Life As A Midlife Spy, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:24am


We are often encouraged to stay calm, and carry on. Serenity now, and all that.

But every once in a while, let’s applaud adventure. Yesterday I walked around San Francisco. Nothing happened really, and everything did. Cities are like multiple tiny explosions, each person you pass, each red light that turns green, each glimpse of sky from behind a skyscraper.

Do we say skyscraper any more?

Adventure comes easily to the young, I think. Did you have wild times in your youth? Are you young? Are times still wild?

Riding alone in elevators always makes me feel like a spy. Spies prefer blur.

Harriet-the-Spy

Big adventures are still possible – witness all the midlife people traveling, all around the world. Jeanne Henriques is in San Francisco too, this weekend. She lives in Vietnam, her Instagram well worth a follow.

But waiting for travel is hard. So, small adventures. That’s why I garden. Will the bush anenomes survive insufficient early watering!? Will the hydrangea and the viburnum need separating!?!? Will the monarch butterfly caterpillar make it to pupation?!?!?!

No, no it won’t. But that’s one more fat and happy blue jay.

Just recently I changed my brand of tea. No more Organic Breakfast, I’m on to Yunnan Black. Funny how different it feels. Jane Potrykus is adventuring in London, where she lives. So many possibilities.

 

the summer plan is to be adventurous with fruits +vegetables via regular outings to @cliftongreens

 

A photo posted by jane potrykus (@janepotrykus) on

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Plans? Do tell. Perhaps the best small adventures are those recounted by friends.

Writing The Book On High WASPs, As It Were


What Is A High WASP?

Yesterday, Kristin over at Not Intent On Arriving was kind enough to interview me for her series, Writer Wednesdays. You can read it here, if you are so inclined. Thank you in advance for your time.

Her questions got me thinking. First about being a writer, and then about the book I didn’t write. It was to be about High WASPs. As I spend far less time writing in the voice of my ancestors these days, and I know some of you liked it, it occurred to me I could post the rough book outline. And then, perhaps, over time, the actual chapters.

Or not. We’ll see. A look at the outline, however, will take all of 3 minutes, and serve as a nod to time past and confession.

TITLE: The Secrets Of America’s High WASPs, or, Life in the Subjunctive

Alternative Title: A High WASPs Guide To Life, If I Can Be So Bold

Chapter List

1. What IS a High WASP?

  1. A WASP is any White Anglo Saxon Protestant. A High WASP is a human being whose family has been in the United States long enough to make a fortune, lose a fortune, and spend an ungodly amount of time in well-known universities while so doing.
  2. In general, our families (for yes, I am one) came to the US in the Colonial Period. They farmed, they bought land, they bought more land. They moved to the cities, where they participated in the first great swell of American wealth.
  3. A High WASP is not, necessarily, a preppy. Tad Friend says so.
    1. We might say, Preppy is optional, High WASP irrevocable.
    2. Preppy is about the gear, the schooling. High WASP is about the family, the aesthetic, the code of conduct, and that little voice that says, “You have not done a good enough job.”

2. High WASPs: Do I Care At All?

  1. Why might you care? Maybe you like to see how the mighty have fallen. No shame in that. Mighty people are often quite dreadful.
  2. You find navy blue seductive.
  3. You believe in America, and yet you think the flag belongs to everyone.
  4. You wonder, sometimes, what happened to the social contract, to delayed gratification, to showing up on time. You wonder, what about good taste?
  5. However, you don’t miss wearing white gloves to the city. That was truly unnecessary.

3. High WASP Men And Women: Do They Differ?

  1. High WASP men often have very square jaws.
  2. High WASP women are neither sexy nor powerful. Why?
  3. Related: What is a lady?

4. How Do High WASPs Live? Does Everyone Own a Mansion in Connecticut?

  1. Our houses, then and now.
  2. Our clothing brands and quirks.
    1. Why my father loathes Ralph Lauren but I find him admirable.
    2. Didn’t everyone have a personal shopper named Mrs. Bailey at Saks, for back-to-school?
    3. How to use the unspoken High WASP dress code to your advantage.
  3. Our diet.
  4. Family traditions and rituals.

