Udeman: My brother

My brother, and my only remaining member of my birth family, died last week, suddenly and peacefully, at 84.

I can't say quite why the shock was so profound, I suppose because we had chatted just days before, when he was in hospital for a respiratory problem no one thought was serious.

So, may I introduce you to Denny, a little too late. He was an avid outdoorsman— a licensed river guide and expert fly fisher—a natural athlete who'd win a club golf tournament even when it was the only game he'd played that year.

He was beloved by patients, who got house calls and his home number. The father of nine (two marriages), he possessed unruffled calm, no matter what commotion unruly kids or escaped horses brought. Home was a rambling farmhouse outside Springfield, Oregon, filled with children and usually one of their friends who perched at Denny and Jackie's between jobs or studies.

In his student days, he'd hitch-hike between our home in Northern Michigan and Notre Dame, in Northern Indiana, with a duffel bag and a sign that said, "It's Up to You." And oh, the girls were after him!  Because he was fifteen years older, I have little memory of his youth, but my sister said she had to fend off eager "girlfriends" who only wanted an introduction to her tall, dreamy brother.

He was the kind of person who parks where he likes and pays the ticket. He hated how HMOs constrained physicians' practices, and in protest suspended his surgical practice for a time. (He went back, that's what nine kids does to you.) I was about to call him anti-authoritarian, but more accurately, he was his own authority.

And he was a believer of old-school Irish Catholic persuasion. When I spoke to him last week, I told him that while in New York, I'd stop by St. Patrick's and light a candle for him; he liked that. "The candle" was a joke between us, because when he was 15 and my mother was in labour with me, he went to church to light a candle for my safe arrival. When he found out I was a girl, he returned and blew it out.

At St. Pat's I lit two, cutting Mom in on the deal. As I knelt in the vast cathedral, trying to retrieve the words of the liturgy, I remembered what he said to me about his prayers for our mother during her last weeks: "I prayed for her to get better; then I realized I was praying for the wrong thing, so I asked for her to have what she needed now."

I amended my prayer, invoking the same request. I don't know why, because we weren't worried. And the next day, he was gone in a breath.

I will return next week, after family time in Oregon.

Good stuff! A hodgepodge of resources

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with items I discovered over the summer.

1. The MedicalID feature on the iPhone

People put emergency contact info on their phones, but what if your phone is locked, and you're not able to access it? Click here for instructions for using the feature with iPhone 8, or a hack for iPhone 7; on another site, iPhone 6 and 7 instructions are here.

I learned about this from our Mac doc, Dave Rahman of TechnoMinds. Check out David's other TechTips; there's other cool iPhone info such as how to decrease data usage (which if you live in Canada is important.)

2. On-demand transit, with service and support for seniors

At the other end of the tech-savvy scale is a service for persons who do not have a smart phone, but want to use Lyft or Uber: GoGo Grandparent. Available in 50 US States and Canada, the service allows seniors or anyone housebound to get around safely, using the ride services with a plain old phone.

Why not just call a cab? GoGo offers more services, such as notifications to GoGo Grandkids or other family members, or the ability to schedule transit for recurring appointments. Up to four other passengers ride (from the same location) at no additional cost.They're adding a grocery delivery feature. My neighbour Toni uses it for her 92-year-old mother and says it makes a world of difference to her autonomy and enjoyment, and she does not have to do nearly as much running around.

A new feature added in Sept. allows riders to use it without entering any info on a phone keypad, which is useful for visually impaired persons.

3. Daily crossword: fun on the fly

The Washington Post's is just right for me, you may prefer harder ones! Play online or print.

4. Chic shoes for problem feet, by post

Jeanne has bunions, and always bemoans the shoe choices on offer, but when we met over the summer, she had divine sandals that fit her two different-sized feet like a dream—and so pretty! Etsy seller KatzandBirds make sandals, oxfords and boots in beautiful colours, and adapt these for various needs. The focus is firmly on flat (but not wafer-thin) or very low heels—shoes you can walk around in all day.

Shoe prices are in the $250-$350 range. The owner, in Tel Aviv, states that there is no duty on US orders under $800 and Canadian orders under $200. I am longing to try a pair!

Any discoveries to add? Please do; we can't use what we don't know about.

New York in black and colour

Back from nearly a week in New York City, in sweltering heat with high humidity. I had hoped to take photos of women there,  but left my iPad in the plane. I got it back, but too late to take photos.

During the week of 32C/90F temperatures, women wore black that hung away from the body: floaty a-line sleeveless dresses, loose-cut pants like Eileen Fisher's, loose linen tees or light white blouses. That's what I took too, and several scarves that were too hot to wear.

