Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dressing well when you've gained weight

Two of my favourite writers, Cybill of Sorting It Out, and Anjela (who comments here) report a weight gain and are wondering how to dress. So I am posting today with affection, because I've been there.

I could digress about the emotional consequences of gaining 30 or more pounds but will save that for later, and address the specific question of Anjela's: "What to wear?"

A 30 lb. gain means few of your existing clothes fit, and they mock you every time you see them. Move them to the back of your closet or to another room.

All right! Now, the key task is looking fabulous today.

My GF Missi visited me in a terible funk. "I've gained 40 lbs", she said, "My butt is the size of Cleveland." She just needed clothes that fit to reclaim her lush beauty.

Here's where to find clothes with body-skimming, not swamping, lines
.

1. Take a favorite pair of basic pants or skirt to a tailor and have them copied.
Love
d your pencil skirt? Just get a bigger one and show off your legs. Your goal: four to six key pieces that fit. Choose fabrics with a bit of stretch.

2. Check out the "Flax" line of linen clothes (www.flaxdesigns.com) for pants or skirts (tops are a bit 'craftsy-mumsy'); fit is on the large side (they also have a plus line).

I'd pick the Ankle Pant or Slim Slacks (shown as sketch) and Style Skirt for Anjela, nothing boxy. Online vendors like
2 on Crescent sell Flax, and there's also always a lot on eBay. Everything is washable, wears well, and is less pricey than Eileen Fisher.

3. Wintersilks makes a silk crinkle skirt in good colours and various sizes (including Women's) that provides graceful, flattering drape and is washable- just twist and stow. Skirt comes in lower calf length; if too long for your height or taste, shorten to the knee. On sale now for $35, and in teak, shown, there's your neutral base.

But thinking of the pop of colour Anjela likes, I'd love to see her in Talbot's orange embroidered cropped pants, $89. Talbot's do not sentence larger sizes to drabs & darks, and offer good tops, too.

4. Get some tees and blouses that fit, but avoid big shirts and baggy tops, which only emphasize that you are larger. Deeper V-neck tees or scoop necklines elongate the torso.

The tunic is a good option but if not too big and or so long it covers your seat. Shown: Talbot's Woman cotton voile tunic, on sale (Clearance section of site) for $45. See where it ends? Doesn't look tenty, just light and easy.


For fe
minine tees and crisp blouses, check Land's End; I'd wear this vibrant seagrass paisley shirt (available in regular or plus sizes) with white capris. And undo that second button!

Rather than bustin' out of your beloved white shirts, wear them open over a light, close-fitting tank. Silk/modal/spandex tank on sale from Wintersilks, $24.


5. Get one great dress that lifts your spirits and shows off your bust.

The verde green
Igigi Origami dress (in the Limited Collection section of the site), $92, caught my eye.


Special occasion

Peggy Lutz' slither fabric pieces are never boxy; she also carries "wrappings", beautiful coats and kimonos like the bronze silk stroller shown. Will ship internationally.

Anna Scholz, a former model, makes sexy clothes in fine fabrics. Shown, cotton jacquard 60's dress.

They currently ship to EU countries and the UK. Shipping worldwide (including
the USA) is not offered as a standard service but "may be possible if you have your own account with any international couriers."

And I'll mention Dress by Design again, because they create classic, graceful styles in up to size 24 (shown, "Eve" sheath) and offer a remarkable service.

After you choose your design and features on their site, they will ship you a muslin (if you wish) before cutting. They offer many fabric choices, or send your own. They will even pay for one alteration after delivery, if needed. Will ship internationally.


Slim budget?

Consignments and renos

Resale boutiques often have larger sized clothing in nea
rly new condition as women cast off their larger sized items the instant they lose weight, thinking they will never gain a pound again.

Clothing renos so often look unpolished and sad. But I once had the the top of a dress that was too tight in the bust removed, and the dress became a full skirt.


What are friends for?

You may have a friend who is the size you now are, and has more clothes than she wants. Most of us have a few mistakes or unwanted duplicates in the closet. Ask her if there's anything she's willing to send to a new home. I assembled a box for a friend, and never missed a thing.

(Shown, Anna Scholz metallic linen safari dress.)


6. Stay out of plus departments in department stores (except maybe Saks' Salon Z), which are their own kind of hell, full of inferior fabrics.

You might strike it lucky with a Calvin Klein or Liz Claiborne piece, but the choices are dispiriting.