5. How to Speak High WASP, Or, Joy In The Subjunctive, Terror In Nouns, Safety In Punctuation

  1. Any time you talk about anything emotional, do so in the 3rd person. Use the term, “One,” meaning, “I.”
  2. Never direct, only suggest. “You might want to think about a haircut?”
  3. Danger lurks inside common nouns, especially house and clothing terms. For example, High WASPs say “curtains,” not “drapes.” The new generations don’t care, but the older ones still do. Oh, you might, if you push the limits say, “That woman has real class,” but you’d never call anyone, “Classy.”
  4. High WASPs need their own emoticons.
  5. Learn to love a semi-colon, insist on using a period at the end of numbered list phrases. Like so.

6. The High WASP Code of Conduct And Its Application In Various Undertakings

  1. Law
  2. Business
  3. Retail Therapy
  4. Child-Rearing (No, the French didn’t invent delayed gratification.)

7. The Meaning Of Manners

  1. Protocol vs. Courtesy
  2. Intra-Cultural and Inter-Cultural – Is There A Universal Set Of Manners?
  3. Snobbery, And Why It’s Always Bad Manners

8. How To Get Your Child Into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. OK Fine, Stanford Or Dartmouth, But Please Shower Often If You Must Grow A Beard

  1. Go back in time and tell your father and grandfathers to get themselves over to the Ivy League. Then get yourself there.
  2. Once you graduate, give small sums of money every year. The institutions prize loyalty, it’s harder to find these days than cash.
  3. Never mention the words “find your passion” to a 14-year old — however, if they actually do, scoff not. Keep lesson quantities low, free time high.
  4. Send your children outside to play, when they complain of boredom tell them they can go clean up their rooms if they need amusement, limit screen time, read them stories every night, encourage them to make up “shows” and watch said “shows” at least 3 times in a row before pleading the need to do something, anything else.
  5. Do not let anyone, including yourself, make a single editing mark on your child’s college essay. Discuss, but do not correct on the page. If reading essays by 17-year olds gets tough, just imagine reading essays by parents pretending to be 17-year olds.
  6. Always remember, it’s just 4 years. Better to arrive at a good school intact, than at a fabled one stunned or frayed by over-training

9. When High WASPs Travel, Or, Please Don’t Make Me Eat Anything Too Ranchero

  1. Two distinct types.
    1. Uncle Fred Carnochan lived with the Snake People
    2. Second Cousin Once Removed Walter – He of the Ranchero Comment
  2. The history of the Grand Tour.
  3. We prefer squalor to bad carpet.

10. How To Avoid Wedding Gaffes

9698259880_42408df815_k

  1. Hang ye no crystals.
  2. Color-coordinate ye no humans with the decor.
  3. Scroll ye no invitation fonts.
  4. Confuse ye no people with weird dress codes.
  5. Play ye no Pachelbel.
  6. Invite all your family.
  7. If you’re a guest, give presents, not “gifts.”
  8. Keep your shoes on until you can put your feet under a table.

11. Inheritances

  1. How to give money to your children without destroying them.
  2. What to do with an inheritance without destroying yourself.
  3. What to do while waiting for one which may or may not ever arrive.

12. A Brief History Of The Golden Age And Will Its Like Ever Come Again?

  1. Social life in New York at the end of the 19th century, AKA the making of the High WASPs.
  2. How did the Age of Innocence compare to other periods of wealth?
  3. What groups, if any, might wealth create now?

13. The Wistful Future Of The High WASP

  1. Removing the veil, and the myth in popular literature. What we are, what we are not.
  2. Moving beyond the acronym to the values.
  3. Politics, education, style.

And there you have it. If you’re new to the blog, I’m glad you will have read some of my Saturday posts before this – sets the right context, I think. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll notice that I’ve already written some of these chapters as posts, or maybe you’ll remind me of some topics you might have expected to see. In any case, it feels like a good resting place for the thoughts.

Master Bedroom Aesthetics – Anyone For Hot Pink?


We’ve made some progress sprucing up the master bedroom.

First, we bought a gray velvet bed, from Room & Board. Then, a white duvet cover and pillows from Rough Linen, and a lightweight down comforter from Warm Things. Buying sustainably has never felt so sweet.

The bed and bedding, along with a neutral Moroccan style rug from Garnet Hill, puts us well on our way to serene, textured, gently modern.

