account and populate it with $10 towards backgrounds.

Commence the ringing of bells, from high steeples, to doorbell ding-dongs, to the Salvation Army chorus on cold city streets.


Affiliate links may produce commissions. Planters image via The Hunted Interior.



Thanks And Favorites, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:34am

About that Thanksgiving menu.

The Diestel heritage turkey, delicious. A meat thermometer is critical, however, as it cooked much faster than advised. Gravy from roux (half pan drippings, half butter, plus flour) and giblet stock, with chopped turkey liver? Do pour in the glass of wine that the Diestel site recommends. Tasted just like mom used to make. Hers was salty too.

How about the carbs and sugar? Salted caramel apple pie? Divine. Salt, sweet caramel, and the tree-redolent tang of apples kind of divine. Your son using his childhood origami skills on a pie crust lattice kind of divine. Meanwhile the recipe-from-can pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes with hot water and butter/no milk, boxed cranberry sauce, and frozen rolls all tasted just fine.

On to side dishes. A simple salad of dried cranberries, mixed greens, red onion slices. The usual vinaigrette, refreshing. Californians go crazy if they don’t get a salad in a big meal. I’d give soy-roasted brussel sprouts an A. The lap cheong fried rice, which I’ve made umpteen times, was reliably good and OK to serve room temperature if you are prioritizing last-minute stove time.

Which it seems I always am.

What didn’t work? Bagged bread stuffing. The wholesome Whole Foods version of our family Pepperidge Farms favorite comes out soggy and boring. And, sadly, the fried pumpkin. Not enough taste to the gourd, not enough crunch in the crust. The salted egg sauce was pretty good though.

So, next time I host, I think I will repeat the menu, with a few changes.

That’s a revolutionary statement. I’ve always been a cooking thrill-seeker, no truck with the tried and true. Partly because I love the new over the known, partly because I felt powerful in big new recipes.

But we change, for better or worse.

For worse – there, I’ve said it – I no longer have the working memory of my middle years. Then I could execute 3 dishes I’d never tried, all at once, saute, braise, bake, chaos no obstacle. I remembered all the steps without checking cookbooks as I worked. These days I can’t follow more than one recipe, especially when I have to also deal with the monitoring and checking required by hot things on stoves.

For better, for the first time in my life I’m happy to choose favorites. I would rather cook peacefully and eat happily than beat my chest. Adult children help with that. There are people at my table who can make pies and carve turkeys. When I said to my daughter, “What if something doesn’t work?” she answered, “Then we will just laugh.”

I think I’ll focus on small improvements to our family menu. Next time I host, butternut squash tempura? Maybe sweet potatoes, same method? And we can give up stuffing altogether, fried rice suffices. Like a simple thank you.

Have a wonderful weekend, maybe with favorites of all sorts.

Host Gifts For The Male High WASP Style Archetypes

Buddha Face Candle Holder

Sometimes, your host is a man. If he’s High WASP or, no matter his background, exhibits telltale similar behaviors, here are a few brief suggestions for gifts on arrival.

Arrive at the Master of the Universe’s party with your smart phone to hand. Take your host aside and tell him, if anyone needs a ride home tonight, the Über bill is on you. If you are boycotting Über for their CEO’s bad behavior, which, granted, the Master probably doesn’t mind, go with Lyft.

Bring the Artsy Cousin something funny but pretty for his meditation practice. Buddha can glow in 1 of 4 colors, so M. Artsy can even dabble in a little Feng Shui.

And to our beloved Professor, give a bottle of wine with erudite references, or wordplay, in the label. For bonus points, tell him he can put the bottle away, it’s all for him. Then give him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, which he will enjoy, albeit with his usual gruff embarrassment. Now go mingle, it’s that time of year.

Hostess Gifts For The Style Archetypes

Along come holiday parties, laughing all the way.

It’s so nice when guests bring presents. But here’s the rub. Everybody can find something to hate about anything, “Can you BELIEVE she brought a perfectly hand-crafted widget that she had the GALL to make with her own hands? She KNOWS I have no space.” So don’t spend too much money, or fret much about the perfect object. It is the thought that counts.

Of course, we don’t want to offend. No cheese to vegans, no alcohol to teetotalers, no Christmas-dominant objects to observers of other winter holidays. Oh, and no scents for the scentsitive.

To my way of thinking, the best presents for your hostess are tools that elevate routine activities and tasks.


For our beloved Gal I suggest a wooden large flat saute tool from Earlywood. It solves the spatula problem, the one where you worry about non-stick coating toxicity, but you don’t want to use metal on Le Creuset. Earlywood also offers wooden spreader sampler, or what they call the Trifecta, if you’re feeling flush.

BTW, contrary to conventional wisdom, you can give a Gal flowers, because she doesn’t stand on ceremony. She will just point you to the vases with a quick, “Can you fill this with water for your gorgeous bouquet and thank you and now I’ve got to get back to my rolled roast pork with rosemary stuffing and the 16 side dishes I’m preparing? And how’s your family?” Just don’t give her a vase, she has plenty.

Not even this one. Well, maybe that one.

Hostess-Presents-for-the-Artsy-PresentsThe Cousin’s daily tasks are all generative. Occasionally mystical. You might want to bring something for her creative mind, like a set of color pencils.

Or she’d love anything you make yourself, like an infused oil or vinegar, because she believes in your creative mind too. I have always been daunted by the container and labeling issues, but, hey, online commerce for the win, here, and here. A how-to on infused vinegars, here.

Or, because, yes, she believes in harmonics, or at least wants to, something crystalline. Safest would be these coasters. Gray agate purportedly encourages quiet self-confidence. But if you know her house setup, what about couple of Anthropologie geode pulls? Sure to align the atoms in her junk drawer just right.

