Thursday, April 27, 2017

Just Messin' With Black and White

I'll never forget my first encounter with the Irish writer Roddy Doyle. Back in the nineties, Hubby and I watched the movie The Commitments, based on Doyle's book of the same name. We loved it. It has great music, quirky characters, humour and pathos (uh...of course.. it's Irish), lots of swearing, and that weird combination of despair and hope that the Irish do so well. I was off to the library the next day to find Roddy Doyle's books. One expression that stuck with me from that movie, and from its sequel The Snapper, is "messin' with ya." You know, as in "Don't get mad. I'm just messin' wit' ya." I don't really mean it. I'm just playing around, teasing.  

So that's what I've been doing this week with some of my new wardrobe pieces. Just messin' with them. Playing around. Seeing what works and what doesn't. 

In particular I wanted to play with my new black, cropped "Simone" pants from Rag and Bone. These are high-waisted, lovely and stretchy, and skinny, without adhering to my legs like leggings. The Rag and Bone website says that the "four -way stretch material was originally developed for Olympic level equestrian riders." Ok-ay. Then they definitely shouldn't bag in the knees on me. Since I won't be doing any riding in them, only maybe sitting down to lunch for a couple of hours. I'm also wearing my new Eileen Fisher tunic which you've already seen in this post. And. And. On my feet are my new Paul Green Lydia flats. Black suede with laces. These are the result of my search for a shoe to wear with my new black and white striped midi-skirt. And they were on sale. Yah. 

black cropped pants, black laced flats, grey and white striped tunic

black cropped pants, black laced flats, grey and white striped tunic

So the pants look great with the shoes. You were right about that, Liz. And I like both with this tunic top. But I thought it needed something on the neck. Maybe. And since I don't really do "statement necklaces" it had to be a scarf. I've had this white chiffon, white on white print scarf hanging in my closet since I retired. It was a gift from a student who said, kind of breathlessly when I opened the package, that she loved clothes, and she knew I loved clothes, and since she loved this scarf, she was sure I would love it too. That's pretty much a direct quote. I was touched. And the scarf is lovely. I've just never been sure about that fringe. And I'm not sure about it now. As you can see. I may throw it on when I wear this outfit and see how long it lasts before I stuff it in my bag. That's usually the test for me with unusual accessories. If I go into the lady's room at the restaurant, look into the mirror, and cringe... into the bag it goes. 

black cropped pants, black laced flats, grey and white striped tunic     black cropped pants, black laced flats, grey and white striped tunic

When I started hauling things out of my closet yesterday, the original plan was to find tops to go with the black pants and shoes. And I thought my loose, short-sleeved Vince tee shirt (which is very casual) would work with my black Helmut Lang jacket (which is a bit structured, and more serious.) But, you know, combined with the black pants and shoes, this combo is too serious. Too "work-y." Even ecclesiastical. Could I throw on the fringed scarf and make that work? This outfit is not going to happen. Maybe with faded jeans. But probably not. 

black pants and jacket, black lace-up flats, white tee and white scarf    black pants and jacket, black lace-up flats, white tee and white scarf 

Then as I stored the white scarf away, and was about to change, I spied this colourful scarf. I bought it from a lovely lady at the Chivay market in Peru. Maybe this is what I should wear to book club tonight? Serious and studious with a dash of colour. Almost collegiate. We're discussing Amor Towles book A Gentleman in Moscow. And one needs to be at least a little serious to discuss Russia, don't you think? 

black pants and jacket, black lace-up flats, white tee and striped scarf from Peru   black pants and jacket, black lace-up flats, white tee and striped scarf from Peru  

This is a better look at the scarf I bought in Peru. You can see that it has several Inca symbols on it: the mountain, the puma, the llama, the symbol for Pachamama or mother earth, and the condor. Cool, eh? 

black pants and jacket, black lace-up flats, white tee and striped scarf from Peru

Okay, enough messin'. For now. I've lots of time tomorrow, or the next day, to play with my new black pants and shoes. But I have to leave for my book club in just over two hours, and... akkkk... I still have almost two hundred pages of A Gentleman in Moscow left to read. 

