Aging Out Of Shorts, And Into A Long, Navy, MaxMara Dress

This post is sponsored by Halsbrook. Retailer particulière to the Grande Dame in all of us.


The photo above, although I didn’t know it at the time, signaled the end of my street shorts days. I’ve aged out.

It’s not that I hate my knees, or worry about shocking my neighbors. But, to be blunt, I find the texture of my skin now argues for more coverage. Long shorts then unbalance my preferred modern/classic, masculine/feminine aesthetic.

Now, giving up shorts in Northern California is not so hard. We can mostly make do with jeans. But there are always two hot summer weeks when you want to wear as little as possible. I have found myself wearing this ancient dress – and thinking, “Could I find another such?”


In choosing an outfit from Halsbrook, as part of their sponsorship, I happened on a long shift from MaxMara, the designers of my beloved camel coat and pale blue peacoat, and cheered. (The dress has now sold out, but I found other options, further on.)

The fabric is a cotton weave with subtle luster and linen-like hand.


Loose, floaty, but disciplined by a strategic pleat or two. And, it’s navy. Tailored just enough to avoid that paper bag impression.

I should confess that the Italian size 6 needs some alterations — too-tight shoulders. I’ll have the sides let out for more room across the back. What you can’t see here is the few unzipped inches. Ah well, glamor is as glamor does.


Worn minimally with white Birkenstocks and pearls for suburban errands. Hair back. The Sturdy Gal allows one floaty piece per outfit, any more and heaven knows what dogs we’ll loose.


Smallish people do well to let architectural clothing speak for itself. Someone 5’10” could add a cuff to good advantage.

For the evenings when fog rolls in — not all the way to my little suburb’s skies but close enough to cool us indirectly — I need a scarf. From Bindya, also courtesy of Halsbrook. The site offers many in the cashmere/silk blend I found with Etro and keep acquiring from other makers.


While Halsbrook styles their clothes with classic Grande Damery, in fact they excel in the polished, nay soigné, casual for all of us. I’d say they have a special love for Italian designers – Piazza Sempione, MaxMara, Alberta Ferretti. With one or two small tweaks you can wear their dresses with an Artsy and minimal elegance. A little black number for summers in the city.


The Grande Dame adds a large necklace and a colored clutch to heeled sandals. We might choose black mesh espadrilles, a raffia tote and small black pearl earrings.

In the suburbs, an ‘S MaxMara pastel shift – with rose-gold thong Birkenstocks? Although the dress looks short on the model, it’s 36 inches, which would hit me right at mid-knee. There’s one size 6 left, on sale.


Or this gray polo, by Amina Rubinacci, a designer new to me. Maybe even worn with fashion-forward ugly black sandals. Feels very Milan to me, although, to be sure, Imaginary Milan.


The Cousin is her own work of art. The Gal endorses comfort and simplicity. The Dame, well, she’d add heels and a clutch, but she approves. And perhaps, inside, jettisons a rule or two. We look Italy for license.


Affiliate links may produce commissions. Dress and scarf pictured c/o Halsbrook.

Happy 4th Of July

Fourth of July Picnic, Rogers, Arkansas via Missouri State Archives

Fourth of July Picnic, Rogers, Arkansas. c. 1904

A Very Happy 21st Century 4th To You And Yours!


I’ll be taking my quarterly blog break, see you back here the week of July 12th. May summer treat you well.

A High WASP Glorious Fourth, From Coast To Coast

One of the things I have learned from this blog is how Northern Californian I have become. I am beginning to suspect we few High WASPs who journeyed West just can’t help but trend Artsy.

I could discourse at length on High WASP geographical variants. A long time ago I posted on High WASPs in the People’s Republic of BerkeleyAnd again. That’s probably enough.

Today we’ll keep it simple. What might High WASPs on both coasts wear for the 4th of July? It is, after all, our Carnival. We celebrate, we approach the fire, we wear bathing suits and feel naked.  Does the Artsy Californian sport red, white and blue? Yes. Yes she does. But what about the Grande Dame? I fear I’ve neglected her and she will not be pleased. She and the Sturdy Gal both embrace the Classic today – although our Dame insists on the extra polish of a long necklace.

