Office Attire

The attack of the glums seems to have passed. Thank heavens. I was at the point where I wanted nothing more than to move to Tórshavn with Gary Oldman in his Nil by Mouth days, wear itchy black sweaters, and eat nothing but lutefisk.

Part of the gloom was inspired by me trying to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise. Now that both kids are in full-time school, the days are very boring. I need to take on something more full-time as  I do not believe it is realistic to spend one's days checking out the sales at Eric Bompard and eating one's body weight in smoky applewood cheddar and french pastry (it's not reasonable, is it? If it is, do let me know and I can stop stressing...)

After an ill-fated foray into the world of design and decorating (I'm calling this stage PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Decorating), I can hear the siren song of the business world once again. I've written a business book that seems to be going places and I'm thinking of putting a formal process around some of the coaching I've been doing over the past few years. This should not be hard: my whole life has prepared me for this type of work. It feels more daunting this time, however, as I've taking a few hits on the chin over the past few years.

I've decided to create my own little onboarding program to restore my confidence levels. (I did one of those onboarding programs for moms at the university and it was most dispiriting. It seems to be biased towards companies who wanted to tap into an undervalued potential work force. At one point, one of the career coaches, upon seeing my resume dropped his voice and whispered, "What are you doing here? You don't want this. Go start up your own thing.") Here are my back to work preparedness tips (unlike the other program, I won't tell you to cut your hair, promise!)

Surround yourself with reminders of your past successes. I still keep the tombstones from my two largest banking deals in my home office as evidence that I was once entrusted with billion dollar transactions. I also keep the emails people wrote to me back when I was a mommy blogger a decade ago. I remind myself of my various successes because it's so easy to lose sight of them otherwise.

Surround yourself with great people. I have a friend who I worked with 20 years ago. I always feel like a competent professional whenever we get together. Occasionally she asks me to do work for her and I always do it as working for her builds up my ego and reminds me that people used to pay me well for my skills. I have another new acquaintance who is going through something similar to me. We act as cheerleaders for one another. It's awesome.

Have decent work tools. My children need a computer now for school so I've had to get another computer for work. There is nothing worse than having a critical Skype call cut short because there is spilled chocolate milk messing up your keyboard. Even if you are looking for a job outside the home, it's nice to have an organized command centre from which to send out job inquiries and update your LinkedIn profile.

Have a vision. Even though my resume is filled with hard skills, I have a soft skill approach to life in general. I'm not the type to plan my life using Project or iCalendar. I've already done a vision board (though sadly, I missed my friend's annual vision board party) so I can see what I'd like my personal and professional life to reflect in 2014.

This vision will keep me focused on what I want and hold me through the tough times (like when I'm doing my year-end book keeping.) I also love Lara Casey's Power Sheets as a planning tool for work and life.

Now that I'm no longer booking passage to the Faroe Islands, I will be working on my plan for the rest of 2014 tomorrow. Hopefully it will keep my mind off cherry cheese danish and the get-10%-back-in-gift-cards sale at Holt Renfrew.

Dress for success. Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled Life recently did a lovely post on Regina Brett's fabulous book God Never Blinks. One of my favourite quotes in the book is "no matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up." I suspect that very few moments of greatness were started in sweatpants. Today, I did a bunch of filing in my home office and went to Staples for a new external hard drive. But I decided to dress up a little in a J Crew, Eric Bompard, Brora combo.

While I was running errands, I bumped into a woman I know from the club. Surveying my outfit, she asked if I was back at work and it gave me a chance to tell her about my book. Start as you mean to go on, as they say.

Set up a life that supports work. I used get up 15 minutes before the kids' school started, drop them off and then drive to work out at the club. I would not be done and showered and fed until after 10:30am. I wondered what type of job I could take on that would start at 11:00am (answer: "Would you like fries with that?") I also liked to go out for a croissant and a latte. Now, I get up at 6:30am and do yoga. I shower and eat my plain yogurt with walnuts and cacao sweet nibs and flax oil before I take the kids to school. Even if I need to get groceries (I'm a daily shopper: another routine that will shift I imagine) I can be home and ready to work by 8:30am. If I can see I life where I can work and still practice self-care, I'm a lot more motivated.

Well those are my tips so far. For those who have made a career shift, what did you do to prepare for work?

Ooh la la

I am so tired of winter. It's been freezing cold here and it seems like we rarely see the sun. I had to dig out my SAD light and have resorted to a wee bit of self-medication:

I've been continuing to read my francophile books as a lift. I usually read them in the bath. Yesterday, I resorted to reading in the bath while eating a bowl full of cherries. So decadent.