No. Wait. As my stepdad used to say in times of emergency when the rest of us bustled around stressed and stressing, "Now, just hold on a minute here. Let's not get too excited." Good advice. Because I know I'll never finish that book in time. That would require rushing. And this is not a book to be rushed through. This is a book to be savoured. Stopping every few pages to ruminate about Towles' use of language, or an interesting idea, and maybe discuss that idea with Hubby. Which is the reason, of course, that I'm only on page 293. Sigh. 

Maybe instead of rushing through the book, I'll focus instead on what I'm going to wear tonight. That at least I can achieve in the time I have left. 

It's good to set reasonable and achievable goals, I always say. See how much we can learn from our parents?

And while I decamp to my bedroom closet, have a look at the trailer for the movie The Commitments. I do love this film. 

So. What have you been messin' around with lately, my friends?

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Winning the Birth Lottery

When Hubby and I were in Peru a few weeks ago, we ate supper in a near empty dining room one night at our hotel in Ollantaytambo, and chatted to an American lady at the next table. She sat alone engrossed in her i-pad until Hubby called over to her, "We haven't seen many jackets like yours down here." She had on a zippered, athletic jacket with a logo Hubby recognized from a college in upstate New York, just over the border from where we live. She raised her head, and laughed. That friendly comment of Hubby's began one of the most interesting conversations we had with a fellow traveller on this trip. 

farm field with melting snow
Early spring on the farm in New Brunswick.
We talked about politics, travel, careers, family, and then about Peru. I don't think I've ever met anyone who opened up to strangers so easily and so joyfully as this lady from upstate New York. She laughed a lot. So did we, actually. She was travelling alone. She told us her husband doesn't like to travel, so each year he says,"Off you go on your adventure." And off she goes for three weeks while he stays home with their two kids. 

Over the course of our conversation we learned that she'd gone back to school a few years ago as an adult. Had acquired her MBA. And now lives in Florida and works as a freelance consultant. Hence the freedom to take three weeks off when she wants. She has two daughters, one of whom will be heading off to university this fall. 

When she learned that we're retired teachers, we had a rousing conversation about education. She wanted to know about life in the classroom. I told a few of my best teacher stories. She wanted to hear all about retirement. Said she hoped when her husband retired she might convince him to do at least a little travel. I think we talked about road trips as an option. 

thermometer with a picture of  Holstein cow, on a shed wall
Holstein thermometer we bought for my stepdad one year. Still on the shed wall.
Then we talked about our experiences in South America. Where she'd been. What she thought of all that she'd seen. And where we'd been. She had the same impression of Peru as we did. Love, love, loved it. But found the poverty difficult, and the Peruvian people admirable and inspiring. She said she couldn't wait to get back home to make sure her girls knew that they had "won the birth lottery." Hubby and I were both struck by that phrase. The birth lottery. We agreed that we'd all three benefited from the birth lottery. 

Where we are born, and when. Who our parents are. What values they hold and pass on to us. And the luck and circumstances that flow from these beginnings. These things, every bit as much as how smart we are and how hard we work, determine the shape of our adult lives. And for a while this is what we talked about. And how our experiences in South America had reinforced this belief for all three of us. 

view of the river from the ferry
Morning view from the deck of the farmers ferry back home.
I think that too many of us who live privileged lives believe that we do so because we have earned our good fortune, that we alone are responsible for whatever we've achieved. Hubby and I are not wealthy people. But we consider that we live a life of relative privilege. And that much of what we have, including the ability to retire at quite a young age with enough money to travel and do pretty much what we want to do, is the result of a strong start in life, good fortune, and a bit of luck. That and the fact that we were born in a time and place which allowed us to be successful.