But, that’s not what I want. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I love a little drama. Not full-on, gypsy-colored, patterned extravaganza. Nor mega-glitz with shiny everything. No, I like architectural, vivid, global drama. And humor.

Untitled #189

Luckily, our dignified bed wants a bench. Even better, the bench will want upholstery. The adventure begins.

The bench. I’ve looked at many styles. One thing — I’m constrained by dimensions. The size of the bed and its relationship to the wall requires a length of at least four feet and a depth of no more than 15 inches. OK, maybe 16.

I would ordinarily be drawn to wood and straight lines, but here, given the existing dark wood dresser, and rectangular headboard, I found myself preferring curvy, metal, upholstered. The images above track the hunt’s progression.

“Simple. No, too much wood. Upholstered and painted wood, too heavy. Gothic, too gothic. Oooh, modern metal art! Botanical cutouts in turquoise! Oh, oops, $2K. But metal, I liked the metal. Oooh, look at this quasi-garden style. Ooh, curlicues! Hmmm.”

And this is how we find ourselves at a genre we didn’t know existed. Hollywood Regency. How better to leaven neutrals with a bit of camp and circumstance?

I could go for high-end vintage, from 1st Dibs,

Midcentury Italian Gold Leaf Wrought Iron Bench

DIY fixup via eBay,

Hollywood Regency Bench on eBay

Or, because neither of those are quite long enough, put two small reproductions together,

antique_gold_iron_bench

from The Well-Appointed House. A retailer I’d not heard of before.

And joy upon joy, the possible upholstery thrills me almost more than the bench itself. I believe I have found a home for this souvenir from my 1982 travels through India. A woman I had come to know, from the city then called Madras, sold me a Kanchipuram sari. “It’s a classic,” she explained, “They do not weave silk like this any more.” I think I paid her $30. In any case, 33 years later, here it is.

Vintage-Kancheepuram-Sari

Unscathed. More beautiful than the photos – I cannot capture the sheen, nor the way it changes from burgundy to brownish, and from magenta to a redder hue.

I want someone to make me a long cushion for the as yet unfound bench. I imagine a long vertical slice of magenta and burgundy, lightened by lime and gold in the check and  border.  And then more pillows, for the bed, and the armchair which I plan to slipcover in yet more white linen. I hope the silk forgives the scissors.

I might even add a very subtle gray and white toile to my cushioning strategy. We’ll see.

Historically modern. Sleekly curlicued. The tension and serenity of competing beauty. I’m very excited.

Affiliate links may produce commissions. This does not apply to 1st Dibs, Room & Board, Warm Things or Rough Linen.

When Weather Got Scary, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:56am


Lawn-in-California-Drought

This is my front lawn. I’m letting it die.

Northern California is dry. Actually, so’s the whole state, but that’s a lot of acreage and I can only talk about the part I know.

We began drought-level water restrictions this month. We must cut usage 36% from 2013. A pretty precise requirement. Outdoor irrigation in my water district, Mondays and Fridays only. OK then.

While I want to keep my garden — the California natives under the oak, butterfly habitatdogwoods — I don’t really mind giving up the lawn. This seems like a good way to publicly support the drought restrictions, and blades of grass are the archetypal fungible entity, after all.

But I do mind the sense of foreboding with which we now regard the weather. Do you remember when we talked about it blandly? When politics, sex, and religion were forbidden? No more, in either case.

Of course, our current discomfort is mostly and rightly about climate change. But leaving that aside for the moment, I miss weather naivetë overall. The days when you didn’t know what was coming, or just how much rain had fallen in Delaware.

When I was young, I thought the California summer coursed through my veins. The blue sky, yellow hills, gray brown baked clay dirt. The stuff of myth. My first year at Princeton, I didn’t mind the cold. You just put on more clothes – not too different from winter rains at home. But the heat and humidity? How to feel free in the world when moving makes you sweat?

Nowadays we’ve weather stations, and numbers, and radar, at our fingertips. Ah well. Something lost and something, we hope, gained. Maybe I surrender my lawn, someone else survives a hurricane.

My son and I have talked about weather innocence. Even he, at 25, feels the loss. Optimistically, I hope technology comes to our rescue soon. And beyond technology, I suppose I’ll carve out, somewhere inside, a space where the land and its ways are still a mystery.

