Losing the trail

November 12th, 2015


From the day my first child was born, there was a blazed trail to follow. Sometimes I followed it exactly. Often I took detours. Either way, it’s been my guide.  I’ve wended my way through parenthood more or less along the same path my parents walked with me.

But here, sixteen years in, we come to an unmarked place. Here the path is broken.

I try to imagine my son meeting my sixteen-year-old self, and decide it would be an acquaintance my present self would be wary of, as I’ve been of certain kids who come around from time to time–the ones whose parents we never see, who leave only after everyone else has been summoned home, who seem to be pretty much on their own.

Where are the parents, we wonder among ourselves–“we” being the parents who exchange phone numbers, consult over curfews, and do routine fact-checking by text. Don’t they care?

Mine did care, and I always knew it. Always. But my memories of being taken care of end with my sixteenth birthday (perception is probably the better word…I’ve never been on the street–I was absolutely provided for). No blame and no shame here: my father was very sick, my mom was doing her best, I was being a pain-in-the-ass teenager, and we were all shipwrecked and rowing in different directions through a terrible, terrible storm. We lost each other for a while.

When we came back together, I was on the other side of 18, and our relationship picked up where it would have with a young adult and her parents. And went on from there. Though darker days lay ahead with my father, my parents have both been there for me in ways that others have envied. They’ve shown me what a gift acceptance and support is to grown children who are still growing. Those “missing” years are just a few pages from a much larger story.

Except that I’m parenting a sixteen-year-old of my own now, and it’s sometimes strangely counter-intuitive. I have to remind myself that he still needs me. That even as he is appropriately pulling away, it’s also appropriate for me to pull him back. To be the counterweight tug at the end of the ever-lengthening, ever-loosening safety line. Sometimes I have to remind myself that we’re not finished here yet, when my biographical clock tells me we ought to be.

Growing up is such a pushme-pullyou continuum, maybe every parent of a teenager feels this way. Like half the time we’re just guessing–how much slack to let out and when to pull up tight. One minute you’re talking to an emerging adult; then the child reappears. Maybe it’s disorienting by nature.

But the uncertainties are layered for me. The hardest work of parenting is withdrawing your own baggage from your child’s journey. Sometimes my son wraps his giant arms around me, and I realize with a pang that I haven’t really hugged him in a few days. Then I panic, thinking I’m not being present enough, that time is running out for us. And I know by the anguish in that thought–the hot tears in my eyes as I type it–that it really has nothing to do with here and now. This is my haunted place.

Seven years ago, as a tornado was bearing down on us at night, my seven-year-old son woke up to see Mommy and Daddy carrying his sleeping brothers downstairs to shelter, and believed he had been abandoned. For the minute it took Patrick to sprint back up the stairs for him, this was his reality. Not that we had more kids than we had sets of arms and were coming for him as fast as we could, or that he was in no more danger than any of us, but that he had been left behind. I know that no matter how many times we revisit that moment with him and give it context, and even laugh about it, a part of him remains in that room, small and terrified and left behind. 

We all have haunted places. In them, aren’t most of us children, believing ourselves to be all alone? The awful thing about raising kids is that it leads us back to those left-behind selves. The beautiful thing is that we go back as parents, and maybe we can retrieve them.

The words that were their names.

May 8th, 2015

mothers and daughters

“Make in your mouths the words that were our names.”

Archibald MacLeish, Epistle to Be Left in the Earth

The words we are called by in life are scratched in dust, delible as our bones. Write them in ink, in stone, in blood. In time, time fades them all. 

Women’s names fade fastest, pencilled in so lightly at birth, expected to trade that word for another. Who gives this woman her name? Her father, his father, his father before him.  Loaned, not given. Not hers to keep.

I wanted them back. Their names. As many as I could recover, linking daughter to mother, beginning with my mom. I always knew her mother and she always knew her mother’s mother. But my great-grandmother Ruby was orphaned, and that was as far as I ever hoped to get, until I read her mother’s name on a baptism certificate, and saw it spelled out again in the helix runes of my DNA.  Then months later, another name. Followed by another and another. Like secret notes written to me in lemon juice, turning visible in the incandescence of my longing to know.

I stopped at fourteen, on the other side of an ocean. Fourteen generations of women, mother to daughter; sixteen when you count my sister and her daughter, my namesake.

