Gardening In Retirement, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:30am

Bees Are Our Neighbors

I’ve been gardening a lot lately. By which I mean I’ve been doing everything from mowing my front lawn to weeding paths to conversing with a bed of white roses. While I love the activity of gardening, the hobby itself is a little, odd. By which I mean the hobbyists, myself included.

We mutter. We wear very odd outfits. We get dirty fingers.

But it’s just so satisfying, caring for plants. They are like toddlers after a bath but better – they smell good, they’re beautiful, you can see they love water – but they don’t run off screaming “No, I won’t put on my pajamas!”

Right now I’ve got 4 micro-gardens, if we could call them that, on the <1/4 acre of my little lot. In the front yard, a veritable pot of gold sunshine, there’s a bed of herbs and vegetable, a bed of white roses, and the ROY, i.e. Rest Of Yard. All other shrubs and flowers pale in comparison to English roses and radish sprouts. That is, until the lavender gets going. I’m a sucker for those purple flower heads, crushed between my fingers.

In the back yard, somebody, 60 years ago or so, planted a Chinese evergreen elm in the center of what is now a tiny lawn. The tree grows rather like a weeping willow, i.e. long. trailing branches. And it’s tall. So everything underneath has to thrive in shade. The colors are much more muted here than out front. The goal, peace. I’d tell you the names of the plants but then we’d enter the world of garden incantations, in which the gardener starts spouting language as thick with Greek as my daughter’s medical school homework.

I will say that I’m waiting to see how the hydrangeas survived the serious pruning of last winter.

I don’t read many gardening blogs, yet. I can’t make sense of the various gardening forums either. But I do love that sense of order into chaos that comes from garden Googling. For example, this morning I searched:

“my daphne shrub died”

Daphne are pretty, of medium height, with green and yellow leaves, and pink and white flowers that bloom in the winter. A lush fragrance. I’ve had 2 die on me suddenly, completely, and for no apparent reason. This morning I decided to see if I could figure out why. First I find that there are many kinds of Daphne. Mine is probably Daphne Odorata, or, Winter Daphne. And guess what?

Winter Daphne: When Bad Plants Happen To Good People (Galloping Horse Garden blog)

Turns out these plants die all the time. For everyone. Suddenly all the other gardeners who struggle are standing in my yard, shaking their heads with me and saying, “Maybe the soil is just too clayey right there. Maybe you wanna plant another viburnum instead. They aren’t as beautiful, and don’t drive you mad with happiness at their bloom, but they won’t break your heart.” I have company in my quirks.

I suspect that’s what people like about all sorts of hobbies -  knitting, sewing, welding, hops. Stained glass making. Company.

You can garden as mysteriously, or as systematically, as you like. Know as much of the science as possible, or none. It may help you live longer. But maybe what I like best is that it keeps me loving the world. Seedlings are my pets, and bees my neighbors.

Photo above, a bee on thyme

An Object Of Desire: The Perfectly Colored Bag

I’ve been looking for a new bag. When last we spoke the universal language Handbag, I had settled on a small Bottega Veneta cross-body, carried inside a Duluth Pack.

That worked very well for a city walking commute, and workday lunch sprints.

But now I’m in the suburbs, and hence often in the car. Cross-bodies are annoying to pull off and on as you get it and out of cars. The Duluth pack is made for a laptop, not a life. I’ve been using an old Coach bucket bag, sourced serendipitously from the back of my closet. Big enough for most of what I need, easy to throw into the automobile’s back seat, comfortable to carry on the shoulder and occasionally in the hand.

Don’t believe those people who tell you you have to get rid of everything.

However, I’m monobagamous, which means I want to have a relationship with only one life-carrier at a time. Hate all that switching of stuff, important things get lost. And the Coach black, classic though it may be, just isn’t working. Why? Above you see my wardrobe palette. (If I weighted it to reflect the time I spend in  jeans, 80% would be blue, but this approximation is good enough. Right?)

