Special TV offer! Act now!

I’ve been spending lots of time at the gym lately, and not because I’m suddenly dedicated to fitness, believe me. No. Unlike my house, the gym is air-conditioned.  So even though exercise is far from my first-choice activity, I’ve been spending quality time on the treadmill, trying to distract myself from exercise by watching the row of TVs hanging nearby.

If you’ve ever experienced the phenomenon of watching multiple TVs at once, you know how disorienting it can be. Fox News and MSNBC! Right next to each other! Each furiously spinning its own view of reality until our heads threaten to explode! And no workout towel can take care of that mess, I assure you.

But weekends are a whole different matter. Apparently, the weekend afternoon is the hour of the infomercial. I know this because yesterday I spent my entire workout watching Montel Williams transform lives by running broccoli through a blender. As columnist Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Yes, for just four payments of $49.95, you too can create spinach and blueberry smoothies. It! will! change! your! life!

Now, as fascinating as that was, today was even better. Today, Cindy Crawford shared her equally transformative anti-aging skin-care regimen. It was created with a doctor’s help, naturally, from rare melons grown in the oh-so-glamorous South of France. Where else? No sub-par domestic melons for Cindy!

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

But seriously. I should not make fun. These melons are no laughing matter. These melons are blessed with a rare enzyme containing unparalleled antioxidant properties. We know this because the infomercial shows us actual photos of “before” and “after” melons. The “after” melon — the special French melon with the magical substance — is plump, perky, and fresh-looking. The poor, sad, “before” melon — the ordinary, non-French melon — is droopy, brown and decaying.

Oh, honey. I know just how you feel.

Now, my first suspicion was that, when nobody was looking, somebody slapped some makeup on that “after” melon. Or maybe they switched to more flattering lighting. But I could be wrong. Maybe there’s just a rapidly-aging melon portrait rotting away in the “after” melon’s attic. Anything’s possible, right?

But the “befores” and “afters” didn’t end there. We also saw photos of Cindy Crawford herself: before the treatment, at age 28, and after the treatments, at age 43. She looks exactly the same. This prompted her co-star, the always infomercial-friendly Valerie Bertinelli, to exclaim, “Holy f***ing sh*t, Cindy!” (Though I may be paraphrasing here).

I will say this, though. Those two photos of the non-aging Cindy are pretty damn startling. As a woman of 47, I might have been swayed by them, even tempted to research the products, if I didn’t know about the magical powers of airbrushing and Botox. Oh, yeah, and there’s also this:  Even at 28, I didn’t look like Cindy Crawford.  I find this oddly liberating. I didn’t look like her then, so why would I expect to look like her now?

Possibly anticipating my skepticism, Cindy pulled out all the stops. She invited us into her home — her home! To meet her family! Yes, her mother, and some sisters too, I think. They talked about how wonderful Cindy is, how kind, and how generous, because she wants to share her secret with the whole world.

Now, I have nothing against Cindy. She seems like a perfectly lovely woman. And she has every right to go into any business that she wants. But can we please not be asked to forget that this is a business? That she is selling these products to make money? There’s no shame in this, as long as we are completely honest about it. See? Was that so hard?

Since we’re now acknowledging that this is a business, I think it’s not indelicate to discuss price. The infomercial was offering a special deal: $39.95 for a one-month supply of Cindy’s products. (Several products are included in the line, I believe, though I’m fuzzy on the details. I may have started to lose focus at this point — I think somebody on Fox News, two TVs over, said something about “death panels for pets” that distracted me).

Depending who you ask, $40 a month could be seen as quite reasonable or as absurdly expensive. Women vary greatly in their ability and willingness to pay for beauty products. I’ve often considered myself fairly middle-of-the-road in this area. However, I recently questioned my own habits while using a coupon to purchase a higher-end, higher-SPF item from Olay’s Regenerist line. The drugstore clerk eyed me with sympathy and said, “Boy, the discount doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re buying that Olay stuff, does it?”

Of course, that product rings in at a lower price than Cindy’s line, and it will last several months. But with all the infomercials I’ve been watching, I’m starting to think there must be a better way. Now that I think of it, Montel Williams’ veggie-and-fruit smoothies are supposed to be high in antioxidants, too. And his badass blender/juicer could be mine, permanently, for just pennies more than five months’ worth of Cindy’s line. Couldn’t I whip up my own antioxidant face masks? After the first five months, we’re talking free skin care, baby! Well, except for the cost of the produce.

But wait: What would stop me from going to the South of France and harvesting my own fancy-pants, French-speaking, anti-aging melons? Sure, the airfare would create a few extra costs, not to mention any court fees that I incur if arrested while trespassing and melon-smuggling. But still, in time, this stuff pays for itself. I’m a genius! I must share this with the world!

Who has a camera? I’ve got an infomercial to make.

Posted in Beauty, Humor, Over40 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Shopping with Mom

I recently returned from a visit to the Frump Factor ancestral home. It was here that I endured junior high school, an endless sequence of bad haircuts, and culottes. So let’s just say the style legacy I left behind is not one of greatness.

But this was also the place where Mom taught me some of life’s essential lessons. Kindness is important. Growling dogs should be left alone. And the wrong pair of shoes can ruin an outfit. What more does one really need to know?

On this visit, we decided to spend an afternoon shopping for clothes. We are not exactly champions of recreational shopping, so when we get a chance to spend some time together, a trip to the mall isn’t usually high on our list. But when we manage to pull it off, shopping together is a real treat.

We’ve come a long way since the good old days, when I would whine, “Moooom!” every time she opened my dressing room door to see how I was doing. (Like many young girls, I was absurdly modest about being seen in my underwear, even by a store full of mothers and grandmothers). These days, shopping with Mom is both fun and educational. Here’s what I learned this time.

1) I am not the only one who hates tops with other tops built into them. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The sheer blouses with camisoles sewn in? Or the perfect cardigan — the one you race toward as angels sing — which some idiot designer permanently attached to the ugliest blouse in the universe?

