Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday Morning at 10:10am

My children are growing and grown. No chubbiness anywhere in the vicinity. Everyone is in control of their own hair and the clothes on their bodies. Luckily other people keep having kids. Cute kids. Really cute kids.

Let me introduce you to Zoe.

Oh my god. Have you ever seen such a beautiful little girl? Her mom blogs here with lots of other pictures of her two cute children. My favorite is the one where Zoe wears an Easter basket on her head.

And how about Eli?

As Ree Drummond would say, stick a fork in me, I'm done. Those curls. The kilt? I have to clench my teeth against the siren song of toddler flesh. Eli's mom just got married. She wore a big poufy tulle dress and a jeans jacket. We are waiting for more pictures...

Thanks guys. Keep it up. Keep having such cute children. It helps those of us who can be reduced to tears by a picture of our little ones as toddlers. It helps us not to urge our children to produce grandchildren sooner than is optimal. We appreciate your help. Our kids probably do too.

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Saturday Morning at 9:59am

My daughter graduates from college on Tuesday. I fly to Princeton tomorrow.

I am proud of her. But I will be no more proud of her on Tuesday than I was yesterday or the day before. Almost all her life a part of me has been standing with dropped jaw, watching her, wondering how she got here. When I wasn't chasing someone down the hall to put their shoes on, of course.

The child, because I will never relinquish my right to call her a child, is a creature. I don't think it's just mother love talking. Part of it is her physical presence. She is very tall with long red curls and very fair skin. Long years of ballet have left an impact, turning the coordination she was born with into what I have to call poise. Most striking however is her will. Her will and her resilience. While she goes through the world with her fair share or more of girl drama - meltdowns, sulking, giddiness - she has a core of will and resilience that I can only watch and admire. I don't know where she came from.

It is such a big moment - not to complete college, that in my family is a given. But to launch. To hold a job. To take steps. To cut your teeth. We love our children to the point of pain, we give them all we can, we help them to learn skills, we expend our resources for their experience - and then they go out into a world that may not feel as fondly as we do. I worry. We all do. But it's the kind of worry that I welcome. It's not anxiety. It's the reality of love in this life.

Although I am glad for IM and cellphones.


Friday, May 29, 2009

High WASP Wedding - Navy #4

Of course a High WASP wedding will be likely to have navy blue somewhere. Might be the people. You can go traditional or, well, less traditional.

Might be the table settings. You can go formal, or, well, less formal. With the tin plates below you can even go outside.

And when you're done, you can go, well, away. Bon voyage all.

I know I had said I was done with navy. I was wrong. I made a mistake. That happens sometimes. Have a great weekend.

Bridesmaids: Project Wedding
Groom: Style Me Pretty
Formal Tables: Tangorra Events via Style Me Pretty
Tin Plate: EmilyStyle
Towel: Land's End via Couture Carrie
Beach Tote (yeah right that's a beach tote...): Oscar de la Renta via Couture Carrie


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rapture. Toes.

Sometimes as I drive up 101 on the way to work I am seized by rapture. I find life to be a blinding light at which we can rarely bear to look.

Sometimes I think about whether I can afford a pedicure and if so whether I should have my toes painted blatant or demure pink.

Humanity. What to do about it?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

High WASP True Colors - Navy #3

And for the High WASP dinner party at home, a little black dress is a tad too austere. Navy blue will hide the stains from roasted red pepper relish or corn fritters or homemade blue cheese dressing or malted milk brownies or ma po tofu, just as well as black. I could continue. But I will restrain myself. It's all about restraint.

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High WASP True Colors - Navy #2

There are those working days when you plain and simply have to gear up to fight. When what you have to accomplish is going to require your last iota of capability, cognitive, emotional, physical. In the corporate world those days call for navy blue. Every single woman going into law or finance or industry ought to make her first purchase and most frequent purchase over time a navy suit. Or suit equivalent. The particulars can change decade by decade. I celebrated my 30th birthday by buying my first non-suit for work. A navy blue dress that buttoned down the front, big shoulders, wide belt. It was 1986, remember? Throughout my 40's I had a Vestimenta crepe wool navy blue suit. Hung perfectly. Wore it with flat black Ferragamo loafers. Nowadays I wear my Giorgio Armani navy tweed jacket with unmatching wide legged navy linen pants. Manolo Blahnik ballet flats. Heels cause me to wiggle, and wiggling causes me to falter.

Understand that I am not a big shopper. My closet is small. I only buy what I have to. I don't have oodles and oodles of designer labels festooning my hangers. I have figured out the High WASP way of doing nothing wrong with my work wardrobe. No one will ever talk about my clothes behind my back. But some days I need to drop the gloves. I prepare myself for metaphorical blood on the ice. I get my tailored blue and white striped Brooks Brothers shirt, my Rolex Cellini, my bag. All the top level accessories. I wear not one thing that causes me to use up capability on doubt, no wrinkled shirt, no sub-optimal earrings, no scuffed shoes. I put on my navy blue jacket and pants. I prepare to prevail. Against all odds, sometimes.

Wow, this really gets my testosterone going. Line up the accessories like hand grenades.

