Where Have You Been?

I am back in the late 80’s and can see in my mind’s eye the world as I had constructed it then. I zero in on a single, profound memory: I am walking toward my white Toyota Tercel in my professional pumps, my relatively “big hair” and my serious, proud, burgundy briefcase. It was a workday like many before and thousands that would follow.

Except that it wasn’t. For where I was on my journey to self -awareness and self- creation, it was a game-changer.

Walking the winding path to my car, something caught my eye, a shade of green that made my heart stop for a nano-second. You know it; we all do: spring green in all of of its luscious glory, proclaiming “Here I am.” It caught me so much by surprise that I stopped, looked up, and took it all in. The curvy street was lined with maple after maple, a delightful dogwood here and there. Above me, a lacy canopy of green that had completely escaped my attention seemed to whisper “Wake up!”

Getting into my car, I thought Where have I been? The question was loaded and I wasn’t yet ready to take it on. On my short drive to the office, my awe slowly faded as I considered the challenges, the To Do’s, and the plan for the day…and the evening, as I either took a class or sold Mary Kay at house parties after hours.

Where have you been? It’s a soul-prompt I have revisited again and again. Over time, I made that journey down and eventually reclaimed that fanciful girl-child who was fascinated with flowers, birds, turtles and all manner of mysterious, beautiful things. These many years later, as her unburdened, joyful heart beats within, I never, ever, miss spring green.

In the spirit of not missing any wondrous thing, here’s my “summer to fall transition” – a wardrobe of another sort!

A Passion for Purple

Deep Purple. Is there any color more sultry and majestic? Lilac and lavender are “fine,” but a rich royal purple…mmmm, now you’ve got me. My passion well known, I have been gifted with many purple items over the years: most memorably, a purple wand when I became an HR Manager. That symbol of magic disappeared mysteriously from my office at some point, never to be seen again. And of course, the purple crystal shell my team presented me with when, several years later, I left to pursue a new opportunity. I keep it, and many fond memories of that time, close to my heart.

Inspired by my purple manicure, I decided to build an outfit around my favorite color and immediately grabbed my eggplant purple, leather Milly jacket. The lining is to- die- for and sports just a touch of whimsical pattern.

Here’s how it came together:

As for the white jeans – perfect in every season. Here’s another view:

And without the jacket, the cashmere chartreuse Rochas sweater adds a pop of color that really rocks:

Styling Tips

  1. Identify a starting point. It could be a color, a cool pair of booties, or an accessory. In this case, the manicure.
  2. Establish your foundation. Today it was the white jeans, the black tank and the black suede booties.
  3. Get creative. I didn’t want a matchy-matchy monochromatic look. I was going for the classic black and white contrast, accentuated by the touches of purple: the manicure, a vintage ring, and a cool scarf, and yes, that jacket.

Next time, I may just go for that monochromatic vibe by wearing a short black dress, black tights, black booties and the purple jacket…

Pumpkin Posh

This glitzy pumpkin is sitting pretty in my drawing room.
So very pretty that I just had to look at it against a contrasting carpet.
This lit-from-within beauty adds drama to my kitchen.

This season, every season for that matter, indulge your fanciful side. Don’t ask “Is it too much?” If it makes your heart sing – that’s all the confirmation you need. Every time you listen and allow, you live just a tiny bit more authentically.

Arrivals, Departures, and the In-Between

Chester

I am a huge animal lover and cannot imagine life without the companionship and comfort of dogs, the precocity of birds, and the sure-footedness of turtles.

This summer, this great-looking guy (girl?) showed up in my natural area. A brief glimpse of him from my veranda, and I was downstairs in a heartbeat to make his acquaintance. Seeming  rather disinterested, he remained more or less stationary for a brief photo shoot. I named him “Chester” and invited him to stay. We carried him over to a pile of rocks, added a pan of water and, much as a motivated realtor would, encouraged him to survey the habitat in the hopes that he would find it appealing. Apparently, he did not. Or maybe he simply had other plans? 

