Tuesday, 28 April 2015

How to Get Rich When You Aren't Even Trying... But Are...Like... Sitting Reading a Book

Oh, I do apologize for the "click-bait" title. Oh course, I did not mean getting rich in the usual sense of the word. Not big piles of money rich, or huge killing on the stock market kind of rich. Not even enormous piles of hoarded, priceless treasure like Bilbo found in Smaug's cave kind of rich. Although that last kind, being wholly fictional, and referring, of course, to J.R.R. Tolkein's classic book The Hobbit, is closer to the sort of rich I meant.

The Hobbit. Bilbo in Smaug's cave
No, what I did mean was the sort of "richness" that can permeate your life if you are a lover of books. And how, ever since I first picked up a book, reading has added so much to the quality of life I enjoy. Has, in fact, enriched my life, even if it hasn't exactly made me any wealthier. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Black and White ... All Over Paris

I'm a very black and white person. Things are either wonderful, amazing, spectacular.... or they suck. I'm either rapturous or (as Anne of Green Gables, my childhood hero, used to say) in the "depths of despair." I either love something, or detest it. Books, places, people, haircuts... certainly haircuts... and particularly outfits. And with respect to fashion, it's no surprise that I love pure, crisp, snowy white, and luscious, velvety black. 

So the fashions featured on the runways this spring, and in the magazines, and on my favourite blogs seemed right up my alley. White, white, and more white. A white jacket was the very first item on my spring shopping wish list.

All white, head to toe, seemed to be everywhere. Like this beautiful Armani suit I saw in Vogue. 

Giorgio Armani white suit

And I also noticed lots of monochromatic black on black looks. Like this one from IRO, also pictured in Vogue. 

IRO black leather jacket and black pants

But, you know, I'm not sure I like all white or all black... at least on me. But I love, love, love black and white together. Like this simple, elegant outfit from Vince.com.

Vince black and white blouse and black trousers

And the timelessly chic, black and white look in this Fabiana Filippi ad in Vogue. I love the long, loose tunic with the long jacket. This would look great with jeans as well.

Fabiana Filippi black suit with white tunic

Or this outfit Kristen Scott Thomas wore to the Giorgio Armani Haute Couture SS15 show in Paris this past January. Scott Thomas is really working the white on white with this crisp, tuxedo-style shirt and elegantly cut jacket. But I love that, on the bottom, it's black leather trousers and black cut-out heels. She's great isn't she? And at age fifty-five (almost), she's a fashion icon for all of us over-fifty types who aspire to simple, polished, "not over the hill yet" style. Or as Patti calls it in her blog... "Not Dead Yet Style." 

Kristin Scott Thomas in Armani jacket and leather trousers at Armani Couture SS15 show        Kristin Scott Thomas in Armani jacket and leather trousers at Armani Couture SS15 show

So, naturally, since it was on my spring shopping list, I bought a white jacket. And it was actually quite similar to Kristin Scott Thomas's jacket... except mine was NOT Armani. Still, it was long and silky, tuxedo-style with a single button closure, and would have looked divine with a white tee shirt and black pants. Or with jeans. I really liked it. But I also knew that I would NOT be packing it for our upcoming Paris trip. Too crushable, and stainable, and definitely ruin-able to risk taking it on our trip. Ah well. I could wear it when I got home.

But then....I called my friend Liz at Nordstrom to see if she could find me something a bit dressy to wear out to dinner in Paris. I wanted a long, loose, silky top preferably in black. 

