These Boots Are Made For Walkin’

The day I left for Europe my hairdresser told me I was wearing the wrong shoes. “What?” I asked, looking down at the serviceable Merrill hiking boots which had accompanied  me on many a sojourn. “Nope,” she repeated in a definite tone. “You can’t wear those shoes in Paris.”  You don’t know my hair dresser, so I’ll tell you that when she says a thing she means it. As I was going straight to the airport from the salon, I could not rectify the situation until I got to Amsterdam.

On Monday while my husband worked I tried to turn myself into someone who could blend in with the Parisians. For the fashion mavens among you, I went from wearing these items:

IMG_2828 To these:

Check out the boots: they have memory foam in them!

Check out the boots: they have memory foam in them!

And the nifty black rain coat!

And the nifty black rain coat!

After our usual good time (mostly mine, while my husband worked) we departed Amsterdam for Paris by train on Wednesday afternoon. Neither of us had ever been to Paris, but we were certain that one way or another we would enjoy ourselves. After a confusing time at Gare du Nord we boarded the metro to the apartment we had rented.

We got into our charming apartment without a hitch, but we were tired, so we spent the evening in, and dined on items from a market down the street.

The apartment building.

The apartment building.


The stairs leading to our apartment.

The next day I was ready to walk while looking smart and sophisticated. We soon learned that we were lucky enough to have blundered in on yet ANOTHER  national holiday : May 1st in France! The streets were thronged with tourists walking in the rain, looking to see what would be open that day. We set out  from the eighth arrondissement to see for ourselves.

Jardin de Tuileries? Yes. DSC_0475

Cafe in the Jardin de  Tuileries ? Thankfully, yes.

The Louvre ? No.DSC_1231

Notre Dame?  Yes, but who would even try to wait in that line? We satisfied ourselves by taking photos of the outside.DSC_1240

Bathroom outside of Notre Dame?  Thankfully, yes, although it smelled like a zoo.

Deportation Memorial?  No.DSC_0503

When we left the Ile  de la  Cite we turned toward the Eiffel Tower, the only definite destination of the day. Having been unable to purchase advance tickets on the internet we had opted for a behind the scenes group tour of the Tower. As we walked we talked about what other things we might see on the way and what photos we would like to take if we arrived early. And we did expect to arrive early, for we still had one and a half hours until our tour.

Somewhere around that time I started to suspect I had worn the wrong socks, for the soles of my new boots seemed to have become so thin that  I could feel every slap of my feet on the pavement. On and on we walked. At one point I realized I had my airplane socks in my purse. I sat down on a ledge and put those babies right on. Ahhh, for a few minutes the cobblestones didn’t feel so close to my skin.DSC_1236

And we walked and we walked. With my sore feet and bulging purse I was going as fast as I could. Even the fact that I looked smart and sophisticated was of little comfort. The Eiffel Tower was just so far away!  We kept thinking it would be just around the corner, but when we turned, no. Not yet. Eventually my husband started to worry that we couldn’t even make it in time. I did not mention that I was past caring whether I ever saw the Eiffel Tower or any other monument ever again.

The wea

You trickster, you!

We rushed onto the Eiffel Tower grounds with two minutes to go until the tour. What you need to know abut the tour is that we missed two hours of lines, and that when we rode the elevator up, sheets of rain were buffeting the Tower so that it was useless to try to go on the observation deck. We exited as soon as we could.

So much for all those artsy Eiffel Tower pictures we were going to take!

So much for all those artsy Eiffel Tower pictures we were going to take!

We trudged the streets again   in the rain to a sidewalk cafe which  served overpriced beer. I didn’t care; I was going to get to sit down!!!!  And oh, when I did……has anyone out there ever found the act of sitting down to resemble a sexual experience? I don’t want to embarrass my children any more than I already have, but that 14 euro beer was worth every last penny!

Ahem. Afterwards.

Ahem. Afterwards.

