Old MBAs Will Make Matrices Out Of Everything, Even The Process Of Learning Style

As you know, I’m in the process of learning about gardens and interiors what I knew about clothes. So I spend a lot of time studying, on the Internet.

Information abounds. However, with several decades of adulthood and opinions under my belt, I work at keeping my mind open to new ideas and methodologies. I always find a good taxonomy prevents bias. Don’t you?

I now envision style education across these two axes:

  • Inspiration: Everything beautiful, totally your taste, who cares if it’s impossible!
  • Education: Valuable skills, techniques, and principles, no matter whether you share the tastes of the imparter or not.

Business school ahoy!

I made a matrix, using Photoshop gradients, as the Internet taught me. Luckily I know I’m a dope about PS, so I pay the tutorials all due respect.


In old school business school tradition, the matrix generates four quadrants, and categories. Let’s review!

  • High Inspiration, Low Education: Eye Candy. Wow that 13th century French manor is gorgeous, no I’m not going to replace my ranch house with yellow sandstone any time soon.
  • High Education, Low Inspiration: Lessons. Detailed, well-thought-out instructions on how to paint a bookcase, from someone who wants to match the colors of their ruffled valance to a mound of teddy bears.
  • Low Inspiration, Low Education: Black Hole. Run away! The Internet abounds in this kind of stuff, ugly stupid directions on how to design ugly stupid spaces. Clickbait. The price of all that free good information.
  • High Inspiration, High Education: Flow. Almost impossible to find, in my case, and maybe in yours. Very little content focuses on how precisely to decorate a 1950’s ranch house in a slightly bohemian but Sturdy High WASP vein, or how to plant a disciplined garden of California natives. Sort of like looking for another Over-50 Polished Tomboy blog.

Good learning demands the capacity to absorb way more than you are ever going to use.

And here are some site examples in the quadrants, for my particular tastes. Yours, of course, will vary. You guys recommended many of these links, by the way, thank you.

  • Eye Candy: These sites train the eye, and help uncover universal principles. Beautiful, cool, hip even if you’re unlikely to wear that, paint your room that color, or build a parterre. And never say never.
    • Faux Fuchsia (so vivid, so amusing)
    • Frock Philosophy (ladylike, such understanding of color)
    • Grechen’s Closet (I tried to dress like her, can’t, love how she has developed a style that is so uniquely hers)
    • Accidental Icon (the hair! the sunglasses! the attitude!)
    • Door 16 (she does that wooden floor sparse furnishings thing so well)
    • Manhattan Nest (ripping up floors with the best of them. My gosh but that man has a good eye.)
    • ABCD Design (a gorgeous old stone house on the East Coast with a barn)
    • My Scandinavian Home (just what it says. White-washed room upon white-washed room. Learning the art of sparse.)
    • Mrs. Blandings (the Givenchy of personal interior blogs. She paints her own walls.)
    • Down to Earth (quite different, this one. An Australian women who lives off the land, the inspiration is all about a simple home existence, no focus on beauty at all)
    • And, of course, Pinterest – My two favorite interior pinners are Susan Daniel and cevd.
  • Lessons: Not your taste or geography – Some of the most useful sites I know are written by people whose taste differs widely from my own. These women wear brighter clothes, design more formal gardens, and use a lot of yellow. And, they know their stuff.
    • Imogen Lamport at Inside Out Style (the science of clothing that suits you)
    • Tara Dillard (gardens with gravel and lessons on design)
    • Maria Killam (houses with vivid pastels, a disciplined approach to choosing paint colors)
    • Emily Henderson (all kinds of on-trend interior styling and really useful design tips)
  • Flow:
    • Allyson at That’s Not My Age (an over-50 style blogger also fond of tomboy gear but the real deal)
    • Chronica Domus (writing about a very civilized lifestyle, her post on lemons has been good for my cutting boards)
    • Dirt Simple (The most beautiful garden blog I’ve found. Although she’s in Michigan, her container plantings can teach anyone anywhere how to do good pots.)
  • Black Hole: Would I subject you to a list of horrible sites? Nope.