Take a look into plus size boutiques, which I think more women should do, even if they are not very big. A plus size 12 top may fit a woman with a broad back and fuller bust way better than a misses' 14, even if her
hips carry no extra weight.

If passing through these doors bothers you (I know women who would rather be seen leaving a crack house than a plus boutique), have a nice restorative martini first.


Go ethnic

My GF Vicky took me with her to an Indian boutique where she bought three salwar kameez; the ensemble (long tunic, loose pants and a stole) in vivid striped linens and embroidered cotton looked cool and cost about $50 each.

She also bought a $40 navy and white embroidered kaftan. Not full like Cybill's dreaded muumuu, this just skimmed the body. She will wear these pieces for relaxing at home and hosting summer parties.

You could also just buy the kameez (the tunic top), and wear with your pants or skirt.

Stores that carry Indian, Moroccan, and African clothes often have larger sizes (but Chinese stores do not); call and ask before you go. If you live in a city with an Indian or Pakistani neighbourhood, you can get the ensemble or kameez made to order in any size from a South Asian tailor or dressmaker.

Ethnic clothes are carried by internet vendors, too; check out web sites like
Designer Salwar Kameez. Look for cotton or linen (there is a sea of scary poly out there); I like ikat or woodblock prints in cotton. eBay also offers many ethnic items.


Search eBay for specialty sizes from designers

Work your eBay search engine to set up e-mails for "1X" (or other size) listings; many plus-size designers are dedicated to creating fresh, stylish larger sizes (and remember for many lines that is a US 12, and in Europe, a US 10!). They sell through their eBay stores. Citron Santa Monica make arty, Asian inspired larger sizes, and pieces (new and resale) are often listed on eBay.

7. Indulge in a new piece of jewelry.

Missi was the original Pearl Girl; she ignited my love for the gem 25 years ago. So I wasn't surprised when she chose a large ring of mabé pearl set in gold, $200 on sale. You don't have to break the bank; you might find a jumble-sale silver bangle or an art fair glass pendant. Wear it as an amulet to remind you that you are loved, you are you.

Earrings draw the eye to your face; the brilliant green of these malachite dangle earrings make my mouth water, and no calories! Generous 18 x 24mm pear cut stones set in 14k, on sale at Ross Simons, $150, reduced from $250.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Irony: Not on after 50

Cathy Horyn's New York Times article "Irony and the Old Lady" is subtitled "How fashion's clever twists fall flat when you're 50". It's essentially a riff on the "if you wore it the first time around, don't wear it the second", and specifically cites the outfit a bunny-eared Madonna wore to a recent Metropolitan Museum of Art gala. Of course Simon Doonan loved Madge: "Scandal"!

Horyn asked Luca Stoppini, art director of Italian Vogue,
why fashionable women can't wear certain things after 50. "Luca had the answer right away. 'It's like fighting with the wind', he said." There's nothing you can do about it.

When I see a woman over 50 in certain types of overdesigned shoes, anything with skull and crossbone pattern, porkpies, tights with legs in two different neon colours, or '70s concert tees restyled with studs, I recoil.

Then I recoil at recoiling; I sound like my mother: "Can't you dress like a grown woman?"

On one of my last visits to her in Florida, I wore an Egyptian cotton blouse in a large print of a French breakfast table laden with café au lait bowls, flowers and a checkered tablecloth. It's not an ironic garment (I guess that would be a print of Gertrude Stein, strewn with roses), but it violated her sensibility: too 'unusual' and loud. She asked me to change before visiting a prospective retirement home.

She was much happier with my pool-blue linen blouse, but she missed the subversion of the yellow '50s alligator bag I carried, in fact, ironically.

Irony is defined as "an objectively sardonic style of speech or writing", extending this to dressing, irony may play with visual cues of opposition, contradiction and satire.

Our beloved blogger sallymandy, who writes The Blue Kimono, recently posted this Sartorialist shot taken in Paris (in her entry "Mixing It Up"), and asked what we thought. Madame is wearing those denim overalls ironically, don't you just know it? But, given my more conventional eye (and her age), I want to say, Go home and put on some clothes that don't reference the Back Forty; I know you have them.

Dressing with ironic intent is best left to the young, who enjoy irony's cousin, sarcasm, and think their costumes are highly original. And sometimes they are, but mostly they're just a goof, a wink, a bagatelle.

