Is London The New New World?, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:27am


An interesting thing happened in London.

My daughter and I went in search of two houses in the city where  I had previously lived. In 1967-8, we spent a year living in at 17 Tregunter Road. I can report that it’s still there, white, surrounded by trees.

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Later, after graduating from college in 1978, I lived with a former roommate in Knightsbridge in a basement flat on Brompton Square. Right near Harrods. That building is also still there, along with an associated garden for residents.

Brompton-Square

 

I sent a requisite Look Where We Are Now! photo off to my roommate, who is still a good friend. She recognized Brompton Square at once. And added the comment that she finds London less British every time she visits.

That was the interesting thing.

London these days, as the husband of a London friend said one night after cooking us dinner, is buoyant. It is rich, diverse, and under construction. It reminds me not of Downtown Abbey, nor of that best of all BBC series, Pride and Prejudice, but Shanghai, City of the Future.

Now I like Olde England as much as anyone. White mouldings and black doors with brass knockers. Reverence for trees. But I loved New London too. How wonderful to see a city with that much history playing an electric role in the 21st century?

I know that some feel otherwise. The EU brings workers in droves in from Eastern Europe. I heard of entire neighborhoods bought up by Russian money seeking a hiding place rather than a home. A long running river of oil wealth pours through London financial systems, unabated. Real estate prices rise, cheese gets expensive, this is hard for many.

And yet it felt right. Maybe that’s natural for a Silicon Valley native. Can I also say that in the past 30 years England’s men have gotten better looking? The impact of war year nutrition seems to have passed and the men are tall and strong and wearing close-fitting suits. Frivolous observation, but maybe with meaning.

Note that I am a die-hard patriot. I love America, I defend its principles, I believe in its promise – even when we falter, badly. But wouldn’t it be ironic if after all this time the USA became the Old World, and Britain The New?

Old is nice, traditions bring comfort and proven outcomes, but New solves problems and we’ve got a few, we humans.

Which brings us to the question of how to remain New. A very big question, one I am not equipped to answer for nations. But here’s my personal philosophy. Embrace adventurers – immigrants, inventors, even those with whom we disagree. They keep us buoyant, and the metaphors for time are full of rising waters.

 

A Few Select Labor Day Sales, Off The Beaten Track


I got an email about Labor Day sales today. This is the time of year when it’s possible you’ve just shuushed a bunch of kids off to school, or finished up a great summer vacation. Maybe it’s time to fill a wardrobe gap, or buy something surprising, just because. I thought I might pass on a few of the retailers/brands I like that are a little less well-known, or perhaps not known for certain goods.

See what you think.

Labor Day Sales On The Web

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It’s Not A Sprint, It’s A Relay; Three Style Bloggers Take The Baton.


As I have broadened my scope to write about house style and gardens, by necessity I spend less time on clothing and accessories. I thought I could perhaps address the gap by pointing you to a few style bloggers  – new to me – whose taste I find – as Jane Austen would say – quite agreeable.

1. Modern And Minimal For Every Budget

Stiletto Jungle – all kinds of angles on minimalist looks, for all kinds of price points.

2. Thoughtful And Just Glamorous Enough At Midlife

High Heels In The Wilderness. I love her style and her down to earth approach to writing about it. Both elegant and practical at once.

3. Elegant Tidy Style For A Medical School Student, Or Anyone Really

Franish. A very neat way of dressing on a medical student’s budget. She tends to the classic, the adorably classic.

And I’ll be back to a regular blogging schedule next week, with tales of England, packing, and further installments on home and garden projects. Hope you all are well. <3

(fixed the last link, thanks for checking everyone!)

We’re In England! Or, Saturday Morning at 8:35am GMT


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Yes, we’re in England, Tall Redheaded Daughter and I. In fact, we’ve been here all week. I drafted the book post roughly, before we left, and finished it one afternoon in a pause between London sights. Now we’re in Oxford for 2 days, before we head up to a village in the Cotswolds. Where we will apparently be drenched with rain, but how British is that? We’re lugging rain ponchos, umbrella, and boots in our bags, prioritized against more swanky gear, and hope to walk up and down the green hills, wetly.