But window shopping told another story: colour in the most ardent forms, prices climbing like the thermometer at the exemplary designers'.

I was colour-drunk in Saks' Etro boutique. Fortunately, if you have over $8,000, you can get the same piece (shown below left ) at net-a-porter.  Burberry's crazy-quilt vest has already sold out there, but Saks had it, too, and I thought of knitters like materfamilias, who could take that on.

If you can drop the price of a (used) car on a jacket, and you don't mind who knows it, the Italians are able to supply the dazzling goods. Gucci's floral appliqué jacquard jacket had place of pride in the Fifth Avenue window:

When your eye is enchanted via these houses, you see that these clothes cannot be copied successfully. Mid-range department stores were a downer after such outré opulence: sedate burgundy, endless shift dresses and the basic trousers you wore for your first job.

Poly, even when vividly printed, cannot even hope to match the world's best dyes on plush wools or velvet. I about wept.

If you sew,  you might hunt these magnificent fabrics and trims, then compose and tailor you little heart out. For those of us whose last seat at a Singer was in high school home ec class, a good-sized scarf is a decent cheat.

Lisu Moshi's "Chui Red" chiffon rectangle delivers those exotic colourways, and is light enough to wear indoors. Price, £120 at Wolf and Badger.

The Danish brand Epice make terrific scarves, always with a colour suprise; I love pink with cocoa brown. This detail below is from a wool/silk/cashmere blend shawl that is $330 at Bliss.

Or you might have a lucky strike like one of my Susanfriends, who found a Save the Queen knit jacket at a Sutton, Quebec flea market for $2!

"Don't tell!" advised our mutual friend when we had lunch, but Sue wants the world to know what can happen if you scout with your lucky penny in your purse. (Similar shown, listed on eBay.)

At Etro, I thought, Spectacular, but how do you wear this? Then I remembered a stylist's axiom: " 'Matches nothing' goes with everything".

Such riotous colour is actually more versatile than a bright solid, which can cut all but the longest-bodied woman in half. Artful colour play is magic, moving the eye about and pulling everything together.

Speaking of magic, if you're in New York this fall, I suggest you see Derek Del Gaudio's, "In and Of Itself" which is to the classic magic show what Etro is to fabric: another conceptual level. DelGaudio's theme is identity, and his performance, which includes magic, monologue and memoir, is an entrancing evening.

Trying on life alone

Le Duc was called away for a few days last week on family matter, and I was alone.

My first thought was, Good. I can attack areas of the apartment that a grown man still doesn't notice are grungy, like the mat of dirt that forms where sliding doors meet. I can whistle out of tune and eat dinner when I feel like it—which may be buttered popcorn with a glass of white wine, not as disgusting as it sounds.

Aside from the popcorn, it was no fun.

I learned that should I have years of life alone ahead of me, I will have to find a commune, or at very least, co-housing. Others are not inclined this way; they're wired—or have built the muscle—for solo living.

What I noticed: I resisted calling my children or friends, who would surely extend a lifeline. I know they are there if it's unbearable; the widows who read this are saying, You want to see unbearable? Try years.

I allotted the hours to French homework, the chores that get short shrift, an attention-deficeit Netfilx binge. Alone, I could bail from a so-so movie after ten or fifteen minutes.  I divested a half-dozen pieces of clothing without asking for an opinion, repaired a broken flashlight by myself.

But it felt more illuminating to just be, to absorb the days' shifts of light and the whirr of the apartment when it's empty. I awoke in the night and spent the better part of an hour thinking of my mother's women friends, whom I miss keenly.

I thought, too, of Patti Smith, writing in "M Train" of her late husband, fourteen years after his death: "Just come home, you've been gone too long. I will wash your shirts."

Patti Smith and Fred "Sonic" Smith; retrieved from PurpleClover

I'm in New York now; Patti and their children will perform a concert tonight and tomorrow in his honour. Though I may hear snatches from Central Park, I won't be on the grass; my days of standing for hours are over. But I remember Fred "Sonic" Smith vividly; I saw him many times in my student days, performing with the MC5 in frat house basements or dusty small halls, taciturn, handsome, roiling with talent.

Instead, I shall spend the evening with Le Duc, in an elevated state of appreciation. I can imagine Patti saying, I'd do that too.

When I had days to myself in the past, I was immersed in work, that incomparable energy sponge, and barely noticed how I felt. When he and the children left for a weekend, I worked so intensely I could tell it was evening only because the phone stopped ringing.

Solitude is a calling in early and mid-life, but as we age, it often arrives as an unbidden necessity. The adjustment is trickier and tinged with grief; there's less sense that you chose it.

