Christmas Gift Cards, Sunny Skies


Christmas gift cards mean a new beach tote around here. With tassels!

Hope your holidays were lovely.

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Christmas, Happily, To Within An Inch Of Its Life


This year, as I predicted here, I went all out for Christmas. Or, as I say in the High WASP sardonic dialect we use around sentiment, to within an inch of its life. Having poked all manner of craft items into my front door cyclamen, I lit them. Burlap bow rimmed with gold; the same ribbon rumpled in the pot.

Having purchased not one, not two, but three gaudy fake, um, I think, poinsettia garlands (oh, wait, Pier One tells me they are fake amaryllis, not remotely the same), I hung them.

Next to two very cute and cold small children, courtesy my stepmother, 1992-ish.

Up close. Any time I get too close to anything I see myself.

Having at the end of last year’s Christmas (when I felt I had somehow Not Done Enough), purchased a flying Moomintroll candle thingie, I’ve put it on my dining room table next to a Hong Kong bowl full of metallic Christmas ornaments and an ironic silver spoon. Also a menorah I plan to fill with gold Hanukkah candles. All out, I tell you, all out for Christmas Eve’s Kwissmukkah.

But, having lived 60 years a High WASP, I have not greatly changed the tree. Traditions evolve but stay. My new pine cone lights are beautiful, albeit battery-operated? Huh? Ah well, the battery holders are small and translucent; they accede to invisibility.

And in a final stroke of good fortune, the Isle of Skye sent me a ruffled cashmere cardigan, in red. I’ve wanted a Christmas sweater since I don’t know when. Welcome! I am holding something behind my back, but I’m coming out in a minute to show you what it is, along with our gaudy glittered pre-lit Christmas cone tree.

First the back story on Isle of Skye. In 2012 I published a cashmere review post. At the time, I gave Isle of Skye a thumbs down. So, nice Rita, the owner of the company, got in touch with me a month or so ago to ask if she could replace the offending twin set with a new piece and see if I changed my mind.

Well, I did.

Lo and behold this ruffled cardigan! Sturdy Gals don’t do ruffles, usually, but these are so well-behaved. Besides, the Grand Dame Grandmama would have approved, and Artsy Cousins are remarkably tolerant during Christmastime.

It’s cold outside, no?

 

Oh yes, the cone tree. Still picking holographic glitter out of our rug.

I highly recommend a similar black pants, smoking slippers, red cardigan, bright jewelry ensemble for festivities. I expect this one to last a long time, although I may have to replace the shoes since my feet keep growing. Throw me in the briar patch. I’m wearing gold, and a cherry red, but of course you might like warmer or cooler shades. You might also want to dilute the Sturdy with more Artsy details in the components.

Alexander McQueen always says, “OK then!” to Artsy.

And now off to count stocking presents. Everyone gets seven this year.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, peace and quiet to those who do not. We’ll see you in the Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day, in a festive cross-cultural banquet.

You are all quite dear to me.

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Taking Stock Of Online Life, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:01am


This morning I was poking around on Facebook. I decided, then and there, to winnow my “friend” pool. Why? I never meant to be on Facebook, I joined back when I was blogging in an anonymous High WASP way, I was connected to several people I don’t actually know and with whom I share very little.

So I posted about my intentions, hoping in a non-anonymous High WASP way not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Then I “unfriended.”

All this was, as I said there, pretty inconsequential. But it did make me want to ask you guys, how’s your online life these days?

This is me. I blog here. You know what that is, at least for the moment. My Twitter is for politics of all sorts, with the occasional links to good clothes. I chat there, I joke, I express outrage. I’ve made a systematic effort to follow respectable sources of opposing viewpoints, i.e. the National Review, and to make a special list for Privilege readers.

I post the occasional photo to Instagram. I am not good at answering comments and may try to do better. I also have accounts on Snapchat and Pinterest, but don’t use either of them much at all. I’ll still pin photos from my blog or search for something on Pinterest, I still look at Snaps from one blogger I like, but that’s it.

And you? Plans for 2017? I have been very lax with Instagram follows, much more enthusiastic on Twitter, but if you have a handle you’d like me to engage with, leave it in the comments or email me and I will muster. And if you’ve decided to back away, from what, and why? If I can ask.

Have a good weekend everyone. Human beings are what we’ve got as a fellow species.

The Books Of 2016 Were The Best Part Of The Year, But Some I Hated And Some I Simply Couldn’t Remember


Lucky for humanity, even the most awful of years give us good books. Thank you writers.

