Playing pretend – fantasy backyard book party

LogoAs a child, I loved playing pretend. You probably did too, but as we got older, real life pressed in and the world of make-believe was all but forgotten. Apparently, not so for retired high school English teacher, Sue Burpee, who has hosted two virtual parties for the readers of her blog, High Heels in the Wilderness, since the Covid-19 shutdown began.

In her blog, Sue writes about fashion, travel, books, and life in general. I’ve been following her for several years and had the privilege of “attending” both her parties. The first, in early April, was an afternoon tea at the historic Chateau Laurier in Ottawa and the second, this past Saturday, a book party at her home overlooking Ontario’s Rideau River. And what a party it was!

Since we came from across Canada and around the world, it was an overnight affair complete with an old-fashioned, down-east lobster and corn boil at supper time and houseboats on the river to accommodate us for the night! You can read all about it here.

The invitation told us to dress casual, cool, and comfortable and to be sure to bring a hat. After contemplating my closet and considering several different options, here’s what I chose.

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The white crop pants are a basic piece that have been in my wardrobe for several years and the light, airy Scallop Top from cabi’s Fall 2019 collection was perfect for the heat wave that the Ottawa area has been experiencing lately. My Summit Breeze crushable hat was easy to pack and provided great protection from the sun. Of course, I also wore lots of sunscreen! I knew I’d want to stroll around Sue’s lovely property, so I wore a comfortable pair of Naturalizer sandals that I’ve had for several years.

Since this was a book party, Sue also asked each of us to bring a book that had had a significant impact on us to share with the other guests. Again, how to choose? There have been so many! Probably the book that has had the most profound impact on me, other than the Bible, is Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, but I don’t actually have a copy of it right now. Instead, I chose one of the memoirs that I’ve been reading during Covid-19. A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose, by human rights activist Samra Zafar, is the inspiring story of a courageous and determined woman who walks away from a harrowing past and builds a new life for herself and her two daughters. An arranged marriage in her native Pakistan at age 17 and a subsequent move to Canada with her new husband promised to be the fulfillment of her dreams, but instead turned into an abusive nightmare. I was impressed by her grit and determination and reminded that many women, especially amongst our immigrant population, live lives shaped by cultures that we have little understanding of.

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Yes, a virtual party during these most unusual days was just what I needed! I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to connect with a whole group of like-minded women from around the world and I’ve added several new books to my ‘must read’ list.

Many thanks, Sue!

Sharing spaces

Big Knife Provincial park, less than an hour from home, has become one of our favourite places to get away from the busyness of life. We’re just back from enjoying three days of peace and quiet there. 72 hours without cell phone or internet. No news. No politics. Just us and nature!

We certainly weren’t alone, however. We shared our camp spot with a very busy pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. I’m not an avid bird watcher, but these two piqued my curiosity and I had to do a bit of research as soon as we got home. Here’s what I learned.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker that breeds in Canada and the north-northeastern United States. It makes two kinds of holes in trees to harvest sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. The sapsucker inserts its bill into the hole to probe for sap. Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. The sapsucker  laps up the leaking sap and any trapped insects with its specialized, brush-tipped tongue, and eats the cambium of the tree too. New holes usually are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old.

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That’s Mr Sapsucker in my photo. His Missus looks almost the same except her bib is grey instead of red. With thousands of trees in the area, why they chose one in the middle of the campground, I’ll never know, but they were clearly quite comfortable sharing space with us. Apparently, our trailer was in their flight path between this tree and the woods surrounding the campsite, but Mr quickly took to flying directly under our awning even when we were sitting there! Thankfully, there were no collisions as he went back and forth all day long!

We also shared our space with chipmunks and squirrels who checked the site from time to time to see if we’d left anything edible lying around, and a couple of rabbits who just passed on through.

One of the things that we love to do at Big Knife is kayak on the Battle River. Yesterday, we discovered the spot where Big Knife Creek feeds into the river, so of course we had to explore it. The slow moving creek was shallow in spots, but navigable. We went as far as we could (up the creek with a paddle!) until a huge fallen tree blocked our pathway and we had to turn around.

