Category Archives: Style

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


The less said about my late, unlamented father, the better.  However, he did give me several things that are really worth having:  access to good school districts, a critical eye for fine detail, and a powerful interest in design, one that borders on the obsessive.  The first was probably an unintentional artifact of his desire to live in affluent homogenized communities.  The second is an artifact of living under the glare of his hyper-critical microscope.  The third is an immersion experience.

He was an architect, and a very good one.  Prize-winning.  Exported to Saudi Arabia to design palaces for princes.  That sort of architect.  His focus was on residential architecture, and thanks to this, a typical childhood Family Outing involved a trip to a building site, where we learned how to envision the building that would soon be there.  Or a trip to a set of model homes, where we were invited to provide our thoughts on what we found there (see: glare of hyper-critical microscope, above).

To this day, it’s impossible for me to enter a space without immediately formulating a set of opinions about the quality of the design in the space and its contents.  Typically, these are strong opinions.  Reason being: there is a lot of truly awful design in the world.  And this isn’t just my opinion.  Check it out.  If you want to, get the book.  I highly recommend it.  It’s an entertaining read – vastly informative, if you have an interest in design – and it will explain exactly why you spend so much of your life cursing one machine or device after another, and feeling like an idiot.

It’s not you.  Really, it’s not.  It’s bad design.  It’s amazing what a difference bad design can make.  Consider the door that has to have a bloody huge sign on it saying “PUSH”. Why should we need instructions to operate a door? It’s not because we’re dumb.  It’s because the design of the door doesn’t map properly to human psychology, causing people to mistakenly believe that it should be pulled instead of pushed.  You wonder why?  The wretched thing has something on the inside of it that looks like a handle, and handles get pulled.  Big flat panels get pushed, because there isn’t anything to grab.  So some brilliant designer gets an artistic award for designing a door that is so confusing because of bad psychological mapping that it has to include directions for use.  A door.  Instructions on how to use a door.

Then we get something like Microsoft, a disaster of design if there ever was one.  Twenty years ago they gave us Windows.  A user interface that was so easy anyone could sit down at a computer and figure out the basics with an hour’s worth of work, after which time, they were Off And Running.  This is good design in action – interfaces that map so well to the individual’s psychological and societal contexts that they render separate instruction largely unnecessary.  This is how it should be done.

And yet, in the strong tradition of never letting something that works go without trying to break it, we get a comprehensive overhaul of the user interface.  Let’s be clear: Windows 7 doesn’t give us anything we didn’t already have.  The stuff you want to do with your operating system?  You can’t do anything now that you couldn’t do three years ago.

Only now?  It’s harder.  Because they took the only really good thing about their system, and they deliberately broke it.  And they broke it in such a way that it’s caused millions of people to lose valuable work time relearning how to do something they already knew.  This, to me, is a catastrophic productivity waste.  I think the government ought to sue Microsoft for damage to the economy, just on the basis of lost productivity from this.  Because not only did they force massive outlays on new, otherwise useless software upgrades, they have taken what was an intensely well-designed user interface…and replaced it with something artistic.  And, not coincidentally, significantly less well designed than what we had before.  I have to stop talking about this now.  The UI redesign of Windows makes my blood boil.  I could go on for days.

My late, unlamented father had Scathing Words for this kind of thing.  He would sneer at it, and say it was Italian.  “Italian” was his catch-phrase for things that were over-designed to emphasize the Artistic Talents of the designer rather than to improve functionality or usability.  I didn’t understand what he meant by this until I visited the MoMA Design Store, which is, in fact, full of Italian design.  From Italy, no less.

As an example of what he meant by this scornful remark, I found this:

This thing is supposed to be a chair. How comfortable are those ball-shaped armrests, I ask you. How long could the average butt or back rest on this Artistic Statement before erupting into the kind of pain that means lots of expensive chiropractic treatments are on the way, I ask you. Would you even know this was a chair, if you saw it in an office somewhere? Bad, bad, bad design.

I was reminded, forcefully, of this a couple of years ago when we stayed at a hotel in Manhattan near the Garment District.  The hotel screamed EuroTrash from the outside.  The furnishings in the lobby – sofas that were upholstered versions of this chair – did not reduce that impression.  And the hotel room?