Untitled #203


Classic: Tunic: Vitamin Shirts via Halsbrook || Pants: Piazza Sempione via Halsbrook || Necklace: Lele Sadoughi via Halsbrook || Shoes: Bernardo via Bloomingdale’s || Watch: Ebel via The RealReal || Earrings: Bella Pearl

California: Pants: Broken-in boyfriend chino via J.Crew || Tank: Keith Haring tank via UNIQLO || Shoes: Birkenstock Arizona Sandals via Barneys NY || Watch: Fieldcrest Maple via JORD || Hair spike:  PLUIE Coral Hair Wand via Shopbop || Earrings: Bella Pearl

Making the Grande Dame collage, I kept looking from these necklaces to the outfit, and picturing my mother in my mind’s eye. “Nope, too big. Nope, too gold. Ah, yes, white. Informal.” Mom is as careful about inappropriate fancy as she is about unsuitable cute.

The Classic outfit relies heavily on Halsbrook, a Grande Dame favorite. But Grande Dames often have a mind of their own. Halsbrook is having a 4th of July sale. Some items are reduced as much as 70%. You might prefer this red Philosophy tunic, a blue-striped Vitamin shirt, or white dress from Tahari.

I imagine my cousin Grace’s East Coast flagstone patio, one Fourth of July. We sit on cushioned wrought iron furniture, watching the deer and hoping for fireflies. A glass of white wine in hand, of course, or gin and tonic. Crackers on silver platters, little sliced squares of cheese, probably someone familiar hired to help in the kitchen. Later if the mood strikes we’ll venture to a lake for fireworks.

Meanwhile in California, we’ll grill fish, burgers, and vegetables, play soccer on the lawn with cousins, drink wine and water. We might catch fireworks over the bluff, or, in hopes of a better view, crowd into such large vehicles as are to be found and drive down to the Pacific, where we may perch on a hillside together. “Oooooh! Aaaaaaaah! Bang!”

I hasten to add, everyone will have worn their seat belt.

Fellow Americans, do you dress for the Fourth? Fellow global citizens, how do you celebrate national holidays? Do you wear flag colors, down to your shoes?


Affiliate links may produce commissions.

The Feng Shui Of Paired Objects

Feng shui suggests that master bedrooms like paired objects. Feng shui is nothing like Science, but as I’ve said, it’s a reasonable organizing constraint. If you’re going to rely on uncertain principles, and design is uncertain, why not magic?

Some time ago, I found myself compelled to buy two Murano doves. Perhaps I knew my future even then. Now, I’ve taken the birds off the dining table and put them on my chest of drawers.

Murano Doves

I find they’d like some company. Blue preferred.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the most traditional of patterns – Herend china. I particularly like the bunnies.

Pair of blue Herend bunnies

But perhaps more glass instead? When I was a young woman and worked briefly for Sir Cameron Mackintosh, one of his staffers invited us all over for drinks one night. Robert, maybe, was his name? He lived in a flat with his boyfriend, and they decorated with Lalique. It was my first experience with true flamboyance. That I haven’t forgotten.

A pair of fish? They come one at a time, but fish have friends.

Lalique Fish

Available in lustre too, but I don’t think I could go that far. Iridescence worries me, except on Roman glass, Victorian beads, and bubbles blown on the back patio.

Or maybe two blue pigs. Referring to a time at work when I was asked to do what seemed both preposterous and impossible. I told my mentor, “It is as though you are asking me to find (yes) a blue pig.” The task turned out to be useful, and easy enough, like salt and pepper.

Two Blue Delft Pigs For Salt And Pepper

The truth is, High WASP watchers would bite their lips at most of these choices. Feng shui? Too Artsy. Herend bunnies? Too precious. Lalique? Too glossy and curvaceous. The blue pigs, ah, those would be fine. No sentiment in a pig. But hold on, pairs of anything suggest romance! Heaven forbid.

Not to worry. These days I note the internal voices dispassionately. If we want to succumb to tasteful drip and sentiment, we will. #LoveWins, after all.


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All Kinds Of Tears, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:11am

Yesterday I cried a lot.

First, the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided that gay marriage was legal all over the country. This is an issue near and dear to my heart.

Imagine the old couples, marrying finally in their 70s. Getting to make that commitment and open statement of love before their time on earth runs out.

Imagine the three-year olds, boys who think Prince Eric is prettier than Ariel the Mermaid, girls watching Mulan over and over again because how could they not? Think how their lives might open up. Maybe some day “Come out!” means more often, “Get in the car!” Said by mothers standing at front doors, everybody late for school.