Mom and I made identical, exasperated sighs when we came across these. “I got stuck in one of those once,” Mom said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever make it out of the dressing room.” Yes, my friends; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

2) When you discover that sleeves with extra holes in them are a trend,

Why, exactly, did I try this on???

it’s much more fun if you have a companion with whom to share this fact. Mom and I had ourselves a rollicking laugh over this one. Well, once I managed to remove my arm from the second hole, that is. (See, again, number 1, above).

3) When you finally find the slacks you want, in the perfect color, your size will always be the only one that’s missing. I thought it was just me. But no; it happened to Mom, too. Good to know.

4) An extra set of eyes helps, so long as you don’t lose your own vision. Mom and I were both able to find things for each other, sometimes spotting items that the other would have dismissed too hastily. But we also know ourselves well enough to be able to say, “No; that one isn’t me.”

5) You should never judge a shirt by its label. I found this printed top on a clearance rack:

Mom walked right by it because of the name on the label — a manufacturer often associated with, um, “old lady prints.” Mom may be in her 70s, but she’s nobody’s old lady! I know how she feels; I’ve walked by this brand many times myself. But this one was different! The photo fails to capture its charms. Once Mom tried it on, she loved it. That very night, she wore it with white jeans and summer sandals for an evening out. Adorable! (I foolishly failed to take a photo, but trust me).

6) Sometimes the smartest purchase is the one you don’t make. I really wanted to find a cute, summery top. I tried on many. The most promising one had that annoying elastic along the bottom hem, ensuring that it would never lie right and I would be forever tugging at it. Mom thought it was really good on me. But we both agreed that if it drove me crazy, I’d never wear it.

7) The key to successful shopping is knowing when to stop. Mom and I have remarkably similar attention spans. We both start to lose it after 90 minutes or 3 comprehensive try-on sessions, whichever comes first.

8) It’s important to have a post-shopping reward. Sadly, the days of the department store restaurant seem to be over. I remember when Mom and I could have a very elegant little lunch after shopping, even in our town’s humble, independent department store. Today, you have to be a little more creative. A cup of coffee will do. Well, as long as it comes with a biscotti on the side. And only if it’s still too early for a glass of wine.

9) Some things don’t get worse with age. When it comes to mall excursions with Mom, my craziest memory is of the time we left the store by the wrong exit and thus emerged in a completely different parking lot. For a panicked 5 minutes, we thought the car had been stolen. We’re over 20 years older now, but we still managed to make our way out the door and to our car without mishap. Whew!

10) Mom and I should go shopping more often. But then, I kind of knew that. Thanks, Mom!

Posted in Fashion, Life, Over40, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Once in a lifetime

I recently attended my 25th college reunion. The journey involved a seemingly endless car trip, during which the rocky ridges of Massachusetts gave way to the green meadows of New York and, finally, the wide, open fields of Ohio. I’ve travelled this route many times, when visiting my parents in my Ohio hometown. It always feels like the car is suspended in air, between different lifetimes, different realities, on a journey that starts in one timeline and ends in another, two days later.

25th reunions strike at an interesting time of life. We have so many options now; our path is no longer predictable or straight. I was amazed at the different life stages represented by my former classmates. Some of us are on our second or third careers. Some have risen to the top of something or other, but most have stopped and started and lateralled and gone into reverse a few times. Many are preparing for their children to leave the nest, but if the toddlers waddling across the quad are any indication, a few only recently started parenting.

My style blog persona didn’t disappear for the reunion, but she went deep underground. The college in question is a small, progressive, liberal arts institution. We were, and probably still are, an idealistic bunch. If I had to listen to the self-righteous proclamations made by my 18-year old self, I would probably never stop rolling my eyes. But there’s a beauty to that, isn’t there? Because if you sell out right at the start, where do you go from there?

I still remember the moment when I decided the only ethical choice was to not buy material things. There was too much exploitation, too much poverty in the world. For at least a couple of weeks, I considered never buying any new clothes.  I didn’t want to eat meat, either, because valuable resources were wasted in its production. This phase ended as soon as I realized I didn’t like tofu and needed something to wear.

I probably spent the better part of four years trying on different selves and  different clothes. When I arrived on campus in the fall of 1983, I had a closet full of chino-style slacks, jeans, and conservative, button-down blouses with frilly little collars. Within the first week, I looked around and realized I had a problem. Although a few of the freshmen looked like me, much of the student body represented one of 3 styles:

  1.  60s throwback (tie-dyed shirts, ethnic-print skirts and tunics);
  2. post-punk hipster (black, black, metallic studs,  and more black); or
  3. anything goes, as long as it’s not considered “normal” (the guy in a skirt; the guy with the dandelion hat, etc.)

I now realize that many of the people there had style. But I didn’t understand the rules of this minimalist, I’m-not-really-trying style. So I spent a large part of my college career in sweat pants and oversized men’s flannel shirts. No, really. When I see photos of myself from that time, I think two things: 1) I was a hopeless mess, and 2) I looked beautiful. And I so didn’t know it. And it’s so unfair. But there it is.

My freshman year roommate helped me out of my style rut, now and then, because she had a few funky items that I could borrow. I recall a blue and silver sweatshirt with bat-wing sleeves – very 80s chic. She also had “the shirt from France.” She now calls it “the ugly shirt” because one of her teenaged daughters won an ugly shirt contest in it many years later. Here it is:

Thanks to my “roomie” and her family for providing the photo!

Yes, with the wisdom of post-80s hindsight, we can all see why it won the contest. But I thought it was amazing.

In fact, at the reunion, I told everyone that this shirt had magical powers because I wore it to a dorm party and, for the first time in my life, actually cut loose and danced in plain sight of other people! (Of course, the faux leather mini skirt may have helped. Not to mention the beer).

