Can I learn something from hate mail?

A short time ago, I received an e-mail from a family member. For the sake of family harmony, I must add that the relative is on my side. I'll call him "Dave".

The email was a forwarded screed written against a faith–not, needless to say, Dave's. I was disgusted and astonished he'd endorse what I considered hate literature. He had also sent it to friends, as well as his wife and adult children.

My response was to ask him to also send the message to his friends of that faith, and I'd do the same, and see what they thought of its "truth".

The upshot was a terse e-mail from Dave: "Stick with your friends; sorry for the exchange". I received a series of e-mails and links from my friend, countering some of the distortions. He wondered why Dave felt as he did, asking, "Has Dave had any difficult or hostile encounters with (us)?"

Though I haven't see Dave for years, I'd guess not. He likely has no friends of that faith, either– which I admit I figured. I was making a point: how easy it is to hold enemy images when we know not a single one of "them". I'm not naive to the deep conflicts of the world, especially those with religious agendas. But the e-mail was not focused on the extremist element, it was, at its conclusion, a diatribe against all of "them".

I sat up late into the night ranting to myself. But Dave had sent me a gift wrapped in that disturbing message: the opportunity to examine my own prejudice.

Have you ever played the Stereotyping Game, where someone identifies a group (blondes, Slavs, poodles, architects) and you complete the sentence  "All ... are..."? I used it in a social psychology class I taught; it elicited whoops of embarrassed laughter but led to intense discussion: What is bigotry; what is conviction? How do we know "what 'they' are like?

How easily those stereotypes came to mind, how readily we seek confirmation and reject contrary evidence. We become dumber, less responsive to complex problems and dilemmas. It's a seductive form of stupidity.

I began to view Dave through the lenses of various stereotypes: his nationality, age, profession, class. In a matter of hours, Dave had passed from kindly, distant relative to major jerk. The rift opened to an uncrossable chasm.

I decided, Done with him.

After a night's sleep I had another thought: Oh no. I have to keep talking to him. Ignoring him is a form of apathy, even cowardice. 

I recalled a version–several have been used at various sites–of a well-known  statement (often presented as a poem) by the Protestant minister, Martin Niemöller, ca. 1946. His words reminded me, as they have many, that silence is nearly always interpreted as assent. 

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Jewelry: Three levels of wrist renos

Old materials and pieces made new: always tricky in the jewelry world, as an unhappy marriage comes with a steep price tag, but a felicitous union thrills.

I have enormous respect for artisans whose work sets them apart. But some readers have e-mailed me asking for ideas that a good local jeweler can adapt. 

And some of you wield pliers with power and grace; you assure us that with an evening to spare and a threading needle, we can achieve something divine. I'm keeping it simple, though; my lone foray into necklace-making led me shamefaced to the pros for rescue.  

So, for your idea board, three options: the first, a master's calling card, the second, one for a proficient jeweler, and finally, a reno that you could do in front of your TV.

1. Master class: Repurposed bakelite

I dream Mark Davis dreams; he takes old bakelite, refinishes it, then inlays or attaches gems. Above, a vintage bracelet bezel-set with pink tourmaline, rhodolite and ruby. (Price, $3,550.) 

Here's another treatment, a marbled violet bakelite bangle with inlaid lilac harlequins, $2,200. Loving the rich iridescence and colour play.

Not many jewelers can apply inlay–which is why Davis is on my ship-comes-in list; however, most cuffs or bangles can be reno'd by the the addition of bezel-set stones.

2. Professional jeweler: New home for a small stone

Small diamonds languish for decades, plunked into tired engagement rings. Why not keep the sentiment but set the stone into something brilliantly cool?

Voilà, a Pat Flynn iron cuff with a dusting of 22k gold, set with a 1/3ct marquis diamond vaults that little sparkler out Akron. Or if you want to buy the bracelet, it's $3,800 at Twist. 

If adapting this idea, you don't need a diamond; any stone of the right proportions will work: a silver cuff with a slice of fire opal, bronze with a sprinkle of garnets, gold with coloured stones from discreet smoky topaz to flashy paraiba tourmaline.

3. DIY: Pearls like pop-beads

Have you too-small pearls or a strand that 'shrunk' around the neck? Why not pull them apart to make one or more stretch bracelets?

Here's a version of the pearl stretch bracelet from Pearl Paradise. Shown, Tahitian circled baroques punctuated by a golden South Sea; price, about $295. (Pearl Paradis have a larger selection in stock than what's shown on the site; call to inquire if you would like a specific mix.)

