Which craft?

My friend Alyson asked me earnestly, "Do you knit?" We were standing in Coeur de Mailles  in Quebec City, ogling luscious skeins. I felt a magnetic pull to return to knitting, the same avidity I felt when another friend invited me to sew, with her help.

I have not knit since the 1960s, when I produced a turtleneck sweater that strangled my boyfriend. (My mother reknit the neck.)

For nearly twenty years, I was deeply into sewing, the only way to have a yellow seersucker bellbottomed jumpsuit with a matching shawl in small-town Northern Ontario. But I quit in my mid-thirties, when, my taste outpaced my skills, and I wrecked too many lengths of opulent fabric.

I drop by sewing blogs, critiquing (without comment) various projects. Each time I think, Why don't I begin again? Mainly, it is because of the room required for the gear. I'd be buried in buttons, yardage, maybe even machines. It takes a sewing room to raise an outfit.

Knitting is somewhat less demanding of space, but when my heart beat like a hummingbird in that yarn store, I knew, Look out.

So I thought, what hobbies take little space? Some years ago I made pop-up cards and custom-carved rubber stamps; supplies for both will fit into a small box. I enjoy doing some low-key calligraphy, too.

Another criteria for retirement crafting is that the product have some utility, either to me or to the recipient. A handmade object is a form of expression, but also a product. Over the years I have made kites, quilts, enamelled pendants and pins, soft furniture, a cherrywood spice rack. My embroidery enhanced the patched denim of dozens of friends. You could not pay me to house any of it now.

Crafty persons tend to give their creations as gifts. Someone will always appreciate hand knit socks (hint, Alyson), but other times, it may be a matter of pass-the-clutter. (I have many crocheted doilies, thanks to a friend's mother.) Never mind that some efforts aren't perfect; when the item is made by a dear friend or your kids, it's a treasure. But even treasures need house room, so I am reluctant to contribute to hat.

Even if you sew your own clothes, you can still overload. I made one skirt in so many fabrics that I can still see the Simplicity pattern in my sleep. Because crafters are enthusiasts, enthusiasts produce, and then the stuff takes on a life of its own.

The other criterion is enjoyment: What delights, engages, and (at least some times) gives a sense of accomplishment?

My present 'craft' is writing: words take no house space. This blog produces a similar ratio of false starts and unsatisfactory results as making clothes. The product is ephemeral; like environmental art, it has its moment, then vanishes. But anyone subjected to an entire apartment full of someone's flower paintings may conclude that is not a bad thing.

And you? If you are a maker, have your avenues of expression changed?  If you've taken up something new, how is the novice stage going? And if you've continued a lifetime of craft, what are you making now?

I'd love to offer a free macramé plant holder as a draw, but all of mine have long gone to pot heaven.

Montréal, Easter weekend

At the market, Easter weekend. We go to get fat artichokes, live crabs, maybe a pot of hydrangea—and of course, to people-watch. The mood is buoyant, the shopping perhaps a bit extravagant; the first long holiday weekend  of the year does that.

A young woman in striped pants, green shell, and a smile as brilliant as the day:

Nearby, a different green palette, khaki, a striped shirt and a floral scarf combining greens and earth tones:

One of my favourites is mint, a colour you don't see often in a coat!

The first florals are out: soft-shell pants on an expressive platinum blonde:

Her vibrant scarf caught my eye; what an effortless way to bring a grey sweater into spring. A closer look shows why; it is a museum scarf from a Picasso exhibition. We both wanted one!

Another touch of grey, a wool flannel blazer with elbow patches, accessorized by a red bundle buggy:

Scarves makes sense when the early morning is still chill, the mid-day mild. (But monsieur et madame will wear them when it's full summer, too; welcome to Montréal).

We admired her meltingly soft, straw-coloured leather jacket, such a welcome sight after the blacks of winter, and worn beautifully, with a slash of poppy lipstick:

The market makes us hungry every time! You mention ice cream; my head is turned by a couple about to enjoy a dozen oysters:

We bought a few blood oranges each, and talked about what to make with these edible jewels. A blood orange tart with cardamom pastry cream would show them off.

Our first outing after a long winter; thanks for coming along!

Retailers, please stop trying to get me into these

I am a major boat-misser of trends. Wasn't always so; one of my friends, recalling our thirties, said, "You always had the latest thing, even if it looked godawful". She was probably thinking of a fake wolf-fur chubby that made me look like a Muppet.

Certainly by my mid-forties, I had become leery. At first it was because I wondered, Can I wear this? Then, I began to resent the unending attempt to flog clothes that were not attractive on most women. This doesn't mean I can't admire the same item I sidestep on someone else, but, just between us chipmunks, usually I don't.

The button-back sweater

Other than the option to reveal a little skin at the top, what, really, is achieved by breaking up the back with a detail that is neither interesting nor functional?  I get that sometimes we want to change it up, but this clutters the sweater.

The "cold shoulder" top

This cut does not make sense where I live; our extremities are plenty cold for a good five months. In both woven and knits, these tops are already stuffing the sales racks, because the worst of them are cut out deeply so that the sleeve ends halfway up the arm in a graceless gap. The best will look current for ten minutes, which are already up.

