Take your pick: All diets work

When my mother was in her 80s, she lost over 30 lbs following the "Fit for Life" eating regime, which was a fairly rigourous food-combining fad. When I visited her and saw her eating a modest serving of fruit for breakfast, instead of a stack of toast or several pastries, I realized they were simply breaking her habitual mindless loading on of calories.

I was sure I had a glimpse behind the curtain of any diet. But for years I had to endure friends touting their "wonder diets", each weirder than the next. Now, every newspaper on the planet is running the results of the Harvard School of Public Health study on four different diets. The study validates what I always asserted: it's the calories, bunky!

The key finding: "No one diet was better for reducing calories or increasing weight loss at six months or two years."

The four diets:
1. Low fat, average protein

2. Low fat,
high protein
3. High fat, average protein

4. High fat, high-protein

All were low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fibre.

Each plan
cut about 750 calories a day from a participant's normal diet, but no one ate fewer than 1, 200 calories a day. They also exercised moderately for 90 minutes a week.

At the six-month mark participants assigned to each diet lost an average of 13 lbs (6kg); at two years the 80% who hung in had an average loss of 9 lbs and a 2-inch reduction of the waistline.
All diets improved cardiovascular risk factors.

The best strategy is
finding a diet you like and can stick with, and to focus on calories, not the particular type of content of diet.

Rather than the ratio of fats to proteins, it was other factors, most notably the counseling sessions participants attended, that most affected dieting success.
Some people did do far better than others.

The study's main author, Dr. Frank M. Sacks, says "We had some people losing 50 lbs and some people gaining 5 lbs. That's what we don't have a clue about. I think in the future researchers should focus less on the actual diet but on finding what is really the biggest governor of success for these individuals."

Mom eventually tired of the food-combining tyranny. But she maintained a healthy weight by avoiding calorie-dense, low-nutrition foods (except nachos, which she could never resist) for the rest of her days.
Cutting 750 calories may be too restrictive for some people; they could try 500.

That's the equivalent of a big meal each day, or one piece of Le Duc's birthday cake, which I made from scratch yesterday. But it's gotta go from somewhere.

Thin wallet, fat wallet: Income disparity in couples

Couples are disparate in many ways. Sometimes this opposition makes for a fascinating life, sometimes it's a battleground. Income is one of those fraught areas. When partners are both earning an income, and one person has significantly more money than the other, there are three typical approaches:

1. Throw the money into a pool and share everything.

2. Split living expenses 50/50, each partner retains any surplus. In this case, the person earning less ends up with less discretionary income.

3. Split living expenses in proportion to income ("from each according to his means"); retain surplus. The Thin Wallet has about the same ratio of expenses to discretionary income as the Fat.

Because the issue of money sends its tentacles into other aspects of a relationship (work, aspirations, values), the best plan for the Wallets should be up to them. Le Duc and I, small-business owners, fell into the first approach when I joined his business decades ago. If one of us has a standout year, that might be acknowledged by a litt
le splurge for the star.

Observations about living with income disparity:

1. For both partners, personal discretionary money is essential, even if it's $10 per week. You should have some money you don't need to account for.

2. If one partner has vastly more than the other, some at-home philanthropy is wise. My friend Laura's partner funds the exotic trips that she could not afford on a nurse's salary.

3. If one partner is emotionally withholding, money will be the red herring. You will fight endlessly about it or live with simmering resentment- and it's not the real issue. A woman I know is the partner of a wealthy man who insists he choose every item in, as he says, "the house I paid for."

4. Both partners need to be aware of the tendancies inherent in the situation.

It's tempting for the lower-income person (especially early in a relationship) to try to keep up with the wealthier one, a fast lane to debt and resentment.
Or the lower-income partner may have to reign in the high-earner, because that income may not always flow abundantly.

Regardless of the relationship's stage, living as a Thin Wallet/Fat Wallet couple takes ingenuity and maturity, facing awkward moments with goodwill and trust.

