Monday, March 26, 2007

jewelry coincidence

Wow! random coincidence! I wore a v. basic outfit today, black v-neck sweater with grey pants, and decided I needed an accessory, to help with the "décolletage". I first went for a necklace that's a beetle encased in acrylic, on a red cord. The cord doesn't tie well, so I changed to another red necklace that my husband, Josiah, gave me - this flower one.

While at work I got up to go "powder my nose" and another woman from my department stopped me in the hall and said, "Did you get that necklace in San Francisco, or Europe somewhere?" I said Josiah got it for me, but that I thought he got it in San Fran (at the SF Moma). Well, it turns out that this woman is friends with the artist, Amelie Blaise. I've always liked this necklace, but her whole collection is fabulous! How beautiful!

I'm glad I decided to wear this one today.

Friday, March 23, 2007

style icons

In High School people thought I looked like Martha Quinn. I was mistaken for her on the streets of New York, and was even asked for an autograph. When I searched for current pictures of her, our look still appears to be similar (based on the head shot).

As far as I can tell, part of determining my own style is figuring out whose style I admire. This is tough, because most of the images I see in magazines or on the web are of the glitterati. Harsh because most of them are young, rich, and famous. I am none of the above. And, N.B., I Do Not subscribe to the theory that "50 is the new 30" [this from the people that brought us, "Don't trust anyone over 30!" What is this, New Math??]. What nonsense! I want to "act and look my age" which was probably what my dad was getting at (see earlier post).

Anyway, historically, who have my style role models been? And who are they now? I can answer the first question easily. I looked like Martha Quinn, but I dressed like Stevie Nicks. I hung out with all the Dead Heads in High School, even though I hated the Dead. I was more into Led Zeppelin and New Order, but that's another story. I loved all Stevie's ultra-feminine clothes, the scarves, the eye make-up, and the witchy imagery. I must also tip my hat to the punks of the 80's. I just loved their style. I miss seeing punks around, and whenever I do I get a little teary-eyed. They seem so romantic and idealistic. And I love the hair color choices.

In College I admired Edie Sedgwick's look. I know how unhealthy that is.... I just wanted to be skinny back then. Also, I had been reading lots of William S. Burroughs, and was into the Heroin Aesthetic.

After college the grunge debacle happened. I was working temp office jobs and so had to look reasonably professional. On the wages I earned that was a ludicrous idea, but I wore dresses I bought at Buffalo Exchange and must have had some footwear, I just can't remember what look I had back then for my feet.

As far as style icons, I really didn't have any, but I admired Winona Ryder - those Eyes! Still, after all her troubles (which really make her more charming than ever) I think she's beautiful and fabulous.

And then, of course, there's Bjork - if only I could wear fuzzy sweaters like her!

So those are the famous people who I think are beautiful, and whose styles I admire. I think the common characteristic that they share, besides their fame, is their eyes, which they accentuate in their various ways.

What kinds of clothing do I want to be wearing? I can't tell that from any of the styles of these women. They don't dress the same way as I do because we don't do the same things. So, I have to forge my own path.

Monday, March 19, 2007

my current style

The personal style authors* talk about figuring out what physical attributes I want to accentuate and what colors I look good in, and take it from there. They suggest going through the closet and make sure everything fits. Do this at least once a year, and donate anything you haven't worn in 2 years or more. I don't like getting rid of clothes, a trait I've inherited from my mom, but it's a good practice. And I didn't want to do it until I got down to a size, post-delivery, that I felt comfortable about.

I started going through this style process, in earnest, after I got down to my original pre-pregnancy weight. It IS possible! Truly. Before I got there it seemed impossible. And I will give a plug right now for the book that helped me get there: "Healthy Woman" by Rodale Press.** So great! I read it and started going through and doing their suggestions right away. Within 5 months I had lost 10 - 15 lbs, and, more importantly, at least 2 inches around my hips, 3 around my waist, and toned my upper arms and jowls. That kind of change had a huge impact on my outlook, on my self perception. That's how I am more able to talk about my "assets" with apparent ease. I wasn't there a year ago. Who knows if I even would have been blogging. My image and understanding of myself is so different now than it was a year ago!

An additional thing I've learned through this process is that there's no time like the present. In order to be the person you want to be, you have to start somewhere and BE that person. That's true of my physical state of being, my mental health [be present and live in the moment, without the weight of the past or worries of the future seeping in], and my spiritual life. Be the person you want to be now.

