Before Instagram

there was Laurie Colwin:

“She decanted everything into glass and on her long kitchen shelves were row upon row of jars containing soap, pencils, cookies, salt, tea, paper clips, and dried beans. . . . The shoes in her closet were stuffed with pink tissue paper and her drawers were filled with lavender sachet. In each corner of her closet hung a pomander ball. She liked to have tea on a tray and she was fond of unmatched china. The tray she brought . . . held cups that bore forget-me-nots, a lily-of-the-valley sugar dish, a cream pitcher with red poppies, and a teapot covered with red roses and cornflowers.”

Happy All the Time (Penguin, 1985; orig. 1971), 9-10. Note the Oxford comma separating the paper clips from the dried beans.

We’ve made more trips to the storage unit and I’m starting to unpack my fiction. It’s like browsing in a bookstore specially curated just for me.

Suburban life

For much of my life, I have longed to live in a high-rise building in a big city.

The only time I came close was when I lived in a 19th-century Haussmannian garret in Paris, from which I could see a sliver of the Tour Eiffel if I leaned out the window and craned my neck.

Mostly I’ve lived in university towns, often suburbs of larger cities. I am well-acquainted with assorted subways and rapid transit systems, I love going into the city and feel energized by its hustle and bustle, the concrete canyons, the noise, the crowds, all the things people move to the suburbs to get a break from. I also recognize that I have far too many books (all by myself; we’ll leave Sir John out of this) to live in a small city apartment such as one of my good friends inhabits. I fondly believe that someday I will de-accession some most of these, and live in a proper city.


I have never been so glad of suburban life as I am now. My friends and blog-friends who live in tiny city apartments have been confined to them for weeks, going on months. Their reasons for living in the city—museums, concerts, coffee shops, restaurants, film societies, window-shopping—are all closed. At any time of day or night, I can walk out my front door and walk for miles, keeping my distance from anyone else out on foot. Since exercise is one of my main coping strategies, I do this a lot. One day recently I walked 6 miles, and I usually put in 3-4. (I’ve ordered new shoes.) In a high-rise, I might spend hours climbing stairs, but I’m sure I’d have to negotiate a schedule with the other exercise addicts on the premises. Seeing people’s gardens leafing out and blooming is also therapeutic, as is hearing birdsong and feeling the wind in my face. Living by the beach would be even more awesome, but for the time being, I’m very happy to be where I am.

It’s funny how life works out. Do we adapt to our place, or do we unconsciously choose our places because they really are what we value most? I thought I just couldn’t hack a commute any longer than what I have now, but maybe the calculus worked a little differently than I thought. Maybe I just didn’t realize, till now, how much I value walking out the front door into nature instead of into vibrant city life.

The very local news

  • Basement Cat still fights getting pills, but the discussions over venison kibble that eventually lead to agreement to swallow are getting shorter and can be handled by a single human. This is progress.
  • Basement Cat’s health is definitely improving thanks to said pills.
  • Glendower would like to do some negotiating over venison kibble or baby food, and is a little sulky that he is not the only Poor Sick Cat around here.
  • Reina is doing fine. She likes to sit on my desk or my desk chair, and I have to move her to do any work.
  • Cardinals and mourning doves have visited the bird feeder.
  • Earlier this week, I dug more bellflower out of the front yard. Will this never end?
  • Five weeks into the semester, I still haven’t adjusted to getting up before dawn. Will I ever, or am I just going to be perpetually sleep-deprived for the next ten weeks?
  • While minding my own business, or rather Sir John’s (buying a birthday card for his brother), I bought a novel I would like to read. A week later, I still haven’t opened it.
  • We still have the TV coverage of the women’s Vuelta à España on the DVR.
  • I’m not sure what I have been doing that keeps me from reading or watching TV. Cooking, working on dead languages, and driving, probably.
  • Also grading and course prep. I’m teaching lower-level classes and find that students at that level need lots of accountability. Frequent short assignments keep them engaged, so there we are.
  • I have bought two new pair of shoes since the beginning of the semester. Abeo makes shoes that are comfortable for a person with very high arches. I like having both happy feet and cute shoes.

An aspirational shoe post

Two months ago (time flies), Elizabeth Anne Mitchell got me to look at Crockett and Jones shoes, which are beautiful and expensive. Now I’ve found the site of Daphne Board, a US shoe artist and pedorthist. Also, it appears from her Instagram feed, a cat servant. Anyway, if C&J aren’t beautiful and expensive enough for you, check out Daphne. Or maybe, if you need to justify a pair of C&J shoes, look at how much more you could spend. Wouldn’t it be better to save the extra $400 you might lay out for Daphne’s welted Oxfords? And back on the first hand, consider what you spend on not-quite-right shoes. Could you clear out the ones you’re not wearing in favor of shoes you’ll wear all the time . . . for twenty years?