If making your own (directions here), remember the holes in your pearls need to be big enough to fit the elastic thread. (Pearls typically have .8mm holes; some are drilled at 1mm.) Use a strong, clear stretch cord like 7mm Stretch Magic.

Pearls can be re-drilled to enlarge the holes; Pearl Paradise are one company who do this. Once that little detail is in hand, you can play, mixing in other beads or pearl varieties. A YouTube video shows you how to hide the knot, essential to a neat piece. These look terrific worn as multiples.

If you try the DIY route and it doesn't work out, you can always do what I did: have a good laugh and see a sympathetic and talented jeweler. And remember, what sits unworn isn't much fun. Reno away!



Harbingers: Spring coats

The website Mental Floss published list and request for "the happiest words in the English language" here.  You can read the University of Vermont ratings, and also individual contributions: sparkle, mingle, kittens.

For me it is spring, from the first tentative moment when the wind shifts and you can smell earth. And I respond eagerly to spring jacket. Even if I don't need one, I'll pause at any window that shows them, as well as florist's forsythia or open-to-sun sandals.

These are not necessarily raincoats, but they have to handle showers (here, snowshowers), mud, car sprays, ecstatic dogs. Coated-vinyl macs are like wearing a plastic bag: they neither breathe nor drape well. But wool, while warm, isn't good when damp.  

The also need to be cut for layering; underneath you may still have winter's sweater, but the outer layer will sing of spring. As soon as we can, we are having a café au lait on the terasse:

What a balancing act this season is! Some coats I like:

Lot78 hooded cotton-blend twill (price, $1,015) is at netaporter (probably for four seconds). It's cool, no? The colour is neutral but not washed out, there's a soft jersey knit lining and while it's spring-weight, you wouldn't look silly in it in the fall, so I'd spend on this because of that versatility.

The trench returns like tulips. Boden's spring trench has several piquant details: a tart Prince of Wales check (among other choices) and a grosgrain-trimmed collar. The price (£129) is good and it's made in regular (to 22) and petite. It's double-breasted (but close-set and shaped) and has a flowered lining.

Here in the northeast, we long get out of dark-by-default even while we know pales are a problem. But you can machine wash and dry LL Bean's quilted riding coat (also available as a jacket); price $129; regular and petite sizes.  Offered in black (enough!) and a navy that calls to my strict side, as well as rose and moss–but if you want to fly forth in pale, here you go!

Another route is to go exuberantly spring, but in a supple leather. This Danier cobalt blue coat (price, $429) cheats chill via windproofing in a gorgeous, rich hue. Leather is terrific for travel; if you spray it as recommended, it will come out of a shower with a wipe-and-hang, unlike wool, clammy for days–and you can wad it up in an airline bin.

In spring with a colourful silk or cotton scarf, in fall with a deeper-hued cashmere one, this is another good season-spanner. though much of Danier is mall-y, but there are always a few uncluttered, even exceptional, pieces at very good prices. Also comes in a piquant poppy red.

Let's keep the binge out of harbinger! but, like the first bunch of tulips on your table, a spring topper gives a shot of pleasure after months burrowed into, essentially, a fabric house. Because of the short season, I don't replace a spring coat that often, but when I see the right one, I also know it won't be there for long, and grab it.

Montréal people: Toujours l'hiver

We haven't been people-watching for a bit, partly because I freeze my fingers taking photos at -21C (-6F)! But last weekend temps rose to -8C (17F), so let's watch Montréalers, out on a sunny but still-wintry weekend. Men and women alike bundle, but we see the first hints that the next season beckons.

Her dots on yellow lift a wintry grey puffer and wink at spring.

A fellow in an audacious pink bomber and Fair Isle hat, his companion in red with a boldly-striped scarf:

"Girls can wear pink, too", she says. Her mother told me she loves rose et jaune.

Gentle, soft celadon with its generous ruff of cream flatters and gives a visual vacation from the ubiquitous darks of February:


She's come from yoga, now en route to skating. Her treasured parka, from the Northwest Territories, is appliqued in traditional motifs. Our conversation began in French, switched to English and ended with bonne journée, typical here.

Bob "Elvis" Gratton is a comic character in several films and a TV series; "Think big, 'sti!" is his catch-phrase, like Austin Powers' "Yeah, baby!"  'Sti" (variants include esti, asti, osti) is explained here along with other classic Quebec swear words you wouldn't use around your mother.

Note the accessories: Cool shades, luminous white hair, plush, Indian-patterned scarf (we supersize here)–and baguette.