I eventually discovered thrift stores, so I played with “style” by combining thrifted items with hand-me-downs from friends and the rare retail purchase. But I always came back to my flannel shirts. And that’s the version of me that my former roommate remembers. Ironically, now she’s the one who jokes that she’ll end up on What Not to Wear someday. She has nothing to worry about; she looks fantastic and always did.  But she’ll be the first to say that fashion with a capital F is not her thing. She mentioned my blog during our visit and said, “I just can’t wrap my head around the fashionista thing.” I would never call myself that, not by a longshot, but compared to sweatpants and flannel shirts — well, OK. Point taken.

The next day, as I was putting on makeup in the dormitory bathroom, I thought to myself, “If somebody told me, 25 years ago, that I would be here, doing this, I would have said they were crazy.” I mean, come on. Makeup? Really? Often throughout the weekend, I wondered how many of us were doing things that would make us unrecognizable to our past selves.

As I mingled at various reunion gatherings, I overheard snippets of conversation that revealed, so vividly, all of the different life stages and struggles that we are navigating. Some speakers were clearly interested in discussing, and I think promoting, their professional selves. Some passed cellphones with photos of their children. Others focused more on our shared past. At times, I heard that tone you pick up any time people are “performing” for others through conversation – a mixture of pride, uncertainty, and an eagerness to please. To prove oneself. Yes, I turned out OK. Yes, this is the life I wanted.

But I also heard quieter voices, speaking in more measured tones of more difficult subjects. Illness. Loss. Job setbacks. Ended relationships. From more than one person, I heard some variation of: “It’s been a very difficult year. I am so happy to be here.” These were the most interesting voices to me.

I fell in with a group of close friends who seemed exactly the same to me – except for all the ways they are now different. We picked up right where we left off, as they say. As we were visiting in the dorm lobby one evening, at an hour when many of us would ordinarily be winding down, several people passed us on their way to “80’s night” at the college disco. (“I took a nap,” one of them assured us. “I set an alarm!”) Only one of us joined them. The rest stayed rooted to our comfy chairs, talking and laughing at our laziness and inertia. Somebody described a human interest story he’d read in a newspaper, about an AARP ball at which the seniors had reportedly outlasted members of the band. They just kept dancing, wanting more music, willing the party to go on and on. We decided this burst of energy must come later in life, if we’re lucky.  “We’re not quite old enough to be young at heart,” we concluded.

After the reunion, I felt a bit wistful for a couple of days. It’s weird to remember a time when I had no major responsibilities but so much freedom, with endless possibilities stretching out before me. It was just so easy to try on different clothes and pretend to be somebody else, over and over again, whenever I wanted. I truly believed I could become anybody.

Many say that we reinvent ourselves at midlife, or at retirement, or any number of other times in our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if, as adults, we could all go off to a college-style camp to live with interesting new people, learn new things, and try on new selves? Without required reading, exams, or soul-crushing student loans? Is that what Elderhostel is for? Can we create this for ourselves before we need assisted living?

Young-at-Heart University, here we come. Who wants to join me? I’ll bring the beer.

Posted in Life, Over40, PersonalStyle | Tagged , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

The mascara games: Fear and loathing at the drugstore

Not too long ago, as I was half-squatting, half-sprawling on the floor of my local drugstore, unsuccessfully searching the lowest possible shelf for a replacement mascara, a question popped into my head. Do all beauty products get discontinued within a year’s time, or just the ones I like?

Apparently, the beauty industry must always be changing, reformulating, moving forward, like a shark that dies if it stops swimming. And OK, that metaphor may not quite work, and that bit about sharks might not even be true. But you know what I’m saying, right?

Writers and cultural commentators — people far more clever than myself — have long discussed the essential features of consumer culture. We all know the rules: Bigger! Better! Newer! More!  The beauty business is a tough, big-money business. Apparently, if it doesn’t sell — immediately — it is gone.

Consequently, smart shoppers have learned to adapt. Their advice? If you find something you like, you’d better buy three of it. Because it won’t be there the next time you look.

Like many women, I buy makeup from different sources. A couple of my essentials come from department stores, a few from specialty cosmetics stores, and some from the drugstore. (In my neighborhood, that means CVS or Target).

If I’m going to buy a drugstore product, I almost always vet it through Paula Begoun’s product review website, Beautypedia, first.  Otherwise, without trying a product before buying, you’re flying blind. Sure, the prices are lower. But over time, it adds up. You can waste a lot of money on invisible lipglosses, skin-tone clashing blushes, and cheap eyeshadows that look like dust (if dust were slightly less colorful).

Since using Beautypedia, I’ve done pretty well. That’s where I found my favorite mascara. But when it came time to replace it, I began to sense that something was amiss. During my routine drugstore trips, I noticed that only a couple of these mascaras were left, not in my shade. So I waited for the stores to re-stock. And they didn’t.

This is never a good sign. I should have been tipped off by the product’s location: bottom shelf, directly at floor level, impossible to reach. My favorites always seem to wind up here.

As for the higher shelves, they were full of the bright, shiny, colorfully packaged, “new, new, new!” items. The not-yet-vetted-by-Paula items. Which put me in a bit of a bind.

Eventually, I checked Beautypedia and found that yes, sadly, my brand had been discontinued. So I searched for other mascara possibilities. And the next time I went to the store, guess what happened. Even these, newer product lines were nowhere to be found. Well, OK, one of them still existed, not in my shade, in the bottom shelf graveyard, naturally.

Meanwhile, those showy, impertinent, top-shelf mascaras were screaming: Longer, thicker lashes! Improved formula! Come on, try us! Who cares what Paula thinks? Don’t you have a mind of your own?

So I bought one. I liked it for a few days, until I found the newly posted Beautypedia review. Paula was unequivocal in her scorn. Horrible! Flakes! Smudges! Even worse than the old formula, which was bad enough!

Hmmm, I thought. Could Paula be wrong? And then, by God, that mascara smudged and flaked the very next day. I am not kidding.