Have a wonderful weekend. Let’s never lose hope.

Shop Now For Your Future Retirement, Or, Part B Of The Thoughtful And Stylish Wardrobe


And now, some thoughts on how you might shop today for tomorrow’s retirement. Working, I used a fair amount of my salary to buy stuff for stress relief. I think one is allowed indulgence. But with a little forethought, that indulgence becomes investment.

What’s Gone?

Over the last 20 months since I stopped working I’ve gotten rid of a lot of clothes. Mostly those that were neither comfortable enough nor special nor enough “me” to keep.

The best of the last group I saved for my blog sale. Thanks everyone!

Then off to the American Cancer Society went Monique Lhullier, Giorgio Armani tunic and pants, a shiny raincoat, Toast jacket, some Stuart Weitzman net pumps and several pairs of Beautifeel shoes. To Goodwill I brought J. Crew bootleg corduroys (bootlegs have to be fitted to look good, so these were neither comfortable enough for staying in nor edgy enough for going out), a black Costco peacoat, numerous t-shirts, and lots of exercise clothes and casual shoes.

What Did I Keep In Retirement That I Bought For Work?

From my last office, which was very casual, I have kept two Isabel Marant tweed jackets, a Dries van Noten dress, an All-Saints motorcycle jacket, Dickers boots, the J. Crew field jacket, and Gravati brogues. From previous, more formal offices, I’ve got a Chanel jacket, a Brooks Brothers button-front, navy linen Giorgio Armani pants, and a gray silk and wool Luciano Barbera pants suit. You know, in case I ever have to speak in front of a business crowd again.

If you’re still working, here are the type of pieces you might buy with an eye to retirement.

Takeaways:

  1. If you never wear it on the weekend, you are unlikely to wear it in daily retirement.
  2. Office basics are not investment for retirement. Office “special” pieces however, if they can stand alone for a special occasion or dress up a casual outfit, are.

Just make sure that your investment pieces hit your your sweet spot in color and silhouette. I keep wishing I had the perfectly cut aubergine Marant jacket in black instead.

What I’ve Bought Since Retiring

  • Outerwear: Blue Max Mara jacket, white Costco peacoat
  • Shoes: Birkenstocks, both gray and white, Vince sneakers, brown and black New Balance for city walks, puffy pink and white Nikes for workouts
  • A Lotta Pants: Citizens of Humanity boyfriend jeans, white boyfriends, J. Crew drop crotch khakis.
  • T-Shirts: Costco white lace, Target b&w striped, Jigsaw gray and white stripes, UNIQLO lavender, gray, and white

Kind of like this.

Takeaways:

  1. If you buy special pieces in your best colors and silhouettes while you’re working, you can play with t-shirts, shoes and other casual gear once you retire.
  2. Learn how to use jewelry and/or scarves, it’s a useful investment of your time.

On The Hunt

I’m now looking for pieces that are edgy, but not so much they require emotional bandwidth to wear. I want my clothes to up-level me ju.u.u.st enough that they don’t hang me out to dry. Always in Polished Tomboy. Tricky, work in progress. Ordered this, sent it back, too weirdly cut at the neck. Still looking for :

  • Comfortable yet sophisticated top to wear with drop crotch khakis, so I don’t look like a street denizen. Turns Jenna Lyons can pull off ultra-baggy, it’s a little harder for the rest of us. But they are so comfortable, (see Most Important) that I’m going to try.
  • Dark capacious casual jacket, with a modern edge. When I wear a black tee I don’t like to wear a light jacket.
  • Blue tees to replace the ones that have developed “jean button” holes at the waist.
  • Slides
  • Flannel pajamas in something other than Must Be PJs Plaid, or Breakfasts I Love Print. Finding jammie bottoms in a sophisticated ikat, or a tonal photoprint — anything that could make less evident that I’m my pruning front yard roses in sleepwear — would elevate my retirement style exponentially.

A few possibilities. Except for discreet flannel pajama bottoms because I’ve not found any.

Takeaways:

None so far. Am staying in the moment where lessons are lived as learned.

Note that affiliate links may produce commissions. Part I of this series is here. You may also be interested in this Already Pretty post on comfort.