Now I might wear just a little bit of blue mascara to remind myself that I used to frequent CBGB's back in the '80s. To remind myself that I find the whiteness of rice quite overwhelming. But that's a small private sign. And the mascara is still navy blue.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

High WASP True Colors - Navy, #1

If the High WASPs had a place of worship, the altar cloth would be navy blue. You can never go wrong with navy. Yes, I said never. Black may be the neutral most favored by the rest of the fashion world but black is problematic for High WASPs. First of all, it's funereal. Second of all, it's edgy. In the High WASP world the ultimate sin is to offend anyone, for any reason. Some people get offended, or at least nervous, around edgy. Navy blue is deeply respectful, serious, sober. It's American. Very American. Look at jeans, the single most important invention of the American innovation engine. Yup, navy. And I know jeans weren't invented by a WASP. Even better. Immigration is really American. My ancestors were in part sheep farmers and cheese makers from Southwestern Scotland.

So if you are ever in doubt about what to wear, it's easy. go navy. Let's say for Sunday lunch at the lake. The archetypal lake. The Platonic lake.

Now of course there may be regional variations. You can think of them as regional colorways of the High WASP. For example:

In California, for Sunday lunch with the family at the Lake Tahoe house, go with an orange shirt. Northern California will be slightly rebellious, we can't help it. In Texas or the Carolinas, a lovely pink polo. In Vermont, kelly green all the way. But in all cases, the navy blue jeans jacket says we understand we are in the country. The wedge shoes say we get that there's no reason to sink heels into the grass. And the vintage Halston scarf? It belonged to our aunt, the one who had a slightly scandalous past. But she's family. Impunity, remember?

The navy parade doesn't end with lakeside lunches. More to follow.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

No Title

Today I have watched an astonishing number of war movies on television in honor of Memorial Day. Men shooting at each other, at buildings, at airplanes, at bunkers, at gas tanks. It seems that people shouldn’t shoot at each other any more in modern life. But they don’t listen to me and they do it anyway. Even though I wish people did not shoot each other any more I surrender to the parts of the movies about heroes, where John Wayne orders the bodies of the paratroopers cut down, where young men belay each other up hills, where someone runs across a field or through water or down a ravine, to save someone else. I see value in training and learning and following orders. Politics are one kind of thing. People being brave and following difficult orders are something other.

Anne Frank said it better.
Despite everything, I believe that people are good at heart.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


The job that got misplaced, then found, is now playing hide and seek. Sort of like a toddler, as in here I am behind the sofa and you can’t see me. As long as you are willing to pretend with me that the entire lower half of my body sticking out does not mean that the upper half is there too. Peekaboo.

In other words, I am working part time. It’s somewhat dislocating, working part time. Over the years I have developed such a distinctive work persona, one only tangentially related to my at home persona, that making the switch in the way that part time work requires feels odd.

Sometimes I am having phone calls from my sofa while What Not To Wear is muted on the television, as I assure a client that I understand their requirements. Sometimes I go from shorts and a t-shirt to linen pants and a jacket to sweatpants and a gym top all in the course of 4 hours. Shining new light on the meaning of personality, that’s for sure. I have to really pay attention to what pair of shoes I have on at any given moment.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Morning at 9:59am

My boy child gets on an airplane and flies to Belgium today. He is visiting my best friend. I hate airplanes. I am always a wreck. I have my rituals.

Have a good weekend all.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

High WASP Weddings x Crossing Cultures

I've been touched by some recent discussions in the blogosphere. Sweet Tea and Accordions and Lace have both talked about wanting to include family traditions while at the same time planning weddings that reflect them as they are in the country where they have lived all or most of their lives. Sweet Tea also points out that some times people from many generations in America appear to co-opt important symbols from other cultures.

We apologize. That's not the intent. But High WASPs have rebellious children too. Or non-rebels who want simply to evolve beyond the culture of their origin. The pageantry of the traditional High WASP wedding has been largely co-opted by the Wedding Industry. Martha, I mean you. So we keep looking. We look back to pre-commercial America, to folk art and Etsy and simple bouquets of wildflowers. (Even if they are in fact works of art by the goddess of Saipua. We don't mind paying for greatness). We look out to other countries, other aesthetics, other spiritual traditions. Our history of colonialism makes this tricky. It's usually done in good faith.

Bride; spose di gio via Brides
Accoutrements; Wedding theorem from Antiques Journal, etsy (via somewhere else I can't remember where...), table setting from I can't remember where, utensils from I can't remember where, prayer flags from I can't remember where, flowers from saipua.
Please excuse me. These are old images and I did not know at the time to tag them.

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Goblins And Other Modern Phenomena

So was there a lesson to be learned in my experience at my son’s graduation? Did I see the light, was I washed pure of need and anxiety, free to go forth into the world secure in the knowledge of my value unconstrained by social comparisons?

Not quite. I have not found that wisdom comes as a large and musical gift from the universe. Knowledge is in fact rarely revelatory. I find that wisdom, such as we might find it, is more like learning how to stock your kitchen cabinets. How many light bulbs of what wattage to have as backup? What size cans of diced tomatoes? The value of frozen chicken stock?

It is hard to unlearn one’s emotional makeup. I have not found the key to that palace in 52 years. But with luck I think we can come to understand ourselves. Sometimes I see my particular anxieties as goblins, goblins of need and worry making their living underground. The pictures here are from one of my favorite childhood books, The Princess and the Goblins. While I do not see myself as a princess the goblins are miners in my self for better or for worse. I would love to turn on some kind of very big and powerful hose and direct it down through their tunnels, to see their large-nosed selves washed up onto the plains and down the river. But I find the best hope is simply to discover what they need and make my peace with them. I forgive myself for harboring these goblins. It’s very Californian of me. We make a deal. I stock my cabinets with their favorite cereals. Come on up little goblins, have some Cheerios.