I will confess that I have come to think about reading in terms of Use Cases, i.e. when, and in what form, I will read what. This is perhaps not the pure approach literature deserves. I would apologize but I’ve used up my store of sorries for the year and I hope a weak smile suffices.

In any case, we’ve got:

  • Books you want to live in. These you are going to want to page back into and back up out of. You will want to revisit the early chapters to see if the events now excoriating your heart were foretold, to check the book’s jacket and the author’s bio, finally, to see if they matter. These books are worth buying in paper; actually they demand it. Worth delaying your purchase gratification for shipment or a trip to the bookstore, worth holding in two hands.
  • Good Kindle (e-of any sort) books. Perfect at bedtime. These stories are simple enough, or their details so unimportant, you can happily consume small digital servings of words as they come. These books can still address important issues, can and should give you good characters.
  • Not so good books. In this category we have the ones that everyone loves except you. We’ve also got uninspired narratives you’ve read but can’t remember a single detail, and pap you can remember solely for how much you wanted to throw it over the fence into your neighbor’s yard. The annoying neighbor, mind you.

Books Worth Buying In Paper, Hard Or Soft

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara. I’m reading this right now. When I wake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep I don’t mind because two hours with this book enrich my life. Even in darkness. What’s so great about it? The deep patience Yanagihara has for absolutely everything in a novel. She never takes the easy way out. This story of four men, friends in college when the book begins, (so far I’ve made it to their 40s, I don’t know yet where it will finish,) inhabits me. Not by any means easy, I have to add. The book includes detailed descriptions of the practice of “cutting,” and less detailed but more miserable stories of child abuse.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel – Anthony Marra. Published in 2014. I’m also halfway through this. I’ll admit, dealing with my mother’s move, fall, and subsequent care, meant I read nothing but fantasy the first three quarters of the year. I’m trying to catch up now. Constellation is patient and skillful, like Little Life, Its setting in Chechnya makes it somewhat more demanding of the American reader, i.e., not so good for the middle of the night.

The Neapolitan Novels – Elsa Ferrante. This series has been reviewed and discussed everywhere. Materfamilias is hosting a read-along series here. When I read the first book, My Neapolitan Friend, I felt I was experiencing an entirely new kind of literature. So female, in a way that made clear to me how much of literature is male. If the thought of four books gives you pause, just read the first one. Even that will add to your understanding of the idea of women.

Good Kindle Books

The Gilded Years – Karin Tanabe – Addy, an African-American woman attends Vassar. However, the story’s set in 1897, so she has to pass as white. Based on a true story, the novel gives us one of those useful simple slices of complex history. Heavy on Vassar detail, the privileged girlish traditions contrast with Addy’s life and what she faces.

The Raven King (And all the Raven Boys books) – Maggie Stiefvater. As I said, the first half of my year was heavy on fantasy. This series is one of the best of type – particularly in the Young Adult genre. Boys, cars, a girl, prep school, Welsh-sounding royalty, magic tale-telling. Read all of it. So lovely.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel – Helen Simonson. A retired widowed English major meets a working widowed Indian woman. Their families have opinions, so does the village. Way, way more affecting than it sounds. Romance and racial dynamics told in the standard Village of Britain voice makes for a surprisingly powerful story. One of my favorites of the year.

Vinegar Girl – Anne Tyler. Taming of the Shrew for modern times. Cute! Good bedtime reading.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld. Also cute. Pride and Prejudice in modern day Cincinnati. Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Not Jane Austen, but, then, we have Jane Austen for that.

The Girls – Emma Cline. Reviewed briefly here. I stick by my assessment – beautifully, vividly written, not quite enough for a novel but worth a read. In retrospect, it illuminates a decade without relying on Klieg lights.

Well-Reviewed Books That I Didn’t Like Much

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett. Somehow, the same patience and detail I love in A Little Life bored the heck out of me in Commonwealth. Go figure. Perhaps I was still knee deep in emergency when I read it, and couldn’t open up to its careful emotions.

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff. OK, so, to me, and perhaps only to me, this book reads like dilute William Faulkner marries Edith Wharton and they populate a novel with preppy-shaded shadow puppets. Cardboard characters make a lot of money and navigate a privileged life even though they had sad childhoods. Everyone else loved it.

Nope, Nope, Nope

Real Life & Liars – Kristina Riggle. Since I have considered (now and again) writing a Kindle-variety book myself, I thought I should research good “women’s novels.” Real Life was bad data. The plot arc is so visible from the beginning I could have recited aloud what was coming next. I deduct extra points for use of weather phenomena to create drama, and for characters I wouldn’t want to overhear in an airport, much less spend time with in a book.