When I showed up at Nordstrom a few days later, this is what Liz had ready for me to try on. Shazam! Were we on the same wave-length or what? This Rag and Bone, crew-neck tank was exactly what I had in mind. It's cut like a tee shirt at the neck and shoulders, and long enough to hide the middle age middle. And the layers make it kind of floaty and lovely and light. Great with black pants or white jeans, and with a jacket and loafers, or without the jacket and with sandals when the weather warms up a little....or a lot. Perfect. 

black Rag and Bone tank, white NYDJ white jeans, black Stuart Weitzman loafers        black Rag and Bone tank, white NYDJ white jeans, black Stuart Weitzman loafers

And then, while I was oohing and aahing over the top and how well it looked with my white cropped jeans, Liz disappeared and came back with a beautiful, black Helmut Lang jacket. And said..."I know you just bought the white Theory jacket, and you don't need another one... but just try this on." Oh my. It slipped on sooooo easily and fit me perfectly. Beautifully cut, with sleeves like a sweater....so soft and stretchy...and.... wonderful. Now... I had a problem. The retirement budget would definitely NOT stretch to two new jackets. But a black jacket would be so much more practical and versatile. And I could take this jacket to France. And I sure did love it. Even more than my new, white Theory jacket. And even though I had taken the Theory jacket home, it was still hanging in its garment bag with the tags still on.... I teetered on the edge between rapture and despair. "Just bring the Theory jacket back, Sue," said Liz. So I did. 

See. My new Helmut Lang jacket looks great with the Rag and Bone tank, and my white cropped jeans and black loafers. I know heels might be better with this outfit, but I'm not planning to bring heels on our France trip. Loafers will be so much better for navigating over cobblestones. I learned my lesson in Edinburgh years ago, but that's another story.

Black Helmut Lang jacket, black Rag and Bone tank, white NYDJ jeans, black Stuart Weitzman loafers

And see. My new jacket also looks great with a striped tee shirt and sneakers. 

Black Helmut Lang jacket, white NYDJ jeans, striped A&G tee shirt and Addidas Stan Smith sneakers

And with sunglasses...well... I'm just so darned Parisian I can't stand myself. 

Black Helmut Lang jacket, white NYDJ jeans, striped A&G tee shirt and Addidas Stan Smith sneakers

So, yeah, I know that this spring it's white with white, or black with black.... all over. But I'm partial to mixing them up. 

And as far as being a very black or white person....well... I know I can be a bit of a drama queen. But, I do strive to be a bit more balanced these days; I try to curb my mercurial nature, by attempting to inject a little white into a black mood. Or in this case a little black into an all white season. Or vice versa. 

So that's me all fixed up for Paris. My shopping is finished. I'm not packed yet. I still have to try on outfits and decide what items make the final cut. I know I'll be in raptures over how great my new jacket looks....with everything. 

And it may not be a Kristin Scott Thomas white jacket... but it's very Ines de la Fressange... don't you think?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Can Eating Right Be Wrong? My "Clean-Eating" Journey.

I heard an interesting segment on CBC radio one morning a few months ago. Anna Maria Tremanti, the host of "The Current," was interviewing Dr. Steven Bratman, along with psychology professor Thom Dunn and registered dieticians Casey Berglund and Mélanie Olivier, about a "possible new eating disorder" called orthorexia nervosa. You can listen to that interview here if you like.

CBC's The Current, story on Orthorexia Nervosa

Described as an obsession with "extreme clean eating" or "a passion for eating right that goes terribly wrong," orthorexia nervosa was initially identified by Dr Steven Bratman in1996. Unlike those with anorexia, orthorexia sufferers don't stop eating; they're not hungry, but they have narrowed their food choices to such an extent that they can die of malnutrition because they aren't getting enough nutrients. Sufferers become obsessed with "clean eating," and in their quest to achieve "diet perfection," they become so fearful of food "toxins" and "poisons" that they continually exclude foods from their diet, foods that they need to live. 

Okay. I know. Why should we care about a disease that is so totally a first world condition? Only people who have enough to eat to begin with can afford to worry about which foods they put in their mouths, right? I concede that. But I just found this phenomenon really interesting. And sad.

Because... holy cow (pun intended)... society has become obsessed with food, hasn't it? And with diets. We're bombarded with information on everything from the Paleo diet at one end of the spectrum...

paleo diet food choices

... to the raw vegan diet on the other.

