Age two, in a kitty suit

"The Talking Cure" by Margaret Talbot, in The New Yorker, January 12, 2015, discusses experiments which prove the importance of verbal interaction between parents and very young children, from day one.  

If you're interested in language development, early childhood education or sociology, I recommend the article.

One small paragraph gripped me for days. At one point, the article includes a  bit of dialog, between Calvin, 24 months, and his mother:

Mother: "What did we do on Halloween? What did you put on your head and on your body? What did you look like?"
Calvin: (Does not answer.)
Mother: "You were a kitty cat."
Calvin: "Wanna get. Where go?"
Mother: "What are you looking for? I know what you're looking for. What used to be on the door handle?"
Calvin: "Where?"
Mother: "The trick or treat bag. We ate all the candy already."
Calvin: "Where the candy go?"
Mother: "It's all gone in your tummy."
Calvin: "Want some."

I read and re-read that passage: Calvin's future is prefigured. He will probably be game for the trick-or-treating again; that's called showing up. In my imagination Calvin is thinking, Gimme the damn cat suit and let's knock on some doors!

But the candy—or whatever comes to Calvin along the road—only lasts so long, even so. It is unlikely that one can completely escape desire for life's sweet pleasures, nor would I wish to. Calvin may find, as my sons did, at about age six, that all the candy you can eat makes you sick. 

"How much is enough" is a lesson we keep re-learning. As he grows, he'll be introduced to sharing with others, another lesson. But at two, Calvin's purely and guilelessly primal: Want some.

Sometimes those little snippets of life move me disproportionately. 


A shawl, a shirt, a fur and—finished!

I have been on a January mini-spree, gutting my budget but satisfied with the result. We'll see by the end of the year whether I chose well, but today, with the windchill pushing -40C, the picks feel right!

Friend's mistake, my break

The biggest purchase was a thirdhand mink vest that a friend bought in a consignment shop two winters ago, had updated by the furrier who did my coat reno, but then didn't wear. 

When she said she might sell it, I asked for first dibs, and by the new year, she was ready.

The vest met my requirements for fur (not new, not steel-trapped), her price was more than fair, and she's welcome to borrow it anytime. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vest?

Cashmere sale in sub-zero weeks

At Eric Bompard's sale (on till February 17), I bought this cashmere shirt to replace an elderly black v-neck. I'm not a Pussycat Doll, so tie lower, in a simple knot. Shown in lake green because in black you can't see a thing. The sale price, about $110, is a 60% reduction, sweet!

Folkloric winter warmer

When I tied on an Ivko lambswool floral shawl, its squashy warmth soothed me like tea with honey. I wear a tomboyish uniform in winter—jeans and sweaters—so these flowers add femininity. 

The shawl (which I wear as a scarf, twisted and tied) reverses to a muted stripe of aqua, green, mustard and pink; I love it when someone pattern-mixes for me. Price, $145 at the local boutique Katrin LeBlond.

The black shirt was on my list; the vest a bit of luck; the shawl a snuggly requisite, because—this is life today and for many weeks to come:

As we say here, that's-it-that's-all, and my wallet is snapped shut for a good while now. 

To take

On a day when the sun shines, someone ahead of me at a metro station holds the door, and the day brightens further. 

Later, a five year old at the corner store extends her bag of sticky candies and offers them with a bonus, her incandescent smile. 

When I thank the neighbor who shovels our building's steps, he says "Bienvenue, madame!", the first word vernacular Québec French for "You're welcome". (No, he is not welcoming me to the city.) 

Tiny courtesies and favours stoke a quiet glow of goodwill. I fall asleep thinking, That was a good day.

The next day, I invite a friend to lunch and after we enjoy our sandwiches, as I pay the cheque, she says, "I'll leave the tip." My glow flickers. Why, I wonder, do women do this? 

Mostly, I guess, because of an urge to contribute. However, this offer takes the charm off the gesture of treating someone, and results in a middling transaction, where neither party has given nor received wholly.

