How to be sixty, sexy and wearing sheer fabrics

Happy to wear sheer fabrics on Brenda Kinsel website

Feeling daring in my sheer fabrics


Here’s something you don’t know about me. I have had a love of sheer black tops forever. When Yves Saint Laurent sent braless models down the runway decades ago in black sheer blouses, I thought it was incredible.

How daring!

How bold!

How sexy!

How French!

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wanted to be one of those women. I wanted to wear a black sheer blouse with no bra on underneath. I don’t know where I thought I’d wear it. Maybe alone in my house with the doors locked. Maybe with my boyfriend in my house with the doors locked. I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to do that out in public unless I had a buttoned up cardigan over the sheer fabric.

The desire was strong, but I never did it. After I had a mastectomy in 2004, the thought came to me, “Well, no sheer black blouse for me! That dream is dead.” There were many, many thoughts but that one was there in the mix.


Sheer and sexy at sixty

Realizing my dream, my way, in my decade: sheer and sexy at sixty


Flashforward to last week: I actualized my dream in an outfit I wore in public! Okay, it wasn’t the exact dream but I wore something that was black and sheer. The combination felt 45% daring, bold, sexy, and French. That percentage was good enough for me.


Anatomy of an Outfit


Here’s what I wore:

*A printed long-sleeved stretchy top by Petit Pois. It’s an abstract cityscape print on the torso and back. The sleeves are sheer black with an animal print pattern screened in. I purchased it at Specialtees Boutique, a great shop in Lafayette, CA.


necklaces with this Beauty Bundle on Brenda Kinsel website

Piggyback necklaces


*I wore my sheer long black sleeveless tunic with buttons, opened to the waist by Vince.


Beauty Bundle ingredients on Brenda Kinsel website

Rings and bracelets with my sheer tunic


*I wore my Paige flared jeans and my most comfortable boot ever by BED|STU purchased at Robindra Unsworth in Petaluma.


Gunmetal Beauty Bundle on Brenda Kinsel website

The mood of this gunmetal Beauty Bundle is edgy with some glamour thrown in by small diamonds here and there; sheen and beads.


*I built a Beauty Bundle for the outfit by dipping into gunmetal/black jewels. I wanted to create a mood that was urban, like the urban cityscape stretchy top. The pieces blended so well together and made me feel a bit daring and edgy (in a sweet way).


  1. The earrings were purchased at Studio Collections Jewelry in Sonoma. They are by Yed Omi.
  2. The top necklace in my necklace stack, the one with the diamond in it, is by Branch. I purchased it at Studio Collections Jewelry in Sonoma.
  3. The bigger necklace on the bottom was purchased at Gallery of Jewels.
  4. The gunmetal bangles came from Nordstrom.
  5. The shiny black leather studded cuff is by Calleen Cordero and was purchased at Robindra Unsworth in Petalmua.
  6. The rings are both gifts.


A tunic is perfect in a sheer fabric on Brenda Kinsel website

A black sheer tunic makes this outfit work for me


It felt so great to implement something sheer and black into an outfit. Some dreams take a long time to come true! Do you have fashion ideas you have yet to realize? Please share!

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Pulling out a trick to tame a scarf

Maggan's scarf gets tamed on Brenda Kinsel website

Taking control of the volume of this scarf


You are looking at a gray scarf I’ve had for years but never worn. My Swedish friend, Maggan, gave it to me one Thanksgiving. She knew I’d go crazy for the fabric and I did.

This scarf has body beyond belief. It’s a square scarf with permanent pleating. It’s got mighty spring back action to it. It’s not submissive like silk chiffon. It wants what it wants.

Because I love it and because I love Maggan, I’ve always wanted to use it. I couldn’t tame it for an outfit so I started using it to decorate a table.

Here it is in this Oscar party collage, up there in the right hand corner with Hog Island Oysters giving it company.


