Hope and the holiday


After today, the Passage shutters until January 9, 2018, for a pause to celebrate and relax. I wish the same for you.

The sentiment I welcome this time of year, whether one draws it from a faith tradition or not, is hope. Not joy, not comfort, not goodwill toward men even if that term includes women. (Salma Hayek is the angel on my tree this year.)

So, hope. I hope harassers of any stripe will pause before acting to assess whether their actions serve dignity and safety, whether they would like those whom they love subjected to such acts—and then choose to change.

At Christmastime I think too, of lonely people, who have no one to visit or receive. Loneliness may inhabit the heart even if a person is bustling to work, or standing in line in a bank. I hope each of us does what we can to connect and ease that ache.

I suspect that we distract ourselves from community by the focus on things. I'm seeing more and more young adults stepping away from that model of consumerism and many aspects of the prevailing economic model.  I hope they keep pushing, organizing, seeking ways to improve equality in the world my generation is leaving to them.

I hope both countries of which I am a citizen resolve their conflicts peaceably and that the US finds some way to revive its commitments to protection of the environment.

I hope Montréal's new mayor and her colleagues make good on their promises for more social housing and transportation.

I have frivolous hopes, too. I hope women stop fretting about the size of their pores—just use sunblock and moisturizer and get on with life. I hope now that I've found a well-fitting, inexpensive bra that it isn't discontinued like the last one. (Dadgummit, Olga.) I hope Patti Smith gives us another book soon.

And I hope you keep walking through the Passage. It was named for the tiny arcades of Paris, those idiosyncratic, half-hidden retreats in which to browse and restore ones' self away from the chaos and commotion of city life. Your comments connect me both to you, and to continuing to write.

I am asking for a gift: Would you tell us what you're hoping for? If you have a moment, I would love to hear that. Your hopes, humble or grand, serious or lighthearted, will give me hope, too.


Recommended: Leslie Caron, The Reluctant Star

Tip of the frothy, plumed "Gigi" hat to reader Barbara R., who sent an e-mail to recommend the recent documentary, "Leslie Caron, The Reluctant Star" and ask, "What are those pearls she's wearing?" (Spoiler alert: big white and golden South Seas, as befits a grande dame.)




You can find the film posted for free streaming on various web sites, some of which may be accessible only by country, but look for it, make a pot of tea, and settle in to a major charm initiative by one of the greats. Try Knowledge Network, which Barbara gave me, TVO or PBSInternational.




Caron was, and remains, her own woman. After being whisked at barely 19 from the corps of Paris' Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees to Hollywood, she matured enough even under autocratic studio rule to put her tiny foot down about cheesecake shots and arranged dates with men whom she had never met.

She was one of the very few dancer-actresses who moved from dance roles (partnered with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, below) to drama, earning nominations and awards for both genres.


We are served only tidbits of her routines with her legendary male dance partners, but even those show her graceful, classical counterpoint to their loose-limbed jazz style. "An American in Paris" stands as one of the "most perfect films ever made".

"The Reluctant Star" offers carefully-controlled glimpses into both her professional and personal life, but even those peeks fascinate. It is as if you were invited into a magnificent townhouse, but only as far as the sitting room.

For example, following her American and British award-winning films, Caron returned to her native France, hoping to join the artistic community there. After an initial film, the classic "The Man Who Loved Women", directed by François Truffaut, nothing more came to her. The pain of failure to find acceptance in France's artistic community is evident still—yet she stayed forty years, a very long part of her life about which we are told nothing.

And while Caron is most definitely a ladyperson, surely there were liaisons other than that with the notorious Lothario Warren Beatty. Only one of three marriages is mentioned, and while her son, British producer Christopher Hall, has a sweet cameo, his sister, Jennifer Caron-Hall, is glimpsed in a split-second childhood clip.

The lacunae do not obscure her beauty and backbone, and she does refer to bouts of severe depression, similar to her mother's. Those of us wondering how to dress at 85 have only to admire Caron in simple, elegant trousers, her sweater or jacket always accessorized with a beautiful pin or those pearls. Her enviable posture and purposeful stride (on what have been called the most beautiful legs in film) are the legacy of a life at the barre and professional discipline.

Caron was 1.56m, or just under 5 ft 2in. in "Gigi" and "Daddy Long Legs" and probably shorter now; petite women will have a lesson in how to create a dramatic visual presence.

Toward the documentary's close, Caron, in a double rope of white and a single strand of golden South Seas, is interviewed by Jane Pauley, also in South Seas. Watching these two pearled personnages on my laptop allowed me to stop and stare, and then continue toward the end, which came far too soon.

An ideal holiday treat to watch snuggled up on the sofa, pearls optional.




Bailing: Tis the season for non-commitment

Last summer, David Brooks published a spot-on piece in the New York Times, "The Golden Age of Bailing".  And now we're into the prime social season, when holiday invitations stack up like planes over LaGuardia.  

Brooks notes that bailing, loosely defined as breaking a specific commitment, has levels:
"There is canceling on friends. This seems to follow a bail curve pattern. People feel free to bail on close friends, because they will understand, and on distant friends, because they don't matter so much, but they are less inclined to bail on medium-tier or fragile friends."

Bailing from a public event attended by many ("I'll meet you guys at the ballgame"), is less fraught than cancelling out of a dinner at someone's home, especially when it's a special occasion. 

My experience is that under-40s are big bailers, but the habit has spread to any age old enough to make their own plans. Nancy Colier, in "Last-Miniute-itis: The Behavior Plague of Our Time, says, "When I make a date to meet with someone these days, in person, there is about a 50/50 chance that the meeting will happen, with most cancellations occurring within an hour of the appointed meeting time."  

We closed last summer with a traditional grand aioli party, to which we invited a visiting friend, and her 33-year-old son and his girlfriend, who live practically across the street. The girlfriend bailed an hour and a half before the party by getting our friend to place the call on her behalf. She had been to an electronic music festival for several days, dancing till 6 a.m. and was just too tired to attend. 

We host these big parties rarely now, and Festival Girl will not be on the list for the next one.  (This was not her first cancellation.)

I have low tolerance for bailers, because I've not been one myself. My parents did not allow me to pull the covers over my head after a late night; by god, you took an aspirin, put on your dress and showed up at Aunt Margaret's for dinner. 