Of course, all this theory and deconstruction reveals nothing in and of itself. I use it here, as in the rest of life, as a way to keep my own prejudices and preconceptions at bay, to remind myself to always test assumptions before coming to an answer.

The Hands Of Time, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:05am

I love mornings. So simple and happy.

Wake up, make tea, make toast, sit down, browse the Internet. I’m not easily simple, the drive to analyze is strong. But maybe complexity sleeps in.

Saturday mornings I do all the above, but also, write a blog post. Imagined, drafted, written, edited, in the time between whenever I start my second cup of tea and noon. Them’s the rules I made.

This morning, however, I sat down to write and realized that my hands hurt. Pain complicates. I imagine some of you out there are in pain and I want to tell you I am so, so sorry. I hope you get better soon.

High WASPs don’t believe in complaining. They barely believe in aspirin. I’m not a good fighter, but the High WASP training taught me to endure. Sometimes for no reason. Sometimes even when enduring made a solution impossible.

This morning, hands hurting, I went to read my Twitter feed. Avoiding pain, I suppose. Lo and behold, Flat Rock Creek Notebook, who occasionally comments here, had posted a link with pointers about hand health for needlepoint. Let’s say writing is my needlepoint. Fingers required.

I did a few of the exercises, and feel better already. Also like kind of a dope for all those years I gritted my teeth and carried on. How one learns the complicated stuff and not the easy I do not know.

Old dog, new tricks — especially simple ones.

Thank you, universe. Have a wonderful weekend, all.


Neiman Marcus 40% Sale On The Above And Beyond

Pamela Rowland Evening Gown


A Neiman Marcus sale may not be the right place for savvy bargains on classic basics.


But it sure as heck yields some over-the-top, special occasion splendors like this Pamela Rowland evening dress. All silk, even the lining. Reduced from $3990 to $1596. I swear I’d love to wear that to something. Someone might like Donna Karan’s hooded jersey tunic, and wear it to everything, as a signature. And anyone might want a good trench.

Yes, there’s a classic basic or two because, probably, someone Sturdy couldn’t help themselves.

What sold out is sometimes the most interesting part of the whole shebang.

An August Afternoon At Bean Hollow Beach On The Northern California Coast

As it happened, on Saturday the sun shone.


Even over the Pacific.

The beaches of this part of Northern California used to be a local secret. No longer. Take Highway 1, start at the small town of Princeton-by-the-sea (not making that name up, I promise), drive south. You’ll pass the larger town of Half Moon Bay, then the state beaches of San Gregorio, Pomponio and Pescadero. Pescadero is the most beautiful, wide and sandy, but on the rare hot coastal Saturday you have to arrive early for a parking spot.

We were not early.

So we drove even further south, to Bean Hollow. I’d never been there before. “Bean” refers to the beach’s unusual shiny little round pebbles. The geology is unique in our area.

The behaviors of the occupants, however, aren’t. Little boys yell at waves, water dogs swim out for tennis balls, and middle-aged women clamber about the rocks.

These are not East Coast, or Southern beaches. Maybe Maine is like this, I don’t know, but here you won’t find wall-to-wall towels or radios or even much volleyball. On a sunny day, everyone’s aware the fog might roll in any minute, so they bring tents. They wear shoes. The wind blows.

The people feel temporary.


The Pacific, otherwise.


I put my feet in the water, at your suggestion, but my pants kept getting wet, so I sat down on a local boulder.


Those pebbles are so round and smooth they are comfortable for walking. Because they don’t get your feet dirty, you can just dry off in the sun before you put your shoes on. Say, for example, you forget to bring towels.

Then you might, as we did, drive back north to Princeton-by-the-sea, to eat take-out fish and chips at Barbara’s. Walk out onto the docks and see what the fisherman are selling from their ice chests. We resisted stopping for a beer and a salad at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, but you might not. Neither might we, on a day when the fog comes in.

Cold Feet In The Pacific On Saturday, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:27am

It’s Saturday in California! To be precise, an August Saturday, in Northern California! The whole rest of the weekend, and the rest of the month, stretch out ahead.