I just finished Jamie Cat Callan's Ooh La La: French Women's Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Everyday.

This book is part memoir and partly a collection of interviews with interesting french women about beauty. It, like all books in the genre, romanticizes the lives of french women: she does not interview Valérie Trierweiler I noticed. Still, the illusion is charming.

Although the book offered fewer practical tips than Lessons from Madame Chic, Callan still provided lots of ideas for cultivating french-inspired beauty. I liked how the book ran a little deeper than many of the how-to books out there. Here are a few of her tips:

Celebrate your femininity. It's OK to be feminine. That doesn't mean you can't run a country or a merger or your household. But you can do it in a lovely outfit and nice makeup. There is power in being a woman. Leave the lumber jacket at home (unless it's a sweet one with a nipped in waist!)

Don't worry about being perfect looking. Take a look at french actresses. Most of them are far from perfect looking but they are still gorgeous. Callan sums up the french approach to beauty: "Take care of yourself. Find a good colour. Don't eat so much. Develop your personality. Dress for yourself."

Bring artistry to everyday life. Callan tells a story of a nurse who took her blood when she found herself in a french hospital. She was so thrilled that she was not left bruised as she often was in the US, that she praised the nurse's skill: "Vous êtes one experte." The nurse disagrees: "Non. Je suis une artiste." If one approaches life as an artist, everything can be made more beautiful: meals, relationships, work, and one's appearance. Callan writes:
You create your own life. And every day, you have an opportunity to take this piece of human clay and mold it into something that is fine and elegant and pleasing. You get to decide what is beautiful, what looks good on you, and exactly how you will go about letting your own light shine. 
Be yourself. If sounds clichéd but it really is sage advice, and Callan provides a lot of anecdotal evidence about the importance of doing just that.
This is the French woman's secret to ooh la la - she has given herself complete permission to be her unique self. She has completely aligned her outer self with her inner self. This allows for her sense of confidence and mystery. This is what makes her beautiful - whether she is a little overweight or has a slightly crooked nose or is a woman of a certain age.

I so wanted to capture a little of this ooh la la for myself so I thought I'd attend the Toronto Gift Fair to see if there were any lovely French items for sale. Before the whole business book/consulting thing captured my attention, I was thinking of getting into retail and I still flirt with the idea from time to time. The wholesalers were very nice and encouraging (except for one from a British pottery company I used to like: what a patronizing git!) If I decide to dip my toe in this water, you'll be the first to know.

Stay warm, kittens,

The Patron Saint of Bloggers

One of my favourite novel titles is The Patron Saint of Liars (it's a great read too). I am very much not a Catholic, but sometimes I feel in need of a patron saint too.

I rather like Saint Angela of Foligno.

New to full sainthood courtesy of Pope Francis (love!), she was a wealthy wife and mother in the late 1200s. She enjoyed her early years as a socialite and then, when her husband died, she gave away all of her possessions and became part of the Franciscan Third Order. That is sort of where I sit: half way between socialite and nun.


Saint Angela refused to live in isolation. Rather than taking on a contemplative role like many nuns and monks in her day did, she chose to be a caregiver living in community. She seems like a pretty together kind of lady. Plus, she is featured in this most exquisite painting.

Yes, I believe that she's the saint for me.

Home for a rest

I intended to post yesterday but was knackered after the weekend. I decide to do a little mini break with the kids and stay overnight up in ski country. Rarely do I feel like a single mother in that "look at the poor single mother" kind of way. I've been on my own since the children were tiny and thankfully have the support to make my life less grim than many in my situation. But this weekend I felt like a single mother because an overnight ski holiday with two kids and a dog is not a piece of cake. There is a lot of gear to haul even when we have the luxury of a ski locker. And don't even talk to me about family BINGO night, which, unbeknownst to me, is a kind of blood sport. Unless you come with an entourage of 15 to guard your table and preordered your food last March, you will find yourself sharing two chairs and no table with your very hungry children. We were pizza number 50-something and they appeared to be making them one at a time.

But still, we had some fun.

Nice enough, I suppose. But it pales compared to Kitzbuehel.

I needed a day to recover from our travels (and my diet of poutine, beaver tails, and the hickory sticks I consumed while waiting for the pizza). I made myself some Magical Breakfast Cream per French Women Don't Get Fat.

And watched a bit of The Paradise (Downton so disappointed, that I had to latch onto another British costume series immediately.)

I put on the blush blouse from Montreal's Boutique 1861 that is the inexpensive fun piece in this season's capsule wardrobe. They are a great little online find for french chic accents.

Hope you all had a lovely start to your week.

