Turning thirty

As I latch the Passage's shutters for the summer, I am looking forward to a milestone, our twin sons' thirtieth birthdays on July 9.

One son said, "I remember when I was seventeen, and a guy at work turned thirty. It seemed so old." In 1978, my thirtieth was similarly  regarded as the definitive departure of youth.

Women friends approached the day either deliberately distracted by some kind of hijinks, or wrapped in a granny-square afghan, weeping into poetry. Joanna stocked her kitchen with beer and pizza, invited forty friends, and then was so distraught she never left her bedroom. One by one, we entered to comfort her.

My birthday party in July, 1978 was here; I lived on the upper floor of this mansion, built in 1875. It was a romantic apartment that had retained its heritage features, with odd little quarter-levels off a centre hall wide as a street. The former tenant had entered a convent, so I'll bet the place had not seen a bash like that for some years.

See that balcony? John dangled from the railing by one hand (probably on a bet), while his wife pleaded with his pals to haul him back up. Fortunately the owner, who occupied the ground floor, was at her cottage.
At thirty

Our friends brought raccoon-themed gifts, because I was fond of the bushy, bandit-eyed coons who lived in the garage, and my then-husband liked theme parties. So I received ears of sweet corn, a silver raccoon stickpin, and of course a vintage Davy Crockett hat.

Robert ignored the theme, gave me a bottle of liqueur—and then drank it himself:

An immoderate amount of Bailey's

Thirty is a gusty age, full of energy but sometimes rudderless. In my circle, it was a time of movement, from job to job, partner to partner. There was no consensus about how take on adult roles; we were divided between the conventional models supplied by parents or mentors and New-Age experimentation.

Everyone turns thirty within a larger historical frame, the warp to your weft. The late '70s were a period of relative economic stability; no one at that party had yet faced chronic unemployment. Pension plans were robust, even if we barely thought of ever needing them. Women were now free to bear children or not, but if one were desired, thirty was considered "time to get on with it".

Though we had been vividly influenced by the '60s, few dressed for that party in "beads and feathers from Salvation Army counters" as Leonard Cohen wrote, except for Lisa, who was a dancer. I wore a brown Danskin leotard and matching wrap skirt. We were building our "work wardrobes", and were a good fifteen years away from anyone even thinking of wearing jeans to the office except on the occasional Casual Friday. Some of us worried about looking old enough!

As I look back on the guests, I realize how much instability roiled below the surface. The majority of those in relationships broke up, partly because of the relatively recent option for no-fault divorce. In less than three years I had moved to another city, taken a new job, and was about to divorce too. Only then, responsible for every aspect of my life, did I feel wholly adult.

The birthday boys

My sons are turning thirty in a different world; in '78, the population was 4.4 billion; today, it's 7.5 billion. Every day, they learn what is happening, anywhere, in real time; receiving and transmitting instantaneous information. (We didn't even have an answering machine in our apartment.)

Before we part for the summer, please tell us about your thirtieth birthday; I'll bet you remember, and I would love to hear that story before we part for two months.

The Passage will reopen on Tuesday, September 5. Thank you for reading and have a glorious, golden summer!

Holiday weekend: The berries!

That was a slang expression Dad used: "It's the berries!" And last weekend, the market was bursting with local strawberries. Their glowing colour seemed to evoke more colourfully-dressed shoppers.

We're nearing the time for the Passage to close for the summer, so let's take a last stroll together on the long weekend here; the Quebec holiday is still called St-Jean-Baptiste Day, but is also known as its more recent name, the National Holiday.

The brights that catch our eye include a woman carrying a woven striped bag, a purple knit top printed with butterflies, and a vivid paisley blouse:

Ethnic fabrics are a passion for me, but it is the incandescent smile of a woman serving a client that we notice first—then, her beautiful head wrap.

A woman strolls by in a blue coat made from Guatemalan fabric:

Plus-sized women are sometimes advised to avoid brights and prints. She's not buying that, and I like both her dots and cherry nails.

We do see women in pastels or white, and also plenty of stripes; two shoppers are wearing classic Montréal touches: on her, the big scarf even in summer, and on the man (background) the marinière:

Of course we buy a flat of strawberries, and also the magnificent radishes. Le Duc will make a soup from the leaves, and I will serve radis-buerre, a favourite summer hors d'oeuvre.  You can prepare them the fancy way, by stuffing hollowed out radishes with herb butter, but the simple way is fine: just apply a little pat of cultured butter to a whole or halved ruby radish on the way to your mouth.

We'll return together in the fall, and I will miss these jaunts, but think of you over July and August. Come back Thursday, for a last post for the season!

Pink peacoat: Good buy or boondoggle?

I bought this cotton twill peacoat, double-deeply on sale and with free shipping at J. Crew. And quite out of character, chose "dark mauve", not the sober navy I have worn in one coat or another most of my life.

When I unboxed it, I thought, "Well that's impractical, back it goes!" But then I realized its benefits: warm in clammy, cool weather—which is about all we had this April and May—washable, and a classic style but in an unusual, cheerful colour, especially against grey hair. (Actual colour is a shade deeper than monitor shows.) 