Wide, cropped trousers

I like my pair (a good three inches longer than these to accommodate my height), but finding them in the right the proportion was difficult because retailers don't offer them in varying inseams.

Everlane say theirs  (shown above) are "the most flattering pant you'll ever try", but unless the length on her is one she likes, the rise is comfortable for her torso, and she has average to narrow hips, the pants are not that woman's best choice. Some women look great in narrow cropped trousers, and not in wide legs, and vice versa.

Falling-off outerwear

This trend is not the garment, but how it't worn: I sliding off.  Is this a fashionista version of the streetwear sweatshirt, worn with only one arm stuck through a sleeve, the rest draping on the torso like a blanket? Isn't outerwear to protect against the elements? A pretentious effect if ever I saw one, but then I think half-tucked shirts look like the wearer was distracted while dressing.

Ultra-long cuffs

Now this one gets my Irish up: don't they think we do anything with our hands? I saw a woman in a chic blue and white striped version of this, dabbing at the sleeve she had just dragged though her salad.

Many trends are either classic items anointed this year's must-have (pea jackets, white jeans, patterned tights) or sartorial novelties, mostly taken up for a season by the young.

If you have your head turned, ask yourself if you'd love it even if it wasn't in every window—and make sure you will feel that way for a few years, unless you have money to shred and a deep interest in having "the latest thing."

Postscript to you avid fans of the ça va de soi coatigan for which I lusted: tried it on.  The "framboise" is an intriguing pink mixed with a tiny fleck of grey, but it was too washed out on me. It also comes in light grey and black, but I have a nearly identical one in navy, so no.

Carolyn's pearls

Carolyn from Oregon bought a spectacular 11mm x 14mm  natural-colour auburn Kasumi pearl (Kojima Company), then e-mailed to say she was thinking of having a pendant made, and wondered if I had any ideas.

Does the Queen have corgis?

Carolyn considered recycling her old pearl studs and also said, "I have a great goldsmith but not necessarily a great jewelry designer. I like very clean lines, so maybe just beads/pearls on a chain. I was even thinking of trying a good bead store..." 

I wrote back:
"A classic mistake (I have made it too) is to take bits and pieces to a jeweller and say, 'Make me something from this', because it can look cobbled together. The question to ask is, “What are the best pearls or stones to combine with my new, glorious pearl?' ”

Even though I'm all for recycling, sometimes the result is a forced fit that is less than thrilling. And in a pearl project, you want a jeweller who specializes in pearls, especially if thinking of adding some. I suggested she talk with Sarah Canizzaro, owner of Kojima, to explore what she could do. (I also sent closeups of a pendant that seemed close to what Carolyn described, for reference.) 

Carolyn made the leap of faith to work with a Sarah via photos and phone calls. Now on the right foot, Carolyn also gave her a budget and a realistic time frame.

They went through a number of ideas:

1. Carolyn at first was interested in accenting the big Kasumi with a smaller grey and black pearl; they tried various varieties. Sarah sent Carolyn a number of combinations; here's one:

Sarah then said, "I think that having the dark bead takes away from the autumn colors of the pearl but I'm happy to make it to your specifications." She made mock-up of the Kasumi with a small pink keshi pearl, which shifted the accent from cool to warm:

When you have a showstopper pearl (or gemstone), doing just a little, but doing that little right, is essential.

The pendant has a snap bail so Carolyn can add it to a her other necklaces or her gold chain, but she also thought about another idea I've shown here, small pearls as a 'chain'.

Sarah showed her 3mm CFW white ovals, and small white keshis; Carolyn chose the ovals. The cost for those was only about $135.

She now has three elements (pendant, snap bail and pearl 'chain' strand) that extend her jewellery wardrobe. She said, "I can use all three components with other pieces; might be fun to get a vintage charm to snap on the clasp and wear with the pearl strand."

Here, Carolyn wears the piece as shown above with her baroques:

When I thanked Carolyn for sharing these photos, she said, "I think it's good for readers to know the mistakes I almost made. I ended up asking Sarah for her frank advice and predictably ended up with a much better piece by trusting her—she has a wonderful sensitivity and design eye."

When a designer and her client share a sensibility, and the designer takes her time, the piece is absolutely in harmony with its wearer—and hers alone.

I want to dress like Patti Smith

I've loved Patti Smith since the late 1970s. It hasn't helped that one of my longest-time friends looks eerily like her: the long face and lithe figure, the penchant for paper-thin soft tees and pegged jeans, the ability to take a huge black coat and make it look like a runway item. (But in Smith's case, it probably is.)

Even though she wears a uniform: the shirt or tee, the jacket, the jeans, I still look at her, onstage and off, and think, "Oh, Patti!" Some women find their look young and stick with it.

You can close your eyes and conjure Smith from any decade, and it's her attitude today, at seventy: Anne Demeulemeester (Smith calls her "a sister"), Prada, a tailored suit jacket, a white shirt, old silver crosses. It's not that I want her exact clothes, but I want that no-nonsense simplicity, an approach forged with purpose.

This is hardly a haphazard throw-on-anything style. Smith has often spoken of how much she enjoys clothes: her joy in finding thrifted mens' shirts of beautiful cotton, or the pleasures of a silk raincoat, good boots, a beloved Persian enamel necklace.