Brooks lays the blame at the vibrating foot of technology: so easy to text, evading direct contact with the host standing at the stovetop, who will now have to figure out what will keep and what goes to the dog. So does Colier: "The cell phone... is teaching us that it is okay to behave in a way that is disrespectful, undignified, and ultimately unkind."  

But all disappointments contain a gift. Festival Girl's behaviour led me to realize how much I appreciate the the beauty of good manners, by which I mean one's conscious consideration of others.

Be warned, bailers, that when bailees don't share your foible, they are not sanguine about your blow-off.  There is a limit to your cancel-and-apologize routine, and we're on to you. The Internet is full of articles like "5 Steps to Bail on Your Friends", and—prize for best headline oxymoron—"How to Flake Out on Someone Gracefully".

Crises, psychic storms and just plain exhaustion will happen, and I'll accommodate that, but I've stepped back from serial flake-outs and the perpetually "running late" types. And I don't mean to pound on Millennials, but at least they don't have memory problems; when I don't turn up it's not because I've bumped you for somebody else, our rendezvous vaporized from my brain. (Yes, I have a calendar, but you have to remember to read it.)

Nor do all Millennials accept their friends' behaviour blithely. Son J. invited a friend and three of that friend's summer visitors (whom he had not met) to his home for a bar-be-que. They cancelled less than an hour before, because the visitors decided they wanted to go to a club. 

J. had very limited means but had prepared a lavish spread; he was upset by their incivility and the waste, and vowed, Not inviting him again. He said, in his slightly formal way, "I keep my commitments."

End of elder rant, and so nice to see you; the coats go in the bedroom.





Smargadine

Adjective; "of or relating to emeralds".

Since many readers were fascinated by the story of Miriam's emerald doublet, I am "doubling back" to emeralds, this time, as whole stones.

Emeralds worry buyers; they are chary of a stone that needs a little care, are practically never perfectly transparent and have experienced price volatility, up and down, over the years. But look at this Edwardian emerald and diamond ring (from Beladora; price, $US 8, 500): it has retained its beauty since the earliest days of the last century:
An emerald is the Elizabeth Taylor of gems: an exotic beauty, a bit temperamental, but you can't take your eyes off her. So, two things to know:

1. Emeralds are included; the swirls, bits and bubbles you see in their depths are called the "garden" of the stone, and are not considered faults. You can see these without any magnification. Avoid black inclusions, either as lines or specks, and stones with an evident fissure on the surface.

Brazilian emeralds look different from Zambian and Columbian emeralds; emeralds also come from other countries, but those are the big three.

2. They are typically treated with oil to improve the clarity, or resin to fill tiny fractures. Oiling is deemed acceptable, while the use of coloured resins is not. That's why you will want to buy an emerald from a reputable jeweller, and for large stones, get a GIA or other well-recognized certificate.

Hue, tone and saturation

These three elements of colour are important factors when you shop for any coloured gem; this graphic is part of an excellent GIA tutorial on coloured gems.


The emerald's quality, and therefore value, will also be affected by cutting grade and polish. The faceted emerald you want is a glowing green headlight, no matter the size or shape. A one-carat emerald will look larger than a diamond of the same weight, because emerald is a lighter mineral. (Link to good summary of emerald quality factors.)

Modern emerald designs

Taylor's emeralds were classic grande-dame stunners, but today's stones take grande into latte-land; you can wear them every day.


Left: Oui emerald (4mmx3mm) and black enamel pendant by Nikos Koulis: just a little dash of green on a white gold chain; price, $1,736 at Twist.

Centre: Judy Geib is the reigning Emerald Queen, using them often in her fanciful, mismatched designs. The Casino Royale Earrings contain 6mm x 7mm cabochon-cut emeralds set in 18k yellow gold; price, $1, 300.

Right: Mociun Capella Stone Cluster ring uses asymmetrical black and white diamonds to frame a 4mm emerald; price, $2, 500.

An especially cool way to wear emeralds is as a single earring, alone or mated with another earring. Just make sure those small stones are vivid.
Left: Mocion make a tiny 2mm emerald Moonray Stud set in 14k gold for a reasonable $US 185.  Also shown, white diamond, and available in black diamond, too.

Right: Single chevron stud, by Ambre Victoria; price, $534 at Broken English.

Emerald jewellery is also being made in interesting cuts, such as the rose-cut emerald slices in Monique Péan's earrings, which also feature conflict-free diamonds; at Barney's; price, $9, 800.


New life for older emeralds

A vintage emerald may show some signs of wear, especially abrasion on exposed settings. It can be revived in the hands of an experienced jeweller or cutter.

If you have a vintage emerald that looks dull, look for a specialist in restoration. Re-oiling will improve the colour; repolishing erases years of wear. Damaged stones can usually be recut, but perhaps not to the same shape. For more info about the restoration and repair of coloured stones, and what skilled cutter can do, see The Gem Doctor, Vancouver-based Anthony Lloyd-Rees' site.

Here is a terrific post by Cecile Raley of Cecile Raley Designs, who describes the before/after oiling of a pair of round emeralds, with photos.

See also her Etsy shop, yvonneraley, for both finished jewellery and loose stones. For example, on the Etsy site, Ms Raley sold this lively pair of 3.5mm emeralds for about $US 350; a simple setting in gold would add several hundred dollars.

When buying any of the Big Four precious gems (diamond, sapphire, ruby, emerald), deal with a jeweller or gemologist, rather than a department store salesperson.

When a jeweller promises to make you something with emeralds, be aware that certain settings put high pressure on a stone, and you are just asking for problems down a pavéd road. A piece should be designed with eventual repair in mind. If you're thinking of having an emerald (or any coloured gem)  custom-made or reset, here's valuable advice, "Coloured Gemstone Design and Repair", by Suzanne Wade, retrieved from Ganoskin.com.

Don't shy away from the gorgeous emerald, just give them a little love and respect. Though jewellers can offer other other green stones that do not require so much tending, nothing else provides such plush, glowy, velvety depth, and if you're a Nugget Girl, emerald comes in big sizes.



Taylor was famous for her collection of jaw-dropping emeralds, which you can see here. I saved them for last, because I don't want you to think of emeralds as ballgown stones. The casual pieces in the Passage's windows today were made for versatility.

But you do feel different in an emerald, even a tiny one. Nothing wrong with a dash of mystique at the market!









