There will be gifts, part one

The approaching 60th party brings me to the topic of gifts.

At the risk of coming off pickier than the picky eaters I railed against, I'm anticipating birthday gifts with curiosity and a bit of unease.

My friends will fall into two camps: those who will put thought into their gift, and those who will realize at 6 pm. that they need something in hand in a few hours.

There's the No Gifts Please route but my experience is that some people bring them anyway, and the ones who do not say that's not fair.

It is unfair to characterize men as less-talented gift givers, but my experience confirms this. I used to offer escort my GFs' partners on gift-shopping expeditions. "How can this be difficult?" I used to think, as they pawed the ground and snorted in front of sales persons.

Here are the guidelines I offered them.

1. "Get" the recipient
Notice her clothes, her favourite objects, authors, colours, scents, pastimes.

Is it any wonder my salsa-and-all-things-Cuban loving friend D. wept when her husband gave her a gadget-stuffed Swiss Army knife for her 50th birthday?

2. Details!
Mike gave Monica clip-on earrings; she has pierced ears. She nearly divorced him.

3. Quality trumps size
One exquisite bar of soap is a nicer gift than a huge cheap straw beach bag.

4. Avoid catalog shopping (unless you are in the Antarctic and she is in Buenos Aires)

Catalogs reek of desperation and close-your-eyes-and-point. If you must order from a catalog, refuse their gift wrap/card option, remove all vendor packaging and re-wrap with exquisite paper and ribbon.

5. Add your personal touch

An iPod Touch is even better when you take the time to download your mix of her favourites. The gold bangle le Duc chose is one of my cherished possessions because he had "Je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime" hand-engraved in an oversized script that fills the entire interior.

6. Forget "the bar"

That's the mythical bar that's in your head: "If I do this now, what will I give her next year?" The competitive spirit has no place in giving.
And the corollary:

7. Go big once in awhile

You don't have forever to see someone you love's eyes light up.

The second dozen roses, the solid instead of plated, the hardcover instead of paperback. If you hear yourself saying "good enough" it probably isn't. "Going big" does not have to be monetary. She loves to fly fish and you love the track? Go fishin'.

8. A day late is a million dollars short

You had 364 of them, pal. Your shopping neighbourhoods are full of sales professionals poised to assist. There is no excuse for saying "Your birthday is today but I'll get your gift on the weekend" unless you are on a heart-lung machine.

If you put a bit of thought into it, the recipient will not only enjoy the gift, she will appreciate the love and celebration that went into the selection. Don't worry about "perfect"- no one gets it right every time.

Part Two, tomorrow, will recount gift gaffes. Part Three will end the series with descriptions of gifts that delighted.

Miss sixty

July's transit pass came in the mail, so I guess next month is inevitable: that's when I turn 60.

For my 50th, I extracted a promise from le Duc that under no circumstances would anyone leap out from behind furniture, groomed and sparkling while I stood with a frozen smile, no makeup, in an old robe, the star of a show I had no desire to attend.

Ten Julys ago my GF Missi flew in, not a surprise (which she had proposed, why do people want to do this?). We spent the weekend drifting through an outdoor art show punctuated with restorative champagne cocktails. The last evening, Missi, the family and I s
ettled into a bistro where the shy chef had prepared a homemade chocolate-strawberry cake, charmingly lopsided, with bits of crumb in the frosting. Perfect: no noise, fuss, or undesired attention.

But that was a decade ago. My GFs started conferring last December. By April panties were in a wad from one end of town to the other. Even if I demurred that le Duc and I might be somewhere distant on The Date, they would chirp "Fine! We'll just do it later!"

I had to act.

I lifted an idea from an acquai
ntance: to send off my 50's on the decade's last night, with eight women who'd seen me through, to thank them for their love and companionship. My garden table seats eight and magically it's just right because several of my dearest will be out of town during prime vacation season.

The chef is Omar, "Le Roi de Cous Cous", the menu sumptuously Moroccan, served on his mother's antique platters. Champagne and rosé, mint tea poured from high overhead.

Last time Omar c
ooked here, he graciously endured appreciative kisses (and not just of his cooking) from women guests... he knows what to expect.

This "0", I feel lucky to be here. During my 50's, at least one woman who would have joined us has died of natural causes, several others had brushes.

I won't really mind the attention because I can return their fond wishes with my own.

I miss this skirt

The 90s, so over.

I mean the decade; the 90F temperatures are just beginning and I am in mourning for my silk broomstick skirts.

So flattering, colourful, comfortable, floaty. A natural fiber that breathes. Perfect for travel.

And if short enough (I cut mine to just below the knee), not toooo dowdy? (You'd tell me, wouldn't you?)

Dadgummit, I wish they were still in style. I have two in espresso, one in olivey-bronze... and with a linen tank, turquoise beads, and gold metallic sandals, I feel graceful and a bit boho. They flow, flutter, and then knot up nicely in a drawer to get all krinkly again, while you sleep.

