What I Wore

There it was, featured in the Boden USA catalogue, the Riviera shirt dress.  Despite the fact that the model was five inches taller, twenty-five years younger and twenty-five pounds lighter than me, I was completely seduced by the suggestion that by donning that dress, I, too, could have a life inspired by the French Riviera, sipping Lillet cocktails in a sunflower-filled garden.

Still, I waited.

Whenever a new Boden catalogue comes out, I make note of the outfits that catch my fancy (as the British-based company would say) for future reference.  Future reference means clearance sale.  Boden has fantastic clearance sales and I am the happy owner of of three Boden dresses, one cardigan, a few shirts and several skirts — all colorful and striking — that I scored during clearance sales.

When the dress arrived, it became clear that on the shorter, squatter me, it was not quite as sleek, stylish and, well, French as it had looked on the model.  But embellished with a black patent leather belt and cute black sandals (someone once told me that accessories are what separate us from animals), I was able to pull together a look that would be eye-catching in Seattle, the fleece capital of the U.S.

I wore it for the first time on a gray, chilly summer morning for a work-related meeting.  As a writer who works from home, it’s rare that I have to dress up, and fifteen years removed from the daily tyranny of heels and pantyhose, I still get a shiver of excitement whenever I do. As many Boden dresses are, this one was extremely comfortable.  And as I waited for my morning latte, the barista said approvingly, “Hey, nice dress.”

We were going to a party later that evening, the kind of party suggested by the photo of the dress in the catalogue, sipping drinks on the deck of a house with a view of the sunset over Puget Sound.

I wanted to wear the dress to the party but feared it was too dressy.  Seattle party attire usually consists of fleece, cargo pants and Tevas, though lately I’ve seen a lot of high-end yoga wear.

Plus, there was the problem of the intervening seven hours between the end of my meeting and the party. Should I take the dress off and put it on again later?  Or should I revel in the “daytime to dusk” qualities of the dress and keep it on all day?

Have you ever read the Sunday New York Times Style Section feature What I Wore?

Here’s an excerpt from the May 17, 2012 profile of the painter Anh Duong:

May 9:  Still recovering from the Met Ball marathon, where I, in my beautiful Giambattista Valli dress the color of a cloud, climbed all night from the bottom of the Met stairs to the Top of the Standard hotel for the after-party.

But all I have left from the ball is a cold. I started with a new healthy smoothie recipe that I read on Goop. Rejuvenated, I slipped into my gray Stella McCartney exercise costume. I don’t know if I would have committed to my exercise regimen without her designing for Adidas. Whatever it takes.

Before heading uptown to see my shrink (I like to dress comfortably so I can relax on the couch and let my inner child free), I put on a beige Phillip Lim sleeveless wool dress with a black Uniqlo T-shirt and Christian Louboutin black biker boots. Added a DVF cashmere leopard-print scarf for my sick throat.

It’s very clear to me that the people profiled in What I Wore, all of whom change their outfits at least three times a day, don’t do their own laundry.

Were the New York Times to profile me in their What I Wore feature, it might go something like this:

July 30:  Donned a ripped T-shirt and black exercise pants from Target to walk the dog.  The worn patches in the hindquarters remind me of ominous gray storm clouds. 

Put on a striking blue and white Riviera shirt dress from Boden and went off to work.  Came home to find kids bickering and, feeling French, toyed with the idea of yelling “Ca suffit!”  The full skirt of the dress makes a statement when you flounce away in frustration. I drove to a neighborhood park and checked my email and discovered some good news I had been waiting for.

Still wearing the shirt dress, I took the kids and the dog to the doctor for check-ups and shots and then waited in the car while they bought donuts.  When we got home, as a post-shot treat, we curled up on the couch together and I  agreed to watch Pretty Little Liars, their favorite show, with them. Miraculously, though I repeatedly wrinkled my nose during the television program, the dress remained wrinkle-free.  

Did you know it’s easy to cook in the Riviera dress?  Feeling tres Nicoise, yet trying to avoid splattering oil, I whipped up a batch of socca to bring to a party and then loaded the dishwasher.

The lighthouse of Nice, on the Mediterranean c...

The lighthouse of Nice, on the Mediterranean coast (French Riviera). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 My husband and I strolled to the party, where we sipped drinks in the company of writers, while watching the sun set over Puget Sound.  I felt a few pangs of regret when I admitted that I’ve barely made time for any writing this summer because mostly all I’ve been doing is driving kids places and doing endless amounts of laundry and dishes.  Then I remembered that French women don’t have regrets.

“Hey, nice dress,” someone said.

Socca is the perfect snack to prepare for any occasion, but especially when you are feeling worn down from doing laundry and dishes and need a little of the French Riviera to bring romance back into your life.  I used Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from Plenty but have also used Dorie Greenspan’s socca recipe from Around My French Table and have faith that David Lebovitz’s socca recipe is as great as all of his recipes are.  Thanks to Dorie Greenspan, I now keep a jar of homemade creme fraiche in my refrigerator, right next to the preserved lemons.