I could have spoken strictly to myself when my son graduated, knowing that it was wrong to feel as I did. I could have forced myself to go through what I dreaded. Or I could accommodate the goblins. Accommodate them with a rueful shrug. After all, as long as I can see their little goblin faces and count their little goblin shovels, they harm no one but me.

And no, unfortunately, wisdom does not make your old lady hair suddenly look like this.

Images: Wikipedia


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Son's Graduation, Part II. What I Wore.

I must reiterate. I know and knew that my feelings about my son’s graduation were unecessary. I knew that I shouldn’t care that these women had more money than I do, that they looked fancier, that they participated in a world I couldn’t join. I should have been able to hold my chin high, and march into that environment without a qualm. For whatever reason,(and I do have my theories), I couldn’t.

For now just grant me that I was determined to attend my son’s graduation free from social anxieties. What to do? I couldn’t exactly walk around with a copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging from my neck, ancestors’ names marked with yellow highlighter. I suppose I could have gone and purchased myself a whole new set of clothes. I could have sold some stock – the market was still high. Or I could have worn my gold cuff bracelet ornamented with an old mine diamond brooch from the family. But then I would have been openly competing. And worse than losing in trophy mom polo is letting on that you are in fact trying to win. In the end, this is what I wore.

Why? I am not surprised that you ask. It’s all about the social signaling. Now I could lie, and say it’s because the clothes were comfortable and appropriate, but you would all know it was untrue. I wore these clothes because I felt that they said, and I quote, “I have money too, and what’s more I am still in good shape despite my age. I am cool enough to wear jeans and sensible enough to wear flat shoes so that I will not sink into the grass.”

I confess my motivation. High WASP or no High WASP, Fashion is still a game of identities. And as a High WASP I was honor bound to look like I wasn’t trying. Like I meant to be wearing an older Chanel jacket rather than a new one. No one had to know I had no other. To win my secret battle, without betraying the High WASP code of conduct, I could say, “Look how au courant I am. My tunic is longer than my jacket.” But I had to say it in such a way that I could deny the statement even as I made it.

I am not proud. But humans signal each other. It is one of our most salient characteristics. Better I should make an effort to comprehend the need than to suppress the activity. Or so I tell myself.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When High WASPs Have Social Anxiety

Silicon Valley is full of very rich people. As in having a Gulfstream IV doesn’t mean you have the right toys. It’s got to be a Gulfstream V. Twenty Four At Heart calls a similar area of her hometown “Moneytown.” Well we’ve got Moneytown too. You mix private jets with Ph.D.s and people who think all software should be a free platform for rebellion and old hippies from the days of Ken Kesey living up in the redwoods, leavened with a cup or two of accountants who got moved here from Kansas to run the local office and venture capitalists with ADD and a lot of testosterone, and that’s our version of Moneytown.

All these people send their kids to school. As did I.

My son and daughter went to private schools here in the Valley. Their grammar school allowed kids to run around barefoot and throw wet clay onto a rapidly spinning wheel in an attempt to turn it into pots. I have the adorable relics on my shelves in the front bathroom. The other mothers, even if their husbands were named partners in billion dollar law firms, dressed down for the school’s culture. I did not find the environment terribly fashion-challenging.

High school was another matter. I could tell from the moment we showed up that no one was putting their hands into wet clay anywhere in the vicinity. The mothers of the other kids? They scared the bejesus out of me. What, afraid? High WASP? Whither impunity? What about the deep confidence of generations of privilege, the knowledge that my ancestors participated in the creation of this country? That had George Washington been less of a populist and done as the Society of the Cincinnati wanted, I would be titled? Countess High WASP. Or some such thing. Doesn’t all that nullify the usual social anxieties?

I wish. In the face of trophy mothers I quail. Their hair is so shimmery. Their voices are so pitched. Their toes so pink or coral. Or pink or coral. Or pink or coral. Their cars so large. Their wedding and engagement rings so even larger. The visible signs of wealth so, well, visible. And audible. They jingle when they walk. They scare me.

The worst of it is that I couldn’t revert to the usual last resort of High WASPs in danger. I couldn’t feel disdain. These women had style. Oh, sure, one or two went over the top. But they didn’t scare me. The ones who scared me were the ones even I had to admit looked great. They looked like they were at the top of the social pyramid. I didn’t. And they were, and I wasn’t. At least not at the top of their pyramid. I hate to confess my shallow heart but this is all true.

Most days I could avoid the anxiety this caused me. I usually showed up directly from my office. No one does sparkly in an office. It’s not good practice to jingle when you walk. So I kept myself company with an inner litany of my accomplishments, a false chant of Yes I Can, a silent recitation of every presentation I had ever made to audiences of over 200 people and every person who had ever worked for me. I talked myself down from enough of the anxiety to attend things like soccer championships and senior fashion shows.