They’re only names and dates. Beyond my great-grandmother, I don’t know anything about the kind of women they were. What kind of mothers they were. What they hoped for, where they were wounded, what they achieved–save for one thing: they each brought a daughter into the world. And for that, I owe them everything. 

Now I can thank them by name. 

Sarah Moore

Born 1588 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died 18 Jan 1663 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts


Judith Greenleaf

Born 2 Sep 1625 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died 15 Dec 1705 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Sarah Somerby

Born 10 Feb 1644 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 19 Jun 1672 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Judith Hale

Born 05 Jul 1670 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 12 Aug 1757 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Judith Moody

Born 6 Aug 1699 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 12 Jan 1741 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Ann Follensbee

Born 6 Nov 1722 in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Died 1780 in Newburyport, Massachusetts


Sarah (Sally) Noyes

Born 31 Oct 1760 in Haverhill, Massachusetts

Died 9 Nov 1822 in Haverhill, Massachusetts


Susannah Ladd

Born 13 Sep 1779 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Died after 1850 in Penobscot, Maine


Susannah (Susan) Lyons

Born 17 Mar 1810 in Readfield, Maine

Died 21 Feb 1844 in Cooper, Maine


Climena Vance

Born Mar 1841 in Cooper, Maine

Died 21 Apr 1905 in Mattawamkeag, Maine


Ida Lyons

Born 1859 in Woodville, Penobscot, Maine

Died before 1893 in Mattawamkeag, Maine


Ruby Nancy Coombs Boynton

Born 29 June 1887 in Maine

Died 1954 in Milltown, New Brunswick


Ferne Alberta Neilson

Born 1 Jan 1909 in East Millinocket, Maine

Died 4 Nov 2001 in St. Andrews, New Brunswick



my mom


Thank you.


Arkansas, for better and for worse.

April 1st, 2015

Nineteen years ago this month, I moved to Arkansas. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time–I thought I was visiting for a couple of months while my boyfriend and I figured out our next move. If you had told me there wasn’t going to be a next move for at least the next two decades, I probably would’ve been on the next plane back to Mexico, or Canada–really, anywhere but here.


Visiting one of my many happy places in Arkansas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.


When we moved our bags out of his parent’s spare room, and into a Little Rock apartment with a one-year lease, it was still a temporary layover. During one of many late night gatherings there, an older guest (younger than I am now), asked how I was liking Arkansas, and I, being an ugly Canadian abroad, answered her honestly. 

She made that sad-eyed smile that Southern women are so very good at. “Well, I’m from here, and I love it, so that makes me sad. I hope we’ll change your mind.”

Doubtful, I thought, pitying her for having obviously not seen anything of the world.

Five years later, sitting in a tourist-filled cafe on the coast of Maine, that exchange came back to mind, when a big sun-burned man in Bermuda shorts ambled over and asked where I was from.

“Canada, but I live in Arkansas now.”

He wrinkled his red nose, threw back his head, and brayed. “WHY?”

I think that was the first time I ever used the word Yankee with a modifier in front of it. I wanted to kick his ass.

Both those conversations have come back to me today, as the “religious freedom” legislation that was passed by our state legislature makes headlines around the world, and people wonder WHY anyone would want to live in a place like Arkansas.

I’m from here now, and I love this place. It makes me so damn sad and angry. 

Since that day in Maine, I’ve been on a mission to change people’s minds about our state. I’ve happily used any influence and platform I have to shine light on the natural beauty of our land, the fascinating and talented people who live here, and the diversity of voices and values that isn’t reflected by headline news. That task has gotten a lot easier in recent years. When people ask where I’m from, the response is almost always positive and curious: “I’ve heard cool things about Little Rock,” or “It looks beautiful there.”

It is. There’s just some ugly things happening right now. As misbegotten as this particular bill is, it’s not even the craziest thing to come out of the current legislature. I’m afraid you’re going to see a lot of negative headlines coming out of Arkansas over the next few years, that will make you ask, WHY?  And though it’s gotten a whole lot harder, I’ll still be on a mission to show you the Arkansas I love, and I’ll still be itching to kick the ass of anyone who writes it off as backwards place. Right after I kick the asses of all the people who are giving them ample reason to think so.

