Cultural Signifiers, Whatcha Got?


Here in North America, we’ve just emerged from a brief flurry of national insignia-waving.  (Hey there, Canada!) Which made me think, what are the signs of our micro-cultures?

Forthwith, the High WASP Cultural Directory, Northern California Regional Variant

I could go on. But one shouldn’t.

How about you? How would your list look? Feel free to post the entire thing, or not. Pursuit of happiness and all that.


Were you to click on a link, you might then generate a commission, as it were, for the author of this blog. Image up top via the website of the Arthur Ransome Society.

Whither Civility, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:52am

I don’t miss formal much at all. I don’t really care what fork someone uses for their fish, nor in what direction they scoop their soup. I never wanted my kids’ friends to call me Mrs. So-and-So, Lisa is just fine.

But I miss civility. And I miss the grace notes of civility, augmented civility, often conflated with formality but not the same thing.

There’s so much yelling these days. I refuse to talk politics here, not because they don’t matter, they do, but because for whatever reason we seem to have lost the ability to speak in civil tones about civic matters. There’s virtue in kindness that’s separate from the virtue in causes.

Also people shove a lot. And honk. I’m guilty of over-enthusiastic horning, especially when I can tell the person blithely parked at a green light is reading his or her phone. I will try to do better.

I think Please, Thank You, and You Are Ever So Welcome are lovely words and should be over-used. It is possible to disagree, to coexist, to find a parking place in a crowded lot without yelling at your fellow shoppers. At least without yelling at them so they can hear. But yes, it takes work.

I think it’s worth it. Tough for blurters, I do not exempt myself from this reminder.

I am sure there is science behind how to have a civil argument. I know we’ve talked about dealing with difficult people in the workplace, maybe we just extrapolate that thinking to regular life. As though being a human in society is a job, even a privilege, not something we take for granted like grotty plaid flannel pajama bottoms.

So. Happy recent Canada Day to our Canadian friends, happy on-its-way Fourth of July to all my fellow Americans. Thank you for reading, please have a wonderful, wonderful weekend.

A Small But Abundant Garden Party, In Green, Pink And Aqua – With A Bit Of Gold


The party for my stepmother was beautiful. A little gem of a fête.


Spring green tablecloths, white chairs, turquoise and mint Chinese lanterns in the bright, bright sun. Gold-rimmed chargers. Low-power wires courtesy our telephone company, I have suggested they bury them, many a time, for some reason no ones’s jumped at the chance.

Below, a well-stocked bar with a bartender to come. I moved the fuchsia into the corner of doom. The blossoms put their heads down and best feet forward as good sports must.


Catering. For 17 people. So wonderfully abundant, thanks to my father. I made Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake. Baking is not my strong suit.


It is perhaps surprising, and perhaps not that nobody wore traditional “garden party.” Some came in ornamented black, some in tunics, some in white jeans and silver beads. My middle sister interpreted “floral” all darkly lush but urban. Full-on Northern California.


Shirt is Alice+Olivia, pants from Theory, shoes navy perforated suede from Georgio Armani. This look, blouson plus quasi-fatigues plus elegant flats, bears investigation. My sister also wore antique gold chandelier earrings, but they’re gone with her face into anonymity. We respect privacy as requested.

I wore the ol’ navy MaxMara maxidress, Max-Mara-via-Halsbrook-at-The-Carneros-Inn

Stuart Weitzman block heels,


and gold hoops (a little bit like these, i.e. hammered.) Also a low ponytail with one of these elastics, and red toenails. But was having far too much fun to get a photo taken. In fact, the whole evening passed well-nigh unrecorded, so quickly and deeply did we fall into communing and eating and drinking. Nothing raucous; gin and tonics, Sancerre, and California Cabernets from the 1990s. Culturally appropriate.


In the end we put both tables in the shade. The sun was unusually direct for Northern California. The hydrangea wilted a little, my solo daisies, a lot. Somehow all to the good. This is a very intimate look into my family.

The birthday heroine and the jazz guitarist who serenaded us all.