I ask if she would kindly accept that small treat in the manner in which it is given: unreservedly. She rolls her eyes and sighs, Ohhhkay. (I imagine, in a thought bubble over her head: Duchesse is touchy about the weirdest things!)

Another friend divides people into givers and takers, and says givers are uncomfortable when accepting favours. Behaviours at which women leaders excel—nurturing, giving back—are classic giver-qualities. I wonder, can we also take (when it is appropriate), without the shadow of unworthiness or undertow of obligation?

The ability to take also supports the ability to ask for what we need. And if we ask, but then cannot accept? Now that is a bind. Although we can't choose those moments when someone gives, we can develop our comfort with receiving, with gratitude. That behaviour is especially challenging as we grow older. Protective of independence, some elders reflexively refuse any kind of help, and then, as the offers dwindle, realize they are bereft.

Sometimes a friend, a stranger, or the universe will offer us a little goody. Take it! Soon enough, it will be our turn to give, and one day we will need more help than we ever thought. Let's prepare by relaxing our fierce, false front of independence, at least in small, sweet moments.    

Hair: Grey, comes the day

Before: Red
Things have changed around here, hair-wise. I started life as a towhead, darkened to brunette, had a brief thing with eggplant Cellophane and was a committed redhead for 25 years. "Natural" was a dim memory circa my disco days, which I don't remember fully either.

The primary reason was curiosity: what's under there? I figured, Why not see, and if I don't like it, back to red—though I was finding the upkeep wearisome.

This release from an ultimatum was important psychologically. My children were rather negative ("Maman, no offense but you are going to look older", a son told me.) Le Duc was entirely positive, maybe because he got there first.

And, I was snookered by Vivienne Westwood

I always said, I'll give up red when Dame Vivienne does, and damned if in spring of 2014 the woman didn't shave her head (to draw awareness of global climate change, she said) and go grey. When first shorn, she looked like a Buddhist nun—hardly encouraging, but I had to fish or cut bait.

Then, a French girlfriend visited in July. I thought this consummate Parisienne would never be anything but a caramel brunette, and hel-lo, she had about five inches of grey grown in, dictated by her hairstylist, who now refuses to colour or perm clients.

Get set, go!

Anticipating bad hair months, I chose August 1 to stop colour. My stylist was warmly supportive but realistic: "Gonna look worse before it looks better, but 4 or 5 cuts and it'll be great."  

Late Aug.: Grey sides
Here, after that first cut at the end of August, patchy grey shows at the temples. The first two months was the tough stretch because it looked like I'd neglected the roots. I went up and down by the hour; thank god we were in mojito season.

I bookmarked a few photos of women who looked good in grey hair, but avoided sites where they claimed moral high ground; I've always felt about it like I do about natural childbirth: it's merely a choice. (I consider that epidural the nicest thing anyone ever did for me.) 

Several girlfriends were, shall we say, not encouraging. One suggested I buy a wig; I gave her a mojito too.

October to December: Keep calm and carry a hat

October: Inching along
By October, any vacillation had passed and it was clear what I was doing. A number of women (even strangers in line at the pharmacy) told me they were preparing themselves for their transition.

My neighbour Joyce began around the same time. She wears a chin-length bob with straight bangs. Joyce first grew out only the bangs, keeping the sides coloured and letting that area grow long enough to pull back in a low ponytail. Now, she is growing out everything else, so not colouring at all. She will return to her bob when everything's grey.

Dec.: Grey all over
On Dec. 1, my stylist beaned me to prune away nearly all of the red. There were but wisps of colour left on some ends: I was essentially grey. Several neighbours walked past without recognition.

Susan, a friend of 40 years (medium golden blonde with highlights) visited; we met at the MAC counter at Ogilvy. My pinky-brown lipsticks looked washed-out; the makeup artist, Kim (blue-black), recommended several deeper shades, including Pro Longwear "Perennial Rose". I still don't wear foundation but now add blush after my usual whoosh of translucent powder. 