I’ve been back to the drugstore twice since then. On the first trip, I could not find a single top shelf brand that I remembered seeing on Beautypedia. Now, perhaps my approach is not as scientific as it could be. I don’t have an iPhone to check reviews in-store, and I certainly don’t have the patience to write down the names of all the brands. “I’ll remember the names,” I tell myself.

Ha! Have you seen the names of beauty products these days? I’ve read doctoral dissertations that felt shorter and less complicated. It can’t just be Maybelline Volume Express Mascara. (Oops, I mean, Volum’ Express). No, there is Volum’ Express 3X, and Volum’ Express Turbo Boost, and The Colossal Volum’ Express, and One by One Volum’ Express, and on and on and on. And no, Maybelline is not the only company that does this.

So I stood there, staring at dozens upon dozens of the wrong mascaras. And I thought: Do we need this many mascaras? I mean, really? How is it possible that, with enough mascaras to repopulate the Earth, not one of them is the right one? I went home empty-handed.

But from the darkness of despair, hope emerges. I made one last trip to Target and was shocked to find my old mascara brand, wasting away on the bottom shelf. How had I missed it before? There were exactly two tubes left. I was going to buy both, until I discovered that one of the packages had been opened. (This also seems to happen, often, to soon-to-be-discontinued products. Ask me about the time I bought my favorite conditioner — even though it had been opened and, quite possibly, used — because I thought it was the last one I would ever see).

So now I have my mascara. This buys me more time to find a new brand. I also still have my Beautypedia-approved drugstore blush, which will surely be gone when it’s time to replace it. And I have a very nice drugstore lipgloss, which I found while looking for Paula’s favorite ever, life-changing drugstore lipgloss, which had of course been discontinued.

What amazes me is that, in this environment of constant change, a few classics stick around forever. Look at Maybelline’s Great Lash mascara, for example. (I am not a fan, by the way, and neither is Paula). It’s existed for years, and it lands on the “best products lists” of many major magazines, year after year.

Even the packaging doesn’t change. And this is no small feat. (It is bad enough when your favorite product is discontinued. It’s even worse when the packaging changes for no logical reason at all, so that after years of being conditioned to buy the yellow jar, you buy the yellow jar and it’s the wrong jar, because the former contents of the yellow jar are now in the pink jar, and vice versa. Just to mess with you! Just because they can! Just because change is good! And because, if you’re too old to remember the 10-word name for your brand, you shouldn’t be buying beauty products at all!)

So I have a theory about Maybelline’s Great Lash mascara. The name is short and simple. The distinctive packaging — pink tube, green top — hasn’t changed much. I think this product stays around because it’s the only damn mascara that people can remember. Instant number one seller, right?

So why don’t all the other product lines follow suit? They can start with my favorite mascara. It’s made by Almay, and it’s the one with the white tube and a silvery blue top.

Are you listening, beauty industry?

To my readers: You’ve been there, right? I’d love to hear your rants stories!

Posted in Beauty, Humor, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Late to the arm party

When I was in my early thirties, I used to make bead necklaces. It was fun while also being a source of endless frustration. For every successful necklace that got worn, there were several others that just didn’t work out. I was constantly taking them apart, dissatisfied, and trying to re-work them into a form that pleased me. I could never predict what colors or patterns would look good together, so it was all trial and error, and very time-consuming.

Eventually I lost interest. I put away the big box of beads and the fishing tackle box containing my pliers, different lengths of cord, and assorted clasps and crimps. The tools came in handy once in a while, when a clasp needed to be replaced or a strand needed to be lengthened or shortened, but that was about it.

So I’m not sure where or how I recently decided to try my hand at making stretch bracelets.  I think the seed was planted by Debbie at She Accessorizes Well (my accessory muse, who by now is probably starting to think I’m a creepy stalker!) She ran a post back in February showing her handmade bracelets, and although I immediately forgot about it, the idea took root somewhere in my subconscious mind.

It certainly helps that bracelets are so big right now. I’ve been adding a lot of them to my collection in the past six months, and most of them are stretch bracelets rather than cuffs or bracelets with clasps. And since the stacked look is also really popular at the moment, I’ve been trying them in different combinations.  One day last week, when I struggled with groupings that just weren’t working, I started to fondly remember the days when I could make my own accessories to fit my needs.

Now, I never had good luck making bracelets, but I always made the kind that were fastened by metal clasps. They tended to be too loose and floppy, because if they were tight enough to hug the wrist, they were too tight to fasten without help! In contrast, the stretch bracelets I’ve been buying are easy to put on, and they tend to fit and stay put more comfortably.

So I got an idea. I looked more closely at the new bracelets.  Hmmm…. stretchy, elastic-type cord. Tied in a regular knot. How hard could it be?

So I went online and found some instructions here, among other places. Amazing! When I went through my first beading phase, the World Wide Web was still a mysterious place that I didn’t understand and rarely visited.  Think what I could have done if I’d had a whole, wide world of blogs and YouTube videos to guide me!

I was relieved to see that there weren’t too many supplies needed. I already had the beads, hidden away for years. (Well, I also took apart one of my unworn necklaces. For me, pillaging beads from existing jewelry has always been an essential part of the process). Beyond that, I just needed to hop over to Michaels for these items:

which were surprisingly inexpensive and easy to find. And off I went!

I spent the better part of one evening and one Saturday playing with my beads. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to experiment with the different colors and textures, trying multiple combinations.

I’d also forgotten how the fun wears off at about the 90-minute mark.

I’d forgotten that, if you choose to do your beading while sitting crossed-legged on the floor with your materials spread out around you, your body will get stuck in an unyielding pretzel formation unless you stand up from time to time. I’d forgotten that it’s hard to do this if you can’t get up off the floor.  I’d forgotten that, the longer that you sit, the harder it becomes to get up.

And let me assure you: these things have not gotten any easier in 15 years’ time.

