Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spoiled Children

Attempts to analyze the effects of parents who have overindulged their offspring is one of the most trending topics. The New Yorker recently printed excerpts from a book by Elizabeth Kolbert titled:
Spoiled Rotten, Why do kids rule the roost? In her book, Kolbert offers this observation:

'With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff-clothes,
toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority. .....“Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology,have written.”'

When my sister was raising her two children, she would argue that children can't be spoiled. Food spoils. Children can be indulged. However, the Oxford English Dictionary includes within the definition of “spoil” the following: “harm the character of (a child) by being too lenient or indulgent”; or “to diminish or destroy the value of.” I my humble opinion, the rampant spoiling of American children and lead to this most regrettable result – the loss of common courtesy.

Toddlers have always been self centered because they haven't yet been taught social skills and sharing. Teens are in general rebellious because pushing limits is part of the growth process. However, the recent crop of young people has been raised to believe they are brilliant, beautiful, always winners, entitled, can eat whatever they want whenever they want, individuals with the inalienable right to express themselves and to be handed success because they exist. Nobody has ever set boundaries for them. Or, I have seen parents who have much too late in the game tried to set a boundary by punishing errant behavior with consequences (by...horrors! taking away cell phone privileges) who withdrew the punishment as too Draconian after a nominal amount of time and whining from the offender. Unfortunately, it is much harder to learn the lessons of consequences as an adult.
Really, your boss can fire you for no reason no matter how brilliant your mother told you you are!

As I was discussing with some friends recently, there are fewer young people who offer to help when visiting. Adults bring their children to a social gathering without checking to ensure it is a family friendly event – or if the appendages are even invited. And when they do bring their children, they allow the kids to take over – lay all over the furniture without thinking it would be courteous to leave space for others, hijack the TV remote, forage through the refrigerator, and demand their parents to wait on them. This is a far cry from the times when as children we were warned not to sit in grandpa's chair or try to turn the TV channel on grandpa's TV because it was not our house!

Hopefully the tide will turn and if this generation ever moves out of their parents' houses,
they will, through exposure to the real world, learn that for their children setting boundaries and learning to be courteous to others will serve them well.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


My husband and I are huge proponents of buying and eating local. We frequent dining establishments that serve local produce and meat. And....we are fervent supporters of the burgeoning Virginia burgeoning wine industry. Our wine cellar consists primarily of Virginia wines and we spend the occasional weekend exploring the local wineries. And while I couldn't have said this when we first started wine tasting in our backyard, many of the wines are not just good – they are excellent. My husband Todd and I would like to describe ourselves as oenophiles; but we're probably just winos with evolved taste buds!

I am fortunate to live in the wine country of the beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia.
Over the last few years Virginia vintners have made significant progress and the wines can now begin to compete with some of the more prestigious wine growing regions in the USA. It will not be long before they rival California offerings. In fact one grape grower chose Fauquier County, Virginia instead of Sonoma County, California to grow the grapes he wanted for his Bordeaux style wines that are blended in France – which are, by the way, exquisite and world class. Love RdV!

The history of wine in Virginia goes back to the earliest days of settlement in the early 17th Century, specifically 1619.The original Acts of the Virginia Assembly required every land owner to plant ten vines. And who says history is boring! Jamestown was founded in 1607 – so winemaking was part of the earliest mandates of the new colony. This might explain why I had such an instinct that Virginia was the state where I should ultimately live!
There are micro climates in Virginia combined with hardscrabble earth that combine to make this an amazing wine grape cultivation area. Where nothing else will grow, certain grapes will thrive. While there are suitable micro climates for growing grapes in various areas of the state, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, Rappahannock County and Albermarle County are among the best- all within 90 minutes of my humble abode.

In future posts I will review the wines offered at specific wineries. But for now, I would encourage anybody visiting Virginia with even a modest appreciation of wine to explore some of our local wineries. The people who make wine and volunteer at Virginia wineries are among the friendliest and most welcoming folks you could ever meet. The people we meet who volunteer at the wineries are passionate about their wine and promoting the industry in Virginia. As aficionados of Napa and Sonoma wineries, we have embraced the local industry and hope you will too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Student Loans

Student Loans~

The news has been inundated with cries about the alleged student loan crisis. Granted, untold numbers of young people have left colleges and universities with record levels of debt. Knowing the maturity level of most undergraduates, I do not lay the blame at the feet of the students. Rather – the fault lies with the federal government, the institutions that loan the ridiculous amounts of money and fail to monitor where the money actually goes, the parents who encourage the students to incur the debt to obtain an education at an unaffordable university and don't tell their children that it should be 4 years and out, and the university and colleges that conspire with all of the above to in order to keep the tuition at record levels.

There are other causes when it comes to graduate students. I have known graduate students who take out loans to send their kids to private schools and to pay for the down payment on home loans – because it is cheaper than a traditional bank loan and easier to obtain because nobody checks the credit worthiness of a student.