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Pristine, untouched wilderness!

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We quickly discovered that even here we weren’t alone. This time we were sharing space with beaver. Lots of beaver! They obviously weren’t as comfortable as the sapsuckers were with the idea of sharing space with us though. As soon as we got anywhere close, tails hit the water with thundering splashes and they disappeared below the surface. I managed to get a picture of this one just before he gave his warning shot and disappeared from sight.

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The time before

It’s been over ten weeks since the World Health Organization officially declared the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 a pandemic and countries began to shut things down. More and more I hear people expressing nostalgia for “the time before” and wondering when, if ever, life will return to normal. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel fortunate that my life has not had to change as drastically as many others have. As a retiree, I don’t have a business to close, a job to lose, or children at home. Nevertheless, life is different now and I’ve been pondering the things that I miss.

In the big picture, most of the things I miss are small, but small things are often what bring interest or significance to our lives.

I miss browsing our local thrift stores and perhaps finding a treasure or two. After cleaning out our storage room and kitchen cupboards as well as doing my seasonal wardrobe switch from winter to warm weather clothes, I also miss being able to donate the items I no longer want to keep.

I miss impromptu lunch dates with my husband at The Wooden Spoon, our favourite local eatery. We usually go at least once or twice a month.

Although I enjoy being at home with hubby, I miss spending time with other women. Whether it be dropping in for a cup of tea and a chat with a friend, a morning coffee time with women from my church, or sipping wine and visiting with my “craft night” friends at our monthly get togethers, I need my girlfriends. Thankfully Zoom has helped, but it’s not the same as being together in person.

Though we’ve been enjoying online services from the comfort of home, I miss gathering together with our church family on Sunday mornings.

We don’t live close enough to see our grandchildren on a regular basis, so two months without seeing any of them hasn’t been too hard to handle, but there are babies close by who are changing so quickly that I’ll hardly recognize them when I finally see them again. And then there’s the one that was born late last week. How I’d love to visit and hold her!

Though I’ve learned to live one day at a time, I miss being able to plan ahead. Not knowing if or when we’ll be able to travel internationally again is especially difficult for a wanderer like me. Half the fun of traveling is the planning that goes into it.

Perhaps more than anything else, I miss having things to look forward to. Never before has the calendar page been so blank! In fact, the only thing I’ve written in for the entire month of May is the morning that the nurse comes to give me my monthly injection! I don’t mind life slowing down a bit, but at the moment it seems almost to have stopped and there’s a sameness in our days that’s getting rather tedious.

Perhaps when life finally returns to normal, or the “new normal” that everyone is talking about, we’ll have a greater appreciation for the things that we’re missing right now. Or will we quickly get back into routine and begin to take them for granted again?

What do you think? What do you miss the most from the time before?

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Obstacle or opportunity?

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Before the onset of Covid-19, we had planned on leaving on a spring vacation this week. We were going to walk the historic streets of Boston, explore some family history, see the sights of New York City, and visit friends who live in the area. Instead, we continue to shelter at home waiting for our province to gradually begin lifting some of the restrictions that have been put in place to protect us and to keep our health care system from being overwhelmed. There’s absolutely no question that for most people on the planet, the Covid-19 pandemic has been an obstacle to living life as we knew it before the middle of March, but has it also been an opportunity?

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“Even in the darkest experiences we can uncover creative options.” wrote Samuel R. Chand in Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth.

On March 18, the day after Alberta declared a state of emergency and started shutting down non essential services, I wrote that I didn’t want to look back on this as time wasted. That was seven weeks ago. Rather than lamenting over a vacation lost and other obstacles to normal living, I’d rather look at opportunities seized. I truly believe that a positive attitude is vital to maintaining good health and overall well-being. That’s proven to be true throughout my journey with cancer and I think it’s just as true in present circumstances.