I’m in the mood for adventure. Just like the year when my children finally began to sleep through the night, after weeks of sofa-bound illness I feel my cheerful self return. Cheer demands we leave the sofa behind.

Where to go?

Maybe we”ll drive over the hill in search of fog.

Americans tend to visit Northern California in February and March. I understand why, much of the rest of the country is in snow and sleet. But here that time of year is usually rainy or chilly or both. Unpredictable in any case. In spring you won’t really understand why so many of us moved here, and once here, why we stay.

It’s probably a Saturday in August that brought us and kept us. Now our skies are blue. And blue and blue and blue. Blue like we invented it. Except along the coast. There, wet cold Pacific air meets dry inland heat and makes fog.

As a teen I spent one summer living in San Francisco. I loved to drive down the freeway anticipating inland skies. But it’s been so hot on the Peninsula lately, the months without rain so relentless, I’m in the mood for drizzle. I’m telling, you, come to Northern California in August.

Maybe we’ll drive over the hill to the Pacific. Maybe we’ll park in an asphalt lot along the highway, and make our way down one of the yellow cliffs to the wild. Hop from rock to cratered rock, balancing. Maybe the ocean, because it’s not a sea, make no mistake, maybe it’s gray-green. The waves will sweep across the sand, all white bubbles and sand rattles.

Our sand is neither Caribbean powder, nor British pebbles. Something in between.

Maybe I’ll take off my shoes and get my feet so cold in the water they hurt. One of those things like pimiento cheese — found young, loved forever, misunderstood by many. I feel the same way about sea anemones.

In any case, it’s Saturday. The first day of August. Time for an adventure. Have a wonderful weekend everyone.


The Best Hair Tool For Quick Polish Amidst Messy Hair Days

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, in which they reduce prices on merchandise before full fall pricing begins, draws to a close on Monday.

I know this sale is the real deal because, before it began, I paid full price elsewhere for this hair straightener. The ghd Classic Styler.

ghd hair straightener

I find that using a straightener works really well for a retired lifestyle,  for my middling wavy hair in particular. I can wash my hair less frequently (which is good for its health), wander around in a ponytail or braid in the garden, put it up with a hair fork if I want to pull things together a little more for errands, then use the straightener any time I want actual polish.

Maybe the curlier of hair can weigh in on whether this works for them?

I am not yet enough of an expert to produce the look here, but I did use it here. Very easy. I run it through 4-inch strips of hair, holding the hair-in-waiting away with a big banana clip. If I’ve just showered, I’ll use some of this product (no parabens, sulfates, or silicones) too.

Full priced at $185, Nordstrom has reduced it to $145.

Was This My Fault? Or, A Review Of Two Books, “Hope and Other Luxuries,” and “Elena Vanishing”


As occasionally happens, I have a book to review.

In fact, two books. One, written by a mother, Clare B. Dunkle, an author of young adult fantasy. The other, written by Claire and her adult daughter, Elena. Both recount the years of Elena’s anorexia.

Clare’s book is called, ” Hope and Other Luxuries: A Mother’s Life with a Daughter’s Anorexia.” Elena’s, ” Elena Vanishing: A Memoir.”

It’s tricky to review these books because there are two stories to keep straight. Clare’s is long. Anorexia is a painful disease, its sufferers hard to like. But I find myself compelled to try because, although they were a challenging read, I couldn’t put them down. There’s more in there than just eating disorders.

We begin with the Dunkle family in Germany. In particular, with Elena and her sister’s school experience. At this point, the girls are in their early teens, if I remember. (I took no notes, I didn’t want the distraction.) Both stories tell of Elena’s encounters with doctors, Clare’s fights with insurance companies, and Elena’s admittance to residential treatment centers. Both chronicle the persistent downward spiral of anorexia.

But we are reading neither tragedy, “Oh, so sad, the waste of a young life,” nor suspense, “Is it now that she dies?” You know all along the story has a happy ending. There’s a picture of Elena, healthy, on the back flap of her book. You read for something else.

