Tuesday, 29 January 2019

When Is It Time to Say Good-Bye to Your Clothes?

One of my style resolutions this year, well every year actually, is to wear what I own. And if I don't, to make the ultimate decision to get rid of what I'm not wearing. 

Even though I have a small closet, wearing what I own is harder than it sounds. Especially if I've hit upon a kind of seasonal uniform. A formula that I find myself repeating over and over, reaching for the same kinds of pieces, if not the exact same pieces, because I like them, they look good together, and it's easier than dreaming up something new to wear. This year I seem to have fallen into a jeans, cashmere turtleneck, Uniqlo down jacket, and  scarf rut. Which is okay, I know. There's nothing wrong with a formula, or a self-styled uniform. It's just that in my style lethargy I'm ignoring other pieces that don't conform to the formula, pieces that I paid good money for, and which are languishing in my closet unworn. 

So... these unworn pieces... should they go or should they stay? And how do I decide? How does one decide when it's time to say good-bye to one's clothes? 

woman in brown boots and leather jacket, jeans and a navy sweater, holding a scarf and leaning against a wall.
Not ready to say good-bye to these Stuart Weitzman boots. No sirree. 
I've been thinking about that question ever since I wrote a post back in December assessing my wardrobe acquisitions for 2018, and Ann in Missouri commented that her "biggest challenge is ever letting go of anything." When it comes to those pieces which still speak to us, but which we seldom wear, "How does one say good-bye?" Ann asked. 

I know that the Marie Kondo preferred method is to dump all your clothes in a huge pile and then tackle the problem. But for me it's easiest to split up those decisions, making a few at a time. Taking one's medicine in small doses, so to speak. I do my main closet purge seasonally. When the spring and summer (or fall and winter) clothes come out from hiding, try everything on and make some decisions. Which pieces will get to have pride of place in my small closet and dresser that season?

First the garment has to still fit me. And fit my retired lifestyle. And I have to still love it. If it fits, and I still love it, and am excited to wear it this year, it goes in the "keep" pile. If it fits, and I'd love to wear it, if I had an occasion to wear it, it goes in the "maybe" or the "just in case" pile. I do not believe in the rule: "if you haven't worn it for a year, you'll never wear it again." That's way too hasty for me. There's always that one piece that I can't bear to part with, and which I just know in a couple of seasons I'll be happy to have hung onto. Like my navy Max Mara pant suit.

I keep my "maybe" pieces in a couple of garment bags in Hubby's closet. "Maybe" or "just in case" pieces have to be good quality, and still fit. Like a certain party dress that I stored because I knew I would wear it again. I bought my Lida Baday dress to wear to the summer wedding of my former student, and now good friend, Erica. It languished for a couple of years, and then last summer I wore it to the wedding of Hubby's cousin's daughter. I've hung onto this dress because the times when I need to wear a nice dress are few and far between. If I can save myself the trouble of shopping when I already own something I love, then the storage space it uses is well used, in my opinion. I mean, have you tried to shop for a dress lately? They are super hard to find. 

jackets and sweaters hanging in a closet
Of the 12 items shown here in my closet, only 5 were purchased in the past two years.
But what happens if the "just in case" pile gets overwhelming? I have a weakness for fall jackets and blazers. I have rarely met a tweed jacket that I did not want to have a meaningful relationship with. Blazers, jeans, and boots... have long been my favourite fall pieces. But the tweed-blazer-as-outer-wear season is very short, some years only a month, here in Canada. September is usually too hot for a jacket, and by November it's raining and even snowing. When I was still teaching, I wore my fall jackets all winter long. Not any more. They do not slip easily under a heavy winter coat, and are not comfortable unless I plan to take the coat off. 

Now, let's enumerate the occasions when I might go somewhere, take off my winter coat, and stay a while. To a party, when a wool blazer is too outdoorsy looking, and neither festive nor casual enough, depending on the party. To a friend's home for lunch or dinner or book club, when, in my blazer, I might look as if I'm at a business meeting, instead of lounging with a glass of wine and my feet tucked up under me. No, to my mind, wool and tweed jackets need boots and jeans and a loosely swathed scarf to make them look casual enough for my non-working lifestyle. And that means wearing them as outerwear. 

When my "just in case" pile gets too big, a mini-purge becomes necessary. I usually do culling like this in between seasons. To that end, I did a jacket purge late last fall, and sent three blazers from my "maybe" stash to be consigned. That still leaves three wool blazers hanging in my closet, all of them quite different in style, all old, all in great condition, all still capable of making my fashion heart go pitty pat. I'll no doubt only wear them during that short fall season, but since they are good quality and meet all my other "keep" requirements, I'm happy to give them closet space. Even if I might wear each of them only once or twice a season. 

woman in brown boots and leather jacket, jeans and a navy sweater, holding a scarf standing in front of a sofa
Breathing new life into this old leather jacket.
The one fall jacket that I'm determined to wear this winter is this Akris leather jacket, above. I'd been looking for two or three years for a light leather jacket when I found this one at Holt Renfrew in 2008. I loved (and still love) the slightly moto look, the chocolate brown colour, the buttery soft leather, the understated hardware. It's much more of an indoor jacket than my tweed ones, and slips easily under a coat. But it's short, and I haven't done short for a very long time. So to wear the jacket I need a dress (which I have been looking for) or a suitably loose, long sweater to fall below the hem of the jacket. The other day, when I wore my navy Uniqlo cashmere turtleneck with jeans, these old Stuart Weitzman suede boots, and my down coat, I remember thinking that I should slip on the leather jacket and see how it felt. 