Do you have experience with wide income disparity? How do you or those you know manage the gap?

In the pink: Mizrahi pinches Claiborne's cheeks

Isaac Mizrahi's clothes for Liz Claiborne hit department stores beginning in March, and judging from the ad in last Sunday's New York Times T magazine, he's got some good stuff.

The cle
ver ad, shot by 68-year old veteran Arthur Elgort, was one of the very few pages from which I might actually choose something I could afford.

Mizrahi ups the reality ante by using only one person in the shoot who's a model. The rest are friends of people involved in the campaign, including several blog editors in pink (SpoutB
log's Karen Longworth is seated in the centre in a dress, DailyCandy's Danielle Kyrillos is in the flowered skirt, at right). And of course there's Isaac in his spring bandanna.

The woman in the menswear suit with the huge boutonierre is a 50-year old construction manager who was working in a Liz Claiborne showroom. Mizrahi said, "I just couldn't get her out of my brain; I kept looking at her, and I was like, 'She's one of our customers too.' "

Mizrahi's strategy is to inject "fun and whimsy" into the brand, appar
ently in agreement with what Marshal Cohen, a chief industry analyst, who said, "Subdued won’t cut it this spring. Consumers aren’t looking to add more of the same to their wardrobe. They are going to have some pent-up demand, but not enough to go around for every retailer. So those that jump on the dramatic change wagon are going to see some results.”

I know I'll be checking them out; by April, most of the collection will be available online at Liz Claiborne. The few items offered currently are largely sold out.

Apparently Mizrahi's mantra for his design team is 'forever 35'. Not a bad call, as 35 means womanly, not girly, and definitely still in the game.

Blogs: The voices out there

I've been hopping around reading more blogs than usual and find they sort into categories. Each of these has at times engaged, annoyed, edified, moved and perplexed me. Some days I'll gorge on one type of blog, other days I can't give it two seconds. But I always respect this is someone's voice, someone's very public offering.

1. C'est Moi!
About the minutiae of the blog
ger's life, whether that life involves what she ate watching the SuperBowl or which designer she wore to Mick and L'Wren's party. A blog type hugely popular with women.
os: Lots of intimate details from a life you'll never lead; often hilarious, insightful or touching. I connect and truly care.
Cons: Can't believe I'm spending the limited moments of my life reading someone's latest Starbucks order and the route she took to
drive there.

2. Moi, Doing This
A sub-set of C'est Moi blogs: me traveling through India, me volunteering at a community for the disabled, me working at Google.
Pros: An inside view of a life experience you're curious about; perfect for armchair travel, career exploration
or vicarious thrills
Cons: Can lack focus, devolving to the rambling, lonely-backpacker-writing-in-internet café syndrome.

3. Aide-Moi
Blogger seeking advice and support: coping with financial crisis, writer's block, landlord from hell, or parent of three teenagers.
Pros: Because it attracts others going through the same struggle, there's a trove of useful advice and soul-nourishing empathy
Cons: Sometimes excessive sympathy is given when person might benefit from some straight talk like 'Stop blaming your parents; grow up and pay your bills'

4. Passionate Interest

Explores a topic (e.g., politics, food, style), with only occasional references to the writer's life. May also be concerned with a cause, e.g., Fat Acceptance, living with autism, community gardens.
The best-written are educational, entertaining, and stimulate me to 'think different', as the Apple folks say.
Cons: Sometimes I read 190 comments
- why?

5. Trojan-Horse

Ostensibly concerns a topic but is actually a shill for advertisers. For example, a jewelery blog started by a well-known Canadian fashion journalist who does not say anything critical about the brands featured on the site.

Faux-Moi, where the blogger writes about her life but the real purpose is to showcase her product or service.

Pros: You can still learn something

Cons: Trojan-Horse: Genuinely talented people begin to look sleazy. Faux-Moi: Pitch fatigue.

