Monday, July 25, 2011

The Art Of Being A Well Dressed Wife

The Dancing Queen is the epitome of tasteful restraint in her dress and an example to us all.  She may wear just one antique ring with a beautiful setting for her jewellery, and she understands the maxim, "Less is More."  From my own perspective I have to admit that less is never more.  More Is More, obviously!  If I put an antique ring on my finger it immediately reminds me of another  piece of jewellery and then possibly another and another in a complementary colour family.  Those authors who write columns in fashion magazines advise us that if we feel a little uncertain about our appearance when leaving our homes in the morning we should take one item off.  I would favour of putting one more thing on.  My nana hailed from Yorkshire and she was like a fairy godmother to me - but I can still remember her telling me, "If a little's good, a lot's better" and I must have absorbed this and taken it on as my own personal style mantra.  So perhaps The Dancing Queen and I come at matters of style from opposing perspectives.

Having recently returned from a sojourn Abroad, The Dancing Queen presented me with this handy little book.  She knows I could use some help, obviously, given my resolute refusal to take any style direction.  This is The Art Of Being A Well Dressed Wife and it was written by Anne Fogarty , first published in 1959.

 I was eager to improve myself and immediately read it from cover to cover.  Imagine my disappointment.  No more mink shorts!   Plus which I don't believe I have the manual dexterity any longer to apply false eyelashes (if I ever did, that is).  Apparently they may be just the playful accent which I need.  On top of the bad experience at the hairdressing salon in the weekend things are beginning to look pretty grim, I must confess.

On the positive side of the ledger I discovered that "the worst mistake you can make is to force yourself to shop.  To idly decide it's spring, the bird's on the wing, is not the time for a foray on the stores UNLESS you're in a truly shopping mood."  So it may be that there will be no more shopping for me, a prospect which Mr Shoestring will not balk at.  Also the author informs us that "A chronic blight on the American home scene is sleeepwear in the kitchen!  Negligees, bathrobes, and terry towels do not belong with food, pots, and pans.  The kitchen is your natural setting as a woman and you should look beautiful, not bedraggled, in it."  Oops, once again I think I may have slipped up but in future I will be happy to keep out of the kitchen and let others deal with the tedious tasks which must take place there.

But I loved this part.  "I think here is a good place to mention shoulder cape-covers for make-up, although they are one step removed from the category of robes.  At the time this book goes to press I am introducing a new design, a poncho-style make-up cape in a Dacron and cotton fabric, which is long enough for moving from one room to another when someone's around.  There is a little pocket for sachets so that an aura of scent accompanies every movement."  Wow, she thought of everything.  Shades of hairdressing encounters, it must be the capes which are starting to appeal to me.  But if you need a cape over your clothes how much make-up are you applying?

There is even a section devoted to the vexed question of "Should the family car go with my wardrobe?"  Anne very sensibly advises that "It is more important for the car to blend in with the natural habitat.  It should look well in the drive silhouetted against the colour of your house and fit into the colours and shapes of your geographical location as a whole and your own particular neighbourhood or street."  What a relief!  I don't think Mr Shoestring could bear it if I told him he had to replace the car to suit my clothes especially as they are such an odd assortment of colours and shapes that we might need to buy a gypsy caravan.

Well, we may have let standards slip beyond ever recovering lost ground but perhaps if we take on board some of the simplest of Anne's edicts we will be able to hold our heads high and face the world knowing we have fought the valiant fight in an effort to fly the flag of fashion.  After all, as Anne declares on page 1:  "If you adore her, you must adorn her.  There lies the essence of a happy marriage."   I will just highlight that part and show it to Mr Shoestring.  He need never know about the plan to replace the car and start wearing a make-up cape over my clothes.  Though I am picking he would be fascinated by the mink shorts.

The Shameful Shearing

After a year and a half of resolutely frugalista behaviour and home hair dye jobs with no haircuts it was time to submit to the tender ministrations of a hairdresser during the weekend.  At the best of times I am not one of those patrons who relishes a trip to the salon – there is the mirror for a start, you have to either gaze at your own countenance and realise just how time has worked its wicked magic on you, or avoid looking into the mirror and consequently look all shifty eyed and furtive.  Then there are the hairdresser's questions designed to shred what little you have left of self confidence when you enter the premises. 

