Fragrance: Flitting and flirting

Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and thought, Who was that? Certain elements endure, but the surround has entirely changed. You can't imagine yourself back in the same clothes, or with that shag.

The same happens with scent. 

When I pass a perfume counter, I sometimes spritz what was once "my" fragrance, Lancome's Magie Noire, though the reformulation is a travesty. Magie Noire conjures white wine spritzers, shoulder-pads the size of footballs and "Don't You Want Me, Baby?"

I have a vintage bottle under cello wrap, but opening it would feel like releasing a genie; would I fall under its spell again and maybe phone my Aramis-wearing old flame? Chasing now-defunct perfumes is like restoring a vintage sports car: endless expense for a hint of former perfection.

Presently, I'm looking for an interesting (but not numbingly costly) everyday fragrance for winter. I currently enjoy Diptyque's Philosykos, Hermès' Eau de Merveilles, and Eau de Italie's Magnolia Romana among others, but I've got that wandering nose again.

Au revoir, So Pretty!

My friend Natasha made a recent pirouette from Cartier So Pretty (discontinued) to Stella McCartney's Stella, and there she is happily ensconced.

When I saw Colette recently, I dabbed Andy Tauer's sensuous L'Air du Desert Marocain on her wrist; she swooned. That's a penthouse-priced frag, though, and I want a more reasonable daytime splash, neither one-note nor teenagey. That spot is currently occupied by Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely (to which Chandler Burr accords top marks in his book, "The Perfect Scent") but I'm open to change.

Every few months, I've been ordering a selection of 7ml samples from LuckyScent, either their house sample packs or my own selections. I read the descriptions with a grain of salt; scents described as extraordinary may deliver all the allure of car deodorant. Other times, a note I'm convinced I dislike delivers delight.

To find their sample sets, search the Brands menu for LuckyScent Sample Packs. If you have a fragrance-loving friend, or even one curious about scent, the packs are spot-on gifts. There's one for men, too. Other niche vendors who will ship samples internationally are The Perfumed Court and The Posh Peasant.

The LuckyScent perfumes are not drugstore brands, though, and to sample is to learn that, with only rare exceptions, you do get what you pay for; I won't find my stealth bargain there. (Last year, a reader suggested Origins Ginger Essence, which I enjoyed, but like the Jo Malone line, the scent vanished in ten minutes.)

As for the health risks of fragrance, I am going to embrace my vice. The tiny amount I apply markedly improves my spirits (especially in the grip of our deep winter) and Le Duc loves scent, both on me and himself.

No sun, no smoking, less wine than I wish were advised—geez Louise, leave me with something! (Did someone murmur, "chocolate"?)  For those few drops' summoning of salt-washed beach or courtyard of gardenias, I am willing to repent... in a future life.  (Should I wear fragrance in public space, I choose a natural scent, except in bars. I mean, if I can smell someone's Dark and Stormy from five tables away, can we have a little give and take?)

Next year, I plan to explore more natural, eco-certified fragrances, and have already found that one in particular, Hiram Green's Shangri La, delivers a heady, fabulous chypre—but the price is steep as the imaginary paradise's snowy peaks; the eau de parfum is $US 165 for 50ml.

The Passage closes from today until 
January 5, 2016.
Have a merry, restorative, warm holiday.
Thank you, as ever, for reading
and especially for your comments!

Older: What is hip?

A friend sent me this photo with the wish, "...I hope my friends are this young at heart and hip forever."

(Though many Facebook comments refer to her as "old", I read her as an early-middle-aged women who went white early.)

I enjoyed her well-wishes and at the same time, thought, No way I'd pick that shirt. (Among other constraints, the eyes would pop out at a distressing place on my chest)—but she projects joie de vivre and a whimsical style I'd call more "creative" than hip. Good for her for letting her feline flag fly!

Even if I wouldn't rock a giant cat face, I'm not averse to orange frames; below, me at the softball game/BBQ the evening before the kids' wedding:

Before you think I'm a badass instead: the event was licensed for the beer I'm holding.

As Tower of Power famously asked, What is Hip?

Urban Dictionary says hip is, "Cooler than cool; the pinnacle of "it"; beyond all trends and conventional coolness". (The related word hipster addresses a young-adult demographic; see entry here.)

To me, the ephemeral ether of hip inhabits a less capricious neighbourhood than Ms. Kitty's, more Rick Owens than Trash & Vaudeville. Hip is hatched from a confidence that rejects conformist behaviour such as ironing your hair straight when it's not (guilty, up to my mid-twenties) or starving yourself to size whatever while you're miserable.