First, let us look at the parents. My parents expected to send their children to college and planned accordingly. That meant saving money. It also meant sacrificing a newer house and fancy vacations. We were expected to work during summers and contribute to our spending money and support. I wanted to go to Europe. That meant working to earn the difference between my year of education at my university and the cost to spend a year overseas. It was also made clear that we would graduate in four years. Today, parents don't save money for their children's educations. It is expected that loans will be provided. Parents encourage their children to aspire to the most prestigious universities and believe it is okay to extend the time to achieve an undergraduate degree to 5 or 6 years. And students have no sense of honor or responsibility to graduate in 4 years. Too many change majors on a whim or change schools. Instead of changing majors, get a degree and then figure it out! I managed to graduate with a 4 year degree in 3 years while spending a full year at an overseas campus, a summer in France ( at my own expense), and worked 24 hours per week my senior year while taking 20 hours per quarter and still getting straight A's. social life suffered a bit. But, my parents were relieved from paying tuition for 2 college students at the same time for a second year. And no, I did not get a job in my chosen field; but I did get a job that paid the bills and developed into a career. 

The federal government is so misguided as to believe it is the federal government's duty to ensure all American's have access to any institution of higher learning they aspire to attend. Wrong! It is up to the states to provide access to higher education. If the states want to provide additional grants or scholarships, they can vote an increase in the sales tax to support it.  Most state universities are reasonably priced schools.  The tuition increases exponentially if one insists on attending an out of state school. So...stay in state! Or....conduct the research necessary to obtain a scholarship or a grant. Or start out at a community college and work while attending classes. Unless one is awarded a scholarship or a grant, the cost differential and accompanying debt is not worth the prestigiousness of the school. If you can't get a grant or a scholarship or can't afford the tuition – don't go there! Otherwise, stop bitching about the debt!

With regard to the lending sources – why on earth would any lender loan $100,000 in student loans to somebody who wouldn't qualify for an auto loan? So sorry – but if you can't afford a Lexus or wouldn't be approved by BMW to buy a car – you can't afford Harvard and shouldn't be loaned the money to go there. And if the federal government didn't subsidize the loans, no lending body would take the risk. So again, the federal government is using my tax money to subsidize a loan to a bad risk. And we wonder why the US debt is so high! And lenders should disclose in large print - just like credit card companies are now required to do - what the monthly payment will be after graduation with the combined debt. Full disclosure is warranted to inform students of the burden they are undertaking. 

If the feds and the lending institutions would stop encouraging the accrual of astronomical debt by students, the bastions of higher education would have to .....lower tuition. Universities are not charitable institutions. Despite the ivory towers, they will continue to increase tuition as long as the market will bear it. They increase tuition to support the athletic programs, research programs for the faculty, to subsidize scholarships, to beautify grounds or upgrade facilities. If the market changes, universities will have to join the same world as commercial enterprises and “downsize”, eliminate the prestigious research unless paid for by private grants.

Finally – cross reference the loan history to ensure a student is not incurring such outrageous debt. And decline to loan money to students who try to go from undergraduate to post graduate studies without some time in the market place in the interim. Today's students have been so cosseted by their parents and teachers that they fear having to actually work for a living in the real world. If a student has the talents to go to grad school, somebody will come through with a grant or a scholarship or they will have the time to truly consider it the graduate degree and increased debt from loans it worth it. If there is a shortage of scholars in a particular field, there will be a corporation or foundation to offer grants. Otherwise, don't just go to law school or business school believing you will find a pot of gold at the end of the diploma. The chances of that happening is about the same as winning a Power Ball jack pot.   Frankly, I resent that my tax money must subsidize students without direction, who don't work, who take extra time to get their credits, who think they are owed a subsidy to attend an out of state private or college, and who believe they are owed an education by the USA. And, it is possible to get a job with just about any degree if you market yourself properly. It may not be the job you want and you may have to move.....but jobs are out there. It takes COMPROMISE and an understanding that nobody starts at the top.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

40 Over 40 by Brenda Kinsel

Recommending “40 Over 40”

Brenda Kinsel is a professional image consultant who has written several books on style aimed at women of a certain age. In her book titled “40 Over 40 – 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed”, she gives down to earth accessible advise to real women over 40 about dressing with personal style and celebrating the woman one has become – giving women permission to celebrate getting dressed every day. I've purchased and read any number of books with advice on style, but none resonated with me in a similar way.

After I first read the book, I started giving copies to my sister and friends who had also reached the age of 40 and needed some encouragement to move into the next stage of life with style. Few of us reach our 5th decade without some bumps and bruises or disappointments or illnesses or extra pounds along the way. It's as if one day we look in the mirror and see a 25 year old with smooth skin, toned legs, a trim waist, and thick hair. Then, we wake up one morning and see wrinkles, and droops and bulges, and still see the same vibrancy in the eyes but wonder what happened to youth.

Brenda's book “40 Over 40”, along with the others she's written, will help you find a style and clothes that celebrate the woman you've become; and she does it with easy humor. A few of my favorite chapter: “Clothes Are Like Food”, “Organize Your Closet and Have More Time for Sex”, “What to do When Current Fashion Sucks” and “Get a Tune Up Twice a Year”. Any my favorite bits of advice......clothes should come with an expiration date and love the body you are in!

