Monday, April 24, 2017

On Winning the Birth Lottery

When Hubby and I were in Peru a few weeks ago, we ate supper in a near empty dining room one night at our hotel in Ollantaytambo, and chatted to an American lady at the next table. She sat alone engrossed in her i-pad until Hubby called over to her, "We haven't seen many jackets like yours down here." She had on a zippered, athletic jacket with a logo Hubby recognized from a college in upstate New York, just over the border from where we live. She raised her head, and laughed. That friendly comment of Hubby's began one of the most interesting conversations we had with a fellow traveller on this trip. 

farm field with melting snow
Early spring on the farm in New Brunswick.
We talked about politics, travel, careers, family, and then about Peru. I don't think I've ever met anyone who opened up to strangers so easily and so joyfully as this lady from upstate New York. She laughed a lot. So did we, actually. She was travelling alone. She told us her husband doesn't like to travel, so each year he says,"Off you go on your adventure." And off she goes for three weeks while he stays home with their two kids. 

Over the course of our conversation we learned that she'd gone back to school a few years ago as an adult. Had acquired her MBA. And now lives in Florida and works as a freelance consultant. Hence the freedom to take three weeks off when she wants. She has two daughters, one of whom will be heading off to university this fall. 

When she learned that we're retired teachers, we had a rousing conversation about education. She wanted to know about life in the classroom. I told a few of my best teacher stories. She wanted to hear all about retirement. Said she hoped when her husband retired she might convince him to do at least a little travel. I think we talked about road trips as an option. 

thermometer with a picture of  Holstein cow, on a shed wall
Holstein thermometer we bought for my stepdad one year. Still on the shed wall.
Then we talked about our experiences in South America. Where she'd been. What she thought of all that she'd seen. And where we'd been. She had the same impression of Peru as we did. Love, love, loved it. But found the poverty difficult, and the Peruvian people admirable and inspiring. She said she couldn't wait to get back home to make sure her girls knew that they had "won the birth lottery." Hubby and I were both struck by that phrase. The birth lottery. We agreed that we'd all three benefited from the birth lottery. 

Where we are born, and when. Who our parents are. What values they hold and pass on to us. And the luck and circumstances that flow from these beginnings. These things, every bit as much as how smart we are and how hard we work, determine the shape of our adult lives. And for a while this is what we talked about. And how our experiences in South America had reinforced this belief for all three of us. 

view of the river from the ferry
Morning view from the deck of the farmers ferry back home.
I think that too many of us who live privileged lives believe that we do so because we have earned our good fortune, that we alone are responsible for whatever we've achieved. Hubby and I are not wealthy people. But we consider that we live a life of relative privilege. And that much of what we have, including the ability to retire at quite a young age with enough money to travel and do pretty much what we want to do, is the result of a strong start in life, good fortune, and a bit of luck. That and the fact that we were born in a time and place which allowed us to be successful.

Wheelhouse of the farmers' ferry
The ferry wheelhouse. Where once I presided as captain.... for an hour or two.
Take me for example. My family was not rich. My mum comes from a solid working-class background. My grandparents worked hard all their lives to build a small business, and raise eight children. My grandfather was a diamond in the rough, to use that old cliché. He was not educated, nor was he elegant, or erudite. But he was a canny businessman, a very hard worker, and kindness and generosity personified. Like my grandfather, my grandmother had a tremendously strong work ethic. She was also smart, quick-witted, and a voracious reader. And she could turn out a pan of molasses cookies, or whip you up a crocheted cushion cover like nobody's business. Probably reading a book at the same time. It was a combination of these qualities that my Mum inherited from her parents and in turn passed on to her four kids. These plus the value of education, and the importance of treating others with respect have formed how I look at the world.  

view of the river with foliage
Early fall on the trail along the Saint John River in New Brunswick
My mum is fond of saying that my sisters and I "put ourselves through school." Which is true with respect to the monetary requirements. We did pay our own tuition and buy our books and supplies for school with student loans and bursaries. I clearly remember the last payment I made on my student loan when I was in my early thirties, and still only teaching part-time. I cashed a cheque for a thousand dollars, and used every cent to clear my loan. I remember chortling to the bank teller, "Better take it quick before I change my mind and go shopping."  

But what my mum doesn't recall when she says "we did it all on our own," is the endless parade of used furniture that was moved into various apartments, for my sisters and me, and then carted back to the farm when we no longer needed it. All those Sunday night dinners at home when I lived in town and, afterward, was packed off, back to the city, with my laundry done and groceries for the week. Or the old car that my stepdad kept in good repair so I could drive it back and forth to school when I still lived on the farm. Or the bedroom back home that was always there for any of us to move back to when we needed it. Or simply the desire to get an education to begin with, a value that was instilled in us when we were young. Many of my friends had parents who were wealthy enough to pay for their university education. But just as many had parents who did not see the value of post secondary education, and who did not encourage them to pursue anything after high school but paid employment. What would I be doing now, if that had been the case for me, I wonder. 

fall colours on the shed of an old farmhouse
In fall the old farmhouse gets extra colour
So recognizing the hand up that I had makes me realize just how lucky I've been. Not just lucky to have had my family's support. But also lucky to have lived in a place where education is attainable, and things like student loans were available to kids like me whose parents couldn't afford to pay for university. And it really gets under my skin when I hear people account for their success by referring only to how hard they've worked, and how smart they've been. Particularly when it's said by people who were born into privilege. And most particularly when it's said by people in power. Of course we need to work hard to build on the start we're given in life. Of course getting a good start doesn't ensure we will be successful. We all make choices in life that either help or hinder our path to success. But to ignore the fact that time and place and circumstance play just as important a role in how we fare in life is...well... stupid... in my opinion. And smacks of hubris.

