Happy Holidays! and we have a winner (part II of the Christmas crafts post)

well, first, what was the contest? Answer: me racing against the calendar to get the wreath finished before Christmas, of course. I have some kind of weird sprain or strain just underneath my ankle, nothing fractured, but walking or standing don't agree with me these days. Unfortunately the last stage of assembling the grand project required standing and walking around it to identify bald spots and places that could use a little tweaking. The temptation to find a box large enough to store away the wreath and the leftover wire and old cards was great. I resisted and pressed on, driven by the certain knowledge that if I packed it all up and tucked it away somewhere I would be unlikely to find it next winter, or even the one after that. No, its time has come, now is the hour, carpe diem, the day has dawned, and stuff like that.

Here it is:

About that foot injury, it requires no medication stronger than Advil, and I am seeing a wonderful physical therapist. If you're curious about how someone who has been known to take a bus for one stop rather than walk managed to injure a foot, it's this way: our yellow (regulated) taxis rarely provide as much leg room as an airplane seat in Coach class. Depending on how much room the driver has reserved for himself with an immovable barrier, you can find yourself balancing above a leg-and-foot space as little as 4 inches. No exaggeration, I once measured such a space against a 3x5 card that was in my purse. So if you're in a hurry and put one leg down and then try to slide across to get the rest of you into the cab before the light changes, you can put very strange pressure on the first leg to enter the cab. And if, like me, you have very long and narrow feet (like elves), getting them out of the cab one after the other similarly requires a series of unnatural and desperate balletic moves. There are still a few comfortable cabs on the road but they're an endangered species.

Anyway, the wreath and a few strings of lights on the terraces are about all the Winter Solstice decorating I can manage, and the lights are there because I never took them down from last year. Nevertheless, they're cheerful. As am I, now that the project is finished.

And to all a good night!

Put.the.glue.gun.down. Step.away.from.the.wire.cutters. The creative spirit at work - part I.

not my house, but definitely a dreary day in early December
There's something about cutting and pasting that I find hard to resist when it's an "inside" day. Oh, sure, I could while away the dreary hours with an improving book, or make and freeze any number of deadly side dishes, or catch up on phone calls, or even clean something, but the most appealing use of useless time, for me anyway, is to do something completely frivolous, completely useless, and yet generally harmless. I refer, of course, to the making of Christmas crafts.

This year, I've returned to a project that has been lying fallow since last year or the year before or - ok, let's face it, a lot longer ago than that. It has lain very fallow indeed for a very long time. If I make even a few moments' "progress" on it when the mood strikes of a rainy November night, well, I'm not going to say I'll feel that I've made life more worthwhile, but just that I haven't totally sat around like a lump while the Season of Crowds, Markdowns and Sales thunders ever closer.

In past years, I've provided directions on how to decorate with cut-up J.Crew or Anthropologie catalogs. Some of you may remember my justly famous Home-Made Paper Eucalyptus Trees. (takes bow) And the lesser known but still impressive Volcano of Sprinkles, Shreds and Sighs with Noises, Steam and Smoke is still discussed in awed voices in certain London streets. (looks for back-street exit. just in case.) Sadly, recent catalogs have not inspired festive thoughts. Recent issues of Vogue have struck me as a legible substitute for prune juice.

So I sat, gazing sullenly at my set of Six Decorative Scissors Suitable for Cutting Paper, grabbed from a clearance rack at my local Target because it was a great buy and also because one never knows when Life will require one to produce small pieces of paper with assorted decorative edges.

And then a project began to take (imaginary) shape. For as long as I can remember some of the cards we get each Holiday Season have been impossible to dispose of. I don't mean the ones with friends' babies in cute elf suits or their 6 children in plaid shirts or puppies in antlers - I love those too. Who wouldn't? But something about a moon shining on a deserted icy skating pond, or a Giacometti-like harp, or a fierce constellation, for example, speaks to me. Or a rabbit. So, I admit, we now have a few shoeboxes full of these cards, and I've always thought I should find a way to reuse them.

Um, just realized there are more than a few such boxes,
and the "tuck 'em away" thing has been going on
for more than 5 years. Oh, well.

above: not a covered dish but the beef stew 
I made the other night. Looks good, right?