I've had several friends who have saved clothes (and hairstyles) from the '80's when they were thin and beautiful with the belief that they will lose weight and be able to wear the clothes again. But, in the meantime, they've lost years of enjoying life and fashion, keeping a focus on the past and missing out on the present. Brenda's advice gave me and my friends the confidence to make positive changes, to learn to love and celebrate the body that we currently have, to be thankful for legs that give us the ability to stand, for feet that can wear beautiful shoes, for arms that we can wrap around a loved one, for a neck that we can wrap in a cashmere scarf, and for eyes we can match to a handbag. And Brenda is one of us. She is not a size 2 - 30 year old trying to give advise to more experienced women.

According to, I purchased my first copy of the book July 16, 2006. “40 Over 40” was first published in March 2000, but the message is still relevant. I would also recommend that you check out her website: has the books available through its marketplace for less than $5.00 per copy. Highly recommended if your self esteem or closet needs a boost!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Can Talbots Be Saved?

I received my email from Talbots today advising me of the semi annual red hanger sale and naturally, went immediately to the website to see if I could nab any deals. Other than 3 pair of bermuda shorts, which were a fabulous price, I ordered nothing. And I am a black card holder who has been a loyal customer for at least 30 years.
The deterioration of a venerable brand such as Talbots has been difficult to watch. The company seems to have engaged in retail practices that sent it on a path to a slow, agonizing death. For those of us who have been long term customers, the twists and turns the management team has taken in attempts to woo new customers have been perplexing.
There have been many financial analysts who have provided opinions as to why the brand has gone awry. I am not an expert in analyzing the stock market or the retail industry overall; however, as an avid shopper and long term Talbots customer I, as those similarly situated, are uniquely qualified to offer insights. In fact, many decades long customers have offered suggestions to the powers that be through the Facebook page. Those suggestions and opinions have been disregarded by all except the customer service representatives who are forced to reply with the standard company propaganda. Trudy Sullivan has taken Talbots from a go-to store for professional women who appreciate quality clothes for business and business casual styles with top flight customer service to an unfocused brand trying to appeal to a broader demographic with lower price points. The result of the debacle of an experiment – a loss of the core customer.
Talbots regrettably gained a reputation as a brand that targeted and appealed only to conservative, woman of 50 plus with with a higher disposable income and extremely conservative tastes. That, however, was not alway the case. When I started shopping Talbots I was 22 years old and aspired to climb the corporate ladder. I could always find appropriate business wear and casual wear that would be right for any occasion. My peers also shopped Talbots. Talbots was the first place we would go to find the interview suit, the LBD for a special occasion, or the smart casual outfit for weekends. The company mixed the Talbots brand products with suitable clothes from other companies. The fit was predictable. The fabrics natural fiber; the sizing consistent. The shoes were all leather including the sole and were true to size. The quality was consistently reliable. And the customer service was equal to that of Nordstrom – guaranteed for life, period.
When I lived in Asia and could not find clothes to fit my normal North American size, I ordered by fax or mail from Talbots. Talbots would ship my order to the World Trade Center in Taipei, which was duty free. If there was a problem with the order, I would call customer service and the company would send a replacement without additional charge and tell me to return the problem item when I was next in the U.S.A. And, I always did. While living in Hong Kong I ordered several items by fax. A sweater I ordered was labeled hand wash or dry clean. I had the sweater dry cleaned for a couple of years and then decided to hand wash. The colors ran. I intended to throw the sweater away; but my mom reminded me of the guarantee. I contacted customer service, explained the situation, and mailed the sweater back to Hingham MA with a letter explaining when I'd bought the sweater and what other items I 'd ordered with it. They sent me a refund check. This customer service assured my loyalty – even when the quality and offerings began to shift.
In the last few years, since Trudy Sullivan assumed the helm, the direction of the company went south. The attempt to appeal to a different type of customer failed and lost the loyalty of the core business oriented customer. There were a few years where it was impossible to find a suit for business wear. While it is true that corporate America has become more casual, business wear is not obsolete. The analysts argued that Talbots was attempting to appeal to a younger woman – but that isn't true. Talbots already appealed to the younger woman in her 20's and 30's– but it was the younger business woman. When the company steered its focus away from business wear – it lost its way. Talbots further alienated long term customers with misguided promotions, a no return policy on certain sale items, and an antiquated website that lagged far behind the competition.
There have been abundant rumors over the last months and weeks as to whether the buyout by Sycamore Partners will go through and if it does, whether Sycamore can rescue the brand by focusing on what worked for most of the company's history– predictable sizing, quality fabrics and construction, modern conservative styles, updated classics that are always appropriate. Some analysts have predicted 2013 with be the swan song for Talbots. It certainly hope not. Talbots fills a niche in the retail environment that cannot afford a void. Let us hope Sycamore will start fresh with a new strategy, a new management team , new buyers and a fresh perspective. And by the way...bring back the red doors!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My journey to happiness

Happiness is possible within us all.....

Every morning I wake up grateful for the life I have. It wasn't always so. I had to learn how to be happy. It was hard work.

For years I allowed negativity {and the belief that somebody else or something else could make me happy} interfere with my ability to appreciate my blessings. I suffered from the “if onlys”. If only this popular guy would ask me out; if only I got the lead in my senior class play; if only I was accepted in this sorority; if only I could get the perfect job in the perfect city; if only I would meet the perfect man, get married, have 2 kids, move to the 4 bedroom colonial with the manicured lawn on a waterfront in the right neighborhood; if only I had a Gucci handbag and a 32” strand of Mikimoto pearls; ....{fill in the blank} my life would be fulfilled and I would finally be happy. But, I wasn't. I was a stubborn student. If took me decades to accept that people and things were not the source of my happiness...and that it could only come from me.

