Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sunday at the Art Gallery With Linda

This past Sunday, these two women met for brunch, and then went off to Museum London to see a presentation by Little Ray's Reptile Zoo, a privately funded zoo and animal rescue that has a travelling reptile show.   Linda and I find snakes, lizards and other scaley critters rather fascinating so we thought it would be an interesting way to spend an hour.

When we arrived a few minutes after the show had started, we found ourselves at the back of a large crowd of children and adults.  The man in the hat in the upper left of the photo was holding, and talking about a particular salamander that is on the endangered species list.  Unfortunately, the noise level in the room was so loud that you could barely hear what he was saying, even though he was almost yelling.  At one point, a man standing near me put up his hand and asked if the presenter could speak louder, and without thinking, I said out loud, to no one in particular, "maybe if everyone shut up, we could hear him".   In that moment, I officially became a crochety old lady.   I recalled that if I was ever taken to a show or exhibit when I was a kid, there was a conversation beforehand about the behaviour that was expected of me - pay attention and be quiet.  Apparently that talk isn't had by many parents and children anymore.  When we realized we were never going to be able to hear what the poor reptile guy was saying, we decided to explore the rest of the gallery.

We crossed into the large main gallery and saw this, prompting us to both exclaim "DRESSES!"

The dresses were part of an exhibit titled "In Full Flower", featuring women's dresses, decorative objects, and paintings with a floral motif from the Museum's collection.  Flowers have been used extensively throughout history as a decorative motif by artists, fashion designers, and crafters and have held a variety of symbolic meanings.  They are usually associated with femininity, and thus are a popular choice for fabrics for women's clothing, hence the dresses on display.  Unfortunately, the paintings that were chosen for the exhibit were mostly dark and featured rather droopy flowers (notice the two on the wall behind the dress) which made them not worth documenting.  The silk dress in the photo from around 1915 was owned by Marjorie Stevenson Morphy, and is an example of a very fashionable outfit of the time period.

This late 1920's chiffon dress was one of my favourites for the colour combination and the shape

A very welcome, and quite fascinating addition to the exhibit was the display cards below each dress that not only described the dress and how it was made, but also gave some information about the  woman who had owned it.  The cards in the photo above are for the chiffon dress in the previous photo.  I love the name Eloise!

Details of some of the dresses on display (clockwise from top left):  Lace detail on the collar and pocket of a 1940's cotton dress donated by Western's Brescia College; waist detail of Arnold Scaasi silk dress purchased by Judith Roger in 1964 for her wedding trousseau. Judith's daughter Milisa Burns then wore the dress as a going away outfit after her own 1991 wedding; vibrant floral pattern and draped bodice and waist of a 1980's dress owned by Isabel Wilson Roger; ruffled capped sleeves on a 1930's georgette dress worn by Bertha "Mabel" Riether when she was in her 50's.

The 1960's were represented by the polyester dress on the left, which was purchased in Toronto in 1969, and the PVC dress on the right designed by Canadian-born Karen Moller

Linda and I were intrigued by the description for these two dresses, both owned by Sophie Skaith.  Skaith made the mini dress on the left in 1970 and according to the information card, she wore it a lot because "it just made me feel so good and I just loved to wear it".  We were surprised to see that the rather dumpy Laura Ashley dress with the lace collar was also owned by Skaith, and it was noted that it was one of her favourites.   Linda and I were very tempted to try to contact Ms. Skaith, who is still alive, and find out how the same woman that made the bold flowered minidress on the left could also be so enamoured with the drab, shapeless dress on the right.

In Full Flower:  Handpicked From the Collection 
is on view at Museum London until April 19th

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Awkward Years

At the end of January,  Buzzfeed posted a list of the "15 Amazing Senior Style Instagrammers You Should Follow Right Now" featuring a number of women I know, and the majority of whom I was already following on IG.  If you haven't seen the list, check it out - you'll find some of the bloggers we've always known were cool like Judith, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, Ariane, and Desiree.  I was thrilled that the women (do stylish older men not have IG accounts?) are receiving the recognition they deserve although I was rather puzzled as to what criteria was used to determine who qualified as a "senior" - the ages of the women ranged from late 40's to 80.   It reminded me of when I met blogger Ari Cohen on a trip to New York when I turned 50, which at the time felt old to me, only to be told that I was too young to be on his blog, Advanced Style

Shortly thereafter, Sylvia, the author of 40+Style posted a list of The 40 Most Stylish Midlife Women on Instagram You Should Follow Right Now  (on which I am honoured to be included).  I believe "midlife" is a term to describe those of us not old enough to be considered senior (which according to Buzzfeed I'll be in two years).    

