Monday, September 28, 2009

My first blog award and great roof news!

Hi everyone!  We just got home this afternoon from a wonderful weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where hubby and I took a break from our soggy home to visit our adorable DS#2.  We found him happy as a clam, healthy, making A's in all his classes and thoroughly enjoying life in a 6-guy suite in one of the nicest dorms on campus.  It can't get much better than that for a parent, I'm tellin' ya.

Before I say another word I must share the fantastic news that our homeowners insurance IS going to cover the complete replacement cost of our roof!!!  We're also getting $$ for repair of our "injured" closet, and they're even giving me a little money to compensate for the loss of a silk Stuart Weitzman handbag that I've had (to be honest with y'all, but SHHH ;-)) for years.  The flooded garage is not covered because it was, as we suspected, a groundwater problem.  But the insurance payment might be enough to end up covering even our out-of-pocket garage costs.  Can I tell ya that after we got this news on Friday, my poor husband slept well for the first night in a week??  YAY!!!

And the good news for me continues!  I'm pretty new to blogging and so far have only a small band of loyal followers, so imagine my surprise and delight on finding that both AppGal and Kathy and Seashell have nominated me for my first blog award!!

Beautiful ladies, you've made my day!!  Thank you so much for thinking of me, and for making me really feel like I've arrived as an "official" blogger now!

The rules for receiving this award, I understand, are these:
  • Thank the person who nominated me.  
Check!  MWAH to Kathy, Seashell and AppGal!!!  I'm especially pleased to have been nominated by these three lovelies, since I admit to having a soft spot for them all.

AppGal is a woman after my Tar Heel heart.  I'm a native North Carolinian and even after all my great years in Atlanta I'd move homeward in a heartbeat.  AppGal loves it, too, and I get such warm fuzzies from reading her warm and chatty posts about the happy life she and her DH are building for themselves in one of the prettiest corners of my beloved North Carolina.  AppGal, I hope I'll be reading about wonderful events in your life, big and small, for a long time.  If you're blogging, I'm following!

I discovered Kathy and Seashell after seeing their blog linked to many of your blogs, dear readers.  One quick read and I was hooked.  Who wouldn't -- who couldn't -- adore a mother-daughter duet like this pair?  They share an almost tangible (it's THAT powerful) bond that goes beyond just parent/child -- they are mutually-admiring friends.  Awesome to see that.  I'm always excited to find new posts from them both, because each has her own unique writer's voice and yet both are honest, witty and so vividly descriptive.  Such fun to follow along!  Girls, may you have another sixty years of fabulous adventures together, and may you share them all with us on your blog!!
  • Copy the award and paste it here on my blog.  Check!
  • Link the person who nominated me.  Check!  
If you aren't already, I invite you to enjoy AppGal's blog "Musings on the Mountain" and Kathy and Seashell's blog "Two Hands Full of Daisies". They're both must-reads for me!
  • Name 7 things about yourself that no one knows.  
  1. I was born in the same hospital room that my mother was born in.
  2. My mother was only 29 weeks pregnant when I was born, and my birth was a shockeroo to the little town where my parents lived because they'd not told anyone they were expecting.  My mom hadn't even begun to show, apparently.  I weighed 3 lbs 2 oz and was so premature that the doctors advised my parents not to name me because, they reasoned, I wasn't likely to live and if my parents didn't name me my death would feel more like a "simple miscarriage."  (This is how the thinking went in 1955...  Neanderthal.)  I stayed in an isolator/incubator for 10 weeks and wasn't named until I struggled my way to a whopping 5 lbs -- 8 weeks after I was born.
  3. I've always been (til menopause) kind of a string bean, but boy can I eat.  In college my sorority sister (also skinny, also a big eater) and I won a Greek Week ice-cream-eating contest for our house.  We ate 32 scoops, weren't the least bit embarrassed about it, and went out for beers to celebrate with our sisters.  Thinking about this now, I can only say:  Gross!!
  4. My hazel eyes change color pretty dramatically when I cry and stay that way for about three days.  It looks like I'm wearing really fakey green contact lenses.
  5. I've had two honest to goodness ghostly encounters.  I know how that sounds, but the experiences were real and quite dramatic and rather wonderful, because one involved my grandmother and one involved my dad.  My mother, her sister and I shared the grandmother encounter at the same time, and we marveled about it together for years.  (P.S.  Came back later to add this:  I've never publicly talked about this until choosing to do so now, and frankly, I'm sure it sounds nutty to some of you.  That's okay. :-)  I'm as sane as you are, and if I hadn't lived thru it I probably wouldn't believe me, either.)
  6. I'm an accent mimic and my kids are, too.  We pick up accents quickly and easily when we travel and we can "do" them perfectly when we get home.  DH does not have this gene, at all.
  7. I have a true love/hate relationship with movie theater popcorn.  I love it, but I hate the fact that I cannot cannot cannot attend a movie without buying it.  I don't like to share, and I eat precisely as much popcorn as I buy.  If I buy a tub, I eat -- and enjoy -- a tub. 
  • Nominate 7 bloggers for this award and post links.  
This is the hard part for me, because I'm finding fantastic blogs every day, thanks to all of you!  But if I had to pick creative (Kreativ) favorites besides AppGal and Kathy and Seashell (who certainly are at the top of my list), I'd definitely include these jewels:
  1. A Bigger Closet.  This gorgeous Canadian blogger single-handedly pulled me hook, line and sinker into the deep end of the Crewlade.  Hers was one of the first Crew-related blogs that I found last winter when I had recently rediscovered J. Crew while on a mission to begin rebuilding my tired, momly wardrobe.  I've never seen an outfit on ABC that didn't look fabulous on her and that wasn't creatively coordinated.  For all of our sakes I hope our ABC gets that bigger closet, so that she can fill it and we can all continue to enjoy her chatty, insightful and always on-the-money observations about the world of J. Crew fashion.  ABC, you're the gold standard and I can't imagine why J. Crew hasn't recruited (recrewted? ;-)) you for the catalogs yet.  They're missing the boat!
  2. 3-Penny Princess.  3PP's classic post about her 2008 "personal best" bargains is so shrewd, so wise and so much fun to read that I bookmarked it, and referred back to it time and again as I started mentally constructing what I wanted to accomplish in my 2009 buying.  But by far and away my favorite 3PP post is the eloquent, beautiful love story about her mother that she entitled A Visit from the 3-Penny Queen -- the sweet tale of how 3PP's blossoming sense of her own Crew-inclusive fashion style led her to rediscover the many wonderful things about her mom.  3PP, your mama raised you right, honey.  MWAH!
  3. Crew Crew 4 J.Crew.  I discovered Audrey's blog after I discovered Audrey under her Unbelievably Awesome eBay Power J. Crew Reseller name, natedac.  I've been slowly accumulating some choice past-season J. Crew items off eBay after reading rave blog reviews, and Audrey's become my hands-down favorite seller.  She's always got a great selection of pieces, she's responsive, she's quick, she's friendly and accommodating, she packs and ships beautifully, her pricing is reasonable -- there's not a thing not to love about her as a Seller.  But she's also secretly a fabulous J. Crew stylist, and I know I can count on her "What I Wore Today" blog posts and "matching" Polyvore sets for fresh ideas on using new and old J. Crew pieces.  Audrey, nothin' but love for ya, girl.
  4. Fabulous Florida Mommy.  I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating that FFM was the very first JC blog that I ever read, and my introduction to the totally-addictive Polyvore.  I found FFM's blog after spending a rainy winter afternoon trying to Google-research J. Crew clothes and get some ideas for outfits.  I had no idea what a gold mine was out there, and I can distinctly remember the jaw-dropping feeling of discovering FFM's famous custom-designed Polyvore sets.  I still happily check in on FFM's blog every day, I still love her wonderful sense of style, and I've really grown to love and look forward to her weekly "Inspiration" posts.  Here's my 2009 personal favorite:  Brighten the Corner Where You Are.
  5. Gigi's Gone Shopping.  You all feel the same way I do about Gigi, I know it.  There's no one in the blogosphere who casts a wider or more expertly-aimed net for great Crew-ish fashion finds than she does.  I've learned to check her blog before pushing the ENTER button on any order for a new and trendy piece at J. Crew.  More often than not I'll find that Gigi has found, tried on, inspected, photographed and reviewed the JC piece I'm considering and that she's also pointed out other vendors' similar pieces that might be better buys.  Her posts (and her e-mails, should you be so lucky) are honest, direct, thoughtful and smart as a whip.  Keep shopping, Gigi. I'll keep reading!
  6. Sweet Tea in Seattle.  (A/K/A Sparrows and Sparkles).  I found STIS this summer and was a fan for life the first time I laid eyes on her blog with that amazing header picture of her three beautiful little towheaded children skipping at L'Arc de Triomphe.  It ought to be captioned, "The Personification of Joy".  Then I read her profile bio and grinned from ear to ear.  She says of herself: "I am a displaced Southerner, mom to three beautiful babies, married to a very kind, easily distractable, brilliant businessman of a husband. I like: sunshine, coffee, cute shoes, expensive handbags, inexpensive jewelry, European cities, doing laundry, eating out, fashion magazines, interior design, kate, Lilly, and Tory, and trying to figure out what is going on in the world of politics. I don't like: people who are mean or get in my way when I am shopping."  Her sense of humor, her innate Southernness (recognizable anywhere by another Southern gal -- it's like a secret handshake), her cheerful energy and her sheer joyfulness permeate her blog.  I especially enjoy her fabulously descriptive accounts of her busy family's travels.  Always a smilefest for me!
  7. And last but only alphabetically, My Superfluities by the just plain wonderful Dina G.  Dina wears her big heart on her sleeve and a huge, contagious smile on her very pretty face.  I just love visiting with her.  I know her posts will be chatty, fun, filled with happy anecdotes about her family and friends and chock full of spot-on observations about J. Crew and Boden and other great clothes.  I love Dina's OOTD pics; few bloggers out there can say that they outfit themselves with as much confidence and flair.  She's just beautiful!!  Dina's started another blog, Mid-Century Mom, and I can't wait to see what she has to say there about her newest adventures.
  • Leave a comment on your nominated blogs to let them know you've nominated them. Check!
So that's it for me, everyone.  I know most of you already follow the blogs I've nominated, but if there are any that you're not already familiar with I encourage you to click and read.  They're addictive!

