Monday, May 29, 2023

After 17 Years of Gardening ~our Property Remains a Moonscape in Progress


To look at this view of our property, one would think we had created an oasis on the rocky ridge in rural Frederick County, Virginia. That assumption would be woefully incorrect. Despite 17 years of toil; pouring thousands of dollars and hours of sweat equity into attempts to cultivate the landscape;  the shrubs, flowers, trees and countless seedlings planted with great optimism only to find withered, shriveled, leafless, blighted remains by the end of a season; we have adjusted our expectations. Now, we focus just on the areas we can view from our deck. 

There have been successes: Japanese maple trees, bearded Iris, peonies, weigela, and hostas close to the house.

Lessons learned: wisteria was a very bad idea. It destroyed the porch railings…even the American plants. Mint must stay in a pot. Deer LOVE day lilies. Roses hate our environment. We want vinca to spread like an invasive bamboo. 

Tomatoes……I keep trying. This year: cylindrical grow bags placed in the sun amidst the moonscape. They are always the most expensive tomatoes we eat each year😆 

But, I find gardening and landscaping therapeutic. My regular job is stressful. Any position in corporate America is stressful thanks to COVID, post COVID return to office policies that make recruiting challenging, DEI, continuing to do more with less, the unfathomable jury verdicts, declining ethics of plaintiff attorneys and politicians and mental exhaustion. 

So….scratching out a spot for planting seeds, spreading bags of mulch, digging in the dirt, stalling the potted flowers on the deck, and gazing at the tiny slice of an oasis in the midst of our desert brings peace, serenity and a feeling of accomplishment…even if some of the efforts are less than desired.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Americans Need a Candidate to Vote FOR Instead of AGAINST

 Political pundits and media outlets forget that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election because he was NOT Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden was elected in 2020 because he was NOT Donald Trump. For 2024 I do not want to have to choose between the lesser of two awful candidates. It is time to marginalize these unfit candidates, stop pandering to the extremism on the right and left, and choose two candidates that actually have the welfare of the American people at the forefront, do not offend 50% of the voters because of obnoxious self interest or lack of cognitive dissonance or cognitive function. 

The American political arena has always been divisive. That was actually the intent of the founders of the Republic. The only President elected without dissent was George Washington. Think about it! Even the Continental Congress fought over the Articles of Confederation followed by the Constitution. It was nearly impossible to find agreement among the representatives of 13 colonies much less 50 states.

But we deserve better than what the primary system has produced in recent history. The primary elections and caucuses pander to the hard core right or left. But, elections are won or lost based upon the tolerance of those of us in the center, who loathe extremes, who believe in the rights of the people to live freely without onerous regulation, who agree that contribute to the common good through reasonable taxation is acceptable, who dislike being forced to pay for  projects or appropriations that do not benefit the entire nation, who truly agree that all persons have a right to live their lives without oppression, but do not believe that ideology should trump common sense. It is time to replace the septuagenarians and activists with a new generation of ideas. It is time to reflect on our similarities instead of differences. 

Republicans and  Democrats, please give us a choice that doesn’t force independent voters to hold their noses, close their eyes, cringe and pick the least awful candidate and hope for a not terrible outcome. 

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”― Nelson Mandela

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Long Ago by Michael McGarrity

 I read The Long Ago in one day. I waffled between  rating the book ‘good’ or ‘very good’ and decided that while the story has some predictability and a few slow parts, overall, I loved the themes of loyalty, ties that bind, that family isn’t necessarily biology, and the role of fate. 

Perhaps The Long Ago resonated with me so much because the story takes place during the earliest days of the war ( AKA ‘conflict’) in Vietnam, when I was a child. It fueled memories war correspondents on the 6 O’clock news. Ray Lansdale joined the Army to escape from his dysfunctional childhood in rural Montana. His sister Barbara ran away as well. During a leave from the Army, Ray embarks on a search for his sister the old fashioned way….paper trails, interviews with people, missing persons posters, police assistance, like gum shoes before cellphones and the Internet. 

The Long Ago is a mixture of intrigue, family dynamics, romance, and just a little bit of Mickey Mouse. Now, I want to read some of Michael McGarrity’s earlier works. 