The hip women I know are uninterested in copycat InStyle outfits, but always have one audacious detail, a scarf or an unusual ring, or 'their' way of wearing a hat. They are not necessarily pretty, but have strongly expressive faces, like these women:

Left, poet Anne Carson; centre, visual artist Shirin Neshat; right, filmmaker Agnès Varda.

Trying to be hip is like trying to be witty: effort kills it. So does hanging onto youth; as TOP sang,
"...and if you're really hip, the passing years will show."

So who's hip?  To one woman it's Ms. Kitty, to another it's Patti Smith. And, does it matter? I think my friend's wish that we stay "young at heart" is a more compelling goal. Getting older while retaining a sense of humour, the ability to give and receive love and friendship, and an active curiosity—now that I will pursue wholeheartedly!

A gift in hand: Three simple savouries

One of the first lessons I remember is my mother's counsel, "Don't go to anyone's house with one arm as long as the other."

Because there are so many parties this time of year, here are three really easy, inexpensive and, best of all homemade treats to hand your host. Because December's a sugar blitz, a savoury treat seems especially clever.

Murph's Mustard
(Time required: 20 min.)

"Murph" was my Aunt Magdalene, an elegant but not overly domestic banker. She'd whip this up, put it in a cute pot, and enter in cloud of Chanel and swishing taffeta. 

1 4oz. can dry mustard (like Keen's)
1/3 cup and 3 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 eggs

Combine and cook in saucepan 10 min. while stirring, or in double boiler till slightly thickened. Yield: 1 pot. (What does she mean? Beats me; I'd estimate it makes about 1 1/2 cups of mustard, enough for a good-sized gift jar with a little left for you to enjoy how good it is.) Store refrigerated.

Also appealing is this Moutarde maison au miel de lavande (in French) from Alto Gusto.

Sweet Dill Pickles
(Time required: 10 min. and three days to marinade) 

These these start with good old garlic dills, you do just enough to them that they taste different. 

1/2 gallon whole garlic dills
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. garlic chips (or chopped garlic)

Mix everything together except the dill pickles. Drain the pickles, slice them into spears, put into that dill jar and layer with the sugar/herb mixture. Refrigerate and shake a couple times a day for three days. Pack in a glass jar.

Painted Potato Chips
Time required: 20-30 min.

Before Miss Vickie's offered every flavour known to humans and some not, my mother made her own flavoured chips to serve with cocktails. It's still a really cool thing to do—you get a chip that tastes like no commercial one.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

She'd just melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix in one teaspoon of B-V broth and sauce concentrate. (I don't see why you couldn't use jerk sauce, either, as long as it's not the thick, gloppy kind.) That mixture goes into a small shallow bowl.

Open a bag of good unflavoured commercial potato chips. Take out your pastry brush. Brush one side of each chip with the mixture, using a lightish hand, and place each painted chip on your cookie sheet so they don't touch, 'painted' side up. (Don't worry about covering the chip edge to edge, just give it a good lick.)

Pop into oven and roast, watching carefully so they don't burn. (You are just 'drying' the paint, the chips should not get dark.)

Let cool and pack in a tin to take to your friends. I said take your hands out of there right now!

For those with more time and the willingness to fry, impressively gourmie homemade chips with nori salt will stand out.  This is an intriguing homemade potato chip, though if you are getting out your mandoline and making them, any flavour—or none, just salted— will be leapt on. The recipe is from the renowned (now closed) Chicago restaurant, Butter.

PS. For sweet-lovers, that divine sweet and spiced nuts recipe is here. (It says 'walnuts' but you can use any nut or a combo.)

I re-post it every year; last year a reader told me she made it and then she and her husband stood in the kitchen and polished off the batch!

Buying Jewelry on Amazon: Should you?

This post, originally published on Dec. 8, was intended for today, Dec. 10, so I'm re-publishing it on the correct date.

When I shop, I cast a squinty, wary eye on mass brands (including status ones) and vendors. But I would not cut off my ring finger to spite my hand, either, because such retailers sometimes offer very good prices.

Though I usually shop with artisanal and the vintage vendors, monster sellers are well worth a look for seasonal pieces, or for the replacement of a generic item, such as a chain from which you hang your great aunt's locket.

Amazon is not Twist, where I could pretty much close my eyes, point, and be happy—but bargains are tucked in there, especially via time-limited offers.

In the Passage's windows today: a sampling of what's offered by Amazon's UK site, which gives better service for international sales than the US, though not every vendor will ship to every country.  (Note: Prices do not include shipping or applicable taxes and duties.)