I married a nice man that my family loved; but, we were ill suited as marriage partners. We did vacation well, but not everyday life. He bought me the things I thought I needed to be happy; he took me on fabulous vacations. I traveled the world and took it for granted. We lived an amazing life from Indianapolis to Dallas to Taipei, Taiwan, to Hong Kong to Delaware; but it wasn't enough and we made one another miserable. While we were living in Hong Kong he lost his job and his confidence and made friends with Johnny Walker. I went to Al Anon but didn't accept that I had no control over alcohol, other people, places and things. I didn't heal and ultimately, the house of cards collapsed.

I found a job, moved to Maryland, and promptly got involved in another dysfunctional relationship.
I'd learned just enough jargon from my limited exposure to Al Anon that I thought I could create an environment where this alcoholic would want to seek the cure. I was wrong. {the first 44 years of my life I was just less right than I originally thought – never wrong}. I found my way back to Al Anon and a group of people in Frederick, Maryland that took me in and helped me find a way to heal. This involved deep investigation into self – the good and the bad; the beautiful and the ugly; the acceptance of what is; learning to appreciate the journey. I got stronger and broke free. At the same time, a coworker introduced me to Doreen Virtue's book “Healing With The Angels”. And I started practicing yoga. Through the combination of Al Anon, Doreen Virtue and yoga, I found my spirituality, my sense of self and an appreciation for the beauty in the every day. Slowly, I learned how to be happy and live of live filled with positivity, laughter, peace and serenity. (ok – a little vino and some shoes as well)
During the journey, I've learned to accept people and love them as they are. Low expectations and high acceptance. I've learned to love and appreciate myself – the real me, not my idealized me. I have no control over whether somebody else likes me or not. If they don't, that is their problem not mine. I love the quiet moments alone reading or just being, and the peace that comes with digging in the dirt while gardening. I feel gratitude and happiness watching the sunrise and sunset, the birds eating at the feeder, the cats leaping at the birds, the first daffodil of spring, the rose bushes in full bloom, the smell of BBQ on the smoker, that my deer magnate Honda CRV takes a licking and keeps on ticking. And I appreciate my wonderful husband and enjoy every moment we've had since we met 7 1/2 years ago. I appreciate his kindness, his sense of humor, the fact he cooks and has encouraged me to expand my interests.

Happiness is available to all. It is truly within. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln ...most people are about as happy as they want to be.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The “M” Word.....

No word causes a chill down the spine of a woman of a certain age and an eruption of fire and smoke coursing back up through the ears (and in my case, the mouth) more speedily than the word “matronly”. I call it “the M word”. The term matronly calls to mind by-gone era TV characters such as Aunt Bea from “The Andy Griffith Show”, Edith Bunker from “All in the Family”, Jessica Fletcher of “Murder She Wrote”, and Marion Cunningham on “Happy Days”. Jean Stapleton was only 48 when “All in the Family” debuted. Marion Ross was a mere 46 when “Happy Days” first aired. Yikes!

Matronly women wear their long gray hair in a bun or short blue rinsed hair in tightly permed poodle curls that are “blown out and set” once a week at the beauty shop. They wear house dresses or pant suits that have elastic waist pants and a matching top or mom jeans and sweatshirts with whimsical appliques. To me synonyms include the motherly, stately, mature, middle-aged, sedate, matriarchal, sexless, and boring. No woman I know yearns to be matronly – with the exception of my younger sister who thinks she has to dress “like a mom”. No animal print underwear in that lingerie drawer!

Both of my grandmothers were matronly, as were all of my great aunts. They were products of their generation. They wore house dresses and sensible shoes. Neither my mother or my mother-in-law or my husband's 100 year old grandmother are matronly. In fact, according to my mother-in-law, neither she nor Granda shop at a chain of stores that markets to women over 35 because they don't think the clothes are youthful enough! I am right with them on this one!

We Baby Boomers don't want to become matronly. We want to think of ourselves as fashionable, healthy, physically fit, relevant and forever young. That is why we practice yoga, train for marathons, join health clubs, and participate in life affirming activities. We want to be the best we can be at every age. We do not give in to the old expectations.

So, I refuse to become the “M Word”. hair is vibrantly red. I regularly try new makeup brands and formulas & wear colorful chunky jewelry. I wear animal print bras and thong panties. {I always wear my “fierce underwear” when I am attending a mediation}, pencil skirts, tank tops, shoes with 3 1/2 inch heels (the stilettos were retired after my 8th sprained ankle), empire waist dresses, and jeans that hug my curves. There are no mom jeans in my closet. I watch “What Not To Wear” religiously. My toes are always polished and I do not own the dreaded A-line mid calf length heavy denim skirt that says “I haven't had sex since 1992”. There is no M Word in my vocabulary.

Expunge it from usage! Instead....I opt to use the “V Word” to described myself. Vibrant!
So, let's all substitute the V Word for the M Word and celebrate being Vibrant!!!