Raw vegan food pyramid
And everything possible in between. It's no wonder we're confused about what exactly IS healthy eating. When every celebrity who has tried a new diet writes a book about their experience, and then hits the talk show circuit as a newly-hatched food "expert." When we are deluged with media stories about food fads that go out of style the next year, or are eventually discovered to be not good for us, but bad. When scientific research into nutrition is mis-reported or superficially reported to create a sexy sound-bite or headline. How are we to figure out what is fact and what is fantasy?

As an English teacher who for many years taught kids to analyze language patterns in poetry and prose... I couldn't help but do it myself when I was researching this post. I mean.... it seems that food is either described as "clean", "super," and "perfect," or "contaminated," poisonous," and "toxic." We are exhorted to "eat clean" and, if we don't, we need to "detoxify" or "cleanse" our bodies. That's some pretty loaded language, people. In my trawl through the internet, I found numerous references to the raw food cleanse, the juice cleanse, even the paleo cleanse. One blogger who was about to embark on a twenty-one day juice cleanse remarked: "after thirty years of putting toxins in my bod, how can 21 days be enough?" How I wish I could hook that blogger up with the writer of this article, on the Mayo Clinic website, who pointed out that our kidneys and liver are naturally designed to cleanse our bodies of toxins. And warned that detoxing diets can have side-effects like bloating, cramps, nausea, vomiting and dehydration. Hmmm. So, at best, detox regimes or cleanses are unnecessary, and at worst, harmful. Really, there is so much hyperbole and misinformation about diet and nutrition, it's a wonder we aren't all suffering from orthorexia. 

I got caught up in a dizzying deluge of diet and nutrition information a few years ago. Shortly after I retired, my apparently healthy and very active husband was unexpectedly diagnosed with a major heart blockage. He had none of the risk factors, so his symptoms were initially dismissed as respiratory issues, the residual symptoms of a severe cold. Then, thank goodness, he had a stress test, just as a precaution. Followed closely by open-heart bypass surgery. 

We had always lived an active and healthy lifestyle. But after Hubby's diagnosis, let's just say that I went into research overdrive. What could we do to perfect our diet? I read about plant-based diets, Mediterranean diets, good fats, bad fats, long-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids, antioxidants, salt, sugar, cholesterol, plaque, arterial inflammation. You name it, I read about it, stressed over it, and ultimately became totally confused. It wasn't until we attended a "Healthy Eating" workshop at the Ottawa Heart Institute after Hubby's surgery, that I gained some perspective. The dietitian, Kathleen Turner, was wonderful. Informed and very informative. She'd read all the newest books (like Wheat Belly, a good read but not science based, she said), and she'd heard about all the latest scientific developments (why coconut oil might be good for you, for example.) And she told me that if I tried to micromanage our diet I would drive myself crazy. She simplified for me what I had been trying to figure out in my haze of anxiety and fear and information overload.

Hubby and I each took notes at the workshop, and then at home we compiled them into our own "Ten Point Plan" which we posted on the fridge door. It involved lots of Kathleen's good advice. Like eat fruit or veg with every meal. Try for 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Go salt free, as much as possible. Eat red meat once a week. And a bunch of other stuff I won't go into. Mostly I remember her calm advice that we should eat fresh, whole food, prepared at home. Make very healthy choices 80% of the time. And once in a while to treat ourselves. Okay, we could do that. And I could breathe again. I hadn't realized until that day how I had been trying to control the situation by finding the key, the answer, the one thing that we had been eating that had made Hubby ill. 

We've been following our new plan for over two years now. And I'm happy to say that Hubby's cardiologist reported that his "numbers," according to his latest stress test and blood work, are excellent. 