Using a scarf as a table decoration on Brenda Kinsel website

Maggan’s scarf partners with raw oysters on Oscar night


I had a firm, decisive moment on Friday morning: make that scarf work in an outfit!

I tried a few different things. I turned the square scarf into an oblong one and wrapped it around my neck and tied it in front. It was so bunched up at my neck that my shortest earrings were laying on top of the scarf, like it was a shelf.

I tried folding it into a triangle and putting the triangle in front. Not so good, still too much volume. I kept the triangle shape, wrapped the ends around the back of my neck and went to tie a small knot under the front triangle. Still no good.

Then I did an old trick that I used to use back in the ’80s or ’90s when we were wearing big square scarves. I laid the scarf on the floor and pulled it from the very center and made a knot. I flipped the knot to the inside and grabbed a couple of free ends and firmly knotted them at the back of my neck. It worked!


The center knot on the inside takes away the bulk on this scarf on Brenda Kinsel website

What this scarf needs is a knot on the inside at the center.


I’m crazy about the drama of this scarf and even though it takes up half my chest area, I am wildly content. (Yup, I meant to put those two words together!)


Comfy and cozy in my shades of gray on Brenda Kinsel website

Enjoying my tamed scarf


It was another one of our cold and cloudy days in Sonoma (the heat is supposed to arrive this week) so I wore a column of black: black knit pants, slim; black long-sleeved T-shirt, pretty slim; black booties. I added a linen gray cropped-and-sort-of-messy cardigan and buttoned the top button. I loved the play on shades of gray and loved the structure of the scarf with the loose structure of the cardigan. It felt playful.

I didn’t do much with jewelry: the scarf was the jewelry. I just added a gray faceted earring and some gunmetal rings and went off to meet a client at Uber Optics. I was proud as a peacock. Thanks, Maggan!


shades of gray are A-okay on Brenda Kinsel website

Loving the drama of this scarf!


Are there scarf tricks you use a lot? Do share!

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DIY Guide to Create the Messy Necklace Trend

Messy necklace in black on Brenda Kinsel website

I made a messy necklace combo for Sunday


I’m into messy necklaces. It’s not an original idea. When I was doing trend research for spring/summer 2016 one of the trends was a bunch of messy necklaces, like REALLY messy. Take a look at how Chanel styled a spring outfit with a tangle of necklaces.


spring fashion by Chanel on Brenda Kinsel website

How Chanel used messy necklaces in spring fashion


Now one could look at this picture and say any number of things.

  1. High waisted white full pants? I’m not giving up my skinny jeans, no way!
  2. She looks twelve!
  3. What is she wearing? A sports bra?
  4. That’s a big ole mess of necklaces. Good grief!
  5. Why don’t they make fashion for real people?


Okay, all (almost) valid points. But here’s how I look at a picture like this. I say no to the pants, no to the top, but I study the necklace situation and think about how I could modify that look and add a little something different to my spring outfits using this as inspiration.

Now you’re going to see that I mean REALLY modify the look. I am working with this trend at about a 10-20% level. (You might do it at 40-60%!)

I’ve discovered that messy necklaces do a few things:

  1. They add layered interest to the neck area. Why not give people something to look at near the base of your neck rather than fretting about your neck? You’re intentionally giving positive attention to an area that gets negative attention.
  2. They create a focal point that has more oomph than a single chain or strand of pearls. It looks more interesting.
  3. It gives you a reason to pull out your favorite necklaces, group them together, and wear them in a new way.
  4. You look stylish and cool!


I’m having fun with this. My clients are having fun with it. I think maybe you’d have fun with it too! So let me break it down with a few illustrations, okay?


Sunday’s messy necklace combo


Black messy necklace combo on Brenda Kinsel website

Messy necklaces focused on the color black.


