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.

Occupy Chattanooga — and Julie Darling Donuts

Normally I don’t get in on nationally historical & happening-right-now political events — I’m generally more of the heard-it-on-NPR type — but earlier this week I got a close-up look at the headline-making Occupy (Fill-in-the-Blank) movement while I was in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Occupy Chattanooga folks have set up their tents on the lawn of the Hamilton County courthouse, and Younger Daughter and I, being the nosy & curious journalistically inquiring people that we are, headed over to get the full story.  And the full story, as far as I can tell, is that we should eat locally and not step on the pansies bravely trying to brighten the sparse wintry landscaping. I didn’t pick up much political angst — it seemed more like a friendly campout where you borrow your neighbors’ chocolate bars to make s’mores — but I wasn’t surprised at that. See, the thing about Chattanooga is that it’s a pretty cool & laidback town where Patagonia, stand-up paddleboarding and organic coffee shops trump pearls, pantyhose and pumps.  So it’s entirely fitting that Chattanooga’s version of Occupy (Fill-in-the-Blank) is low-key. But, of course, it was difficult to get the full story since it was a weekday and the site was fairly empty because the protesters were at 1) work, 2) school or 3) back home taking showers, leaving Occupy Chattanooga in the hands of an address-less man who tends the fire and watches over the tents while everybody’s gone. He happily filled Younger Daughter and I in on why the government was out to get us, augmented by comments from another talkative man on a bicycle who offered opinions as he cycled around the tents and whom we later saw riding around town, still commenting loudly to everybody and nobody. But I liked the whole Occupy Chattanooga vibe. I mean, when Imyself Occupy Chattanooga, I tend more toward Julie Darling Donuts and Good Dog  beer & fries, but I’m glad there are other folks out there who are making me think about other things and reminding me that not everyone is so lucky — and not to step on the flowers.

Corinth Home & Garden Tour

This is our backyard. Oh, okay, that’s a downright lie. You know that our backyard actually is about the size of this patio table. And even if it were bigger, I still wouldn’t have the talent and skill to make our outdoor space look this cute and inviting. I mean, don’t you want to just pull up a chair and pour a nice cool drink? Love the bright red and green tablescape with lemon-yellow accents. So summery! This was only one of the dozens of inspiring “rooms” on this past weekend’s Corinth (Mississippi) Home & Garden Tour. Sponsored by Verandah House Friends, the annual tour raises money to restore Corinth’s 1857 Verandah House, a Greek Revival beauty where Confederate officers planned their Shiloh campaign. The tour included a flower show, a silent auction of amazing local art, a bake sale and a plant sale. But the stars, of course, were the homes and gardens. Three houses in one of Corinth’s historic districts were open to visitors, and it was a constant stream of admiring “ooh’s and ahh’s” as we peeked into interior rooms and wandered through outdoor spaces. I especially was impressed with the way the owners combined respect for their homes’ authenticity with modern individual touches — beloved family heirlooms were cozily comfortable sharing with cheerful 21st-century details. But, you know, that’s how we do it* in the South.

* I was going to say “that’s how we roll in the South,” but since that invariably would lead to “Roll, Tide!” references I went instead with a less inflammatory phrase. After all, this is a free and open space where we tolerate all opinions and where differences are welcome. On the other hand:  “War Eagle!”

Nina and Pinta

I’m not sure which is the more startling: Driving past our local marina and seeing 15th-century masts towering over the more-usual fishing boats or stepping onto one of these replica ships and realizing that people actually crossed a big scary ocean and lived for months in something smaller than most people’s closets. Well, the closets of really rich people, anyway. But, still. These replicas of Christopher Columbus‘s Nina and Pinta are tiny, tiny, tiny. See the guy to the right of the center in the photo on the left? He practically can touch both sides of his ship when he stands in the middle and stretches out his arms. Truly. Built with hand tools in Brazil and owned by a British charity in the British Virgin Islands, these ships are making their way along the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. When they dock in local harbors, the captain and his volunteer crew open the ships for tours. They’re here in Florence, Alabama, through Monday. Come take a look. You’ll be amazed. These ships come to my town every few years or so. They previously were here in 2003, and I remember because they were at the marina when my now-husband officially asked me to marry him … on a day that happened to be Columbus Day.  And why that strikes me as funny — that I got engaged on Columbus Day — I have no idea. Help!!!