But then my son graduated from high school. And I swore to myself that I would find something to wear that made me feel like I had won. Won the battle that of course no one but me even knew was being fought.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Class Dismissed

Julia, the trenchant (big word of the day) bride of DJ and the Remix and EAD, sent me a link to this Atlantic article, written by Sandra Tsing Loh. I really appreciate Julia's thoughtfulness in sending it along. The occasion is the 25th anniversary of a book by Paul Fussell called Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, but Tsing Loh goes on to discuss the way in which the creative class has replaced old money at the top of the social hierarchy, the new ways in which this class signals how cool they are, and the possible effects of the current recession.

While I hate to think that what feels to me like confessions of my inner psychic structure are in fact naught but data points in a longitudinal study of class in America, I have to concede that I am not uncovering new territory here. By any means. So I plan to read this book. And some other books that people have recommended. If the books bring insight to what I have experienced, I will share. For now, this is what Tsing Loh says of Fussell's work.
"Back in 1983, Fussell—author of the renowned book The Great War and Modern Memory—argued that although Americans loathe discussing social class, this relatively new, rugged country of ours did indeed have a British-style class system, if less defined by money than by that elusive quality called taste. To be sure, Fussell’s universe is somewhat passé, in that its population is almost exclusively white (with the Mafia thrown in for color), and the three “classes” in his opening primer conform to clichés we might think of as Old-Money Wasp, Midwestern Insurance Salesman, and Southern Trailer Trash. The top classes, according to Fussell (with a hint of Nancy Mitford), drink Scotch on the rocks in a tumbler decorated with sailboats and say “Grandfather died”; Middles say “Martooni” and “Grandma passed away”; Proles drink domestic beer in a can and say “Uncle was taken to Jesus.”"
It's pretty funny, in the way that apt social commentary can be. Racy even. But it seems to me to leave something out. One's relationship to one's social class, or even to the question of whether one accepts the notion of being in a social class, can stir matters of the heart. It's not all about the tumblers. And for the record, my family had nautical imagery only on some china, and the drink of choice was gin. But that's the silly part of all this. I am, of course, rather fond of silly.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday Morning at 8:05am, Or, I Spilled My Blood For You

My daughter IM'd me last Sunday. She said Happy Mother's Day. And then she asked what I wanted as a present. I hesitated for a moment, caught up in all kinds of thoughts and feelings. I explained to her that Mother's Day presents had to come on the day or they didn't count.

That was hard for me to say. I knew it might make her feel bad. I hate to make my children feel bad. My childrearing was always of the sort where I wanted first and foremost for my children to do and feel well. I protected them. From so many things.

My Chinese American colleagues would joke with me about their experiences growing up. They teased me, the way I treated my kids so carefully. Their mothers, apparently, when they wanted their children to change behaviors, would say as encouragement, "I spilled my blood for you as you were born!"

Let me be clear. I would not remotely presume to be making a statement here about Chinese American mothers in general. That is a vast class of people who deserve much more than my little musings. I am making the very small and limited observation that two men I worked with who had immigrated to the US as babies and toddlers had two mothers, from China via Hong Kong and Taiwan, who said to them, "I spilled my blood for you." And then I will make the small and limited statement that those words resonated in me. In the broad sense. These fundamental facts of motherhood sometimes get ignored, particularly in the upper middle class left-leaning circles who made up my playgroups when the kids were little.

I now believe that too much self-effacement as a mother is not always good. That even for the kids' sake it is sometimes necessary that the mother remember she spilled her blood for them. When you let your kids off the hook they can be left with guilt. When you put your foot down, you may be annoying, but in some way you free the kids from their own tendencies to treat you less than perfectly, and in some ways probably make them happier. Or so I believe. Nothing in parenting is certain knowledge. The definitive handbook has not yet been written. But you have a right as a mother to ask for what you want without terrible guilt and anxiety on your part.

My daughter said she was sorry. And later that day, Mother's Day, flowers arrived. They are still on my counter. Pink lilies that smell really good.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

If For Some Reason You Wanted A High WASP Wedding...

If for some reason you would like to have a High WASP wedding, I've got a few pointers. I do understand that a High WASP wedding has no particular virtue. I would not begin to tell anyone they should follow my advice. In other words, while I am sure that what I am saying is correct, it just doesn't necessarily matter.

What you would not be likely to find at a High WASP wedding is one of these.

Well why not you might ask? Didn't we just discuss the joys of gaudy and over the top jewelry? Yes. But those were real diamonds. And quite frankly using enough real diamonds to hang strands from 42 crystal trees as table toppers would oust us forever from the realm of good taste. No matter what you did it would be showing off. And therefore mean to your guests and therefore not done.

The only way you might find crystal trees at a High WASP wedding is if we were going all the way to camp, Star Trek meets Winter Wonderland, completely tongue in cheek. And if we take crystal trees over the top of Tongue in Cheek Mountain it might be too hard to avoid Ugly Lake on the way up.


At a High WASP wedding flowers like these below are always OK. They are white. They are low, so you can talk to each other, (we prize civility), and they adhere to the Western design principle of the Golden Ratio. Can't you just feel that "(a+b/a) = (a/b)" vibe?

But let's say you want to push the edge just a wee bit. In that case, honor the fierceness of flowers. Please do not force them to masquerade, to act as though they all open at once and never die. Gardening is an honorary sport for High WASPs. We are OK with the idea that flowers droop, they lose their petals, they grow sometimes in fields with weeds.