Building A Thoughtful And Stylish Retirement Wardrobe: Part I


I’ve been asked, what about building a retirement wardrobe — while you are still working? Good question. Few people write about the topic; misconceptions abound. Am I the only one who imagines racks of lavender terry jogging suits and puffy white sneakers?

I suspect many here hope to enter their later years in style, but also to set aside uncomfortable shoes, too closely-tailored garments, and hair chicanery. We may not be fond of the overly-cossetted look.

I need two posts to fully answer, today is State of The Union. On Thursday (or Friday) I’ll give an account of what I kept from my on-the-job purchases, what I got rid of, what I’ve bought, and what I’m still looking for.

As always, we ask which Use Cases are we addressing? And, what is our Release Charter? Release Charter here meaning Top Priority. Only one thing at a time can be the Most Important.

What Is Your “Release Charter?”

For me, comfort is paramount now; self-presentation a subordinate but persistent goal.

What Then Does The Use Case Methodology Tell Us?

I write, I clean house, I garden. I cook, I work out, I do errands. I occasionally go out with my husband, or with my family. You may live otherwise; engage in more formal socializing, take a volunteer position, run, bike, or practice Bikram yoga.

For now, when I’m home inside I wear flannel PJ bottoms and tanks and sweatshirts. We’ll put that stake in the ground. Housework is remarkably kind about my jammies. In retirement you dress for yourself and your own life.

Now let’s jump directly to the clothes I wear outside the house, taken from my actual drawers and closets. All High WASP ancestors, raise an eyebrow.

What My Closets And Drawers Look Like Today – By Clothing Category

Outerwear

From cashmere MaxMara, through an assortment of menswear-inspired light jackets, past a 10-year old $25 parka from Shanghai, to an old fleece in case I ever ski again. Californians need layers, outerwear can define our style.

Jeans,-Khakis,-Shorts

Californians also, as I have said, need jeans. We can survive an entire year without putting on a single pair of wool pants. However, I’m in the process of deciding whether I have aged out of shorts except when temps top 85℉. Perhaps.

Drawer-Tops

I find it easiest to put what I wear daily in one place. Hence, drawer tops vs. hanger tops. I have more drawer tops than you see above, several sweatshirts and a few cashmere v-necks but trust me, they are all gray, purple, or shades of blue. I wear the leopard tee, which is from Paris and 20 years old, once a year when the mood seizes me. Last year, with Doc Martens.

Skirts-&-Dress-Pants

Will I ever don a pencil skirt again? The gold sequin one, sure, of course. The J. Crew stalwarts, perhaps no. I am not ready to say. The amorphous dark fabrics to the left are a pair of J. Crew black silk trousers and old Armani navy linen wide legs. In case of Texas.

Hanger-Tops

The metaphoric forest to the far right is Issey Miyake. 20 years old. I wear it once every 2 years, because it’s scratchy. Works of art are allowed to scratch.

Jackets-&-Cardigans

For social outings of one sort or another.

A-River-Of-Shoes-And-Scarves

Need I say more? Am definitely aged out of those seersucker Sperry wedges with ankle ties. How quickly things change.

Fancy

Fancy. Dresses and a skirt for warm weather resorts, my Italian suit just in case, a Mexican maxi from some time in the 1970s. I begrudge no piece its space; this is where I stash my vibrant color and large-figured patterns.

The True Categories

The thing is, clothes are not software. And so, on top of the use cases, we layer categories of the heart. Here are mine.

  • Sentimental Keepers: A cheongsam I bought for my daughter’s prom, even though it arrived stained, and unwearable; Carolyn Charles two-piece gown; my wedding dresses; a long brown columnar silk velvet shift I wore for Christmas when my children were young; a Bruce Springsteen t-shirt; others.
  • Special Occasion To Make Me Feel Gorgeous Even Now: Dresses by Tory Burch, Narciso Rodriguez, Christopher Kane, Prada, Dries van Noten; pleated top by Issey Miyake; tweed and velvet jackets by Chanel and Jaeger; shiny shoes by Rene Caovilla, Jimmy Choo and J. Crew; black silk pants; family jewelry.
  • Errand Clothes: Faded jeans and khakis; so many tees; cotton or down jackets; raincoat; wool and cotton scarves; big earrings & small necklaces; JORD wood watch; flat shoe brands that young women wear.
  • Nifty Items To Dress Up Errand Clothes For Social Engagements: Wool, velvet and tweed jackets; dark wash jeans;  tops of the constructed or embellished variety; Valentino Tango pumps and Dickers ankle boots; more jewelry
  • At Home Inside: Flannel, tanks and sweatshirts
  • At Home Gardening: Random clothes, all too large, all good for protection from sun and prickers
  • Workout & Swim: As one does
  • Currently On Probation: Pencil skirts, slightly-constricting button-front shirts, my beloved Commes des Garçons fierce heart tee, as it shrank and now shows my stomach, motorcycle boots and Sperry wedges, a pink cardigan. I love it in my closet but never manage to put it on my body.