A few hours after the Supreme Court announced the decision, I watched President Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor killed with 8 members of his bible study class in a South Carolina church. Obama finally said what I imagine he’s been thinking much of his life. We’ve talked about race enough. Time to do something.

A few hours later, and this is a let down in oratory, I watched the last episode of Season 4 of The Wire. I know. Television. But art has a legitimate role to play in political consciousness, and if it doesn’t make us cry now and again, it lies.

The Wire is a 10-year old HBO series set in Baltimore. The main characters are the police. Each season then draws in additional stories from different organizations in the city – drug dealers, dock workers, politicians, schools, the newspaper.

Season 4 is about the schools. By necessity, then, the children.

It really made me cry. How could life open up for everyone’s children? Too big a thought? How about every child in America?

The Wire tells its stories very, very slowly, and never settles for an easy denouement. No points driven home by killing someone every episode. You come to know four boys well, and you wait, for 10, 11, 12 episodes to know what happens to them.

It’s the waiting that gets you.

Imagine those lives closed off by systemic tragedy.

I realize that I’ve just finished 13 hours of 10-year old digital narrative, putting myself into a somewhat isolated emotional state. So, back to shared experience.

Yesterday the Supreme Court made life better for so many children. I know that people who hold different political and religious beliefs than I object to the ruling on many grounds. But if we rise above institutions for just for a minute, and see that a formidable barrier to self has been removed, surely that’s good? If humanity is good, aren’t our selves good?

Surely more barriers should be removed, for others?

I thank you America for opening your minds and your laws so my son can live more freely. In return, I hope to volunteer in some local schools where kids might not have a mom at the front door telling them, “Come out, we’re late. Get in the car, where are your shoes!”

Not much but the confluence of gratitude, tragedy, and art ought to rush on to some good sea.

Have a good weekend everyone. Free streaming for The Wire is available on Amazon Prime, if you haven’t seen it yet.


Your Work Clothes May Have Some Fun In Retirement

I used to wear a long white Splendid blouse over black bootleg cords. I used to wear pencil skirts with boots. I used to wear lavender, cadet blue, and dance oxfords together. To work.

But this week I took that white blouse, a black pencil skirt and dance loafers out on a spontaneous little outing with my husband.


I also took the opportunity to try my last set from Rocksbox. This time, jewelry similar to my own, but readily available and not-so-expensive. I see why Kendra Scott has become so popular.


The earrings, from Gorjana.


Where’d we go? On Wednesday nights, my suburb hosts an Off the Grid event.


Food trucks from around the San Francisco Bay Area converge on the parking lot of our small train station. Someone sets out folding chairs, and hangs cafe lights.

Families gather, commuters stop for takeout, a duo plays music.


Such a lovely thing, combines the best of the city – diversity, community, street performers, inexpensive food – with the best of the ‘burbs – space, lots of sky, people set free from work. Including me, now that I think of it.



White shirts, pencil skirts, oxfords without socks

Affiliate links may produce commissions. If you try Rocksbox, no compensation to me, but one more signup and I’ll give away a Kendra Scott necklace as you see above. Just use the code skyepealexoxo when you set up your account.

In Northern California, It’s Hydrangea O’Clock

America’s collective consciousness knows the crocus, emerging from snow. We wallow in roses and peonies, come summer. And hydrangeas? In my part of California, the time is now.

Drought brings burn. So be it. Lacecaps always show a little more decay than other varieties. With variegated foliage,

Hydrangea Lacecap I

Or straight green.

Hydrangea Lacecap II

I like to hide the classic mopheads, showy and homogenous as they are, behind lots of plant scraggle. I’m always pretending I live wilder than I do. These, for example, sit almost at my fence line.

Hydrangea Lacecap III

Now we’ve only lavender left between today and the quiescence of late summer. And after lavender, we won’t see new signs until leaves change, or drop. Until berries. Which – as late summer is our dead of winter – might serve as California’s first sign that things will grow again.

The hydrangeas have bloomed before, of course. Sometimes I can’t resist and I bring them in the house.

The Great Candle Burn-Off Of 2015 — Queen Diptyque Vs. Whole Foods Random

I used to scoff at “home fragrance,” back in the days when it came from factories and reeked of surfactants. Then I found candles, and plant-based scents. Now I can’t do without

I’ve always wanted to try Diptyque, the well-nigh historic French brand. Why? The logo? The countless inclusions in luxury publications? I have no idea. But in retirement, $60 seemed a lot to spend on special molecules for kitchen air.