So how have I been using the unexpected extra time that I’ve been given by the pandemic shutdown? Here are a few of the ways…

  • Cleaned and reorganized the kitchen cabinets and set aside a number of items to take to our local thrift store when it reopens.
  • When I could no longer find the mixes that I’ve been buying for years on the grocery store shelves, I reverted to making my own pancake mix and baking biscuits from scratch. I doubt that I’ll ever go back.
  • Experimented with adapting a bread recipe until it turned out just the way I wanted.
  • Read several books.
  • Wrote more than usual including 11 blog posts in April as opposed to the 6 or 7 that I usually post.
  • Used Duolingo to study Spanish every day learning more than 1000 words so far.
  • Enjoyed several Zoom chats with family and friends.
  • Walked over 80 km (50 miles) partially on the treadmill, but mostly outdoors.
  • Found 7 geocaches.
  • Played a lot of 7 Wonders Duel.
  • Completed some yard work that wouldn’t have gotten done if I’d been busy planning and packing for a trip.

Does all this mean that I’m happy to have been essentially shut in for the past seven weeks? Does feeling positive about how I’ve been using my time mean that I’m oblivious to the effects that this period of time has had on the economy, on businesses, on the lives of others? Of course not, but neither have I been anxiously straining at the bit for it to come to an end. I’m happy that the health authorities in our province feel that we’ve reached a point where we can cautiously and carefully begin reopening, but I also realize that it will be some time before things are back to “normal”. I sincerely hope that we’ll be able to reschedule our trip someday, but I know that it won’t be for quite awhile.

So, how have you been coping during these most unusual days? Have you been focusing on obstacles or looking for opportunities?

Would you wear them?

LogoWith a friend who just flew home from Europe self-isolating and our own travel plans nixed for the foreseeable future, we are as aware as anyone else of the seriousness of the rapidly spreading and sometimes deadly COVID-19 virus. The outbreak in a North Vancouver care centre is just 1 km (0.6 mile) from our oldest son’s home and there’s now a confirmed case in Vegreville, the town 106 km (66 miles) northwest of here where my sister lives. All around us, events are being cancelled to help prevent further spread of the disease.

Clearly, this pandemic is no laughing matter, but I can’t help shaking my head in bewilderment over people stockpiling toilet paper! Toilet paper, of all things! I can understand the wisdom in having a reasonable supply of essential items on hand in case of any emergency, including the need to self-isolate, but panic buying of case upon case of toilet paper is absolutely ludicrous!

So, what does all this have to do with fashion? Not very much, actually, but in light of the present situation I have to ask, would you wear this?

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T-shirt available here.

If not, perhaps you’d prefer something slightly more unobtrusive.

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Earrings available here.

Would you wear them?

Remembering my father

The blog has been unusually quiet for the past week and a half. There was no Fashion Friday post last week and nothing in honour of International Women’s Day yesterday. My father passed away less than 48 hours after I published the last post. All I’ve written since then is his eulogy and a myriad of lists. Lists of things to do and people to contact. In fact, I wrote so many lists that Richard suggested perhaps I needed to make a list of my lists!

As I worked on the eulogy, when we chatted with Dad’s pastor while planning the memorial service, and when we visited with friends and family after the service, it was comforting to recall who Dad was before macular degeneration robbed him of his sight, a stroke stole most of his speech and mobility, and in his final months, dementia began to weaken his mind. My Dad was many things. He was a kind and generous man who was accepting of all people. He had a keen scientific mind, but also loved good literature and often quoted poetry to us. Above all else though, Dad was an adventurer. Even though it was very far removed, he was proud of his Gypsy heritage!

After graduating from the University of British Columbia in the spring of 1946 with an honours degree in chemical engineering, Dad found a job up the coast in the pulp and paper town of Powell River. That fall, he bought an old 24-foot wooden boat powered by an ancient 1927 car engine. With a friend, he sailed it up the coast from New Westminster to Powell River where he spent many hours over the next year sanding, re-caulking, and painting the hull and having the engine overhauled. He also met his bride-to-be that fall and the summer after they were married, they spent two weeks puttering up the coast in that old wooden boat. Apparently it rained every day but one, but that didn’t deter them from further adventures!

It was also during the Powell River years that Dad took up mountain climbing. He was a member of the BC Mountaineering Club for many years and ascended many peaks in the Powell River area as well as around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. Dad always had a passion for seeing what was in the next valley, behind the next hill, or around the next corner. As a climber, he had at least one first ascent because, in his words, he was mad enough go one mountain further back than anyone else had ever bothered!