Update: As I wrap this up, it’s been announced that Governor Hutchinson has asked for HB1228 to be amended before he will sign it into law.

40 days of Lent Ideas for Kids (and Parents)

February 17th, 2015

2014-02-05 07.37.52

Oh HEY, it’s almost Lent. Good times sure do fly when they get rolling. My mom’s been visiting the last three weeks, and I haven’t wanted to miss one second with her. She leaves to go back to Canada tomorrow, so my Ash Wednesday will seem especially quiet. I plan to go to church for ashes, then do some journaling to discern what my Lenten commitment needs to be. 

This will be the third year in a row I’ve observed the season of Lent, after a long lapse. I look forward to it now, knowing that as imperfect as my offering will be, I’ll learn something from it. Two years ago, I gave up ALL THE THINGS and learned that I have issues with perfectionism. Also, that Lent isn’t supposed to be a very special episode of Extreme Makeover. Last year, I gave up criticizing/correcting Patrick, and learned how very often it was on the tip of my tongue each day to do so. And that a simple practice can be infinitely more meaningful than a grandiose one.

I learned about Lent as a child, growing up sort-of Catholic. Every year I’d promise to give up candy, and every year, I blew it. And missed the whole point. WHY DOES JESUS HATE CHOCOLATE?

Look, forty days is a LONG time when you’re a kid. This year, instead of expecting my boys to keep something up past the point that they even remember what it’s all about, I’m offering them a different focus each day. One simple intention to practice each day, for forty days. 

I’ve come up with a list of 40 small ways of observing the “three pillars” of Lent: prayer, fasting, alms-giving (where fasting means an act of self-discipline, and alms-giving means an act of service). You’re welcome to adopt/adapt them for your own family or tradition (or as a mindfulness exercise– meditation or loving thoughts can substitute for prayer if prayer is not your thing). My ideas are written with older kids and adults in mind, but younger kids could participate with a little guidance. 

Feel free to print 40 Days of Lent Ideas for Kid and Parents and use what’s useful to you. The printable is formatted so each idea can be cut as a strip of paper. You can fold them up and draw them from a jar, or you can glue them to card stock strips and make a Lent paper chain like I’ve seen on Pinterest. Some paper chains are assembled first, and taken apart one link at a time as you count down to Easter; some are built day by day as you count up.

Or maybe you’ll come up with some other ideas and share them here.

Meantime, if you’re still thinking about giving up chocolate for Lent, here’s a handy flow chart to help you decide. Just in the nick of time.

party animal 


Connecting the dots

January 22nd, 2015

In a damp, dark castle--deliriously happy.

I was updating my Goodreads shelves a little while ago, and noticed that all but two of the books I logged for 2014 were historical non-fiction or fiction. Add to that, 44 hours of recorded lectures on history. Add to that, who knows how many hours of historical documentaries and dramas on video.

I’m on a bit of a kick.

One of my favorite things about being my age is forehead-smacking insight into my own life. Like I’ve been working on a connect-the-dots picture for forty-plus years and can suddenly see the pattern emerge. 

SMACK! I love history!

I’ve loved history all my life. I always preferred historical books to nearly any other kind. As a kid, I was mad for those picture books that showed ancient Roman villas or medieval castles in minute detail. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. The museum is the first place I want to go in any new city. In the last few years, I’ve discovered a passion for genealogy–not just mine, but everyone’s. Microfiche readers excite me. I’ve almost trained Facebook to only feed me headlines that involve dead kings in car parks.

How didn’t I know this? Obviously, I love history. But I didn’t see it before. I was just going from dot to dot. From this thing, to that.

It’s wonderful, this eureka feeling. But a little wistfulness follows it. I wish I’d known some of these things sooner. When I was eighteen and miserable in college, majoring in what I thought I was supposed to do, and hating it, I wish I’d known that I loved history. 

And while I’m wishing, it would’ve also been good to know that transitions are tricky for me. That I have a fierce competitive streak. That I hate repetition. That I’m capable of lasting relationships. That I would love being a mother. That too much solitude and not enough sunlight is detrimental to my mental health.

I wish I’d known me better.