Even though it was reduced from $CDN 168 to about $55 (plus tax), I am reluctant to buy anything "for later", the gateway attitude to stockpiling. I took a few things to the donation box, then gave it a place in the closet. I hope next spring I'm still happy!

I'd enjoy hearing your experience: did an off-season bargain turn out to be worth it, or just a moment's misjudgement?

Travelling Thrift Shop

Tomorrow I'll be visiting Marina Malvada, an ebullient and striking artist who lives in a small town outside Ottawa. My former neighbour and avid thrifter misses trolling the Montréal friperies, so— thrift comes to her!

So here's a summer business idea that I'll never realize: the Friperie Van brimming with picks from our charity stores. Continuing a long tradition of itinerant merchants, I'd tootle through bucolic small towns, and women would gather. Stock the van with a few rolling racks, set up an art deco folding screen and a good full-length mirror for a change room, voilà!

At sundown I'd serve sangria, and maybe barter for a guestroom, because even in this fantasy I am not a camper. Maybe spend two weeks on the road and a week off to restock. Would it make money? Maybe I'd only cover my expenses, but what a fun way to tour the countryside and connect to communities. After this reverie I read about a woman who does this, taking a truck stocked with vintage and cult cosmetics on the festival circuit and to markets.

In real life, I'm bringing a stack of gifts to my friend, who has a fine eye honed by a job in a vintage boutique in her art school days.

Blouses and jackets! Clockwise from upper left: purple poly print; poppy red Chinese satin; a wild metallic-knit pink bomber; a fitted blue blazer with pink lining and embossed metal buttons.

Two dresses! A Cynthia Rowley stretch knit, and a slip dress or top from the hip French brand Un Après-Midi du Chien.

And the kicker: I'm carrying them in an eggplant textured-leather satchel, lined in hot pink.

The tops were $6-$7, the dresses $8, and the bag $12.  Marina's free to re-gift anything that doesn't please her, or... the stock could go into my imaginary van.

Beach jewellery: To shell and back

"Beachy" jewellery is a category wide as a sandbar, and conjures images of you, fetching in a sarong, wearing a loose, relaxed, cool breeze of a bauble.

I started wearing beach jewellery in my twenties...do you remember belly chains? I borrowed my girlfriend Jeanne's to dress up my bikini.

Unlike those chains (and I admit, the waist that wore it), a great deal of beach jewellery has staying power, and you can wear a well-designed piece year-round with actual clothes. Just like drinking a glass of rosé in the dead of winter, well-designed beach jewellery will lift your mood no matter the month.

Beach-influenced jewellery often uses organic materials: wood, shell, coral, pearl, glass, pebbles. Leather, linen or beader's thread suits it better than heat-holding metals; the effect is light and often a touch bohemian.

Pascale Monvoisin is one of my favourite contemporary jewellers. She sets cauri (or cowrie) shells with semiprecious stones to make a light and playful pendant. Shown, 11mm x 17mm shell pendant set with 2.5mm round turquoise; price, $295 at Twist.

Wear the Blooming Plumeria necklace as a long rope in summer, and doubled in winter, and be transported to the plumeria-scented air of Maui. Thirty-seven inches of South Sea pearls and lustrous Chinese freshwater keshis insterspered with gold vermeil beads and tourmaline crystals. From Kojima Company; price, $450.

You might recall Chantal's stunning Tahitian keshi pearl bracelet, inspired by a piece of coral she found while diving, and made for her by Janis Kerman. Israeli jeweller Arosha Taglia also makes coral-inspired pieces, set with pearl, sapphire, moonstone and other gems. Shown, a sterling silver "coral" branch holds a12mm silver freshwater button pearl; price, about $205.

How I love the genuine, undyed Italian coral, pink-peach like a flamingo chick—and if you buy vintage, you are not further degrading the marine environment.

Many persons are watching these carved coral 16mm button stud earrings on eBay, so they may be sold, but I want to show them as an example of the charisma of vintage coral in 18k settings. This pair conjures an elegant old hotel on Capri, with the natural wildflowers in the air. BIN price, $475.

Chan Luu combines cowrie shells, tassels, silver beads and bells into a playful necklace that reminds me of balmy islands and steel drums. On braided cotton, it is cool in warm weather, though I would wear this all year— the colours are interesting (imagine this on a camel sweater) and will layer up with chains or other strands. From Twist; price, $62.

Let's watch the sun sink into the waves and finish with a sumptuous, iconic piece. If your beach is Palm, this may be what you wear to dinner. When I began to write this post, I thought, Seaman Schepps, I have to show them. 

Since the 1930s, this house has put clients like Katherine Hepburn and Doris Duke in exquisite, audacious resort jewellery—and Beladora of course have the sublime example, the Triple Turbo Shell brooch with diamond and pearls. Price, $4, 750.

