Monday, January 19, 2015

I'm Too Young to be 62!

In this week’s happenings: my birthday was on January 17th. I woke up that morning thinking, “This is the first day of my 62nd year! How did this happen?” Surely, I am still 22. Where did the time go?

Still, our 60s are not our 70s, 80s or 90s, so I am somewhat optimistic that I might have a few good years left in me. But 60+ is a time when you hear doctors and exercise instructors starting sentences with the phrase, “At your age…” I found this upsetting at first, but now I find it rather freeing because obviously everyone has lower expectations of anyone older than 59. That immense pressure to achieve Super Womanhood is loosened just a bit, our waistlines are allowed to be a little more matronly and we no longer have to worry about zits in our T-Zones, where apparently, if squeezed, they can cause death. I’m glad to be alive after a youth spent popping pimples that erupted between my eyebrows.

Here’s another fun event for the after-60-set: the daily arrival of all-new aches and pains. It’s always something. You might awake one day with your arches having fallen overnight. Nothing says, “There went your youth!” more than being fitted with orthotic inserts for all your shoes. Yes, we should be grateful that we are not yet 90 and using a scooter to get to the care home dining room by 4:00; it’s just that the aches and pains start now and probably aren’t going to abate much from here on.

Conversations “at our age” are also pretty thrilling. We get together with friends who share our sexagenarian interests – and I don’t mean “swinging sex after sixty” – I mean talking about the topic-du- jour that is in every 60-year old’s thoughts, that looming menace: retirement. What will we do with all that free time? Or more accurately, how will we ever cope with being together at home 24/7? (We have GOT to get some hobbies!) Have we managed to sock away enough in our IRAs (known as RRSPs in Canada) to ensure that we won’t outlive our money? What are the relative merits of living in a warm climate with ocean views where we can’t afford the million dollar real estate compared to living in an environment where we might have to shovel but we can at least afford to eat?

Then there’s all the talk about what kind of assisted living facility we want for ourselves. Egad! Unless we figure this out NOW, who knows where we might end up! We have got to get a plan! We’ve decided that we should gather all the friends we think we can tolerate for 20 years of close proximity and we should develop a communal-style facility with 24 hour nursing care, a Michelin Star chef, a sommelier and a decent pedicurist (because we won’t be able to reach our toenails anymore) and we’ll live out our golden years playing table Bocci, chugging Metamucil, watching reruns of “Cocoon” and eating crustless sandwiches at funerals.

But for now, this is 62. Not yet prone to complain about “that crazy music these kids play these days,” but no longer knowing the name of any new boy band. Not yet stone deaf, but no longer catching all the dialogue on Masterpiece without the closed captioning. Not yet mall walking, but no longer doing high-impact aerobics in a Lycra body suit and leg warmers. Not yet afraid to eat a pizza or fried chicken, but no longer able to handle that Junior’s chili dog at 1 am after a night of partying. In fact there is no night of partying. There is falling asleep at 10:00 while watching “House Hunters.”

Hello, 62! Glad I’ve made it this far. Please be gentle.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Confessions of a Latter-day Fashionista

Dear Blog Readers and Friends, my blog this week is inspired by Kyran Pittman, whose blog, “Planting Dandelions,” is one of my favorites. She wrote about fashion this week and asked her readers to comment on their own fashion history. My mind was suddenly full of memories and I couldn’t wait to use this as a springboard for my blog. Maybe you’d like to share your story with me or with Kyran – there is a link to her blog site in the right hand column.

I almost never walk out of the house regarding myself as “put together.” I see other women wearing scarves looped nonchalantly around their necks and think, “How do they do that?” I have come to the conclusion that some women “have it” — a sense of style, a certain √©lan, an undeniable panache, a flair— and I never will. It’s o.k. It’s rather freeing to have given up.