The Birthday Heroine

My stepmother is one of those people who do things for you over years and years, always refusing help or recognition. Then one day, you ambush. As in, ‘Aha! We have you in our clutches and we will thank you come hell or high water!” I couldn’t help but think about privilege – not a constant sop to life’s little leaks, nor candy in pockets for children, but unburied all at once to give, a-shining. The evening was lit up by love and history.

I felt gratitude all through my throat.


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Happy Birthday Brigitte, Or, Saturday Morning At 7:28am

Magnolia for Brigitte

Magnolia in the morning

Today we’re hosting a back yard party for my stepmother. She turned 75 a couple of weeks ago, and while someone may deserve a fête more than she, it’s no one I know.

I post the magnolia above in her honor. I was hoping it would still be blooming creamy white today, alas, it’s browned in the heat. As a photographer, with a history of flowers, I know she’ll understand. Happy birthday, Brigitte. And all the love of the decades.

You all have a good weekend.




Meanwhile, In The Garden, Light Comes And Goes


The back yard is green. It’s hydrangea time. Yeah, they are leggy, pruning mistake. Lesson learned.

Leslie asked me how my white roses are doing. In truth I neglected them to deal with my mother’s Alzheimer’s-provoked move. The poor guys responded by sinking into a despair of black spot, rust, and unnamable blight.

But a couple of good sprayings with oil from Indian tree seeds and back they’ve come.


A little bitten, a little cock-eyed, but still roses and on the whole white.


You might also remember I had planted a butterfly garden. The plants are flourishing, the butterflies scarce to date but welcome.


By the way, it’s not called milkWEED for nothing. This stuff spreads. I like to call it an optimistic plant. But I’ve made a morning ritual of picking out the tiny sprouts. Keeping some space clear.


Now native sage, yarrow and mint surround my olive tree like girls in bright dresses around a gawky friend. Bokeh, you party crashers. Light is such a prankster.


That yarrow, by the way, was supposed to be white. Surprise! I prefer the rosy pink, in fact, and the sage’s creature-like habit adds a little bite to the sweet colors.


Elsewhere, some of the stuff in my garden, man, I have no idea what it even is. This stalk turns red eventually.


And the general unruliness. Some plants, privet, for example, grow where they are not wanted. Out of my fern, you wanton sprout!


Some plants, although invited, decide to take over. There will be thinning oh Japanese anemones, you have been warned.


Fortunately, some daises I transplanted brushed off neglect and decided to grow tall and spectacular. By themselves,


Or, in dappled context,

next to neighbors. Boisterous, lace-capped, pink-flowered neighbors. Lurking grasses, necessary menace.


Thanks, you plants, my friends. Just what I needed.


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Everyone Thinks They Are The Good Guys, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:45am

It has come to my attention that everyone thinks they’re the good guys.

I ran across this video, which is political, so let me sum it up more personally – all sides to any conflict believe they are in the right.

This plays out for individuals too. When I was young, if I thought about people who did bad things, I suppose I assumed they thought of themselves as Wicked.

They don’t. Over and over again I’ve seen, it, enough times now that I get what’s going on. People who do bad things are telling themselves an internal story that they are OK. That their actions are Correct, at least Justifiable. Few people bother with Simply Excusable.

And what’s weird, to me, is that often intelligence aids and abets in the story-telling. People don’t use their minds to analyze their behaviors dispassionately but rather to allow. In fact, sometimes the smarter people are the better they are at this act of self-deception. Very disappointing. When I was young I worked for a brilliant man. Golly gosh gee whiz the fancy fictions to justify terrible behavior.

This isn’t true of everyone, luckily. I have always loved smart engineers because they tend to dissect everything equally.

So in these days of retirement, when I have time and maybe an obligation to become virtuous, I find the best tactic is to stay still with my own impulses. To listen to my internal narration, and wait until it quiets, and in the silence is as much truth as I’m capable of hearing.

Now, I’d be lying if I said, that I always rise above my understood motivations to choose the virtuous act. Does self-honesty bring inevitable good? Nope. Even when I see what I’m doing I might do it anyway. I am just as selfish, weak, and greedy as the next person.

But I’d rather live truthfully with my sins than in deception with an invented virtue. And I’m getting better.