Random Ranting

This is your lucky morning, because I meandered around cyberspace picking up all sorts of bits and pieces so you don’t have to. Just make another espresso, sit back and enjoy.

First of all, do we really think that Michelle Obama is a 21st-century Marie Antoinette? Uh, no. It’s true that she loves fashion and spends money on clothes. It’s true she likes growing things and puttering around in gardens. It’s true that she’s a victim of gossip and bad press. (Can you tell that I just finished watching Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette?) But that’s where comparisons should end. Mrs. Obama is a smart, educated and sophisticated woman who’s used to a well-off lifestyle, and if she wants to vacation in Spain with her daughter and with a few friends, she shouldn’t have to give that up just because the Secret Service has to tag along, too. And, for the record, I never begrudged the Bush First Family their time off, either. Also, for the record, after I watched Marie Antoinette, I read more about her on the Interwebs and was amazed to find that folks are STILL arguing about whether she was an evil harlot, a misunderstood saint or simply a young girl who made some tragic mistakes. I vote for the latter.

Secondly, in fashion news, have you seen these foldable black flats from Dr Scholl’s? I’ve found them in Walgreens and online but not at the Dr Scholl’s Web site. Initially they seem like a good idea: A pair of soft and packable black ballet flats you can carry in a little pouch on your wrist and slip into when it’s 11:30 p.m. and the wedding reception is in full swing and you’ve worn your pointy black pumps (which are coming back for fall, by the way, so retrieve all those pairs you relegated to the back of your closet in favor of round-toe platforms) since 2 p.m. Ah, sweet relief! But, as several folks have pointed out in the blogosphere, what are you supposed to do with your pumps once you take them off and put the flats on? You can’t put the pumps in the little pouch the flats come in. Chances are they’re not going to fit in your evening bag. You can’t ask your husband/boyfriend/date to hold them. Maybe you’ve got a car handy so you can stash them there, but maybe not. Okay, Dr Scholl’s — what’s your solution for this problem??? I predict special “pump-carrying mini backpacks” to be the next big thing.

Third, I love the way Anthropologie has layering suggestions on its Web site for extending the life of summer dresses into fall and beyond. There are some lovely and creative ideas that make me want to forget about the 101-degree temps today here in northwest Alabama and dream about crisp fall afternoons.  And speaking of fall, it is back-to-school time here in the South, where students typically head back to class the first of August. Why this is, I have no idea. But it is sort of annoying when the national press says things such as “For many families, the main focus of August is getting out of town on vacation,” as the Washington Post did this week, when most Southern families have already picked through the notebook selection at Wal-Mart and are well on the way to the school-year routine. Hey, people, we’re here, too, you know!!! It’s as if one whole section of the country is being ignored. Okay, ranting over. Thanks for listening!

Handy Festival

It’s Handy Week around here, which means that pretty much everybody’s walking around with “Sax in the City” T-shirts and portable chairs and saying things such as “If we go to the Listening Room in the afternoon and then Wilson Park for the Sundown concert, we can catch Handy Night at On the Rocks afterwards.” The W.C. Handy Music Festival honors Florence, Alabama’s favorite native son. Handy was born near the Tennessee River in 1873 and grew up to the rhythms of riverboats work crews and gospel music. And even though he left town as a young man, Florence was his home and he returned often before his death in 1958. Almost 30 years ago, jazz musician and Yale professor Willie Ruff, another Shoals native, helped form the Music Preservation Society to celebrate Handy’s legacy and worldwide influence and we’ve been partying ever since. The Handy Festival — everybody calls it “Handy Week” — is a 10-day bounty of music for all. While most music festivals are an intense two or three days of performances at a specific venue, Handy Fest is spread over dozens of locations in three counties. You’ll find music at restaurants, parks, churches, stores, libraries, museums, assisted-living and nursing-care facilities, law offices, coffee shops, courthouses, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the mall, random street corners and the downtown Florence parking deck. Among other places. And that’s not counting the actual concerts in actual auditoriums. There’s food, too, and dancing and theater productions and races and a car show and all sorts of fun. And the best part? Most of it is free and family-friendly. You don’t need a ticket or a badge or anything for most Handy events — you just show up and enjoy. But the real best part is that Handy Week is a common gathering place for everybody. And I mean everybody. You’ll see all folks of all ages and background and cultures dancing and laughing and having fun, brought together by music. Mr. Handy would be proud. Check out http://www.wchandymusicfestival.org/ and  http://www.timesdaily.com/handyfest for details.