The shops present spring long before the snow melts. At hip jewelry boutique Charlotte Hosten, I asked to shoot a neckpiece of feathers, flowers and beads:

In the park across the street from my place, a jaunty man teaches a girl to juggle while skaters glide around them. Let's watch, then come in for a cup of Euphoria!

Next stop, spring! Six weeks until it shows up on people's backs, though I did see a young man on the street with knee-length stovepipe shorts over leather leggings, everything black. Yes, I did!

A valentine to imperfection

On Valentine's day, coupled or not, we are inundated with images of romantic love. But another love, love of ones' self, is on my mind today.

When I watched "Oprah" while trotting on the treadmill, a certain kind of woman was a regular guest. She was a real person, articulate, nice-looking but limp, neglectful of her appearance, nutrition, spirit. 

She was not, as Oprah often said, "living her best life". Either she vowed "I'm finally taking time for myself" or sat in front of an expert who told her to do so. For her, there was an arsenal of tools: gratitude journal, cute dress and boots, and–for really hard cases–Suze Orman. It always worked; by the credits, the woman looked relieved and radiant.

I felt happy for her: There, all better. But I always wondered what happened when she got home? Home to "Did you laminate my math project?", the dog throwing up in the laundry basket, the grind of being a partner or parent. (She always had children, did Oprah think single women were exempt from being a mess?) The woman now had an additional job, that of pursuing her best life–and not in schlumpadinka sweats. 

Now that "Oprah" is gone, the story plays out in other media outlets, over and over; this 'best life' tends to involve spa visits, book clubs and finally doing something about the living room. 

I'll bet most of us have tried the quick fixes. I too have felt the blues lift while wiggling my glossy fresh pedicure. But eventually, we have to let go of the notion of perfection as the path to love (aka self-esteem): it's a Mug's Game for two reasons.

First, the ability to accept and love ones' self is not an event (especially televised), and second, it cannot be done by seeking perfection and beating on ones' self for deficiencies.

Because it was said so much better by her, so I'm posting this 4-minute clip of the late dancer Gabrielle Roth. In it, she does something remarkable: she invites us to accept every aspect of our selves, without perfecting, defending and spending energy hiding our flaws.

I keep thinking of it, so it's my Valentine to you.

"If we could accept everything and dance with it all..."
- Gabrielle Roth, 1941-2012

The eighties, from near and afar

Several events have converged to make me think about the the eighth and ninth decades. My brother turned 80 last week, I saw the film "Amour", and I learned of the death of a cousin, at 86, following a fall.

I also returned to reading Susan Jacoby's well-researched, powerful "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age".
Though tough, unsentimental, unsparing, I recommend both the film and book as preparation for the eighties and beyond, or for relationships with those there now. Both refute the myth that by the time we hit the eighties, if we get that far, the challenges of old age will be conquered through science and, if we have to wait, expensive creams  as a stop-gap.

The facts are different. If turning (as I am) 65 this year, Jacoby reports that I have a 50% chance of a) incurring some form of degenerative brain disease, or b) spending significant time in a nursing home in my remaining years. And, as they say, nobody gets out alive. Much as boomers would like, we will not be centenarians dancing on cruise ships with our bionic body parts, memories preserved by brain games.

Dad used to repeat the adage that "old age is not for sissies". It takes inner strength, a courage to face the losses, whether of your favourite glasses, your balance, or your dearest friends. You need strength to head out for a walk even if you're aching, to form new habits, reconcile your dreams with the reality of what really happened.

Strength cannot be developed without acceptance, and acceptance isn't forthcoming if a woman refuses (like Goldie Hawn) to be called "grandma" (or some variant), when she is one. 

Denying you are where you are in the process of living subverts the tasks of each stage, and you end up an immature 80-something. Believe me, I've known some; they and the people around them are miserable.

Those on the threshold of entering "the young old" stage (according to Jacoby, 65 to 80) are preoccupied with their changing looks, but such worries subvert the gathering of inner strength that we need to go the distance.

Charlotte Rampling (67) spoke recently about the urge to surgically re-set the clock in an interview:

You've got to wait," she says. "You've got not to panic, not to be frightened, and not to change your face. You need your face to grow with you," she says. You mean plastic surgery? "Yeah, because then people don't know what age you are. You look a certain age but there is a problem with that if women can't live with their faces as they're growing into them. There's always a frightening point when your face starts to change, and that's when you want to change it. But if you go through that change – and it lasts quite a long time, maybe 10 years – then you find actually that you've grown into an older face."

(Retrieved from The Independent, April 8, 2012)

Yes, Rampling's magnificent bone structure has given her a position of privilege, but whether beauties or not, what would happen if we rejected the idea that there is something shameful about wrinkles, sags or looking the age we are?

