Friday, June 29, 2012

Reinvention Redux: Giving Back

A recent reportage on French television was devoted to how one can live a long, healthy life and what it takes to feel fulfilled and full of joy for the duration. Of course part of the program addressed the more obvious topics of eating well, appropriate exercise and so on, but the experts -- researchers, doctors, psychologists, philosophers and men and women of an age certain -- emphasized over and over the importance of remaining socially active.

All lauded the benefits that come from giving back, doing good to feel good, useful, hopeful -- full of life. Below you will see what my great friend D.A. Wolf has to say on the subject. As always, no matter what she says, it is beautifully expressed. T.J.
The film on love and illness and aging and love and love and love which won the 2012 Palme d'Or in Cannes
I’ve been through my share of challenges in the past 10 years. But I have much to be grateful for as I reflect on the remarkable gifts that have appeared through the proverbial kindness of strangers - people "paying it forward" or, if you prefer this expression, giving back.

Examples of this extraordinary kindness?
  • Someone who provided a chance at a job when I needed it, which led to a host of new opportunities.
  • A neighborhood piano teacher, a woman in her sixties, who gave my son free lessons for three years, because she knew I had no way to cover it in my single mother budget.
  • Following an accident that totaled my car, a woman I'd only known a short time drove me around - for months.

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, I lived the usual work-life juggle: two young children, a husband who traveled, and a demanding career of my own which, despite my best efforts, increasingly needed to take a back seat.

Yet I had a couple of terrific managers who understood family responsibilities and my desire to volunteer - at the time, at my children's public school.

And that's exactly what I did, several times a year. Generally I ran art-related projects which were coordinated with the teachers. I purchased the necessary supplies - at the time it wasn't a problem - and I led creative (and messy!) activities in the classroom. Activities, incidentally, which would have been impossible otherwise due to a lack of funding, skilled hands, or both.

And what could be better than a happy 7-year old covered with paint, or an older child - 10 or 11 - learning the basics of planning and teamwork while engaged in a month-long art project?

Do-Gooders “Do Good” for Themselves, Too

Any time I worked with children in the classroom - I loved it. I felt happy. I'm certain I gained at least as much as the kids, and probably more. 

In fact, science tells us that when we do good, we feel good. And I’m a believer. 

Some are convinced that giving back – volunteering, for example - can keep us young; it engages emotions and cognitive abilities in positive ways.

This recent article from the Alzheimer Society (Canada) describes the benefits of volunteering as follows:
… whether you want to give back to your community, aspire to develop a new skill or want to expand your social network… Keeping your brain in shape is another important reason for volunteering, and a healthy brain is vital for healthy aging. Volunteering… can actually help you age well and reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Aren't we always looking for ways to slow our own aging process - or at least, its detrimental effects? If volunteering reduces the risk of age-related diseases, isn't that just one more reason to consider it?

When I'm down or worried? I help someone else. Invariably, I feel better about myself - more valuable, more energized, more me - and my own concerns shrink to a more manageable size.

Opportunities to Help

How might any of us help?
  • Schools and hospitals in our communities need volunteers.
  • Older people could benefit from our company and our assistance.
  • Newly arrived immigrants may need help with language.
  • Literacy programs at any age are invaluable.
  • We may be able to volunteer with voter registration or at polling places.
  • We can assist with fundraising by phone for our favorite charitable organizations.
  • We can assist food drives, book drives, or clothing drives through religious affiliations. 
  • We can rescue pets, and help find them good homes.
Remember that volunteering isn't just about a strong back or physical energy. It can be skills-based - in marketing, finance, accounting, PR. Even a few hours a week could make an enormous difference to an underfunded organization.

Maybe you're a superb scrapbooker or a crackerjack photographer. Maybe you can archive books, you're a born organizer, or you could style moms re-entering the workforce who need your fine eye and budget savvy.

Wouldn't helping in these ways reaffirm your value?

Doing Good Does Us Good

It may be out of fashion to say as much (I admit to being rampantly retro in some ways), but I believe we each can do good. I also believe that even when life seems crazy busy, the more you do, the more you can do.

And I find myself strangely energized at this 50-something place in life - aware of my aches and pains, aware of what is sorrowfully sagging, and annoyed at the additional "maintenance" which I choose to undertake, begrudgingly, because I feel better when I do.

Like millions of Americans, I'm also keenly aware that I'll likely never have the means to retire. But I'm absolutely certain of my ability to continue learning and contributing, and I have every intention of continuing to do both.