I am curious, do you all keep clothes you know you will never wear again, for sentiment? It’s not a habit I plan to change – low downside. But I do not know if others do likewise.

 

Other posts I’ve written on retirement dressing, here and here. Also recently retired, and writing about their clothes from time to time, are Materfamilias and Hostess of the Humble Bungalow.

 

It’s Time To Talk About The Ending Of Mad Men, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:03am


mad-men-made-me-mad

Just in case, before you see something you’d rather not, this morning I’d like to talk about the ending of Mad Men.

We’ll wait a moment so those who haven’t seen it yet, along with those who don’t care, can skedaddle themselves out of here as fast as ever they can.

OK then.

Mad Men’s ending made me mad.

For those unfamiliar with the series, but hanging in here because, “Hey, it’s Saturday morning and why not?” the eight seasons of Mad Men focused on a Madison Avenue advertising team, from its creation in the 50s to an acquisition by McCann-Ericsson in the early 70s. In particular, the series chronicled the doings of Don Draper, Creative Director extraordinaire.

The finale found Don, after decades of professional brilliance and personal decadence, meditating on the lawn at Esalen. And goes on to suggest, in the final scene, that Don leverages his moment of transcendence to, wait for it, write a Coke commercial.

In my early inarticulate rage, all I could think was, “That wasn’t the ending I wanted!” But, if I tried to imagine what I did want, I couldn’t.

Finally, after a few days of messy but undeniable anger, and some internal muttering, I read reviews around the Internet. I slapped my forehead. “Yes! That’s it!” I felt betrayed by the series finale because Matthew Weiner, the creator of the series, ignored all the portents so carefully and beautifully set into his narrative.

All the shots in cars on roads without end. All the sacrifices of a career. All the women discarded. Mad Men’s portents bring to mind a walk on the beach, brown beer bottle shards and cheery green seaglass. Sand on your feet.

All used, in the end, as mere scenery. Bah humbug!

I often consider the state of narrative in the 21st century. At least in our technological societies.

We people have always told stories to make sense of our past and create our future. Think of cave paintings. How will modern digital narrative (what we call television, I’m just inventing language here), evolve? Carry on the great traditions of the cave, but also Dickens and Melville, to say nothing of authors I don’t know in writing in languages I don’t read?

I am familiar with three “art series,”  The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. And I care most of all about how they treated me. I’m willing to leave technique to those more schooled. Let’s talk feelings.

Mad Men abdicated its connection to the human heart. I imagine the producers cackling, “Let’s take our costume designs all the way to the bank!” Breaking Bad, in its perfectly crafted, all Ts crossed, unfaltering storyline, ticked just a little too mechanically for me. My favorite among this triumvirate remains The Sopranos. Sprawling, erratic, out of control in structure, character and plot — written such that our connection to Tony breaks in our own hearts. When we find out that Tony’s a sociopath, we realize we’ve had a crush on him all along. We look inward.

Transformation.

I suppose if I’m going to love and be willing to change for you Story O! Story, you need to respect my feelings. I like a trash tale as much as anyone, give me Dynasty, Scandal, Nashville o! Nashville. Connie Britton’s accent. But they pretend to be nothing else.

In the end, Mad Men didn’t make me examine much of anything but clothes.

And that’s it. This is all personal. One might argue that it’s only television, or, one might feel empathy with the woman on the floor of the cave. She weeps for the spear as everyone else cheers their new loincloths.

A Visit To The California Estate Of Filoli, Complete With Family Dreams Of Wendover


Filoli mansion

Last weekend, I visited Filoli, a Northern Californian turn-of-last-century estate. Well-known, much-visited, somehow I’d never made the trip. A reader of this blog was living temporarily on the Peninsula. We’d chatted about local things to do, and before she left she was kind enough to suggest, “How about Filoli, together?”