Thanks again to AppGal, Kathy and Seashell for the fun award!!!


    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Special thanks and an update from waterlogged Atlanta

    Note: I have no clue why this post is publishing in teeny weeny type and I can't seem to get it fixed, girls -- so sorry! :-(

    I've been meeting today with roofers and am taking a break to dash off a completely non-clothing post, starting with a quick but HUGE thanks for the way-too flattering comments responding to my haircut & color post yesterday. I am blushing!! Remember, girls, that I got to pick which photos you saw -- I could have shown you PLENTY in which it's obvious real fast that I'm the middle-aged mom of college-aged guys! You have all made me feel wonderful about my cut and my color (not to mention money I've apparently spent well on Obagi skincare products and an iMac with built-in camera.)

    On a serious note, let me say that I especially appreciate the little lift you've given me, because holy moly are we dealing with flooding here in Atlanta. If any of you have seen pictures from Atlanta on the national news in the past day or two, you know that we really are becoming Atlantis. The photo I've attached shows an aerial view of our main downtown interstate highway during rush hour -- an entire section just floated away. Roads and bridges are washed out, neighborhoods stranded, schools literally up to their rooflines in water, the giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia almost submerged. Here are two links to short clips from ABC's "Good Morning America" today that'll give you a good sampler: Atlanta flooding and roller coaster.

    Six people have lost their lives and countless others have watched their homes and belongings washed away by muddy, cold flood water. Being a city on a river (the Chattahoochee) with a zillion creeks, we're used to routine flash flooding anytime we have heavy rain, particularly in the past five drought-stricken years during which our concrete-packed earth hasn't been able to absorb the occasional and unfamiliar rainfall. But this -- this is not something we expect at all. We're five hours from the nearest coast, and this is devastating, hurricane-level damage. And incredibly, there is more rain on the way. I cannot help but be reminded and humbled by the memory of what New Orleans suffered with Katrina, and yet what we're experiencing is just a fraction of that level of pure awfulness. N'awlanders, what tough and brave folks you are! 

    DH and I have such comparatively minor damage. We had the roof leak issue I wrote about last week, and yesterday morning we discovered that so much water had blown hard and sideways at our front door for hours that the whole door assembly had become waterlogged. It's now started splintering, so it'll need to be replaced. And then yesterday afternoon I decided I'd take poor Eddie into the garage for a little play time -- he's small enough so that I thought I could encourage him to race around in there and stretch his legs a bit. Imagine my shock when I found our garage flooded two inches deep from ground water pouring in under the walls. The earth under the foundation just wouldn't hold another drop.

    So I spent hours hauling stuff from the garage into our house, including at least a dozen boxes of china, crystal, brass and tchotchkes that I'd brought home after my sister and I sadly dismantled and sold our parents' home following our mom's passing three years ago. Today's project is to try to find at least temporary homes in my house for some of this stuff; it had been stored in the garage because I really DON'T have space for any of it, and yet it's all worth saving for Journey Boy and his adorable brother's "someday" homes. I lost only one box of books, a few wooden items and a couple bags of potting soil (way gross, cleaning THAT up).

    It's a headache, but as I said, we're well aware that for us this is essentially inconvenience, not life-altering stuff. A roof and a door can easily be replaced, and a garage can be re-sheetrocked and aired out. So many of our friends and neighbors have it far, far worse. Truly, I have NOTHING to complain about. Folks, please join me in saying a prayer or sending up your most positive thoughts today, for those who have lost their lives, their families, and my sad, stressed, wet, overwhelmed city. And send us some sunshine. Oh, and please cross your fingers for DH and me that we'll have some of this damage covered by our insurance. 

    I am off to put on some non-J. Crew junk clothes and see what I can do to make sense out of my miniature war zone around here. Later on I'll have a cup of tea and crewse the blogs to see what you lovelies have been up to today -- my little treat. :-) I'm glad you're "out there", cyberfriends!


    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Haircut & Color Pix, By Semi-Popular Demand :-)

    Hi everyone, and a shout-out from still-raining-cats-and-dogs Atlanta.  I'm gonna start telling people I'm from Atlantis, for heaven's sake.  Speaking of dogs, Eddie (see pic at bottom of my blog page) hates the rain and for the past four days has not peed or schmooed (my kids' word) anywhere except immediately outside the back door (nice, huh?) under the portico roof.  We have this ritual now:  he pees, he schmooes, we rinse & scrub & disinfect.  Fun stuff.