Once we were seated with our beers I had an announcement to make to my husband: under no circumstances would I walk back to our apartment. I didn’t know where we were or how we got there, but he was going to find me the metro to get back. Or else. Since he had had the big idea to walk all day, and his google map seemed  to have underestimated the distances, he deemed it politic to agree  immediately.  I did concede  to walk one more half mile  in the rain to where we had found a brew pub open.

The oldest peeps at the brew pub. Bonjour!

The oldest peeps at the brew pub. Bonjour!

We were the oldest people there, but again, aside from being as wet as a drowned rat at least I looked smart and sophisticated for my age! In time we left, on the lookout for the metro station. We walked and walked and somehow missed the first station. But lo, in the darkness was another one! There was yet hope for the two foreign waifs!DSC_1269

Back at the apartment, I allowed myself to look at my fitbit to see how many steps I’d walked that day. Are you ready for it???? Drum roll, please???????

29,000.      That is correct, my friends.

29,000 steps  and 12.45 miles for the smart, sophisticated girl in the new boots! I was tired, aching, wet and cranky. But oof, what if I’d had the same experiences that day  while  wearing those old hiking shoes?? Qui serait  terrible, no?

Shall We Glide?

Now that I have thoroughly documented the universe’s unfairness toward me in the mammary department, it is time to move on to a story with a more satisfying end. It is a classic story, actually, and one that is ever evolving. From time immemorial, women have sought to drape their bodies with shimmering fabrics in which to glide by the populace as a  vision of grace and beauty. No doubt  the first garments were coarse and mean, but as our skills with weaving and sewing increased, so did the varieties of women’s clothing throughout the world.

And women noticed. At the well, at tribal gatherings, at the place of worship, I am sure every woman knew what every other woman was wearing and uttered words, such as “Hey. She’s wearing the same loosely draped toga type dress that I’m wearing!” As civilizations grew in complexity, so did norms  of what women were expected to wear. The invention of the printing press made possible the fashion magazine. With the Industrial Revolution came ready to wear clothing though many women sewed their own dresses. Styles came and went, causing the need for women to refresh their wardrobes more often. We continued to notice clothing and to see it as an extension of ourselves.  Women all over the world were united with this ubiquitous phrase: I have NOTHING to wear!

In today’s world, as a post fifty woman, I have found shopping  for clothing to  be almost as difficult as balancing a twenty pound basket of laundry on my head, walking to the river, and pounding said laundry with rocks in the  hot sun in order to have something to wear for the next day’s religious rites. I have found it as tiring as sitting in front of an industrial Singer sewing machine  in a locked factory for twelve hours a day sewing men’s shirt collars in order to buy three yards of muslin for an every day dress. It has surely been as taxing  as using the green velvet dining room curtains to make an alluring gown for Scarlett O’Hara.

I'll never be unfashionable again! Source:

I’ll never be unfashionable again!

Styles are different now. One can wear anything, except that one can’t find anything suitable. What goes with what?   Is that thing a shirt or a dress? Do people really wear shirts that show their bra straps? Are we expected to go back through the bell bottoms and maxi skirts we already wore in college?

Been there, done that.

Been there, done that.


Source: Old Pueblo Traders

Or, since I am over 40, am I relegated to the Sag Harbor department, to forever deck myself out in elastic waisted  twill pants with matching jacket? That, my friends is not what I call a vision of grace and beauty!

While I am grateful not to live in a world which requires me to appear in a blue wool suit with gloves, hat and hose, I long for some of the “go to ” stores we used to have back in my youth: Casual Corner, Franklin Simon, the Clothes Horse. Back then we had salesladies who helped us with our selections and brought us other sizes. We could buy an entire outfit, including accessories,  all at the same place. Those were the days.

But even if we still had those stores, I don’t wear junior sizes anymore. The stores we do have are largely chains, but with the rise of the Internet they don’t carry the inventory they did before. And I am not interested in wearing what everyone else wears anyway.