It's a weird stage of life, your 50's.  You can't fool yourself (or anyone else) that you are "young" anymore, realistically, you're not middle-aged, as few of us will live into our 100's.   Technically, you're not a senior (no pension, and no senior's discounts), even though some days it may feel like it.  I'm nowhere near being able to retire, yet I am bombarded by messages from the media (and our HR department at work) reminding me that I have to think about it, NOW!

During a conversation with Melanie,  she coined the term Middle-Aged Tween, or MAT for short, and I'd have to say that's pretty much how it feels.   Your hormones are wonky, your body is changing, and suddenly it's like you're 12 all over again.  You're too old for some things, and not old enough for others, and you're not really sure where you fit in anymore.   The majority of my close friends are either a decade younger than I, or a decade older.  I'm the 53 year old in the middle, without children or grandchildren to worry about, no house to renovate, and still working full-time for many years to come.

I never had any specific ideas of what I would wear when I was in my 50's.  Growing up, the only women I knew personally who were in their 50's were my mother and her friends,  I knew I would dress very different from them when I was their age....and sure enough, I do.

1980's sweater - May Court Shop
Leather and Fabric pants - Danier 
Dress - Talize
fur collar - The Sentimentalist

(left) Melanie and (right) Ariane (images from their blogs)
Thank goodness I have these two 50-something dames in my life as style inspirations.

 Tilda Swinton (source)
This woman, also in her early 50's, will always be a style inspiration for me, whether as a blonde, brunette or redhead, full makeup or none, dressed as a man or a woman. 

 My hair is certainly unlike that of any woman I knew when I was growing up, but that is mostly due to the time period.  Women did not shave their heads and colour their hair orange and pink in the 1970's.    Most of them don't do it now, at least not women my age.  I've asked myself more than once if I colour my hair like this for the visibility factor - after all, my friends are able to pick me out of a crowd with no difficulty - but there's more to it than that.  My natural hair colour is mousy brown, and I've been colouring it most of my adult life to reflect a personality that is anything but mousy brown.  My hair has kind of become my thing - and is often seen more as an art installation on my head instead of hair.  I think if it wasn't a vibrant colour and styled like this, I wouldn't feel like me.

And then there's the attitude, which I have been told is definitely not that of most 50-something women, which I'll take as a compliment.  I take the things in my life that are important to me seriously, but myself, not so much.

Most amazing googly-eye shirt - made by the most amazing Melanie
jacket and skirt - thrifted

The back of the shirt, featuring this patch with a wonderful cartoon rendition of yours truly (wearing my favourite Docs).  I think Melanie has captured the 50-something me perfectly.

Monday, February 9, 2015

They Grow Up So Fast

This is not the post I was hoping to put up tonight, but I'm still working on that one, so in the meantime, let's catch up with Ginger and Ruby, shall we?

Remember these little babies?

Ruby and Ginger in December, at 8 weeks of age

Like all babies, they keep getting bigger and bigger

At almost 4 months old, they are close to twice the size they were when I brought them home.  Ginger (left) is smaller than Ruby, but she is braver, and is often the first to try new things. 

Just look at those chompers on Ginger!  She has not been smoking - a healthy rat's teeth are supposed to be yellow.

They climb onto the bars of the cage to greet me in the morning, and when I arrive home at night.  They want to be out of their cage and with me all the time, and my couch has turned into a rat playground for hide-and-go-seek, wrestling, and the dispensing of treats.  I supervise them when they're out, but they are quick, curious little creatures, who love to chew on stuff...