Irony is a form of self-referential elitism: I get the joke, do you? I'm willing to miss the recherché humour, and aim for well, instead of ironically, dressed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Citrine: A study in yellow

The semi-precious citrine, like peridot, offers lavish gemmy pleasure for a relatively modest price.

Citrine is a variety of quartz, and ranges from pale yellow to brown. (A lot of what is sold as citrine is in fact heated amethyst or smoky quartz, ot
her minerals in the quartz family. "Lemon quartz" is one or more of the quartzes usually irradiated to get that pretty colour.)

Topaz has a rep as a higher-quality gemstone, because it's bit harder, and has a higher refractive index, which makes it sparklier when well-cut. Quartz is one of the most common minerals on the planet, so the material is plentiful. But a beautiful citrine, from yellow to reddish brown, can hold up its head with pride.

The advantage of the semis is that you can have a beautiful setting, because you have not blasted through your budget on the most costly of stones. At 7 on the Mohs scale, citrine is hard enough to set in a ring, and will take reasonable wear.

To really show off the sunny intensity of good citrine, go big: at least 6mm (about the size of a one-carat diamond) for studs, 4mm for stones in hoop or mixed-stone styles, and bigger for rings. As with all coloured stones, look for life and avoid too-pale, washed out hues.

Big Honkin' Yellow Rings

Citrine & Pink Sapphire Ring by Wendy Brandes

Citrine center stone surrounded by pink sapphires
, set in 18K yellow gold, $10,000. Beautiful design.

You can flash 25 carats of citrine (the ring is about 3/4 inches long) in a 14k white gold setting, for $795 fr
om Heavenly Treasures.

Would you like to guess where the flash
y 16mmx12mm oval citrine, framed in yellow sapphires, below, is from? Price is $569 with free FedEx shipping in the US.

They do not ship internationally but if you have serious lust for this ring, and know someone in the US, ask them to help you out... I would!

OK! It's from Zales, not a vendor I think of for glamorous, Harry Winstonish design... so I'm impressed.

If you dig leopard skin (hel-lo, I know who you are), I can see you in this ca. 1940 citrine and faux ruby ring set in 14kt yellow gold.

15-carat citrine flanked by trio of faux ruby cabuchon blossoms. Undercarriage is openwork detail. Dimensions: 18mm x 15mm citrine (about 3/4"). On sale from Ross Simons'
vintage collection, $1,721.

Faceting, intaglio
and inlay

Checkerboard faceting is huge in the secondary stone world; it adds zip to a mineral. Here's a 2 at Hammerman Gold Citrine Ring from Saks; at 7.35 carats, you could wear it for day or evening. I like the substantial 18k setting, and the $1, 300 price.

Erica Molinari 18k gold citrine drop earrings again show how faceting flat
ters; these have the slightest tinge of brown, and a graceful setting. Price: $540 from Fragments.


Sp
ecial vintage pieces

The profile of a woman (facing your right) is carved into a faceted citrine, probably in the
Victorian period, and set in the 1920s in 14k white gold. The face of the vintage ring is 7/8" by 3/4". Look at the ornate, beautiful setting; you simply do not see work like this anymore.

This is a gift a woman would treasure for life. $550 from Apriori Antique Jewelry on t
he Trocadero web site.


Citrine inlaid in onyx,
with diamond accents, is an elegant deco cocktail ring.

The oval is 3/4" tall and 1/2" wide.
A side view shows how the citrine is set. This is from another Trocadero seller, Adorn; the price is $1, 100.

If you like citrine with onyx but want a more modern style, you might like these smart earrings of pear-cut citrines (5mm x 7mm) set in 14k yellow gold.

The earring is 7/8" long, a very wearable scale. $165 (reduced from $325) from
Ice.com.

Citrines in silver

Just because I say "Over 50, your jewelry should be real" does
not mean I have anything against silver; silver is real! Just make sure the setting has presence and some weight, or it looks like something from a head shop, circa 1970.

These citrine hoops are on sale for $50 (reduced from $100) at Ice. 3/4" hoops with six 4mm stones. 30-day money-back guarantee, and free shipping in US if you spend $150 or more; they will ship internationally.


Citrine tumbled beads are opulent pools of colour. These 17" strand is $40 from Exotic India Art. Use the e-mail feature on the site if you are interested in a particular size; they say what's on the site is "but a drop in the ocean."

Insist on stone and setting quality for semi-precious stones. Good design and fabrication are not easy to find, but are worth the search.