signs for road closure due to spring flooding
Annual spring flooding along the Saint John creates lots of detours and a few good pictures.
So this is what we talked about that evening in Ollantaytambo. How lucky we are. How privileged we are. Hubby and I both coming from working class families who had little, but passed on a lot of what became integral to our success. And this lady whom we had just met, an African-American woman from northern New York, who got herself an education, married a much older man who is Native American, went back to school to get a better education, and who is now running her own business and raising two daughters. We've all worked hard. We were none of us born into families who had wealth. We all were smart enough to get a university degree. But we agreed that being in Peru, seeing how hard people work, how friendly and smiling everyone seemed, and how difficult their lives are made us all realize that we had indeed "won the birth lottery"... as our new friend put it. 

I think that we ignore this idea of "the birth lottery" at our peril. We should acknowledge that we are not necessarily entitled to our good fortune, our success, our privilege. That it didn't just happen because we are smart and hardworking. Or "blessed" as some people say. Because when we assume that success and privilege is our natural birthright, then we must assume that it is natural for those same things to be denied to others. Like I said, hubris. And hubris, is a dangerous trap into which to tumble. Either personally or as a country. We English teachers love that term "hubris." Overwhelming pride, a sense of entitlement, over confidence, that in literature always leads to one's downfall. I mean if you remember your high school Macbeth ... look what hubris did for him by the end of the play. And if you don't remember... well, let me just say this... hated by all, defeated by his enemies, head on a pike, deader than a door nail. Just saying. 

Phew. I'm veering dangerously close to a discussion about politics. And that wasn't my intention when I started writing. I began this post after I read an article that Lisa Carnochan posted on In the article, Lisa traces her current political values back to their origins, referring to her family background and incidents in her life that have helped her become who she is and what she believes. I've been reading Lisa's blog Privilege for years. She was very kind to me when I started blogging myself, reading and commenting on my posts, encouraging me, and even recommending my blog to her readers. So if it's political discussion you want, have a look at her new endeavour on She's one smart lady, and a really good writer. 

Now, it's your turn. Anyone want to wade into any issue? Anyone? Any issue? We're ready to listen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Make DIY Jeans... When You Don't Sew

The other day when Hubby came home I greeted him excitedly at the door with the words: "Guess what? I made myself a new pair of pants!" He looked incredulous. And well, he should. Me, sew? Me... who hates sewing. Me... who, after a few years of his waiting and waiting and my procrastinating and procrastinating, refused to ever hem another pair of his pants again.

But before I go on with my story, folks, I need to go back.

I've always loved clothes, and I clearly remember, as a kid, making clothes for my dolls. I'd wield scissors and a needle and thread on bits of leftover cloth that Mum had used to make something or other. I always knew exactly how I wanted the scrap of cloth to look on my Barbie. How the purple dress should drape, or how the neckline on a pink cotton, sleeveless blouse should stand up in the front with a pearl button in the back. I remember how I sewed the pieces right on the dolls so they would fit perfectly. Then took them off to clean up the messy bits and sew on the buttons. Then Santa brought me a tiny, doll-size sewing machine for Christmas and I thought that my sewing days had just begun. 

Ha. Not so much. No matter how carefully I followed instructions, and tried to thread that sucker I couldn't make it do anything except whir and whir and then break the thread, or create a giant ball of knotted thread under the presser-foot. Sigh. I finally gave up in frustration. I simply couldn't make my sewing machine do what I wanted it to do fast enough. Or perfectly enough. I'd been better off with my scissors and needle. 

Then in grade eight all the girls and boys in my junior high class were bused to another school once a week for Home Economics or Shop classes. To tell you the truth I would rather have been in Shop class. That was more up my alley. But in 1969, although we had adopted mini-skirts and loved the Beatles and the Monkees, the idea of Women's Rights had yet to rear its head in my small town in New Brunswick. So Home Economics it was. Cooking, and Sewing, and something called "Family Living." The idea of cooking class bored me. But sewing I thought might be useful. So each week we were bundled onto the bus with our newly purchased sewing baskets, our length of cotton broadcloth, and our Butterwick patterns. I had chosen to make a classic dirdl skirt. In fact it looked much like the one in this vintage pattern I found. I guess I should say... was supposed to look. In theory.

In actual fact. I made my skirt so short and the cloth was so stiff that it looked more like a tutu than a skirt. And with my long, spindly legs poking out underneath, I looked ridiculous. I took one look at the finished product in the full-length mirror, and never wore it again. End of sewing career. Again. 

I've had a couple more forays into the world of crafting something out of cloth. I made an A-line, wrap skirt in university. It was pretty easy. But the machine sometimes wouldn't go at all, and when I pressed harder against the lever, it went ninety miles an hour, and my seam zig-zagged all over the place. And I cursed, and fumed. And bitched about the pattern, or the material, or Mum's machine, until I think poor Mum was as happy as I was that it was finished. I even wore it a couple of times. At night, I should add. But I never tried to sew anything again. Well, except for the bed skirt that I made a few years ago for our antique iron bed. I made it on my mother-in-law's old Singer portable. I needed miles of cloth. But it was flat sewing. How hard could it be? Sigh. Of course, as I tried to sew the seam, it would pucker and fold the wrong way. Or I'd sew two parts together that shouldn't have been because I had so much cloth bunched everywhere that I couldn't see what I was doing. I had to rip it all out a couple of times. At one point I heard Hubby come in the back door when the entire dining room was swaddled in cloth. I yelled, "Do NOT come in here." He retreated to the garden. 