Slate
Just like that!

Just a few days ago, I opened my front door to see this gray beauty hanging out. He meowed in an animated, feline version of ringing the doorbell.  I named him “Slate.” Over the next 48 hours, this persistent, talkative fellow took up residence on my porch, on my lawn and in my bushes. He peered into every accessible door and window, impatiently awaiting an invite. While my love for him was immediate, I knew we could not keep him.  I posted on our neighborhood site, to no avail.  My awesome-beyond-words neighbor brought over cat food (the good stuff, no less). I gave him milk and water and then settled in to see what was next. Unlike Chester, Slate needed no sales pitch to find my digs to his liking. He then disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Perhaps he realized that he’d never be invited over the threshold?

How is it that our hearts take that unconditional leap of faith with animals anyway? These “arrivals” were blissful. And while their tenure was short, my “heart leap” was deep.

It makes me wonder if these two experiences prepared me for yet another arrival and departure.

 It’s early morning. I open the screen door to check on my herbs, water my late summer plantings.  I immediately hear a thrashing in the early fall leaves. Looking to my right, I see it – a house finch with what appears to be a broken neck. I slowly approach as my mind races – what can I do, is there someone I can call?  I watch as he takes his last breath and then lies with the unmistakable stillness of death. I pause with the bone-deep awareness that there is nothing I can do. “It is done.” I didn’t know how he was injured, and for a moment, felt guilty that by my startling him, had hastened his inevitable demise.

And that’s when it hit me. That bird ate from my feeder, drank from my bird bath and likely had a nest tucked ever-so-carefully on my house. I had provided the invite, the welcome, my form of love. I had “done right” by this little bird.

Collecting myself in the chill of our first fall-like day, I picked up my trowel, a makeshift gurney. I looked at the still life that was this bird and placed him on the ground. I walked over to an old, worn cross I had picked up at an estate sale this summer, dug a small hole beside it, and placed the little bird there. Then I thanked him for bringing his own special life to this place I call “my” home and wished him everlasting peace.   

Birth followed inevitably by death. Arrivals eventually followed by departures. While these are happy and sad bookends, all that matters is what lies between them.  All that matters is what we do in the in-between.

October: A Glorious Flirtation

Eternally Fall Wreath by way of Litchfield County, CT

While my front door says everything about my exuberance for the season, my seasonal picks are all about how I choose to express my October style.

“The joy of dressing is an art.” —John Galliano

The “shoulder seasons,” spring and fall, beg for experimentation. Neither decisively hot nor cold, the absence of absolutes invites creativity and the experience of living in “the -in – between.” In that way, they are accurate reflections of our personal change journeys. We may welcome the freedom that comes with that transitional space, or get, well, “freaked out” about it.

These beautiful shades of amber, melon, and rust, complemented by my awesome Marc Jacobs booties will be perfect for a mid-October day.

I can “change things up” by pairing my $10 (Yes, ten dollars via a Winston-Salem consignment shop) Sanctuary windowpane slacks with my Pedro Garcia spikes and an outrageous necklace – all consignment shop finds. Full disclosure: This footwear works well for crossing one’s legs at dinner. Thereafter, I’ll be switching into my black Marc Jacobs booties.

Clearly, the aforementioned booties are a staple in this month’s whimsical roundup. Kind of crazy how the leather lining echoes the scarf’s explosive beauty. And the embossed bag? While it is “on trend” for 2019, it is a perfect expression of my style. If you look closely, you can see the vein of grayed-off blue that makes this piece strikingly-unique.

I love mixing patterns – as evidenced by the backdrop of my home! This Nanette Lepore jacket paired with straight – legged gray jeans will look fabulous with my Eileen Fisher scarf, Anthro booties (swooning over the tiny polka dots), consignment shop brass earrings, and my vintage Whiting and Davis snake bracelet. Isn’t it cool how the floral design of the earrings echoes the pattern of the brocade?