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Life With Shoes

Out of sheer curiosity I decided to count how many pair of black shoes I have readily visible in my closet. I noticed the shelves were a bit dusty and when I picked up a towel to make my shoe haven more pristine, I noticed there were quite a few black shoes and my curiosity was piqued. So, I counted them.

My closet contains 24 pair of readily accessible black shoes including pumps, flats, sandals, and mules. Naturally, this does not include strictly winter footwear, which is properly packed away until the leaves begin to turn. My justification for the abundance of black goes with everything and is slimming.

Now, I have no idea just how many pair of shoes I currently have. My color scheme tends towards multiples of blue, brown, red, taupe and animal print. Sometime in the spring there was a purge. To encourage the circulation of good karma, it is my intent to remove an older pair of shoes each time a new pair is introduced to the collection. But in general, at any given time the collection includes in toto somewhere around 150 pair. I've maintained this level of shoe immersion for at least 25 years. This is a long standing affliction – this lust for shoes.

My first inkling of a problem – when I would go to my favorite purveyor of shoes in Plano, Texas back in 1986 and the owner would offer to take my fur coat and hand it in the office so I would be unencumbered while shopping. If I found a style I liked, I would buy it in every color. I still recall a lovely kitten heel pointy toe pump made by Evan Picone (back when Evan Picone was desirable) that I bought in 5 colors. I wish I could find a duplicate of that shoe today! Of course, at that time, we were still dressing for success and John Molloy's recommendations for dressing for the corporate world was the bible. Thou shalt not show toes! It was so cool to be on the calling list whenever a new shipment arrived.

The seminal moment, however, when I knew that I'd reached a point of no return.....when my then husband and I were moving to Taipei, Taiwan in the fall of 1988, I insisted that Rockwell International ship all 160 pair of shoes by air. The company thought I was crazy. Of course, the extent of the Imelda Marco collection was still a state secret. But, there wasn't a long line of sale persons begging to move to a county that the USA didn't recognize, was just lifting marshall law, and still held that any opinion adverse to the ruling party's was a capitol offense. So, they agreed to air ship my shoes while everything else was put on a slow boat to China ( ok – the Republic of China – not to be confused with the People's Republic of China).

One I moved to Asia, I was stymied. The local people had little feet. A size 7 was considered huge. I wear a size 9 American or a 39 European. These sizes were not to be found. I had to order from the US and hope for the best. Once I moved to Hong Kong there were a few shops that would get 1-2 size 9's each season. I haunted the Joan & David Boutique and the Episode shops (a UK based boutique) for those few offerings that would fit. Episode had fabulous D'Orsay kitten heel pumps that I still recall fondly. But, my fix was only sated by occasional trips to the States where I'd come to rely on the shoe department at Nordstrom. If only Zappos had existed in those days.

Which brings me to the present. Zappos!Let's all say it together: “Zappos”. Zappos is shoe nirvana. There are other online site that offer footwear – but none can come close to the offering of Zappos.
Fast free shipping and free returns! The real killer – paying via Pay Pal or Bill Me Later. This is truly a danger zone.

My favorite designers change with the seasons. I've never been inclined to buy “designer” shoes. The likelihood I will step in a metal grate or a gap in the sidewalk is directly proportional to the amount I paid for the shoe The more expensive the shoe, the faster I will step in hazard and scrape the heel. That is not to say I advocate buying cheap shoes. Most synthetics make feet sweat, which causes bacteria to grow, which creates smelly feet. That is a bad thing. I just do not see the point in spending $500 + on a pair of shoes that I will tire of eventually. And, the heels on Manolo's or Choo's are to high for me at this point in my life. There was a time when I thought nothing of running through the Dallas – Fort Worth Airport in 4 1/2 inch heels. Those days are past.

However, there is no need to sacrifice style for comfort in the 21st Century. Manufacturers such as Stewart Weitzman, Donald Pliner, Earthies, Tracy Reese, Josef Seibel, Ecco, and Born design cute shoes at a reasonable price that are comfortable and stylish. Uggs now has boot and clogs that do not resemble cave woman boots; Privo by Clarks offers great alternatives to the ubiquitous sneaker that is a fashion disaster when worn with anything but jeans or shorts. Privo also offers some adorable ballet flats that make fabulous driving or commuter shoes.

The best thing about shoes – you don't have to worry about a few pounds here or there. They will fit and make you happy.

My favorite sites other than Zappos or Nordstrom:
gravevine hill on ebay

Thursday, June 21, 2012 musings by Vivian: Can I blame Al Gore for my weight gain? musings by Vivian: Can I blame Al Gore for my weight gain?: Since 1969 when the California Supreme Court extended the theory of strict liability to any entity in the chain of distribution for a produc...

Can I blame Al Gore for my weight gain?

Since 1969 when the California Supreme Court extended the theory of strict liability to any entity in the chain of distribution for a product, Americans have increasing looked for ways to blame someone else for their injuries or health problems. The civil court system has become clogged with frivolous lawsuits of more spurious natures with each year. I can assure you after having worked in the insurance claims business for more than 30 years, the creativity of the plaintiff's bar has continued to boggle any reasonable mind. The theories of liability and recovery become even more ludicrous with each passing year. The problem ( or if you are a plaintiff seeking to strike the lottery, the benefit) is that juries cannot be trusted to make reasoned and informed decisions because  more often than not the below average Joes ( trust me - average Joes figure out how to avoid jury duty or are unceremoniously  cut by one side or another) have lost all concept of what is reasonable or.....hope that if they are the in a similar position as the plaintiff, have the potential to hit the jackpot as well. 