Tiffany's citrine is fine- and more reasonable than you might think. The Tiffany Sparkler 9-carat emerald cut cocktail ring takes silver and citrine uptown, $800 from Tiffany's web site, and available internationally.

Mixed stones with citrine

I want to show one piece in citrine and mixed stones, because it's such an appealing combination when the stones have good colour saturation and life.

Here's an example of what the finest saturation looks like, to build your eye. 18k gold multistrand necklace of peridot, amethyst, citrine, apatite, and pink tourmaline, $2, 400 from La Perla Jewelers. For that dosh, you get the wow factor. Literally makes my mouth water.

For a modest outlay, you can still find pretty mixes. The Chimera necklace of amethyst, citrine, peridot and quartz is $149 from Novica seller Shanker.


Citrine and pearl glow together. The Maddy Emerson necklace shown blends freshwater pearl, citrine and yellow jade for a most pleasing price, $55. Available on Overstock.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Does "cost per wear" really work?

I read a comment awhile ago from a woman who'd spent years selling high- end real estate in Southern California. Her income, like many of the self-employed, fluctuated. She'd celebrate a big sale with a new outfit, she'd prop herself up in lean times with... a new outfit.

In hindsight, she lamented that she had bought
so many expensive clothes: "If I had invested the money instead of buying Chanel suits, I'd be so much better off today."

She said the suits gave her far less pleasure than she'd thought; the Chanel did not give her six times the joy of a Tahari (shown left), for example. She learned to stop bolstering her self esteem by making purchases she either could not afford, or that she could afford, but were hollow.

I don't want to sound preachy and life-denying. Beauty feeds the soul, and much beauty is found in clothing. I'm looking for balance and perspective.

The Canadian activist and writer June Callwood, speaking of her wardrobe, said, "I'm buying clothes that last, because as I get older, I expect to get poorer." Classic Callwood, pithy and true.

I have not quite mastered the cost-per-wear (CPW) tactic that so many stylists recommend.

Some of my expensive purchases did not get worn enough (Hugo Boss shell, $250, nothing special). And the "bargains", even worse! A Gap cashmere sweater marked down to $40: worn once before mutation into a '70s shag carpet.


I recently bought a rather pricey Chinese-print yellow silk kimono to wear... um, to wear where? Maybe for a party or to a good restaurant. Or reading in bed? Perhaps I'll hang it on the wall.

Last weekend, while in Ottawa, I visited Muriel Dombret's perfect boutique, Clothes, to buy another of her shapely fine black jersey "Maddy" skirts, because I wore my first one out. Probably the best clothing investment I ever made, CPW has to be measured in mills.

Do you usually apply the cost-per-wear rule? How has it worked out?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Elders: Personal style at 80

We recently attended my MIL's 80th birthday party, a mid-afternoon garden party for two dozen family and friends.

Besides enjoying a warm, affectionate fete, I learned a few things for the journey ahead.
Notes to myself, if I make it to 80:

1. Though long in the tooth, do not be gray in the tooth! Whether they are yours or created for you, mak
e sure your teeth are are a somewhat whitish, even shade. Snaggly, stained teeth take the whole face down. I spotted some cosmetic dental opportunities amid those a generation younger. Spend here; it's worth it.

2. Avoid perms. They look tight, fussy, and do no favours to thin or fragile hair.

3. Keep (or acquire) a bit of glamour. A lot is fascinating, if you can carry it off.

My MIL, Monique, looked elegant in a mauve Moroccan-patterned tunic and white linen pants with a mauve pinstripe. An artist, she has keen colour sense and dresses to flatter her figure.
She wore the perfect shade of lipstick, eye makeup and a pale, glossy manicure.

Her BIL Bernard arrived with his companion, Claire. There's a type of Québéciose woman renowned for their flashy, full-on glamour; this look is called "chromée" (chromed), shown here in a shot of singer Marie-Chantale Toupin, who looks very much like a young Claire.

At around 80, this ravishing lady wore a leather blazer, leather pants and booties, all in
deep raspberry. Her impeccable pink manicure drew attention to five huge rings. And gold galore! Several chains dripped charms, thick hoop earrings: the Costa del Sol meets Montréal. Needless to say, she stood out. I thought she was fabulous!

She may have seemed heavily dressed for the third week of June, but the day was cool and overcast, and older folks chill easily.


4.Though your shape has shifted, but don't forsake pants with waists or tops with darts. Abandon dressing in unremitting neutrals.