Clearly my style is not based on current trends!

Clearly my style is not based on current trends!

And though I long to express my magpie leanings through clothing, I am not going to pay $200, or $100, or even $75 for a shirt. I think a shirt should cost no more than  $19.99 if new. If the shirt could be found  gently used at the thrift store for $1.50, that would be preferable. I don’t need many dressy clothes. I wear casual clothes to work, but I want DIFFERENT casual clothes to wear out. Do I sound picky?

I also think I should say that although I want clothes, I don’t want to go shopping. It takes up too much of my time.  I don’t enjoy driving, especially from one store to another: too much getting in and out of the car. I further dislike trying on clothes. Too much work putting all your clothes back on to flip through the racks for the correct size.  I might do it twice in a shopping trip, but that is the limit. Then I have to go through a line, and get out my wallet and all that. Please, just boil me in oil!

For the last few years I have basically “made do” with Marshall’s, because it is close to my house. Often I have simply grabbed something and bought it without even trying it on, and either wearing it only once or twice, or not at all. Sigh. Black shirts and pants are “safe”, but how many of those does one magpie need? Internet shopping has been hit or miss, with items arriving that are either too young for me or not looking the same as in the picture.

Surely some clothing manufacturers understand that over fifty doesn't mean over the hill?

Surely some clothing manufacturers understand that over fifty doesn’t mean over the hill?

And now for the happier ending. Someone finally invented a way for me to get new clothes and ENJOY it !!!! I am passing this on not to promote the company, but because if any of us find an acceptable way to find clothes, I believe we are honor bound to share it. My new magpie find is called Stitch Fix.

My daughter told me about it. It seems you give them all your information, from your sizes, to your likes and dislikes, to your price range and they send you clothes. You keep what you like and send back what you don’t. I admit I was wary. Maybe they only catered to the young who can wear anything? But I filled out the info and I reminded them of a few things, such as that it is hot as Hades down here, so don’t send me a bunch of long sleeved shirts in the summer. Then I hit that send button to schedule my first shipment. What did I have to lose?

I’ve been a “member” for maybe five months, and girls, it has been MARVELOUS!!! Here’s how it works. First, a box arrives in the mail. Everybody knows how exciting that is. Here’s how it looks. Aren’t you excited?


Then I have this very nice card from my personal shopper. I think she really likes me.DSC_0275

Next we ( I feel as though you are all here with me, so it’s become “we”)  rip open that tissue paper and see what we  got!! Yippee!!DSC_0274

Each month there are five items. And each item has this handy card that shows us  ways that particular piece can be worn.DSC_0272

Now we  try on the clothes. We have three days to decide what we want to keep. Then we go in to Stitch Fix and tell’em what we want and what we don’t want. Whatever we don’t want we simply mail back to them in the postage paid envelope.

Here are some recent selections.

Pay no attention to the man behind the shirt.

Pay no attention to the man behind the shirt.

DSC_0279DSC_0729DSC_0735 Thanks to Stitch Fix, I’m feeling kind of sassy again. They have sent me things I might not have picked out for myself and that I haven’t seen other people wearing. The clothes are not too young for me, nor are they too old. And even if they were, I wouldn’t have to keep them. Really, Stitch Fix 2013 has replaced my long gone Casual Corner of 1976 and the other shops I used to hold so dear.

And if all that were not enough, this month’s box came with an bag for ThredUP, which buys gently worn clothing. I will get Stitch Fix credit for whatever Thredup accepts from me. What a great chance to get rid of some of the things I bought at Marshall’s just because they were on the clearance rack!DSC_0284

Well. enough gushing. Whatever you are doing in these complicated times to obtain clothing so that you can leave your home, I congratulate you. If you are finding the search to be frustrating, time wasting and morally degrading, I don’t blame you. But don’t give up. Something will work. Something will fit your style and personality. When something does work, pass it on. All of us girls want to glide by the populace, wrapped in shimmering garments! Shall we?