French Living Fridays

So I've been doing this french living thing for a couple of weeks and I like it a lot. My first guidebook has been The Daily Connoisseur Jennifer Scott's Lessons from Madame Chic.

I always pay a lot of attention to anyone who gets their book into Anthropologie as I think they are the best major retail curator out there.

The book is an easy, breezy read and Scott's style is charming and has the requisite amount of self-deprecation. She summarizes the key points in each chapter so it makes it a nice reference book too.

The key lifestyle points I took away were as follows:

Have an edited wardrobe. I was at the point where every day in the winter I wore jeans and a cashmere sweater. I wore this uniform because these things were at the front of my overstuffed closet. Now that I've pulled out about 20 key pieces for an eight week period, I am much more creative with my outfits. Normally, I'd have put on a sweater and black pants for an author brunch but now I'm doing the shirt/skirt/scarf/tights thing because I can see them.

Use your best things. Because I have fairly young children still, I got out of the habit of using my good things. I have several Hermès scarves but was reluctant to use them in case someone drooled on me. I stopped using china I loved in favour of Corelle plates, lest one get dropped. I used an inexpensive crossbody bag as it was more practical than my lovely handbags when I was wrestling kids through a grocery store parking lot. And the last several winters, I've appeared mainly in giant down coats since they are warm and sturdy. The fact that my children call my heaviest weight one my "sleeping bag coat" might have been a hint that I looked less than fashionable (it's called the mystique: the only mystique it conveys is "Is there a person in there?)

There was good reason for me to be practical for a period of time. But now that my children are 8 and 10, I can drop them off at the valet parking at the school in the winter so I don't need something to keep me impossibly warm on the blacktop. They are capable of carrying a plate into the kitchen without incident. Serena keeps me on drool high alert but I suspect that Hermès scarves are impervious to french bulldog saliva as they share the same glamourous heritage. Thus, I have started to make an effort to bring glamour back to my life.

This woman is an outrageous liar. I don't drool on my own Hermès scarves, let alone hers!

Make small, delicious meals. Because my children are picky eaters (a problem the French don't seem to have), I often make a grownup dinner just for me. And since it's just for me, it's easy to just have cereal some nights. Well, no more. I find that not cooking everything from scratch is helpful as I won't roast a chicken just for me (although I should!), but I can buy half a roasted chicken at the market and then make a nice salad with it. I'm currently searching for easy, healthy meals (I poached this idea for avocado, arugula, and ricotta on sourdough from the always charming India Alexandra since I have had a craving for it since I read her post. I toast the bread and add just a pinch of fleur de sel. Delicious!

Take care of your skin. The french seem to spend their beauty dollars on skin care rather than makeup, hair and nails. They also seem to have a more holistic approach to beauty, incorporating good eating and things like massage into their routine. Jennifer Scott also swears by the Clarisonic tool, which I think is good too. It's the only way to really get your makeup off I think. Speaking of which...

Wear makeup. I'm one of those people who can look pretty decent once I cover up the sunspots and put on some blush. The biggest difference is eyeliner. I have a suspicion that when I turned 40, Renee Zellweger stole my eyes.

Since the greedy cow* has made no offer to give them back, I have had to get creative. I have had some good success using my Bourjois Intuitive liner to tightline my lower lids (Bourjois, the sister company of Chanel, is amazing.) I can do it all quite quickly now and it makes a big difference.

I also winnowed down the lipstick collection to a true red (I like Chanel's Gabrielle over YSL's glossy stain in Rouge Lacque)  and a few neutrals (I like Bobbie Brown's Brownie, Marc Jacobs' Severine and Guerlain's Avarice). I'm also experimenting with wearing fragrance. As an allergy sufferer, I'm always empathetic to people's scent aversions so I limit it to when I'm with a fragrance-positive crowd. My winter go-tos are Poison, which I've worn since the 80s, and Hermès 24 Faubourg, which I picked up at the airport duty free shop in Jamaica. The lady at the Holt's counter gave me a boatload of samples the last time I was there so I'll be trying out some of the Lanvin and By Kilian scents too.

I still have lots of work ahead of me based on her tips such as walking more (harder in the winter in Oakville), entertaining more (I'm lazy), and cultivating an air of mystery (I'm an open book.)

Oh, la vache. I work with such amateurs.

But so far it's been fun.

Brunch with Philip Yancey

First of all, my apologies. I've been blogging via my phone and when I looked at my laptop today, the photos are all wibbly. After 10 years at this on various blogs, you'd think I'd be more technically adept.

