Monday, June 30, 2014

Mired in the Mud ... Thoughts About Poetry and Fiction and War

Friday was a gorgeous day on the Rideau. The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing off the river, Hubbie was golfing and I should have been ensconced in my chair on the deck with my cup of tea and a good book.

Instead I was glued to my computer, absorbed by my research, totally immersed, one might even say mired, in the stories and the poetry of the First World War.




That's because June 28 was the 100th anniversary of the events that triggered World War I. And since I love the poetry and the fiction that depicts this era, I wanted to write a blog post about the anniversary and some of my favourite writers and their works about WWI.


Like Rupert Brooke, in the picture below. Brooke died in 1915. His poem "The Soldier" is his most famous work, and the lines "If I should die, think only this of me/ That there's some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever England" became, in a way, his epitaph. They're lovely words, patriotic, inspiring. But though Brooke was lauded as a war hero, he died aboard ship on his way to battle, not in it. Of blood poisoning from an insect bite. He is buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. 

In the early years of the war he was IT... the soldier poet, described by some as the "golden haired God of poetry." According to poetryfoundation.org, all of England mourned his death.



I have a card I bought in London years ago that has a famous quote from Brooke's poem  "Old Vicarage, Grantchester," written before the war: "Stands the church clock at ten to three/ And is there honey still for tea?" I love those lines. Brooke is said to have captured in his work the mood of a pre-war world: peaceful, idealistic, confident in the old ways and the old values of heroism and honour. 


That's Brooke above on the far right. Gorgeous, eh? Virginia Woolfe certainly thought so; that's her sitting beside him. It's like this shot captures the world that was soon to be gone. That old romantic, idealistic one. 

As WWI progressed, Brooke's poetry...written by someone who was able to see death in battle as valiant and romantic because he had never actually been in battle, had never even seen the trenches... began to look "foolish and naive." Poor Rupert, forever captured on the page as the guy who got it wrong. Not his fault, really. If he had made it to Gallipoli (where he was headed when he died) and survived the battle, most assuredly he would have changed his tune. 


Siegfried Sassoon sang an entirely different tune from Rupert Brooke. Sassoon did see the trenches, in France. He was exceedingly brave in battle, becoming known as "Mad Jack" due to his apparent lack of fear under fire. Sassoon did not, however, remain  unscathed. He was invalided out of battle three times, once for dysentery, once when shot by a sniper, and a final time when he was shot in the head. Still he miraculously survived. 



But each time Sassoon returned to England he was more and more disenchanted, and angry about the war. In 1917 he wrote his famous "Declaration Against the War" which vilifies the powers that continued to "prolong the sufferings of the troops" in a war he believed to be "evil and unjust." He accused the political powers at home of "callous complacency," "deception" and as having "not sufficient imagination to realize" the agonies that the soldiers endured. It's these callous, complacent leaders who are described in his poem "Base Details." He describes the "Majors at the Base" as "Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel" all the while sending "glum heroes up the line to death." You can read all about Sassoon and his poetry here.

Sassoon's anger and public denunciation of the war was, to say the least, embarrassing for the military. What to do about a decorated war hero who says such, well, unheroic things? 

So, Sassoon was committed for a time to the Craiglockhart War Hospital,  and treated for "neurasthenia," a controversial condition that involved a "collapse of the nervous system" (according to Wikipedia.) A symptom of which must have been the publishing of  inconvenient truths? 



Now here is the best part of this story. 

While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon befriended a young poet soldier named Wilfred Owen, pictured below, who was recovering from shell shock. Through their friendship and Sassoon's mentoring of Owen as a writer, Owen would go on to become the best known poet of his era. 




It's Owen who truly captures in his poetry the darkness, the foulness of the soldier's existence in battle. His poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est," which means "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country", decries the hypocrisy of that sentiment, and those who used the "old lie" of honour and glory to deceive "children ardent for some desperate glory." Owen's imagery is vivid as he describes the soldiers who "marched asleep/... blood shod.../drunk with fatigue." And his tone is bitter, as he recalls a man choking and dying after a gas attack: "the white eyes writhing in his face/...the blood/...gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, /Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/ Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues." Phew. That's pretty powerful stuff.