Montréal style: Treasures to take home

My eye and energy are beaming toward this July and August, when I shutter the Passage and take a break to receive friends here for summer holidays.

Travellers pick up souvenirs, for sure, sometimes modest as a St-Ambroise beer coaster pocketed from a bar, occasionally a splurge; a couple recently fell in love with a painting!

I'll show you several big hits with visitors, but you don't need to visit to enjoy them; they  are also available online. All prices are in $CDN.

An entire family of visiting Brits, (grandparents, Mum and Dad, two teenagers) fell hard for trèsnormale t-shirts-screen printed with original, deep-Montréal scenes. Left: the woman's model of Boulevard St-Laurent, part of the Urbanity series. Upper right: the artwork on the tee celebrating the 375th birthday of the city. Bottom right, one of my favourites, the dépanneur (our French for 'convenience store'). Price, about $29.

trèsnormale offer a wide range of sizes, including kid's. Some of the tees are in soft, 100% cotton, others are a cotton-bamboo-poly blend, and all are in muted, interesting colours. A number of designs are available as sturdy tote bags, $16 each.

Bees to honey: Two sisters bought pieces for themselves, and one man bought a gift for his partner. The two operating in US dollars were thrilled by the exchange rate that makes Relaxed Real-level handcrafted items extremely affordable.
Left: Mina splurged on one of Gabrielle Demarais' sculptural necklaces. Shown, the PK5 necklace, two silver discs on black cord—dramatic on its own and also layers well. Price, $95. (Her work is also available at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h.) I adore Gabrille Demarais' jewellery, so I might have enabled her a tad, but is she happy!

Upper right: Gene chose a pair of Lucie Veilleux Caviar stud earrings for his sweetheart, price, $59 on Lucie's Etsy shop. Lower right: This Ilk make fresh designs that feature vintage materials. Laurie  bought herself the Cheeba necklace, $54, made with vintage ball-trimmed lace and green and black fringe. In Montréal you can find a selection from both artists at the wonderful boutique Articho.

Montréal contains unique architecture that lends itself to arresting images; the best hint at their location rather than shout.

Left: Boutique Onze navy cotton tunic (sizes XS-XXL) printed with a whimsical map of the city; price $59. (Other colours available but some sizes are sold out online.)
Centre: Satin photoprint wallet of Habitat '67 (we're celebrating Expo 67's 50th anniversary), bound to please even the most design-conscious. Only $15 from fotofibre.
Right: Cherry red cellphone case with our iconic spiral staircase, for iPhone 6 or 6s from thelonelypixel; price, $49.

Visitors+women=shoes; you're walking a lot and a new pair somehow makes sense. Fluevog is the edgy Canadian shoe brand, and though you can find it in other cities worldwide (and online), at the St-Denis boutique you would be served by the charming Maxime!

Sarah found a pair of badass boots on sale, but we were also captivated by gorgeously-colored Iris suede pumps. Maxime encouraged us to take all the free buttons we'd like, printed with slogans like "Tu es magnifique", so Sarah scooped a handful for her friends back home.

Having a wonderful time, wish you were here. Oh wait—it's not too late to plan a trip!

Jewellery: The smallest diamonds

In retail stores, sales of large (over 1ct) diamonds are down; jewellers are not replenishing their stock of rocks, but giving more space to small-diamond pieces. Why? The young generation are wary of the big ERs, because of the priority they place on experiences instead of objects, concerns about conflict diamonds, and (my opinion) wising up to the controlled pricing of the diamond industry.

With behaviour changing among that cohort, jewellers are better serving another segment: the "midult", the woman past forty who can buy her own jewellery. Why, they ask rather plaintively, will she order a $1, 500 designer bag online, but not a pair of earrings?

What does this mean for you? Many outstanding designers are creating interesting, informal and well-priced pieces using very small diamonds. Diamond is still my favourite of the gem minerals, for its versatility, durability and the frisson of a little sparkle. Like a macaron, even a small one can delight.

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with such jewellery, priced under $1, 500. At this price point, the diamonds will be no larger than 1 to 2.5 mm, and sometimes set in silver.

Irit Design diamond hoops; price, $950 at Beladora. Set in silver, these earrings have 2 ct total weight in diamonds, and they are not demure. If you'd like diamonds you can wear with jeans, this is the pair!

Jenny Kwon's Diamond Wrap Ring:14k gold with1mm diamonds that add elegance to a sculptural ring. Price, $920.

The Japanese designers Rusty Thought are among my favourite contemporary jewellers. Example: their diamond bar necklace  combines a gold chain with an oxidized silver bar set with six 1mm diamonds. Enough presence to wear alone, but also perfect layered; I'd not take it off. Price, $630.

A friend has these Anne Sportun Flow Hoop earrings, which she bought to commemorate a decade birthday. (The drop is 13.5mm or just over a half-inch). She wears them with everything; diamonds near the face, like pearls, lend a glow. Anne Sportun uses beautiful stones; I have seen these in her showroom. Price, $CDN 1, 135.