I kid you not.....I spoke to an attorney in New York City who told me a panelist on a mock jury actually thought an award of $1,000,000,000 ( One Billion Dollars) was reasonable pain and suffering in a medical malpractice case. 

Hence, my assertion that I can blame Al Gore for my weight gain. Al Gore purports to have, if not invented, participated in legislation that expanded the Internet. The Internet spawned online shopping sites, which have made it simple to shop from the comfort of my arm chair or couch. 

Before I was able to shop online, I went to the Mall, parked, walked from the parking lot or garage, and walked around the Mall from department store to department store to boutique seeking out various and sundry treasures. Yes, I am an avowed shopaholic. From my early 20's in Indianapolis when I trawled through Castleton Square, Lafayette Square, Glendale, Washington Square and wandered through the downtown shopping district, through my  late 20's in suburban Dallas where I routinely investigated the offerings at the Galleria, North Park, or Collin Creek Malls, to  my early 30's while I lived in Hong Kong walking from my high rise on the side of the Peak down the side of a mountain into Central, taking the Star Ferry to Kowloon where I walked up and down the Golden Mile, investigated the Temple Street Night Market, climbed the crooked street of Lan Kwai Fong, climbed the smelly back stairs in industrial districts looking for deals, through my late 30's and early 40's  when I wandered through the suburban malls outside of Washington, DC at Tyson's Corner, Pentagon City, Lake Forest, or White Flint Mall in Rockville, Maryland...  I maintained my weight and a svelte size 6 (probably in current vanity sizing a 2) .

Then, Al Gore either invented or promoted the Internet. I've lost all interest in driving to a shopping center, walking from store to store, and seeking out the perfect sale shoe, handbag, pair of earrings, cutting board, bath sheet, sweater, wine goblet, pair of jeans, suitcase, sewing machine, smoker, plant, gun, computer or book. No, I order EVERYTHING but vegetables and meat online. I did all of my Christmas shopping online the last few years. But for the Internet ( and Al Gore) I would be benefiting from a significant amount of additional physical activity / exercise and would be much thinner and healthier. 

If one expands the theory of strict liability  as the courts have been inclined to do over the last 43 years, then Al Gore and the development of the Internet are legally liable for my 20 extra pounds. Maybe I should sue him. What do you think? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Inconsistencies of the religious right

One of the factors that baffles me about the vocal and militant right to lifers is the fact theagenda stops at the point where the militants insiste that a woman who choses not to give birth should be precluded from exercising her choice. There seems to be no consideration for the fuit of the womb they want to protect. From my humble perspective it is far less cruel to end a pregnancy that to bring an unwanted child into the world – an unwanted living being that brethes tha air we breath and appreciates abandonment.

While I come from a family of conservatives who disagree with my beliefs in this regard, it is a position to which I am committed. The federal government has no business legislating my reproductive decisions. The religious right has not business advocating the legislation of morality or what should be a personal decision. If the federal government and right to lifers want to insist that a woman who conceives gives birth, both the institution and the advocates should put their money and efforts towards adopting, financially supporting, educating, raising, nurturing, feeing, clothing, and loving the results of the advocacy. I do not see the advocates for limiting reproductive rights organizing to protect the actual unwanted children that are already born. It seems the advocacy stops at prayer circules and demonstrations in front of health care providers that perform family panning services.

So, you've kept a woman from terminating a pregnancy. You do not know her story. It matters. Few make the decision lightly. You do not chastise the sperm donor. Instead, you espouse that the decision to terminate causes long term psychological trauma. This, for the most part, is bunk and propaganda. It is self serving for the agenda of the militants who forget the Founding Fathers of this great nation wanted the federal government to stay out of the personal decisions of its citizens.

When I see candlelight vigils, marches on Washington, collections and churches, and petitions to support the abused, neglected and ignored children that are already among us, perhaps I will be compelled to understand the mindset of the right wing harpies. Frankly, my cats are more loved and cared for than many of the children that are a part of our American life. And I don't mean a giving tree at Christmas time. If you believe in the sanctity of life to such an extent that you will force a woman to have an unwanted child, you should be prepared to pay to raise that child. And I don't mean as a ward of the state or the federal government. That increases my taxes. If you want to force a woman to have a child you should pay for it.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I consider myself Libertarian. I believe in individual liberty and limited government. Neither of the major political parties in the USA of today have any concept of individual liberty and limited government  - no matter what propaganda they espouse. The Democrats believe in the Robin Hood principal - take from the rich and give to the poor, encouraging dependence on the backs of those who believe in a work ethic. Let me tell you, my great Aunt Mary was blind from the age of 18; but she did not decide to label herself a handicap person deserving of a "safety net". Instead, she raised my father and his siblings after their mother died on a farm with no indoor plumbing, fed farm workers, learned to tat lace, crochet, embroider hand towels, sold her hand work to send relative to college, liberated herself at 50 and lived alone, independently for the next 35 years. Really, promoting victimhood should NOT be the American Way. Alternatively, the Republicans believe in big business, an inflated military, forging wars on foreign soils,  legislating morality,  and catering the to the extreme religious right. Neither party appreciates any concepts of the founders of our Republic.