No direct lighting – nothing but mood lighting.  A desk that was 12″ deep, with no lamp, no power outlets for chargers, laptops, etc.  Very sleek, I’ll grant you.  But as a desk?  Completely worthless.  The bed had mood lighting – just the thing if you want to pretend you’re in a porn flick, but absolutely useless if what you want to do is read in bed before you go to sleep.  The only chair in the entire room was a massive massage chair.  The kind I associate with pedicures.  As a thing to tell all your friends you had in a hotel room? Awesome. As a spot to sit while working on a computer?  Go directly to massage therapy, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.  The bathroom was even worse.  The toilet was positioned under a shelf – which is great – except that the shelf didn’t provide enough clearance for the toilet lid.  That’s right.  The lid would, at no time, go up and stay up on its own, because it bumped into the shelf.  Men would have to hold the thing up the entire time they were taking care of Standing Business.  If you needed to sit on the thing, you did so leaning forward with the toilet lid pressing on your back.

The design was simultaneously  pretentious, overbearing, and hopelessly bad.  I hated that room, just because the design was so awful.

Thanks, Dad.  No, I mean it.  If it hadn’t been for you, I would just have known I hated the room but not known why.  Thanks to you, I know I hated it because of the design.

One thing I did not agree with Dear Old Dad on was the subject of Taste.  He was a Modernist.  A Bauhaus kind of guy.  We had Barcelona chairs in the house when I was a kid.  And later, we had the kind of furniture that always made me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He liked clean lines, sharp angles, and highly reflective surfaces.

My taste is wholly different.  At age 6 I was drawing houses and furnishing them (when I wasn’t drawing horses).  The houses were spiked with towers, spires, and dormers.  Occasionally, with falkwerk, that German-style half-timbering.  The furniture was Chippendale and Queen Anne, and Oriental carpets.  I like moderately ornate lines, curves, and bright color and rich textures.  That apple fell pretty far from the tree.  My current residence is pretty far removed from the houses I grew up in – it’s 115 years old, an antique mill-worker row house.  It has minimal gingerbread, but it’s still there.  It has bullseye moldings.  It has lots of wooden floors and throw rugs.  It’s decorated entirely in primary colors, mostly red and blue.  It’s furnished from Pier 1: the combination of wicker furniture and Victorian architecture is irresistible.

I’d say the only point of convergence is our taste in Mission-style anything.  For him, it was a departure, and the salt in the stew.  For me, it’s the ballast in the ship, the thing that tones everything else down.  We disagreed on every other artifact of taste except for Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School.

My taste, I’ve been told, is “good”.  Not cutting edge, not hip, not advanced.  Solid. Comfortable. Inviting. That’s what people usually say, if they say anything on the subject.  It’s true.  Most of my clothes are Eileen Fisher and LL Bean.  Not the new Eileen Fisher, after she went off the deep end in an attempt to cultivate hipster 20-somethings.  But theold Eileen Fisher, when she was mostly concerned with designing comfortable clothes that would flatter anyone who wore them.  And LL Bean – it’s as clean, functional, and well-designed (assuming “functional” is a primary value) as anything you’ll find.

And yet, I have my Moments.  In my earlier years, these took the form of a penchant for Animal Prints.  I wasn’t particular: giraffe, zebra, leopard, tiger, cheetah…you name it.  If it was covered in animal print, I wanted it.  Especially if it involved footwear.  The combination of animal prints and shoes is simply irresistible to me.  Fortunately, at this point, I have pretty much completely covered my Shoe Needs.

And so, my more outlandish tastes have had to find a different outlet.  And, I am happy to say, they have found full expression in my Ski Gear.  Not my attire – that stuff is all entirely functional, and not at all outlandish.  It’s pedestrian, if anything.  The only exception is the hat I wear when I’m not wearing my helmet.  It’s bright red, over 3 feet long, pointed, and has a ridge of white triangles going down the middle that look like dragon spikes.  As the guy in the waxing shop said “it’s intimidating, yet fun.”  But beyond that, the ski things that go on my body are completely conventional.

No. Where my outre side is finding its full expression is in the skis.