SIL's mother wore a charming ruffly white peasant skirt, just below knee-length, with a big link necklace over a black, yellow and white flower-printed tee; she looked festive and current.

SIL, in her plain white blouse and black capris, with no jewelry, looked carelessly-dressed in comparison.
Colour, even if only the third colour in a black and white tee, lifts skin tone.

5. If colouring your hair, go pro.

I'd better start an annuity for a good colourist. Expert highlights, lowlights or bayalage really earn the price.


One of my MIL's artist friends, Colombe, wore a hot pink cotton shirt over white slacks. Her discreetly-highlighted blonde French twist brought out her cornflower blue eyes.


MIL is strawberry blonde; I'm guessing it's a home job. Well-placed light highlights near the face would make a good colour even better.
The glamourous Claire's upswept hair was about four shades of honeyed blonde, an effect that Scarlett Johannson would envy. SIL's mother is a light brown with a few highlights near the face. Come to think of it, no one was gray except the men.

6. Just move, any way you can.

Claire wa
lks, gardens and stays flexible with yoga-like stretches. You can see the results in her posture. Le Duc's aunt Béa walks up to five miles most days. Other elder friends attend strength training classes to keep up bone density. Exercise is far more valuable than creams or most pills.

7. Do not worry about wrinkles
in your elder years, because at 80, you will have a radiating burst no matter how many facials you got.

So what? The children who helped put them there will be making speeches brimming with love, and your eyes will fill with tears.
No one counted the wrinkles, only the blessings.

8. Wear beautiful fabrics.

I was stuck by the ready smiles and abundant laughter amid MIL's friends and family.
'Inner beauty' is real, but don't give up on the outer.

When MIL opened Béatrice's gift of an Italian shawl in pearl gray with heliotrope flowers, the exquisite swath wrapped her in glowing luxury. How spot-on Germaine Greer was, when she wrote that older women look their best in beautiful fabrics!

If this post is way too early for you, I hope it assists your choices for your elders. There is beauty to every age, but it takes effort and attention, especially as one copes with the inevitable physical challenges of the eighth decade.

PS. Note to those who gave advice re her gift: We wanted to give a joint gift of a trip, but the sibs did not agree. Le Duc and I gave MIL a pair of coral double drops set in 18k yellow gold. Not only did she love them, but every women there eyed them enviously.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Safe ways to stash valuables

Everyone knows that when you travel, you don't take anything you can't bear to lose. But what about when you're attending a wedding, for example, and want to wear a piece of your favourite jewelry, or when you must bring cash as a contingency?

I don't want to be a
fear-monger, at the same time, I've had experiences I don't want to repeat. I wish I'd traveled with a few simple accessories.

Staying 'safe'

Even a hotel room safe is not a sure thing, as staff can get a universal access code, some safes are broken, and the hotel will not assume liability.

You are usually told
to bring valuables to the front desk for safekeeping. I was stunned to find that a five-star resort in Florida would not accept liability for over $500 cash or the equivalent value in goods kept in their safety-deposit box.

Since we are often at B&Bs or short-stay apartments without a safe, I oc
casionally need a way to disguise money, credit cards or jewelry.

That's All I Want

Money
is the most common target. My friend Vicky had cash stolen from her guestroom at a friend's home.

One tactic is to keep money on your person.

The bra pocket is a DIY project that allow you to save your assets in your assets. It's removable, requires only the most basic sewing skills, and uses a scrap of fabric, a small piece of ribbon and one snap. Only drawback will occur if you are packing a big wad. The advantage is if you're safe, it is.

Less handy? Buy the Bra Stash Personal Security Wallet by Austin House in travel shops or from Amazon.com, $7.

If leaving cash in your room, you can hide money in unusual places. Bring a small ziploc bag and duct tape, and tape money or your cards to the underside of a drawer. A friend survived having his hotel room "tossed" in Russia by using this technique.

A diversion or hideaway safe is a great idea for travel. I have a a hair spray can like the one shown, with a false bottom, $13.49 from Amazon. My GF Jeanne keeps a similar safe that looks like a can of motor oil in her car. Of course this will not keep treasures from a pro cat burglar, but many thefts are crimes of opportunity and impulse.

Other recommended places are the hem of a hotel drapes, which are wide and easy to open by removing a few stitches, or the hollow shower rod in the bath.

This tip reminds
me of Joseph's elderly aunt, who suffered a stroke while on one of her theatre trips to New York. He rushed to her side, and she kept saying "Curtains". He couldn't figure out what she meant, and she was too ill to tell him more.