And actually, it felt wonderful. I love the jacket with this double-faced, wool scarf that has navy and teal on one side, and soft brown animal-print on the other, and my brown suede boots. It makes me smile with satisfaction every year when I see that Stuart Weitzman has issued another version of his high suede boots. I love my boots. They are only appropriate on certain very cold winter days, when there's not too much slush and salty muck on the streets, but on those days I haul them out, feeling pleased with myself for having made the investment so many years ago. 

I see myself in this outfit sliding off my big down coat, stashing it in Liz's dressing room at Nordstrom, then roaming the store looking for that elusive dress, and finally coming back to meet Liz for lunch. Yep. This is exactly what I'll wear when we do that in a couple of weeks. When I attend a party later this week, at a bar, I'll wear this outfit then too. Unlike a house party where one has to shed one's boots and wear indoor shoes, a party in a bar will be the perfect occasion to wear my suede boots and leather jacket. In fact, I think I'll feel quite spiffy in this get up. 

 jeans and a navy sweater, holding a scarf standing in front of a sofa
Feeling quite spiffy in leather and suede.
Substituting my unworn leather jacket for my all-too-frequently-worn Uniqlo ultra-light down one is a good move. It's getting too cold for that light down jacket anyway. And I've thus justified the continued inclusion of this leather jacket in my closet. I won't be saying good-bye to this gem just yet. Although next year may be a whole different story. 

So, I've solved my own problem, but I haven't actually helped answer Ann's question. How do you say good-bye when a certain piece of clothing still calls out to you? 

Well, I have some thoughts on that subject, as you might have guessed.

If your closet is burgeoning, and you know you need to make a start, somehow, to whittle it down to manageable size, but you can't face doing your whole wardrobe in one go, why not start with one category of clothing? Do one season, like I do. Or just jackets. Or only jeans and tees. When you do start, be sure to try everything on. Everything. 

If a piece doesn't fit, is not in good condition, or doesn't suit your current lifestyle, then the answer should be obvious. Consign it or donate it. 

If you don't love it, do the same. 

If some pieces don't suit your current lifestyle, but your life is still in flux, I say hang onto them until things settle down. Making decisions while under stress seems like a recipe for regret. However, if you own a closet full of business wear, and have retired for good, then why not donate most of your suits and dress pants to Dress for Success or some similar organization? Keep one outfit... just in case. You don't have to get rid of everything at once. If you have, say, fifteen cashmere turtlenecks, and they all fit, but you rarely wear them because you've moved to a warmer climate, choose three that are your favourites to set aside for travel, and consign or donate the rest. 

But those pieces which you bought on impulse, but have never worn because they've never, ever worked with the rest of your wardrobe, be strict with those pieces, my friends. Give up, and get rid of them. And never, ever do that again. Do your research and shop with a list. I'm shaking my finger here. 

And if you don't have the courage or the energy to face making all these decisions alone, then call your sister (that's what my sister does), or a stylish friend who understands your style, bribe them with lunch and a glass of wine, and ask for their help. My sister and I had a wonderful afternoon when I helped her cull her closet. I was strict, though. Sometimes someone has to be bossy, even with someone's older sister. And when we were done, we both thought it had been worth the effort. 

It's a great feeling being able to see everything in your closet, loving each and every piece, and knowing that you could pull out anything and feel wonderful in it. No more guilt about unworn, unloved clothing. It's all gone to be loved by someone else. Conversely, no more fooling yourself that you don't need to go shopping because you have "so many clothes already." After my sister's closet purge the need to fill empty niches in her wardrobe became patently obvious. 

I know it's hard to say good-bye to formerly much loved pieces when your relationship has ended. But, as Hubby said to me when I was a little depressed about retiring and moaned, "I can't believe it's the end."... "Maybe you should look at it as a beginning, Suz." 

So I did. And you can too. A new beginning in the life of your closet.

And if you can't bear to never again see that too-small, beloved sweater you've had since university and haven't worn in five years (or ten), then take a picture of it. And keep a file titled... "Clothes to which I have had the courage to say good-bye." 

I love that last idea. It was Hubby's. He's learned so much about closet culling since he's been with me. He even instigated a cull of his sock and underwear drawer a few days ago. He was very strict, and we didn't even have to take any pictures. Ha. 

Now, I know we're all different, have different needs, different budgets, different closets... so let's hear what you have to say, my lovely readers. How do you say good-bye to formerly well-loved pieces in your closet? Or do you? You can tell us. 

 Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeThursday Favourite Things#ShareAllLinkup, Fabulous Friday.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Snow Pant "Chic"

Unless you live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, you probably missed the snow pants controversy last week. And even if you live here, you might have missed it. I almost did. 

Seems that Shannon Proudfoot, who writes for Maclean's magazine, started the whole debacle by tweeting that she thinks Ottawa is a great place to live, and doesn't deserve its bad rap for being "dorky and provincial". Except, she says, when she spies grown ups wearing "snow pants to work." 

