Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Mind For Murder: Saying Good-bye to P.D. James


P.D. James died last week, "peacefully at home in Oxford," at age ninety four. But I'm sure you know this already. 

She was one of a kind. A seemingly gentle, charming and erudite woman who loved to talk and wonder and write about death. Violent death. 

 I love Elizabeth Renzetti's remark in her Globe and Mail article, in response to the press release that James had died peacefully.... "Peacefully. You have to laugh. It's not like she was ever interested in peaceful deaths- death by hanging, and stabbing and poison, yes." Renzetti, who interviewed James several times over the years, remembers her fondly... even reverently. You can read her full article here.


P.D. James workin' it old school in 1980

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Festive Party Time : Shopping My Closet... From Inspiration To Reality

Ah yes, the eternal question leading up to the festive season...

Is it... "What gift can I possibly get for my mother/sister/husband/best friend who has everything?" Or maybe it's... "Who will host the big family dinner?"  Or possibly.... "Will so-and-so be imbibing too much Christmas cheer again this year and have to go have a nap before dinner even starts?"

Nope. The most important question leading up to the festive season is... What the heck will I wear to all the parties and events we will be attending? And do I really have to go shopping for something new to wear when I've so much else to do?



Now that I'm not working anymore, I don't have to worry about dressing for a staff party. In actual fact, we hadn't had a real snazzy staff Christmas "do" for a few years before I retired. It became harder and harder to get people excited about dressing up and forking over the cash for a dinner and dance. Sigh. I miss the dressing up bit.  But I don't miss the angst over what to wear.

cqjypm.com
And since I don't have to go to a big "do" this year. I'll be dressing down instead of up. 

And I'll be trying to incorporate my black leather pants into my outfits. I bought these pants at Holt Renfrew early in the fall of 2013; they were my investment piece last year. And they've been so versatile that Stacey and Clinton of What Not To Wear fame would be proud... since they always preached that one should judge the value of more expensive items on a cost per wear basis.

This year I've worn my leather pants with my Smythe blazer and a long-sleeved, white tee shirt in the early fall. And with my grey Vince turtleneck sweater when the weather got cooler.

          

So... been there done those. I need inspiration, now. And I need to turn inspiration into reality by shopping in my own closet...and not in the shops.

So first, I turn to the source I always turn to when I need inspiration: Net-a-porter.com. I checked out their website, and found lots of possibilities for styling leather pants. They had all kinds of looks: dressy with a lovely peplum blouse, casual-chic with a shirt and sweater, or lady-like with a sweater and coat. These looks would be just right for the three parties we're attending. 

    
       www.netaporter.com

And except for the fact that I don't own anything with a peplum, or wear heels that high anymore, or sweaters that short with my leather pants, and if I did they certainly wouldn't look that good... these are all wonderful looks. It's funny, you know, one of my problems when I was a teenager was dreaming up an outfit based on items of clothing I didn't own... or couldn't really wear. Not facing the reality of the closet. Or the body, for that matter. But that was a long time ago. I now know that inspiring looks are meant to be, what we in the education field call, "a guideline" and not a prescription. 

So... clap hands briskly here... enough philosophizing ... on to the reality....what IS in my closet, anyway?

I'll need a somewhat dressy look for a big house party we attend every year. This is a "hockey party;" all the guys that my husband has played hockey with over 30+ years and their wives and girlfriends will be there. There will be carol singing and a huge buffet in our friends' gorgeous log home. It's a fabulous party. I'll want to wear something comfortable and quite light weight on top... this party can get crowded and hot. I saw a lot of tie blouses (along with scarves) in the fall fashion magazines this year. Which made me think of this periwinkle blue and white Tory Burch blouse that I have had for a few years. I love the colour and I have a matching camisole to wear underneath.


The blouse is silk, tunic style, with a sheer blue tulle panel over the silk around the neckline (not sure if you can see it here), and sheer belled sleeves. It's actually quite a bit more lady-like than I usually wear.



But I like it with my leather pants and silver jewellry. I may wear my black, pointy-toed, kitten-heel pumps instead of my loafers. We'll have to see. Seeing being the operative word here, because in a crowded room...no one can see my feet anyway. And these Stuart Weitzman patent loafers are sooooo comfy.