Thanks to Bookbrowse.Com and WW Norton & Company for a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Publishes July 2023

Friday, March 10, 2023

So, Now I Have Cataracts


At least 15 years ago I had Lasic surgery with Dr. Andrew Holzman, one of the most respected Lasic practitioners in the country. He transitioned me from nearly blind to 20/15 in both eyes. It was a miracle. Retrogression is very unusual with Lasic. So, it was with a modicum of alarm that I began to notice deteriorating vision just around 2018 or 2019. It was just before COVID.

I had an examination and discovered my vision had devolved to 20/30 in each eye. A year later there was more retrogression. In 2022, it was within 6 months that I could no longer see chalkboard menses or watch television. I called to schedule an appointment before my annual eye exam. But I was told to wait for my regular appointment. 

By the time of my exam, my vision impairment had doubled. I was almost as impaired as I’d been in 2007. What! 

After a few tests with dilation, I was told I had cataracts on both eyes. This explained the halos, poor night vision, blurry Vaseline filtered sight, speedy deterioration. I said I wanted to consult with an ophthalmologist for a surgical consult. And, I was really annoyed! I thought cataracts were for OLD people! That is NOT me!

Monday, March 6, 2023

My Journey With Real Life Style- Alterations

One of the biggest eye-openers during the initial closet edit involved my realization  that minor alterations to some of my clothes would make such a significant difference, resulting in a much more flattering garment. Raising a hemline of a dress by an inch lengthened my legs. Hemming trousers to wear with a specific shoe or heel height changed the look entirely. 

Lani showed my the way replacing shoulder pads in a jacket or dress elevated the look. And I learned that my good fortune in being born with an appropriate ankle curve makes everything look better! This is not something I’d ever considered. 

While I’d often heard that a good tailor is your best friend, I’d really not considered taking the time to alter off the rack clothes so they would fit me  better. Again, I thought that was for the rich and famous. But it makes sense. I’d created a toile and used a dress form to ensure my Civil War wardrobe fit perfectly. Why did I not realize that my 21st Century clothing should fit as well as my 19th Century wardrobe! 

Because I had to experience sewing I made the decision to complete my on alterations. If I was able to make a  Civil War  era taffeta boned evening bodice, fashion a spoon  bonnet and sew a double lined ankle length camel hair coat from a 1954 Vogue pattern, surely I could manage my own alterations. 

Consequently, I have set about hemming my trousers and dresses, taking up the shoulders on some tops, and updating the fit on the items Lani pinned. And I’ve completed nearly two thirds on my projects. What a feeling of accomplishment! 

And I’ve completed the work while enjoying true crime podcasts! 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Journey With Real Life Style ~ After The Initial Closet Edit


A second session was scheduled to take place via Zoom on March 1st during which time Lani and Kyle would guide me through the process of editing my summer clothes, shoes and handbags. 

But almost immediately I felt compelled to begin my own preliminary review based upon what I’d already learned about colors that definitely did not work for my 2023 self. I was able to immediately determine that two of my shawls ( peach and berry) needed to go, as well as some swimwear, ballets flats and linen dresses. 

I was also able to sort through some bins on the floor and top shelf of my closet and move the ‘keepers’ into now empty drawers. I’d not felt to organized in decades.

The impact of the initial edit and organization was immediate. The very next morning, as I walked into my closet, I found it much easier to get dressed. I pulled out a pair of my MM LaFleur Oshima pants that I hadn’t worn since before the COVID epidemic (because I forgot I owned them), pulled on  one of my easily accessible top, and paired it with my newly styled Merritt Jardigan  and was ready to face my Zoom meeting feeling completely comfortable. 

I had previously had so many arguably lovely items stuffed to the gills that I had no idea what I had or how to put things together. Instead, I would walk in the closet and just feel frustrated, thinking I had nothing to wear. 

Now that my focus is on curating and keeping the best of the best, I feel liberated.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

My Initial Wardrobe Edit With Real Life Style

 Catharsis! As defined  (in  part) by Merriam -Webster as a purification that brings about spiritual renewal.

The morning of February 23, 2023 Lani Inlander and Kyle Dunphy with Real Life Style arrived at my home in Winchester, Virginia with a rolling clothes rack, trash bags, safety pins, labels, shoulder pads, cameras and a keen fashion sense to begin the initial edit of my wardrobe for my journey to a new stylish Vivian. 