Spring Fashion Preview

It’s early days here in the South, as far as spring weather goes. We endured a blustery rainy March and early April which  has just now given way to a few golden temperate days. I have risked exposing myself to a mushroom cloud of pollen lately  JUST so I can get a first hand look at what well-dressed flowers will be wearing this season. A magpie will do anything for fashion!

Keep in mind that most  flowers haven’t even made their appearances; this is just a preview of the early comers. I have assured all the seeds, tubers, bulbs, and seedlings on my property that this is NOT the final word. They’re a competitive bunch. As the season progresses I will be documenting ALL the fashion exploits in my back yard. Magpies don’t discriminate!

Without further ado, here are the early spring beauties. Ahem. In no particular order. Feel free to have some refreshments while you watch!DSC_0460 This little lady, a member of the groundcover family, strikes a casual pose against what is for her, a brick wall. She is dressed in a carefree frock of lavender, white, and goldenrod, with handbag to match. She is younger than many of her fellow flowers, and prefers to run in a pack. This is a rare individual shot.DSC_0476 Our next model is Scarlet Dahlia. She personifies simple, classic design with her red pleated ruff and brilliant yellow center. Her timeless look will always be in style.  Scarlet leads a busy life, organizing teas, showers and the like for ladies of a certain social stature. And I’m sure she doesn’t have to do her own ironing. DSC_0477

Some were surprised to see Miss Mary Gold in our fashion lineup. In the South she is thought of as a workhorse, protecting tomato plants from pests, rather than performing the role of  fashion maven. I am pleased she had enough self esteem to put herself forward. Her brilliant orange and yellow ruffles are elegant. She reminds us that her species is used as a wedding decoration in India.DSC_0492

This frail  lady, a Japanese Snowball, is another surprise in today’s event. She was seriously ill last summer and almost lost her life. Her branches were ravaged by a vicious outbreak of some sort of gross insect. Her condition was critical. I don’t mean to gossip but  she had to have entire branches amputated. She looks delicate in this creamy white, but don’t underestimate her; she’s a fighter!DSC_0472 I must say that purple and gold combinations are all the rage this year! Here is Miss Spiderwort, arrayed in periwinkle and gold. The deep green stems and leaves show off her complexion perfectly. Miss Spiderwort works at her posture constantly, as the gold filaments she wears are quite heavy. She enjoys tennis and other sports during the day, but by dusk she has withdrawn into herself, to rest until morning.DSC_0443 A relative latecomer to this revue is Miss Pink Dahlia. She is the niece of Miss Scarlet Dahlia, who is kind enough to have her visit each summer. I don’t know the specifics, but I heard Miss Pink has a difficult home situation. In fact she arrived this year a little worse for wear. Miss Scarlet intimated that Miss Pink would perk right up after some brush up etiquette lessons. But for now she is a vision in variegated shades of pink.DSC_0448May I introduce Miss Woodland Violet? She is the first true shade lover to appear in flower this year. Her hourglass figure is set off by a dainty lavender shade. She is a tidy little thing. Even her accompanying leaves are arranged impeccably. She runs a tight ship.DSC_0442 I am not going to tolerate any negative talk about our last model. Some of the girls have actually called her “trash” and “a possible weed.” I admit I do not know her provenance, but I can see she has worked her heart out for today’s revue. She is dressed in a jaunty orange and yellow print, with an oversized yellow button at the right hand side. The large, even clunky accessory  adds whimsy to the ensemble. Miss No Name certainly has an eye for fashion.

And there they are, ladies and gentlemen! Can we have a round of applause for these fashion forward ladies? I hope we’ll get to interview each one  personally  this season.  For now  though, we admire their bold fashion sense. You’re going to see their signature looks copied over and over this season.  Just remember: you saw it on MIndful Magpie first!

How The Mighty Have Fallen – For Ladies Only

I have to get going early in the morning, because I have a stealth errand to run before work. An emergency errand.  An errand which  which will not wait. An errand of the most serious kind. You ladies will understand: I must have new bras.