But my favourite poem by Wilfred Owen has to be "Anthem for Doomed Youth." Its opening line "What passing bells for those who die as cattle" is, like "Dulce Et Decorum Est," both bitter and vivid. But seriously, if you want to really experience this poem, listen to Sean Bean read it...


Oh my. That's beautiful. 

And what's even more powerful, ironic, and sad ... is that, for a brief time at Craiglockhart, Owen wrote feverishly about his experiences in war and then, when he was deemed fit for duty, he went back to the front. And died on November 4, 1918, seven days before the war ended.

You can read Owen's biography and his work on this wonderful website.

If poetry is not your thing there are some wonderful novels about WW I. My favourites include the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker.  I love the story about the friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and the older poet's mentoring of the younger. Much of Barker's first novel, Regeneration, deals with the two poets and their time at Craiglockhart. It's an amazing, beautifully written book.... really... you should read it. And then read the other two in the trilogy.  






I also love Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. This book moves back and forth between the life of a soldier before and during the war, and his granddaughter many years later. It's a book about love, passion, sorrow, longing and a desire to understand the past... alongside the mud and horror of trench warfare. 

 

Or.... if you like mystery novels, especially well written, clever, erudite mystery novels and you want to read about World War I, try this novel by Reginald Hill. Hill is perhaps my favourite mystery writer. His books are smart and funny and engrossing. This one in particular, I love. Because there's not only the present day mystery, but also a secondary plot where Peter Pascoe unravels the mystery of his grandfather's death during World War I.  



I'm not sure why I'm so enamored of the poetry and fiction written during and about World War I. Part of it is that I love the stories of these men and women who died or were forever changed by their experiences in the mud and the hell that was the First World War. Part of it is the sheer beauty and power of the language used by good writers to describe something almost indescribable, something that those of us who have not experienced it can never really understand. And part of it is that I think it's important that we try to understand. 

I mean one hundred years on....what's really changed? 

So that's it. Three days later... the sun is still shining... and I've said my piece... about war. That sounds more clever than it looks.

I know this post is much more serious than what I usually write. Sorry....but a girl can't be shallow all of the time. Just... some of the time:)



Do you have any favourite books about the war? 



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind? .... How to Decide What To Wear



Every day it's the same thing. What to wear...what to wear? It's like that old song from the Lovin' Spoonful... "Did you ever have to make up your mind? To pick up on one and leave the other behind?"


www.waybackattack.com
 I have no trouble deciding what to buy... I am very organized about shopping (to put it mildly.) I always have a list. I wrote about my shopping philosophy and about my "list" in this post a couple of weeks ago.

It's the deciding what I want to wear on any particular day that I still find challenging. Probably that's because I put too much stock in what I'm wearing; I've always been like that, even as a little girl. If the clothes I'm wearing don't match the occasion and my mood on that day... I get cranky. The outfit just has to "feel" right, or the day goes all wrong. Weird , eh? But there it is... I can't help it. 

So how to choose the outfit of the day; that is the question... "To say yes to one, and let the other one ride.."

Sometimes I refer to my "inspiration board"over my desk. This is a collage of pictures that I have ripped out of fashion magazines because I like the overall look or because an item resembles something I already own and I like how it's styled. These pictures give me ideas. I don't spend a lot of time creating this... I just stack the fashion magazines on the reading "lectern" that my husband built for me on my exercise bike. Whenever I am pedaling, which is several times a week, I flip through the magazines and tear out pictures I like. Then I slap them on my bulletin board. Easy.  


I tore out the picture below because I love this look and because I own a tan safari jacket and a full, brown, pattered skirt. I never think of wearing them together, though. So I have this picture to remind me.