He thought it had something to do with her critical condition, or possibly the theatre. When he want to the Waldorf, he stood in the room and thought, "Maybe...". When he inspected the curtains, he found her sapphire ring safety-pinned to the inside folds.

Medication on vacation

If you travel with medication, your drugs can be a target.
Anyone on HRT does not want to have to try to fill a prescription in Solvenia, on a Sunday.

In some parts of the world, thieves will take even ove
r-the-counter products.

If
you have medication that will put you out of commission if it's taken, consider this PacSafe toiletry and medication bag. It's designed with tamperproof, lockable zippers and a strap that allows you to lock the bag to a secure fixture. $39.99 from PacSafe.

Secure your room

Before I went to Goa, my friend Jim told me about "Goan Fishin'". You would leave your room for the day, locking the door, and return to find your shirt, bathing suit or shorts missing. A tour of the local market might turn up your shirt, for sale.

Someone would have inserted a fishing pole through the louver of your window, and hooked your clothing. Nice catch! Now all you had to do was buy it back.

The worst theft I experienced, though, was in the middle of Manhattan, in a good hotel. A pair of earrings and handbag were taken from my room, where I had left them on a dresser. I didn't notice immediately, which hampered any investigation.

That's the reason for my post: in the excitement of travel, we can forget we're not at home. They're only "things", but losing something useful or sentimental takes a bit of the zip out of a trip.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The pace of life: Stark contrasts

A friend-of-a-friend who's a university professor says he is frantic with worry: during his lectures, students are on their Blackberries or texting on phones, and he claims that he can tell, from their tests and assignments, that the quality of their attention has deteriorated.

52% of the people who responded to in a poll published in the Toronto Globe and Mail on June 1 say they are not taking holidays this summer because they are either needed at work to maintain productivity, or are frightened that if they take time off, they will be let go.

"In Defense of Distraction" by Sam Anderson in New York Magazine summarizes the effects of our over-stimulated culture. Anderson asked Dr. David Meyer, professor at the University of Michigan and one of the world's leading experts in multitasking, whether we were living through a crisis of inattention.

" 'Yes' he says immediately, then adds... 'And I think it's going to get a lot worse than people expect... people aren't aware of what's happening to their mental processes, in the same way that years ago people couldn't look into their lungs and see the residual deposit'. He said, 'None of this happened ten years ago, It was a lot calmer. There was
a lot of opportunity for getting steady work done.' "

You might be thinking, I knew that, as you e-mail beeps and the four other windows on your
desktop catch your eye.

But do you know that some humans, as recently as the late 19th century, semi-hibernated?

Graham Robb's historical geography, "The Discovery of France" describes life in the coldest part of that country:

"In the late 18th century France, ninety-nine percent of all human activity took place between late spring and early autumn. ...Populations in the Alps and Pyrenees simply entombed themselves until March or April, with a hay-loft above, a stable to one side and the mountain slope behind.

Farms in more temperate regions operated in clement weather from 6 am. till 7 pm., but there was a break of three hours at mid-day.

In Normandy, according to the diary of Jules Renard, 'the peasant at home moves little more than the sloth' (1889); 'in winter, they pass their lives asleep, corked up like snails' (1908).

Before roads, lighting and what Rob
b calls "the amazing luxury of coal and gas heating", weather tyrannized life, food was scarce for many. A large number of people did nothing for a large part of the year.

One hundred fifty years later, we in the most-developed countries have consistent comforts from one season to the next. Turn on a light and work all night. Answer your e-mail while you slip a meal into the oven, plenty of cheap calories at your elbow. Live longer, most likely, than any preceding generation.

No one would want to return to the hardships that forced people in villages and rural areas into near-hibernation, and often sentenced them to short lives (about 37 years on average in mid-19th century France). Still, it is worth remembering that the cycle for humans and animals has historically been a burst of activity followed by rest.

But life, including the part spent working, is getting ever faster, more intrusive. Dr. Eve Van Cauter, a sleep researcher and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, cited a National Cancer Society survey survey finding that sleep time had decreased, in the last four or five decades, by 1.5 to 2 hours per day.

Does that s
uit you? Do you feel swept up in frenzied activity, or in control?

We have gained over forty-five years of life expectancy. Will we spend it chasing the goal of more productivity, splitting our attention and therefore our existence into tiny shards, or decide to live those years in harmony with ancient cycles of exertion and rest?