I wanted to make my Chanel sweater with floral appliqués pop at the neck so I started with something quite opposite from my pretty sweater. I got out my chunky black link necklace. I added a gunmetal simple chain that I wrapped four times around my neck. I doubled another chain that has some gold beads in it. I liked the way it added some glisten to the group. The big black link necklace would have been too hard but these other two necklaces softened up the look.


messy black necklace combo on Brenda Kinsel website

I got lots of compliments all day. Was it the messy necklace? I think so!


Messy necklace in Piedmont


Necklaces about the same length in a combo on Brenda Kinsel website

Mixed metals and pearls in this messy necklace combo.


I have often worn the two necklaces together on the right but last week I decided to add my gunmetal lava necklace. They all come to about the same place on my neck. One moment the lava necklace is on top, another time the pearl slides out in front. Whatever they decide to do is okay by me. It’s messy! It’s supposed to be messy!


A messy necklace using three independent ones on Brenda Kinsel website

Three favorite necklaces rolled into one messy one.


The pearl and crystal messy necklace


Messy pearl necklace combo on Brenda Kinsel website

Pearls get messed up in this necklace combo


This oversized pearl necklace (center) is a favorite. I bought it with Mom on our last shopping trip together. When I put it together with my outfit I felt like it was so big. I wanted to add another scale to break it up a bit. I picked a double strand of pearls, mixed with crystal and chain. I twisted it around my neck and it filled in the space nicely between the top of my blouse and the big baubles. I felt joyful and sparkly all day.

So REALLY, don’t you think you should try this yourself? Do tell me how it goes!

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Mother’s Day Blessings and Blues

with my Mom in Napa over ten years ago on Brenda Kinsel website

Me and my mom together in Napa over ten years ago


I walked into Papyrus to get a birthday card for a friend and right inside the door were racks and racks of Mother’s Day cards: pink, red, and my mother’s favorite color, yellow. It was the middle of the day but I felt like I was alone in an open field at midnight and suddenly I was surrounded by people shining flashlights in my face. It was too much to take in.

Of course, my mother is always on my mind. Even though it’s been a full year since she passed, I bring her into my conversations with friends and family and I talk to her when no one else is listening.

Instead of bracing myself for Mother’s Day on Sunday I decided to embrace it by asking friends about their moms. I said: What would you like us to know about your mom?

I so enjoyed hearing the stories about moms and daughters and hope you do, too.


Our Moms/Mums

Ruth Essex from Essex, UK and her mum, Wendy

My mum, Wendy, has made me feel so unconditionally loved throughout my life; it has been like always having an invisible hand to hold. My mum has passed on to me the confidence that I am stronger than I know, and braver than I think. She climbed mountains, dived from the highest boards and shared her passion and knowledge for clocks and antiques. This gave me the courage to test myself and find the challenges and interests that make my life so exciting and fulfilling. No one will ever probably understand me as deeply as she does, so I am lucky to have had her in my life, and yes, I love her unconditionally too.


Leila Stoff from Belvedere and her mom, Mildred

I loved everything about my Mother from her perfect small frame, dressed impeccably, to the way she smelled. Caleche still clings to the paper lined drawers of her antique chest that lives in my home. She was glamorous like no one else and yet, she loved becoming a young grandmother; loved to be called, grandma. She delighted in taking her granddaughters to the park, to the Nutcracker, and of course, shopping. She was fun, funny, smart, brave and worked hard to become independent after a stroke at age 55. Her granddaughters and I miss her.


Sue Jacobs from London, Ontario and her mum, Norma (best known as Chic)


Mothers and daughters on Mother's Day

Sue and her mom, Norma/Chic


My mom is the strongest most resilient person I know, my hero. Orphaned at an early age, she was not to be defeated. She fibbed about her age to be able to serve in the United States Navy, worked her way up to being a Wave (nurse) where she met, fell in love with and married my dad, a US Naval Captain. She was widowed at 59. At 79 she remarried, rode elephants in Thailand at 86, met the Pope at 89, and travelled to Japan and to London, UK to visit my daughters. Her memory does not serve her well today at 94, but when I look in her grey blue hazy eyes I see strength, hope, frailty, beauty, love and compassion that comes deep from her soul. She is and always has been the wind beneath my wings.