Ha. No wonder he looked a bit nervous the other day when I said I had made a new pair of pants. "You made them?" he inquired. Okay. So maybe I didn't exactly make them. "I made them new," I clarified. "I mean I took an old pair of pants that I was going to send to the thrift store, and made them into something that I want to wear. So... new. See?"

And here they are. My years old Hudson flared, white jeans. That I haven't worn in ages. But which I kept because they still fit. And which I had already put in the pile for the thrift store a couple of weeks ago when I did my closet inventory. And then I remembered a post that Alyson Walsh wrote last year on her blog That's Not My Age. About chopping off a pair of her old flares because she wasn't entirely ready to commit to the trend of lopped off jeans. And I thought... what did I have to lose? So I wielded my scissors and ended up with these.

Eileen Fisher grey and white striped tunic, black Stuart Weitzman loafers, DIY kick flare jeans.

I'm pretty pleased with the result. And once I wash my "new" DIY jeans, I know they'll get a bit more fringe-y. I'm wearing them with my black Stuart Weitzman loafers, and my new Eileen Fisher grey and white striped, linen knit tunic with a boat neck and slouchy pockets. I know I'm going to get a ton of wear out of this top. 

Eileen Fisher grey and white striped tunic, black Stuart Weitzman loafers, DIY kick flare jeans.

In her post, Alyson calls her newly lopped off jeans, "kick flares." I tried very hard to get the legs of my new "kick flares" the same length, but I think that one is a smidgen shorter. Each time I tried to figure out exactly which leg is longer, they suddenly seemed to measure the same length. And I was afraid that I might just keep cutting until they were both too short. Kind of like what used to happen when we first learned to tweeze our eyebrows, and a couple of my friends became carried away "even-ing them up," until they ended up without any. Or hardly any. 

Eileen Fisher grey and white striped tunic, black Stuart Weitzman loafers, DIY kick flare jeans.
My new "kick flare" jeans.
Then I tried my new "kick flares" with my navy Veronica Beard jacket from last year. I like the  grey hoodie with the white jeans. If you remember from previous posts, this jacket is super stretchy, and the partial hoodie zips in and out. Making this such an easy outfit.... jacket and jeans and sneakers. Simple. 

Navy Veronica Beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, Stan Smith Adidas, All Saints tote, DIY kick flare jeans     Navy Veronica Beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, Stan Smith Adidas, All Saints tote, DIY kick flare jeans

So that's me sorted. Two new easy, peasy outfits and I didn't spend a cent. Well, except for the Eileen Fisher tunic. Which I actually bought to go with a pair of black cropped pants. I'm off shopping tomorrow. I think I'll wear this outfit. My Veronica Beard jacket is comfortable. And it always looks smart. And after a long day of shopping, when my hair is sticking up, and my mascara has run, and I look as if I've been put through the wringer (as my grandmother used to say) at least my jacket will still look good. 

Navy Veronica Beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, Stan Smith Adidas, All Saints tote, DIY kick flare jeans

You know, I'm quite pleased with myself and my new DIY "kick flare" jeans. I haven't worn cut-offs, so to speak, since we used to take our old jeans and make them into shorts in the seventies. Back when cutoffs meant just that. Ha. 

I had intended to look for a pair of cropped jeans with an unfinished hem this spring. I'm a bit late to jump on that bandwagon, I know. And only a few of the styles appeal to me. I don't like the ones that are too, too chopped up. Or the ones with the super long fringes. So maybe I'll just look for jeans. Period. I need new jeans. 

And if I can't find a pair with an unfinished hem that suits me. Well... there's always that old pair of Gap jeans in my closet. The ones that still fit but which I haven't worn in ages. Hmmm. Now where are my scissors? 

 Navy Veronica beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, grey earrings from Magpie Jewellry
Looking quite pleased with myself, and my scissor wielding ability.

How about you folks have you tried any DIY with anything in your closet lately?

P.S. I bought my Eileen Fisher tunic from Liz at Nordstrom, but here's the on-line link. Mine is a size small, so the fit must be pretty roomy. In other brands, I usually take a medium or a large.

Not Dressed As Lamb

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeWhat I WoreStyle Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayFabulous Friday , Top of the World Style Party, and Saturday Share Link-Up.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Peru Under My Skin: Puno and the Islands

Without too much exaggeration I think I can say that I've got Peru under my skin. And I won't be done with thinking about it, and processing our experiences there, for a while. I guess this is one of the benefits of travel. You come home a slightly different person than when you left. 

But enough philosophizing, as my friend Nancy says. Let's continue with our trip. This is a shot I took as we were leaving Colca Canyon. Before we hit the highway for Puno. Lovely, isn't it?

 Inca terraces, near Colca Canyon, Peru
Inca terraces near Colca Canyon
We visited Puno as a jumping off point to explore Lake Titicaca, and its islands. Lake Titicaca isn't the largest lake in the world, not even close. But it is the highest navigable lake. We spent a day touring the lake and two of its islands. 

Our first stop was one of the Uros Islands, man-made floating islands which exist on Lake Titicaca. Historically the Uru people, oppressed by other groups including the Inca and Aymara, and unable to "secure land of their own," built islands made from totora reeds. On these floating islands they lived in peace and relative security for centuries. Tourism here did not really take off until massive storms in the 1980s forced the Uru to move their islands from the centre of the lake closer to shore. Here they were more protected from storms, but also more easily accessed by boat from Puno. There are still more than forty of these islands, and while many of the Uru people now live on the mainland, the islands are still home to over two hundred people. 

Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru
Women in brightly coloured skirts await our arrival

reed buildings on Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru
View from the "watch tower" 

 soccer field near Uros Islands, Peru
Nearby soccer field.
As part of our tour, we listened to a presentation of how the reed islands are constructed, and how the people live in this unusual environment. The Uru people rely on the totora reeds for pretty much everything: all their buildings, houses, boats, even medicines come from the reed. After the talk, we were invited to look in one or two of the reed houses, and finally presented with an array of local handicrafts which were for sale. Hubby wandered off to watch this man, below, who was repairing one of the reed boats. Hubby said it was lovely to see how intently the man's young son watched his father, and how earnestly he attempted to follow his father's instructions. 

 man mending straw boat on Uros Islands, Peru
Like father 

small boy helps his father with a straw boat on Uros Island, Peru
Like son
But as interesting as it was, I found the experience on Uros oddly unsettling. Partly because I was having a great deal of trouble breathing. Not having ever walked on a floating reed island before, I had no idea I was allergic... to... well, whatever. Maybe the dust from the dried reeds, combined with the dampness, I'm not sure. But I was also not comfortable with the "staginess" of the experience. The presentation was fine. But the idea that the women of Uros were then expected to gather in front of us and clap and sing... when clearly a couple of them looked like they'd rather be doing something else... anything else... made me squirm a bit. It seemed demeaning. And then for a further uncomfortable half hour or so we endured the "hard sell," as one blogger puts it, as we waited for our boat to leave and tried to avoid purchasing items we didn't really want. 

I don't blame the people of Uros for this. Tourism is an important part of their economy. As Joshua Foer says in his excellent article in Slate magazine: this is a "culture that survives entirely off the voyeurism of the outside world." And I guess I'm just not altogether comfortable in the role of voyeur/tourist. Without tourism there'd be far more poverty and hardship here. But it's a two edged sword, isn't it? The tourist traffic makes the upkeep of their islands much more difficult. Reeds which naturally rot in the water and have to be replaced and replenished every three months or so, take a lot more wear and tear from so many tourist feet. The islanders try to manage this by controlling which islands take visitors. I read that about half of the islands welcome visitors on any given day, while on the other half, the people get on with their normal lives. And as Foer, who with his wife visited the Uros islands and stayed with a local family, says: the "Disneyfication of an entire culture" is the price these people pay for "giving themselves and their children the best possible future." You can read Foer's entire article here.

After Uros, we were off to the island of Taquile. Once our boat docked, we had a thirty minute hike up to the main village. No small feat when the village altitude is 13,000 feet. Thank goodness we'd had a few days to acclimatize in Arequipa and Colca canyon. I was beginning to perfect my "altitude saunter," slow and easy, no rush now, just breath deeply, and place one foot after the other. As our guide said to a couple of young Ozzies who rushed off before the rest of us, and then were forced to watch as we all, every one of us, passed them by, "It's not a race boys." No... it wasn't a race. But if it were, us old tortoises would have won. Ha.

 the climb up to the main village on Taquile Island, Peru
Slow and steady is the best pace at this altitude.
Our time on Taquile was magical. The day was perfect, the sky bluer than blue, and the view beautiful. 

 view over Lake Titicaca from the top of Taquile Island,

Like on Uros, we were treated to a brief talk. The young man below featured largely in the chat by our guide, who teased him gently about being newly married, as he explained how the marital status of each person is signified by the pattern and type of hat they wear. The hats, like all the knitted goods created on Taquile, are knit by the men and boys who learn how to knit when they are six or seven years old. How cool is that? 

My stepdad used to knit. He said his grandmother taught him, and I remember, when we were kids, my stepbrother and I fell off our chairs laughing one night, when my stepdad picked up my mum's knitting and proceeded to work away on it. The hats the men are wearing here are knit on the tiniest needles imaginable. Not the needles featured in this shot, but much smaller, like long pins, actually. Amazing. 

man knitting, Taquile Island, Peru

Afterword, there was music and dancing. And soon each member of our tour was invited by a local dancer to join in. Great hilarity ensued when Hubby danced with one tiny lady who could not follow his "moves." Ha. I know just how she was feeling. 

music and dancing on Taquile Island, Peru

local dancer on Taquile Island, Peru

After the dancing we were invited to peruse the handicrafts before lunch. I bought the belt which I'm holding, and which was made by this gentleman. I can't wait to wear it. The items on display, knitted and woven, hats and belts among other things, were all crafted on the island. I read later that they are among the highest quality artisan products in Peru. In fact Isla Taquile is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site for its enduring culture and for its textile art.

me and the man who made this beautiful belt on Taquile Island, Peru

When we were finished shopping we sat down to a beautifully presented lunch in a small and immaculate, mud-floored, stone hut. 

table set for lunch on Taquile Island, Peru

A large pottery urn filled with steaming quinoa soup was delivered to each table. It was delicious. As was the second course of rice, pan fried trout, vegetables, and potatoes. Everything was really lovely. Even the coca and wild mint tea.

lunch on Taquile Island, Peru

After lunch we were guided back down the hill, past tethered sheep and small terraced agricultural fields, eventually connecting with a stone path. Which we followed back down to the beach, and our waiting boat. 