Because it was such a long time since my last visit the memory had dimmed of all those difficult questions, but shortly after being seated and submitting to the odd little paper strip around the neck and the enormous black cape the memories came flooding back.  I had long suspected that at Hairdressing 101, before the new trainees were even permitted to take up their sharp shiny new scissors they would have to complete the first part of the theory in the syllabus – Cut The Suckers Down To Size.  This is where the questions kick in.  First of all, “Who cut your hair last?” (This to be accompanied by suitably superior and haughty looks and tut tutting sounds.)  However I was prepared for this and had thought it would be amusing to shoot right back, “You did, last week!  Don’t you remember?” 

On this visit though I was spared that old chestnut and instead the interview commenced with, “You have very, very heavy hair!  It is dragging your face down.”  (Well, what could I say?  I have never weighed it and I don’t know how heavy hair usually is.  I looked morosely at my reflection in the mirror.  Was there a resemblance to a jowly Winston Churchill, were there incipient dewlaps?)  We moved on briskly to, “Your hair is very, very dry!”  I wasn’t inclined to say, “I suppose that is probably because I have used so many cheap home hair colouring treatments and inferior products on it”, so I just meekly agreed and nodded.  Then it was, “Oooh, your hair is very, very thick!”  (I imagine that would account for the weight of it, but who am I to tell a hairdresser their business?)  Lastly we had, “Your hair is so very, very curly!”  Had I missed something?  Was there a sign outside which requested that only citizens with lustrous locks, if a little on the thin and fine side, and dead straight, should enter these hallowed portals? 

No matter, I had only asked for a trim and surely even dry, thick, heavy, curly hair could be trimmed successfully with enough perseverance and sharp scissors.  So we went on relatively happily for a few minutes and I was just beginning to relax when the cunning creature scurried away and returned with a large hard covered book with a glossy picture on the cover.  Did I like the look of that haircut?  Yes, it looked fine to me.  Of course the model was a good 30 years younger than I, had the neck of a giraffe and not the jowls of a bulldog, but she was very attractive and her hair style was most fetching.  Anything for a quiet visit; if I was required to admire hair styling photos so be it.   

Alas, therein lay my downfall.  Before I realised what was happening I heard a strange harsh sound – not the efficient snip, snipping I had expected as the dry (horribly, hideously dry) ends of hair were trimmed, but a rasping scratching noise.  On looking up I realised my hair was being cut with some kind of a razor and in a random fashion with seemingly no plan or method!  I was in for an attempt at the style on the front of the hairdressing book!  I am such a feeble creature that I reasoned that it was too late to make a fuss now and that I was probably better off without all that dry, heavy, curly, thick hair.  At least it always grows back again.  I tried to relax and not twitch or flinch, it would be a dead give away and also might result in even more damage being done with the razor like tool.    

Another one of the weapons hairdressers use is the cunning attempt to sell obscure products to vulnerable and unsuspecting clients.  I was experienced in this field and was congratulating myself on the fact that I had got away without purchasing a shampoo, a conditioner, a heat activated styling lotion, something which seemed like good old fashioned hairspray and something else which seemed like sticky wax (but did smell very pleasant).  Then I fell into the novelty trap.  Had I ever seen this product, it was a salt water spray!  Ha ha, I thought, no I had never seen such a product, but why would anybody want to spray their hair with sea water?  My admission of ignorance of the product’s existence was taken as a sign of enthusiasm and before I knew it I had agreed to buy the wretched stuff.  I wonder if it could be used as a condiment on salads, perhaps?

So it was that I came out of the salon with a little bottle of sea water, a lighter head and a lighter wallet.  Mr Shoestring had been striding up and down outside for a while waiting for my reappearance.  “What happened?  I thought you were going to get a trim?”  I have to admit I was not able to explain coherently just what had happened in the gloomy recesses of the salon, but secretly I did wonder how it came to pass that the woman next to me had gone in and asked for a trim and come out with just that.  I had heard most of the story of her life in more detail that I would have thought possible in that brief time in the hairdresser’s chair; perhaps that is the secret.  Never stop talking, don’t pause for breath, and beat them at their own game.  Wear them down with words.    