Debra Ruff from San Geronimo and her mom, Dena


Debra and Dena on Brenda Kinsel website

Debra (on the left) with her Mom, Dena, and her two sisters


My mom is a fashionista. At 92 she still looks like she walked out of a magazine every time she leaves the house! My mom is my confidant, my best friend. I still tell her everything and she gets it! She is my mental scrapbook. She always remembers things in the past that I forgot. I just ask her when I can’t remember something. My mom is strong willed. She can definitely take care of herself! My mom listens, not just hears. In her eyes, I can do know wrong, I am the perfect daughter!


Karen Snow from Palo Alto and her mom, Barbara


Karen's Mom on Brenda Kinsel website

Barbara, Karen’s Mom


My mom grew up during the Great Depression, learning by example how to be a superb homemaker on a shoestring budget. She was an expert organizer, cookie baker and handicrafter, with a green thumb and a special eye for making practical things beautiful. The month of May was when she and my dad would plant up the patio pots with marigolds and snapdragons and blue lobelia. Her special gift from me on Mother’s Day was always a new geranium – until I moved away and then it was a gift certificate to her favorite nursery, Molbaks. Home and family were treasured most and she used her gifts and talents to show us in so many loving ways. She always helped me fulfill my dreams. What a blessing to have been her daughter.


Adena DiTonno of San Mateo and her mom, Rita


Adena's mother, Rita on Brenda Kinsel website

Adena’s mother, Rita


I always thought my mom was the most beautiful woman. She was always an inspiration to me because she was raising four of us as a single parent (following divorce) at a time when there just weren’t many women doing that, at least where we lived in the Midwest. She had already graduated from college, but she went back and got her teaching credential, and then taught elementary students for 35 years, including all four of her children at one point or another as we passed through her classroom. She was a real inspiration to me of how to work in your career, and how to be a good example to your kids. And she’s still one of the prettiest women I know.


Brenda from Sonoma and her beloved mother, Alma/Girlie


Mom at Clos Pegase Winery on Brenda Kinsel website

Mom at Clos Pegase Winery in Calistoga in 2005, always fooling around


Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I don’t have a card for you this year but I do have bushels and bushels of love.


Will you share some words about your mom? I’d love to know more about her.

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Stripes get a glamorous makeover

Brenda Los Gatos in black and white on Brenda Kinsel website

Enjoying stripes in a new way


I was putting together an outfit to wear on Day 2 of a Los Gatos trip to work with a client. I opened the closet door and my eyes went right to  one of my favorite things—stripes. I started building an outfit using this long striped shirt I hadn’t gotten much wear out of since purchasing it last year at the end of the summer season.

I looked at myself in the mirror and felt pretty darn blah. How could this be? I’ve been an avid fan of stripes for several  seasons. Stripes have made me feel active, energetic and athletic. They make me feel youthful and fresh.

I was crushed. Had I fallen out of love with stripes?

Rather than hang the striped shirt back up and search for something else, I decided to see if I could raise the energy of my striped blouse and create a mix that went from blah to brilliant. (Okay, brilliant may be too big a reach but it starts with “b” and you’ve got to love alliteration, right?)


Brenda at Fleur de Cocoa on Brenda Kinsel website

Enjoying a cappuccino at Fleur de Cocoa in Los Gatos last week


I started by looking for something to fill in the open neck and I had just the thing: a dazzling, over-the-top necklace full of sparkly flowers. Stripes and flowers. Already I was happier. I added a sparkly imperfectly shaped elongated earring by Alexis Bitter. Keeping with the glamour tone, I added my Alexis Bitter sparkly Lucite cuff. The sparkles were definitely changing the mood!

Sticking with the glamour element I added one of my dressiest long jackets. It’s by Carlisle and has a great sheen to it. The back is pleated. It’s so elegant.

