Monday, 24 February 2014

Saving Money on the Spring Trends...Shopping My Own Closet!

I've been noticing a few things this past week as I pedal my exercise bike and peruse the looks for spring in the ongoing search for my perfect spring coat ... well, beside the fact that I seem to lust most over the coats I can't afford. 

One thing is that there is a ton of white, and many all white looks, which I think most people can't do well, certainly not me. 

And lots of beautiful colour...and wonderful prints.

And another is that there are several looks... trends... whatever... that I already own, at least partly. 

Like this small shoulder bag by Marni that I found on
Marni bag.

It's similar to a Michael Kors bag that I own and haven't used in a couple of years. Hmmmmm...I guess I'd better drag that out of the closet this spring. Well, actually... I already I could take this picture.

My own Michael Kors bag 
       Mine is not as nice as the Marni bag. But it cost a whole lot less! 

                    I saw this picture a few days ago on one of my favourite blogs Keep It Chic.

Natasha Poly by Mario Sorrenti for Vogue March 2014
as seen in Keep It Chic by Preston Davis
Now, I certainly couldn't wear that dress (not anymore, anyway. And well, to be truthful, probably not ever!) but I think I own those shoes...almost.

My Stuart Weizmann's from 2011
I love a pointy-toed, low-heeled shoe! They look great with pants and skirts... and I love these patent,  black and grey ones of mine with my leather pants and in the spring with cropped pants.

                             This summer I might even wear these cream Stuart Weitzman sling-backs again.

They are from quite a few years ago, at least five. I haven't worn them for several years, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of them. I love them because they are so feminine and comfortable. And have a kitten heel, which I am seeing all over the place this season.

Kitten Heels all over the place on

In fact, there are a ton of looks for spring that I could manage with a remix of items from my own closet. That way I'll get more mileage out of items I already own and save some money.

So I go virtual shopping, again.

I love "window shopping" on They always style their clothes into such cool outfits. It's a good place to go for ideas. I'll search the site for a skirt, a pair of pants or a sweater that is similar to one I own, and then see how they style it. And how I might update what I already own.

My rust and pink, floral skirt (knee length with big, box pleats and a print that is a bit like a watercolour painting) and which looks kind of like this...
Dolce & Gabbana skirt on 
just needs a new sweater to freshen it up. Maybe a soft sweat shirt? Let's or pink?

                                     Reed Krakoff at
Marlene Birger at

Or I could wear my tan, pencil skirt with a casual sweater and flat sandals to make it look less business-like, kind of like this...

Nina Ricci skirt at

You should try it...virtual shopping followed by a tour of your own closet. You never know what new combinations you'll discover. And what hot items for spring that you already own.

And when you do...drop me a line and let me know what you found.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Gone But Not Forgotten ... My Top 5 Canadian Authors

Mavis Gallant died in February. For those of you who have never heard of her, she was a renowned Canadian writer of superb short stories. I listened to a discussion of her life and interviews with friends and acquaintances on "As It Happens" on CBC radio Tuesday evening as hubby was making dinner.

Although a Canadian, Gallant lived most of her adult life in Paris. She was honored numerous times for her work and was also incredibly private, rarely giving interviews and, interestingly, organizing her life to enable her work and not her fame. I read in one article that her neighbors in Paris did not even know she was a writer. Mavis Gallant was 91 years old.

You can read a much more detailed article about her life and work here.

I loved her stories. It's funny because we were just talking about her at my book club on Sunday afternoon. How some of us loved her work..and others of us had never heard of her.

Monday, 17 February 2014

In Search of the Perfect Spring Coat...or...What King Lear Taught Me About Shopping

I really need a new spring coat. Well, maybe 'really need' is a bit strong. And... well, need is not necessarily true either. But I really want a new spring coat.

I have two very "serviceable" (as my mother used to say) spring coats. One is a short, tan Burberry trench coat from five years ago. It's very light weight and not much good for keeping out the cold. Two years ago I bought a Michael Kors black anorak-style coat with silver "hardware" and a hood. I really love it. My friend who works at Holt Renfrew told me that the cut of the coat and the silver toggles and zippers make it look like a Prada. And since I can't justify the price of a Prada coat ..."like a Prada" sounds good to me!