That tweet unleashed a veritable storm of yeahs and nays with respect to the merit of wearing ski pants or snow pants when you're not skiing, or tobogganing, or rolling around on the school playground, but are in fact navigating the streets of cold, snowy Ottawa on your way to work. 

woman wearing ski pants, jacket, toque, and face mask near Lac Morency, Quebec, winter 2015
Not on my way to work in Lac Morency, Quebec 2015.
Let's be fair to the snow pants wearers, Ms. Proudfoot was talking about commuters wearing the dorky apparel while on their way to work, on the bus (and one presumes on the sidewalk after they get off the bus), not while actually AT work. Wearing snow pants at work, well, that would be dorky. 

I had to laugh at the vehemence of some of the replies on Twitter. The debate, the quippy rejoinders, the commiserating, even. There were lots of  defenders of dressing appropriately in what has recently been declared the world's coldest capital city. Wearing snow pants makes the time spent waiting for your bus, or the time spent navigating slippery sidewalks, snow banks, and salty slush-puddles after you get off your bus, more bearable. One reply went so far as to say that snow pants are part of Ottawa's winter heritage, like skating to work on the canal. A couple of people even sidetracked the conversation by complaining about women wearing running shoes with skirts, or socks with sandals. One wonders where they've been the last couple of years, style-wise. Ha. 

These two replies were my favourites:

Snow pants may be dorky but they R warm & practical! Also the BEST part of being an adult is finally being ok with being dorky, wearing whatever you want and not trying to fit into someone else's definition of "cool"! Prime time for snow pants!

Just Kathleen @KitKat70169329
I wore snow pants on the bus in Ottawa! Not cool ski pants, dorky snow pants. I was embarrassed for 5 seconds the first time then I saw a woman rocking a 70's one piece, red ski suit. Carrying a briefcase. Fantastic.

I love those two comments. 

woman in rain pants and jacket in front of a historic bridge near Richmond, Tasmania
Dorky maybe, but also warm and dry in Tasmania 2003
All this discussion of appropriate cold weather wear started me thinking of the times I've happily worn dorky outfits. Hubby does not believe that we should let weather stop us from doing what we want to do, within reason, of course. So when we travelled to Australia and New Zealand in 2003, we packed our heavy hiking boots, our canoeing rain gear, and our ski long-underwear. And we were glad we did. In Tasmania, above, we encountered lots and lots of rain, and cool temperatures. I pulled on my ski underwear, then my jeans, and then even resorted to wearing my Gortex ski pants over that. When you're out in the weather all day, it's amazing how cold 15°C can be. 

We did the same in Yorkshire and Scotland in July of 2005. Even though the UK was having a record hot summer, we packed for every weather eventuality. I have a shot of me under an angry sky, on windy Top Withens, near the home of the Brontë sisters in Haworth. I'm grinning broadly, my hair standing on end, my fleece top and Gortex jacket and pants flapping. It was frigging cold... but I was in Brontë country, and I was NOT going to miss any of it because of a little weather. And when we were hiking on the Orkney Islands two weeks later, we were very glad of our rain gear. Very glad. 

And as you can see, below, not all of my dorky outfits have been worn in cold climates. This is a shot of a walk we took in Costa Rica in 2013. Good thing my pants and tee were quick drying even if the jacket wasn't. And in our little cabin in Santa Elena, up in the cloud forest a few days later, we were very glad of our long underwear. The wind at night roaring over the continental divide sounded amazing, like a pounding ocean surf, but it was also pretty darned chilly. We laughed, then, at how I'd scoffed when we'd tossed our ski underwear into our suitcase at the last minute. "Like we'll need it in Costa Rica," I'd chortled. "Best to go prepared for any weather eventuality," Hubby had intoned. And of course he was right. Again.

woman in wet pants and jacket on a trail through the rainforest, Costa Rica
Wet walking in Costa Rica 2013
So I was pretty entertained by all the recent palaver over ski pants. All the rolling of eyes at the dorky, terribly uncool, but warmly clad people, and all the counter rolling of eyes at the silly, chilly, but oh-so-cool snow pant naysayers. Where else do snow pants cause a controversy? Seriously, this could be one of those "Meanwhile in Canada" Facebook memes. 

You can read the Maclean's article which put me onto the whole story here, if you're interested. 

And if you're up for it, you can read this article in the National Post. That is, if you think you can get through it without rolling your eyes in exasperation. I know I couldn't. The writer energetically agrees with Ms. Proudfoot's original tweet, and then goes on to list what she calls "winter wear abominations." Sigh. 

When I read it, I initially thought, "Maybe the young writer should be packed off on a trip to South America with Hubby, and try to get by wearing only chic and fashionable outfits." 

Then I remembered my very first trip to Algonquin Park back in the day, and the look Hubby gave me when I asked him if I should bring my blow dryer. 

Ha. How I've grown since then, my friends! 

Now, when I stroll a fashionable, but rain soaked and chilly foreign town with Hubby, happy and warm in my dorky, Gortex pants, I always hold this thought in my mind: "My other pants are uber chic, and they're leather." :)

man and woman in winter jackets and hats standing in front of snowy background mountains.
North Carolina 2016 when we were very glad of our emergency toques and gloves.