Style Sense from your Style Coach:

  • Follow your heart. Take your inspiration from the changing natural beauty that surrounds you. Don’t be afraid of a color, cut, or pattern you haven’t tried before. You can dabble, even if you don’t commit!
  • Experiment. Still ambivalent? Send a pic to your trusted sister or your style-savvy BFF and ask them to weigh in. But ultimately? Trust your gut, not theirs.
  • Embrace October style for what it is. Allow yourself a glorious flirtation with fall, an invitation to be in the in-between. And on that note, keep your perspective:

Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”

–   Elizabeth Lawrence

What’s Your “Peach Scarf” Trying to Tell You?

And why not?

Some years ago, a former co-worker recounted a conversation she had with her therapist. It went something like this:

“So I am in this store and I find myself distracted by this beautiful peach scarf. It was unnerving.”

“What made it unnerving?”

“A peach scarf? I mean a bright, silky, kind-of-out-there peach scarf? I couldn’t.”

You said “distracted.” Do you mean that it challenged you in some way?”

“I don’t know. It’s just not me. I am a lot more buttoned up, a serious person.”

“With no room for a peach scarf moment?”

I don’t know how my co-worker resolved her peach scarf dilemma. I only know that the thought of it stayed with her. Her attraction was a distraction, something that didn’t fit with how she thought of herself and how she had constructed herself in the world.

We all have peach scarf distractions that mess with that finite construct of who we think we are. They come in many forms: people who “aren’t our type,” foods we can’t even pronounce, animals who catch our attention, and oh-so-many objects and things that speak to us.

If you consider your peach scarf a distraction, I suggest you rethink and reframe that. However your peach scarf shows up in your life, see it for what it is: an attraction that is trying to get your attention. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it. What seeks our attention is often a specific call to our next growth spurt. Growth isn’t always vertical, on a straight path of sameness. It is “branchy,” like a tree or a wildflower. It reaches out and stretches us…if we let it. My peach scarves (oh yes, plural!) have formed the surprising and necessary bridge between my “serious and sure-footed self,” and my “creative, expressive, and whimsical self.” I never know where the next “peach scarf” will show up…or take me.

So, what does any of this have to do with style? The shorthand response is to say that it is about taking a risk. Well, maybe. I would like to reframe that, too: every time we open ourselves to a new experience, by way of a person, a place, an experience, or a thing such as a bright, silky, kind-of-out-there peach scarf, we summon the courage to evolve by way of experiencing ourselves a little bit differently.

Here’s to the peach scarf!

Life’s Visual Feast

Sunday Morning Book Club Brunch: Fruit festooned with backyard mint in a consignment shop bowl.

Turn your eye to the physical world and the beauty will find you. Let it. Embrace it. Wild flowers picked on an early morning walk – the essence of serendipity. Bring them into your home and thereby, into your heart. Allow for the unexpected, because when you do, you open yourself to the wonder that is both around and within you.

People often ask: “How did you put that outfit together?” Sometimes, the answer is as simple as “I looked around.” That sounds a little crazy, but it means that while I know my style and have my wardrobe “together,” I don’t express myself “formulaically.” I allow myself to be receptive, curious, and inspired.

When I found this small ode to fall at the supermarket, I placed it in a pot I already owned and took in the colors.

Then I donned a gifted ring (Thanks, BFF!) and this cool African bracelet. Style does indeed come from within and takes its cues from the natural harmonies and cacophonies that surround us.

I discovered this cute little guy in my yard one late spring morning and attempted to cajole him into staying. He had other plans, but his beauty lives on in my heart and in my style inspiration. Did someone say animal print? Count me in!

How to Work a Consignment Shop Like a Pro

“Connecticut Meets North Carolina” Temperley London Leather Jacket: Fairfield County, CT; Plenty by Tracy Reese Fall Floral Frock: Winston-Salem, NC

I adore purple, even more so when it shows up in this jammy eggplant shade. The right occasion hasn’t yet presented itself, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about wearing this luscious fall combination with my vintage Prada’s. This beautiful pair was purchased at least a decade ago.