Hang on to your mocha, you might be surprised!

Solange Azagur-Partridge is a usually dizzingly-priced London designer, but she has put a particularly affordable piece on her country's site:

The Hot Lips ring is enamel on sterling silver, and comes in about six colours; price, £69, a mwaah! for a handful of rings that might have slipped into staid while you weren't looking. 

Normally I don't like cute, but I enjoy jewelry that reflects the season, and this pearl snowman with his onyx top hat made me smile. A layering piece for £15.49 including the 46cm silver chain: a steal. (There's an earring version too, but not for anyone over twenty.)

Diamond snowflakes are not limited to strictly winter when they're as abstract as Carissima's. A total of .81cts of pavé supplies a sparkly skiff of snow on 9ct yellow gold flakes Price, £131.

Georg Jensen on Amazon? Yes, and well-priced; this classic, chic Archive ring is £195:

So much for austere Danish good taste; I was gobsmacked by a stack of wild Bijoux Famille bangles, printed leather on gold plate. Money talks, for £145.

Why else use Amazon? If others shop for you, you can post pieces you like to your Wishlist. I'd slide Lizzie Fortunato's pearl and iolite Oasis earrings between my books; price, £269.

I have sidestepped what I can't assess online (diamonds and some coloured gems), the overpriced and overexposed build-a-charm bracelets, the twee bridesmaid gifts. The pearls did not entice, and I gave costume a miss—be my guest, if you have spare time. 

But neither will I make the site a one time visit; serious specials, specific delivery dates and, amid a sea of so-so pieces, some unexpected glamour make Amazon if not a rival for the best online jewelry sources, not one to dismiss, either. 

Girlfriend visit: The fabulous and the frugal

I am lucky to have multiple Susan-friends, and one is visiting in a few days. Le Duc will be away, so we have only ourselves to please, and will indulge in a happy blur of delights. We will see an intriguing exhibit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts on 1920s Modernism, "Colours of Jazz", browse a large, well-curated craft show, have one dinner out at a good restaurant and one in.

To mark our forty-two year friendship, we often we buy one small identical item: fanciful knee socks, a box of chocolates, a calendar.

On her last visit, she said, "I don't want to be rich, but I would like to buy anything I wanted, for just one day." She was not referring to couture Lanvin, but I wondered, What might we get up to, if we shredded the budget?

In my fantasy, our girlfriend duplicates deluxe might include:

1.  Cashmere dressing gowns from Brora
I'd buy the pink, and she'll have blue. (Another feature of my fantasy life is that I have no moths, ever.) Price, £695 but who cares?

2.  Christ shearling coats
We have a history here. In the '70s, I owned a no-name version, so heavy it felt like I was carrying the sheep. I sold it to her, but she abandoned it after one winter. This time we're getting coats made by Christ, remarkably light. Price for the Carola model, €1,900. Chicken feed!
3. Rings
We would like some jewelry, please. I prefer to shop vintage, but then we couldn't have our twins. I know she'd thrill to a Dorothée Rosen One-Footer Ring, and let's get them in gold, baby. In 18k, $2, 795. So reasonable I might add a diamond to mine!

Well that was fun! But the perfectly-fine reality is that we'll follow our longtime tradition, donations to one another's favourite charities, Doctors Without Borders for her, HelpAge for me.

That's not to say we're on an unalloyed austerity program; our Québec designers will offer alluring crafts both at the show and online via the Métiers d'Art du Québec web site. (Prices on site and below are in $CDN.)

Since the robes are out of reach, how about hers-and-hers handmade sleep masks? We'd chose from an assortment by Velvet Moustache par Marjorie Labreque; price, $22.
Susan especially likes ceramics, and who doesn't need a spoon-holder? We'd choose these, by Frédérique Bonmatin, $12 each—and maybe one for a hostess gift, too.

And it wouldn't be the first time we bought the same earrings! Maybe I can interest her in Osmose's tin earrings with small pearls; I like the mix of materials and graceful design. (Price, $38).

You never know what hijinks might arise. Last year, enroute home from a late, long dinner, we got into a snowball fight with kids standing outside a bar.

Look out, we're off the leash!

Glerups: Gentle wooly souls

Until I moved to Montréal, shoes were shoes: you know, those things you put on your feet, and leave on till bedtime.

But here, many households run shoes-off. That's partly because we are in snow boots or Wellies about five months of the year, and easily trek in whatever's on our streets. We carry shoes to visit homes; hosts appreciate non-abrasive soles that preserve their floors.