I decided a heel or a pointy-toed flat was taking my outfit into a more serious zone and I wanted to keep it playful. So I added my AGL black sneakers with white laces and patent leather toe detail. They are fashion sneakers, not active sneakers. I loved how everything was adding up in my black and white outfit.


Enjoying stripes and black and white in Los Gatos on Brenda Kinsel website

Feeling satisfied in my glamorized striped outfit


My pant choice is by Theory. It’s a narrow legged trouser. I felt the jacket had to have a more classy pant to go with it. No rolled up jeans or leggings for this outfit!

I looked for a handbag to pull it all together. I said no to a couple of of black bags I had that  felt too formal. Instead I picked out my Calleen Cordero crossbody bag that has metal detail around the front flap and along the strap. The leather is matte and very textured. Russ tells me that from the back the strap looks like a guitar strap. Hey, I like it!

This pulled together outfit now had a healthy dose of glamour, a little rock ‘n’ roll, a dash of sporty, and a good amount of classic. Perfect.

I was back to loving my stripes. Whew! No breakup, no tears. I guess they just needed a makeover!

Are you a fan of stripes? How do you wear them?

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The Anatomy of a Transitional Outfit in Marin



a white shirt in April

Facing a hot day in white cotton shirt


The weather report suggested we’d be in the mid-80s last Wednesday. It surpassed that prediction and got into the mid-90s.

Two days later it got all the way up to 61 degrees. The rain was coming down so hard as I was heading to a client shopping appointment that I thought I had Dolby theater sound inside my car.

I swear April is scheming every day: “I’ll surprise them tomorrow with some lightening and thunder; wait, how about 90 degrees in the day and then 40 degrees at night; I could stir up some high winds so the pollen flies all over and burns people’s eyes!”

If April were in therapy, the therapist would be probing to get to the bottom of
this erratic behavior.


The Serenity Prayer helps to deal with April


There are some things you just cannot change and April’s disposition is one of them. It brings to mind the Serenity Prayer, which I learned in Al-Anon, a 12-step program. Al-Anon helps family members deal with the predictably unpredictable alcoholic behavior of a loved one (uh, does ‘predictably unpredictable’ sound like any month you know?). The Serenity Prayer is recited in every meeting. Here it is:


God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.


To find fashion sanity, one must accept that April will do what April does; we can’t change it. We can find the courage and creativity to adjust to it one day at a time.


Here’s how I adjusted on Wednesday


spring outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

The anatomy of my transitional outfit


I got out summer pants for the first time: a blue-gray stretchy pant by Lior Paris. It’s mostly viscose, some polyamide, and a little elastin. It’s a favorite. It’s lightweight but still can look professional. It came from J. James in Sonoma.

Then I put on a lightweight white cotton tunic blouse, lower in the back than the front. There’s something so classic about a white shirt. I usually like to wear a third piece (jacket, blazer, cardigan, vest, bolero, or jean jacket) to finish an outfit but when it’s hot, I have to get creative.



cool colors help me feel cooler

Feeling cool in light colors from the waist up


My Flintstone’s inspired Beauty Bundle


I created a Beauty Bundle that looked light but still had some pep to it. In my thinking, a standout necklace can be the third piece you need in the summer.


spring beauty bundle on Brenda Kinsel website

My Flintstones inspired Beauty Bundle


A friend gave this necklace to me. I love how it has that Flintstones, pre-historic feel. Don’t you think Fred’s wife, Wilma Flintstone, would wear a necklace like this? Using Wilma as my influential fashion icon, I chose to add an earring that’s very airy. To me it looks like lava. When I write up outfits on my wardrobe charts I always call them my lava earrings.


marble bangle on Brenda Kinsel website

My marble bangle fits right in to the color palette


I searched through my bangles and found one that echoed that organic direction. This bangle looks like marble and it fits into the color scheme.

I decided to go with lighter shoes as well. I wore my AGL patent leather oxfords in this light shade of taupe to finish off my transitional outfit.