Susan gave me a graceful silver ring to celebrate our long friendship (I guess the grey reminds her how long); Le Duc was wholly admiring, and my boys said they didn't think they would like it, but do. 

What I've noticed

January: Done!
1. This is the time to reassess the total package. I'm glad I had already lost weight, because I would not have felt so ready—though I've noticed all sizes of grey-haired women who look fantastic. Seems to be a matter of attitude.

There is a lot of bad advice about what clothing and accessory colours look good with grey hair, such as "avoid grey", which is not true if you wore it before.

Jewel tones are touted as your best friend; I dislike jewel tones, except in jewels. Which reminds me: jewelry is essential. Without it, I feel just too practical. A bit of sparkle or texture in accessories helps, too.

Defined eyebrows are important. Mine are still brown, and I will have them coloured if they turn invisible.

2. If grey is your path, summon your equanimity: you are outing yourself as woman of years. I'm now being offered a seat on the subway; with red hair, I had to be on crutches before anyone shifted.

Two girlfriends (brunette with tonal highlights; grey) called the effect "distinguished" (at different times). Robert Young as Marcus Welby was distinguished; this is not what a woman hopes for! I figure the term is code for "looks older, but for older, OK". Other persons hold various opinions, and, just like a vegetarian at a dinner party, they'll tell you. 

I understand why I kept the colour as long as I did, but then, the day came. "At a certain point", I told Susan, "we don't look youthful with hair colour; we look like an older woman with a head full of dye." 

For one, that point comes at 40-something, for another, not till she's laid out. The salon owner's 90 year old mother comes in every two weeks to maintain her glossy brunette, while two late-thirties women in my French class are completely and cooly grey.

For me, hair colour was a fun ride while it lasted—over 30 years—and now, on to the next phase! 


2014 spend analysis: Dogs and Stars

Regular readers know I track personal spending with the focus of a scientist at CERN, not for Nobel glory, but for insights that add extra oomph to my budget. In 2013, I needed new clothes or costly alterations, an expensive reward for losing weight. I was relieved not to have to do it again (in either direction) in 2014.

You are probably more interested in the mistakes than the superstars, no? In descending order of egregiousness, here are the top three blunders:

Walk of shame

Mistake #1: A skirt for work... but I don't.
A skirt, bought while on a trip to Toronto, at a boutique I frequented when I worked full time. I'm tall, so can wear mid-calf length, but now I don't wear skirts for the few occasions when I still work, and this one requires dry cleaning. I was overcome by nostalgia for clothes I wore five or ten years ago. 

You can see the tag, upper left, still on. I am cringing with embarrassment, but if this saves somebody a couple of hundred bucks, I'm posting it and then it will be sent to a friend.

Mistake #2: The sheddy sweater
A grey wool Donegal-tweed J. Crew sweater got compliments but shed copiously on everything, but especially black pants, which looked positively furry, and the lining of every coat. The wool blend does not delight, and how many times do we have to learn that? It was on sale, but I ended up buying another grey sweater (described below), so it returned poor value.

Mistake #3: One-season shoes
Aubergine suede and black leather Chie Mihara shoes, about $160 on sale last July, reduced from $400. But in fall I forgot about them and by snowy winter I wear slippers at home, boots outdoors, and carry lighter-weight shoes to friends' homes. Perhaps these extremely well-made shoes might get their fall wear, come next September. Still, a one-season pair is a mistake.

Stars: From the unexciting to unexpected

1. Grey cashmere v-neck
Three months after buying the J. Crew shedder, I bought this cashmere v-neck. I shot it in full boringness, below, because that's how it looked in the shop. It's so easy to disqualify these unassuming workhorses, and yet, the plainest piece invites us to truly use our accessories. Cashmere season is seven or more months long in northeastern Canada so colours beyond the deep-darks are useful and mood-elevating. Also feels infinitely better against skin.

Yesterday, I wore it with fancy-coloured Tahitian baroques, vintage emerald and diamond pin, antique diamond lavalière, and (not shown) a wide orange, grey and pink enamel cuff with Indian motif.