June Issue of Vogue

I also collect the free corporate magazines and "look books" which you can pick up in stores, showcasing the brands they carry. The picture below is from the Max Mara Spring/Summer 2014 magazine. I love the relaxed feel of the model's outfit as well as the combination of navy blue and khaki. The sweater is slouchy but the pants look quite tailored to me. I love this combination. I don't do slouchy terribly well. But a slouchy top with a neatly tailored pant is a look I can love.  


The layout below is from a tiny look book showing the Brunello Cucinelli line for this season. My friend Liz gave me this booklet. Liz is the personal shopper at Holt Renfrew. I love this outfit. The slim, rolled, pants and flowing top. I'd wear this in a minute if I could find a top like that.


But none of these usually helpful sources inspired me on Monday this week. First of all, most of the looks on my inspiration board are for spring, outfits with jackets or long sleeves.  Summer is okay. But, you know, I'm much more of a spring and fall girl... more at home in jackets or sweaters and jeans with boots, than in shorts and beach wear. 

And the forecast said Monday would be hot. So jackets were definitely out. Totally wished I owned that black top above. But I don't. Sigh.

And besides I was feeling inspired by something completely different. Coral toes. Yep. Last Friday when I was NOT playing golf, I went for a pedicure. You can read my post about why I love golf  here. Wink, wink, knowing look, knowing look ..... to quote Monty Python. 

Not playing golf last Friday. And my inspirational toes.
Anyhoo... I absolutely love the colour of the OPI nail polish I chose. A beautiful, bright, clear, coral-y red called "Red Lights Ahead."  And I wanted to match my outfit to that colour if I could.

So...what did I own that might fill the bill? The outfit would need to have some red in it and yet be nice enough to wear to my book club luncheon and cool enough to sit outside comfortably on my friend's deck. 


 The choices:

#1 My red, liberty print blouse, very light cotton with a lovely red cherry pattern and my white, cropped Hudson jeans.
#2 My short sleeved Burberry blouse with the heart pattern and my black Theory capris. 
#3 My coral Elie Tahari jeans from two years ago and a loose sleeveless blouse from Judith and Charles. 



Hmmmm. The Burberry blouse and Theory capris didn't even make the first cut. The top makes me look washed out with my hair this colour and the pants are too much like work wear. This outfit bored me. 

Hmmmm. I love this Liberty print blouse. The pattern changes inside the collar and cuffs to dark red poppies. So cute. I also like this shirt with my white jeans. Spiffy enough for book club, casual enough for lunch on the deck.



This outfit would give me the chance to wear my new Kate Spade bracelet (outlet shopping in Florida!) and the Kate Spade earrings I got for free with my promotional gift card from Holt Renfrew. I timed the purchase of a coat I wanted so as to take advantage of their 25% promotion and voila...free earrings.




Nah. Not feeling the love. 

On the other hand, I felt drawn to my coral jeans. I rolled them up, the better to showcase my new sandals and newly painted toes. The Judith and Charles blouse would be cool on a hot day. I never actually thought of pairing it with these pants before, but I like them together. And I added my cheapie gold hoops with the red bobbles that I bought at Pier One Imports (while shopping for furniture...)




And the colour match with my toes was perfect, as least from up here.


                           
So the decision was made. I finally decided to "pick up on one and leave the other behind." My outfit would be comfortable and spiffy enough for my book club meeting. And it totally suited my mood. It  just felt right. This would be a good day.



 Post Script... 

This is the book we read for our book club discussion. Well, kind of read; I only managed to get half way through it. I was definitely NOT feeling the love. And that was pretty much the consensus of the other members of our group. Ah well, at least the sun was shining, the wine was cold and the food delicious. 

And....note that the cover of the book is the exact colour (well, almost) of my newly pedicured toes! 

Sigh. Life is good.








What do you do to make up your mind in the morning? To "finally decide; to say yes to one and let the other one ride."