Now it's your turn my friends. Have you ever been happy to be warmly clad, even if you did look dorky? 

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeThursday Favourite Things#ShareAllLinkup.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Desperately Seeking Susan's Blog Identity

These past few days while many of you have been braving the elements to go to work, or play, or to run errands, wrapping yourself in fifteen layers of wool and fleece, and coaxing reluctant cars to start, I've been nestled in my den in my sweatpants and slippers, with a mini-heater at my feet, and a cup of hot tea at my elbow banging my head against a metaphorical brick wall. 

I've been engaged in trying to write a "tagline" for my blog. That's the phrase or sentence which can be found under the blog title or logo and which should explain what my blog is about in one sentence, or less. Preferably less. 

And as you know if you've been around here before, when it comes to words, "less" is really hard for me. Actually when it comes to words, that should be fewer. Fewer words are very, very hard for me. 

one year old child with one hand in a birthday cake and another in her mouth, circa 1957
Let's call the whole thing off and have cake.
The whole thing started when I decided to make big changes to my blog. As part of the process of choosing a new look, I tried to explain via e-mail to Brandon, the very patient tech guy recommended by Brenda over at 1010 Park Place, what my blog is all about. And, as a result, how I want it to look. 

Here's some of what I said to him:

      I write about a wide variety of topics from books to travel to shopping. My writing style is informal, and quite jokey. I see myself as a storyteller, primarily, with pictures. Mostly I write funny stories (or try to) about me navigating my life and my wardrobe etc., and hope that readers gain some insight into their own while I'm at it.
     To that end, while I want a blog look that is up-to-date, I don't want anything too glitzy.I take lots of shots of myself, as most bloggers do, but I am NOT a fashion model and feel that trying to look as if I am would be ridiculous. I want the blog to reflect a modern, but not super-edgy aesthetic. I want the look to be clean, kind of spare without too much clutter, but still warm ... if that makes any kind of sense. In short I don't want it  to look as if I'm trying to be something I'm not. I think that's why my regular readers like my blog.

Okay. Writing that started me thinking. I've always thought the title of my blog expresses something important about me, and the two quite different parts of my identity. My "two solitudes", if you'll excuse the Canadian literary pun. And since the title does need some explanation, I've tried to explain it in my "about" page. 

woman in orange cabby hat, orange scarf, and hounds-tooth plaid jacket
My Artful Dodger look did not pass muster as a profile shot.
But how does one boil down all that information into a decent tagline? According to several articles I read, a good tagline should "refine" the topic of the blog, "include the reader", and "show the blogger's personality." Hmm. My current tagline sets out the topics (fashion, books, travel, and life after fifty), includes the reader in a way by mentioning "after fifty." But it gives no sense of me, as a blogger. I thought it was catchy when I wrote it, but now I just think it's lame. It's too fussy sounding. "Maybe I should add in a swear word," I quipped to Hubby when I read it to him the other day. 

Hubby and I have had several conversations in the past couple of days about my endeavour to write this darned thing. And I've been immersed in reading pretty much every single tagline on every blog I know as inspiration. And making lists of words, ideas, and phrases in my journal. 

What I wrote to Brandon about "navigating my life, and my wardrobe" kept coming back to me. "Sharing a journey" is a partial one that I couldn't make work. "Blathering on about fashion, books, travel, and life in the country" is an early, not really serious attempt. "Country girl loves fashion, reads books, travels" is another. I read that to Hubby, and he said, "You're not a country girl." "I am so," I countered. Then, after I thought about it, I said, "You're right. 'Country girl' might make people look for posts like: 'Today I fed the chickens."' "Ha. Not if they know you!" he guffawed. Me and chickens, people, there's a history there. But never mind that now.

Doing all this has reminded me of our staff writing a mission statement back when our school first opened in 1999. Lots of people, including me, initially thought this was just a lot of palaver over nothing. But when we got into it, we found it a really useful exercise. Defining who we thought we were as a school, what our goals were, our values, our hopes for our students forced us to think about ourselves and our own values as teachers and administrators, and even helped us to bond as a staff. 

woman carrying a fishing rod, walking on top of a beaver dam, somewhere in the Ottawa Valley in the 1980's
If I'd been wearing high heels, this shot would have said it all.
At one point, as I was tossing words and phrases at Hubby and interrupting his football game on Sunday, I said, "I need a committee!" And then it occurred to me. I have a committee, you guys. 

So, I'm desperately seeking your opinion, my friends, about Susan's blog identity, so to speak. And to that end, I'm going to ask you some questions. Questions which I wrote answers to when I started the process. Some of them helped me to focus my thinking, but others I couldn't answer, because, well, I didn't really know the answers. 

Why do you think my blog exists?
Why do you subscribe to/read High Heels in the Wilderness?  
What makes my blog different, if in fact it is?
What do you think my blog is about? 

Or you could just list a couple or three words that you feel describes my blog. 

Do not be kind. Be honest.  

And if you'd rather not respond, that's okay too. That's always okay. 

Now, enough "refining my thinking" for the present. I'd better go and make dinner. Don't laugh. I do that every once in a while. 

Let's hear what you have to say. 

Linking up with:  #ShareEverything over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Leather Pants Redux. Again and Again.