Finally, my go-to summer cocktail this year has been a Lillet spritzer, which is Lillet on the rocks with sparkling water and a squeeze of fresh lime.

It reminds me of my younger days, when I subsisted on white wine spritzers and air-popped popcorn and a pretty dress could lead to all sorts of possibilities.

Someone to Watch Over Me

The two biggest things that happened last week were the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Obama health care plan and the passing of Nora Ephron.  So much has been written about both, that I don’t feel I have anything to add to the eloquence already expressed by so many others, though health care and loss are ever-present mid-life concerns.

Amidst the hubbub and emotions of a difficult weekend and week beginning, in which our family had a monumental decision to make, I received a quiet email from F, the father of my childhood friend C.  Entitled “C needs your help,” he told me that C’s mother R, who has been battling cancer for years, had been brought home from the hospital for the last time and was beginning hospice care.

C and I grew up together in a smallish town, where everyone knew everyone else and we all knew each other’s parents pretty well.

C and my mother had a special bond.  C had weathered an unusual number of blows for a teenager — the death of her high school boyfriend from cancer and a chronic and elusive auto-immune disorder that confounded doctors and would strike without warning.  After I left to spend my senior year of high school in France, as C dealt with the havoc the disease and its medication were wreaking on her body, my mother would take her to explore the growing number of ethnic restaurants in the area. When I traveled to Florida to bring my cancer-riddled mother home with me to Seattle, C came down from New Jersey to say a last goodbye.

My relationship with C’s mother and father was less intimate, but no less constant.  Snippets of memories have surfaced. I remember the Kiss posters in C’s bedroom, as we plotted how to sneak past her mother to go to the midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I still remember the exact placement of the table and chairs in C’s kitchen, where I would sit and tell her mother stories about France, while she played with her little dog, Muffy. I marveled at the ease with which C’s mother slipped into Italian whenever we visited her immigrant parents, and mostly I remember her faith.  As C’s eyesight waxed and waned because of her disease, her mother would light candles and pray to Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the blind.

Though I didn’t see them again after I reached my mid-twenties, C’s parents remained my cheerleaders from afar. They always asked about me, my mother said, adding that they were always proud of what I was doing.

When my mother was dying, C’s father, who by that time had been dealing with his own wife’s cancer for a few years, sent me encouraging words of wisdom.  I hope I’ve adequately expressed to him how much his support meant to me.

When you lose your mother, you lose the one person who keeps her eye on you, no matter how old you get, no matter how independent you seem. My mother never fully recovered from the loss of her mother and, as she lay dying, it was her mother she called out to.

I was missing my mother last weekend, as our family grappled with our decision, knowing that she alone would understand what I was wrestling with.  “What do you think she would have said to you,” asked a friend, when I told her that my mother and I had once had to make a similar decision.  I thought about it.  “She would have laughed and said, ‘Now do you understand how hard it was for me?’”

My daughters are blessed with an inner circle of mothers.  We celebrate their achievements and we provide counsel and support, when needed. My mother used to joke about being “Mother in the Dark,” that she was often the last to know what was going on with me.  But when you have a circle of mothers, there’s always someone to watch over you.

For Mother’s Day this year, my daughters and their friends filmed a tribute to all of us moms, which included an awards ceremony.  Among the mom honors they bestowed were: best dresser-upper, best with no make-up and all that jazz, best advice, best garden, best redhead, best cowgirl and best chef (yes, that was me, but when asked what their favorite dish of mine was, my kids were hard-pressed to come up with their answer:  pancakes.).

Just as I do with my own daughters, I like to imagine what these girls will be when they grow up.  I know I will always be their cheerleader, even from afar.

Shortly before my mother died, I received a call from one of my brother’s childhood friends, whom I hadn’t seen for more than forty years.  Until he moved away, his family lived in a house behind ours and he and my brother bounced back and forth between houses every day, backdoors slamming with every arrival and departure.

“I was at your house when we got the news that President Kennedy was assassinated,” he told me.  “Your mother brought us together to watch the news and explained what was happening.” For him, my mother was an inextricable part of history.

As we enter our fifties, more and more of my contemporaries are losing their mothers. Though I often get the news via Facebook and sometimes I did not know these women well, I still remember them:  the mother with the gentle eyes, the one who showed how beautiful a woman can look when she’s prematurely gray, the one who drank endless cups of coffee with my mother.

Thank you, R, for being an inextricable part of my history and for being a member of my inner circle of mothers.

With much love to R, C, F and your family.

Depending on your vintage, Nora Ephron was like a friend, sister or mother/mentor and the way in which she shared the experiences of being a woman was beneficial to so many.  Here’s Lena Dunham’s take on Nora from the New Yorker: