Small pleasures and treasures

Several useful things came my way over the past few months, a hodgepodge of small delights. Each may be useful to you, and would also make a good house or hostess gift.

Chair Slippers

We moved into a condo with wood floors, a surface I had not had in a dining area for decades. I tried every kind of pad under the dining chairs' metal legs to prevent scratching: felt, deluxe felt, hand-cut felt. 

After nearly every meal, someone would skootch his chair back leaving mangled pads and adhesive smudges on the floor.

Finally, I found Chair Slippers. They work perfectly, and what a relief to see the floor no longer more damaged by the week! Some people use tennis balls, but the Slippers, which come in three sizes and many colours, are less conspicuous.

The Spring Epilator

Gave this to a GF for her birthday and she wondered where it has been all her life. Well, you really don't need one all your life, just after 50 when you get those chin bristles and upper-lip fuzz.

You can spend $17 on a Bellabe, or a buck or so on this one on eBay, slightly smaller but works just as well; guess which I buy?

Marvis Jasmin Mint toothpaste

"My baby don't care for rings, or other expensive things, my baby just cares for... toothpaste."

Why not? You put toothpaste in your mouth several times a day, right? None of those nasty microbeads, a pleasing taste, and a gorgeous retro Italian tube.  The Ginger Mint variety is delicious too.

I can get it cheaper across the street, but if you don't live near Italian things, it's on Amazon.

Tangle-free tool for layered necklaces

Reader Carolyn from Oregon found this jewelry accessory; she wears several pendants on thin gold chains, and they tangle. She has not ordered one yet, and is pondering whether she'd be pleased with gold fill. Unless you have high-karat gold (18 or 22k) I'll bet the gold fill will be fine, but you'd want the option to return if not.
You could make this yourself, for less (or if you want to invest in a gold clasp, around $130 or more). The clasp is a multi-strand like those used for two or three-strand pearl necklaces, with an additional jump rings added, so there is a fastening for both the hook and eye sides of the original chains. You remove the necklaces by simply lifting the vertical pin in the clasp.

The photo shows the design better than words:

The Strandalign is available in both silver and gold-filled models, for $US33 to $49; free shipping in US; international shipping available.

Satin pillowcase

If you are coping with hair loss, or, like one of my best friends, have temporarily lost all your hair, a satin pillowcase is an excellent choice—and why not rock out with leopard? Not cheap (about $65 plus shipping from Etsy seller SatinSwank) but a personal-care treat.

Maybe when you see these, you'll contribute your own, via a comment—I would enjoy learning of your small treasures, the objects that, now that they're in your life, you wonder how you lived without.


A recent New Yorker article ("The Terrible Teens", by Elizabet Colbert) explores the adolescent-to-young-adult brain.

Anyone who has reared, taught, dated or even sat beside a teen on a bus ought to read the full article, but here's a summary: like the rich, teens are different from you and me.

They have more fun.

Citing "The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults", by Frances Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt, and "Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence" by Laurence Steinberg, Colbert limns the neural differences behind what you always knew: teens and young adults feel invulnerable, hence their fun is, as my own then-teens said, funner.

What crazy shit did you do?

Several newly-minted drivers and their friends would drive way out onto the frozen ice of Lake Michigan on a subzero evening and tie toboggans onto the rear bumpers of the family cars. We'd pile on those toboggans, and the drivers would go real fast. (For those unfamiliar with the Great Lakes, they freeze in jagged moon craters of snow-covered ice, not glassy, like a skating rink.) No one died.

Not everything we did for fun was dangerous to us. My classmate Dick was fooling around with a hunting rifle, in his room. Unlike the tragic incidents in which a careless kid hurts someone, Dick merely discharged the rifle into the wall—but that wall was the boundary of his parents' clothes closet, so Dick shot through every one of his mother's dresses, blouses and coats, murdering her entire wardrobe.