But let's get back to Anna Maria Tremanti's story on "The Current." As well as looking at orthorexia nervosa, she and her guests discussed some of the claims of popular nutrition "experts" (like blogger Vani Hari, otherwise know as "Food Babe.") And, you know, what really makes me angry is the hypocrisy of these purveyors of so-called healthy diet plans and products. They damn the greedy food industry for making us sick... post fear-mongering videos on their websites... and then ask us to trust them instead.... for a price, that is. And to buy their book or their diet plan, or their super-detox-juice-cleanse-supplement-whatever. 

Isn't it ironic that in this world of ever increasing obesity, and unhealthy eating, people are getting sick because they're trying too hard to be healthy? You see, I think the point of  that story on "The Current," was not to discourage healthy eating. But to advise moderation, balance, and a healthy skepticism for the quick fix. And to make us aware that all this food and diet hyperbole can have terribly negative effects on some people who only want to be healthy. 

See this dish below? It's called "Full English Breakfast Poutine." Yep. A combination of that Canadian delicacy poutine (french fries, topped with cheese curds and smothered in gravy.) And if that wouldn't give you a heart attack just looking at it. They added baked beans, bacon and a fried egg. Yep...there really are foods out there that can kill you. And that's no hyperbole. 


Have you ever been caught up in trying too hard to eat right?

Monday, 13 April 2015

Not Ready For Paris... Why I'm Stressed About What to Wear

We leave for our long awaited, many times postponed trip to France in three weeks. France. For a month. In the spring. Sublime. We'll probably miss the cherry trees in bloom. But it will still be France. Arras, Avignon, Provence, the Loire Valley. And Paris.

Paris in Spring thesundaytimes.co.uk
Paris. Hemingway 'shrines', Shakespeare and Company, the Marché Aux Puces. I'm so stoked about Paris; I can hardly wait. The history, the culture, the food. The fashion. The incredibly fashionable women, who will be everywhere... I'm sure. Looking intimidatingly chic and perfectly soigné. 

Akkkkk. Wait, wait, I'm not ready. What the heck will I wear?

Eh bien. When in doubt, it's time for research. So, I've been doing my homework. Following fashion blogs like A Femme d'Un Certain Age where Trish has been doing a series of posts on what to wear in Paris. 

And reading articles. Like the one last month on Vogue.com by Liana Satanstein. It's about "Real Parisian Style," which, according to Ms. Satanstein is all about "artfully rumpled hair" and  "perfectly tailored basics." She says "Parisian Style" is simple and polished, seemingly effortless, and without designer labels or added bling. Apparently stylish Parisian women achieve a "look of gamine insouciance," all without even trying to look gamine or insouciant.

Okay. All this information sounds very helpful. But I simply don't have time to perfect a look of "gamine insouciance," and then get so accustomed to looking that way that I stop looking like I'm trying to look that way. Are you with me? And then it dawns on me that I'm suffering from information overload. Just like back in university when I'd researched an essay topic soooo much that I eventually just sat and stared at pages and pages of notes of other people's ideas; so many ideas that I couldn't remember what my own ideas were, or even if I'd had any ideas. 

This is silly. Hubby and I have travelled lots of places and I have never before stressed about what I would wear. I've researched, planned, shopped, and packed. But not stressed. I wasn't intimidated by Sydney or Melbourne, by Edinburgh or Dublin, or even London or New York. 

I mean really. Maybe I'm not soigné, or devastatingly insouciant. But I can certainly do simple and tailored. For crying out loud, that's what I have been doing for years. So I start an "inspiration file" of images that I like, and shots of Paris "street style" that don't include outfits with sky-high heels, or shots of "it girls" at Fashion Week who are definitely NOT not trying. And I create a "Travel Fashion" board on Pinterest. (You can check it out here if you like.) And then I weed out the looks that could never possibly be "my style." And I apply a wise question that I learned from the blog Une femme d'un certain âge last year...."Would I wear this in Paris?"

D'accord. Here are a few of the looks to which I will aspire. When I'm in Paris.