You can see that a black bag is too dark for my purple days. Besides I don’t like a black bag with brown shoes. We old-fashioned sorts like our top half lighter than the lower, I have no idea why. A brown bag might be better, but brown’s just not my favorite color, and it’s hard to find in cool tones.

Which brings us to blue. I’m on the hunt. Here are a few of the bags that have given me pause. The Vanessa, by Chloe, via MyTheresa. Beautiful, 60s style.

But a tad too glitzy for the suburbs. Great for New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, I think How about this one, from a somewhat surprising source? Tiffany’s. And less expensive than you might think.

But I saw it in the store (as I said I’m on the hunt and I take hunts seriously) and it’s actually kind of lightweight. Verging on flimsy. Not good for the monobagamous. So how about this, which is heart-stoppingly beautiful, a limited edition, and priced accordingly, from Marc Jacob’s last collection for Louis Vuitton?

Louis Vuitton

Close. But seriously pricey, and the handle’s stiff and hard to wear on the shoulder. So there’s this, from my friends at Bottega Veneta. Apparently known for by a devoted fan group for unparalleled comfort. Once worn, it begins to drape and hangs and stays on the shoulder very well. Not inexpensive either. Yes, I know that’s an understatement.

But I’ve seen that bag in person, and this particular blue, “Electric,” is very bright. Well-named, oh you masters of intrecciata. Of course, this bag from Kenzo, via net-a-porter, is even brighter. Plus it stares at you.

“Hey there! What are you doing?”

The only bags I could find in the reasonably priced category that were a) blue b) made of materials I endorse (I’ll do leather or non-leather but either has to feel right), c) without logos, were on eBay. Take this one from Coach, for example. Vintage Coach, of course.

Blue Coach Bucket Bag

So classic. Coach, my old friend, repent and return to the fold. All will be forgiven.

Let’s say you were looking for one colored bag, to wear all the time, what would you choose? And why?

Affiliate links may generate commission

25 Ways To Maintain Your Shape At 50+

I have been asked several times, recently, for a post on how I maintain my shape. I’ve written about it before, tongue-in-cheek, in 11 Sneaky Tricks Of The High WASP Diet, and here, earnestly, in the Building Attractive series from last year. But maybe I haven’t yet answered the question usefully enough, so here’s another try.

In brief, I both count my lucky stars and work at it.

Water Under The Bridge, Or, What We Are Given

First of all, we’ve all got baseline genetics. Muscularity runs in my family. I think it’s easier to stay lean if you build muscle easily. (Downside is, I build muscle on my calves so well that running gives me terrible shin splints and if chased by wolves I will just have to hope for trees. Tall trees or small wolves.) In other genetic news, I’m long-waisted. I think that allows a lot of space for middle-aged chub to hide. Finally, I’m neither gluten nor dairy-intolerant, so I’ve got great choice in foodstuffs.

Then, of course, there’s privilege. I am sure that early diet has enormous effect on late-in-life weight, and I was extremely fortunate. My mother fed us lots of fish and vegetables, and fruit. She cooked our every meal, except when she and my father were out, leaving us TV dinners with the babysitter. (That I loved Salisbury Steak is only one more data point proving the theorem, Children Are Crazy.)

I am also sure that childhood activity levels have an impact. We always lived in places with room to move. While we didn’t have sports at school – Title IX hadn’t happened yet – we did have a mother whose primary strategy for dealing with 4 young children was to slide open the glass door and say, “Go outside!”

I am very grateful for all this healthy infrastructure. That said, I think that getting on track with nutrition and exercise is sort of like re-parenting ourselves, and much can be done by adult intent.

The Things To Which We Can All Pay Attention

There is nothing new here. No unknown diet, no secret exercise program. It’s just about finding a way to make what you already know work for you without taking up too much of your precious will power. I need my will power for virtue, writing responsibly, and paying bills. I do not want to use it up on calorie management. Onward.