Maybe, like leggings or pashminas, women will refuse to give them up. If so, WinterSilks (a great source) might bring them back. There are still a few to be had in the Clearance section of their site.

In the meantime, I sneak them on, ignoring my Inner Snob who says, "Oh, I remember those...aren't they a bit passé?"

Inner Snob can just go soak her head; as the temperature soars my vigilance drops. Now, where are my Kork-Ease sandals?

Picky eaters and dinner parties

Le Duc and I enjoy hosting dinner parties and I'm not above boasting that people have begged for invitations.

He's a marvelous cook of the French bistro persuasion, as witnessed by my hip circumference. (But I have sterling cholesterol levels, so the French diet thing works that way.)

We recently invited a couple to our home. "Oh," said the man, "I follow 'Eat Right for My Type' ", and proceeded to launch into an excruciatingly detailed lecture about his regime
, while his wife glared at him. "Perhaps a restaurant some time", le Duc replied in the politely neutral tone I know (after 23 years of marriage) means "when-hell-freezes-over".

Nancy commented (on my post about fragrance) that people's imposition of their requirements is a form of control and attention.

I often see this from women in their mid-20s and early 30s when they order in a restaurant: "I'll have the Cobb Salad except can I have soy cheese and turkey bacon, and can I have that with ginger dressing instead and just a teeny bit of avocado?" Though phrased as a question, the tone of voice clearly implies an order.

If you don't want the oom
phy fatstravaganza that is an honest to god Cobb, don't order one.

For dinner parties, we accommodate some basic preferences: vegetarians and our friends who observe religious food laws. (Some are observant at home, and not when dining out. As my friend Michel said, tucking into le Duc's baby back ribs, "I belong to the oldest religion in the world... hypocrites.")

We ask new guests if there's a deathly allergy. We have a steak for Christine when we serve gril
led sweetbreads with morels, a dish that we and her partner Jim adore. We love her and realize they're a stretch for some people.

But if you don't eat food that's on the menu of a good French or Italian restaurant, you wouldn't want to break bread with us, and vice-versa.

At our dinner parties,
I have experienced:

1. A man who refused to eat one bite of the four courses prepared. "I don't eat that" is all he would say. What did we serve? A first course of sauteed sea scallops. Blanquette de veau. A simple frisee salad. Homemade raspberry-apple tarte. His mortified girlfriend told us he lived on cheeseburgers. (At that dinner he lived on wine and bread.)

2. A first-time guest who told us cheerily, "I eat anything!" As it turned out "anything" did not include jambalaya or salad. Didn't like 'spicy food'; didn't eat shrimp, tomatoes, lettuce.

3. A longtime friend on a special diet for years: no red meat, no fruit, no sugar, no nightshade vegetables, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol except beer. Le Duc bent over backwards, grumbling, for her. Then she fell in love and suddenly it was bagels with inch-high cream cheese, plate-obscuring T-bones and rafts of Champagne in bed with the beau. Guess what? No adverse effects.

I tell my sons, "When you bring a girl home, I don't care about her family background. I don't care what colour she is, or what she wants to be... just don't bring me a girl who peers warily at her plate and says, 'What's in this?'."

I was reared to eat what was served, with gratitude for the labour and generosity involved, to contribute to the conversation at the table, and to thank the hosts.

What has happened to make people so picky, even when they don't know a chick pea from a lentil?

UdeMan: George Carlin

The UdeMan posts celebrate mature men, and with the death of this truly funny human on Sunday, honors those no longer here.

Carlin's style of humour was offbeat, provocative, shrewd, innovative. Inspired by Lenny Bruce (when he saw Bruce perform, he forever abandoned bland jokes), he then, as Jerry Seinfeld noted in his moving eulogy in today's New York Times, honed his material like a diamond cutter.

When smart comics like Carlin put the absurdities of life into their mental blenders ("Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Do they think someone might come along and clean them?"), they encourage us to ask Why? Why Not? To risk, turn on our BS meters, and stand for what counts.

"Women like silent men, they think they're listening." - George Carlin

Scent: Airing an opinion

I read recently that the sign of being "a real New Yorker" was the ability to play "This Was..." as in, "This (real estate office) Was that Chinese hand laundry".

A sign of being "really almost 60" is that I remember not only "This Was", but also "That Was" as in "That Was a mimeographed flyer", "That Was how you made a long-distance phone call", "That Was when suede shoes came with their own little brush."

I also include, "That Was when women enjoyed wearing, and smelling, fragrance."

I wear cologne every day, and perfume in the evening. About the only time I don't wear any is when dining in our garden (apparently it attracts mosquitos) or visiting my doctor (the one with the raw food diet), because she has one of those pre-emptive Thank You for Not signs in her office.

