Boots & The ‘Coffee with Cathy’ Guide to Everything

It’s never the birthdays with the zeros that bother me. In fact, I relish ushering in a new decade. It’s like a year-long New Year’s Eve of possibilities and Good Resolutions: Twenties? I’m a grownup! Thirties? I’m really a grownup! Forties? Finally, I can call myself a real grownup! Fifties? Love being a grownup! Nope, the zeros don’t bother me at all. It’s those mid-year birthdays, with numbers solidly stacking up — why does 56 sound so serious? — that get to me and make me spend a night or two thinking morose thoughts and peering dejectedly into the bottom of (several) glasses of wine, sort of like Olivia Pope but with 10-year-old yoga pants and Fourth Day Hair instead of satin and cashmere and perfect curls. (And, so far, no Presidential helicopters.) But this year, I Gave Myself A Talking To: “Damn, woman. What are you moping around for? You’ve got a great husband and a wonderful family and the best friends ever and jobs you enjoy and a house you love. And ‘Bama got beat!!! What else do you need?” Then the answer came to me: Better shoes. And better makeup. And maybe a closet overhaul. And a hair re-do. And that’s just what I thought of in five seconds. So I declared Year 56 to be the Year of the Makeover. Nothing drastic, you know. Just tweaking the details here and there, installing iOS 7.4 , slamming the brakes on all if those slippery slopes I’d glibly started down (Who cares if these are the wrong boots? Who’ll notice that my roots have been showing for the past month? Who will wonder if I’ve worn the same lipstick — literally THE SAME LIPSTICK — for two years?) Because here’s the thing: Only if you ARE actually Olivia Pope can you sit around looking depressed and beautiful and sipping wine and then Amazing Things Happen To You Without Warning. The rest of us pretty much have to do the amazing part on our own. So please join me as I upgrade the Pinterest boards of my life during the next few weeks (months?). I’ll tackle random categories and topics from my perspective of a 50-something small-town Southern woman who likes football and Cathead Vodka, reads Garden and Gun instead of Southern Living and still has a deviled-egg tray and monogrammed stationery. If it works for me, it might work for you. Or maybe not. But let us know — share your thoughts. Because it’s easier to kick butt when you’re wearing kick*** boots. (Which, I think, should be the new mantra of all Southern women who remember perms, white gloves and pantyhose.)

Ren Faire bootsSpeaking of boots, let’s consider a kick*** boot wardrobe. Before this year, I got by with my 20-something-year-old daughters’ Ren Faire rejects and a pair of painful high-heel black dress boots. And as creatively interesting as the brown laced-up mid-calf Ren Faire-pair was, I gradually realized they weren’t flattering or image-appropriate, at all. I mean, do these say “strong business woman who can manage the trickiest p.r. campaign” or do they say “lazy cheapskate whose best years were three decades ago”? I thought so. And every time I tottered around in the black stilettos, I thought only of “Pretty Woman.” And taking them off so my feet wouldn’t hurt So I upgraded and now I actually have a stylish, workable and comfortable boot collection:

  • The go-to wear-anywhere-with-(almost) anything pair — This dark-beigy-brown pair of riding boots works brownwith skinny jeans, leggings and dresses. I liked that the hardware says “I’ve got a bit of an edge” and not “Would you watch my Harley for me while I go beat somebody up?” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I also discovered that tall — and by “tall” I mean almost knee-high — truly is a flattering look for most women. Any shorter and you risk the dreaded “dumpy” word. Any higher and you literally are veering into “Pretty Woman” territory. I have not yet worn these with those cozy-looking socks that peek over the top. Is that look too young? Not sure.
  • You do need a pair of black boots, because … well … we just do. But choose wisely. No storm black croppedtroopers. Nothing to remind us of parades and marching and military reviews. Leave that to the professionals. What we want here is a slightly dressy and upscale sheen. A bit of class. If your brown boots can take you from mucking out a barn to the last tailgate of the season to getting a celebratory macchiato, then your black boots should take you from a meeting of the museum board to a casual Christmas party to drinks out with the girls. See? Versatility is key. Also a DSW rewards card. One caveat with black boots — be wary of going all black. Perhaps your brown boots might work better with black leggings. Just something to consider. We don’t automatically have to reach for black when we’re wearing black.
  • And now please steady the ladder for me because I’m climbing up on a soapbox. You need rain rainboots. We are past the age where it’s OK to walk around with wet shoes. Besides, remember all the time and effort you’ve put into finding fabulous boots (see above)? Don’t risk that. Of course, most rain-boot choices are of the mid-calf plasticized cute-little-yellow-ducks variety or a galoshes-like shock of bright pink. And if that makes you happy, who am I to argue? Or judge? But I don’t need cheering up on a rainy day. Or feeling like a 5-year-old on her way to kindergarten. I’d rather choose a well-fitting pair of grownup rain boots I can wear all day without anybody asking me if it’s nap time. That’s just me. Although I never turn down an offer of milk and cookies.