Dad loved to get away to quiet and remote places. For our very first camping trip as a family, he piled Mom and three kids into the little rowboat that he’d made with his own hands and rowed us across an isolated inlet to a rocky point where we would set up camp and stay for a week. A second trip in the rowboat brought the big canvas tent and the rest of our camping gear across. We had so much fun that we returned to the same spot the following summer!

After we moved to Vancouver in 1963, Dad’s passion for the path less traveled took us to some of the most remote places in BC that were accessible by road. As a child, I remember wondering if some of them were really roads at all and if we were going to get permanently lost! In 1967, we drove the then mostly unpaved Alaska Highway all the way to Anchorage. The following year, Dad chartered a little floatplane and we flew into Garibaldi Lake to spend a couple of weeks camping, climbing, and exploring. While we were there, Dad and I climbed Mount Price together.

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Dad on the summit of Mount Price

Just before Christmas 1968, Dad accepted a job with the newly formed Government of the Northwest Territories. He moved to Yellowknife in January while the rest of us stayed in Vancouver until the end of the school year. Our last long road trip as a family took us from Vancouver to our new home in Yellowknife with a side trip to visit Wood Buffalo National Park. Dad’s role with the territorial government involved quite a bit of travel, sometimes to comfortable spots in southern Canada, but mostly by small aircraft into settlements across the Arctic. On one of those trips, he froze his fingertips while desperately clinging to a komatik (sled) as it bounced across the ice and snow behind an Inuit man on a snowmobile.

In the early 1970s, Dad decided that it was time for he and Mom to begin seeing more of the world. With my younger siblings, who were still living at home, they spent the summers of 1973 and 76 exploring Europe. In typical Dad fashion, those trips took them off the popular tourist trail to some more remote and unusual destinations including Leningrad and Moscow.

In May of 1982, Dad retired and in his words, he and Mom became homeless wanderers. Their belongings were shipped to Vancouver and put into storage while they spent most of the following year traveling North America and sleeping in the back of their little Malibu station wagon. After returning to Vancouver and living in a rented apartment for six months, it was time to set off on an even more audacious adventure. Dad ordered a Volkswagen camper van from a dealership in Vancouver to be picked up at the factory in Germany. Rather than flying directly to Germany, they got there via Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, two weeks in China, and the Trans Siberian railroad across the Soviet Union. After picking up the Volkswagen, they spent more than a year living in it and roaming around Europe and the Middle East before finally shipping it back to Canada. Sometime later, while a niece housesat for them, Dad and Mom were off on yet another adventure living in a rented van in Australia for several months. It was there that they survived a head on collision virtually unscathed.

In retirement, when he wasn’t traveling, Dad quickly learned that there’s no end of things to do as long as you don’t want to be paid. He spent three years working as volunteer office manager and treasurer for the Africa Community Technical Service, an organization committed to providing clean, accessible water to isolated communities in Africa. That led to yet more travel as he and Mom spent seven weeks in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with the director and his wife seeing first hand what their efforts were accomplishing.

Over the years that followed, the Volkswagen van brought them over the mountains to Alberta numerous times to visit their children and grandchildren. Their last big trip was to a resort in the Dominican Republic where they celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. That brought their total number of countries traveled to 67.

Life changed significantly for Dad when Mom began to show signs of dementia. For many years after that he devoted himself to the challenging task of caring for her. As a family, we were deeply concerned that he was burning himself out, but he faced it like another mountain to climb and later, after she passed away in 2014, he was heard to say that those had been good years.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 1, while I stood at his bedside, Dad ascended his final peak and caught his first glimpse of what’s on the other side.

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June 25, 1923 – March 1, 2020

At the reception following his memorial service, I was asked if I had inherited my father’s adventurous spirit and I was proud to reply that, yes, I believe I did! Thank you, Dad!

What’s in the suitcase this time?