I bought my first pair of skis last year.  I belong to an online women’s ski group, the Ski Divas. The Ski Divas are most emphatic on the subject of the need to Try Before You Buy. And quite right they are, too.  It’s astonishing what a difference there is in skis, even skis of the same general type and size.  I looked at my local ski shop, first, but they don’t do demos.  That’s the provenance of the ski shop out at the hill.  My time in the local shop, however, did not prevent me from falling in love with a particular ski.  It was Love At First Sight.  I didn’t know what this ski was for, I didn’t know who this ski was for, I didn’t know anything about it at all, other than that I wanted to wear it because it looked that cool.

No, this is not a reason to buy a ski.  Still isn’t.  Skis must be first about performance and fit.  They must even also be second, maybe even third about performance and fit.

The Ski Divas said so, and they were right.  I left my Puppy Love behind in the shop – and couldn’t even remember what the ski was, I was that uninformed at the point.  But I didn’t forget it.

When I demoed skis, I tried four or five pairs.  Some of them were hard partiers, the kind of friend that will keep you out on a work night until 3am and leave you off at home, drunk as a sailor, to deal with the hangover the next morning. Not my kind of friend.  Some were stay-at-home moms, the kind that are steady and stable and absolutely the person you want to have around if things are not going well or you need chicken soup, but not the kind that are going to deliver excitement.  My kind of friend, but not what I was looking for in a ski.  The final round of demos featured a Volkl Tierra.

This is it (in bad resolution, since it’s last years’ model it was hard to find a good picture):

The general impression of this ski is one of Brownishness.  And Creamishness.  Earth-Toniness.  Not, in short, something that leapt off the wall and presented itself to my eye as offering an exciting look.

This is when I realized that to me, “ski” falls into the same mental category as “shoe”.  I do not wear bland, uninteresting shoes.  I have one pair that gets trotted out when I have to make presentations to some group where I need to come across as not having much of a personality (see: Accounting Professor).  Otherwise, I don’t get boring shoes.  And the look of this ski?  Distinctly…boring.

And I had a sinking feeling about this, all the way up on the lift.  I had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be My Ski, even though it had the World’s Dullest Graphics.  By the time I skied off the lift, I’d managed to talk myself into thinking of it as Classy and Understated, rather than Dull.  And it’s a good thing, too, because it did, in fact, turn out to be the Perfect Ski for me.  That is, in those conditions, at that level of ability.  And I bought it.  And I still have it, and – when I am skiing on hard snow that is really some form of ice – I don’t want ANY other ski in the world. None could possibly perform better for me on that surface.  And I still make myself think of them as being Classy and Understated – this is helped considerably by the knowledge that this is in reality an extremely aggressive, wickedly fast ski, it is anything but dull, boring, and stodgy.  Appearances Can Be Deceiving.

I skied it like crazy all last winter, because last winter, we were skiing on snow that came out of the sky – which, in New England, means “wet” and “icy”.  I loved that ski, despite its graphics, all year…until I met Spring Skiing (aka: Slush).  It let me down, then.  Said it wasn’t the Right Tool For The Job.

My obsession with design translates to a fascination with purpose-built objects.  The notion of the Right Tool For The Job holds a lot of weight with me.  Assuming we have rational designers, that is.  None of this Italian stuff.  And so, when I found my Tierras sinking me up to the ankles in soft spring snow, I realized I needed something that would float, rather than sink. A nice big fat ski, the better to surf on the slush.  And what is soft and easy to get mired down in like slush?  Powder.  Yes.  I decided I wanted a Powder Ski.

The problem is that Powder Skis are not an item in High Demand in New England (see above: icy snow).  They are in some demand, because the Discriminating Skier wants to ride their own gear when they go out west.  It’s hard to go back to crummy rental equipment when you’re used to performance gear.  So you can buy them here…but you cannot usually demo them.  Or, at least, not last year you couldn’t.

I nerved myself up to buy a pair of skis without trying them first.  I did some research to find out what it is that I wanted from a powder ski, and went off to my local ski shop.  And discovered – happily – that my Puppy Love Skis were not just powder skis, but powder skis with the characteristics I was looking for. So I bought them, and assumed All Would Work Out.

I’ll say it worked out.  They were superb in the slush, and they’ve been performing for me all winter under the snow guns on the groomers (and everything else, up to but not including the icy black diamond from last week, where they cost me 2 years off my life).  And, as I anticipated, they are Cooler Than A Bees Knees.  They have the outre style that I long for from a pair of skis.  Here they are, the Rossignol S7Ws, aka My Goth Girls.