When I was recently buying a pair of Blundstones (cherry red), I was taken by Glerups, the Danish indoor shoe. Now there is an simple, amiably Scandinavian shoe (or slipper), heavy enough to foil cold floors, plush enough for comfort, finished with a soft moccasin-style leather sole. And they come in absolutely biteable colours.

Here's the slipper:

The shoe is higher-cut, so warmer:

There's a boot model too, all of them similar—rather like Blunnies. They offer kid's, women's and men's sizing, and one rubber-soled outdoor model.

The US site introduces the new ballerina, which adds silk to the wool:

In Montréal, the Neon location on St.-Denis has a good assortment, including these ballerinas. (They are truly "slippers" without arch support, but you could slip in insoles.)

Glerups are hand-washable in cool water, or machine-washable on "wool program" setting. There's a sweet family story about the Danish grandmother who designed them, and a few more encouraging tidbits on Glerups' site.

The Shop feature on the Canadian site seems to be on vacation; the US one works. Some models are available via Amazon or well-stocked The Australian Boot Company. Price is around $CDN 90.

Splendid gift idea, but if one family member receives a pair, that could incite deep envy among others.

Any readers Gleruppping? How do you like them?

Recommended: "Being Mortal"

Pearl sale alert!  
Kojima Company have reduced everything on the website by 20% 
 from now until December 20,
with special offer code GLOW2015.

I unreservedly join the chorus of praise for noted surgeon's Dr. Atul Gawande's call for flexible, de-institutionalized, and more compassionate late-life care, from the time when a person needs help with the everyday tasks of living through to the days.

Though concerned with the US medical system, it's relevant to anyone who wishes to address that period with compassion and competence.

This is a subject we can uneasily avoid, and in fact I had it on my Kindle for months before I waded in—but I'm glad I did. Dr. Gawande doesn't sugar coat his pill, but neither he does default to the vague "something must be done" approach.  He gives readers some tough love, tracing the lives of family members and patients who endured displacement, pointless and invasive procedures, and (worst of all to me) a disgraceful dearth of straight talk from the medical community.

Gawande contrasts these incidents with inspiring stories of unusual and innovative resources, from assisted living facilities alight with birds, dogs and visiting schoolchildren, to hospices where both physical and emotional comfort are freely supplied to give each patient "her best day possible, now."

Each of us can influence health policies and practices, through how we vote, the requests we make of health care professionals, and how we approach family decisions. But in order to raise our voice, lend a hand, or even hold a hand, we need to know what counts, as the bottom of life's hourglass fills. "Being Mortal" will be a book to which I return, and will inform many conversations.

Concurrently, I watched Dr. BJ Miller's TED talk (19 minutes), "What Really Happens at the End of Life", about how he and the staff of the the Zen Hospice of San Francisco care for their residents. Normally I can waste time on a makeup video for some goop I don't even wear; this really did change my life, and will likely change my dying. Please watch, to experience a realistic sensitivity that is both rare, and deeply needed.

Thanks to TED's generous policy, I am posting it here. I hope each of us, and our loved ones, can one day be helped by such lovingly radical caregivers.

Relaxed Real: Piquant pendants under $50

I created the Relaxed Real category of jewelry to highlight pieces made from organic materials, with hand-crafted elements. This cuts out the mass-produced, shiny plastics, as well as corner-cutting techniques like glued-on stones.

When looking for a new piece of jewelry at this price point, the search narrows to modest materials: thread of various weights, wood, glass, resins; recycled materials like paper, rubber, shells or coins. In this world, an eye for colour and design are almost alchemic. In inexperienced hands, humble materials look like a 5th grade art project, but a skilled artisan can lift them to Picasso-like exhilaration.

Today's windows feature pendant necklaces, each of which cost less than $50—and each are wearable, current pieces that would look wonderful with jeans or pants and a tee shirt.

I love pendants because unlike earrings, you can see them on yourself, and you're not spending twice for the materials. Pendants also accommodate materials such as paper or clay, which are not sturdy enough for rings, and most are lightweight to wear.

A captivating and original necklace made from coloured pencils, by Etsy seller carbikova; price, $35 including the neckwire. (Other sizes and shapes available on the site.)

Antique 1890s copper token necklace, with willow tree on the font and lucky horseshoe on the back; available on copper chain or cord from Etsy seller FindsandFarthings; price, $27.

Semi-precious stones are within reach; I searched through hundreds of awkward wire-wraps to find good setting. Here is a luscious blue-green apatite that is not lumped up with wrapping, on a pretty chain (sold separately, various lengths and finishes).