I could post another six photos of Patti Smith but they are quite similar—maybe the jacket is tweed, or cut longer. Below, performing in Chicago on her seventieth birthday, last December 30:

She did not fall into her style haphazardly. In "Just Kids" she talks about deciding how she wanted to look, scouring hole-in-the-wall shops for perfect tee, black capris, Breton shirts. She credits her androgynous image to her desire to imitate Keith Richards, down to the eye makeup:

She set her course (with forays into Victorian dresses for occasional party wear) and held true. I sifted through many decades of photos: Patti Smith in a floral? Not there. "I wouldn't call my style 'gender bending'", she remarked once. "It's gender ignoring. I know I'm a girl."

She whittled down to her black and white jacket-and-jeans when she resumed her career as a touring musician in the late '90s, after nearly two decades spent near Detroit, writing and raising her family with her late husband, Fred Smith.

She grey her hair to grey in about 2014:

Smith knows we're looking at her ensemble, but she is an artist first.  "I just do my work, and I work everyday", she says. 

If you too are a Patti Smith fan, you'll enjoy this Refinery29 piece by Rachel Syme; if not, first, simply reflect and appreciate the personal touches you have not been without for twenty five or more years, and second, release any worries about being in "a rut". Think of it instead like a well-honed groove.

As she writes, "In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth."

Athleisure: Performance meets polish

My friend Alyson and I went to language school in Québec City last week, and amidst all the brain-aerobics, we got to people-watch. The initial days were also a micro-lab in first impressions. Who was the reserved woman in a skirt suit? Why did another woman of around fifty wear denim bib overalls... every day?

Alyson, a university prof, occasionally talks to her graduate students about the message their appearance sends; when they are employed, they will be in front of the public. But she feels that she's not a consistent role model; she says she "sinks to the level of my students".

Her shoe of choice the hiking boot, her favourite fabric, GoreTex. She had planned a little spree at the Québec City MEC, and was disappointed to find it had just moved from practically next to the school to a far suburb.

She asked me, what is the next level up from performance wear? She had never heard the term "athleisure". I promised to go shopping with her to explore such items. She may be shocked at the price, because well-made clothes in that niche use innovative, costly fabrics. Still, she could wear them on and off campus, so I will encourage her to pay the premium.

Examples of these versatile, cleanly-styled clothes:

Above, pieces from Kit and Ace, a LuluLemon subsidiary whose line goes only up to a US 10—just like the parent company. I wish they made larger sizes (including plus).

Left: The Go-To Pant 2.0 is a washable blend of wool, spandex, cashmere and silk: yum! Price, $US 128. Right: The Long Haul Cardigan, $218, a blend of wool, cashmere, and a tiny bit of nylon and spandex. I love the pockets, and the slashed hem that raises it from the sacklike silhouette of many long cardigans.

Another brand I'll take her to, Lole, offers transitional pieces among its more athletic items.

Left: I am a fan of Lole's Travel Pants (up to size 14), which look polished enough for all but business formal settings, and dry wrinkle-free, in a flash. They are made of nylon, a mixed fiber that contains some bamboo, and a good shot of spandex, so they don't bag. Sometimes, they make them in other neutrals than black.

Top right: The Sammy sweater is a blend of two-thirds linen and one-third cotton; shown, lichen. Price, $CDN 100.

Bottom right: The Essential Cardigan ($CDN 115) can be worn indoors or out, and dressed up with a pendant or scarf. I like the subtle stripe, too.

With athleisure, you have to be judicious. Much of it will go from a yoga studio to your supermarket, but not to a committee meeting. I'd avoid fabrics described as "ripstop", drawstring pants, or things with Sanskrit on them.

Certain outdoor suppliers make pieces that are not athleisure, but work well with them. Below, from Eddie Bauer:

Left: It's hard to find a cardigan with this sleeve length, perfect for classroom lectures. The Christine Elbow Cardigan in a washable cotton-nylon blend is on sale for $30, and comes in sizing up to XXL.

Right: Many women like outdoor wear because it's low-maintenance. Eddie Bauer's navy print wrinkle-free shirt gives that ease, but looks more polished than a tee.

Iris Apfel says, "If you have a good haircut and good shoes, you can get away with anything." Off with the trekking boots, but my friend still wants arch support and a heel that is not pancake flat, but low.

Two options: Reiker #52667 in denim blue ($CDN 120 at Leclerc Chassures) is a smart segue from the hiking boot. I was charmed by the pale grey and flowers on a pair of oxfords by S. Oliver, $CDN 120— more "me" than her, but I also think sometimes athleisure needs a little softening.

Athleisure has been called the fastest-growing apparel niche so expect to see more of this hybrid on offer. It still takes some thought, but it's well worth some closet space for such versatile, wearable clothes.

Learning later in life

I am away next week, on an intensive French course in Québec City, so the next post will be April 4.
This is a thinly-disgised girlfriend getaway; I am going with my friend Alyson, and we intend to be good students not only of our second language, but of the culinary delights of this scenic old city.

So, I should not say "thinly! But we hope that walking back and forth to class will mitigate a few teatimes with macarons and a celebratory big dinner at Le Pied Bleu.