So, anyway, our teeny but public-spirited village library out at Flintstone Manor was organizing its usual seasonal festivities - covered dish plus It's a Wonderful Life, covered dish plus Miracle on 34th Street, omg that was Natalie Wood sniffle sniffle, Late Book Return Amnesty Week, Late Book Return Amnesty Week Extension,  Late Movie Return Amnesty Week, Fund-Raiser with Lecture for Amnesty International late returns optional, Cookie Decorating, and - wait for it - Wreath-making Seminar with Refreshments. I didn't even need to go to the seminar, the flyers were so clear. This was Destiny. You affix stuff to a Wreath Base and add a bow. This was what the Decorative Scissors Suitable for Cutting Paper and the Hours of Short Gray Twilights were meant for. And of course my famous Seasonal Refreshments - the world's best bourbon balls. A brief moment while we contemplate what makes them so fabulous: I put rum and cognac in the cookies and we drink the bourbon.
When I got back to the city, I looked over my collection of shoeboxes/cards. Clearly a wreath made of whole cards was unworkable - but a wreath made of holly leaves cut from whole cards, or at least from the colorful spangly portions - well, if there's one thing this apartment has, it has doors and fences. The fences are on the terrace. I hang flags and decorations on them when so moved, and it has happened that I've hung smelly merchandise awaiting return out there too. Now in my spinning brain, several dozen imaginary card-based wreaths awaited assembly.

Why holly leaves? Because I can. That is, while I don't consider myself artistic, in 6th grade I learned to draw holly leaves, the travelling art teacher being of the belief that everyone should be able to draw a few simple and useful things: bunny at rest, bunny sitting up, back of bunny (like back of cat with change of ears & tail). Holly leaf, pair of holly leaves with berries. Stuff like that. We drew circles - using coins - to kick off the creative process. My mom, who could draw, felt that the desperate art teacher was stifling my artistic creativity. I will tell you, however, that my artistry with Views of The Bunny delights small children, and I'm glad to have this small skill. So - on to the holly leaf. On to maybe hundreds of holly leaves.

so anyway these are bunnies, not holly leaves.
um, in case you were, you know, wondering
Cutting the holly leaves from Christmas cards turned out to be a slow and painful process. The points and indentations were a challenge for the bargain scissors. My wrists and fingers hurt after making only 3 leaves. Solution: put the project away for another year.

And so another Christmas passed, and more cute cards were added to still another shoebox. It had become a dumb habit - one of, alas, many.

Still more time passed, and then I came across a shoebox stuffed with cards and a few pairs of funny-looking scissors. The light dawned. The leaves didn't have to be holly. They didn't need to look like any particular species. I mean, who would believe they were from a tree or a holly bush anyway? In fact, the final project, whatever it turned out to be, would look better if the leaves were all different random sizes. As they have turned out to be.

During a breather from cutting out leaves, my creative efforts in making a Wreath Base drew me back out to Flintstone Manor where there lurks a craft shop in a local mall, and - 'tis the season - they sell Wreath Bases! Effortless, as they say.

this is not a wreath that was covered at the library lecture.
I mean, who has household scraps that classy lying around?
One look at the wreath bases and I decided that rather than painstakingly glue each leaf to another leaf or to the base, I'd tape short lengths of wire to the backs of the leaves and connect the wires to the wreath base. After taping a few I decided to save time by using small file folder labels instead of tape. The creative process is slow but inexorable.

So I've been affixing wire to the backs of leaf cutouts, not constantly, my attention span tends to be wobbly and, as with grey t-shirts, one spangly multicolored leaf is much like any other, but the supply has built. Not to lose momentum,  I have been attaching them, at random, to the Wreath Base while debating whether further embellishment is called for.

volcano ingredients
noise-makers & food color optional
just so you know,
this not a neat & tidy project
Early training in an organization unlike the Girl Scouts has left me with a distressing taste for making things that go BANG, or at least PUFF, or pfft, and I'm considering adding interest to the project by having it emit puffs of glitter and alphabet noodles when someone walks by, but the building staff has asked for a little restraint. The building staff are generally fans of my creative efforts, by the way, and come upstairs on their breaks to take pictures of the seasonal works on display in the hallway. I prefer to think they take the pics because they find my creativity astounding. Himself wonders if they are CIA sub-contractors required to report strange sightings and that's why they can't make it upstairs with food deliveries before the food cools.

Question: is it even possible to make a plan to do/be/act "random"? Consider the implications of your answer as regards the attachment of leaves to a Wreath Base.

Part II of the Christmas Crafts post will include at least one picture of the completed wreath. Spoiler alert: there will only be one wreath. Enough already.

Good grief, Charlie Brown!

This was the only interesting tee at J.Crew yesterday.
Not in a good way.

Almost making ungrammatical non-idiomatic French look good?