I have a small wardrobe. Made up of quality pieces I love, plus a few cheaper items which go so well with the quality pieces that I couldn't resist them. I regularly edit out what I know I'll not wear anymore, clothes that no longer fit my body or my lifestyle. Only those items which can make me sigh and say, "Yep, I've still got it." get to live in my closet. I am seriously strict about that. Mostly because, at my age, I can't afford to be soft on clothes that don't make me feel good. 

One item in my closet that always makes me feel good is this pair of leather pants. I bought them back in the fall of 2013, and ever since I've been doing a leather pants redux, over and over, year after year.

woman in black leather pants, black tee with bell sleeves, and black boots. Standing with arms folded
Like the top, love the pants and boots, still musing if I want to wear them all together.
I bought my pants at Holt Renfrew, Canada's version of Barney's or Harvey Nichols. I used to love to shop at Holts, especially since, besides the expensive designer stuff, they sold a great selection of quality pieces under their own label. Well-made pieces that didn't break the bank, like my leather pants. To be perfectly "transparent" these pants are not real leather; the label says "made in Canada from quality Italian vegan leather." I think that's what we used to call "pleather" back in the day. But my pants feel and look like the real thing. They have a soft lining, and are neither too stretchy, nor too shiny. They have pockets in the back and front and look like real pants with a fly, but they just pull on. They have a straight leg, and a slightly moto vibe with a seam across the legs under the knee. And... they are NOT leggings. Perish the thought. I like leggings, just not in leather. 

woman in black leather pants, charcoal turtleneck, plaid scarf and black boots
2019 leather pants redux, with a Theory cashmere sweater and a Burberry scarf.
So, I've hauled these pants out of storage every fall since 2013, tried them on, and decided that since they still make me feel good, I'll keep them another year. 

I don't know how you define clothes that make you feel good, but for me that means the tops and jackets and pants which cover up (or skim over) the lumps and bumps that have appeared over the years despite the fact that I eat a healthy diet and exercise religiously. At the same time they flatter my frame, don't add too much bulk to my upper half since I'm top heavy enough as it is, yet don't hide those bits with which I'm quite happy. All that plus the fact that they can make me sigh and say, "Yep. I've still got it." Whatever 'it' may be. Ha. 

woman in black leather pants, black ankle boots, charcoal turtleneck, black and grey animal print scarf, and white down jacket
Look du jour. Theory cashmere turtleneck, Michael Kors scarf, and Uniqlo jacket.
When it comes to pants, or trousers, and jeans, I like a slim leg and a high waist. I love a nice cropped pant for spring, summer, and fall. For winter I like full-length, skinny or straight-leg pants since they look so good with boots. Even though they're a wardrobe basic, black straight-leg pants can be a bit... well... boring. On the other hand, black leather straight-leg pants, my friends, are not boring at all. Plus I love how they go with almost everything I own. I've worn these pants with my blue Smythe blazer back in 2013, and my black quilted Lafayette jacket and a loose Vince tee last year, with cashmere turtlenecks, ruffled silk blouses, and vintage berets. 

woman wearing black leather pants eight ways.
Leather pants looks over the years.
This year, I'm liking my leather pants with my charcoal Theory turtleneck, either my plaid Burberry scarf or a Michael Kors grey and black animal-print scarf, and my, now ubiquitous, off-white down jacket from Uniqlo. 

I know I could try to up my fashion game and wear my leather pants with sky-high heels. (In a Canadian winter? Really?) Or with my bulky sweater tucked in. (Ha. Not in this life, people!) I guess I could try them with more "directional" jackets. I read that word all the time in fashion mags and according to this source it means a weird new style that may possibly be the direction fashion will take sooner or later. (I'll pass on that, thanks.) I may decide to hem my pants since they seem to be pooling a bit over my boots, but other than that extra inch of length, I'm happy with them as they are. And I'm happy to wear them with turtleneck sweaters (untucked), long-sleeved tees, or silk blouses and blazers, and low-heeled loafers or chunky ankle boots, conservative though these looks may be. 

woman in black leather pants, black ankle boots, charcoal turtleneck, black and grey animal print scarf, and white down jacket
This look is so me. Casual, comfortable, with a bit of edge. 
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't need to go all kooky or wear outfits in which I am decidedly uncomfortable in order to feel current. I think there are certain pieces, like my leather pants, that have style longevity. And as long as they still fit, and make me feel good, I'll keep on restyling them again and again, year after year

That is until I look in the mirror one day and gasp: "Uh oh. Not feeling 'it' anymore." Whatever 'it' is. Then those pants are gone quicker that you can say "consignment store." I am vicious with clothes that make me feel bad... puffy, or frumpy, or past my sell-by date. At my age I can't afford to fool around with wardrobe pieces that don't do me any favours.

woman in black leather pants, black ankle boots, charcoal turtleneck, black and grey animal print scarf, and white down jacket
Still feeling fierce in my leather pants ... for now.
For the sake of interest, I've searched off and on all day for leather and faux leather pants on-line, pants which I like and think I'd wear. And it seems quality, not too shiny, nor too stretchy leather pants which are NOT leggings are not easy to find. Which is strange, when I think about it, because MatchesFashion.com says they are once again one of the top ten wardrobe essentials of the season. Of course if you want to pay a premium price they have some lovely leather trousers on the Matches Fashion website. You can find them here. And Stella McCartney has a great-looking pair of cropped, faux leather trousers on the Harvey Nichols site which you can find here. Nordstrom has genuine leather trousers and leggings here, as well as faux leather pants. But my goodness, sometimes I can't believe how poorly Nordstrom merchandises the clothing on their site. I'd not buy anything from them on-line if I didn't already know the style and fit. 