    But I digress from today's important topic, don't I?  I told y'all last week about my new haircut and radical new hair color, and I've had some public and private requests for pix.  Fair enough, since I piqued your curiosity.

    My hair color previously was a dark, kind of neutral brown with a LOT of fairly chunky blonde highlights that were getting almost straw-colored.  I'm Irish and my natural hair color (last time I saw it -- who can remember anymore?) is dark brown, but more of a chestnut brown and with some auburn in it.

    My previous haircut, as I've told y'all, can best be described as Shaggy Sheepdog Needs a Clip.

    Hair Hero (if you don't know who this is, read my post here) diagnosed my color as too flat, too ashy-brown, too light-blonde -- generally just all wrong. :-)  He thought the cut had too many layers, all the wrong layers, wrong pattern for my bangs (you see a wrongness theme going on here??) and he declared that I'd have to lose some length in order for him to start repairing my cut.

    So here's what he recommended and I said "WTH, why not" to doing:

    (Sorry about the overexposure.  It's so dark in my office because of the gloom outside and the flash on my computer's camera is so bright -- I can't seem to get the lighting right.)

    (And y'all, also sorry about breaking the blogger's rule re: showing your face, but otherwise I couldn't have really shown you the cut, ya know?  Forget you ever saw me.  This conversation never happened.)

    And from the side, back and top (so that you can see the lowlights):


    The red glaze, I have decided, may be a bit much for me.  But it'll shampoo out slowly but surely, and the lowlights underneath it are quite caramel.  So we'll see how that comes along.

    All in all, I am very pleased.  Despite the fact that, in order to become very pleased, I think I single-handedly paid half of Hair Hero's daughter's fall private school tuition. ;-)


    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    New Blog Format?

    Hey everyone,

    Just a quickie.  I've been playing with the formatting while DH and DDog "watch football" (zzzzzzzzzzzz).  I was going to post a poll but can't figure out how to do that.  (Instructions, anybody?)

    So if you have a minute, just leave me a comment and answer this question:

    Which is easier for you to read -- the old, narrower-columned posts in my previous blog format (OLD) or the new, wider-columned posts (NEW)?

    If you say OLD, I'll switch it back. :-)

    If I had an ark I'd be loading it up....

    DH is still sleeping, hunkered down under the covers in a ball so that all I can see is dark hair peeking out from under the edge of the coverlet. Eddie our furball (see pic at the bottom of my blog page) is flaked out, too, flat on his back, jackrabbit-style, ears tossed out, pink belly hanging out there, on top of the covers snuggled up to DH's legs. They're totally adorable, if I do say so myself.  DH is coming down with a cold and so snorrrrrrrrred all night, poor guy.  He often snores and I deal with it by jiggling him, poking him, or, (with some regret but, ya know, because I have no choice) just whacking him, and then he turns over and quiets down.  But last night I didn't have the heart.   And Eddie was snoring too, so it was wicked stereo noise.

    Great night to sleep, too, darn it.  It's been raining here for three days and after a little teaser of a break yesterday the rain started again last night and is still coming down. Pouring, actually. Atlanta's a hilly city (this often surprises people who imagine us perched amongst flat cotton fields down here in Dixie, but we actually sit up on an Appalachian/Great Smokies foothills plateau and we are not only very leafy and green but also quite hilly), and much of the city's low-lying areas are under a flood watch.  As beautiful as those parts of town are, wow am I glad I don't live there today.

    We've suffered our fair share, though.  Sometime during the night on Wednesday our roof sprang a big leak that ran from the attic down into our closet, melted out a chunk of sheetrock ceiling and caused a huge mess directly onto most of my hanging clothes and into my pajamas drawer. DH hauled a couple of loads to the dry cleaners when he left for work and I spent most of Thursday dealing with getting the leak temporarily "plugged" and the sheetrock mess cleaned up, doing load after load of laundry and calling roofing companies.  This, by the way, all happened as we were having to say goodbye to DS #1, who left Thursday on his Journey (see my post "My Son the Cliff-Dangler").  The roof damage was no doubt a good distraction for me, I must admit -- who had time in the midst of this roof situation to get weepy for long?  (I had a moment when he left.  I'm entitled. :-))

    Thank God for our wonderful friend-for-life contractor, who came over as soon as we called him on Thursday and climbed up onto our roof (treacherously) in the rain to throw on a patch and a tarp.   The bad news from him was that the damage appears to be pretty extensive -- hidden until this bout of rain and wind was the last straw.  So we'll be interviewing roofers next week because our contractor tells us we're probably looking at having to replace the whole roof.  Cross your fingers for us that once things dry out and we're able to get a good look at the leak we'll discover some underlying cause that is INSURED!  Otherwise, you beautiful gals will be seeing me lurk but not shop for a loooooong time.  Grrrrrrr.

    It looks like I've lost a couple of my newest (wouldn't you know) J. Crew summer sweaters -- the dirty water stains were just too gross and indelible -- but all in all I can't complain because most everything was salvageable and it's not like I don't have enough clothes!  But ya know, it takes more than all of this water hullaballoo to dampen my mood when I've got an awesome (still startling when I pass a mirror) new "do" AND there's been a new JC rollout and fun new ensembles to imagine, whether or not I can own any of them right now.  Looking forward to seeing all of your great ideas, Crewsers!


    That Blue Skirt!

    Happy Saturday, and happy Rosh Hashanah to my Jewish blogosphere friends out there!

    I have a bright blue tarp on my roof (if you wanna know why, see my next post) and I see it every time I drive up or down our driveway.  It keeps reminding me to ask y'all this (which I know has been asked elsewhere, but I don't see much discussion yet so thought I'd prompt us again):

    What does everyone envision mixing and matching with this beauty of a skirt?  If I only buy one thing from this rollout, it may well have to be this.  But I'm coming up skimpy on great ideas to work it with things from past seasons.  Ideas, JCAs?


    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Phyllo Dough Friends

    Sometimes the oddest things collide in my mind.

    DS#1 is in his room packing for his Journey (see my previous post) and I am awaiting his company to do a little errand-running, so I've been reading blogs and, from Kathy and Seashell's wonderful blog I moseyed my way over to a few cooking and recipe blogs.  (Yum!

    With all that delicious, beautiful food flashing by me on the screen, I found myself suddenly thinking about my BFF with whom I'd had a nice catch-up chat (she'd been away on vacation) earlier.  And it occurred to me that food permeates our friendship in so many ways.

    There's the literal and obvious, of course:  We eat together, a lot.  We TJ Maxx together and then ritually have lunch at La Madeleine.  (Sampler trio plate please -- chicken salad, spinach salad with strawberries (hold the mushrooms, extra bacon), strawberries Romanoff -- because who can have too many strawberries?)  She is an Olympic-gold-medal-caliber TJ Maxx shopper and my skill is, well, at T-ball level, so she leads me expertly around the store and I follow like a happy, clueless sheep.  If we're not "Teejing", we often meet at her house or my house for a bite, or we wake each other up with an early morning phonefest while we eat our yogurt with walnuts and fruit and plan our days.  We get our nails done together and sometimes afterwards we duck-walk, our toes separated awkwardly by rolled-up toilet tissue, to Starbucks for coffee and "a little something."