Wheelhouse of the farmers' ferry
The ferry wheelhouse. Where once I presided as captain.... for an hour or two.
Take me for example. My family was not rich. My mum comes from a solid working-class background. My grandparents worked hard all their lives to build a small business, and raise eight children. My grandfather was a diamond in the rough, to use that old clich√©. He was not educated, nor was he elegant, or erudite. But he was a canny businessman, a very hard worker, and kindness and generosity personified. Like my grandfather, my grandmother had a tremendously strong work ethic. She was also smart, quick-witted, and a voracious reader. And she could turn out a pan of molasses cookies, or whip you up a crocheted cushion cover like nobody's business. Probably reading a book at the same time. It was a combination of these qualities that my Mum inherited from her parents and in turn passed on to her four kids. These plus the value of education, and the importance of treating others with respect have formed how I look at the world.  

view of the river with foliage
Early fall on the trail along the Saint John River in New Brunswick
My mum is fond of saying that my sisters and I "put ourselves through school." Which is true with respect to the monetary requirements. We did pay our own tuition and buy our books and supplies for school with student loans and bursaries. I clearly remember the last payment I made on my student loan when I was in my early thirties, and still only teaching part-time. I cashed a cheque for a thousand dollars, and used every cent to clear my loan. I remember chortling to the bank teller, "Better take it quick before I change my mind and go shopping."  

But what my mum doesn't recall when she says "we did it all on our own," is the endless parade of used furniture that was moved into various apartments, for my sisters and me, and then carted back to the farm when we no longer needed it. All those Sunday night dinners at home when I lived in town and, afterward, was packed off, back to the city, with my laundry done and groceries for the week. Or the old car that my stepdad kept in good repair so I could drive it back and forth to school when I still lived on the farm. Or the bedroom back home that was always there for any of us to move back to when we needed it. Or simply the desire to get an education to begin with, a value that was instilled in us when we were young. Many of my friends had parents who were wealthy enough to pay for their university education. But just as many had parents who did not see the value of post secondary education, and who did not encourage them to pursue anything after high school but paid employment. What would I be doing now, if that had been the case for me, I wonder. 

fall colours on the shed of an old farmhouse
In fall the old farmhouse gets extra colour
So recognizing the hand up that I had makes me realize just how lucky I've been. Not just lucky to have had my family's support. But also lucky to have lived in a place where education is attainable, and things like student loans were available to kids like me whose parents couldn't afford to pay for university. And it really gets under my skin when I hear people account for their success by referring only to how hard they've worked, and how smart they've been. Particularly when it's said by people who were born into privilege. And most particularly when it's said by people in power. Of course we need to work hard to build on the start we're given in life. Of course getting a good start doesn't ensure we will be successful. We all make choices in life that either help or hinder our path to success. But to ignore the fact that time and place and circumstance play just as important a role in how we fare in life is...well... stupid... in my opinion. And smacks of hubris.

signs for road closure due to spring flooding
Annual spring flooding along the Saint John creates lots of detours and a few good pictures.
So this is what we talked about that evening in Ollantaytambo. How lucky we are. How privileged we are. Hubby and I both coming from working class families who had little, but passed on a lot of what became integral to our success. And this lady whom we had just met, an African-American woman from northern New York, who got herself an education, married a much older man who is Native American, went back to school to get a better education, and who is now running her own business and raising two daughters. We've all worked hard. We were none of us born into families who had wealth. We all were smart enough to get a university degree. But we agreed that being in Peru, seeing how hard people work, how friendly and smiling everyone seemed, and how difficult their lives are made us all realize that we had indeed "won the birth lottery"... as our new friend put it. 

I think that we ignore this idea of "the birth lottery" at our peril. We should acknowledge that we are not necessarily entitled to our good fortune, our success, our privilege. That it didn't just happen because we are smart and hardworking. Or "blessed" as some people say. Because when we assume that success and privilege is our natural birthright, then we must assume that it is natural for those same things to be denied to others. Like I said, hubris. And hubris, is a dangerous trap into which to tumble. Either personally or as a country. We English teachers love that term "hubris." Overwhelming pride, a sense of entitlement, over confidence, that in literature always leads to one's downfall. I mean if you remember your high school Macbeth ... look what hubris did for him by the end of the play. And if you don't remember... well, let me just say this... hated by all, defeated by his enemies, head on a pike, deader than a door nail. Just saying. 