The antidote - some shots of the cute windows at Anthropologie.
I've read that the window displays are crafted by the interns.
I'm going through a bird phase - yes, I know, a little late.
I'm hoping to see a phoenix rising in early spring.

- no shots from JC's windows- I don't consider pops of orange very Christmassy. Better luck next year.

The thundering herd - a well-loved, loved, loved jacket and its back–up

Herd? of buffalo, natch!

This jacket became such a favorite that at the tail end of the season I bought a second one in case of a buffalo emergency. Fortunately there's no buffalo shortage this year, and I'm equipped for whatever the winter may bring. And next winter, and the one after that.
my jacket (twin is still in closet)
demonstration of absence of buffalo shortage
When I looked back to find a catalog shot of my jacket(s), I had a few twinges of nostalgia for the early efforts of the Copywriter From Space and her beloved colleague the Blindfolded Stylist. And of course for the once-omnipresent word "effortless".

As the owner of this jacket (twice), I can assure you that the thick wool outer layer and nylon plush (not Sherpa) lining do not lend themselves to a thin belt, as shown in one of the catalog pics, replicated below.

Nor is the jacket's adorable collar a "standing" collar. Not even close. It was, and continues to be, just like the collar on a J.Crew boy shirt, only of course thicker.

The sizing was way off, too, and the first time I tried one, it was grossly boxy. A few weeks later, the light dawned, and I stopped in the store again and tried on a succession of smaller ones until I fell in love. Yeah, I'm easy.
not boxy in correct size:
note slight indentation at waist
I still love this jacket, still wear it a lot, have never even tried to subdue it with a skinny belt - and I'm putting it on in a few minutes to take it out shopping.

jacket wrestling to break free of skinny belt.
Go, jacket!
I was surprised to be reminded that my jacket appeared in 2010. I hope that means that love of buffalo checks will be around for a lot longer. And guess what. It hasn't pilled yet!

Do you have a beloved buffalo check item or two? or are you still playing the field?

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Here follows a re-post - we arrived back from Seattle Monday night, the groceries and turkey arrived on Tuesday, and it's been just a little hectic. Enjoy -- I'm especially thinking of my sister because she can't be with us this year. If the weather allows, I'll bring her a drumstick over the weekend.

With the approach of Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn to my little sister, because one thing for which I'm always thankful is my sister's approach to life. She just keeps on. She showed her early promise the year my parents agreed to have Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt's (Pop's older sister, to be precise). To their dying day they quarreled about who had consented to go, each blaming the other, but we went. Aunt Clarabelle was the worst cook in the family and everyone knew it.

For a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, the whole trip meant agony - no comfy corduroy pants that could be thrown in the wash after a busy morning peeling things, no goofy table decorations, no wonderful smells from the kitchen, no lazing around on the floor watching the parade. None of Mom's ineffable gravy. No secret recipe yummy stuffing. No, no, no. The morning was spent in hair agony, Mom having decided that her sister-in-law should see us at our cutest, girliest worst. This meant long hair cylinders, that is, sausage curls, and big bows. My scalp has never forgiven her. While she was working on Little Clotilde, I brushed out my cylinders, not realizing that while the brushing might get rid of the sausages, it wouldn't make my hair go back to its normal stick-straight flatness. The sausages were replaced by something that stood up straight and - "You look like shrubbery," said Little Clotilde. I may have been hoping that if I looked weird enough Mom would leave me home.
random eBay offering of old
pic of patient little girl with sausage curls
Plaid dresses, Mary Janes, tights, ribbons all duly applied, a few cruel rubber bands and a lot of Brilliantine on me, we trudged out to the car. Pop was optimistically checking for flat tires, loose rim, broken tail lights. "Any cop who has to work today will be in a lousy mood," he explained. "I'd rather stay home than get into it with some $&@!?%## over nothing."

Alas, the car was fine. "We who are about to die salute you," Pop declaimed as he opened the doors for his ladies. And off we went to the land of pink silk lampshades and plastic slipcovers.

Pop wrinkled his nose as we stepped indoors, nothing smelled bad, but there weren't any enticing aromas either. I thought I detected Lemon Pledge. It's a bad sign when a meal is being cooked and the family dog chooses to hang out in front of the television.

The grown-ups were issued teeny cocktails, and Little Clotilde and I were offered a choice of ginger ale or prune juice. Aunt Clarabelle was a devoted reader of magazines, and she shared the information that the shortcut turkey tips, the stuffing recipe, and the creatively approached side dishes were all new to the repertoire this year. Pop looked around for a larger glass, humming. "Are you humming?"