The 20-30mm pendant is $26 from MoonTideJewellery. She has a number of simple gemstone pendants good for layering and specifies that, should you order a chain with your piece, the setting will match.

Resins make excellent choices because of the colour possibilities, and I especially like them when they showcase natural elements, like the serene, faceted dandelion-seed pendant by RaliJewellery; price, $16.55.

The world of fused or art glass deserves its own post, but in short, it's littered with vibrant but often unsophisticated pieces. Some glass artists stand out, such as LindsaysDesigns, a Texan who makes the funky, retro bullseye pendant. Price, $30 (chain sold separately).

Should you wish to revive a favourite outfit with a new pendant, a $30-$40 expense might be managed by cutting out a couple cups of specialty coffee drinks per week (or all right, glasses of wine) over a month—a pretty good trade-off.  

A good winter project is to set aside anything unworn for several years, and ask yourself why it no longer sings. My friend Christine uses a smart variation: she places pieces on a tray in her bedroom, because, "Out of sight, out of wear". That way, if you still don't reach for it over a few months, the decision is easy.

Another woman may love it—a friend, or via donation, someone unknown. In October, I saw the long, chunky black glass necklace I had donated swinging happily on young passer-by who seemed to have no trouble supporting its weight. So much better gleaming in the sunlight, than in a dusty tangle in my dresser drawer!

Apfel vs. Kondo: More and less

I left the screening of the documentary, "Iris" (directed by the late Albert Maysles) with mixed feelings. Mrs. Apfel is a direct, charming, iron-fist-in-heavily-embroidered-velvet-glove, blessed with a fearless and diverse talent for adornment. She owns a staggering amount of clothing and accessories, and is shown acquiring ever more, even as she tours a storage facility and murmurs, "I must do something about this."

Buying more and more is a way of denying our mortality, and I am not referring only to octogenarians like Apfel. If there is always more to chase, acquire, and cram into already overflowing homes, we can pretend there is also always more time. It's as if the possessions were magical talismans, promising an endless path strewn with baubles.

Around the same time, I watched an episode of "Hoarders"; the differentiating characteristics between the two inveterate collectors were price point and public acceptance of the habit. The Apfel's apartment, cluttered with permanent holiday decor and stuffed animals, was uncannily like one "Hoarders" woman's, but the Apfels have a doorman.

Have you read Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"? Several friends have adopted her KonMari method for simplifying, organizing and storing. Kondo starts from the question, What would an uncluttered living space do for you? (Apfel would likely retort, "Sweet f-all.")

Should you find that future compelling, Kondo prescribes several clear steps: Beginning with clothes (but eventually dealing with everything), reduce your number of belongings, keeping only things that "spark joy". Divest everything not fulfilling the criterion, and devise a specific storage place for what is left.

Folding, Kondo-style 

There is more; she is a master of folding; if you adopt her methods, you will feel as if you live at Muji.

But what about the chipped mug that your roommates gave you that summer you waitressed at a resort hotel? Your friend's Manolos that didn't fit her, so she gave them to you, except they don't fit you either, but you loved her gesture? Before they leave, photograph these objects and slip a print into your journal or add the shots to your screensavers.

I wondered, gifted with an eclectic eye like Iris Apfel's, does one inevitably become a magpie? ("More is more, and less is a bore", she says.) Could you deck yourself in enough jewelry to stock a shop, then throw on a '70s couture brocade coat and a big fur vest—and move around in comfort for a full day?

She is remarkable, and knows it. For the rest of us, Iris advises, "If your hair is done properly and you're wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything."

Even a Kondo closet?

Retirement: Navigating a few shoals

Ta-DA! The winner of the draw for "Annunciation" is Mary. (Hail, Mary!) Mary, please use my e-mail in the Welcome section in the right sidebar to send me your postal address. The publisher will send your copy at the end of the month. Thank you so much, all who entered; I was heartened by your generous support for this book.

I recently read an article titled something like "Seven Mistakes to Avoid in Retirement". The list was what you'd expect: failing to track your budget; overspending on adult kids and travel (tip: travel off-peak); failing to downsize one's home; not attending to one's estate and end of life wishes; and several financial errors related to pensions or tax. Check, check, sigh and check.

But the list was written by a financial planner, so it omitted some of the less-tangible mistakes, which I would not call "mistakes" so much as pitfalls. We can do them unconsciously and I have fallen into every one—and I didn't need to retire, either; some crept in as I passed 50 or 55.

So,  my expansion of his list is below, and most do not pertain solely to retirement.