Inca-style agricultural terraces on Taquile Island, Peru

It's odd, really. Our visit to Isla Taquile had been as carefully scripted as our experience on Uros. We were as much "voyeurs" there, as on Uros. So why had I not had the same feelings of discomfort? Certainly the Taquile experience was much more smoothly managed. The local participants looked as if they were having as much fun as we were. There was laughter and smiles all round. The handicrafts and textiles offered for sale were wonderful. And the meal we were served was lovely. I've since read that the residents of Isla Taquile have taken control of the tourism on their island, and "run their society based on community collectivism." Taquileños are the masters of their own "Disneyfication", to use Joshus Foer's word from the Slate article. But whether that accounts for the very different emotion I felt as we left, I can't say. I do know that we were quiet on the boat ride back to Puno. Still full from our lunch. Tired from the hot sun and the walking. But also feeling somehow that we'd just experienced something very special.

gate leading from village on Isla Taquile down to the beach, Taquile Island, Peru
Inca style gateway down to the beach
The next day we were off bright and early for our bus trip to Cusco. And it was with very different eyes that we watched the outskirts of the city of Puno flash by the bus windows. Certainly different from a little over a week previously when we'd arrived in Arequipa. We still saw the broken pavement in places, the muddy corners where small vendors gathered, the bristling bundles of seemingly haphazard electrical wires on some streets. Hubby would put emphasis on the word "hazard." But we could also see the efforts at what we might call "urban renewal." Like this retaining wall with the Inca themed mural.

Inka themed mural on retaining wall in outskirts of Puno, Peru

Or the many streets like this one, below, where the city has installed steps for pedestrians up the steep inclines. Puno like Arequipa is built on hills. Our driver said that when they'd had a sleet storm a few weeks ago nothing in the city could move on the numerous bricked and cobblestone streets that led up into the hills. People here aren't wealthy, but it looks as if they are moving forward. Hopefully tourist dollars help in this. 

streets of Puno, Peru
Outskirts of Puno 
Then before we knew it we were in Juliaca. The next city to Puno on the route north to Cusco. With a population of just over 200,000, Juliaca is twice the size of Puno. Our guide a few days earlier had described it as a "city of business." Supposedly Juliaca is the financial capital of the region, and the largest trading centre. To us it looked much more modern than Puno, but also more jumbled, and much more chaotic.

dirt streets in Juliaca, Peru

We were very glad to not be doing the driving on this day. One just points their vehicle into this maze and hopes for the best, I think. But, you know, as we wended our way through the mishmash of trucks, cars, bicycles, tiny motorcycle cabs, handcarts, and pedestrians carrying enormous bundles, we wondered why the presence of so many reputedly successful companies, and international businesses (we saw many familiar logos along these streets) has not made a greater impact on the infrastructure of this city. Why did Isla Taquile with its "community collectivism" seems so much more prosperous? 

traffic jam on the dirt streets of Juliaca, Peru
Juliaca "round about."
But Hubby and I weren't going to be able to answer that question. Not that day anyway. We soon left Juliaca behind and headed up into the Andes bound for Cusco, and in a few days Machu Picchu. Hubby was busy taking pictures of llamas out the bus window, and I had moved across the aisle to an empty seat. The better to settle down for a nap. Rising at the crack of dawn for four days in a row was my absolute limit. Besides, buses always make me sleepy. 

So, yeah. I guess you could say that I've got Peru under my skin alright. In all its beautiful, smiling, jumbled, messy, delicious, disastrous-ness. Like the song goes... kind of... I've got Peru deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart that it's really a part of me. I've got Peru under my skin. 

I know Frank Sinatra singing this Cole Porter classic has absolutely nothing to do with Peru. Except that it does, in a way. I've been singing this song ever since I started writing this morning. And in my opinion Sinatra does it best. Besides. He's just too cool for school, don't you think?

I thought I was done with Peru when I started this post. Turns out I'm not. Maybe I'll wait a week or so before I write the last installment. Give you a bit of a break. 

Have you ever visited a place that got under your skin. That kind of took hold of you and wouldn't let go? 

Do tell.

Joining Saturday Share Link-up over at Not Dressed as Lamb

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Moving On... Style Wise

Spring is supposed to be a time of renewal, of rebirth, isn't it? And yet this spring I've been feeling that I'm stuck in a rut. Not a big rut. Not a huge car-swallowing pothole that I'll never climb out of ... bit of Canadian springtime imagery there. Just a certain sense of ennui, of style fatigue. And a vague feeling that everything I wear is a bit samey. Repetitive. Unadventurous. I think it's time to move on... style wise. 

So in my spring shopping research I looked for ideas that might change up my style. Maybe move away from the narrow silhouette I've been clinging to, away from slim pants with a long slim top or blazer. I mean if my research is correct, this is the year to go big. And so I thought that wide-legged pants might be in order. Okay, that didn't work out, as you'll know from my last fashion post. Bu-ut a longer skirt might create the same effect. I almost always opt for a knee length skirt or dress. Since I despise maxi skirts... that meant midi length. And when I visited Liz at Nordstrom last week I did indeed come home with a black and white, striped midi-skirt from A.L.C.
So now the problem becomes ... what the heck am I going to do with this new longer, fuller skirt? How can I style it so that it doesn't do exactly what the wide-leg pants did? Namely cover up my assets, and highlight the bits I'd rather hide. How can I make this skirt look modern, not matronly? 

And since I don't have the trim waist that I had way back when, I'll be aiming for something somewhere in between this, which is too "old me"... too dressy, too work-ey.

Altuzarra skirt from
Altuzarra skirt on

And this... which is too funky, and too... just plain weird.

black Rayey midi skirt on
Rayey skirt on

I tried to find inspiration on Pinterest and created a board called Styling Spring 17. Then I moved on to my old standby And I found these three outfits. With skirts that were similar in length and shape to mine. I like that they're paired with casual sweaters, and sneakers. I can do this kind of look. I think.