I realize that tentacles and tattoos are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they appear to be my cup of tea.  These skis are so fine, in my opinion, that it makes me want to get some of it tattooed on my own back.  And the beauty of it is that these skis rock the mountain.  They’re not just awesome to regard – and the bases are just as awesome, for anyone who sees me ride overhead on the lift – their performance is awesome. Ski Magazine gave them a Gold Medal Gear award.   On our recent powder day, I was afraid I’d get mugged in the trees, there was so much Ski Envy floating around over these girls.  The waxers love them, too.  There’s one guy who fights to wax them when I bring them in – the others roast him that his “girlfriend” is here when I bring them into the shop.  No, they’re not talking about me.

Eventually, being the purpose-built design freak that I am, I realized that I had icy conditions covered, and I had soft conditions covered, but I didn’t have something that would deal effectively with the In Between.  Those days when the top of the mountain is hard and icy, and the bottom is covered with fluffy soft stuff.  I also wanted something that would be a little easier to carve than my Goth Girls (and yes, I know they’re 110 under foot, but they do carve…it just takes some extra effort).

And so, I was back to the ski shop.  This time, do Try Before I Buy.  And Saturday was Free Demo Day for season passholders (yay!).  And I’d already had a couple of pow-wows with the ski dudes that had narrowed the field, considerably…to men’s skis.  Interesting.  But I wanted twin-tips, I wanted rocker, I wanted camber, I wanted something agile, and I have the power to handle a big beefy ski.  Women’s ski technology is lagging men’s by a couple of years, so men’s it was going to be.  After all, I thought, worst case is that I have to pick between my Rockin Awesome Powder Girls and My Hard And Sharp Ice Skis.  No loss, here.

I was overjoyed to find the ski that filled that hole, with bonus points.  And even more overjoyed to find that my new ski was going to look like this:

Oooh.  They are Ninja Skis.  Curly golden dragons.  Fake Chinese Characters.  You can’t even see it from this picture, but there are actual metallic medallions on the tips and tails (you can take them off and put a precut skin on if you want to hit the backcountry).  They’re bas-relief dragons.

I know that ersatz Chinese art, and the whole Ninja effect, is not everyone’s cup of tea.  But it seems to be my cup of tea.  Not only do these sticks complete my need for any kind of surface I’d be interested in skiing on, but they ensure my spot at the top of the Hierarchy of Cool on the hill.  Granted, that hierarchy is comprised mainly of teenaged snowboarders and 20-something guys.  But I’ll take it.  And I will definitely take the performance…because, of course, that is most important.

Rockin’ Down The Highway


For the last ten years I’ve been in my own Personal Automotive Heaven.  I have a car that gives me joy to drive every time I slip into the driver’s seat.  Every time I find myself inspecting someone else’s car on the freeway and thinking “Dang! That’s a good looking set of wheels!” it turns out to be someone driving the same model I already own.  For ten years, I’ve had to sink money into routine maintenance, a new set of tires, a set of new brakes, and various and sundry inspections, fees, taxes, licenses, and tolls.  That’s it.  And for a ten year old car, that’s pretty darn good.

Contrast this with every other car I ever owned.  My first car, a used Pontiac T-1000.  Otherwise known as TFPOS (this term includes not one but two profanities – sort it out yourself).  It had…Issues.  1983 wasn’t a good year for Pontiac, that much was clear.  And my car was obviously manufactured on a Monday morning.  Quite probably the first one off the line.  Or worse, it was the one that was halfway done on Friday afternoon when the whistle blew, and it was used by a hangover-addled guy who was spending his last week before retirement training the new recruits.

This car is the Poster Child for Why Detroit Is Where It Is.

It had problems with the vacuum exhaust under the hood.  It had electrical issues.  It had a problem no one was ever able to figure out, where if the temperature was below 50, and I ran the car up to freeway speeds, it would stay there for a very short period and then begin inexorably slowing down until it was going 30 mph, a pace it could maintain.  The alternative was to pull it off to the side of the road (did I mention “freeway speeds”? yes, that means “pull it off to the side of the freeway“) and sit there with it until it felt like running again, and hope that I got to whereever it is I was going before it needed to slow down again and take a break.  I owned this car for 3 years, maybe 4.  Or maybe it was closer to 2.  It felt like fifty years.  Because during my period of ownership, we (I mean, me and my Haynes manual, plus any of my guy friends I could convince to help me out) replaced eight (8) started solenoids, three (3) alternators, one (1) oil pump, assorted brakes, several air filters, rebuilt the carb, dismantled the engine to have the heads resurfaced (learning, in the process that you really need to carefully label each of the valve rockers BEFORE you take them off, and PUT THEM BACK IN EXACTLY THE SAME SPOT. The car actually needed a new fuel filter, but I didn’t replace it because some previous owner dealt with the existence of a leak in the fuel line by epoxying the filter onto the line.  Thus ensuring that no one would be able to replace it when it died.