Needing a bra at 55 bears no resemblance to needing a bra at 12, or whenever I finally dragged my Mother to Shainberg’s Department Store to purchase my first training bra. What a magical moment that was to open a cardboard box adorned with a slim chestnut haired girl in HER training bra, and unfold my very own stretchy white rectangle with straps and a demure satin triangle in  the middle. All my hard work agitating for my cause, ceaselessly cajoling and reminding my Mother that I HAD TO HAVE A BRA had finally paid off.

IIn my opinion my Mother had been quite slow to see the wisdom  of  rushing  me to Shainberg’s some night right after she did the dishes. I was a thin girl, and in the fashions of the day my burgeoning breasts could no longer be disguised! Never mind that they burgeoned only to me. I wasn’t going to get caught among my peer group with out this requisite garment.  At school the girls  actually played a little “game” with one another, wherein we came up to a female class mate and patted her on the back in greeting. With our friends looking on, we nodded the verdict – yea if we felt a bra strap. nay if we didn’t. Woe unto the poor girl whose Mother had sent her to school in a little white uniform  blouse and no bra!

Anyway, at some point my Mother did give in and buy me the little trainer. There were no flowery speeches on her part, no sweet smiles to say she understood that I had celebrated a rite of passage. She wasn’t a demonstrative person in the first place, and also I think she knew what was coming.

As the years went by, I grew of course to actually need a bra. I was pleasantly if not fantastically endowed.  My breasts were my friends, and bras my loyal servants. Bra options were endless:   gauzy, lacy, front snapping, sexy, strapless. Later these gave way temporarily to pregnancy and nursing bras. But after a time I returned, somewhat altered, but still quite viable in the bustline department, to  whatever was most comfortable and flattering: Wonder bras, running bras, push- up bras,  underwire bras, cotton bras. I could rely on my trusty bras and my perky bustline to deliver just the look I wanted.

But you know where this is going. Somehow in the last decade  without my noticing it, my breasts began, in miniscule movements similar to those of the tectonic plates, to drift apart, each to its closest armpit, as though they had  decided to migrate right around to the back of my shoulder blades and hang there. Maybe they’re going to. At the same time some unseen mechanism began to stretch out the actual length of the breasts, so that they appear as reflected in a funhouse mirror. Or as two very sad eggplants looking away from each other.

Gone are the days of rifling through rack after rack  of  matching lacy confectionary  lingerie sets and actually CHOOSING what I want. Now I take what fits and gives me some semblance of a shape.  Now I have to go the specialty bra store in my town.

Lest I sound like a whiner,  let me say I am deeply grateful for the specialty bra store, which serves the needs of many women, including those  with prosthetic breasts. The ladies who work at the store are professional and kind and do much to improve the quality of life for their customers.  I never have to pick through the bras there, not that it would do any good if I did.

For a while I didn’t even understand what had happened to me. I was going to the specialty store because I knew I could get waited on. About a year or so ago I left with some bras that in order to give me some shape in the vast valley  between my breasts, were formed by some sort of foam into oddly shaped cups which pressed me in and widened me at the same time.   I felt like a football player who also happened to be an old lady.

Undaunted, I returned to the specialty store. “These bras give me a terrible shape,” I complained to my little saleslady. “Don’t you have something a little more… attractive?” Not without some sort of molded shape, she told me, shaking her little Dutch boy bobbed head sadly. But she did look, and came back with a bra that had some shape but didn’t extend up to my neck. “I’ll take two !” I exclaimed, dreaming of how nice my sweaters were going to fit me now.