I’m thinking. The Chacos are good for now. I got a pair of their sandals, as well. If those will keep me out of shoe stores for three years or so, then maybe I’ll splurge on the Oxfords of my dreams.

Mirabile dictu

I ordered a pair of Chaco’s chukka boots (say “Chaco’s chukkas” five times, fast).

(Sir John said, “Is that box shoes? Of course it’s shoes. You’re not like the women in Sex and the City in other ways . . .”)

Astonishingly, they have enough arch support that I don’t need inserts in them. I cannot remember the last time I tried on shoes of which I could say that. And yet I think I am going to send them back. They are noticeably too wide, so that the top of the shoe puckers when I lace them tightly. While they are marginally less sporty than the Kanarra trail walkers, they are still definitely a casual shoe. They look okay with a short, sporty skirt, but then, the Kanarras aren’t too bad with the same skirt. I think I’d be better off putting the money into a pair of Chaco’s sandals for summer, wearing the trail walkers with trousers, and relying on my usual shoes and boots, with inserts, for dressier outfits and occasions.

But they are so comfortable that I almost don’t care what they look like. Almost. (Still vain.) Anyway, if Pym Fan or anyone else with feet like mine is interested, the Pineland chukkas are on sale right now. Order a half size down, and enjoy the support.

Foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone

My new shoes are helping both ankles and knees. The hip is still a work in progress, so aches there may have some other cause. Nonetheless, it’s nice to have solved a couple of body problems just by buying new shoes. They are Chaco’s Kanarra, a little wide for me but acceptable with inserts and socks (and a Scarlett O’Hara style pull on the laces). I also bought some high-arch inserts to try in some of my other shoes, but after a try-on, I shrugged and went back to the Chacos. They feel good. Elegant they are not, but they are at least a discreet and sober grey, unlike my gym shoes, which nearly glow in the dark. I just wish I could find a pair of shoes that feels this good and looks acceptable with dresses. I could get a pair of Chaco’s sandals for summer . . .


Where did the rest of spring break go?

And how is it Thursday again?

The rest of the break was not very interesting. I shredded all the moldy (but not illegible) papers in the basement that might conduce to fraud if not shredded (though I know purely online fraud is the method of choice these days, better safe than sorry), set up assignments for the rest of the semester for one of my classes, cooked, paid bills, made plans with a friend for dinner at K’zoo, went to the gym daily, put in an hour digging out roots of bishop’s weed and bellflower in the garden (one thing I’ll say for winter, if you’re shoveling snow, you’re not weeding), ordered a pair of shoes (Merrells). The shoes’ reviews said they had moderate to excellent arch support but I found not only that their arch support was inadequate but that they forced my feet to pronate, which is very bad for my knees. So they went back the day after they arrived. I am trying to resign myself to going to an actual store with people who ought to know something about feet (but in fact will not, unless I go to a store that only sells running shoes) and driving them and me crazy trying on multiple pairs in multiple sizes from multiple brands before either giving up in disgust or buying something I don’t really like for far more than I wanted to spend.

It was a relief to return to work, where I can wear nice clothes, talk to people about literature or sit at a desk in a clean comfortable chair, and where however shabby the building and however old the texts I’m discussing, nothing is actually, literally moldy. (Not all profs have such luxurious surroundings.) I’m behind with grading (isn’t everyone, at this point?), but got very helpful feedback from my writing group about a problem I’m trying to solve in an R&R, and though I have some students with attendance problems, those that were present this week were attentive and interested in what I was teaching, so I’ll take that as a win.

In other not-exciting news, the accountant we used last year has gone out of business, but the firm we used before that (and who recommended last year’s people) will take us back, so now I have an appointment, which is to say, a deadline for assembling all the necessary and relevant pieces of paper that I’ve been trying to make myself track down and gather up for the last six weeks. I have got a haircut, visited the dry cleaner, and sent in my application for a new passport. It makes me oddly nervous to be without a passport: what if I suddenly needed to flee the country? But not nervous enough to expedite the process, since I don’t anticipate fleeing. In fact, given the news from London, I rather wonder if students will back out of the summer program I’m hoping to teach in, which would leave me at home despite the new document.

Shoe bleg

I’m vain, but not stupid.