But retirement has changed my wardrobe requirements in many ways. When I was still teaching, I would wear my spring coat for the twenty minute drive each way to work, then take it off. Now it seems that I am always wearing a coat. I need to plan my outfits around my coat. And while I love my MK coat, I can't see me wearing it every time I go anywhere until it's warm enough to go without it. I mean... it's black! Great for travel, goes with everything...but boring.

I would love a coat in a gorgeous colour that's not black or tan. I already posted here on a beautiful orange coat by L.K. Bennett that I saw in Harper's Bazaar. And now I am on the hunt... an on-line hunt at this stage... for the perfect spring coat.

Here are some that caught my eye.

Max Mara coat
Burberry coat

These are beautiful. I love the fluid lines of both. But the Max Mara coat would not be warm enough for a cool Canadian spring. It seems more of an evening coat to me. The Burberry is lovely, but I don't want beige. Although those pink sandals are wonderful.

I'm probably looking more for something like this other Burberry coat. Love this.
But at almost $2700.00 CAD. Well.... maybe it would be more feasible to set my sights at something like this.

Or even this.

Both coats are from Zara. And priced at around $200.00 CAD... much more feasible. If I could find the Zara coat in coral or a cherry colour similar to the Burberry, then it could become my Perfect Spring Coat.

That is if I want to buy the other stuff on my spring "Really Need" list.

Okay, okay... if you want to be picky about it... maybe I don't really need anything new this spring.

But to quote King Lear ..."O, reason not the need!" (I guess technically those are Will Shakespeare's words)

But to go on...

"If only to go warm were gorgeous,/ Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wearest,/ Which scarcely keeps thee warm"                                     (King Lear, II, iv, 264, 267-270.)

What Lear is trying to get  through his daughter's head here is that while gorgeous clothes are not necessarily needed.....well, they do make us feel soooo good. And if we are only allowed what is "absolutely necessary", then we are "no better than animals"                           (HBJ Shakespeare, King Lear, p 128.)

And of course Lear wasn't talking about shopping...exactly. But you could make a case for that application of the quote.

 In my opinion.

Anyhoo...where did I put my list?

What's on your list for spring?

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Bogie and Hepburn Reprised

Amid the snow and freezing temperatures of a Canadian winter, we are planning our summer. Well, our summer camping trips, at least.

My husband and I go on one or two camping trips together most summers. Hubby, the inveterate canoeist and fisherman, goes on at least three other trips. Without me, thank heaven! These are the ones I could never be persuaded to do. One occurs in the spring when the black flies are REALLY bad. They all involve such things as 7 km portages and sunrise to sunset day trips to find better fishing. On these trips he and his buddies have encountered snow (actually on several May trips they have had snow), been treed by black bears, and bushwhacked with compass and map when a portage did not lead them where they wanted to go. But I go on the easy trips, the "luxury" trips, as hubby describes them.

For the uninitiated, a wilderness canoe trip means that you will be travelling to lakes and rivers where no cars or motorized vehicles have access. If you want to go there, everything you bring must be carried on your back. A luxury trip is hubby-speak for taking extra stuff that weighs more. Stuff like marinated steaks, and wine, and real pasta (not KD) that requires we bring a small cooler. And other "unnecessary" stuff like a pillow for me and my special canoe seat. And sometimes an umbrella, but more on that later.

I had never even been in a canoe (much less on a wilderness camping trip) until I met my husband. You might even say that our first date was in a canoe...but that would be exaggerating. We started dating in the winter, after all. And I went on my first canoe trip ...ever....the next spring.

May 1985. My first fish. Note the stylish co-ordination of rain pants with life jacket!

We even spent part of our honeymoon on a canoe trip. So with our 25th wedding anniversary coming up this summer...well, we decided that we really needed to go this year.  I's so romantic, to be doing the same trip we did on our honeymoon... well, isn't it? Maybe. But Paris is romantic too. And I've never been.

That's not to say that I don't want to go canoe camping this summer. But I haven't been since 2010. And I must admit to feeling a bit of trepidation. Am I still up for this? Maybe I'm getting too old to be sleeping on the ground and humping packs around? Even on a "luxury trip"?

It's not all sunshine and roses on these trips, you know. There's the time it rained for three straight days, or the times the tent leaked, or when I pulled a muscle in my back on the portage. Or the years when the bugs were bad. Like the time I came home and used the mirror to count 22 bug bites on one particular part of my body. And then announced it to my husband, who replied, "You COUNTED them?!" Yep.