The closet: Taking classics to current

I stand, nearing year-end, with a beady eye on my closet. Everything is, as my mother would say, "perfectly good", but is it current?

Sisters, I was served a wake up call, thanks to a stranger.  I was in a shop last week when a woman about my age walked in in a 1980s fur coat, matching fur hat, and patchwork cardigan. She looked very well dressed...for 1990. That was "classic", once, and now it's old-timey as a lorgnette. If she feels good in it still, that's her business, but I don't wish to follow suit.

To consider how to work with what I have, I looked for classic pieces like those I own, worn by women who have a decidedly modern vibe. No weird or unwieldy proportions, nothing short, tight and "cute": adult clothes, skirts at the knee, shoes to walk in.

Photos left, right: The Sartorialist
Left: Turquoise coat over black tank and an at-the-knee knit skirt with appliqué detail; white sneakers. A coat in an unusual colour is an outstanding update; Mom again: "Your coat is the first and last thing people see." White sneakers keep the whole thing casual, you can walk in them, and they're cool. I have the coat for next spring.

Centre: Judi! Ecru! I can't wear beiges but never mind, I wanted a reminder that neutral, tonal palettes always look smart, and admired Dame Judi's supple bag with no visible logo, charms or clunky hardware. (To get around the ever-climbing cost of quality leather goods, try consignments.)

But since I saw the locally-made Casgrain leather bag, which converts from tote to backpack, displayed at Lowell, I am coveting its clean chic:


Right: Classic black/white plaid reefer over black denim and a basic black turtleneck, and then... the red boots. Option: swap in any solid bright, and choose a lower heel, but that coat is much livelier than all-black, my city's default. That's Yasmin Sewell, whom I always find inspiring.
Shown: Vince Camuto Chelsea bootie:



When classic hits the wall

I've written about the generational marker of coordination, and which is still seen in certain sartorial circles. So sometimes I collect What Not to Wear images. All of these shots feature a classic trouser or skirted suit, and the rigorous coordination takes the lead in making them look passé:


Bright coordinates persist in department stores, sold by the same vendors that wonder why they have lost Millenials' business. The jewel tones are harsh, yet often chosen for the camera—they make it hard to look away. For women in public life, that might be the goal—but it's not modern.

Clinton is dressing differently in her post-election life. Now that every outfit is not chosen to telegraph some kind of message, she can wear more sober tones, as she did for an appearance in Montréal this fall:


She wil probably still coordinate her trousers and tops, because the unbroken column elongates her petite figure, but the grey jacquard is far more current than the mans' suit in electric hues.

That hypercoordination gets little play beyond those roles and some mother-of-the-bride outfits, and not by women under middle age. Drop by a pub or coffee shop where young adults gather, and you'll see black-and-white houndstooth with citron yellow; sky blue with taupe and a shot of coral; red with a green-and-pink floral.

You may notice combinations you never thought of, and be warned off any incipient matchiness except for all-black—they do wear that.


Accessories don't save everything... but close

On The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman shoots eccentric colour mixes and pattern, usually on lithe young persons, but also shares his deep knowledge of fabrics, tailoring and fit. Frequent reading has warned me off some mistakes, and fanned my longing for reincarnation as a Milanesa.

"Modern" means neither the shortest or tightest piece you can get away with, nor the trendiest. (Schuman has never photographed a cold-shoulder sweater.)

Below, classic pieces, but each sparked by current, high-quality accessories.

All photos: The Sartorialist

Left: Classic trench in gray plaid with metallic boots and shiny charcoal bag: playing with a tonal palette, but also texture: a master class in detail.

Centre: Menswear checks tweaked by a bold graphic muffler, good sunglasses—and the 'accessory' of a great hair cut. I'm eyeing this should it go on sale:


Right: You might be thinking, What accessories? Look closely and you'll see her big ring, and two bracelets (one, woven cord on her right, the other, a thin bangle). You could wear a mid-scale earring, or even a necklace, if you prefer nothing on your hand or wrist. of All-navy needs a little tarting up, makeup-wise—she has red lipstick—but poppy or a deep wine would work too.
.
Most women have more than enough clothes. As Janice of The Vivienne Files once said, "We tire of our clothes before they tire of us." We slip into a rut concerning how we wear them, so a single investment accessory can punch up any number of old favourites.

And, as I consider Fur Coat Lady, I realize that some "classics" have a dated cut that no accessory can modernize. Her sweeping fur could be renovated into a short jacket or vest.


The best, for last

Most of the women on my idea board are smiling, even Theresa May, suffering a grip-and-grin with Vladimir Putin. The open, natural smile is a free, magnificent accessory, so hang on to yours! It will lift and polish anything you choose to wear, and make you feel better, too.

"You don't need a thing", I tell myself, "except for a pair of metallic shoes—but it wouldn't hurt to smile more."












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Jewellery Reno: Mum's emerald had a secret

Miriam inherited her mother's ca. 1940 three-stone diamond and emerald engagement ring. She wanted to reset the emerald as a modern ring she could wear everyday and one day pass it on to her youngest daughter.


Miriam lives several hours from Toronto, so visited a jeweller I recommended, Pam Chandler of Artwork Gallery. Miriam liked their clean, modern pieces, and asked Pam for ideas.
Tip #1: Someone may recommend a jeweller, but it's essential that you like what you see when you visit, which reflects the artist's sensibility. Jewellers design within their style range; avoid one who says he can "make anything".

Two wax models

The jeweller made waxes of a three-stone modern band. This is the process for a cast metal setting, and gives the client and idea of scale and shape.

Left: The first model was an oval, slightly bombé band with rounded edges. Miriam thought this was not exactly it.
Right: Miriam chose the second version, a uniform, knife-edged band, designed to use all the original stones and recycle the 14k yellow gold. (That sapphire and diamond band is an Artwork ring they looked at as an example.)
Tip #2: If the first try is not your ideal ring, ask for more options. You'll want to be entirely happy and this is the stage to get the shape and scale right.


Trouble in paradise!

Though some jewellers set their own stones, often a setter handles this work. And at this stage, Miriam got a shock. When he examined the emerald, the setter found it was a doublet, which is a thin layer of emerald glued to another, far less costly substance, in this case, glass. Emeralds, opals, and other gemstones are sometimes made into doublets in order to lower the cost.

The process is not considered deceptive if the practice is disclosed. These are not fakes (such as glass or other material sold as an emerald); they are assembled gems. Triplets also exist; in this case an additional clear layer is added to the top of the gem, usually glass or clear quartz.

