Apfel vs. Kondo: More and less

I left the screening of the documentary, "Iris" (directed by the late Albert Maysles) with mixed feelings. Mrs. Apfel is a direct, charming, iron-fist-in-heavily-embroidered-velvet-glove, blessed with a fearless and diverse talent for adornment. She owns a staggering amount of clothing and accessories, and is shown acquiring ever more, even as she tours a storage facility and murmurs, "I must do something about this."

Buying more and more is a way of denying our mortality, and I am not referring only to octogenarians like Apfel. If there is always more to chase, acquire, and cram into already overflowing homes, we can pretend there is also always more time. It's as if the possessions were magical talismans, promising an endless path strewn with baubles.

Around the same time, I watched an episode of "Hoarders"; the differentiating characteristics between the two inveterate collectors were price point and public acceptance of the habit. The Apfel's apartment, cluttered with permanent holiday decor and stuffed animals, was uncannily like one "Hoarders" woman's, but the Apfels have a doorman.

Have you read Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"? Several friends have adopted her KonMari method for simplifying, organizing and storing. Kondo starts from the question, What would an uncluttered living space do for you? (Apfel would likely retort, "Sweet f-all.")

Should you find that future compelling, Kondo prescribes several clear steps: Beginning with clothes (but eventually dealing with everything), reduce your number of belongings, keeping only things that "spark joy". Divest everything not fulfilling the criterion, and devise a specific storage place for what is left.

Folding, Kondo-style 

There is more; she is a master of folding; if you adopt her methods, you will feel as if you live at Muji.

But what about the chipped mug that your roommates gave you that summer you waitressed at a resort hotel? Your friend's Manolos that didn't fit her, so she gave them to you, except they don't fit you either, but you loved her gesture? Before they leave, photograph these objects and slip a print into your journal or add the shots to your screensavers.

I wondered, gifted with an eclectic eye like Iris Apfel's, does one inevitably become a magpie? ("More is more, and less is a bore", she says.) Could you deck yourself in enough jewelry to stock a shop, then throw on a '70s couture brocade coat and a big fur vest—and move around in comfort for a full day?

She is remarkable, and knows it. For the rest of us, Iris advises, "If your hair is done properly and you're wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything."

Even a Kondo closet?

Retirement: Navigating a few shoals

Ta-DA! The winner of the draw for "Annunciation" is Mary. (Hail, Mary!) Mary, please use my e-mail in the Welcome section in the right sidebar to send me your postal address. The publisher will send your copy at the end of the month. Thank you so much, all who entered; I was heartened by your generous support for this book.

I recently read an article titled something like "Seven Mistakes to Avoid in Retirement". The list was what you'd expect: failing to track your budget; overspending on adult kids and travel (tip: travel off-peak); failing to downsize one's home; not attending to one's estate and end of life wishes; and several financial errors related to pensions or tax. Check, check, sigh and check.

But the list was written by a financial planner, so it omitted some of the less-tangible mistakes, which I would not call "mistakes" so much as pitfalls. We can do them unconsciously and I have fallen into every one—and I didn't need to retire, either; some crept in as I passed 50 or 55.

So,  my expansion of his list is below, and most do not pertain solely to retirement.

1. Letting appearance slide, without noticing
The parched cuticles, shoes that could use a polish, glasses that need adjustment (either that, or my head's on crooked), a smudged tote bag that I'm carrying till I can find another I really like: the lack of attention to such details forms my Schlubby Senior persona. (Stay-at-home moms and home-based workers report the same tendency, if that's any comfort.)

Deja Pseu wrote a typically well-illustrated post about the importance of creating "a cohesive and and pleasing whole", titled "Dress up, everyday". That's easy for me when everything's in good nick, but it's psychologically harder to spend money having my backpack zipper replaced  than buying a new pair of cashmere wristwarmers. But I remind myself that the maintenance is important. And, at 67, I cannot wear "distressed" anything, it just looks like neglect.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and say, Come on, make an effort. I remember boxing my mother's effects after her death at 99;  among the last clothes she wore, I found a lipstick in a jacket pocket.

I realize how much work kept me pulled together, and how living without that scrutiny leads to unwitting inattention. Does it matter? I definitely feel more cheerful and energetic when groomed.

2. "I know what I like and I like what I know."
A 60-ish acquaintance said this recently, as she screwed up her nose drinking her first espresso when visiting us. (Does not live on Mars, just central Florida.) As we age, I notice that when we close off the world, we lose touch with life's nuance and richness. Another friend nailed just what I'd noticed when she called someone "incurious".

In an online age, there's no excuse for this narrowing. We can expose ourselves to new ideas, broader cultures, different perspectives, without leaving our homes.