Oh, there is more, much more. But the point is, if you could lure me out onto a frozen lake today and offer that wild, moonlit ride, I would say, Are you crazy?, and also wonder, Where is the nearest bathroom? What if I lose my glasses? Don't I have a geometry quiz tomorrow?

That's because, according to the neurologists, the executive function of my prefrontal lobe is now firmly and fully on duty. When the brain matures (around age twenty-nine), fun grows up too.

We know a couple who moved to a retirement community in Florida called The Villages; it's an Epcot of the Elderly: a zillion golf courses, all kinds of themed restaurants, plenty of edifying classes and lectures, travel provided by motorized cart, vodka-and-sodas cheaper than Coke, and ample casual sex, if one desires.

Mary and Mike admit that problems of excess can arise, but say most residents balance sybaritic pursuits with responsibility. But I cannot even think of signing on for packaged, deliberate fun; amusement parks have never delivered for me.

I'm culturally Canadian now; we don't grab our gusto, we sip. I tried to complete the sentence, "My idea of fun is...". The results were embarrassingly mild: a friend and I have real hot chocolate at Juliette et Chocolat after yoga. What, I wondered, happened to the exhilaration I felt at sixteen, when the folks' car pulled out of the driveway and Susie came over for a marathon of fudge-making, soul-baring and belting "Downtown" while we nipped at the mickey of Jack she stole from her brother's gym bag?

I realized that, just like a trip, a key component of fun is its anticipation; that hour before Mom and Dad left was exquisite as a pitcher's windup.

Another memory rises from the two years when I lived, from nineteen to twenty, in a sorority house at a Big Ten American university.

ca. 1967

It is Saturday, early evening, and everyone's getting ready. Dates announce their arrival on the house phone; study buddies debate where to get the best pizza after the library closes; Mary Kay waits for her boyfriend and his cousin to drive from Detroit to go dancing. ("Anybody want to come along? Stu's kind of cute.") "Suzy Q" blasts from the stereo, a nimbus of steam, hairspray and fragrance floats from the communal bathroom; Jeanne walks by in a killer outfit: her roommate's miniskirt and my sweater.

I have never again experienced that fizzy anticipation, supercharged by a liberal shot of autonomy, a restrained Midwestern glamour (false eyelashes, falls), and the rich certainty that the evening ahead would deliver fun. We knew it and unreservedly leapt in— and so it was, indeed, funner than nearly anything I have experienced since.

What's fun for you, these days? Does it differ from 'then'? Are you still open to risk and excitement, or is playing with your cat or grandkids amply satisfying?

Having a little work done, thanks to the sun

Over Christmas, I had a photodynamic therapy treatment (Levulan) on my face, as a preventative treatment for skin cancer. I had already had a basal cell cancer removed, and my dermatologist recommended this treatment, because of a proliferation of facial "sun spots" (actinic keratoses or AKs) that kept flaking, especially evident on my nose.

He thought it was a good idea given my age and history. All those years of sunbathing on dorm roofs with those tinfoil reflectors? Hah, not so smart! Though I had converted to sunscreen and shade by my thirties, my misspent youth on beach blankets had caught up with me.

The treatment is administered in an office by his nurse. I'd read accounts, and was prepared. I spent two hours with my face coated with goo, then exposed to hot, UV light. By the time I left, the skin was tender and tight but not painful. Unlike my university days, they didn't blast the Dead on their radio.

I rode the subway home covered like a bank robber, a slit of eye showing between my muffler and hat. A mother checked me out, grabbed her kids and held them close.

By nightfall, my face bloomed into a moderately severe "sunburn", with discomfort well-managed by Advil and vodka. Kidding, but would have been nice.

Post-procedure protocol requires 40 to 48 hours in a dim room to promote the effectiveness. Because the light reveals patches below the surface, you can see where formerly hidden sunspots lurk, rather like an archaeological dig down to decades past. The next morning, I took this shot:

See the tip of my nose? That's where the most obvious damage was, but the treatment also raised welts on my forehead and even ears.