Add insult to injury. Complex spun stories of personal glory don’t just let you do selfish things, they also require everyone around you to participate in the narrative. It’s a burden to others. You’re going along, doing what you want, getting what you want, and yet you’re insisting that somehow you are in the right. You insist that everyone else plays along, even applaud. Even hold a parade.

On the other hand, once you decide to stare your own flaws clear in the face, you can’t just sit down and be done. Either you make a change, painful though it might be, or, you forgive yourself.

Anything else is just frustration and lies. Life is short and why not see it truly in all its harm and glory?

Forgiveness is such a relief. As is doing better. Even if it’s really hard work, it’s still easier – albeit more frightening – than fiction. This may seem harsh. I don’t mean it to be. It’s only as true as I can make it.

Have a good weekend. All the best to each and every one.

What A Very Tired Person Who Needs To Recuperate Wears For Three Days And Nights In Napa

Last week my husband and I went up to Napa for a few nights. We stayed, as we have before, at the Carneros Inn. I was so tired.

What I haven’t yet explained is that eight days after my mother moved into her assisted living facility she fell and fractured her hip. Ever since, we’ve been living through hospital stays and transfers of health care power of attorney and new medications and new doctors and more new medications and the ongoing vicissitudes of dementia.

My husband and I had thought that by last week Mom would be settling down and making friends. Not so. But, since our hotel reservations were set, it appeared Mom wouldn’t be sorted out for a while, and my siblings were willing to provide the first line of phone contact, off we went.

I arrived rumpled, saved from rags and tatters only by mirrored Ray-Bans and the clash of lavender tee v. sandy khaki.

Tired and Tiki at the Carneros Inn

In the past year the hotel has built a new structure for wedding ceremonies, replacing their apple orchard. Why they chose this vaguely “Tiki” aesthetic I cannot say. Nor can I understand why they chose artificial turf (on the seating area I’m looking at in this photo which you cannot see), instead of, say, decomposed granite. Except to accommodate the tastes of people who are not me. However.

Our marine layer occupied the land in gray glory. Nights were chilly. I rumpled on.

The Marine Layer with a Vengeance

Note: If you travel to Northern California in the summer bring a large light cashmere/silk scarf. You are unlikely to regret it. Also, I “distressed” those Levis my own dang self by getting in and out of the car and sitting on sofas and wandering the street.

Rumpled Resort Style In Northern California

I warmed up by the pool in daylight. A good light coverup, comfortable and quick-drying, is worth some investment. I wore my pink UNIQLO linen tunic here, but might have chosen an Ondedamar top on other days. A color-blocked wireless Araks bikini underneath, for swimming. So comfortable.

Sun on the skin.

By the Pool at the Carneros Inn


A crushable hat.

Poolside Coverings And Unconverings

We ate, mostly here.



But one night we mustered for the Farm, the more elegant of the Carneros Inn restaurants. And I pulled myself together in the minimal outfit below. (I didn’t manage to get a decent picture whilst on vacation, so have recreated it on the streets of San Francisco for your entertainment. And that of a few SOMA passersby.)



Pink lipstick by Chanel. The dress is new, by Oak, my answer to this search. Comfortable as heck. It is also (at last) a successful attempt to Dress Like Grechen. Shoes are new too, from Stuart Weitzman, an answer to the long search for block sandals. Comfortable enough, could use some moleskine in the toe strap. Even my earrings are new, a Mother’s Day present from my husband, via Blue Nile.



Told you I wanted them. 14k gold, light as cotton, on sale.

I, on the other hand, am not new. But it was a privilege and a pleasure to be able to get away.


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And One More Happy Thing: Cheekie Winner

Ann Beverly, the Julie Hewett Cheekie blush is yours! Send me an email at the skyepeale address, with your mailing address, and I’ll send it off. Congratulations, and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Volunteering, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:26am

So here’s something happy.

Back in 2015 I watched all of The Wire, and decided I needed to volunteer in a challenged school district. As my son told me later, such a white person thing to do. But, good acts may rescue poor intentions.