A lot less self-denigration and unproductive worry, for one thing. 

Looks are only a superficial, minor part of the journey, but I was heartened to see in "Amour", the co-star, Emanuelle Riva, with character and beauty abundant in her 85-year-old face. In an interview with Anna Tatarska, published on the web site Fandor, Riva said:

"The most important thing is not to fear life. One needs to keep calm when facing old age. Fear destroys everything. You have to experience friendship and love with such fullness and tenderness as in Michael Haneke’s film. I mean real love, not first affection or being enchanted. If we manage to direct our thoughts in this direction and receive similar impulses, we will get peace and happiness in return."

Jacoby would say that Riva is a lucky exception, a super-elder. But I hope she wins that Oscar for the magnificence of her performance. And if not, she will have won the admiration of many for her second-harvest artistry.


Weight: OK, now what?

So, I did it: my BMI is in the healthy range, blood pressure normal for the past three months.

That's the good news, and the bad news is: so, I did it. No more watching the little ticker go down on MyFitnessPal, though I still track intake daily.

Now the hard part begins. I lapped up friends' congratulatory messages on MFP, reveled in NSVs (Non-Scale Victories) like being able to walk–if not dart–up subway steps with huffing.

When you weigh less, you need to eat less: bummer. 

I'd played a barely-conscious game with myself for several decades: gain during a period of permissiveness, then eat consciously, restricting calories (but never extremely) to bask in the achievement of losing, with a little time spent on the well-populated Isle of Denial in between. But at almost 65, I can no longer cycle, because the "fun" phase is too risky

Equilibrium is a bear! Look at Carrie Fisher, who dropped 50 lbs. in nine months with Jenny Craig, and appears to have been bit in the behind by maintenance. (I love her line that she "has gone through every letter of bra size, now all that's left is Sanskrit".)

Here's a before/after shot from Jenny Craig; the after is around August 2011:


 In May 2012 this shot apeared in the UK's Daily Mail:

I'm not posting this to mock Fisher; keeping it off is the real challenge, and besides, who can stand to eat packaged food forever?

I figure I'll will have to log to the grave; this is not morality, it's math. I can only eat wisely if I know the score; without the count I'm in trouble faster than you can pop a can of tonic.

Women I know who have maintained triple-digit losses say the same thing as those who took off 5 or 10 lbs: every meal has to be a choice. They do not buy the 'inevitability of re-gaining', among other weight-loss myths explored in this recent New York Times article.

Have you seen the graphic, difficult and moving photo essay "Half" by the young woman photographer, Julia Kozerski? During her 160 lb. loss (50% of her original weight), she documented the truth of her changing body: she shows neither the airbrushed, taut perfection nor perky joy displayed by diet industry pitchwomen.  

I'm not joyful; I'm relieved, because I lost weight for a health issue, and that reason shows measurable improvement. Of course, no one assumes that. The fellas at the gym tell me I look "so much younger". I just smile; they mean well. And one day they might have to keep it off.

Pearl reno: Susan's strand

Reader Susan sent this photo of her 3-4mm round white pearls (probably akoyas), a still-lustrous 18-inch strand, sentimental to her but too small as is for a grown woman. She asked if I had ideas for updating it, and wondered if they "were worth it". I'd say yes!

Susan's little lovelies

As I noted in this post on petite pearls, small pearls suit certain designs, and hers, given their condition and luster, beg for new life. (She could pull it apart to make a multi-strand bracelet or other project, but she requested a necklace.) 

Let's look at two options.

Plan A: Pendant on pearls

Here, small pearls form the "chain" for a pendant. Below, an example of such a necklace with a pendant, the "Angel Pearl" necklace by Kate Hines; the silver-set freshwater baroque pendant is also available separately (price, $60):


If choosing a round pendant, I'd select a diameter of a nickel or not much bigger, for balance. She might have something she could re-purpose; if not, the world of pendants is vast! Some ideas at various price points:

For only $4.75, she could add this romantic French pendant from Etsy seller AllEarzJewelry:
AllEarz Jewelry @ Etsy
The gold-plated snake, an Asian motif, adds substance and texture; this style attaches to the strand, rather than hanging off it. Should she have a few dull pearls on the strand, this would allow her to pick the best for the reno. (Price, $63). And see the centre loop of the snake? She could hang a pearl, gem or crystal bead from there.
Nina Designs pendant

A simple but luscious 12mm x 16mm flameball baroque peach pearl drop (price, $117) from Kojima Company is a soft, feminine addition that complements the luster of her whites:

Kojima Company baroque pearl pendant

 A Victorian locket, set with an opal, would be a nostalgic choice. This one, 20mm, is 10k gold and made with intriguing detail. Price, $262 from Etsy seller Syboll Munger.
Syboll Munger Victorian gold locket

 A vintage charm makes a witty pendant. This 14k diver is from BeladoraII (price, $495). You might already have a charm, but I like her retro vibe. I wouldn't go too sweet (heart, flower) or the necklace will look like you stole it from a 12-year-old. Also, the charm needs some size; Ms. Diver is a generous 1 1/2 inches.