Will I be restricted to home wear only, rather like smoking, a habit I never had?

When people tell me they 'can't stand smelling perfume' they invariably recount the elevator scenario: "This woman got in just doused! It was awful!" Anyone bearing an evident smell (perfume, coffee, chili dog, wet wool coat, ramen noodles) into a 16 square foot space will create an odiferous intensity. But would we say, "I am going to insist people stop carrying those noxious noodles?"

I'm in agreement with those who find heavy application of fragrance unpleasant. Fragrance is intended to be noticed only within the personal-space perimeter, roughly the length of your arm away from your body. Those who ignore this small civility supply the thin-end-of-the-wedge example that has resulted in scent-free righteousness.

If it's too-much that annoys, could we also request that you not wear that printed dress, because that's too much visual stimulation? Would you please lower your voice? I feel ill unless all public conversation is kept to library-whisper level.

The other big anti-argument is environmental sensitivity. I comply with requests for scent-free spaces.

I wonder, though, if cologne is the culprit. Are we aiming for the easy target? Could it be that years of exposure to cleaning agents, solvents, paints, and a slew of other aggressive chemicals created the problem?

It's a world of molecules, and some of them don't play nice.

Could the abysmal indoor air circulation in many office buildings exacerbate asthma more assertively than a whiff of So Pretty? How about five hours locked in the same position reading a computer screen? Might that have something to do with a migraine?

Even in scent-friendly offices, I'm willing to forgo fragrance if a colleague tells me, hand on her heart, that my scent affects her health. I value her wellness more than my pleasure. But I better not notice a bouquet of roses on her desk, wafting their heady scent over fifty square feet (yes, Erin, you), or here comes the Hiris.

The fragrances I wear these days include Chanel's 19, Floris' Edwardian Bouquet, Molyneux Quartz, Norell and Hermes Jardin sur le Nil... and I'm looking forward to many more sublimely scented years, even if I have to spend them in selected spaces.

Style Statement: The examined (stylish) life

I've promised a review of "Style Statement" by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte, since I suggested it to virtual friends.

The premise of this book is that a two-word summary of your style will guide your decisions, not just in attire and decor, but in all aspects of life: wellness, relationships, service, wealth.

A lofty claim and ambitious goal.

My initial reaction was doubt, Then I recalled a job offer I received years ago. The role offered challenge and great money. They showed me what would be my office: a windowless, dull box on a wearily-decorated floor of a grim high rise. My heart sank, my soul shriveled; I could not imagine spending years of my life in that sterile box. I fled and never regretted it. In the language of this book, this was a style-guided decision.

The two-word Style Statement is, therefore, more of a banner that reflects your
alues and needs: what makes life wonderful for you, not a strictly aesthetic definition.

You reach this lodestar through a very detailed process: first, a rather windy and self-promoting intro: what a Style Statement is, why you need it, and how the authors developed their methodology.

Then, a workbook section called the Inquiry Process, organized by sections such as Home + Stuff, Spirit + Learning, Fashion + Sensuality, Service + Wealth, Relationship + Communication, Creativity + Celebration, Body + Wellness, and Nature + Rest & Relaxation.

Each of these sections contains reflective open-ended statements relevant to the topic, organized into two themes: what works for you, and what does not. After you complete the statements, you then harvest key words, images and themes, and store them for the last piece of work: Defining Your Style Statement.
The authors provide a pick list of Style Statement terms (called Creative Edge Words). Don't see the right words on the list? Fine, choose your own.

Profiles of (mostly) women shown with their Style Statements and the objects that embody it, provide guidance and respite from the workbook tasks.

I broke the work into chunks, picking up the book (and a blank notebook) for a few hours each week. I mostly enjoyed the questions, such as "Some things in my living space that I want to toss but haven't or can't... What do you dislike about them?", "What I would love to have made for me is...", and "I withhold my love when..."

What I enjoyed:

1. The depth of self-analysis in several sections led me to a reaffirmation of values and therefore choices, as well as some mourning for lost opportunities.

2. The complete absence of 'stylist' advice (is your body a triangle or hourglass etc.), and their emphasis on style as a way of celebrating your true self.

3. Prefaces to each section which contain prose-poems to capture the essence of the section. The preface to Service + Wealth, for example, reads in part:
Counts pennies. Counts blessings. Money in the cookie jar. Stock portfolio. Broke. Gives at the office. Gives at church. More than enough. Just enough. Lives lightly on the land.

What I didn't enjoy:

1. The book contains gorgeous photos of people who discovered their Style Statement, along with excerpts from their self-reflection exercise. But I found if I turned the page to look at the collages of their stuff, I could not tell a Natural Cosmopolitan from a Genteel Vitality. But maybe it's enough that they can, and no longer make choices that aren't "them".