A Relationship With Food & Its Consumption

  1. I don’t like fast food, so I don’t eat it. McDonald’s doesn’t have to be part of your life; for nomadic lunches a turkey sandwich will do. If delis crunch your budget, make a sandwich at home and carry it. Or turkey rolls – slices of roast turkey rolled around gherkins or cheese.
  2. I don’t like fat, so I don’t eat it in quantity. Fatty meat doesn’t appeal, and I banish potato chips and their sneaky buddies from the pantry, saving my fat indulgence for good cheeses, nut butters and an occasional pat of the dairy stuff. Oh, and the heaven that is an avocado.
  3. I like whole wheat. When you find the right product, in my case the La Brea Whole Grain bread sold at Whole Foods, whole grain is a joy, not a chore.
  4. I’ve internalized “sparse eating.” I don’t like the way stuffing myself feels. The only way to get here is practice. Practice eating slowly, and stopping exactly at satiation. Pay attention.
  5. Speaking of which, I’ve narrowed down the trigger to satiation for me. It is a BIG LUNCH, with protein, vegetables, fruit, chocolate, and carbs. If I don’t experience that click of satiation before about 12:30pm my entire day will spiral into snacking and crankiness. Your biological clock is your own, research it thoroughly.
  6. Turns out satiation is aided by psychology. Yet another reason to sort yours out.
  7. I’ve directed my splurges to reasonable foods, i.e. a whole wheat tortillas warmed in the microwave for 30 seconds, or two squares of dark chocolate paired with two of milk.
  8. I’ve even defined, and thus limited, debauchery – If I need the emotional charge of throwing all caution to the wind I will cut some of this chocolate cake, drink 3 glasses of red wine, and eat a lot of popcorn. But I throw the cake I don’t want in the trash. And the extra wine puts me to sleep. I can’t eat any more when I’m asleep, I’ve found.
  9. I love the food I eat, and I eat the food I love.
  10. In order to make the above statement true, I focus on the quality of my food purchases; i.e. grass-fed, free-range, wild-caught meats, poultry and fish, organic canned beans, mandarins in season, organic chocolate, etc.
  11. I also grow a teeny little patch of herbs and vegetables in my front yard. I like to plant from seeds, sow too thickly, and then thin the rows by eating the sprouts as they grow. It turns out radish sprouts are peppery and delicious.
  12. I cook, as well as I can, without using anything containing ingredients I don’t recognize.
  13. I bake chicken, not desserts. Why present myself with that untamed sensory input?
  14. To keep myself honest, I weigh often, and allow myself a 4 pound fluctuation. Over a certain weight and I eat very carefully for the next 3-4 days. Under a certain weight, I eat big.
  15. Finally, I do not suffer. Never do I feel that eating like this is a burden, a difficult No said to life. It feels instead like a Yes to my body, to purity, and to the savoring of foodstuffs.

Tricks To Eat Less When It’s Called For

On those days after I’ve hit my high point – let’s say after a wedding, for example, or the holidays, or a weekend trip to Napa – I have a few tricks to bump myself back down.

  1. Hot liquids. Drink tea or coffee, eat soup. You’ll feel fuller.
  2. Lean protein. Try to address your hunger head on. On lean days I will often eat a can of tuna with oil and vinegar dressing for lunch, atop a head of lettuce. Have a power bar if necessary. I never need more than 3  leans days in a row.
  3. Speaking of lettuce, consume fruit and vegetables by the bushel. Especially vegetables.

Exercise In Its Easy Incarnation

The secret is to incorporate exercise into your life. This thought is nothing new, but just in case you had any ideas I am an athlete, um, no. I am however a perpetual mover-arounder.

  1. I do some exercise now and I have always.
  2. I don’t do very much, or anything very hard.
  3. Over the years I’ve tried a variety of formal exercise – dance classes, gym workouts with weights, personal trainers, yoga.
  4. I’ve done even more informal exercise – walking, chasing children, walking, gardening, and walking again.
  5. Life is always sweetest and general creakiness best managed when I back up regular moderate cardio with strength training and stretching of one sort or another. Twice a week with some free weights, or a yoga class, either work for me.
  6. These days I go to my personal trainer, a true luxury, twice a week. We work on rehabilitating my shoulder – the rotator cuff strain has been reluctant to play nice – and on overall strength and flexibility. If budget doesn’t allow for a trainer, I cannot recommend resistance and weight training at home highly enough. A set of bands, or free weights, are easy to come by.
  7. I still do a fair amount of walking. To the gym, on city expeditions, and suburban errands whenever possible. We balked at carrying a large space heater in a backpack to UPS, but have become quite adept at schlepping home groceries, drugstore plunder, and shoes from Neiman Marcus, for that matter.