    Our husbands are also great friends with each other, and hers (we call him "Chef") is a very accomplished cook (mine:  God love him, "rambled eggs" is his big dish), so our evenings together as couples often involve cooking and recipe-swapping.  In June, our families spent a wonderful week renting a beach house together -- the kind of trip that can make or break a couples' friendship -- and several times Chef made amazing dinners for the whole house, including our kids' college pals who'd materialized "for a coupla days".  (Observational analogy:  Free beach house accommodations are to college kids as movie theater popcorn is to me. :-))

    A little less obvious are the food metaphors that capture so much that's essential about our BFF bond.  First, there's the onion.  This is, I think, a nearly universally-applicable and simple but accurate image of the way that women make friends with each other: we peel back the onion skin layers.  When we meet we start out exchanging superficial information.  If and only if we're interested in getting to know each other better (and we all know, don't we, that feeling you get when you're interested but the other gal isn't, or vice versa), we execute a delicate and precise dance with each other so that we're swapping increasingly personal stuff of roughly equivalent weight and value.  You show me yours, I'll show you mine.  There's always a little pause, isn't there, after a satisfyingly quid-pro-quo exchange.  Each of us digests the fact that we've shared more of ourselves and processes what we've learned about our friend.  We shift in our friendship chairs a little bit as each of us adjusts to a slightly deeper level of intimacy in the relationship.  There's risk involved at every step in this dance, this revealing.  But what better feeling is there in a friendship than those moments when you've shown your underbelly, your closet skeletons, your deepest darkest, and you know that your friend understands and loves you anyhow -- or loves you more?

    I don't think most men do this.  I can tell you mine doesn't -- and doesn't remotely understand why I feel sorry that he doesn't share this type of friendship with any of his guy pals.  And he does have real pals, guys he's been trusting friends with for years.  These friendships are nourishing to him, I know.  But ask him anything about his pals' inner lives and he has no answers.

    I can also tell you for a fact that my sweet DH would be dumbfounded to know even the general subject matters that I freely discuss with my BFF.  She and I have spent several years peeling back the onion, until now we are fully exposed to each other as human beings.  She knows enough about me to get me in deep doo-doo, but I could pull her into the poop pit with me in a New York minute, knowing what I know.  The process of getting to this innermost place with a friend is a little scary, for sure.  How gloriously freeing it is, though, to know that this dear woman is well aware of even the most vulnerable pieces of me that I don't allow many others to see, but never judges me, delights in being with me, celebrates me and loves and supports me unconditionally.  I could call her and said "Hey, it's me, I gotta have a body bag, do you know where we could get one??"  I know her.  She'd say "F**k." (Her favorite expletive.) She'd pause for a moment and I know I'd feel her thinking furiously.  Then she'd say "Okay.  Here's what we're gonna do......"  Now THAT'S a pal.  (Or, as we often say to each other, a sister from another mother!)

    Which brings me (trust me, you'll see) to the other food metaphor, one that will require a little explaining:  Phyllo dough.

    I'm a good cook and baker, pretty confident in my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants recipe-altering skills and reasonably accomplished in my technical skills.  But there are certain ingredients that are still intimidating to me after my 30-some-odd years in the kitchen, and phyllo dough's one of them.  Many years ago while I was pregnant with my younger son I was working with a wonderful older (than me) Greek woman named Cleo who decided it was her mission to feed me properly while I was expecting.  Naturally, Cleo's specialties were the classic Greek foods that melt in your mouth, like moussaka (a nutmeg-fragrant sort of lamb lasagna), avgolemeno (lemon-egg soup), spanakopita (spinach-filled phyllo pastries) and baklava (nut and honey-filled phyllo pastries).  With each lovingly-wrapped tray of luscious goodies or Thermos of warm, silky soup, Cleo would bring me a recipe card.  She'd read it to me, interjecting all kinds of "extra" instructions that rounded out the simple how-to's on the card.

    For baking with phyllo dough, she said this, and I've never forgotten it:  "Handle it like you will handle this baby."  By that, she explained, she meant that I should handle each tissue-thin, delicate piece gently, with care, keeping it covered, moist and free of drafty air that would make it dry out.  It would only required a short cooking time, she said, so she cautioned me to keep a watchful eye on it because if neglected it could be ruined quickly.

    "Really small world" side note:  Fast-forward 15 years.  Cleo's grandson ended up being a high school classmate and very close friend of my younger son.  How crazy is that??  She is in her 80's now, a little frail but still beautiful and delighted beyond words to know my son.  Her grandson and my son call her "YaYa Cleo."  What a blessing!

    I've made Cleo's phyllo-dough-intense recipes from time to time, and they're intimidating because she was so right about this fantastic ingredient.  If I do not treat it with the requisite steps and care --- which isn't hard, but requires a bit of planning and focus --- then my kitchen time is ill-spent and my meal's ruined.  When I follow Cleo's admonition and treat that dough like I handled my own precious babies, the reward is food that's like the proverbial nectar of the Greek gods.

    And so, to my point about my BFF:  She is my phyllo dough friend.  (PDF? Phyllo dough phriend? )  I love this gal fiercely.  She deserves to be handled with the same gentle, loving, attentive care that I gave my babies, and that Cleo taught me to give to my phyllo dough. And although that's the right thing to do, it's not a selfless commitment.  If I treat her right, I know our friendship will be continue to be one of the most spectacularly delicious and beautiful creations that I've ever had a hand in cooking.  Yum.

    If you have a phyllo dough friend, go give her a call, and just tell her, "Hey, I want you to know, if you ever need to find a body bag, just call me no questions asked....."

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    My Son the Cliff-Dangler

    My older son (that gravity-defying dreadlocked guy in this picture taken in Australia last year) is leaving in a few days for ten weeks of exploration across the United States with three of his college buddies.  They're driving and, I think, sleeping occasionally in a Grand Caravan, donated generously to "the cause" by the parents of one of my son's traveling companions.  They plan to make their way to the Pacific Northwest, down thru California and then eastward toward home again, with frequent stops all along the way to rock climb, hike, and camp in America's most beautiful parks and wildernesses.

    My son has worked hard, excelled, saved his hard-earned money and deserves this trip richly.  He's dreamed of it, talked of it with his pals throughout college, planned its loose itinerary with care, organized his prodigious collection of climbing/hiking/camping gear, and trained all summer to be in peak physical condition.  Every cell in my adoring-mom body is deeply, sincerely hoping that he'll have the trip of his young lifetime -- a trip of wonders beyond his considerable imagination.

    Simultaneously, those same adoring-mom cells are, annoyingly, sending out "SOUND THE ALARMS!!" chemicals, in a desperate attempt to convince me that I should be nearly paralyzed with anxiety about the 101 things that could befall my sweet boy and his pals.  This is an old, old knee-jerk response in me.  I'm determined not to surrender to such a doomsday worldview, but as his departure looms I can feel the struggle raging between "Mom Who Is Thrilled About Her Son's Amazing Opportunity" and "Mom Who Is Totally Eeyore the Donkey".  So I workout, I write, I blog, I cook, I stalk J. Crew sales, I distract myself in any way possible because so help me, I will show nothing, do nothing, be nothing to my son that will dampen his joy -- and my own joy that he's doing this grand thing. 

    Just among us, can I say that this is tiring inner work??