Did Dad know the ring he chose was a doublet? Did Mum? It was treasured—and whether anyone knew is lost to time.

The setter would not reset the doublet because of the risk of shattering. Setting an emerald, always an included stone, takes nerves of steel, and a doublet is even more finicky because the emerald layer is  thin. Miriam had a choice: take the risk (probably with a different setter), or replace the stone.

Pam suggested a green tourmaline, and sent Miriam a shot of it sitting loose in the setting, which was partially completed. Miriam liked this stone.



Tourmaline is fairly tough, but under a microscope this one showed many inclusions; therefore, the setter thought it might not withstand the force of the hammer. (A claw setting is much more accommodating.)
Tip #3: If you are willing to buy another stone, you might take a chance, but I have always respected an expert setter's judgement. There's an axiom that "Any stone can be set; it just depends how", but in this case the setting dictated the stone.

On the hunt for glowing green 

Back to gem shopping! Fortunately, Miriam was in the hands of a jeweller with very high standards and superb taste in stones.

Pam sourced a 5mm chrome diopside, a rich green gem that's slightly softer than tourmaline, but in this protected setting, and with Miriam's loving care, it will be fine. When well-cut, chrome diopside is an exceptionally vivid stone and the colour is natural, never enhanced.

A new and whole stone

Left: Pam sent Miriam a photo of the finished ring; Miriam had one more trip to make into the city!
Right: On Miriam's hand, a beautiful blend of old and new. The ring fits perfectly; the back of the band is slightly flattened to minimize shifting. As Miriam says, her daughter will have the new gem to connect her to her mother, and the diamonds to connect her to her grandmother.


Tip #4: Jewellery restyling is both art and science. If the science doesn't line up—the gem isn't what you supposed, or it is weakened by wear or internal flaws—be prepared to look at replacements. Fortunately, in sizes under about 6mm, there are many bewitching coloured gems at very reasonable prices.

Miriam was delighted not only with her new ring, but with the process, and that's a credit to her equanimity. She learned a good deal about gemstones with this project, and took her time to consider her options. Miriam's doublet could still have another life—it's very pretty—as a clasp, pendant or ring that accommodates its true composition.

Had she preferred the vintage setting, she may never have known its secret. Now she does, and has a story to tell, as well as a new ring to enjoy.










Gifts: Stranger things

I was invited to a birthday party for a woman whom I had once, briefly. Because she was leaving soon for India, I gave her a travel journal. She said, warmly, "Imagine! I got a wonderful present from someone I don't even know!"

I can easily remember some lovely gifts I've been given by near-strangers, and each shows the giver had the grace to go beyond the generic, though I'd always appreciate a box of Baci.

In the window today, gifts for acquaintances, but they may also delight those whom you know well.  This is not the realm of the splashy present, so I have chosen examples under $US 30. (Note: Some items may now be sold, but you can find similar if you scout around.)

I like gifts that are useful and don't take up much space, but also provide pleasure—otherwise everyone would get Tupperware. If you can be briefed ahead on interests, that helps.

Below, two things a woman would likely enjoy unless she a) never makes mistakes, or b) doesn't sleep.


Left: Scented pencil erasers, $7 each by Aster de Vilette at LuckyScent. Maybe not essential, but are they not delightful?
Right: Breathable bamboo sleep mask, about $12 from Lucy & Mabs on Etsy. (The breathable ones make all the difference.) Handy for travel; planes or hotel rooms are often not as dark as a home bedroom.

A small china ring dish holds rings, earrings, keys; I look for handmade pieces that echo the recipient's style.


Left: The Queen Bee ring dish by California ceramic artist Manuela Marina is about $30; I love the motif and luxurious 22k detail.
Right: A vintage deep cobalt ring dish was made in Bavaria; price, about $20 from Etsy seller ClockWorkZoo, based in Vancouver.

Show me a woman past fifty and I will show you a nose that drips more often. Are we not beyond shredded tissues? Find a pure cotton or linen hankie that will look good peeking from a jacket pocket, or pulled out on the street. (Note: Shipping can cost more than the item, or can be reasonable—so your local vintage store is worth a look.)

It's especially thoughtful to give a hankie that fits the season, so she can carry it right away.


Clockwise from top left:
Winter: Pink shellfish! Perfect for those for whom winter means sunny destinations. A witty Swiss cotton hankie; price, $15.
Spring: Circus acrobats balance chairs and umbrellas; a hankie with the sticker still on, by the renowned textile artist Tammis Keefe; price, $20.
Summer: Demure pink with white daisies; price, $10.
Autumn: Vintage fall leaves and acorns in unusual colourway; price, $13.
For vintage pieces, check the condition in the listing.

Homemade gifts 

A delicious treat is always appealing. Though I'm passionate about chocolate, unless I know the recipient adores it too (and what sort), I go to fruit.


One of the very best gifts was given to me many years ago by Marion Kane, the Food Sleuth, whom I knew through my good friends Bob and Merle. She came to my party and said in her British accent: "It is gooooooseberry season!", proffering an exquisite tart that I can taste to this day.

Your gift need not be fancy; Marion has posted a recipe for an easy, excellent yogurt cake.

Gardeners, even casual ones, might make a kokedama, the fashionable Japanese moss ball, which elevates even humble plants like African violet or philodendron to an ornamental arrangement for tabletop or hanging.


I would absolutely adore one of those, in any size.

One last idea, respectful of budgets often stretched this time of year. DIY Pink Salt Foot Scrub uses reasonably-priced ingredients, looks pretty, and soothes winter feet jammed into boots.


Just don't buy that pink salt in a tiny, pretty box at the grocer's; order the big bag from Amazon or a bulk grocer's. (I buy YuPik, by the kilo.) What you don't use for the scrub, use in the kitchen.

The biggest investment is the essential oil but it's not necessary to buy several; just one is fine. If you buy lavender, you can dab the leftover oil on cotton balls to stow amid your woolens, to discourage moths.

If you have gifts that have delighted acquaintances, please tell us! We can use your ideas now and all year round.



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Retirement: The Honey Trap

One of  last summer's isitors, Cindy, talked about her 2018 retirement, and how much income she will need. Coincidentally, LauraH sent a link to useful material for Canadians (including a Wealth Target Calculator), here. (Note: The material is not a sales pitch for financial products, and does promote a book.)

