Blooming belfry.

A little more than a year ago, I posted about the Spring colors of last year, featuring a piece of art, a “Flowerhead,” by Olaf Hajek. This year, as if Hajek’s fantastical visions were coming true, real flowerheads were recently spotted in a nearby shop window.


A man. And a woman. Their brains in full bloom. I have to admit, after the move I feel as if my own head is bursting with weeds. I had anticipated upheaval, but I hadn’t anticipated just how “upheaved” I would feel. So picture my head an explosion of dandelions, with little fluffy bits flying into thin air.


Posted in AROUND US | 4 Comments

Let’s talk about the weather.

On a lighter note, a little Italian humor. Or maybe it’s just common sense. The climate may be nuts, but you can never go wrong interpreting it like this:



Dry cord:
nice weather.

Wet cord:

Stiff cord:

Invisible cord:
fog (or, drink less).

Moving cord:

No cord:
someone stole it.

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Here we go!

See you on the other side.



The Earth Moves

Oh, ha ha ha. A couple posts ago, I was writing about mis-en-place as if I lived and breathed it. Now I’m wondering what happened to the organization I used to consider my middle name. It’s been replaced with something…well…else. And I’m reminded of a line one of my writing partners, Janet, wisely squeezed into a script for a TV spot Nike (unwisely) never approved: “Life is messy.” Jeez, is it ever.


We’re moving. I said that the last time I posted. Forgive me if I repeat myself, because that’s what you do when you move. You go a bit nuts for a while. Everything is upside down. Not just the books and boxes and memories and sentimental objects that all of a sudden just seem like something else to get rid of. But also the emotions. I am happy then I’m sad. Giddy then exhausted. Negative than positive. Whatever’s happening, I’m being moved by it. I’m being heaved up by a big tidal wave I invited into my life. You get what you ask for.


And what we asked for starts tomorrow. Tomorrow! Yikes! So, everything feels off. Everything is in flux. And despite all my best-laid mis-en-place plans (yes, I’ve drawn diagrams and floor plans and closet plans and you-name-it plans), I have this funny feeling that things will land a bit differently than I think they will. It’s all very funky.


And in the process of it all, we have revisited every moment of our own lives. Every choice. Every person we knew. Every shred of evidence or shame or glory. Every scrap of paper has been looked at and categorized, sometimes as “Trash,” sometimes as something to be newly enshrined. Every thing, every object has been reassessed. Our life has passed before our eyes, if not in a minute, then in a month of getting ready. The sense of an end is palpable.


But it’s just the end of a chapter. And without ending one chapter, you can’t start another. And that’s what it’s all about. A new, thrilling, different start. As much as I like might like to experience life as someone else, I’ll still be me with flaws and strengths, my quirks and insecurities…but I’ll be seeing the world from a different place. And this will be a new life for me. For us. I’m so excited about that.


We may do everything exactly as we do now. But then again, we may not. I don’t really think we will. A place can have huge impact on how you live, can’t it? Where we have noise now, we will have quiet. Where we have open space, we will have dedicated spaces. Where we now have lots and lots, we will be living with less. Much less. Where we now see cityscape, we will see vines. While we now commute to the center of the city, we will now be in it. A different set of contradictions. A different set of realities.

I don’t know that we will really “get anything right”…I just have faith that it will be. I’ll let you know.

What was the most traumatic move in your life? What move has changed you the most? Where would you move next?

I hope you have a beautiful day.

Posted in IN THE HOUSE | 8 Comments

The Smile

I haven’t been here in a long time, and I’ve really missed it. I’ve missed you all!

I’ve been in a vortex – tunnel – tidal wave – whatever you wanna call it of selling, buying and moving houses. And along with it, a long drawn out process of weeding out things we no longer need. The accumulated stuff. The boxes that got moved last time and have almost never been opened. The detritus. The evidence of stuff that no longer matters, and may already be forgotten. I’ve run across everything in my own past. All my old letters. All my old relationships. Friendships. Old writings. Ideas. Thoughts. Journals. Too much. Too much. Too much!

I’ve managed to eliminate a lot. Because I realize that the people aren’t in those things. They are in me. And so I’ve let a lot of paper evidence go. To lighten the load. And to allow my heart and mind to do the work of remembering, instead of leaving that precious task to a dusty box. Yes, much I’ve shredded, tossed and sent packing. Much I’ve kept.