But to be fair, there have been wonderful days of warmth and sunshine. Fires on the beach, as we watched the sparks from the flames sail up into the night sky. Being able to let the canoe slip along in the water so quietly that a moose and her twin calves were only a few feet away. The taste of a succulent steak cooked over an open fire. The feeling when we arrived home after four and a half hours of paddling and portaging that I had achieved something I thought I would never be able to do. Yea, there's that stuff, too.

Sunset over Booth Lake July 2010.

And there have been moments of great hilarity. Me trying to carry the canoe on a portage comes to mind. Or the trip when the forecast was for 32 to 34 degree C temperatures, so we took the golf umbrella for shade for me while in the canoe. I can't really do four+ hours in the sun!

This shot prompted hubby to say that I must feel like Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen. And shortly after this shot was taken, we encountered a beaver dam and the canoe had to be literally hauled over the sticks and twigs of the dam...

                         ... prompting me to say....that I guessed that must make him Humphrey Bogart!

Yep. Except for the leeches... And we laughed...

...until we got back to the campsite and hubby took off his wet socks and sneakers. Okay.. so there was only one leech. But it was pretty funny.

So it's settled. We're going. 

It will be Bogie and Hepburn Reprised this summer. Hopefully without the leeches this time. 

And I did say that canoeing was only part of our honeymoon. We'll only be on the canoe trip for five days. 

Still lots of time for Paris.

I hear that it's wonderful there in September.

Happy Valentines Day, everyone.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Orange is the New Black... or Pink ...or Whatever

Why, oh why are we so sick of winter so early this year? We have three more weeks left in February...and all of March and probably most of April to wait before we can even begin to think about hauling out the spring fashion. Here, in snowy, frigid's sheer folly to hope for a better timeline than that.

And that's not to say that I don't love winter, I do. Hubby and I went for a beautiful cross-country ski today... -10 C, with bright sunshine and no wind... gorgeous!

But deep my heart of hearts...where my secret desires lie (okay, enough with the cliches) I really wish the weather was more like this.

Beach in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

And I must admit, it's mostly down to the fact that I am dead tired of all my winter clothes! 

So.... yesterday..... I was on my exercise bike...reading fashion magazines and listening to my i-pod. I listen to audio books while pedaling my bike. Really, it's a fantastic way to stay motivated to do something I don't really want to do. I love British mysteries and the exercise bike is a good excuse to sit around listening to books and still feel like I am achieving something. My handy husband built me a kind of lectern that's attached to my bike and holds my magazines and i-pod. So I listened and I leafed through Vogue and Bazaar and hoped for some inspiration for my wardrobe doldrums.

And as I was listening and leafing, I found this ad in the March issue of Bazaar.

It was love at first sight! I love, love, love that coat! I love the whole outfit. The orange coat paired with that mauve-y bag, those little white boots, the dark cropped pants with the patterned blouse...the combo of bright and dark...genius...and oh, I covet it all. 

Sigh. But the snow is still deep. And even when it starts to go, there will be slush and muck, so those cute, little boots are out for at least another three months. 
But let's not be toooo hasty here. I could substitute my black Cole Haan boots or my low Prada boots with the little heel... and I do have black, skinny pants...or maybe I could substitute my navy blue, cropped J-Brand cords. And I have a navy and white stripped blouse that coooould, maybe work. But... I simply do not have anything close to that sublime orange coat! 

And oooooh,  I'd love to have something orange to wear! I know that pink is big this year and I've seen lots of pastels both this winter and in the new spring stuff. But pastels make me look ill, and pink brings out my rosacea. But I do love orange. It's just the pop of colour that I could pair with lots of other stuff that I already own. The pop of colour that could help a winter-weary, fashion-obsessed person like myself to survive two and a half more months of winter.

Yes, yesterday afternoon I had to face the fact that that orange coat had awakened in me a longing for orange. Anything orange.

But when I stopped to I think of it, I realized I already owned a few orange things. I have a V-neck, long sleeved tee shirt from Gap that's a lovely orange. I haven't worn it all winter. And I have that scarf that I bought in Ireland a couple of years ago; that has orange in it.  (Slap on forehead here.) In fact,  the new glasses I ordered and which I would  pick up later ...are kind of orange-y.