Prada midi skirt on Black Sacai midi skirt, with grey sweater on brown, tan and blue polkadot print midi skirt from Theory with blue sweater from
Prada, Sacai, and Theory skirts found on

I found these two outfits on Matches My skirt is black and white, and has a curved hem like the one on the right. Although the Sportmax skirt is made of a cotton/linen blend while mine is silk, and has softer lines. 

Black and white striped midi skirt from Max Mara on     black and white striped midi skirt from Sportmax, on
Max Mara and Sportmax skirts found on

So. Nothing ventured... and all that... it was  time to dive into my closet. I tried my new skirt with a bunch of different tops. And with at least three pairs of shoes and sandals. 

First up was this black, V-neck sweater from Banana Republic. It's the right length, and a good weight for the skirt. But it looks a bit bunchy around the middle. Bunching fabric adds bulk. And more middle-age middle is not what we're going for here, people. Trust me. I tried this combination with my flat Michael Kors sandals and didn't like the result. Much better with a pump or a pair of black flats. 

So. Not 100%. But not bad. The best thing is the proportion of top to bottom. I like that. 

Black Banana Republic v-neck sweater, black and white striped ALC midi skirt, black and grey Stuart Weitzman kitten heel pumps   Black and white A.L.C. midi skirt with black Banana Republic sweater

Then, inspired by all those shots of long jackets with long skirts or wide-leg pants that I found while doing my research, I tried this combination. My black Helmut Lang blazer. Still a heavy hitter in my summer wardrobe, despite two years of repeated wearings. Thanks to Liz for pulling this rabbit out of the hat when I was all set to buy a white Theory jacket instead. I pulled on a long-sleeved black tee shirt under the jacket. And my Stan Smith Adidas to keep the outfit from looking too serious. I'm really warming to this look. A good spring run-around-town outfit. I like the idea of a structured, masculine top with a flow-y, feminine bottom. And again, I like the proportions here. The jacket is soft enough in its lines to not look too, too 80s. And I'd keep the jewellry to a bare minimum. 

black and white striped A.L.C. midi skirt, with long sleeved black tee, black Helmut Lang blazer, and Stan Smith Adidas
This gets a thumbs up.
But what about when the weather gets warmer? This skirt will be cool on hot summer days. Especially since it's only partially lined. I hauled out my summer staple, my black Rag and Bone layered tank from 2015. Unfortunately the tank is really too long for this skirt, and simply looked bulky. But since it is layered, I had an idea... and tucked the long under layer in, and left the short outer layer...well.. out. This is exactly the length and shape of top I need for this skirt. Short, but not showing any skin, and loose. Unlike the short BR sweater which adds bulk, the looseness of the short tank is slimming. So really what I need for this skirt is a tank or sweater that is the length of the BR sweater or the short layer of my Rag and Bone tank, with the looseness of the R&B tank. Are you still with me? Of course this outfit will probably look better with something other than my sneakers, so try to imagine black flats or black sandals with this. 

black and white striped midi skirt from A.L.C., black Rag and Bone silk tank
A definite maybe, with a footwear change.
Then in the spirit of playing dress-up. And influenced a bit too much by some of the... ah... edgier fashion posts in my Bloglovin' feed. I tried this. Socks with my loafers. I know I said that I wanted to get out of my rut. Be more adventurous. Step outside my comfort zone. But socks with a skirt? Oh, dear. No, no, no. Nope. I'm laughing and cringing at the same time. 

 Black and white striped silk midi skirt from A.L.C., black Helmut Lang jacket, black Gap tee, black Stuart Weitzman loafers
Ah.... not on your life.
I think I must have been suffering from too many wardrobe changes in too short a time. It made me a bit dizzy. Not able to think straight. And you know, I did feel a bit flushed. It was time to decamp to the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book. 

You know, I'm always hesitant to adopt major changes in fashion when they first come down the tubes. I'm wary of trends. I want to know about them, but rarely purchase a new trend right away. Partly because if it is just a trend it will go away as fast as it arrived. And partly because it takes the eye a while to adjust. To see the new length or shape as fresh and chic, instead of just strange. 

So what have I achieved here? I tried on a lot of outfits. More than I'm showing you here. And I think I'm really warming to the idea of a longer, fuller skirt. To a different proportion than I've been wearing for the past few years. I'm not abandoning my slim pants, or my cropped skinny jeans, just yet. My Veronica Beard suit from last year will factor largely into my wardrobe this year. My short Rag and Bone dress will still be one of  my favourite outfits. 

But I do think that I'm ready to expand my options. Ready to move on a bit. Style wise. 

What about you folks. Any new shapes or styles that you're trying on for size this year? 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Peru. We love You.

Now where were we? Oh yes. South America. Not scaling a garden wall in Salta. But exiting in a more decorous manner. Ha. And thankfully not missing our very, very early morning flight for Peru, after three and a half wonderful weeks in Argentina. Hubby actually sang "Don't cry for me Argentina," very softly, as we boarded the plane. He ain't Evita, folks. But he ain't bad either.

A couple of hours later, we saw the sun rise over Lima. Then after a short lay-over we boarded another flight for Arequipa. A city of almost a million people which locals call Peru's "second city." After Lima.

view from plane coming in to Lima at dawn
Dawn over Lima.
The heart of historic Arequipa is the Plaza de Armas. With the 17th century, neoclassical, Basilica Cathedral, below, on one end.

Bascilica Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Colonial buildings constructed of white volcanic stone on the other three sides.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
Plaza de Armas by day.