I Don’t Even Remember What These Were About And That Doesn’t Worry Me Too Much

Sunday’s On The Phone To Monday – Christine Reilly. When I looked at the reviews I did kind of eventually remember it. Kind of. It wasn’t bad.

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty. Australia. Money. Friends. Children. Oh just watch the TV miniseries. It’s coming soon.

The Flotsam And Jetsam Of A Reading Life

No need to discuss the rest of what you see on my Kindle, in depth. At a certain point it’s no longer fun to diss unloved books. But don’t you rejoice when you find a good one?

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La Garçonne, Thoughtfully On Sale


A good sale’s on at La Garçonne, site for Polished Tomboy gear. While I’ve never enjoyed the models’ deadpan stares, and find some of the clothes too-too, they do very well at upleveled basics. Which Polished Tomboys appreciate beyond measure.

Red tartan from from Comme des Garçons anyone?

Isabel Marant also offers a gorgeous red wool moto jacket, Chimala’s got your 100% cotton selvedge denim, Julien Terry your anime-illustrated sweatshirt – oh, wait, maybe that’s mine. And, in the kind of creative retailing touch I enjoy, La Garçonne throws in a tartan Barbour scarf. We all can use a little help mixing it up.

Oh, actually wait, socks from Issy Miyake.

 

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Things I Know And Things I Don’t Know, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:33am


All this week I’ve been feeling anxious. Seriously so, for no discernible reason. I ran through the usual suspects; Mom’s affairs, preparations for teaching, blog posting schedule, life administration, the well-being of my children. Although there’s stuff, there’s always stuff, nothing warranted the deep cold dread I felt.

Then yesterday, having crossed two particularly time-consequential tasks off my list, I knew.

My mother’s Alzheimer’s has me rehearsing the future day after day after day. I worry so much about forgetting that I treat my obligations like beads on a string and run them through my mind’s equivalent of fingers, over and over again. Black beads, I think, volcanic stone. Porous and sharp.

If I can’t at a moment’s notice remember all the 13 tasks I must complete, and when they’re due, and even which ordering will optimize the process, I feel dull fear in my belly. As though the beads have begun to crumble in my hand.

This is not terribly festive.

I suppose anyone who’s got an ailing parent might feel the same. We love and fear our genes. But we also know that humans are happiest living in the present. A life in the future, especially one in which one might forget to buy all the necessary Christmas presents, or burn the holiday choucroute (as my mother did early in her disease), not recommended.

Just figuring out my anxiety’s source helped, some. But in fact I am faced with a scary question I can’t answer. No one knows if Mom does actually have Alzheimer’s, it’s a diagnosis that can’t be confirmed in life. No one knows for sure what genes are or are not responsible. No one knows how to prevent the disease, or mitigate its effects. So, like so many things in life that we don’t foresee when young and no one explains, you just deal.

You just deal. You refocus on the glories of the day. I mean, there’s really nothing else to do. It may be pablum but that’s better than starving.

You applaud the Fedex man when he shows up with packages, be glad for spattering raindrops on slate and glass, drink tea but not too much. Too much adds to anxiety. Music’s good, especially “pop-oriented” flamenco. Some things we know.

And you wish your friends a wonderful weekend with great affection. Happy winter everyone.

Giving Presents Of Experience Is Like Giving Power


I remember last year, during the Christmas season, several of you commented that you prefer to give presents of experience. (And before I go any farther, let me just say to those who don’t celebrate Christmas the hubbub I know it can feel intrusive and exclusive and I do apologize but this year I need cheer and something to focus on.)

But experience. I received an inheritance when I turned 21. I was still in college. I had no interest in fancy shoes, or diamonds beyond the ones in my mother’s jewelry box. But I still wished. My first splurges; I bought an impractical Alfa Romeo sports sedan that everyone thought was a Toyota for myself, a silver cigarette holder on an impulse for a friend (we ducked in to Tiffany’s together, it was cold), and, about a year later, for someone else, an airplane ticket to England.

In each case, the experience was it. The car broke down a lot but served to drive me across the USA with my beloved middle sister. Waltzing into Tiffany’s and saying, “Yes” trumped the purchase itself.  And the ticket, although I didn’t really understand it then, was felt as true generosity.

Do you give experiences now? No inheritance required. Just considering the idea surfaces memories.