In any case, early this year I finally organized the paperwork to work in one of our local grammar schools. It’s just down the street from me, but serves a nearby community made up primarily of Latin American immigrants. Spanish is the first language, English the second. The school underperforms the California metrics by a large margin, and California has poor public schools to begin with, due to Proposition 13. Passed in 1978, Prop 13 means that here, in some of the richest neighborhoods in the country, our property taxes can be extraordinarily low. During a 30-year period where house prices might increase eight-fold, property taxes might only triple. Without property tax revenue, schools are comparatively poor.

That’s not the happy part.

I asked to teach reading to younger kids. I found myself in a classroom of first graders. They had been taught to read in Spanish. They were good at it. They’d learned, on their own to speak English. They were pretty good at that too. Starting in second grade, the district has no money for bilingual education, so they will switch to reading in English only. The teacher was also a native Spanish speaker, with 20 years experience. Very good at her job.

I was there to help prepare for transition. It’s so easy to attach to children at that age. The sweetness of their faces, their brushed hair, the little cheeks to hold oneself back from pinching. I have to bite my teeth together when I’m around cute small children, they are so delicious. In full disclosure, sometimes I was annoyed at the commitment.

I spent two hours, two afternoons per week, sitting at a table with four kids at once. Ten to twelve minutes a session, so everyone in the class got a turn. So little time. But we reviewed word lists, wrote stories, told stories, drew pictures, labelled pictures, talked.

Took me a while to learn all their names. Old brain meet 24 kids. So it became kind of a game, they would rush in from the playground and crowd around my little low u-shaped table, saying, “Miss Lisa, what’s my name?” “And me?”

I don’t want to get too sentimental about this, or distort my importance in any way.

One week it was really warm. The classrooms are trailers, without air conditioning. Anyway, one day, maybe 15 minutes into our class time, the teacher looked at me and said, “We can’t do this. It’s too hot. Let’s go outside.”

So out we went. Luckily, there’s a small playground in the front of the school with a lawn and trees. First I read the kids a book. Do any of you know the Henry and Mudge series? Very cute. Then we just let them play. You could see them, free and at the same time well-behaved, teaching themselves all sorts of things.

One group played tag, working out a game with rules and exploring social dominance. One group followed a caterpillar around, wondering where it came from, chiding those who wanted to experiment with bug squishing. Three boys played the whole time on the push roundabout, only they didn’t push it and they didn’t go round.

When the time came to go back to class, I gathered up the boys at the roundabout. “Miss Lisa,” one said, “We are talking about how we could make a fountain!” They’d dug a moat, and were thinking about how they might run a hose through it, if they had a hose.

I did say to them, “You are engineers!” We did talk about being fountain designers. It’s hard not to want to give kids glimpses into the worlds they might enter. But you can’t marry yourself to outcomes or feel special for what you do.  Just walk along next to three little boys, chatting on a hot day, following a line painted on the walkway. Try not to get a sunburned head. I did learn their names.

If you are in any position to do so, go help someone this year. You might have ulterior motives, you might make mistakes, but if you stay close enough to see that is the best I know about good.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Makeup For Running Out The Door Every Day, If You So Choose, Especially When You Are Over 50

Prepare for a strange but true linkage.

The effects from stress of my mother’s move and care have surprised me. One of the most pronounced – my need to clean up. Not just my house but also emotional detritus. If that makes sense. Sorting through relationships that have foundered, speaking up in places where I’d been silent. And, like today, delivering on commitments that have trailed for years.

A long time ago on this blog, a commenter who goes by HHH (I have met her in person, she is also a Princeton alumna) asked me to do a post on everyday makeup. In her place of work, she noticed that women often over- or under-did it. “OK,” I thought, “I can do that. Maybe a video.” I agreed to post.

Years passed.

I did not forget. The promise nagged. Meanwhile, companies contacted me about reviewing various makeup products. I didn’t engage. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I did.

So here, all in one package from the odd universe:

  1. A post on everyday makeup
  2. The first and probably only video ever of LPC on this blog
  3. A giveaway of a non-toxic, small business, big glamour cream blush

Makeup For Running Out The Door, Every Day

What’s your goal for makeup, absent a special occasion? At 59, mine is to soften, gently, the effects of aging. I find my face is now regressing to the mean, AKA turning a uniform color. My hair, my cheeks, my lips, all but my eyes converge on neutral. And, my skin tone is breaking up, with age spots, etc. As a result, my features get lost in my years.