Ines de la Fressange in chic white pants, sweater and flat sandals.
Ines de la Fressange on pinterest.com

Ellen Claesson in chic white coat and jeans. #parisianstyle
Ellen Claesson on ellenclaesson.metromode.se

Ellen Claesson in chic blue suit with flats.
Ellen Claesson at ellenclaesson.metromode.se


Annette Haga on Just the Design. Blue pinstripe pants, white shirt, blue sweater and sneakers. I'd wear this in Paris.
Annette Haga on Just the Design.com
Maintenant. Now for the list. I need good jeans, white cropped pants (probably jeans), black pants (maybe navy...but probably black), a good coat or raincoat, a light jacket (maybe a blazer), a white shirt. Scarves. Long sleeved tee shirts, one striped. A couple of sweaters. One dressy top to wear with both white pants and black. Sneakers, sandals (flats) and one pair of comfortable shoes that can also be dressy. 

Some of these items are already in my closet. But not all. And I have three weeks... to try everything on that I already own, mix and match for day and evening outfits, ask the question "Would I wear this in Paris?" Then... identify gaps... and get shopping. 

So. I guess I need to get cracking. I'm going to Nordstrom tomorrow to visit my friend Liz who's the personal shopper there. If you're planning a shopping trip to the Rideau Center in Ottawa, I highly recommend you give Liz a shout before you go. Here's her contact information: liztimlin@nordstrom.com. (613 567-7005 Ext 1350)

C'est tout. With a plan of action, I'm not as stressed about what to wear in Paris as I was. Maybe I will be ready after all. But now, it's late and I need my beauty sleep if I'm going to be power shopping tomorrow. 

Bonne nuit, mes amis. Mon dieu... sometimes I am just so darned insouciant.  

Have you been to Paris? Any wise fashion advice to pass on? I'm all ears.

Check out these link parties this week. What I Wore, Style Me WednesdaysPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayCasual Friday

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

In Praise of Gentle Reading

Yesterday I had a lovely Pym-ish morning. Hubby was out power walking in the cold wind. But I was lolling on the sofa in our sun room, cup of tea at my elbow, gazing out the window at the sun sparkling on the water, the receding snow on the lawn, and the ducks waddling around on the ice that, carried by the swift spring current, flowed past our waterfront. I was lolling and rereading Excellent Womenmy favourite Barbara Pym novel.  All was quiet, except for the rustle of a page or the clink of my cup in the saucer. 

I love quiet, gentle books. That might sound odd coming from someone who just wrote a post on books about war, and who loves mysteries and crime fiction; I've written several posts on murder and mayhem. But every now and again I need a Pym fix. I need to read quiet, lovely books that make the smallest details of everyday life seem endlessly interesting, and worthy of observation and dissection. Books like those written by Barbara Pym.

Barbara Pym in The New Yorker

Friday, 3 April 2015

Fancy Pants.. Or Not... And Spring

How I love this Chanel look for spring! All drapey, and gorgeous, and casual at the same time. Very dressed-up bohemian, and totally seventies. And those are some fancy pants, aren't they? A bit too fancy for me. And maybe just a teensy bit too see-through? 

Chanel ad in Vogue, spring 2015
Chanel/Neiman Marcus advertisement in Vogue

The Armani outfit below is better. Gosh, that looks comfortable and gorgeous. I love those flat shoes, and that tunic. But while those flowy, swirling pants are lovely, they're not for me. And not just because they're Armani (and thus way too pricey)... but because... well... I don't do flow-y, or drapey, or swirling anything. I'm too much of a structured jacket and tailored pants kind of girl. At least I think I am. At least, I always have been.

Armani look from Vogue, spring 2015
Armani advertisement in Vogue

I love this Chanel look too. The layering is great. But I think I'd lose the hat and shawl and pair the pants with the Armani tunic and shoes above. Wouldn't they make a wonderfully chic combo? Less flowy, still comfy? That's if I had the budget for Chanel, and Armani.