This week I'm linking up with the Thursday Blog Hop at Over 50 Feeling 40   and Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Never, Never say Never

I've just read on Wikipedia that apparently it was Charles Dickens who is credited with coining the phrase "never say never," in Pickwick Papers in 1837. But that's just what I did back in April of this year. Said never, I mean.

And I did it in writing. 

And I said it publicly. On the internet.

Where it's recorded forever...because, of course, everything on the internet is there.. for ... ever.

In April, I wrote a post on this blog about a few of the new trends for spring and summer... trends that made me say "No way, Jose!" You can read it hereOne of the trends I said I would never, never fall for again was drawstring pants, particularly of the full-legged variety. 

Like these ones from Vince.com.



I think these are dreadful. As I said in my post, I had a pair in the 90's: "They weren't very flattering then. I can't imagine how they would look on me now. Well, I can imagine, which is why I WON'T be trying them on. Too depressing. Like bathing suit shopping."

Oh, the vehemence of the soon to be proven wrong! Because I took another look at the pants on Vince.com.

And saw these:



And then, when I was on my exercise bike and leafing through the June issue of Vogue, I saw this picture. Gorgeous.



So I kind of scrunched up my eyes. If I got rid of the platform shoes and the pop top.... I think... maybe... I could make these work? Maybe.

Then last week, when I was out shopping and lunching with a friend, we stopped into one of my favourite shops... Green Tree Eco Fashion on Richmond Road, here in Ottawa. I love this store. They have a great collection of casual clothes...sweaters and tops and pants that are cool, and a bit edgy, and slightly different from anywhere else. 

I was actually looking for high waisted skinny jeans. I had tried on a few pairs and nothing suited... when Mary, the sales person I usually deal with, handed me a pair of pants...."I know they're not jeans...but just try them. See what they look like," she said. Black pants...I don't need another pair of black pants. And they have a draw string. They'll look awful on me. "Just try them," she said.

Yep. She was right...as usual. Mary really knows her stuff. They looked great. And felt wonderful. So I came home with them. 

The pants are designed by a local company called "studio d" who makes what they call "Yoga Inspired Apparel." 


                                                                           
Although they're roomy, because they have a narrow silhouette, I don't get lost in them like with wide-legged pants.


I love the slouchy pockets and the stitching down the leg. I could wear these pants just about anywhere. 

Like, out for a summer supper with my husband. I added my new cotton mesh, short sleeved sweater that I bought on-line from Gap (40% off sale), my old sliver and gold sandals and a vintage necklace and earrings of my mum's. If the weather turned cool, I could throw my safari jacket over this outfit. 


My uncle brought this necklace and earrings back from Korea for my mum in the 1950's. So sweet, I think.

                            
Or I could trade up the jewellry for gold earrings and cuff, add my gold and black silk Elie Tahari top and my grandmother's clutch bag. 

I love this purse. My aunt, who was pretty stylish in her day, had this made in Montreal for my grandmother, sometime in the 1940's, I think. It has my grandmother's initials on it. It's a bit battered, but I think that makes it look kind of edgy and not too prissy. 

   


Or I could wear my new pants antique shopping. There's a wonderful country antique fair in July not too far away from here. But it can mean a long day, so you have to dress comfortably and have your hands free. I'd roll up the pants, add my white Theory shirt with a cami, and my new Michael Kors sandals. Oh....and a small cross-body bag, like this.


This is a close up of the earrings. I bought them at Pier 1 Imports last summer.... $8.00. Pier 1 sells jewelry. Who knew?!  I went shopping for a side table for the living room and came home with earrings!




For a day of downtown shopping or lunching I'd swap in this loose silk top from Rag and Bone.  Add these crochet earrings and my favourite (humongous) Michael Kors bag. 


The top has a strip of open-stitch crochet work across the shoulders and down the sleeves, that the picture doesn't show very well, making it cool on a hot day. I bought this last summer in Toronto....shopping with my gorgeous 27 year old actress niece. Now there's a humbling experience...shopping with a beautiful 27 year old! Ah well... never mind... mustn't grumble. We did have  a great day. 