I'll read any of these types; for the C'est Moi, I have to be in a certain mood, kind of like spotting your sister's diary open on her bed.

Trojan Horses elicits tart comments along the lines of 'I see what you're up to, sister, and that Tiffany dog tag is butt-ugly'.

I enjoy and appreciate this online cornucopia of thought. And if I don't, like radio (remember radio?) I can turn the dial. When I'm really old, I expect to be less mobile, and this blog world offers a marvelous way to connect with so many minds.

Sticker shock and (perhaps) its purpose

Style Spy, who dissects runway shows and award ceremonies with a shrewd and unsparing eye, commented after reviewing a recent Carolina Herrera show:

"... my usual soundtrack... is news programs where lately the talk is inching toward apocalyptic. Perhaps that's seeping into my consciousness to the extent I can't even look at pretty clothes without thinking,'Whoever wears that? Not worried about making her mortgage payment.' "

I picked up The New York Times' T Magazine, studded with goodies like a $4, 420 Revillion intarsia mink gilet, a Rodarte cobwebby cardigan, $2, 760 that "needs to be loved and cared for almost like a pet", and Balmain palm-print jeans, $3, 415.

Who buys these pieces? We all have
a fair idea; if we don't exactly rub elbows with the lady, some of us have seen her waiting for her car. A few of my friends work for executives draped the exquisite armour of Armani and Lanvin.

I'm frustrated and annoyed when editorial content presents unremitting high-end choices. OK, I don't have to read them, and mostly I don't, but
why can't they intersperse Valentino with Vince?

The $14, 000 Balenciaga alligator and agate pochette is a work of art, and also show me a $400 leather bag I can sling o
n and feel great in.

And a $2, 995 white calfskin replica of a Chanel shopping bag? My annoyance veers into disgust.

I did flip for the cheeky $960 Comme des Garcons black and white pleated jacket in "The New Collectibles"* story, and found myself thinking it was a good buy.

Maybe that's the sky-high prices' job: to inure me to the nearly thousand-dollar price point for a jacket.

* The splash page may change; find "The Goods" in menu and select "The New Collectibles" from the drop-down menu.

Hip and haute in their fur jackets

Top: Style icon Giovanna Battaglia, editor of L'Uomo Vogue, shot at Fashion Week in New York. Haute-bourgeoise perfection.

Bottom: Young woman in vintage fur jacket over layers, plus double-sided scarf. Offhandedly hip in a Stockholm park.

I love the way both fur jackets are worn, almost like shrugs, open and loose.

And Madonna, those earrings of Giovanna's!

Cuffs: A perfect pair or a singular pleasure

Whether you buy two or happily wear a single, cuff bracelets can carry the simplest outfit.

Chanel brought baubles from old lovers to her playboy-designer pal Falco di Verdura and asked him to do something with them. Verdura created the Maltese-cross cuffs she was rarely without. A similar black version later became Diana Vreeland's signature.

Socialite Lynn Wyatt swaps her jeweled crosses to different cuffs for summer and winter.
Verdura makes them for each wrist, so the fit is perfect. The price is from from $14,000 per bracelet.

I sat in a restaurant in New York near a woman wearing these De Grosogono black and white diamond cuffs ($75,000 each) and could barely wrench my eyes from their dazzle. She was simply dressed in a black sweater and pants; the jewels were astounding.

A down to earth choice (from Netaporter) still provides an armload of interest: Isharya's coral and nizam wood cuff reduced from $288 to $216.

I wear this Hermes enamel cuff below in orange; it's also offered in white, shown, and a rich espresso brown choice, all available in white or yellow gold edge.

ya's Kadamba square bangle, with 18k gold vermeil and agate is another beauty; also on sale at Netaporter, was $320, now $160.

Rebelling against Mother of the Bride drag

There's hardly a more dispiriting selection for 50+ women than "Mother (or Grandmother) of the Bride".