The next Christmas gathering we'll be attending is a dinner party. This will be very casual, lots of good friends, and their kids and grandkids, and a big sit-down meal for twenty or so. This party used to be held on our friends' farm and we would all go for a long, snowy walk on their trails before dinner. They've recently sold the farm and moved into town...so no walk in the woods now...but the spirit of the event is the same. 

So this will be the perfect time to wear my Theory plaid shirt again. It's very on trend this season... although NOT grunge. I love this shirt because of the narrow cut..and it's long enough to cover what needs to be covered. It's grey and charcoal with a burgundy stripe and I have a matching burgundy cami. I'd wear it with these earrings and necklace, by Quebec jewellry-maker Anne-Marie Chagnon. I love her designs; they're all a bit industrial and edgy with their coloured stones, and beads, and chunks of metal. 

   

You can find Anne-Marie's work on-line hereI have several pieces of her jewellry. Most are bracelets like these. Since they are expandable, they're perfect for my small wrist. Cool aren't they?

   
 www.etsy.com/shop/AnneMarieChagnon

Okay, that's two outfits sorted. For the third, I think I'll try to do something similar to that Net-a-porter shot of the cream sweater and black coat. I do have a black Elie Tahari short coat/long jacket with leather trim. No cream sweater, though. 

Just this minute, as I'm typing this, Hubby came in from the garden He interrupted me to point at a cardinal in our mock-orange bush right outside my window. The bird is beautiful,  brilliant red against the leafless bush. Red....hmmmm. Maybe a long-sleeved red tee shirt would be nice? That would be festive, right? Fashionistas who don't own cream sweaters must take inspiration where they find it. So red tee shirt it is. 

You know this feels so virtuous... shopping my closet and not the stores for party looks this year... turning inspiration into reality and not spending a cent.

Still... it's early days. I may yet crumble if I happen to be out at the mall and I see a gorgeous cream sweater. 




So... now that we know what I'm wearing this festive season. The question remains: What are YOU wearing? Do tell.






Linking this week with: Visible MondayFriday Fab FavoritesPassion for FashionLet it ShineManic Monday,What I Wore, and Style me Wednesday.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Fashionista's Winter Survival Guide ... Reprise


Oh yeah. Winter is coming whether we want to admit it or not. And every fashionista needs a plan to survive winter. To that end, here is my "Winter Survival Guide" ... for fashionistas and non-fashionistas alike.

Step 1: Say no to denial. 

If you live in parts of north western Ontario...there's no denying that winter has arrived... and then some. But here, in Ottawa, we had a skiff of snow, then rain, then balmy temperatures, and now it's snowing and blowing. So we're not exactly sure what season it is.... but we know in our heart of hearts that winter is coming. (dunh-dunh-dunhhhh) And it's coming soon.

Winter on the Rideau River
Our front lawn last winter. There actually is a river there, believe it or not.

The temperature will plummet and the snow will fall... eventually... in fact, the forecast says any day now. Like today... even. So let's face facts and not be unprepared. 

Stuck in the snow. Raeside cartoon
www.Raesidecartoon.com

Step 2: Winterize your car. 

I know that sounds like your dad (or my step-dad) or your husband (or mine.) But seriously, you don't want to NOT be ready for winter driving. Snow tires, windshield scraper, shovel in the trunk, maybe even an emergency kit (with candles, flashlight etc etc.) stashed somewhere in your car where you can reach it. There are lots of great websites that tell you how to be prepared for winter driving. Try here and here for a start.

We get a lot of freezing rain in Ottawa, so Hubby cut a big plastic sheet in the shape of my windshield, but a bit longer, so I can tuck in into the driver and passenger doors. When I was working, I'd throw it over the front of my car when I arrived at work, and then when I emerged at the end of my day, in the dark, I didn't have to stand in the rain and chip the ice off my windshield... or even worse, start driving with only a 6 inch section of my windshield clear. As well... being a longtime hair obsessive, I tend not to wear winter hats unless I'm skiing; "hat head" does not become me. But I keep a woolen toque and an extra pair of warm mittens in my glove compartment... just in case. 