I’d also forgotten about the beads with teeny-tiny little holes that defy your attempts to thread them. And the way your hands cramp up when manipulating the pliers. Sadly, these difficulties have also gotten worse with age.

To put it simply, I’d forgotten how much profanity enters the picture during hour two of beading.

But overall, I have to say that stretch bracelets are easier to make than the necklaces that I used to create. The instructions in the link above are a good start, but you might also want to look at some YouTube videos like this one.  (That’s the only way I could figure out how to tie the knots).

At first I wasn’t at all sure that the knots would hold, but I think I got it. I’m less sure about the whole glueing-the-knot thing. If I thought beads with teeny-tiny holes were bad, I hadn’t seen anything until I encountered the microscopic applicator tip of the G5 Hypo Cement, designed for close work in small spaces. I could barely see where the glue was coming out of the tube, let alone where it was going! And then the needle-like tip of the cap stubbornly refused to be inserted back into the tube afterwards. You know how hard it can be to thread a needle? Imagine that the needle is oozing glue the whole time. Now you get the picture.

More swearing ensued.  But I did it! I completed four bracelets. I’m still not entirely certain that they won’t break, in spectacular fashion, in the middle of the street somewhere. This very thing happened to more than one of my handmade bead necklaces, I now recall. But here they are:

I must confess to being rather pleased.

I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow description of all the complexities of stacking bracelets. I’ve tried wearing multiples before, and I often have difficulty — they catch on each other, they clash or blend too much, they overwhelm each other so that the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and on and on and on.

I have no easy answers. It’s all trial and error. I tried many, many combinations of these new bracelets with my previously acquired ones, but I didn’t like most of them. The grouping shown here was my favorite by far.  If you’re looking for further inspiration, I recommend the Bloggers Do It Better Arm Party” on Pretty, Shiny, Sparkly. 

Yes, I’m seven months late to the arm party. Better late than never, I guess.

Now, I can’t swear that I’ll love these as part of an overall outfit. I have a secret suspicion that stacked bracelets may look best up close; I liked the photo better than I liked the bracelets in a mirror. From a distance, I wonder if they might just look like a haphazard mess.  But I will have fun figuring it out.

And next time, I will do my beading at a proper table with an ergonomically correct chair. One must adapt to changing circumstances, after all.

How about you? Have you experienced any adventures in beading or jewelry-making?  Do you wear stacked bracelets? Do you have any tips for either making or stacking them? 

Posted in Fashion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Fantasy vs. reality: The closet edition

In the fantasy, I stroll into my perfectly organized closet to assemble my perfectly coordinated outfit. My clothes are color-coordinated and organized by type. Outfits assemble themselves effortlessly. After a quick glance in my beautifully lit, 3-way mirror, I smile at my oh-so-put-together reflection and skip out the door, humming happily.

Of course, in this same fantasy, I also wake up feeling refreshed, joyfully embrace the day, get ready for work in a flash, and stride confidently to my car — sort of like Shelley Hack in the old Charlie perfume ads.

In real life, I stumble out of bed feeling cranky and disoriented, huddling over a cup of coffee for at least twenty minutes before regaining the powers of speech.  By the time I rush out the door, late, juggling too many bags, I’m lucky to make it to the car without activating the panic button and alarming the neighbors.

We all know what a fantasy closet looks like.  We’ve all seen those ads for California Closets.  (If you want to eat your heart out, click here and then proceed through the photos). We’ve even heard stories of glamorous, famous women who converted extra bedrooms into magical dream closets.

But that’s just so self-indulgent, the frugal among us might say.  So excessive.  So very one percent (in occupy-my-closet speak).  No, no, that is not for me.  I will make do with my humble little closet, I think, smugly.

But then when I think about it, I have to wonder.  If I critically examine the amount of bedroom space dedicated to my clothes and accessories, can I really claim to be low-maintenance?

Unlike many, I am fortunate enough to have a large, walk-in closet in my bedroom.

I am also lucky enough to share it with somebody.  In case you’re keeping score, everything on the left-hand side, plus the top shelf in the back, belongs to Mr. Frump.  The right-hand side is mine. (Until very recently, extra sheets were also stored on that back shelf.  But then we noticed that the shelf was pulling away from the wall.  Sheets are heavy, apparently).

Now, since this is lifestyles of the not-so-rich and less-than-famous, after all, you want to see more, don’t you?  Of course you do.

Here is the first row of clothes, along the right-hand wall:

And here is the second row, along the back wall.

Did you notice that I am, at least, somewhat color-coordinated?  This is how I maintain the illusion of being organized and together. The fantasy ends here, unfortunately.

Shoes go on the floor — some inside their boxes, some perched on top of the boxes.

On the right you can see some of my scarves and belts, hung on regular hangers.  And the closet tour ends with my fabulous — or at least well-edited — bag and hat collection.

(Not represented are those bags currently hanging from assorted chairs or lying on the living room floor).

So that concludes the closet. But of course, this is not enough.  Many years back, I inherited a large wooden wardrobe:

One of the doors fell off years ago (you can see it propped against the wall, waiting for “someday”). But this piece is still very, very useful.  And that’s a good thing, because it’s made of an absurdly heavy tropical wood and weighs about 10,000 pounds. The movers barely got it into our house, and I don’t think it’s ever leaving.

Casual clothes, exercise wear, pajamas and assorted sweat pants fill the right-hand side, while the drawers are dedicated to socks, hosiery, underwear, and keepsake items that are saved but never worn.  And although I don’t really store out of season items, because I rely heavily on layering and wear many of my clothes all year long, the wardrobe is a handy spot for shorts in the winter, sweaters and fleeces in the summer.

Yes, it’s pretty horrifying.  But bear in mind: The door on the right-hand side does close. So I don’t have to stare at this pajama-centric carnage every time I walk into the room.