I like cute shoes. This doesn’t mean high heels. I like a bit of heel, but I can live without it, and I may have to, going forward. I’ve had a bum ankle for years (sprained multiple times since the age of 20), and it seems like for the last most-of-a-decade I’ve been repeatedly rehabbing it from minor strains. I’ve noticed that the ankle feels better in my gym shoes, which start with some built-in arch support and then have added the arch-support inserts I’ve used in all my shoes for the last 30 years. So I can see that I need to spend more time in properly supportive shoes (not stupid). But the gym shoes are hideously neon and I refuse to be seen in them anywhere but the gym. For the moment, I’m wearing them around the house and changing when I go out (vain).

I have very high arches, as you might guess from needing to add arch supports to shoes that already have some support. All I want is a pair of black oxfords, ideally something menswear-like (wingtips?); at least not hopelessly old-lady-ish; preferably not gym shoes; with good arch support and a fairly well-cushioned sole. In other words, something that feels like gym shoes, but looks dressier. It is astonishingly difficult to find such a shoe.

So, gentle readers, any recommendations? Brands, at least?

Leeds fashion report

I’ve been to sessions, but I’m too jet-lagged to report on them. My periods of focused observation have been brief and random.

I do realize that most of us are operating under similar constraints of trying to pack for assorted activities and weather conditions in carry-on luggage, and that luggage mishaps may influence some ensembles.

Still . . . Keens and Tevas look best with sporty clothing. Think of outfits suitable for a high-end yoga class, or a cute running skirt. Not long skirts and dressy cardigans.

The dress with a print of songbirds in flowering trees, worn with dark periwinkle heels and a black shrug, that was cute.

Watercolor-print dress in aqua, yellow, and light green . . . pretty, but not with red-white-and-blue spectator pumps. Spectators are sporty-dressy, to be worn with tailored clothes, so wrong style and wrong colors.

Black top, cardigan, skirt and tights, with purple ballerina flats: very nice.

Tailored, vaguely safari-ish skirted suit on older woman with mobility problems: very appropriate, well-chosen colors, goes with the sensible shoes, looks like you’re making an effort without risking injury to feet, ankles, or knees.

It’s amazing how a plain woman can turn into a jolie laide by dressing carefully and neatly in a figure-flattering outfit with classic accessories and tidy hair.

Dresses really do look a lot more pulled-together, in general, than outfits with more pieces.

This all sounds embarrassingly shallow, and even hypocritical, considering that I am wearing my Ugly Shoes (without the ankle brace this year [woot!], though I brought it just in case), many-pocketed quick-drying travel trousers, and an unexceptionable grey pullover that is almost as good as an Invisibility Cloak. But I like to look at people who are nicely dressed, perhaps the more so because I’m dressing for the Ugly Shoes. Maybe it’s time for a safari suit.

Bracing up

We will draw a veil over the months of intermittent pain, and the recent visit to a very annoying orthopedist who needs training in how to listen and how to answer questions. The bottom line is that for the next two weeks I will be laced into what I am trying to think of as an ankle corset.

A corset, after all, can be sexy, an object of fantasy and fetish. Much more attractive than a brace.

But when you think about the basic purpose of corsets, it gets hard to keep up the fantasy. They constrict; they make it hard to move at a brisk or even normal pace. If worn, now, as outer wear, they are clearly costume. If worn for their original purpose, modern clothing does not fit well over them; once more, you wind up in costume.

And this is what is happening to me, and my plans for an English travel wardrobe. Most of my shoes, particularly those I was going to take with me, do not fit once I’m laced into the ankle corset. It hides under trousers, but looks fairly awful with a skirt. Part of me says, “Who cares? Dress as you like down to the ankles, and then if you’re in brace and special shoes, it’s clear you’re making an effort despite your impairment.” And part of me says, “I’d rather hide it. I cannot bring myself to wear athletic shoes with a skirt, in London, where most people are well dressed.”

So I went shopping. Instead of a skirt, I’m taking another pair of trousers, and I bought two pair of shoes that are flat, hideous, comfortable, and not white with colored trim. One pair of black lace-ups, work shoes, the next thing to hiking shoes; one pair of brown Mary Janes, with bold stitching and wide toes, cute if you like sporty German-style casual shoes, which I’m not usually a fan of. I’m more the penny-loafer type. But I need flat shoes that can both accommodate the brace and fit the unbraced foot, hence lace-ups and adjustable straps. And multiple pairs of socks.

I thought about substituting a pair of lace-up boots for the brace; then I could have gone neo-Victorian in style: a little costume-y, but within academic tolerances, and perhaps not inappropriate for my itinerary. But the ones I have don’t lace high enough, and it is not a good time of year to buy boots in local stores. There wasn’t time to order online and take delivery before I leave. So I’m bracing myself.

It’s not as if anyone is going to notice or care. It’s just that I tend to deal with my travel anxiety by obsessing over the clothes I pack, and I dislike having the plan disrupted at the last minute.