It’s not very enlightened to admit to regrets. I don’t know how you come this far without rueing some of the time spent on detours and dead ends. But I guess they were dots in the puzzle too. A straight line doesn’t make a very interesting picture.


Lucy Van Pelt is my spirit animal.

January 20th, 2015


We went to see the new Peanuts exhibits at the Clinton Presidential Center this weekend–the comic strip, not the legume, as everybody under the age of 20 seemed to think when I mentioned it. Kids today.

I had an invitation by virtue of being a local “mommy” blogger, the presumable hope being that a dozen of us–and our five hundred adorable kids–would help promote the exhibits through our social media channels*.  Come Saturday morning, however, two out of three of my adorable kids were unavailable or unwilling to participate. My sixteen year old, for once, had nothing better to do, so it fell to him to be my entourage.

“Be adorable,” I told him, looking 8 inches up into his eyes. My eldest baby-man is six feet tall and growing. I’m 5’4″. Several friends sitting behind us in the lecture hall wondered if I’d brought a date.

We had a great time. It was sweet to see my big kid talking to the toddlers and younger kids, many of whom are growing up before my eyes, on my phone and computer screens. They are his internet cousins, in a way. I see most of their parents a few times a year at least, when anyone makes it easy, fun, and tax-deductible for us to get together. I’ve met their spouses. I know their stories. Some of us have become very close. We’re a community.


Feel the love. That’s Christen Byrd’s sweet daughter in the middle, #bufflogals on the left. The cutie on the right belongs to Sonya K.


I should mention the exhibits were worth seeing, too, in case you’re in Little Rock and can see them. One is valentine-themed, the other, football. I love the Charlie Brown football gag. Of all the Peanuts gang, there’s a special place in my heart for Lucy. I was also a bossy little girl often frustrated by other people’s inability to see things my way–the RIGHT way.  I was forever setting up clubs with me as president, only to have everybody quit before I even got through reading my exhaustive bylaws.

Good grief.

We also learned a lot of interesting things about Charles Schulz. Principally, that it’s Schulz, not Schultz, which was shocking news to me. And that he hated the Peanuts title, which was imposed by the syndicate. Probably the big east coast one running the Christmas racket.

Schulz was a phenomenally disciplined artist. He drew that strip for nearly fifty years. It was very cool to see some of his rough sketches. I love to see an artist’s process, and for my artistic sons to see it, too. It’s a great antidote to perfectionism. Even the virtuosos throw stuff in the wastebasket. 

Of course we got photos taken with Snoopy. Because no one is cooler than Snoopy. Am I right?


(I assume you guys are getting these references. I’m pretty sure no Millennials are reading this blog.)

And my kid was adorable, if I do say so myself. 


So if you were a Peanuts character, who would you be?  

 *Disclosure: We were invited guests of the Clinton Presidential Center, and got treated to a very nice lunch. Nobody asked me to post anything. Where cool things about our city are concerned, I’m happy to brag.

7 Years Later: Mommy Still Wears Prada

January 15th, 2015

(and thrift, and Loft, and H&M, and Old Navy…)



Since we were talking about capsule wardrobes the other day, it occurred to me that some who remember Mommy Wears Prada might wonder what’s become of the designer pieces I brought home in 2008 after Good Housekeeping magazine decided to let a regular mid-American mom like me put “essential” wardrobe lists to the reality test. One whirlwind shopping trip to New York later, I was the owner of nine designer classics, with a stack of receipts in the neighborhood of $5000–several months worth of mortgage payments.

For those who don’t remember, I had something of a conversion experience. I had pitched the idea out of skepticism, but came around to deciding, on the whole, a $5,000 investment in feeling fabulous might be worth it. 

Easy to say when it’s not your own $5,000, right?  True enough. Before then, I had never spent more than $50 on an article of clothing I wasn’t getting married in. Since then, I very rarely spend more, as I rarely have more to spend. We’ve got three growing boys to keep in denim and sneakers, and the orthodontist’s lifestyle to maintain. But I do shop differently.  I think about the value of well-made garments and accessories differently. And if I had $5000 to splurge all on myself today, beautiful, well-made clothes would be high on my list of ways to spend it.

So, have the so-called essentials held up to seven years of living life out here in the suburbs? Have they still got the power to make me feel fabulous? Well, some have and some haven’t. Let’s go down the list (prices are approximate, from memory).