If you want to push the edge just a wee bit further, no problem. Clearly you are someone with more style than I. In that case, follow your aesthetic and to hell with High WASPism. If you hadn't already said that to begin with. High WASP aesthetics are a way to make sure you don't do something wrong. Not a way to make sure you do it right. The world is too wide, wild, and mysterious for that particular project.

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Wearing White Before Ever

Mel and Cricket have both mused this week about wearing white before Memorial Day. Let me say this. I can find no record at all of this rule's origin. Let me now also say this. Wear white whenever you want.

Think about it. Rules are made for two reasons. First, between peers, to ensure efficient functioning. Think soccer, Go Fish, the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. Second, by the ruling power to ensure control of the subordinate group. Think grade school, the Army, Jim Crow.

White clothes involve rules between peers to ensure efficient functioning? Bear with me. The unendurable difficulty of laundry prior to the modern Appliance Era made clothes you had to wash any more than absolutely necessary impractical, if not tools of torture. Lye was involved. And those who didn’t wash by hand were lucky, yes, lucky, to use a piece of equipment called a “mangle”. Right. Mangle. The rule No White Clothes Before Memorial Day, when one might hope to be done with snow and ice and slush, and puddles might be shorter lived, spared an entire cadre of washerwomen unnecessary labor and their employers unnecessary cost.

This edict may also have given the haves one more sign to distinguish themselves from the have nots. On a late summer morning, possibly, in the second half of the 19th century, possibly, the lady of the house, someone related to me, possibly, woke up and contemplated packing to go back to New York from New Jersey, or to Boston from the Cape. Exhausted by the thought, she said to her maid, “It’s just not right to wear white before Memorial Day. We will leave our white clothes here. And", she said over her shoulder to her husband, "Darling, you should leave those white bucks behind as well. You know you won’t be wearing seersucker during the Season.” So anyone who participated in the Season, in New York, in Boston, in London (come on, someone else read Georgette Heyer, right?), would not wear white in town, for fear of being marked as someone with no summer house. Horror of all horrors. ( I feel compelled to say I have my tongue in my cheek.) Again, all this is only possible.

If you and your peers want to agree to wear white only after Memorial Day or Easter please do. (I have far more trouble with rules made by one group of humans in order to suppress or shame another group of humans. For any reason. But that's a separate issue.) I stand my ground that the wearing of white no longer has absolute social significance. Even my mother, the Boston debutante, wears white whenever she pleases.

I asked her.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guilty Sparkly Pleasures

When I was little I would creep into my father's study and read the Encyclopedia Brittanica. In those days, a set consisted of something like 20 volumes. The volumes were oversized, and had illustration pages. Called plates, I think. These pages were thick, shiny, suck-air-between-your-teeth desirable.

It might have been that I was precocious and hungry for knowledge. But no. I was in search of volume G-H. G for Gems. I would sit on the floor and look at the pictures and shiver. I don't know what it was. Maybe the facets. A hall of mirrors, endless reflections, not knowing where the end or the center might be. Or maybe it was the sheen and heft of the old paper.
Nowadays I watch Jewelry TV. Yes. I do. I love the women who announce the pieces they are selling. I love their Southern accents. I love their French manicures. I love the way they pluck the gemstones they want to hawk out of the case with those special plucker tools. Pop. I want to order a mixed stone parcel and sit on my sofa late at night, running my fingers through the colored gems. I would even replace one of the burned out lights in the outdated track lighting overhead. With a pinspot. I would keep the illicit sparkle secret.

And the click and clack of stone hitting stone.

First image: James Alger
All others:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

People's Republic of Berkeley x High WASP, Redux

I have two sisters. And a brother. I love my siblings. I see my middle sister most often. She lives very close to Berkeley. Also known in these parts as the People’s Republic of Berkeley. The most salient detail would seem to be that my sister has had a lot of education. She graduated from Harvard. She has her law degree from UC Berkeley, and also a Ph. D. in social welfare. She does work that I only vaguely understand in which she uses research to set policy on issues like homelessness, substance abuse, mothers, and children. In the context of a liberal High WASP family with a college professor patriarch, she has pretty much hit the ball out of the park.

But that’s secondary to me. That’s just how I know she met the standards we have all had to meet. My sister is special to me because she is so endearing. When she and I lived together in Manhattan for a while I used to feel quite bereft when she would go out for the evening. My sister also had and still has style. These days it’s a sporty, culturally referential, irreverent kind of style. I saw her recently. She was dressed like this but cooler. Anything one can imagine wearing, she will usually wear it cooler. Imagine that some of what she wore was trimmed in what I have had to represent with a random textile image from the frequently random Internet. Imagine that the blue shirt was maybe a color between blue and purple. Or just take my word for it. She looked great.

High WASP is one thing. Style is another. Dressing in such a way that your innate adorableness shows through is yet another. Adorable is high up on my list of things to appreciate.

My sister insists that many women in her area dress the way she does now. Well then. We all came from somewhere and most of us are now somewhere else. Adaptive coloration is a species-saving trait. Evidently you don’t need to lose your soul in saving your self.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Sin Of Sparkly Things

I am about to make a truly egregious High WASP comment. Jewelry, when made of precious stones and precious metals, is never in absolute bad taste. One can wear it badly, inappropriately, rudely, meanly, stupidly. But the jewelry itself is never at fault.