I am not worried about my waist, but I am worried about my brain, and therefore my ability to get the most out of the course. As I age, my thirst to learn is mitigated by noticeable and highly frustrating memory erosion. Oh, it goes in, and comprehension is fine—but retention is not what it once was.

When I read on Kindle, the pages do not show a header—so I responded to a recent inquiry about what I was reading by saying, "I have no idea but it is by Annie Proulx. " ("Barkskins"; I had to look at the title page.)

I get the 'click' I have always felt when a concept or pattern settles into my brain, except in several days, without continual repetition, my new nugget of grammar or vocabulary goes the way of the geometry theorems I learned in 8th grade: familiar, but not retrievable.

Alyson's wife does Brain Gym exercises to continue mental stimulation, and takes Great Books courses. I admire that; you have to do something, and just like physical exercise, if it's an activity you enjoy, you'll stick to it.

My current brain stimulation comes from those year-round classes, the choice of "harder books", and my annual July-August vacation from the Internet. During that time I make a particular effort to dig into long essays, explore genres and forms outside my usual, and spend more time in nature, usually on foot.

I already count the weeks toward my unplugging because I suspect the blurry barrage doesn't help my retention. Ross Douthat, in his op-ed piece, "Resist the Internet" says, "The internet is not the opioid crisis; it is not likely to kill you... But it requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence—your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art—in a state of perpetual distraction."

Nor is the Internet a sterling way to learn, because it places a low demand on cognition, delivering the vast majority of its material as small, declarative chunks that require a low level of mental processing.

This spring and summer, I want to select some new stimulation. I am curious about what you do to use your brain, especially its abilities of recall.

I have found anxiety about retention of new information makes my memory even worse, and, like anyone who saw "Still Alice", wonder if this is the beginning of dementia. Sometimes I can laugh, such as the time when I stood before a salesperson searching for the word for the coat I wanted. I'd used it most of my life, but it had tiptoed off just over...there. (Duffle).

Here's a joke:

Three women meet for coffee. The first says, "I think I'm losing my memory. I was standing in my kitchen with a jar of peanut butter in my hand, and I couldn't for the life of me remember what I was going to do with it."

The second woman says, "Oh, me too! I was on my landing, looking out the window for just a few seconds, and then I couldn't recall if I had been going up or down."

The third says, "Well, nothing like that has happened to me yet, touch wood."

She raps her knuckles on the table, then says "Oh! There's the door! I'll get it."

See you on April 4; I won't forget!

The kindness question

Continuing choleric Facebook posts in my feed are countered by requests for kindness and respect. I also am exhorted on most blogs written by women to "be kind", over and over. But when I think of real persons, not the pseudonym-protected snipers online, I see much kindness, or at least civility, in everyday life.

So why, I wonder, am I so often importuned to be kind? Perhaps because its opposite, meanness, is disruptive, painful, and when escalated, violent.

Kindness is a fragrant bough that sweeps away the pebbles on the path of life. Alain de Botton's site The School of Life calls kindness an art, and provides a primer, "Mastering the Art of Kindness". 

I am glad to find this free book, because I need help these days, what with those Facebook feuds and my suspicion that when some of those parties tell those who see it differently to "be kind" , they may be trying to stifle protest, to duck the hard and complicated questions.  "You're not nice!" is calling someone a "nasty woman" with sugar on top.

Somewhere, I realize, is a balance point as tenuously glued together as President Trump's hair. (Yes, I am being mean. Sometimes snark, which is diet-lite meanness, is fun.)

What's missing in these pleas for kindness is an examination of why why we continually request caring and consideration. We need it. Kindness helps us muster on, because it contributes to our safety and security.

Whether one adopts Maslow's hierarchy of needswhich places physical and emotional safety just after the physiological needs like air, water, and food—or other models, humans can govern themselves better when they are not in a continual fight or flight mode.

We appreciate meetings were differences are discussed without ad hominum attacks, we're grateful when a friend readily forgives us for forgetting a date, we enjoy even the passing generosity of a held door. Kindness serves life.

My friend Marianne is an intelligent, compassionate, warm woman. Seven years ago, she worked for a practiced bully who systematically undermined her work, despite her efforts to appease, problem-solve, and even confront his tactics. Because of her beliefs and her nature, she never fought fire with fire. Eventually he succeeded in having her fired; she spent from 2009 until last year struggling to get back on her feet.

During that time, Marianne lost her life savings and was often depressed, but received many kind acts. One of her friends moved her into her empty basement apartment in her home. Other friends provided low-key kindnesses: including her in social events that cost nothing, taking her out occasionally, giving her good clothes so she could go on interviews, and just keeping an eye on her. Even her bank was kind, helping her hang on to a family property that provided a tiny income from its occasional rental.

It's easy to be kind to a person like Marianne, and much harder to be kind to someone acting like a jerk, including ourselves. Sometimes the best we manage is a clenched civility.

In me, the milk of human kindness dilutes down to skim on a bad day. I prize the virtue, and wish to be thoughtful, generous, tolerant. Lately despair about the state of the world and our vulnerability can erode my stores. Then I hoover down a slab of endangered fish (when Le Duc is not around) and snap at someone I love. (I am hardly ever mean to strangers, but being kind to some persons whom I know well has taken deep effort, and I've often fallen short.)