Significant Husband stayed home, as he travels so much for work that airplanes and hotels no longer appeal.

So there I am above in the Tube, coming back from a walk through Shoreditch. That’s the arty punkish Brooklyn/Oakland part of the city, recommended by the inimitable @janepotrykus. On the flip side, here’s my daughter, in Hyde Park, recommended by the entire world. We’re enjoying ourselves enormously.

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New, old, old, young, emergent, historic, full report to follow. Have a wonderful weekend.

 

 

Thumbnail Reviews Of Five Good Books And One Horrid One


I imagine many of you are lifelong and enthusiastic readers. Me too. Someone asked that I post book reviews now and then. Well, on an occasional basis, we just might give it a shot. Here are a few thumbnails of notable and fairly new works.

We’ve got five worth a read, and one that may be the worst ever. Something must play salt to our literary caramel, after all.

Golem and Jini

The Golem and the Jinni (P.S.)

This writer invents, sustains, and evolves an unusual construct quite beautifully. A Jini from the deserts (a man,) and a Golem, created out of clay in Russia (a woman), meet in 19th century New York. The story relies on a magical reality reminiscent of vampire novels to examine a man and a woman in love, with the constant murmuring of today’s conflicts playing a supporting but critical role. Wecker meant at first to write the story of a Palestinian-Jewish romance, her fantasy approach is genius. So often constructs disappoint, this one proves out the value of imagination and allegory.

The Widening

The Widening

This brief episodic novel tells the story of a young woman as she finishes high school, spends a semester in Spain, and then goes on to Harvard. Sounds simple, isn’t. The author is an established poet, and her language is spare, haunting, occasionally alienated but always beautiful. She’s writing about early sexual encounters, and in particular the way they happened in the mid-70s. We who were too young for the sexual revolution traveled the brave new world, picking our way through the associated debris and dangers, unknowing. As it happens, Moldaw and I were high school friends. She’s writing semi-autobiographically, so her experiences are both wholly familiar and from olden days. The book stays with you for a while.

You Should Have Known
You Should Have Known

A very small and tightly drawn suspense novel, that I won from the hilarious Blighty, British blogger extraordinaire, in a giveaway. Nice spot of luck there on my part. I can’t quite call this a mystery, as Korelitz isn’t interested in cloaks, daggers, pubs detectives, or mystery hounds on the moors. Instead she gives us a specific portrait of a woman damaged, her dependencies, resultant somewhat creepy relationships, and the path forward. With a car chase thrown in for good measure. Great bedtime read.

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic

As I began to focus on interior design, I thought it would be a good idea to educate myself a little in its history. Where better to start than with Maureen Footer’s new book on George Stacey? As I know very little about well-known designers of yore, I can’t compare Stacey to anyone else. But I am finding his story – his personal background and the social dynamics at play in his career – fascinating. And the pictures of high-society American interiors and their evolution, well, who could avert their eyes? Not I. Footer is a good friend of my friends, Reggie and Boy Darling. Very well-recommended indeed.

Americanah

Americanah

One of my favorite books in a long time. Sticking to the thumbnail format, let’s describe the book as one woman’s relationship to Africa and America, as felt in love affairs. Alternatively, as a funny, immediate in the details, energetic to the nth degree, romance novel. Or as a look into cultures and sub-cultures that were new, at least to me, and vibrantly revealed. I pretty much grinned the whole way through, even when Adichie wrote about aspects of America that are nothing to smile about, just because I was so happy to have the book in my hands.