The starter solenoids, by the way, were not easily accessible from the top of the engine.  Or from the bottom, for that matter.  There was the tiniest possible gap in all the crap that was bolted onto the engine that provided the tiniest possible access hole through which the old solenoid could be brought up and the new one sent down.  Unfortunately, the hole did not provide easy access for the screwdriver that was needed to get the bloody thing off or the new (bloody) thing on.  Men in three states (and one woman in New England) have scars on their knuckles from replacing the solenoids in TFPOS (you can see where the name, and the cursing, comes from).  I should point out that because of the unbelievable hassle and blood-letting and first-aid that were inevitably involved in changing the solenoids, it’s not like I changed them as soon as they started to die.  No.  I learned, pretty quickly, that I could often get the solenoid to kick in enough to fire the ignition if I pounded on it.  And, because it was buried in the bowels of the engine, this required custom tools.  For me, it was a heavy super-long-handled screwdriver (courtesy of Walmart), and it lived in my glove compartment.  And we had a little ritual for most of those years, me and TFPOS.  I’d get behind the wheel with a hopeful heart full of the Power of Positive Thinking.  And I’d turn the key.  If live was Good that day, the engine would start, and I’d close the door and drive off (or mostly drive off).  On a Normal Day, the key would turn and I’d hear a “click”. I’d curse the car, open the glove compartment, extract my screwdriver (which was usually on top of everything else), pop the hood, go to the front of the car, open the hood, curse the car again, prop it open, stick the screwdriver down in the hole (you’ve got to add the flashlight if this happened at night – as it often did as I was working my way through school at the time and usually didn’t leave the college until 9:30pm), whang the screwdriver around firmly, curse the car, leave the hood open (because this often had to be done a few times), slide behind the wheel, curse the car once more for luck, and turn the key.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  I think I even still have that screwdriver.

That car taught me everything I need to know about working on a car, because absolutely every one of its systems failed while it was mine, and I certainly didn’t have money to pay someone else to fix it.  If I had, I wouldn’t have been driving the thing in the first place.  I learned how to diagnose 30 common problems and another 15 or 20 not-common problems, and what to do about them.  I learned all about the Internal Combustion Engine and how it works (and, often, how it does not work).

Let’s put it this way.  No mechanic mistakes me for Susie Bimbo twice.  No mechanic sells me stuff I don’t need, not even once.

The Final Straw was the water pump.  “Enough” I said.  And I wondered, not for the first time, if I could have the car hauled off to one of those junkyards where they drop a huge cartoon weight from the top of a crane and turn the car into a little biscuit of metal.

And I wondered if they’d let me tag along and press the button myself. I wondered about paying for that privilege.  I’ve never hated anything like I hated that car.  When the second alternator died, I grew so wroth I kicked the crap out of it and turned it from a T-1000 into a T-100.  TFPOS.

My next car, the Maximonster, was an awesome set of wheels.  It was an even-older (1981) Datsun Maxima.  Yes.  From the era before Nissan existed.  It was a luxoboat.  It had power everything.  Power windows, power steering, power breaks, power seats, and a sunroof.  And it talked.  In words.  I leave the lights on?  No dinga-ding-ding for me.  No, my car said “Rights Ah On.  Rights Ah On.”  because while it spoke and spoke in English, it did so with a Japanese accent.  “Reft Dooah Is Open. Reft Dooah Is Open.”  “Trunk Is Ajah. Trunk Is Ajah.”

That car had 215,000 miles on it, and it rolled off the production lines right about the time Japan was getting a reputation for turning out very reliable vehicles.  The engine had been rebuilt by the kind of person who knows what they are doing (as opposed to the kind of person who solves leaks with epoxy). Iloved that car.