I’ve found things I’d forgotten. This was one of them. I painted this for an early draft of a book I made with Janet Champ, Ripe. It made me happy to see this again. It felt like amessage that had been sent forward from the past.

At 52 I am far happier than I was when I painted this. Happier in my skin. More content. And I am grateful to be able to use that word full of soft-landings and second chances. I hope time is giving all of you that same gift.

The wind is howling outside. Spring turbulence. Things never sit still, do they?

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Mise-en-place: a way of life

It’s no secret. I’m not very good at blogging while I’m working. I’m a freelancer, and the work I do requires full-on attention when I get it. Usually I’ll have three days or a week or three weeks (if I’m lucky), and in that time I (and my partners, if I’m working in a team) have to crack it. You can’t miss. You can’t screw up. This is payday; you have to earn and deserve. That’s it. So taking the time to blog is something I can’t really do, even though I miss it. Today I have a tiny break.

Ironically, as the project was just heating up, I had a post in mind for you. It had to do with the way we work. I heard this story on NPR over the Christmas holidays, and it’s been playing in my head ever since. “For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef.” At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I do try to work like this. It seems, actually, the only way, often, to get everything done.

Since I’ve had children, I’ve heard myself mutter in self-conscious advice mode more times than I’d like to remember, “The key is organization.” But I think it really is. Everything goes smoother, every one is happier, everything is just a wee bit saner, when it’s all well organized. But that doesn’t come close, not really, to the philosophy explained and espoused by the chefs in this NPR story. It’s all about mis-en-place, the organizational method/mindset used by chefs in the kitchen.


If you don’t have time or desire to hear the story, the basics are as follows (this includes some chefs’ individual interpretations):

1. Start with a list.
2. Become one with your list.
3. Adopt the preparation mindset—everything ready and at hand.
4. Account for every minute and every movement
5. Work clean—clear your workspace, clear your mind
6. Clean as you go
7. Slow down to speed up, or, as we say in the ad/design world: do it right the first time.

Underlying all this is, in my mind, an eloquent and beautiful way of seeing the world. One of the chef’s expressed it like this: “Time is precious, resources are precious, space is precious, your self-respect and your respect of others are precious.” Amen, a million times.



Many, many years ago, and some of my closest friends will already know this about me, I used to quote Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife, also entitled Methodical Cook, published in 1860. She starts the book like this, before getting into curing herrings and roasting snipes. I’ve put my favorite part in bold. It cracks me up:

The grand arcanum of management lies in three simple rules:–“Let every thing be done at a proper time, keep every thing in its proper place, and put every thing to its proper use.” If the mistress of a family, will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her household, she must detect errors in their infant state, when they can be corrected with ease; but a few days’ growth gives them gigantic strength: and disorder, with all her attendant evils, are introduced. Early rising is also essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day, and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter.

And so that confusion will not enter, I will close this blog post for the day and put my shoulder back to the grindstone. My freelance work continues tomorrow, so we may not hear from each other for a few days. Until then, work well, work clean, and enjoy yourself.

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Welcome to my city

Thank you, New York Times, for showing it off so beautifully.

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

“Je suis Charlie”

Everywhere you look today, “I am Charlie”/”Je suis Charlie” in honor of those who lost their lives in Paris yesterday and to stand strong against those who would have us live in fear. There are no other words.

My daughter asked me why there were so many shootings. I started to explain, but in explaining, I realized that there really is no explanation. To try to make any of it have sense is an absurd exercise. I was at a loss for how to tell her.


Red Shoes R Us

Just before Christmas, the Milan shop windows were full shoes. Red shoes. These oxfords caught my eye. They wanted to dance, or at least attend a very chic New Year’s Eve party.


I love red shoes, but even as I type that, I realize I don’t currently have a pair in my closet. There is something wrong with that. I probably need to remedy the situation.

If you own a pair of red shoes, you own a story. There’s always one. You put them on and something unexpected happens. Or something unexpected comes out of your mouth. Red shoes give you courage. Their attitude travels from the bottom up.

I have had several pairs of red high-heeled pumps. They were very good friends of mine. And like good friends, they are not divulging any secrets. Around 1983 I saw a pair of red, vintage, satin heels I craved so badly, I couldn’t bear for anyone else to have them. I bought them. I wore an 8-1/2. They were 6’s.