All of which makes me grateful that I bought my leather pants way back in 2013. They have done yeoman service all these years. And I still love them. With a yearly redux, they can still make me feel current, and a little bit edgy. One might even say fierce... at least for now. 

P.S. The comment "I've still got it," is an inside joke that started one year when Hubby and I were on a ski trip and, in the bar after dinner, I encountered a very inebriated young man who seemed to take a shine to me. You can read that story here.  

Now, let's hear from you my friends. Do you have pieces in your closet that work for you year after year? 

          Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeThursday Favourite Things#ShareAllLinkup.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Kindness, Civility, and a Little Respect

It's January. For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, that means winter. And for those of us who live in the north of the northern hemisphere, that means lots of darkness, and cold, and whatever precipitation our changing climate wants to throw at us. Winter can be tough, even for those of us who mostly like winter, and who try to get outside as much as we can, believing that getting out in the weather, whatever that weather is, is good for us. 

But when the weather really sucks, it's dark by mid-afternoon, the snow is blowing sideways, and there's no skiing, or walking, or even driving, unless totally necessary... you know what can make those days even more difficult? Crabby, snappy, short-tempered people, that's what. Rude people who think that rules and signs aren't for them. Selfish people who think that their needs are paramount, their opinion the only one that matters, and their time much too valuable to stand in line... like the rest of us. I could go on, but I won't.  

Blowing snow across an icy country road in New Brunswick
#iceroadcommute by Krista Burpee-Buell
It seems everywhere we look these days there is more and more rudeness and incivility, and less and less kindness and respectful behaviour. Psychologists say that rude and uncivil behaviour is contagiousthat exposure to rudeness and insults lowers our capacity for impulse control, and we are more likely to strike back, or pass the behaviour on to other people, making the behaviour, in fact, contagious. Experts also say that the disrespectful behaviour of those in power gives those without power the license to behave the same way, and the bad behaviour is repeated. It's called modelling. Add to that the opportunity for the bad actor to distance themselves from their behaviour by making these comments on-line, and we probably are in full-on epidemic mode. An epidemic of behaviour that, if we were five years old, would be punishable by being sent to our room, or at the very least given a time-out on the naughty step

But the good news is that the opposite behaviour is just as contagious. Kindness, respectful treatment of others, civil tones, and politeness are just as catching as bad behaviour. And... and we're not only being helpful to those to whom we extend kindness, we're also helping ourselves. Apparently extending kindness makes us healthier, happier, and is even reputed to slow the aging process. Doing good elevates our dopamine levels, creating what psychologists call a "helper's high." According to Dr. David Hamilton, PhD in Organic Chemistry, acts of kindness create a feeling of "emotional warmth" in us, which produces a hormone called oxytocin in our bodies, which in turn releases nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and can lower blood pressure. Oxytocin also reduces the levels of free radicals and inflammation in our cardiovascular system. So being kind to others is the same as being kind to ourselves. Win, win. 

I read a post on Instagram the other day, which resonated with me. A woman described how she had answered her door that morning to a couple of missionaries from one religion or another, it doesn't matter which one. She said she told them "religion wasn't her thing," and afterward they chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. When the couple left, the female missionary turned back, smiled, and thanked her for her kindness. For presumably NOT slamming the door in their faces, as a room mate once advised me to do when an elderly lady came to our door delivering copies of "The Watchtower." The Instagrammer said that the lady's smile had stayed with her all day. I love that story. 

You know, when you think about it there are people all over who are being kind. Just going about their day being civil, and patient, and respectful. Just before Christmas I bought a new car. I did my research thoroughly; I knew what I wanted, and eventually narrowed my choices down to two different vehicles. Then I test-drove each of them at least three times. Back and forth Hubby and I went between the two dealerships. I can't tell you how patient both of the salesmen were with me. I smile when I think of all the chit chat on those test-drives between Hubby in the passenger seat and one or the other of those salesmen in the back. One is a fairly recent immigrant to Canada; Hubby knew his whole story before we were through. The other is a young man who'd attended the school where I taught; he and Hubby traded hockey stories while I focused on the driving. When I finally made my choice, I texted the salesman at the other dealership that I was sorry, but we'd decided to go with his competitor. He responded: "No worries. Congratulations on your new car." What a lovely response, eh? I have both their business cards in my wallet. If you need a trustworthy, polite, and patient car salesman, just let me know. 

Winter scene in Kingsclear, New Brunswick. White farmhouse, surrounded by snow, with sunset behind
Evening commute through Kingsclear, New Brunswick by Krista Burpee-Buell
Winter can be beautiful. It can also be hell. The winter shots in this post were taken by my niece Krista who lives outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Snowfall after snowfall, plus high winds blowing snow across farm fields and then across country roads can make her rural commute treacherous. Krista's pictures remind me of my own morning commute over the years. Of snowstorms, black ice, and traffic jams. I'd be swathed in a scarf and a heavy down coat, the car's heater on overdrive to de-ice the windshield, and the usual forty minute drive taking an hour and a half. All the while I'd be stressing that I'd be late and thirty grade nines would run rampant without a teacher while I sat in traffic. Just thinking of that makes me glad I'm retired. 