An evocative mix of 14k yellow and white gold, with tiny diamonds set on the centre vein; Gold Ruffle earrings by Shelly Gaffe. (Detail shown.) Price, $CDN 1, 450 at L.M. Pai Gallery.

You need not obsess about the intricacies of diamond grading (and many pieces made with small stones will not provide it anyway); look at the gems in natural light and see if they flash. If you own a good diamond, use it as a comparator.

I own jewellery with diamonds only 1.5mm and you can see them flash fire; I have other pieces in which diamonds several times the size are noticeably less brilliant.

If ordering online, chat with the vendor and ask if those little pointers are lively.  (In some vintage jewellery, the diamonds may dulled due to wear.)

And then, if it lifts your heart, take such a piece into your everyday life. I know I'm biased, but in ten years, how will that bag hold up?

Late life therapy

There's nothing like a wake to invite reminiscence, and my mother-in-law's touching, bittersweet memorial was that. Of a family of six, an ailing brother and the eldest, her healthy and alert 93-year old sister, whom here I shall call Claire, remain.

My doctor once told me that mean people live the longest; if so, Claire was a candidate for eternal life. Those family members willing to visit prepared as if entering an active minefield.

Despite an abrasive personality, she was a remarkable woman. Claire had a long career as an army nurse and then nursing teacher; she had never married nor had children, but could recount loves both great and fleeting. At a time when women in her world were bound to the village, she traveled the world, bought her own furs, and told me of the days when "we brushed our teeth in champagne".

At about ninety, Claire changed entirely. She became diplomatic, warm, and relaxed. When the word spread among the family, more distant members could not believe it, but each returned from her small town to say, It's true.

Claire has not—at least among the family gathered last month—spoken of her motivation, but the methods are known: therapy and a return to her religion. In other words, she sought counsel in both this world and, according to her beliefs, beyond.

Claire's story is not unique. One of my Susanfriends told me of a friend who, when well past eighty, asked her pastor why no one ever visited. Her pastor gave her frank, factual feedback. The woman sought counselling, which included development of an image of how she wanted to be remembered.

These stories share a common element: each woman had the mental acuity to engage in the therapeutic and spiritual work, and wished to do so.

There are other paths besides therapy or a return to religion for late-life growth, but a person will need skilled guidance to revise old patterns. Religion will be completely off the table for some; however, at its best, a faith community can provide constant support.

My generation is far more accultured to therapy than Claire's; at one point just about everyone I knew was "getting help", from vision quests to groups for divorced parents. We amassed enough books to stock a mobile library; some helped, others were dusty doorstops.

But by later life, many figure we're fully-formed; change seems like a nice idea, but not really practical: I am who I am. While there is wisdom in accepting one's flaws, if they are contributing to estrangement and loneliness, maybe we could cut ourselves a little less slack.

Even if a woman had "meh" experiences in past decades—the therapeutic equivalent of Earth Shoes—perhaps it wasn't them, it was us. Now is the time to be honest, and find a qualified pro who can take you into the hard areas. Last year, facing an issue that seemed like an ethical Catch-22, I had a series of Skype sessions with a remarkable therapist whom I known as a teacher. It was expensive, but worth it.

The purpose of late-life personal growth is to connect, before it's too late, with those close to you; to give and receive love unfettered by old stories; and to live the last stretch in peace rather than bitterness. A better use of money than botox!

As we said goodbye to my mother-in-law,  I caressed the box of ashes and heard John Lennon's lyric in my head:

And in the end
The love you take
is equal to the love you make.

Pearls: Vivienne Jones bracelet

I bought a handful of undrilled Tahitian keshis last winter, from a private seller. For a good while I just admired them in a bowl:

There weren't enough for a strand, though I could have mixed the keshis with other varieties. When my friend B. suggested I use them for a bracelet, I realized that's something I don't have, and that I had various bits and pieces that might work with them.

Who could make this? I thought of a jeweller whose work I've admired and enjoyed for many years and whose designs suit my current life: Vivienne Jones, based in Toronto. Here's a selection of her work, from her web site:

Le Duc gave me one of her bangles on my birthday about twenty-two years ago:

The first bracelet

I sent an e-mail. (We had never met when I lived in Toronto.) She answered my inquiry to say that she would be in Montréal in early February for a family visit, and could meet me. (I would have worked via mail or Skype just as confidently. )

At that meeting, she questioned me in her soft Welsh accent while she sketched. She brought shots of other bracelets, and I showed her my bangle, as a reference point: "Like this, but bigger".  She showed me a spiral design whose scale I liked; it had presence but also lightness.

I brought the keshis, some other loose pearls, a few charms, and a pair of gold earrings set with small diamonds, which Le Duc had given me on our 10th wedding anniversary.

Two hours flew by; she was so generous with her time, but that's important.  If both parties are clear before the jeweller begins to work, she will save design time at the beginning and rework later. She also inquired about a budget and assured me that mine fit this project.