So, how does one score such beautiful finds as these? The fact is that shopping, whether at the mall, a boutique, online, or at a local estate sale (yes, that too is shopping) can feel like a free fall when you don’t have a plan. You’re easily stressed and  overwhelmed, walking around with that glazed-over look in your eyes. Sooner rather than later, you give up, perhaps after making a few questionable purchases.

Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. To be a successful consignment shopper, you need a plan. Here are a few key elements of my consignment shopping plan:

  1. Be in control by having your “list.” I know, “What list? You didn’t say anything about a list.” Your “list” is a rundown of the specific items you are hoping to find that will fill in a gap or round out a look. This season, for example, I am looking for kitten heeled mules that can carry me through that awkward transition period between sandals and booties. So, kitten heels in black, or a multi-color pattern, are on my list. I also need a few long sweaters to wear over patterned leggings for everyday wear. As I wear these sweaters so often, I need to fill in with a few new ones. You get the idea. Arrive armed with your list. With some luck, you’ll be able to check something off of it as you walk out the door! I keep my list on a cute, itty-bitty notepad my sister gave me as a gift. It lives in my handbag. Your list may be in your phone (a great place for one) or somewhere else. While you may be able to keep a list in your head, I am a little skeptical that it would be as reliable.
  2. Know what your budget will bear.  Have a good sense of how much you are willing and able to spend on this trip. Shopping consignment doesn’t give you the license to lose your common sense just because the price is right. If you also consign items at this store, make a beeline to the counter and ask how much money you have on your account. With this information in hand, you may choose to expand your budget for this trip, or pull in the reins more tightly.
  3. Master the lay of the land. While eachs unique, consignment stores tend to have similar features. For example, a rack of newly-arrived items may be in the front of the store to grab your attention. Another rack of greatly reduced items may be toward the back of the store. A sign displaying the color-coded tags and how much items are discounted is likely to be prominently- displayed. Otherwise, you will usually find a “like with like” strategy – women’s tops by size, women’s athletic wear by size, and so on. Depending on the size of the store and the breadth of its merchandise, you may also find home furnishings, men’s wear, and other categories. The point is to make a mental roadmap so that you work it and it doesn’t work you. And on that note…
  4. Work it! So, remember that list? It’s usually a good idea to start there. If I were looking for those mules, I’d head straight to the designer shoe area. If I don’t find what I am looking for there, I go to the moderately-priced shoe area. After that, I am on to the sweater rack. You get the idea. After you have worked your list, you can decide how you want to work the rest of the store. For me, I head to the greatly-reduced rack, then to the newly-arrived items. If I have the time and the inclination, I usually cover home furnishings last.
  5. Allow for some serendipity. There is a lot of eye candy to take in. Sometimes it makes sense to simply follow your eye and see where it will lead.

And one last thing that lives outside of every list:

Treat the salespeople as valued partners in your experience…even if they seem disinterested, or are having what looks like “a bad day.” Everyone deserves your respect and kindness. Having owned and operated a vintage-inspired boutique for eleven years, and an inn for thirteen years, I know how it feels to be treated like “the help.” Please don’t do that to anyone; it is beneath you.

My Mother’s Wisdom

“Joyful”: deanrolandjohnson.com

Caroline was one wise woman. Her gentle, intentional, and joyful way of going through life meant that she was sometimes misunderstood or diminished. And yet, she was keenly-attuned to the human spirit. She didn’t need an online emotional intelligence course, a personality test, or a knowledge of neuroscience to inform and shape how she related with others. People responded to her warmth, her unconditional kindness, and her genuine curiosity about them. They relaxed and their protective masks and world-weary personas softened. Caroline had a way of making everyone feel unique, special, and worthy of the space they took up.

 Worthy.