...and on the weekend I discovered this:

This is one of the three large cushions that line the back of my couch, which was the first piece of new furniture I ever purchased, about 20 years ago.  With no kids or animals in my apartment, it has stayed in very good condition, until now.   I found Ginger hiding inside the cushion on Saturday night after searching for her for over a half an hour.  I have no idea how long she had been working on that hole (which was on the side of the cushion against the couch).   There was no point in getting angry with her, as she was just doing what rats do, and you can't discipline them like you would a dog.  I allowed myself to be upset for a while, and realized that when one has a pet (unless it's a fish), you have to be prepared that something is going to get scratched, chewed, or peed on.  I'm just glad it wasn't a pair of my favourite shoes.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Girls Just Want to Have Fun (and Cupcakes)

It was another busy weekend here; I am in the midst of purging stuff, and Saturdays are taken up with trips to drop of donations to thrift stores, consignment stores, and throwing things out.   I made a quick stop at The Boombox Bakeshop to get myself a treat....

Behold, a lavender lemon cupcake!  It was such a perfect cupcake -  marvelous mix of flavours,  moist center with a bit of a crispy outside,  just the right amount of icing -   I had to do it justice with a photo collage.  It did strike me at some point when I was taking these photos that I might be a little desperate for blog photos these days.

After a full day of errands,  I was looking forward to attending a "Ladies Night" at Renegade, where noted Sexologist Dr. Carlen Costa was going to be speaking.  Alas, I arrived too late, and missed Carlen's talk on self-pleasure and orgasms, which I gathered was thoroughly enjoyed by the women in the audience.  I've seen Dr. Carlen speak at another event, and she is delightful - extremely knowledgeable, charming and has a great sense of humour.   This was the second party at the store that I had been invited to since it opened back in August, and Christine has also hosted a games night.  Renegade is acquiring a reputation not only a place to find attractive plus-size clothing, but also a place where women can get together and have fun in a supportive, nonjudgemental environment.  All shapes and sizes welcome!

Another thing I like about the parties at Renegade is that the women who attend make a real effort to dress up.  The women in the photos above are wearing outfits they had purchased at the store.   The curved line of buttons on the skirt of the dress on the right emphasizes the curve of her hips, and you can see the saucy bow at the back reflected in the mirror.

The redhead on the left wore the dress she is wearing in a mini-fashion show during the evening.    The sassy dame on the right found her funky dress at Penningtons, of all places.  Their clothing used to be very stuffy and conservative (I know because I worked there when I was going to university) so I was surprised to see they now more stylish and fun plus-sized clothing.

There were more cupcakes from The Boombox Bakeshop (it was a two cupcake day for me!)

Kayla and I went rack to rack (so to speak) in our black and gold dresses,  After the party, the two of us went to a Motown Party at a local club - it was Saturday night, and I was still awake after 10 pm so I thought I'd better take advantage of it.  It was a lot of fun, and I danced more than I had in years, although I had definitely worn the wrong outfit for dancing - the dress was soaked with sweat by the time I got home.

I'm including this photo so I can get in on The Stylecrone's Hat Attack this month (#19, can you believe it??).  Even though it's a bathroom selfie shot with my phone, I really like the photo - it shows off the hat perfectly and my skin looks pretty awesome, which is something to celebrate these days.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Working For The Weekend

When I was growing up, it seemed that most of the adults I knew toiled away at their jobs during the week just so they could relax and enjoy their life during those two days known as The Weekend.  My father was a carpenter, and my mother also worked outside the home from the time I was about 8 years old.   I remember her being tired and harried most of the week, having to look after a family after working at a job that was not particularly fulfilling in any way except that it paid the bills.  I was determined to not be one of those people whose "real life" was restricted to Saturday and Sunday.  In  my 20's, I worked in a series of low-paying retail jobs and found I could pursue things I enjoyed like writing, dancing, and photography during the work week.  I could wear pretty much whatever I wanted to work (most often it was army boots, skinny black jeans, and over-sized men's jackets);  I could go dancing on Monday night til 1:00 am, and still make it to work on Tuesday by 10 am.  I had my own weekly show on the local university radio station, and was able to plan my theme for the week while working my shifts in a local record store.  There was no great divide between my work life and my non-work life.  It didn't seem to bother me that much that I had no money, benefits, or plans for the future.