We can all still learn. We can all still contribute.

We can all still "do good" - and feel great - in doing it.

Final Notes

I am continually amazed at the strength, grace, compassion, intelligence, and resolve of the women I have encountered around the Internet - exceptional women whose wisdom gets no press, whose everyday heroism in caring for family and showing up at work won't garner any special medals, but who inspire me and remind me that we need to honor each other.

Part of honoring each other - as far as I'm concerned - is refusing to become what others expect us to be - at 45 or 55 or 65 or 95. But rather, we can "reinvent" as a periodic assessment process, taking everything we've learned, shedding what no longer matters, becoming who we know we can be, while still giving back to the community.

I've come to understand that women of a certain age are a force to be reckoned with - fierce, feminine, and fighters - in so many ways. Sometimes our best reinventions are those that have less to do with "us" as individuals, and more to do with "us" - as a human family.  

On a final practical note, volunteerism is a wonderful practice, but when you're struggling to survive financially, when you're ill or dealing with personal issues, it's the last thing on your agenda. These are times to accept help - and know that in doing so, you're allowing others to feel good about their giving.

© D. A. Wolf

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Packing for Ireland

We've traveled from Paris to Scotland this week, and could of course continue on to Ireland with the same wardrobe. But, honestly, why would we?

My great friend Janice, of The Vivienne Files suggests another option for Ireland. As you can see every piece would be perfect in Scotland as well and in the autumn in the Normandy country side or in the country near Paris where we live. Just add a dog or two. . .

Cardigan & plaid shirt – Closed, stud earrings – 1928, pants – Paul Smith, grey pashmina – Pashmina Art, duffle – Nike, coat – Woolrich, loafers – Tod’s

Plaid shirt – True Religion, Patchwork scarf – Ollie & Nic, Purple sweater – Closed, cotton turtlenecks – Mango, navy sweater – Closed, cashmere hat & gloves – Black, boots – Hunter, jeans – Oasis, flowered tee shirt – Delias, rose tee shirt – Closed, grey corduroy pants – True Religion, navy corduroy pants – J Brand, paisley scarf – Etro, purple turtleneck – Barbour, driving mocs – Calvin Klein, grey sweater – La Garconne

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Packing: A Few Days in Scotland

From Paris to Scotland, just add sweaters and a trusty Barbour. Actually, if the weather continues its current miserable course, this wardrobe has many possibilities for Paris. Again today, my great pal, Janice, of the remarkable -- I'm running out of superlatives -- blog, The Vivienne Files, is back to entertain and inform us. We're so lucky.

Cardigan – Crumpet, crystal earrings – Swarovski, Plaid flannel shirt & cotton pants  – Woolrich, stud earrings – 1928, scarf – Botto Giuseppe, duffle – Elliott Lucca, coat – Barbour, moccasins – Tod’s

Plaid shirt – Marc Jacobs, Butterfly scarf – Ollie & Nic, teal sweater – Chinti & Parker, cotton turtlenecks – L.L.Bean, tan sweater – Closed, wool hat – Antonio Marras, gloves – Jane Norman, boots – Hunter, jeans – Oasis, striped sweater – Diane de Clercq, teal tee shirt – Tillys, tan corduroy flairs – J Brand, teal corduroy pants – J Brand, striped scarf – Nicole Farhi, teal corduroy shirt – L.L.Bean, driving mocs – Calvin Klein, sweater – Etro

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Next Week or La Semaine Prochaine

Deadlines are approaching, panic is encroaching, choices are limited. From this day forward, I must do nothing but write, write, write my book.

With all the information I've amassed, my day-to-day experiences in this magnificent country, and the interviews I've collected, I can tell you that I've made discoveries that have surprised and delighted me. That's why I must write them so that I can share with you.

The way I look at it, if I've been in this business of fashion/lifestyle/beauty reporting for more years than we need to quantify at this moment and I've learned new tricks and treats, chances are you too will be surprised by what I'll tell you.

That being said, it's time for me to organize and attack. An amazingly talented young French illustrator has just signed her contract with Rizzoli and she and I will plot our complicity which will include the logistics of what goes where,  and how to best show, tell and amuse through her designs designed to compliment the words.

Now you have the back story or the forward story in this case which means I must -- as much as I hate to do this because I'm addicted to you --write fewer posts. I think most of the time three will be my limit and of course I'm always counting on the kindness of friends to help me accomplish that number.