The Dame prefers tradition. Things hard, and shiny. You might bring her a set of ornamented metal skewers, for her passed hors d’oeuvres. Or wine charms. They come in many forms. Nautical. The Cole-Porteresque numbers above. Or little silicone dahlias that stick to glass. Heaven forfend that one’s glass might touch the lips of another. Oh, and if one keeps on drinking less and less alcohol as time goes by, one no longer feels the need for these admonitory sayings in one’s goblet.

Now go, my friends, make merry. Just please remember to designate a driver and thank him or her profusely.


Affiliate links may generate commissions. The Style Archetype gallery of High WASP women can be found here.

How To Create Fun, Memorable, Even Beautiful, Christmas Traditions On A Budget

You all asked me for some posts about holidays on limited budgets. I’m right there with you, and it’s actually quite a lovely spot. We’ve got options.

For example, we can shift the focus from gifts to ambiance. Consider decor, and the many ways to intensify the jolly without diluting net worth.

Wallet-Respecting Yet Christmas-Cheering Decor

Target Snowflake Pillow

  1. Christmas trees. Trees are priced by the foot. Under 6′ is affordable, under 5′ even more so. So go small and go crazy with your hoard of decorations and lights. Find impact in density vs.verticality. If you do have extra money in your pocket, seek out an organic tree farm. I found a list from a few years ago, here, but as any updated information seems to be available regionally, it’s probably best found via your favorite search engine.
  2. Along with our tree, I always get 9′ of garland. I hang it, with 3 hooks, over a double pocket door into our study, off the living room, and festoon the 3 hanging points with wired ribbon bows I tied myself. They’ve lasted for years. Just use wide ribbon, in a bold pattern, maybe with metallic details. Frankly, one could cover one’s house in bows and be done.
  3. There’s always room for kitschy, homey pieces from the modern equivalent of dollar stores. If we browse Target , for example, we find berry trees, cute knit ball garlands, plaid tree skirts, and the snowflake pillow shown above. (Only in stores.)
  4. Amazon is also good for budget whimsy. One morning, this Thanksgiving weekend, I put out all my boxes of tea on the counter and told the kids we were having a Business Travel Via The Marriott Courtyard experience. I might now just buy this tea display
    and cover the Stash sign badly with green and red puffy paint holly leaves and set it out every year. Crafty I am not. I’ve also thought of getting a sidewalk chalkboard sign to stand by my door for holiday mottos and doodles.

And, if I COULD craft, I’d make one or more of the projects I’ve collected here, on Pinterest. Guys, it is HARD to find tasteful projects. I did my best.

Budget-ish Christmas Food & Drink

Preppy Cookbook Pot Roast

News to High WASPs of the world. You do not have to serve rack of lamb, tenderloins, or lobsters. I know, surprise!

Of course, the best way to celebrate thriftily is a potluck. But I think the host ought to provide a main course. And I’m going to suggest protein of one sort or another, because a) protein dishes are dense heavy for guests to carry and b) everyone needs to eat robustly to mitigate alcohol consumption. Enter cheap cuts of meat, poultry, and tofu for the vegetarians.

Here are a few recipes I have found festive but affordable, from two cookbooks worth owning.

  1. Pot roast via The Preppy Cookbook. This is seriously delicious, and the vegetables you cook alongside create a just-thick-enough gravy to feel like Christmas.
  2. Chinese beef stew via Nina Simons China Express. While not an authentic recipe per se, this stew gets its Northern Chinese vibe from a liberal use of star anise. Easy, filling, different.
  3. Chicken paprika, also via The Preppy Cookbook. How to make chicken fancy, and give the old rosemary roasted standby a break.
  4. Sweet and sour tofu, also via Nina Simons. Frying these tofu rectangles gives them good mouth feel, the sweet and sour sauce based on ketchup, yes, really, is nifty, and you can use green and red bell peppers for holiday color-coordinated bonus points.

BTW, make sure you’ve got lots of vegetables on the table. It’s a gift to feed people vegetables, because it can be so hard to get enough of them in our diets – what with all the washing and chopping required. Besides, if you ask guests to bring lots of veggie side dishes, you can go light on the main course. Everyone benefits.

Presents Without Pain


I know some people do full-on minimal at Christmas and give up presents altogether. That just doesn’t feel right to me. To each their own. My family has been right-sizing Christmas present-giving for several years now, and here’s how.

  1. Make stockings count. Everybody who comes to Christmas morning brings one stocking present for everyone else attending.
  2. Draw amongst the immediate family of adults. We each pick one sibling or spouse.
  3. Focus on children. Grownups don’t mind having only one or two presents to open when we can watch the next generation exclaim, “Ooo!”
  4. Agree on price guidelines. We aim for anywhere between $50 and $250 per present and it’s really OK to come in on the low end. Of course nobody has ever said that aloud in public ’til now, but hey, we peak High WASP in its unsaid codes.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the Christmas list, the Amazon registry, the declaration of needs. When we’re short on funds, using Christmas as a time to replenish necessities is just fine. No use for a tasteful vase when your toaster’s broken.
  6. And, ultimately, if you can, DIY. I once knew a woman who gave everyone a little paperwhite bulb in a planter to force bloom on their kitchen windowsill. I always loved the idea. Here’s a tutorial.

May all your Christmases be bright. Even when the family fortune fades, there’s light to be found.

(Editorial aside: I like to be holiday inclusive here whenever possible. In this case, my only experience with midwinter holiday hosting has been Christmas. Hanukah, although it often happens around the same time, isn’t just a Blue Christmas, and I didn’t want to shove it into a green-and-red box as a token gesture towards cultural diversity. I’ll let other people who know the issues around other winter holidays tell their stories more authentically than I can. Feel free to school me on the right approach.)


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