It’s pronounced Figh-Low-Lee, by the way, after the first words in original owner William Bowers Bourn’s motto, “Fight, Love, Live.” Built in 1917, sited on 654 acres, now part of a land trust, it’s a wonderful, wonderful place. We started in the kitchen. Resurfacing my love for glass-fronted cabinets.

Kitchen-at-Filoli

To say nothing of crystal sconces, in the hallway. Are they ever a bad idea?

Crystal-Sconce-at-Filoli

You can see more of the interiors here. But the ballroom sent me into a fugue state of sorts.

Filoli-Ballroom

I stood looking at the murals, the gilt, and the parquet floors, for a few minutes, seeing but not seeing. Then I turned and exclaimed to my companion, “Ah, I used to have recurrent dreams!”

Why? The photo below is where my father lived, decades ago, in the summertime. Called Wendover, the house was built in 1905 by my great grandfather, Walter P. Bliss, for his wife Katharine Bliss née Baldwin. Katharine, who went by B. in the High WASP nickname tradition, remained there after Walter died. One of her daughters, Sibyll Carnochan née Bliss, eventually returned to live at Wendover as well, along with her husband, Gouverneur Morris Carnochan, and my father.

It was a big place.
Wendover Estate

I told my tolerant companion that several years back I had a series of dreams in which I was walking through a mansion. Up three flights of a long mahogany staircase, to a ballroom. High-ceilinged, gilt, parquet-floored, gorgeous. But the first few steps are dangerous. The room starts to shake. The visitor turns in a circle, trying to see everything before the collapse, no use, the house is falling down.

Whether I actually ever saw a ballroom at Wendover is unclear. My father says that one existed, but was unused even during his years, except to host another Bliss daughter’s wedding. I was 9 or 10 when the estate was sold. But, as my companion pointed out, I live in earthquake country, I dream of past family holdings, well, things don’t get much more explicit.

My father wrote a memoir, here, with a far more coherent, real-life narrative. I only dreamed it.

Let’s return to Filoli. The house integrates beautifully into its surroundings. From side entries,

Side-Door-at-Filoli

to wrought iron gates, farther afield. Serious geometry, recreational curves.

A-Gate-at-Filoli

The courtyard flower beds extend the theme of lavish restraint.

Bed-at-Filoli-in-May

Up close, Filoli’s gardens are lush, colorful, profuse. From the containers,

Filoli-Pansies

to the beds,

Foxgloves-at-Filoli

Columbines-at-Filoli

to the ponds. A pansy fell onto a lilypad, evidently.

Filoli's-Water-Lilies

My favorite part of Filoli’s gardens is the long views.

An-Almost-Bare-Tree-at-Filoli

I do remember Wendover’s pool, and the lawn. We must gone to swim, one day in my childhood. These clouds hovered over Filoli.

Clouds-Above-The-Filoli-Swimming-Pool

The vista. Not the place itself, but what you can see from there. Which is sort of how I feel about wealth, or aspire to feel. Were I to rename this blog, I’d call it Sightlines.

If you come to Silicon Valley, or San Francisco, or even the California coast, do visit. There’s a cafe where you can eat lunch or have cake, and the live peacock may display its tail. We’ll leave the resonant imagery at that.

 

Credit for image at top to David McSpadden, on Flickr. Do we find the affiliate link to my father’s book ironic, or fitting? George P. Bliss, the founder of the Bliss fortune, made his first money in dry goods, after all.

Correction: It was Sibyll Bliss Carnochan who was sometimes called B. In the ways of High WASPs, even we get mixed up.

Halting The Downward Slide


In retirement, I have found it’s very easy to slide down the appropriate clothing ladder. All the way to the bottom. Especially when days consist of early morning pajama-clad and sofa-based writing, interspersed with garden forays and the boy child’s old Outdoor Action shirts.

When I have to leave the house, I can’t be arsed, as the British say, to get dressed up. Luckily I haven’t yet shown up at the grocery store in pajamas.