My Life In Loubies

My Life in Loubies

I love a good trashy or formulaic read as much as the next woman. Genre fiction, even what we used to call “supermarket novels,” all of it. This is not that. This is I know not what. This is the story of, well, hard to say. A woman. And some other people. I wish it had been a horrible shallow read about Louboutins but not even. I forced myself to read all the way through out of sheer perversity. Persistence is almost always rewarded. Note that I said almost. Suffer this only if you enjoy examples of how important a narrative, some narrative, any narrative, is to the fictional endeavor.

In Sum

Pulling together these reviews, even brief as they are, has me thinking about why I read. My motivation has changed, and I’m not quite sure how or when it happened. I find myself particularly drawn to books that reveal specific but universal patterns of life – as I have come to know it. Books where people and their beings can be deeply felt. I still admire the pyrotechnics of brilliant prose, but I don’t actually feel those explosions in my gut the way I used to. Maybe it’s a sign of midlife, or maybe I know more words than people and it’s time to make up the difference.

 

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For The Troubled, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:22am


It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the world. So, with apologies to Twitter pals, who’ve seen these before, I thought I’d post links to two surprisingly nice pieces.

The first is on Medium, written by a software engineer, of all people. It’s about politeness. Authentic politeness, the kind more closely related to graciousness than protocol. (On a side note, I found it via The Browser, which a reader recommended to me following this post, and I now pass on to you. A site that curates links to thought pieces from around the web – I use the word “curates” advisedly.)

The second I found via Refinery29, of all places. They posted a link to a video at Stylelikeu’s What’s Underneath Project in which Tallulah Willis was interviewed about her eating disorder. As she strips down to her underwear. But I really loved another interview I found there, with Jacky O’Shaughnessy, a model in her 60s. Who also strips down to her underwear. It’s quite moving.

I wish a good weekend to everyone, especially the troubled of any kind.

When It All Begins – Back To School In Teen And Pre-Teen Style


At what point in our lives do we first consider style? Parents dress their babes, grandparents unearth treasures for grandchildren, but big kids start to develop their own tastes as they approach the teen years.

Some, of course, are late bloomers. Hands up. We spent my 6th grade year in London, and I wore a uniform to school, every day. Somehow that got me paying attention as never before. Occasionally we were allowed to wear our own clothes. I remember even now a dress Mom bought me that spring. Imagine London in 1968, cream and orange Liberty flowered cotton, almost canvas, belted low and wide in the same fabric. Brass grommets on the belt holes.

But back at school in California the following year, all the kids wore jeans and tees. My plaid wool pants and Beatle turtlenecks? Over the top. I retreated, cautiously, and spent the next two years in white cords, jeans, and one of two shirts. Better safe than sorry.

Going back to school is always a cauldron for teenage style; we do well to moderate the heat. It’s one of the tricky and important parts of parenting, balancing kids’ need to integrate into a peer group against our longer view of societal norms. I may have said to my pre-teen daughter, at one point, “No dressing like a teenaged prostitute!” I’m a fan of lively dialogue.

What, we might wonder, are teens and pre-teens wearing back to school today? This is a highly localized study, regionally and culturally specific. I had to ask the experts, AKA my youngest sister and two of her kids, for the Los Angeles Teen And Middle School Style Preview. It turns out that binders and pens are the moral equivalent of our scarves and earrings. It’s all in the details.

(Hover/click each cell of the display to see the details. Our UI experiments continue apace.)

 Back-To-School For An L.A. Middle School Girl

Surely we are happy about Dr. Martens returning? And we wonder, will pleated plaid minis be far behind?

Off-To-High School For An L.A. Teenage Boy

Style for most boys may be less complex. But it’s no less rigorous.

And in the rest of the USA? Do teenaged boys wear skater brands like Hurley and Quiksilver? Do pre-teen girls flock the sidewalks in Dr. Martens and their softer and still-ubiquitous cousins, powder blue Uggs? Are our conversations with our children about style as important as the food we feed them? Probably not to that last one. But I’m going to say, in software terms, it’s non-trivial.