You know how much you mean to me and how you have -- without being trite -- changed my life in ways you cannot even imagine.

A la semaine prochaine my dearest, darling friends.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A French Country Weekend

This week's wish-upon-a-fruit selection.
Back from the market with today's bounty and my new seasonal fruit for the same wish. Surely it will come true if I wish and wish and wish.

Today I ate my first "white" cherries of the season. They were perfect: sweet with that sour back kick, firm, juicy.

Yesterday I bough yet another rose bush. I'm not a huge fan of pink roses, but this variety is almost white with the slightest blush of pink. It's like a white pink. It will be planted later today.

My new roses.
Since all flowers seem to have significance, I decided to find out what these pale, pale pinks represent.

  • Grace
  • Admiration
  • Sympathetic Thoughts
I have made a small bouquet for my desk in tones of peach, coral and an orange-tinged yellow. It makes me happy to have flowers next to me when I work and the perfume is divine. (I'll show you next week. My camera is charging.)

And voila, my weekend so far. It's an exquisite day after an "iffy" week of winds, rain and hail.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview Intrigue: Dressing for Success

My friend D.A. Wolf, the incredible writer and creator of the Daily Plate of Crazy blog, is back today with an inspiring, amusing and "value-added" post about job interviews when one is a femme d'un certain age. . .

I open my closet. What jumps out?

The flirty section. Pinks and purples. The shoe invasion - in every color possible. Stacks of T-shirts and sweaters – toppled over, naturally. 

Then there's the rack of snazzy separates picked up in Paris on business and writing trips during les soldes – flowing skirts and fitted ones, elegant little jackets for dinner parties, and more Bohemian versions with pizazz and personality. As I survey the landscape, only one third is my current size (zut alors!) but worse – none of it seems appropriate for…  drum roll please… the all important Job Interview.

Now, now. It's a face-to-face with a prospective client, and a gig I really want: the organization does great work in my community. 

As a consultant and freelance writer, this may sound like a run-of-the-mill encounter, but it's been years since I had a ready-to-wear section in my closet, worthy of meeting a client. Most of the time, I work from a home office, and my clients generally come from referrals. We rarely meet in person; instead, we email, we phone, we Skype, we chat… but sit across a desk face-to-face? 

Not so much.

And this leads me to my dilemma of the past two weeks. Despite a closet full of outfits and shelves of shoe boxes... you got it... the cries could be heard up and down my street: I don’t have a thing to wear!

How to Dress for an Interview

Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of the interview table – hiring employees in corporate life, and seeking positions over the course of two decades. When it comes to dressing for success in an interview, the basics are straightforward – regardless of age.

My own rules are simple:  

  • Be neat and appropriate, as befits the organization
  • Nothing too sexy, nothing too informal, nothing that will jangle the interviewer’s eye
  • Anticipate the elements of the job and job site; take that into account when dressing for the meeting
  • Wear what is comfortable, and something that gives you confidence.
And my personal favorite?

Wear gorgeous underthings that make you feel divine. Yes, it’s tied to that confidence item above, and for me – it’s key.

As for the “dressing your age” dilemma that pops up all too often? Does it play into dressing for success? Is it crucial to meeting prospects, partners, or clients?

Personally, I don’t buy into “dress your age” – whatever that means these days. And I love a touch of quirky. But an interview with a client you’re dying to attract is not the time for quirky. It is the time for being circumspect, and confident. Because confidence really is our secret weapon – and in my experience, confidence in how you look enhances confidence to perform.

Wardrobe Diversity
As I take a quick inventory of my closet, I am, however, at a bit of a loss.

Dating clothes?

I’ve had a long (and meandering) post-divorce dating history, so flirty frocks are in abundance. Suitable for meeting a prospective client?

Non, non, et non.

From my corporate days?

I have separates worn with conservative customers, and another more “spirited” set of options from my travels to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Suitable for this particular prospect?

Non, non, et non.

My style preference for myself?

I believe simplicity rocks - partly, because at 5’0 tall (on a Big Hair Day), I can’t carry off anything fussy or over-the-top. The organization I'll be talking to is somewhat informal but operates within a conservative community. I admit, I'm a tad stymied. I end up running out to buy new pants and get lucky - scoring tailored black trousers in a lightweight fabric - at 70% off!

I add a black fitted top with a loose beige jacket – one of my favorites (a 10-year old Eileen Fisher), and I'm ready to rock 'n roll! Well, almost...

