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.

Books

loving-frank1You must put “Loving Frank,” by Nancy Horan, on your must-read list. It’s the story of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney and their clandestine and infamous love affair. The pair fell in love after Cheney and her husband commissioned a house from Wright. Both Cheney and Wright left their spouses and children for the other, but Cheney — an intelligent, educated and talented woman — suffered the most. She lost her children, was the subject of scorn and scandal and could barely support herself as a single woman. This is billed as an historic novel, but don’t let that put you off. Usually I’m irritated by authors who try to retell actual facts with their own creative spin, but it works here because of Horan’s extensive research and obsession with the truth. Horan lets Cheney’s voice — one that history and public relations seem to have silenced — come through strongly and authentically. This isn’t what Horan thinks happened, but what, as we come to know Cheney, must surely have happened. It’s a compelling love story, an intriguing look behind the historic facts and a damning treatise on the restrictions and injustices that hampered American women just 100 years ago.

Just a note here: In the interest of honesty, I did read this book. For one of my book-club meetings. Which I missed. Because I thought the meeting was on Tuesday night when it actually was on Wednesday night. But when I showed a night late at the house of my friend who was hosting the meeting, she graciously poured me a glass of wine anyway and we sat and talked about everybody who had been there the night before. In a good way, of course.

Quilts

jims-quilt-007There were just two of us for Sunday school so we didn’t have class jims-quilt-003at my little church this past Sunday, but I learned a lesson anyway: (K)not all sermons come from the pulpit. When I got to church on Sunday morning and it became apparent only one other of the usual five or six women in our class was going to show, I contemplated going home for more coffee and Sunday New York Times. But before I could head for the door, our minister asked the two of us (our church is small so there’s no place to hide!) to finish a prayer quilt from the women’s group. The quilt is for a church member who’s fighting cancer, and our minister wanted to bless it at the service and deliver it that afternoon. My brain said, “But I have no crafting skill whatsoever and besides, I want Sunday Styles and another cappuccino,” but my mouth said, “Sure! Of course! Love to!” That happens a lot at church. But I was so glad — this time, at least — that my mouth paid no attention to my brain. Turned out all the quilt needed was tying some knots, and I’m very good at tangling things up. Our church women’s group makes these prayer quilts for people who are sick and in need — when you tie one of knots you say a prayer for the intended recipient, who then gets to wrap up in cozy warmth and love. As we tied and talked, I suddenly sort of time-traveled back to old-fashioned quilting bees, where women gathered to care for each other through fabric and friendship, and I finally understood the timeless power of needle and thread. To make it even better, this quilt was for the husband of a friend of mine. I sat beside her during the church service. When our pastor blessed the quilt and announced it was for her husband, I got to hand her a tissue and give her a hug. Definitely worth the loss of a second cappuccino.

12 Days of Christmas Countdown

christmas-and-new-years-2006-07-0181Happy Day No. 11 in Cathy’s 12 Days Before Christmas Countdown. Let’s face it, as mom and CCO — chief Christmas officer — of your family, things are a bit hectic right now. So pour a cup of coffee, take a break and help Michelle Obama decide what to wear for the inauguration balls. Well, not really. But at http://www.zentrend.com/mobama-style1.html you can vote for your favorite among 12 designer sketches for Obama’s inaugural gowns. A couple of them even include designs for the First Daughters — adorable! Slip on your cyber stylista shoes and have some fun before it’s back to baking and decorating 15 dozen Rudolph sugar cookies. Just like you did last year. Tomorrow in the 10th Day Before Christmas Countdown: A super shopping tip to save you money and time.

And speaking of Washington, D.C. style, did you see the photo of Linda Johnson Rice, of Chicago — president and CEO dc-dress-001of the company that publishes Ebony and Jet magazines and friend of the Obamas — on the first page of Sunday’s New York Times’ Style section? Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/fashion/14secretary.html And here’s the thing: I have almost exactly the same dress. At least, I think it is. I’m pretty sure it is. The neckline and straps are a bit different but the pattern’s exactly the same. dc-dress-0022Don’t you think? It’s a Weston Wear dress I bought this past summer in Birmingham, Alabama, to wear to a wedding — and here it shows up in the New York Times Styles section. On a publishing magnate. On a friend of the President-elect. A dress that I personally have in my closet. I mean, this woman is smart and gorgeous and rich and powerful and knows the upcoming First Family and could presumably wear anything she wanted to and she and I picked out the same dress!!!! I am absolutely stunned. Does this mean I have somehow acquired a sense of adult style? Can world domination be far behind??? And as a side note, this only further solidifies my belief that we Americans finally and with much wishy-washiness have chosen a good team.