I halfway believe that I’d still be driving it today, if some flaming moron hadn’t run a stopsign and t-boned the car in the lane next to me, pushing that one into mine, all at 45mph.  I felt the thud, realized I was now in a different lane, and the car is telling me “Right Dooah Is Open.”  I pulled over, realized the was glass all over the inside of the car, got out, saw that the entire right side was caved in, and knew that my car was Dead.  And I sat down on the curb and cried as hard as I cried when my first dog died.

My next car was a Mazda 626 with a persistent oil leak and something else wrong – I don’t remember what, because I only had that car for about 6 months before I went off to grad school and changed it for an all-terrain bike.  That car taught me that black cars show dirt faster than white carpet.  I sold it to someone with full disclosure of whatever the weird problem was.  I didn’t have it long enough to hate it.

For my next car, I inherited my ex-husband’s pickup truck.  It was an Isuzu light truck that had been rear-ended by a drunk whose insurance had expired 20 minutes before the wreck, so for most of the time we had it, the tailgate was inoperable.  Its previous owners had attempted to convert it to some type of low-rider but cutting the suspension down.  Way down.  The AC didn’t work (a serious liability, in Texas) but it had an after-market radio, and it started reliably.  Or, started reliably right until it died when I got rid of it.  It was hideous and uncomfortable – everything a graduate student’s car should be.  I left it in Texas when I moved north after graduation and started making enough money to think of having a decent car.  Possibly even a new car.  For the first time in my life…

And from there, I wound up in the wheels I drive today.  Best looking car on the road.  Handles like a dream.  Starts reliably.  Fast.  Agile.  Big trunk.  Comfortable seats.  Comfortable everything.  Did I mention best looking car on the road?

But it’s 10 years old.  And little stuff is starting to go wrong.  The passenger window motor (or transmission, not sure yet) died this winter.  Too much ice, probably.  Got to get that replaced.  The light that illuminates the dashboard clock is out.  Like I said, little stuff.

But I know.  The writing is on the wall. Once that little stuff starts to go wrong, more follows behind it, and then you get big stuff.

On top of this, Roy has been riding my butt encouraging me to look into getting a car that is “more suited to [my] current lifestyle” than my super-fun sportscar is.  OK.  It is a sportscar, and it’s got 19″ alloy wheels, and this means it doesn’t really have the clearance to put studded snow tires on.  And while that was OK when I lived a mile from my office and parked the car in an underground garage in Wisconsin, now I live in Snowy New England (don’t get me started) and my office is 25 miles from my house.  And the driveway to the barn is long-ish, and can be slick.  And I can’t get to the Emergency Backup Barn where Winter Horse lives at all.  I’ve been having to catch rides with my trainer.  Too hilly, too slick.  And while I can rack up my ski gear in the trunk and the pass-through, I can’t take Roy’s as well, so we always have to take his car.  And I can’t fit my saddle in the trunk, I have to put it in the back seat like a baby carrier.

So he’s been trying to get me to replace my Hot Rod with a Mom Mobile.

Now I’m in the shoes of every middle-aged man who’s had the Sell That Sportscar And Get A Family Car ultimatum from the wife (or other daddy of the kids).  I am exploring my boundaries.

And what I find is that I am not, I repeat NOT going to be driving ANY vehicle that resembles, imitates, or is clearly derived from, the Station Wagon.

Just say NO.  Not doing it.  A sedan is bad enough.  I don’t see why I should have to have 4 doors when I only need 2.  I am not, repeat NOT, doing more than 4 doors.  And no doors that slide.  Or hatches that lift up.  No, No, No, No, NO.

I agree, we ought to have one in the family.  Because we do from time to time want to load up like a camel train and take everything we might possibly ever want or need off to Maine for a week.  And because we do have an amazing amount of winter sports equipment, and that’s without the super-rockered and cambered all-mountain skis I have every intention of buying next year when they start getting made.  A weekend ski trip, for us, means my ice skis, my fat skis, my poles, Roy’s carvers, his poles, my boot bag, his boot bag, his 210cm cross-country skis, his long poles, his XC boot bag, the snowshoe bag, and a pair of snow-hikers.  And that’s before we get to the actual luggage.