Please repeat after me: The United States of America is a Republic. It is not a democracy. It is the best form of government I've encountered to date; however, its execution is flawed because of the pandering to special interest groups, the fact that members of Congress make a career of running for reelection, members with actual reasonable views on issues cave to the pressures or "party", and lobbyists on both sides pay for the legislation they want. They have all become corrupt.

Libertarians want the federal government out of their wallets, their bedrooms, their doctor's offices, their backyards, their school curriculums, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera......the federal government- according to the Constitution - a sacred text - was given limited powers. What was not specifically allocated to the federal government was left to the states. Unfortunately, the states have abrogated responsibility to their citizens by becoming reliant on the federal handout.

Neither of the current canonized candidates for president represent Americans as they truly are. They represent the fringe of both parties. Unfortunately, the checks and balances of the 3 branches of government  (as devised by our far more educated than any individual in todays world) have not kept  the  self appointed crowned heads from completely hijacking  the government. We are far better off when they  achieve absolutely nothing.  While an elected president rarely has any absolute authority, members of Congress  who do not apply the laws they pass to themselves, can and have created havoc with our lives. (I will save my rants on the judiciary for a later post. ) And perhaps I was a bit wrong regarding the president. He or she is a figurehead that serves as the image or face of the USA. I must admit, while I was traveling through Europe during the Carter administration, I allowed people to believe I was Canadian. I didn't tell anybody I was from Canada - but if somebody guessed that was my country of origin, I did not disabuse them of the belief. Alternatively, during the Reagan administration, the time of morning in America, it was easy to be proud to be American.

For the past several election cycles and presidents, I cannot say the same. My feeling have not been dependent upon which party held the highest office. From George Bush I though Obama, the representatives of our government have been an embarrassment. But, I understand this is not new time in history. Only George Washington has, essentially, an unblemished  reputation as a leader.

But, I hope for day when the reason of a Ron Paul or any  other candidate that seeks to represent the citizen in the middle who believes in the core values of the original framers of our constitution has a chance to be elected. At this point in my life, at election time it has  ultimately come down to the lesser or two weevils. This time, however, it will be tough. Neither candidate has even an iota of appeal to one who truly appreciates the Constitution.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Out in the field with my photography

This weekend I had the opportunity to practice my learnings of the collodion wet plate photographic process using a traveling dark box. Collodion photography is an early form of photography that was used before and during the Civil War. The photographer uses glass or tin plates, coats the plates with collodion - a chemical solution using collodion, ether, alcohol and metal salts - that is sensitized with silver nitrate before exposing the plate to light using a box camera and removing a lens cover.

The images are beautiful - with a high resolution and an image in soft tones of coffee and cream. The glass plates are, of course, clear and require a glossy black backing. If done on japanned tin - ( or a tin painted black with a special paint ) no backing is required.

I participated in a workshop taught by Mark and France Osterman in conjunction with the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and Scully & Osterman, who are the real experts in this type of photography. My husband Todd has been practicing this art for several years. anybody who has ever asked a spouse to teach them golf is not always a path to marital bliss to rely on one's significant other to teach a craft. Now, Todd has been refining my golf swing with an abundance of patience. However, sharing a dark room or a traveling dark box is far more intimate than an 18 hole golf course. (or curse.....depending upon the day, hour, minute).

Since, in this relationship only death will part us ( and I've explained that murder/ suicide is not an option - and I have no inclination to do myself in) it made sense to rely upon the experts to teach me.

While my classroom work was not ( how shall we say) stellar, I've shown an aptitude for the process since retuning to Virginia and making images in the back yard using our beautiful dark room. This weekend, however, it was out to the field at a Civil War reenactment using the traveling dark box....which is a wooden box with a shroud that one can envelope oneself in to keep light out using a small red glass window for filtered ambient light and two red flashlights. I found myself back to square one in figuring out when the collodion covered plate was ready to go into the silver bath, figuring out the ever changing exposures that changed with the cloud cover, and seeing when the plate was ready to stop the development in such a confined space. Any illusions I had that I'd made strides were immediately laid to rest

Fortunately, I had a ready subject available to pose for my practice portraits, a delightfully charming 11 year old young lady who goes by the moniker "Squirrel".  While is should be needless to say....I was somewhat surprised that portraiture was more challenging than say....botanicals. I discovered I need my own dark box set up and practice practice practice.....Fortunately, I've found that time spent in the dark room flies by as if in milliseconds. To find a new creative outlet at 52 is fabulous.

It is my hope that by sharing my own experiences, I can inspire even one other woman of a certain age to expand her horizons and reach for the stars. I found marital bills at 46; decided after years of city living that the rural life was more suited to my temperament; discovered that climbing the corporate ladder was not worth the sacrifice of my sanity, serenity or core values; found grounding in yoga; learned to appreciate the beauty in the everyday simple things; accepted that I have no control over anything but my own attitude; accepted that I have an addiction to shoes and handbags. Ok - books. I includes books. And wine....well...pasta...that's all I, handbags, books, wine and pasta....Maybe....olives and cheese....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Living on the edge of the fringe......