Patients are told to expect redness and peeling for up to a month; nearly all of mine was gone within two weeks. Some women cover it with makeup, but I thought that looked worse.

At three weeks:

There's just the faintest tinge of pink at the tip of my nose, and the flaking, persistent AK is gone. The last step is a forty-night application of Aldara cream.

Some patient testimonials claimed the treatment faded their age spots, but I wasn't that lucky. However, I had it not for aesthetics, but to prevent the two most common forms of non-melanoma skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell.

AKs are also treated with topical creams, cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen), peels, lasers and other methods; see this list. If you are discovering spots that have AK characteristics, talk to your doctor. Those scaly patches are now considered part of the skin cancer spectrum.

Some persons repeat the therapy, but since it is not covered by insurance, I hope this is the only one I need. Cost in Canadian dollars was $650.

I learned that fair-skinned persons who don't tan easily are more at risk. I wish that, back when I wore a bikini, instead of slathering on more iodine and baby oil and turning over for another hour to Let The Sun Shine In, I'd just resigned myself to being A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Jewelry reno: Old bands, new music

Few items of jewelry reach obsolescence as noticeably as wedding jewelry, especially the matchy engagement/wedding ring set, which is what many women wore when their first dance was to The Carpenters:

Yet, women are reluctant to update, even if the rings clash with the jewelry they wear today. "But it's the one we made vows with", they say, as if an update would cancel the commitment. I see restyling as a renewal, not an erasure. And if you never tied the knot, read on; you might inherit someone else's rings.

My friend Nancy, a noted food stylist (click and you'll be drooling over more than her jewelry!) showed me her truly personal reno: four rings made from cherished vintage material, restyled with new silver and new and recycled gold. 

She kept her original wedding band, and created a casually elegant selection of new rings by repurposing her engagement ring (a classic claw-set diamond that was once her husband Marvin's mother's), several rubies and an emerald Marv brought back from a trip to Thailand, and gold and a diamond from her mother's wedding jewelry. 

Here, with her generous permission, is a peek at her lavish collection. (Yeah, Nance, you're stacked!)

From left to right: Nance's original wedding ring, now over 35 years old; the two rubies (originally set as earrings that she never really wore), and her ER diamond.

Here's the emerald, mixed in:

And the newest addition, below: her mother's diamond, shown between the rubies. Nance says, "I love that both mothers are with me."

She mixes and moves the rings at whim, the jewelry equivalent of the perfect wardrobe, where everything works together. 

Her rings were made over several years by Toronto jeweler Willa Drummond.  She chose silver for the band section of the ruby and diamond rings, and gold for the bezels, where strength and durability are essential. The result: a playful, modern mix that echoes Nance's vibrant style.

About commissioning work, Nance says: "Sometimes people feel obliged to like what the artist created, but there is no amount of consulting, drafting or illustrating that can guarantee complete happiness once the object becomes tangible. Our minds work differently and communication is the only way to get what you want."

The most recent, the square-bezel diamond, was begun last June and was on her finger in December. Ms. Drummond worked through several adjustments, noting that "the best results are found with patience and honest communication."

When "I do" becomes "I don't"

Since at least a third of the unions from the '80s did not endure, some women have ex-rings. If that's your situation, you could re-use the material, assuming you took a different route than my friend Lorri's sister, Janet, who hurled her Chaumet band into Venice's Grand Canal, shouting "Arrivederci, Jimmy!"

While stacking rings also suit the single life—just swap the wedding ring out—another option is to make one beautiful new ring. A design like Mallary Marks' French Horn ring provides a home for a diamond that originally perched in a classic Tiffany style. (You would add the small second diamond):

Nance is reno-ready for more than rings: "My next project is to redesign a pair of garnet earrings my mum gave me for my 19th birthday.  We will be incorporating a tiny diamond as well as converting a stud to a hook that will hang, but not dangle, just below my lobe."

I'll ask if we can see those, too!

Graydar: What do you notice most?

Graydar: The realization that you too are now among the older set.