This is ironic, because in high school I had ambitions of becoming a fashion designer. From age 14 to 17, I spent all of my free time drawing outfits — for myself, for imaginary heroines, for my favorite teacher. I poured through fashion magazines and dreamt that one day I would be a famous couturier in New York or Paris. Right there under my picture in the high school yearbook is my write-up, “Wants to own a Paris original one day.” I even won a young designer contest at the downtown Bay department store. A friend’s mom sewed the soft grey crepe suit that I sketched. It had gaucho pants, a bolero jacket and a high-necked white chemise. I accessorized with high white boots and a red, wide-brimmed hat. A school chum modeled my creation in a real runway fashion show. I just about fell over when my name was announced, “Winner of the suit category is…”

After that, my dad took my future into his hands. He scooped up a bunch of my drawings without me knowing about it, and took them to someone he knew in the Winnipeg garment business. “My daughter has talent, don’t you think?” The man in the garment business said, “Well, if these are her own original drawings, yes, she does.” (IF they were original? IF!??! Hmmph!) “But, does she sew? Nobody makes it in fashion design if they can’t construct a garment.”  Previous encounters with my mother’s sewing machine had been such a tantrum-throwing frustration that imagining a lifetime of trying to conquer that demonic fiend chilled me to the bone. That was the end of my dream.

Apparently fashion was not my destiny. But, of necessity, one does need to get dressed every day, and I do care about how I look. However, this pursuit has caused a married life of asking the Mister, “Does this look good on me?” Poor man.

In reviewing my fashion history, I am pained to remember ardent striving to achieve a “look” only to fall short on some essential detail, which in my case I mean literally! The Annie Hall look? At 5’-1”, I just wasn’t tall enough to carry off the baggy pants, white shirt, vest, tie and wide-brimmed floppy hat. I tried wearing a tie with a shirt and khakis but ended up looking like a waiter at a pancake house. I continue to resent Diane Keaton to this day for looking so fabulous now that she’s well into her late 60s.

Actually, maybe I’m the eternal optimist for being excited about each new fashion trend. Maybe it will finally be the one for me! Although I never owned a pair of leg warmers, I have tried every fashion era on for size:

  1. My Beatles Period: London rocked, Twiggy shocked and Mary Quant tights put daisies and polka dots all over our legs. In my first foray into fashion, I was a rockin’ teenage Mod in short polyester dresses, colored tights and a Twiggy haircut, even though my mother wouldn’t let me paint on those giant lower eye lashes, my dad forbid me from buying a leather John Lennon cap and I got chilblains walking to school in a mini skirt and short leather coat when it was minus 30 degrees.
  2. My Hippy Days: 1970s Eco-Awareness, protest songs and a modernist interior design school inspired loose fitting blousons, wide-legged jeans and a scarf tied over my head on days I didn’t get up in time to wash my hair before the hour-long bus trek to university. This wasn’t so much a fashion period as it was an abdication of caring about it.
  3. My Preppy Period:  In spite of the fact that I didn’t play tennis, ride horseback or attend an eastern Ivy League college, my early career was neatly supported by Ralph Lauren: a navy blazer, grey wool skirt, silk bows tied under a buttoned-down Oxford collar and sensible pumps. I wasted my size-6 years looking like a tour guide at Hogwarts.
  4. My Heritage Years:  Some time in my 30s I sought connection to my roots and so I adopted tweed, herringbone checks and my family clan’s Scottish tartan. I couldn’t have done more to look like Miss Marple solving a murder mystery in a musty old castle in Yorkshire.
  5. My Earth Mother Era: Teaching design students in my early 40s seemed to call for comfy dresses and voluminous sweaters worn with black jeans. The look I was shooting for was “approachable, caring type,” until I overheard my 20-something students making fun of my matronly appearance. After that, I started my next phase:
  6. My Look-Like-an-Architect Days: Black. Head to foot. My uniform for teaching design and then working for a Frank Lloyd Wright historic site: serious; no nonsense; classic. Also very slimming. If I could have cantilevered something I would have.
  7. My What Not to Wear Era: The TV show that rocked the world revealed how I had been hiding my body inside voluminous, gloomy garments. From then on, I vowed to seek V-necked tops, smart peplum jackets that draw the eye away from the hips, snug shapes that accentuate the waistline, cheerful colors and boot-cut trousers that elongate short legs. Where had Stacey and Clinton, the show’s hosts, been all my life?
  8. My Matronly Years: Somewhere along the line, I reached 62. I’ve reached a weight that I swore I would never reach and a shape that looks a lot like my mother’s. Size 6 youth is gone, wasted in too much fabric and high necklines. But there is no turning back the clock and now it isn’t so much about being fashionable as it is about hiding my midriff. This necessitates tops that come below hip level and fall away from the body. Oddly, I think I look better than I ever have. I choose flattering, “age-appropriate” apparel, the relaxed insouciance of Eileen Fisher separates and clothing I feel good wearing. Six decades later, I think I may have hit my stride. I even have a dress with horizontal stripes! At last! Old enough to dress how I want!