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

The all-important interview footwear! Don’t all women notice other women’s shoes? The shoes must be impeccable, n'est-ce pas?

As I eye the boxes and rummage beneath piles of sweaters, I find hot heels, chunky heels, kitten heels…  anything and everything except a simple, mid-height black pump.

The red spikes picked up for a song?

Non, non, et non.

My favorite Enzo Angiolini platform peep-toe pumps?

Non, non, et non.

My fur-trimmed mules? My color-blocked Maddens? My strappy splurge in the form of Via Spigas?

(You know the answer.)
I feel panic rising as I imagine myself woefully floundering over footwear, realizing that a dash to the nearest designer shoe outlet is hors de question – utterly out of the question. Even if I could justify the expense, it’s too late in the day. I need a light bulb moment, a Cinderella apparition, something to save the day – and then it hits me, like a flash!

My best booties! 

They have a two inch heel, they're extremely comfortable, and there's not a scuff mark on them. The pants are on the longish side, so no one would ever know… 

Color me relieved when the shoe fits, the outfit works, and the afternoon goes well. I return to my usual tasks in my home office, and the ease of working at my computer in whatever I please (including my furry bear slippers - but shhhhh, you didn't hear me say that).

Interview Intrigues, Round 2

A few days later, there's a second call requesting that I return to meet Board members. Zut! Should I be nervous? Did I commit one of those Inane Interview No-No's by mistake?

I decide not to sweat it, to work with the clothing I have, and I go with the same pants, a different black blouse, a fitted black jacket (also Eileen Fisher), and a pop of color by way of a soft green scarf.

In addition to my (French) lingerie trick – I add my favorite earrings: tiny teardrops in silver by Elsa Peretti, which I’ve had for many years and wear on special occasions. It's part of feeling bien dans ma peau, et bien dans ma tête - being comfortable with myself, which starts from the inside but - a little external attentiveness doesn't hurt! 

Netting things out: the meeting went well, and whatever the outcome I knew I’d dressed the part and given it my all. I also found I loved sitting across a table from the people I was potentially going to be working with. Occasionally, face-to-face impressions offer essential “body language” information which can be critical. And for a woman of a certain age who is looking to be hired or nab a new client - in person, we can offer posture and presence (very important), speech patterns, and overall energy to inspire confidence in our abilities.

The best part?

I got the gig! And yes, there's another meeting coming up, but this time it's a garden party. Patio. Lawn. Mingling. Mon Dieu, I'll be shopping in my closet again

Whatever I wear, you can bet my French sous-vêtements and Peretti earrings will be in attendance.

But what will I do for shoes?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

News & Views, This & That

Bi-colored leather from Sud-Express.
You often, and rightly so, point out that I'm not much of a "pop of color" sort of girl. For example, in the abstract, I like the idea of yellow, particularly sunny yellow walls which unfortunately we do not have in our house, but that's another story.
A summery twist on Vanessa Bruno's iconic tote. This time out they're in linen with sorbet colored sequins.

Sac from Mellow Yellow.
As I was saying, yellow, there is no way under the sun I could wear yellow except perhaps a bag like  these featured in French Elle. I could imagine yellow ballerinas and a discreet use of the tone in a scarf perhaps. That's it for me.

Dabbling in dangerous colors is, as we all know, the beauty of accessories.

Eau What A Difference a Brand Makes

Once again, you are au courant about my -- oh, well let's be frank -- obsession with mineral waters both externally and internally.

I am such an expert on the subject that I actually have a preference of one over the other for the two major seasons which I divide like this: spring/summer and fall/winter. In the cool months I like Eau Thermal Avène and yes, I know, I've told you this before, but not in this context.

In the hot months I prefer Eau Thermale La Roche-Posay. It's the difference between a spritz and a mist if you get my drift.

La Roche-Posay is a delightful mist.

Total Body Exfoliation Made Easy

Thanks once again to my wonderful, wonderful friend who does nothing but spoil me -- she of the NARS and Essie nail polishes (see Tuesday's post) -- I now have the solution to the once elusive possibility of having a complete body exfoliation experience in my very own shower.

As I've told you, I've had a couple of "totals" in spas, but trying to sluff one's back is, as far as I know, impossible. Yes, I fully realize one could ask for assistance from a willing partner for example, but that's not always the best solution for a myriad of reasons we don't need to explore here and now.

Back on message: My friend sent me an Exfoliating Hydro Towel which smoothes and polishes the skin and because it is three feet by one foot it reaches every millimetre of the flip side of the body. It's not too abrasive and not at all an annoyingly namby-pamby waste of time.

