Quarterly Break And Turning 59

Hi guys. It’s my birthday today. Although 59 may be the new 49 — in terms of spring in steps — and we hope 39 is the new 59 — in terms of life wisdom — the click of one’s own calendar still registers precisely. So I celebrate.

It’s also the end of the Q3 2015, and Privilege will take the usual break. I brought the idea of quarters over from my years in the corporate sector, it seems to help me stay highly motivated to write. I take off long enough to let the word neurons regenerate, or whatever they do, but not so long that I lose the habit.

I’ll be back in the second week of October. Oh, and if you are landing here for the first time, the archives are fairly well-mapped out on my sidebar. You can start with fashion, house style, luxury hotels, or that odd species, the High WASP. Or perhaps regular readers would like to leave a link in the comments to a post they’d recommend to a newcomer. Which is kind of asking you all to do my work for me, I apologize, it’s just what happens when the out-of-the-office message has already been set.

See you again soon, thank you so much, as always, for reading.

“My Stylish French Girlfriends,” A Post-Freudian Review

A while back, Tish Jett asked if I’d review a book she loved, My Stylish French Girlfriends, written by her friend Sharon Santoni. Sharon was kind enough to have a review copy sent to me. It’s also been reviewed around the blogosphere by Daily Plate of Crazy, Une Femme d’un Certain Age, and the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow, if you’d like additional perspectives.

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I am suspicious of Francophilia. There, I’ve said it.

I loved France in the summer of 1975, when I worked at a summer camp in the Dordogne. I loved it in 1978 when I took the train from London to Paris to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Lucas Carton. I loved it in 2002 when my family and some friends revisited the Dordogne, sleeping in dilapidated and glamorous chateaux, eating melon on a patio with a vista.

I’d love to go back. But I don’t love the “French People, Especially The Women, Do Everything Better” meme.

However, I’ve found that to learn anything, you have to expand your horizons. And to learn about design in particular, you’ve got to look at pictures. Sharon Santoni’s recent book, My Stylish French Girlfriends offers both pictures and horizons in abundance. Time to put aside bias. One is richly rewarded for the effort.

A bed in a French farmhouse

In My Stylish French Girlfriends, Santoni has interviewed and photographed 20 French women, all of whom are friends of hers. The book is divided into very short chapters, one for each girlfriend — each with photo section plus a few paragraphs of text — and a useful resource index in the back.

What did I learn about the interiors of stylish French women? These are antique dealers, collectors, artists, designers, for the most part. Women of privilege, for the most part. And all friends of Sharon’s, whose blog My French Country Home embodies a distinct and particular aesthetic.

So, with the caveat that I might be might be extrapolating from a limited sample, some patterns.

  • These French interiors show an acceptance of the cute, sentimental, and ornamented. It’s more Hello Kitty than High WASP eclecticism. But I love Hello Kitty.
    • As a supporting point, I noted the possible role of brocantes and couture in bric-à-brac and ornamentation.
  • An embrace of terroire, if that term can be used in decor as well as in wine-making. These French interiors do not try to be Scandinavian, or Moroccan.
    • Simple gardens, with an emphasis on structure, can be beautiful when old stone and plaster buildings sit amid green lands.

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But, guys, all analysis aside, I’d have ante’ed up for the book in a minute if only for the sake of Claire Basler. She paints murals on the wall of her chateau.

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That handy index in the back of the book leads us to Claire’s website. My eyes roll back in my head, as the wall paintings as a group are almost too beautiful to look at.

Claire Basler Paints The Walls Of Her Chateau

She reminds me a bit of the Kansas City blogger, Mrs. Blandings, who painted her walls. (An aside. Did you know that Mrs. Blandings has started a business creating and selling needlepoint canvases? She has.)

Back to the Girlfriends.

As I read, I also realized that for me, the book is best read (rather than looked at) as fairy tales about mythical beings. I have another bias against rose-colored representations of women’s lives. Everyone cries in the middle of the night at least once. Lacking the full story I go right to envy, which engenders in turn a defensive response. I reject, I scorn. All blame to my High WASP ancestors and their severity. All credit to growing up and understanding that one learns nothing that way.