1. Letting appearance slide, without noticing
The parched cuticles, shoes that could use a polish, glasses that need adjustment (either that, or my head's on crooked), a smudged tote bag that I'm carrying till I can find another I really like: the lack of attention to such details forms my Schlubby Senior persona. (Stay-at-home moms and home-based workers report the same tendency, if that's any comfort.)

Deja Pseu wrote a typically well-illustrated post about the importance of creating "a cohesive and and pleasing whole", titled "Dress up, everyday". That's easy for me when everything's in good nick, but it's psychologically harder to spend money having my backpack zipper replaced  than buying a new pair of cashmere wristwarmers. But I remind myself that the maintenance is important. And, at 67, I cannot wear "distressed" anything, it just looks like neglect.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and say, Come on, make an effort. I remember boxing my mother's effects after her death at 99;  among the last clothes she wore, I found a lipstick in a jacket pocket.

I realize how much work kept me pulled together, and how living without that scrutiny leads to unwitting inattention. Does it matter? I definitely feel more cheerful and energetic when groomed.

2. "I know what I like and I like what I know."
A 60-ish acquaintance said this recently, as she screwed up her nose drinking her first espresso when visiting us. (Does not live on Mars, just central Florida.) As we age, I notice that when we close off the world, we lose touch with life's nuance and richness. Another friend nailed just what I'd noticed when she called someone "incurious".

In an online age, there's no excuse for this narrowing. We can expose ourselves to new ideas, broader cultures, different perspectives, without leaving our homes.

On the other end of that continuum, I recently met a delightful reader who asked if I'd like to have coffee while she was in Montréal; she was en route to interviewing a jewelry designer, for a prospective newspaper article. She's dipping her toe into a new career, full of brio and slightly stunned that a chance encounter had yielded the interview. At the very least, she will have fun and rekindle skills she has not used for a time. She had pranced over the pitfall.

3. Getting weird about money
There will always be help that your kids, niece or neighbours can use, causes which you support, the bike or car that needs new brakes. But the price of a pedi when your feet feel like they've been stuccoed is not going to wreck your old-age security. Permit yourself. Then you can do some good and not be a martyr about it.

(Why don't they offer Pay It Forward at nail salons? Plenty of women coping with hard times could use an eyebrow shaping or manicure.)

A friend lost his sister. He immediately bought a new car, booked a huge trip to Asia, and contracted for a major reno to his home. His girlfriend realized his spending was a grief reaction, and gently initiated several talks about what was going on. Yes, he has the means, but she was worried about the frenzied approach. 

Between grim self-denial and a YOLO spree, there's ample, satisfying middle ground; the art is settling into that place while the insistent drumbeat of consumption threatens to drown out discernment.

As I've said in other posts, the financial picture for older women is often dire, especially for those on their own.  I hope each of us who cares draws inspiration from Gloria Steinem, who at 80 is still deeply engaged in her work for equality. (I recommend Jane Kramer's recent New Yorker profile of Steinem, "Road Warrior", published here.) Glory to Gloria, who changed my life when I idly picked up that copy of a new magazine.

4. Post-work perfectionism 
You would think, once we leave the workplace, we could drop the perfectionism that so often is fanned by the belief that "a woman must work harder and better". But if a woman has spent forty or more years making sure every aspect of her work was done to the highest standard (hers), the trait is hard to shed.

That tendency can transfer from work to many other aspects of life: how your kids should rear their children, keep house, deal with their careers. How your town or country is governed, how other people behave in restaurants (I'm still piqued by cameras going off in my face, dammit), and how the dentist's office should really be run.

Hangover perfectionism is a major contributor to carping, and nothing truncates new friendships and tests old ones like an aura of permanent dissatisfaction.

Another post explored the difference between the image and reality thus far, almost five years into retirement. Though some plans slid off the cracker, plenty has happened: I moved cities, worked on a political campaign, edited a book, made new friends, helped several small businesses grow, earned a stack of French class certificates, and reduced my blood pressure dramatically. I've become a both a broader and more discerning reader (even if I don't remember the content so readily).

The financial planner is right, a woman must mind her financial affairs, retired or not. And at the same time, other aspects of life demand late-life attention—not just mistakes to avoid, but opportunities to seize.

I'll be intrigued to hear your additions!

Annunciation: The Passage's first giveaway

Today's post was written before Friday's attacks in Paris. I am running it because of my long advocacy for interfaith and intercultural dialogue (which may also include non-believers who wish to live in peace). That activity is not the solution to extremist terrorism, but, if we begin to talk across cultures earlier, expressing the hopes we share, we have a better chance at making violent acts abhorrent to all.