This wardrobe is also the home of my beloved jewelry drawer:

not to be confused with my chaotic-but-it-works jewelry wall:

This is actually located on the side of a shelving unit, next to the never-to-be-moved wardrobe. Not exactly the Piperlime Accessories Wall immortalized on Project Runway, is it?  Nevertheless, I did get some gratification from creating it.

In fact, maintaining and updating this entire organizational system — such as it is — is oddly soothing. It’s fun to create order from chaos. I enjoy striving toward the unattainable ideal of perfect closet organization.  I mean, picking up the phone and hiring a professional wouldn’t be nearly as fun, would it?

After writing this, I find myself wanting to look into all of my readers’ closets.  Is that too creepy?  I don’t know how to set up magical link-up posts, so I can’t initiate the “Show us your closets, America!” blog challenge. But if you happen to have closet photos posted to your blog, you could post links in the comments.  You may also want to check out a new post by Sally at Already Pretty, about closet alternatives.

What kinds of storage systems do you use? What are your challenges? Do you also yearn for the closet of your dreams? 

Posted in Fashion, PersonalStyle | Tagged , , , , , | 32 Comments

Not quite an “it bag”

We’ve all heard about the “it bag” — the gaudy, blingy, overpriced-but-I’ve-got-to-have-it bag of the moment.

Your attitude toward the “it bag” may depend on your value system, budget, and/or personal political philosophy. To you, “it bags” may be odious symbols of excess and greed. Or, they may be shameful temptations, awakening deeply hidden desires. They might be valued wardrobe basics or temporary flings. Quite possibly, they are all of the above.  You may own one, several, or none.

For the record, I’ve never owned an “it bag.”  I am way, way, WAY too cheap.  And even if I weren’t, I’d be too worried about damaging an expensive status handbag.  Coffee spillage happens, you know, to say nothing of the toxic layer of lint, paper clips, cough drops and gum wrappers that always seems to spring up at the bottom of my handbags. However, I do love bags.  All kinds of bags.  I am always looking at new bags — floppy totes, classy satchels, you name it.

Fortunately, when it comes to bags, it takes very little to please me. There is absolutely no other explanation for this bag.

Yes, it’s a cheap cotton tote bag.  Yes, it’s from a bookstore.  We know that because it has a nerdy, book-centric slogan on the back:

That’s right: Books you don’t need, in a place you can’t find. This bag comes from a wonderful bookstore, hidden deep in the woods of Western Massachusetts.  Perversely, though, I rarely carry it in Massachusetts.

When do I carry it? Why, when I visit relatives in Southwest Florida, of course. How is it possible that, in a fairly tony beach town filled with sophisticated, well-dressed people, I feel impossibly chic carrying this bag?

I know this bag is not impossibly chic. I mean, OK, it’s black. But the chic-itude ends there. Yet I love, love, LOVE to carry this bag in South Florida resort towns.

Maybe there’s some part of me that wants to wear a big, glowing sign that says, “Yes, I love it here, but I am not from here. I am from the great frozen North, where we get lost in the woods looking for bookstores because it gets dark at 4:30!  So yes, I have white, pasty skin, but I am very well-read!  Do not judge me!”

Maybe I love it because it’s the anti-beach bag. It’s not made of straw. It’s not in a stereotypical, bright, beachy color. It’s black and white! Plain cotton! Unexpected! And it folds down to nothing, to be packed in a suitcase!

Maybe I love it because it’s so lightweight and easy to carry, while also having room for everything you need.  And I DO mean everything. In this bag, I have carried the following:

  • 1 water bottle,
  • 2 cans of sunscreen spray (because one always runs out, and you get no advance warning),
  • one novel, suited to beachside reading,
  • my wallet, because I might want to do some post-beach shopping,
  • one ziplock bag filled with essential beauty items (lip gloss, hair ties, and eye drops, among them),
  • not one, but TWO beach towels,
  • an assortment of beach-munching snacks,
  • a hat to block the sun,
  • a skirt to change into after leaving the beach, and
  • any incidental items that I happen to purchase while strolling through quaint, trendy beachside town.

Honest to God, the bag expands to fit whatever I want to put in it. And it never seems to get too heavy!  When I take items out, the bag seems to shrink, so it never seems too large to carry, even with few items.

I love this bag. And carrying it to the beach — followed by post-beach cute town strolling, shopping, and iced-coffee sipping–just makes me happier than words can express.

Yes, I know, it might not just be the bag.  It might be my location.  It might be the fact that I am, miraculously, spending time in a place where palm trees grow in January.  It might be the fact that I am, even more miraculously, not at work.  It might be the fact that, when I carry this bag, I have the freedom and flexibility to walk from beach to town, moving from sunbathing to shopping to restaurant dining, simply adding and subtracting items from the bag as I go.

But I think it’s also the bag.

Maybe I should try carrying the bag to work, just to see if it puts me in a relaxed frame of mind.

Nah.  I don’t want to break the spell of the uniquely joyful, beach-strolling vacation bag. I need to save this bag for occasions worthy of it. I need to make sure that, whenever I grab this bag, I immediately associate it with the feeling of shuffling along in flip-flops, fresh from the beach, sun and breeze tickling my bare shoulders, hair flying everywhere, and still feeling pretty enough to waltz into a cute cafe or restaurant and linger awhile. Pretty enough because the sun gives me a warm, glowing-from-within, free-spirited feeling that cannot be replicated by any cosmetic product known to humanity.

It’s a magic bag.  That must be it.

Do you have any truly special bags?  What powers do they have?  Do they change how you feel?  What do they say about you and your life?

Posted in Fashion | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

The other gold

Mr. Frump and I recently got together with two old friends.   They started out as Mr. Frump’s coworkers, but they soon became friends in earnest.  But things changed, as they often do: first the job, then our residence.  Even though we all still live within an hour’s drive, Mr. Frump and I are now firmly over the state line in what feels like a different world.