A month later, Vivienne sent many views of the spiral with some of the pearls set, and examples of other elements. This intermediate stage is crucial. The client has to "speak now or hold her peace". Revisions are possible, but may affect cost and delivery time.

It is also the time of the "while we're at it, why don't we just add..." tendency, which anyone who has ever reno'd a kitchen will relate to. (Oops, just spent the entire appliance budget on spalted maple burl.)

And I almost did that. As I studied the partially-made piece, I thought, "Maybe I should add a few small stones before it's too late". One morning I was online at 6 a.m. looking at 3mm sapphires and other alluring gems, until I got a grip. One of the reasons I am so taken with her work is Vivienne's restraint. There was a very good chance that, in my enthusiasm, I would over-egg the omelette.

I simply told her it looked perfect, and to continue.

Another six weeks, and it was ready! The bracelet has abundant details, in both fixed and stationary components. I can even wear my old and new bracelets together.

Custom design means you can repurpose materials that are sentimental and mix in some new to create a piece that delights every day. The cost was comparable to that of a major brand's silver cable bracelet, but worlds above in terms of workmanship.

Vivienne Jones' work is available in Montréal at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h, and in Ottawa at L.A. Pai Gallery. See this list for other galleries. You may also contact her directly via her web site.

Kojima meets Montréal: A visit from my pearl mentor

Last week, one of my all-time favourite women came to Montréal, fulfilling a long-held wish for both of us. Josephine Baker wreathed in pearls (and the famous bananas) seemed an apt greeting: from one goddess to another.

Sarah Canizzaro, owner of Kojima Company, has put more women in unusual pearls than anyone I know, always with heartfelt, personal attention. She crosses the world to search for them, spend time with friends made in over twenty years of pearlhunting, and find inspiration in diverse cultures.

The days flew; we visited Janis Kerman's retrospective show at The Guild, where Janis met Sarah to talk about her work, and stopped by for a long look in Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h, the superb gallery of contemporary jewellery.

When lights went out while we were having a nightcap, the crowd in the neighbourhood bar started singing: welcome to Montréal!

But woman cannot live by pearls alone, so there was ice cream, music, croissants, exuberant street art; bookstores, lychee sake and an irresistible pair of electric ladyland boots (Fluevog).

She spent a day with a longtime friend, A., who flew in from Toronto. They met in Asia as young women with common interests: gems and travel. A., a collector of unusual jewels, brought boxes of delicious stones; a selection will be made into Kojima designs.

To knock about Montréal, she brought her own pearls, which floated perfectly from jeans to dress—see those exuberant dangles in the photo with Janis. On Kojima's site, I'm dazzled by a sister pair, golden South Seas finished with 14k wires; price, $405. (Note: Amaaazing price; why would anyone buy fakes?)

She also wore a South Sea rope of silvery-white drop and drum-shapes in various sizes, cooler and looser than matchy rounds. A similar necklace is on the site; price, $1, 170.

Sarah came to Montréal immediately following Kojima's spring sale, during which she and her team fulfilled a torrent of orders—a passel of women must be looking quite exuberant themselves!

If you'd like to see her latest treasures, follow kojimapearl on Instagram.

Debt, Milennials and me

I recently read an essay by a woman whom I assume is in her thirties. She had burnt out, saved money to move back to the city where she had been happiest, and spent several months to recover at leisure, pursuing her creative writing, sleeping, and hanging out with the friends she had missed.

She is funding this hiatus primarily by credit card debt, and lives frugally. She feels much better, deeply enjoys her freedom, and wonders how long she can continue this R&R. ("To the moment when you ask yourself that", I thought.) 

This is the first time in her life that she has lived beyond her means, and she asserts it is necessary.

She received affirmation from commenters. One wrote, "Part of being 'good with money' means knowing the difference between 'I am using my credit card to buy things that don’t really matter to me and don’t improve my life' and 'it is worth paying $X in interest charges if it means I get to spend time with someone who is important to me.'” 

That logic made me feel every year of my age. 
I'm on the other side of a Great Divide; reared by Depression-era parents, I was taught that only a dire circumstance would justify debt for a visit. I thought, What about Skype? Or waiting to visit until you've saved enough? 

I agree it's important to know your priorities: if you know what you value, you make better decisions about money. But just because you value something doesn't mean "'it is worth paying $X in interest charges...'". It sure does help you rationalize the expenditure, though.

Both writer and commenters distinguished between buying things and buying experiences, and expressed a preference for the latter. That is where their generation has been snookered. Whether you spent $3,000 to go to Coachella or buy a Prada coat, if when the bill comes you can't pay it, you are burdened.

I thought back to that age; I was hardly the model of responsible spending. My head was easily turned by 'things'; I remain grateful to the boyfriend who talked me out of buying a rattletrap sports car on my Visa. I also bought 'experiences'. After one girlfriend getaway, I tacked the bill on my fridge door (fortunately the folks were not around to see it), chipped away at the balance for months and never went the fly now/pay later route again.

Two factors contribute to the debt-accepting attitude of such commenters: if, like many Milennials, a recent university graduate carries a five-figure student loan debt, the thinking goes, what's another six grand?  