The primary goal of both nutrition and movement, now, in my mind, is building an infrastructure for aging. I used to work out once or twice a week, just to maintain a reasonable natural fitness. I think aging, and the 2 years in an office, has put me in a fitness hole. To feel the way I want to in the world I need to be fitter than my body is inclined, if that makes sense. This is not to say I don’t enjoy a slender appearance, but it’s not my current motivation.

Being female in America, and perhaps Europe and Australia, means both enormous pressure to be one shape, and too many opportunities to eat and sit oneself into another. There’s a lot of what we might call Myth For Pay out there, and we probably need to band together and fight back.

To that end I’m going to thank Mater for pointing me to this lentils recipe, and Miss Whistle for this incredible fish. (Note: I used halibut instead of cod.) Both Indian recipes, very high in flavor, and super easy to make. There are plenty of other things in life that demand effort and distress, eating and moving should use less willpower, and give more joy.

Edited to add this link to a fascinating New Yorker article, via @jane|simplepretty.

Mouse over the photo up top. It should show you info, I used a new tool. Let me know if it’s broken:(. No affiliate links included. However Whole Foods does offer coupons.


The Virtues Of Yes Vs. The Virtues Of No, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:45am

Considering Virtue

I’ve been thinking recently about virtue.

Not the old-fashioned heroine sort, perhaps needless to say. But virtue, built or maintained by living in accordance with a moral code. I’ve never felt very good at that particular variety.

Why? For one thing, it’s not really a part of High WASP culture. We focus instead on the excellent, the appropriate, and the beautiful. Or the Very Attractive, as my mother might say.

For another, I’ve been very busy trying not to Do A Bad Job. Raising children, I wanted to be a good mother, but danged if I know what a virtuous one looks like. You just do the best you can and watch carefully to make sure the kids seem OK. At work, again, I have wanted to do a good job. I have wanted not to make irreparable mistakes. But the closest I ever got to virtue was maintaining my humanity in the fight.

Now I’ve got time. Virtue is easier where the clock doesn’t tick. For example, as anyone who knows me in the flesh will confirm, I’m absolutely my best self here on the blog. Nobody is pressuring me to type these keys, nobody is making me push Publish. I have the time, and therefore the responsibility, to focus on and adhere to the High WASPs boon companion, Good Behavior.

Virtue is Good Behavior’s spirit animal. And hides in the forest accordingly. How to find it? If it follows the same rules as unicorns we’re lost.

Here’s the thing. I think most of us can get to what we might call first line virtue pretty easily. Don’t kill people, don’t take their stuff, don’t lie for your own gain, be courteous. It’s the second and third lines that get hard. With complex moral questions – and you can tell I’m still thinking about the Sodastream issue here – absolutes disappear early in the analysis.

Here’s the other thing. I believe that when we can’t find absolutes, we feel our way along the walls, eyes closed, navigating with feelings. We might speak some words, to spin a theory, to superimpose some structure on our wanderings, but I think complex morals are like politics, and people are hard-wired to go one way or the other.

Both of which things lead me to wonder if some of us are better with the Virtues of No, and some with the Virtues of Yes. This may be a false dichotomy, but let’s consider it anyway. Thank you in advance.

I’m much better at the Virtues of Yes, myself. I find generosity, loyalty, commitment, affection, doable. The Virtues of No, not so much. Self-discipline, minimalism, scrupulousness (for which there is probably a better word but I don’t know it), resistance – I want to be your girl but I probably am not. I can move forward ever so much better than I can hold back.

Do you find yourself in one or the other of these camps? Am I making it up?