2. Cheating doesn't work. I kept turning to the list of "Creative Edge Words" at the back and trying to get my two words to float up into my consciousness before I completed all the sections. But I had to do the work, and ta-da! I've got it! If you want dial-a-style, you won't be engaged.

Now that I've got it, where do I put it?

Most superficially, if this saves me from buying one mistake, I'll recoup the cost of the book.

A more significant benefit was seeing the concept of 'style' in new light. Style is either A) an embodiment of your purpose, talents and preferences, B) a mindless neurotic grab, or C) an attempt to imitate someone else.

B and C are not life-affirming. If you've never considered the relationship of your 'stuff' (including how you give, what kind of friend you are, and how you care for the earth) to who you are, the Style Statement exercise develops your awareness.

"Who am I"? is certainly not what a magazine tells you to be.

Louis Malle's Les Amants

I just watched Les Amants, which shocked even the French on release in 1958 and was banned in many conservative North American communities.

Chez nous, we worship Louis Malle: his documentaries, French films, American films... we love you, man.

As Malle intended all along, it reads fifty years later as more social critique than erotic escapade, though Jeanne Moreau is unabashedly sexy, conflicted, and willing to do something about it.

Costume design by Coco Chanel: some of the most offhand elegance ever captured on film.

I am woman, hear me snore

The last closet, napping, is officially busted open. Geez, it's quiet in here!

Bloggers are admitting that they sleep at work; employers are beginning to provide nap facilities.

Who needs a nap?

The older worker, the sleep-deprived parent, the young bucks who hit the clubs at night, then sag during the day. People with health issues, people struggling with draining life transitions, women whose menopausal symptoms include raging insomnia, those on 4:3
0 am international calls... does that leave anyone out?

Sleep is the most alluring benefit of all.

Twenty-eight years ago I worked for a bastion of corporate finance, a huge, profitable and benevolently paternalistic company. They had a nap room with four cots partitioned by drapes.

"Our older gentleman like a rest at lunch time", one of the staff nurses told me. A quarter of a century later, I've joined the postprandial snoozers, but take my naps at home. (I live and work downtown.)

Some workplaces have created similar rooms. Google, renowned for its welcoming workplace, has nap pods like the one at left, where you can kip cozily. (Though the photo reminds me of Woody Allen playing a reluctant sperm in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.")

We're all big kids. A half-hour nap after lunch comforts, revives, and is a healthier boost than yet another latte.

Haiku: Movie, date, job

Moment: sell out shlock
Christmas tears, your just desserts

Speed killed kids, I quit

1. Worst Movie:
Moment by Moment (1978) with John Travolta and Lily Tomlin. A review (see below) says "A failure compared to nearly anything you've seen in your life", which explains why 30 years later it is indelibly, painfully etched in movie-memory.

Also, I am so sorry a
(now out) lesbian and an (alleged) gay man were talked into "acting" in this vomitously lame love story (which was written by Tomlin's long-time partner, the usually brilliant Jane Wagner). Review capturing its full awfulness here.

2. Worst date
If you call it a date when you are married to somebody, this has to be when my then-husband left for several weeks to "take time to think" but actually was cavorting with a new woman (as opposed to the 'old' women I was already dealing with).

When he returned to announce his decision (he was leaving), it was just before Christmas. He thought I should not be alone on Dec. 25, so he took me to dinner at an intimate, posh restaurant, where I wept nonstop, resulting in

1. Abysmal service because the waiters were terrified to approach

2. Poisonous looks from families there to make merry or at least have a pleasant meal

The Sequel: We divorced, he married her, they lasted five or six years, during most of which she was miserable because, news flash, he ran around. I was single for five years and then married le Duc, an absolute lambchop.

3. Worst Job:
With a newly minted MA, barely 22, I was hired as a counselor in a government drug treatment agency in a gritty, industrial city. I had a wise, kindly Dutch boss and a caseload of tough, often funny, substance-using adolescents right out of The Wire.

Their overdoses, suicides and fatal accidents tore me up. I see their faces as I write: Whitey, Karen, Greg. Al, who was straight for awhile, then broke into a hospital and boosted a supply of morphine. And their parents, angry, frantic or buried in their own alcoholism. After three years, I felt like a casualty too and got out of the people-patching business forever.

I can't pull a life lesson out of that movie (other than 'be who you are'). That last dinner was my first step toward really growing up. The job taught me that addiction has very little to do with intelligence and a good deal to do with what kids experience in their first few years.

Thanks for tagging me, materfamilias!

Replacing boring pearls one strand at a time

Thinking of expanding your pearl wardrobe?

Little white akoyas are the 'helmet hair' of the pearl world and here are hair-blowing-back-on-an-Vespa pearls, just for you.

All are currenly listed with an exceptional eBay seller, Care Ehret of DruzyDesign.
Let's start modestly and train up. Note prices are for current auction listing so can go higher with bidding. All strands are temporarily strung, and all are freshwater pearls.