Oh traveler, oh vagabond. Extravagantly, you could send (or accompany) someone to a great city. I loved Washington, D.C, having really seen it for the first time ever in 2011. The D.C. St. Regis has a great chandelier and an even better location. Speaking of St. Regises (how does one make that a plural?), the one in San Francisco is completely gorgeous. You could bring the kids.

But if I were on the receiving end, I guess I’d want to visit a city I’d never seen. I’ve been to New Orleans, twice, but both times for business. I’d love to go back and spend some time. Maybe stay here? Otherwise, I’ve always fancied a road trip through the American South. I imagine roadside motels. (Or a renovated sharecropper shack?) A rental car with good speakers. Water-filtering water bottles. Sturdy Gals of a certain age are always thirsty but worry about contaminants.

And there’s always, always New York.

You could also give tickets to an event. A Canadian company called Venue Kings showed up in one of my affiliate networks, and reminded me that live performances still happen. That games are still played in stadiums. My son loved Stevie Nicks for a while, may still do. She’s touring. VenueKing’s interface lets you set a hometown, and they do support events in the USA. Of course you can always try the usual US suspects – Ticketmasters, Hubstub.

Or, writ smaller, dinner out. Do you guys use OpenTable for reservations? Their geographic coverage by no means perfect, but here in Silicon Valley it’s the way to go. They offer gift certificates. I took someone out to lunch the other day, it cost me almost nothing but made me feel so gracious and adult I think I got more than I gave.

That salad at Ladurée was better than 1,000 macaroons.

In this day and age, give subscriptions to online video, or print publications. Give someone an ad-free subscription to Hulu, or a year of Amazon Prime (free shipping, lots and lots of great free videos.) Or a publication. Let us all support high-quality journalism. I’ve subscribed to the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and the New York Times, online. Someone you love might prefer the Wall Street Journal, or Foreign Affairs. (While I admire The Economist I cannot for the life of me slog my way through it.)

The experience of taking a stand. Donate in someone’s name. To the ACLU, who fight for the rights of the bullied. To the Sierra Club, protecting the earth that was here before us. Those are my values. You will of course have your own, most important is to see them clearly, act, share.

Presents of travel and events tape a mark in the future spotlit with anticipation. Afterwards, memory’s smoke and mirrors, presto chango a story to tell. Presents of reportage or charity offer an opportunity for agency, to know what’s actually happening and that something’s been done about it.

Generous gestures give to the giver. No need, of course, to spend a lot of money. Generous time is often even better.

Photos: The bar at the St. Regis San Francisco || A red train passing a boy in India, 1982 || Reflection of a previously anonymous blogger in a cab on the way to dinner at the Mark Hotel || The Eugenie salad at Laduree in Paris

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Real Life Presents For Women From Bouncing Babies All The Way To Elders


Presents. We High WASPs we call them presents, even though the word “Present” doesn’t sound as good with “Guide,” as the word “Gift” does.  Let’s think about the women we might be giving to of all ages. For me, that means from 84 years to 5 months.

christmas-presents-for-women-of-all-ages-2

 

 

For my mother: Alzheimer’s appreciates repetition. The concept of a uniform takes on new meaning, supporting self-recognition. Without much thought, we packed Mom’s striped shirts for the move. Now we stick with that design to help her orient. Ease of dressing is also critical, someone is always helping. I’ve found the petite washable crepe pants from Eileen Fisher work well here (Mom’s short), as do button-front tunics. Shirt: Brooks Brothers, on sale. Pants: by Eileen Fisher at Nordstrom,

For my daughter: Medical students in Southern California need cute backpacks to carry their papers and even cuter sunglasses to protect and enhance their baby blues. Backpack: Vera Bradley. Sunglasses: Ray-Ban.

For my stepmother: At a guess, she wants nothing. And yet I would love to get her a piece of jewelry, the kind that’s really art in disguise. Previously-owned Hermès via The RealReal. I think I quite like the tarnish. Or, as she may have recently told me, a vase for a photography prop. Did you know Calvin Klein offers vases from a ceramicist? Me neither. But this one is less expensive and still pure of line.

A topper for my working sisters: In order to find affordable pieces nice enough for work, I’d scour the department store sale sites like Off5th, Nordstrom Rack, and Neiman Marcus’s Last Call, looking for a lucky size. Lots of Friends and Family deal this week. Or maybe I’d just splurge. Cardigan: Eileen Fisher at Nordstrom. Cashmere, by the way. A less expensive version that comes in multiple colors, in Tencel, here. The jacket is by Akris Punto, seriously discounted here. We always want our jackets to give like a cardigan, our cardigans to impress like a jacket.