2. Vintage Italian mohair coat

On a mid-December shopping expedition with a girlfriend, I snuggled into the supple, light warmth of the Tina Turk mohair coat at left. 

The muted plaid would relieve my solely black winter coats, from leather to duffle to puffer. While she tried on dresses for a party, I debated. Girlfriend said, "Buy", but I thought that coat was insufficient for our frigid winter winds, so, at over $800, I called it an expensive 'extra' and resisted.

Days later I dropped by a vintage store, checking for a gift a son wanted to give, and found this secondhand Italian mohair coat, for $45.

I brushed the surface gently to remove minor mats, reviving its luxurious loft, and there was no other sign of wear. I've worn it on days when a puffer is too heavy, and come late winter, when a raincoat is still too light, it will be at hand.

For the last several years, I had visited vintage stores only to accompany young relatives and visitors. Now I see it pays to look, especially if I have an article in mind; I just might hit a lucky strike.  

3. 2014's big spend: jewelry renos
I've described how a talented jeweler restyled twenty-year-old emerald earrings into two new pairs and, later in the year, made a pearl/moonstone pendant to update a gold chain. 

The total cost was about $2,000 (my contribution of some scrap gold lowered the cost.) I feel especially satisfied when I check prices for new jewelery of comparable quality.

Is my affinity for such projects why I receive more mail about jewelry renos than buying clothes?

Reviewing all the buys, I give myself C+, a long way from the A I shot for. Dammit, that skirt! Even though I've about squashed the sale/special offer bug, when oh when will I learn to buy (only) clothes for my present life, not my old one?

Do you analyze your buys? What have you learned in the past year or so?

How might we connect?

Who could not have been moved by last Sunday's manif in Paris, the rare show of solidarity from world leaders, the grief of the diverse crowd? 

While watching, my e-mail pinged with messages from friends: a Jew, a several atheists, a Protestant minister, a Muslim. How grateful I am that we are in touch. 

I also sought articles, posts, press coverage, trying not to read only the views that echoed my own, which is not easy. One of the most insightful pieces was Andres O'Hehir's "Why the Charlie Hebo attack goes far beyond religion and free speech", posted on Salon.

And I wondered, as I do during each soul-shattering event like this, What can the average person do, now? One word keeps coming back: connect.

By that I mean the lunches and dinners I've had (and should do more of) with colleagues and friends from diverse backgrounds, times when we've taken maybe longer than we should have during the work day, or stretched dinner into the late evening as we explored the bases of our beliefs, told our life stories. Even those from historically conflict-ridden histories have found new respect for one another.

I mean the courses and workshops that have led me out of comfortable affinity groups and unconscious stereotypes; the on-the-fly talks with neighbours and the owner of a local hole-in-the-wall. Pick-up softball, community green alleys, interfaith retreats, family camps: you name it, as long as the people who show up are not one homogeneous chunk.

My minister friend attends a regular meeting of Protestant and Muslim women. They gather for a simple meal, conversation, and a reflection led by one of the faiths. (She said it took about a year for the women to open up, but now everyone values it.)

There are other opportunities out there for the taking, and I hope to do more of that.

Extremists don't show up to those kinds of gatherings and I've no illusions about the odds of open communication once someone chooses the tactics of terror. The solution to that level of brutality is not in my sights.

But it is vitally important to engage with just regular folks, for we are the vast majority.

Until we begin to talk to one another, how can we live in harmony? I am always looking for small steps that build bridges toward what I have observed that vast majority of people of all faiths (and none) want: peace.  

Aging, Charlotte Rampling and Uptown Funk

At Christmas, I received a book on how to maintain a stylish, attractive image, from thirty to eternity. While the book contained some solid advice, an undertone of anxiety led me to think about many books of the genre. Why is looking your age so often presented as deeply wrong, something to strenuously avoid?

