Complaint-Free World: Don't be a grumpy elder

Know what is most unattractive in a 50+ woman? Not gray hair, not the inevitable bumps, lumps or shifts, it's being jamais content. To be 'never happy' means complaining, nitpicking, grousing, criticizing, belittling or other ways of letting people know you're not satisfied with what is.

I'm not sure if complaining is exacerbated by age- an innate quality given free rein after 50- or a low-key depression played out via nattering dissatisfaction. Whatever the cause, the result is a way of being that drives people further apart, at a time of life when friendships become ever more precious.

Complaining is a habit, and I can slip unconsciously into the ain't-it-a-shame, kids-these-days curmudgeonly behaviour that only curmedgeons find appealing.

I saw a CBC Sunday Newsworld feature on Will Bowen, the Kansas City MO minister who founded the "Complaint Free World" movement. His simple program: wear a purple silicone bracelet on your wrist, switch it when you complain, and aim for 21 days straight on one hand.

There are a very few loopholes, and they're not the weather, your body, your son-in-law or your job, sister.

You thoughts create your reality, Bowen says, and you control your thoughts. Wouldn't you like to be more gracious, compassionate, conscious and connected to what's good in life? Pick up Bowen's book from your bookseller or the Complaint-Free World web site (for bracelets too) and get started.

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."
- Maya Angelou

UDeMan Part One: Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard is the cherry in my chocolate.

My only gripe is that he wears makeup better than I do (and certainly more of it), and I'm guessing he's held back just a bit of his berserk-in-any-accent barbs when he writes for his FX TV series, "The Riches".

But no mind, his Wayne Molloy/Doug Rich is a complex, addictively watchable wonder. Wayne skewers the American Dream while seduced by it, a stew of fast-talking ambivalence, desperation and bravado.

We saw him live at small venue here in Toronto five years ago. How funny was he? We brought a recently-widowed friend. We were all bereft, and we thought the night out would do us good. Two hours later, three grieving people were gasping with laughter. The mourning mood returned, but that brief respite with Eddie Izzard is an indelible, delicious memory. It felt slightly transgressive (like the man), and so therapeutic.

(photo from Wikipedia)

Johnny Bunko: Career book illustrates life lessons

Dan Pink, acclaimed for his nonfiction bestseller "A Whole New Mind" has taken on a subject even more daunting than the shifting economy and it's implications: how to choose work that's way more than "just a job".

If you have a child or grandchild casting about for their metier, Pink's engaging read will help.

The grabber is Pink's approach: he's wrapped solid life lessons around an art form, Manga, the Japanese comic format. A street-smart sprite, Diana, summoned by the snap of a chopstick, imparts the lessons to disheartened cube-dweller Johnny Bunko. Diana delivers with humour and verve- this cheeky pixie has her head on straight.

My 20-year old son sped through the book and said there were tips he had never heard, and that he'd use them. (How could my lectures be forgotten?) Even if he had recalled my advice, it's outdated: we 50+s hurtled into a different world when we got that first job.

Dan Pink's contribution to finding one's path is current, counterintuitive, and stimulating. What a great graduation gift "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko" will make!

Older bodies a bust, says Toronto journalist

Jamie Lee Curtis' recent AARP article and photos have irritated Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Lynn Crosbie, who gets it off her chest in a March 25, 2008 column, "Good lord, Jamie, what's really real here?" (though the online title is "Good lord, Jamie, put your top back on".)

The Globe will take your $5 to download her screed on why women (and men, for that matter) should keep it covered, especially the "mares" in the pasture. (Search "Lynn Crosbie Jamie" to find it.)

I say, if you don't want to look at the exposed breasts of a woman past 50, don't open the magazine, if you can even find a copy. This isn't a hard-to-avoid Dove commercial, which I applauded.

What I do not respect is her attack on Curtis' looks, "...Her latter commitment to fitness merely showcased those babies (a reference to what Crosbie calls "her huge artificial breasts"), and one was soon inclined to ignore her manly features, slit lips and utter lack of talent if only to get another glimpse at those melons."

She also says, "When interviewed about sleeping with older women, men make two exceptions, Sophia Loren and Helen Mirren, before passing."

Judging from the photo that accompanies her column, Ms. Crosbie is no filly herself. I wonder what she is planning to do, fully clothed or not, as time passes. "Biology is a bitch, what else is there to say?", she writes.

Takes one to know one?

Chunk, Stick or Bella Donna?

Years ago, I read a New Yorker article in which the writer visited the Deep American Midwest, which is where I was born nearly 60 years ago. It was a slice-of-life piece, which included this comment, paraphrased: "Women around here age in two ways: The Chunk or the Stick".

I'm going to resist the lesser-of-two-evils debate. Our shapes will change, and I suppose it does come down to aging into a reedy, Georgia O' Keefe build, or the boxy Gertrude Stein model. In my experience, it's the Stick who seems to cling to the clothes of youth, or even her hoochie-mama 30's, because she can fit into them.