So I wore those new bras a while, and the weirdest thing happened. At a party, or at work, I would become aware of a feeling of pressure right about the midpoint of my breasts,  an unusually unfettered feeling below midline, and a crowded feeling up by my collarbones.  A quick look in the ladies’ room revealed that these new bras, while on the tightest setting were riding right up my breasts. All day long we would be in a tug of war. Tug down, ride up. Tug down, ride up.  I work in a mental health setting, where I sit directly across from clients all day. I couldn’t be listening to clients while yanking on my bra.. Yet I couldn’t have half of my breasts uncovered either.  I’d fidget, cross my arms, wear sweaters, but nothing made the situation more bearable.

So one day when I had a break in my schedule I decided I was going right over to that bra store and let them see my problem. I just let the bra ride up as far as it wanted to on the way over there; I had on a coat anyway. I marched into the store where three ladies stood behind the counter, “I have a  BIG problem,” I announced,  and threw open my coat for them to see this debacle. About thirty uncomfortable silent seconds passed, as the ladies surveyed me with wild looks in their eyes, “Can’t you see this bra is riding up?” I questioned. “Oh, ” they sighed. “We were afraid you’d had a terribly botched reconstruction surgery! We didn’t know what to say!”

That day several ladies crowded into the fitting room to assess the problem, cluck and make suggestions.  Lots of bras were brought in for me to try, and eventually I left with yet another set of contoured bras that seemed just right. These bras came closer to approximating a natural shape and they stayed put. No longer would I be humiliated in public, with people thinking I must have lice or a neurological disorder.

All was well for awhile. I washed these bras faithfully by hand. I knew they wouldn’t last forever but they’d been so stress free that I probably didn’t go back in for new ones as soon as I should have.  I knew I was overworking them. And who would  have blamed me  for procrastinating  after having had so much trouble finding bras in the first place?

That is why yesterday I endured  what must be the cruelest cut of all from a bra.  I was sitting with a client, wearing one of my old standby bras  which I had just rinsed out the night before. Suddenly I got this whiff of…. fermentation? Rotten cheese? In my  practiced sleight of hand way I discreetly sniffed my shirt, a sweater, the blanket draped over my chair.  Nothing. Weird, I thought, and returned to the matter at hand. But at the end of the hour I ran to the ladies room to discover that the smell was …  Oh no, how embarrassing !  How can I say it? It was my BRA!!!! It was ROTTEN!!!!

I didn’t exactly rip my hair out but I wanted to, as I cursed the cruel perfidy of these body changes, and my many failed efforts to have bras once again serve me  in the manner I saw fit. Truly, this was worse than being patted on the back by a sixth grade girl and having her shake her head nay. There is nothing for it but to return to the bra store and not leave until I find something. No pun intended, but oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Vancouver Memories

Honey, I’m home!  I’ve escaped to the mountains with my sister  and returned to eerily decent weather, with  temperatures in the 60s in the mornings, and highs in the 80s, with breezes and no humidity. With this weather I could just about stand to live here! I know you are all eager to get my mountain report but today I’m going back to the beginning of the summer , to the last place where I felt such pleasant temeperatures: Vancouver.

Actually it was  cooler  in Vancouver than it is here now, but  the coolness was a welcome treat for me. Looking back  at the pictures it is hard to believe that only a few months ago I was someplace where I couldn’t walk down the street without a scarf wrapped around my neck. If someone tried that fashion trick around here they would be asked by old ladies in kindly voices, “Honey, did you hurt your neck?” Anyway, time for a look at Day Two in Vancouver!

Goals for Day Two in Vancouver were simple. Hit the Granville Island Farmers Market early, when it would be less crowded, followed by the Museum of Vancouver, to get a feel for the history of the city. From our location in Davies Village it was a short downhill walk to the place where we could catch a a little tug boat to Granville Island. These tugs come every twenty minutes, so we bought an all day ticket so we could come and go as we pleased.  On the short ride over we envisioned a leisurely walk through the various vendor stalls, occasionally stopping to sample goodies or order a strong aromatic cup of coffee. We were two cosmopolitan empty nesters, out on the kind of cool  Sunday morning adventure that cosmopolitan empty nesters have earned. EARNED.