We’ve known these women since we were in our twenties, just establishing ourselves as independent adults. So my memories of our friendship are inextricably linked with my memories of being young and newly launched.  These women were both models, in a way, of the kinds of women that I might grow up to be.  They were full-fledged, real-life grownups, with jobs and kids and houses. I think they were just barely 40, but to me they fell into that blurred category of adult that started at age 34 and ended just shy of 50.  At the time, I probably perceived little difference between those two extremes.

Back then, we shared various social events — movies, dinners out, parties — with one or both of these friends.  One of the two even attended our wedding, with her 10-year old daughter (who, I’m shocked to realize, is now older than we were).  We were also frequent guests in her home, enjoying the happy chaos of her family’s life.

The years passed, and though we didn’t quite lose touch, we all became busy with our own lives.  Both women lost their husbands — one to divorce, the other to illness.  Their kids grew up and moved away.  We saw each other a few times, but not many.  Until last week, that is, when we sat together for a holiday lunch.

My first thought was: how wonderful they both look!  Older, maybe, but exactly like themselves.  Now I’m the woman in her 40’s, so it follows that they must be women in their 60’s.  But these are not the 60+ women of my grandma’s era!  Or perhaps my perspective has just shifted.

The community in which we all met looked like a quintessential small town — Bedford Falls, if you will, or perhaps Grover’s Corners (or Peyton Place, at times!).  It was surrounded by mountains and seemed in the middle of nowhere, but the area boasted a famous artist’s colony, several music festivals, and a theater company or two.  You could find many artistic, creative people — people from other places.

Seeing our two friends brought it all back.  They are both so cultured, yet so down to earth.  They talk of theater and opera, yet they both spend much of “mud season” mucking around in rubber boots.  Both have dealt with loss and pain and money struggles — being suddenly single is never easy — but they find ways to work for a living and still pursue life.  They’re both smart and funny as hell, quick to laugh at the absurdity of life, rolling their eyes at the latest idiocy from the mouths of their supervisors, co-workers, and elected politicians.  Neither woman is living through her children.  Both are active and engaged, loving life and art and beauty, wherever they find it.

And did I mention that they both look fabulous?  They don’t talk themselves down, or bemoan aging.  One did tell a funny story, though, about a family member who had given all the relatives a curious gag gift — photos of themselves, altered to look older.  “They photoshopped in jowls, and wrinkles, and everything,” our friend laughed.  Apparently, one of the recipients didn’t recognize herself in the picture.  “Who is that?” she said.

It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have to see our own aging in such a sudden, jarring fashion.  When it happens gradually, we don’t even notice it in quite the same way.  It seems like nothing more than a slight, day-to-day alteration.  Something not at all scary, and perfectly natural.  Which of course it is.

Sure, looking at old photos can be a shock, when we see several years of changes all at once.  But I’m so relieved to know that it’s possible to see friends after several years and be struck not by the aging, but rather, by their essential sameness.   “Yes!  They are still themselves! ”

So we laughed, and lunched, and visited.  At the end, we vowed to get together more often.  I hope this isn’t just one of those empty promises that people make.  I don’t think it is.  We’ve identified several promising meeting places — a music club, an old movie theater — that are convenient to all of us.

I’m looking forward to watching our friends move through this new stage in their lives, and on into the next one, whatever that is.

Happy Holidays.  Enjoy your families but also your friends, both new and old.

Posted in Life, Over40 | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

All aboard the gratitude express!

This is the time of year when many of us pause to reflect, with gratitude, on all the good things in our lives.  But what about all the bad things that are finally gone from our lives?  Can’t we be grateful for those, too?  I will never have to sit through another Smokey and the Bandit or Porky’s movie for as long as I live.  Surely this is cause for celebration.

In that spirit, here is this year’s gratitude post.

I am grateful that the following things are out of my life forever:

Gym class.

The horrible uniforms we wore for gym class.  These were ugly, unitard type garments, but with shorts.  They were relics from the past even when we wore them.

Bifocals.  Why they were given to me as a child, I’ll never know.  I choose to believe that I will not be wearing them again, in my older years.  Indulge me on this one.

Control top panty hose.  I’m never going back, people.

Tab diet cola.  With saccharine.  Remember saccharine?  If you ever had any, the aftertaste probably still lingers.  If that’ s what skinny tastes like, I’ll be fat, thank you.

Student loans.

Manual typewriters.  And the obligatory white-out that went with them.  And the smudgy blots that always appeared all over anything I wrote.  Obsessive wordsmithing and last-minute edits are so much easier on a computer.

Old school maxipads.  You know what I’m talking about.  If you don’t, consider yourself lucky.

Record players that skipped every time you walked across the room.

Physics class.  Sure, it taught me how the Doppler Effect works, and that’s kind of cool.  But it wasn’t worth the year of torture. Besides, everything I need to know about physics can be summed up in one sentence, put forth by actor Steve Coogan in The Trip: “You only have momentum when you’re going downhill.”

Really bad restaurants.  Have you noticed that there just aren’t too many of these any more?  Even the most mediocre chain restaurants have upped their game considerably.  This is good news for those of us who use our cooking skills….. um…. sparingly.

Dot-matrix computer printers that required you to feed the paper manually.  Remember the paper with holes on the sides?  Or how easily it misfed, resulting in a pile of crumpled, unusable paper?  Remember how your coworkers used to come running because your profanity-laced hissy fit was alarming the whole office?  Or maybe that was just me.

Mandatory high school pep rallies.  No, really.  We had them.

Bridal and baby showers — the most deadly dull gatherings ever contrived.  Where else do you find a roomful of women oooh-ing and ah-ing over kitchen implements?  The gifts at baby showers are cute, at least, but there’s always one guest whose labor and delivery horror stories send me running for the bar.

Dieting.  Trying to eat healthier foods?  OK.  Reducing junk food?  Fine.  Skipping chips at lunch?  No problem.  But I WILL NOT DIET.