As it turns out, I’m still learning from My Stylish French Girlfriends. I keep it on my coffee table to look through now and again. To consider the role of bric-à-brac, stone, and painting by hand, in a California setting. Or just to enjoy.

Many thanks to Tish and Sharon.

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Photo credits: 1,2,3,4 Sharon Santoni, 5, Claire Basler

When We Stop Hurrying, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:23am

It’s been a good week.

Nothing spectacular. No prizes, no surprises, no miracles. But I caught up. I suspect you know what I mean. For years it seems I lived my life hurrying, grabbing metaphorical clothes from metaphorical racks, putting on my shoes as I ran, brushing my hair in a metaphorical car.

The feeling didn’t leave me when I retired. Not right away. But, I had 57 years of catching up to do.

Here are some small unremarkables from this week. I weeded, relocated a few plants, and watered everybody who needs it – by hand. I signed the contract for our roof replacement, confirmed that the painter will finally come finish the front door, and vacuumed the bedroom floor.

I made Korean braised short ribs, combining three recipes to make one of my own. I emailed my brother with some thoughts. I stood on a muscle roller as on more step towards resolving a very old ankle and foot injury.

It is so easy to rush through life accumulating injury.

Maybe it’s easier to wind up almost 60, in a hole, if you’re competent. Oh, probably not. Probably it’s always better to be competent. But sometimes for some people this costs. Many heroic gestures come out of our own hides.

The garden did me a real favor this week. It went dormant. Really, very little is growing. The white roses might be browning, the camellias starting to form small buds, but they’re alone in their enthusiasm. That gave me time for luxuries, to finally move the two hellebores that were lonely and dying under the oak. To fertilize the magnolia tree with a watering can.

My brother and I were talking about peak experiences, last week, or maybe the week before. This week I stood out in my back yard with the hose, my thumb over the opening, arcing the water in large shining drops up and over some greenery. Washing dusty leaves. The sun shone through the hose spray like wizard crystals.

I am not exaggerating.

I am pretty sure that standing on the roller feeling my feet hurt was the most important of all. Catching up means you have to put down all the stuff you grabbed while hurrying. And when you put it down, you might notice rips and tears. This applies to relationships as well. But you knew that.

It’s a pity that life doesn’t behave like a garden. That our jobs don’t go dormant. Or our marriages, for that matter. Certainly our bills don’t. Sometimes I am sad that I am too old now to hurry well and sometimes I want to fall to my knees and say thank you.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Plant Of Desire: Pieris Japonica, Occasionally Known As “Mountain Fire Lily Of The Valley”


For the most part, I prefer my garden to my plants. I’d rather plant something I find boring by itself, for garden design, than a thrilling specimen that disrupts the big picture.

Except, I’m really fond of my Pieris Japonica, particularly the cultivar called Mountain Fire. My best friend thinks it’s weird. You see it  above, disheveled and unruly behind a wayward Eastern redbud that keeps trying to grow back, some lavender, short bamboo, and two fronds of seeded grass.

New leaves look like apricot-colored flowers.


The flowers themselves resemble lilies of the valley. Sometimes exuberant,


Sometimes moody.


Pieris even does an excellent quiet sulk.


The rest of my garden takes its cues from classics. I’ve got a woodland out back, California natives waiting for butterflies in the side yard, and an English-ish cottage-ish kind of thing out front. So, like any family of archetypes, it’s good to have a Dramatic Eccentric. An Artsy Cousin of the plant world.

I bring it inside if and only if it promises to behave.


As for care and feeding – seems it will like the haunts of rhododendrons and azaleas. Acidic soil with organic amendments, light shade and/or a little sun, reasonable amounts of garden water. However, it wants to be 6-10 feet high, and if you prefer it shorter, as I do, be prepared to prune early and often.

