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!