 I am humbled by what she knew and practiced, often in the face of circumstances and people who made doing so a challenge. Well, let me revisit that: a challenge for the likes of me maybe, but not for our Caroline. I can’t count how many times she would look me in the eye and say:

“You’ll see, Jeannie. Getting older is beautiful…you get the wisdom.”

And here’s the thing: she never uttered those words in that preachy, “I know better” way. She spoke them like someone unexpectantly privy to an inside tip. But more importantly, she spoke them to give me the strength to trust in tomorrow, and to respect the inscrutable mystery that is the process of living and maturing.

Eventually, when I got over myself well enough to see with greater clarity, I came to understand that “the wisdom” was nothing shy of a proper noun:

The Wisdom.

For me, it is a gift worthy of reverence.  As my process of living and maturing ensues, I am exceedingly aware of four specific things I learned from my mother’s mature and ripened wisdom:

  • The “situation” doesn’t define you. You can always choose how you will be.
  • People will always matter more than anything else.
  • You can learn something from every person you meet – and it isn’t necessarily good.
  • Listen to your intuition. Trust that which knows better than you do.

My mother and I shared a love of birds, flowers, and surprisingly, words. In some ways, our loving relationship was hard-won. We were more like oil and water than a perfect blend. We both understood this and did the work of understanding, healing, and moving forward together in love. I am so very grateful for my mother, my first teacher, my most profound example of what it means to live with a heart wide open.  She would have loved this photo.

Can you, can I live with the courage and vulnerability of a heart wide open?

Five Keys to a Successful “Consignment Relationship”

Summer to Fall Transitional Look: Johnny Was Blouse: Consignment, Winston-Salem, NC. Cropped and frayed Jeans: Boutique Sale, Winston-Salem, NC. Vintage Cuff Bracelet and Anthropologie Sandals

If you are over the age of 18, you are well-schooled in the wisdom of understanding that falling in love and making the decision to be in a relationship are two very different things. The same applies to shopping, in general, and consignment shopping in particular because things have “more of a past,” shall we say? Remember that I am a die-hard consignment shopper; for me, it’s a committed relationship. But as with most relationships, I’ve had a lot to learn.

  1. Separate the dazzle from the substance. It’s hard, right? Looking that good, how can you say no? We all know that what’s dazzling on the outside may be an unravelling mess on the inside. Take a close look at that eye candy before you jump in. Is it “quality” based on your personal standards? Is it in good condition on the inside as well as on the outside?
  2. Invest only as much as the relationship “is worth.” This is always a tough one. In the end, if that new love is going home arm-in-arm with you, you need to feel that it’s worth the investment. I have had a few flings, loves I knew would only last a season or two, but I invested with that forethought. On the other hand, if this one looks like a real keeper based on its uniqueness, its quality, and preferably both, it makes sense to make a bigger investment. 
  3. Accept the things you cannot change…or move on. If you’ve ever fallen into the trap of thinking that once you get your hands on your new love, you’ll whip them into shape, you know just how foolhardy that thinking is. It doesn’t work that way, not often at least. That said, if your love has substance and is worth the investment, a good tailor or seamstress may be able to make those few adjustments that will make your “relationship” work.
  4. Ask “Does this work for me?”  Check in with yourself. Just because something is pretty, has substance, and seems to be worth the price doesn’t mean that you should take it home with you. In another post I’ll talk about the “Super 5,” the criteria I use to create and sustain a great wardrobe. For now, think in terms of the look you want to express, what you already own, and any wardrobe gaps you need to fill. The important thing is to pause before you commit.
  5. Be willing to take a few risks. Alas…because things are rarely black and white in life, love, and relationships, I encourage you to also do the opposite. There are times when my gut knows things that haven’t yet made their way to my brain. That is likely true of you, as well. So if your heart, informed by your gut, screams “Yes,” trust it. Give it a moment and heed its call. Sometimes, that “risk” turns out to be just the right thing that moves you forward.
Fall change-up with Nanette Lepore fitted jacket: Consignment, Westport, CT. Black Suede Kate Spade Booties: Online ebay.