Should grow well along the Pacific Coast, requiring more and more watering as you go south. Should do well in any temperate climate, i.e. hardiness zones 5-8, and can live through a little frost.  Deer don’t like it. Apparently, however, Pieries doesn’t like Missouri. Eccentrics of all type, man, you just never know.

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Object of Desire: Rag & Bone Stretch Corduroy Blazer

Look at this perfect black blazer from Rag and Bone. You can get one of the few that remain if you act now. I’m trying not to, as I really ought to dedicate all resources to things like upholstery.

Rag & Bone Stretch Corduroy


But stretch corduroy, with brass buttons? For fall? A camel coat layered over it, if it’s a cold fall? Sigh. Via net-a-porter, unsurprisingly.


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Can You Make A Statement With Small, Precious Jewelry?

This post is presented in collaboration with Blue Nile

The world has embraced statement costume jewelry. It’s big, if you’ll pardon the pun. Women over 50 are often particularly told to put aside their small pieces. But what if you prefer your statements sotto voce and your jewelry precious? And, what, we ask, if you want your fine jewelry to cost less than your mortgage payment? But of course.

A few choices.

Granny Charm Bracelets

Let’s start with the biggest splurge. When my mother’s flock of grandchildren began to increase, I wanted to give her a present. Charm bracelets are traditional, but grandmother versions suffer from The Curse Of The Pony-Tailed Head. For my mother I needed to find something simpler and more architectural. I gave her a bracelet rather like this one below, but lacking the clever hinges. What a nice idea, hinges. (The site says pairs only with specific charms, but I suspect that doesn’t rules out custom findings.) Hinged charm bracelet, $1950.

Monica Rich Kosann Hinged Charm Bracelet

Over the years, for every new grandchild, she adds a simple disc engraved with the grandchild’s name. Like this, but gold. We traditionally have the jeweler add a small birthstone just below the link, and engrave the name and birthday. The fonts vary. Now that I think of it, a little more eclectic, one might just go for silver charms and mix metals.

Vintage-Look Earrings

My father had his father’s cufflinks and studs made into earrings for his 3 daughters. Ah the dinner jackets of yore. These little flowers look similar to ours, but in sapphire instead of mother-of-pearl. $455.

Stacking Rings

I’ve been wearing my proposal ring on my right hand, my 5-stone wedding ring on the left. Lately I’ve felt a twinge of desire to stack additional rings on the right. A statement finger, perhaps? The chased gold and diamond ring from my mother and stepfather, for example, along with a simple gold band from my father’s family. Add this ornamental diamond ring, $750?

Better say no, I’m too easily persuaded by sparkle.

Milgrain Marquise Stacking Ring

If I wanted a variegated stack, I’d go simpler, in rose gold.

Opera Length Necklaces And Pearl Collars

The length, and the small bead stations, give this chain visual weight. $325. Wear with other such, or a pendant, but this one would be enough. I gave my mother a similar necklace for a notable birthday. I suppose it’s unsurprising that Mom contributes a lot to a post on precious jewelry.

Bead Link Chain

Oh, and here’s a way to do pearls both big and little. @225. Jackie would approve.

Nobody has to wear precious metals and stones. But you can. No need to settle for the “basics,” no need to forfeit impact. Here’s the trick. Find that happy but elusive snap of design to elevate a piece out of the glass department store case – without a well-marketed brand name to add cost.


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8 Simple Things Even A Complicator Can Believe

I may be a complicator. Made up word. I often find myself reasoning through something simple for others. I thought today I’d give complications a rest. We can all hold a few ideas to be self-evident.

  1. People, by and large, love their children. Or try to. Be nice to moms in supermarkets.
  2. Almost everyone will find a flower beautiful. Don’t overuse this power.
  3. We slow down as we age. This is both good and difficult.
  4. To sustain a long term relationship you will have to at some point suspend judgment.
  5. Eat well, feel well.
  6. Preparation creates the best outcomes, unless you’re in immediate danger. Or no danger at all.
  7. Truth is almost always the best policy. And since the “almost” is subtle, I say to myself, “This is as true as I can make it.” That places the burden on me and my conscience to do a good job.
  8. Almost nothing is absolute. Answers occasionally reveal themselves if we wait a little while.