Oops! We didn’t realize  that Granville Island was the location of The International Children’s Festival, and that very Sunday was the grand finale!   We  gamely toured the covered parts of the market, wending our way through the crowds, and admiring goodies as we had hoped.

Don’t even try to mess with her.

But the density of people was much worse outside. We quickly found we would need to scratch the relaxing plan and go with the survival plan. Apparently people can drive their cars to Granville Island, so everywhere we turned we were dodging Volvos crowded with kiddies either coming or going from the festivities. I  wonder if some of those poor people are still bumper to bumper on the Island, circling until they find a parking place?

All around us were face painters, organ grinding music, kiddie performances  and the like. Surely this is a worthwhile event, but what were we doing here? After looking unsuccessfully for a peaceful sanctuary, we came upon a helpful maintenance man, perhaps fleeing himself, who pointed out a hotel at the end of the island where we might find respite. We made a dash for the Dockside Restaurant  and were grateful to be seated on an outdoor patio, facing  the opposite  direction of the festival.

We hadn’t planned on a brunch, but the salmon burger was delicious, and the live jazz soon made us forget the cacophony at the other end of the island.Yes. These people are covering themselves with blankets.

Next we got back onboard the tug to head for the Museum of Vancouver. Aah! We virtually had the place to ourselves.  A word about Vancouver museums: there aren’t very many. Unlike other large cities, Vancouver seems to be young in its  municipal museum life.

This cozy little museum has some permanent exhibits about life in the area since white settlers came in, up to the present day. ( There is another museum that tells the story of the   indigenous tribes.)The town that became Vancouver grew very quickly after  it was named to be the final stop on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884.  Many ethnic minorities came in to help build the town and the railway and formed their own communities. Suburbs and roads were developed. The town was swept into the World Wars and embraced life’s modern conveniences in the post war boom.

Shoes from the Japanese part of town.

One of the two special exhibits was Art Deco Chic, a study of art deco influence on fashion. I  Ioved, loved, these dresses. And would love to wear them. This exhibit really whetted my appetite to learn more about the history of fashion. It is an interesting lens through which to view history.

This dress from the 1920s was influenced by recent archaelogical finds in Egypt.

This dress was made in Vancouver by the Aurora company.

Robin Hood-inspired accessories.

The second special exhibit was of neon signs from the city. As Vancouver has grown it has faced issues similar to other big cities: zoning, infrastructure, commerce. At one point it outlawed large neon signs. Many were destroyed, others left to languish in junkyards. The exhibit asks if the signs are an eyesore, or  art in themselves? You will have to decide for yourself.

But I think you know which way a magpie would lean on the subject.

After the calm of the museum we were ready to brave the Island again, this time to buy some goodies for dinner. The place was still bustling but at a somewhat lower decibel level. This time we actually went in a few shops, and stopped for a much needed cup of coffee.

After making a few dinner purchases we boarded the blue tug for our final ride. Our heads were filled with the vivid sounds, smells and sights of the day. We looked to forward to having a dinner of market goodies in our room and watching the sun set behind the mountains. And we did.

On Feminism and Fashion

Readers, I come to you today dressed in what ladies used to call a ‘duster”, or a ‘house dress”.  Please don’t tell my Mother. She wouldn’t understand.  I know she’s deceased, but Mothers have their ways of finding things out. Here’s a little background:

When I was growing up,  housewives  frequently wore these  unattractive sleeveless cotton garments, which seemed to be a cross between a bathrobe and a dress. They often had garish patterns of watermelons or gingham.  While these were never to be worn outside the home, they were deemed  to be suitable  inside daytime attire by some ladies for  times when one should be dressed but due to the heat, one could not allow said clothes to touch one’s body.


On our street in the 1960s, virtually every mother was at home during the day. I was used to being greeted at the doors of my friend’s homes by ladies in house dresses, sporting helmet  hairdos, smelling of cigarette  smoke, Final Net hairspray and starch,  Yes, I think some of the house dresses were starched and ironed.