I went through the clothes. I knew I owned and loved lots of black, but I went ahead and followed the authors' concept of putting each outfit on and figured out how many "looks" I could get out of each combination that could go together. They call these "capsules". In each capsule you have, let's say, slacks, a skirt, a couple of tops that could match, or jacket, and then accessories: shoes, scarves, jewelry that go along or complement.

I organized about 4 robust capsules in black, brown, green and purple. I had my "colors done" back in high school - sheesh I'm so 80's!!! And I was a "winter" - "with gold highlights". Anyone who has "had their colors done" has as vague an idea of what that means as I do. But basically, I look better in stronger, darker colors than I do in neutrals or pastels, with my skin tone. But then my hair and eye color tend towards the golden. So I need to take that into account when figuring out what looks good on me.

The authors also get into how to withstand fads. If you've taken the time to figure out what hemline works for you, don't cave, just because a fashion trend says that micro-minis are in. They suggest finding a tailor and riding out the fad looking good in what works for you. And even show a graph of the life-cycle of a fashion trend. When to buy as the trend is still going on, and might be on sale, but also how to determine when it will bottom out so you're not stuck w/last season's fashions looking silly.

My "look":
  • I like solids. I wear a lot of solids. And mostly dark solids, up by my face.
  • I've made the switch from regular hose to fishnets - now they come in neutral, skin-tone colors! Ingenious!
  • When it comes to patterns, I adore plaids! Skirts or slacks. Maybe it's the British heritage? Or the tweedy academic upbringing?
  • Texture. I like texture. Anything that looks woolly - but not mohair since I'm allergic.
  • Big cowl necks are a fave too. Sweaters in general are good.
  • No button shirts - they always gap in the middle. Embarrassing.
  • No more mini-skirts. No denim skirts either, just don't like them.
  • No crew neck shirts.
  • A couple of years ago, after a huge sock purge, I made the vow that the only socks I will buy are argyle. So, now I have a bunch of wacky color combos of argyle socks and wear them with whatever color family I choose. It's fun.
I guess this is my homage to punks - fishnets, argyle and tartan - God Save the Queen!

* Looking Good: A Comprehensive Guide to Wardrobe Planning, Color & Personal Style Development (Paperback) by Nancy Nix-Rice (Author), Pati Palmer (Author) "Looking wonderful is less about fashion-designers dictating what's "in" and what's "out"-than about function-what works best for YOU..."

** I've had trouble actually finding the book that I originally bought because it was a supplement to a Prevention magazine edition (hence no ISBN). I've linked to the DVD, above, but I'm more of a 20th Century gal myself, and prefer the book. You can get a sense of the program by using this link to a Rodale article. I bought the "book" at the local grocery store, and recently saw it at Target. So, it's out there. The cover has a pink title with a svelte young woman in white workout shorts and a green jog bra.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"You Look Like a 35-year old!"

What does that mean? My dad always used to say that to me, or my sister, Angharad (Angie) whenever he thought we were dressed inappropriately. If we were wearing something that made us look older than our chronological age. Like too much makeup. And in the era of Big Eyeshadow, my "eye-con" was Donna Mills, from her Knot's Landing days. So maybe he was right!

But, now that I've turned 35, what does it mean to "look my age"? I had a bit of a crisis about this a while back. Having gone through the size and shape transformation of being pregnant, having kids, trying to slim down again, and working. How do you dress for all that? Where were the style guides? Where do I turn for help? This was a big huge problem for me.

When I was 30 and slim, a working woman, on the go, living in a big metropolitan area, I had an idea of myself and my style. There was a part of me that held back, but for the most part, I dressed the way I wanted to - lots of black clothes, lots of polyester from thrift stores, sensible shoes since my feet hurt, eye make-up every day, a shoulder-length or shorter cut for my straight brown hair.

While pregnant, both times, I borrowed some clothes, and bought most of my maternity wear at Target. I went through a period where I didn't really lose the fat I wanted to, and wore clothes that were really too big for me. And I struggled to determine my own style. But how? Where could I go? Was there a magazine out there for me? A column? A Blog? I didn't feel like anyone was speaking to me.

I suggested that my friend, Lakshmi, could start writing a style column. She had moved to an even more fashion-conscious metropolis than Philadelphia (if you can imagine that!). She was facing some of the same issues about defining one's style, and after many talks I think we helped each other, but also realized how at sea we both were. Another member of a discussion board we were both on was going through a similar thing, and so I put my research skills to work. I found a book: Looking Good: A Comprehensive Guide to WardrobePlanning, Color & Personal Style Development (Paperback)

I bought the book. Its drawings are a little bit 80's focused, but then, so am I. It talks about style in ways that I can understand. I'm middle class, and don't want to spend gobs and gobs of money on clothes all the time. The book has a very good way of explaining how to allocate money for your wardrobe. The author suggests plotting out how you spend your time. Do you work outside the home, care for children, cook, clean, volunteer, exercise, etc.? You need different clothes for those different activities. So, base your expenditures on how much time you spend doing each thing. Brilliant! I did this exercise and realized that I had definitely not spent enough money on my professional outfits.