On every site, frumpy jacketed dresses in upholstery-weight fabrics. I guess many designers figure all the money's been spent on the bride's dress, otherwise, why the sea of poly-satin?
Dresses that make us look like Mrs. Doubtfire hit a prom.

The dress should of course echo the formality and tone of the occasion. If you're in a place of workshop for the ceremony, you'll want some respectful cover, which can be substantial as an eve
ning coat or as whispy as a chiffon stole.

I set out to find some dresses that avoid the tired jacket-over-long-dress formula.
For a formal evening wedding, I liked these:

Ossie Clark dress in an opulent soft umber (which I took from Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser blog), on sale now for £299.

dashi twisted metallic dress in "smoked pearl", a subtle, sensuous shade, $410 at Neiman Marcus.

Both flatter the midsection with soft draping and draw the eye toward the neckline.

I'd also consider
vintage, because the fabric quality will be so much higher for your budget, and many evening gowns were not worn hard.

Look at this Dior 50's greenish bronze silk crysanthemum-pattern evening gown with matching wrap (lined in "purplish gray" velvet). It sold for $1395 from Vintageous.

A good vintage boutique will
listen to your needs, e-mail photos, or send a few items for you to consider.

For a less formal evening or afternoon wedding, I'd go slightly
flou. The dress should be as joyful as the occasion.

Barbara Tfank coat and dress, from the Resort '09 collection is the essence of understated elegance.

Yeohlee's Spring '09 dress is the one I'd choose if 'the kids' are having a casual wedding, perhaps on a rooftop garden.

If you'd like more colour, from Barneys, a Martin Grant silk crepe shift, $1, 446 in ebullient turquoise.

The subtle blush-coloured Milly silk blend shift (below, left) say
s "spring" and the lurex-striped pencil skirt is sexy yet refined. $445 at Net-a-porter.

Vintage again: an alluring (now sold) 1990s YSL chiffon dress. I'd feel like Catherine Deneuve, with of course diamond earrings. From Swank Vintage.

Another idea is to find a style you love, and have it made by a skilled dressmaker.

My friend Harriet found exactly one dress, by Armani, that didn't make her look, as she said, like her grandmother, but at $5,000 could not bring herself to buy.

She had the design, exactly like this Jacques Heim 1960s pattern ($60 at Sewing Palette) made with a sheer silk velv
et devoré skirt in soft spring shades, simple satin bodice and a double-layered chiffon stole that echoed the skirt's pink and soft greens. (I guess Mr. Armani looks through archives too.)

The gown emphasized her trim waist and fit perfectly at the bodice. For about $800, she has a dress she will wear with pleasure many times. After the wedding Harriet shortened it, like the far-right illustration.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy: "Makeup ages you"

A recent International Herald Tribune article on Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's humanitarian visit to Burkina Faso included a little dish from France's first lady:

In private, Bruni-Sarkozy has no trouble making down-to-earth small talk: that Daniel Craig is good-looking but Sean Connery will go down as the best James Bond; how some of her friends have become paranoid that their phone conversations with her are monitored by French intelligence officers; how women over 25 - 28 at the latest - should stop wearing makeup because it ages them; how she longs to have a child with Sarkozy, but knows that at age 41, she is "just at the edge."

I wonder if she means foundation, which can sit in lines and look cakey.

But... 28!
Just at the age when you begin to realize your skin won't look flawlessly fresh forever, Carla urges you to junk your kit.

On the other hand, she has a point. I met with a woman recently who had that telltale orangy line around the bottom of her face, the masklike result of the wrong shade, badly blended, and thought foregoing foundation would have looked so much better.

I changed my makeup around Carla's present age, realizing deep red lipstick made me look crazed, not racy- though I still keep a tube of in my drawer and occasionally put it on to read in bed. (I still keep my toenails red!)