1. A 16-inch strand of keishis, one of my favourite types, because they are all nacre. You will never have dead spots from wear, and the pearl has depth, life and character. Purple, white and cream tones. Current listing price: $10. String them with a simple silver clasp and knock your t-shirt out of the park for less than $50.

2. Sixteen glowing
petal pearls. You might string these on chain, clustered at the bottom. $15 bucks as of today's listing. She is also offering fifty-three of these petals, a lavish strand, $300 at current listing. Great size (about 12.5mm wide and long), not sweet or girly, these petals have presence.

3. If you like a classic round pearl, this strand of 'metallic' (colour) mauve and pink good-sized (8.5-9.5 mm) off rounds is alluring- $46 at current listing. Not perfect, a few tiny blemishes that to me reflect nature and are more appealing than rigorously perfect rounds.

4. Baroque R
ainbow flameballs, mamma mia! Great balls of fire, these flash hot pink, teal, bronze, mauve (all natural colours) and make a party, not a 'statement'. Big honkin' rock star pearls, $900 right now.

Care Ehret is
a reputable, devoted, talented jeweler, the exception on eBay. Respected by the trade, adored by her clients; don't worry about misrepresentation or poor service.

Other pearls on this site top $5,000, but I like these funkier, less 'la-di-da' strands.

Care offers South Seas, Tahitians (see the heart-stopping blues) and rare Sea of Cortez and abalone pearls, too. Her eBay store (Druzy Design Treasures) is an education.

Summer sales and self control

Is it me or are there more sales this early-summer? Every shop, every web site is offering 25, 40, 50% off.

I remember my Aunt Alfhild, famous for malapropisms, saying "I can't go to sidewalk sales, I'm such a repulsive buyer."

I'm a repulsive buyer too. I apply the evil false economy known as Princess Dollars: "Let's see- I saved $70 on that outfit, and $40 on the shoes, so that's $110 I can spend on something else!"

The only method that really works (besides not entering the shop) is
writing down a list of recent (current and last season) purchases and staring hard at it.

If I do end up in a dressing room, I ask myself Six Questions:
  1. Would I want this at full price?
  2. Do I have anything similar? If so, is it on its last legs?
  3. Do I have at least three things to wear with it?
  4. Will I wear it within six months, at my present weight?
  5. Can I pay for it now, or at latest, when I get the bill?
  6. What item am I willing to get rid of to make room for this? (I do not want the massive closet creep-up ever again.)
Do you have other self-control questions?

I will appreciate having them before Friday, when a sale begins at my favourite local designer's studio.

New pearl earrings

His Holiness' book, just above my computer was the place I hung a new pearl earring (one of the pair) for a quick photo.

Its luminescence and organic irregular pear shape seemed a fitting adornment.

The body colour is a rose-tinged champagne, with hues of pistachio in the orient. This is why I love pearls, and admire jewelers who avoid the dead white balls that most stores sell.

No other gem has been so degraded by pollution and disease, yet you can still find well-priced, captivating pearls, especially if you don't mind the tiny blemishes that show your oyster burped years ago.

We can make endless copies of man-made perfect beads, yet nature's sincere imperfection is so much more evocative and satisfying.

"The more you remain open and sincere, then ultimately more benefits will come to you. If you forget or do not bother about others, then eventually you will lose your own benefits."
- The Dalai Lama's Book of Wisdom

Guayabera for your Mambo King

Since today is Father's Day...

Next to a uniform, I love a man in a guayabera. The ease, the suave Latin vibe, the promise of mojitos and mambos- irresistible.

I once saw a big man, light on his feet, salsa dancing in his ivory guayabera, and I guess the charm is still upon me.

Now that so many men are leaving their shirts untucked, why not wear one
meant to be worn that way? Guayaberas flatter both the slim and stout, and are blissful in hot weather.

This cocoa 100% linen style is the essence of summer, and so much more comfortable than a cotton knit. I'd love to see it on my husband, so nobody spill the beans!

I'll order from
Penner's, who offer guayaberas galore (and linen pants to wear with them). This one is about $80, and also comes in long sleeves.

The 100% pima cotton black and multicolor embroidered "Mucho Colores" appeals to me too- a 1930's look and $78 price tag.

"Oye como va, mi ritmo..."

Taking care at the right time

I visited a friend today, to cuddle her newborn daughter, Ava, and commiserate about breast-feeding and broken sleep.

Though it has been years, and I do not yet have grandchildren, old habits came back and I basked in holding a small body that breathes with every muscle, not from just the lungs, but from knees, tummy, temples.

When Ava squalled, my instinct was first to hand her back to her mother... then I realized that this is exactly when the mum needs a break.

This is life: the time when are diminished and need respite is the least likely time we take it, and often the least likely time we receive extra cosseting from those who love us.

It's so easy to hand the fussy baby back.