I have not lived alone for over 31 years. Then, that life was neatly contained by a small house filled with Art Deco and family castoffs; a friend said it looked like the set of "Mommy Dearest" dropped into a dollhouse. When I had company for a weekend, I'd be exhausted; by Sunday brunch, the fizzy mood of Friday evening would devolve into a yearning for peace.

Now, with life less dictated by external demands, solitude seems like a Rubik's Cube, a puzzle to be turned until it falls into place. I know it's possible, but wonder if I could ever reach that satisfying resolution.

Black with something extra

With fall, black returns in seasonal supremacy. Most women have a black dress or two stashed in the closet, often a simple dress-up-or-down style.

When New York Times T Magazine recently ran a black feature; I ogled the dresses, which are not your basic blacks. 

That basic has eminently earned its place; it's the one you can wear for weeks on a trip by changing accessories, or throw on for a meeting, without thinking about it.  But there are times when the simple a-line feels like what retailers call a "dumb dress".  I'd like more verve; I am on the lookout for black with wit.

If I had $3,400 this Gucci is quite the number, probably even more exquisite in person, and note the ecru cuff. 

Today, the windows are dressed in black with something extra. You may not see your dress (and your 'black' may be navy or espresso), but each offers that something extra, well below T Magazine's dizzying price point.

 The Part Two Itessa dress, of cashmere blend knit, is €130. The sleeve detail will look wonderful at a restaurant table, and the bottom hem has matching small slits. The fabric content is confusing; the copy says "cashmere blend" but also "100% viscose". I've long been a fan of Part Two, a Danish company who now have an e-store.

From Edinburgh's Totty Rocks, the sharp black Lux dress in satin and triple crepe. Portrait collar (that's the satin), a lightly padded shoulder, and the wink of a slit neckline neckline at the back: yes! Totty rocks, but she also tailors. Price, £195.

This dress is not black, but it is special. Donna Karan navy silk embroidered dot dress, on sale for $US 375. If you go to the site you'll see it worn with nothing beneath, but we of course are wearing its attached navy cami. Spectacular across-the-table quotient.

When I saw this, I thought, Adele for its elegance and drama. The cream-lined cape dips in back to the waist (top left, below). The dress is poly and elastane, washable on delicate cycle. From Navibi, in (US) plus sizes 10-22; price, about $US 320.

My friend B. just bought two dresses from The Peruvian Connection, whom I had thought of as knitwear designers, but it turns out they have been designing some good dresses, too, including a collection of black. Their Eldridge Dress looks like a tunic over a slim skirt,  but is one piece, and has a sleeve length I like, too. The overlayer is viscose/wool, the underlayer is stretchy rayon; price, $US 259.

Another option is the trouser suit, because some women just don't like dresses. The mantra is "modern, feminine". (I admire the classic le smoking, but it's harder to pull off when one is older. If you don't wear red lipstick with aplomb, it's probably not your look.)

This Tahari jacket, with its velvet-tipped lapel and buttonless closure, is not the man's suit cut; the trousers are cropped. Price: Blazer, $US 428; Odette trousers, $US 278. Mom would say, "Now, don't wear the trousers five times as often as the jacket, or the blacks won't match anymore."

I would wear this with short boots or low block heels—the open sandals look dated, not to mention dangerous.

Left, Nine West Quarren; price, $US 158; right, Clark's Chinaberry Pop; price, about $US 125.

Off I go to pack summer whites and bring back the black. What I have must please for the next six  months—and if not, hello donation bin. Black is too ubiquitous to be just a dark and safe default.  

Etiquette and speaking up

I had the occasion, over the summer, to make some new friends, and to observe myself doing so.  At such moments, I try to present myself more or less unedited. Why spend time together if you can't be yourself with someone?

Conventional etiquette, social rules promoted by my proper Midwestern American mother, dictated avoidance of controversy at the table or other social gatherings—but I wanted to talk about the issues and changes that have jolted us, the storms both political and physical. How can one chat only about light topics (movies, sports, the summer festivals) while our local stadium filled with refugees who cross the Canadian border daily? So I did not.

That's not to say I jumped off the high board, and I do not want to rile my hosts. Sometimes I test the waters, noting, for example, that Bob Dylan, whom we saw in concert in July, chose to croon mostly '40s pop standards until his biting encore, "Blowing in the Wind".

Because I'm a dual US and Canadian citizen, persons I barely know ask me to parse the psyche of the American voter, especially those who ardently support Donald Trump. So I will speak, without expecting agreement.

I find facts an ally. Sometimes I've had to listen more than speak, and have had moments of dislocation. When a friend praised the "refreshing openness" of the US President, I asked this committed environmentalist what he thought of that administration's revoked legislation or reduced enforcement regarding environmental issues.