So that’s it. The first entry in the Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything. Stay tuned for the next installment. I’m thinking — since we’re on a boot jag — we should turn to booties next.

Thank you, Annette, Margaret and Lilly

This isn’t a well-researched scientific hypothesis or anything, but I’ve always thought that my generation of women — born in the late 1950s through the early 1960s — have had to be pretty nimble, culturally & sociologically speaking (although I really shouldn’t use words such as “sociologically” until I’ve had a second cup of coffee). Take “pretty,” for example. When we were little, our moms had no-strands-out-of-place bouffants that coordinated perfectly with the handkerchiefs and white gloves they took to church and to parties where the New Christy Minstrels strummed in the background. But by the time we were teenagers, hair was as free and flowing and unencumbered as cotton Indian tunics, incense and the White Album. Then as young married women, it was back to the salon for Madonna-style perms to go with our stirrup pants and oversized decorated sweatshirts that I still have nightmares about. (Shudder.) Today, in our 50s, we’re back at an awkward phase — this time trying to balance the fashion questions of is-this-too-young? with is-this-too-old? with can-I-play-with-my-grandchildren-and-then-go-to-a-board-meeting? Good times. Of course, my generation of women was buffeted not only by the fickle wind-gusts of style but by the turbulent weather fronts of expectations. Take Barbie, for instance. My Barbie (ONE Barbie — back then we only had ONE Barbie, the way nature intended. And we were grateful.) had a closet of June-Cleaver dresses, ski wear, formal gowns, tennis clothes and, for the days when she wanted to pretend, maybe a nurse’s and a stewardess’ uniform. Our dream – mine and Barbie’s together — was to go to prom, find the right boy, settle down and have babies. But by the time I was ready to get started on that, my senior class donated our prom money to Vietnam-war orphans and “settling down and having babies” was sort of frowned upon. Instead, we were supposed to Go Out into the World and Do Great Things. So I did, although my “world” was my hometown newspaper and “doing great things” was reporting on school-board meetings. But still. This didn’t last long, however, because why should we give up one thing just to have another??? So we realized we didn’t have to choose! We could do both!! We could settle down and have babies AND go out into the world and do great things!!! As head-scratchingly “duh” as this sounds today, a couple of decades ago it was revolutionary. REVOLUTIONARY!!! Back then, we called this stunning revelation “a new way of thinking” and “opening up opportunities for women.” Now, we just sort of call it “life.”

All of this to note the passing recently of three women who, each  in their own ways, influenced and shaped my generation and helped bring us to where we are today — where we can unashamedly smile and be sweet and kind while single-handedly and single-mindedly take charge of a chaotically lumbering mess and look joyfully sleek and pulled-together in a simple dress that’s equally stylish at the country club or the orange-juice stand. Thank you, Annette Funicello, Margaret Thatcher and Lilly Pulitzer. You showed us the way. We couldn’t have done it without you.

September Sales Bring April Awesomeness

This is why I love shopping post-season clearance sales. These two spring/summer dresses? Total price — less than $30, which is less than I spend on a typical Starbucks order. Because you might as well pick up one of those oh-so-cute coffee mugs while you’re there. And some extra Via. But back to the dresses. Going by the original price tags, I would have spent about $200 on these. And of course, when I picture myself wearing these dresses, I also have long tanned legs and perfectly toned arms. And, if I’m fantasizing, might as well thrown in some soft and shiny hair. Sorry for the mental meanderings here — saving close to $200 makes me giddy.

September Needs Its Meds

Is it fall? Is it summer? Let’s examine the evidence. First, it’s after Labor Day and students of all ages are back in school. Score one for fall. However, second, it’s still danged hot outside, and Boot Day — that first wonderful crisp and chilly morning when you can wear those  cool new boots you snagged for 75 percent off this past April — seems like weeks away. So, a point for summer. We’re tied at one-one. Are Halloween decorations in local stores? Fall. Are people still swimming in their outdoor pools? Summer. It’s two-all. Football? Fall. Baseball? Summer. Three-three. Even produce markets seem confused, giving us juicy and sweet watermelons along with plump orange pumpkins & marigolds along with impatiens. Conclusion: Here in the mid-South, September is the month with an identity crisis combined with minor climate disorder. September needs a good counselor. And a meds refill.