The author then suggests getting a true picture of what your body shape is (with a trusted person) by drawing an outline of your body to step away from and evaluate: where are your "trouble spots" and where are your assets? I always thought I had an overly-short waist. Turns out that's fine. There are areas I can accentuate, and so I should dress to accentuate those areas. Are solids better for me? Patterns? Short hemlines or long? V-neck, collars, turtlenecks, what necklines work for me? Angie and I worked through it all and tried to figure it out.

All good stuff to think about. I tried to think about my "style" and that's the part I'm still struggling with but I've made a few fundamental decisions:
  1. I want to have my own style, an evolution of my black and polyester days - the funky side of professional (and in my career that works).
  2. I want to accentuate the positive while I have it, so that means v-necks, tops that show my curves without flaunting, long hemlines for my long legs - knee-length at the shortest - and, based on the recommendation of another friend, heels. I wear walking shoes on my walk to work, and then change into heels at the office.
  3. I want to maintain my figure - not go crazy with it, but keep it at the state it's in, or better.
  4. Continue with the makeup style I've evolved, and start upgrading the brands I use. At my age I can move away from the 99 cents bin at the drugstore.
  5. Keep my hair longish, no bangs, but longer than chin-length. Again, accentuate the positive!
  6. Finding the kinds of clothes I envision in my mind's eye is the problem. I continue to search.... So far for professional clothes I go to Ann Taylor Loft - it seems to combine what I like best - black and polyester with a teensy bit of funkiness appropriate for work.
more later...

Friday, March 9, 2007

St John's Day ideas

Doing this research about St John's Day - or Midsummer - has filled me with all sorts of ideas. I knew that his day was in the summer, but had never really fully thought about the impact it would have, religiously, spiritually, celebration-ally (is that even a word?). I mean, for one thing, usually saints' days are celebrated on the day of their martyrdom, not their birth into this world (unlike Christmas Day and St. John's Day). And for the days to be celebrated so similarly, has gotten me to thinking of - what else - FOOD! Menu planning for Christmas is always a big deal in our household. A concrete way to focus the celebration. We're enthusiastic about recognizing holidays [Holy Days] and bringing the sacred, noticing the passing of the year, into every day life.

There was a whole sermon on this topic by the Rev. Judith Taw Beck that I loved. About how lots of Celtic Christian Spirituality was centered around household devotionals and how housework could be transformed into a type of meditation/devotion whereby through physical repetition, concentration and prayer, women could connect to the Divine. [I may be slaughtering the ideas she put forth, but that was what I came away with.] That prayer could happen anywhere and anytime, and that it was possible to make even the most mundane actions, like washing dishes, sublime, by finding a way to thank God for the moment and acknowledge God's greatness by acknowledging our frailty and smallness.

Anyway, back to food. Now I'm trying to think of ways to bring St. John's Day "up to the level" of Christmas in my Holy Day planning. So far, I've thought of the "Quail in Rose Petal Sauce" from the movie/novel "Like Water for Chocolate" as the centerpiece. Roses being a central theme in Mid-Summer since this is when they bloom, especially in northern climes. Fire would need to be present. I live in a city and we can't have bonfires, but maybe Tiki torches would do. Salads, cool drinks [or maybe Flaming Drinks??], fresh fruit, oooh - a peach and tomato salad.... cucumber salads, water melon. Mmmmm. I have a plan. This is good. Any menu recommendations are welcome!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

John the Baptist

This is the kind of image of John the Baptist I like much better. It's done in a Mexican "retablo" style. It's much less fussy than the last image I posted, and the imagery is all there. You can see the banks of the River Jordan, John's animal skin clothing, his shaggy beard. All that's missing are the locusts and a honeycomb.

My cousin, Anthony, told me that the style of cross he holds, a long, thin reed-like cross, shows that John was martyred. He was beheaded for Herodias (a.k.a. Salome) - that's another story for another time[Mark 6:14 - 29].

John is pointing away from himself and the water, towards heaven. He says, "I baptize with Water, but the one who comes after me will baptize with the Spirit" [Matthew 3:11] which comes down from heaven, in the form of a bird, when John baptizes Jesus [Matthew 3:16].