There are many qualities I admire about my friend Elizabeth Adams, the artist and publisher whom I met when I bought a copy of her Phoenicia Press book, "Waiting to Unfold" by Rachel Barenblat. I chose the collection of the poems, which Barenblat wrote weekly during her son's first year of life, as a gift for a friend's daughter pregnant with her own son.

I especially appreciate Beth's ability to conceive insightful, collaborative projects whether through art, music or poetry. Her request of the poets whom she invited to participate was to "think deeply and fearlessly and to write from your hearts."

As she notes, the theme is challenging: "The annunciation story is a complicated foundational story in western culture. Patriarchies have used Mary as a model for ideal feminine acceptance, faith and submission to authority, while at the same time, millions of people have identified with her courage, suffering and patience..."

So with great pleasure,  the windows are dressed with Phoenicia Press's latest publication, a poetry compilation titled "Annunciation: Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary".

I'll give a copy, via a draw, to a reader.

Of the poets, she says:
"Because part of my incentive for the book was to look at Mary from an interfaith, as well as secular, perspective, the poets are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and secular, and they've brought an amazing breadth to this volume. I am moved by the way in which each poet has managed to identify with Mary, and express some personal point of connection with clarity, emotion, and immediacy. It could have turned out to be a "religious" book but it's much bigger than that—it's a human book."

Beth is more than the book's editor; her striking linocuts illustrate its pages and cover.

If you would like to enter, please add "DRAW" to your comment. I'll put all names I receive today and tomorrow (until midnight EST) into a hat, ask my neighbour to pluck one, and announce the winner next week. The book will be shipped by the publisher at the end of November.

You might also consider "Annunciation" for a gift, or treat yourself to a certain outcome by ordering (there's a special now till November 20) from Phoenicia Publishing. Visit Phoenicia's page also to read the poet's comments about their approaches, a glimpse into the layers of memory and emotion that infused their contributions.

Ten per cent of the proceeds of "Annunciation" are donated directly to refugee relief for women.

Rambling in the last warm days

We have enjoyed a honeyed, unusually mild autumn here, kissed with deep golden light and the warmth of sun, which touches our shoulders in mid-afternoon.

Walking through the market, I noticed many women holding on to the pleasure of dressing in only a shirt. For crisp stripes, the cross-pattern pockets are the detail that makes the difference:

Colour has deepened, as we store summer's sunny shades. Worn by a woman having coffee, speaking expressively: teal jeans with an aubergine jacket. (One sign of Montréal women is that they prefer favour contrast to careful coordination.)

And what contrasts are on view! Her tights as flaming as the fall leaves:

A white activewear jacket with turquoise lining, black yoga pants and a lime scarf looked cheerful on this brilliant day; soon November descends into grey skies and hat weather, and she'll put that jacket toward the back of the closet.

I left the market to walk through a semi-industrial area, where I stopped to read a poster seeking our help in finding Clarence, a 15 yr. old tabby who has wandered away.

The owner says he might be hiding in one of the many industrial garages. I have hope, because reader lagatta, who lives roughly in the same neighbourhood, lost her elderly cat for two months; he turned up, hungry and exhausted, but alive.

Easily the most beautifully-made lost cat poster I've seen; Clarence is clearly loved.

On upscale rue Laurier, I stopped to admire this dress by Isabelle Elie. I wondered who would buy this lacy confection with its detachable fur trim, chic for holiday cocktails.

The stirrings of the upcoming holiday season, in more ways than one: you take a yoga class with a DJ and a wine tasting!

My next real-people shots will be of Montréalers in leather jackets, parkas, boots (but still scarves). But on this golden mid-November day, we strolled unimpeded and appreciative of this little dividend.

Jewelry's brilliant breakthrough

Jewelers usually work in three dimensions by a method called lost-wax casting. Now, computer technology has enabled an entirely new way of working, through the use of metal 3D printing. If you are wondering, "How can they do that?" see this brief article.

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with the new fabrication form.

3D printing uses an additive manufacturing process which allows unusual designs; some geometric pieces would be extremely difficult to make by conventional methods. The method also allows you to choose metals or other materials, with short production time, from one to several weeks, for most items. And, would you like some heavy cred with your younger family members or friends? Imagine any of these as a gift for holidays or milestone. They'll love the edginess, and you will be happy with the price.

Shapeways, a leader in 3D printing (and an incubator company of Royal Philips Electronics) have a marketplace site where you can fall into a wonderland of products, all made with their technology: housewares, toys, games and gadgets.