My daughter went to see a new pediatrician in her favorite pair of red Mary Janes. The doctor, a woman, said, “Hello there. I love your shoes. Did you know, I only wear red shoes?” We both looked down at her feet which were clad in red loafers. She and my daughter have been great friends ever since. When she was three, my brother gave her a pair of red cowboy boots. She wore them with purpose. She did them proud. And she has never parted with them, even though she’s long since outgrown them.


I remember as if it were this morning, seeing a pair of red, pointy-toed velvet Moroccan slippers at an import store in Milan in Piazza Sant’Eustorgio. I wanted them. I didn’t buy them. I regret that. I just know that they would have unleashed unexplored sides of my personality, even if I never left the comfort of my home.


I believe that red shoes have accompanied us through more first steps, more first days of school, more power lunches and more successful dates than any other fashion accessory in history. They tend to get things started, even if it’s just our own sluggish motors. I know you have a red shoe story to tell. Will you share it?


[If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Memphis Stiletto Blues.]

Posted in ITALY, WHAT WE WEAR | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Making (It) Up as You Go Along

AN ALERT & AN APOLOGY: This is, primarily, for the ladies. The text, I hope, applies to everyone, but I’m afraid the videos don’t. Most of them are based on white skin; I wish had sources for everyone. I’m really sorry. If you know of some good sources, please let me know immediately and I will include in my next post! Thank you.

Getting older is the oddest experience. As human beings, we advance by sort of intuitively following the scientific method. We ask questions, we posit hypotheses, we create experiments, we observe what happens during said experiments and we adjust them and/or our hypotheses until we see that we’re hitting on some sort of serviceable truth. As you age, you yourself are often the object of the experiment, and you have no choice but sit back and observe what Nature has in store…

Ten years ago, I had the great privilege of creating a book with an amazing writer and friend named Janet Champ. Entitled Ripe*, it’s about menopause and aging in a youth-obsessed society. It grew out of a freelance project we’d taken, but it rapidly evolved into an independent project. Pondering day-in-day-out with Janet the realities of the Hill as she liked to call it, I convinced myself that I was probably perimenopausal myself. I did feel a bit odd, and my cycle seemed a wee bit “off.” Turned out I was pregnant. Oh well. Hormones are tricky that way. But the point is this: I didn’t really know what it would feel like to be menopausal. I was all for bringing it out in the open; I just lacked any personal experience of it.

Part of our research was a survey we circulated amongst friends. One of my dearest life-long galpals, Anna, who used to follow this blog but died November 26 after a tough, sad fight with ovarian cancer, wrote in response to our questions that, no, she didn’t want to seem vain or superficial, but she just could NOT get used to the appearance of her outer self not syncing up with how she felt and envisioned herself in her mind’s eye. I now know what she meant.

“Menopause Make-up: Tips for A Natural Day Look.”
This video is entertaining simply for the open chat that takes place
between the makeup artist and her subject.

I remember first noticing age in my face around 35 or 36. Leaning into the mirror I saw, with a slight shiver, something I’d never seen before. A line or shifting. I don’t remember now exactly what I saw, but I remember my reaction: that is indelible. But, for quite a few years these “surprises” still belonged to the category of “enhancements,” signs of maturation that makes you look seriously womanly. A force to be reckoned with, not to be trifled with. And I continued to not really care.

After both my children were born and bouncing gaily into the roundness of their pre-school and elementary years, the heavy stuff of life (a.k.a. the shit) began to happen—the death of a parent, serious and/or fatal illnesses in dear friends, mysterious diseases in my husband and child both of which turned out to be blessedly curable after long periods of uncertainty and fear. These events made their marks, leaving signs of age that really changed the way I looked. Changed my symmetry inside and out. Changed my general demeanor (though it has largely bounced back thanks to those twin human traits of resilience and forgetfulness). Most shockingly, I noticed that my eyes looked different. A bit sadder. A bit warier. A bit more prone to show fear. Tired.

“Puffiness & Bags Under the Eyes: Causes & Treatments.”
What’s that she says about drinking more water?

It’s not a fetching look. But it happens. So there we are. We bounce back on the inside, regaining at least some semblance of our youthful joie de vivre, but then, uh oh, wait, who’s that person in the mirror who seems to lack it? She didn’t bounce back! She didn’t boomerang? How dare she not?