So later yesterday afternoon, I pulled out my orange tee shirt and scarf, dragged out my light, winter coat (brown Max Mara), switched up my skinny jeans for my boot-cut "7 For All Mankind" and brushed off my brown, Prada boots with the little heel that I haven't worn all winter either. And set off to pick up my new orange-y glasses. All excited to be doing the orange thing. 

My new glasses with my Gap tee shirt and Irish scarf.

Add my Max Mara coat, boot-cut jeans and brown Prada boots.

So that's me satisfied ....for now. A little pop of colour and I only shopped in my own closet. Cheaper that way!

But you gotta know that that orange coat is still on my spring shopping list!

What are you doing to get  through the winter fashion doldrums?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Joys of being Sick

I've been sick with a bad cold for the last few days. You know: sinus headache, sneezing, sore throat, no energy,  really, really red nose. And I just keep thinking what a joy... well, maybe 'joy' is a bit strong... luxury, maybe...relief, surely... it is to be sick and be retired.

I taught high school English for many years and teaching is one of those jobs where you can't just be sick. There are always complications! 

Sick with a cold - again.
By the way, that IS a thermometer in my mouth.
Complication #1
Can you be sick? Are your classes at a place in the curriculum where you can be away and not totally mess up the timing of tests, computer lab bookings, exam review etc etc. Do you have out of school meetings? Who will supervise that field trip or volleyball game if the teacher/coach is sick?

Complication #2
Who will cover your classes? In the old days we contacted our own supply teachers. I remember back in the 1980's spending hours on the phone, with the list of supply teachers in front of me, trying to track down someone who was home (and who might return my call,) who was free the following day, and who was still currently supply teaching. Due to lack of contract teaching jobs, many supply teachers had given up hope of ever being hired full time and were doing other work.
In the last 10 years or so, classes have frequently been covered by other staff members, your colleagues. Administration makes the last minute decision whether classes are covered by supply teachers (if the supply budget is healthy) or by an "on-call." On-calls are teachers on staff who, instead of having their prep period, now have to cover your class. Making you REALLY popular!

Complication #3
Work for the students. What... oh, what can you give  them to do that will be productive and not require your presence? These days it's best to assume that the teacher covering your class will not know how to teach your subject. This might be the case even if it is a supply teacher (they're robo-called, now. Really, they are. At least here in Ontario) So the work needs to be something the students have already started ... or for which you have prepared extensive handouts of explanation and examples. This way the (probable) on-call teacher will be there to keep order, make sure the kids are working...and hopefully be able to do a little work of her own.

Complication #4
All of this...and I mean all of it... is running  through your head at 5:00 A.M. When you have woken up feeling dreadful and need to make that decision... to go or stay home... in time to get up and create the work, and then send all the relevant e-mails or make the phone calls. Best case scenario... plan your sickness! No joke. "I feel like crap, but if I hold on until Thursday my classes will be in a place where I can be sick for two days and then I'll still have the weekend to recover." And then you stay at school the night before your sick day for an extra two hours to prepare the work for your classes and photocopy everything.

Complication #5
If you keep going to work sick your classes will be on track. But... you will be so bagged at the end of the day that you will fall into bed after supper. And for English teachers this is major..... you will now be behind with your marking! Whereas if you take a sick day you may be able to squeeze in a couple of hours of marking... and thus be ready for the onslaught of marking when you go back.
Oh...I'm getting stressed just writing about this!

But now... now.... dear readers, when I wake up at 5:00 A.M. feeling dreadful... why, I just sigh with relief and roll over... thinking... it could be worse... I could be sick AND still teaching!


I do know, of course, that teaching is not the only job where it's hard to be sick. It's just the only job I've had (and I have had other jobs) where being sick is soooo darn complicated!

And for all of you out there who are still struggling to go into work when you really feel like crawling back under the duvet... I feel your pain.

Well, actually... I don't... not anymore. Which is, of course, the point of this post.

So tell me... how complicated is it for YOU to take a sick day?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Lost in Downton...One More Time With Feeling

I don't know if any of you caught the miniseries Lost in Austen that was on TV a few years ago. I watched it, loved it, bought the DVD for my mum (a fellow Austen devotee)..and then watched it all over again with her. We adore Jane Austen...books, movies, mini-series...we're not picky. If it's Austen my mum and I are glued to the screen shushing anyone who might happen to hove into view (or earshot.) When my husband and I are down east visiting each summer... he does a lot of fishing to avoid being in the house and having to endure the yearly Austen hysteria. In Lost in Austen the scene which resonates with me is when the main character, Amanda Price, pushes open the mysterious door in her modern day bathroom and crawls into another world, the world of Regency England and of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 

This is what a great historical fiction novel makes you feel, like you have been dropped into another world. And this is how I always feel about wonderful costume instance Downton Abbey. (God bless Julian Fellowes!)