LogoI didn’t actually think that there was going to be a Fashion Friday post this week. Life threw us an unexpected curve a few days ago when we learned that my very frail 96-year-old father had taken a turn for the worse. He isn’t expected to live and we’re once again on our way to Vancouver.

There were a lot of details that we had to take care of at home in order to clear our calendars and get on our way. Very little thought or planning went into what’s in our suitcase. Thankfully, we travel a lot and packing has become second nature to me. When I looked at the clothes laying on the bed in our guest room, which doubles as my packing room, I realized that I’d automatically chosen mostly neutrals and that everything coordinated so that I could put together many outfits with just a few items. The latter is a very important key to packing well.

We spent many hours on the road yesterday and at one point I found myself thinking about what was in the suitcase. I came to the realization that, for the most part, I’d packed what might best be referred to as comfort clothes. Comfortable, yes, but also comforting. Clothes like my grey and white Breton t-shirt and my tan cords that feel like old friends. I may not be a shining fashionista in the things that I packed, but in these challenging days, I’ll be dressed in clothes that bring me comfort.

What about you? Do you have clothes that you instinctively reach for on days when you need comforting?

2019 fashion shopping review

LogoFor the second year in a row, I kept a list of all the clothing purchases that I made over the past year so that I could analyse my shopping habits and establish goals for the following year. I started doing this at the beginning of 2018 in part because I wanted to be a more ethical shopper. I was also interested in finding out more about my spending habits and I wanted to be more intentional about wardrobe development. 

Based on what I learned in 2018, I came up with the following goals for 2019. Let’s see how I did.

  • I will continue tracking my purchases for the coming year so that I can review and evaluate my shopping habits again a year from now. Done!
  • I would like to buy less and spend less. Partial success. I actually purchased more items, but I spent less. 
  • I intend to buy basics that I need and items I love that work well with what I already have. Mostly successful. I did buy two thrifted items, a tank top and a necklace, that didn’t fit into my wardrobe very well. Both have already been returned to be enjoyed by someone else. 
  • I will resist the pressure of friends to buy pieces that they like, but that aren’t right for me. Complete success! 
  • I will continue to buy quality pieces, not wasting money on fast fashion items that are poorly made and end up in the landfill after only a few wearings. Success!
  • I will continue to write a weekly fashion post! Done!

It’s difficult to find accurate information on women’s shopping habits and it clearly varies from place to place, but it appears that on average most women purchase approximately 70 items of clothing a year and spend somewhere between $150 and $400  a month or approximately $1800 to $4800 annually. Personally, I can’t imagine buying or spending anywhere near that much! Over the past year, I spent a total of $1071.74 CAD or approximately $89 a month. With that, I purchased 43 items including clothing, accessories, and footwear. The biggest change from the previous year was the number of accessories I bought which included two hats, two purses, one belt, one scarf, and several pieces of jewelry. Accessories take up very little space and don’t have to be expensive, but they are the finishing touches that add interest, individuality, and detail to an outfit.

Another difference from the previous year was the number of thrifted items that I added to my wardrobe. I bought only 5 second-hand pieces in 2018, but 14 in 2019 and some of those are amongst my favourite purchases. I paid full price for only 9 items over the past year. The majority of the brand new garments that I bought were on sale. I also added several cabi pieces to my wardrobe at half price by hosting a party in my home in September. The most expensive item that I bought all year cost $99. I have no idea what the total value of my purchases was because I don’t know the original prices of the thrifted items, but I do know that if I’d paid full price for all the brand new items, those pieces alone would have cost me $1609.80. All in all, I’m very satisfied with my wardrobe spending over the past year.

When it comes to shopping ethically, however, I wouldn’t consider myself particularly successful. Finding accurate information in order to make wise choices is extremely difficult. In late June I wrote this post outlining my concerns about purchasing items made in China. I thought seriously about refusing to buy anything else that was produced in that country and for awhile I tried. I read labels and even walked away from a few items, but I soon found myself caving in. In spite of my increased concern, I did only marginally better than the previous year. Some of my thrifted purchases were missing their labels so I don’t know where they were made, but I knowingly bought 18 made in China items in 2019 compared to 20 the year before. Many of the others were made in third world countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. I have no way of knowing if they were manufactured in factories that are socially and environmentally responsible or sweatshops where workers are exploited and forced to work in unsafe conditions, but at least those countries are not the threat to Canada that I believe China to be.