In any case, if my highly creative (i.e. speculative and proof-less) theory is right, I’m left with another question, one to consider quite carefully.

If one wants to develop Virtue, is it best to base the effort in one’s strengths (if that “one” is me I mean in the Yes), or to work on one’s weaknesses? (Must I in the end become abstemious? Oh no. Please no. Sadness ensues.) Perhaps the best way to start considering is to define Virtue not by measuring it like an internal quantity, but by our impact on the world. Not in the test tube but as a reagent.

Put simply, is it best to do what’s hardest, because it shows more character, or best to do what’s easiest, because you can perhaps accomplish more? Few people can do both. You see? Even how I frame the question will predict my answer. Thinking, deconstruction, gets us only so far. I will trust that it’s still worth doing.

Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend.


Original photo “Crowd” by Espen Sundve on Flickr. Text added by LPC.

The Complicated Math Of Social Covenants

Sodastream Source via Amazon

Does anyone remember a couple of posts a while back, here, and here, more like fever dreams, about the carbonate-at-home company known as Sodastream? In which I was asked, along with 49 others, to cover Scarlett Johansson’s sponsorship of the brand? The experience was fairly surreal, but I participated in order to facilitate another giveaway for you guys.

Eventually the promised gizmo showed up. Sodastream Source, white metal version. Good to go, right?

Welp, not exactly. In the interim, Scarlett found herself surrounded by controversy. Turns out Sodastream, headquartered in Israel, has factories in the West Bank.

I felt the next steps required a fairly complicated moral calculus. What to do with the Sodastream box now sitting on my living room floor? Reminds me of the post a reader once asked me to write on How To Deliver A Difficult Ethical Message. One simply has to sort it out, bit by bit, looking for certainties. Are there any here?

  • The question of Israel and Palestine is perhaps one of the most complex in our world today. My newfound intent to read up on foreign affairs is nothing like enough for real understanding.
  • That said, most unaligned international agencies find the Israeli settlements on the West Bank problematic at best.
  • But still. Complex.
  • On the other hand, making one’s own fizzy drinks can lead to better health, due to power over added sugar. When we disregard our own health we place a burden on society.
  • Almost certainly, Sodastream-produced fizzy water has a less detrimental effect on the environment than bottled bubbles.
  • Certainly, throwing out a Sodastream will increase world garbage, albeit on a tiny scale.

I find no global certainties. Given the difficulty in sorting out what’s right, had I known about this before I agreed to the posts and received a gizmo, I’d likely have said no thanks. But since I have the thing, and most importantly, since I promised it to you all, I’m going ahead with the giveaway. I stand, as I almost always do when things get murky, with intimate morals. With the certainty of community.

Furthermore, because another certainty beyond the keeping of promises is that I don’t do well with conflict, especially among friends, I’m closing the comments. If you’d like the gizmo, please email me at skyepeale[at]yahoo[cot]com and I’ll choose a winner with Random (Change the words in brackets to symbols. You probably knew that already.) Note that since I’m going to be shipping you some CO2, this had best be for US only.

I will think none the worse of any entrants – in fact, if no one is interested, I’ll use it myself. I have no idea if this is right, but it’s where my thoughts lead me and in this I have no other guide.

Note: The contest is now closed, a winner has been selected and notified, and I’m also notifying everyone who entered but didn’t win by individual emails, so it might take a day or two:).

image via

An Object Of Desire: Metallic Sandals

As we settle into our personal style, we may be less likely to embrace dramatic fashion shifts. We might wear our drapey cardigans in a sea of structured jackets, march resolutely through the army of flared jeans in our straight-legs, and avoid entire genres of shoes altogether.

I’m looking at you, wedge-sneakers. And don’t think you can hide, 4-inch pointy-toes, I know you’re out there.

But color is our friend, for gentle adventure. Even when we’re comfy with our 3 shades of blue, 2 of purple, and 1 of rose, we can add metallics. Plural.

Yes, metallics. This spring, they’re one of the easiest ways to find a modern edge without giving up any hard-won style certainties.