Snowy conditions in Fredericton. Dec 27, 2015
Fredericton Pedrestrian and Cycling Bridge. December 27, 2015   source



Step 3: Lose the high heels, ladies.

Or wear them only indoors. Many years ago I worked one winter as a pharmaceutical sales rep, travelling to doctors' offices, hospitals and pharmacies around Eastern Ontario. In high heeled dress boots. Lugging a heavy sample case. And trying to not kill myself on the ice. As Lady Macbeth famously didn't say "No more o'that, my lady, no more o'that." Safety before fashion... up to a point. 

Step 4: Embrace the inevitable.

Now, you might think of winter as something one simply has to endure. But maybe, just maybe, if you get out there and take advantage of what winter can offer, you might change your mind. My husband always says that, if you live in Canada, you can't let weather stop you from doing things. And I've learned to embrace that philosophy... for the most part. Okay... so, I do draw the line at those -40 degree wind-chill days. 

But seriously, there are few things lovelier than a sunny winter's day. We love cross-country skiing; it can be done almost anywhere. And it's great exercise!


Cross country skiing, Manotick, Ontario.
Skiing on the golf course across from our house.
If you live in the Ottawa area there are tons of things to do in winter. Lots of track-set cross-country ski trails, like those in Gatineau Park, snow shoe trails, toboggan hills, and of course the Rideau Canal Skateway...when it finally gets cold enough. 


Quebec cross-country skiing

Or, or... when winter gets you down, how about a getaway to a sunny, snowy clime instead of a sunny, warm one. Last year we spent a week cross-country skiing in the Laurentians in Quebec. I wrote about our trip here if you're interested. Despite the frigid temperatures we had an amazing time. With the proper clothing and face-covering accessories, even -20 was manageable. Fresh air, sunshine, and tired muscles. And afterwards, a nice fire, a glass of wine and a fabulous meal. Bliss.


Cross-country skiing in -20 temperatures.
All wrapped up against the cold and ready to ski in  Lac Morency, Quebec.

Step 5: Winter, of course can be very dark, and cold, and staying warm can be a challenge. So lighten your mood with a shopping trip for something warm and cosy, and pretty, to wear. 

In learning to embrace Hubby's outdoors philosophy, I've  come to realize that I need to have active wear, that I actually like to wear. 

Last winter I bought a new Gortex jacket, to wear skiing with light layers underneath and as my rain jacket for canoeing.... my old purple jacket having given up the ghost in the middle of Algonquin Park last summer. You can read about that experience hereI found a new jacket at Mountain Equipment Co-op. But I also found this cosy, comfy "mid-layer" hoodie. I love the raspberry colour. And it's so soft and lovely, it had to come home with me. Practically followed me to the cash, even. 


MEC raspberry hoodie
My MEC hoodie. I haven't even had it on yet this year. 

Step 6: When all else fails, have a hunker down plan. 

Sometimes it's hard to NOT see winter as a long, long, dark tunnel with the light and warmth of spring at the other end. But instead of bemoaning the fact that it's too cold to do anything on those -40 degree days... instead of complaining that the snow plow has not plowed your street yet again, and with two feet of snow, it's impossible to get out of your driveway... just give up. Wave the white flag on winter.

Light the fire, make a pot of strong tea, maybe even break out the shortbread that you've been hiding on yourself in the freezer, put your feet up... and read a good book. 

You don't have to stay in... you get to stay in. Mother nature and the snow plow guys have won this round. But defeat never felt so good, nor so decadent.


Winter Survival Tip: Stay in and read a book.
Hunkering down in my MEC down-filled booties. 

Do you have winter survival guide? Do share your wisdom with us.






Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tying One On... Confessions of a Scarf Challenged Woman


I've come to the conclusion that I am scarf challenged. That's a shame because I love the look of scarves on other women. And I actually own quite a few scarves.... one might even say more than a few scarves. And most of them I rarely wear. 

That's because I can't abide anything that requires complicated swathing, wrapping and tying of knots. If a scarf is simply draped around my neck, I'm okay, but otherwise, I fuss with it or take it off altogether. 

I'd love to be able to throw on a gorgeous scarf in the morning, flip it deftly into some sort of chic arrangement and head out to face the world. And actually make it to the car before I start fiddling with it.