BeladoraII vintage 14k charm


The dated filigree goes, right now! New clasp could be a small 24k vermeil fishook from Nina Designs about $17.
Susan could also troll rummage sales for broken pieces that include a clasp; I once found one for 50 cents. She'd look for the approximate size she has now, so it does not overwhelm the strand.

Attaching the pendant  

The pendant attaches to the strand with a simple fixed ring (or rings) or delicate bail. (a bail is a hooplike attachment that is more substantial than a ring.) Some pendants have rings designed into them, and need a second small ring to hang correctly. (The Victorian locket shown has the two rings, all ready to go.)
Don't buy a bail before you choose the pendant, it may not fit. Bails are designed differently to accommodate top, side or front-drilled pendants. (See Nina Designs for many examples of bails.) Just like you'd choose the setting for a ring, choose the bail; it's literally front and center.

A snap or removable bail (sometimes called an "enhancer" style) would allow Susan to change pendants. 

Plan B: Pinned pearls on chain

Susan could entirely transform her necklace to wire-wrapped dangles on chain. This is not a bead-store proposition. I'm showing an example by my pearl-design idol Zara Scoville of Priceless Imperfection, and it is she whom I recommend for the project.
Priceless Imperfection dangly pearl necklace 
The piece could use only Susan's pearls, but I'd suggest adding small keshis, for interest. Zara can choose pearls that harmonize; the wirework may be gold or silver.

In Plan B, the necklace is transformed, but the sentiment remains. The cost for such restyling is higher than for some pendants, but she has a completely new piece.

Does Susan need a jeweler?

For Plan A, Susan could buy her pendant and findings, take or send it to a bead store, and have it strung. This is the lowest-cost option if she has a clear sense of what she wants.

If unsure about design, a jeweler can help. In that case, she should bring along images of pieces she likes, or make sketches.

So many readers have asked, that I think talented jewelry designers must be in scarce supply. (Many "jewelers" today merely retail production pieces and do hardly any bench work. And a jeweler can do good technical work but lackluster design.)

I've recommended several who specialize in pearls, like Zara Scoville, Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Company and Céline Bouré of Kokass; Etsy is another good place to check out talent. Given Skype, a design meeting is just a click away.

If you live in a place served by good jewelers (which is different from good jewelry stores), slip your inspiration folder into your bag and drop by. (Occasionally, jewelers can get huffy when they aren't supplying the pearls, others are fine with it.)   

If there is no enthusiasm in the artist for undertaking the project, no matter how much you like his or her work, say thanks and leave. And vice-versa: an artist may be willing, but if his work on display is not your taste, the final product (no matter how versatile he claims to be) will not please.

Craft shows are another place to troll for artisans; if you like the work displayed, return during a quiet spell to discuss your project.


For Plan A, besides the cost of materials, Susan will pay for the stringing ($15-$60 depending on who does the work, and how complicated the necklace is) and a design fee if a jeweler gives significant input.

For Plan B, Susan will pay for additional pearls, if any, and for the making of the piece.  
Susan could also just change the clasp and restring, then layer the necklace with others that she has, but that's not what she requested, and also, I wouldn't want those pearls abraded by chains or metal near them. The only thing that should touch a pearl is another pearl, or at least no metal, if you want to keep them in good nick. 

Jewelers like to say you can step on a pearl; you can– it will not shatter unless there is an internal fault or it's one of the hollow 'soufflé' pearls- but the surface nacre will scratch, and metal is the meanie.

Susan's next steps

Susan has some decisions to make. 

Should she try to spend as little as she can, or is it worth investing in something special? Would she be happy with a $5 Etsy pendant or is a pearl or gold charm worth saving for?

Does she want to keep the necklace as a strand, adding a pendant, or redesign it in an exciting new style?

Whatever her choice, she should aim for a necklace she doesn't want to take off. Pearls are meant to be worn; by spring, they could be out in the sunshine!  

Do you have other ideas for Susan's necklace? We'd be eager to hear them!