OK, I'll go first. 

1. I've become a lousy judge of age, especially of anyone under twenty-five. Fifteen-year-olds, especially girls, look nineteen to me, nineteen-year-olds look twenty-five. 

It works both ways! My doctor, around thirty and just out of medical school, casually referred to me as "an old person". 

2. Salespersons use certain tactics less. They do not, for example, tell me they "bought one just like it"; they rightly figure I may not want what a youth wears. I get sticker shock, but am careful not to say so. That's probably related to no longer working, but jeez Louise, $300 for a sweatshirt? $125 for a tee shirt

Not my dress!

Occasionally a sales associate seems utterly paralyzed in dealing with me; when I was shopping for a dress for Etienne's wedding, I had my best service from those over forty or so. Younger staff seemed unsure of what to suggest to a 67-year-old who wanted no truck with bugle beads. 

3. A prudish strain has hit out of nowhere. When I see a young woman on the street in shorts that offer a view I find gynecological, I wonder what she is hoping to communicate, and also worry for her safety. I had my own minis, halter tops, and what one date called "your gownless evening strap", so I'm doubly shocked, first by by her display and then by my response.

I'm noticing welcome changes too; these include, 

1. Small pleasures deeply satisfy, and now there is time to enjoy them: children playing in the park, two guitarists giving a spontaneous concert on the bus, the waft of blooming linden trees: all experiences I would have rushed past even at fifty. The more I take in these small pleasures, the more I find them.

2. My ego is still there, but moved back many rows. When I meet friends still immersed in work, I am reminded of the demands of a career, of the competitive nature (especially in large corporations), and of how a certain drive carried me both upwards to achievement and down toward exhaustion. I have ceased to miss that intensity.

3. Not long ago, one of my sons ran a burdensome errand on my behalf, unasked. "Ah, 'taking care of Mom' begins", I thought to myself. I was grateful—if a little surprised—that this era has dawned.

Related to that, since I went to grey hair, I get offered a seat on transit during rush hour, nearly every time. Sometimes I accept, to reinforce my neighbour's kindness; other times, especially if disembarking in a few stops, I thank the person warmly, but stay upright. 

It's your turn, and you don't need to be my age to contribute. Some readers may notice the changes earlier, like the first time you walk into a restaurant and think the music is too loud or when you dig a pair of stilettos out of your closet and think, Whoa, I wore those?

2105 Clothes spending report: Stars, Dogs and Getting to A

One of my most-read posts each year, and why? Does misery love company? But this year, I headed that off at the pass by not buying very much for myself. The wedding meant the full kit for both sons, which put a happy dent in my budget.

Despite that mitigating factor, some purchases returned better value than others. 

Stars: Worn and loved

1. Boots for moving through three seasons.
When I met reader Teresa for coffee last fall, she was wearing the same burgundy Blundstones, so we purred about how these sturdy, admittedly androgynous boots serve Canadian weather and walking women. Cost was about $CDN 220.

Where I live, they are worn with pants, skirts and casual dresses.

2. A cashmere/silk fitted v-neck
This style from Eric Bompard (shown in steel blue; my violet fluo colour was from last spring's palette), is one of their 30% silk/70% cashmere blends, which I find cozy and nicely washable. (Though Deja Pseu found hers pilled, mine have not.)  Cost was around $180 but that's with the detaxe.

What no photo shows is the wrist, which is slit about two inches on the outside seam, for that extra little quelque chose.

3. New jewelry of the relaxed real persuasion
I wrote about this vintage necklace before, but, for under $100, it has returned so much pleasure. Found by chance in a consignment shop.

And from Montréal jeweler Gabrielle Desmarais, a pair of sterling double hoops. Girlfriend Susan bought the same pair, as might any number of women who asked me where I got them; price about $CDN 95.

But my favourite jewelry purchase was not for me; I helped Etienne and Tash to choose her wedding ring, a delicate Art Deco platinum and diamond baguette band. Once again, the vintage market delivered a piece of beautiful quality and design at lower price than the new retail offerings.