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gift Exchange

If you have been married or have been living with someone for a long time, you’ve probably experienced “the thought transfer.” You know how it goes. It’s when you finish each other’s sentences. Or your spouse says, “Hey, I was just thinking about….” and you say, “I was just thinking the same thing!” It’s eerie sometimes, isn’t it?

But have you ever experienced “the gift transfer?”  This is a less well-known phenomenon that occurs when you give each other the gift that you really wanted to get for yourself.

Here’s how it works. I bought the mister a cozy UGGs bath robe. He bought me cozy UGGs slippers. We both shopped at the same swanky little shop in our neighborhood thinking the same thing, “he/she will like something special from this swanky little shop.” We opened our gifts on Christmas morning and said, kindly, to one another, “Thank you, dear! This/these are lovely. How sweet of you!”

And we meant it.

My slippers were terrific. Buckskin-colored suede with a pink suede tie. Fleecy sheepskin lining.  Unfortunately, they were too small. “Never mind, I’ll take them back to the swanky little shop and exchange them for a larger size,” I said, “I really do like them. Thank you, dear.”

The mister said he loved the robe. He tried it on and said, “Oh, that’s very cozy.”

“It looks good on you,” I said, “Kind of like Lord Grantham.”

“Yeah, but you know, I’m used to getting up and getting dressed right away. I don’t really need a bath robe.”  

“Oh, I know,” I said, "I took a chance. But I thought you might feel like putting on a robe sometimes. Like when you get the flu or something. ”

“Yeah, not so much,” he said, “Do you mind if I take it back? I looked at UGGs slippers for me. I’d really like to get them.”

Later that day, I had a brainstorm. “You know what? Why don’t you exchange my slippers for the slippers you want. And my old bath robe is shot, so I’ll swap the one I got for you for one for me!”

Something about that idea gave me a warm feeling – and it wasn’t just imagining fleece-lined coziness. I thought it was kind of, well, sweet. The mister wanted slippers but gave them a pass and bought some for me instead. And I wanted a bath robe, but bought one for him. It was almost like that lovely old, O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi,” written in 1905. Do you know it?

The story is set in Victorian times, about a couple who love each other very much, but are poor as Church mice. Each tries to think of a gift that they can buy for the other for Christmas when they have so little money to spare. His most valued possession is a pocket watch inherited from his father, but he is in need of a chain to attach it to his pocket. Her most glorious feature is her long, golden hair, but she longs for some beautiful ivory combs she has seen in a shop window so she can arrange it into luxurious curls. She decides to sell her hair to a wigmaker so she will have enough money to buy her beloved a gold chain. He sells his watch to a pawnbroker so he can purchase the ivory combs for his darling’s golden tresses. The story is sad and sweet and deeply ironic, but is a lovely reminder of sacrifice, selfless giving and true love.

After Christmas, my beloved and I went to the swanky little shop. They were out of the women’s UGGs slippers in any size, so I chose instead a beautiful robe that feels as soft as a Golden Retriever (and is the same color, so when the dog sheds on me it won’t show.) The mister found a pair of slippers for him in the right size, the last pair in the swanky little shop.

OK, it wasn’t exactly like “The Gift of the Magi.”

It’s the thought that counts.