    But I am used to this kind of internal battle, too.  It's been the story of mothering this child, this being who, from his infancy, has been a take-no-prisoners envelope-pusher.  When he was three months old we videotaped him making propulsive vertical leaps in his doorjamb-hanging "Johnny Jump-Up" -- movements of such power that we thought surely he'd jog his little newborn brain loose.  When he was seven months old (and barely but joyfully crawling -- oh locomotion!!) we discovered that he was vaulting, Olympic gymnast-style, out of his crib.  When he was three years old he mastered riding a two-wheeled bike in one long afternoon, angrily refusing training wheels and ignoring the bumps and strawberried knees that the effort cost him.  We weren't allowed to help, at all.  He was certain -- and correct -- that he could do it successfully on his own.

    You get the picture and the pattern, I'm sure.  He played the usual team sports with intensity, but he reserved his real passion for laser-focusing his formidable physical talent and daring nature upon anything that could be considered an extreme sport.  Even the extreme end of an ordinary sport would do.  Roller skates became his first set of wings and as a preteen he would glide along railings and curbs, and leap gracefully off of low-hanging roofs, landing cat-like.

    Having discovered what it feels like to be airborne, he was hooked.  He launched himself to new heights on his mountain bike, a slalom water-ski and his snowboard.  Each time he set out to master a new sport or skill, we saw his best innate traits again show themselves:  he was never afraid to try; once committed, he never hesitated; he practiced tirelessly; and he took his lumps gracefully and with no complaints.

    Early on he also embarked upon what I know will be a lifelong love affair with untamed Mother Nature.  The path least trodden is the path most alluring to him.  He's never more contented than when he's strapping on his giant backpack for a trek into the woods and a few nights under the stars. 

    And then in his freshman year of college he was introduced to rock-climbing, the sport into which his love of all things extreme, exacting and outdoorsy converged in a happily perfect storm.  It demands physical discipline and training as well as mental acuity and puzzle-solving skills; it rewards individual excellence and allows the climber to reach for his own solitary goals while still being in the companionable company of his climbing buddies; it's best done in the most spectacular of Mother Nature's corners; and you betcha it involves a certain degree of mother's-heartrate-accelerating risk.

    True to form, within five months of finding his Nirvana of a sport, my boy had become skilled enough to win his first regional indoor competition (at left, he's on his final climb of that "Dixie Rocks" competition).  In the three years since he's continuously worked on improving his climbing skills and he's explored lots of wonderful places -- TALL places -- from which he could dangle, Spidey-like, by a few fingertips.

    There just couldn't be a greater irony than the fact that this silver-lining-seeing, steely-nerved, eagle-eyed, cliff's-edge-loving adventurer-child was born to me, a skeptical, nervous, near-sighted, mosquito-hating, snake-phobic, risk-averse, contingency-oriented, detail-planning lover of 500-thread-count sheets and indoor plumbing.

    Then again, that's the miracle of it.  I couldn't spend 22 1/2 years in the company of this awesome, fearless, gorgeous creature without changing a little myself, and I like to think for the better.

    There was a time when I'd have argued ferociously that his Journey (truly a capital "J" event for him) is ill-advised because it embraces risk and spontaneity and bugs and dirt and many deep dark unknowns -- and certainly I'll worry about him; how could I not?  But I know that for him, this trip, done in exactly this way, is perfect. 

    In my son I have witnessed the value of a life spent embracing challenge and quest, and from him I've learned to work a little harder on silencing my inner Eeyore the Donkey and on encouraging my other self -- that cautiously optimistic part of me who truly is "Mom Who Is Thrilled About Her Son's Amazing Opportunity."  I still don't like bugs or dirt, I still prefer to plan my route, program my Garmin, book my sleeping space ahead of time -- and indoors.  I'm never going to be a risk-taker by nature or choice.  But bit by bit I'm pursuing some adventures that fit me.

    Safe travels and happy dangling, my sweet boy.  Mama loves you to the moon and back.

    Interesting Post About J. Crew at

    Angie at (an always fun and informative site) posted a blog entry today called "Your Opinion About J. Crew". To read all of the 35+ interesting comments that have piled up, go here.   I quote (and they're her choice of pictures, too):
    I remember J. Crew as the chain store that was a cut above the rest. They were not mainstream like Banana Republic, Gap or Anne Taylor and there was definitely a level of exclusivity associated with the brand. Their preppy and fashionable products were more expensive, but the quality and drape was impeccable. When you bought an item from J. Crew, you knew you had something fairly special that would last and look good for several seasons. J. Crew also hardly ever went on sale, sticking to two main markdowns a year.
    Unfortunately, my impression of J. Crew has changed over the last few seasons because I think they’ve decided to become more mainstream. I’m still super excited when I receive their state of the art catalogs because the colours and ensemble combinations are innovative, attractive and inspiring. But when I get to stores with my clients, I’m usually disappointed because the look, feel and fit does not pack the same punch. The prices are lower than they used to be, but the quality and overall integrity of the merchandise has gone downhill too.
    Don’t get me wrong, J. Crew still offers fantastic products and I have a few hanging in my wardrobe. But part of me misses what I know as the old J. Crew. I’ve only lived in America for six years so my perception might be distorted. Am I being unduly harsh? Or am I mistaken that their products used to have more crispness and panache? Do you think the merchandise lives up to the catalog?

    Blushed Tweed Collier Jacket Stadium Cloth Winnie Jacket
    Current J. Crew CEO, Mickey Drexler, used to run Gap INC. I can’t help but wonder whether his strategy is to move J. Crew to a more mainstream target audience.

    What say you, JCA's?


    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Follow-up Report on JC Customer Service

    Hey folks!

    Just a quickie to report a happy ending to the tale of the wee, tiny Featherweight Cashmere Short-Sleeved Cardigan I had to return.  You may remember that a Final Sale size XS (at LEAST -- maybe XXS!) arrived at my home erroneously tagged as a size M.  I blogged about this here.  JC customer service was great, and authorized me to return it, of course.  I returned the mis-sized sweater to my usual JC B&M, then re-ordered it (catching my beloved Spicy Olive color on a Sunday popback, yay) and crossed my fingers.

    The replacement arrived on Thursday and it's PERFECT.

    And I got icing for the cake, too.   DH was out of town, DS #2 is back at college, so I took my DS #1 to dinner and then to my regular B&M on Thursday night for a new pair of jeans and a coveted sherpa fleece hoodie. (You KNOW I had to treat my boy to celebrate his having taken the MCAT -- he felt good about it, too  -- on Thursday after a whole summer of studying hard for it!!)  While my sweet boy was trying on jeans, I told a couple of the salesgals (who of course know me) about the happy ending to the itty bitty sweater story.

    They hire some sneaky women at JC, I'm tellin' ya.  I discovered when we got home that when DS #1 and I checked out they'd tucked a $15 reward card into our bag, with a little note that said "Sorry about the cardi but glad you got the replacement!"

    Above and beyond.  That's how they've built a great mousetrap. :-)

    Review: J. Crew Dream Meribel Tunic Dress

    I mentioned yesterday that I'd called around and found the "two doggies tee" at a B&M in a very nice but quiet and suburban "festival"-style strip mall here -- a tiny little JC store that I rarely visit.  So I buzzed over there to pick up the tee and ended up spending a really fun hour playing.  I went home with a few new goodies, notably this one:

    The Dream Meribel Tunic Dress

     Here it is in camel.  Funky pose, I must say.