And you know, since winter can be so stressful on its own, maybe we all need to be extra polite, a bit more patient, and a little more kind to each other. 

Consider the girl who works a fast-food drive-through window near you, who has to take payment and hand out hot food and coffee all the while freezing her butt off. Maybe we need to be a bit more cheery to her next time. Ask her how she's handling the cold. Tell her that she's doing a great job. Or the pharmacist at a local drugstore who, when you take a second to look more closely, appears to be all on her own, handling doctor phone calls, dispensing prescription medication, coming out from behind the counter to help an elderly customer choose a cough syrup, then giving you your flu shot. Maybe you need to tell her not to rush, you know she's busy, you know she's doing her best. 

Maybe we all need to be sure that we're not one of those crabby, snappy, selfish, "I'm the only one who matters" people who make winter seem colder and longer. Maybe as well as a flu shot, we need a vaccine for rude, selfish behaviour, to stop the spread of the contagion. 

Or we could just try to be kind. For everyone's sake. Even our own. 

Have a look at this clip from one of my all time favourite television shows. Frasier gives a lesson in civility. Gosh I miss that show. 

Now how about you my friends? Any stories of small acts of kindness you want to share? Go ahead... make us all feel a little warmer. 

Linking up with:  #ShareEverything over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Mystery Lovers Anonymous

Remember the good old days? When P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill, or Colin Dexter published a new mystery novel, and you'd rush to the book store to buy it, or put yourself on a very long list at the library? Then once you had the book in your hot little hands, you'd scurry home with your treasure tucked under your arm, perhaps you called ahead to tell Hubby to put the kettle on because you didn't want to waste a minute before you hunkered down with a cup of tea and this latest masterpiece? 

Okay, the part about calling Hubby is a bit of an exaggeration. Still, you get my point. I miss the day when all of the mystery writers I most admire were still writing, and publishing regularly. I miss those halcyon days when I knew that after the skiing on a wintry Sunday afternoon, I could look forward to a cup of tea, a fire in the fireplace, and a great mystery novel.

shelf of mystery novels including Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill, and P.D.James
Some old timey mysteries on my shelf
Don't get me wrong, there are still great mystery writers out there, and I wait impatiently for each of them to publish their next book. Elizabeth George's umpteenth Inspector Lynley for instance came out last year. Now there's a great, old-timey mystery: well written, with recurring characters I love, and a plot that really hangs together and doesn't do anything ridiculous in the last fifty pages. I need all of those things to consider a book a really great mystery. 

And writers like Ann Cleeves, Tana French, or Peter Robinson rarely disappoint. Similarly, Denise Mina's dark, edgy novels set in Glasgow, or Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway novels, and Jim Kelly's Shaw and Valentine books, set in Norfolk. I'm a sucker for an evocative setting. Last year I discovered Susie Steiner about whom I wrote a rather effusive post. Then there are writers who write both mystery and literary fiction. Like Kate Atkinson whose first foray into the spy genre, Transcription, I finished a few weeks ago. Or Susan Hill who writes the Simon Serrailler series, and also has several stand alone books. I love all of these writers; I always pour a cup of tea, and find myself a comfy spot to burrow down for a good, long read whenever I get my hands on one of their books. 

But it's not enough, people. 

Even though Kate Atkinson, Denise Mina, and Elly Griffiths all have new books out, or coming out this year, it's still not enough. Why when it appears as if there are so many wonderful writers writing wonderful mystery novels am I still searching for something to read? 

cover art for new books by Kate Atkinson, Denise Mina, and Elly Griffiths
Can't wait to read these books by some of my favourite writers.
Maybe I'm reading more. I probably am, now that I don't have to spend my evenings reading and marking student work. Even on those nights when I work late on the blog, I read before I go to bed, unlike when I was still teaching. So I consume more books, I guess. 

But that isn't the whole story. These days, I find myself discovering and casting aside many more writers than I used to do. I loved Scottish writer Stuart McBride for a time, until his plots became crazy violent, and sometimes just plain crazy. Same with S.J. Bolton, whose writing I initially liked and then became exasperated with as her plots began to verge on the ridiculous. Peter May's latest stand-alone was disappointing, the plot down-right silly at the end. Even Hubby felt like tossing it, and he's way more tolerant for authorial weakness than I am. Lately I find Val McDermid's recurring character Dr. Tony Hill just plain annoying, and Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus slightly exasperating, and a bit boring. Both Hubby and I have enjoyed Peter Lovesey's Inspector Diamond series, though. We powered through all fourteen of those, even though some of them are a bit uneven, and definitely not up to P.D. James or Kate Atkinson standards. 

So what's a mystery lover to do when there are not enough great books to satiate the hunger for them? Well, go on a big book hunt, that's what. 

remember back when I was younger, and had a lot less reading under my belt, I'd sometimes discover a new-to-me mystery writer whose work I loved, and who had a huge back-list of books that I could then relish. That was awesome. So I began my hunt by looking for writers who had been around a while, but were new to me. Or about whom I had forgotten. 