Especially this season. Because scarves were everywhere in the fall fashion magazines. Cravats, neckerchiefs, bandannas, and silken squares small and large were featured in this article in Vogue's September issue.

September issue of Vogue

I clipped a few shots from several magazine articles and fashion shoots to pin on my inspiration board. They're right at eye level so that I can't avoid being reminded that this is a fashion challenge I should be able to conquer. Or at least try to conquer.


A portion of my inspiration board above my desk.

When I was younger, I used to love wearing silk scarves tied tightly, like an ascot, and tucked into blouses or sweaters, or cotton neckerchiefs knotted with the ends fluffed out over a shirt collar. But I haven't been able to do that lately. Not for years, in fact. I don't know why I grew out of the ability to wear complex scarf arrangements, but I did.

There are a few shots of me on this blog with a silk scarf tied around my neck and tucked neatly into a sweater or tee shirt.... but I must confess (this post is all about confession after all) that none of those looks actually made it out the door... with the scarf intact.

Except for this one. I love this blue animal print cotton scarf. It's light and I was able to tie it at the ends to create a kind of infinity scarf. 

   

But with the weather in Ottawa looking like this today... snowy, cold and very windy...



my light cotton "infinity" scarf won't cut it. I'd have to wear heavier ones like these. Lovely aren't they? 


     
                                                                                                                                                           www.etsy.com

Sadly, a real infinity scarf is too much scarf commitment for me. Being unable to untie it and just let it drape around my neck would drive me crazy. And with weather like this just around the corner, I probably need to figure out how to wear a lovely, warm scarf. I can't be defeated by a scarf. Can I?

www.metronews.ca
So, I book-marked a post by major scarf lover Alyson at That's Not My Age which shows a couple of great scarf looks that I aspire to. You can read that post here. I'll try to replicate them... tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.

I might even think about knitting myself a non-infinity, infinity-type scarf. A scarf that doesn't demand too much commitment. One with a button in the back, so I can wear it like an infinity scarf, if I want. Or I can unbutton it if I start feeling rather engulfed by it and thus a bit twitchy. Hmmm... we'll see.

www.favcraft.com
You know, I started thinking about scarves last week, after I wrote a post about turtlenecks. I love them, turtlenecks, I mean. Especially with a jacket. And a scarf, like below, not swathed or wrapped around my neck... just hanging loosely


Several readers commented on that post that they didn't like the feeling of a tight turtleneck... too constricting... that they preferred a scarf at the neck instead. 

So, I started wondering. Do you think that maybe it's just that there are two types of people in this world... turtleneck people... and scarf people?

If so... then, I am definitely a turtleneck person. 

And as such I need not be intimidated by my inability to swath myself chicly in a scarf, even if it is the fashion. I gotta be me. So... I guess I won't be tying one on after all. Well, I must say... that's a relief.





So, tell me are you a scarf person? Or are you scarf challenged like me?








I'm linking up with Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style , Passion 4 Fashion Link-Up at Rachel the Hat, What I Wore Wednesday at The Pleated Poppy, and What I Wore Wednesday at Shopping My Closet.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Our Top 5 Tiny, Quirky Travel Destinations ... So Far

It's snowing today. And it's only November. Sigh. Just like last year. 

In 2013, we were away in Costa Rica from mid-November until early December... and we returned to snow on the ground that never left. Polar vortex was not a popular phrase around here. So this morning... as snow wafts down past the window of my den, Hubby is out chopping wood for the fireplace, and I'm sipping tea and leafing through our photo albums. And dreaming of some of the quirky places we've visited over the years. 

When we travel, like everyone else, we visit the big cities and the popular attractions that you absolutely "must see" ... but what we love best are the smaller places, sometimes the really small, quirky and unusual places. 

So I decided to share with you our top 5 quirky travel destinations. They're all small. Some are very, very small. These are the places that we've remembered, and talked about, and chuckled over for years afterward. 

#5. Bantry, County Kerry, Ireland      population 3,000

We stayed in Bantry for a week in 2011, in a tiny, stone cottage with a coal fireplace, and a bedroom loft that one reached by a miniscule iron circular staircase. The owners really should have had a "maximum width warning" on their website; anyone larger than Hubby and I would have had to sleep on the settee downstairs. 