Now in case you feel that all is doom and gloom after this outing I have to tell you that the new haircut has received universal approval.  (People are so generous, they must recognise a lost fashion cause when they see one and want to cheer the poor misguided soul upon her way to hair fashion oblivion)  Here are a pair of lovely earrings which came from the op shop  ($5.00); they will look much better with the new haircut and will be visible without all that hair obscuring them.

 I am sure that The Dancing Queen will like them very much - she looked at some lily earrings when we were at DIY Deco Weekend in Napier and these are very delicate and finely wrought.  They were in their original box and come from Harvey Gill Ltd - Jewellers - Boston.  With a little black crepe dress next summer in Napier they will be just the trick for cocktails on the balcony.  As long as I don't lose them before then, of course.    

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bertie and Penelope's Spiffing Weekend

Last weekend we went to the DIY art deco weekend in Napier, and what a wonderful treat it was.  Because of the rugby world cup the usual winter art deco event was deferred, so Bertie and Penelope arranged a smaller mid winter event for art deco devotees from around the country. 

We set off from Shoestring Cottage in heavy rain and battled our way through a torrential downpour all the way to the top of the hills where we could see the coast; behold, the heavens cleared, the sky was blue and the view was beautiful. 

And so it remained for the whole of our stay in Napier.  There was dancing at night with live music, a “radio” play for our delectation, screenings of old movies and delicious food and drink.

The owners of The Masonic, the iconic art deco hotel on Marine Parade, had started their programme of refurbishment and we were lucky enough to stay in one of the rooms which had already received their attentions.  What an improvement.  The original features such as tiled bathroom floors and large ceramic shower rose had been retained but the rooms were freshly carpeted and painted with new soft furnishings and we felt pampered. 

 Original floor tiles

 Original door fittings

Vintage mirror in bathroom

The Dancing Queen travelled up from Wellington with her capacious garment bags and hat boxes bursting with art deco finery.  Cooler weather meant that the elegant winter felt hats could make an appearance, rather than her usual lightweight straws. 

Since it was a winter event we had the chance to wear our furs, be they fox, mink or any number of other unidentified creatures.  There was even an event entitled “Flaunt Your Fur” where eager attendees could parade in their furs and explain their history and provenance.

How magnificent everybody looked, and what a shame it was when things wound down on Sunday night with jazz and a final nightcap in the bar at The Masonic.  Though all was not sad; we had seen so many heavenly costumes at the events and at Charleston-Chic (where Penelope sells her vintage and retro clothing and accessories,) that we were inspired and ready to dash home and work on the summer costumes.  I can’t wait for the next deco escape and I know The Dancing Queen already has a plan for a heavenly dress.  Now all she needs are the accessories to set it off, and as we are all agreed, the accessories do make the world of difference!   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Cosy Nest

The weather was inhospitable this weekend at Shoestring Cottage.  Mr Shoestring was very pleased with himself because he managed to blow up the waste disposal unit and then temporarily repair it with an  old electric drill motor.  He thrives on these diversions during the weekend!  I was startled when he described an electrical flash coming from the motor and was not bold enough to use the "new improved" machine, but Mr Shoestring had a very happy time tinkering with it.  He then declared a craving for a curry and made a delicious one - a beef rendang.  I will post the recipe so you can try it for yourself if you like curries.  He topped it with finely sliced crispy fried onions and almonds, which made it all the more special.  We picked our broccoli too, so I will post some of our favourite broccoli recipes also.  Apart from the pansies and snowflakes battling on bravely, there were a few cyclamen in flower.  Even without their flowers their leaves (variegated of course!) make them worth growing but their scent is delicious too.

In between showers it was possible to get a bit of weeding done; the national collection of oxalis varieties continues to multiply, undeterred by my persistent efforts to reduce its numbers.  Also, after my bold predictions about Jerusalem artichokes and how productive they are it was very disappointing to find that the tubers are being eaten by some mystery pest.  Could it be slugs or snails?  That doesn't seem very likely as they are quite some distance underground.  And the holes nibbled are symmetrical deep and round, not what you would imaging from a snail or slug.  I shouldn't be digging up the tubers, and it was unintentional; they were just turned up while I was weeding.  It is uncanny how often the most precious of bulbs and corms are disturbed in this way with a vicious trowel during gardening sessions.  Who knows how many of the lilies I planted last weekend will make it to maturity if the weeding continues?  So far I have managed to stab a lot of jonquils, daffodils and lachenalia bulbs - how much easier they seem to be to locate than the dreaded oxalis and other bulbous weeds!  The trowel seems to make its way unerringly towards them.  

There is no television at Shoestring, which I find restful.  Saturday night was a good time to go to bed and listen to the radio broadcast of the Silver Ferns play England in Singapore in the world netball champs.  Mr Shoestring was given this beautiful old radio as a Christmas present and it adds to the excitement when there are strange clicks from time to time and brief pauses in transmission.

Listening rather than seeing the game is very exciting, the match one sees in one's head probably bears very little resemblance to what happens on court, especially when the commentators confidently assert a goal has been scored and then admit they were too hasty and there was no goal after all.  But it was delightful to hear the audience start to sing Pokarekare Ana in the background all the same.  And we won!

I finished of my library book and it was a very encouraging read.  Though I complain so bitterly about my war with birds (who by the by are still continuing to eat the grass seed, despite the fact that Mr Shoestring generously bought them some special bird seed, which they studiously ignore in favour of the precious lawn seed), the author of my library book has a much more difficult time.  She gardens in the Adelaide Hills and has to do battle with possums, peacocks, foxes and all manner of native parrots which snap off her rose buds and decimate the vegetables.  Apparently the blackbirds are particularly fond of tomatoes, not a problem we have ever had.  So it was comforting to lie and listen to the storm raging all around and read of somebody else's ghastly gardening difficulties.  If you see this book in your library make sure to take it out, you will be encouraged to continue with your own efforts and count your blessings.  It is A Garden In The Hills by Christine McCabe.  

During the night there was a powerful storm, intense flashes of lightning and impressive claps of thunder.  It was sorely tempting to wake up Mr Shoestring so he could enjoy it also and rather disappointing when he seemed unimpressed the next morning when I described it to him.  (I think he thought I was exaggerating!)

Lots of progress was made in the stitching department though.  This crossword fabric stitched up into a new dress.  At work we are trying to master the daily cryptic crossword.  We are making very slow progress and some days give up almost immediately, but when I saw this fabric I could not resist.  In fact it is tempting to fill in some of the spaces with embroidered words for fun.

And there was this "quilt as you go" quilt for which I had been stitching squares for a long time.  When it was time to start putting them together I hit upon the idea of making it reversible.  Originally it was to be green and yellow but it occurred to me that the back of the quilt could be green and terracotta coloured, that way there would be a spring time version and an autumn version.  I astound myself with my own brilliance sometimes!   Now that it is being stitched together I think I actually prefer the terracotta/green combination.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brilliant Haul at the Garage Sale

Mr Shoestring was feeling very restless on Saturday morning and I put it down to the fact that he had solved his problems with water and was at a bit of a loose end.  He decided a trip to the garage sale in the next town was in order and this suited me fine.  What a worthwhile trip it turned out to be!  I found this fabulous art work ($2) to add to the landscape collection.  At this rate the collection will be internationally famous!  (If not for its quality then for its budget constraints.)

Also I could not resist this embroidered picture - is it The Girl With The Pearl Earring by any chance?  I am planning to turn it into a shopping bag; it cost me the princely sum of $2 also and I think with a nice handle and some sturdy fabric to create the gusset, bottom and back of the bag it will be a useful addition at Shoestring.

Mrs Peaceable suggested that I find a pearl and sew it in place so she really does have the pearl earring.  I may have to scratch through my bead collection and see what we have in stock.  "The Girl" came with a picture frame which Mr Shoestring removed upon our arrival back at the cottage, and used to frame the last landscape we bought; you can see very little goes to waste and Mr Shoestring is becoming a master of our "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" philosophy.    Here are the landscapes nesting together on the wall.