Now, I know, we wore them in the early 80s. I still remember pretty vividly a New York shopping excursion to Bloomingdale’s, me tentative and giddy, buying gold somethings for my feet. OK. So I don’t remember the details. Midlife embraces vivid fuzziness, no?

I felt grown up and brave.

Every time metallics have come around since, I’ve thought, “Pah! The 80s have my heart! Nothing will ever compare to those days of anxiety and glory!” But this year, I think it’s time. I’ve been browsing sandals.

We’ve got a choice of geometry. Delicate, by Vince Camuto.

Vince Camuto "Evora" Sandal

or chunky, by Munro.

Munro "Pisces" SandalWe’ve got a choice of colors. On beyond gold, silver, bronze and copper, to holographic green from Marni. Surely those frogs one must kiss are colored so.Marni Back Strap Bow Sandal via Privilege

We’ll be generous, and include a wedge, from Tory Burch,

and wind up practical, with rose gold Havianas.

I’m sure 4-inch metallic numbers lurk in the wings, but they didn’t get offered a place on the Privilege-Go-Round. Finding courage in midlife doesn’t have to make us foolhardy.The-Privilege-Go-Round

Affiliate links may provide commission. If the Privilege-Go-Round doesn’t work, please let me know, including your browser and operating system. I will report the bug to RewardStyle.

Style Dials, Tea Cups And Daffodils, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:10am

Happy Thoughts Daffodils by @patricia van essche

It’s time for the quarterly Privilege blog break. But before I go, one more thought about that Thursday switcheroo. Most of you guys liked most of the the outfit Sue chose – but most of you also hated the Helmut Lang shirt. Here’s the thing.

Once I had put on skinny jeans, moto boots, and a leather jacket with substantial lapels, in my style world I was already so far out there a see-through gaping shirt felt like no big deal.

Ain’t that a kick in the pants? By which I mean, our internal style dials are all, um, uniquely calibrated. Good to spin them now and and then, whether or not we return to the same levels after we’re done.

I’ll be back here the week of April 1. Which I know is a Tuesday, but somehow April 1 sounds more hopeful than the week of March 31. I will leave you with one post from the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow on her sweet collection of teacups, and one from PVE (the artist Patricia van Essche) on a specific joy of daffodils.

(correction. Week of April 7th. See, I really need the break, for your sakes:). Thanks Wendy!)

All the best to you and yours.


Photo used with the gracious permission of Patricia van Essche

Under The Influence


Personal style follows the 80/20 rule, i.e., 80% defining and refining, and 20% experimenting. Within that framework, isn’t shopping with friends one of the most comfortable and enjoyable experiments of all?

Most of you probably know the blog, Une Femme d’un Certain Age. I’ve been following Sue for ages, and have met her in person. She’s admirable, professional, and a great writer. Somehow, I can’t say why, I got obsessed with seeing in her in a pair of wide leg pants. So I wrote and suggested a project in which I would dress her (via the Internet bien sûr), and she would do the same for me. For icing on the cake we asked Nancy of Beladora if she would be so kind as loan us jewelry. She said yes with great good cheer.

Shopping with virtual friends, indeed.

In the end, the experience delighted, surprised, and unsettled me a tad. First, here are the links to the clothes Sue sent me to wear. (We both ordered for ourselves, so as to be able to manage returns, etc.)


Even as I stepped into the jeans for the first time, and pulled the jacket closed, my internal voices began to chatter. First, the nay-sayers.

“The jacket lapels are too wide, they will not disguise your shoulders. The shirt has a transparent panel on your belly! ARE YOU CRAZY WOMAN?! And, you KNOW you don’t wear skinny jeans. The shirt isn’t just see-through, it GOES UP where your thighs JUT OUT! Nail in the coffin, my dear, the shirt gaps.” (Yes, my nay-sayers can be loud. I’ve spoken to them but they refused to behave.)

However, some happy voices joined the chorus.