And overlooked by Arequipa's famous, and elusive, volcano Misti. Hubby was disappointed that this was his only sight of Misti when she wasn't shrouded in cloud... and mist.  

view of volcano Misti from the Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

We were in Arequipa for four days before the next stage of our trip. So we walked a lot. This was partly to help us acclimatize to the altitude. At 8,000 ft (give or take) it was the perfect place to make sure we could handle the higher altitude of Puno and Cusco down the road. I struggled a bit the first day or so. Breathing heavily after minimal exertion, feeling a bit head-achey, a bit spacey. But morning cups of coca tea and lots and lots of water put paid to that. I think that some of my breathing issues were due to the air quality. Arequipa isn't an industrial town... but there sure was a ton of traffic on the narrow, cobbled streets, many old vehicles, cars and small buses all belching black smoke. Cough, cough.

colonial buildings in Arequipa, Peru
colonial buildings in old Arequipa
One day we took a guided walking tour. Walking tours are a fabulous way to get a feel for a strange city. Milly, our guide, talked us through the city and its history. She led us down small alleyways and narrow lanes. And pointed out the Spanish colonial buildings many of which are still in use as homes or businesses. I loved this little cul de sac.

Spanish colonial buildings in Arequipa, Peru
A narrow lane of colonial buildings still occupied as homes.
Part of our tour included the Santa Catalina Monastery below. Founded in 1579, and apparently unique in the world, this cloistered Catholic convent allowed wealthy families who were "gifting" their daughters to the church to purchase a small house within the confines of the monastery. The family would furnish the house with their own goods, and pay for servants to care for the occupant, whom they would never see again. Eventually the cloistered community became a city within the city, hidden from the rest of Arequipa behind high stone walls. There are even street names for the various lanes and passageways. 

Monasteria Santa Carolina in Arequipa, Peru
One lane within Santa Carolina Monastery.
I have to be honest here, my friends. The whole idea gave me the creeps. I was, of course, respectful during our tour. Our guide was so obviously proud of the history of this remarkable place. But the thought of a rich family essentially giving their twelve year old daughter to the church in hopes of paving their own way to heaven repulsed me. Still. Our guide did say that the life expectancy of the nuns here was quite a bit longer than that of other Peruvian women of the day. "Probably due to them being spared the rigours of childbirth," I thought... but didn't say. While the historic parts of the community are open to the public, Santa Catalina is still home to around twenty cloistered nuns.

Rooftops and fountain in Monasteria Santa Carolina, Arequipa, Peru
Santa Catalina Monastery view from the roof.
But let's move on. Hubby was determined to sample that traditional Peruvian delicacy "cuy" or guinea pig while we were in Peru. Note the menu board below. I was... ah... less than enthusiastic.

menu board outside a cafe serving guinea pig in Arequipa, Peru

Coincidentally, Milly pointed out the inclusion of typical Peruvian dishes in this historic rendering of the last supper on the walls of the beautiful Church of La Compania. Corn, and in the center of the table, guinea pig. How's that for mixing your religious and cultural iconography? 

Last supper painting in Church of La Compania, Arequipa, Peru

Guinea pig aside, we enjoyed fabulous meals in Peru. Hubby is tucking into alpaca below, but I've settled for the more mainstream "lomo" or filet of beef with purée de papas, mashed potatoes. It was yummy. After many meals of heavy food in Argentina we were ready for lighter fare. And the meals we had in Arequipa were all lovely. Creative, beautifully presented, and delicious. And Hubby postponed his "cuy" for later in the trip. 

dinner at Zigzag restaurant in Arequipa, Peru
Our dinners at Zigzag restaurant in Arequipa.
After four days in Arequipa we clambered onto a minibus with our guide Milly and one other couple, and made tracks for the Colca Canyon. Hubby was fascinated by the agricultural terraces right in Arequipa. The city is built on a series of hills along the Chili River, and it seems as if any and all unused land has been terraced and planted, or used for grazing.

agricultural terraces within the city of Arequipa, Peru

This is a view, below, of the other side of town, so to speak. Small one-storey brick houses jumbled up hillsides, and along the river. Most have the metal rebar (steel reinforcing bars which strengthen a concrete or brick structure) still sticking up above the rooflines. Left there after construction so that when the next generation grows up and marries they can build up, and will be able to attach the next storey.

Chili River and jumble of houses in Arequipa, Peru

The small homes, below, located on the edge of the city, each within their own rock-fenced piece of land were, according to Milly, built on plots given by the government to victims of the last major flood a few years ago.

small homes on the outskirts of Arequipa, Peru

After we left Arequipa behind we saw lots of animals. These are wild vicuña.

wild vicuña in Arequipa province, Peru

And these are alpaca...I think... since they have the short snout.

 alpacas in Arequipa Province, Peru

And of course, lots of views like this one.

road to Chivay in Arequipa Province, Peru

Early one morning we passed this lady trudging along the road with her bundle. And shortly thereafter we encountered her again at a "lookout" where stalls were placed for local people to sell their wares to the tourists who stopped to take pictures. She greeted us with an amazingly cheery, "Buenos dias, " considering the long uphill walk she had just finished, and proceeded to unpack her goods. Gad, I whispered to Hubby, "And we used to complain about our commute."

lady walking along road near Colca Canyon, Peru

This is another stop, below, with more local ladies, and more offerings for sale. We continually marvelled at the energy, and obvious work ethic of the Peruvian people. Outside our hotel in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley, one woman was still hoping for a sale long after dark. Her small child sound asleep beside her. These people live hard lives. Certainly harder than we have ever experienced. And that made us sad and grateful all at the same time. 

roadside artisans near Colca Canyon, Peru

The highlight of our first day on the road was the lively market in Chivay. I love the statue of the woman in traditional dress, below. Hubby and I were both surprised by how many women still wear traditional dress. Layers of bright full skirts, many with white blouses or sweaters underneath, the ubiquitous blanket called a k'eperina, for carrying babies, or goods for sale. And hats. So many different hats. Each one, according to Milly, signifying the woman's home village, or region. The white hats are from the Chivay area. I'll shut up for a bit and let you scroll down through a few shots of the market, shall I? 