When I attend the services of various faith communities, the promotion of everyday kindness is a universal topic—but, presently on leave from such affiliation, I'm hoping the School of Life provides guidance.

The beginning of the treatise quotes findings from a survey attributed to DoubleTree by Hilton, and I wondered, What is a hotel chain doing exploring kindness? But there is money to be made in delivering a nice plump bed, a kindness that earns customers' loyalty. A good hotel or restaurant (not necessarily a luxury one) cossets you; hospitality is really institutionalized kindness.

There's more to say, but what about you, friend? Is kindness important to you? How do you top up your capacity?

Note: Post removed, but will return!

I mistakenly published a post on a reader's pearls before it was complete. The subject of the post, Carolyn, is sending me a better photo.

Some of you will have this post in your readers now; it will reappear in early April, with the new photo.

And since I've popped by to say that,  here is a freeform Tahitian baroque stretch bracelet for a remarkable price, from Pearl Paradise:

Buying jewellery: A gift from Aunt Emilie

A year ago, on her 55th birthday, Annie's 84-year-old aunt sent a card and a cheque for $10,000. Aunt Emilie wrote, "Buy yourself something nice, dear." (Her twin brother Bruce received the same amount and immediately bought a share in a horse.)

Annie has held off touching the gift, determined to make the perfect choice. Aunt Emilie has inquired several times, only to be told, "I'm looking,"

Annie has not so much looked as fretted. She can buy a sofa in less time than it takes me to choose a melon, but is absolutely paralyzed in this sphere. Though she has no debt or pressing expenses, there are always practical things to do with a windfall; at the same time, she does not want to disappoint her aunt, and has long dreamed of a special piece of jewellery.

She asked me, "What do you think about when you are making a choice like this?" I told her that a purchase of fine jewellery is always going to involve a reconciliation between what captivates you and what you are willing to spend, but that you absolutely should not settle. If nothing speaks to you, keep your money in the bank.

I suggested four guidelines:

1. Can you see yourself in the piece at least several days a week? Does it complement what you already have?
3. Is it comfortable?
4. Is the piece beautiful and interesting to you?
5. Is it good value?

I have not put "Will it date?" on the list. About 80% of all jewellery eventually looks dated, just like your clothes. Buy something you will wear often, and enjoy it. You can recycle the precious metal or gems should the piece no longer suit you.

If you absolutely want to avoid the "dated" issue, buy well-designed antique jewellery.

Enough of the lecture,  let's go shopping! Annie had at least narrowed the field, and told me, "I like the classics: pearls, diamonds and gold." (All prices in dollars  are in $US.)

Luxe and rare

"What could I get if I spent it all?", she asked, thinking of Bruce's filly.

Left: She could go all in for a stunning Tiffany South Sea pearl and diamond ring. which includes both rose-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds. I bow before its opulence and discreet luxury. Annie could wear it for the next thirty years with pleasure, and for such purchases that is how one should think: long term.

Price, $8, 000. So that is about $3,300 per year in today's dollars and might be worth it.

Right: I wanted her to consider the resale market. At Beladora, I found an Edwardian ring with a .55ct Old European cut diamond and a natural pearl, set in platinum and 14k gold—I was crazy about that natural pearl (made only by the oyster, no human intervention)—and Annie was impressed by the price tag, $3, 250.  That's only about 30% of the gift, and it still would get her a special piece.

Mid-priced and pleasing

Sometimes jitters are nature's way of telling you that you are spending too much money. Several weeks after I sent her examples from $3,000 to nearly $10,000, Annie decided to dedicate only 15% of the gift to her ring, so our budget dropped to $1,500.

Left: Arts and Craft amethyst and blister pearl ring from Isadora's Fine Jewellery; price $1, 400.

Right: Diamonds, pearls and high-karat gold are still within reach. Edwardian 18k gold, pearl and diamond  ring from FineAntiqueJewellery; price about $850.

Relaxed Real: Under $500

For those of us who lack a bequest, there's still pleasing jewellery out there. I showed Annie some of these more modest pieces, partly to position the other examples in the value proposition. If you don't know what you can buy for $500 or less, you don't make good choices at higher price points.

Here, we say goodbye to gold and diamonds, but can still find genuine pearls set in silver. I love this level of jewellery because it evokes jewellers' inventiveness, and when you find an exceptional piece, you get terrific value.

Left: Tahitian pearl and silver ring by Dublin jeweller Eva Dorney; price, €195.

Right: Ring of pearl with inset aquamarine by Marc Gounard of Sausalito, California; price, about $190 . Other stones available by request.

Annie has not yet made her choice, but is leaning towards the Edwardian pearl and diamonds or something similar. Her aunt awaits her choice, but whenever Annie chooses, the memento will reflect the last line on her aunt's note: "I love you all."

Style: When you're the oldest woman in the bistro

The winner of the draw for the iBook, "How to Get Fit Watching TV" is Doreen!
Doreen, please contact me with an e-mail address that Debbie Rahman can use to send the gift link for your book.  (My address is under my photo in the right sidebar.)

Everyone else: Thank you for entering, your intention to be fitter is terrific. I encourage you to splash out for the book!