But hey, the Passage likes baubles, so that's what's in the windows.  (Note: Some of these pieces are also produced in plastic, but I liked them so much in metals that I'm showing those versions.)

3D printing can create designs that are as eloquent as a piece crafted by hand.

The Ora pendant, shown in 14k rose gold plate, is from Bathsheba, and just one of several intriguing pendant styles. Nothing 'machiney' about its sinous curves. Price, $100.

Rings made with 3D printing are handsome and sculptural, but also graceful. Note how the printing technique results in a finish that looks hand-wrought.

Michael Meuller's Muster Ring, shown in raw silver, $71.

Some pieces are so new that they are still in development, which means you can order them in limited materials. baushkin's Dragonfly Bracelet, designed by sculptor Paul Liaw, shows what can be achieved. This would be much more labour-intensive to make using traditional casting. (Below, the 19mm size in polished brass; price, $100.)

As you'd imagine, designers drawn to this technology are making imaginative pieces, some classic, some cool.

The Playground earwrap: the look of multiple piercings without the problems. If you want to be the most awesome auntie ever, or rock your next girls' night out, here is your earring. From lexadazy; price in matte gold steel (shown above), $60.

For yourself, how about 14k rose gold, because you are not going to lose it. (Price, $400.)

The 3D process supports customization of jewelry, such as the signet ring. By working with designer Harry Burger of Lightbringer Designs, a one-of-a-kind ring will meld the ancient with the contemporary. (The designer also produces wax seals and cufflinks.) 

The pure brass signet ring with Elvish writing, shown, is $190.

While there will always be a place for traditional benchwork (setting stones is not happening yet with 3D), the technology has opened a universe of creative capability. I believe that 3D fabrication should be a disclosed feature, provided in any description. 

The last item in today's window is an accessory, not jewelry, but I wanted to show how 3D supports ingenuity.

It's the Pod-a-porter by Michiel Cornelissen: an iPod Shuffle holder that adds style to a stroll; only $27.50. What a smart gift for your music-loving friends!

3D does for jewelry what the Mac did for personal computing: in the hands of designers, a fast, fresh approach to noble metals is theirs, in a flash.

I'm seeing flares this fall

With the past weekend's shift to daylight savings time, our evenings fall early and fold in on themselves. You see the shift on the streets; dresses vanish, jeans surge ahead of every other bottom. 

A Montréal fashion writer recently bemoaned their ubiquity: "When am I going to see someone in anything else?" (Go to work in a bank?) In the metro last weekend, I must have spotted eighty women in jeans, and only the rare skirt over wooly tights.

NYDJ Billie mini-bootcut
This fall, there's a definite increase in wider-bottomed jeans, from "mini-bootcut" to definite flares, worn on all sizes and shapes. The bootcut is like a straightleg with a slightly wider bottom than the knee (depending on the maker, one to four inches), while the flare stays narrow through the thigh, then kicks out more from the knee, ending somewhere between 10 to 18 inches at the hem.

Why the change? The tourniquet tightness of skinnies means a tug each time you stand. Straight legs remain popular, but if you're in jeans often, a change is kinda fun.

Short legs look best in the narrower-bottomed end of the spectrum, and a top that ends at the high hip balances the flare better than the longer length often worn with skinnies.

Cue your classic rock playlist: they're even making bell bottoms again! Rag and Bone offer a retro elephant bell, with 21-inch bottoms. (In fact the original '60s bellbottoms were like the classic sailor's, starting wider in the thigh, and easing consistently through the leg, way out to that exaggerated bell.)

Remember these?
Only a few seasons ago, flares were harder to find. Now, they've joined the lineup from cult (Derek Lam, 7 for All Mankind, Current Elliot) to budget labels (Gloria Vanderbilt, Old Navy, Lee), from petite to plus, and one brand's flare is another's bootcut. 
The three flares below are made with nearly identical blends of cotton and 2% lycra, and all have have high rises, another jean feature making a solid return.  
Left, NYDJ Farrah Flare, $150; middle, Levis Hi-Rise Flare, $80; right, Talbot's Flawless Flare, $70. (Prices are in $US and you may do better at stores sales or online promotions.)

I'm happy the dominion of skinnies-and-tall-boots has relaxed, because even slim women fretted about how they looked, and who needs to get angsty about jeans, the most frequently-worn pants in our closet? (And if you don't wear denim, you'll still notice the uptick in flares in other fabrics.)

For those of us in cold climates, flares have another plus: they're easier to slide silk longjohns under as the temperature dips lower!