I went ahead anyway. Life’s like that. In the throes of resultant guilt, I picked up a Caldrea Herbes de Provence candle at Whole Foods. On sale for ~$11. Emotional equation #231: indulgence plus thrift equals virtue?

Shortly afterward, I decided Sturdy Up and use my impulse and regret in a piece of valuable research for you, my comrades in kitchens. Cue the Great 2015 Privilege Candle Burn-Off, v1.

Let’s see if that $60 bought value for money.

Packaging & Design

Voilà the label of a Diptyque Oranger. Classic, iconic. Fully aligned with our current appreciation for hand-crafting and imperfections.


And here’s Caldrea. Let’s just say that you can add all the French words you like – your design will not necessarily improve. Also, Caldrea? Anyone else reminded of a caldera?



The Scent Itself

Really, both candles smelled like, well, candles. By which I suppose I mean fruity, powdery, warmish. I preferred the Caldrea, which, although it bore no resemblance to actual herbs from actual Provence, was slightly spicer. The Oranger reminded me of ladies’ department stores back in the early 70s.

I imagine that I would have preferred both candles in a more astringent, earthy version. Eucalyptus, say, or green tea verbena.



The Dyptique burned perfectly. The Caldrea spit out smudgy cinders. I did not appreciate the counter-top volcano.


And here’s where the wick meets the wax.


I didn’t count up the hours, to see if Caldrea reached 28 as promised by their label. But their candle stopped burning 3/4 of the way down. I kept throwing matches in to see if they’d catch. The Dyptique burned to almost nothing. Lasted, at a guess, two times as long. Maybe three.

And, of course, the packaging never changed.


Final Score

  • Advantage Diptyque: Packaging, burn experience, burn time.
  • Advantage Caldrea: Price, scent.
  • Results: DRAW – Diptyque is better but not by the 5X price differential.

Next time I think I’ll compare Pomegranate from Pottery Barn, or maybe Fleur de Sel from Williams Sonoma, to Black Hibiscus from the new India Hicks line.

Why India Hicks? Because Patricia, of PVE Design, is one of their ambassadors. Where possible, support the community.

Do you guys have favorite candles? Any you want me to include in a Burn-Off? What do you find yourself willing to pay?


Affiliate links, as usual, may produce commissions. And, if you like candles and live in the UK, Pink Julep Abroad has a series of interest, here.



The Best Kind Of Decluttering, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:01am

My son, my daughter and my daughter’s boyfriend are here. We’ve planned a morning of sorting and decluttering their old stuff, giving away some of my old furniture, and renting a Uhaul. Then we’ll head up the hill to my dad’s house to celebrate Father’s Day with most of my siblings and their families. Pretty much tops on my list of happy.

Have an absolutely wonderful weekend.

A Pair Of Crocs For Every Doorstep


This is my front entry. Old school doormat from our local hardware store, basic Crocs. Minimalist, with a little earthy texture for good measure. And in fact, feng shui says that sandy yellow and black are good for my northeast facing front door. Bonus points!

I like a heel band, and holes in the body for easy hose cleaning.


This is my side entry, the gateway to a future butterfly garden. Improvised step, green Crocs. These shoes have taken most of the brunt of the last 2 years of intensive gardening. I’m still thinking about what to do for the step – most likely I’ll lay out a few large flagstones I have left over from paving the backyard pond.

Why we didn’t put in a step when we remodeled 23 years ago I really don’t know.


And that’s my back entry. The doormat here is from VivaTerra. Black river stones on a black rubber-ish mat. When I ordered it, I didn’t realize the backing was so visible, but here on the gray slate patio I don’t mind. In fact, I’m going to put a second, identical one right next to it, on the other side of the French door.

But, since as you may have surmised, I want a pair of Crocs for every entry, what style? Let me hasten to add, I don’t wear them anywhere but my yard. They stand by the doorway, inside or out, a threshold companion.

For the back door, I am tempted by whimsy.

Tokyo Skyline Crocs


That’s the Tokyo skyline. But there are so many colors and patterns to choose from. Pink, navy, “concrete” and lime stripes. Even a pair commemorating the Grateful Dead.

Imagination loves her a liminal space.


Affiliate links may provide commissions.