So I agree, we need one.  But I think it ought to be his.  He doesn’t mind station wagons and sedans, and gas mileage is more important than performance to him.  I vote that Roy gets the Mom Mobile, and I get another sportscar that we can both tool around in in the summer with the sunroof open and the engine roaring like a purring lion.  What I want, honestly, is another one of what I have, only newer.  Unfortunately, only 3,000 of my cars were made, and none are newer than mine.

So, for now, it’s going to be dropping dollars to replace window motors and light bulbs, and stuff like that.  Until we can settle the marital controversy over the Mom Mobile, and until I can identify a suitable successor to Automotive Heaven.  It’s going to be a while on both, I think…

Rough Morning For A Glamazon


For a given value of “Glamazon”, that is. Back home, in any one of the big Texas cities, I would not qualify.  My hair is too small, and I do not wear makeup to the grocery store or the gym.  My leather jacket is decked out in fringe and wooden beads, not rhinestones. I refuse to wear shoes that hurt my feet, and I feel that at 5’10”, do not not really need the commanding presence conferred by high-heeled pumps.

But, as they say, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” and I no longer live in Texas, I live in the Pioneer Valley, and it seems that the simple fact that I wax my legs and eyebrows, and deep-condition my hair on a regular basis is enough to get me Full Glamazon Status.  Never mind my huge collection of shoes and handbags, and my instinct to coordinate my outfits…even to go to the grocery store and the gym.  It is also enough, amusingly, to get me relegated to the status of “Bimbo” with certain elements of the local society, who appear to regard any woman who engages in Grooming as an individual of inferior intellect, who must play up her looks to compensate for the lack of a brain.  Just wearing lipstick – heck, even colored lip balm – to a party with this sector of society is enough to bust your rank.  Certain other elements in our local society regard me as a Quisling for removing any of my body hair and wearing a bra.

I was grateful when my local paper (which celebrates its 225th birthday today, which impresses the heck out of me) instituted a regular one-page Friday “style” feature.  Yet this, too, bears the distinctive stamp of the Pioneer Valley:  the style team canvasses downtown looking for someone who appears to have spent an actual thought on assembling their clothing, photographs him or her, and interviews the person about their Look.  I’d say, conservatively, that 90% of the people the team chooses have assembled their Look off of the racks of the local thrift store.  Not that I have a problem with dressing from the thrift store – I’ve done it myself – but it does, shall we say, limit the degree of sophistication and coordination one can achieve with an outfit.  So the short story is that virtually all of my local competition for the Glamazon title are, regrettably, hipsters.  That said, there are a small number of individuals with truly interesting style – in the Rodarte sense – that operate out of the thrift store around the corner.  They’re more of the Burning Man tribe of Fashionista, and their outfits are clearly assembled with great care, express significant individuality, and in general, they’re a joy to watch as they swan around the town with their vintage handbags and pumps.

Back to my morning.  I hate it when I look at the 54 pairs of summer shoes (the winter shoes and boots are still in storage) and reach the depressing conclusion that I Have Nothing To Wear.  I am certain that my husband hates it even more than I do when that happens.  Fortunately, this isn’t one of those days.  The roughness of my morning has everything to do with the quandary of finding an outfit that will carry me through the day without major alterations and trips back home.  This is not, I should note, one of those trite little crises about how to dress for work when one must go straight out to an evening function.  Enough women have difficulty with this question that every women’s magazine in the country runs at least three articles per calendar year on how to navigate those waters.  Those waters, however, are pure class-1 rapids.  That’s grade-school…ABCs and 123s, as easy a sail as you can get with both feet actually in the boat.

My issue is graduate-level:  what outfit can I assemble that will carry me from the barn, where I need to clean up a horse and supervise the pre-purchase exam from the vet, to my classroom where I need to deliver content on cost behavior and estimating cost functions, preferably without stains, mud, hay, or Eau du Equine.  And, thanks to the tattered rags of Tropical Storm Lee, it looks like the barn scene is going to be characterized by a general sense of Wetness.  I have come, reluctantly, after 90 minutes of firm consideration, to the conclusion that this cannot, in fact, be done.  I must take an entirely separate set of clothes into which to change on the fly.  I cannot help but feel that my Serious Glamazon Sisters in Texas would have found a way to pull this off. Oh, the shame of it all.  The disgrace.

I’d wear a paper bag on my head, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t go with my shoes.

Old French Quarter Lamp

I feel as dilapidated as this lamp from the French Quarter.