On the other end of that continuum, I recently met a delightful reader who asked if I'd like to have coffee while she was in Montréal; she was en route to interviewing a jewelry designer, for a prospective newspaper article. She's dipping her toe into a new career, full of brio and slightly stunned that a chance encounter had yielded the interview. At the very least, she will have fun and rekindle skills she has not used for a time. She had pranced over the pitfall.

3. Getting weird about money
There will always be help that your kids, niece or neighbours can use, causes which you support, the bike or car that needs new brakes. But the price of a pedi when your feet feel like they've been stuccoed is not going to wreck your old-age security. Permit yourself. Then you can do some good and not be a martyr about it.

(Why don't they offer Pay It Forward at nail salons? Plenty of women coping with hard times could use an eyebrow shaping or manicure.)

A friend lost his sister. He immediately bought a new car, booked a huge trip to Asia, and contracted for a major reno to his home. His girlfriend realized his spending was a grief reaction, and gently initiated several talks about what was going on. Yes, he has the means, but she was worried about the frenzied approach. 

Between grim self-denial and a YOLO spree, there's ample, satisfying middle ground; the art is settling into that place while the insistent drumbeat of consumption threatens to drown out discernment.

As I've said in other posts, the financial picture for older women is often dire, especially for those on their own.  I hope each of us who cares draws inspiration from Gloria Steinem, who at 80 is still deeply engaged in her work for equality. (I recommend Jane Kramer's recent New Yorker profile of Steinem, "Road Warrior", published here.) Glory to Gloria, who changed my life when I idly picked up that copy of a new magazine.

4. Post-work perfectionism 
You would think, once we leave the workplace, we could drop the perfectionism that so often is fanned by the belief that "a woman must work harder and better". But if a woman has spent forty or more years making sure every aspect of her work was done to the highest standard (hers), the trait is hard to shed.

That tendency can transfer from work to many other aspects of life: how your kids should rear their children, keep house, deal with their careers. How your town or country is governed, how other people behave in restaurants (I'm still piqued by cameras going off in my face, dammit), and how the dentist's office should really be run.

Hangover perfectionism is a major contributor to carping, and nothing truncates new friendships and tests old ones like an aura of permanent dissatisfaction.

Another post explored the difference between the image and reality thus far, almost five years into retirement. Though some plans slid off the cracker, plenty has happened: I moved cities, worked on a political campaign, edited a book, made new friends, helped several small businesses grow, earned a stack of French class certificates, and reduced my blood pressure dramatically. I've become a both a broader and more discerning reader (even if I don't remember the content so readily).

The financial planner is right, a woman must mind her financial affairs, retired or not. And at the same time, other aspects of life demand late-life attention—not just mistakes to avoid, but opportunities to seize.

I'll be intrigued to hear your additions!

Annunciation: The Passage's first giveaway

Today's post was written before Friday's attacks in Paris. I am running it because of my long advocacy for interfaith and intercultural dialogue (which may also include non-believers who wish to live in peace). That activity is not the solution to extremist terrorism, but, if we begin to talk across cultures earlier, expressing the hopes we share, we have a better chance at making violent acts abhorrent to all.

There are many qualities I admire about my friend Elizabeth Adams, the artist and publisher whom I met when I bought a copy of her Phoenicia Press book, "Waiting to Unfold" by Rachel Barenblat. I chose the collection of the poems, which Barenblat wrote weekly during her son's first year of life, as a gift for a friend's daughter pregnant with her own son.

I especially appreciate Beth's ability to conceive insightful, collaborative projects whether through art, music or poetry. Her request of the poets whom she invited to participate was to "think deeply and fearlessly and to write from your hearts."

As she notes, the theme is challenging: "The annunciation story is a complicated foundational story in western culture. Patriarchies have used Mary as a model for ideal feminine acceptance, faith and submission to authority, while at the same time, millions of people have identified with her courage, suffering and patience..."

So with great pleasure,  the windows are dressed with Phoenicia Press's latest publication, a poetry compilation titled "Annunciation: Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary".

I'll give a copy, via a draw, to a reader.

Of the poets, she says:
"Because part of my incentive for the book was to look at Mary from an interfaith, as well as secular, perspective, the poets are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and secular, and they've brought an amazing breadth to this volume. I am moved by the way in which each poet has managed to identify with Mary, and express some personal point of connection with clarity, emotion, and immediacy. It could have turned out to be a "religious" book but it's much bigger than that—it's a human book."

Beth is more than the book's editor; her striking linocuts illustrate its pages and cover.

If you would like to enter, please add "DRAW" to your comment. I'll put all names I receive today and tomorrow (until midnight EST) into a hat, ask my neighbour to pluck one, and announce the winner next week. The book will be shipped by the publisher at the end of November.