The cottage even had a resident cat...who appeared each evening on the doorstep, wandered in, took a nap in front of the fire, then stretched and wandered out again. We called him Buddy.



While we were in Bantry, we explored the surrounding countryside. This friendly collie accompanied us on a two hour hike one day. He bounded up to us when we climbed the stile to the path, galloped alongside as we walked along the cliffs and then ran off when we climbed back over the stile. Even the animals in Ireland were friendly.



I had researched my Irish heritage before we left home, finding out that my great-great-great-grandfather emigrated from Tralee in County Kerry to Canada in 1819. To my great delight, my Sullivan "cousins" were all over the place. More of them than you could "shake a stick at" as my grandmother would have said.




#4. Coober Pedy, South Australia, Australia     population 3,500

We stayed in Coober Pedy for a brief time, in 2003, but it left a lasting impression on us. We might never have stopped there if it hadn't been for the cryptic recommendation of our friends who had visited there a few years before and just said..."You have to see it to believe it." So we turned in our rental car in Adelaide and hopped on an overnight bus that dropped us off just before dawn in Coober Pedy. And picked us up on its way to Alice Springs at the same time the next day. 

On outskirts of Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is opal mining country. The name means "white man's burrow" in the local Aboriginal dialect. Opal mining is done with drills or "noodling" machines which create tiny open pits that are mined out and then abandoned. There are over a million and a half of these open pits in the countryside around the town. Visitors are warned not to take long walks after dark. 

Inside an opal mine
It's so hot here that most of the residents who are not aboriginal live underground. In houses like this, bored into the side of a hill. You can see the air shafts poking up through the hillside.


This house belonged to the friend of our guide. You can see that the drill is also a decorating tool... boring out shelves and even creating the colour scheme. Local legend has it that one woman had workers bore an extension for a laundry room in her home and discovered a new vein of opal. Well, that was her home paid for, and then some.



While in Coober Pedy we stayed in an underground hotel. Turning out the lights, even in the daytime, created a darkness we had never experienced before. At first we had to leave the bathroom light on because the dark was so impenetrable we felt like the walls were closing in on us. Quirky...yep. Worth the detour...definitely!

#3. Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada       population 1300

We traveled to Dawson City in 2006 in our own version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We took the sleeper train from Toronto to Edmonton, then rented a car and traveled north to the Yukon, up the Alaska Highway to Dawson City, down into British Columbia, and thence to Calgary, Alberta, where we hopped a plane for home. 

Dawson City is one of those places that, when you see it, you can't believe it still exists, but you are so glad that it does. Dirt streets, wooden sidewalks, and remnants of its gold rush history are everywhere.

Downtown Dawson City
The original wooden houses built during the gold rush did not have basements and many tumbled down due to frost heave. But some have been reinforced to both tell the tale of their dereliction, as well as to prevent their total demise.

Old derelict part of Dawson city
This is me on the porch of  the cabin that belonged to Robert Service, the famous Scottish/Yukon poet of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" fame.

Robert Service's cabin
Not to be outdone we stayed in our own log cabin, heated with wood and lighted with coal-oil lanterns. I was heartily disappointed that it was too warm for the stove to be lit, and it never did get dark enough for the lantern. It was still light when we drifted off to sleep at  midnight. Guess I shouldn't have been surprised... this IS the land of the midnight sun. 

Our cabin on site at a working gold claim on Bonanza Creek
While we were in Dawson City we drove up the Dempster Highway for a day trip. We fished in one of the streams... me... all the while... chatting loudly... in case nearby bears didn't know we were there. Cooked a picnic lunch over our trusty camp stove.  Snapped a few pics of the amazing countryside. Then headed back to our little log home away from home.



Flowers and mountains on the Dempster Highway

#2. Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, Canada     population 250 

On the same trip in 2006 that took us to Dawson City, we made a 120 km. detour off the main highway through Northern British Columbia, to Telegraph Creek. 

This is the road. Narrow, gravel, with extreme switchbacks down 20% grades and no guard rails. We drove in dire fear of encountering the gas tanker truck that we knew made deliveries to Telegraph Creek. 