    And in navy.  Definitely not a "hanger piece"... but read on!

    J. Crew describes the dress this way:
    This is a piece you'll reach for again and again—it's got the polish of our chicest dress combined with the coziness of our softest knits. Easy, effortless elegance perfect for work or play. Spun from a supersoft merino wool and cashmere blend (with more cashmere than ever) in a lofty 12-gauge knit. Merino wool/nylon/cashmere. Fitted. Scoopneck. Long sleeves. Hits at midthigh, 18 1/2'' from natural waist. Import. Dry clean.
    I bought the dress in black, which must be B&M only, and the store also had it in light grey (sort of tee-shirt athletic grey).  There was a sign in the store identifying it as the "Meribel Tunic", and the dress I bought is tagged as style number 18295 which is, in fact, the Meribel dress.  But my receipt identified it as the "Moon Tunic Dress."  And get this -- it was marked down from $118 to $88.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this piece and highly recommend it, especially if you can snag it on sale as I did.

    I imagine this dress is pretty in any color, but I must say that the black is truly an inky, true winter black. Yummy.

    As you all know now, I'm a short-shinner girl and the length of this piece worn unbelted as a dress was perfect on me, hitting just a couple of inches or slightly less above my knee.  If you're taller or a long-shinner, you might find it slightly short for your taste, but read on because it is precious worn as a belted tunic over skinny pants or leggings with ballet flats, driving moccasins or boots.

    The fit runs slightly large, I'd say.  A Small gave me plenty of room to layer something underneath, if I liked.

    The Dream cashmere/merino blend is soft and lightweight enough to be wearable in my warm climate but heavy enough so that (especially in the darker colors) it doesn't cling to the body uncomfortably.  You'll notice in the online photos that the rearview shot of the model wearing this dress in camel does show a bit of silhouetting around the tush.  But nothing that Spanx couldn't totally cure, if you cared.

    The sleeves are flatteringly narrow and have a very long knit cuff that rolls, folds and also pushes up to the elbow and stays nicely.  (See my post on "Skinny Bits", girls.  Show those forearms!)  I've got arms like a gorilla and the length was fine for me, but would also be easily adjustable for women with more humanly-average arms. ;-)

    The scoopneck isn't too low to wear the dress alone, but it also is deeply-cut enough to allow for layering, which can make for a much more casual look.  The store displayed this piece in grey over the Ruffle-Front Herringbone-Print Perfect Shirt in riviera blue, and the blue/grey combo was stunning.  I tried the black over the Ruffle-Front Vine-Print Perfect Shirt in blossom and the effect was equally beautiful.  This particular Perfect Shirt, by the way (in both prints) is great for layering because the cotton/silk fabric is light and fluid.  For a slightly dressier layered look (and with the bonus of adding no extra bulk to your sleeves), we tried the sleeveless Frances cami and Kelsey top.  Both looked great and I especially liked the Kelsey top myself.  Again, the color choices for mixing and matching are endless.  I think the deeply-saturated colors like plum raisin would be gorgeous with the grey or camel dress.

    We also belted the Meribel dress up (layered and by itself) and can I tell you how beyond adorable this dress is worn as a tunic??  I tried it over leggings (the best, we decided), over the Ankle Stretch Toothpick jeans that I had worn into the store (also very cute), and over the Minnie pants in black and khaki (this we liked but not as much). 

    Finally, my PS and I played around with wearing this alone as a "little black dress" and glamming it up.   Both the Tiered Crystal Libretto necklace and the Crystal Symphony necklace much-loved by our pal A Bigger Closet looked beautiful with the dress.  We also layered those larger pieces with some of the smaller-scaled necklaces, as Jenna no doubt would do, and the effect was stunning.

    Lesson learned big-time on this fun and unexpected shopping trip:  Visit smaller JC stores that aren't as heavily-trafficked.  While they can't stock as much merchandise, this store still had great things and almost every tee shirt that has been sold out at the larger B&M's here in Atlanta for weeks.  When I commented on that and told the manager how surprised I'd been to find the doggies tee, let alone all of these OTHER tees, she manager said "Yes, that happens to us a lot, and we wonder why more people don't FIND us out here."  I WILL from now on!

    I took home the doggies tee, plus the Evening Primrose cardi and a very fun Skinny Studded Belt that I don't see on the website yet in a color called "Fresh Pear" that's the exact color of the splash of citron yellow in the EP cardi.  Look for it if you've bought that cardi or the EP silk top!

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Tips & Tricks: Using Your "Skinny Bits"

    Well, girls, I've about used up my blog time this afternoon pathetically begging for my other blog (see my previous post :-)), but I do want to share with you quickly another of the many tips & tricks I learned in my years in the clothing biz.

    This one's about your "Skinny Bits".

    "Skinny Bits" is a rag trade term that refers to the two faithful parts of a woman's body that stay slim, no matter what, 99.9999% of the time.  No matter the shape of the rest of you, your Skinny Bits are always on standby to help you look taller, longer and leaner.  And they reliably work their magic every single time you ask them to.  I always thought "Skinny Bits" was a wonderful, well-deserved, vaguely British, fabulously cheeky-sounding term to use to name two such magnificent body parts. 

    Your Skinny Bits are:
    • Your forearms from mid-elbow down and
    • Your upper chest and neck; specifically, the V-shaped area that starts just at the top of a little peek of cleavage (that's the bottom of the V) and extends upward in a fairly narrow V to include your upper chest, a bit of collarbone area and your neck.
    For some mysterious reason my partner and I always had a lot of short women as customers, and "Skinny Bits" became their second favorite fashion trick (right behind "Find Your Perfect Skirt Length").

    The trick is all about creating the illusion of more length, leanness, and height for you using visual "V" silhouettes.  Here's how the Skinny Bits help you do this.
    Your neck/chest Skinny Bit area helps to draw the human eye (the person looking at you, in other words) in the shape of a "V".  Your observer will naturally and not at all consciously be drawn to look from your shoulder to your other shoulder to your waist.  The impression that's subtly created is that YOU are "V"-shaped.  Oo-la-la, shades of Barbie.  Who doesn't want to have a tinier waist??  Your neck/chest SB also creates visual length for your neck, which is universally flattering to the face.  Of course, the easiest way to highlight the neck/chest Skinny Bit is by wearing V-necked blouses and cardigans (with a tiny bit of cami showing -- that's fine and doesn't break the visual line).  But don't worry if you're wearing a crew or scoop-necked top --- just create more visual length from your neck down (the illusion of a V-neck, if you will) by wearing mid-length necklaces that hang in that "V" shape.

      Your forearms Skinny Bit also helps you create a subtle visual "V" shape -- this time, an inverted V that's formed by looking UP your arm (which hangs, of course, slightly away from your body), to your armpit, then down the side of your body back to your waist.  To get the human eye of your observer to travel that very flattering, very feminine inverted "V", simply push up your sleeves to just below the crook of your elbow.  Now your exposed, slim forearm (with a little eye-catching bling on it, perhaps) catches the eye, and starts the eye traveling UP to the elbow and thru the inverted "V" of this Skinny Bit.  The effect is to create a visually long, lean extension of your upper body.  Fabulous.  We used to tell our customers NEVER to wear their long-sleeved tops or casual jackets all the way to the wrist.  So girls, push those sleeves up and look at the difference in the mirror -- it's like you just lost 3 pounds, I'm tellin' ya.  If your sleeves are wide, fold them like you'd do the hem of jeans in the famous J. Crew "skinny fold".  The object is to have a slim-lined bunch of fabric at the elbow, not a big messy wad.
        By the way, the existence of the universally-flattering forearm Skinny Bit is precisely why 3/4-length-sleeved henleys and tees look good on almost everyone!