I spent Tuesday morning at a talk and brunch with Philip Yancey at Crossroads Communications. He's the Joyce Carol Oates of Christian writing with 13 award-winning books that both liberal and conservative Christians can embrace. My mother is a big fan and we were thrilled to be seated at Yancey's table along with his wife Janet, and the new CEO of Crossroads, Dr. John Hull. My friend Melinda Estabrooks who was our host with the most at the brunch (and an angel, I'm convinced!) always treats me so very well.

Philip was speaking about his newest book, The Question That Won't Go Away: Why? It's a follow up book to Where Is God When It Hurts. He wrote his latest book after he spent some time in Japan after the tsunami, in post-war Sarajevo, and in Newtown, Connecticut two weeks after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. All were places where people were asking how a loving God could have allowed such terrible things to happen.

It is what you do after something awful happens. You want to know what caused it. You want to prevent anything so terrible from happening again. And you want to know why you've been singled out. I know I asked a lot of questions last year as I came to terms with surviving a painful divorce only to be lured into a destructive relationship that was meant to be my happy ending.

These why questions are crazy making and - as Yancey illustrates - beside the point. It does not matter why evil things happen. That is not for us to know right now. Theologians can debate ideas of original sin and predestination and the angels dancing on the head of a pin until the end of time: it still sucks for those of us in suffering's midst.

What Yancey is far more interested in is how terrible situations can be redeemed. What Yancey has learned over his years of hearing about people's suffering (including his own near-fatal car accident in 2007) is that nothing is irredeemable. There is nothing that God cannot touch and transform into something amazing: beauty for ashes. And it is our duty, as Christians, to operate as God's emissaries, seeking out those in need and providing what help we can.

I always seem to cry whenever I am at Crossroads and there were several points during his talk that I had to look up at the ceiling and blink, not wishing to ruin my eyeliner (I'm trying that tightline method as part of my French living thing and it does not withstand a whole lot of emotion.) Over the past year, I have challenged God a lot. I have been furious with Him for allowing me to be abused the way I was. And I've said, if You are real and the Great Redeemer, then show me (I have all but challenged God to arm-wrestle.)

And on Tuesday, over brunch, He showed me. A year ago I felt broken. I felt alone. And I did not think I've ever have peace. I was thrashing about trying to find something, anything, to anchor me through all the chaos.

And God found me.

And one year later, I sat, surrounded by people I've come to know and love, listening to Philip Yancey talk about how God can redeem anything.

(I love it when He's a show-off like that.)

Weekend retreat

This weekend was a fairly quiet one.

Saturday, I had to get the kids ready for their first ski lessons. It's our first time up this season, which meant lugging all of our skis up north. After multiple trips across an icy parking lot carrying skis, poles, helmets and boots to our locker (nothing makes me feel more like a single parent than hauling gear on my own) I was looking forward to a cup of tea and taking in a few runs  My son had other ideas, however, so we spent the morning getting him acclimatized to the hill. Did I mention it was raining? No matter, we had a nice day. A bunch of people I know now ski where we do, which makes it more fun. I cannot believe how much has changed since this time last year.

Saturday evening was a quiet night in with Gatsby on DVD and some Veuve.

On Sunday, I saw Her and, I have to say, it just did not do anything for me. The whole time I was thinking, "Spike Jonze is a very clever fim maker," but I never got absorbed in the film. I was very distracted by all of the high waisted pants. Was there some sort of symbolism there? I no longer think I can consider myself an intellectual because all I could think of was Ed Grimley:

Sunday evening, we had the last of my birthday celebrations with my parents. There was chocolate cake and a little something from Ferragamo. 

Sunday night, I thought I'd relax with Downton, not realizing it was that episode. I did not need that vision of lovely Anna, so very broken, in my head. I don't know if I plan to watch any more of the series as last night's episode was trigger enough. 

I've been treating myself very gently today. This is the kind of day when one craves sweatpants and an oversized sweater. But that's not very french so I looked around for a more elegant proxy. 

I think I've found it in my Ann Taylor modern knit slim pants. I'm not a big Ann Taylor fan but I've been buying these pants as a staple for years. They have stretch and are as comfy as sweats. And cashmere sweaters are always cozy. You can dress the look up with a silk scarf:

Or keep it cozy with a fluffy scarf from Anthro

Now, if only I can summon the willpower to not dig into the leftover cake (naturally, there was no leftover champagne!)

Stepford: Paris Style

My birthday week continued with gifts from the boyfriend. 

I'm a lucky girl. 

Even my free birthday gift at Sephora was good.

I'm really feeling good about this year. I've already had so many blessings. 

I was explaining to the ladies at the club last night (thank heavens for the resumption of kids' badminton lessons - it civilizes my week) that as part of my New Year's resolution to be more irie, I have decided to become french.