“This Coastal blue is perfect. I need to look for more tops in smoky navy. And Sue really does know her layering! No point in looking for a non-transparent, non-thigh baring top – these proportions are so harmonious that my figure flaws pale in comparison. Wait, I will wear a BLACK BRA so it all looks intentional. And double wait, I LIKE MOTO BOOTS!” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Time came for photos.

I asked Sue if she had any ideas for makeup. “Channel Carine Roitfeld,” she said. OK then. Patti Smith, meet Carine. Smoked my eye, nuded my lip, and bent my gray hair every which way.


Then I put on the jewelry Sue and Nancy had chosen. Huge black diamond hoops, corded Tahitian pearl and diamond bracelet, Tahitian pearl and diamond pendant, and a cocktail ring of diamonds, 18K gold, and blackened silver. The voices chittered in debate.


Nay-sayers: “Too many pieces.”
Happy voices: “But the outfit WANTS me to go over the top.”
Nay-sayers: “A fancy modern pearl pendant AND a goth diamond cocktail ring?”
Happy voices: “We’re going for Stylish French Roitfeld meets Iconic American Rocker, are we not?”

The happy voices won. Lesson learned, let happy voices win as often as possible when experimenting.



I headed out in the Golden Hour, following Sue’s practice for her spectacular photos. The outfit seemed to require a gritty setting. I had in mind a San Francisco alleyway fronted by cyclone fencing. Significant Husband graciously agreed to keep me company, and the jewelry safe.

I loved walking up the street. The boots, the hair, the makeup, the whole thing. I felt so cool. I rarely feel cool. I felt powerful. I even felt artistic. Artists don’t care about their thighs, or at least my imaginary artist doesn’t.

The shoot itself was an adventure. The alleyway was already occupied, by Cedric, a street person, and his friends. Significant Husband, a city native, negotiated terms of alleyway usage, as I ran back and forth between the camera and my tripod. I confess to a little fear. And more than a little showmanship. The clothes allowed me.


Cedric approved the photos, even though I declined his suggestion to undo one more button. We went home.

In the weeks since we shot, back in early March, I’ve been thinking. I’m sticking with the 80%, AKA my historical style. I still don’t want to wear wide lapels or skinny jeans. I still don’t want to wear lots of eye makeup. I still don’t want to wear 4 pieces of jewelry together.

At least most of the time.

Because what the 20% taught me is that I play it safe. A lot. There is something about the attention brought by dramatic dressing, and rocker clothes, that demands effort. I don’t roll with being noticed, at least for my clothes, very well.


There are hosts of reasons why. Take the upbringing. High WASPs don’t call attention to themselves – they live by The Creed Of The Appropriate. Add  experience working in male-abundant industries, where attention for looks was generally a problem. To say nothing of who knows what other underlying issues.

But you can learn a lot by pushing limits, particularly when given permission by someone you respect.

Lessons From Sue And Nancy

  • Layering and proportion. If one part of your body is more evident than you prefer, you can balance. For example, balance shoulder volume with skinny legs and a bulky shoe.
  • Color. If color works, explored all shades of it.
  • A true smoky eye has an order of magnitude more impact than the decorous eye-liner I know.
  • Mix jewelry with abandon for special occasions.
  • Style icons have their value.


That’s an attempt to show you the jacket’s subtle coloration.

So I returned all the clothes. Except the jeans, which I am exchanging for a white version of the same pair. I’m game to expand my repertoire, at the margins.

If you’ve been able to restrain yourself this long from going to see what Sue did with what I chose for her, I salute you, and wave as you skedaddle over there. Hint. She’s wearing the same jacket as I, but in peach.


It’s very good to have friends.


Affiliate links may generate commissions.

The Polished Tomboy Takes On Summer, With Blazer, Shorts, And A Wardrobe Of Earrings

I know many of you are ripping summer dresses from your closets as we speak, full of love for florals and flounces. Not I. I’ve realized that I just don’t feel comfortable with unfettered legs, at least in casual situations. Most likely due to my predilection for curling up in chairs, stretching out legs uncrossed on lounges, and all-around squirming, absent formality. While I have not taken to the young women’s habit of going “commando,” I grew up in an era when no one was supposed to see even your underwear.