I also axed aggressive coral and bright fuscia, which I thought were perky, but which made the makeup expert at Bobbi Brown shudder. He moved me into those neutral 'lippy' colours I've stuck with.

Maybe at 60 I should revise my makeup palette again.
Have you changed your products or colours as you mature? What do you recommend for your gorgeous, post-50 friends?

Barter, swap, gift: Beyond money

completely alienne mentioned, in a comment about her de-cluttering activities, that she'd used an online book swap. She didn't mention her site, but there are many, ranging from international (Book Mooch) to country-specific, like the UK's Read It Swap It.

Strictly speaking, this might not de-clutter, since another book is coming to you, but it's a great way to read to your heart's content without the time limit of a library book.
Or you could swap your book for one a friend would enjoy, recycling your book into a gift.

Bartering is on the rise as a way to reduce, recycle, or just participate in a community of support. People willing to propose barter discover, as Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry said in "The Seven Laws of Money", "there are worlds without money".
U-exchange.com, a member-only site based in Cambridge, MA, includes boards for many countries. They've nearly doubled in the past year, with nearly 50,000 persons enrolled.

Some members have very specif
ic requests: a pure bred Arabian horse for a Dodge pickup, for example. Other offerings hint at untold stories: "Boxes and boxes of legal paper for letter paper."

I'm considering a house-swap for a one or two-week vacation, one of the most popular and successful forms of barter; have you ever done it?

Barter offers are posted daily on Craigslist- see "For Sale/Barter" and "Housing Swap" listings.

You can also just plain give stuff away. We used the local board of the the Freecycle
Network to give some unused office equipment to a young woman who needed it- as their website says, "changing the world one gift at a time."

I'm eager to hear of anyone's experience with barter or gifting.

Antipodeal arts

In the British Isles, "The Antipodes" is sometimes used to refer to Australia and New Zealand. For any location, the term refers to lands and peoples located on the opposite side of the world to the speaker.

Under the geographical definition, the antipodes of the British Isles are in the Pacific Ocean, south of New Zealand. The antipodes of Australia are in the North Atlantic Ocean, while parts of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco are
antipodal to New Zealand. To find the antipodeal location for any point, see Antipodes Map.

A great distance separates Wellington, New Zealand and Sydney Australia. Quick, how far? (Answer at bottom of post.) Still, the two countries are united historically and culturally.

Here's a showcase of some
delightful Aussie and Kiwi design.

New Zealand

Hei Tiki Penda
A symbol of
fertility and feminine arts. Handmade in resin, in your choice of 20 colours, by Too Luscious, medium size, 16cm x 4cm is $NZ 90 or about $US 46. Order from Aotearoa.

Vintage Stamp Tee
White T-shirt with stamp of Niue palm. (Niue, just east of Tonga, is an island under New Zealand's care.) $US 18 from Going Postal T-Shirts. Also available as tank or hoodie.

r Greenstone) Pendant
"Triple Koru", from
New Zealand Nature, $NZ 99 (about $US 50).
Pounamu is the Maori name for several types of hard, durable and prized nephrite jade.


Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey The family is crazy about Leatherwood honey; the metal can makes a charming keepsake. $US 12.50 (750g) to $US 55 (4kg) from The Tasmanian Honey Company, or from fine food shops.

I've posted on these before, but I simply can't leave them out. The best all-purpose functional boot, available in various colours and finishes, about $US 150 from The Australian Boot Company or other online shoe stores.

Stewart Merrett Cross-Stitch Designs

If you enjoy the calming, traditional craft of cross-stitch, Merrett's designs, like this Eucaluptus with Wren pillow cushion, promise an elegant project. The design is $AU 12 ($US 7.60) from Stewart Merrett Cross Stitch & Tapestry.

Diamond and
Opal Ring Australian opal inlay and diamonds in 14k setting, $AUS 1, 320 ($US 837) from Opals Australia.