My Mother on the other hand, never sunk so low as to don a house dress. She didn’t ever say they were tacky; I just knew.  As I recall she wore what were called ‘shorts sets”, consisting of say, solid  color shorts with a striped or printed blouse, with a Peter Pan collar and loafers.  Unlike some of the other neighborhood ladies, she had what was deemed a “cute figure”, with slim, not jangly upper arms and evenly proportioned hips and bust. She watched her weight, sometimes announcing she was “reducing”, then eating  garden style cottage cheese at lunch for a week.

She reinforced her helmet hairdo by wrapping it in toilet paper at  bedtime, just like the other ladies alright, but  her daytime appearance was tidy and tailored. She never seemed to get dirty, but every afternoon without fail, I suppose after she had cooked dinner, she disappeared into her bathroom to “freshen up” for my Father. By the time he came home  she had on another crisply  ironed blouse, and had applied new lipstick, Revlon face powder and  black Maybelline  cake mascara.

My Mother and I were of the same mind regarding fashion right up until I was about six years old and began to have my own preferences. After that all bets were off.  I did not want to wear all those slips and things that were called “petti pants.” I wanted to wear my white shorts with a white shirt, which my Mother would not allow because she said it didn’t match.  How could they not match if they were both the same color? I did not want to wear a dress identical to that of my four year old sister. And I certainly did not want to wear a dress patterned after one that Julie Andrews wore in the Sound of Music. Anyone could see it had a very scratchy built in petticoat.

Cut to high school. Whenever we shopped together my Mother was sure to whisk a preppy little  top from a hanging rack and exclaim, “Isn’t this darling?” Uh, no.  I was going to wear men’s overalls from Sears and high topped tennis shoes,  and I did.  My Mother was mortified.

Eventually the pitched battles ended, but we remained at opposite ends of the fashion spectrum right up to the last years  of her life, when I was often the one to choose her clothes. I always knew what she would like: little white sandals, straw purses, pants sets that matched and had to be ironed, dainty feminine nightgowns.

If my Mother were to see me today in a duster, ( And actually it’s a little loose sleeveless dress  with a muted neutral print from the thrift store. But I USE it as a duster) she would only be baffled and disappointed at my choice. But we have led different lives. My Mother stayed in the house to protect her hairdo. I go outside in a pony tail, climb a six foot ladder and pick figs for an hour. My Mother did all the housework in our home, except on the days  the maid came, but seemed to stay clean. I can’t walk from the bedroom to the kitchen without spilling something down my shirt. If my Mother did perspire a little during the day there would be no trace of it by the time her man came home. I make no attempt to disguise whatever condition I may be in when my husband comes home, and he has never objected.

Despite our differences, as I look back I have respect for what my Mother was trying to do. In the rigid world inhabited by housewives in the 1960s, with the paucity of choices available, my Mother was trying to find her own way to have a sense of self. She would rise above the tyranny of the housedress and instead clothe herself in an array of snappy, sassy outfits which emphasized her youthful figure. She might iron and cook all day but she would always find the time for the feeling of luxury that came with the application of her makeup. She might be only a housewife, but she would remind herself daily with her careful attention to her person that she was capable of so much more.

I think she wanted those same things for me, and tried to achieve her goals for me through the lens of choices she could see as acceptable for girls and women at the time. But I saw so many more options, having grown up in a time when women were becoming  empowered, that I saw her ideas as constricting, unimaginative and hopelessly old fashioned.

Well Mother, you succeeded. I have managed to find my own sense of self, and follow it, though I may be the only one I know who sees what I see or wants to do what I want to do. I have raised a family but do not see my own dreams as subordinate to theirs. When I return home from a day in the professional world, my home is a haven where I can nurture my own interests and relationships, and suit only myself. And if it suits me to wear my improvised duster, because it is 102 degrees outside, then I wear it proudly.