That all changed when I finally got a "real job" - one with a decent salary and benefits that required more of me than just ringing in customer purchases and keeping an eye out for shoplifters.  Suddenly, I found I couldn't stay out late during the week and function well at work the next day, and working a 9 - 5 schedule meant that evenings during the week were set aside for  errands and laundry.  The activities that gave me joy were set aside for weekends and holidays, and for many years, I would mourn the fact that I hadn't found my "dream job", which would allow me to get paid for doing the things I was passionate about.  I finally came to terms with the fact that things I love to do don't pay very well, and realized there was nothing wrong with working at a job that wasn't particularly exciting, or inspiring, as long as it was a means to an end.   I try to make the most of every weekend, savouring those precious 48 hours during which I can set my own schedule (you can see why I didn't have children), see and do things I enjoy, and work on projects that feed my soul instead of my bank account.

So what did I get up to this weekend?

After a trip to the market with Heather, followed by a coffee and chat, I stopped at one of my neighbourhood thrift stores where I saw this....

This would be Miss Kitty, lounging in a pile of purses at Silk Road.  She and Smoke, the other store cat, pretty much run the place.  They have not, however, learned how to operate the cash register (yet)

I scored a $5 skirt that inspired an impromptu photo session with my friend Sylvie, who I had planned to meet for a cocktail and a gab later that afternoon.

Sylvie had told me she would be wearing a marvelous hat for our get-together, and she most certainly was.  She was also wearing a beautiful fur and leather vintage coat she found at Value Village.   As we were both looking rather spiffy,  I suggested we do a quick detour to a parking lot in my hood and take a few photographs while there was still a bit of light.  

So there was a bit of this

and some of this....

....and then we headed off to a local pub for some wine and conversation. 

Yep, those are jellyfish.  Soft, sparkly, sequined jellyfish

On Sunday I went to Museum London to see a film (more on that in a minute).  The film was tied in with one of their current exhibits titled "Nature's Handmade" (until April 15th), which features  works by contemporary Canadian artists who use a variety of materials and found objects to create non-traditional representations of nature.  My favourite piece in the exhibit is created by Conan Masterson, and titled "Sea Dab Jig".  The piece depicts a bloom (the term for a large number of jellyfish swarming together) of jellyfish made from fabric and yarn.

             From the artist's statement: 
                          "Jellyfish are like weeds.  Though brainless and boneless, these gelatinous 
                          creatures are resilient, adaptable, and great at surviving.  Overfishing, climate
                          change, and pollution only fuel their spread.   In environmental hotspots across 
                          the globe, certain species of jellyfish are now destroying other aquatic species, 
                         and in absence of competition are quickly becoming the top predator of our waters.
                         Sea Dab is an old Newfoundland term for a variety of jellyfish.  The installation
                         Sea Dab Jig creates a bloom of fabricated jellyfish invading Museum London."

Some of the other pieces in the exhibit were quite striking, such as this large quilted garden by Joyce Wieland.  The piece is between seven and eight feet in height.

Clockwise from top left:  Another large piece entitled Plankton, created by Reinhard Reitzenstein from welded steel;  detail of Plankton;  Ovo and Claw Entablature (Fragment) by Spring Hurlbut.
I had gone to the gallery for a free showing of the 2013 documentary "Spring & Arnaud".  The film is an intelligent and intimate love story between two well-respected Canadian artists, Spring Hurlbut and Arnaud Maggs.  I remembered meeting Hurlbut here in London in the early 1980's, which sparked my interest in seeing the film.  The couple met when Hurlbut was 35 and Maggs was 60, and they were together for 25 years until Magg's death in 2012.   The filmmakers follow the couple at their cottage in France and their home and studios in Toronto as they discuss their relationship and respective art practices during the last year and a half of Magg's life.  The film is beautifully shot, and received very good press when it debuted at the Toronto Hot Docs Festival in 2013.    It was unfortunate only about a half dozen people came to see it this weekend.  You can watch the trailer below.