You suds it up with your favorite soap or gel and you are now experiencing the next best thing to being in a spa.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The French, Philosophically Speaking. . .

René Descartes
As promised, I thought I would share another reason why I love France: The nation's love affair with philosophy.

How could one expect less from the country which gave us René Descartes who famously said: "I think therefore I am."

Even the contemporary pompous types who take the most convoluted routes to explain the simple and  unintelligible verbal journeys to add complexity to the already complex, are fascinating to me. And, probably like no other country in the world, philosophers are often proffering their opinions on prime time. We really like philosophers over here.
Rodin's "The Thinker"

As we know, the French fancy themselves as intellectuals and they like to prove their assumption where and whenever possible. Respect for their intellectual acrobatics seems to be universal. Personally, I'm fascinated by their agility with "the verb" as they say and their creative thought process. I suppose that would be more or less the definition of philosophy through the ages.
All of this is to say, who can not be in love with a land whose educational system requires a high school course in philosophy?

From the College Humor collection
I'm enchanted by the notion that in our high-tech, must learn everything there is to know about computers and cyberspace, be on Facebook, Tweet day and night, possess all the bells and whistles that facilitate staying up to the nanosecond in our world, there is a little corner of the universe where a young mind is required to think abstractly, search for perhaps unresolvable hypothesis, pose esoteric questions. . .

Philosophy is on my mind because the "Philo" exams were this week and, as always, the television and radio channels were talking about this year's subjects and interviewing philosophers while students were diligently writing their theories in response to the questions.

Answer: Move to France.
These are some of this year's brain teasers:

1.) What do you gain by working?

2.) Do all beliefs contradict reason?

3.) Would we be more free without the State?

4.) Do we have the obligation to search [for] truth?

5. Is the sole reason for work to be useful?

You can see at a glance all the directions these questions can take. The students must form their arguments and then support them with the thinking of the philosophers they have studied throughout the year.

Finally, I shall leave you with a few of my favorite pronouncements from some of the world's most famous and revered philosophers:

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not: remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." Epicurus

Bertrand Russell
"To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness." Betrand Russell

"There is much pleasure to be gained by useless knowledge." Bertrand Russell

"Republics end through luxury; monarchies through poverty." Charles de Secondat

"History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there." George Santayana

"The Difficult is that which can be done immediately: the Impossible is that which takes a little longer." George Santayana

Friedrich Nietzsche
And this one, which I find unspeakably sad: "I'm not upset that you lied to me; I'm upset that from now on I cannot believe you." Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Little Bijou

Small pleasures, that's what makes life beautiful, n'est-ce pas?
Recently one of my dearest friends sent me Essie's Delicacy. It is so lovely -- pink and ever so slightly shimmery. She is the same darling amie who gave me Jungle Red by NARS for Christmas.

Toes only.
The NARS is on the shelf until autumn and Delicacy is on my fingernails as I type this post.

Tomorrow I'll tell you another reason why I love living in France.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Packing: A Long Weekend in Provence

J. Crew linen twill skirt.
My great Pal, Janice, creator of the divine Vivienne Files which gives us more wardrobe ideas than any fashion magazine on the planet, has once again put together an inventive weekend travel mix for us.

This week she has chosen amber as her base color. Who knew you could do so much with this under appreciated hue?

It works beautifully with navy if you have a green phobia. (I must talk to her about that combo. I know we both love navy.)
Rust cardigan, tee, bag & pants – J. Crew, amber earrings – Goldmajor, olive trench – Woolrich, scarf – Hermès, loafers – Salvatore Ferragamo

All jewelry - Goldmajor, sunglasses – Mango, scarf – Hermès, flowered tee – Ted Baker, skirt – J. Crew, olive cardigan – Ralph Lauren, sweater – Golden Goose, olive chinos – Polo Ralph Lauren, olive jeans – Givenchy, shoes - Aerosoles, tee shirts – J. Crew

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Next Week or La Semaine Prochane

A quick bonjour to tell you I'm thinking about you, as I do every day. But I must admit I'm not sure what will be on the calendar for the week ahead.

I suspect it will be lots of "News & Views" and "This & That" -- there is always a chance that inspiration will strike. One never knows. We shall see. . .

I hope you're having a beautiful Sunday and a very Happy Father's Day in the countries where it applies today.

A demain mes cherest amis.
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