The second factor is that some regard banks as capitalist standard-bearers for greed. However, if you signed a credit card, you made the deal: I go to Becky and Pete's wedding in Baja on the plastic, and Chase gets to charge me nearly 20% interest—whatever, you bastards.

I saw I was about three thousand times more debt-averse than the commenters, most of whom are of my sons' generation. I hope my boys have inherited my deep suspicion of easy credit. I know one has kept his card frozen in a hunk of ice. 

During the morning rush hour on the métro, I heard a woman in her early thirties on her phone. "I mean", she said indignantly, "why am I working my butt off now, so that when I'm old I can do stuff? What's the point of that?"

Oh, the elder next to her yearned to pluck her sleeve and say, Hi, can I buy you a coffee? I wanted to tell her that she would still want to "do stuff" at seventy. Would there be money for that? Would there be money for even the necessities? I would hope to not sound like a scold when I asked whether she was saving anything now.

You will not, I would have said, lose your wanderlust and curiosity; the door to discovery doesn't slam shut. Art, ancient temples and soaring hawks will still move you, seeing those friends will mean ever more.

With some basic budgeting and a bit of luck, she could "do stuff" at thirty and at seventy, but there will be choices, limits. Debt for her generation is too often presented as an undesirable but necessary tool for personal freedom, when it is actually slavery. 

But I just boarded the train with my thoughts, and she went to her job.

Taking the shortcut to style

I just donated a stack of personal style guides I'd accumulated over the past six years. All of these advised the reader to begin with "Who am I?" and "What am I trying to say (in my visual presentation)?" in order to guide wardrobe choice, career success, eternal bliss.

One contained worksheets of questions that, if diligently answered, would take many days of analysis. I loaned that to Moira, who tried to skip to the end—she was impatient. "Isn't there a shortcut?" she asked with asperity.

Like her, women in the Passage do have a good idea of who they are, but are interested in an occasional tune-up, or want to handle a shift when retirement, career change or other transition happens.

When I saw those dusty guides, I thought about what I've been doing instead. Turns out three activities have replaced the books:

1. Read selectively

If you are what you eat, you also look like what you read. Even if idly grazing, the images go into the Shop Compartment of your brain.

After reading a stack of a daughter's British Vogues, Joanie bought a black faux-leather moto. It didn't breathe, resulting in sticky, sweaty misery—and, though Vogue editors endorsed "'tude past 50" , the jacket wasn't really her.

An image consultant told me to consult InStyle magazine to "keep my look contemporary". I have a deep aversion to the brand-screaming, celebrity-pandering, anodyne InStyle look.

I prefer to see what real women with highly-tuned aesthetics (rather than highly-paid stylists) wear, so shell out twice a year for a copy of "The Gentlewoman" to see a scientist or playwright in crisply beautiful clothes, even though I grumble that the pieces are so costly.

2.  Move beyond "body type" taxonomies

Most guides instruct you to identify you body shape. I have concluded I am either an hourglass, H, or pear.  On some days I feel like a trapezoid.

The Do/Don't Wear lists attached to the shapes are horribly prescriptive. I say, if you're voluptuous and want to wear a chartreuse satin blouse with a black and white polka-dotted pleated skirt, enjoy!

Despite their advice, I don't like to wear two items on top, such as a vest over a blouse. I'll bet you have a similar "Yes, but...", and I'd love to hear it.

At this point in life, you surely know, for example, that you're a different size on top than bottom. You're likely coming to terms with physical changes, though, and that takes honesty. Women would rather jump into a pool of starving piranhas than go up a size. So what? We need to pay more attention to fit and less to the size on the label.

Find what suits your life, fits well and makes you happy.

3. Find exemplars, not models

An exemplar is someone to whom you connect because you are like that too, not because she looks so fabulous. Helen Mirren in a bikini: estimable, but she is not going on my board because there is no way I could do that.

That's the difference between a model and an exemplar: the model is aspirational, and the exemplar is you on a good day. You have an identity, worked hard for it. You can't make a Grace out of a Frankie.

Your exemplar is the sage second opinion when you shop. I considered a J. Crew midi skirt with a ruffle. Right length for me, but I have nothing ruffled and... WWJD? (Jane Birkin; no sale.)

Those are the shortcuts, but just like cooking, some women enjoy spending more time and effort. My guides, placed on the bench in our building's lobby, vanished overnight!

There may be books you do want to keep; mine is  "A Guide to Elegance" by Geneviève Dariaux. I don't mind that it's dated (a "must" is a mink ascot!); Madame Dariaux writes from a unique, sometimes tart perspective. Besides, I paid $50 for a used hardcover first edition. I had first encountered the book in the library of a charming old summer home, in 1991, and had to have it. Now you can get that book for a penny.

So I am curious: What wisdom have you accumulated, with or without those guides?

I'll go first: Look in the mirror before you leave the house; don't forget the back view. Thanks, Mom.