Noxema in the blue jar.  The tingling sensation meant that it was working!  Really!  The pain was in no way damaging my skin, and I’m sure the thick, paste-like texture did not block my pores.  What the hell was I thinking?

Beer in a can.  Life is just too short, people.

The school bus.  And waiting for it in single-digit temperatures.

Is it a pain getting stuck behind school busses, every day, on my way to work?  Why yes, it is.  Especially since — no joke — I’ve seen kids being transported half a block to school, on a street with sidewalks.  And I’ll bet the parent still waited with the kid, in an idling car with the heat on.  But I’m slipping into bitterness, aren’t I?  I’d rather wait behind a school bus than be stuck on one, any day of the week.

But it’s not just external things that I’m glad to leave behind.  We all have past versions of ourselves that we’ve cast aside because they just don’t work any more.

Over the years, I’ve been able to give up various habits, behaviors and beliefs.  And I’m happy to see them go. For example:

The belief that my basic personality type can or should be changed

I remember a pivotal moment in my teacher training.  I was talking with a mentor about my fear that my flexible, relaxed teaching style might be detrimental to those students who need a strict teacher.  “But you can’t just change who you are,” she told me.  Since then, I’ve learned how to build structure and accountability into my classes without changing my essential self.

The belief that I can or should do everything that needs to be done, every day, or I am either lazy or incompetent (or both!)

How freeing it’s been to grow older and be forced to conserve my physical, mental, and emotional energy!  How wonderful to be able to prioritize and accept that, well, if it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow.  And if it doesn’t, maybe it wasn’t that important.

The belief that somebody is always either right or wrong, 100 percent

Oh, what painful cognitive dissonance I used to have in my younger years!  Any time two people who I cared about and respected disagreed vehemently on some subject, I freaked out because I didn’t want either one to be “wrong” and, therefore, flawed!  When this happens now, I think:  Well, maybe they’re both partially right.  Or maybe they’re both wrong.  They’re doing the best they can with the information they have available.

The belief that disappointment, adversity, weakness or failure are horrors to be avoided at all costs

It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing when life teaches you that you learn from setbacks, and that they can even make you stronger.  Do I still want everything to go smoothly, all the time?  Sure I do!  But it’s so liberating to appreciate where I’ve been and accept that our scars and imperfections help make us who we are.

Dare I say it?  I think I’m grateful for not being in my twenties any more.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

How about you?  What are you happy to have OUT of your life this year?  

Posted in Humor, Life, Over40 | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Dressing in the dark (and other joys of fall)

Post-harvest hijinks at a local farm

We are entering the time, my friends, when leaving the house with one black shoe and one navy blue shoe is a very real danger.  While I’ve never done this myself, I’ve seen it happen.  Lack of natural light in the morning can make a difference.

The easy answer would be to assemble your outfits the day before, shortly after arriving home from work.  Oh, wait.  It’s dark then, too, isn’t it?

So that leaves the weekend for clothing experimentation and outfit planning.  Just fit that in between buying food for the week, catching up on laundry, and doing your weekly housecleaning and cooking, if you’re so inclined.  Oh, yeah, and any leisure activities that you might hope to do.  And did I mention that you’re squeezing all of this into a shorter day?

After all, some of us like to sleep until 9 or 10 on weekends.  Then it’s time to sit in bed drinking coffee and reading blogs for a couple of hours.   If all goes well, we might be ready to venture out by 2 pm.  Here in the upper quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere, that’s a mere 2-4 hours before it gets dark again.

Let’s just say this time of year can be challenging.

Personally, once the waning light sets in, I’m ready to crawl into bed with a 20 pound bag of Doritos and a nice Cabernet.  (Yes, I know this is a hideous food/wine pairing, but I don’t care).  I’d bring some suitable TV programming with me – something soothing and fashion-centric but not too intellectually challenging.  An endless loop of What Not to Wear might fit the bill, or perhaps the first season of  The Rachel Zoe Project (Pretty, shiny dresses!  No real-life issues, please).

But if you press me, I have to acknowledge that fall and winter do provide fashion joys of their own.  So what if I feel like fuzz is growing on my brain?  There is still Fashion Fun to be had by all.  In the spirit of replacing whining with gratitude, let’s itemize the Dark Season’s silver lining.

The Frump Factor’s Big List of Fall’s Simple Pleasures (Style Edition):

Boots.  (Cue heavenly chorus).  Boots are probably the only reason I don’t actively mourn the end of sandal season (and thus, summer pedicure season).  Ankle boots, knee-high boots, snow boots, rain boots, just-because boots.  Welcome home, my long-lost friends.

Cute tights.   Patterned and/or plain; neutral and/or brightly colored – I love them all.  Is it just me, or do they make my legs look 100 times slimmer, sleeker and more muscular?

No dreaded thigh-stick.  You know how, in the summer, your thighs stick together when you wear short skirts? Consider that a thing of the past. (See also cute tights, above).

Scarves.  Instant style!  Instant color!  Cheaper than jewelry!

My favorite suede jacket.  Come to mama, baby!  Oh, how I’ve yearned for you.

Colorful flannel pajama bottoms.  To be worn at home only, please.  Seriously, people.  If you abuse your pajama privileges, I’m going to revoke them.

Less hair frizz.  True, the reduction in curl is a drag for me.  But I sure don’t miss the frizz!  Now I only look 65% insane at the end of a workday, rather than 99%.

Three words:  leopard print gloves.  I’ve long mourned the loss of my last pair of these, along with their siblings, the zebra print gloves.  But guess what I just found at Target yesterday?  Leopard gloves live!  Whoo-eee!

Fuzzy warm socks.  Here are my two favorite pairs:

 Do you sense a theme developing here?  I guess fall is officially Season of the Leopard.  Rowr!

What are your favorite fall fashion pleasures?  

Posted in Fashion, Humor, PersonalStyle | Tagged , , , , , , | 30 Comments