"Oh, sorry, a tune from some opera just popped into my head and now I can't get rid of it, you know how it is..." Pop had a wicked grin that we always looked forward to, here it was and Little Clotilde and I were almost dancing with anticipation.

"Don't fidget, girls, what opera?"
"Ah, Donizetti!  - ah - the magnificent Lucrezia --"

At that moment Mom grabbed us by the elbows, one a side, and bustled us to the pink-and-gold powder room to wash our hands. She used the privacy to remind us again that we were guests, we would mind our manners, we would not poke one another, we would try to eat what was put in front of us without making awful noises, and each of us would find something nice to say or allowances would be withheld.

Aunt Clarabelle had been putting finishing touches on her platters and apparently Uncle Er wasn't an opera-lover, for no one seemed to have taken offense at Pop's humming, and we were waved over to the table. Silver was gleaming, dishes were shining, laden with - hard to tell. I recognized celery and olives and a bowl of throbbing homemade cranberry relish.

At the sideboard Uncle Er was trying to subdue a burnt pelican, which despite being dead, was fighting back.
Meaningful glare from Mom - my turn to say something nice. "What a pretty table!"

And now for Little Clotilde: Big smile, cute little arms held out wide, "OHBOYOHBOY! Everything I don't like!"

This is a good place to stop.

Oh, right, Uncle Er. He disliked the name his parents had given him and chose one he liked better as soon as he could. Pop considered this ridiculous and refused to indulge Er by calling him by his new name, and Er refused to answer to the old one. To keep the peace, Pop just called him Er, and we children respectfully called him Uncle Er.

Just curious -- who holds the title of
Worst Cook in your house?

recent acquisitions, recent returns

Rampant materialism, did I hear someone mumble? You may have a point, Ms Mumbles, but I prefer to think of posts like this as Public Service Announcements.

the Everlane sleeveless silk shirt in the Clay color:
great color, great fabric, great fit, love the collar, buttons, etc, etc. All things considered, the price is not terrible. And astoundingly, it fits just like in the picture.

Well, I find myself saying that about Everlane merch quite often. For example, the Everlane Swing Trench:

I consider this a jacket, not a coat. That said, I'm loving it. The sleeves are a touch narrow, I've noticed this on Everlane's long-sleeved silk blouses as well, but I can get in and out of it with no trouble, so no complaint. Sturdy fabric, and when on, it hangs nicely. I was afraid it would look like an old-fashioned maternity top, you know, those loose smocks that preceded tight t-shirts as appropriate pregnancy wear? But no, it's just a jacket, not quite as straight as a pea jacket. Loving the collar and the shoulder detail. All things considered, the price is -- not terrible. I'm keeping it. Note that it's a cool-fall-day jacket, not a windy-winter-day jacket. Just so you know.

Madewell. The denim work shirt. So far I've only gotten my hands on one of the shirts I wanted to try, the one in the "slate roof" color, which is grey. It's not really denim, either, a bit lighter and more flexible, which is a plus for a shirt. Decent detailing, the 30% off promo applied. The fit is kind of floppy, like I wouldn't be comfortable in a smaller size, but it's a cute throw-on. The side slits are too high, tank required. When the white one arrives, however, it's going back. 

I'm not a screaming fan of Madewell,  I find that the dresses and skirts are generally unfriendly, and I've had a few off-putting experiences in the Fifth Avenue store. Like the time I brought in a pair of shoes to return (web order), and was told that I couldn't return them in store because Madewell doesn't carry shoes. "Um, what are those things over there?"

    "That's a display. We don't sell them."

Well, glad we straightened that out. 

Oh, you want to know how this ended? Well, I went down the street for a sulky stroll through Anthropologie, came back to Madewell, returned the shoes with a different staffer, no problem.

Anyway, periodically I do find shoes I like at Madewell and I grab them, often in 2 or even 3 colors. This is not my year to buy Madewell shoes. But I can wait.

J.Crew. I'm hanging on to the Black Paisley Shirt, having decided that it will work very well with some pencil skirts that are dying to get more friendly with it, as well as with the Collection black leather pencil skirt from last winter or the winter before. I'd love to find tailored black silk pants to wear with it, full-length pants with a mid-rise or even high rise are essential, because the silk on the blouse is so rich that
skimpy skinny capri or ankle pants would just look like I bought the blouse and then ran out of money. Well, I just about did, but whose business is that?