Black pencil skirt, Prada, about $350:

I loved it the moment I put it on, and I love it now. This is one of the pieces that has absolutely proved practical for real life. The fabric is some kind of high-tech miracle blend that gets me through four seasons, size fluctuations, and every kind of occasion from hanging out to dressing up. I’ve rarely had to clean it beyond a wipe with a damp cloth, and I wear it at least once a month. We have many more happy years ahead of us.

Worth it? Definitely! I’m wearing it right now.

Black crepe trousers, Prada, about $350:

Those lightweight wool crepe pants made a big impression on me when I tried them on. They looked like a million bucks. But I haven’t worn them as much as I’d have thought. My lifestyle usually calls either for dressing up (church, social occasions) or dressing down (housework, errands, writing), and not much in between. The Prada trousers are perfect for wearing to the office I don’t work at.

Worth it? I don’t know. Probably not for my needs, but it comforts me to know I have a beautiful pair of dressy black trousers in my closet. Just in case.

Black Burberry trenchcoat, about $1200:

I’ll just cut to the chase on this one, and tell you yes, absolutely worth it. I can still throw it over pajamas in the morning, bedhead and raccoon eyes, and hold my head high in car pool. It goes everywhere with everything, and it will when it gets passed down the line to a daughter-in-law or granddaughter some day, along with the whole fantastic story.

Alas, I lost the belt while traveling a few years ago. I stopped into a Burberry shop in Toronto to inquire about replacing it, and am still waiting for the day I have $300 I have no other use for. Until then, I’m keeping my eyes open for a thrifted one, or even a close match.

Worth it? Hell, yes. But use those belt loops.

White cashmere sweater, Loro Piana, about $750:

This was the one item I really choked on signing the receipt for. As I wrote in the article, it was a step or two up from my Ann Taylor cashmere, but I had a hard time fathoming that it was seven times better. On a cost-per-wear basis, it’s been a total bust. I’ve worn it about half a dozen times in seven years. Because you know who thinks luxury cashmere is a hundred times better and tastier than Ann Taylor cashmere? 

Moths do. Look it up. Moths are almost impossible to keep out of the really good cashmere. Even people with walk-in, cedar-lined vaults can’t keep them away. I’ve paid twice to have a professional weaver mend the moth holes in that damn sweater. Right now, it’s in a ziptop bag inside my freezer while I decide whether I even want to save it a third time.

Worth it? Only to the moths.

Gucci sunglasses, about $375:

Another item that was hard to swallow. If there was a difference between Gucci sunglasses and a nice pair of department store sunnies–besides a logo–I can’t tell you what it is. 

Worth it? Not to me. I’m hell on sunglasses anyway, so I gave them to my sister. She can be the one to lose them, or maybe she already has. I don’t ask.

Red, white, and gold Hermes scarf, about $400:

This is another piece that I fell in love with immediately, but rarely wear. I’m afraid of getting it wet or stained or lost. I haven’t really figured out how to wear it in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m screaming LOOK AT MAH HERMEZ. It’s like a beloved set of china I use twice a year.

Worth it? Maybe as a very special gift for someone. I gave a soft grey one to my mom, and that felt wonderful.

Black Manalo pumps, about $600:

Slipping into my first pair of designer shoes was big conversion moment for me. On a cost-per-use basis, the Manalos are a bargain. Like the Burberry, they have magical bibbity-bobbity-boo properties. The patent leather is getting pretty scuffed on the heels, though. I need to take them to the cobbler before it’s too far gone. Did I mention I’m not very good about taking care of nice things? And did I also mention that nice things can be expensive to take care of?

Nevertheless, I’ll never judge another woman for what she pays for an exquisite pair of shoes. I hope I can bring home a pair of Laboutins someday.

Worth it? Yeah, baby.

Louis Vuitton bag, about $1500:

I still get a little woozy when I think about that price tag. Louie and I have come a long way, though. He’s scuffed up and a little worn around the edges. Been rode hard, and put up wet. He’s a thoroughbred sentenced to life as a pack mule. And frankly, he’s better for it. Life with me has given him character.

I was adverse to the idea of a major statement bag when I met Louie, and he still makes a pretty loud statement. I’ve gotten a lot less self-conscious about it, but there are times he just has to stay home. I think we’ll stay together for many more years, but I’d like to get another luxury leather bag that has less to advertise.