With Ava in my arms, I recalled days when I'd go into the laundry room and weep from frustration, remembered the sweet peace when the crying would stop, the dread when one or both of my twin sons began again.

I sat with my proud but hollow-eyed friend, and assured her that the crying diminishes, your baby thrives, and your friends can take some wailing.

What to wear to Marianne's wedding?

I will attend a wedding on in mid-Sept. in Toronto. Marianne, my Parisienne friend Daniele's daughter, and her longtime love David, will marry.

The 6 pm. ceremony is followed by dinner and dancing; the setting is an old church in the
centre of the city that has been de-churched, and is now a concert and events venue.

leaning towards a pair of flowy palazzo-type pants, a shell and a gorgeous shawl- I want to look festive yet relaxed. The weather could be anything from summer-hot to early-fall cool.

The Toronto Film Festival is on then, and we can always spot the first-time visitors, like Joan Allen last year, in tweed and heavy turtlenecks despite 80-degree weather. The stylists evidently think fall in Southern Ontario is one step from a parka and dogsled.

TIFF makes for marvelous people-watching; I'd say the recognizable celebs are less well-dressed (except for parties) than the flocks of industry types, who appear in luxurious sportswear for breakfast and provide live sightings of jaw-dropping footwear as the tromp around the city arranging hair/makeup, press or simply being fab.

But back to the wedding...The convention is to avoid wearing black for the occasion, but I think my black pants would be OK: it's a second wedding, a hip crowd, and the pants are dance-worthy. I'd have to find a lighter shell, though, no black.

I have my eye on a silk shawl like this, a dark tangerine embroidered in lavender, black, cream, celadon and peach.

Or this one in a tribal design on cream silk:

They are both rectangular in shape.
But I could change direction entirely, if only I had some more ideas!

A doc, a diet, a decision

This post owes its rantiness to a recent entry from Deja Pseu on her menopausal weight struggle.

I went to my doctor yesterday for a routine physical, and though in excellent health, she said losing some weight would be good for my heart. This was delivered in an as-your-doctor-I-have-to-say-this tone, and she admitted her own battles.

Sidebar: my resting pulse, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are perfect, and I do not have a history of heart disease in my family.

She reduced hers over the past year (though she looks the same to me).
I asked her how she did it, and she said she eats very little meat, no fruit, no starch, no sweets and a mostly raw diet.

I felt my spir
it sink; I cannot face nearly 40 more years (if I live as long as my mother) without a blueberry pancake, a truffle or a plate of real pit bar-be-que. Enchiladas. Sacher Torte. Risotto.

Weight Watchers like to say Nothing Tastes As Good As Thin Feels. Which is fine if a size 10 is what you live for, versus the next size or two. But I say, Lots Tastes As Good as Twenty Extra Pounds Feel.

Because I have been thin, naturally in my 20s and through diets later. The As Good As Thin Feels was buying into a norm that was, as Deja Pseu says, impossible and anxiety-inducing to maintain. At a higher weight, I feel fine.

I left her office, walking briskly, and joined my DH and one son for an Indian buffet dinner.
I did not have a beer, only a conceptual serving of chicken curry, and heaps of veg. And quite a lot of garlic naan. Papadams.

There was ice cream in alluring flavours: pistachio, strawberry, almond with cardamom- I had a scoop, strictly for the calcium.

I went to bed contemplating Noreen, my doc, for whom I feel gratitude and affection. I want to be a good patient, but I am going to be her Amy Winehouse case: yes, I been bad.

My goal is not a weight number, it is instead for 20% more discipline, smaller portions, and borrowing a guideline from the Michael Pollen book, In Defense of Food: If you grandparents did not recognize it as food, do not eat it.

I don't wanna go to tree-hab

Guerrilla gardener Richard Reynolds, based in London, is busy rehabbing the grounds of burnt-down Hawley Arms.

Destroyed in February's Camden Market fire, the pub was a favourite haunt of Amy Winehouse.

Like the singer, a dramatic restoration to full splendor is not imminent, so Reynolds and his friends are clearing and planting on the site.

Once the hedge grows tall enough, he'll trim it to an Amy 'do.

That topiary is
bad, it's trouble.

Richard Reynolds' photo by Jonathan Warren

Kelly Christy cloches

Here are two styles I would love to wear: Alice (top) and Hideaway (bottom) from Kelly Christy.

Hello pork pie hat

The temperature zoomed from the mid 70's to low 90's F (or from 16 to 34 C) on the weekend. My sons are thrilled at the reappearance of lovelies in summer dresses.

While they were admiring floaty little frocks, I noticed the prevalence of
summery straw hats on men. The utilitarian baseball cap has been replaced, at least on those who pay some attention to style, by the sharp yet relaxed pork pie.

I love its retro reference (the original appeared in a Bowery Boys movie in the 1930's) and
casual scale. Shown above, a Brixton Drifter stingy brim. The pork pie, worn with a tee or short sleeved sports shirt, lends a quirky, polished air, unlike a ball cap, which always looks like a giveaway.