We tried a hip new restaurant the other evening, with our neighbours Lou and Jean-Yves. The median age at our table was a solid sixty; a round corner banquette was all the better for conversation. (Another friend insists that restaurant tables have gotten bigger and that is why she can't hear someone across from her.)

Next to us a couple read the menu; he was a skinny man of about thirty, all elbows and horn-rimmed glasses, in a Harris tweed jacket. She wore a stretchy black and red dress with a deeply scooped back, the simplicity of the cut revealed her graceful spine. Everything rested on that sole detail.

I said to Lou, "Look at that girl, the cut of her dress is so beautiful." Lou replied, "Do you realize we are the oldest people in this place?"

Though I sound-check, (and have asked for another table if I'm about to be seated next to someone on a phone), I don't age-check. We all wear more or less the same things, anyway: trousers, shirts, dresses or skirts. But a visit to a hot new restaurant is an occasion to dress up a little, which takes some thought.

Below, two versions: the not-so-current and the happening. Often is is not the garment per se, but how it's worn.

1. Wide-legged trousers
Always a good idea for a restaurant, relaxed and easy to sit in—but at left, the fringed top clutters the line. Not one woman under fifty in that restaurant wore stiletto-heeled shoes or boots with her trousers.

At right, clean lines, no clutter, and thick-soled sneakers. At the bistro, I saw only that kind of sneaker, or brogues with trousers, and block-heeled pumps on my neighbour in that dress. Not one woman in stilettos.

When the streets are clear of snow, a supple coat looks fresher than a heavy fur, fake or real.

2. Printed scarves
Printed scarves from Hermès to Joe Fresh are much-loved here, and while at the bar for the first course, I noticed a woman who wore one conservatively, in the triangle fold anchored by a scarf ring.

Across the room a redhead in a simple shirt wore her patterned silk tucked inside the neckline. You did not see as much of the pattern but the effect was more modern.

3. Off the shoulder
Young people show what they please, because it all looks pretty good. Off the shoulder shows that alluring sweep from neck to clavicle, but if the last upper-body workout you did was to a Jane Fonda VHS, you might be chary.

The young ones wear them tight, often also cropped or just to the waist, like the BooHoo ruffled top on the left. But those of us prone to chill, or not quite so daring, might choose the Getsuz off-shoulder sweater, snuggly and not too clingy, and let only one upper shoulder peek out.

These images are courtesy of Asos, where I was delighted to see this trend offered in many plus-sized pieces.

4. Long cardigans
As the evening ended, the young woman in the scoop-back reached for her long charcoal-grey cardigan, nearly heavy as a coat—and it may well be her coat, once spring is here.

At left, a long waterfall cardigan (by Betty Barclay), a style that hit big a decade ago and still is around the shops.  I no longer have one; I like scarves and felt like a flapping tent with all that moving fabric, so gave it to a friend.

At right, the coatigan I'm eyeing: the sublimely strict "Melanie" by ça va de soi. Shown in framboise, suprisingly harmonious with black, navy, grey, brown, olive.

Much is written about "dressing your age". I'd rather not approach choice from age, but from the fact that styles do change, so inevitably the time comes to alter or replace a certain item.

I'm just back from a trip to the donation box, three pieces out (two skirts, one pair of too-tight trousers) and perhaps that coatigan's coming in.

What might you "spring" for?


I walked through the market yesterday, savouring a spring-like day (not spring, it is only early March, and Montréal); the pavement dry, the sky blue. A woman just ahead still wore a heavy black parka, but with...pink shoes. I knew her mind was on spring.

The shadows lengthened, but I was reluctant to leave the sunshine so turned home slowly and en route, passed my favourite indy boutique, FripeFabrique. Michelle Hutchinson had just dressed her window with a picnic spread and pastel vases holding sprigs: spring whimsy beckoned every passer-by. 

Details from the window: At right, a stack of vintage sweaters; below, a pair of pink patterned socks.

Inside (how could I not go in?) more pink! I can't wear all the hues or a solid-pink dress, for example, but a shot of pink always lifts my spirits. Pink with navy, grey, taupe, red, black; ta-da fuchsia, tart cyclamen, and that pink smudged with a hint of orange, not quite coral. 

Even someone who avoided its frillier expressions during her younger adult years, once she finds her pink, will be the better for it. Call it tourmaline, watermelon, or blush, she will smile when she wears it, even if it's a tiny dot in a scarf.

Scarves: Michelle always has a collection of pristine vintage beauties; excellent buys at $12 each:

Pink, vintage version: A kimono jacket in black and pink; a pearl-snap pink gingham Western shirt (small).

Michelle carries gorgeous lingerie by two wonderful Montréal designers. Left, Barbe Rose velvet-panel bra; right, Ellesmere panty. I am fascinated by young designers who make lingerie; if could roll the clock back, I would take the training. 

Alexis, one of FFs rightfully proud staff, mentioned a bra specialist who teaches workshops in Hamilton Ontario, and, wanting to know more, I found a list of courses (including hers) in many locales around the world, here

In a few days, the time will change, and the light encourages more colour everywhere. People smile more, and small children do that wonderful sideways skip. 

Spring, like pink, makes us feel good.