        One other tiny tip related to the forearm Skinny Bit:  When you buy a jacket, pay attention to how WIDE the sleeves are.  If they're bulky, especially below the elbow, have the sleeve tapered from top to bottom by a seamstress.  The technical term for this tapering (and you should ask to have this done with your trousers, too, when you have them hemmed, but that's a topic for another post) is "pegging" -- it means gradually narrowing from top to bottom, or in this case from shoulder to wrist.  Next time you try on a jacket in the store, fold back that wide sleeve and look at the difference in the mirror.  Once again, girls, this is one of those small expenditures that will make a HUGE difference in the way your clothes fit and look.

        That's it for now -- nothing complex here, just a ridiculously simple but never-fail trick or two to make you feel and look like a tall(er) drink of cool water!

        Wednesday, September 9, 2009

        Tips & Tricks: How to Decide Your Ideal Skirt Length (Part 2)

        Hi again, everybody! In my previous post I mentioned that one of the things I learned in my years in the "high-end rag trade" was how to size and fit my customers proportionally correctly.  Believe it or not, your 'ideal skirt length' is something you can figure out to an exact mathematically-perfect measurement.  It's worth taking the time to do, because you're going to present your most well-groomed, elegant self when your skirts are proportionally correct for your body.

        In a female body with ideal leg proportions (like the cute gal at left), the length of the upper leg (top of hipbone to mid-kneecap) and the length of the lower leg (mid-kneecap to mid-ankle bone) would be identical numbers.  But this body type -- we'll call her the "neutral-shinner" -- is pretty rare.  Almost all of us have some significant difference between our upper leg and the lower leg measurements.  The most common "leg type" among American women is long upper leg-short lower leg, which is what I have.  Call us "short-shinners".  The less common leg type is short upper leg-long lower leg ("long-shinners"). 

        The result of our varying leg proportions is that we don't all look equally fabulous in the same skirt lengths, and you're about to understand why.

        Don't assume you know your leg proportions just because of your height, by the way.  Whether you're short-shinned or long-shinned is not connected to how tall you are.  Go grab your tape measure and take your leg measurements (with a helper, if needed).  Here's how to do it:
        • First, place your fingertip right on the protruding knobby outer part of your hipbone just below the navel.  (If you're having trouble finding this spot, think of your pelvic bone and hips as being shaped like a pair of "Mickey Mouse" ears, and now put your fingertip on the top outer edge of the Mickey Mouse ear.)
        • Next, take your measuring tape, and measure precisely from the place where your fingertip is resting on your hipbone straight down the outside of your leg to the middle of your kneecap.  This is your upper leg length.  Mine's 17 inches.
        • Now place your fingertip onto the middle of your kneecap -- right where you ended the upper leg measurement -- and slide your fingertip out carefully from there, in a straight line, to the outside edge of your kneecap.  Starting from that exact place, measure straight down to the middle of your ankle bone.  That's your lower leg length.  Mine's 13 inches.  I have 4 inches less leg on the bottom than on the top.  I am a classic short-shinner.
        Now, try to imagine me in a skirt -- any style -- that hits me at my knee or hovers just below my knee.  No matter what shoes I am wearing, I will still look like I'm Ms. Frump standing in a hole.  This is because when you look at me, I'm all skirt.  Visually, my legs seem to appear out from underneath this long piece of fabric and abruptly disappear too soon!

        I'll use myself as an example to illustrate how to use the formula for figuring out how long your skirts should be:
        • LONGER leg length (for me, that's the upper leg at 17 inches) minus SHORTER leg length (for me, that's the lower leg at 13 inches) = DIFFERENCE (for me, 4 inches) -- This is the "discrepancy" between your leg proportions.
        • Half of DIFFERENCE (for me, 4) = YOUR MAGIC NUMBER.  For me, the MAGIC NUMBER is 2 inches -- In other words, if my shins were 2 inches longer and my thighs were 2 inches shorter, my upper and lower legs would be perfectly proportional.
        • To VISUALLY correct your leg proportions if you're a short-shinner:  Raise your skirt hem ABOVE the middle of your kneecap exactly the same number of inches as your "MAGIC NUMBER."
        • To VISUALLY correct your leg proportions if you're a long-shinner:  Drop your hemline BELOW the middle of your kneecap by exactly the same number of inches as your "MAGIC NUMBER". 
            Thus, for me, if I place my skirt hem 2 inches above the middle of my kneecap, then when you look at my leg silhouette you see 50% skirt and 50% leg.  A visually-perfected, more eye-pleasing proportion!  When I figured this out,

            Once I understood my "MAGIC NUMBER", I applied it to all of my clothes.  Miniskirts and 5"-inseam shorts became my friends for life.  (And by the way, this little mystery was forever solved for me:  Why I Look Like Crap in Bermuda Shorts. ;-))  I do keep a couple of business suits hemmed just a shade longer because there are certainly situations in which we need to err on the side of conservative clothing. 

            If you're a long-shinner, you need to wear your skirts longer to visually correct the proportions of your short thighs and long shins.  You look great in Bermuda shorts, too, but not shorter shorts for the same mathematical and visual reason.

            Try these tips for yourselves, everybody.  I promise you it will change the way you strategically view your entire lower-body wardrobe.  Short-shinners, pin up some of your knee-length skirts.  Long-shinners, put away your 5" shorts and minis and try on a pair of Bermudas or a pencil skirt.  Now  look in the mirror at the difference.  Hem your skirts to your "correct length" if they need hemming.  Pay for it if you don't sew.  I'll tell you what I told my clothing customers for years:  If you pay top dollar for a great skirt and it looks mediocre on you, you've wasted every nickel.  But if you spend an extra $15 to have that skirt hemmed to the perfect length for your body, your off-the-rack great skirt will look like a $1,000 custom-tailored skirt. 
            That's the basics, y'all!  If you have any specific questions feel free to comment or e-mail me at   Hope this has been a fun and helpful read, and happy measuring!!

            Tips & Tricks: How To Decide Your Ideal Skirt Length (Part I)

            Good afternoon, everybody!

            I am recuperating from a bout of weirdly off-season out-of-nowhere bronchitis, which totally wrecked all holiday plans for us besides DH bringing me soup on a tray. :-)  Sweet sweet man, my DH.

            And I'm under doc's orders to do pretty much nothing til Friday -- meaning, for me, life in temporary purgatory, since I'm a workout-a-day-aholic.  Also meaning that I've got unusual time on my hands, so I've been reading and catching up on your blogs, playing on Polyvore and coming dangerously close to busting out my AmEx card again for no really compelling reason.  Even QVC's starting to look enticing.  Yikes.