How far is it, mate? (1, 378 miles, 2, 218 km, or 1, 198 nautical miles.)

A jeweler's advice on buying for a beloved

In "Valentine's Day From My Side of the Counter" which ran in Saturday's New York Times, Clancy Martin shares how to select a gift that embodies intimacy and love.

Though written from a perspective of buying a gift for a partner, Martin's advice applies to choosing gifts for anyone you care about.

I especially enjoyed his anecdote about a moonstone bracelet a man had made for his wife, a modest project rich in significance and adoration.

"Giving the right gift means thinking less about what thing you want to buy, and more about who the two of you are together."

Neutral dress as backdrop: Five easy pieces

I enjoy a well-designed print on a skirt or blouse but when I'm looking for a dress, I'll usually choose a neutral backdrop for accessories, in a style that I can wear again and again. I'd have to see them in person, but these are options for a passe-partout dress, where colour or pattern are not the star of the show. They look austere in the photos, but there are no accessories shown.

Many who comment here are young 'uns under 50. Perhaps you'd choose something like the Black Halo dress, top. But this post isn't for you, cutie pie. It's for those of you like me, who need more cover, who know the cruelty of the cap sleeve crimping a looser arm and the reality of hip spread.

1. Marks and Spencer 3/4 sleeve belted shirt dress, £39.50, in black or navy.

Part of their Portfolio line for women 45+ that The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant, skewered, and I agree- most pieces are matronly. The length is good, there are sleeves, and what if one changed the buttons?
But it looks irredeemably boxy.

2. Talbot's double-knit dress, $149, is a drapey rayon-nylon blend that you can hand wash, which gives it travel potential.

Could showcase killer
shoes or luscious scarf, or just look sad- really will depend on fabric and cut. In navy, black and blonde.

3. White+W
arren's black cotton caftan from
Neiman Marcus' site, $155, would show off chunky necklaces and since I'm tall, I'm relieved to see some length. But why is she standing like that? Because her shoes are so dull?

Fasten y
our seatbelt, our price point is moving way up.

4. A dress that makes me sigh with pleasure: Rue du Mail by Martine Sitbon's black and white organza and silk embellished dress, $1, 265 from Net-a-porter. The sleeves are minimal, but I'm loving the dress and would sacrifice coverage for charm. Besides, this demi-sleeve is more flattering than a tight cap.

5. The numero uno, a smokin' L'Wren Scott Headmistress Dress, $2,895 (also from Net-a-porter). Heel, boy.

For your three grand you will enjoy fine details like precise white stitching (the back of this dress is as perfect as the front), tiny velvet-covered buttons, lace-trimmed hem.

Dream dress; I'll be looking for this effect no matter what I end up with.

Rings for the table

In my parent's home, we used rings to identify the family's napkins. (Paper napkins were an extravagance, only used for really messy or 'casual' dinners like burgers.) I had a bird, my brother a manly wood ring he made at camp, my sister a rabbit, my mother a green bakelite circle, and Dad's was silver with the four suits of playing cards on it.

When my mother died, fifteen years after Dad, I found both their rings in her apartment, nestled togeth
er with her linens.

When my sons were small, we also used napkin rings: animal clips for each boy, antique silver rings for us. Sometime in their teens, we stopped using them- maybe they found them juvenile. When I saw these pewter rings from Beehive Kitchen, I was reminded of their charm and utility. ($62 for a set of four.)

But it's lovely to use antique silver rings, many of which are monogrammed or engraved with a name. This art noveau beauty, from eBay seller artpottery is starting at $65.

The romantic Victorian piece at left, engraved "Mira", is from a Philadelphia estate; starting bid $39 from eBay seller turquoise.

My current favourite from eBay is this French deco hallmarked sterling piece, starting bid $150 from seller jakob-source.

An easy way to enjoy old silver: minimal polishing, lovely patina and a mysterious bit of history on the table.