And now, back to work!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Since we have settled into real winter this month, I noticed I've been wearing a lot of black clothing to work.  Winter is notoriously "Black" season - the streets are a sea of women wearing black leggings and black down-filled coats - and while I abhor this cult of sameness, I must also acknowledge that I really do enjoy wearing the colour black.  I'm naturally very pale, and like the contrast of black against my skin, and wearing black makes me feel stronger, and more in control (we can discuss my control issues another time).  After spending my 20's and most of my 30's wearing primarily black clothing,  I did make a concerted effort to include more colour in my wardrobe after my mother asked me during a visit, "Don't you have anything to wear that isn't black??" 

I've accumulated a lot of black items of clothing over the years and a lot of them are made of warm, heavy fabrics suited to winter.  Black is also a great camouflage when one is feeling kind of chunky after the chocolate binge-fest that was December.  However, to avoid being mistaken for an Italian Widow, I have made a point of pairing it with at least one other strong colour.

Black and White 
Wearing my favourite faux fur vest (The Sentimentalist), fleece skirt (From Mars), and Hello Kitty leggings (Forever 21).  I'm also wearing my computer glasses with my 1950's frames, and a strangely smug expression.

Black and Red
I really need to take a posing class, or a facial expression class, or something.   I'm not sure what I'm doing here, but this was the best photo out of the bunch, which doesn't say much.  It's been really cold in our office lately, so an increasing number of layers have been necessary.  It made for an excellent excuse to wear my thrifted knit rabbit fur poncho (Value Village), which I love, even if I don't wear it often.  The skirt (Anthropologie) is one of those items that year after year I plan to get rid of, but then I wear it once, and its woolly warmth, and pink and red ruffle trim wins me over.  The red fleece-lined leggings (From Mars) are sooooo cozy!

Black and Copper
I wore this outfit to greet our incoming students at the beginning of the term, and was trying to go for a "funky, but professional" look.  The jacket (Le Chateau) has a flattering shape, giving me the illusion of a waist, and it's got a bit of stretch to it.  I found the painted suede skirt and the copper vintage Florsheim Italian leather ankle boots at Talize, for $12 each.
Over the last couple of weeks I've also worn black and grey, black and blue, and black and green.  The thrifted Marks and Spencers jacket in the photo above is a bit big on me, but I was drawn to the colour and the gigantic buttons (but was very disappointed to see the Made in China label).

I see that many of my blogger friends (Vix, Melanie, Ariane, Curtis and Judith) are wearing head-to-toe bold colours and prints despite the cold temperatures, so I will be content with being the "Black Sheep" for the rest of the winter!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Please Help Fulfill a Kite Dream

If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember seeing Maureen Riley and/or her artwork in a couple of posts (here, and here) over the years.  I've known Maureen for somewhere between 15 and 20 years, and have no recollection of how we met, but suffice it to say that we immediately sensed a kindred spirit in each other.  She is a warm, kindhearted person, with a delightful sense of humour, and has been a full-time working artist for the last 30 years.  I have always loved her work, which focusses on the lives of women - her richly-coloured paintings feature scenes of women reading, dancing, or drinking cocktails together.  Many pieces of her work have been a tribute to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo who has been a great inspiration for her.

Riley and two of her works - the triptych on the mantel depicts Frida Kahlo at three different times in her life.

I love visiting Maureen in her art-filled home - jewel-like colours glow on every wall, goddesses and angels radiate with benevolence and wisdom.  The bottom right painting, titled "The Artist and Friends Pose for The Millenium" features a young Riley.

 One of Riley's three cats may come up and say hello - this adorable calico is Queenie, who, on my most recent visit decided that I was worthy of petting her.

Riley has the most entertaining bathroom filled with kitschy religious iconography, photos of her beloved niece and some quirky dolls.

Now I'm going to do something I've never done before on this blog - I'm going to ask you, the reader, for money.  I'm asking you to support Riley's crowd-funded project, titled Kite Dream.   What is Kite Dream?  It is a graphic novel about Riley's life in the years since 1991, when she was diagnosed with Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder.  In the years following, her sister died after being infected with tainted blood, Riley unexpectedly found herself in the role of a parent in her 40's, and through it all she continued to produce her art.