Worth it? The quality of the bag is outstanding. Cost-per-wear over decades, it’s arguably worth fifteen hundred bucks.

No, I take it back. Who are we kidding? It’s a purse, not a trip to Paris.

I’d drop up to $500 on a classic leather bag without regret. Maybe there’s one out there that I’d prefer to a week in Paris, or a Greek cruise, but I haven’t met it yet.

J. Brand skinny jeans, about $175?:

Like the Manalos, my first ever pair of premium jeans turned my head 180 degrees around. I wore those jeans for years until they were distressed in all the wrong places, and then I went out and bought my second-ever pair (Earnest Sewns) right away. If there’s one wardrobe item I consider essential, it’s a great pair of jeans. 

Worth it? Definitely. Premium denim has miracle properties. I didn’t believe it until I wore it. And you don’t have to spend $200. For the same $40 you’d spend on a new pair of Old Navy jeans, you can find a thrifted pair of J’s on a consignment site like Twice. 

That’s the whole haul. Of the nine items, five are still wardrobe staples, seven years later. Two are under-worn, but still loved. The sunglasses were fun for a while. The cashmere is my only real regret (unless you count my everlasting regret over the dress I left behind–the Ralph Lauren sheath in the photo above, which didn’t make the final editorial cut).

The real keeper, as I wrote seven years ago, was the experience. It’s worn very well.


Imagine No Religion

January 13th, 2015

tree on church grounds

Sometime back in my twenties, I had a bumper sticker on my car that declared, “Religion was invented to keep the poor from killing the rich.” I was being deliberately provocative (wake up, you Bible belt dupes), but I also believed it. I was a bright young thing, and organized religion was for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t think for themselves. Having grown up around some deeply screwed up religion, I assumed religion itself was screwed up (though I was much less hostile to those that weren’t Christian). “I’m spiritual, not religious,” was my standard disclaimer.

Fast forward through some dark, difficult, humbling years. Through a lot of growing up. Today the back of my car sports a magnet proclaiming my membership in the Episcopal church. A follower of religion. Life is strange.

I’m thinking about my ironic conversion a lot these days because I see glimpses of my former blanket contempt for religion in some reactions to the latest round of atrocities committed in its name. I see it mixed up with the horror, revulsion and despair that I also feel about these unholy wars. And I get it. When terrible deeds are committed in the name of a god, as they are and have been since humans began giving form to belief, the common denominator can seem obvious.  If hatred, ignorance, hypocrisy, and corruption are what you constantly see coming from religion, of course you’d conclude that a world without it would be an infinitely better place. Of course you’d imagine no religion.

And of course we’d be in an imaginary world where there is still war, famine, disease, unthinkable cruelty. Because human beings would still be in it. There would just be other excuses for the inexcusable. We are the lowest common denominator.

If I’ve become an apologist for organized religion, it’s even in more trouble than we knew. But there’s another side–many more sides–to religion and religious people that doesn’t often make news. Facets that reflect love and courage and healing–even through humanity’s many flaws and imperfections. People who turn to religion because they meet their best, highest self there. Because they can confront their worst darkness there. Because it helps them discover what they can do to make the world a better place for us all. Because it helps them think more, not less. For me, religion creates tenemous space, finite and familiar, where I can connect with the infinite and unknowable. It enfolds me in a community where I have to work on extending my sense of  “we” beyond myself and mine, into community, into humanity. God knows I need the practice.

Not everyone needs a handrail to make it through this valley of the shadow, to stay on the path of love and hope through dark times. But some do.

I do. 

And I’m glad it’s there.




Capsule Wardrobes Are the New Kale

January 8th, 2015

Building a closet full of happy

2014-12-01 17.00.40


I’d never make it as a fashion blogger. For one thing, I don’t have a professional photographer boyfriend. Or a decent camera with a remote control. Or a selfie stick (or however it is those women are getting full-length, perfectly in-focus snapshots of themselves seemingly caught crossing the street, impeccably dressed. I don’t even own a full length mirror. I don’t know how my bottom half fits with the top until I see myself in the glass door at the supermarket.

But those are technical issues. My main disqualification for fashion blogging is that I lack the flair chromosome. Fashion is an inscrutable mystery to me, and always has been. It’s not a skill set I possess naturally, or will ever come by easily. Therefore it fascinates me. People who can coordinate complex layers of garments, patterns, textures, with multiple accessories–in other words, people who are put together–are another species. Like mantis shrimp, with eyes that have 12 types of color receptors to my paltry three.

I keep trying to crack the code. And just when I think I’ve figured some of it out (Eureka! I TIED my belt!), the mantis shrimp people go and change it.

It’s a fun puzzle. I’m an artist and a tinkerer, and I like learning the rules of things, so I can figure out how to break them. Ask any kid with a screwdriver in hand, and he’ll tell you: you’ve got to take stuff apart to know how to put it together.

I came across the concept of a capsule wardrobe last fall, and it must be in step with the 2015 zeitgeist, because suddenly it’s all over my social media feeds. Everybody’s doing the capsule wardrobe. Especially on Pinterest. It’s this year’s kale.

I think my original entry point was Project 333, but as I dug deeper down the rabbit hole, I swung more toward Unfancy, whose taste is closer to mine, and who is a little more elastic about the parameters. 

The parameters are what’s appealing. The basic concept is that you pare your wardrobe down to a set number of items per season. Some, like Project 333, include nearly everything in that number: jewelry, outerwear, shoes, etc. Others, like Unfancy, are more liberal in the interpretation. Either way, the idea is that by intentionally limiting the number of clothes you have, you’ll become more mindful and creative about what you wear. 

I fell in love with the notion right away, but when I posted about it on Facebook, I was surprised to get highly polarized reactions. Some (I’d venture to say they are mantis shrimp people) were baffled. What on earth could be the point of limiting one’s choices of what to wear? Others wryly responded that they’d have to expand their wardrobes to hit the maximum allowable number of garments–minimalists by necessity or nature. 

And then there were the people like me, who want to dress fashionably, but are generally overwhelmed by the scope of it all. Thirty three (or 37, or 30-ish) is a finite number, a fixed point in an ever-shifting sea of choices. Three months is a timeframe we can work with, without forcing an identity crisis. 

I decided to have a go at it, starting with the new year. Our mid-southern seasons are aligned a little differently than the standard fashion calendar year, so my winter capsule would go from December through February, rather than the suggested Jan-Mar span. And since December has come and gone, that means I only have to live with my choices for two months! However, I’d like credit for having purged several trash bags worth of clothes at the end of the year, in the course of trading my big bedroom closet for a much smaller one. 

(Note that ninety per cent of the purged items were party outfits, bought out of desperation at the eleventh hour, because I had “nothing to wear” to social events, where I spend ten percent of my time. Meanwhile, I was down to two pairs of jeans and a few shrunken t-shirts to get me through the other ninety percent I spend at home. Mantis shrimp people, don’t judge. Mere mortals like me need help.)

I’m developing this first capsule as I go, keeping a little journal of what I manage to pull together each day, what pieces are keepers, and what feels missing. A book of outfit recipes. 

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The goal is to have a closet that makes me smile instead of sigh when I open it each day. To get dressed on the first attempt, instead of the fourth or fifth, and to get on with things without all the negative self-image crap trailing behind me all day like toilet paper stuck to my shoe. The past few years have been the Second Coming of age thirteen in so many ways, and I’m so done with it.

So, what do you think? Does the capsule wardrobe sound like a useful strategy to you, or an instrument of oppression? What’s your relationship history with fashion? I’d love to know. 

Season Opener

January 6th, 2015

When a blogger has been absent from her blog as long as I have, you expect her to come back with a divorce announcement or rehab story–some kind of major plot twist. But I don’t have a big season opener, or even an explanation for the eight-week gap between posts, except that life has been full with sweet and ordinary things. 

Thanksgiving things.

Thanksgiving arrangement

Birthday things.

Birthday shoes

Crafty things.


Cozy things.

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Christmas things.

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 Church things.


And this sort of thing.

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Lots of that sort of thing.

It was lovely. 

And now it’s good to be back, fingertips tapping on keys. I like the sound of twenty-fifteen. The way the staccato syllables come off my tongue all crisp and new like cards dealt from a fresh deck.

I feel lucky.