Local fellas also like the straw fedora, with it's pinched, higher crown and rakish brim.

Girls borrow fedoras to accessorise a sun dress or jeans.
(Photo f
rom Scott Schuman's The Sartorialist blog.)

Shops have stocked stacks of men's straw, priced from $50 to $175.

What a change from 15 years ago, when my husband traveled to
JJ Hat Center and Kelly Christy in NYC for a good summer hats! He wore a burnt-orange straw Christy Belmont fedora (shown below in natural) to Sunday brunch- cool!

If you love hats, Christy's site will delight. Lots of chic straw for women, and you can call Kelly, a marvelous milliner, to order by mail.

Summer legs: veins vanish with new treatment

Do you have varicose veins?

I do, and often work on m
y feet, so wore medical-weight support hose for years. The black ones were OK- I wear black tights in fall/winter and you can't tell the difference.

But the 'flesh' toned ones were dreadful; if you want to be instantly morose, just tug them on.
If I tried to go without, my legs would throb so painfully that I couldn't sleep.

I have friends who had the conventional surgery (vein stripping): pain, laid up for weeks, the bumply veins retu
rned. Then I heard about EVLA (Endovenous Laser Ablation), a technique involving laser treatment delivered through a small catheter inserted in the culprit big vein.

Surgery was only mildly uncomfortable, like a dental tooth-cleaning, thanks to local anesthetic. I walked out of the The Vein Institute of Toronto feeling just fine- still encased in the atrocious support hose, but their days were numbered. (So if you get this done, you might want to wait till fall. You don't want that industrial elastic on in summer.)

My veins improved vastly, a gradual process over 5-6 months. It's like roadwork repair, expanding the new lanes and closing down the old. Cost: $3,000 for initial surgery a
nd one post-surgery 'touch up' for remaining spider veins.

EVLA is surgery. I was informed about possible side effects like bruising; however, I had none.
My legs are not perfect, they're like a person my age without noticeable varicosity.

But I can wear sandals, forgo stockings from spring through summer, and best of all, stand and walk without wincing.

Michelle Obama's crisp American style

Today's New York Times "Sunday Styles" section has an article on Michelle Obama's style titled "She Dresses to Win".

I loved the classic rich purple sheath in the top photo, stunning against her skin. The dress was made by former Geoffrey Beene assistant Maria Pinto (channeling the ma
ster), and cost $900 (US dollars).

The pink/grey combination (below) includes an Alaia belt.

Because she favours oversized pearls, the article
compares her to Barbara Bush, though clearly Michelle Obama's model is Jackie Kennedy.

She will hold the world's eye through the campaign with the same assured elegance. She has great posture and moves with energy. There's none of the stiffness or jacket-patting fidget that plagues Laura Bush's appearances.

Barbara Bush was 64 by the time she entered the White House, entrenched in her conservative Texan grande d
ame look. Unfortunately (as she often joked), the presidency aged her far faster than her husband. Her pearls were a ploy to disguise her neck.

But in her youth, Barbara Bush was a bombshell.

Wardrobe purge: How to lose 40 pounds on a Sunday afternoon

When I was nine or ten, I'd dream that I went to my closet and it was full of new clothes. It's not that I had only a few sad dresses. My wardrobe was extensive and lovingly chosen.

Maybe that was the genesis of my problem: my young brain seized on the full closet as a symbol of love.

These days, I had a surfeit of 'love': The happily-discovered new, the standbys. And tropical wear for once-a-decade Caribbean vacations, odd blouses ("someday I'll find something to wear with this"), half-size too-tight skirts. The pants beginning to shine on the seat. I call this The Clothing Archive, and it was the bulk of my wardrobe.

Enter Lucille Hume of Enhance Your Style, image consultant and tiny, closet-attacking fury. She spent three hours with me while I modeled The Archive. We sorted into Keep, Alter, Trash. Her size-0 manicured fingers pointed regularly to the last pile.

Pitiless woman, she did not care that the magenta tunic was a souvenir of the last Grateful Dead concert I ever attended. She did not think padded shoulders would ever come back. She was not enchanted by vintage Hermes. (Our first spat.)

Twelve garbage bags later, I whittled down to about 35% of what I once owned. Lucille says she has never known someone to have so many clothes, but I think she tells this to all her girls.

She took the bags to charity when she left, knowing items would creep back in my clos
et if they stayed in my house. Sold a few designer items on eBay.

More clothes were stashed in other rooms of the house. I didn't confess then, so "Lucilled" them on my own a few days later, while my courage was intact.

I recommend this exercise heartily but it does hurt. The consultant doesn't care how expensive it was, or conversely, that it was the bargain of your life; the baggy, ill-fitting, over or never was...goes.