Unless money is no object, those facing retirement should pay close attention to both income and expenses.  The Canadian journalist Peter Trueman once remarked, "We learned it is healthier and easier to live on less than it is to try to earn more."  

Expense reduction is like exercise: you have to find something you like so you'll stick with it. I love to read others' strategies, but I can't do all of them: couponing, thrifting, allottment gardens, bartering, DIY haircuts or colour, renting out a spare room, and more. Only the hardcore frugality bloggers do everything on the list.

Having watched myself and friends for a decade, I realize many expenses are just habits, either of behaviour or of attitude.

The behavioural habits include not attending to home energy use (I dislike equalized payments because they make it too easy to ignore our behaviour), buying too much food (giveaway: a slimy cucumber is a part of the fridgescape), or letting "three-month free" trial offers roll into monthly charges, without really noticing.

The attitudinal habits are tied to identity or ego: the status hairdresser who is like a best friend; the costly destination wedding; the fancy restaurant or pricey concert your friend picks. If you are on a budget and friends are still pulling in dough, you can get caught up in their world.

A particularly fraught corner of that territory is the Honey Wants It trap. Honey (chosen to be gender inclusive) wants his own car, he is "used to his freedom". Honey does not want to downsize the home, or drop her six subscriptions to decor magazines. Honey is still ordering hundreds of dollars worth of wine, (or dietary supplements, fishing gear, cosmetics) even as they accumulate. Honey cherishes the annual trip to Puerto Vallarta on the anniversary of the day you met.

I've had more than one smart and sensible woman tell me, Yes I know how to reduce expenses, but Honey Wants It, and I love Honey. And, Honey can dive-bomb your retirement budget.

Of course you do not want to remove the joy from Honey's life, so pick your battles. Do the numbers and show Honey how the expenses affect the stewardship of limited resources. I say this as someone who convinced her Honey to give up car ownership. It took at least a year of facts, figures and (I hope) gentle pressure, but now you could not give Le Duc a car. (He has a nice bike, though.)

If you don't want to raise the matter with Honey, and you use a financial planner, ask the pro to deliver the news—but you will still have to advocate. Cindy and Sue's advisor showed Sue that rent for their big storage locker would pay for the Puerto Vallarta trip every year. (What was in the locker? Nothing they ever used.) Sue is a mortgage broker, which shows how even someone who works with money can benefit from good advice.

When Honey is a"junker", like my delightful retired neighbour, Rick, the suggestion of cutting back is a hard sell: "I mean, it cost nothing!" But even if the cost per item is low, it adds up when you factor in the fine antique sideboard Rick just bought to hold his scores.

If there's no Honey in the picture, a woman can still be influenced by voices past. Tricia held on to a big house because her late partner Alan was in a way still there with her. One night she realized, He is in my heart, not this house.

Pat struggled to keep her boat, because she treasures her sailing community—her club were her Honeys. When she would talk about selling, they cried, "Oh no; you are the best Commodore we ever had!" She sold when she finished her current term, and now has more invitations to crew than she can accept. She says it is such a joy to have the fun but not the upkeep.

If you hold investments, the cost of their management is another expense. Securities courses are filling to overflow as more women decide to take control of their own portfolios. You need knowledge and a certain temperament to do this and still sleep at night, and I'll be interested in seeing the results among several friends who have embarked on this path.

I also recommend a lighthearted exploration of how, as somebody's Honey, you Trap. I am, of course, Le Duc's, and time was I could Honey Trap him at warp speed; he hated to even ask questions about something I "had to have", let alone say no.

We agreed that significant purchases will be discussed first and we know one another's Achille's Tendon. We're now more mindful of the habitual nature of consumption than when we began retired and semi-retired life.

Honey is sweet, but peace of mind, delicious.




Pearl reno from the heart

When Kojima Company's owner, Sarah Canizzaro, visited Montréal last spring, I gave her my most sentimental strand, which LeDuc was hoping to renovate for my birthday in mid-July. Today, American Thanksgiving, is an apt day to tell the story.

These were the first good pearls I bought, 10mm off-round Chinese freshwaters found twenty years ago for me by a dear friend, Missi, whose expert knowledge came via her Honolulu jeweller father. (They were featured on this post.)


Like Sarah, Missi had interests beyond flawless rounds; she said, "I don't mind seeing where the oyster burped". She'd wear long chandeliers with hiking shorts, but then, this six-foot goddess could pull off anything.

1994, Mt. Shasta, California

As the years passed, I lost my heart to the earthier keshis and baroques. And by the early '00s, I also lost Missi. She adopted a reclusive life, and left behind friends and lovers world-wide. I wore that necklace often, for it was as close as I could come to embracing her.

Before Sarah returned to San Rafael, she asked if I preferred pearls or coloured stones. I chose pearls and requested a rope.

The 60-inch rope arrived on my birthday; I was thrilled! Sarah had added many tiny-to-small akoyas and three large golden baroques. She matched my champagne-toned pearls perfectly, and somehow made them look glowier. The variation among the sections—none is like another—is harmonious; the little akoyas keep the piece light and drapey. LeDuc said he "fabulously loved" it.

Left, knotted (and worn with tin-cup baroque CFWs); top left: the pearls; bottom left, tripled.



Sarah used the original gold clasp; clasps are a make-or-break detail to me— but if you'd wear the piece only as a long rope, not necessary. This one was made by a jeweller pal of Missi's; she said, "Steven gives good toggle."

If your old (but still in good condition) pearls are deeply sentimental, but the style is no longer 'you', you can have a perfect new piece for a modest investment unless you enter the land of (new) precious gemstones.

I love Kojima for both their pearls (every variety, size, colour; many unusual) and dedication to their clients' delight, but you may also have a local jeweller who can do a knockout reno—and if so, you're lucky, because pearls are a world unto themselves.

Do you believe in synchronicity?

Kojima's studio is in Marin Country, near where Missi lived when I first knew her. In the early '80s we sat on a dock at Point Reyes Oyster Company, I in her pearls and she in my turquoise-and-silver bracelets— between visits, we liked to swap jewellery. Missi said, "You should wear pearls; why don't I look for some for you?"

A decade later, she called from a gem show to say, "I found them, but we have to pay by tomorrow. Wire me the money!" When I heard her certainty, I bought them sight unseen. Several months later, she flew to Toronto with the pearls in her pocket.