The "main" road to Telegraph Creek
This tee-shirt sums it up perfectly. 
    
      

But we really wanted to see Telegraph Creek before it was too late. Much of the town, which is built on the banks of the mighty Stikine River, is a ghost town now. The only accommodation available, Riversong Lodge, was up for sale and might close. Interestingly, the buildings of Riversong Lodge were part of the original Hudson's Bay store dating back to the 1860's. 




We stayed two nights. Taking a hair-raising two hour jet boat ride through the Stikine Gorge on the second day. And then tackling the equally nerve-racking drive out on the day after that. But... it was worth all the trouble and the white knuckles.


#1. Rievaulx, North Yorkshire, UK      population ??

In 2005 we travelled to Yorkshire England. This was the first leg of a trip that took us to most of Scotland and included several amazing days on the Orkney Islands. But Yorkshire was my favourite part. Yorkshire is the home of the Bronte sisters, and the setting for many of my favourite mystery novels including those written by Reginald Hill and Peter Robinson. Everywhere we looked were tiny villages and fields with stone walls. And the moors. Sigh. Perfect.

We stayed in the village of Boltby (pop 149.) Our hosts Diana and Simon lived in the old gamekeeper's cottage. They welcomed us warmly, recommended places we might like to see, even lending us ordinance maps because our own Michelin road map was not up to the task of deciphering the twisting network of Yorkshire roads. And they served us Marmite with our breakfast (definitely an experience not to be missed... nor to be repeated.)


Boltby
I was charmed by everything. By Simon's "jolly good" every time he spoke to us. By the taciturn lady at the amusement arcade in Whitby. By Diana's tales of her yearly visit to the "Fur and Feather" market in Thirsk. Even by the Marmite.

But my perfect day, that makes this my #1 tiny travel destination, was the day we visited Rievaulx Abbey. It had been highly recommended by Simon as much more charming and much less crowded than the better known Bolton Abbey.

We arrived too early for admittance. So we strolled down the single street of Rievaulx. The rain that had begun when we arrived in Manchester had finally stopped. The sun shone. All my romantic dreams of the English countryside seemed to be coming true.We strolled to a tiny church that had been the Gate Chapel for the abbey for centuries and still held services every other week. 


Gate Chapel at Rievaulx Abbey
Then down a hill past these two cottages. I'd never seen a thatched cottage before, in real life, I mean. A man holding a coffee cup stepped out of his back door, waved, and called a cheery good morning.


Then as we passed along a stone fence this little guy trotted over for me to pat him. "Oh my..." I gasped to Hubby..."I think I might cry." It was all that perfect.


Oh...we even visited the abbey when it opened. It was as charming and beautiful and uncrowded as Simon said it would be.


Riveaulx Abbey 
Later that day we toured Howard Castle. Beautiful, stunning, opulent... but big. And you know... we much prefer small. 

It seems to be in the small places that we have time to stroll, and to chat with the locals like Diana and Simon. Or some of my Sullivan "cousins" that we met in the pub in Bantry. Or the guy in Diamond Tooth Gerties in Dawson City who, during the show, chatted at the bar and then, at intermission, interrupted his conversation to head to the piano and play... for tips. And he was amazingly good. Sometimes we meet other visitors, like the woman from Poland we shared tea and dessert with in Telegraph Creek; she was sleeping in a tent on the river bank and had traveled there because of a documentary she had seen on Polish television. 

So that's my top 5 tiny, quirky destinations. For now, anyway. It was really hard to choose; I had to leave several places in New Zealand and Australia off the list. Like Mount Morgan in Queensland, Australia where we rented a room in the best motel ever... The Miner's Rest, or Raglan Beach in New Zealand where we stayed with two aging hippies, where the beaches were made of black sand, and we cooked local, green mussels with garlic and lemon on the barbeque.  
And...and ...and ...

Okay... enough already. The snow has stopped and I've been dreaming and writing all  morning. And most of the afternoon. It's time to go for my walk or else my plan to deal with slippage will be for naught. 




Have you traveled to any tiny, quirky places .... that you loved... and that you want to share with us?