Wishing everyone a good school year, with a good right balance of style and substance.

 

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Planting Under An Oak Tree, Or, California Natives In A Suburban Wasteland


I’ve shown you my California Mediterranean Cottage Garden, out front, and the Wish I Were A Woodland, out back. But, as we used to say, there’s moooooore. Behold The Blasted Wasteland.

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Sigh.

Here’s a story. Although somewhat specific to Northern California, I suspect that the plot elements, i.e. a need for privacy, a particular climate, and a forced shift in perspective revealing new choices, might be common to house-owners and gardeners everywhere.

See that neighboring house? It used to be 1-storey, hidden by their hedge. But they remodeled, as people will in the Land-Of-Ever-Soaring-Real-Estate-Prices. Then they cut down the plantings so as to have more lawn. I’ve been grumbling about it ever since.

Because I could now see their windows, and they could by inference see me cavorting round my back yard, I let a volunteering Coast Live Oak grow tall, as a screen. It did a good job. At first. But as it grew taller, I found myself the none-too-happy owner of a nicely framed view of someone else’s bedroom and a “Heritage Tree” that prevented anything I’d previously planted from growing in its shade.

Goodbye small magnolia, take a hike shrub rose.

I vowed to cut down the oak and plant something else. Something nicer. Something greener and tidier. But “Heritage Tree” in my community means applying to the city for permission to remove, or even prune more than 25%. It’s a good thing too. Given that enforced pause, that moment to settle myself and my annoyance, I stayed my hand. Good choice, but some problems in implementation.

On the one hand, the oak is happy, tall, and beautifully shaped. It also loves dry summers, and we’re in a deep drought.  On the other hand, it’s a very demanding piece of vegetation. You can’t water underneath during the summer, you can’t dig around the roots, you can’t plant anything that doesn’t tolerate shade and an acid soil. Oh, and you have to welcome prickly oak leaves on the ground or you’ll lose your mind. So. What to do?

  1. Acknowledge your semi-arid climate
  2. Find yourself a knowledgeable resource
  3. Look up some California natives that do well in the actual ecosystem

Enter Las Pilitas Nursery. An incredible online resource for California native gardening. Really fun tongue-in-cheek plant writing too. I imagine you have a similar nursery for your region, somewhere that specializes in prairie grasses, or swamp-happy trees, or desert wildflowers that bloom once a century.

Here’s what I’m thinking. First, screen out the neighbors with a coffeeberry. It can grow up to 10 feet. Let’s hope.

 

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Then plant a low-growing manzanita variety as ground cover. I don’t want color beyond green, fall-reddening foliage, the occasional dark berry, and pale tinges of pink flowers.

 

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Finally, to rescue the magnolia from its oak-induced suffering, move it to the already-watered-regularly Woodland part of the yard. It may not survive the transplant, but it’s surely not going to make it through the Age Of The Oak. Replace with a Flowering Current. Ribes Indecorum indeed. Deciduous, but it’ll be under a tall and shrubby plum tree, and I think I’ll enjoy the branches emerging come winter.

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Gardening presents all sorts of challenges. But the hardest part for me is envisioning a design. I’m sure there are tools, but I can’t find them. So I’m improvising.

Using Photoshop Elements in a rankly amateurish fashion, I pasted some images  from the Las Pilitas site over my photo at top. Go coffeeberry go. I will have to be very careful in the planting, as this will be situated “under the dripline,” as I am learning to say. I’ll to have some conversations with Las Pilitas to see if this will work.

Under-The-Oak-Tree-Tall

The surprise? Constraints, as often in creative endeavors, reveal new beauties. Hiding a bedraggled fence reveals the beauty of a stark little landscape. In this picture, the pattern of the fallen oak leaves on bare ground become part of the design. Sort of like negative space on a page layout. Intentional and enjoyed.