Phew. I'm veering dangerously close to a discussion about politics. And that wasn't my intention when I started writing. I began this post after I read an article that Lisa Carnochan posted on In the article, Lisa traces her current political values back to their origins, referring to her family background and incidents in her life that have helped her become who she is and what she believes. I've been reading Lisa's blog Privilege for years. She was very kind to me when I started blogging myself, reading and commenting on my posts, encouraging me, and even recommending my blog to her readers. So if it's political discussion you want, have a look at her new endeavour on She's one smart lady, and a really good writer. 

Now, it's your turn. Anyone want to wade into any issue? Anyone? Any issue? We're ready to listen.

Linking up with Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Make DIY Jeans... When You Don't Sew

The other day when Hubby came home I greeted him excitedly at the door with the words: "Guess what? I made myself a new pair of pants!" He looked incredulous. And well, he should. Me, sew? Me... who hates sewing. Me... who, after a few years of his waiting and waiting and my procrastinating and procrastinating, refused to ever hem another pair of his pants again.

But before I go on with my story, folks, I need to go back.

I've always loved clothes, and I clearly remember, as a kid, making clothes for my dolls. I'd wield scissors and a needle and thread on bits of leftover cloth that Mum had used to make something or other. I always knew exactly how I wanted the scrap of cloth to look on my Barbie. How the purple dress should drape, or how the neckline on a pink cotton, sleeveless blouse should stand up in the front with a pearl button in the back. I remember how I sewed the pieces right on the dolls so they would fit perfectly. Then took them off to clean up the messy bits and sew on the buttons. Then Santa brought me a tiny, doll-size sewing machine for Christmas and I thought that my sewing days had just begun. 

Ha. Not so much. No matter how carefully I followed instructions, and tried to thread that sucker I couldn't make it do anything except whir and whir and then break the thread, or create a giant ball of knotted thread under the presser-foot. Sigh. I finally gave up in frustration. I simply couldn't make my sewing machine do what I wanted it to do fast enough. Or perfectly enough. I'd been better off with my scissors and needle. 

Then in grade eight all the girls and boys in my junior high class were bused to another school once a week for Home Economics or Shop classes. To tell you the truth I would rather have been in Shop class. That was more up my alley. But in 1969, although we had adopted mini-skirts and loved the Beatles and the Monkees, the idea of Women's Rights had yet to rear its head in my small town in New Brunswick. So Home Economics it was. Cooking, and Sewing, and something called "Family Living." The idea of cooking class bored me. But sewing I thought might be useful. So each week we were bundled onto the bus with our newly purchased sewing baskets, our length of cotton broadcloth, and our Butterwick patterns. I had chosen to make a classic dirdl skirt. In fact it looked much like the one in this vintage pattern I found. I guess I should say... was supposed to look. In theory.

In actual fact. I made my skirt so short and the cloth was so stiff that it looked more like a tutu than a skirt. And with my long, spindly legs poking out underneath, I looked ridiculous. I took one look at the finished product in the full-length mirror, and never wore it again. End of sewing career. Again. 

I've had a couple more forays into the world of crafting something out of cloth. I made an A-line, wrap skirt in university. It was pretty easy. But the machine sometimes wouldn't go at all, and when I pressed harder against the lever, it went ninety miles an hour, and my seam zig-zagged all over the place. And I cursed, and fumed. And bitched about the pattern, or the material, or Mum's machine, until I think poor Mum was as happy as I was that it was finished. I even wore it a couple of times. At night, I should add. But I never tried to sew anything again. Well, except for the bed skirt that I made a few years ago for our antique iron bed. I made it on my mother-in-law's old Singer portable. I needed miles of cloth. But it was flat sewing. How hard could it be? Sigh. Of course, as I tried to sew the seam, it would pucker and fold the wrong way. Or I'd sew two parts together that shouldn't have been because I had so much cloth bunched everywhere that I couldn't see what I was doing. I had to rip it all out a couple of times. At one point I heard Hubby come in the back door when the entire dining room was swaddled in cloth. I yelled, "Do NOT come in here." He retreated to the garden. 