It was very difficult to resist two seascapes also for sale ($2 each) at the same garage sale, but the cottage is very small and the walls will be groaning under the weight of the landscapes if the collection keeps growing at its current rate, so sadly we left them behind. 

Mr Shoestring found this lovely flying bird tap and some odd brass fittings which he was desperate to have.  He does not need them right now but he is convinced that in time he will find a use for them.  Hmmm, taps and more water fittings, there is definitely a theme emerging.  That prolonged period of water worries has obviously had an effect on him.  Anyway, he was very pleased with the tap and installed it straight away. 

And in the garden this weekend the broad beans were blossoming away happily and the broccoli was ready to be harvested.  Shamefully though, I am so proud of the broccoli (the first I have succeeded in growing ever) that I am loathe to cut it, and if I don't cut it soon it will be going to seed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Becoming A Man

No, I am not thinking of becoming a man ... though there is that solitary troublesome whisker on my chin which has developed in the last little while.

On Becoming A Man was the title of a book I picked up at the Presbyterian Garage Sale last weekend and what a revelation it turned out to be.

Recently I had been quietly relieved that our only son seemed to be reasonably well adjusted, affable and personable.  Having come from an intensely feminine household myself (only sisters, girl cousins and so forth) it came as rather a surprise to give birth to a male child after three daughters, but it was all working out for the best.  Mr Shoestring was always there to sit up at nights and watch sports fixtures, he even understood the offside rule in football and he was happy to eat endless amounts of junk food with his only son.

"The remarkable growth of a teen-age boy within a single year is often a 
source of astonishment to his friends and of pride to his family."  

Our boy was studying during term time, working at a job during holidays, hanging out with his friends, playing lots of football, going for long runs and generally behaving in a way which did not cause us too much anxiety.  He had a very lovely and friendly girlfriend too, so all seemed with his world.  Although we did have the occasional disagreement about how much housework was a suitable contribution towards family life, I thought we were sailing calmly through the end of the teenage years.

"Any youth is wise who controls his special friendship so that it does 
not develop too fast.  Serious thoughts need not spoil his pleasant times."  

But no, how wrong I was!  How complacent and smug I had been.  When I picked up On Becoming A Man I discovered the error of my ways.  This book was so full of metaphors that (being the obtuse creature that I am), I sometimes found it difficult to understand the point which was being made.  There were so  many references to running in a new motor, learning to fly a jet aircraft and lending out one's new motor-cycle that I was perplexed from time to time.  But the chapters on "going steady", "apron strings", "day-dreaming",  "second hand day-dreams" and the dangers of "petting" were all very instructive.  And it seemed that reading fiction was extremely dangerous, never mind all the other mistakes we had been making.

I presented this impressive and instructive tome to our boy and was gratified to hear his appreciative remarks.  He declared it to be "classic", and he couldn't wait to share it with his friends.  Perhaps it is not too late - he may have been saved in the nick of time from "the development of selfish habits or personal indulgences".  Only time will tell.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Further Bulletin From The Peaceable Kingdom

This weekend on our way back to The Big Smoke Mr Shoestring and I called in at The Peaceable Kingdom, where all is fertile and creatures rub along together in harmony.  Imagine how jealous I was when I noticed that the peppers were still growing and ripening in the vegetable garden at this time of the year.

 We have just passed the shortest day and we are supposedly in the middle of winter.  I pulled out all such summery plants from my garden weeks ago because I figured there would be no hope of them ever ripening.  We were given some of the bounty of the garden to take home with us.  There was a bumper crop of crabapples on the tree - they were so luminous, they looked as if they were illuminated from the inside.

But maybe the most surprising thing was that the organic brie which they shared with us.  It was delicious!  It looked just like a store bought brie, wrapped up in its own paper; the texture and flavour were wonderful.  Outside a litter of piglets was frolicking around with the chickens and Rosie and Mr West were cropping the grass contentedly. 

Mr Shoestring tells me that Rose and Mr West have produced a rabbit with a pelt of such a beautiful smokey grey that it almost appears blue, but I haven't spotted this baby yet.  Perhaps next time I visit we will be graced with a visit.