During the same week, I saw a photo of Charlotte Rampling published in The Guardian, along with a forthright interview

I was drawn to the frank display of lines and freckles, the deep-set, uncarved eyes (she has always had hooded eyes, used to devastating effect), the strength in the face. Her attitude was a refreshing refutation to the Age of Concealment.
At 68, Rampling continues to resist shots and scalpels, saying, on The Talks "... we’re all vain, we’re all narcissistic, we don’t like to grow old. Who wants to grow old? Who wants to get lines? Who wants to not be young? But we can’t be. We’re going on." 

In another interview, she said, "You've got to wait. 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 is, however, but one example. I know many women who project such singular character and I'll bet you do, too. I'm not against making efforts to look pretty, but I'm disgusted when told that hiding my age must be my primary goal.  

Age-averse books and posts (which seem to multiply by the month), usually use three linked tactics:

1. Ratchet the realization of physical changes into full-blown fear.
You will, they insist, not look your best, but if you tend every inch of yourself, disguising time's effects, you can then feel confident. Is confidence really conferred by a cream?

A woman is celebrated for looking "years younger than..." (whatever age she is). We need self-esteem of steel to resist this cultural meme. If we bite, we're hooked, and easy pickings for the next two tactics.

2. Present high maintenance as a just war. It's no longer enough to look after health and grooming, now we must be Sun Tzu in an LBD, arming ourselves with "weapons" specifically for aging and enlisting experts in "the fight". (Military metaphors abound; words like combat, defy, vanquish, and defend are favourites.) 

Clothes must be neither too young nor too old, unless they are classics, which are fine except when they are too classic, and therefore aging. (The charge that a given item "ages you": kiss of death.)

3. Endorse pursuit of a futile quest. Consume an ever-changing array of products and procedures. Spend as much as you can, or more. Try anything tenders or friends recommend. (The saddest refrain in one book was "I think I see a difference.") The cycle: Buy, Enjoy Brief Respite, Feel Vulnerable, Repeat.

I truly care about my 3 Ms: mind, mobility, and mojo*. The rest is icing on a cake that isn't so fresh anymore, but so what?  

*Operational definition:"Girls hit your hallelujah!"

Uptown Funk, flute of rosé bubbly, a spritz of favourite fragrance—a gift from Le Duc—and lots of hugs: so far I'm in the Charlotte Camp, and thank her for such succor.

A New Year in pearls, modern and vintage

The Passage traditionally re-opens with a post on pearls—like a glass of champagne, a predictably fizzy pleasure.

Readers have sent links to pearl exhibits and jewelers, which is a real treat! Reader Meg from Australia introduced me to Australian jeweler Jan Logan, who uses South Sea and freshwater pearls. Her designs are on the classic side, but not stiff. (I have converted $AUS to $US at time of writing.) 

Four-pearl earrings set in 9k yellow gold; price, $266:

Pearls scattered among smoky and rutilated quartz beads, linked with silver make a piquant 95cm/37-inch rope; price, $285:

Her chic bola of hematite and smoky quartz tipped with two deep, glowy Tahitians frames those luxurious pearls and keeps the price a relatively reasonable $778:

Modern pearls are not an oxymoron. Young designers are drawn to them because while pearls add allure, they also integrate well with pieces you already own.

These earrings, by Aesa (the company of the New York-based designer Randi Mates) use brass and half-pearls, which in the hands of a very talented designer result in Curving Pearl earrings; price, $235:

Aesa's Rivulets pearl pendant presents seven 3mm pearls set in brass on a 24-inch silver chain. Layered or on its own, a current, quiet beauty; price, $310.

Vintage pearl pieces are among my very favourites because of the workmanship and value. (Pearls hold up very well unless you're mean to them.) 

Slip on this  ca. 1980s pearl and turquoise ring, and immediately winter lifts; very Italian-chic! From Beladora; price, $495:

Many pieces in the Passage's windows today might inspire you to update pearls you're not wearing, using a design you see here as inspiration. But sometimes, the piece of your dreams has already been made— so the smart thing is to take the leap, and wear the daylights out of it.