Besides, if I keep the oak, I keep this view. Do you all like to look up under the canopies of trees? I read somewhere that the random geometries of nature soothe our souls and I believe it.

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It looks like a good plan from the rescued tree’s perspective too, looking back at the house. Listen to your plants, says the oak, we may know what we are doing.

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And to Robin Williams’ family, we are so sorry for your loss.

The 10 Things I Really Learned In Business School And The 1 Thing I Didn’t, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:44am


I graduated from Columbia Graduate School of Business in 1983. Ever since, the decision’s been a bit of an outlier in my life. After all, in those days and maybe even now, those who aimed high went to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, or Chicago. Yale, maybe, for non-profit and the arts.

I always aimed high.

But I was young, and without useful mentors, and I made up ideas about my future out of whole cloth. Whole cloth and constructs, that is. What do I mean? I had always wanted to write, but all I knew was that  it couldn’t be fiction. On the other hand, I had once been tempted by conversations of corporate power and finance, overheard during a vacation cocktail hour.

So I darned the two threads together, clumsily, with knots, and decided I wanted to write about business. Made conceptual but not actual sense. The only schools with joint business and journalism degrees were Northwestern and Columbia. I applied to both, and flew off to India for three months. As one does, faced with large life changes.

On my return, I found out I’d been accepted to Northwestern, in full, and Columbia, but only at the business school. The man I had met recently and hoped to marry (who became my first husband), would be attending his graduate program on the East Coast. And so I chose to stay close, as one does, when faced with large life changes and no guidance.

Bye bye journalism.

This decision, so casually made, oh, I have a boyfriend and I want to marry that boyfriend, and therefore I’d better not move too far away, has profoundly affected the course of my life. In ways I could never have foreseen. Do I regret it? No. No, I don’t. Even though I’ve realized that my temperament does not align terribly well with corporate structures, I benefited from that fire, a little charred but still breathing.

And I did learn a few things in business school. And, as in any case when one lands on a far planet, sometimes stuff I didn’t expect. As requested:

The 10 Things I Really Learned In Business School

  1. From Finance. There is a curve called Risk and Return. On average, for a higher return you’re going to have to take a higher risk. Get ready.
  2. From Management of Organizations. Any group of more than 25 people will develop factions. You are going to have to posit a super-ordinate goal, something that everyone cares about and can work towards together.
  3. Value propositions, from Marketing.  Never go too far into new product development without understanding who is going to want it and why. Figure out how to articulate that, early on. (Business school didn’t teach us how easily people forget they have customers. That we learn later.)
  4. People in power sometimes reward attitude over performance. Off-curriculum. I took a strategy class that I ate for breakfast, conceptually. The professor gave me a B and when I asked him why he said, “You always acted as though you already knew the ideas and were bored.” He had a point.
  5. If you’re on a team and the team fails you can’t succeed by doing your part quietly. I took a course in Managing Innovation. The professor liked my work enough that he nominated me as a fellow in the National Something Or Other and sent me to a bigwig conference. I found the agenda the other day, in a box. But come time for the small group final project, my team members dropped the proverbial ball. I did my bit and no more. Again, a B. I didn’t like Bs. I should at least have gone to the professor and told him what was happening.
  6. Accounting is not English and it’s not math, which makes it easy for those who understand it to fool the rest of us. In other words, large-scale financial chicanery is a given as long as humans are greedy. Expect it. Forever, I think.
  7. Make your ideas known. That’s how talented people find you. For example, I talked a lot in Management of Organizations. It was about people, after all. At the start of a subsequent class on Competitive Strategy, one of the best in the school, 3 guys I didn’t know approached me and said, “Be on our team. We like how you thought in MO.” But I lacked the necessary course background. Those 3 guys, familiar with the professor, got him to waive the requirements. Best day ever.
  8. The concept of heuristic solutions. Operations Research revealed that even those good with numbers often guess, and iterating towards an imperfect but improving solution is a legitimate approach. Although data science has advanced since 1983, the lesson that it’s OK to guess at numbers, as long as you detail your assumptions, made all sorts of things possible.
  9. From Statistics. Numbers draw pictures, and can therefore be understood. Oh the joys of a probability curve.
  10. All economic systems are made up of very large numbers and very complex interactions. We weren’t close, then, to predicting the stock market or the global economy. I don’t know if we are even now.