In closing


We’ve covered a lot here today: April’s erratic behavior, Al-Anon and the Serenity Prayer, the Anatomy of a Transitional Outfit, a Beauty Bundle, and the Flintstones. If it seems like this blog post went all over the place, blame April!

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How to slowly transition clothes from winter to spring

What to wear when the weather is wacky on Brenda Kinsel website

Weather fluctuating in Sonoma


I’ve been hearing this a lot: “This weather is so crazy! I don’t know how to dress! One day I want to be in spring clothes and then the next day I want my cashmere back.”

I totally get it! Today I dressed for the 82 degrees that most of Sonoma and Marin Counties were enjoying but that doesn’t mean I’m in a rush to take out all of my winter clothes…just some of them. Because, guess what? On Friday it’s supposed to be raining and the high is 61 degrees. That’s sweater weather.

It happened last week too. On Friday I wore an orange and white lightweight silk dress over skinny jeans to a client’s house for our closet appointment. It was going to be in the 70s and I thought I’d made the right choice. “Not so soon, Brenda, not so soon” is what Mother Nature told me, after the fact. Luckily I was close to home. After my morning appointment with her I had time to stop by the house and make a change. I replaced the silk dress with an orange long sleeved sweater, a scarf for around my neck and a white lightweight coat. The wind had kicked up and it was cold!

I was working with another client last week in her closet. I would have brought sushi for us for lunch but what I really wanted was hot soup. We’d just had a yo-yo run with the weather. Two days earlier it was hot, hot, hot. And now it was cold, cold, cold.


winter outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

A favorite December outfit is now packed away


First of all I reassured her that you can’t do a switch over of a closet in one giant leap. It takes several steps of peeling away winter clothes and starting to bring in spring ones. To create “now” outfits, we pulled a few spring things out that would work on the hot days and put winter things (REALLY wintry things) out and stored them in an attic space.

We’ll probably be pulling out her linen pieces by May. Cotton, silk, and lightweight cashmere are perfect choices right now especially when paired with spring jackets, jean jackets or transition weight cardigans.


Here’s what I’d suggest you do


1. Pull out your wool skirts and wool dresses that have that “December” look about them. They truly are ready to be stored.


pulling wintry things from the closet on Brenda Kinsel website

Wintry skirts and dresses say bye for the season


2. Be sure they are clean before you store them away. I love using these cubes from the Container Store to store my out-of-season pieces.


storage for winter clothes

Where winter clothes go to rest


3. Keep your lightweight cashmere sweaters and light-to-medium weight cashmere cardigans at the ready. They are still perfect for chilly days or chilly evenings. At this time of year I especially appreciate any cashmere sweaters I have that are lighter in color: taupe, pink, cream, light blue. The lighter colors give a nod to spring even while you still need some warmth.


wearing a dress as a tunic in early spring on Brenda Kinsel website

Loving my dress turned tunic for transitional spring


4. I love wearing loose jackets this time of year. You can layer pieces underneath them that are just the right weight no matter what the weather is: a long-sleeved lightweight sweater (nothing bulky) or a sleeveless top. This printed jacket I’m wearing above is actually a dress but I unbuttoned it and wear it as a tunic. It feels breezy for the season.

This time is fleeting. Pretty soon we’ll be saying, “Cashmere? No way!” But until then we’ll wear a little of this and a little of that, mixing it up to get just the right outfit for now.

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Storing winter coats in April

packing coats in April on Brenda Kinsel website

Packing away winter coats


It’s that time of April, just before tax day, when I open my coat closet and the most wintry coats are heaving sighs and saying, “Brenda, isn’t it time to rest now?” Even though our winters are pretty mild, I don’t have lots of storage space in my house so when they look cramped in that closet and start talking to me, I have to agree: It’s time to go, Kids.


storing coats in suitcase on Brenda Kinsel website

Big red suitcase stores coats


Being a good steward of my wardrobe I take the hint and pull out my big red suitcase, called Big Red, and roll it into the house from it’s storage place in the garage. It’s been well over a decade since I ever used a suitcase that size for traveling but it makes for great storage. It’s empty now except for several cedar blocks.