And in the spirit of #3, #4, and #6, I will tell you that I broke my rule today of writing nothing in advance for Saturdays. Yesterday I scribbled some notes as I stood in my kitchen making chili. I worried I’d forget my thoughts.

Have an absolutely wonderful weekend everyone, or, as absolute as you can make it.

The Colors Of A Coastal Southern Californian Garden

I went down to see my mother and stepfather this weekend. Although I’ve shown you most of her house (here, here, here), I thought some of you might like to see just a few shots of the garden.

Southern California’s very different from the North. We’re a big state, 800 miles from north to south. My mom’s house is 300 miles away, and that counts as close. Latitude isn’t the only difference. The cold California Current, which runs from Alaska to Mexico, warms up somewhere around Santa Barbara, encouraging a very different palette of plants. From the tropics, albeit the dry sort.


I went out in the early morning to get some pictures. Sunset would have shown you better skies and light, but I was always either cooking dinner or eating it right around then. The bank above Mom’s house; purple lantana, blue plumbago, palms.


Several Mandarin orange trees in a sort of mini-grove, with irrigation. Grandkids have been tasked with picking them for the house ever since my mother and stepfather moved in. Walking barefoot across a spiky damp lawn, basket in hand.


Pink bougainvillea, purple salvia, yellow and white hibiscus,  palms.


Hibscus, close up.


And, in the funny way that California landscapes mix up species, an evergreen, a tropical shrub, and a palm frame the bluing morning sky.

Trying Out A New Silhouette That Forgives My Midlife Midsection

I’ve always preferred a fitted waist, to work with broad shoulders and a long torso, but I may be ready now to trade that off for comfort. Breathe an actual sigh of relief; I’ve been sucking in my stomach for a decade now.

This will require some experimentation.

So, last week my middle sister, my brother and I exchanged presents, as our birthdays fall in August, October and September respectively. I asked my sister for a top that would be kind to my middle.


She came up with this Free People tee which I quite like. Available in all kinds of colors – some of which have a visible burnout pattern – and sizes up to XL.

I wore it to the i2 conference, with pieces I already owned. Distressed narrow (but not quite skinny) white jeans (to balance the top’s volume), patent leather loafers, and progressive lenses so I could see to walk the city hills. Realities.

The deep vee of the tee addresses some of my concerns about volume.  Of course, it makes me worry in turn about decolletage, but let’s make that sigh of relief global.


Pretty easy to layer under a biker jacket. As one does.



The earrings are by Vicente Agor. I wore them to my wedding rehearsal. The wood watch, from JORD.

When trying out something new, I like to keep the rest of my outfit as minimal as possible. I figured that with black, white and transparent as a background, to say nothing of denim and flats, I could focus on silhouette. The outfit had just enough texture, what with biker ribbing and frayed knees. The shine of patent leather balanced glints from the earrings.


The shirt’s hem is lower in back. All kinds of experiments going on. As an aside, I know we call Paris the City of Light, but San Francisco gives her a run for the money, on a summer morning as the marine layer recedes.


I’d thought to recreate this photo but, I’d left my iPhone in my back pocket, Big flat rectangle seat alert. We’ll crop that right out, shall we, and do a detail shot of the biker ribbing instead? I like the way San Francisco gave me a red light accent, like an imaginary earring. Gifts from sisters and the universe, useful in change of any sort.

I might also try high-waisted pants, tackling the issue from another perspective, as it were. Small steps.

Clothes Like What I’m Wearing

Biker Jackets

White Denim, More Or Less Distressed

Tees What Look To Forgive A Belly

Quartz Earrings, Wood Watches, Red Lipgloss

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Not-So-Talky, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:40am

Seems I’ve done a lot of talking lately. So this morning, I’ll just pin some Saturday mornings things to my Pinterest board called, appropriately, What To Do On Saturday Mornings. Have a great weekend guys, talky or not-so-talky as you choose. Smooches to everyone what wants them.