But for my life-style these days...especially in the summer... I'd probably wear the pants most frequently with my striped Gap-Fit tee shirt and flip flops. I could always add my jean jacket at night if the temperature dropped.



We will be going on two camping trips this summer. And a couple of long road trips... to Quebec City and then up the Saguenay River to a little village called L'Anse St Jean. Then another trip down east to visit family. So lots of time in the car requires very comfortable clothing. And these pants are sooo light that I could rinse them out at night and they'd be dry by the morning. Great for travel! 



You know... I don't think that I've ever owned a pair of pants that offered so much scope for outfit planning. Or as Anne of Green Gables said..."So much scope for the imagination!"




I'd like to be able to say that I've learned my lesson about never, never saying never. But while I'm pretty easy going about everything else in life... I do tend to be emphatic about clothes. 

So I'll probably... undoubtedly... say never again. And live to regret it.

And, hey, if you are down on Richmond Road in Ottawa why not stop into Green Tree Eco Fashion and say hello. 


                               







Have you had any "never again" moments... that turned into "well, maybe" ... ??







I'm linking up this week with Thursday Blog Hop at Over 50, Feeling 40 and Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Passion for Books About Fashion ... 4 Fabulous Non-Fiction Books

I love books and I love fashion so it's no surprise that I love books about fashion. Especially well written, beautifully illustrated books or books with beautiful photography...and most especially those books that are a bit quirky. 

I'm not talking about all books about fashion. I'm not really interested in buying or owning Trinny and Susanna's latest tome on how to dress your body or books like Clinton Kelly's about the top style mistakes women make. I'm sure these books have good style advice, but advice is not really what I'm after. What I want is to be able to experience vicariously the fashion world, or the fashion of an era that I love, through these books. 

I bought this memoir by Grace Coddington last year when it was featured in Keep It Chic, a blog I regularly read. I love Grace Coddington's sense of style and have been enjoying her work in Vogue for years. Her memoir of her long tenure in the fashion world is fascinating (she's over 70 now and she started as a teen-aged model.) The book is not great literature, for while Grace is an inspired fashion editor and a brilliant artist, she's not a writer.  Still, it's honestly written and fun to read. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Investment Dressing ... My 5 Rules for Not Wasting Your Money

I have always been a believer in the idea that you get what you pay for.....most of the time. And I have always believed that it's NOT necessarily a waste of money to NOT shop the sales, to NOT go for the cheapest choice; it's sometimes better to spend a bit more, to spring for the more expensive item. Depending on the item, of course. 

It's called "Investment Dressing." And according to Trinny and Susanna and Stacey and Clinton...and probably every fashion stylist out there... what's most important is not how much you pay for a piece, it's the eventual cost per wear over the life of the garment. 


TLC.com

I think that investment dressing makes sense...up to a point. But investing in a big ticket item can be a problem; it can be tricky. Especially if you invest a big chunk of change and it's all a big mistake. 

So here are: 

A. My five rules for shopping for investment pieces...well, actually they're my rules for shopping for anything, really. I'm not a professional, nor an expert... they're just "Sue's Rules."  

B. And four investment pieces that I have purchased over the last few years...that have "earned their keep", so to speak. They still fit, still look good and still feel current. Definitely worth the investment.


Rule #1   Know your own style. What looks good on you? What doesn't? Write this down if you have to ... and don't be dissuaded by zealous sales people who try to tell you otherwise.




This is a safari jacket by Elie Tahari that I bought in 2011. I love jackets. I wear them a lot. They have been part of my style since my university days. I've updated it this year with a new tee shirt from Gap (on sale!) and a vintage necklace and earrings from the 1950's that belonged to my mum.



                    


Rule #2   Know your wardrobe. What items do you already have? How many times have you bought something only to get home and realize that you already own that top...or one very like it? Go through your closet and make a list of what you already own that is still wearable this season... skirts, tops, pants, jeans, jackets, dresses, suits etc. Don't put items on the list that don't fit anymore or that are dated or that you hate. 