Nobody could really question the tastefulness of the above pieces. Sure, the earrings are a serious lot of diamonds, but you know, opening at the opera, the visit of the Ambassador, the day they dedicate your hospital wing, it's OK. The fleur-de-lis is a little heavy on the flower vs. the de lis, but it's Victorian and they came by flourishes honestly. Scandinavian anything is by nature tasteful. The pieces below, however, you might think were outside the High WASP pale.

Nothing could be further from the truth. High WASPs think each of those pieces is in perfectly good taste, when worn correctly. The enameled panther could be worn with jeans and a black tshirt to a gallery opening. The brooch is fine on the lapel of a jacket worn to Thanksgiving at Mom's. When else can you show off that stuff? And Hello Kitty. Worn to work with a button down white shirt, perfect. Trust me. I own it.

High WASPs can go way further than Hello Kitty when it comes to jewelry. These pieces below? No eyelash would be batted. Again, worn either minimally, jeans, white shirts, all black. Or over the top. Wear lots and lots of this kind of stuff and it's always clear you have your tongue in your cheek. Which is the savior of most kinds of taste-based faux pas.

The thing is, jewels and precious metals are innately pretty to people. To most animal species in fact. Magpies adorn their nests with sparkly paper. We pay so much for jewels because we find their sparkle and color irresistible, and because we think they are hard to get. Oh, I know, De Beers. I know. But De Beers couldn't have done that with lumps of coal. We hunger for sparkle. I don't know why.

This doesn't, of course, mean that there can't be ugly jewelry. Oh yes, there can be ugly jewelry. To wit, in my opinion.

But if good taste is in the hands of society, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. Someone might think that goat is beautiful. Or that the ring with bulbous blue sapphires is gorgeous. They might think that the necklace doesn't actually look like gobs of toothpaste fell off your brush in the morning and landed around your neck. As far as ugly goes, to each his or her own. Good taste, on the other hand, you are going to have to wrench out of the hands of High WASPs on our collective deathbed. And if you know otherwise, don't tell us. It would break our hearts.

(Caveat. I plead the fifth on what we used to call costume jewelry. I don't have enough style to reliably carry it off.)

Tasteful: Diamond earrings, pearl pendant, Georg Jensen bracelet
Gaudy: Panther bracelet, jeweled brooch, Hello Kitty
Over The Top: Medusa (via Stella's Roar), equestrian charm necklace, Bucellati ring
Ugly: Goat, toothpaste necklace, sapphire ring

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Queen of ALLL Things

The Preppy Princess has given me an award. Apparently I am now the Queen of All Things. Aside from being kind and helpful, the Princess also runs a business and has already had a career in media. It's wonderful to see someone who can accomplish so much. And her blog has just enough tongue-in-cheek to make me go back every day. Plus Gossip Girl. Thanks Princess.

The terms of this award are to pass it on to 7 bloggers and say 7 things about myself that make me aww-summm. Oooh. That's really hard for High WASPs. Counts as showing off. So, here's what I will do. We are all awesome because the simple state of being alive is astonishing. Here are 7 things that at this moment remind me I am alive, and therefore awesome.

Seven things that make me Awe-Summm

1. My sheepskin slippers are really comfy.
2. The house is completely quiet except for the hum of my refrigerator.
3. My roses need pruning again. This time I will wear armor.
4. Almost everything in my house is a reminder of something important, presents given in love, things acquired in need, a globe of the world, millions of photos of my children in their little guy days.
5. My fingers hurt from typing. I am aging. I don't regret the diminishment of physical beauty at this point, but I feel every year when I move. Luckily even aging means you are alive.
6. I love my new garage door. After 25 years without an automatic garage door I now understand their glory.
7. My cellphone is on the kitchen counter. The last person I called was my best friend in Belgium. She and I have been mothers together since we met, 18 years ago. She moved to Belgium last year. She and I still talk almost every day. Having a best friend is a good way to remember that you are alive.

I now pass this award on to:

Confessions of a Plate Addict (Just what it sounds like. Don't you love the Internet? Lots of tablescapes that brides might find useful)
Doux (Remarkably stylish, in both words and pictures, written by two young women. I'd even say it's got a High WASP vibe for what that's worth.)
Mamahood, among other things... (Mother in Hong Kong with possibly the cutest children ever, clearly dedicated to doing the best possible job)
Accordions and Lace (Planning an interfaith wedding and rather honest about everything)
One Barefoot Bride (A green bride, a graduate student,
My Life Interrupted (She takes care of two grandchildren AND is quitting smoking)
Weddings Fresh (A wedding planner who posts lovely simple images)
It's a Dog's Life (She's my age. Do I need another reason?)


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday Morning at 9:56am

Tomorrow is Mother's Day. This is the first time both kids are gone. That's OK. Not a sad thing, really. I am wondering what they might send me. Last year my highly competent daughter mobilized for flowers. This year she's getting ready to graduate from college. Lot on her mind. And my son is still suffering from the testosterone poisoning that causes all teenage boys to disappear into a hormonal haze where they remain mute and bemused until one day when you least expect it they emerge as a man, tall, kind, and ready to take care of a family. At least, that's the story I tell myself.

I am wondering what they might send me.

If I am honest, what I would really like is a parade. Or a surprise party. A huge surprise party with balloons and streamers and confetti and noise. With a towering cake that says "To The Best Mother In The World Whom We Love With All Our Hearts." Toasts that bring tears to your eyes. Maybe a song written especially for the occasion.