A detail of the first page of the graphic novel that Riley is hoping to finish in a year if her crowdfunding campaign is successful.

The goal of her Indiegogo campaign is $10,000, which would allow Riley to devote a full year to work exclusively on the graphic novel.   If that goal isn't met, Riley still gets to keep whatever amount is raised, but Indiegogo keeps 9% of the funds received, instead of the 4% taken if the full $10,000 is raised.  There are 23 days left in the campaign, and so far almost $3,800 has been donated.  If all of you who have enjoyed reading my blog each donated $5 to the campaign,  we could probably get it over the $5,000 mark.  

It is through the telling of stories that we form connections with others, and we come to understand ourselves.  Riley has decided that it was the right time for her to tell her story.  Please watch the short video below that I made where Riley discusses Kite Dream and how dystonia has impacted her life.

Here's the link to the Kite Dream page on Indiegogo.  If you believe in the importance of sharing our stories, and are able to spare $5, please support the campaign.   

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Kits On The Block*

*in Europe, baby rats are called kittens, so for the purpose of this post we'll pretend I'm in Europe

It had been over four months since the passing of dear little Fred, and I started thinking about getting another pet.  Then I had allergy tests done, which pretty much confirmed what I already knew - I'm allergic to cats, dogs, rats, and apparently horses (also trees, grass, weeds, etc., but that stuff is outside).  My allergist suggested a bearded dragon or a hedgehog as possible hypoallergenic pets, neither of which appealed to me.  I don't mind reptiles, but I don't want to live with one, and hedgehogs are nocturnal and not very smart.    I really wanted another rat, so I looked at a couple of breeders' websites and checked on Kijiji (which is like Craigslist) for listings of baby rats for sale.  I  contacted a few people, and when all of them proved to be either very strange and/or terrible communicators, I ended up back at PetSmart again.  This time, however I was armed with questions and experience, and fortunately, there was a lovely young woman working there who had pet rats, and was very friendly and knowledgeable. 

And now these two little girls live with me; the brown and white one is Ginger, and the white one is Ruby.  Neither of them were freaked out when I held them at the store, and they have adjusted very well to their life in Fred's former home (which had been cleaned and sterilized).  And they are adorable.....

They were so small when I brought them home two weeks ago.  The store clerk said they were the youngest rats they had ever had in the store (most likely about 8 weeks old).  

I knew rats are very social, and should not live alone, and if I could go back and do it over, I would have got Fred a sister.   At the time I didn't know if I would like having one rat, much less two, and while I gave her the best life that I could, she was lonely.   There was no question that the next time there would be two.  The difference is amazing (and makes me even more sad for Fred) - the two of them sleep together (sometimes stacked, like blocks, or nose to tail, or whatever is going on in the bottom right photo) and chase each other around the cage like kittens.

 "What are you looking at??"

There is also a whole lot of rat wrestling going on, and Ruby has turned out to be quite a scrapper. 

Ginger is similar to Fred in her colouring (this photo looks eerily like one I have of Fred), although she is a darker brown.   She's a little piglet, who will climb over/step on anything (usually Ruby) between her and a treat.

Ruby is very pretty, and her fur is as soft as a cotton ball.  I've never been drawn to white rats because most have red eyes, which I find rather demonic, but she has black eyes, which is very unusual.  She is proving to be a quick learner as well, and braver than her sister.

And what about my allergies?  Well, within 24 hours of bringing them home, I was coughing and wheezing, and to be honest, the first few days were horrible.  A week after I brought them home, they started making the same chirping and huffing noises that Fred made when she started to get sick, so back to the store they went, where they were checked over by the vet (they were still under warranty) and pronounced fit as little fiddles.  A change to a more expensive, 99% dust free, bedding seemed to  do the trick;  I wish my allergies could be cured so quickly.   I've been experimenting with taking an antihistamine and using my ventolin puffer at different times of the day to find which works best, and it has been getting better.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed, as I already am attached to the little girls and they are bonding with me.  Wish me luck!