Saying goodbye in colour

My mother-in law died in her sleep last week, after a fall that fractured her hip. Her death was as gentle as one could wish for a loved one, though unexpected because she was recovering well in the hospital.

We are plunged into the emotions and necessities of a funeral. Though grief has a different tenor when the loss comes after a long life, it is still a profound event. "To lose a mother", a friend wrote, "is something, whether it happens to you at ten or at seventy."

The family will gather on Friday for a simple service and luncheon, where we will share memories. The most vivid for me is our first meeting, when her son brought me, his fiancée, home to meet his parents. They had barely heard of me—our courtship spanned mere months. Her welcome was warm, unreserved and wholly accepting, and remained constant for over thirty years.

This will be an informal event, so I do not have to buy something suitable, but I have learned that the clothes chosen on such days are forever infused with tender sadness. I could never wear the dresses I wore to my parents' memorials again.

 Christmas, 2004

Mrs. P. was a textile artist; she made woven and hooked tapestries, and knit and sewed expert, immaculately-finished treasures. She had a sophisticated sense of colour and design, so it feels wrong to wear the traditional black, which she refused for herself, because to her it meant only mourning.

I will choose something that expresses my admiration of her gifts, my gratitude for her love and trust. I'll stand before my closet and ask to be inspired by her. My hand will find a bit of colour—perhaps a scarf—to honour the beauty she created thorough her long life.

There will be no post on Thursday, this week.

Is Mother's Day necessary?

Maybe that's the wrong question. Do you enjoy Mother's Day?

The event is a dual celebration: of one's own mother, and, for women who are mothers, of their motherhood. The general idea is to give the role some props; for many days—hell, probably the rest of the year—a mother is appreciated amid a blur of runny noses, I-need-a-costume-for-the-spring-pageant and "He started it."

It is also, of course, a marketing weapon; beginning a month ago, my inbox delivered the imperative to buy Mom a scarf or monogrammed tote bag.

I like it anyway.

Typical Gummy Lump

The sweetness of small children presenting what Robert Ludlum called the Gummy Lump—an art project notable mostly for its heartfelt effort—eyes shining with pride and love, was a fine moment.
In a different manner than the hysterical excitement of Christmas, Mother's Day engages the young in giving, and there is no bouquet as touching. Children tend to overlook our flaws.

By the teenage years, Mother's Day celebrations devolve to maybe a brunch out, if the kid is awake by noon, but Mom is fêted just the same. Or not quite the same; adolescence is another planet.

A mother in the thick of child-rearing might prefer a gift certificate for nine consecutive hours of sleep, but in reality, is offered handmade cards, and that's just fine. I am embarrassed to recall that one of my school Mother's Day projects was a clay ashtray stencilled with our mother's name, but times have changed, as have family units.

Modern families have found variations (and some skip the whole thing). A lesbian couple I know celebrate Mothers' Day, with the appropriate punctuation. Others have expanded the celebration to include stepmothers, aunts or "honourary mothers", to thank women essential to their children, no matter how they came to the family.

Women near my age lucky enough to have a mother still here give an extra serving of affection, which is harder for some mother-child relationships than others. Marilyn's mother was definitely lax, and even absent, for many of those years; the relationship is still under construction. Marilyn arranges for the delivery of pink baby roses (Mum's favourite) when the second Sunday of May rolls around. The accompanying card does not call her "#1 Mom", but conveys good will. Compassion is a precious gift.

Other graceful gestures may mark the day. For years, when we lived in the same city, I would find a small gift—a few daffodils, or a copy of a poem she liked—on my doorstep every Mother's Day morning. Ruth would do the same for at least a dozen other friends.

The child of a single mother, and a single mother herself, Ruth wanted to celebrate friends who had by choice or chance become mothers, to encourage us in our efforts, and to remind us to sleep...eventually.

As Mother's Day approaches, I think about my mother more than usual, of the years when I gave (and sometimes withheld) that appreciation. My father always gave her a gift, too; one year, it was a box of Cuban cigars. (She did not smoke by then.)

On the following Father's Day she gave him a set of china.

Secondhand: Full circle shopping

The closet asked for a seasonal top, but because spring here is fleeting, buying much in spring colours is not the best value you'll get out of a budget. When I flipped some boutique price tags, I saw that I'd pay more tax on a new sweater than I'd spent on the pristine, hip designer shirt I'd found in a thrift for a son's job interviews.

Thrifts had not offered much for me, though; a riffle through the women's racks was a dispiriting tour of the limp, damaged or outdated. But I saw women there with brimming carts; what did they know that I didn't? I figured, It's a numbers game, and vowed to look more thoroughly.

I stopped by the usual suspects on my FitBit walks, left empty-handed many times, but kept at it. I also checked consignment shops, where someone else had done the picking, and designer labels bloomed. If you're a regular, staff may be willing to call when special pieces come in.

One day, I found two 100% cotton sweaters in perfect, unworn condition: an apple-green Tommy Hilfiger pull, and an aqua Olsen cardi, and struck by my luck, bought both. Total cost, $CDN 12.