Not a dog, but YGWYPF

In early December, on a sale/free ship deal, I bought a J. Crew lambswool Fair Isle sweater, a well-composed pattern with translucent sequins (on the body from shoulder to high chest) that look like a dusting of sunlit snow.

But it is not Brora's cashmere Fair Isle which, thank god, wasn't offered in the right colourway for me. However, unlike that Brora, I will not be wearing the J. Crew a decade from now, I can tell. I'm the kind who will hunt down extra matching sequins (the sweater came with four spares) but not one who will hand-sew every single one firmly to the knit.

The Brora version is £219, presently on sale. With shipping and duties, that's over four times the J. Crew.

Le chien

The sole (pun intended) dog of 2015 were dressy sandals I had made to wear to the wedding; I have written about them here. Lesson: A cushioned sole is essential. Worn for two hours. 

Value and venues 

At large holiday craft show, I admired a handsome bus-pass holder, but the price for this 3x4-inch piece would have topped $CDN90 with tax.

Although I often pay a premium to support local artisans, I refused to fork over "show tax", the inevitable markup caused by hefty fees for show space and services. The craftspersons themselves have complained about these very steep costs; some no longer participate for that reason.

I found that on Etsy, for about $30 including shipping, I could find a handsome handmade case and still Buy Canadian from Ashlin Leather. In the heady show atmosphere, surrounded by appealing goods and avid consumers, it's easy to lose your ability to judge value. 

Report card: A-, finally! 

Just knowing that I will eventually write this post keeps me away from impulse buys; I also ask myself, "When I am wearing this, what's not being worn (that is already in my closet)?"

Maybe it was down to the dollar-diversion of that wedding—but what a sweet reason to award myself an A-. The minus, slender as those sandals straps, is just fine. I'm declaring victory.

Do you track your spending? Beginning with the 2008 recession, I began to write every single purchase in a notebook. In the last three years, I've dropped recording small things like coffee or bus tickets, but I'm still vitally interested in whether the wardrobe items I buy return value.

Jewelry: Pretty in paper

When I talk with women in the Passage, they often comment that they love necklaces, but can no longer bear much weight around the neck. Indeed, I have "evening" necklaces—it's not that they're formal, it's that they're so heavy I can't wear them for more than a few hours.

And these days, "heavy" is what just "normal" used to be!

I've featured the work of Kristin Giving, a true Beading Goddess, before.  From the plumeria-scented air of Maui to the Arizona desert, she scouts for castoffs, using thrifted or found materials to make beautifully-composed pieces. She says, "Design is the main component of my creation—ever striving for better and better looks.  Of course, I like the workmanship to be as good as I can make it."

She usually works with semi-precious materials like coral, pearl and bone, and recently expanded her repertoire to paper beads, sharing the fun by teaching two young adult granddaughters. If they have inherited her eye, they'll be lucky young women!

Her newest projects involve use of paper and fabric, still repurposing found or secondhand goods. I'd never have guessed the necklaces below were made with glossy tourist and artist brochures she picked up in Maui, strung on jute (left) and hemp (right) twine. 

Kirsten sells some pieces at her local Assistance League thrift shop. I love the full circle: rescued from  a thrift, transformed by her talent, and then, offered in another fundraising thrift!

Since most readers can't get to the American Northwest to score her creations, we'll dress the windows today with artistic paper jewelry that's available online.

Several Ugandan projects employ women, and provide a much-needed income.

When in the hands of skilled artisans, papier-mâché sheds it's school-project vibe. Fair-trade Ugandan paper-bead necklaces are perfect travel jewelry, or you could tuck one in your suitcase for your hostess. Price $10 each, from EkisaPaperBeads.

Bead for Life is another organization of Ugandan paper bead artists; I especially liked the handpainted pieces. 

 The striking blue and white "Imena" painted necklace is $51 via their web site.