My husband and I take wet plate collodion photographs at Civil War reenactments. Just by virtue of attending a Civil War reenactment, we must accept that we fall within a sub culture aka a "fringe element".  We tend to believe we fall towards the more normal side of the fringe....albeit, within the fringe. But I decided many moons ago that what is perceived as normal is boring. Abby Normal is far more entertaining and fun. I embrace the fringe! Below - just a little insight into the fringe.

The most entertaining aspect of participating in a reenactment has very little to do with the actual battle. I haven't actually watched an entire battle scenario since the 145th Anniversary of Gettysburg - Pickett's charge. I stood within spitting distance of the engagement with re-enactors shooting within point blank range with no casualties. Please....nobody is that bad a shot. Even my dear departed Aunt Mary who was  blind and deaf could have taken out a few soldiers.....reenactors, however, pay for the privilege of participating and want to "burn powder". But really, somebody has to die! (and I don't mean the out of shape, well past their primes, weekend warriors who also participated in the 125th cycle - achieving actual death). Unless a commander has ordered certain participant to die, (or if it is really really hot or really really cold) - nobody takes a hit. This is why I don't watch battles. But, watching the bad impressions aka FARBS, can be extremely entertaining. Nobody knows the actual origin of the term - and it can be considered pejorative (although few FARBS believe  the term actually applies to them).
A FARB is one who tends to show indifference to historical authenticity with uniforms, material culture, and anachronisms- but there are myriad levels of inauthenticity. Some errors in authenticity are outright dangerous - such as the ubiquitous acetate ball gown worn to a country is a fire hazard...other offenses - wearing cosmetics, synthetic fabrics, carrying a modern cell phone, wearing  modern eye glasses, no corset for a woman, a firearm from the wrong decade, zippers, belt loops, the wrong hairstyle, with a few documented exceptions - women in combat....

This weekend we attended an event at a lovely site in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania hosted by some wonderful people who work to improve the lives of abandoned children. Profits from the registration of participants and Sutlers (merchants pedaling period wares to reenactors and visitors) will be donated to charity:  Check out the website - the Abel family is amazing!

The dedication of many reenactors who research the soldiers they will portray is amazing, crazy, fringe,
obsessive, amusing, and an honor to those who came before. There is camaraderie. People come from all over the world for these 150th Anniversary events. It is mind blowing to realize that people reenact the American Civil War in England, Australia, France, Germany, and Finland. A friend from Scotland comes to the USA a couple of times per year for hard core events (those that try to recreate the actual conditions a Civil War soldier would have encountered) and is so mesmerized by the history that he has Stonewall Jackson's face tattooed on his calf.

I know I've strayed and written some Joyce stream of consciousness paragraphs - but I'm new at this is what it is.....


Thursday, June 14, 2012

About Me!

My husband suggested I write a blog because I have no shortage of opinions on myriad topics, many of which hold no interest for him (i.e. shoes, handbags, jewelry, the Black Death, historical fiction, yoga, growing heirloom tomatoes, cultivating roses, perfume, Aveda products, medieval history, Renaissance art and architecture, essential oils, cheesecake - okay - you get my drift). of my favorite words....there was some thought that others among the general public would be more amenable to my exhilaration at finding the perfect shoe or handbag, pontificating or rants on some injustice in the world or political issue,  words of wisdom or, and sharing of my experience, strength and hope from living with addiction in my past or challenges of a failed marriage or relationship, of finding some measure of peace and serenity in mid life, and in celebrating the miracles of finding that within myself I have the tools to live a life of happiness and to build a successful relationship with the love of my life at a point when others are waiting to be struck by lightening. Of course, appreciating wine, olives, olive oil, and garlic helps contribute to my well being.

It is my belief from personal experience that individuals can continue to grow, learn and become more enriched with each passing experience never giving up until one has breathed his or her last. That is my intent. I also believe that the key to peace, serenity and happiness lies within each of us. My dad, at  age 80, still doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up.....I don't either.

Is there a magic bullet? No....and I cannot say with any certainty that any one program or path is the only one. For me, I've melded the gifts of spirituality that I've found from diverse sources - yoga, the power of the Universe, Buddhism, Al-Anon, Doreen Virtue's Healing With the Angels, meditation, and surrounding myself with only positive focused people. I've found within myself a resilience and a belief that I deserve to live a life of happiness, love, abundance, peace, contentment, and good health - that change can be good; that i have no control over anything except my own attitude; and that cat keep the rodents away......

I will write about my book reviews, my love of shoes, the delight in visiting Virginia and California wineries, my Sephora addition, the contentment I feel after a yoga class, the healing I experience after working in the soil pulling weeds and planting wonders of nature, of my amazement at practicing 19th Century wet plate collodian photography, of my blessings for having had the pleasure of traveling throughout Europe and Asia, of my love of family and my appreciation for my friends.

My intent is to focus on the positive. There may be an occasional expression of frustration for what is.....but for the most part, it is my plan to encourage all to celebrate the wonders of the world...and this does include shoes and wine.....