Now, they have returned from their second trip to Marin County, transformed by a talented artist. Even if that connection is coincidental, they feel wrapped in love.

P.S. to the pearl-lovers: Kojima's annual holiday stale starts early—today, with 18% off and free shipping to customers in the US (and reasonable rates to those beyond its borders.)

Talbot's goes girly: What is this?

When the latest Talbot's catalog arrived, though I only buy their jeans, I flipped through. I had the strangest reaction: grief rose in my chest, tears came, and I felt the intense and particular melancholy that infuses me when I recall lost loved ones.

The layout had carried me back to our family kitchen, in the evening in 1958, this time of year. I saw my sister, Jane, drying dishes. Her back is toward me, and she is wearing these clothes:



These exact pieces are in the catalog, nearly sixty years after she wore them. Though Talbots shows the trousers with block heels, Jane would only have worn Bass Weejuns.  She has been dead for over forty years now, but her wardrobe tumbled from the pages: cardigans, circle pins, flannel full-length trousers.

I saw, on nearly every page, the clothes of women I've lost—my sister, mother, aunts.

The catalog featured so many scalloped hems (skirts, dresses, jackets) that there must have been a design decision to dress grown women like Tricia Nixon in her White House years. Prints feature motifs like penguins, toy soldiers, wreaths, and none of it looks modern whatsoever.

Many women buy Talbot's classics because they can get useful pieces like tees with three-quarter sleeves or pencil skirts that are not too short, and they appreciate the size range. Their jeans stayed high-waisted enough during the years when everything was scarily low-rise; I buy multiples on sale.

But their current fascination with ultra-girly puzzles me. There does not seem to be a garment this season that Talbot's did not ruffle, embroider or gather. The blouse at bottom left is entirely printed with...bows.



I don't mind a small touch of femmy detail (though I don't wear it), but when damn near every piece of outwear from a down vest to a denim jacket is ruffled, what's going on?

Even the more tailored clothes are styled to look time-warped. This sweater is shown with scatter pins:



Could we attribute these clothes to the mood of a country dealing with both interior and exterior troubles, and a growing disparity between rich and poor? France has that too, and I don't see their designers sticking bows on every possible item.

Other American companies have veered toward this sweet stuff.  The Ann Taylor windows I walked by in New York last fall looked like the Swarthmore parent's weekend circa 1964. Are these brands trying to channel a past when post-war prosperity buoyed the garment industry? (Isaac Mizrahi tried the same retro look when he briefly designed for Jones New York, a line that failed spectacularly.)

To be fair, if you wade through the girly gear, you can find a black cashmere v-neck from Talbot's that's austere as Everlane's (but not cut the same).

Opening their catalog was like opening my sister's old Love Pat compact: a whiff, powdery and cloying, of certain feminine image now a half-century old.

I wonder if the Talbot's customer, long told she can count on them for classics, will want to take such a frou-frou trip to the past.




Safe or Smokin': The spark of yellows and oranges

Like many women in the Passage, I rely on super-safe everyday neutrals. Then I see someone in an audacious mix, such as teal trousers and a fuchsia coat, I think, What happened to me?

Two colours, pungent yellow and juicy orange, are especially current. Grown women rightly fear looking like a walking fire hydrant, but these hues are smokin' from the first glance, especially when you add a second or third intense colour.

Today's windows are an advanced class in fearlessly working yellow and orange. If you prefer a smolder to smoke, they also spark your favourite neutrals; I can't believe how sharp mustard looks with any grey.

Key piece: Six-ply Cashmere slouchy polo; Brora; price, £595
Expensive! The bad news: The yellows look ghastly in average yarns.


Co-stars: A duet of intense colours to stand up to that swipe of mustard:
Forest green velvet pants; Boden, $120
Shoes: Etta red-orange ankle boot; Boden, $120

Key piece:
Turquoise washed velvet jean, Pure Collection, $145




Co-stars: Yes, you do need to treat that shoe with TLC! The sweater will also revive neutrals.
Citron suede day heel; Everlane, $145. If you can't wear yellow near your face, put it on your foot!
Blackforest wool Imogen sweater;  Boden, $130.


Key piece: Tangerine poly a-line skirt with frills; COS, $115
Normally I avoid frills anywhere, but this is—if such a thing exists—a strict frill.




Co-stars: The classic sweater in a novel shade; a scarf in an enchanting colourway. See it close-up!
Cashmere short-sleeved pullover in Fiesta Purple; Eric Bompard, €100 (sale price to Nov. 26)
Silk "Ophelia" scarf'; Liberty, £195

You can shift the colour wheel to blues or greens if you don't like yellow or orange—as long as they're not too pale to register a pulse.

How you wear an audacious key piece depends on your colour capacity, and there is no "right". If you don't usually pile on intense hues, try at least one piece in the current citron-to-signal-orange and you will immediately feel its energy and exuberance.

Are you daring or sparing, when it comes to the most vibrant tones on the color wheel? Are you cozying up to more colour, or committed to the neutral playbook? Have your colour choices changed with time?

Uneven aging: Duty

There are few qualities as loaded as duty, the concept of moral or legal obligation. Duty is associated with role: one's duty as a partner, citizen, parent, or employee. The concept is embedded within culture, faith, family norms, and our internal moral compass.

In modern wedding or civil union ceremonies, the rights and obligations of both parties are stated explicitly. In the Québec secular ceremony, the officiant says, "The spouses have the same rights and obligations in marriage. They owe each other respect, fidelity, succor and assistance." 

If you made similar vows, duty comes with the territory, but many make such a promise without it, and friends' devotion can put that of some marriages to shame.  In uneven aging, one partner's "succor and assistance" becomes more active and overt than the other's.

Duty is a rather retro value, given the present-day emphasis on "me time" and individual fulfillment. Duty lives firmly in the realm of "them time": the Sunday phone call to Dad, the extra hours spent with a friend who is blue, attendance at a neighbour's party when you'd rather be home watching "Star Trek".

Duty thrives when given freely, without demand. Should it becomes an onerous, bleak requirement, resentment enters. When a person says, "I don't want to be a burden", this is exactly what she dreads.

In uneven aging, duty, which may have lain tucked away like a wedding-gift chafing dish, comes to the fore. The needs of one person alter the more-vital person's life. Special diets, a careful eye on medication schedules, or regular doctor's visits disrupt routine. One person may now do all the driving or suddenly find she is in charge of financial details.