This silk giraffe-print dress is also by Elie Tahari. I bought it in 2010 when I didn't really have any summer dresses. I had lots of pants, and shorts and a couple of skirts. But I really wanted a dress. It's very comfortable with soft pleats that make it easy to move around in and thus good to wear to work or out for lunch. I love the little self belt and the ruffled collar, which unfortunately you can't really see here. 



          

  
Rule #3   Do your research. Find out about the current trends. Before I go shopping with a friend I always tell her to "do her homework." Read the fashion magazines, look on-line. There are tons of good websites out there that will show you what the trends are for the current season. If you've read my blog before, you'll know that I love Net-a-porter.com for this.


 If you've done your research, you'll know that denim is big this year. But then, it's always big, isn't it? I bought this Burberry denim skirt three years ago. It has outside seaming... I think that's what it's called... and a slit in the back with four lovely, pewter buttons. And the skirt never loses its shape. 


I bought this blue cotton sweater with the silk collar and ruffle down the front at the same time. This outfit is a summer staple for me. I can wear just about any colour of tank underneath. Or swap the sweater for a jacket or just wear the skirt with a tee shirt.   


Rule #4   Make a list of what you need. Or want.  

This is my list for Spring 2014. Yep...I know... it's a bit anal. But I never end up with something that's too similar to what I already own...and I always remember what I need or want. That's because it's on the list! 



On my shopping list for several years was a leather jacket. I searched for just the right one and finally found it in 2008.... a soft, chocolate brown one from Akris. A bit more pricey than I wanted to pay. But I have never regretted buying this jacket. I love it.



It has cool zipper details on the sleeves and down the front. Imagine my delight the last couple of years when all the fashion magazines and blogs were oohing and aaahing over the "Moto jacket."  Unhuh...yep...I had one of those!

I can wear my Moto jacket with just about anything, any season. In summer I love  it with my white jeans and a brown tee shirt. 




Rule #5   Get Good Advice. This might be an honest, yet stylish friend. One who knows what she is talking about. Or a salesperson with whom you have built up a rapport. 

And here is my secret weapon. One that many people don't know about...or never think about...or don't understand. The Personal Shopper. I think that most people do not realize that Personal Shoppers are there to assist you at whatever level you need. They can help you find a whole new wardrobe...or for clients like me..that one special piece. They provide a service that does NOT cost extra.



 My friend Liz is the Personal Shopper at Nordstrom in the Rideau Centre here in Ottawa. She is amazing. She has tons of experience and tons of fashion savvy. She's really down to earth and easy to talk to... not intimidating at all. She wouldn't be in her position if she didn't have these qualities. Her goal is to build a relationship with her clients....not just to make a sale. In fact making a sale and making the client unhappy while doing so is the opposite of what she is about. 



                                                     
Over the years... I always visit Liz when I am looking for an investment piece for my wardrobe. I generally call and let her know when I'm coming into the store. And I let her know what I'm looking for that season. Because ... I always have a list... well, d'uh!

Liz helped me find all the investment pieces I've talked about in this post. You can give her a call if you're in Ottawa and she'd be happy to help you find what you need. 



I don't shop exclusively at high end stores. And not all of my wardrobe consists of high end "investment pieces." I supplement my higher end items with tops, jeans and tee shirts from Gap and Zara, for instance. I have a few vintage pieces as well. 

I don't believe in wasting my fashion dollars; I do believe in investing my money wisely. An investment piece to me is something that is well made, classic, and which I don't mind spending a bit more to buy because I know it will last for years. 

Now ... I have to go clean up the mess on the spare room bed and hang up all my "good clothes" ....

The sun is shining; I have a good book and a cup of tea waiting for my attention....and this is what I'm wearing for the rest of the day!










What strategy do you use when you're looking to invest your fashion dollars?