I see no need to make a change at this age. And if that’s too much information, I have to apologize to my High WASP ancestors and then to you. OK. Done.

Shorts it is.

Untitled #186
Shorts, none too short, a linen blend blazer, good tees, sandals with heels ranging from totally flat to teensy, and a wardrobe of earrings in precious metals. Submitted for your consideration; tagline, “Polishing The Tomboy Since 1956.”

Shorts: Cotton chino shorts UNIQLO (these are great IRL)
Blazer: Lightweight linen-blend UNIQLO IDLF (so is this)
Tees: Petit Bateau here, and here
Earrings: Finn turquoise cabochons via Barneys, classic large gold hoops with a little texture, on sale at Kohl’s
Shoes: Trina sandals by Sam Edelman and Havianas, via Zappos, here, and here.
Sun: Via the graces of every nature, every year, especially after long, long, winters.


Affiliate links may generate commissions.

Winner Of The Teri Jon Lace Dress, And A Thank You

We have a winner. Emerald! She wrote:

“I’m entering for my mom. She has NEVER worn a fancy long dress, and with my wedding coming up in August, this would be such a thrill for her. At all fancy events she has worn knee length dresses, including at her wedding and every other person’s wedding she has ever been to. I think she has always thought a long dress is too fancy for her, but really she is a fancy beautiful lady who would rock this dress! As much as my wedding is my day, it is also a really important day for her, and I want her to be stunning!”

This morning I read all the comments again as I put together the contest spreadsheet. They are really something. I could have quoted 30 or 40, but I am forcing myself to choose just 4. If you have a little time, you should read them all.

Ann of blue hue wonderland: “My parents had just lost our farm during “the farm crisis” in the 70′s so they absolutely had no money for a dress or just about anything else. I loved sewing, a neighbor lady and my grandmother cobbled together an education on how to use the machine and I made a dress.”

RoseAG: “The experience cemented in me a “build it and they will come” attitude towards my wardrobe. If you wait until you have an event to get something to wear you’ll end up wearing a too-small polyester print dress on your dream date.”

Suzanne: “The dress ended the night in a Dublin workingman’s bar at 7am. I had such a wonderful time and felt do glamorous (and one really needs as much glamour as possible in a Dublin bar at 7am!)”

Siobhan: “I was 5’9″ and my date was about 5’2″. My dad left a box out on our front stoop so my date could kiss me goodnight.”

If you will indulge me, I have a little more to add.

I spent this last weekend with my mother. I am the oldest daughter of a woman whose style at 81 still astonishes me. Her memory is fading. Her kitchen has a little adjacent sitting room, where she and her husband sit and read the papers most day. And on the coffee table of that room sits this photo. I’ve posted it before.

Mom and Lisa Holding Hands In Oval Frame

I had it printed and framed as a Christmas present for her.

Your comments reminded me that my true first long dress was one my mother made. In 3rd grade I got to be Sleeping Beauty in the class play. I was not then, and was not until high school, a girl that boys liked. Even as a little girl this made me sad. My mother sewed me a satin dress, short-sleeved bodice, full skirt, decorated with silver glitter glue patterns. She choose the deep sky blue that is, to this day, the best possible color on me. Much of the glitter fell off in rehearsal but even young I sensed that the dress was more beautiful because you could tell it was made at home. Probably in the kitchen.

On the other hand, as my dad, Professor C. noted in his comment,

“For the “traditional lady pose,” don’t forget Sargent’s Mme. X. No picture in the background, a table not a sofa, but unforgettable.”

A High WASP archetype. Nowhere near a kitchen. Lady X, as she is called. I myself do not, now nor ever, manage cool elegance. In little black dresses I am happy, even a little bouncy. Not interestingly melancholy. So I substitute hard work, loyalty, and constant attempts to be of service, to create appeal. As Sturdy Gals do.


Your stories teach me so much. So much about how I feel about being a woman, and how and why I write about our clothes in the larger search for meaning and connection.

Thank you.

Emerald, I hope your mom loves the dress.