The amazing thing is, I've forgotten about those things I couldn't part with. Came across the eBay listing photo for my classic Hermes camel blazer and thought, "What is this?"

Lucille is a member of the Toronto chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International; you can find one in your area through their web site, or search "Image consultant (your location)".

How's my accumulating?

I've replenished summer skirts and, determined not to let the wardrobe grow like monster dough in the back of a fridge, apply the "one thing in, one thing out" rule. Not perfect, as incoming skirt takes up more room than outgoing tank, but once in the groove, I can keep on top of this.

I'm also refining my selection strategy; more on this as it shapes up.

SassyNips: Keeping abreast of a trend

My 'product' (a version of SassyNips by SassyBax) arrived, so I eagerly applied these jellyfish-textured disks and took a test drive.

They're warm and pliant, easy to forget about. Though I can sometimes see their faintest flower outline under my shirt, the effect is "instant airbrush".

I'm discreetly covered, and that's a relief. (One woman told me her boss called her into his office to say, "Your, uh, things are showing.")

The package advises wear for no more than six hours straight, but what am I going to do, whip into the loo at work at 2 pm., peel and stash, then go chestal-commando the rest of the day?

SassyNips performed perfectly with items like thin silk tees. (I know about T-shirt bras but most are too heavily padded or not cut right for me.)

If you don't need a bra (and if you don't, why are you reading this blog?), just whomp Sassynips on your wee breasties.

Durability: The box says they last for 50 wearings; we'll see. The little petals stick powerfully now, and if they lose some adhesive, that's OK because the bra will hold them in place unless I'm thrashing like a moose in a mosh pit.

Care: When you're not using them, they store like contacts in a little case. If you don't use the case, they'd get linty and lose adhesive quality, or they might meld together... and who knows, maybe reproduce.

Price: Bare Necessities' site sells them for $18 (plus postage); I bought my no-name version on eBay for half that.

Udeman: Stevie Winwood

We saw Stevie Winwood last evening, opening for Tom Petty, a sublime show.

I had to explain who Winwood was to my 20 year old twin sons, which involved playing lots of Spencer Davis, Blind Faith and Traffic.

What a build-up- I was afraid he'd be a relic, and my friend Gaye, who'd visited him in England with a friend, said he was quite the proper country gentlemen

And Stevie tore it up; my boys were transfixed. His voice was as keening and supple as ever; his guitar and keyboard work complex, layered, heart-stopping.

Bring me a Higher Love.

Shopping for x but buying y

Happens all the time: almost never buy the item I'm shopping for.

At lunchtime yesterday, running errands, I stopped by a resale store in the chi-chi boutique neighbourhood.

Rarely buy there, the clothes are usually too formal and fussy. But I'm invited to a wedding in mid-September so am on the hunt- why not look?

I found a teal cotton skirt (left), lined, good weight, fitted to the hip with a riot of ruffle at the knee, miraculously the right length.

An Oska (one of the lines Greying Pixie likes) palest grey asymmetrical long linen wrap fit too.

I'm trying to wear something other than black, at least some days. No trace of wear on the skirts. No alterations necessary.

So: two new everyday skirts and zip for the wedding.

Coming to terms with returns

A recent trip to Talbot's (to buy several more of their perfect, 3/4 sleeve stretch tees) reinforced why I shop there even though the styles are preppy for me: the unbeatable return policy of exchange or refund, no time limit, no exceptions.

(Note: The tee is on sale on their web site for $21!)

Though other chains adopt similar policies, the local independent boutiques' usual practice is credit only for returns, final purchase on sale items.

I understand their perspective: the items are seasonal- if a customer brings a dress back six weeks later, there's a good chance it won't sell. Some shops impose a 7-day limit for returns, and increasingly in this semi-recession, they apply the "credit only" rule.

I had to stand firm at a luxury costume jewelry boutique that refused a refund initially- even though the receipt said "Refund or exchange if returned in seven days"
. You can bet I dug in my heels when they said, "Oh, we changed our policy."

In my 30s, I agonized over returns and felt embarrassed, as if a return revealed that I had no eye, no identity or no money. Now, I admit my mistakes and return within a day or two.

The return policy is an essential criterion; who wants never-worn items crammed into your closet, and the obligation to spend via mandatory credit?

So I usually shop in stores who will refund, even though 85% of the time I leave with an exchange. A 7-day limit seems fair to me.

I rarely experience Buyer's Remorse. I'll berate myself for the indulgence but that doesn't incite a return. It's either an issue of fit or realizing it's "not me".

Jeweler and designer Pam Chandler at Artworks Galley once asked casually about a pair of jade earrings I'd bought a year earlier. When I confessed I'd never worn them (they just didn't work with my wardrobe) she insisted I bring them back for exchange, credit or refund.

Her determination that I have something perfect led to further delightful purchases and fond appreciation. Now that's superb service.