Five Reasons To Read “Hope and Other Luxuries” And “Elena Vanishing”

  1. You are a mother with an adult daughter, and you think about your relationship.
  2. You wonder, to this day, how much responsibility to take for how your kids turn out.
  3. You are fascinated by the question of narrator truth. These books offer two viewpoints, and yet they were both written at least in part by the mother. Some questions are never resolved.
  4. You are interested in the impact of voice in autobiographies. Clare Dunkle’s uncomplicated language, her simple plot-telling, in a reverse twist, creates a ghostly sense of something untold. As does the background knowledge that she writes fantasy fiction for a living.
  5. And finally, optionally, you have a family member with an eating disorder or an addiction.

Although never articulated as such, I found the real narrative engine for these books to be the question, “Was this my fault? Our fault?” Something every mother has asked herself, at least once.

Early in the book, we read a statement, never fully attributed, that while childhood anorexia is caused by the family, the later-onset variety is provoked by an external event. Elena experiences a candidate external event – revealed reasonable early in the book but I’ll keep it a mystery here – that could have gotten all this going.

And yet.

You finish the book wanting to ask more questions.

Three Unasked And Unanswered Questions

  1. Elena’s older sister has an episode of self-harming before Elena’s issues begin, runs away from home, meets a man, has a child, and then moves back home and gets married. This story isn’t told from her point of view. Would her thoughts have provided more detail, more insight?
  2. The father’s temper is mentioned but never described. Was it out of bounds?
  3. How much did the apparently poor doctoring matter, in the face of Elena’s lies?

But you understand that these questions drive you to the brink of the historical abyss of Blame The Mother. This sets up a compelling dynamic inside the reader that’s the primary reason to read the book. We ask ourselves, why is it so hard to take the story at face value? What is the right course, to question or to accept?

This is something I ask myself about my own children. When is it better for them that I take responsibility for their beings? When is it better that I believe them now to be autonomous units, making their own choices, in a world of peers, significant others, and colleagues? Motherhood doesn’t come with performance reviews, there are no double-blind studies to give us hard data.

In the end, whether Clare was complicit in Elena’s anorexia or not may matter less than the opportunity to participate in  the simple but complicated, open but mysterious, maternal self-questioning. I’m thinking of reading The Hollow Kingdom next. And I’m very, very glad Elena is OK.


Note: Ginee Seo, the editor from Chronicle Books, contacted me about sending the books for a review. I’d like to thank her for getting in touch. She noted that I’d written about my brief young adult experience with bulemia, and that she was a fellow Princeton alumna. Hard to turn down, that. As always, our agreement was that I would review only if I felt I had something to say, and that I would say only what I thought. If you do get a hold of  them, make sure to read Clare’s first. It will be easier to remember her timeline while reading Elena’s version, than to remember Elena’s while reading Clare.


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A DIY Project For Really Lazy People With A Sense Of Humor Who Like Beauty

It’s hard for me to finish projects that involve working with my hands. Because, impatient. Because, bad small motor skills. But perseverance, humor, and community work miracles. Anyone remember the “I want gold leaf for Christmas” idea? No reason you should. How about “I am dreaming of fuchsias?”

Oh how the stars align.

Here we have a garden variety clay pot. I almost said “terracotta,” but apparently it might be “earthenware.” So much terminology.


And here we have one “Speedball Mona Lisa Gold Leaf Kit.” It sat in my closet for 7 months, but never escaped the mental to-do list. Perseverance.


The gold leaf comes in several sheets, interleaved between orange pieces of tissue in a sort of pad. The kit itself comes with glue, sealant, but no brush. Since I now use this to apply tinted moisturizer, or foundation, I nonchalantly sacrificed the tool below to the cause. Would Coco approve? Let’s say yes.


I thought I’d need tweezers to hold the gold leaf, which, to cover an intricate trivet, I might. But I was just gilding one stripe, and I wanted an imperfect look.

Which I got. Here’s how it looked after the first go-round.


I brushed the glue on about 6 inches at a time, starting with a smaller stretch as a test. Turns out fingers make make a great tool for tearing off pieces of gold leaf, despite all breezy fluttering. Also for smudging said pieces onto the glue.