            I caught Gi Gi's post about the luscious double serge pencil skirts (Sidebar (as we lawyers say): Gi Gi, you're looking fab-u-LUSS, girl).  Here, she was musing about whether to get the Regular or Petite skirt:
            I also ordered the skirts in 4p and had a hard time deciding if they looked better than the size 2. Ultimately I went with the size 2 because a more covered knee = a more professional or demure look. The 4P wasn't like a miniskirt or anything. It just clicked that my legs are a little on the longer side for a shortie so sometimes I prefer regular sizes.
            Definitely true that a more covered knee = more demure, more covered, more traditionally professional.  But Gi Gi's comment reminded me of my add-on belief, based on experience, which is that on some women, a tiny bit of knee showing actually creates -- sneakily and subliminally -- a more perfectly professional look. That is, if what you're aiming for is a skirt length that says "Oh yes, I'm aware that I'm an educated and accomplished woman and that I'm a peer amongst you men.  But that doesn't mean that I have to sacrifice just the right trace of femininity in my clothes.  Notice my absolutely perfectly-tailored power ensemble including this gorgeous skirt which is neither matronly nor showy but which hits my leg at exactly the right spot to make me look fabulous."  

            How do we each find that "sweet spot" where our appropriate-but-oh-so-flattering hems should hit?  Well, yours truly can tell ya.  I will now publicly, for the first time, share a trick I used to teach my customers about skirt length.

            Customers, you say? Yep.  I did have 'em, and I do have "street cred" on this stuff.

            Many years back, during one of my periodic hiatuses from my law practice (I have a really juvenile attention span, I've decided :-)) , I co-owned a women's clothing business.  My partner and I sold for one of the uber-expensive brands that is sold thru "home shows" (we used to call it Tupperware Togs, but of course only where our big-spending customers couldn't hear us :-)).  The majority of our customers were lawyers, doctors, and other high-falutin' executive-type gals, and what we sold them for the most part was executive office wear.

            We did well (for lots of reasons, a big one of which was that we were just plain lucky because, as "temporarily retired" professionals, we naturally had an easier time attracting customers from our own peer group).  In our six years in the biz we sold a boatload of clothes for the company (which still exists, still makes gazillions of dollars, and is privately-held by the lone SOB misogynistic owner -- but that's another ironic tale.) In our 4th year of selling the company asked us to join the faculty at their semi-annual training institute for novice "consultants" (saleswomen, in fancy parlance).  They taught us what and how to teach the newbies, and we loved hamming it up on stage.  Two years later they recruited us to move full-time away from sales and onto the management side of the house, as salaried "Regional Trainers."  This sounded vaguely glamorous and a whole lot more fun than our commissioned and increasingly hectic business.  And they trained us some more, so we enjoyed that.  But the job turned out to be much more of a traveling grind for us working moms than we'd thought it would be.  So after 18 months we both moved on to other horizons.

            Overall, though, it was pretty darned wonderful to be immersed in the insiders' world of almost-haute-couture fashion for years.  I learned so much about fabric (I recognize all the mills where J. Crew buys their silk, linen and wools), garment construction (and what to look for to see how well something's made and where the corners were cut), alterations techniques, color and pattern mixing, sizing and -- here's the biggie for today -- how to clothe my customers in garments and patterns that were proportionally correct for their bodies.

            We passed along lots of tips to our customers over the years -- we even accompanied them to get their clothes altered so we could teach them along the way.  Gauging from their responses, the number one fave tip by FAR was how to answer this question: How do I decide where to hem my skirts or what length to buy?

            I'm going to tell YOU how to answer this question... in Part 2 of this post.  Only because Part 1 has gotten seriously long.  Grab your tape measure (not optional) and I'll be back as soon as I throw some chicken in the oven for dinner. :-)

            Thursday, September 3, 2009

            Sharing A Positive Crew Final Sale Customer Service Episode

            Hello again to my tiny little band of followers (who would be totally justified in deserting me, seeing as how I never seem to find time to post on my own blog!)

            Since it's "Final Sale" season and the time when we all seem to post our most negative (and understandable!) feelings about J. Crew's Final Sale policies, I thought you all might find it encouraging to hear about my positive J. Crew customer service experience this past week.

            About a month ago I bought the Featherweight Cashmere Short-Sleeve Cardigan in Spicy Olive (shown in the picture to the left). As so often happens these days, I had fallen head over heels for this item after seeing it featured (along with several things I happened to already own) by our beautiful and creative pal A Bigger Closet in one of her Polyvore sets. ABC, you are suuuuuuuch a terrible influence. :-)

            So the sweater arrived, and was just as adorable as I'd hoped. Cute little ruffle along the neck and placket, gorgeous color, delicate weight and dense weave to the cashmere. I de-bagged it, de-tagged it and carefully put it away -- since in the dog days of Atlanta's August even a short-sleeve cashmere sweater is ridiculously out of the question. But here's what I did NOT do, though, folks. I did not try the sweater on. It wasn't the only cardi in that day's arriving box; I was unpacking the box after a workout and was sweaty (so I didn't try ANYTHING on, actually); I'd ordered it in my usual cardigan Medium and they sent me a Medium; it looked Medium-ish; and it was flawless on inspection -- I saw no holes, nothing amiss, etc. Lesson learned. I'll never make that mistake again.

            Monday of this week we had a rainy, ever-so-slightly cooler day and I immediately thought "YAY, Spicy Olive cardi!!" (Side note: Kinda pitiful, I think, to be sooooooooo thrilled by a sweater. Wink & grin.) After my little morning cardio session I showered, dressed and did hair and makeup, and just as I was leaving the house I slipped gracefully into my new cardi.


            This Medium felt like an XXS, seriously. It lacked four inches even buttoning. I fiddled with it for several minutes, thinking that I was just doing something wrong -- I'd forgotten to unbutton something or I'd left some thread un-clipped. Nope. It was just plain mis-sized.

            Right away (while wearing a different cardi and feeling miffed about that, LOL) I e-mailed JC's Customer Service with my sad story. I admitted openly to them that I'd not tried the sweater on and that it was de-tagged. I asked if I could return the sweater or exchange it even though it was a FS item.

            By late Monday afternoon I had a reply from "Joan" in Customer Service:
            Dear [JCAUNCMom]: We are truly sorry to learn of the size discrepancy of item 15534. As a customer of J.Crew, you are probably aware that this sort of issue is not typical for our product. Though we would prefer that item 15534 be returned to us via mail, with a merchandise return label, we would be happy to accept the return at your local J. Crew retail store. Your order has been noted that you are able to return the short-sleeve cardigan.
            She went on to say that, regrettably, Spicy Olive was sold out but that I was welcome to re-order a different color after I returned the defective sweater. At this I admit I thought "Duh, ya THINK?"

            Yesterday I took the itty bitty cardi and a copy of my order summary plus a copy of Joan's e-mail to my B&M, and they were lovely and quite apologetic -- they even gave me a $10 GC for my trouble. The icing on the cake: today I discovered quite by accident -- when I was writing this post, actually, and went to the Crew site to copy the link for y'all -- that Spicy Olive in my size is back in stock!! WOW! So I've reordered it (and let's all cross our fingers that it really IS a Medium!)

            It did seem to me, to be honest, that there just wasn't any other reasonable way for J. Crew to respond to my e-mail than to allow this return -- any other response would fly in the face of their "defective merchandise" policy. Then again, since I'd de-tagged the sweater, for all they knew I might have worn it to a party, taken it on a trip abroad, loaned it to a friend, steamed it and then complained about the sizing. But they stood by their product, trusted their customer, and re-earned my trust in them.

            Don't ya just love happy endings? :-)