This is the home for my wintry coats. They snuggle up together in Big Red and they hang out there until October/November when I pull them out and unpack them. Our reunion in the fall is so delightful. “Blue toggle coat, I love you! Oh, leopard print coat, I’ve missed you so much! Winter white birch tree coat, you delight me!” That’s how it goes. We’re happy, happy, happy.


coats get stored in April on Brenda Kinsel website

Putting away what I won’t need


Thinking ahead to that joyous reunion takes the sting out of saying buh-bye to these favorites of mine. I think if I had more room in my house, I could very easily slip in a few more coats into my wardrobe. In cold, drab weather they are my pick-me-ups.

So with loving care I pull them out of the coat closet, put them on a table, and prepare to pack them away. We sing songs the whole time.

Here’s our Play List

Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds

Bye Bye Love by The Cars

I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan and Macy Grey

Hello Goodbye by the Beatles

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright by Bob Dylan

Goodbye My Friend by Linda Ronstadt


coats are packed in suitcase

Miss you already!


Folding them gingerly, I tuck them into the suitcase. I add more cedar blocks just in case. I won’t lie, my heart is a little heavy when I zip it closed and pull Big Red back into its stall in  the garage. Sometimes I wonder how I can bear to be without them for that many months.

I guess that’s the price of having things you really really love. Sigh. It’s hard to say goodbye (Celine Dion). But I will survive (Gloria Gaynor).

Do you have a storage plan for your wintry items?

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How a beautiful handbag landed in my lap

Hostfest in Minot on Benda Kinsel website

Fun days at the Hostfest when Mother and Lindy (the two on the left) were still here


Merle Haggard died last week. I got teary-eyed when my daughter, Erin, called to tell me.

I was suddenly back in the Great Hall at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota, happy to be sitting next to Mom and Dad listening to Merle Haggard preform onstage.

I would have called Mom right away, but she’s gone. I called Dad that night. We reminisced. We cried.

Later I remembered another Mom and Dad moment. I was 21-years-old, living in California, and had some homesick blues. I flew home to West Fargo for a visit. Mom and Dad planned a little road trip to cheer me up. We’d cross the Red River into Minnesota. There were tourist attractions in Park Rapids. We’d go there and spend the night.

It seemed a little odd, but okay, I had no objections. It was just nice to be together.

Dad got behind the wheel and we headed east. We hadn’t come to any tourist spots yet when he took a detour down a gravel dirt road. They do that kind of thing a lot. Going for a drive, one of their favorite things to do, always includes gravel roads.


Driving in Minnesota

Heading for a dirt road in Minnesota


Dad pulled the car over and came to a stop in front of a bright red barn. A man standing next to it seemed eager to greet us.

It turns out they knew each other. They’d met at a craft fair in Fargo where Mom had a booth full of her decorated grapevine wreaths. This gentleman had his leatherwork in a booth next to hers. Wow, what a coincidence!

The barn doors were open and Mom encouraged me to go inside and check out his goods. Turns out he made handbags. I love handbags!

He tanned the leather first, then he designed the bags. He had a technique of weaving a patchwork design into a bag without any seams. I’d never seen anything like it. (Think Bottega Veneta.)

Mom came over and said, “What do you think?”

“I think they’re beautiful!” I said. “He’s clearly a master.”

“Which one do you like?” Mom said.

“Oh my gosh, they’re all beautiful!” I said.

“But if you had to choose,” she said.

She can do that sometimes—press on about which one you liked best, what tasted best, who looked the best. Sometimes it would hurt my head to come up with one answer. I thought this was one of those conversations.

“Really, which do you like best?” she said.