I love that John led a simple life. That he relied on the land. I like that he comforted people by washing away their sins. I like that his was "a cry heard in the wilderness." I have felt, at various times in my life, that I needed to hear that cry, or that I needed to be led out of the wilderness. And whenever that feeling comes up, I try to find an image of John the Baptist to make me feel better.

He is considered the "precursor" to Jesus. He is a bridge in many ways: between the Old and New Testaments - the old and new prophets, for some, between the disciples and us, between Jesus' family and the rest of the world. The story goes that he was born 6 months before Jesus. [Luke 1 26 - 38 *] John's feast day is on June 24th, and apparently it was celebrated in the same way as Christmas day is in the Church.
The whole liturgy of the day, repeatedly enriched by the additions of several popes, was in suggestiveness and beauty on a part with the liturgy of Christmas. So sacred was St. John's day deemed that two rival armies, meeting face to face on 23 June, by common accord put off the battle until the morrow of the feast (Battle of Fontenay, 841). "Joy, which is the characteristic of the day, radiated from the sacred precincts. The lovely summer nights, at St. John's tide, gave free scope to popular display of lively faith among various nationalities. Scared [sic] had the last rays of the setting sun died away when, all the world over, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain-top, and in an instant, every town, and village, and hamlet was lighted up" (Guéranger). The custom of the "St. John's fires", whatever its origin, has, in certain regions, endured unto this day. Citation
Now, as I posted about before, one of the things that fascinates me about the Church and the Liturgical Calendar, is its use of the agrarian calendar, how it incorporated local people or deities into Saints, and scheduled saints' days for important days in the Solar calendar (like Christmas, Candlemas, Easter, Plain Time, Michaelmas,All Souls Day/Halloween). "St John's fires" are likely an adoption of the fires associated with Mid-Summer celebrations which involved fires burning all night, dancing and feasting. Citation

The similarity between the Winter and Summer Solstice dates and Jesus' and John's birthdays is not a coincidence. There are no real markers in the Bible to tell us when either would have been born, only that John was 6 months before Jesus (if you take the angels' word for it in the Annunciation * story).
John says, "As I decrease, he will increase." like the Sun, whose light decreases every day from Summer Solstice (June 21 or so) to Winter Solstice (December 21st or so). From Jesus' birthday, Light increases. Nice. I will probably talk even more about this in coming posts, but this is one of the things that fascinates me about religion and spirituality. It's like water which will always find its own level, and seep into our lives. The old religions didn't disappear, they just morphed. The cycle of Nature is still important, and visible.

I use the Church calendar to help remember the natural cycle of life, which makes my spirituality (or my religion, whichever you prefer) more relevant for me.

Monday, March 5, 2007

John the Baptist cleans up...

I like William Bouguereau just as much as the next person. I love his Nymphes et Satyr painting, I have a copy at home. But this image is just too clean, too perfect. For my second favorite saint, John the Baptist, anyway. He should look disheveled and hungry. I guess he does when he's all grown up.

Look at how Mary is almost making the sign of benediction over John's head. And Jesus is playing with John. It makes for an image of a happy family, right?

The setting is sumptuous, beautiful tile work and a rich throne. I know the image is supposed to be allegorical, but it just seems off. Maybe I should just think of it as the calm before the storm....

Friday, March 2, 2007

Jesus knocking at the door... who will let him in? This image reminded me first of the story of Hermes and Zeus traveling around together, looking for shelter from mortals. In one story they are given shelter by an old couple Baucis and Philemon * (see below) who live in a humble dwelling. After their stay, Hermes and Zeus reward them by making them rich. Well, we know how Jesus felt about rich people.

But I think some of the old Greek myth is coming through here in this image. And that's how I feel about a lot of the church's imagery and stories. That old local stories crept in (or were borrowed/taken) to the early Church to make the new religion more understandable, or maybe more comfortable. There was plenty about the new religion that was UNcomfortable. Lots of well-established ideas were discredited by Jesus and his followers. So having conversion stories that incorporated something known and understandable was probably a big help.

In the image, the outside of the house is not welcoming - there are big thorn bushes. Is there a light on? Or is Jesus emanating his own light? What kind of reception will Jesus find? What kind of reward is waiting for the people who live there, if any?
* A thousand homes they came to seeking rest; a thousand homes were barred against them; yet one welcomed them, tiny indeed, and thatched with reeds and straw; but in that cottage Baucis, old and good, and old Philemon (he as hold as she) had joined their lives in youth, grown old together, and eased their poverty by bearing it contentedly and thinking it no shame. It was vain to seek master and servant there; they two were all the household, to obey and to command. So when the heavenly ones reached their small home and, stooping, entered in at the low door... - Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.618