Progress report: "How to Watch TV and Get Fit"

Winner of  a copy of "Ice Mountain"by Dave Bonta: Patsy!
Patsy, please contact me to provide a postal address to which you would like your book shipped, and I will contact the publisher. My address is under my photo in the right sidebar.

In early February, I began to exercise using with Debbie Rahman and Linda Killian's book, "How to Watch TV and Get Fit, Three Minutes at a Time".  

I added this to my usual routine of walking or biking for an hour several days a week and a pinch of weight work, because that winter cushion which I like to think is caused by my longjohns—but is not—has not been helped by sitting.

There were times, oh, there were a number of times, when I was tempted to skip a day, but knew I had to report to you, even if you'd forgotten about it.

Bottom line, pun intended: My waist and hip measurements are down one and nearly two inches respectively; my thigh measurement and weight stayed the same.

I improved in every section of the fitness test except the devil of a sit-on-floor-and-get-up-without using-hands-or-knees one. I remain an 7 out of 8 in that, despite consulting YouTube for tips. (Some spry British seniors bounce upright like Tommee Tippee cups.)

These results surprised me, because the routine is fairly gentle.  I'd planned to stay at Level One for the initial six weeks to see if even the beginner routine would yield results, but after a month became curious about Two (not all that different, but some exercises add weight by using cans of peas or whatever you have.)

Of course the results for each person will vary, depending on your fitness level when you begin and whether you can be pried away from Facebook notifications and adorable animal videos.

If so, you can insert a roughly 40-minute workout that combines strength, balance and agility into your day, in small increments. No travel, no changing clothes (but loose pants help), no disheartening comparison to the yogi next to you who can put her leg behind her head.

You have done a workout with hardly realizing it.

The downside is that you have to do them; as my friend in AA says, "It works if you work it." But I enjoyed taking a break from my desk and knocking off two or three sequences, a total of 10 or 12 minutes at a shot, more satisfying for me than doing a single sequence at a time—the method you'd use if you spent each TV commercial break during a couple hours of TV doing the micro-workout.

The videos in which Linda Killian demonstrates each exercise are concise and show both front and side views. Linda is supremely buff; don't let it deter you.

In Level Two,  one sequence involves floor exercises, but the view of dust bunnies demotivated me, so I did them standing.

I purposely kept my eating the same, retaining a moderate intake of treats for the sake of more accurate research, and because Le Duc made this absolutely delicious Orange Savarin.

Minor quibbles:
1. The sound (without supplemental speakers) will be low for anyone who is hearing-impaired.
2. The Excel spreadsheet:  I could not input the data for the second evaluation, but I am not a crack Excel user. I built my own chart.

The fun factor is subtle. Many forms of exercise are more engaging, but TV Fitness gets it done, and besides, you will still have energy for riding your bike or walking the dog; this is not CrossFit Bold.

So that's pretty good, isn't it?  The iBook cost $US 10, a bargain for more breathing room in my jeans, and improved strength and balance.

I'm into it now, buoyed by the results—and besides, I want to get up off the floor without using hands or knees. Can you?

And: another draw! Debbie Rahman has graciously offered one copy of "How to Watch TV and Get Fit" to a reader.

This is an iBook, so you will need an iTunes account (free), and one of the following:
1. An iPad with iBooks 2 or later and IOS 5 or later
2. An iPhone with IOS 8.4 or later, or
3. A Mac with OSX 10.9 or later.

I will ask the winner to send me an e-mail address, which I will forward to Debbie, and she will use the "Gift" feature on iTunes to e-mail the link for your book.

If you could like to be in the draw, say so in a comment (by March 10, please). I will announce the winner on Tuesday, March 14.

March: "Ice Mountain" by Dave Bonta

"...get a bowl of snow
not to eat but just to admire
like a bowl of cut flowers."
-  from "Ice Mountain" by Dave Bonta

March heralds spring in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but not here in Québec, where it is still a winter month, even when the snow thaws to slush and on a specially warm day, we feel the sun's warmth on our faces.

"Not so fast", March says in my adopted city, Montréal. If you left your hat behind and the sun has set, you'll be cast backward to January's freeze. Still, we make a stab at spring: the markets fill with maple syrup and its offspring. la tire, boiled and reduced maple syrup poured over a mound of snow.

As the the days lengthen and the clock "springs forward", Northern people say, "We're out of the woods; we made it through another winter." We scan the sky for returning birds; the air begins to carry organic smells again. Markets sell forced forsythia and pots of tulips but we're wary: Don't pack your boots away, we tell one another.

I'm hosting a draw for one free print copy of a just-released book of poetry which includes an exploration of the inner and outer markers of this ephemeral, elegant season, when nothing quite happens on a timetable.

"Ice Mountain: An Elegy", is poet and naturalist Dave Bonta's most recent work; you can read the publisher's review here.  The setting in the northern mountaintops of Pennsylvania, USA, is illustrated by Elizaeth Adams, whose linocuts are in themselves a gift.

If you would like to enter the draw, please leave a comment saying you would like to participate by midnight (EST) March 5; I will publish the name drawn from a toque, and announce it on the blog on March 7. I will ask the winner to e-mail me with an address for postal delivery.

Digital editions are also available, but I still love to hold a beautiful book in my hands and thought you would, too.