You might also consider "Annunciation" for a gift, or treat yourself to a certain outcome by ordering (there's a special now till November 20) from Phoenicia Publishing. Visit Phoenicia's page also to read the poet's comments about their approaches, a glimpse into the layers of memory and emotion that infused their contributions.

Ten per cent of the proceeds of "Annunciation" are donated directly to refugee relief for women.

Rambling in the last warm days

We have enjoyed a honeyed, unusually mild autumn here, kissed with deep golden light and the warmth of sun, which touches our shoulders in mid-afternoon.

Walking through the market, I noticed many women holding on to the pleasure of dressing in only a shirt. For crisp stripes, the cross-pattern pockets are the detail that makes the difference:

Colour has deepened, as we store summer's sunny shades. Worn by a woman having coffee, speaking expressively: teal jeans with an aubergine jacket. (One sign of Montréal women is that they prefer favour contrast to careful coordination.)

And what contrasts are on view! Her tights as flaming as the fall leaves:

A white activewear jacket with turquoise lining, black yoga pants and a lime scarf looked cheerful on this brilliant day; soon November descends into grey skies and hat weather, and she'll put that jacket toward the back of the closet.

I left the market to walk through a semi-industrial area, where I stopped to read a poster seeking our help in finding Clarence, a 15 yr. old tabby who has wandered away.

The owner says he might be hiding in one of the many industrial garages. I have hope, because reader lagatta, who lives roughly in the same neighbourhood, lost her elderly cat for two months; he turned up, hungry and exhausted, but alive.

Easily the most beautifully-made lost cat poster I've seen; Clarence is clearly loved.

On upscale rue Laurier, I stopped to admire this dress by Isabelle Elie. I wondered who would buy this lacy confection with its detachable fur trim, chic for holiday cocktails.

The stirrings of the upcoming holiday season, in more ways than one: you take a yoga class with a DJ and a wine tasting!

My next real-people shots will be of Montréalers in leather jackets, parkas, boots (but still scarves). But on this golden mid-November day, we strolled unimpeded and appreciative of this little dividend.

Jewelry's brilliant breakthrough

Jewelers usually work in three dimensions by a method called lost-wax casting. Now, computer technology has enabled an entirely new way of working, through the use of metal 3D printing. If you are wondering, "How can they do that?" see this brief article.

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with the new fabrication form.

3D printing uses an additive manufacturing process which allows unusual designs; some geometric pieces would be extremely difficult to make by conventional methods. The method also allows you to choose metals or other materials, with short production time, from one to several weeks, for most items. And, would you like some heavy cred with your younger family members or friends? Imagine any of these as a gift for holidays or milestone. They'll love the edginess, and you will be happy with the price.

Shapeways, a leader in 3D printing (and an incubator company of Royal Philips Electronics) have a marketplace site where you can fall into a wonderland of products, all made with their technology: housewares, toys, games and gadgets.

But hey, the Passage likes baubles, so that's what's in the windows.  (Note: Some of these pieces are also produced in plastic, but I liked them so much in metals that I'm showing those versions.)

3D printing can create designs that are as eloquent as a piece crafted by hand.

The Ora pendant, shown in 14k rose gold plate, is from Bathsheba, and just one of several intriguing pendant styles. Nothing 'machiney' about its sinous curves. Price, $100.

Rings made with 3D printing are handsome and sculptural, but also graceful. Note how the printing technique results in a finish that looks hand-wrought.

Michael Meuller's Muster Ring, shown in raw silver, $71.

Some pieces are so new that they are still in development, which means you can order them in limited materials. baushkin's Dragonfly Bracelet, designed by sculptor Paul Liaw, shows what can be achieved. This would be much more labour-intensive to make using traditional casting. (Below, the 19mm size in polished brass; price, $100.)

As you'd imagine, designers drawn to this technology are making imaginative pieces, some classic, some cool.

The Playground earwrap: the look of multiple piercings without the problems. If you want to be the most awesome auntie ever, or rock your next girls' night out, here is your earring. From lexadazy; price in matte gold steel (shown above), $60.

For yourself, how about 14k rose gold, because you are not going to lose it. (Price, $400.)

The 3D process supports customization of jewelry, such as the signet ring. By working with designer Harry Burger of Lightbringer Designs, a one-of-a-kind ring will meld the ancient with the contemporary. (The designer also produces wax seals and cufflinks.) 

The pure brass signet ring with Elvish writing, shown, is $190.

While there will always be a place for traditional benchwork (setting stones is not happening yet with 3D), the technology has opened a universe of creative capability. I believe that 3D fabrication should be a disclosed feature, provided in any description. 

The last item in today's window is an accessory, not jewelry, but I wanted to show how 3D supports ingenuity.