My response to this shift in reality was to ignore it. I figured that beauty on the inside would acrue to beauty on the outside. Serenity, good health, a sense of humor, blah blah blah would make me radiant despite all that ugly stuff. And besides, I wouldn’t really care. If I felt good and healthy, who cared how my face looked?

“Glowing, Youthful Makeup for Mature Skin.”
This woman is loaded with wrinkles,
but look how gorgeous she is with and without makeup?

First of all, serenity, good health and a sense of humor don’t stop a clock. (It bears mentioning, too, that I’m not always as serene and good-humored as I’d like to think.) Second, I cared more than I thought I would care. Like my friend Anna, it began to bother me that the outside didn’t seem to belong to the inside. It began to bother me that what started out as a concerted effort to “rise above it” became an invisible slide into a sort of giving-up. And giving up doesn’t look very good. It looks about as good as a comfy old, grey, slouchy sweater. (And come to think of it, I own quite a few of those.)

Somewhere along the line I just didn’t care enough…I don’t know if it happened with the crazed multi-tasking life of the modern, working mother. But I want to care again. I don’t want to turn back the clock, or become the painted laughing stock of the neighborhood. I just want to care enough…about myself.

My skin, thanks to genetics, has fared pretty well. But I need to pay attention to it. I need to give it and all the other parts of me fresh veg and fruits. I need to exercise religiously to keep all parts of the engine in decent working order (mostly the mood). I need to hydrate hydrate hydrate. (And I don’t like to drink water!)

“Anti-Aging Tips: Eyes, Brows & Lips.”
The point here is to not let yourself become invisible
which is sometimes tempting, I find.

But I also want to look good. I want to look something like the way I feel. I want there to be “lightness” on the outside. A message that I care about myself. An accentuation of the positive.  I want my children to feel encouraged by the way I look, knowing that their Mum has as much energy as they do, and that their own female futures don’t necessarily spell  D-R-A-B. I want my husband to be greeted with a face that doesn’t look tired of it all. I don’t think I’m a candidate for plastic surgery. It is just not my thing. No surgery is. But I would like to at least have a vague idea about how to apply makeup to this face of mine. And to be honest, I’ve completely forgotten how. What used to work, doesn’t anymore. 

I have, however, finally found someone who—I think—has a real clue about it all. Her name is Lisa Eldridge. She’s a serious British make-up artist, and she offers instructive advice about how to deal with everything from teenage acne to “The Menopause,” as she calls it. (I love that British “the” tacked on. It makes it sound like the name of an ocean liner. “Lovely lady…she’s taken off for an extended journey on The SS Menopause.”)

“Ultimate Beautifying Makeup that Suits Just About Everyone.”
I’ll try this next time I have to go to a wedding.

So here she is, scattered throughout this post, demonstrating how to make-up all sorts of faces. She’s respectful of all phases of a woman’s life. She’s knowledgable and she’s thorough. She’s often a bit more heavy-handed than I would be,and I could never afford to use each and every product she recommends, but there are some principles in there that can be applied with products we can all afford in a way that feels right to us.

In the days when I supervised lots of TV and photoshoots, I used to love watching the makeup artists. Their craft isn’t about tastelessly slathering on pastes and goos. It’s about approaching the subject with a respectful love and bring out the beauty that is theirs naturally. They dab and massage, mix colors carefully, observe and transform. In their free time, they used to make us up, and I never walked away from those appreciative eyes and those tenderly dabbing fingers without feeling more beautiful.

I guess that’s what’s at the heart of this. Learning to look at ourselves with loving, caring appreciative eyes. So much easier said than done. I’d love to hear how all of you have faced your own aging processes. What your beauty regimens consist of. How you protect your skin. If you were makeup. And if you do, what? Any tips? Secrets? Please let us know. We are all in this together. And if you’re anything like me, you find it easier to appreciate other women’s beauty than your own. So being some of the “other women” in my life, I’d love to hear from you.


*Isn’t that funny? You can get a used copy of RIPE from Amazon for 1 cent. (I guess that’s what they mean when they tell writers not to quit their day jobs.)  I also have many new copies at home that I’d be happy to give you if you’ll pay for the postage from Italy. Let me know.

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