Update: I saw several different versions of the Noir Floral Shirt in London a few weeks ago, and decided that J.Crew's is the nicest print. When it resurfaces in my size, I will have it. This print appeared in pants and a coat too, the coat struck me as something one would wear once, and the pants - well, as I said, I like it on the blouse, but on the pants the print just looks creepy.

Update: I pounced! Love it with the black leather skirt. Found black silk pants at the Saks sale (online, the live sale in the store is not for me). V. tailored, from GO by GoSilk, great fabric (thick and matte 100% silk). I was amazed that there were any left to go on sale, but then I realized that there's so much junky nightgown-variety silk around, many people may have forgotten what silk can really look like.

I love me a good newsboy cap, but as I've already admitted, I seem to have gained weight around the circumference of my head. Dear Lord, how many more places can there be left where You can inflict additional weight upon me? Anyway, as to the newsboy cap, I thought I'd found a contender when I spied this one in the Men's section, Harris tweed with label no less:and I was delighted to see that I could get it in Large/Extra Large. Alas, it wasn't Fathead Week, the hat was too tight. Not keeping. Except that, given J.Crew's inconsistent sizing, I'll try on other L/XLs if I pass a store with Men's merch. The fabric is much prettier IRL than in the website picture.

J.Crew again, the funnel-neck sweatshirt. I'm being daring here, because I don't like poly blends, but I see this as easy-on easy-off for air travel. Good price on the promo, I got it in black. Probably not keeping - the funnel hits just at the bottom of my chin when turned up - the shirt not the chin - and the zipper teeth at that point could be a problem. 

Update: yes, it went back.

Shoes. I have two pairs of silver or silver-ish oxfords coming from 6pm.com. At least one will go back. Update: one went back, fit issues, sad but ok. The other - well, I took another look this morning while waiting for my head to clear, and oh, dear, they are gold. They will leave town by tonight.

Winter vests. I've made the delightful discovery that a kids' size 14 or 16 will sometimes fit me. On top. In my closet awaiting winter are a Sherpa-lined quilted vest from last winter, and a creamy white Sherpa-on-the-outside vest with gray quilting on the inside from this year. Recommend trying, they fit me and I wear a size 10 J.Crew perfect shirt. I also have a couple of size 14 tees waiting for next summer. Meanwhile, I'm pondering: as much as I love the Sherpa-on-the-outside baby, where would I wear it? It wouldn't be creamy white for long in the city, and it's a little too too cute (read: inauthentic) for the beach in winter. It's reminding me of Ralph Lauren's mistaken but mercifully brief flirtation with velveteen skiwear...
Update: I replaced the new Sherpa vest with the Sherpa popover, also a Crewcuts marvel. Now this is warm and cozy. I will try not to bump into things when I wear it.

J.Crew Kelsey dress. I thought this dress would benefit from having the poofy shoulders brought down to reality, and I was right. The money I saved on the promo took care of the tailor, who is expensive, but Does What He Is Told To Do. The shoulder puff is gone. Otherwise, the dress is smooth wool, not fuzzy or scratchy, nicely made, not much room if one wants to be really fashion-forward and let the hem down, but that's not really a factor this season. If the dress is still around next winter, remind me to check how a false hem would work.
Accessorizing with goosebumps - a trend that has run its course. Would this be a good place to say that while I resent spending serious money on tights F/K/A pantyhose, I have taken a real dislike to the look of bare legs with wool or wool-like skirts and dresses? And coupled with the reappearance of micro-mini skirts, it's an unfortunate confluence of trends that I wish would go away. So I'll buy the tights, big deal. I always liked the look of tights that are the same color as the skirt - like, say, gray or wine; not so much with a dress. With the Kelsey dress, for example, adding green tights would create the impression that a very large stalk of broccoli had stopped by. Black works much better.

J.Crew Donegal tweed stovepipe pants. Suitable for wear in the Great Frozen North. This fabric is gorgeous, gorgeous, it's a true Donegal weave with flecks of this color and that color, and I just fell inn love with the pants. Sadly, the fabric is also extremely thick and heavy. Since the tweed is a blend and the lining is poly, the pants are hot and don't breathe. Otherwise, nicely tailored, but the heat factor made them a no for me. A larger size didn't work either. The off-cuts from the bolts of pants material have been used to make a top and a skirt in conjunction with other fabric. I wasn't impressed. I would have loved an entire skirt, perhaps what is sometimes called a riding skirt, out of that tweed. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I'm still on the lookout for:
Black satin oxfords with 1 ½ inch or 2 inch heel, almond or pointy toe.
Heavy real flannel pj's in silly retro print to wear for sleeping
comfortable but effective bra

and of course

world peace.