So what are my goals for 2020? Many are the same as last year, but I’ve revised some a bit and added a couple of new ones.

  • I will continue tracking my purchases for at least one more year so that I can review and evaluate my shopping habits again a year from now.
  • I will continue to buy things that I need and items I love that work well with what I already have.
  • I will strive to buy less and experiment with new ways to wear what I already have.
  • I will continue to buy quality pieces and not waste money on fast fashion.
  • When considering a purchase that was made in China, I will attempt to find a suitable alternative made elsewhere.
  • When adding to my closet, I will consider five adjectives that begin with C… classy, confident, comfortable, casual, and creative. These words all describe what I’d like my wardrobe to say about me. Thank you, Pam Lutrell, for inspiring this one!
  • I will continue to write a Fashion Friday post each week.

As I look at my list of purchases from 2019, it’s difficult to choose just a few favourites to share with you here because I truly love so many of them! You’ve seen most of them on the blog before, but here’s a small sample:

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This is what I wore on New Year’s Eve for an evening of fine dining and dancing with my hubby. The little black jacket was my first purchase of 2019 and has been worth it’s weight in gold. It has appeared on the blog several times throughout the past year as it can be worn with so many things in my closet. The Dream Dress from cabi was bought half price at the end of the Spring/Summer season and I picked up the vintage evening purse at our local thrift store for just $3!

 

 

 

The Airwalk Speed Vitesse sneakers that I purchased at a Payless closing out sale were absolutely perfect for walking the streets of Europe in May and have continued to serve me well ever since. They were amongst several items that were bought specifically for traveling in 2019.

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In this photo, taken in beautiful Bruges, Belgium, I’m wearing a favourite thrifted top and carrying the anti-theft crossbody bag that kept my valuables safe while we traveled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I can hardly wait for summer to return so that I can wear my DIY frayed white jeans again! They were also thrifted and cost just $2 plus a few minutes work to let down the hems and fray the edges.

 

 

 

 

 

Here I am on a hiking trail wearing two more favourite purchases from 2019, a lightweight thrifted hoodie and my Uniqlo ultra light down vest. Both have proved to be great travel companions!

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And finally, here’s my zebra print top from cabi.

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How you see yourself

LogoWe were on the way to the city to finish up our Christmas shopping earlier this week when the cell phone rang. It was the call we’d been waiting for for a month and a half. A space had finally been found for my very frail 96-year-old father to move into a long term care facility in Burnaby, the suburb of Vancouver that has been his home for over 30 years. He would be moving before the end of the week!

So here I am back on the road again today heading for the coast (wasn’t I just there?) to clean out the little assisted living apartment where Dad has spent the past six years and to make sure that he’s comfortably settled into his new surroundings.

There wasn’t time to write the fashion post that I had planned for today, so it will have to wait for another time. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this thought.

How you see yourself

A little piece of Paris

LogoEverywhere we went when we were in Paris in May, I saw people wearing berets. Most of them were women, but I did see at least one man sporting one. I hadn’t worn a beret since a pastel green one I had in high school, but before long, I decided that I needed to bring one home with me. It was easy to do as there were inexpensive ones available in almost every souvenir shop. My only dilemma was deciding what colour to buy. I finally settled on navy blue, but now that winter has arrived and I’m seeing more and more berets being worn here in Canada, I wish I’d bought more than one!

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Wearing pins or brooches on knit caps (or toques as we call them here in Canada) is a trend this year, so when image consultant and fashion blogger, Brenda Kinsel, suggested adding them to berets, I decided to give it a try. I don’t often wear pins, but I knew that there were a few hiding in the back of one of my drawers. Here, I’ve added a silver rose to my little piece of Paris.

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There are several ways to style a beret. It can be worn as I’m wearing mine or tilted to one side or the other. Every beret has a brim that fits snug to the head and holds it in place. Though I’ve seen them worn with the brim to the outside, the “correct” way is to tuck it inside.

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