I find, too, that others want to talk about the difficult, the messy, the incomprehensible. When hosts, signalling they were not afraid of substance, wondered what their guests thought about the removal of a plaque that commemorated Jefferson Davis from a downtown Montréal site, I was grateful.

"Please, Bill," my mother would beg, "don't get into politics tonight." And I do remember some shouting. She was happy to have my father's intelligence (edified by his beloved Chicago Tribune) aimed against certain interests; she just didn't want it to obscure the glories of her roast beef and cherry pie.

My friend Beth, author of the beautifully-written blog the cassandra pages, wrote a post on speaking out, showing up, and replacing handwringing with action. I could not say it better.

Because present-day Nazis and related groups claim their space, stating that they have substantial support from elected officials, I speak. I also try to listen, respect difference, and keep my critical thinking skills sharp. (My antennae go up when I hear, in either official language, "ces gens là"; "those people".)

I have learned how fear, scarcity and insularity affect tolerance. How belief systems implanted early in life may be re-examined, and how much courage it takes for someone to say, "I've changed my mind" or even "I didn't know about that."

Sometimes there's a cost. The fiancée of a family friend decided she'd had enough of biting her tongue during family visits and after years of silence, decided to take her stand. After a rocky visit, she said, "My mother and father are open enough to listen, but my brother won't. I don't hope to change their minds, but I want to be heard."

Pass the peas, and pass the word: the etiquette is abridged, Mom. At the table, I will still eat with my mouth closed, but I will also open it to talk about these times.

Pearls, everyday: Ginger's request

Summer in the city, where across the street from us there's a splash pad and a blind pig within a stone's throw of one another, and a park where you can canoodle, tango or eat chess pie handed to you in a wicker hamper by the restaurant on its border. All summer long, piping kid's voices commingled with tiki bar patrons'; everyone seemed to be having a grand time.

I mostly fought off online life but a few e-mails im-pinged. One was from Ginger, who asked, "Could I see an example of the pearls you wear with jeans? That's what I'm looking for too."

So, as I reluctantly interrupt this golden week of still-mild weather for the keyboard, I thank Ginger for suggesting the traditional re-opening pearl post. Easy; I hauled out the point-and-shoot and spilled over twenty years of gifts and purchases onto my desk.

You can wear any of these with jeans, Ginger, and since that's what I'm in most days, I can prove it.

Left: Baroque fancy-colour Tahitians, from Kojima Company.
Middle: Chinese metallic freshwater tin-cup lariat with 18k chain, from Lucile.
Right: Stick pearls on clear poly thread, from Basia Design, Toronto.

More detail on these, but hardly ballgown style:

Left: South Sea (drums, banded baroques) 20-inch rope shown with custom-made detachable Tahitian pendant; from Kojima Company.
Middle: Handmade silver and 22k beads, Chinese metallic freshwater pearl; from Kokass by Céline Bouré.
Right: Chinese peach-pink pearls, tourmaline, aquamarine and silver beads, from Artwork by Collins & Chandler Gallery, Toronto.

And these: the keshis (upper left and right); below, two strands, black and white.

Top left: Two ropes of metallic CFW keshis, from Kojima Company.
Top right: Small pink CFW keshis (Chinese seller on eBay, defunct), restyled by Manitoba jeweller Rosalind Wolchock.
Bottom left: Dyed CFWs trying to mimic Tahitians, which they do not, but they're wild; from Emily Gill.
Bottom right: Large silver-white South Seas in various shapes from Kojima Company.

All of these were summer road-tested in jeans-friendly joints: parks, pubs, markets, terrasses, concerts and cottages. They survived swats from cats, a little sweat, some rain and a tween with a Super Soaker.  I took them off for the gym.
All have memories attached; this is why pearls feel different than getting, say, a jacket. Many were gifts from those I love.

If I were in your jeans, Ginger, I'd be all over the last day of Kojima's end of summer sale—18% off everything—prices are before sale discount.

Left: "As the Waves Wash Over" necklace; 26 inches; wire-wrapped Tahitian keshis and silver pendant with faceted pink sapphire; price, $594.
Right: 13mm star-shaped super-lustrous CFW coin pearls, 16-inch strand. (Stringing is free; knotting and the clasp will add over an inch to the length.) Price, $135.

Bonne rentrée, everyone! I hope you had some larky late nights, rosy sunrises, and contentment in the hours in between. The world hit some hurdles since the Passage was last open, but summer lifts like a snatch of clarinet melody on soft air; we needed that here.

It will be delightful to hear from you again.