statue of woman in traditional dress in Chivay, Peru
Statue outside the Chivay market.

 potatoes at Chivay market, Peru
More kinds of potatoes than I've ever seen before.

market in Chivay, Peru

Women in traditional hats at the market in Chivay, Peru

woman spinning wool, at the market in Chivay, Peru

selling picarones at the Chivay market, Peru

One thing we noticed throughout Peru, is that wherever people are gathered, you'll find small portable kitchens with women cooking and serving meals. From the woman in the shot above with her deep-fat fryer in a cardboard box, selling Peruvian doughnuts called picarones. To the numerous small kiosks throughout the market. To the "kitchens" built on handcarts that we saw serving early morning workers on a street corner in Arequipa, or late night revellers sitting on stools beside a "kitchen" cart in a parking spot on a street in Cusco. Presumably the cook packed up and went home at some point during the night because a car was parked there the next afternoon.

dining hall at the Chivay market, Peru
Dining hall at the Chivay market.
Hubby was entranced by the tiny taxis powered by motorbikes that we saw all over Arequipa and Puno. We passed one in Puno crammed to bursting with several people and their bags and bundles. 

tiny motorcycle taxis in Maca, Peru

We spent the night in a lovely inn called La Casa de Mamayacchi in the small village of Corporaque. And next morning were up bright and verrry early for our trip to Colca Canyon. We stopped enroute at another market in Maca. I felt bad that I didn't purchase anything from this very sweet lady. Laura, who was on our tour, bought a beautiful scarf. 

woman selling handicrafts in the Maca town square, Peru

These two ladies made for an interesting photo op, don't you think? 

women in traditional dress with llama and tame hawk, Maca, Peru

Hubby certainly thought so. And although not bird phobic like me... he does look a teensy bit nervous. Certainly the bird's handler thought it was worth a giggle. The llama however looks unimpressed. Ho hum, more tourists.

posing with a tame hawk on his head in Maca, Peru

I've been a bit obsessed with donkeys ever since we saw so many in France a couple of years ago. We saw wild donkeys in Patagonia, one running across the crest of a hill, braying like mad. I so wish I'd been able to get a video of him. This little guy, on the road up to the Colca Canyon, seemed to be out for his morning stroll. All alone. 

donkey in Colca Canyon, Peru

But the  one below definitely was working. You'll notice I was unable to get both owner and donkey in the same shot.

man leading his donkey, near Colca Canyon, Perudonkey near Colca Canyon, Peru

We were amazed and humbled by our drive up to the top of Colca Canyon. Amazed by the beauty. And the view. The Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. And humbled by the astonishing number of agricultural terraces we saw. And the stunning amount of work it must have required to build them. The people here are descended from Incas. And according to Milly, the Incas considered laziness a sin. 

Inca terraces from the road up to Colca Canyon, Peru

Colca Canyon, Peru

Happily we saw condors as well that morning. Many condors. Circling right over our heads. Descending on the air currents down into the canyon below, and disappearing into the clouds. And then catching an up draft and crossing above us to the cliff behind where we stood. Then circling back to do it all over again. One flew so close over us that we could see through his wings. Amazed we stood open-mouthed and didn't even get a picture. Unfortunately, these shots can't replicate the feeling of seeing them in person. But there we have it... the reason why we travel. It's always better to be there in person. Hubby in particular was quite satisfied with his condor experience. And if these pictures aren't good enough for him, well, he still has that one earlier shot of a really big bird close up. Ha. 

condor circling in the clouds over Colca Canyon, Peru

condors circling over Colca Canyon, Peru

We ate lunch in Chivay and then had many more miles to go that day to get to Puno where our guide would leave us. It was a long day. And the last two hours I found very difficult. We drove through parts of the country where traditional farms compete with encroaching industry. We saw small enclosed fields, a man and a small boy sitting on a bank obviously minding two tethered cows. We saw women in skirts harvesting some crop in another field. And every few miles a woman trudging along the side of the highway with her bulging blanket pack tied around her. And in between, piles of garbage on the side of the highway, abandoned roadside buildings that had housed gas stations, or small factories. Many of them derelict. Some of them home to squatters with small children playing outside. I started to take pictures of some of these sights and then stopped. It seemed wrong to do so, too voyeuristic, somehow. 

I won't go on. Let's just say that by the time we checked into our hotel in Puno I was in tears. Hubby said I was overreacting. Maybe I was. But I was tired and I'd found the last two hours of driving enormously depressing. Especially after the charm of Chivay, and the beauty of Colca.

I'm not sure what my point is here. Maybe that I have lived an incredibly sheltered life. Maybe that, although I know poverty exists, I'm not very often forced to confront it face to face. Maybe that I feel a bit guilty for my own privileged life. I don't know. 

I do know that despite that depressing drive, Hubby and I were both falling in love with Peru. And developing a deep admiration for the people who live there. 

I'll leave you with this short video of teenage boys and girls dancing in the market square in Maca the morning we were there. The boys are wearing the tan military jackets. I love the twirling skirts. And the two dogs who casually trotted across in front of the dancers.

So that's it folks. Peru. But only part of our adventure. We still have Puno, Lake Titicaka, Cusco, and Machu Picchu to come. I hope I've not been boring you. This post does go on...and on. I promise I'll make the next one shorter. Hopefully. 

                      Linking up with Share Saturday over at Not Dressed as Lamb