Makeup returns my face. Not the face I remember, of course. I am not looking to erase wrinkles, or eliminate sag, or color myself up for dark city nights. But, if I’m going to make the effort to paint, which often I will not, I want to make myself more visible.

I’m also trying to move to safer cosmetics, over time. No further ado.

Makeup Video 2016 from LPC on Vimeo.

For Those Who Don’t Like Videos


  1. Start With The Base Of Face

    1. I use, as I have said, Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturizer, in Bisque. When this runs out, I’m thinking of trying Juice Cosmetics Tinted Mineral Moisturizer, for safer ingredients. Any other suggestions from the crew? I apply with the Beauty Blender, using the fat end of the sponge, boinging it onto my skin round and round, until I have the coverage I like. If I want to apply extra in places, I use the narrow end.
    2. Then, where needed on age spots, or redness (why redness, why?) I pat on a little Clé de Peau .concealer on my ring finger. Very expensive, but hugely effective. I’m not really prone to dark circles, but I might add some under my eye if inspired. The key is a light touch. We’re not looking for flawless skin, only a blurring of age-induced discoloration
  2. Add A Bloom Of Ancient Roses

    1. I had used, for ages, a YSL cream blush. It was discontinued. As I was searching for a substitute, the Julie Hewett rep contacted me. Would I be interested in reviewing any of their products?
    2. Why yes. Yes I would. Enter Cheekie, in Posie. Feels almost waxy in the pot, but all that makes it to your finger, and then to your cheek, seems to be color. And a beautiful color it is too, subtle, sophisticated. Easily blended on your cheek, quick as a fox. A glamourous pink fox. Thumbs up. Keeping it. Using it. Liking it.
    3. I will probably try some more of the Julie Hewett line. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, and was founded by a Hollywood makeup artist. All products are cruelty-free.
  3. Consider The Lawrence Girls’ Eyes

    1. My eyes seem to be getting brighter. Bluer. Maybe just in contrast to fading skin, but I like the effect and want to bring it out. So, after I’ve based my face, I move on to eyebrow pencil. Not something I had used in the first 55 years of my life, but now one of my most important tools. I like Givenchy‘s. Because it’s a pencil, you can carelessly draw a few strokes; because it’s powder, you can then brush those strokes into something resembling an eyebrow.
    2. Then mascara. I believe that any tube of new mascara is better than any tube of old mascara. So, for everyday, buy something that darkens your eyelashes without irritating your eyes, and replace it often. I’ve been using Dr. Hauschka for years now. Added bonus, it smells like roses.
    3. Oh, and the Lawrence Girls’ Eyes is how my mother referred to the blue from her side of the family. Very 19th century, don’t you think?
  4. Finally, Lips, To Have And To Smooch

    1. Some women, as they age, rely on vivid lipstick. Sandra Salin does this particularly well. Given that I’m going for Did You See Her Blue Eyes? I like to keep my lipstick sheer and vaguely lip-colored. And, as I’ve aged, my everyday lipstick has progressed from a brick red, to a matte brownish pink, to a lighter brownish pink, and now to pink stick gloss. Currently, Chanel’s Rouge Coco Shine in Étourdie. I do want to find a similar color with safer ingredients. This? One of these?
    2. I’ll often use just a tinted lip balm, usually Burt’s Bee’s in Pomegranate.

Off we go.

Once I realized that videos were not easy, and that peering into my computer made me look my worst, I had second thoughts about posting this. But a commitment is a commitment, if only to oneself. One wonky video in pulled-back hair and pronounced wrinkles of face and shirt surely builds character. It perhaps tests your tolerance; thank you in advance for your forebearance.


We will return to our usual written world directly.

If you’d like to try the Julie Hewett Cheeky, in Posie, let me know in the comments, and I’ll pick a winner Friday and send a pot along.


Julie Hewett provided product for review and giveaway, but neither sponsorship nor compensated links. Other links in this post may generate commissions.

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