The afflicted mate needs equanimity to receive the care, because it makes limits explicit. "Let me get that door", my neighbour Eliane says to her infirm husband, and for an instant he looks vexed, but accedes. He is grateful, but so wishes he could do it himself.

When friends praise her constancy, she replies, "He'd do it for me". Eliane knows that duty needs renewal, so takes an annual three-week holiday with longtime women friends.

Lola's partner had a severe depression and was unable to leave the house for two years. Friends praised her devotion, but because they were told Karl was getting better (even when that was only a hope) they left her on her own. She finally realized that her chipper attitude masked burnout, and began to say, "Would you like to do something for Karl?" Lola requested "duties", helpful tasks like getting the snow tires on the car by the deadline.

In years past, duty may have arisen only in terms of parents, children or friends. But duty can enter the couple's life in a matter of hours. Last year, one of my dear Susanfriends suffered a cerebral accident that required emergency surgery and intensive rehabilitation.

Her husband, the kind of guy whose shirt buttons might not be done up in line, instantly stepped in as caregiver, advocate and blogger. On a Caring Bridge site, he posted subtle, profound love poems, wry observations about dry shampoo (which he hadn't known existed) and every morsel of progress.

The poetry surprised me, but his devotion did not, for, as he said, "This is the moment we have been preparing for all our lives." They had long given themselves to service to others, as part of their  spiritual path. Service as a moral imperative is central to their lives, and now their practice had come home.

From Susan, I have learned that duty need not be one-sided. She connects with friends, offering counsel and stories, even while she manages her energy. She recently sent photos of the mint-condition Hermès scarf she found for $5 at a yard sale, then followed up a few weeks later with a second scooped from a thrift store for $1! So maybe there is a karmic reciprocity operating here.

Susan participated in plans for her mother's birthday party, and is about to return to teaching meditation, though she's a little nervous. When the cared-for can in turn care for others, duty moves ever closer to love, the pivotal point of our short existence.









Thrifting and gifting

While my dislike of re-gifting is intense, I view thrift-gifts entirely differently. (Does that make sense? Maybe not.)

Many appealing objects end up in thrifts because of moves or  purges; the wiliest thrifters keep their eyes open all year long, because thrifts do get heavily picked in the fall. Increasingly, families who use the "Secret Santa" approach specify that the gift be secondhand, a welcome shift from brand-mania. And there's always an additional "gift": the thrift-gift keeps stuff out of landfills.

I've dressed the windows today in thrift-store finds destined as gifts... and gifts-to-me.

For family and friends


Left to right:
1. For our little grandson: Babar and Babar ABCs book; total, $3. One of my favourite thrift finds ever; Babar is a huge favourite of mine, despite the criticism of his colonial autocratic rule.
2. Etched crystal candy dish with pinecone motif, $2.50
3. Paperback edition of "To the Lighthouse", new condition, $1.50
4. Pair of kitty trinket dishes, $1.50

Gifts to me

By applying the same rules we use for shopping sales (Would I buy this full price? Does it work with my wardrobe? Is it in perfect condition?) I found a few things for winter:


Left: Moss green cotton velveteen Lady Hathaway jacket, $6
Centre: Luisa Cerano (a Berlin-based brand) marinière, $5
Right: Mohair scarf, made in France, $2

While riffling the rails, I chatted with a young woman who told me she buys only at thrifts, but recycles everything after several months. "I like to change up my clothes", she said, "have something different. So I wear it awhile and then bring it back!" That's a consumption style I'd never considered, but it beats retail fast fashion.

Here comes the season when we're enjoined to buy, either for Christmas, or via the hype of Black Friday. I am not immune to deals and dazzle, but am ever more drawn to what can be found by dedicating a few hours to considering others' castoffs.

Should  the item I've chosen not delight a family member, he can re-donate, or give it to his twin brother. (Looking at you, Etienne.) But I have a good enough hit rate, from bathtub toys to toques, to keep picking up things for those I love.

Do you thrift-gift? How do you find your treasures? Or do you prefer to shop retail?



Interludes on foreign shores

Jan returned from a spa vacation in Mexico, glowing, floating, and flashing a new, ornate silver bangle.

That glow was not from the hot springs; she had met Ricardo, the grounds manager. What began with a chat about the gardens progressed to a holiday affair. "I spent an entire Saturday afternoon watching him work on his tractor", she said, "and I loved every minute."

The spa was expensive; she had drained her vacation budget, but was already planning her return in four or five months. Jan is single, in her late 50s, and because she had not had a romance for years, this was a bombshell. We were out to dinner with several other women; scanning the table, I could see an array of reactions: titillation, envy, disapproval, and from Becky, rueful reminiscence.

Becky said, gently, "And who paid for the bangle?" Because Becky had her own story.

Thirty years ago, it was Mike, the snorkelling instructor, whom Becky met when she and two girlfriends went on an all-inclusive two-week to Varadero. She said, "He was friendly but not aggressive. He could talk about everything from marine biology to art. Of course, he was handsome! Really, it was as much me as him. By Thursday of the first week, I began to ask my roommates when the room would be empty. Everything I told myself should not happen, did."

"I promised I'd return within several months. My boyfriend back in Montréal was okay, but couldn't compare. There was more passion in one dance with Mike than in a night with my boyfriend. I even started researching immigration requirements for him."

All winter, she scrimped to afford another booking, this time with a private room. One Saturday, three weeks before she was to return, she saw Mike strolling down Rue de la Montagne with another woman, a woman who could afford to fly him to Montréal. "Maybe it's a relative", she thought, until she saw the kiss as they paused for the traffic light.

Thereafter, when anyone returned from a vacation with tales of romance with a local man, Becky rang the alarm. "While you are there, you will be the only woman who exists", she tells her. "He will look at no one else, and you will go to heaven—but then hell when you have to leave. And when the next plane lands, there will be someone new."

Becky has abundant empathy when she hears the stories. She still remembers the dancing, how Mike brought her lunch by the pool, the little shell anklet he tied on while admiring her legs—grace notes the boyfriend did not supply.

All these years later, she said that trying to assess Mike's sincerity was useless. At worst, he was out for a few extras in a country where enough food was a challenge; at best, they had been two consenting adults having a fling and she had been carried away—but she also had been awakened to a political aspect.