Jane Birkin at seventy

Jane Birkin turned seventy last December. She has resurfaced occasionally after the crushing loss of her eldest daughter at the end of 2013. Birkin remarked that she "did not leave the house for a year", grieving in private.

In spring of 2016 she was one of the faces of a Hedi Slimane St. Laurent campaign for Le Smoking, the suit that delivers a dash of insouciance to every woman wearing one. The professional shot makes the most of her natural beauty, and it's classic Jane, that warmth and nonchalance more appealing than the clothes.

This past fall, when photographed with her daughter Lou Doillon, Birkin had a fuller face and figure, which may be due to medication; she has mentioned that she had been "very ill".

Jane currently stars in what she says is her last film, the 30-minute "La Femme et le TGV" (The Railroad Lady), which received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film. She's still 'Jane', showing a bare (well, for a film) face that's lived-in and wise.

Birkin, unlike few stars of her era (and a generation before) has not gone the surgery route. She said in an interview last year that not having begun those procedures decades before, she felt it was too late now—the change would be too dramatic.

I recalled what Carrie Fisher said: that when she signed her Star Wars contract she did not realize she was agreeing to look the same for the next forty years.

That wasn't Jane's deal. Adored for her nonchalant sexiness when young, celebrated in countless posts for a Levis-and-baskets raffishness as she matured, she now brings her presence and radiant smile to a last screen appearance.

Youthful beauty fades for everyone; intelligence and character persevere. I only hope, as Birkin steps from the stage, other women actors follow her, and let their unaltered faces travel along with us.

Jewellery: "Love It or List It"

Reader Adele recently commented that she has a big birthday coming up, and is pondering whether to sell or recycle some of her unworn jewellery in order to commission a piece to mark that happy occasion.

Her thought process is the "Love It or List It" of the jewellery world, and just like that TV show, I cannot resist watching.

Coincidentally, I read "How to repurpose jewellery and bring new life to inherited pieces", in the Telegraph. I'll read anything the astute Anna Harvey writes; however, we do not always agree. The article shows two old-cut diamond Edwardian brooches, and the new necklace created from the stones. (I guess the pearls were sent back to the manor.)

"Love It"

I thought, Oh no no no; Love It! The brooches have so much character and romance.

The necklace is pretty and wearable—but the use of old-cut diamonds in a modern piece creates a dissonance, like sticking a bay window on a 17th century castle. I hope the jeweller doing the reno showed her modern-cut diamonds versus these old cuts, so she can see the difference. If that was done, and she is happy, there you go.

I'd buy a great jacket instead, and wear both brooches together. I might have the diamond brooch adapted to be worn as a pendant.

Harvey and I agree on restyling all or some of the items from a parure, in North America often called a "set", for example, a matching ring, necklace and earrings. But again, if the setting and stones are beautiful, you could gift or sell all but your favourite item.

Just like the TV show, "Love It" means a decision about what goes, what stays, and the total budget for the project. Given the current cost of gold, a reno may cost more than the original item, but look what you end up with!

The example shown is a commissioned piece by London jeweller, Malcolm Morris. That's a sumptuously heavy band, no stinting on the gold, and good for Malcolm and his client!

Photo: MalcolmMorris.com

"List It"

Many women wanting to convert old jewellery to cash decide, wisely, to get an appraisal. Find a certified appraiser and tell her you are planning to sell; most appraisals are done for insurance purposes. The American Gem Society provides a good checklist here.

Why not benefit from the appraiser's knowledge of the market, as well as of the value of the piece? (Many appraisers have extensive experience buying and selling.) At auctions, jewellers buy some pieces to tear apart. If you consign to an auction house or consignment jeweller, realize that dated designs will not bring as much as a piece that could be worn as is.

The one thing the owners on the TV show don't do is give away homes! But I've done that with craft jewellery such as silver rings set with semi-precious stones. When we did the Mighty Downsize, I donated a shopping bag of that sort of thing to a Toronto church's auction. (The church used a certified appraiser to set starting bid prices.)  Sometimes you can get a charitable donation receipt.

Rachel and her sister inherited a pile of jewellery from their mother, Marsha; below are similar pieces. Can you guess what she did with each?

Left: Garnet earrings bezel-set in 14k gold. Rachel wore them for a while, then gave them to her sister.

Middle: Peridot cocktail ring, set in silver. Sold on Kijiji for $60. (The ring had never been worn; Marsha had a ferocious HSN habit.)

Right: Diamond ballerina ring, set with many small, mixed-cut diamonds of very good quality. Rachel considered having a pendant made. When her 27 year old daughter Becky landed her dream job, Rachel and Sam gave her her grandmother's ring, which looks perfect as is on their hip, vintage-clothes-collector daughter. (A vintage piece can read entirely differently on a young woman.)

For fine jewellery, Harvey offers a variant of "List It": "Park It".  She says, "An idea to consider if you do not want to...reset a single piece is to put (it) in the bank and put the money saved in insuring it to one side until you have saved enough to go out and buy yourself a piece of jewellery you will wear."

"Park It" works if you save those big jewellery riders (Dowager Dollars?) but if, like Adele, you have a special occasion coming up, look now for jewellers whose work makes you whistle in admiration. Then you'll know where to take it.