You have a black jacket, and need a striking piece to lift it out of basic-ness? I suggest the graphic punch of a paper bangle from Kukula Designs in Australia, $18 via Etsy. Kukula's bold bangles are sealed and lacquered to withstand wear, but not in the shower.

Papier maché can also make beads, and in the hands of an artist, you will find arresting designs like the 32-inch necklace by BoscoeBottega, of chunky beads hand-painted with coloured enamel; price, about $18.

Here's another paper jewelry technique; I keep staring at the elegant degradée effect of... card stock. Bracelet by TheCreativeBee; price, $48.

Tanith is a San Francisco-based artist whose paper bead creations are both sophisticated and unusual; you really must see all of them; but here is a French text made into beads, and finished with a satin ribbon; so pretty! Price, $30.
The paper technique called quilling will be familiar to reader of Scandinavian heritage; artists like the Finnish artist Elina of ElinaQuills have taken the traditional craft into modern expressions, like these black and gold earrings; price, about $18. (Different colour options available on request.)

I can think of so many reasons to collect paper jewelry: lighthearted and lightweight, such pieces are perfect for travel, when precious metals don't make sense, and make unusual, lively casual-clothing accessories. Earrings and necklaces last a very long time, as long as you don't have a cat, as we once did, who loved paper beads literally to bits.

Many thanks, once again to Kirsten, who scouts for castoff components and then makes exuberant creations for a good cause, or to delight her friends and family.

Jewelry value with pearls on

Happy New Year! We reopen with our traditional pearl post, and today I'd like to emphasize value, especially when some readers are feeling post-holiday bank-account stress.

The comparisons are not between identical items, but between price points for big-brand and artisanal pieces. (Prices shown exclusive of taxes and shipping, and exact items shown may be unavailable by now.)

Earrings: How would you rather spend $300? Drop it on silver Return to Tiffany buttons? You do get that blue box, but I encourage you to shift to a pair that shows the hand of the artisan, not a corporate logo.

If you choose the Sudha Irwin etched sterling with pink pearls, price, $175, you'd have $125 left!

Fancy a pearl bracelet?

Left: 8-9mm multi-coloured Tahitian bracelet, set in 18k gold from Blue Nile; price, $1,190. (There is some surface spotting.)
Right: 9.2-9.7mm multi-coloured Tahitian bracelet with gold-tone clasp, $369 from Kojima Company. (There is slight banding on some of the pearls.) 
Even if you wanted to upgrade the clasp, you'd have hundreds left!

One more. At a holiday dinner party, I met a man who told me he buys his wife a piece of Yurman every year; he wanted a lot of credit for his largesse and taste. (His wife did not look that pleased.)

Some women adore this stuff, but he could do so much better for the price, and if she already has a collection, why not branch out? (Answer: Men often use the Stick With What Works strategy; they need help.)

Left: David Yurman Cable Classics silver bracelet with pearls; price at Neiman Marcus, $775. You get the status brand (for some), a smidge of gold, and a design that has not changed since Cadillacs had fins.
Right: Oxidized silver bangle with pearls from Kimyajoyas on Etsy; price, $63. Definitely a more contemporary look. Even if he buys two bangles from the Spanish artisan, hubs could make a sizeable donation to her cherished cause, PEN International, and wouldn't that feel good?

I'm not unreservedly against mass brands, but so much of it is anodyne and soulless, besides carrying that brand tax. Nor am I averse to iconic pieces; however, if you long for a Cartier rolling ring, shop the vintage market.

Some artisans overprice work too, so the best strategy is to look and learn. When I'm assessing their jewelry, I look at every element. For necklaces, the telling detail is the clasp. When I find one like that on Serafino's keshi necklace, a handmade gold "pearl",  I  am in the realm of workmanship that brings joy for decades.

Please give your business to artisans when you can; they are the ones who can repair, restyle or help you or yours make the next choice. Why pay for a company's full-page ads in Vogue and freebies for Taylor Swift when you can support a talented person and receive far better value?