On the other hand, what would happen after that party? It's not like a major birthday or anniversary. You aren't marking a stage in time. You are their mother from the moment they are conceived until the day you die. And then you are still their mother and you live on in their memories every time they say to their children, "My mother used to..." It's not like you are more their mother after 21 years than after 21 seconds. I'm not sure you get any better at it over time either. You can only be as a good of a mother as you are a person. And getting better as a person is pretty rough.

Most likely the motherhood parties are in fact your kids' celebrations. Their weddings. Their graduations. And everyone looks at your kid and claps and makes toasts. And you sit in the back and from the way you feel they could just as well be clapping for you.

However I am not completely self-sacrificial. Come Mother's Day, I can make do without the parade. But I'd like some flowers or a massage gift card. Or something. You know, deep love, meaning of life, opening of the universe and all, being a mother is still a lot of work. Which reminds me. Please go get your mom a present. Even if it's little. Unless you are up for throwing a parade this year. In which case please go find a brass band right away before they are all booked up.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

High WASP Weddings, Corruption And The Age Of Innocence

Gaudy, expensive, over-the-top weddings of famous people are not unique to our era. Consider if you will the inaptly named Age of Innocence. Does everyone remember, from the deep, dark recesses of high school history classes, a man named Boss Tweed? New York politician famed largely for corrupt practices. How about, from the same history class, or maybe from business school if you studied financial geniuses and possible criminals, a man named J. Pierpont Morgan? As in J.P. Morgan & Co.? As in the financial instruments responsible for the Industrial Revolution?

Guess what. They both had daughters. Guess what. Their daughters both got married. Guess what. The New York Times covered both weddings. In very different tones of voice. I will excerpt some of the articles here, but they are worth reading in all the gory detail.

J. Pierpont Morgan, Boss Tweed (gotta love this source)

"Miss Morgan's Wedding...," respectfully begins the coverage of J. Pierpont's daughter's 1900 wedding. Her dress is described in the usual detail.
Clearly J. Pierpont was not lacking for diamonds. The reception, as was common for even the fanciest of affairs, followed at his residence.
Magnificence, reported in tones of awe. Now take a look at how the Times covered Boss Tweed's daughter's 1871 ceremony and reception. The article is even entitled, "A Costly Wedding." Boss Tweed's daughter committed the nouveau riche sin of purchasing her dress, albeit custom made.

Boss Tweed went all out decorating his house for the reception too. But I guess he hadn't learned that correct protocol was to hang tapestries of the Sun God. What was he thinking, to rely only on expensive flowers?

J. Pierpont Morgan was a leading financier of his time. He was investigated by Congress but suffered no serious consequences. Was he corrupt? Boss Tweed rose from the Irish gangs of New York’s Lower East Side. Was he corrupt? So we said. And arrested him and put him in jail 4 months after his daughter's wedding. I do not know if the New York Times was warranted in their different approaches to these two weddings. I do wonder, just a little bit why J. Pierpont's daughter covered in diamonds and the tapestries of Greek gods in his house were exempt from the label given to Boss Tweed's "monstrous" flowers? Old money had its privilege? But maybe Tweed was a criminal and Morgan was not. We will leave that question to the historians.

These days I believe our admiration or disdain for the excesses of celebrity weddings is ethnicity neutral. Class neutral. Unbigoted. There is progress, I believe, in the world. And yes, my family went to both events and brought presents. Power, after all, is power.


The Fierceness Of Flowers

The reputation of flowers, in my opinion, is deeply flawed. Think about it. Even the term, flowery, means delicate, ornate, soft. Have you looked at any flowers in their natural state lately? My roses almost killed me over the weekend. My arms were marked with punctures as though tiny pipes had blown poison darts at me from the suburban rain forest.

I got back at those roses. I cut some branches and put them in a vase on my kitchen counter. Now I can see the thorns though the clear glass and the water. Thorns as big as my thumbnails. The flowers themselves are peach or apricot colored, but redder in the bud. The shades of flesh and blood. The open blooms are chaos, the opening buds full of promise.

Remember the next time you think of flowers that in their true habitat, their natural habitat, they are fierce beings meant to ensure the future life of their species. You should still put them on your wedding tables, hold them in your hands as you walk down the aisles if you want. But make no mistake about their real selves.

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Guest On A Practical Wedding : Priscilla And Stanford, 1937

As you all know I have enormous respect for Meg, the young woman responsible for the site, A Practical Wedding. Her writing and thinking is of interest, in my opinion, even if you aren't planning a wedding any time in the near future. She has done me the honor today of posting the story of my great-aunt Priscilla's wedding. If you are so inclined, take a peek, if you haven't already.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Awards And What To Do About Them Redux

As I suspected, I am guilty of rudeness. This is not what High WASPs enjoy. Aubergine Ink, who blogs in a lovely way about her wedding, gave me an award and I have not responded.

My mother always says, in matters of etiquette, "A simple thank you will suffice." Blame my wayward spirit for the following. Because of my initial lapse in responding I am going to try a different mode of thank you. Aubergine, I made you your very own award. One that no one else will ever win. For anything. Just for you. It is in return for these beautiful photos which make me want to lie on the ground and hang ribbons in multitudes over my face and turn on a fan. To watch them wave.