Why You Shouldn’t Borrow A 6-Year-Old’s Wardrobe

You’ve seen those adorable little girls’ clothes made out of cheerful cotton prints. They’re everywhere, from upscale children’s boutiques to outdoor craft shows, and I love them. I love the contrasting patterns and the coordinating colors. I love the exuberance of swirling paisley and whimsical florals. I love the simplicity of form that let the fabrics shine. I love the ribbons and ruffles and the sweet girlishness of it all. And I’d often wondered, “Why aren’t there clothes like this for grownup women? I’d sure buy them!” Then I came across a booth in an antiques/gifts/clothing co-op that had both girls’ and women’s handmade clothing in this style and when I saw them side-by-side, I realized why adult women generally don’t dress like 6-year-old girls. It’s just too … too … cute. But I loved the aprons, and those easy breezy cotton skirts? Perfect for a summer shopping trip — possibly to somewhere that has real grownup clothes.

Yes, Shoes Do Have Soles — But Are They All ‘Super Prime?’

You know that one of the most valuable people in your contacts list (I would say “Rolodex” but, really, does anybody use one of those anymore?) is the shoe-repair person. If you find one who’s perfect for you — someone who understands your love affair with your shoes, can diagnose and fix any problem and won’t keep you separated from your favorites any longer than necessary — you are beyond lucky. I had an off-again on-again relationship with one in my former Alabama town. He was good, but he knew he had a monopoly on local shoe repair and so he wasn’t bothered in the least about keeping your good black leather boots “in the back” for more than a month or misplacing your beloved 3-inch red heels. Sigh. Happily, though, in my new Mississippi town, I’ve found the best shoe repair person ever. Ever. He’s quick. He’s thorough. And he understands. I was truly embarrassed a few weeks ago when for some reason I looked at the bottom of these blue flats — my spring go-to standard pair — and saw a hole. A hole! I’d been going around wearing shoes with a hole in them! I could feel my maternal grandmother (born in 1901, she was the last of the Victorians) gasping in her grave. But my new shoe-repair person didn’t seem at all shocked. He calmly took my shoes, gave me a receipt and told me to come back in a few days. I did, and he handed me a practically new pair, with these very cool soles I’d never seen before. They’re sort of like a secret  — I bet I’m the only person I meet today walking around with shoes made from “United States Oak — super prime.”

 

Fresh Produce

Full disclosure: This is not me — it’s the photo from the Fresh Produce catalog. However, I do have dark hair, especially when I’ve forgotten to go to the salon; I do love a walk on the beach; and my Fresh Produce Buttonside Henley makes me smile, too.

You’re probably like me — you go through spurts of obsessing over liking a specific clothing style and you simply cannot get enough of whatever it is and you’re determined to add to your closet every single one you find and can afford. Because if one is good, then more than one is better, yes? But not always. Best-forgotten phases for me include tribal scarves (I’d spend 20 minutes trying to get that carelessly-thrown-on look and then immediately pull the thing off a minute after I left the house because I felt silly. And as if I couldn’t breathe), yoga-inspired T-shirts (Note: Be careful about where Buddha is placed) and the unfortunate brown-pants period when I pretty much looked like a UPS delivery person. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) More successful forays have been  into pencil skirts, non-see-through leggings (true treasures!)  and shades-of-black sheath dresses that somehow disguise muffin tops and lumpy thighs. But the thing I’ve been reaching for when I’m not trying to fool people into thinking I’m a grownup I get home after work is a nice soft and comfortable henley top. You know — those sort-of preppy, cotton-knit, three-button, collarless and usually-quarter-sleeve pullovers. I can layer a T-shirt or a tank-top underneath, add a sweater or roll up the sleeves. So when women’s clothing company Fresh Produce offered to send me anything I wanted from its summer catalog in exchange for blogging about it, I bypassed all the easy-and-breezy (and relaxed-cute) dresses, shorts and skirts and went straight for the henley tops. Okay, I was influenced, as always, by the photo of carefree beach-walking, because that is what I wish I could do every single day. But, my new Buttonside Henley in Classic Stripe — I chose the cheerful Periwinkle color — is an acceptable substitute. Cool and casual, it fits perfectly. (Check the size chart because, according to Fresh Produce measurements, I needed to order a size down from my usual. And the size chart was correct.) Plus, this style passes the Husband Test — unlike the bright-pink jeans I’m waiting until he’s out of town to wear. Overall, a winner! Fresh Produce was co-founded and still is run by mom-entrepreneur Mary Ellen Veron and primarily is made in the U.S. You’ll find the clothing sold in Fresh Produce stores, online and in more than 500 specialty retailers throughout the U.S. and Caribbean.