Jewelry for my teenaged nieces: Something simple, a little edgy, but not remotely trashy.  Silver branch necklace via Blue Nile. Or maybe one of these.

Books for the school-aged children of my friends abroad: Reading levels vary widely at this age. I discovered Mo Willem in my volunteer teaching. How does he write so much humor and empathy into so few words? Today I Will Fly! (An Elephant and Piggie book). And surely any six-year old girl, or any six-year old anyone, ought to know Pippi Longstocking. I remember finding it very scary, that she lived alone, and wondering how she bore it. And yet she did, with good cheer.

Baby present for a little girl: Handsome in Pink makes gender-agnostic baby and toddler clothes. If a middle-aged woman can wear a biker jacket, surely a baby girl, or a baby boy, for that matter. should have this biker onesie.

Presents for a real life lived, for me: A throw blanket for sofa writing (or maybe this one, less expensive), Crocs for muddy gardening on sale here.

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One Minute In The Christmas Season Of 2016, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:13am


What?

Just browsing warm white pre-lit outdoor cone Christmas trees. Four feet tall or thereabouts preferred.

You?

Take Back Our Ray-Bans And Show Them What We’ve Got


This post is sponsored by Ray-Ban. All opinions are assuredly my own.

ray-bans-by-the-pacific-1

Today I have one message for my fellow baby boomers; remind the young ones we’ve still got it. We still think and feel.

We still style it out.

But we’ve also been around too long to try too hard. You know what’s easy? Let’s take back our sunglasses. Yes, sunglasses. As I have said before, there’s no quicker way to add a little edge than a pair of Ray-Bans. Sturdy Gals rejoice. Why should the young define what’s cool?

I’ve worn iconic Ray-Bans off and on my whole adult life. Here, blurry, blissful, in the Swedish Archipelago. Summer of 2010. A bit like these. Or these, maybe. Or these? It’s possible I’ve worn men’s glasses?

ray-bans-in-the-swedish-archipelago

Six years later, hair no longer blond, vision no longer quite so keen, lenses prescribed. But mirrored aviators are up for adventure. Here, in a field alongside Highway 101, preparing for a highway patrol office to pull over and ask my sister and me, “What (implied: in the he**!) are you doing?”

Raybans-on-Highway-101-and-Life-at-50

One never has to answer fully.

And recently, at New York Fashion Week. With my adult son behind the camera. Motherhood, cool.

straight-hair-and-raybans-at-nyfw2016

Also on a boat on Lake Austin in Tex. Long-term friendship, diamonds and 60th birthdays. Pretty cool.

lisa-on-lake-ladybird

But on beyond icons, even a Polished Tomboy occasionally wants a touch of Movie Glam. The aviators didn’t quite work with the Prada dress and pink cardigan that I wore to my niece’s Bat Mitzvah. Impunity takes us only so far.

ray-bans-to-the-bat-mitzvah

Bat and Bar Mitzvahs are the best.

Back to style. Imagine I’d had a Jackie Oh-ish pair. Hmm, you might think, we know  our 60s references. How about frosted turquoise? Uhuh.

ray-bans-rb-4191-in-aqua

Ray-Bans, #4191. When it doubt, take it to the Pacific.

ray-bans-by-the-pacific-2

By the way, have you ever wondered what style bloggers do when a wave threatens to carry off our tripod and camera? Run like he**. Old enough to laugh at ourselves.

running-in-ray-bans

Tickled pink by our own foibles. I’m thinking the frosted Turquoise will go well with my pink and red bikini. The #4191s come in other colors too, including Bordeaux.

Practical with benefits. Coming into focus. Remember that Still Got It thing? We define “It” ourselves.

ray-bans-by-the-pacific-footsteps-in-the-sand

Iterative footsteps.

By the way, it might seem daunting to buy sunglasses online. But Ray-Ban.com provides measurements. Measure a pair you own that fit, across a lens, across bridge of the nose, and at the length of the temple. Now buy that size again. My aviators are 58-14.

Sunglasses are like shoes, we don’t sacrifice for beauty.

Did we baby boomers make Ray-Bans cool?  No. It was our parents and the pilots of WWII. I think those flyers might wag their wings at us, overhead. Aging loves herself a little courage, and all kinds of encouragement from friends.

And if I pass the flag to my Ray-Ban wearing daughter, I’m thinking she might look great in these. Octagonal lenses, altogether new.

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