I do know that typewriters in real life rarely splat ink on anything. So let's pretend this was a savage typewriter. They exist you know.


Dislocated By Things That Are Ostensibly Normal

Breakfast is safe from any desire I have to live an adventurous life. I eat and drink the same things most mornings. Cup of English Breakfast tea. Piece of La Brea Whole Grain bread, toasted, with a little butter, whipped. I don't like to scrape hard butter across a tender surface. Another cup of tea. Some Australian yogurt with Cheerios and walnuts. Or when I'm wild, pecans.

This morning I was looking at the Cheerios box. Cheerios boxes have looked pretty much like this for a long time:

Today however, the Cheerios box scared me:

Not because it had honey issues. I don't do Honey Nut Cheerios unless my son is home. This is just the only photo I could find that has the scary announcement. "WIN CASH!!!" it said. I had thought I was buying Cheerios but apparently I bought a lottery ticket. That was not my intent. I generally don't want to think about the possibility of winning a fortune early in the morning, if only because it might prompt me to think about how I don't have one any more. "WIN CASH!!!" It seems so abrupt. So direct. Remember how High WASPs don't like to talk about money. Well we don't like to see it on our breakfast cereals either.

Then, in hunting for information about how to "WIN CASH!!!," (while I may not talk about money I do like to have it) I discovered something even more unsettling. To me at least. Cheerios has a home page. Cognitively this is not a problem. I work with web designers. I look at the web all day long and then some. I have said the word "brand" repeatedly during my career. But I hadn't taken the final step of understanding that Cheerios had a home page. And I did not realize that the happy family of various Cheerios configurations (in my heart always inextricably tied to comfort) had become sub-navigation elements on the web.

But enough already. We have already witnessed weapons of mass destruction cut-outs in Cheerios.

I know this particular moment of dislocation has been trival. I have no doubt that others, more serious, will follow. Things that are ostensibly normal can seem weird. Things that are in fact weird can seem normal. That's how life works.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Awards And What To Do About Them

I received my first blog award from another blogger and am both flattered and flummoxed. I am new to blogging and therefore unsure of the protocol. As you can imagine, being unsure of protocol makes a High WASP want to go on a very long safari. To Africa. And then throw in a trip to Egypt on the way back to delay the inevitable. The possibility of offending or annoying someone. So.

Thank you Midlife Musings. For the award. Here it is, below. I even put it in a frame.

The instructions were to pass it on to 15 blogs I have recently discovered. Eeek. That's a lot. How about I do 5? And how about I do my best to give this award to 5 bloggers I think might be award-amenable? So, with no further muttering, here are 5 blogs I have recently discovered and either added to my RSS feed or followed them with that follower widget (always makes me a LITTLE nervous, given that I lived through the 1970's in California, the heyday of cults, but never mind.)

Here are 5 blogs new to me. To all of you, I enjoy your blogs and I thought you might like this award. Thank you all for writing. And here you go. You can decide if you feel like passing it along to a blog or 2 or 5 that are new to you.

Beadsme - I'm not a beader but I like to look at her stuff.
Paisley and Pearls - I do love preppy girl blogs.
Livin' Louisiana - The title says it all. Now I just need All Alaska All The Time, Make Mine Minnesota, etc.
The Cape House - Fantastic family photos from days gone by. Love the header image too.
indigo doll and the spectrum sprites - Mom with unique boy child. She herself has killer word talent.

If anyone else reading here is up for the award process, just comment here that you don't mind, and then if I am not scarred forever by this experience, and if someone else decides to overlook my qualms, I will know where to look. You can also tell me if you really hate them:).


High = Aesthetics

If money is the dark god of the High WASP, good taste is the priestess performing temple rites. High WASPs love to talk about good taste. What is in good taste, what is not. If we had rosary beads each bead would be some instance of the correct aesthetic. (And the scary thing is, out of all this High WASP stuff, the taste piece is the one thing that I can’t give up no matter how strictly I speak to myself. I can understand that other people have the right to their ideas about aesthetics, but I can’t give up the idea that they are wrong. Just wrong.)

I also realize that the attitude towards aesthetics is going to be hard to explain. Maybe because it’s subtle and sophisticated. Or maybe because it’s really a matter of personal taste gussied up in words like classic, or robust, or authentic, or anti-sentimental, or ironic.

Let’s start with a simple case, one where’s there’s no question. Let’s say, art, for the time being. What is in good taste, in our opinion? (Here I'm guessing we are not alone...) Unequivocally, medieval Italian triptychs, Brueghel the Young and Elder, and David Hockney.

What’s not in good taste? What’s not in fact art, but masquerades as such? Unequivocally?

Why? Are the paintings of roses and the statue of the loving husband and wife ugly? Do they represent a society that we resent? Is that why they are not art? Is it because you can buy them without hiring a world class thief or attending an invitation-only Sotheby's auction? No. It’s a question of emotion. High WASPs think art should represent, not assume. And by represent, I don’t mean the art itself has to represent a thing. Only a vision. The artist paints or prints or carves or casts or installs what they want us to see; it’s up to each of us seeing to have our own set of feelings. We don’t want to be told via the colors and affects of sentiment what we feel about roses. Or even what we feel about lovers. High WASPs are unsure that we want to have feelings at all.

The feeling of shock and awe in the face of beauty, or an absolute audacious concept, however, that we are willing to feel.

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