No, mostly when I go out – on errands, mind you, social occasions warrant a little more effort – I grab whichever pair of boyfriend jeans hangs on a chair in the bedroom, a t-shirt, a cotton jacket, and a pair of earrings. Then I slide my feet into Birkenstocks. The other day I caught myself thinking that the Vince sneakers were too much work because I had to bend over to pull them onto my heel.

How the mighty have fallen. Or, more aptly, how those concerned with the social ticks of a workplace may dress when their career has quieted. BTW, I did speak strictly but fondly to myself and put the sneakers on my dang feet.

I find so much of retirement dressing, for the Sturdy, involves ensuring that even one’s absolute dregs are presentable. To that end, I’m thinking of buying a pair of slides. You know, shoes you can “slide” into?

The Grande Dame might like these, by Miu Miu. Diamonds on the heel of her shoe.

 

Miu Miu

 

Tory, of course, is her friend, if a tad “rustic” on occasion.

Tory Burch Slide

The Artsy Cousin, in her urban guise, loves the minimalist artisan look at Need Supply. And yes, MinArts is a thing if we say so.

Need Supply Slide

In her more traditional mode, Artsy will be sourcing embroidered Turkish slippers on Etsy. Vintage is best, although she does want to support a new generation of craftspeople.

Vintage Turkish Slides on Etsy

The Sturdy Gal worries, “Where do one’s toes fit?”* and chooses these. Sturdies love a little glitter – besides gold pairs so well with navy.

Loeffler Randal Slide at Nordstrom

Or these, Adidas originals, because she’s worn these since her college lacrosse glory days and didn’t know they’d bloomed fashionable.

Adidas Slides

If none of the above tickled your fancies, Grande Dames might like Jeffrey Campbells’ not-too-expensive flowers, the minimalist Artsy a lilac (!) not-too-expensive Babouche. Sturdies might feed their secret desire for luxury in Donald Pliner’s black suede.

(Hat tip to Twitter, where, when I posted the Need Supply shoes,  someone replied with that question about toes. Wish I could remember whose brilliance to credit. Unrelated, don’t rude phrases sound so much better in British English? Edited to add, sorry I forgot, affiliate links may provide commissions.)

In Memoriam For Lives Lost Too Young, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:08am


Just over a week ago, early in the morning of Saturday, May 16th, a truck and a car crashed on a San Diego freeway. The driver and passenger of the car, two young women, were killed instantly. They were medical students at UC San Diego, and friends of my daughter. That’s how I come to be writing about this today.

There were five people in the car altogether. Two died, one was seriously injured, two less so. They’d all just received their results from the test known as Step 1, which is, as you might guess, the first step towards becoming doctors. They were coming home from a celebratory party. Madison Elizabeth Cornwell was the designated driver. That’s important.

The driver of the other vehicle, a truck, survived. He was and still is a 21-year old Marine on active duty in the San Diego area. He was drunk. So drunk, in fact, that he was driving the wrong way down the freeway. Headlights off, hazard lights on.

Madison, and the young woman in the passenger seat behind her, Annie Li Baldock, were killed on impact.

In honor of those we have lost, here is a video in which Madison’s younger sister and brother speak out.

http://fox5sandiego.com/2015/05/21/medical-students-killed-in-head-on-crash-mourned-at-emotional-gathering/

I admit that when I was going through the end of my marriage, one night I drove home after 2 martinis. Big martinis. I wasn’t drunk enough to drive the wrong way on a freeway, but I shouldn’t have been in the car. I’ve felt badly about it ever since.

You may already be more responsible than I. And you may have, as I did, stressed to your children from the time they were little that they should never get into a car with a driver who is under the influence. My best friend and I used to say, “If anyone ever wants you to get into an automobile unsafely, without a seat belt or when someone’s been drinking, call us at any time and we will come get you.”

But there’s more we can do. We can adopt the Scandinavian commitment to and social acceptance of designated drivers. Even the 6’6″ guys who like to drive fast cars are on board. In Sweden, for example, every vehicle at every party has a corresponding non-drinking driver. There’s no cowboy prize awarded to bravado, no myth around, “Dude!”

We deserve a society in which we’d rather take away car keys, thus embarrassing our friends and ourselves, than let anyone ever drive the wrong way down a freeway into the end of two young lives.

Have a responsible weekend. We’re none of us perfect, but we can try. I am vowing on the tears that fall, as I watch and remember that video, to do better.