The Chunk isn't as prone to the time warp, but mourns her first tentative foray into a plus-size department (believe me, the operational definition of 'depressing moment') or the realization that the fashion term 'missy' is code for 'this will not fit you in a million years'.

I've landed in Chunkdom: you know where you stand when the 'before' photos for some diet plans look damn good to you.

I try to channel voluptuous, strong women like Anna Magnani. Legend has it she wore exquisite lingerie; there is a worthy endeavour.

A related topic, what exactly constitutes mutton dressed as lamb, is addressed by Linda Grant in her marvelous blog, The Thoughtful Dresser.

Bags At Our Age (AOA)

Leather bags, At Our Age (AOA henceforth) can cause severe neck and back pain. I was delighted to find these recent Bree models. I carry several Bree leather bags in the signature vegetable-tanned carmel colour, and they wear like iron. 

Though heavier than I should strictly carry, tote them when traveling, as they'll take a kick under a plane seat or hurtle through a revolving door with no ill effects.

Bree are on to us, making lighter bags, blessedly free of blaring logos, well- designed and priced.

Shown, the Twin, made in cowhide and according to Bree's web site , out this spring in nylon, and if it's this zesty red, it's mine! I'm on a mission, and fortunately live in a city with a Bree dealer, so hel-lo, Taschen. Price? Don't have price on yet but am hoping I can afford it!

The black/white graphic tote is the Punch 33 shopper, made of a tarp fabric, based on a traditional postman's bag. Sturdy and pretty light, around $140. Wouldn't this pick up a black trench?

Bree's web site lists stockists internationally, but (good for my bank balance) does not include an online shop.

Dame, the torpedo

Robert Maxwell photo

Sometimes I beg my husband or friends to "Tell me! Tell me! if I start to look like
that." I am usually pointing (subtly I hope) at a 50-ish woman dressed as a walking Craft Show. She has Birkenstocks, a lampwork bead necklace, an appliqued coat, maybe a Guatamalan vest... you know the look.

My friend Missi says, "It's an attempted substitute for a good body, it's a way of distracting the eye from what's no longer so hot."
I am equally terrified of looking (as my mother would say) like I hit a sale at Eileen Fisher. I can't wear this austere look, the styles read like elegant drop sheets on me. Why don't I look like the ads? Is it 30 extra pounds or that I'm not at the seashore?

I didn't have a consistent real-life role model till Helen Mirren started getting accolades by the armload, and thank god she did, and thank god she's photographed frequently. Every woman I know looks at Helen Mirren with admiration, relief, pride, hope and a wish that you could order bone structure from Ikea.

My only complaint is that Dame Helen is not often photographed in what she might wear to a Saturday night movie or a walk around her neighborhood.
This photo from the online addition of Ranch and Coast magazine is the most casual I could find. I like how the ruffles soften her look, without going all girly.

Charmed, I'm sure

I surf the craft bazaar Etsy, mostly for jewelry. The clothes are too young. I can take the hint: some crafters make dresses in two sizes, small and extra small. I have a bias toward 'real' jewelry, which I think after 50, is a privilege of living through hundreds of fake and funky pieces- fun, but lesser.

Then I found this necklace, made from reclaimed beads, charms and chains, by a Spanish designer, MTuent, and was captivated.

In a sea of loving-hands-at-home beads and sktr-punk stuff, she stands out.

I'm moved by both the evocative elements of her creations and her fractured, romantic English descriptions. The prices ($45-$100) whisper, "Si, si!" Monica makes rings, earrings and bracelets too, but my favourites are her necklaces, where she expresses her lush dreams of gardens, Indian rooms, or birds on a larger

She describes the piece above, called "Circus":

Pieces made with antique material coming from Spanish and Czech antiquarian, from Bohemia region, where there is the best crystal. Pieces made with materials the most since the ens of the XIX and the beginning of XX century. Necklace with antique chain of sterling silver, made in a asymmetric form, in one side it has an antique crystal of a lamp of a Spanish antiquarian joined to the sterling silver chain. It hangs part of an antique Spanish rosary in black color the key that opens the lock and adorned by an antique Czech crystal from Bohemia. On the other side three links vintage black of plastic, Japanese crystal and an antique glass bead of Murano in the center. In this side it is adorned with a rinestones charm and part on an antique sterling silver rosary from which hangs a nice crystal bead of a lamp. The pendant is a bolt of a Spanish antiquarian of 40th years, in black color, adorned with a charm made with a bead of a crystal lamp. Really spectacular. A jewel original and unique.
One luxury of senses.

The hidden designers of your city

If you read the fashion mags- even ones with a local focus- you'll get brand fatigue. The same stock photos of runway shows, the same seasonal offerings from Boss, Versace, Eileen Fisher.