“Well, maybe this one,” I said and pointed to a crossbody bag with a comfortable two-inch wide strap. It was slim and in the shape of a horseshoe. It had a flap that covered the top opening. His weaving technique was showcased on the front of the flap.

“Let me see it on you,” she said. I slipped it on. I opened the flap and imagined putting my wallet inside.

“Donald,” Mom called over to Dad. “Come see this bag on Brenda.”

Dad walked over and said, “Oh, it’s nice.”

So there, we all agreed. I took it off and hung it back on the rack.

Then my father said, “Well, why don’t we take that one home with us?”

I turned and looked at my mother’s face. What? Why would he say that? She was smiling.

My father pulled money from his wallet—I didn’t see how much. These bags were art. I knew they weren’t cheap. This was an extravagance and we weren’t extravagant people.

“We wanted you to have something nice, Honey,” Mom explained.

The man wrapped my bag in layers of tissue paper and handed it to me. I got back into the car and held it on my lap. I felt like a five-year-old bringing home a puppy.

If my eyes didn’t well up with tears that crisp afternoon, they are right now as I’m telling you this.

I can imagine all the steps involved in concocting this plan. They probably stayed up late in their blue recliners with coffee cups in their hands figuring out how to surprise their lonely daughter with this thing of beauty.

What a team they were. They pulled it off seamlessly.


Alma and Donald on Brenda Kinsel website

What a team they made

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Dressing with intention whether you’re the First Lady or Florence from Sweden

Oscar dresses at the de Young Museum on Brenda Kinsel website

Oscar de la Renta exhibit in San Francisco


Thirteen years ago I was in Stockholm, Sweden doing makeovers on four lovely women for the Swedish magazine, Tara, a magazine geared to women over 40. Tara was celebrating its third anniversary by holding a contest. Women all over Sweden wrote in explaining why they should be picked to work with the image consultant and author, Brenda Kinsel, who was flying over from California.

When I arrived to work with the four women I started where I always start–the style interview.

One of my questions was: “Imagine you are walking into a room. How do you want to be perceived? What do you want people to say about you?”

Without hesitation, Florence, 57, said, “I’m walking into a party. My husband sees me from across the room and says to himself, ‘I’m so glad she’s mine.'”

I had chills. I couldn’t wait to get her into a dress that conveyed that message.


A Swedish makeover on Brenda Kinsel website

Florence gets a makeover in Stockholm, Sweden


The dress I chose for her was a Max Mara silk tie-dye sleeveless dress with a lot of flirty action at the hem. I knew I’d picked the right one when she came waltzing out of the dressing room with a big smile on her face. Where she’d been timid before, this dress seemed to bring out her sensual, sassy side. She was exuberant!


Oscar de la Renta dresses on Brenda Kinsel website

Oscar de la Renta dreamy dresses


So last week when I went to see the Oscar de la Renta show at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, I heard a statement in the video that runs with the show that made me think immediately of Florence.

Oscar de la Renta was creating a dress for Hilary Clinton to wear to the Inaugural Ball after her husband, Bill, had been sworn in as president for the second time.

(Google the dress. It’s her 1997 gown. I’m afraid to post the picture because it could be subject to copyrights.)

Prior to designing the dress Oscar de la Renta asked Hilary, “What do you want to achieve in this dress?”

Hilary said, “I want Bill to see me and say, ‘You look great in that dress.'”

President Clinton talks to the camera, recalling that event. He loved what Oscar had created for her. He loved how his wife looked that evening. He graciously thanked Oscar for making that moment so memorable for the two of them.

What does Hilary Clinton have in common with Florence from Sweden? They knew exactly what they wanted from their outfits.

You may not be dressing to get a reaction from a husband, but you can be dressing with intention.

When you got up this morning and got dressed, did you think about what you wanted to achieve with your outfit?

This is something I think about every day because I know the power clothes have to influence how we feel. I mostly dress to please myself or entertain myself. It makes me happy.

What motivates you to dress the way you do?

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