Ha. No wonder he looked a bit nervous the other day when I said I had made a new pair of pants. "You made them?" he inquired. Okay. So maybe I didn't exactly make them. "I made them new," I clarified. "I mean I took an old pair of pants that I was going to send to the thrift store, and made them into something that I want to wear. So... new. See?"

And here they are. My years old Hudson flared, white jeans. That I haven't worn in ages. But which I kept because they still fit. And which I had already put in the pile for the thrift store a couple of weeks ago when I did my closet inventory. And then I remembered a post that Alyson Walsh wrote last year on her blog That's Not My Age. About chopping off a pair of her old flares because she wasn't entirely ready to commit to the trend of lopped off jeans. And I thought... what did I have to lose? So I wielded my scissors and ended up with these.

Eileen Fisher grey and white striped tunic, black Stuart Weitzman loafers, DIY kick flare jeans.

I'm pretty pleased with the result. And once I wash my "new" DIY jeans, I know they'll get a bit more fringe-y. I'm wearing them with my black Stuart Weitzman loafers, and my new Eileen Fisher grey and white striped, linen knit tunic with a boat neck and slouchy pockets. I know I'm going to get a ton of wear out of this top. 

Eileen Fisher grey and white striped tunic, black Stuart Weitzman loafers, DIY kick flare jeans.

In her post, Alyson calls her newly lopped off jeans, "kick flares." I tried very hard to get the legs of my new "kick flares" the same length, but I think that one is a smidgen shorter. Each time I tried to figure out exactly which leg is longer, they suddenly seemed to measure the same length. And I was afraid that I might just keep cutting until they were both too short. Kind of like what used to happen when we first learned to tweeze our eyebrows, and a couple of my friends became carried away "even-ing them up," until they ended up without any. Or hardly any. 

Eileen Fisher grey and white striped tunic, black Stuart Weitzman loafers, DIY kick flare jeans.
My new "kick flare" jeans.
Then I tried my new "kick flares" with my navy Veronica Beard jacket from last year. I like the  grey hoodie with the white jeans. If you remember from previous posts, this jacket is super stretchy, and the partial hoodie zips in and out. Making this such an easy outfit.... jacket and jeans and sneakers. Simple. 

Navy Veronica Beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, Stan Smith Adidas, All Saints tote, DIY kick flare jeans     Navy Veronica Beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, Stan Smith Adidas, All Saints tote, DIY kick flare jeans

So that's me sorted. Two new easy, peasy outfits and I didn't spend a cent. Well, except for the Eileen Fisher tunic. Which I actually bought to go with a pair of black cropped pants. I'm off shopping tomorrow. I think I'll wear this outfit. My Veronica Beard jacket is comfortable. And it always looks smart. And after a long day of shopping, when my hair is sticking up, and my mascara has run, and I look as if I've been put through the wringer (as my grandmother used to say) at least my jacket will still look good. 

Navy Veronica Beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, Stan Smith Adidas, All Saints tote, DIY kick flare jeans

You know, I'm quite pleased with myself and my new DIY "kick flare" jeans. I haven't worn cut-offs, so to speak, since we used to take our old jeans and make them into shorts in the seventies. Back when cutoffs meant just that. Ha. 

I had intended to look for a pair of cropped jeans with an unfinished hem this spring. I'm a bit late to jump on that bandwagon, I know. And only a few of the styles appeal to me. I don't like the ones that are too, too chopped up. Or the ones with the super long fringes. So maybe I'll just look for jeans. Period. I need new jeans. 

And if I can't find a pair with an unfinished hem that suits me. Well... there's always that old pair of Gap jeans in my closet. The ones that still fit but which I haven't worn in ages. Hmmm. Now where are my scissors? 

 Navy Veronica beard scuba jacket with grey hoodie, grey earrings from Magpie Jewellry
Looking quite pleased with myself, and my scissor wielding ability.

How about you folks have you tried any DIY with anything in your closet lately?

P.S. I bought my Eileen Fisher tunic from Liz at Nordstrom, but here's the on-line link. Mine is a size small, so the fit must be pretty roomy. In other brands, I usually take a medium or a large.

Not Dressed As Lamb

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