"There is a type of sexual tourism that operates that way", she told me later. "You would be amazed how many women have told me about their 'romance' and they don't even see what it was, because they have not paid for sex. It's more subtle: there is no demand for money, but the fancy dinners are signed to your account. Maybe there's a day trip to the special place he wants to show you—for which you hire a driver who happens to be a friend; or his sister needs money for school books.

I bought Mike a guitar—not an expensive one, but he definitely could not have had it otherwise. When I got home, I shipped him a pair of sneakers I knew he coveted."

I said, "For me the question is, Would the affair have happened without the goodies?"

"Possibly", Becky conceded, "but the more I talked to women who had taken these vacations, the more I think not. Word gets around; some women go to these destinations exactly for that. Even if you aren't interested, you can spot the men: the tennis pro's buddies who are always hanging around."

"Who paid for the bangle?" Becky asked Jan again. Jan replied that she had, but "Ric had spotted it!" And she bought him a matching one.

Her worry, Becky told me when we were alone, is that older women are more vulnerable. I immediately thought of a woman I knew whom I shall call "Anita", whose 25-year marriage was nearly detonated by such a situation. She went to a popular island destination with a girlfriend, and met a musician.

Anita returned at least eight times over the next three years, under the cover of humanitarian volunteer work (which she actually did) and language studies, to see him. On each trip she would bring a suitcase stuffed with guitar strings and sheet music, among other scarce items. She became an investor in a music school he was starting. Among other things, she told me that her lover adored her in the stretchy, lacy blouse that her husband said was "too young."

Two years in, she turned to her girlfriend and said, "I'm gonna go home and divorce Scott." Her friend told her to give it another six or eight months. By year three, Anita realized that the man would not leave his usual life (which included a wife in another town), and she returned to her marriage, which far as I know continues.

Becky and I talked about the most famous example: the real-life romance with a man known in Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love," known as "Felipe"— that one lasted twelve years.

"That book probably did more to cloud women's judgement than ten thousand Mikes", Becky said. "I have an open mind, a fling doesn't shock me. I just don't want Jan to spend a small fortune on something totally unrealistic.

You know all those packing lists you see on blogs? A woman who might welcome that kind of connection should pack her common sense along with her sunblock."












Pearls, three price points: Sarah and Duchesse's picks

The time changes this weekend. Daylight wanes by 5 p.m.: a woman can feel a little blue. You need a lift. Anita heads for hot chocolate, Jane says another rerun of "Love, Actually" is always smart; Dr. H. knits wildly-striped socks. I say, pearls—they stay luminous no matter how sere the landscape, and feel gently warm against your skin.

But which pearls? Most of us have a budget, and tastes vary, but when it's gusty and grey you will be happy you invested in genuine pearls, no matter the price point. I asked my gracious mentor Sarah Canizzaro, owner of Kojima Company (and just back from a pearl-heaven trip to Asia), to help me dress the windows today.

Splurge: $1400-$1600 
For milestone celebrations, the heart-stopper you adore the moment you see it—or perhaps because this is the price point where you hang out. (And you can spend way, way more... but that's another post.)


Left: My pick is this Tahitian keshi pearl necklace; price, $1, 530. A magnificent array of natural-colour keshis and a scintillating 13mm sky-blue Tahitian pendant, on 14k gold chain. The colour of these pearls blew me away. Sarah says, "It takes me quite a time to come up with enough fancy colour Tahitian keshis to put these necklaces together... the colours of these particular ones represent the ends of the rainbow that is 'black' pearls."

Right: Italian coral necklace with Tahitian pearl pendant; price, $1, 395. Sarah's pick: natural-colour Italian coral, a 13.6mm silvery-blue Tahitian drop, and a rich, very cool 22k bead cap on the Tahitian! She says, "Looks fantastic peeking out from under a blouse, layered with other gold chains, and can be worn in any season. A very 'warming' piece."

One of a kind and perfect necklace for the woman who adores colour.

Treat: $400-$600
For a gift to yourself, or perhaps a discreet hint to someone who wonders, What in the world would she like? At this price point, you can have your pick of many unusual pearls and even luxury varieties, if you buy them as earrings.



Left: I chose the Doublet pearl necklace; price, $405, drawn to how the pearls make an informal, graceful piece. And look at the lustre! Sarah comments that these unusual pearls are (from the farmer's point of view) 'mistakes' in culturing that yield two attached pearls, and allow this layered, slightly chunky design. The size of each doublet ranges from 16mm to 20mm; the necklace is adjustable from 17 to 20 inches.

Right: Tiny Tahitian and diamond stud earrings; price, $603. At 8.4mm, these are tiny only for Tahitians. Set in 14k, the pearls have silver/peacock overtones. Sarah: "Easy to wear in a corporate setting; the tiny diamonds make them unique. They don't blend in with the crowd."

I agree: Eminently versatile with that touch of stealth luxe.

Who can resist? About $100 or less
When so many pieces can be bought for the (over)price of much "fashion" jewellery, why not wear a genuine pearl? I get excited when scouting at this price point, because so many think pearls equal a serious spend, and I enjoy showing the possibilities.

But this is also the price point of a zillion shoddy (and lying) vendors, so don't expect to find these pearls on certain Asian vendors' eBay sites. Kojima Company deliver very appealing pearls that are exactly as represented.


Sarah suggests the stick pearl flower cluster brooch; price, $108. White, pale pink, pale peach and lavender stick pearls hand-made into a lustrous zinna-esque bloom, just over 2 inches in diameter.

The charming brooch comes with a story. Sarah told me, "These are handmade by a woman in Hong Kong whom I have known for decades. We don't speak the same language but we share so much love. Her daughters taught me that in her village as a young woman, she was famous for the beauty of the flowers she stitched. She married a pearl dealer and these brooches are the evolution of her creative gifts."

I chose the mystical champagne pearl ring; price; $90. That's one generous Chinese baroque pearl (13.8mm) that you're toasting with!  Five-millimetre sterling band. Sarah said, "It will pull your eye in and work with any skin tone."

Both of these pieces are real-for-a-steal and would also make superb gifts.

While nutty socks and the cocoa and the heart-tugging movie are useful strategies, we also need beauty, when the natural world (at least where I live) slumbers for months. Pearls beneath our bare branches, pearls under wooly caps, pearls when you can see your breath!