The whole process, gold leaf adhering to my fingers, foundation brush repurposed, my own ineptitude, made me laugh so hard I’m surprised I didn’t knock the pot over.


Turns out the materials are forgiving, you can keep smudging gold leaf until it looks OK.

The contrast of gilt and error.


One unforeseen result, a gold-flecked patio.


It swept up pretty easily. I kind of wanted to gold leaf something else immediately. I’m thinking lampshades.

But it’s fuchsia time!

And so to Annie’s Annuals, an East Bay tradition, about which I knew nothing until @ElizabethJSays (on Twitter) introduced me to @Fuchsiarius, and he in turn introduced me to Annie’s.



Oh this place! It’s huge. The planted displays!


It was difficult not to lose focus, not to start imagining multiple acres with multiple beds, a staff of gardeners and undergardeners. But I came home with, yes, a fuchsia.


Tiny aristocrats. This one is called Mrs. McDowell. Originally thought to be fuchsia gall mite resistant, in fact it is not fully so, but I risked all for the big blossoms. Reader, I planted it.


Along with three coleus, something called a Black-Eyed Susan but not the East Coast sort, and two heuchera with brownish-reddish-purplish foliage.

Although I imagine elegant hues of purple set off by impudent orange-yellow, the plantings don’t look like much at the moment. For now I’m hiding the gold stripe behind other pots, so as to keep it from overwhelming the companion vegetation.


And we wait. Gardening teaches patience, gold leaf forgives what it must. A small bit of fancy in my back yard.


By the way, for real fuchsia doings, take a look at @Fuchsiarius’s blog, Fuchsias In The City.

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“Finternships” Could Make Use Of So Much Knowledge Capital, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:03am

It’s possible I have too much time on my hands.

That’s quite an image. I see my hands, on the keyboard. Are they weighed down? No. I have time enough, just time enough.

But I do have more capacity than I’m using. It’s been two years since I retired. In that time, I’ve been a newlywed, I’ve decorated my house, I’ve tended my garden. I’ve gotten sick, and lain on the sofa, despondent and barely moving. That was not fun.

Recovered, I look around at everything both in place and in motion and I understand that I can do more. 58 feels youngish, even the kind of 58 that’s almost 59. I imagine heads nodding.

We’ve talked here about possibilities, volunteering, writing a book, and so on. Those threads are spinning. Someone also suggested going back to school. I loved college, and feel no need to repeat the liberal arts, but there is one skill that interests me, from my work life. Software design, i.e. interface design and user research. There are courses I could enroll in, if I chose, and maybe work I could take on, subsequently.


What if, in addition to internships, we had “finternships?”

See, in the corporate world, we take a fairly linear view of success. One becomes CEO, or CTO, at ages that vary depending on the size of the company. Other paths are assumed to be a weaker, failed version of the heroic course. As a result, if you’ve been a vice president – albeit of small organizations in my case – for over a decade, it can be hard to go back into the work force as an individual contributor.

I imagine in other areas — science, academia, medicine, law, politics — one faces a similar issue?

But what if we formalized the process for those at the end of their careers, just as we are doing, increasingly, for those at the beginning? What if we institutionalized something where people who topped out could step away honorably and into another, lower role? Perhaps with retraining?

A “finternship.” Or as academia does, emeritus. I imagine a meeting, in which someone leans over to ask in their colleague’s ear, “Who’s that?” and she answers, “Oh, that’s our fintern.”

After all, so many baby boomers are booming into later life. And even if we tire of the politics of upper management, or the travel, or the long hours, we know a lot. Many of us are consulting, or changing careers, but always unofficially, with no articulated space in the corporate story.

Heroic mythology requires both the king and the magician. In 2015, let’s say a queen and witch. The magic people are traditionally quite old. They may no longer saddle up, no longer carry a spear, but without their counsel one loses the war.

In a pinch they’ll even cast spells.

Hey, it’s just a thought.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

Taking Steps Towards Ethical Luxury, With A Merida Studio Rug Certified By GoodWeave

My children are grown. They don’t live here any more. Of course, now that I understand their capacity to thrive in the wild, I want them back. Ah well, let’s make lemonade.