Chanel look in Vogue, spring 2015
Chanel ad in Vogue

I saw those Chanel and Armani looks in Vogue a while ago, and ever since, I've been thinking of sweat pants as street-wear. Not necessarily fancy pants. But not the grey, stretchy sweat pants I'd wear to the gym, nor the ubiquitous black yoga pants, which everyone seems to wear everywhere. But a kind of in-between, sorta-dressy version. Not fancy, but still polished, and definitely comfy. Like these cream Vince "pin-tuck" joggers, below. 

Vince pin-tuck joggers   

Or these slim, black linen joggers, also from Vince, on the right. So I put "maybe look for joggers" on my spring shopping wish list. 

        Vince black linen joggers   

And when I was shopping for jeans at Aritzia last month, I saw that they had several styles of "dressy" sweat pants. I grabbed a few pairs on my way to the dressing room, imagining (assuming) that this was only the beginning of my search.  

In the dressing room, I pulled on the first pair. Yep. Too short in the leg, too baggy in the bum and hips. Ickkk. Not the look I was going for.... but not surprising either. Then Ruth, the wonderfully energetic and thoroughly cheerful salesgirl who sold me my new Citizens of Humanity jeans, brought me another style. "Try these," she said. "They're much longer in the leg than the other styles." 

"Right," I laughed, "They're size six." She just grinned and, bowing to her greater knowledge of their products, I retreated to the dressing room. Still chuckling ... size six, not unless I was having a flashback would I even think about a size six ... I pulled them on. All the way on. They fit me. Perfectly. Ha. Well. I guess that shopping, like life, can still surprise me. 

These are my new "Harvey pants", below. They are joggers on the bottom but trousers on the top, with two slash pockets and pin-tucks at the waist. Oh dear, that young model looks...sad, doesn't she? And in dire need of some fresh air and sunshine, poor thing. And if size six fits me... well, do sizes go into negative numbers do you think?

Aritzia black Harvey pants

This is me in my new joggers, a white long-sleeved tee, my Paige jean jacket, and my Stuart Weiztman loafers. And a Burberry scarf that I love. 

          my new black Harvey pants from Aritzia, with Paige jean jacket and Stuart Weitzman loafers

The pants are slim through the hips and leg which I like. And the flat pleats in front totally disguise my middle age middle. "Oh, my gosh," I said to Ruth, "Where did it go??  I seriously LOVE these pants!" Even if they are a bit shorter than I would like, they look good with my loafers, or with flat sandals. And with my red Gap tee shirt.

my new black Harvey pants from Aritzia, with gap tee, Paige jean jacket and Stuart Weitzman loafers

So my new "Harvey" pants will be great for spring. But it's a Canadian spring, remember. I will need to layer my Michael Kors raincoat over my jean jacket. And add a light scarf as well. And I'm not too sure about baring my ankles for a while yet, either.

          my new black Harvey pants from Aritzia, with Paige jean jacket, and Michael Kors raincoat

I've pretty much finished my spring shopping now. But no fancy pants were purchased. And nothing flowy, or drapey, or swirling. Because I'm not really a flowy kind of girl.... am I? 

Or am I? 

I mean I could, maybe, try something flowy. I wouldn't want to think I'm in a fashion rut. Maybe a top to go with  my definitely NOT flowy joggers? Maybe a blouse that's not totally drapey and flowy, but with slightly softer lines?  Hmmm. Something to think about, eh?

And on that very Canadian note (eh?) .... this is a shot of the river in front of our house this morning. I see open water, and melting snow, and patches of bare grass. Spring has sprung. Hubby and I have donned our boots and are off for our walk. Hopefully the trail won't be too muddy. But who cares, really. It's sunny and 14 degrees..... and that's above zero!

www.highheelsinthewilderness.blogspot.com Rideau River in spring

How about you? Are you a fancy pants kind of person... or not? And has spring sprung where you live? 

This week I'm linking up with: Visible MondayManic MondayWhat I WoreStyle Me WednesdaysPassion for FashionFun Fashion FridayCasual Friday