I have been watching and loving Downton Abbey (me and a few million other people.) from Season One, Episode One. Every year, for the last five. And each episode I feel like I would love to be able to open a door, like Amanda Price, and step into that world for real. But while I do like the characters and the plot, it's the setting and the costumes (particularly the costumes) that create such longing. I would love to go back in time and own all those wonderful clothes and hats. Maybe that's why I love vintage clothing; it fulfills my innate desire to recreate the past.

And while I have admired the costumes of Downton from season one, episode one, scene one ....they have just kept getting better and better. The dresses and coats are divine. I would love to own this dress and knit vest worn by Lady Mary.

divine fashions on Downton Abbey

Photo found on The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done Blog
Check it out for cool patterns based on vintage designs.

               But though the dresses are  divine ...  it's the hats that I really covet.

a selection of Donwton Abbey hats
A selection of Downton hats from, Feb. 2, 2013

Lady Mary Crawley
Photo found on Call Me Absurd blog
Oct. 17, 2011

In fact when I first saw the hat above, I even felt a tiny bit of déjà vu. A little frisson of recognition. Had I perhaps worn it in an earlier life? ....well, perhaps. But my recognition was a bit closer to home than that... Holy cow! I thought ... I owned that hat! Or one very like it.

I have been collecting vintage hats for 20 years or more. I love them. I have rarely worn them, but for years, I used to display them in my spare bedroom. Eventually, lack of space and a desire to de-clutter made me put them away.

Then I carted them off to school one day. I used to do a fun activity with my Creative Writing class called "prop writing." It's an idea that I got from a Natalie Goldberg book called Writing Down the Bones. She suggests that using a prop can help writers put themselves into another place or character. So in my class we had "prop writing" where we would bring hats or other items that might suggest a certain character type. The students had to wear or hold the prop and then write from the point of view of the person who might own that prop. They would write for 10 minutes and then try another prop. Then we would read them out loud. Sometimes it was hysterical, sometimes moving, sometimes kids really surprised themselves that they could so completely write in a voice so totally different from their own. And my vintage hats became very useful props for this activity. When I retired I brought them home again and stuck them in a cupboard.

Until one day a few months ago when I dragged them out again and had a grand old time playing dress up.

1920's cloche

This is my 1920's cloche. It has tiny jet beads on it that don't show up in the picture. You can't see the bow very well either. I love it ...but it's just not me, really. 

vintage 1940's hat

This is my all time favourite hat! As you can see, I really was playing dress up. I changed my jacket and scarf for this hat. I am not sure if it is from the 30's or 40's. I bought it at an antique sale in the 1990's. My friend and I had stopped at a booth and were trying on all the hats they had. By the time we actually purchased something, we had a crowd of elderly ladies oohing and ahhing around us. "Oh, you REALLY must buy this one, dear!" And so I did.

vintage leapard trimmed hat

This is my very first vintage hat purchase, way back in the late 80's. It has real leopard skin on it and it's hand made. It's just a brown felt tube with a stuffed strip of leopard hand sewn on to it. Not sure of the vintage since there is no label.

1940's beret

This is the only one that I have worn more then once. I'm sure it's from the 1940's. I bought it for 10 bucks in 1989. There's a tatty brown ribbon tied in a bow at the back that can't be tightened anymore ... I'm afraid it will rip. I love it, especially the Bakelite brooch that came with it. The brooch was in the hat when the vendor bought she sold it with the hat. You sure couldn't buy a Bakelite brooch for 10 bucks now!

These days, at least for the last few years, our visits down east have a slightly different ritual. My husband still fishes a lot. But instead of our Jane Austen marathon, my mum and I watch as many episodes of  Downton Abbey as we can squeeze in. She has all the DVDs, of course. This year we'll be watching the final season of Downton together. It's sad that the show has to end. But it's been an amazing ride. I'm excited to see what season six will bring. 

Maybe this year, when I visit Mum, I'll bring along a few props for us to wear.... when we get lost in Downton.

What's your Downton story?