When pressed for details, I explained that I've been reading all if these How to Live Like a French Woman books. 

I shared that I plan to live in 20 pieces of mostly black clothing, drink wine, channel Clemence Poesy and eat a lot of roasted chicken.

"You realize nobody in Paris really lives like that," stated my friend, the World Citizen, in her hybrid American/British/Dutch accent. 

I don't care. I'm going to live like a fictional french woman. I'm going to have a low quantity, high quality wardrobe. I'm going to walk more, shop locally, and spend my money on daily luxuries like coffee, bread and flowers. I'll surround myself with interesting people and witty conversation. In Oakville. 

A year ago, I didn't know if one could have this lifestyle here. It is the land of 10,000 square foot homes, full-sized Range Rovers, Big Box stores and long commutes. It's like Texas: everything is big here. My children used to ask me if we were poor because our 1920s home is less than 1500 square feet. 

Oakville is casual and sporty. Everyone skis and plays hockey and tennis. Whereas in the city I had a number of friends with Escada on speed dial and people shopped at little ateliers, the uniform here tends to involve yoga pants. To wit, there are 4 yoga clothing shops on our tiny Main Street. Part of embracing my inner french woman means that unless a Sarah Ivanhoe DVD is playing, I must step away from the Lululemon. Happily Eric Bompard, Everlane and Brora (thanks to  DaniBP for getting me onto this gem) deliver. 

Pour moi? 

The food situation is highly conducive to french living. I can easily walk to Whole Foods and walk to a fruit market, fish market, butcher, and bakery. There is a french bakery in town, Patisserie d'Or, which is pretty fantastic. Some people on Chowhound claim they have the best croissants in the GTA. Now how about them apples? (Or should I say les pommes....)

Since I live in the smallest house in town, it's pretty easy to be disciplined about the wardrobe situation. I've chosen my edited winter wardrobe including sweaters and shoes. 

I'm already being more creative by digging into my collection of scarves. 

I will need to find a source for my favourite tea, Mariage Freres' Wedding Imperial.

And start cooking some new dishes.

But I've found a source of Myrtle topiaries.


Jamaica: In

Happy New Year!

It never ends...

I just got back from a week in Jamaica. Given that it's been minus 40 Celsius here, I felt very lucky.  I've never been to Jamaica before and did not know what to expect. But I figured that if Ralph Lauren likes it...

The resort was one of these all-inclusive jobbies and that was something new for me too. I've been lucky enough to be able to have some really unique Caribbean experiences such as feeding lettuce to the rock iguanas on Allen's Cay, diving for conch shells, and having a drink at MacDuffs courtesy of some boat owning friends, so I was not sure if the all-you-can-eat compound experience would appeal. I like a vacation to enlarge my world view and I was afraid it simply might enlarge my waistline.

My inner snob was quickly made to eat humble pie (and rum balls and banana cake and fried ice cream.) This was one of the best vacations I've ever had - and certainly the most relaxing. 

The resort was about six weeks old and there were some teething pains (disorganized check in, shifting restaurant hours, no shampoo.) But there were big water slides and a sports bar with poutine, and jerk chicken grilled al fresco, and a beautiful white sand beach. The staff were all very friendly. 

The kids were in heaven:

We all hung out on the beach to ring in 2014. It's not officially a new year until you have your boyfriend snap a duckface picture of you. 

(It looks as though Santa brought me a bagful of filler this year and I traded eyes with Renee Zellweger)

Did I mention that there was a martini bar?

As a result of the laid-back environment, I made a resolution to be more irie in 2014. When I get out of my own way, things just flow. It's so the opposite of how I naturally function but the gift of everything that happened over the last five years was to learn that I'm not in control. I'll be blogging more about this later in the week when my brain is less rum-addled but my view certainly shifted as a result of this holiday.

It was my forty-somethingth birthday while I was away and we celebrated with an Italian dinner at the resort and then a bespoke fire show at the teppanyaki restaurant we'd eaten at the night before 

And then I had one of these.

Birthday martinis are so much better than cake!

The island was gorgeous. The kids and I climbed Dunn's River Falls. I have to take my photos to be developed as I needed one of those disposable waterproof cameras. The kids were amazed by the old-school technology. 

We toured the countryside.

I read Farewell, Dorothy Parker.

And I did laps in the ocean. Heaven!

After a week, I was so relaxed that even the five hour tarmac debacle at Pearson on our return left me unfazed. 

Jamaica, you are magical indeed. 

Christmas Traditions: The Nutcracker Ballet

Every year, I take my daughter to see the Nutcracker. (I took my youngest son once, but he loudly complained that there was too much dancing...