It's the Pod-a-porter by Michiel Cornelissen: an iPod Shuffle holder that adds style to a stroll; only $27.50. What a smart gift for your music-loving friends!

3D does for jewelry what the Mac did for personal computing: in the hands of designers, a fast, fresh approach to noble metals is theirs, in a flash.

I'm seeing flares this fall

With the past weekend's shift to daylight savings time, our evenings fall early and fold in on themselves. You see the shift on the streets; dresses vanish, jeans surge ahead of every other bottom. 

A Montréal fashion writer recently bemoaned their ubiquity: "When am I going to see someone in anything else?" (Go to work in a bank?) In the metro last weekend, I must have spotted eighty women in jeans, and only the rare skirt over wooly tights.

NYDJ Billie mini-bootcut
This fall, there's a definite increase in wider-bottomed jeans, from "mini-bootcut" to definite flares, worn on all sizes and shapes. The bootcut is like a straightleg with a slightly wider bottom than the knee (depending on the maker, one to four inches), while the flare stays narrow through the thigh, then kicks out more from the knee, ending somewhere between 10 to 18 inches at the hem.

Why the change? The tourniquet tightness of skinnies means a tug each time you stand. Straight legs remain popular, but if you're in jeans often, a change is kinda fun.

Short legs look best in the narrower-bottomed end of the spectrum, and a top that ends at the high hip balances the flare better than the longer length often worn with skinnies.

Cue your classic rock playlist: they're even making bell bottoms again! Rag and Bone offer a retro elephant bell, with 21-inch bottoms. (In fact the original '60s bellbottoms were like the classic sailor's, starting wider in the thigh, and easing consistently through the leg, way out to that exaggerated bell.)

Remember these?
Only a few seasons ago, flares were harder to find. Now, they've joined the lineup from cult (Derek Lam, 7 for All Mankind, Current Elliot) to budget labels (Gloria Vanderbilt, Old Navy, Lee), from petite to plus, and one brand's flare is another's bootcut. 
The three flares below are made with nearly identical blends of cotton and 2% lycra, and all have have high rises, another jean feature making a solid return.  
Left, NYDJ Farrah Flare, $150; middle, Levis Hi-Rise Flare, $80; right, Talbot's Flawless Flare, $70. (Prices are in $US and you may do better at stores sales or online promotions.)

I'm happy the dominion of skinnies-and-tall-boots has relaxed, because even slim women fretted about how they looked, and who needs to get angsty about jeans, the most frequently-worn pants in our closet? (And if you don't wear denim, you'll still notice the uptick in flares in other fabrics.)

For those of us in cold climates, flares have another plus: they're easier to slide silk longjohns under as the temperature dips lower!

Redesigned diamonds: From passé to chic

This summer, I met the knowledgeable and passionate gem dealer, Martine Lavoie, founder of Pierres de Charme,  who sells coloured stones of mouthwatering hues.

Though much of her business is to the trade, Martine also handles repairs and will serve individual customers by appointment.

Black opal pair

When visiting her showroom I can barely talk with her, because my eyes wander (despite trying to focus) to trays strewn with nature's most alluring gifts, from emeralds to paraïba tourmalines to flashing black opals.

Besides a love of gems (Martine is a gemmologist), we share an interest in jewelry restyling projects. Martine has an extensive network, and enjoys introducing clients to jewelers who can create stunning new designs from unworn or dated pieces.  She glowed as she described the goldsmith who was able to make an exact duplicate of an ornate antique family ring, using refined skills possessed by a dwindling number of artisans.

When she showed me one particular example, I asked her permission to share it here.

The original ring: A 1970s gold and diamond design with a large centre stone and smaller diamonds scattered among busy petals.

Original '70s design
Martine has a talent for matching artisans and clients. For this project, she suggested Montréal jeweler Annik Lucier, and then followed the process from start to finish to make sure every detail was perfect.

The new ring: Black diamonds join the original stones; the fussy flower was transformed into a sleek modern style, tailored yet sensuous. The client preferred the discretion of white gold, which focuses attention on the stones.

Black and white diamonds

On the client's hand, with just the edge of her red manicure showing. She wears her ring every day.

Current and chic

Jewelry renos are much like home renos: you need to trust the professionals with whom you're working, set a budget, spend where it shows, and communicate every step of the way. Just like a home project, collect your favourite ideas on a Pinterest or idea board, but also be open to the designer, who will bring a fresh vision.

If you have a dream stone in mind, contact Martine; she travels the world, and can accommodate requests from modest to major. Thanks to email and Skype, no matter where you live, she can help to transform an unworn piece into your new signature.

My Toronto jeweler, Pam Chandler of Artworks Gallery, introduced us. "She is wonderful", Pam said... and so she is.