We began the process with the clothes hanging in my well organized but overflowing closet. I needed to try on everything to develop an appreciation of my best silhouette, fit, colors, sleeve length, hem length, shoulders, shoulder pads, distracting details, rise, where the buttons are situated for a jacket, trim, whether jeans bag in the belly when one walks, what shoes work, type of neck on tops, whether an item accentuated the wrong features of my body, and if a piece was just okay or fabulous. At 63, I deserve fabulous. 

Certain words caused me to cringe. Really, is there any word more offensive to a ‘woman of a certain age’ than MATRONLY? I would rather one denigrate my honor, my family, my cats, my sense of humor and my professional reputation than call me MATRONLY! Yikes! That resulted in my tossing an entire drawer of what I previously considered pseudo flattering merino wool cardigans. 

When we reached the skirt category, my beloved friend piled on. While Lani and Kyle considered ways to style a selection of easy care, cotton knot, maxi skirts, my friend Gina vociferously argued NO!  NO! Be gone with you! So, out they went into the donation bags. 

At the end of the day, 12 trash bags were filled with items that no longer served who I am in 2023. Certain colors…specifically peach, orange, bright pink coral, burgundy, merlot, most pastels, dusty gray and anything “busy” ended up on the cutting room floor. If it didn’t say ‘elevated sophisticated’ I said goodbye. I thought the deselection of certain cashmere sweaters might cause a bit of angst, but it did not.

After 6 1/2 hours a the grueling wardrobe extravaganza, I felt at peace. Lani & Kyle took the bags of discards with them so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to reclaim any of the rejects. Those clothes were donated to charity the next morning.

Gina and I celebrated the fashion success  for me and her new fabulous professional opportunity by splitting a delicious bottle of Greenhill Winery Blanc  de Blanc, the best sparkling wine Virginia has to offer.

Next steps ~ Stay tuned😎

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Engaging A Personal Stylist~The Selection ~Real Life Style


After my initial 45 minute telephone interview with Lani Inlander, the owner of Real Life Style in Washington, DC, I knew I’d found the solution to my overwhelming wardrobe challenges. It was clear she appreciated what I wanted to accomplish. I was impressed with her resume and the depth of knowledge the team at Real Life Style brought to the table.

It is not a particular secret that I love to shop. The dopamine rush I feel when finding a treasure online, in a brick & mortar store, or in an alley in Asia makes my heart sing. But, this tendency to make purchases of clothing, shoes, handbags, and accessories resulted in a stuffed closet and overflowing drawers and bins with no concept how to create outfits that fit who I am today, in 2023. My out of control purchasing has no doubt delayed my ability to retire for at least a couple of years…combined, of course, with my appreciation for dry red wine and delightful sparkling whites.

Lani came up with a preliminary plan, which she emailed to me with an invoice, to reserve the date for she and her partner, Kyle Dunphy, to journey to the hinterland to analyze my wardrobe. It was set for Thursday, February 23rd. 

I was so excited about this event that I invited my friends Gina and Missi to join us and see the process as it unfolded. 

In the next episode I will detail what was truly an epic event in my style journey. I made an intentional decision to approach the process with an open mind, fully prepared to listen to the experts and let go of what no longer served me. The prospect was exciting and daunting. Stay tuned!

The link to the Real Life  Style website:   

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Engaging A Personal Stylist- The Search

Since Winchester, Virginia is not renowned as a fashion Mecca, I knew that I would need to investigate personal stylists and fashion consultants based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. While not ideal for me from a logistical perspective, there were really no other viable options. The distance is approximately 90 miles and with that, commensurate cost increases for travel time. However, I decided if I were to take the plunge, I wanted the best consultants I could find for my price point.

I conducted my preliminary investigation via Google and located several consultants that seemed like viable options. Primarily, I was looking for stylists that felt approachable, have a verifiable history and footprint, multiple reviews by customers, free vetting by phone or Zoom, and in- person wardrobe analysis. An in-home closet edit was a non-negotiable requirement.

This is not an overnight process. The investigation, interviews and scheduling took about 6-8 weeks for the first meeting.

I’ve posted a few photos to show just a bit of my pre-edit sweater collection.