The local designers in a city, who can provide great choices for over-50 women, are absent. They have minimal to no advertising budget, and are ignored by editors who must represent their advertisers. Your local designer can often make a special size, move a pocket, or cut a jacket for your figure. You can build a relationship, so she will tell you, for example, that she's planning tweed jackets in the fall to go with the pants you buy this spring.

If the mags give her a miss, how do you find her?

1. On foot! Walk the commercial neighborhoods, especially emerging areas where she's an early settler, drawn by the cheaper rent. Go in and look, talk to her, don't be shy about suggesting what you want. I benevolently bugged the Toronto designer Alexia von Beck for over a year to make larger sizes- she finally did, and I wear them into the ground. Ottawa's Muriel Dombret (her boutique is "Clothes") cuts skirts longer to fit my tall frame.

If you find her in another city, organize a trunk show. Muriel comes to Toronto several times a year, and every time, she's mobbed.

2. Online! Search "Dressmakers Toledo" (or whatever your city is) and go from there. Some dressmakers specialize in bridal, but it's a start; phone to find out what she provides. Again, visit and ask to see her work. I once hired an former film costume designer to make me the sweeping cotton 1940's shirtwaist of my dreams, but she talked me into a poly fabric I think was left from one of Elivis' jumpsuits and I wore that $450 dress once. In the sticky summer it felt like a garbage bag.

3. Ask at finer fabric stores for their recommended dressmakers: the
modiste is an increasingly rare species. A talented dressmaker-designer often works from her home or an upper floor in an office building. You can also look for dressmakers in the Yellow Pages (sometimes listed under tailors). Specialty drycleaners sometimes know about these reclusive treasures.

If your city has an alternative paper, you may find designers mentioned there, but their looks are often too fey or fashion-y, and novices can rarely afford the really good fabrics and finishing an over-50 woman requires.

If the shoe fits

"If the shoe fits, it's ugly." I have about given up on heels, though admire them deeply on my friends. I'll venture a low wedge, but lately I've been yearning for these, the "Alma" by Thierry Rabotin. In fact I yearn for almost all of his styles, including the saucy "Ace" leopard wedges.

These shoes are expensive, around $400 a pair, but they fit into "Hell to purchase, heaven to wear" category. I bought a new pair on eBay for $90 and was given another pair after a well-heeled fri
end chose the wrong size.

And I will splash out for summer sandals from Rabotin, because what I'm wearing on my feet shows on my face.

Have you ever looked at a woman who's obviously in distress, then heard her say, "My shoes are killing me?" We don't have to do this anymore.

Pearls for grown up girls

LinkPearls are my favourite gem, but the 6 or 7 mm Akoyas some of us were were given for our graduation or wedding are dated and bitsy. The photos on the left, from the March 18, 2008 online New York Times Style section, present pearls with grit, wit and substance. 

Prices range from a relatively modest $1,450 (all prices in US dollars) for the Janis by Janis Savitt piece (top right) to the necklace on the lower left by David Yurman, $25,000.

Beats the stuffings out of your sentimental, safe strand, but what about t
hose of us on a kir budget?

Below, two more affordable styles by the Los Angeles-based designer Zara Scoville, from her site, Priceless Imperfection, She uses 'dirty pearls', odd shapes with colour variations, the wildly irridescent Kasumi and some quirky Tahitians instead of the often-bleached, shiny white but lifeless Akoyas. Zara's are organic gems that breathe.

Look at the glow, the play of colour, the fresh treatment. These would be
stunning near gray hair.

Top photo, Rustic Royalty necklace, about $300, and bottom, Z1 necklace, about $500 depending on the size and quality of the pearls. Whatever your price point, these pieces are treasures of nature from the hands of an artist.

Spring fling: sumptuous Indian shawls

lcome spring!

This is not the week for a neutral palette, and heavy wools reek of hibernation. Time to lift the spirits without lightening the wallet.

Fleece belongs on lambs, blazers are too severe.
The solution? A fine wool
jamavar shawl. When I visited Delhi last year, I could not get enough of them, and learned to wear them folded, flung- any drape that pleases you is "right".

One good source is Heritage Trading, an eBay seller with a supply of subtle or vibrant pieces in several sizes. You can find Dinesh and his store at:

Here's a sampling:

1. Top: Clear pinks and lavender in the largest size, a luxuriant sweep of 40 x 80 inches, $US 40 (All prices do not include postage, which is $7 to the US. They will ship internationally, too.)

2. Middle:
Blue beauty in my favourite size, 28 x 80 inches, small enough to fold in a bag, large enough to drape, $US 37

3. Below: 21 x 72 inches, for petite frames or to wear as a scarf, in soft neutrals, $US 30

The simpler under your shawl, the better. I eschew the old-school style of wearing one over a coat: too babushka.