As we have discussed, I’m turning my son’s room into a workroom, albeit one with a piece of furniture that looks suspiciously like a bed. My daughter’s space, on the other hand, will become the Guest Room, capital G, capital R.

But first we had to sort through two and a half decades of detritus. Beloved detritus. We brought both my kids home last month, with the express intention of clearing out.


“OK, Mom,” said my daughter the morning after she arrived, “Let’s go kick me out of your house.” I sputtered to answer, she replied, “I’m joking, Mom.”

We kept a lot. Beverly Bear, the dancer and the pith helmet. The photos and the figurines. As I said when I finally thought of a good response, “I’m happy to keep your treasured memories. But not your trash.” Every now and then I come up with a pretty bon mot.

Decluttered, we were ready for the first tenant. A rug.

Grand Tournai from Merida Studio

You see, I’d been in email discussion with a reader, Linda Pakravan of Access Design Group, for a while. (You can see her blog, here.) She’d been sending me gentle and constant reminders about sourcing rugs certified by GoodWeave. I’ll let the site speak.

“The handmade carpet industry exploits nearly 250,000 children. GoodWeave is helping to combat this problem and transform the rug industry by certifying child-labor-free rugs and by providing education and opportunities to rescued and at-risk children. The GoodWeave certification is implemented by GoodWeave International.”

In shining recognition of the group’s work, their head, Kailash Satyarthi, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, I would love to support their cause.

But it is difficult for the individual consumer to “shop” GoodWeave. Which is why Linda’s help was so useful. She suggested I look at rugs from a Massachusetts company called Merida. Not only GoodWeave certified, but committed to revitalizing the Fall River textile industry. Their portfolio is beautiful.

I was intrigued, charmed, and happy to be following up on my commitment to make the blog support these values. I want to align a love of luxury I cannot relinquish with my belief that humankind can get better if we just try.

Ethical luxury.

Here are the other samples Linda sent. Lots of jute, sisal, wool, linen. Perfect for an imaginary Sonoma house.


Here’s the Grand Tournai I chose. In Vanilla. Look at those long, long channels.


Shadows fall across it like private art.


It’s wool and sisal – soft and textured, both. Comfortable for bare feet, and for sitting. I’ve already tested it with toddlers, thumbs up. The full subtle impact registers in person.


The room itself, right now, looks fairly pitiable. So much to do. I’m after the same didn’t-work-too-hard, decorated-from-a-lived-life, imperfect-but-thoughtful look as in the rest of my house. But, I also want to live up to the elegance of the rug.

What would I like to reuse, if possible? For one, I am sentimentally and aesthetically attached to this duvet cover. Yes, I know it’s just a glorified sheet. Love’s unreasonable.


I’d also like to keep a table from my grandmother’s house. I’ve been told it was built in the 1930s, as a reproduction of 19th century furniture. Sounds about right, Grandmama spent the ’30s as well-resourced wife to a Springfield, MA business owner. She liked a little glamor.


And this Pottery Barn dresser, because I have no interest in buying more furniture than necessary. Drawers are handy. Surfaces are useful for displaying mementos we just can’t throw away.


And no way are we dumping Beverly Bear, her Rabbit cousin, or a hand-painted chest that was always used for dressup clothes. Ah the ice skating costumes and suit jackets. Kimonos and scarves. Spangles upon spangles upon spangles. But I digress.


None of this goes together automatically. But we’re resourceful at midlife, are we not?

I’m thinking I’ll use window coverings, another side table, an upholstered chaise longue, and lamp shades as unifying elements. I imagine cream windows, a matching side table, a vivid print for the chaise, and red or turquoise shades. But, I imagine a lot of things.

I’ve realized I like to use rugs as a starting point. For the workroom, it was this Harlequin from Annie Selke. For the guest room, I knew I wanted simple and white-ish. I’d considered this, from Serena & Lily. But now the Grand Tournai is on the real floor. GoodWeaves is, as they say, in the house.

I’m living with it to see what ideas evolve, passing the door every day, and imagining.

Let’s open the virtual floor to you. I learn from your thinking, even it takes a very different slant than mine.


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