Monday, February 27, 2023

An Everyday Woman Engaging a Personal Stylist


Personal stylists are for royalty, celebrities, power brokers, and politicians seeking to appeal to voters, right? A-listers, B-listers or wannabes- not 63 year old insurance claims professionals with an eye towards retirement! While I loved the many seasons of What Not To Wear when Stacey & Clinton played fairy godmother to an unsuspecting fashion disaster, helping to transform Cinderella from dowdy to fabulous in a week, it never occurred to me to hire a style consultant to help me curate my wardrobe and create outfits that would take my style from fairly good to fabulous.

But during our post Christmas mini vacation, my husband suggested that I explore utilizing a stylist to help me refine my style and ‘kick it up a notch’.

It did take a bit of time to contemplate moving forward. After all, it is not an inexpensive endeavor. 

Ultimately, following a cost/benefit analysis, I decided that I could save money by refining my style, learning how to make outfits with items I already own, develop an appreciation for what styles, colors and silhouettes work for me, and identify WHAT NOT TO BUY! 

Essentially, I wanted the equivalent of the nuns in elementary school telling me Do Not Talk During Fire Drills. Walk away from the peach hued sweater! Give me a list of flattering colors and provide guidelines.

I’ve already learned one thing….no more cotton tees needed!

I will share additional aspects of this journey in additional posts. 


Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Angel Maker by Alex North / Book Review


Because I loved The Whisper Man, I was thrilled to receive an ARC of The Angel Maker courtesy of Celadon Books and NetGalley. The premise is fascinating. Is our destiny pre-determined or do we have the opportunity to change it by exercising free will? Serial killer John Locke wrote obsessively on the topic. After his arrest, his writings disappear as do his two sons: one who participated in his father’s hobbies and the other who did not. 

This story is juxtaposed with a contemporary story involving Katie Shaw, married mother of the precious toddler, Siena, who is pulled into the search for her estranged brother Chris, an addict who never recovered psychologically from a random attack when he was a young teen. 

The multiple story lines weave from distant past, to the current day murder of a beloved philosophy professor to flashbacks to the attack on Chris. 

The book, which feels part police procedural, part mystery, party family dysfunction and part thriller never truly gels for me. There are too many non linear pieces that don’t fully create a cohesive story. While I truly enjoyed The Angel Maker, it did not leave me feeling satisfied, that the many loose ends ultimately worked, or left me wanting more.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Mainstreaming Children With Behavioral Problems Has Destroyed American Public Schools


Once upon a time children with behavioral problems were kicked out of public schools. They were sent to reform school, juvenile detention, military school, or a mental health facility where their violent behavior did not result in harm to other students, teachers or administrators. But in the 21st Century, the bullies, mentally disturbed, psychologically unbalanced and behavioral problems are protected by social activists, administrators that care more about money and/ or image than safety, panderers, woke ideology, and society focused on the misguided belief that public education should be available to all. 

A public school education should use the tax dollars of citizens to educate those who have an ability to learn, the social skills needed to act civilized in a group setting, and the appreciation of what is right and what is wrong.

The evidence that has been uncovered regarding the first grader who shot his teacher in  a Chesapeake, Virginia primary school is horrifying. The school administrators allowed a violent, disruptive, disturbed child to attend school in a classroom with children he was tormenting, bullying and threatening. Students in his class were not in a safe learning space. Administration personnel knew he was a problem, but let him attend classes with a parent. What an utter failure! The kid should not have been allowed across the threshold of the playground. 

What about the teachers and administrators in the New Jersey school that allowed four other students to kick and beat with a water bottle another student! What, and the superintendent tried to blame the child’s father for giving other young people an excuse to bully? 

Why did nobody stop the horrible behavior? In either case? Perhaps it is time for responsible adults to stand up, fight back, take the asylum back from the lunatics, believe teachers, institute a process for disciplining those who deserve it, and get back to teaching the basics: reading, writing (including penmanship), arithmetic (without laptops or calculators), civics, history, geography, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. It wouldn’t hurt to include music, art, home economics, industrial arts, and respect for fellow humans. 

If we weren’t forced to attempt to educate the uneducable, those tax dollars collected could be put to far better use. Instead, many classrooms just provide free babysitting for parents.