Both were laundered immediately with Orange-a-Peel to purge that thrift store deodorant smell.

I imposed the one in/one out rule, and donated to the same organizations. When I found a floaty kimono top from a luxury plus-size brand, a friend got a surprise package. I could really get into picking for friends!

The "full circle" in the post's title refers to the full circle of consumption, from the early days when my friends and I hit the thrifts and vintage shops to stretch our first paycheques, and because we loved the workmanship and fabrics.

I stopped secondhanding in my thirties—busy with family and career, I found it easier to get it now, in my size. I missed the hunt, but couldn't spend Saturday afternoons trolling Kensington Market anymore. I'd occasionally accompany canny friends who had never left Courage My Love behind, but for decades, I was only a donor—and a star one, thanks to overbuying and cycling up and down in size.

At work, plenty of women were shopping in resale boutiques, but it was a secret society. Only if you were a trusted confidante would a colleague reveal, over a white wine spritzer, that her Calvin Klein suit was secondhand.

Now, I find many women are buying secondhand because they want to consume differently, and they are not only open, they are proud to say so.

My chic friend Jude, whose work requires frequent attendance at high-profile events, buys all her business clothes secondhand; Roberta, a committed environmentalist, will wear only used (except shoes). My grandson's other grandmother is presently rocking an Armani raincoat for which she paid one-fifteenth of the retail price; the tag was still on in the consignment shop!

Even if you would never wear someone else's clothes (I'm thinking of Lynn, who believes the emotional energy of the original owner is forever embedded in the garment), you can find other treasures. I bought housewares for our kids' apartments, baby toys and clothes, and art supplies.

"It's addictive", a man who scouts regularly for crystal told me while we waited in line. He is right, but I'm resisting the habit. I left behind some estimable finds: a current Rodier tweed blazer, a black cashmere crewneck—that weren't needed. But I'm pretty pleased that I've crossed those tops off my list for twelve bucks.

 Will I see you there?

Because the night

There's this evening that I love in Montréal, which happens sometime during first weeks of fine weather, as if everyone in the city says, It's here; we're going out!

You never know when it will strike, so you can't call a friend and say, "Let's go out Wednesday." This year, the evening was last Thursday, which coincided, to my delight, with the vernissage for Janis' Kerman's 45-year retrospective show of her jewellery, at The Guild of Canadian Crafts.

My friend and co-grandmother Natasha and I met there; Natasha was a high school classmate of Janis'.

The mood had built during the day, the fizzy sunshine and warmth (26C) caused the young women to cast off not only coats but a good deal of everything else; this year, I can tell you, will be about satin shorts.

Janis' show was a wonderland; come to Montréal between now and May 28, to see for yourself! (Several readers are planning to do just that, and I'm delighted.) This was Natasha's first encounter with Janis' signature "balance, not symmety" approach; she was captivated, and immediately thought of her unworn pieces, presently in a bank box.

Photo courtesy Janis Kerman

We had as much fun admiring the jewellery many women wore, as viewing the exhibit. I stalked a brunette in white baroque pearls with a long, cylindrical clasp Janis had pavéd in fuchsia sapphires.

Natasha wore a Janis Kerman/Nicole Lachapelle belt, with a large brass buckle that dated from the '80s; Janis' mother wore a similar one. "Mrs. Kerman", Natasha told her, "you were the most elegant of all the mothers."

That in itself would have been a star outing, but The Evening must not end at barely 7 p.m.! We ducked around the corner for soup dumplings, snagged a window table to see the passing show. Couples kissed in the street, a smiling dog waiting outside Café Myriade accepted scratches. As the sun set, the warmth barely left, the collective mood built. We could feel the city hum.

One does not deny this sensual pleasure after our winters. A glass of wine, perhaps? We walked over to Alexandre, a champagne bar with its front wide open, and sat side by side on a banquette from where we could absorb the scene: serious décollete on many women (and not just youths), men in sleek suits.

Coming home some time later, I walked by another bar. A handsome young man stood on the sidewalk chatting with his chums. I heard him say, "...fait que j'ai conduit à Montréal!" ("...so, I drove to Montréal!") The sense was clear: He saw that this would be The Evening, and had to be here.

Le Duc had gone out for an espresso earlier, but by the time I arrived was contentedly reading David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster". He admitted he had noticed the girls and agreed that it had been The Evening.

For the next five months, that particular electricity will strike again at unsummonable moments. Everyone will sense it; they'll throw together a picnic in the park, where surely someone will play a guitar, or hang out on the balcony, have a beer.

Parents will let kids stay up later even on a school night, take them for ice cream. Young bucks will begin their weekend, no matter that there's work tomorrow.

As if we need further enticement, this year the city celebrates both the 50th anniversary of Expo '67, which brought the world to Montréal and vice versa, and the 375th anniversary of the city's founding. It's an especially auspicious time to visit, and stay out late when you do.

To learn more about the many events planned for these celebrations, go to Montréal375 and Tourism Montréal.