What’s the one important thing I didn’t learn in business school?

  1. You have to learn to fight without bleeding all over the place.

When you first start, all high performance and belief in authority, you’ll do great. You’ll get promoted, fast. Lots of praise and bonuses. But one day you’ll rise high enough in the organization to become a target for someone. Might be an insecure boss, might be an ambitious and unscrupulous subordinate, might be a raging bully of a coworker. But it’s going to happen. They’re coming.

If you bow down and take it, you lose. If you wheedle and placate, you lose. If you speak out too passionately against the injustice, you lose. Learn to fight without spilling blood. At least your own.

It’s a funny thing, really, a thin-skinned ragingly analytical aesthete with an MBA. But oxymorons are us, we humans, and I have found that invention happens at the margins of what you know and what you don’t. Not everyone needs to go so far as to attend graduate school and a forge entire career in alien territory, but I don’t know that sticking firmly in the familiar is better, in the end.

Have a wonderful weekend. No fight required.

 

Introducing Abe’s Market – Living Lightly On The Earth


If we’re talking values and virtue, as occasionally we seem to do, I have to talk about living lightly on the planet. In my house we compost, we recycle. That’s easy, our county offers the services and we comply. I also try to buy green. That can be trickier.

The commercial world took a turn without looking, I think. In the interests of feeding and housing large numbers of people, we invented mass production. Good news, bad news. Material suppliers focused on supplying more features at less cost across multiple supply chains. Unfortunately, they began to incorporate practices and ingredients that, as it turns out, harm the world.

And thus, us.

This is elementary stuff, news to none of you. But it’s not always elementary to make the decisions that let our economic weight effect change. I’ve often wished there were a phone app I could ask, “Plastic or paper?” “Made in Indonesia or in Poland?” “Do I really need to unplug the toaster when I leave the house?” But in the absence of EcoAnswers®, we might take a look at Abe’s Market.

Started by two friends with backgrounds in online retail, technology, and marketing, Abe’s Market wants to be “the online marketplace for great natural products.” They source environmentally-sensitive goods from small businesses, and remarket them online. They’ve done a bang-up job with the site’s user experience. The interface is quick to the touch, images well-presented. Search could use a little work, but there’s always Google.

I do love well-designed software.

Above you’ll see a few of the kind of beauty and house products I like and would use myself. Some of these are on sale, shipping is free for any order totaling over $25.

  1. Lavender shaving gel. Say no more. High WASP men make a religion out of shaving, High WASP women just whisper the hair away. Right?
  2. A duvet cover constructed of organic cotton and vegetable dyes.
  3. Glass water bottle. Perfect to leave in the car. Apparently sun’s heat can leach chemicals into some plastic bottles, and we all know about the waste from the disposable sort.
  4. Mascara. I use Dr. Hauschka at the moment but it’s expensive. This is only $9.50.
  5. Organic Darjeeling tea. I cannot live without tea.
  6. Dish soap, in bergamot. I don’t like sweet smells when I’m washing dishes, so let’s give a warm welcome to bergamot’s astringency.

I shop a lot at Whole Foods. However, although their success has been good for the entire industry of organic foods, and sustainable sourcing, I think by now we know that letting one big corporation own a market serves no one in the long run. Also known as, markets fail in monopolies. So I would like to support another national branded source for environmentally sensitive goods. Thoughts?

 

 

Affiliate links may provide commissions. I should note that I am also experimenting with affiliate platforms and interfaces, because you can take the girl out of  software but you can’t take software out of the girl. Thank you.