Writers like W.J. Burley who wrote the Wycliffe series set in Cornwall. Hubby and I used to love those quiet and competently written novels. So I bought a couple of titles which had been reissued, and then I went on the search for the whole list. I've read three or four in the past few weeks, most on my Kindle. It's Burley's tone, and his superbly restrained style which I love the most. I even started calling him the Barbara Pym of mystery writers, but that comment was lost on Hubby. Ha.

Based on the recommendation of Frances of Materfamilias Writes, I ordered the first novel in a series of books by Michael Robotham. I loved The Suspect right away, then I became a little exasperated at the main character and kept yelling at him in my head. But I persisted, and I'm glad I did because now I'm loving it again. I'll bet Frances just heaved a big sigh of relief there. Ha. I always feel the same when I speak highly of a book that someone then reads. As if by recommending it we become responsible for the reader's enjoyment. 

books by Jane Casey, William Boyle, and Laura Lippman
Fresh from the library.
I subscribe to a newsletter called "The Crime Lady" written by Sarah Weinman, a former student of mine. She always publishes her "best of" list at the end of the year, and I always pay attention to it. I discovered Laura Lippman five or six years ago from one of Sarah's lists. Her tastes don't always align with mine; as she says herself, she likes her crime fiction "a little weird, a lot bold, and plenty off-kilter." Still, she knows her stuff. And I can filter out the titles that are too off-kilter for me. So I ordered a few of her suggestions from the library: the latest Laura Lippman, and one by a writer called William Boyle, who is new to me. I ordered Boyle's first novel. I hope I like it because he has several others available. Based on Sarah's review, I also ordered a book called Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht. I'll let you know how I get on with these. 

If I couldn't get new mystery novels from favourite writers, I thought I might explore others works of theirs. I decided to try some of Susan Hill's non-Serrailler books. Mrs. De Winter, which she wrote way back in the nineties and is the follow-up to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, is wonderful. I devoured it. Hill definitely knows her du Maurier. Even the style she adopts in her writing is evocative of du Maurier. I also discovered that mystery writer Minette Walters, a big favourite back in the day when she was writing the likes of The Sculptress or The Shape of Snakes, has a new book on the shelves at the library. The Last Hours is not a mystery, but historical fiction set in England in the era of the Black Plague. I found it gripping. And I was tickled to see that it's the first in a trilogy, with the second book, The Turn of Midnight, coming out this year. 

I think my research has proven fruitful. The other day, I found an on-line journal called Crime Reads, and I subscribed to their weekly newsletter. It's pretty interesting with links to articles about all kinds of mysteries and crime novels, new and old. Like this one about "cosy bookstore mysteries." I like some of the "cosy" genre, as long as they are not too cosy, or "twee" as some of you Brits might say. Plus I've stumbled upon a couple of older writers whose back-lists I've yet to explore. I'll let you know if they pan out.  

I may not be able to bring back the halcyon days of P.D. James, and Colin Dexter, and my beloved Reginald Hill, but I think I've found enough books that I may be able to last the winter reading-wise. Hopefully. I admit that I'm addicted to mystery novels. I love to read a whole lot of different books, with the exception of horror and science fiction. But mysteries are my passion, my not so secret addiction. 

And, you know, I've been thinking... we should start a club. Mystery Lovers Anonymous. 

I'll go first. My name is Sue, and I am powerless in the face of my need to consume mystery novels. I cannot curb my appetite for murder and mayhem. 

Maybe I should blame my grandmother Sullivan who got me started on Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen back when I was a kid. Maybe that's why I'm addicted. I don't know, it's a mystery.  

I love that line. Hubby and I use it all the time. I cannot believe that it's been twenty-one years since Shakespeare in Love, with the wonderful Geoffrey Rush as Henslowe. 

Now, speaking of books, I'm off to book club in a few minutes, and I haven't read the book. I know, I know. Bad book club member. I've just been too darned busy searching for good mysteries to do my assigned reading. 

Hope I don't get in trouble. 

What about you folks? Are you addicted to books of a particular genre? Care to join Mystery Lovers Anonymous?

Linking up with:  #ShareEverything over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Time for Change. And I'm Not Talking About My Hair.

You might already know this, but I think of my hair as a metaphor for my life. Seriously, I do. 

Let me explain.

Back when I was a little kid, my mum struggled with my long, thick hair. She scraped it back from my face, gathered it into a tight ponytail, cut my bangs short, and in that way subdued the mop. At age nine, I had my pony tail cut off, my natural curl manifested itself big time, and my mum threw in the towel, and the hairbrush. I've been fighting my hair battles on my own ever since. 

We all have to learn to to fight our own battles, follicular or otherwise. Right? 

Over the years my hair battles mirrored my struggles in life. Struggles with my rampant perfectionism, my need to be in control, my youthful lack of confidence and the need to look good, and thus feel better about myself. Looking back, I see that I was constantly seeking change, the perfect style, the perfect colour, and the perfect cut, often one that was totally inappropriate for me and for my hair. It's as if I was searching for my identity through my hair. Ha. 

nine shots of a woman from age 6 to 60 with ever changing hairstyles
Reeling in the years, all the 'dos from age 6 to 60.